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I have lived for ten+ years now as an obese woman. (With a sweet couple of years in there of making some progress on my spiritual and physical health goals … but then, as is so often the case, losing ground very rapidly. Bummer.)
It’s a very strange thing for me to be so overweight. I didn’t used to be. But most of my current friends have no other picture in their mind of me. And with each passing year, I feel the painful consequences of my unhealthy choices more and more. I also continue to be in the battle of faith’s fight against sin and I am grateful for the blessed consequences of wise choices too.
There are so many things I wish I could discuss at length about this topic (and maybe I will one day), but in the few moments I have this morning, here are just a few thoughts:
- I always pray for overweight people who are doing active things–walking, exercising at the gym, riding a bicycle–because I know how hard that must be for them to do. It’s hard to exercise when you are in shape—it’s even harder when you are out of shape. And so I pray. And when I know the person, I also look for intentional ways to encourage and bless them; to cheer them on and build them up because I know the sting of a critical word and I know the sweetness of genuine kindness too. And I want to always be kind.
- I would love for some brilliant biblical counselor/CCEF person to write about the role spouses and good friends play when the person they love so dearly struggles with weight gain / disordered eating / lack of health. What a difficult issue! To a very important extent, we must never judge our spouse or friend by worldly standards of “thinness” and “beauty.” At the same time, when we see destructive, enslaving sin happening in the life of someone we love, we have a duty to help to rescue them. And trust me—it is a lot easier to help someone to get on top of a ten or twenty pound weight gain than it is to help them to recover from a 100+ pound weight gain. So what does wisdom combined with love look like in this situation?
- Unless you take the time to get to know me, you don’t know me. And if you judge me based on externals and then try to “speak truth” into my life, you may give me the exact opposite of what I need at that time. For example, I may be on the downswing of weight: losing pounds, getting thinner, looking so much “better.” How do you respond? Do you praise me and ooh-and-aah over me and gush about how disciplined I am being and how Jesus is giving me the victory? Careful! What if I am giving myself over to bulimic or anorexic behaviors? Poisoning myself by misusing medicines? Living every day enslaved by my food journal / “weigh-in” / exact calorie count? Does weight loss always equal victory, wisdom, and right worship? By no means! And what if I am giant/huge/you see me and cringe and gracelessly criticize me in my stupid stretchy black pants that are the only things I can fit in right now? What if you confront me and rebuke me? But during that season, I am for the first time in years, eating nutritious food with people (not compulsively in hiding), in moderation and I’m actually exercising daily all while delighting in Christ alone, being washed in His Word and fed by His sacraments? What if I weigh 100+ pounds more than a strong and healthy weight, but that is actually a huge victory because I used to weight 200+ pounds more than a strong and healthy weight?
These are complex issues, aren’t they?
Sure, there are seemingly obvious answers like, “Eat less!” and “Exercise more!” And for the vast majority of those of us who are unhealthy in our morbid obesity, we probably should eat less and exercise more. That is wisdom and good stewardship! But for most of us, there are also far deeper issues that touch on giant, gaping holes in our spiritual health—damage that has been done to us and damage that we have done ourselves; life in a fallen world; spiritual warfare. To ignore those foundational issues (while only focusing on the surface issues) is like laying down a clean carpet on rotting floorboards. It might get you through a hastily convened dinner party or your 25th High School reunion … but ultimately, it will never last.
So, yes. I continue to be in the battle. Yes, some of my choices are simple choices of wisdom and obedience. But also? I am acknowledging and facing things from decades of pain and shame and hurt. I am seeing ties between my thinking and believing and behaving that I have never seen before. Some of these insights require feeling and grieving and believing and hoping with the confident, biblical hope that we can have in Christ that all of the promises of God really are “Yes!” in Him. So I need to eat less and exercise more—I do! But I also need to remember and repent and believe.
God is at work. I am growing. And I am loved, even while I am in process on this lifetime journey of sanctification.
I wonder: Do the overweight people in your life know this is true of them too? Can you say with confidence that your spouse, parent, child, pastor, friend knows that you are for them even as they tackle / run away from / enjoy blessed growth in this painful, exhausting, oft’ shameful issue of weight gain and weight loss and peace with food? Do they know you love them because you pray for them and encourage them and yes, as appropriate, redemptively confront and advise them? Are they more than just “fat” to you? Do you remember their gifts and beauty and seek out their counsel? Or do you write them off entirely because they have this particular public struggle? Are you reinforcing the worldly messages that only rejoice in external “beauty”? Even if that beauty is enslaving them to a number on the scale and a size in their closet? Or are you a voice for truth and light and loveliness and real beauty?
Sometimes, as I talk withh my children about this particular (obvious) struggle I have, I encourage them to think about all of the sins that people struggle with, but that do not have a clear, obvious, external “announcing” of them: pride. Greed. Gossip. A judgmental and critical spirit that keeps a list of wrongs. A divisive spirit that separates brothers. Haughtiness. Lust. What if every single one of those sins announced themselves by layering extra skin and fat cells around peoples’ arms and thighs and gave them double chins? How “beautiful” would those (by worldly standards) “beautiful” people be then?
I’m not happy that I have this struggle. I wish I didn’t. I would appreciate your prayers, but probably not a list of things I should “do” to “fix this.” (People give a LOT of unsolicited advice when they find out you are struggling with disordered eating/unhealthy weight gain. Oh oh oh. If only knowledge could fix the problem! But lasting behavioral change requires lasting heart change—and that, my friends, requires the Savior … and a lot of good old fashioned hard work and self-discipline too.)
If you or someone you love struggles with this topic, I hope you will check out my other blogs about disordered affections. In them, I link to a number of articles and sermons that have really helped me and continue to help me.
God bless you!
Remember! You are not alone—
Lots of us struggle to recover from a lifetime of disordered eating.
Sending my love and care,
I think it is particularly telling that people, even confessing Christians, can be so ugly and harsh about this topic. The tweets I have seen from (thin / “beautiful”) twenty-something Christians who spew venom about “fat people” as though those people were not people at all—but just objects to be ridiculed? The harsh judgment over what people eat and how people eat—with no patience, no instruction, no compassion towards those of us who grew up in homes where the only vegetable we ever saw was frozen corn. At Thanksgiving. (True story.) Where potatoes came as flakes in a box and white bread and bologna was amazingly “healthy” and “wonderful” because at least we had some sort of food in the kitchen (rather than the terror of a small child facing an empty fridge and absent parents).
For some of us? Just learning that something called “whole grains” existed in the world is a GIANT growth in wisdom; more or less learning that there are stores called “Health Food Stores.” (I didn’t know that until I was in college.) And then to actually BUY something in one of those fancy-shmancy-bins of LENTILS-everywhere stores? That is HUGE! More or less to learn how to cook it and serve it to our families. To many of you, this is no big deal. But to some of us, it’s like climbing Mt. Everest. We don’t know how. We are not equipped. The lingo scares us. It all feels so overwhelming. So be patient with us, please! Remember that you have weaknesses too. Think about how you would feel if your hidden, enslaving sins were worn on YOUR outsides like ours are. Be a friend. Be a part of the solution, not another face of ugliness and condemnation in our lives. And we will try to be good friends to you too.
I did not plan to blog on this topic today, but I was spurred on to do so by this a article that Challies linked to. I commend it to you:
LiveBlog of the PCA Women’s Leadership Conference General Session #5: Melanie Cogdill (A Tale of Two Women), Sarah Ivill (Thinking Biblically and Living Covenantally), and Stephen Estock (Why I Love Women’s Ministry)
LiveBlog of the PCA Women’s Leadership Conference General Session #4: Tara Barthel & Ellen Dykas – Real Friendship for Women Leaders: Loving Each Other Enough to Speak Truth
LiveBlog of the PCA Women’s Leadership Conference General Session #3: Ellen Dykas – Taking God’s Truth to a Hurting and Struggling World
LiveBlog of the PCA Women’s Leadership Conference General Session #2: Nancy Guthrie – Have a Clear Aim
LiveBlog of the PCA Women’s Leadership Conference General Session #1: Nancy Guthrie – Keep a Close Watch
When she found out that I Sophie and I flew on 74 flights together before Sophie turned 1 year old, she asked if I had any advice. (This photo was taken when Sophie and I headed out on our first flight in February 2004.)
The problem was, our kids’ gymnastics class was ending and we were juggling small children and putting shoes and coats on, etc., so I only had like three minutes to think of something to say. So here are the top three suggestions I could think of re: traveling with a baby:
1. The hardest transition points will be TSA and the actual boarding time. If your stroller can’t collapse with one hand, you are going to need to have a plan for what to do with the baby, or else you’ll end up laying him or her down on the jetbridge/airport floor. (Not a good plan!) I always traveled with Soph in my Maya Wrap, so if you have some sort of secure baby carrier, that should cover you. If not, look for a friendly mom-type (whose hands aren’t full!) and ask if she would consider either a) holding your baby for 30 seconds while you collapse your stroller at the end of the jetbridge OR b) collapsing your stroller while you hold your baby (whichever you are most comfortable with). Either way, have a plan.
2. Diapie blow-outs are always a risk. Plan for an entire change of clothes if needed. And pack SCENTED garbage bags all folded down into tiny rectangles in snack-size ziplocks. That way if a diapie and/or diapie blow out happens, you can try to contain all of the icky smell as quickly as possible. Otherwise, the entire plane will pay the cost.
3. In the bottom of my frequent-flyer-momma-diaper-bag, I always had snack size ziplocks with crisp $5 bills and brand new earplugs “at the ready” in case my daughter ever had one of those “babies freak out sometimes” freaking out time. Most people are fairly gracious about such things, especially if they see you working hard to try to soothe your baby. Babies cry! What can you do? But I wanted to be able to say to the people around me, “I’m so sorry. May I buy you a glass of wine or a big pack of M&M’s? And I have these brand-new earplugs you could have …” That usually softened even grouchy people right up.
So those are my top three suggestions. I hope her travel goes well and that these ideas help you if you’re flying with a baby soon.
I saw Baryshnikov dance, heard Kathleen Battle at her prime, and was twenty feet away from Yo-Yo Ma as he played the Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites on the stage of Orchestra Hall. And now this.
Back in the early 1990’s, I lived near Chicago and had some truly life-altering opportunities to see and hear the best of the best in the arts. Certain memories are seared in my mind—with all of the accompanying sounds, lighting, and emotional expressions.
The slight squeak of Baryshnikov’s foot as he landed a jump. The ephemeral—and yet seemingly eternal—hover of the note-after-the-note of the ring of Ms. Battle’s final syllable. Collectively, as an audience, we held our breath to urge it on for one more intoxicating second. And to be seated on the stage, just a few feet away from Yo-Yo Ma, and not only hear but see those fingers, that smile, that bowing?
Well. Truly. These are not things that I will ever forget. And I use the term “ever” quite intentionally because I believe that, regardless of the state of the soul of the people creating this level of excellence in art; regardless the purpose or history of the forum that shelters both artist and audience; such transcendent beauty must be (even just the tiniest sliver of) a reflection of the Eternal Godhead. Because these moments. These breaths. They are so other-worldly that they remind us of our True Home in Heaven to Come. They lift us out of the doldrums and monotony, fears and worries, horrors of life in this fallen world.
And man! Is true excellence in the arts fun! Edifying. So, so good.
Last night, in a tiny venue, in a tiny city (OK, the largest city in our state, but tiny nonetheless), I had one of these eternity-stepping-into-time moments. It was remarkable. I will never forget it. And I never would have expected it because our family is pretty fried right now with Fred doing two extra jobs on top of his full-time job while Sophie and I work hard to prepare for our service this week at the PCA Women’s Leadership Conference in Atlanta. I really just volunteered to help with tickets at the door because I wanted to serve the inimitable Janny Kirk (who is the only reason why two such outstanding, world-class musicians would be doing a workshop and concert for our small community).
Due to our sheer exhaustion, Sophie and I planned to leave at intermission. As the concert began, my mind was spinning with so many packing lists and to-do lists that I assumed I would spend 90 minutes keeping a polite look on my face, but only half being present and half-listening.
I could not have been more wrong.
When Nathaniel Smith and Jeremy Kittel played their opening notes and I heard the haunting, ethereal harmonics and overtones? The clarity of well-placed, well-bowed notes? Every chord perfectly (perfectly!) in tune (or brought to perfection by microtuning and even peg tuning—sometimes even while in the middle of a note)? Time stood still. Even my prone-to-race mind calmed down. I closed my eyes or stared, transfixed, at pegboards and bows. I could not believe that my daughter and I had ears to hear and eyes to see this level of excellence in this tiny room with cinder block walls and folding chairs—but with acoustics and sight lines that would rival box seats at Carnegie Hall.
It was the most beautiful thing I have ever heard in Montana. Sophie is too young to know it yet, but it was the most beautiful thing she has ever heard—save the preaching of the Word and the voices of her father, mother, and sister who adore her. Apart from real love communicated through people, it was the most beautiful thing Sophia has ever heard in her young life.
Yes. Sure. Of course. These young men are known for their fiddling and their fiddling was quite fun. Nothing like the blur of fingers and bow that make it abundantly clear why their bows require complete rehairing every two weeks. But it was the slow music that had me transfixed. Ensorcelled. Edified. They played a pavane that touched me so deeply I could not stop hot tears from streaming down my cheeks.
So if you ever have the chance to hear Jeremy Kittel and/or Nathaniel Smith in concert? Run, don’t walk. Break into those extra-special-saving-for-something-really-important funds and invest in the little glimpse of glory that your soul will experience.
God really is the Lord of All Creation! He generously and lovingly gave us eyes to see and ears to hear the beauty and splendor of HIM on that One (Good! Best!) Day. Until then, while with creation we wait and groan in longing, every once in a while, we get little breaths, little aromas of Him. This was my night last night and I hope that you get to experience something similar in this coming year.
What a generous God! I am grateful for the arts and for the Artist behind them all.
Blessings to you as you head into worship today!
When I woke up before 4AM thinking about this topic, I wanted to anchor myself a bit in the Word re: the arts because I am a complete novice and layperson regarding such things. So I was grateful to find this article by Randy Randall, an apparent alumnus of the seminary where I am currently studying. It was a good read and I am grateful for it. I particularly enjoyed this quotation that he shared towards the end of his thesis:
Great art is “something like revelation. What is revealed has been there all the time, but it has gone unnoticed in our humdrum everyday experience. It needs the sensitivity of the artist to bring it to light, so that we notice things for the first time.” John MacQuarrie
I did not expect great art to meet me last night in my humdrum everyday experience. But it did. And I am grateful.
I was super duper careful to check every post and FaceBook page to ensure I gave everyone their extra entry for sharing … and we ended up with 39 entries in our most recent WIN FREE STUFF GIVEAWAY.
Thanks so much to Resolve All Conflicts & Judy S. for the fun momentum to do a drawing. (I really DO love getting biblical and practical helps into the hands of women.)
Thanks again, friends!
Hope your Monday is off to a good start. I had a TERRIBLE night of insomnia last night so today is not going well for me. But God is still on the throne and my daughters are being particularly merciful to me, so hopefully I will sleep tonight and feel much better in the morning.
It was such a drag.
We had already been ’round the “gospel-discipline-prayer-counsel-gospel” bend this morning (hence our late arrival to Sunday School). And yesterday was one of those trying, exhausting, tempted-to-despair parenting days.
So I was discouraged. Deeply discouraged. And after I went through (what felt like!) just the motions of redemptive discipline, I was stuck there. Just staring at my beautiful, wretched, beloved, exhausting, precious child. Glued to our church library’s chair. Wondering if I could will myself to walk back into the sanctuary and return to the church service.
My dear theologian (emphasis practical theology) preschooler Ella threw her hands up in the air and said:
“Mom?! PLEASE! Let’s get back to church! I REALLY NEED TO WORSHIP!”
Oh, Ella. How right you are.
What she needed in that moment was the exact thing I needed in that moment–
- Not another pep talk
- No more resolutions re: controlling our emotions and stopping losing our temper
- No ten-steps-for being a better parent (or child)
- Not even another lesson on James 4 Monster Wants / desires elevated to demands
No. What we needed to do was run back into corporate worship and lay down our lives at the feet of the Cross and worship the One True God. Our only hope for turning away from our selfish, idolatrous hearts was and is to replace wrong worship with right worship.
And so. By God’s grace. That’s exactly what we did.
“… you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” 1 Thessalonians 1:9b-10 (ESV)
May God help us to continue in this way every moment of every day, or else there really is no hope.
Your beleaguered (but beloved) Momma-Tara-friend,
I included this photo of little Miss E as a toddler because it is a family favorite and such a perfect example of how we all are at times … proudly and defiantly standing there in our butterfly-laden-diapie-cover, shaking our chubby little finger in the face of our patient, loving father.
Oh oh oh. Who will rescue us from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord! (Romans 7) In Him, really do have redemption by His blood, the hope and assurance of eternal life. Alleluia.