Immanuel

In seasons of waiting one of our first responses is to doubt God. Doubt His hand in things, His nature, His very presence. We wait and wait and wait for Him to show up. We wait for Him to show up in illness, grief, unmet expectations, failure, change and so much more. And when He doesn’t we are quick to ask, “Where are you, Lord?” We grumble, get angry and lose hope. Our worlds come crashing down when, in waiting for our Lord, it feels like He will never come.

In these times, there is Truth to be spoken over every weary heart in waiting: Immanuel. That is the Truth we all need when waiting for our Savior. Immanuel, God With Us.

It is in remembering His with-ness that we realize the One we are waiting for has already come. The One whose presence we are both doubting and longing for is whispering gently, “I am here. Where are you? I am with you. Are you with me?”

In a painful diagnosis, I am WITH you. In loss too great for words, I am WITH you. In big moves and lost jobs, I am WITH you. In failures and friendlessness, I am WITH you. In every disappointment, every unmet desire, I am WITH you. It’s who I am. Immanuel, God WITH you.

It is not about waiting for the Lord to show up. He already has. It’s about looking around, looking up, getting on our knees in the dirt, to find Him in this place, wherever “this” place may be.

When we stop waiting for Jesus our Savior to come, we free up space to see Him in our midst. Then, and only then, will we be able to say with full confidence, just as Jacob did, “Surely the LORD is in this place” (Genesis 28:16).

Throughout this Advent season and all of our lives, may we long not for the coming Savior, but for Immanuel, the Savior who has already come and dwells with us.

 

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not the only but the best

When things seem hopeless, we pray. When life is out of control, we pray. When we feel helpless, we pray. When we’re thousands of miles away, physically separated and unable to do anything, we pray. When souls seem lost to us, we pray. When life and health are on the line, we pray. We pray because it’s the only thing we can do.

People of all kinds persecuted for all things. We pray. Loved ones living in darkness, us helpless to reach their hearts. So we pray. People fighting injustice, being the voice, for those who can’t. We pray. Friends grapple with dangerous inner demons. And we pray. Families experience loss and heartache. We pray. The news plays and we feel small, unable to curb the violence and hate. We pray. Strangers across the globe are being bombed out of existence, forced into a rubble grave. And we pray.

Prayer is often viewed as a last resort, a back up plan, what we turn to when all else fails.

In many cases prayer is the only option we have, but what if it’s more than that?

What if prayer was not only the only thing you could do, but also the BEST thing you could do?

That’s exactly what prayer is – the very best thing you could ever do. All that has to happen is a shift in focus, a healthy dose of humility, a realigning with His heart, a surrender to stillness, a commitment to stop doing and start listening.

If we find ourselves busy on our feet more than still on our knees, then fear and doubt have overtaken. If we try everything in our own power before tapping into His, then we have our priorities all wrong. If prayer is not our first response, then pride must be. If prayer has become a back up, then we have become our very own god, we have taken a place we can never fill.

So let’s step down from that place we were never meant to hold. Let’s kneel still and long. Let’s lift voices to Him in desperation, in helplessness, in humility, in praise. Let’s reach hands towards His throne of grace, the place that allows us to both give and receive that very same grace. Let’s pray and expect His presence, His undivided attention. Let’s pray for when we pray we enter that thin place where heaven meets earth and we truly see. Let’s open our hands, our hearts, to so much more of Him.

Because here’s the truth – prayer is not the only thing we can do. It is the BEST thing we can do. Prayer is not a last resort, but our weapon of choice. Prayer is not the back up plan, but our go to. Prayer is our defense against lies and our line of communication with our Father. Prayer is the oldest, most underrated trick in the book. Prayer is powerful, never changing. Constant as the sun rise. Prayer brings us back to humble communion, equips us to keep living and loving. Prayer prepares us to change the world in His name.

Let’s stop doing and humble ourselves to pray. Because when we pray, we not only do the only thing, we actually do the very BEST thing.

 

searching for a savior

Some days the world just really hits us in the gut. Every picture, every news title, every thing media related. It all screams of anger, greed, judgement and injustice. It’s all coated in depravity and sin. And it’s everywhere. You cannot escape it. You cannot hide from it. It’s everywhere. We live in a fallen world. We live in a world that is depraved, because it’s desperate. It’s desperate for a savior.

The world and everyone in it is on a perpetual search for something to save them. I see it everyday. I see it in myself, my friends and family and every human on this planet. We search and search for something to fulfill us. We turn to fame and power to make us feel loved, alive, in control. We turn to money as the answer to all of our problems. We look to drugs as the magic pill and alcohol as the only means to having fun. We sleep around in search of someone who will fulfill us intimately, someone who will save us. We look to food and exercise to numb, to cope, to fit in. We search for a savior in friends and partying, in more clothes, newer technology, a bigger house, nicer stuff, a better job, thinner legs, more likes. And when this search inevitably leads us nowhere we, the world, get more desperate.

The world is both desperate enough and lost enough in it’s search for a savior that it has turned to heartbreaking crimes against each other, against all things good and beautiful, against God Himself. The world is desperate enough to sell young girls for sex. Desperate enough to sell tiny babies as nothing more than “parts.” It’s desperate enough to kill people simply because they’re a different color. Desperate enough to bomb buildings and murder thousands. It’s desperate enough to defile sex into a perverted, demeaning, relationship-killing industry. Desperate enough in it’s search for a savior to worship all that is evil and the evil one himself. The world is desperate indeed. Desperate enough to participate in these kinds of things, yet not quite desperate enough, and far too stubborn, to turn to the Savior that already came.

It’s easy to be depressed by the state of the world, the state of man, the state of ourselves, but as Christians we cannot afford to live paralyzed by sin. We cannot afford to cease hoping, cease living like Jesus. We cannot afford to stop praying for His Kingdom to come. We cannot afford to forget that He has already won, He has already crushed the head of the serpent with His heel. He has already overcome the world and all of the desperate actions it has taken and will take.

So we don’t lose hope. Instead we choose to pray that man would continue to search. That he would search to the ends of the earth if he has to until he discovers that the Savior has been here all along. We pray that he would search the world until he realizes that there is nothing of this world that can save him, for Christ is not of this world. We do not pray that the world’s desperation would cease, but instead that it would become more desperate. We need to pray that the world would become desperate enough to stop the violence and choose to love. Desperate enough to quit pornography and pre-marital sex and commit to God honoring marriage. Desperate enough to choose love over hate and mercy over judgement. Desperate enough to make the hard choices that go against the grain. Desperate enough to turn from evil and cling to the One who is good.

I pray that our desperation would lead us to Christ, instead of away. I pray that our search for a savior would reveal the truth that only Jesus Christ, the Savior of all the world, can save us. He is the Savior that the world is searching for.


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

a harvest story

Most of life is spent planting seeds. Planting seeds of faith, hope, joy and love. Planting seeds and praying they grow. Praying that someone waters them. Praying that the seeds fall on soft soil hearts. Beyond the initial planting and occasional watering and prayer we are removed from the growth process. But sometimes you get to experience the harvest and let me tell you harvest time is my favorite time!

After a long ten days being a camp counselor, I was tired. I loved each of my campers and was learning so much from them, but I was definitely doubting my influence. I was praying to be content with simply seed planting in my campers, trusting that God would do the watering. But then God decided to show off and let me be a part of another one of His incredible harvest stories.

“Let us not grow weary or lose heart in doing good, for in due time and at the appointed season we will reap a harvest if we do not grow weary.” Galatians 6:9

A friend sat us down and said we needed to share, so share we did. I told my story. She told hers. Our mutual brokenness quickly bonded us. She was vulnerable and real and the raw hurt of it all ran deep. But Jesus ran deeper. I could feel her pain, because her pain had been my pain a couple years ago. But that reminded me that my pain, our pain, is always His pain too. My heart broke for her, but His heart had been broken for us both because He loves His daughters that deeply. Just as I wished I could give this girl a glimpse of the complete freedom to come in surrendering everything to Christ, so the Lord desires to show us all that we have in Him. For everything I felt, He has felt it a million times over again for all of eternity.

In the simple act of sharing our stories with each other, His mighty healing power brought redemption beyond my imaginings. I, and then we, prayed freedom & hope over her in Jesus name and He delivered wildly. He lavished freedom upon her, because that’s just who He is. In His great love for this dear girl, He rained hope & grace & redemption on her. He set her feet upon the path to freedom and ignited the Spirit within her. The joy she suddenly had in the Lord was written across her face and it was beautiful. I was content. I was in awe.

As if that wasn’t enough, a few days ago I got a text from this sweet new God-friend, that reminded me again just how powerful our God is. I’m writing about it here, because I can’t help but brag on God. Only He can do things like this.

“I don’t even know what to say. I am so thankful that the Lord saved YOU and I hope you know how greatly you have changed my life with your story, encouragement, and truth. I will forever treasure the words you have spoken over me and that you have written. You have shown me for the first time what freedom and bravery look like and I am overflowing with hope and joy that I haven’t felt in SO long. After reading your letter I threw away my hidden self-harm blades which I NEVER thought I would be able to do. The Lord is working through you in mighty ways, Arden, and I hope you never doubt your influence because it is more powerful than you know. “

Yes, praise the LORD, you read that correctly. She threw them away. Those blades she kept hidden for times when she needed to inflict the depth of pain she felt inside. Those blades that had cut deeply into flesh with the hope of inflicting some kind of pain that might possibly mimic the intense self-hate she felt. The blades that were used when the voices got too loud and the hopelessness and worthlessness overwhelmed. She threw them away. She did what I couldn’t fully do for years and I’m in tears. I happy danced and happy-cried and gave thanks in my room, because GOD IS SO GOOD. He is mighty to save.

But she didn’t just throw away the blades she used to hurt herself. She threw away her old self that was coated in fear, shame and hopelessness from years of bondage to anxiety, depression and anorexia. She threw away the old and embraced the new that God offered. He had been patiently waiting for her to take the complete newness she received at her salvation. She took hold of hope and joy. She’s clinging to Truth in the face of lies. She’s throwing all kinds of chains off and dancing out in freedom.

She wrote “bravery is a choice” on her hand everyday for two weeks. But she did more than that. She actually made the choice to be brave. In throwing away what she had used to cope with pain & hopelessness & the devils lies, she chose brave. The enormity of that action still leaves me speechless. I don’t know if anyone who hasn’t experienced this kind of bondage can understand just how brave you have to be to make such a choice. She chose to believe the Truth when the lies where much easier to believe. She chose hope when most would choose hopelessness. She is BRAVE because she is choosing Jesus and He is always the bravest choice we can make. 

I could go on and on about this girl, this story, this God. But there are a few things I want you to take away from this story. First, and most importantly, GOD IS AWESOME. He deserves all honor and glory in everything, but especially in these moments. These moments where our lives are used by Him are beautiful. They are another opportunity to point back to Him who did all the work. We are just His instruments. I am simply an instrument in His complex orchestra. And I will praise Him forever for the opportunity to have a front row seat to see the way He works. Second, the Holy Spirit is real. He is alive and working within us and around us. I never want to forget how the Holy Spirit moved in this situation, how thickly he saturated every aspect of it. I pray I never forget that He’s working right this very moment. I pray I never cease being blown away by the power of the Spirit. Lastly, I want you to see the power of shared stories in the hands of the Author of life. God wrote your story and it needs to be read. You need to share it, because other people need to hear it. Others need to see living, breathing testimonies of God’s redemption. Sometimes it seems pointless, but as a wise Audrey once said “never doubt your influence.” Never doubt the impact your story can have on another’s story.

Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.  2 Corinthians 9:6-9

This girl blessed me more than she knows, because just as she was given hope through me, so was I given hope through her. It’s not everyday that I get to see this kind of fruit. Most days are seed planting days. But God throws in these joyful harvest days to remind us that we do not labor in vain and that He is constantly at work. Every smile, every word, every action are seeds planted, parts of the stories being written around you.

So I thought camp was seed planting season, but apparently God had other plans. Keep planting seeds in Jesus name. I promise God will blow you away when you get to experience the harvest moments and be a part of a joyful harvest story such as this one.

Breathing Room

Lord, I need breathing room.

That has been my prayer the last couple weeks. When my therapist breathed those words out and I breathed them in– breathing room– a weight I didn’t even know I carried, lifted.

Breathing room. Space. Leeway. Margin. However you say it, I need it.

I’ve never had breathing room. I’ve lived the last 8 (at least) years in a confined space, a box, a little square drawn in the sand. I’ve lived stuck. Stuck in a tight spot. Claustrophobic but afraid.

Eating disorders, many mental illnesses and compulsive behaviors leave no breathing room. They are the tightest-of-tight boxes and the smallest-of-small spaces. There is no room for anything but the rules, the expectations (of self or others), the behaviors. There is no bending from anorexia to go to a birthday party. There is no pausing over-exercising, self-harm or purging just because there is an opportunity to travel. No. No, because there is no breathing room in any of those situations. There is no room for error, no room for a change in plans. You do not stray from the black line. You do not change plans. You do not change your mind. You simply do not, because there is no room for that.

There is no room, because room, margin, leeway. They all mean mistakes, errors, mess-ups, mishaps — failure. Room to breathe means room to fail. And I have never allowed room to fail. Perfection, yes. Failure, absolutely not I’d rather die.

Perfection leaves no breathing room. Anything outside of the realm of perfection, of the expectations placed upon us, is utter catastrophe, sending the world into a dizzy.

I grew up sticking myself in that little box out of fear, desire to please, perfectionism. No one had to put me there. I didn’t need anyone to draw those black lines of my “allowed square inch.” I did that myself.

Strangely enough, I have always hated tight things, anything that confines me physically. I am seriously claustrophobic, yet I am drawn towards this tight confining life. The life that says when and what you can eat, who you can see, what you can do and say, unwritten rules galore.  Rigid, unrelenting, changeless, unforgiving.

So when I heard those words — breathing room, give yourself breathing room– I thought “Can I? Can I really?” All the confining I had done on purpose. All of the restricting I had inflicted upon myself. All of the rigid rules. I did those things. I inflicted it, enforced it. I gave myself a life of confinement, a life without air, without any room to breathe, to fail.

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I gave myself that kind of life, but now I’m choosing to give myself a life that breathes. I need  to give myself room to have hard or bad days. I need room to get overwhelmed and cry. I need room to be imperfect. Because life is not perfect. My family and friends are not perfect. College will not be perfect. There will be overwhelming, hard, straight up bad days where I just want to throw my hands up in defeat. Without breathing room those days are too much, unrecoverable. Those days are failure and make me want to quit. But, insert some breathing room, stretch that square inch a bit, and that same day can be called good. I can laugh at that day. I can pause, breathe deep and say, “this too is good.”

That extra room means that what would have been failure in my teeny-tiny perfect box can instead be called grace, growth, good. That extra room means release of the pressure to be good enough, an end to the proving and the living up. That extra room means God has room to move. Room to change me, bend and break me, mold and challenge me, love and grow me. In my confining life there was no room for anything “else,” not even God.

As I have thought and prayed over this need for breathing room, God gave me this — You don’t need more breathing room. You already have all the room you need. I gave you all the room you could possibly need on the Cross. Just take it. Use it. 

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(image via Pinterest)

Talk about dumb-struck. Of course I have all the room I need. Jesus gave me all the room in the world to fail and fumble and fall on the cross. He gave me so much room, grace (unmerited, undeserved favor), to mess up that I will never be able to use even half of it. It’s immeasurable the grace He has bestowed upon me. James 4:6 says, “But he gave us more grace.” He didn’t just give grace, He gave more grace and even more on top of that. His grace has no constraints. It is freely given to all. Titus 2:11 says, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” Not just the good or the perfect or the tall or the thin or the pretty or the smart or the talented, but to all. Yet this grace was not given because of something I did. No, this grace is a gift. It’s a gift that God gave in His Son. It’s a gift that cost more than we will ever be able to comprehend. And it’s a gift that we choose to breathe in and live out of daily.

I will leave you with this question — do you need to use more of your gifted breathing room?

Remembering: Two Years Later

Two years later. Two years older. Two years changed. Two years different. Two years stronger. Two years braver.

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It’s been two years since I first began treatment. Two years since I shuffled through the doors of Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders. Two years since that became my home away from home. I remember that first day, like it was yesterday. Walking in to unfamiliar faces. Having to sit down with these strangers and face the unthinkable. Then being forced to talk about how it went. Did you enjoy the food? No. What did you not like? All of it. Were you afraid? Uhhh…yes, out of my mind. Did you use any behaviors? Of course I did. I didn’t finish that disgusting cottage cheese that you evil people are trying to make me fat and ruin my life with. That was the gist of that first day. Curled up on a chair in an “illegal” position, journaling my fear and hate while avoiding having to speak.

Life for the first several weeks was rather ugly. Blind weigh-ins. Blood pressure monitoring. Constant meals. Never ending FOOD. Exhaustion. Insomnia. Coping skills torn away from my tightened grip. Trying to put on a strong front, while wanting to disappear every moment of every day. I got good at pretending and making people believe I was doing better than I really was. I think it’s part of the territory.

Needless to say, two years ago my life was a wreck. Not in school. Not living at home. Not on good (or even speaking) terms with my family. Anxiety and panic attacks sky-rocketing. Depression chronic. Anorexia raging. Pretending my way out of questions and consequences. Pushing everyone away, except my “chosen” few. My body eating itself until it shut down so many processes that living “normally” was getting hard. My brain on one track and one track only: restrict until you’re worthy, until you disappear, until you’re enough, until the anxiety & sadness go away.

I entered the anger phase of treatment. Anger coursed through my being. Why do I have to eat? Why is everyone forcing me to eat? Why does my body need it? I was angry that I had to succumb to such weakness (eating = weakness). I thought I should be stronger than food. I should be above it, above the physical need for it. I hated food itself and anyone who made me touch it. I even hated myself for needing it (for some reason I thought I should be the only human ever that didn’t need to eat…like what?). Every meal I battled for control. Less food means more control. More control means less fear and unworthiness.

Everyone around me that was trying to save me, were (in my eyes) trying to kill me, ruin my life, take away everything I loved/needed while giving me absolutely nothing in return except weight (i.e. fat, because to an ED patient all weight is fat even though most of it is bone mass, organ mass, heart/brain mass, water, etc).

Part of an eating disorder is suppression. Suppression of appetite, hunger/fullness cues, emotions, thoughts and feelings, even reality. Treatment is designed to trigger the release of that suppression, so at some point you become a ticking time-bomb. You become a walking volcano of everything you’ve been suppressing. If you’re like me, then you still suppressed things in public, but trust me, my journal and my therapist got spewed on daily, many times a day.

I remember the day that Taylor and I saved the day…or something like that. Bathroom buddies are totally a thing in treatment and so is asking a fellow patient “are you puking in there” and then going to get help because obviously that’s a no-no.

I remember the day we smashed scales in the parking lot with huge hammers and released balloons with notes inside about what we need to let go relating our disorders. Smashing the scale was smashing the lies, the standards, the expectations, the anger, the fear and everything else. Plus it was a great stress reliever and we got lots of weird looks which was funny.

I remember the day we made puppets and talked down our eating disorder voices. I watched light bulbs go off around me. I remember watching now friends and recovery partners throwing clay as hard as they could at the wall and yelling at their ED voices. I remember when we had hard days where abuse was spoken of and people wanted to jump out windows and tears were shed by all and families gathered. I remember family therapy and letting a little bit of my shield down. I remember the day I finally opened up to one of the therapists and she hugged me and thanked me. I remember the new faces as well as the old. I remember saying hello as well as goodbye. I remember the worry when people discharged against doctors recommendation without a trace. I remember arguing over who was going to go see the psychiatrist first and making faces at each other across the table at food we didn’t like. I remember the day we all cried over chef salad and didn’t leave a man behind. I remember the video we watched on wolves and everyone trying not to burst into laughter during the pointless session about that wolf video. And of course, I remember that Prince George was born while I was at Renfrew.

Most of all I remember the complete hopelessness, the desperation, the lack of purpose. I believed I was worthless & unlovable so I lived that way. I remember the anxiety and anger, the withdraw, the avoidance. I also, remember the subtle shifts, the changes. I remember the first day I felt hungry. I remember the first day I asked for help. I remember finding my voice and asking questions that we all were thinking. I remember being challenged in my faith. I remember the ups and the downs and all of the things I learned.

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I learned to sit with hard emotions instead of act upon them.

I learned to use my voice.

I learned that my body is an awful lot better at knowing what’s best for it than I am.

I learned to trust the professionals around me.

I learned that my family is for me, I just needed to let down my wall and allow them to come in.

I learned to say, “I have anorexia” instead of avoiding the question or making excuses.

I learned to say “this too shall pass” when uncomfortable emotions and anxieties threatened to send me into a panic.

I learned that I have so many people on my side, praying and battling on my behalf when I was too sick to do so.

I learned that I don’t have to be happy all the time.

I learned that self-hatred was killing me and I was letting it.

I learned to put myself in positive, healthy places with people that speak truth.

I learned about my core beliefs and how everything stems from them.

I learned that though nothing will ever feel as comfortable and safe as my eating disorder did, things willbegin to feel okay, even good.

I learned that change is scary as it ever was, but it’s also so so good.

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Moral of the story is, treatment is hard, recovery is just as hard, but God is good and He provides, sustains, empowers and encourages. He does incredible works through the most incredible pain. He never stops or disappears even in situations where He is (seemingly) nowhere to be found. He moved mountains for me and still is. He gave love where I gave hate. He gave grace where I needed it most. He gave courage when I was about to give up. He showed me what redemption looks like. He gave me reasons to live, to mend, to hope, to love.

Two years ago I was lost, hopeless, afraid. Two years later I am a different person. Made new, new life and hope. Given passions to pursue and relationships to foster.

Two years later. Two years braver. Thank you Lord, for these two years.