Post-Easter Reflections: Waiting for Sunday

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If I am being totally and completely transparent, this Easter was a time of dissonance for me.

It sounds strange. I mean, Jesus’ resurrection is the pinnacle of the Christian faith, the formation of my hope, and God’s ultimate “good news.” How is one not happy to wear white clothes, devour chocolate bunnies or eggs, sit in the sunshine, and sing song lyrics like, Oh death! Where is your sting? Oh hell! Where is your victory? Oh Church! Come stand in the light!

Christ is risen. He is alive.

I know those phrases like the back of my hand, and I do believe them.

The rhythm of Holy Week– the story of Jesus’ betrayal, death, waiting in darkness, and resurrection– is the most beautiful narrative I know. It culminates with the story of Easter, which promises that the present state of affairs is temporary, that resurrection and redemption have replaced decay and death. The hope of new life, the hope of the restoration of all things, the scared women at Jesus’ tomb hearing the words: He is not here; He is risen, as he said.

And while I affirm that the tomb is empty, sometimes it is hard for me to feel joy in celebrating Jesus’ resurrection. I beat myself up over why celebrating God’s good news can feel so forced to me. Am I inoculated to the story? Too cynical? Is the idea of resurrection too distant? How awful of a Christian I must be if I can’t genuinely say WOOHOO JESUS on command!

If I’m being honest, does some part of me wonder if Sunday has really come yet?

Metaphorically, I resonate much more with the Saturday of Holy Week, the day before Easter. In an angsty stage of my life, I wrote a poem entitled, “Perpetual Saturday,” related to this point. I think about Jesus’ disciples on the Saturday of Holy Week– the day after they lost everything (or so they thought). Maybe they were hiding in shame, weeping bitter tears of agony, stunned that their God had been brutally murdered. Everything– their purpose in life, their vision– had been shattered. They could not imagine what would happen when the sun rose the next morning. 

I resonate with humanity’s ache for wholeness. This age-old groan is evidenced as early as the Book of Job and is so beautifully articulated in the psalms of lament. Millions of people have echoed the cries, the hurting, the longing for what has not yet come. There is the the waiting… the waiting for so, so long… for God’s redemption.

And yes, Easter commemorates that the tomb is empty. Yes, the sun has come up. Yes, a new order of things has been reinstated by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

But then so much of my life feels barren, as if Sunday’s radiance hasn’t come. The chasm between what is and what should be feels seismic, endless, insurmountable. The winter has been so long and brutal that my joy has frozen into an uncomfortable numbness, a hollow ache, a throbbing wound.

What happens when Saturday never seems to end?

My pastor preached a sermon this Easter aptly entitled, “Saturday is Always Followed by Sunday.” He concludes with this, “That day, when you see Jesus face to face in Heaven, you will look back at all the pain, all the frustration, all the despair, all the struggles of this world, and He calls you by name, you will look back, and think: it was all worth it.” I believe that his words are true: someday, somehow, all things will be reconciled to God. Winter will end. Jesus has risen from the dead. And so will I.

I don’t know how any of this makes sense. I don’t even want to begin to address the meaning of all of the present suffering– the tears, the blood, the anguish– that we (and God) have undergone. I don’t know how our present troubles will dissolve and melt into God’s overwhelming love. Yet, when despair chokes my throat as I try to say, He is alive, my knuckles will grip to the truth that in the end, all will be celebrated. All will make sense. All will be whole. I don’t know how. I don’t know when. But this I believe: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well” (Julian of Norwich).

The story of Easter takes a lifetime– perhaps an eternity– to understand. In the darkness, in the seeds of new life, and in the confusion of Saturday, I will walk by faith that God is making all things new, even when it is not in my timing. I will trust that Saturday, although mind-numbing and seemingly perpetual, will always be followed by Sunday.

In the meantime, I can’t pretend that I’m some strangely caffeinated, joy-filled, president-of-the-optimist-club Christian. I struggle to internalize joy and hope. I have to be real about that, while holding in tension that I believe God and will wait on Him.

So: may you cry, challenge, love, and celebrate this Easter season and beyond. May you be empowered to be honest about what you are feeling because God can hold whatever it is.

May you bask in the reality that God makes dead people live. May you cling to that promise. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clinging to Hope

As Holy Week begins, I am reminded of the words Rachel Held Evans wrote the other day on Facebook, “Perhaps it’s time to be more deliberate about clinging to hope.” I agree completely. 

It is related to a piece I wrote a while ago entitled, “But You Hope”: 

 That moment of agony when you realize that nothing in the world, none of your sedation methods will make you feel better. None of the truth you know feels real, and the world spins upside down. No amount of numbing or screaming or hiding can make it feel okay again. You are left with a void, an absence of what should be, and there is nothing to be done about it. The painstaking efforts at denial do not prevent your insides from gushing out. You are left there, dying, holding onto the faint hope of a Being much greater than yourself that is able to make these dead, broken, dry bones come back to life again. You do not know, but you hope that God can cling onto you when you cannot cling onto anything at all. You do not know, but you hope.

It is so easy for me to cling to despair, hopelessness, and cynicism; to hold on to anger; to believe that redemption is too far away; to feel like resurrection is a distant dream. As this Easter season culminates with remembrance and celebration of God’s redemptive love, I think of the beauty, mystery, agony, and deliverance that Jesus’ death and resurrection brought to the world.  I am reminded that whenever I succumb to bitterness, hope is still springing all around me. While it may not feel like it, the current state of affairs is temporary.  

God WILL make these dead, broken, dry bones come back into life again.

God WILL cling onto me when I cannot cling to Him. 

So many things are waiting: a marriage supper with the Lamb, residence in the New Jerusalem, and most of all, the shalom of God

In the tension of the now-and-not-yet reality of the Kingdom of God, I will choose to rejoice and cling to the promise of resurrection– resurrection that has already happened and will yet happen.

Even when I can’t hold on anymore and everything within me denies this truth, I will grasp the darkness and find that God is still holding me. 

The Night We Ate Pizza

At this time five years ago, the story was much different. I felt like I was spiraling into darkness, snowballing so fast that I wondered when and where I would crash. I eventually did crash, and landed on a ranch in Arizona, of all places. I found myself in the unusual world of ice cream “challenges,” tube feeding, and so, so much Ensure. And yet, this world healed me… not completely, but enough.

C. and I were always great friends in eating disorder treatment. We read the Bible together every day, and our therapist took us together on spontaneous ice cream outings on occasion. Since we live across the country from one another, and given our crazy lives, we haven’t gotten frequent opportunities to reconnect. I was elated that she agreed to visit me in Michigan this year… in March (surprise, surprise, it snowed).

Reunions with treatment friends have been a mixed bag over the years. Depending on the place the person is in, the place you’re in, and how you meld together (and more complicated, how your eating disorders meld together), the range of possible outcomes of such gatherings can range from crazy-making-ready-to-gauge-my-eyes-out to OMG-we’re-bff’s-this-is-the-best-time-ever.

On the Friday night that C. visited, we were deciding on dinner plans. The choice was all American food or pizza. “Do you mind if we go to this pizza place?” I hoped, having a cheese craving, per usual.

“Who doesn’t like pizza?” She scoffed, an obvious affirmation to my request. Then after a pause C. continued, “… Except anorexics of course.”

We laugh. The idea is alien to us now, that someone would forsake the goodness of cheese, bread, and tomato sauce for any reason, calories and fat content nonetheless. We laugh for the absurdity, but it is also an ironic laugh, coated with memories, many uncomfortable. We continued on with our night– and indeed, we did eat pizza.

However, that little bit of conversation followed me past the weekend. My mind kept going over our exchange, and I kept flashing back: back to how many pieces of pizza C. and I have wiped off with napkins through the years, back to the countless times we just “couldn’t” go out to eat to eat because… (insert one of the following: too expensive, no time, feeling sick).

I think of how somehow, how against the odds, five years later, we were sitting together joking about pizza and excited– genuinely excited– to eat it.

Moments like that give me perspective, a window into the past, present, and future. Being with C. brings me to the past, to the times we laughed and cried, to the time we snuck off to take a photo shoot by the horse gates. In all of the silly arts and crafts and G-rated movies, I felt loved and embraced by C. and others in all of my junk. Those feelings of fundamental acceptance and love helped me heal.

Residential eating disorder treatment is a beautiful, redemptive, but funny experience. After an intense, life-giving few months with girls from throughout the country, we went back home. As more time has slipped by, more friends have emerged from their eating disorders. I have watched them grow, evolve, and blossom– they’ve had babies and started new jobs and defrosted from the living hell that they have experienced. When I see friends from treatment now, I am awed and inspired by their resilience, dedication, and strength. That is so true of how I see C.

As the years pass, and we move to a post-eating disorder identity, I find myself grieving more than the loss of my eating disorder. I mourn the loss of a safe space of ice cream eating and butter sculpting (yes, that happened). I mourn that living a life without the eating disorder’s presence is so much more messy, and there are no clean lines. No longer can I dichotomize certain ideas/ choices/ food as “good” or “bad.”

There is part of me that has desired to go back into the safety of treatment, to be held and loved and comforted again, especially if I could avoid the whole Ensure-weight-gain thing. And yet, there are these glimpses, like when I talk with C., in which I see how much she has changed– and I have too. When we talk, we don’t talk about eating disorder struggles, “triggers,” or anything about treatment at all. We talk about our faith, something important to both of us. We discuss human trafficking, dreams, future employment, and… pizza. We talk about books we like, as well as movies. We go to church together. We watch Gossip Girl.

She is an embodiment of what it means to move on. But that idea is scary, at least to me.

It is hard letting go of the eating disorder identity… but it is hard letting go of the eating disorder recovery identity too. 

While recovery and treatment resources are very good things, those resources seem farther and farther away to me as I grow and move on, and they grow increasingly less applicable. Residential treatment no longer seems homy, desirable, or helpful for me.

And yet, five years later, while I eat pizza without a second thought, I am still not over my eating disorder. It is not a chapter in my life that is closed forever. I don’t know if it will ever be a closed chapter, or whether I will hobble through life with a slight limp. The idea of closing the chapter of my eating disorder in my life– forever– seems like a huge loss. Moving on means moving on from all aspects of my eating disorder.

Will I ever be ready for that?

What would it mean to have true freedom? What would it be like to be able to plan my schedule without allotted time for therapy?  I wonder if anorexia will stop being my default option, my brain’s well-worn neuronal pathway.

I wonder if I will truly, completely move on.

Do I want that?

Like most things in life, I have no easy answers. I look at others, and I look at myself, and I am mindful of the tensions that exist. I see where I have been, where I am now, and where I want to be, and I am left with a tangled web of messiness. It is hard to hold the tensions while choosing to believe in a greater hope.

I see this hope in a tangible way outside, now that the polar vortex has finally subsided, now that I see the sun again. The earth is still icy, but it is thawing. It will dry and produce flowers soon. So it is with my heart and body. At least I hope.

In the meantime, I will keep eating pizza. It is delicious.