weak enough to lead?

This year at annual conference, as I was scanning the Cokesbury section, I came across a book titled, “Weak Enough To Lead” by James C. Howell. The title jumped out at me in such a way that I didn’t even need to read the summary on the cover before snatching it off the table and heading up to the register to purchase it. The book jumped out at me because its topic was one which I have wrestled with a lot in life, feeling as though weaknesses somehow deem me incapable of leading, especially, leading in ministry and as a pastor someday. At times, I have found myself plagued by this feeling of defeat, as though I was too weak or ‘not cut out’ for what God has called me to do. I have always been a perfectionist, always set high expectations for myself, and am hard on myself if I ‘fail’ or don’t reach my goals at the very time that I had planned. I don’t like to complain or dwell on bad things, and admitting struggle or weakness is something I am not great at. So, perhaps, after stating all of that, it’s not too hard to imagine this book being one that I just couldn’t pass by. As I have read it more and more, I have found that it addresses every single thing I have listed above, and more.

Many times, I have thought to ask myself, “am I too weak to lead?”

But never once have I thought to ask myself, “am I weak enough to lead?”

That is the very question this book examines:

Am I weak enough to lead?

My recovery is something that I am very open and honest about in my conversations with people and in my writing, which many of you know. I am almost 5 1/2 years in recovery from anorexia, and I’ll actually be on a mission trip in Cuba on the 5 1/2 year mark, but you better believe that I am still going to jump up and down a few times out of joy and celebrate the accomplishment it is to me. Something I am not so open about, however, is the fact that recovery is a journey more so than it is a one time decision, and like any journey, it has bumps, detours, obstacles, highs, lows, and everything in between, and for the sake of being honest and at the risk of being vulnerable, I do still struggle at times with my recovery, and it is for that very reason that, at times, it has made me feel as though I am somehow too weak or too incapable of leading. This isn’t because I see my recovery or the fact that I have struggled with an eating disorder as a weakness, rather, it is something about my life that is not perfect, and as a perfectionist, one can see how that could affect my confidence in my leadership abilities. It wasn’t until recently that I came to the realize and truly believe that being a pastor and being in recovery are not mutually exclusive. I thank God for helping me realize that, and I thank him for continuing to assist me in believing that.

My recovery and the ministry I am called to are two of the most important things in my life, and God knows that full well. He knows that I am in recovery – heck, he has been with me every single step that I have taken since day 1 of being diagnosed, to day 1 of beginning recovery, all the way up until now, and he’s still trekking along beside me, behind me, and before me.

God also has called me to be a pastor. He has called me to a life of ministry for him, in service to others. God knows I have weaknesses, and in fact, he knows those weaknesses inside and out, better than even I do. Even so, that doesn’t diminish his confidence in my ability, through him, to pursue his call upon my life to be a leader in the Church.

I don’t personally think for one second that God looks at us and thinks, “she is strong enough for this” or “he is strong enough for this.” God doesn’t call only people who have no weaknesses or no imperfections, because if we’re being honest, those people don’t exist. This book has made me think about the possibility that, rather than calling us based on our strengths or how equipped we are, God looks at us and says,

“She is weak enough – I will give her the strength she needs to lead and I will use her weaknesses for the benefit of my kingdom.”

“He is weak enough – I will give him the strength he needs to lead and I will use his weaknesses for the benefit of My Kingdom.”

Brothers and sisters, it is normal – innate, even – to have weaknesses. There are many differences between you and me and everyone else in this world, but something we all have in common is that we all have weaknesses. We all have brokenness. We all fall short. We all have pain. We all endure hardships. We all sin. We all mess up. We all fail. We are all imperfect. No leader is without any of those things.

I am thankful to have not only a hand full, but two hands full of mentors, pastors, and simply amazing leaders in my life, and one of the many things I respect most about those leaders is their willingness to acknowledge weakness, to be vulnerable, to show emotion, to admit when they don’t know something, to acknowledge their imperfections, to admit their faults, to talk about their fears and their challenges, and let people know that being a leader doesn’t negate the fact that you’re still human. I pray to embody that authenticity as an individual and as a pastor someday. I have more distrust than I do admiration for leaders who try to portray themselves as these perfect individuals who are never weak. Because that’s fake. We all have weaknesses so to portray yourself as though you have none is inauthentic and misleading for those who look up to you and those whom you are leading. Having weaknesses and being a leader are also not mutually exclusive. If anything, they make you a better leader.

I am preaching to myself just as much as I am preaching to you when I write this, but do not be ashamed of the things that you consider to be weaknesses in your life, especially when you have a God who is eager to use those weaknesses! Don’t cover them up, rather, embrace them. I know that is easier said than done, but God can actually use them and perfect his strength in those weaknesses. Our weaknesses do not deem us incapable of leading. We are weak, but God is strong. We have flaws, but God is flawless. We are imperfect, but Jesus was & is perfect. I encourage you to ask the question: Am I weak enough to lead? & What does that mean to and for you?

To close out this post, I wanted to leave you with a quote to contemplate from the book I just have mentioned above (I strongly recommend picking up a copy!!)

…Is it that God uses our strengths? Or is it even truer that God’s strength is perfected in our weakness? (Howell, 2017). 


 

Loving and gracious God,

Thank you for using our weaknesses, perhaps even more than you use our strengths. Thank you for being present in our lives as a stronghold and rock, so that we don’t ever have to rely on our own strength. We pray that when we feel incapable or weak that you would remind us that yes – we are incapable and we are weak but you are strong and you are capable. We pray that you would fill us with spirit and enable us to go out and lead, and serve, in your Son, Jesus’ name. We pray that we would be weak enough to lead. Take our pride, God, and take our desire to be perfect and replace it with humility and peace not only in who you’ve made us to be but in who you are. We pray all of this in your name –

Amen. 

 

Advertisements

a post for 5 years || recovery

On the 13th of this month, I’ll be 5 years in recovery – a milestone that, in the moments leading up to that day, has me reflecting & so eager to write. I’m almost 5 years in recovery from an eating disorder that had me believing I wouldn’t even get to 1 year. The mere idea of being 5 years in recovery sends my emotions in all different directions, but mostly, it fills me with a kind of joy that I can’t quite articulate. Out of everything in life, I am most proud of this.

Everything that I am able to do today, I am able to do it because of recovery. That is what makes this such an important milestone in my life. That is why I can’t help but celebrate the 13 of every month, but especially, the 13th of February. The things I do today would not be possible without the health and strength that I have gained, both mentally and physically, in recovery, and that is something I know to never take for granted.

Nearing 5 years in recovery means that for 5 years now, I’ve been not only battling but overcoming a mental illness that had one goal, and that goal was basically to take control of my life until there was no life left to control. Its goal was to make me miserable, which, when I was in the very depths of the disorder, it did succeed at. It succeeded at destroying the joy that I am normally filled with. But it didn’t fully succeed. If that had been the case, I wouldn’t be here writing this post today. Praise & glory to God for that.

Every time I write or talk about this part of my life, my goal is to be as raw, honest, and vulnerable as I can be. Those are three things that I try to be each time I post on this blog or on my social media about recovery, because it’s important to me to show people who are still struggling, or people who are just beginning recovery, that recovery is not a perfect thing, by any means, but that it is possible. It’s important to me to let people know that you can recover and reach the goals and dreams that I know you all have. Is it still a little anxiety-provoking to share about something so personal on social media? Of course it is (I’m human!) But if we do not talk about it and normalize talking about it, the stigmas that exist surrounding mental illness will remain; people are less likely to seek help because of those stigmas, and they are more likely to feel alone. I for one do not want anybody who is struggling with an eating disorder, or any mental illness for that matter, to feel alone, because you most definitely are not.

I was diagnosed with my eating disorder back when I was a freshman in high school, and I remember it vividly, because I had had pneumonia prior to being diagnosed. I lost a good amount of weight because I was so sick from the pneumonia, and I didn’t end up gaining back thar weight the way that I should have after recovering from pneumonia. In addition to this, my eating didn’t go back to ‘normal’ after I no longer had the illness, so, those were the first indicators to my parents and doctor that something was not right with me. When I was in the depths of the disorder, I came close to being sent to North Carolina for inpatient treatment, but I ended up doing intensive outpatient treatment. The affects that the disorder had on my physical health, such as my blood pressure and heart rate, and having passed out in school, were all very clear indicators that inpatient or outpatient was needed, and it needed to be intense. I did this outpatient treatment for about 3 years – I had a dietitian who I saw every other week, my pediatrician (at the time) who I saw once a month, a psychologist I saw every week (after going through like, 5 of them before finding the right fit – don’t panic if the first once you see is not a good fit, it takes time). Along with my 3 doctors, I attended group therapy each week that I could. It was definitely an overwhelming amount of appointments for a high school student as I was, but all of it was essential, and I knew that, even on the days I wanted nothing more than to skip them. While I no longer see these doctors, they contributed so much to saving my health, and I am grateful, and will likely never stop expressing my gratitude to them. *Never, ever, ever feel ashamed for seeking professional help – they are amazing & can help save your life.

I was 15 years old when I was diagnosed. I’ll be 21 next weekend, and I am in a great place – a place I most definitely never in a million years pictured myself, but a place I’m so thankful to be in. I have so many people, including myself, to thank for that. I attend what is the most amazing university, have incredible friends, a loving & supportive family, a church I love to pieces (a lot of churches, actually – they all rock). I am so very happy.

I don’t struggle with anorexia anymore, but for the sake of this post being honest & vulnerable, some days, yes – I do have to work a little harder at recovery than other days, and I am learning that that is okay. This is a process; a journey. And no journey in life, whatever it may be, is perfect or smooth sailing all of the time. There will always be bumps and twists and turns, and we just have to keep trekking when we get knocked down or have setbacks.

A very important part of this post to me was to note, for those struggling, that even being years in recovery, it is still something you will find yourself thinking about and having to work at. While I do not suffer from the disorder itself anymore, some days, life happens and I have to actively remind myself of my recovery and be more intentional about staying healthy. Again, that is okay if you have to do that. It doesn’t make you weak or any less worthy of saying that you are in recovery. When you’re in recovery, you get to know yourself really well and you realize quickly what triggers there are out there for you, what you need to do when you find yourself in the face of them, and what outlets help you when you’re struggling. Those are skills & tools you’ll learn & take with you forever. I myself still work on this to this day. For example, stress still can be a really big trigger for me – it is easy for me to resort to not eating when I am stressed as a way to cope, but because stress is everywhere, I’ve had lots of practice using those tools I’ve gained in recovery as coping mechanisms – they are my outlets, and I highly recommend figuring out yours, because they help so, so much. With that, I’ve learned that the bad days, and sometimes, bad weeks, where you find yourself struggling and having to work a little harder at recovery, you are only made stronger by, because those days remind us that even when we struggle, we are still choosing health over the disease.

I like to say, it is one hell of a mental illness to fight. But I’ve found that I am one hell of gal for fighting it, and beating it. 😉

Recovery is a very beautiful & very difficult thing. But gosh am I thankful to be almost 5 years. I will most definitely be celebrating with a milkshake + my favorite meals (lol).

It’s cool – I actually love food. I love food, I love my body, & I altogether love my energetic little self. There was a point (many different points) in my life where I never thought I would ever be able to say those things and actually mean them. So that’s huge to be in that place I never thought I could be (anything’s possible, right?) If you know me, you know that I am obsessed with peanut butter m&ms and that you will never find me without a family size bag of them in my pantry. I also love chicken nuggets and eat them arguably more often than a 5 year old does. I love to see all of the things that my body is capable of doing. Every run & every hike – those hills I run and those mountains I climb. The sermons I write and preach. The blog posts I write, the exams I take, the homework I do, the food I eat, the drinks I drink, the friends I am able to go out & have fun with. All of those things sort of disappeared as I battled with anorexia.

But today, all of those things above are true in my life because of recovery. I am so proud & thankful, because I love doing all of those things. (Taking exams & doing homework, aside, of course).

To me, recovery is a lot of things. Recovery will be a lot of different things to different people. But one thing that is the same for every one is that recovery is worth it & YOU are worth recovery.

By writing about this journey of mine, my hope is that it lets people, even if it’s just one person, know that they are not alone; that they are not the only ones going through this, though they will most definitely feel as though they are at times. I want you, reading this today, to know that if you are struggling, I understand that feeling, as though you are alone. & I understand what you are going through right now. I want you to know that overcoming this disorder is possible, because I did it, and as cliche as it sounds, if I can, you can, too. If you, right now, are in the depths of an eating disorder, or if you are just now beginning recovery, it is possible to get to a place where you love your body and love food, and think about both of those things in healthy ways. It is possible to get to a place where you can look in the mirror and love the person staring back at you. It’s possible to get to a place where you’re not obsessed with your weight, the number of calories you eat, and to a place where you don’t have anxiety at the mere thought of eating. You, my friend, can do this. My prayer is that every man or woman reading this today who is struggling with a mental illness of any kind, will take that truth away from this post, if nothing else.

Finally, I couldn’t write this post without thanking the people in my life who may be reading this, and have played a role in supporting me these past 5 years, in recovery and in life. To those who have helped me get healthy, and have helped me remain healthy, you have no idea the impact that you have made. A huge to the moon & back thank you to my parents (because I know they’ll read this) for being by my side since day 1 of my life, but also since day 1 of my recovery. Thank you for putting up with me (lol), and loving me an annoyingly large (but sweet) amount, as parents should.

To my friends, whole family, my church(es), mentors, pastors, high school teachers, college professors,

Thank you for genuinely caring about me and my progress in recovery. Thank you for loving me even back when I could not have hated myself more. Thank you for always being there to listen to me, whether I was in need of someone to talk to or cry to. Thank you to the people who were there to hold me as I straight up ugly cried in their arms during the worst & darkest moments back towards the beginning of recovery; the moments where I thought that it was absolutely impossible to recover and be happy again. Thank you for sitting with me and being a calm presence, whether you understood what I was going through or not, whether you knew what to say to me or not. Your presence meant and continues to mean more to me than you know. Thank you for never once looking down on me for the disorder I was battling, and instead, loving me through it and remaining by my side through the pitfalls and triumphs, to this day. I could never do recovery, college, ministry, or life in general without you people who have constantly been behind & beside me. Also, quick shout out to the DCOM (even though the odds of them seeing this are slim). When I was in my certification interview for candidacy last month, my history with an eating disorder did come up as it was noted on my psych eval, so, we talked about that, and when I mentioned that I was going to be 5 years in recovery this month, every pastor & lay person in that room interviewing me said “wow, congratulations” and that meant everything to me. It was meaningful to me because pursuing ministry is one of the most important things in my heart, but also, because it reminded me of the fact that no church leader is perfect I am no exception; I don’t need to be perfect to be a church leader and neither does anybody else. It’s impossible. We all carry with us baggage and things to work on. That’s why we need God and his grace, amen? So, to end the post, of course a big thank you to God.

Thanks, God, for giving me every ounce of strength that I have needed to kick the crap out of anorexia. I love ya so much & promise to always dedicate my life to serving you with the little powerhouse of a body you’ve given me. This is part of my story and it’s not something I’ll ever choose to hide, rather, another tool I’m able to use to minister to my brothers & sisters in Christ.

a thanksgiving post for those in recovery.

I write a post like this one every year to publish on Thanksgiving, because I know how difficult Thanksgiving can be for those struggling with an eating disorder, and for those in recovery from an eating disorder. When I was in the very depths of my eating disorder, I absolutely hated Thanksgiving day – I dreaded it as it approached. I was someone who feared food and got easily overwhelmed by the thought of eating on any given day, so Thanksgiving was like that but on steroids. Because of this, I sought out tweets, articles, and posts by other people who I knew understood the anxiety that Thanksgiving brought to someone struggling and/or in recovery from an eating disorder. So I want to provide something like that for those who may need it today, just as I did not too long ago. Being over 4 1/2 years in recovery now, and someone who loves food, I am excited for Thanksgiving, because cheesy as it may be, I’ve got lots to be thankful for, including yummy food. I do still get some anxiety surrounding this holiday, so because I know the anxiety well, I’m hoping this post can maybe be of some help to you if you’re struggling. These are just some things that I’ve always found helpful that I wanted to write out for you if you find yourself plagued with any type of fear or anxiety about Thanksgiving because of your eating disorder.

First and foremost, please please know that you are not alone in the anxiety that you are finding yourself consumed by. While the people you are physically surrounded by on Thanksgiving may not understand how you’re feeling or why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling, rest assured that there are people, including myself, who do understand. The fear you have of this holiday is not a fear that only you have, and it’s not something you have to be ashamed of. It is also a fear that does not have to consume you and steal this day away from you. It does not have to have the satisfaction of stealing away your focus from the things that you are thankful for.

Don’t think that you have to eat a ton of food, just because there is a ton of food present. This is something I struggled with a lot. I would feel such pressure to fill up my plate simply because that’s what everyone else was doing. And yes, you still need to eat, but you don’t have to stuff yourself. You eat what you are comfortable eating (but still eat, please, your body needs food whether its thanksgiving food or not!)

You also don’t even have to eat the Thanksgiving food if you don’t want to. Eat food that you are used to eating on a regular basis if that is less overwhelming to you. I’ve done that on Thanksgiving before! I think one Thanksgiving I had chicken fingers?

Step away if you need to. It’s okay to walk away from the dinner table and take a breather if you need. Go on a walk, write in your journal, take a nap, watch a funny show on Netflix, call or text a friend, pray, open up your Bible and read some scripture. You don’t have to remain in an environment that triggers anxiety for you. You’re allowed to step away.

It is okay to treat yourself!! Allow yourself to eat that slice of pumpkin pie. Have multiple helpings of turkey or stuffing if you want. Eat 2 servings of ice cream or cranberries if you’ve still got more room in your stomach. It is one day. It will piss the eating disorder off, for sure. But that’s really a huge part of recovery – pissing the eating disorder off and doing exactly the opposite of what your disorder wants you to.

Make this holiday more about the gratitude you have in your heart and make it about being present with the people around you. Make it less about the food. I know, so much easier said than done. But Thanksgiving is not about food. Clearly, we humans have made it about food – it’s an excuse to eat an excessive amount of food, right? That’s okay. But you have so much to be thankful for – bask in that!!

Stay away from the scale. Better yet, put the scale away. A scale is not helpful on Thanksgiving day or around this day. Even if you’re eating “normally” and not eating a ton,the scale becomes 10x more stressful around the holidays because of the emphasis on large amounts of food. You don’t need to stress yourself out about your weight, which is really a reminder for today and every day of recovery!

Know that this day doesn’t have to be different from any other day. It will come and it will pass just as any other day does. Try as best you can to enjoy this day with the people around you, difficult as it may be. Be present with the people you’re surrounded by and constantly be thinking about the things you’re thankful for, because this day should be more about that than it should be about food.

Lastly, you can do this!!!!! You’ve made it trough every Thanksgiving meal you’ve had so far in your lifetime, be confident in your ability to make it through this one as well. You are strong. You can do it.

a note for 4 1/2 years. a note for those struggling.

On the 13th of every month, I have a little party (of one) because the 13th marks another month since the day I decided to begin this crazy, messy, difficult, beautiful, rewarding journey called recovery. Today just so happened to mark 4 1/2 years since that day, and I couldn’t let it pass by without writing a short and sweet blurb about it.

Anorexia was a disease that took hold of me and flipped things right upside down for me halfway through my freshman year of high school. This disease was one that had every intention of taking this sweet life away from me, but God and I had other plans, praise Him, for that. The fact that I said nope that’s not how my story is going to end, is something that I celebrate every single day, but the 13th is important to me because it’s a reminder. It’s a reminder of how far I’ve come since the day I was first diagnosed, along with the day I decided to begin recovery. It is because of my recovery that I am able to do every single thing that I am doing today, and it humbles me to remember each month that none of it would be possible without recovery and the strength I found in God to get to where I am today. I can hike mountains, go on runs, preach God’s Word, spend time with all of the people whom I love, all because of recovery. I will never let a day go by without acknowledging that. Life is hard sometimes, we all know that, but I live a great life surrounded by people I’ll never deserve, I have opportunities I am eternally grateful for, and a future that I could not be more excited for.

I remember one day my parents said to me, “Ashley, you can’t be a pastor and do all of the things required of you if you’re not healthy.”

Those words have always stuck with me to this day, and I think the reason that those words spoken to me stuck with me is because being the best, healthiest version of yourself is a daily task, and it is lifelong. We have to constantly be in tune with our bodies and actively work to take care of ourselves. You can’t do anything you love to do or anything that requires a lot of you if you are not healthy. That goes for any job, and any person. I know the last thing I would ever want was for my eating disorder to ruin my future, and now more than ever I can’t imagine my health preventing me from pursuing God’s call upon my life. Back when my eating disorder began to affect my vitals, I knew I had to change and recover before the illness succeeded at its task to take my life. I still work every day at a healthy lifestyle, just as I’m sure you do, too.

As I reflected on this awesome day of being 4 1/2 years in recovery, I’ve been thinking a lot about how important it is for everyone to know that things aren’t going to be perfect once you choose to recover or even when you do recover. You will still have insecurities every now and then. You will have to work hard, even harder, at maintaining your health. Recovery doesn’t mean that you are supposed to be this perfectly confident person every second of every day – you’re not going to be a perfect person at all. You’re still human. Lord knows I still struggle with things! I don’t have disordered thoughts towards eating anymore, I don’t hate my body, but to this day I still have things regarding my health that I’m working at. Personally, I really struggle to remain at a healthy weight, not because of an eating disorder, but because I have a super speedy metabolism and I’m an active gal. I’m small and I’ve always been small (that’s my parents doing # genes) but its always been hard for me to gain weight. A lot of people think that recovery, especially recovery from anorexia, means you gain a ton of weight, but 4 1/2 years into recovery, I am here still actively working to gain weight healthily and keep that weight on, because that’s just what’s healthier for me. But that is a challenge for me not because I don’t want to but because I’m still figuring out what my body needs in order to gain weight. (There is always more to figure out and learn and become better at!)

But with all of that being said, the main reason I wanted to write this was for those who are still struggling today with an eating disorder. If you are struggling, first and foremost I want you to know that I feel for you and I understand what you are going through. I understand how much you feel like giving up, and how much you think that you cannot recover and therefore its hopeless to even try. But I cannot express to you enough how much hope there is for you. I would never say that if I did not mean it, or if I hadn’t felt what it’s like to get out of the depths of one of these illnesses. Now that I am here, and I am able to enjoy this life that I have been given to live to the fullest, I can say with such confidence that it is worth every single difficult moment. It is worth all of the tears, the doctors appointments, the bad days, the breakdowns – Recovery is worth it. And believe it or not, there is so much pure beauty to be found in the process. It’s a long process, it’s a tough one, but it’s a possible one. You can do it.

Even knowing the hell that my eating disorder put me through, I still would never wish to not have gone through it. I’m sure I did wish that when I first jumped into recovery, or when I relapsed, but now that my head is risen above the waters following being in the depths of the disorder, I would never choose to go back and not go through it. To say the most cliche thing in the world, this whole entire journey has made me stronger, and I’m grateful. It’s a part of my testimony, and while the disorder itself is not part of who I am, the story that God has written through the struggle most certainly is. And in addition to that, I get to be here, writing this, to you all. I talk and write about this openly and honestly for this very reason – I have people of all ages message me all the time on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and this blog asking me questions, wanting suggestions or advice, or just saying my being open helped them know they’re not alone. That’s amazing to me, it leaves me in awe, and every ounce of glory goes to God for that because it is only by his strength that I made it through this, and furthermore, it’s only by his strength and courage I’m able to open about it and write to the world about something so personal. But I’m here for you all. The reason I chose to be open about this in the first place was with the hope and prayer that it could help other people struggling with similar things. You deserve to know that you’re not alone. So please, never feel as though you are in this alone. whether we’ve talked in person before or not, you can always reach out to me. I’m here for you because I know how helpful it is to talk to someone who gets it. I’m here for you because you’re my brother or my sister in Christ and I want you to know you can experience the joy of living a life free from your eating disorder.

Your life matters. Recovery is worth it. You can live a life that is not consumed by your eating disorder. Know that. Believe that. And know it’s going to be hard. It will never not be hard, but it will never not be worth it. You’re going to have days you feel awesome and motivated to recover, and you’ll have days you want to give up.

Don’t.

 

recovered.

The month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and on this blog, I always make sure to dedicate at least one post to mental health awareness during this important month, so for this post, I decided to write about recovery.

Last month, a devotion that I had written was published in The Upper Room, which is a Christian devotional. In this devotion, I wrote about my struggle with an eating disorder, and how it was in recovery that I re-learned I am fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. The reason I mention the Upper Room today in this post is because I sat down and I read every single one of the comments that people made on The Upper Room’s website about my devotion, and in those comments, both the paragraph long ones, and the short and sweet ones, people shared their own stories with me. Some shared about their own struggle with an eating disorder, some shared about how they were still struggling, and some about how they are in recovery as well, and then some shared that they even have children who are struggling, and that they hope my devotion could be of help to their child. Those comments brought tears to my eyes, and it is comments such as those which remind me of the responsibility I feel I have to shine a ray of hope surrounding a topic that needs it, and that is the topic of recovery.

The reason that, years ago, I chose to be outspoken about my story in the first place, was because I had the hope and the prayer that it would help others know that they, too, can talk about it without being ashamed. I wanted people to know that they were not alone in their struggle, because I know when I was struggling, all I felt was alone. As I have gotten older and more mature, I have also realized a whole new side of importance of being outspoken as a Christian, active member in the Church, and aspiring pastor, and that is the importance of being able to talk about mental health in the Church without a stigma.

Today, I’m writing about recovery, because the beauty and the life found in recovery makes the difficult battle with mental illness, just a little more worth it.

Today, it has been almost 4 1/2 years since I chose to recover from an eating disorder called anorexia that stole from me all of the energy that I had to truly live and do what I loved.

Today, I am recovered.

Those are three words I never thought I would ever say and actually mean, let alone write out for the world to read. They are also three words that I never actually said up until a couple weeks ago. What a beautiful milestone that I pray every single person struggling can reach someday.

I thought that this would be beneficial for me to write about, for those who are contemplating recovery, or for those who maybe think that recovery isn’t possible. I want to be here for you as proof that it completely, 100%, is possible. I get a lot of questions about what recovery, as well as questions about eating disorders. I have also encountered folks who think being recovered is impossible, and I can sympathize with those people as well, because I was one of those people.

There was a point back when I was in the depths of my struggle where I didn’t think recovery would ever be possible for me. There were actually many points I can recall where that was my mindset. There was a point I didn’t even think that living life was possible for me anymore, let alone worth it. But, by the grace of God, here I am.

I am here and I am more than happy to sit here before you and type to you as proof that your eating disorder does not have to be the end of your story. Your mental illness, whatever it may be, does not have to take away your present life or your future life.

Choosing recovery was hands down the best decision I ever made in my 20 years of life. But when I first made the decision, that was not my mindset. You see, while it’s one of the best decisions you’ll ever make, it’s also one of the hardest. This decision means sacrificing your comfort, going against what your diseased mind is telling you, and working hard to combat the illness, begin recovery, and continue choosing recovery every single day. When you begin recovery, you cannot try to grasp onto who you were before your mental illness, because once you’ve recovered, you’re not who you were. You are a stronger, much better person. I urge you, do not lose sight of that person you are capable of being, after your mental illness.

Friends, I urge you to think about the things that you will be able to do once you’re healthy and happy again. And then I urge you to think of the things that you love or want to do but cannot do because you’re not healthy right now. Let those things be your motivation. Let that be an incentive to recover. I know that I would not be able to do anything that I love to do in this life if it weren’t for the health and strength that I have gained in recovery. I wouldn’t be able to stand before a congregation and preach a sermon if it weren’t for recovery. I wouldn’t be able to go out with my friends and enjoy our time together if it weren’t for recovery. I wouldn’t be able to sit here and write words that people are able to resonate with if it weren’t for recovery because recovery made me more of the person God intended me to be. I do not believe I was handed an eating disorder as a punishment and I do not believe that God just decided one day that that would be something I struggled with, but friends, I do firmly believe he did allow me to go through this for more reasons than one, and as much hell as I went through suffering from that disorder, I love who I am because of that journey. That sounds crazy to me, I cannot imagine how crazy it may sound to someone reading this post today who is still struggling, but I hope that it will encourage you. You can get to that point too someday. I know you can’t see it, but I want you to be assured that that possibility is there within your reach.

Recovery is a choice. It’s a choice you have to make more than once – every single day, really. Once you decide to begin recovery, you’re not done, you have only just begun, and I know that seems intimidating and scary, but it is the most rewarding thing, to wake up every morning and kick the eating disorders ass.

It all was without a doubt one of the hardest experiences I have ever gone through in my life, but being able to say with full confidence that I am recovered makes it all worth it. Believe that you will get to that point someday, my brother or sister. Being able to be there for people who are struggling and thinking about recovery, or who just want to talk about their struggles with me makes it worth it. The reason I am so open about my story is because I know full well that there is a stigma in our society and even within the Church when it comes to mental illness, and I want to work to break that stigma. Having an eating disorder, or any mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of and every single one of those diseases is capable of being overcome. I pray THAT is the message delivered to the people I am able to reach through this post and through my life when I write and talk about this.

Recovery looks different for everyone, so I’m not going to sit here and write down ‘qualifications’ you have to meet in order to be considered “recovered.” But I am going to sit here and tell you all of the things that in my life that make me able to look at myself and say, yep, I’m recovered, and I can tell you how absolutely impossible I thought every single one of these things was back when I was struggling.

 

If you are struggling, I encourage you to take the very first step, and admit you have a problem, but a problem that you are completely capable of overcoming. Ask for help. Tell someone. Get professionals involved. Build yourself a support system. But most all, work on telling yourself that recovery is possible, and then work on believing it. If I could tell my 15 year old self anything, I would shake her and let her know she is going to get out of it and get her life back, she just has to keep pushing forward and working hard. You can have your life back, and live one free of your illness.

If you are a Christian reading this today, please, my brother or sister, do not let anyone shame you and make you think that you are living a life of sin because you are struggling. Know that it is okay to ask for help. Seek God, yes, but also know that there is nothing wrong with seeking professional help as well. In fact, doing so could have the ability to save your life. I know I can confidently say it saved mine. God is the reason I never gave up. There’s no if, and’s, or buts about that – but I had professionals. I prayed and I talked to God, but I also talked to a therapist, dietitian, and pediatrician. There is no shame in admitting you need help. God is your constant help, yes, but he is a God who wants what’s best for you and if getting someone professionally trained in the area you need help with is what’s best, by all means, get that help.

Recovery is hard, and it’s quite the journey, but it’s nothing you cannot do.

I was diagnosed with anorexia when I was a freshman in high school, and I decided to begin recovery midway through my sophomore year of high school. Now, as a rising junior in college, I am here. I’m in college, I’m writing and preaching my heart away, I am surrounded by the greatest people, I love food (!!!), and life is a beautiful gift. I have the life after my eating disorder that, for the longest time, I never thought was possible for me to have. And if I had the choice, I would never change the journey in any way, because it led me here, to where I am. Battling an eating disorder was the definition of God giving me more than I could handle, but in that struggle and in recovery was when I learned to rely on God more than I ever had before. He is good, friends. He has given us life, and life to the full.

Get excited about the beautiful life you will live after your mental illness, and know it does exist.

Don’t give up on yourself. You’re stronger than you think and recovery will make you even stronger. God loves you, I love you, and I’m praying for you.

                                                               

                                                            ~ Grace and peace ~

 

breaking down barriers

I have been working recently on a sermon that I am going to be preaching in a couple of weeks, and it is about breaking down barriers. You probably could have guessed that I am using one, if not the most, popular verse regarding this topic: the wonderful example that Jesus gives to us in scripture through his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.

I contemplated preaching about this topic of breaking down barriers, and I contemplated even the title of the sermon as well (“Jesus broke barriers”).

I contemplated it and wondered whether or not I should choose something else, all because of this one thought that kept creeping into the back of my mind.

“I’m afraid people will think I’m trying to be political”

I’ve never been one to tweet or post on Facebook about politics, and I rarely blog about it, but I care a great deal about what is going on in the political realm of the world, because I love my country, I just choose not to share my views on such things via social media. If you do, more power to ya.

But because of our President’s travel ban, eagerness to build a wall, etc, when I thought about preaching John 4 – Jesus and the Samaritan woman – I immediately thought about how the congregation may get the impression that I am anti-Trump, and trying to persuade them to dislike him, which would never be my intent, especially in a sermon.

With that being said, I had to get out of my head, move past those concerns and fears, and realize that a lot of ministry is about taking risks, and when God places a message on your heart to share with his people, you do it. Even if it makes you uncomfortable.

I realize now, looking back to when I was first trying to decide what scripture to preach on, how lame it would have been for me to avoid this topic. How stupid it was to try to avoid simply using the word “wall” in the sermon because…well, you know. I realized this entire topic of breaking down barriers is something we as Christians are called to do.

This whole topic of breaking down barriers and demolishing walls between us and our brothers and sisters, is not political. It’s biblical.

It’s Jesus.

Jesus broke down barriers.

Jesus loved those who others would consider to be unlovable.

Jesus talked to those whom others wouldn’t talk to.

Breaking down barriers is not a political thing. It’s a Jesus thing.

The meaning of breaking down barriers, and the point behind doing so has shifted because of the current political circumstances; what walls and barriers mean now have a whole new meaning because of politics, really, but when we put our focus back where it belongs – on Jesus – we’re reminded that we have always been called to break down barriers and destroy walls that separate us from loving our neighbors, both near and far. Breaking down walls in something Jesus showed us how to do through scripture long before our current president-elect.

Breaking down barriers and refusing to let walls separate us isn’t something you do or don’t do depending on whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat.

Breaking down barriers is something you do if you follow Jesus Christ.

If we desire to follow him, we should desire to break down barriers because that’s not only what Jesus would do, it’s what he did. 

We should make every effort to break down walls between us and our brothers and sisters.

Why?

Because we’re called to love our neighbors which is something we can’t do if we have walls that separate us from our neighbors. And I’m not talking about physical walls because these barriers can present themselves as mental and physical walls.

A mental wall that prevents us from loving or interacting with our neighbors would be our differences. It’s easy to interact with people who are like us. It’s easy to interact with those who are already our friends and forget that Jesus made friends with people who were different than him all the time. The Samaritan woman was an outcast, had been married multiple times, and back then, Jews and Samaritans didn’t associate with one another because they had nothing in common, but Jesus didn’t care about that and we shouldn’t either.

Differences set aside, we’re all loved by the same God.

Jesus was about relationships with people. He was about sacrifice. He was about love. We can’t love our neighbors if we have barriers in the way that prevent us from loving our neighbors to the fullest.

We can’t say we’re followers of Jesus if we refuse to interact with people different than us. We don’t follow a Savior who built walls between him and those who were different from him. We follow a Savior who constantly broke down walls between himself and his neighbors.

Doing what Jesus did requires us to step outside of our comfort zones and step into a position that makes us vulnerable, open to rejection, and maybe a few seconds of awkwardness. Sometimes we have to sacrifice our comfort in order to love someone who is hard to love, or who we think will be hard to love. It’s much easier to go about our days not acknowledging Jesus’ commandment to love one another, especially when loving one another means loving those who are alike and unlike us.

But we are the Church. We are Jesus’ hands and Jesus’ feet. As much as we’re encouraged to get outside of our church walls and BE the church in this world, we need to get outside of ourselves and acknowledge that the walls between us and between our brothers and sisters need to be knocked right down so that we may have the ability to love them as we’re called to do.

“It is better to build a longer table than a taller fence”

addressing myths about eating disorders

I am in a health class this semester to fulfill a general education requirement, and for the past week, we have been learning and talking about weight, eating disorders, diets, and exercise. My health teacher, in their lectures, while meaning well, has made some a couple false statement’s about eating disorders, and it made me eager to write and address the numerous myths surrounding eating disorders. I don’t know everything there is to know, I’m not a mental health professional, but having struggled myself, I know enough to know that there are far too many stereotypes and generalizations when it comes to eating disorders.


“Eating disorders are about food.”

They’re actually about control. I don’t know enough about psychology ~yet~ to know how or why eating disorders develop, but I do know that they can develop due to a variety of different reasons, such as certain traumatic or sudden life events that occur in one’s life, abuse that leads to shame, body insecurity at a young age, and much more. It’s important to know that there is no one trigger that causes an eating disorder to develop. As I have gotten older, I have been able to put bits and pieces of my past together and see how certain things could potentially have contributed to the developing my eating disorder, but anxiety about food in and of itself is only a small part of what I remember. People use their eating disorders as a way to control the things in their lives that seem out of control. For example, when a person is stressed, they tend to eat more or eat less. When a person who suffers from an eating disorder is stressed, they may binge eat, or they may restrict their caloric intake / starve their bodies as a way to control the things in their lives that they are stressed about. Eating is something that a person can control for themselves. The only problem with this is, the body needs food to survive, so in the process of a person thinking that they are controlling their food intake, they’re actually losing control of their health and their lives without even realizing it.

“Only women suffer from eating disorders.”

This is a very common misconception, and it’s important to note that eating disorders do not discriminate; not by age, not by gender, not by class, not by anything. Along with this, there are body image pressures that society puts on men as well as women. This false assumption that eating disorders are something that only women struggle with is why so many men remain in silence when they do suffer from one of these disorders. So often men feel ashamed because these are so commonly perceived as being an issue only women struggle with. But 1 in 10 men suffer from an eating disorder; 10 million men are diagnosed with some type of eating disorder. 10-15% of people who struggle with anorexia or bulimia are male. We need to break this stigma about males and eating disorders because lives are being taken far too often because people don’t seek treatment.

 

“Having an eating disorders is a lifestyle choice” 

I cannot think of a good reason why anyone would ever want to choose to have an eating disorder, but this is something I hear and see a lot on social media. Eating disorder’s are not a way to diet, lose weight, or gain attention. They’re mental illnesses – diseases that can kill you. When I think back to when I was suffering from my eating disorder, the only way I know how to sum it up into one word is “hell.” I would never choose that life and I wouldn’t wish it upon my greatest enemy. A person does not simply wake up one morning and say, “I’m not going to eat anymore” or, in other words, “I’m going to start slowly killing myself.” These disorders develop over time and they disease ones mental health. So while having one of these disorders is not a choice, recovery is a choice.  And it is without a doubt the best choice I have ever made.

“Eating disorder’s are just in the mind, they don’t affect you physically”

I thought this was true, too. I bought into this myth for the longest time. I thought that I could restrict my diet as much as I wanted, I would get thinner, and somehow my physical health would remain the same. But that is not reality. I fainted twice in school, my blood pressure was low, my BMI was dangerously low, my heart rate changed, and it is proven that the more a person continues ‘obeying’ their eating disorder, the more their mental health declines.

“You’re eating – you’re recovered!”

This is a big one. Healthy eating is not the only thing required in recovery. Simply because someone is eating does not mean that they are recovered. Those outside of the person struggling have no idea the thoughts that are going through that persons head while they’re eating. Eating and eating enough or not too much (depending on the disorder) is very important in recovery, but a lot more goes into recovery than that. Your thoughts have to be redirected, your whole mentality has to change and become healthy again, you have to really fight against the disordered thoughts. None of that involves eating, it involves a great amount of mental strength, because it is once you learn how t fight the thoughts, that you are able to have healthy eating habits.

“You’re at a healthy weight; you’re recovered.”

Believe it or not, a person can be in the very depths of their eating disorder and still be at a healthy weight. This is one of the many reasons why they are so dangerous. A person can be struggling with an eating disorder and their BMI could be in the normal range. I was severely underweight when I was greatly struggling with my disorder, but as I recovered and gained weight, I at one point had a doctor who would think that my weight gain meant that I wasn’t struggling anymore, or that I was cured. Being at a normal weight for your age and height doesn’t equal health or recovery. It is very important to know that there are a variety of different eating disorders that present themselves in different ways. For example, many people don’t know that people who suffer from bulimia tend to remain the same weight. Just because someone is thin doesn’t mean they’re healthy and just because someone is curvy doesn’t mean that they are unhealthy. A person could be neither underweight or overweight and still have an eating disorder that could be threatening their lives. You cannot tell by a person’s appearance whether or not they have an eating disorder. Plain and simple.

“It’s impossible to recover fully.”

If I were to pick one myth about eating disorders that I thought was most important to address, it would be this one, because recovery is possible. It’s very possible. I know it doesn’t seem like it when you’re struggling. I’ve been on that side of the journey; the side where you think that there is no way you are ever going to get better or live a life where you’re not constantly obsessing over calories, weight, or exercise. I know what that’s like. But now I’m here. I’m where I am today. I’m in this place that I, too, never thought I would be, where I am able to eat and not have disordered thoughts scrambling around in my head, freaking out because I’m feeding my body what it needs and not starving it. I think that as someone who has experienced and struggled with this disease, but who has also been through journey and out the other side, it is a responsibility of mine to speak out about the fact that it is possible to recover. There is hope. There is light at the end of the incredibly dark tunnel that one faces when struggling with these disorders. But recovery is possible and it is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, because, due to recovery, I’m able to do everything that God has put me here to do.