“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” Brennan Manning

Monday, August 18, 2014

Self-medicating to Survive



I didn't throw up even though I wanted to. I numbed with food again. Why is that my go-to when I don’t want to feel? I lay down and my mind is flooded with memories. As I acknowledge the true reality of my life, I can understand why I have used food as an escape. I let myself feel the feelings I never got to.

I had to be ‘ON’ all the time. I felt so disconnected from myself - like an imposter - afraid someone would find me out. Survival for me was based on pleasing and performing, while suppressing a deep loneliness, sadness, and hurt. Seeing myself in a new light gives me some self-compassion.

One memory came back vividly:

The house was quiet - everyone in bed. I snuck back upstairs, big bowl of ice cream in hand. I ate in secret to feel better... for a moment... But then, was left with a sick stomach and guilty conscience. Why do I abuse my body with food?

A friend was spending the night in the room down the hall and I shuddered at the thought of her finding out the way I really was - so out of control and a mess. She had traveled to see me so we could pass out tracks together and share the Gospel with “lost souls.” I felt ashamed of myself and believed that no one would like me if they knew my deep struggle with self-contempt and food.

My husband and I were living at my parents’ house at that time because we had gotten so far in debt after our first year of marriage. You see, I married a Jesus freak. Even though he wasn’t attracted to me, he married me because “God told him to.” I was a girl who wouldn’t hold him back. I didn’t complain and went along with whatever he wanted. He believed we should “live as if we weren’t married” so he could maximize his energies in preaching. Without a steady job, he maxed out our first credit card to Native Missionaries and we gave our possessions away. Thus, we moved in with my parents…

You see, I am the oldest of five kids in a dysfunctional home. I was the “good girl”, always striving to be perfect and make my family happy. I was told to be the example for my siblings - never making a mistake.

In High School, I became a leader at my school and cross-country team. We pushed each other to run harder and faster. I loved my team and my coach. My coach would tell me the same thing: that others would follow my intense drive and work ethic. He also encouraged me to lose weight even though I was already very underweight. He also told me to encourage other girls to do the same and gave us articles on how we would run faster with a lower percent body fat. That’s when I started throwing up.

All this pressure!

Pressure as a child to hold my family together and make everyone happy despite the constant fighting.

Pressure at school to be a leader and example, to make good grades, and be faster and skinnier.

Pressure as a wife to be a quiet, submissive, godly woman. I use to beg God to make me holy so my husband would like me, and to be skinnier because maybe then he would be attracted to me.

Pressure to share the gospel and pass out tracks wherever I went so the blood of those I passed wouldn’t be on my head, and God wouldn’t be displeased with me.

Pressure when I became a mother to train up my children to obey me so they would obey God later.

I felt like I was always being watched. I was afraid that someone would see through my smile to the hurting girl inside, and see my insecurity, fear, and weakness. Because in my world, that just wasn’t allowed or acceptable.

As I reflect on my life,

I see the little girl stuck in the middle of fighting - longing for safety and love.

I see the runner striving to be my best so I wouldn’t disappoint my coach and team.

I see the young wife - with the zealous husband - eager to submit and follow the rules for approval.

I see the young mother enmeshed in a controlling cult-church trying so hard to ‘abound in the grace of God’ while being beat down and exhausted by rules, condemnation, and shame.

In my circles, struggling meant that I wasn’t trusting God - that God was angry at me. I always felt like I was in trouble, and that I would just be cast out.

You see, I never knew God as Love. I never felt safe to let down my guard. I really wasn’t safe to think for myself or have feelings. Sadly, those parts of me had to be put to death for the sake of Christ and the Gospel?!

I coped with this loss of self by numbing my pain with food. It has served a purpose for me for a long time. But, now I’m in recovery and I am letting my wounds breathe and letting the light of the Son cleanse and heal me. Since I have self-medicated for so long, it is a hard habit to break.

But, I am learning to face the hurts in my life, let Jesus cover my shame, and allow myself to be fully human with emotions, mistakes, and all. Because truth is: I am loved and valued just as I am. God already proved that for me.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Letting Love Dispel the Lies



Have you ever bared your soul only to get blank stares back?  Or shared your heart with a friend without any feedback?  It's vulnerable to open our souls and let another person have a peek.  We stand there naked, exposed, waiting...  It's unbearable really.  Without some reassurance that we aren't the only one, and that our experience and feelings are valid, we want to run away and hide in shame.

Shame has been a constant voice in my head my whole life.  It tells me I'm never good enough.  That if people really knew me, they wouldn't like me.  It makes me want to disappear - afraid of being disconnected from the rest of humanity.  It tells me I am bad and not worth anyone's love, just a waste of time.

In my fight against shame, I remember that God chose me before I was ever born.  One thing that helps me is to write letters to myself from my Maker.  It doesn't have to be "good" because I'm not judged on how well I do.  Instead, it's just truth to minister to my soul and help me to live freely - and loved.

Here's a letter from my Creator Daddy this week:

Dearest Paula,

You are my precious daughter. I love you, little one. You are worth loving. You don't have to prove your worth. I have good plans for you. Don't worry, my child, I will never let you go. Even the smallest acts of love give me great delight. My love lives in you and you are learning to let others love you and give love to others. All of that is Me in you, and it is a beautiful thing to behold.

I'm sorry about all the hurts and loss in your life. This is a broken world full of sorrows, but I come to give you hope and life. I am mending your broken heart, and you can trust that I am working in ways you cannot see in the lives of loved ones you have had to let go. I can make all things new. It's okay to let go of relationships that hurt you. It's not your responsibility to fix others. You can leave that work to Me. You can rest, my love. 

I am with you.  I fight for you.  I believe in you.  I will never let you go. You are mine and I love every part of you. 

With all my love,

Your Maker

By the way, I like the way you are. I made you that way on purpose and for purpose.  Just be you.  
You are loved, my child.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Finding a Safe Place

Before we can let down our defenses, we have to feel safe.  I didn’t understand this until about a year ago when I first started to open my heart.  After a lifetime of hurts, I was afraid of being hurt again so I walled off my heart.  Behind my impenetrable wall, I felt lonely and untouchable.  A sweet friend encouraged me to join an online Book Club over the book, Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown. In reading her book, I realized that I was locked in shame and afraid to be vulnerable.  I didn’t feel loved and connected because I didn’t let people see my true self.  So, I began to “dare greatly” and unveil all that I had been trying to outrun all my life.


One of the first things my friend, Kelli, told me was, “you are safe here.”  I didn’t really know what that meant, but I know that it touched something deep.  Later, I began therapy and one of my first assignments was to find a “safe place.”  That was so frustrating for me!  I stayed up all night trying to find a safe place, but everywhere I would go in my mind was not safe at all.  On a beach, I was chased so I constructed walls to keep me safe, but then was assaulted by sea! Outdoors has always been a haven for me so I sat on a high rock in the woods overlooking a gentle river, but was attacked by an angry animal.  I couldn’t find safety anywhere!  That really disturbed me.  I didn’t realize I had been living in fear and paranoia - running from everything.


Though the Book Club, a Pastor from Iowa reached out to me - or really just responded to me.  I didn’t know he was a Pastor or I would have run as fast as I could the other direction!  But he was real and I felt safe sharing my struggles with him because he never judged or scolded me.  He just listened and when I wanted to quit, feeling completely hopeless, he didn’t give me the ‘right’ answer, he just encouraged me to let Jesus hold me and listen to His heartbeat.  


After a sleepless night of running for safety, exhausted, I stopped trying and just rested on my Savior’s chest.  While all this was in my head, it was so real and my physical body actually relaxed. Jesus became my Safe Place.  


When we feel safe, we can finally drop our defenses and face the darkness within.  We can acknowledge the pain and confusion and let the Light in.  We open our hearts to being loved as we are instead of pretending to be the way we think people want us to be.  There is so much freedom and healing when we let others see our ugly parts and we are accepted as we are.


Love enters in and heals our broken hearts.  It takes courage to trust when we haven’t known the safety of love and acceptance before.  When we have spent our lives running and hiding, being captured and loved feels very scary and we quickly want to fight and run again, but God holds us still and gently reassures us that though it hurts, our suffering is not in vain and He is at work to heal and restore us.  He will keep us safe.  It’s okay to rest.


I am forever thankful for the friends that God has placed in my life.  Thank you, Kelli, for walking with me every day of this crazy adventure and reading my endless processing and helping me see myself like God does.  I believe Providence brought you into all the craziness of MO so we could be bosom friends!  Thank you for never getting sick of me.  You show me what grace means.


Thank you, Dave, for listening to God and befriending a complete stranger and sharing the Good News with me hundreds of times.  Thank you for not judging my doubts, fears, anxieties, and self-hatred.  Thank you for being Jesus to me by always responding and always pointing me back to our Abba who loves us as we are, not as we should be.  Thank you for being so patient with me and for being my friend.   


I’m so thankful for my man who has stuck with me even through days where I lost hope and couldn’t figure out how to live.  Babe, you have proven your faithfulness to me over and over again.  I am so thankful that God is healing our marriage and we are learning to be safer and safer for each other and making our home a safe place for our children to grow up and discover who they are.  I love you, Babe!


I’m also thankful for the friends who have given me a voice when I have felt shut down so often in my life. Thank you for being there for me - to listen and let me cry or rant, and still seeing Jesus in me. Thank you for liking me ‘as is’ and accepting me like God does.  You all have taught me God’s unconditional love.  


Thank you, Jesus, for being my Safe Place and never ever leaving my side - my whole life!  I can live knowing that I am securely Your Beloved and You will never let me go!  I am safe now to be who You created me to be.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Not Forgotten

Everyone has a voice - a story to tell - full of depth, heartache, joy, wisdom, and beauty.  I have allowed fear and shame to tell me that I am not good enough and not worth listening to - that my perspective doesn’t count, but I am so thankful that my Jesus bought me with His very life and declared over me:


YOU ARE MINE CHILD AND I AM WILDLY CRAZY ABOUT YOU.  

YOUR LIFE IS VALUABLE. YOU CAN’T DO ANYTHING TO MAKE ME LOVE YOU MORE OR LESS.

YOU HAVE NOTHING TO PROVE.  

When I feel shut down, I have to remember whose opinion really counts.  Will I let people - even family - who want me to be a certain way define me?  Or will I reserve that place for the One who made me and loves the way I am already?   

Our stories carry the handprints of our Maker.  When we own our story and offer the unpolished, honest version to others, we make room for God to be seen.  

We don’t deny the painful past or the ugly mistakes, but we declare that there is hope for new beginnings and fresh starts.  God works with the raw materials of our lives to create beauty.  As we share our true selves with one another, our hearts are knitted together and mend.

When I first began to share my story with a couple of friends, I would sink into a deep pit of shame - even wanting to just die.  I had covered up so much hurt and anger, sorrow and disappointment that opening my heart to feel again was completely overwhelming.  I had never admitted that anyone hurt me or that I had any needs.  I believed that no one wanted the flawed, broken parts of me.

Shame drove me to work harder, smile often, and make other people look good.  This made me fake, denying my true self, and my story.

But a miracle happens when we allow someone to see us - flaws and all - and love us as we are.  A little bond forms called Trust.  As we open our hearts and receive Love, more bonds and bridges form, and we become REAL - willing to admit our mistakes, hurts, regrets, and joys without our worth attached.  We begin to live loved.  There is so much healing here - in relationship - where God abides.

True friends 'like' us - struggles and all, and see Beauty.

I now give thanks that my life fell apart, leaving me unable to perform - just shattered.  I didn't know who I was - just that I hurt and I wanted to be made whole.  This has been a long, hard process of being honest with God, myself, and friends that have earned the right to hear.

One day when I was feeling like 'too much' - that this journey to wholeness was taking way too long, my friend reassured me, "Paula, you don't ever need to apologize for the contents of messages to me - or the quantity, either.  Healing and trusting and being redeemed are unique for everyone who seeks to be made whole.  I'm grateful you're willing to deal with what you know is going to be uncomfortable stuff. It shows much courage - and also that you refuse to let junk define you.  Grace and peace, hope and encouragement to you... " and another day, "I'll listen anytime, Paula.  There's a lot inside of you that just needs to be heard for once."  

I really can't explain how much those words meant to me, but I know I couldn’t stop crying and read them over and over again.  They touched deep - and brought healing.  To me, they meant that I am worth listening to, that my life IS valuable and God doesn't make junk!  

The grace I have experienced through sharing my life with trusted friends continues to bring healing to my broken heart.  I'm thankful for friends that are in the arena with me and stand by my side no matter what.  I didn’t learn God’s love from a sermon, but from people who came and washed my feet.    

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Letting Go

Dear Dad,

It’s hard to just let you go, but the reality is that our relationship was never built on love and trust.  I have tried my whole life to earn your love and approval, but you couldn’t give me something that you didn’t have.  I forgive you for that.

I don’t know all that you experienced as a child growing up and I can’t explain the choices you made once you married my mom.  I don’t know why you weren’t faithful and didn’t value us, but chose to chase after deviance and deceit.  I know how I felt: unloved and unwanted.

I don’t understand why you hurt me or mom or our family.  I wanted to believe you were nice and that you loved us.  I have good memories with you, but so many times you turned on me.  You would make me feel guilty for your struggles and anger like everything was my fault. I tried to make you happy and fix our family, but your own words tell your true feelings towards me, “Paula, you have been a bad daughter and I have been a good dad.”  All I can say is that I tried my whole life to please you, and I was never good enough.  I can’t keep sacrificing myself for you.  I belong to Jesus now and He has set me free from having to please others for approval. He accepts me as I am.

After you hurt us, you would try to make up for it by gifts or making us feel bad for you, but we were never allowed to acknowledge that you hurt us.  You never would admit you were wrong or say you're sorry.  And if you said you’re sorry, it was only to get what you wanted.  I forgive you for manipulating me, but I will not continue this pattern with you.

Even though you may never be able to see or recognize the ways you hurt me, I am letting that pain go. I pray that God will give you light.  I forgive you for being manipulative and only seeing your own needs.  I forgive you for hurting me and our family.  I forgive you for raping my innocence and calling it love.  I forgive you for not loving me because you couldn't give me something you didn't have.

I pray that you will desire to walk in truth and light and that God will have mercy on you.  God is my Daddy and I belong to Him.  I choose to walk in the light and not deny the truth any longer.  I am not going to let other people control my life anymore.  I am God’s and He will protect me and keep me safe.

What Satan meant for evil, God works to good.  There is always Hope to turn to God and I pray that you do.

In true love,

Paula

Sunday, April 20, 2014

God Rescues Liars and Pretenders Like Me!



I wake up, two-year-old in my face.  I draw him close to snuggle, buried under covers.  He talks to me in only partially comprehensible language, but I cherish the love we share.  He is safe and secure in my love for him.  After a moment, he makes his requests and says, “Mommy, get up.”  

Today is Easter, a day to remember our Hope is in our Risen Lord.  Thank you, Jesus, for giving your life for me.  What You gave was given back to us all in measureless proportions.  Help me to offer myself to You today.  You never require more from me than I can give.  Whatever parts of myself I give to You today is enough, and You take my broken pieces and make me whole in You.  My true self, identity, is as Your beloved Daughter.  

You know my doubts and flaws, but that doesn’t hinder Your love for me for even a moment.  When I struggle to believe that You are for me, not disappointed with me, and not mad at me for struggling, You show me Your love in what’s right before me - in my two-year-old snuggled close, a whispered, “I love you”, a gentle breeze with the warmth of the sun, a text from a friend.  You remind me that I am not forgotten.  I am loved and cherished by You.

For so many years, I have lived under the weight of shame, believing that You would never accept me because of the darkness I hid.  I tried so hard to dress up my exterior and kill my interior so I could be worthy of love.  When all along, You already accepted me.  You want me to open up my dark places so Your light can illuminate and heal me.  

Opening myself up to Truth and Light has been an excruciating process.  It was easier to bury the pain, deny the unacceptable parts of myself, justify, and pretend all is well; but, I was dead inside.  I lied a lot - mostly to myself.  I lied about my childhood, habits, struggles, emotions, fears, hurts, and failures.  I was so desperate for love, I thought if anyone really knew me, they would abandon me.  Deep down, I believed I would never be good enough for God either.  

I perfected a positive, strong front, saying the right things, and looking good.  But the pain inside gnawed at me and I would turn to food for relief and then purge it out only to start over - AGAIN!  I blamed myself for so much of the dysfunction in my life, and I hated myself all the more.  I soaked up the ‘do more, try harder’ gospel, and made lists and resolutions to ‘do better.’  I punished myself when I failed.  

God, in His love for me, stripped me of my cover-up life.  He took me out of the church that focused on externals so that He could find me - all alone, hurting, and wanting.  He rescued me.  He understood my anger, mistrust, and hatred towards myself and Him.  I was so afraid that He would hurt and punish me, but He gently wooed me with His love.  He proved Himself trustworthy to me, and slowly I opened up my heart to Him.  

Still ashamed, I dared to let my secrets out so His healing Light could touch the dark places of my life.  Sharing with other safe people has been one of the most liberating things in my life.  Truly, Jesus bore my sins and my shame on the cross.  His sacrifice makes me right with God so I can come before Him unashamed as. I. am.  

I admit, living numb and in denial was easier, but I was dead!  My life and suffering were empty and purposeless.  God wants to give us life, to take our suffering and turn it into something beautiful.  Though the path to wholeness and healing is painful and feels like a lot of loss, we gain purpose and hope - which are worth living for.  We find our true selves, hidden in Christ!  He redeems our suffering and His love satisfies and heals our souls.   

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33  

Suffering is part of being ALIVE - it’s part of becoming whole and acknowledging my whole life story.  

To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God's grace means.” Brennan Manning  

God’s grace is not conditioned by my correct understanding of Him or my performance, but solely on the fact that He purchased me at the cross.  He proved that I am wanted and adopted me into His family.  God accepted me all along even when I was so lost and searching.  He was with me even then.  He is the One who heals and redeems my life.  He is the One who has given me life and enlightens me!  He is in my every breath!  He is everywhere and longs to open my eyes and heart to His great love for me and others.  

In His love, I can rest.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Just BE and REST


Amidst a group of people in a rustic dining hall, I'm invited to a table. Though we only met the day before, there is a commonality we share that connects us in a deeper way.  We talk briefly as two others join in.  The conversation shifts to the great things God is doing in a campus ministry they are all involved in.  I listen, wanting to rejoice, but I'm overwhelmed with feeling ashamed of my life, and I get up and sit elsewhere.

I didn't understand it at the time, just wondering, "why do I want to hide?"

I tell God about it.  That use to be me: so zealous to ‘do’ great things for God, eager to ‘go’ anywhere and ‘do’ anything.  My dream was to be a missionary and work in the medical field in third world countries.

I married a crazy, ‘sold out’, Jesus freak.  I mean a guy that has “honk if you love Jesus” painted to the back of his thunker has to be serious about following Jesus, right?  He was ‘hard core!' We both were eager to live wholeheartedly and forsake all for Jesus.  

We ‘did’ all kinds of ‘great things for God’: passed out thousands of tracks, organized evangelism training, went street preaching, raised money for native missionaries, sold our possessions, lived in community with others, didn’t claim ownership of our goods, and worked hard to please God and further His Kingdom.

Despite all of our efforts, we ended up on our faces again and again with broken friendships, church outcasts, a shaky marriage, shattered dreams, and lost hope.  “God, we tried to follow and please You, but You led us here?!  Where did we go wrong?  I know that we were sincere.  Why are we just made a mockery?  Why have You forsaken us?”  

The Accuser seizes the opportunity to ream me, “Look at you.  Your faith isn’t real.  You're just a big mistake.” Blame and shame are his weapons to keep me hiding from God, but Jesus says, "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me--watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." Matt. 11:28-30 (MSG)

While I thought I was so strong and competent, my focus was on MY ability, not God's! I am proud! Oh God, please break me of my pride. Thank you for letting me fall so I can learn to depend on You. Thank you for leading me HERE - to this wilderness, this desperate place, where I am the one in need of help.  Brokenness is a gift.

The Superstar Christian life - always trying to do more and be better - misses the whole point of the Gospel!  It’s not what we 'do' for Christ, it’s what He did for us!  He accepts us at our worse. "The One who knows all of your darkness, flaws, that One is the One who loves you the most and there's nothing you can do to make that love go away." Ginny Owens

When I hear of God at work, churches embracing the hurting, children growing up in secure homes, and love being played out, instead of comparing myself and my not-so-pretty story, I can remember it's His story. We are all broken - in need of a Redeemer, and redemption wins.

Yes, it’s okay to grieve the loss of what I wish my life were and feel the pain of growing up in a broken home, being wounded in churches, and suffering severed relationships - but, I don’t need to feel ashamed!  God has purposed my life not in spite of the brokenness, but because He uses broken vessels to make His Greatness known. It's not my work, it's His work in me.  He calls forth Light out of Darkness, Life from Death, and Beauty from Ashes. 

On days I feel ashamed of my broken, needy condition, I remember the words of my friend, Kelli.  
“I felt like God reminded me that Jesus told the story in Matt. 25 about those who helped "the least of these" - that they were actually helping Jesus. I felt like He impressed on me that there may be many Christians who are in the giving place - but not many wanting to be in the Jesus place - the place of being ministered to. That is the place he says is HIS in that story and that is at least one of the meanings of Christmas, and even of Easter: Jesus had need. He was on the receiving end as an infant at his mother's breast. He received the help of others during his passion and crucifixion. And now, we walk in his steps not by holding with tight fists into the idea of being the "strong" ones, but by letting our needs be known and ministered to. This cannot be a shameful place because it is the JESUS place.”
Jesus shows us that humility is depending on God to meet our needs and receive from others.  He loves us enough to let us fall in our own strength so we can stop striving and rest in His finished work on the cross. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in me!  It's not my job to change myself; I am God’s work. Even when it looks like I am a lost cause, just a big mess; I am God’s mess and He won’t EVER give up on me!

“Oh God, please hold us close.  YOU are the wonderful counselor and we put our trust in you to speak through others BUT ALSO through your Spirit inside us. We don't pray that you'll make us strong if we need to experience weakness right now as you did, Jesus, in your days on the earth. You have shown us that weakness is not shameful, but rather a way that we can relate to you as you have stretched so far to relate to us. Our hope is in You, oh God. Amen.” ~Kelli

We can rest. We are enough because God has chosen to adopt us as. we. are. He doesn't despise our weakness - He comes alongside us with compassion and asks us to give Him our load and let Him carry us. We don't have to be strong anymore, because He is strong for us.