Almost Lover

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As a girl, I never fantasized about my wedding because I believed I would never have one: because at my core, I was unlovable. After years of “binge dating” and a string of semi-serious relationships as a young adult, I found that no guy was ever good enough. Little things would bother me after a while, and I would shut myself away and go back to being alone.

On a string of platonic, unmemorable dates from guys I met online, I agreed to go out with a guy whose first email to me included the subject line, “I also like cheese.” I thought it was funny. (However, the enigma remains: why I would put the fact that I like cheese on my dating site profile? Whatever). I decided he was worth a coffee date because let’s be honest, cheese is pretty great. So on a Saturday afternoon in May two years ago, I met up with this guy, my expectations way low.

I knew there was something special about Boy on our first date. We had crazy chemistry that words could not describe. Things happened fast. Before I knew it, Colbie Caillat songs became my Spotify staples. I fell hard, and I fell fast.

I am not a spontaneous person. I am more of a “let’s plan everything 6 months in advance” type of person. But with Boy, things were different. I didn’t cling to my 10 PM bedtime. In fact, we stayed out all hours of the night. We kissed in the rain and in restaurants… and well, everywhere. We were infatuated and passionate, in the most cliche, characteristic sense of the word.

This is not me, I kept thinking. I don’t fall for people like this. I’m not this person.

I was not “that person” who would grab my boyfriend’s hand and giggle like a 13-year-old at his jokes.

But with Boy, I was that person. I was that happy, touchy, worry-free blushing girl. I would have dropped everything and gone somewhere with him. I was head over heels, mad, drunk in love. It was “that can’t eat, can’t sleep, reach for the stars, over the fence, world series kind of love.”

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By our second date, I had no doubts that I would end up marrying Boy. I let him into all crevices of my being, and I thought he was letting me into his as well.

Due to childhood Disney indoctrination, I knew how this story was supposed to go. Boy and Girl meet. Boy and Girl fall in love. Boy and Girl face difficult circumstances, but they persevere because they are so in love. Boy and Girl live happily ever after.

But this Boy and this Girl did not live happily ever after.

In the same whirlwind that started our romance, the relationship I had with Boy ended suddenly and painfully. I was left reeling with the vacancy of passion and love that had become a welcome refuge.

I didn’t know how much I wanted love until I had it. Then when it was gone, I didn’t know how much I would miss it. Or how much it would physically hurt to have this relationship die. There was a void in my heart. I wanted love. I wanted him… or did I? I didn’t know what I wanted anymore.

I wrote this about a year ago:

“Boy came into my life, and he changed my world upside down. I loved him for a short time, but I loved hard. Is it better to have loved and lost, as the old saying goes, or is it better not to get a taste of this really good, beautiful thing because of the yearning that follows?”

When things ended with Boy, I wondered: Maybe that is it. Maybe this is my shot and happiness and love, and it’s over now. Perhaps I’ll never love again. We are never guaranteed love. I went on dates with other guys, but they were mindless and disappointing.

I never stopped thinking about Boy. I sent him drunk texts at weddings. I saw the beauty of the waves crashing on the Pacific Coast Highway and told him I still wanted him. Once I even texted him in the bathroom during a bad date.

And yet the stars didn’t align for us.

But the stars did align, two years later, and Boy came back into my life.

I thought we were more seasoned and mature. We talked about feelings and dreams and hopes and wishes. We set boundaries, and I thought the old issues that broke us apart would make us stronger.

I looked into his eyes, and I wondered: Is this it? How does someone know if a person is “The One”? Would our relationship be doomed because of the past?

As it turns out, the love that came back from the dead didn’t stay alive. Soon enough, our old issues resurfaced, and instead of reading the writing on the wall, I chose to ignore it and make new memories.

I wanted it to work. I fully invested in the relationship and embraced the unknown. But then, in a series of events that I cannot recount for boundaries and privacy, it was no longer healthy for either of us to remain in the relationship.

If I’m being honest, I feel like such an idiot.

Why didn’t I learn from my past mistakes? Why would I have put myself out there… again… with the same person… and expect different results?

And yet, I couldn’t have done it another way.

Love is not guaranteed, and sometimes love hurts and dies. But I know, deep down, that the struggle for love is innately human and the most worthwhile goal in life. Even though my self-protective side screams for me to be alone and safe, I know I must keep pursuing what I’ve always wanted: love.

I needed to know (again… and again… and again) what could have been, and now, I must move on with my life.

My inner voice tells me, Nobody could ever love you, not like this. You’re too messed up, and you ruined your one chance of love.

But then there is a part of me that wonders…

Maybe there will be fireworks again, and this time it will last.

Maybe someone will be able to say, “I want you and I choose you every day, and I will do that for the rest of our lives.

Maybe someone will love me with all of my faults and think, “How can I best express love to this girl?”

As I read in an article earlier this week: “If you must want; wait to be chosen every day, wait to be reminded that you are special, wait to be loved in the way that you constantly love, wait to be taken seriously and wait for someone who doesn’t keep you waiting, because you know that you deserve better than waiting around for someone to make up their mind.”

I was struck to the core with grief, but I’m also realistic enough to know when something shouldn’t be.

So in the words of a favorite song:

Goodbye, my almost lover
Goodbye, my hopeless dream
I’m trying not to think about you
Can’t you just let me be?
So long, my luckless romance
My back is turned on you
I should’ve known you’d bring me heartache
Almost lovers always do

Becoming a Liberal Christian Part III: Seminary (Or A Strange Experience I Would Do Again)

(Confused Looks)

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Usually when I tell people I’ve been to seminary, they give me a blank stare, as if I’ve told them, “I’ve decided to move to Mars,” or, “In my previous life I sold pineapples to people on a cruise ship.” A lot of times I get, “Isn’t that just for men?” (Answer: Nope, you’re thinking of a Catholic seminary that specifically trains men for priesthood). Or, “Did you pray a lot?” (Answer: Nope, people at seminary don’t just pray or sing hymns all day. Christian seminaries are academic institutions and you do… you know…  academic things.)

People’s minds are further blown when I say I studied clinical psychology at seminary. “Wait so you studied clinical psychology?” “Yes.” “But you went to seminary?” “I studied psychology at seminary.” “I’m confused.” “You can study psychology at the seminary I attended.” “Oh….”

In addition to being Rob Bell’s alma mater, Fuller is the only evangelical seminary that celebrates women in ministry (in theological terms, egalitarian). Overall, in complete nerdy disclosure, I was over the moon about my course schedule. My program at Fuller Seminary consisted of a full clinical psychology curriculum, with the addition of theology classes. I had no idea what to expect, but I was ready.

… or so I thought. These things never turn out the way you think they will.

“Come Follow Me”: A Dangerous Call

What I expectedI thought I would learn new things about God at Fuller.

What actually happened: My mind was blown completely… which I was not anticipating. After graduating from college with a minor in biblical and religious studies, I was pretty cocky. I was no longer arguing with Sunday School teachers, but I had advanced to theological discourse with other academic and pastoral individuals. I was good at theology, and I knew it.

Fuller gave me humility.

My theology classes took me verse by verse through the Sermon on the Mount and the Book of Matthew, and the more I learned, the more stunned and amazed by the beauty of Jesus I became. I took classes from Mennonites and other pacifists who questioned whether violence is permissible in the Christian life. We talked about tough issues, the global church, diversity, and social justice. Fuller helped open my eyes to my narrow, white, privileged view of Christianity.

One of my favorite classes was Systematic Theology: Ecclesiology and Eschatology, a class that sounds boring and theoretical, but was actually amazing. My professor would wear a “Jonathan Edwards is my Homeboy” t-shirt to class. You know, Jonathan Edwards, the dude who wrote the ever famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” I thought the shirt was hilarious.

I wrote my final exegetical paper for that class on a Jonathan Edwards sermon, called, “Heaven, A World of Love,” which is in stark contrast to the hell fire and brimstone of his most famous sermon. Turns out Jonathan Edwards could be a pretty loving guy, it is unfortunate that history has remembered him primarily for his discourse on hell.

I loved it all, but most of all I learned not to love theology as a practice in and of itself. Learning about God is well and good and all, but theology should not be done for its own sake. Discourse about God should be alive and Kingdom-driven. Peering down at ancient manuscripts in ivy towers is not bad, and in fact can be helpful, but theology should be purposeful.

I learned to check my facts and assumptions before doing any theological work. Theology and the Bible do not exist in vacuums. I bring my life framework, social contexts, and assumptions into theological discourse, and that all must not be discounted.

The phrase that Jesus uses over and over again, “Come follow me,” is a dangerous one. As I learned in seminary, Jesus invites us to dig deeper, love harder, question more, commune often, disturb the comfortable, and comfort the disturbed. 

The scary thing about knowledge is that you can’t go back. Once I learned more about God and the issues the plague the church and world, I could no longer be a complacent, innocent white privileged Christian girl. I knew I wanted to go to Fuller and learn more things about God, but did I really want to follow the radical call of Jesus?

At Fuller, I fell more in love with this disturbing God who turns everything upside down and inside out. I spent countless hours writing exegetical papers, with multiple Greek concordances strewn open in the Fuller library until midnight, and the end result is this: God has given me too much now to stay silent. Not everyone gets to go to seminary, and now that I know what I know, I cannot be quiet. I cannot be the same. I must take up my cross, wash some feet, and follow the small, counter-cultural voice of Jesus even when it clashes with my evangelical upbringing. 

“You Don’t Have to Convert Everyone You Meet” and Other Life Lessons

As you can probably tell, I learned a lot of things studying at seminary, but I’ll leave you with three take home points:

  1. You can be both academic and a Christian- Christians have a reputation of being anti-intellectual, and at times, such a statement is not undeserved. My first boyfriend believed in a literal 7-day creation period and that the earth is 4,000 years old. In fact, for a date weekend he wanted to go to the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Some Christians negate science completely. To be honest, Christian anti-intellectualism makes me want to pull my hair out. Let me put my cards out on the table of the creation-evolution subject: evolution is real. There are some people, like my ex-boyfriend, who have sketchy evidence at best on the contrary, but in science, yeah, evolution is real. I was surprised at first when my Biology professor at Calvin College pretty much laid it out there the fact: Evolution is real. Evolution and Christianity can exist together. There is no debate in the scientific community about evolution. There might be like 2 scientists out there who believe Evolution is not real, and they appear on Fox News. Christians need to have faith big enough to reconcile science with the Bible. I don’t mean to pick on Creationists here; as I said before, I used to date one of them. At Fuller, some of my longstanding beliefs about the Bible were challenged. I remember the first time I heard a professor say, “Job was probably not a person and in fact a metaphor,” or, “Moses didn’t write the Pentateuch.” My evangelical background caused my stomach to do a backflip. And yet, these same professors were the kindest Christians, staunch believers in prayer, and active in their churches. You don’t have to toss academics out the door to be a Christian! It is possibly for a person to critically analyze ancient texts, form “liberal” beliefs about them, and then have that same individual serving at a local soup kitchen the next day. Academics and Christianity don’t have to be at odds. I became more open in my interpretation of Scripture? Do I believe that Job really existed? I don’t know. Was Mary a virgin for her entire life? I doubt it. I could go into the contextual reasons why these things are improbable. After 3 years, I came to the conclusion: who cares? The beauty of Jesus is that in the Body of Christ, theological bickering about matters that are not central to God and the person of Jesus don’t matter so much. We are redeemed and loved by the Creator of the universe who is Love. I believe it’s okay that I question the authorship of the Pentateuch because of my academic study of Scripture. Don’t get me wrong, doctrine is important, but my point is, I get worried when Christians 1) Fear or avoid academic study of Christianity and Scripture or b) Put God in neat little boxes where he has no room to be greater than our human understanding, aka… be God. Example: One of my professors had Bart Ehrman as a seminary student, and Bart was by far the most theologically conservative student in his class. Ironically, when Bart started studying Scripture academically, he made a 180 turn to agnosticism and atheism, and I wonder if part of that is because his rather anti-intellectual, fundamentalist view of God was too small. At Fuller, I concluded: Christians can reconcile the person of Jesus and academia without sacrificing faith in the process.
  2. You don’t have to convert every non-Christian you meet!– Per my prior evangelical training, I had one mission: convert souls to the Lord. Classes at Fuller turned that simplistic understanding upside down. One of my favorite classes in seminary was Interfaith Dialogue, the purpose of which is to discuss faith topics with non-Christians and come to some common understanding which discussed talking about faith with non-Christians. Here’s the revolutionary part: WITHOUT CONVERTING THEM. In fact, conversion was off the table entirely. I went to a retreat called Inter-Sem and spent time with other evangelical seminary students, as well as Jewish and Catholic seminary students. I met future priests, rabbis, and cantors, and we spent a whole weekend talking about God WITH NO INTENTION OF CONVERSION. It was liberating, really. I could just see the person for the beautiful, God-created individual he or she was without an ulterior motive of, “How can I weave Jesus into this conversation?” I think more of our theological discourse needs to involve more listening than explaining a reductionist diagram about how we sin, God is awesome, and how they need Jesus to be their “golden ticket” to heaven. I say, let’s love people more and listen to their perspectives, rather than being like, “Let me cut in with my perfect understanding of how you should be saved” (as I did in my militant evangelical years).
  3. You don’t have to run from tough questionsGod’s pretty strong, and so is the Bible. I made it a point in seminary to write theology papers on the most difficult passages in the Bible. I remember in one class, I was bothered that Jesus called a woman a “dog,” and I decided to do my 20-page final on that passage. At the end of it, I came out seeing God as more beautiful and holy than I could have ever imagined. As mentioned before, God is a pretty brilliant creator, whose knowledge and power spans more than the human mind could understand. Do you have an issue with evil in the world? Do you have an issue with asshole Christians? Rampant sexism and racism in the church? Evolution? Violence in the Old Testament? Theology provides a way of understanding tough questions. Maybe the “answer” isn’t a one-sentence simplistic explanation, and maybe in seeking the answer, you come up with 20 more questions, but GOD CAN HANDLE IT. He can handle doubt, cynicism, and pain. What God likes less, if I may be presumptuous here, is a boxed up, neat little answer that has no room for well… God. Let’s put God in boxes less and ask the tough theological questions, often with no obvious solutions, and let that be okay.

This post has become very novel-esque, so I’ll wrap this up. I learned a lot in seminary, and I’ll be forever changed by my experience at Fuller. But there is a component of Christianity that I have completely neglected in this post.

At seminary, I learned a LOT. But based on personal circumstances, my head and heart were disconnected. My seminary years were some of the most painful ones, so next post, I will talk about my own doubt and emotional and spiritual struggles during this time.

Becoming a Liberal Christian Part II: Beach Evangelism and Rob Bell

Humility

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My anorexia and faith had long been intertwined, but as time went on, there was no choice for me but to fall on my knees… in a more palpable way than saying the “Jesus prayer” years earlier. After nearly 5 years of suffering from anorexia, my life had crumbled before me. A vacant, hollow shell was getting good grades and applying for college, and I ended up in residential treatment for my eating disorder and OCD shortly after graduation.

My first two days at treatment were excruciating. Without my eating disorder behaviors, I felt like I was being stripped down to nothing. Who was I? Where would I turn? The existential angst that had always plagued me came at me with a vengeance. I felt like I was internally bleeding, and I needed something– a tourniquet.

In my soul searching, I stumbled across Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” 

I wept. 

I imagined Jesus saying, “Are you downcast and hopeless? I will give you hope. Are you exhausted and riddled with addiction? I will give you peace.”

I craved the Jesus of Matthew 11:28-30. I imagined snuggling into God’s arms of love, grace, forgiveness, and rest. This was no longer the distant, aloof God of my childhood. This was a bruised, human God, with outstretched hands, giving me a chance at life… which I would never get with my eating disorder.

For the first time ever, it felt like my heart had found its home.

When I think back on this summer, I think of sweet attunement with the Lord and a huge amount of growth. I was hungry (pun partially intended) for any Christian book I could get my hands on– the Bible, devotionals, Christian inspirational books. An angel from a local Wisconsin church would transport me and some other patients to church weekly. At church, we would watch Nooma videos, Rob Bell’s mini-sermon videos that were so popular at the time. I met with the hospital chaplain often, and I asked her why God gave me an eating disorder. She replied that my sickness was akin to her own hypoglycemia. The rural Wisconsin church and this chaplain showed me grace and compassion that stayed with me.

I left treatment with a new mandate, not a zealous, argumentative quest, but a desire to live for God– whatever that meant. I was never going to be the same.

Paradigm Shift

At the beginning of college, my mind’s focus was no longer on the college experience of football, drinking, and joining a sorority: I wanted to honor God in every way, and that started with church. I got involved in a fairly conservative evangelical church, and by the end of my freshman year, I was on a certain conservative evangelical trajectory.

On a church level, this trajectory encompassed quiet times (i.e. extended prayer times) and beach evangelism– oh yes, I did beach evangelism. I felt dirty approaching random people on the street simultaneously trying to be friendly while attempting to convert them, but I did it. That was what my church was telling me to do. 

My first boyfriend and I even “courted” instead of dated, in the style of the once-popular I Kissed Dating Goodbye, the implications of which included saving kissing for marriage. (Note: Don’t read that book. Don’t kiss dating goodbye).

And yet… more and more, there were reverberations in my mind that something was amiss. One of the people that catapulted my paradigm shift was Rob Bell (the picture below was taken of Rob and I at one of his tours).

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First it started with watching his Nooma videos while at treatment, and then I religiously started following his church’s podcast. I read Rob’s books and even handled marketing for his Sex God tour. Rob was the “spiritual mentor” who I met all of two times but changed the way I saw God. He was also perhaps my transitional object, my bridge to an adult worldview. Rob was the first one I heard say, over and over in sermons, “God is the God of the oppressed.” He talked about Jesus’ Third Way, one that does not incorporate violence or keeping the status quo. Rob was authentic and mobilized his listeners to go out and be the hands and feet of Jesus on Earth. He preached social justice and Jesus’ subversive message. Rob talked about difficult subjects, like Leviticus and violence in the Old Testament.

The summer after my freshman year of college, I read the book The Irresistable Revolution by Shane Claiborne. A Mennonite and pacifist, Claiborne clinched my belief that God is the God of the hurting, vulnerable, and oppressed. In his book, Claiborne talks about going to Iraq to sit with Iraqi civilians following America’s Iraq invasion. Claiborne wrote,

“We must mourn the lives of the soldiers. But with the same passion and outrage, we must mourn the lives of every Iraqi who is lost. They are just as precious, no more, no less. In our rebirth, every life lost in Iraq is just as tragic as a life lost in New York or D.C. And the lives of the thirty thousand children who die of starvation each day is like six September 11ths every single day, a silent tsunami that happens every week.”

Reading this book, it was clear that I was having a faith identity crisis. I started to wonder if my version of Christianity was inclusive of the fact that EVERY life is precious, even the lives of our enemies. In the upside-down Kingdom of God, God was calling the church to something so different than beach evangelism and Bible thumping. He was calling the church to be with the sick and hurting; to provide holistic care that involved theology but also catering to physical needs; to go to the ends of the earth, not just to save souls but to turn the entire world upside down.

Did I know what that looked like? Absolutely not. On the contrary, I barely knew anyone of different socioeconomic classes, races, or sexual orientations. I didn’t know what God was calling me to do.

One thing I did know is that I was no longer at “home” with traditional conservative evangelicalism. I couldn’t live in an insulated church that didn’t have room for these ideas. At the same time, I wasn’t ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I still attended evangelical churches, and I even voted for John McCain in 2008.

As I inched nearer to college graduation, I wondered about my vocation. I switched professionals tracks from psychology, my first love, to ministry. My thought process was this: I loved theology. I loved helping people. How best serve God besides go into full-time ministry? Here’s where my “crazy liberal ideas” started: I wanted to be a minister or pastor. Not just a youth director or secretary, as most conservative evangelical churches utilize women. I wanted to be a legit, ordained minister. At my Christian college, I was on the “pre-seminary” track because my school affirmed women going into ministry (go Calvin!). I even took a summer internship at a church to “discern my calling” (i.e. think about whether or not to go to seminary).

I was learning a lot, but I was torn about grad school. At my summer internship, I had a revelation: there is much value in psychology for the church. I saw a church riddled with wounds and mental health issues, and here I was with a gift to understand and help people with these issues.

At school, I learned in psychology and theology classes that all that is good is God’s. I believe at the core of my being that psychology is good and useful. It is much needed in the church, and I love it. If God is involved in the restoration of ALL things, that means I could both be devoted to God’s work AND choose a full-time profession besides ministry. In the end, I decided to graduate school in psychology. In full disclosure, I went to Fuller Seminary partly because they have a clinical psychology program that incorporates theology classes and partly because that is Rob Bell’s alma mater.

I went to Fuller with no expectations but also searching for something . I wanted a broader knowledge of psychology and theology, but also a deeper relationship with an infinitely beautiful God whose love has no bounds.

In my nomadic way, I picked up and moved to southern California, with no idea what I was in for.

Becoming a Liberal Christian Part I: High Church and Militant Evangelicalism

The Early Years

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Prior to my birth, my mom (a staunch Episcopalian) and my dad (a lapsed Jew) met with a Rabbi to discuss my religious upbringing. His advice was, “Pick one, and don’t make the child go to two Sunday schools.” They laughed. It was a joke between them for most of my childhood that also reflected a certain religious ambivalence, as if religion was like, “Do you want chocolate or vanilla ice cream?”

Even though I’m 100% sure my mom would never have raised me Jewish anyway because she was the only one with firm religious beliefs, my parents went through the trouble of giving me a Jewish baby naming AND traditional infant baptism.

Needless to say, I grew up going to the Episcopal church where my grandparents have been members since 1950.

I was always fascinated with God. At age 3 or 4, I told my mom that when I grew up, I wanted to be a “storyteller for God.” One time I was praying so fervently in church, I lied that I saw Jesus on the huge crucifix in the sanctuary. I don’t know why I felt the need to make that up. Part of me wanted so badly to see Jesus, in flesh and blood.

I was an dedicated Sunday School student with good attendance. If the task at hand was to memorize the Lord’s Prayer or Nicene Creed, I did it. Most of my memories of Sunday school involve discussing church holidays or memorizing prayers. I sang in the church choir (shocking for those of you who know me now) and played bells. I sang and memorized things about God, but I didn’t really “get” God. God seemed distant and aloof, communicating to people using “thee” and “thou.”

My “Conversion” Moment

People in the world of evangelicalism will often tell you that there is a “moment” when you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Some celebrate “spiritual birthdays.” One of my previous churches did an Easter campaign, in which you would hold a sign up of your “date” of salvation and post it to social media.

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in God, but when I was 13, I went to an evangelical summer camp. At this time, I was knee-deep in anorexia and equally deep in denial. In my starved state, I remember people were jumping up and down to worship songs I didn’t like, and all I wanted was to sleep. One thing they did that I do remember, however, is “share the Gospel.” In evangelical Christian terms, this means a basic summary of this message: In all of his perfection, God loved us and we rebelled. All of us, no matter how moral, are sinners, and God is our enemy. However, we are in luck. Jesus paid the ultimate price for all of humanity, and all you have to do is accept Jesus’ gift, and you will be saved. 

I heard this message for the first time, and everything made sense to me. The mosaic pieces I had gotten from my Episcopal upbringing and this new wording of what Jesus did came together for me. I looked up in the stars that spanned the sky night and said, “I’m in.” And so began my “Christian journey” (again, not really sure now if it was a “new” journey or rather repackaging  of what I learned growing up).

Militant Evangelicalism

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With my new found life quest, preaching Jesus to the ends of the earth, I began Jesus’ work. And by Jesus’ work I mean my 13-year-old understanding of Jesus’ work, which meant theological arguments with my Jewish family members and getting them passive aggressive Christmas gifts, such as a book on apologetics… which I now understand was not Jesus’ mandate at all. Hostile conversations with my agnostic grandpa about why he should believe in Jesus RIGHT NOW are hardly effective or Christlike.

I became a nightmarish Sunday School student. I admonished our priest because he didn’t talk about “relevant” topics in the Bible such as abortion (he noted that abortion is not actually specifically mentioned in the Bible despite what my Teen Study Bible told me). I argued with my high school Bible Study leader. I would bring up my superior knowledge at every turn, such as my certainty that, “God has a reason for everything.” She disagreed with me, saying that things like disease and war are not in God’s will, although he allows them. I was pompous and arrogant. I thought I knew everything because I checked out a bunch of books on Creationism from the library and read my Teen Study Bible.

One of my camp counselors told me, “Think about the end of time, when you’re taking a staircase up to heaven, and you see people walking down the other way to hell because you didn’t tell them about Jesus. That’s why you need to spread the Good News!” I never wanted that to happen. I would cry at the very thought of half my family descending to hell on my watch. So I would argue with anyone who didn’t know the Lord, partly to alleviate my own anxiety and guilt about hell.

My method wasn’t great. I am lucky nobody slapped me, because I definitely deserved it. That’s why I call these years my “militant evangelical years.” I had good intentions, maybe, but then again, as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Stay tuned! There is more to the story.

A Letter To My Former Therapist

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Dear J,

The three years we worked together were the best and worst of my life. I knew at the beginning– in my bones, I knew— that you were it. You were my ticket out of misery and into living a full, rich life. My first thought about you was, Wow, this woman seems like the reincarnation of Carl Rogers. Your empathy was unprecedented.

I didn’t have a solid enough sense of self at the time, but I could feel that you believed in me. When I doubted myself, when I slipped back into old patterns, whatever happened, you were there. You treated me like I was a worthy, capable, real human being.

Sometimes, I could believe that. Other times, I relied on your strength, and you believed that for both of us.

You cared about my feelings– no — you loved them. You acknowledged whatever I was feeling and took it seriously. I was stunned by how much you cared about me. Maybe even by how much you loved me (in the most platonic of ways).

In your eyes, I was a capable, intelligent therapist, prone to struggles, yes, but worthy of love. You trusted me not only as a human but as a professional.

Words cannot describe how you changed my life for the better. You helped patch my ragamuffin, broken self into a mosaic of messy parts. The mosaic was in the making.

But then again, words cannot describe how you changed my life for the worse.

In a whirlwind, what became a healthy, therapeutic relationship led to your emotional unraveling and at the end, a break up via email, with no closure.

To say that the end of our relationship destroyed me is cliche but true. My life, just like yours, unraveled at the seams, and everything was turned upside down.

You, the person who believed in me, who laughed and cried with me, who I would send my most personal writing, who was my rock, disappeared into thin air. In a moment, you were gone.

Just as I was starting to trust you and the walls were down, you left me without defenses. I was raw, cold, crying, emotional, and numb all at the same time.

I developed a disgust for therapy. I left graduate school. I moved back home to be closer to family. I changed my life completely because I didn’t believe in people anymore, and I didn’t believe in myself.

Almost 3 years later, the scars are still there, and sometimes, they bleed. I cannot trust my new therapist of almost 2 years. She reminds me so much of you, it’s scary. I see you in her sometimes, in her mannerisms and words, and I quiver. I don’t know if I can let anyone into my heart again. Not after you. 

“I wish I could do something to make it safer for you to open up,” my new therapist tells me.

“People always leave, just when you count on them,” I respond.

This has become our therapeutic struggle. I can’t trust, and I think about abandonment constantly. Would I get hurt now if my new therapist leaves? What about now? I can’t hurt again like I did with you. My sense of self can’t sustain another loss of that magnitude.

I think about you less and less over the years. I don’t cry every time I go into Ann Arbor anymore, nor do I listen on replay to Sia’s “Titanium,” a song I remember playing at the time of our relationship’s demise.

I still grapple with this: What happens with all the memories, the loving, painful, bitter, scattered memories?

I have tried locking them all in a box, and it never works. The moments we spent together spill over, sometimes through tear-streaked eyes, and sometimes with a smile.

I’m not back to normal following this experience. I have occasional flashbacks of you, and I remember every moment from when our relationship turned sour. I remember the angry emails we sent back and forth. I remember where I was when you broke up with me.

Then, I remember your face and how you used to laugh at my weird humor. I remember your expressive eyes, and your frown. I remember how you advocated for me. I remember the good things sometimes, and I don’t want to forget those. You were a huge part of my life and my story, and I can’t only hate you and have that be the end.

You weren’t just the “bad object,” you were the “good object” too. 

And yet, what you did and how you ended things caused me so many abandonment issues and trauma, I have needed years of therapy for years of therapy.

The sad thing is, nobody talks about the death of a therapeutic relationship. Nobody talks about a loving, trusting therapeutic alliance gone south.

If I was grieving the loss of a best friend or family member, it would be socially acceptable to feel grief. With a therapist, not so much. Does one ever hear, “Hey, I am a wreck, my therapist broke up with me today”?

Psychotherapy can be wonderful, yes. It can be healing and transformative and beautiful. 

… but it can also hurt. It can cause trauma and pain. It can sting, hurt, and wound on a gut-level. Nobody talks about the latter. 

But you know what, J, I am coming out of the closet. I want to say goodbye to you, but I also want to publicly acknowledge my grief. For years, I was quiet about the matter. No longer.

I am left, almost 3 years later, with no answers, ambiguity, and lots of pain. For a long time I thought it was me. Something I didn’t do. Maybe, despite all odds, you could come back to me if I did x or y.

Now I am learning that it was never about me.

It was about you.

It was your baggage and emotional issues that ended our relationship, and it wasn’t my fault. We will likely never meet again. On a good day, I can be okay with that.

So goodbye, J. You were a great therapist… one of the best. You started me on a path to healing that I hope I’ll one day finish. But I won’t finish that journey with you.

Sincerely,

Charlotte

 

 

 

On Gaining Weight

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Weight gain.

Even the words can be uncomfortable.

In a society that shuns women gaining weight for almost any reason, talking about gaining weight is understandably awkward. However, for people in eating disorder recovery, weight gain (recovery reframe, courtesy of my dietitian: weight “restoration”) is often a natural, healthy part of the process… and yet, rarely do people talk about it.

So let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about weight gain restoration.

I have had to gain weight at many points in my life… the consequence of relapsing in and out of anorexia for years. The most excruciating times have been in residential treatment, when I was expected to gain 2-3 pounds per week.

In the purpose of being real, my experience of weight gain has been less than wonderful. In treatment, I spent a lot of time in oversized sweaters, laying stomach-down on couches, and trying not to gag over my thrice daily supplements. The whole process was physically uncomfortable, not to mention that psychologically, it felt like a death. I was starting to look “normal,” and I didn’t know how I felt about that.

From what I can tell, my experience of restoring weight is not unique. Someone with anorexia gaining weight is the equivalent of someone afraid of heights who has to use the Empire State building elevators every day for work, or someone with a spider phobia working in a spider-infested cubicle.

It sucks.

My main point is this: Weight gain restoration is horribly sucky but it is an absolutely crucial reality of anorexia recovery. For the rest of the post, I’m going to unpack that.

Why it is sucky:

  1. It is physically difficult for someone with anorexia to gain weight. *Disclaimer: I am not a scientist or dietitian, but I’ve seen dietitians for years, so here’s what I’ve gathered from that. If you want information from a real science writer I’ll link to Carrie Arnold’s blog here.* When someone has been engaging in eating disorder behavior, the person’s metabolism is low and body goes into “starvation mode,” as it tries to conserve nutrients and body weight.  Weight gain is difficult because the body temporarily goes into a hyper-metabolic state, meaning: It can take a LOT of calories for a person who has anorexia to gain weight for a period of time. This hypermetabolism doesn’t last forever (it goes away after 3-6 months), but while it is in effect, the weight gain process is all the more difficult.
  2. Misinformation people give that scares the shit out of you even though what they’re saying is factually unfounded. I can’t even begin to tell you how many inaccurate, triggering things I’ve heard over the years like, “Wow, I could just eat a hamburger and gain 5 pounds.” Or, “I gained a pound yesterday.” Or, “That dessert went straight to my hips.” Or worse, “I just look at a slice of cake and gain weight!” The reality is that gaining weight isn’t so straightforward. Around 3500 calories equals a pound. So unless someone is eating an additional 3500 calories per day, gaining a pound from one day is highly unlikely (and note: that’s 3500 calories on TOP of what a person normally eats). Not even to mention, bodies can fluctuate about 5 pounds per day anyway, depending on the time of the month (for women) and fluid intake. If the scale is “up,” it is much more likely the effect of water, rather than a nighttime snack of cookies.
  3. The appearance comments are awful. It is hard for people not to notice if you’ve gained a fair amount of weight. I have heard my share of annoying, triggering comments over the years. Recently, someone came up to me and said, “You’ve put meat on your bones.” Um… ok? How is a person even supposed to respond to that? “Thank you…?” “I like ice cream…?” I mean… what? Even the, “You look healthy,” comment can send me into a tizzy. It’s better not to say anything. I know if I’ve gained weight. I don’t need to hear about how you feel about it. I wish I could say I can brush off the appearance comments with ease like the feminist, anti-fat-shaming woman I am, but I can’t. They affect me. As I said earlier, gaining weight already feels like a death.

Why it is crucial:

  1. I would argue that physical recovery is the most important first step to recovery from anorexia. Without that, a) the person’s life is at stake, b) the person’s bodily organs, such as the brain, heart, and other vital organs are not getting replenished, and c) the eating disorder is still serving some purpose and therapy is ineffective. I have spent years trying to half-ass recovery, or doing pretend recovery, while I really wasn’t willing to do the work, including braving the uncomfortable feelings of weight gain. Anorexia recovery often requires weight gain. If someone is underweight and that person’s dietitian says weight gain is necessary, it’s not just something optional. For me, the real work of excavating my life didn’t even begin until I was weight restored.

I get it. For people with anorexia, gaining weight sucks. There are a million things I would rather do than gain a bunch of weight. Weight gain is sandwiched (pun partially intended) somewhere between running, which I hate, and waking up early, which I also hate.

But withholding the necessary weight for proper bodily functioning is a form of self-abuse.

Again, gaining weight in recovery from an eating disorder is not optional. It’s not fun, but it’s also not optional. Partial recovery is not real recovery.

So my recovery warriors:

You are more than a number on the scale. You are more than bodily discomfort or a slice of cake. I know that getting to your goal weight is far from easy, and neither is the road to anorexia recovery.

I am saying this as much to you as I am to myself, because I have been going through my own weight gain — dammit, I mean restoration– process, and I’m not letting myself off the hook either.

Nothing wrong with a Body by Boost!

Drops of Jupiter

It happens every year, as the seasonal sunshine wafts into my consciousness, and I remember….

Did you make it to the Milky Way to see the lights all faded, and that heaven is overrated?

I am almost 13 years old, and my after school regimen is set in stone. I walk home every day from my nearby middle school, make myself Easy Mac, and watch TRL (Total Request Live) on MTV with Carson Daly. I get my cheese fix, eyes glued to the music videos blasting on the screen. I remember my favorite song from that time period being “Drops of Jupiter” by Train. I listen to it over and over, and tears would roll down my face.

I do not understand why I cry, or why the emptiness inside throbs around my heart strings. My days are slow and boring, and my weekends are lonely. While other students plan end-of-school pool parties and spring sleepovers, I think about why some things are so beautiful and why others are so sad, and why there is a void in my soul, and I cry.

Tell me, did you fall for a shooting star–
One without a permanent scar?

My liposuction-obsessed nutrition teacher has a new assignment for our 7th grade class: record your food intake for a full day, and we will receive print out how our eating matches with how we should be eating. I am terrified for this day, just as I was terrified for a public weighing in gym class just a year earlier.

This is my chance, I tell myself. I want to show that I don’t have to eat Easy Mac every day, that I can forgo all snacks for sucking hard candy. Just for this day. I still remember that day, and the discipline it took to do what would later become second-nature: restriction.

The print out of my nutritional intake comes back, and it is affirmed that I had not eaten enough for the day. My reaction to this finding: relief. A deep sigh of relief that for one day I could control my pre-puberty hunger pangs. I am proud of myself, and I feel productive, much more productive than I have felt getting A’s in school. For the first time, maybe ever, I feel worthy.

The restriction doesn’t stick, because my body is growing rapidly, and I let myself honor my healthy appetite, but I will always remember this day.

And tell me, did Venus blow your mind?
Was it everything you wanted to find? 

I decide in the spring to go on a “diet.” Or more practically, I want to eat less at parties. I start trying to manipulate my food intake, and it blows up in my face. I restrict only to consume large amounts of sweets at parties anyway because I am so hungry from restricting. I grow increasingly frustrated at myself. I don’t want to be that person who gorges herself at get-togethers with friends. I start using the word fat in my deprecating self-talk. I want to be in control. I don’t want to get “fat” and get made fun of for my weight like other girls in my grade. I devote all my time and energy into making my “diet” work. I become obsessed with controlling my food intake. It doesn’t happen right away, but I am meandering, puttering around a black hole, and eventually, I fall into it.

The diet doesn’t stick.

Anorexia does.

And did you miss me while you were looking for yourself out there?

I fall hard and fast. Within only a month, a clusterfuck of genes and environment have culminated in the worst way– my genetic predisposition, personality characteristics, life stressors, and environmental/ social/ spiritual issues brew the perfect storm for anorexia’s sneaky suction cup into my life.

I know nothing about anorexia, but I am addicted to whatever it is that is happening to me. My life feels more manageable and safe. My inner loneliness is traded for obsessing about cookbooks and trying to force other people to eat. Emotional pain is replaced with constant fatigue, to the point that I wonder if I have contracted mono.

I no longer worry about parties or friends or being a failure. I am too tired, so I don’t give a shit about anything. All that matters is the scale, my weight, and my food intake.

I no longer cry. I no longer feel.

I like it.

It will change my life. It will ruin my life. It will almost kill me. But right now, in my 13-year-old starvation “high,” I like this.


Can you imagine no love, pride, deep-fried chicken?
Your best friend always sticking up for you even when I know you’re wrong
Can you imagine no first dance, freeze dried romance, five-hour phone conversation?
The best soy latte that you ever had and me

Fourteen years have passed since that season of my life, but those years have been filled with suffering and scars to show for the wear and tear. My body is weaker and has accumulated some permanent damage.

The worst thing I hear people say to me is that they wish they had my “self-control” in regards to eating. They have no idea what they are saying. Yes, my eating disorder resulted in weight loss. But at the expense of what?

I didn’t have late nights spent with friends in high school. The day of my high school graduation ceremony, in fact, I was too hazy to remember anything except for my internal debate about eating a snack. The month before I graduated from college, I was medically withdrawn and sent to treatment. Hours and hours and days and days and years and over a decade were lost of my life.

I didn’t have meaningful teenage memories. No 5 hour phone conversations with crushes. No staying out late. No eating out. Nothing fun was able to penetrate my stone wall of isolation and anorexia. For that I mourn.

And now you’re lonely looking for yourself out there.

Even now, chills run up and down my spine hearing the song “Drops of Jupiter.” I am haunted by the memory of a 13-year-old girl, barely a teenager, whose aching, throbbing soul wanted purpose and meaning and also macaroni and cheese. I am haunted about why what started as a cursory diet became a self-sustaining monster.

Looking back, I see the warning signs of anorexia in neon colors. It feels as though I am near train tracks, watching a train approaching as fast as lightning. I shout out to my sad 13-year-old-self standing in the tracks, “Get out, you have to dodge this train, whatever you do, move off those tracks.”

My aching, throbbing soul longs for answers and meaning for the long, lonely journey that has robbed me of vitality and life in the last 14 years. And yet, such answers elude me, so I must find meaning in the questions. As a perfectionist and control freak, this is unacceptable. I hate the questions, and yet I must live in them.

I can’t remember what it is like to eat without thinking about what I am eating. It is hard not to mentally tally calories when I spent over a decade memorizing the calories of every single food product ever invented.

I hope that someday my default response to stress will be to pull out a good book or do some deep breathing rather than the instantaneous craving to starve. I hope that someday I can eat a cookie without my mind analyzing the fact that I’ve eaten a cookie.

I want to know who I am. I want to get to know the existentially empty, angsty, anxious, insecure 13-year-old that is inside of me.

I don’t want to be a lonely wanderer.

Despite all the wounds and scars from a journey I never wanted to have, I can’t change what has been. Anorexia has been my past, and its after effects still impact me today. And yet, out of the tattered ruins of brokenness, I have to believe that out of ashes something beautiful will arise.