Shame and Starvation {PART THREE}

Summer 2009. Unemployed. Graduated from university. Alone in my flat. I was arrested by a voice in my head. It told me to walk down the hall to the bathroom...and make myself throw up.

I’d never felt insecure about what I ate before. I was an athletic teenager. Awkwardly tall for my age and fairly shy. But I had somehow bypassed the usual ‘oh I couldn’t possibly eat anything’ phase of teenage girlhood. I prided myself on eating lots, in fact.

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But now this.

I was never able to make myself be sick, so instead? Starvation. I would make excuses to people that I’d already eaten. All the while hunger pains would rip through my body. I couldn’t feel my fingertips or toes much of the time. I was exhausted. My clothes hung off of me. But I couldn’t see it. All I saw was imperfection. Failure. Shame.

The internal dialogue I had went something like this…. ‘Stupid. You’re so stupid. Why did you say that? Why did you do that? Why did you eat that? Stupid stupid stupid stupid.’ I realise now that this was a voice that had defined my whole life.

This shame didn’t just physically starve me, though.

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It starved me of community. I stopped eating around people….one of the most beautiful and important parts of Christian community. Something Jesus always did and commands us to do. Going to Community Group made me so anxious. An inability to think about anything other than ‘what would I eat’, and ‘what would people see me eating?’ The same thing kept me awake at night. That year I began to suffer from insomnia. Unable to fall asleep because I was so anxious about what I would allow myself to eat the next day. I hid in shame and fear. Controlling every single aspect of my waking days. Isolated and alone.

It starved me of grace. I would walk down the street and in every reflection I would look at myself and judge. But here’s the thing, I wouldn’t just judge myself. I would start to compare myself to every other woman walking down the street. Thinking, ‘Oh, well at least I’m not as fat as her.’ And make myself feel better. Or, ‘I’m never going to look like that’, and feel condemned. Shame can be something you either heap on yourself, or on others. Or both simultaneously.

It starved me of love. I was unable to see or receive any love. I started dating Gordon six months after this began….it took me the longest time (I’m talking years) to actually believe him when he said ‘I love you’.

I remember one night, Ailsa finally asked me (I recognise now how much courage this took - thanks babe) if I’d ever thought of counselling. I was like, ‘But I haven’t had anything traumatic happen to me…I’m normal. So I shouldn’t need counseling, right?’ Oh what a fool.

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I started to realise how starving my body was a physical outworking of starving myself. My fear of getting fat was an outworking of my fear of the future: I had grown up with such high expectations placed on me, and that I had of myself, to be this intelligent and mature woman who was not going to waste her life. I recognised this was rooted in my fear of losing control, of shame in not being perfect, or accepted, of being unlovely, of failure.

I believed the lies of shame and fear….that I was unknown (not understood, not seen), unprotected (my future out of control), and unloved (the people who saw me didn’t REALLY see me and wouldn’t truly love me). I believed I was shameful. And even more, I believed that God was not good, not loving, and not strong enough to heal me.

The single fact that changed me and is continuing to root its way deeper and deeper into my soul?

That the Father of all space and time who has called into being all we see and know, is the same Father who whispers an unshakable love into my ear and shouts His grace from the mountaintops. Being rooted in my identity as His daughter. In the irreversible and unquenchable Perfect Love that drives out fear. I love how our children’s Bible (The Jesus Storybook Bible) puts this covenant love. ‘God’s Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love’. It started with recognising the lies that I’d believed. Repenting. And choosing to replace them with the truth of His love and grace.

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Since all of this, I have gotten fatter than I ever thought possible. In pregnancy. And I realised in a deeper way, that my sin of believing these lies had a direct affect on my son. I had to eat well. His growth and development, his life, depended on my nourishment. And isn’t it the same for us all? As Christians, we are a body. And lies that we believe, affect our brothers and sisters deeply. When we aren’t walking in freedom, the rest of the body suffers.

In all honesty, this isn’t over for me. Some days are still a real, deep, and bloody battle for the truth of God’s love. But the more I choose to replace those whispers of shame, with the lie-obliterating glory of His love and grace, the more I am able to walk in freedom.

For now, I’ll finish. But come prepared. Tomorrow we are going to do something different in this space. All you need is paper, a pen, and some time.

{Grace} 

 

 

 

 

 

Friendships {PART 2}

When I was eleven years old I received the Balfron Primary Citizenship Award. It was basically my school's trophy for being a good person and a good friend. Don’t worry this is not a brag about how I was a kind and sweet friend-to-all as a pre-teen. You’ll see.

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The award was a tie between three people. My friend Lynn, one of the other awardees, and I had spent the year collected clothes and supplies for refugees in Kosovo. Those of you who remember the war in Kosovo can now work out how old I am. So of course when two prepubescent girls use their time to get clothes and supplies to the survivors of genocide you give them a freakin’ award. Lynn and I may have single-handedly fixed a major European crisis but the other winner hadn’t done anything like that. He had just been a good friend. He wasn’t the most popular guy in our year but I realize now that when we were all asked to vote for the person who was good at friendship it was him who won. I see now with adult eyes that he was the kindest person in our year and he was most people’s ‘good’ friend even if he wasn’t their best friend.

In contrast, I wasn’t always a kind person with good friend qualities. To illustrate this let me tell you another memory I have when I was eleven. The same year I was into righting the wrongs of genocide, I also played netball. Don’t worry people who know me and that I have a ridiculously hard time catching a ball; everyone played it. Anyway, we hosted a tournament for the whole area at our school and I was hanging out with some friends avoiding actually playing sport. A girl, who I did not know, came to ask me for directions to the bathroom. I gave her some. To the boy’s bathroom. Which my friends and I thought was hilarious.

When you are ten or eleven is there any greater social faux pas than entering the public bathroom belonging to the opposite gender? I think not. I met this girl years later when we were both women, both married, and thankfully both forgiven by Jesus. And she told me her story of how when she was ten I sent her to the wrong bathroom. She still remembered. And she made me remember. I remembered that yep, I had definitely done that to a stranger on purpose. I remembered my cocky ego only truly possessed by eleven-year-old girls at the top of the pecking order. Happy to stamp on anyone weaker whether strangers or friends. And I remembered that in some circumstances I wasn’t a very nice person. What is more, I am strategically avoiding the questions of whether that counts as bullying.

Recently, my three-year-old has started to declare various people his ‘best friend’. These people range from the woman who birthed him (yes me) to a nameless child he played with at the park for 10 minutes. Brace yourself Ailsa, here it comes. He is starting to enter the complex world of friendships and relationships outside his family. I worry, in equal measure, that he will be the child purposely sending someone to the wrong bathroom or he will be the child being sent to the wrong bathroom. I am not sure which is worse.

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Now as a mother it is my job to teach him how to be a good friend. Or perhaps teach implies the wrong thing because really children generally learn from seeing you do something not telling them what to do. I have to show him how to be that boy I went to school with who also won the trophy. But of course, I am meant to model this for him at a time in my life when maintaining and building friendships is at its most difficult. In your thirties everyone is busy and friendships are the easiest place to slack. Friends don’t wake you up at 3 am to ask for water or to tell you they have wet the bed. You are not contractually obliged to work on friendships from 9 am - 9 pm. And you never make a public declaration in front of 150 people and God that you will always love that friend. 

All this begs the question, in the absence of awards and votes, how do we define the qualities of a good friend? Not how should my son get a best friend, but what qualities should I teach him to have to be a good friend to others? And perhaps more importantly, what qualities should I have as a friend? I’d like to think I am past the ego-driven nastiness of being eleven (yet another reason to be thankful to Jesus). You can decide that one. But, now I have to fight the busyness and obligations of life to truly be a good friend. And, honestly, how well I am doing at the friend thing is not something I have spent much of the last few years thinking about. So I am challenging myself, as I start to talk about friendship values with my son, to not be lazy in my own friendships. They require effort just as much as the next relationship. I will try to model something worth having to my son. At the age of thirty, I am going to try to live up to that Citizenship Award. Easy. 

Who do you know that is the best at being a 'good' friend (not necessarily your best friend)? What do you think are the most important qualities that make a ‘good’ friend?

{Ailsa} 

Friendships {Part 1}

We had such a lovely time. Chatting about sleep schedules and food consumption, running after our offspring, negotiating toy treaties, distributing snacks to each other’s kids, getting quickly to the ‘how’s your heart’ conversation because that’s how it rolls in this stage of motherhood (you gotta get to the depth quickly before nap time calls or someone starts to cry).

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Then we said goodbye. And the doubts started to creep in. ‘Oh my goodness I shouldn’t have said it that way...she’ll think I was judging her mothering style’ or ‘Why on earth did I say that...that probably hurt her’ or ‘Maybe she misunderstood that and now hates me’. Thought after thought. Always ending with ‘Stupid. That was so stupid. Why did I say that? Why did I do that? Stupid stupid stupid. I’m so stupid.’

The voice of shame.  

YOU are not enough. You’re not selfless enough, you’re not kind enough, you’re not a good enough listener. You’re not enough.

It’s so easy, especially in friendships, to allow the voice of shame to keep us from vulnerability. To keep us bound in fear. Fear of being known. And fear of being rejected.

I have been so convicted recently. And in the name of vulnerability, because that’s the tone we hope to set on this blog, felt like I should share....I’ve been convicted that I’ve allowed this voice of shame to mark so many of my friendships throughout my life. Looking to these friendships to give me the security and peace, love and grace, that my heart so yearns for. But there are hurts. Big betrayals and little ones. Deep wounds and harsh words spoken thoughtlessly. I’m so afraid of being hurt....And so afraid of hurting. I listen to both the voice of shame speaking to me, and also the voice of shame that judges and wounds others.

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But what if there’s another way. A way that implodes this controlling voice of shame. That keeps us from looking inward for our sense of love and belonging. Jonathan Helser describes insecurity as this....looking inwardly for security. So simple, yet so profound.

What if the rumours are true? What if we are indeed understood at our deepest level. What if we are truly loved at our farthest and worst, not just at our best and kindest.

Tim Keller puts it this way in his book on marriage, ‘To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.’

When we know this very best and most faithful of Friends....we have the grace with which to see others clearly and love others truly. Not for the sense of love and security they can give to us. But for themselves.

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And maybe, just maybe, this can be the beginning of a freedom from shame in our friendships, and the growth of deeply vulnerable love.

Cultural Belonging.

Having lived my whole adult life in another nation, my relationship with my birth country has been complicated.

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You don’t sound like you’re from here. Where are you from?’

 

Nearly thirteen years in, and I still get asked this question on a regular basis. I’ve started to enjoy messing with people a little bit. I say, ‘Oh I’m from here.’ I want to add, ‘My family and I paid loads of money to now be in possession of a wee red passport that says I’m legally entitled to all that you are entitled to.’ Mic drop. But I refrain. I can’t really blame them. I do sound different after all.

The follow up question is inevitable…. ‘Oh I mean where are you really from?’ And there it is...the emotion of displacement. Cue launching into an explanation as brief as I can muster, and moving on.

‘You don’t sound like you’re from here’....And I never will. That Scottish brogue is a beautiful thing, but very hard to put on well. Trust me. I’ve tried.

We moved over when I was barely 17. Immediately I started to make adjustments to what I called things. We didn’t have to learn a new language….but we might as well have. There was a whole host of cultural assumptions, references, and understandings that I had no knowledge of. Conversations that happened around me that I could not join in with because I hadn’t grown up with the same television shows. Constantly having to explain who I was to people. They had no reference for me, of course. No one had really known me before the age of 17. They didn’t know who I was. 

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I remember, in my first year of university, deciding to just stop talking for a bit. Or answering questions as briefly and quietly as possible. Maybe people won’t ask me the question. Or launch into a tirade about why the USA is ruining the world. Or misunderstand my meanings. Or make assumptions of who I was simply because of my accent.

And then, every couple of years, when I went back to visit extended family and friends, I would hear another statement…. ‘Oh wow you don’t sound American anymore!’ No longer belonging. No longer home. Life moved on back there, and I didn’t fit in anymore. And so it began, the grieving process of losing a home. Even now it can still hit me at random moments…

So I would go back and forth. Sometimes happy that people thought I didn’t sound American anymore. Fist pump to myself, I’d assimmilated. Boom. Other times, the feeling of homelessness, of being consistently misunderstood, would overwhelm me. Sometimes I would look back at my birth country with sentimental fondness, at other times I would shake my head in disbelief at the same worldviews I had once held.

Immigrant life can be emotionally chaotic....swinging between both a highly critical outside perspective on where you are 'from', whilst also being wildly nostalgic and semi-patriotic. Paradoxical. Third culture, is what they call it. A nice name for someone who feels like they have no real home. They'll never fully be a part of their birth culture again, and they'll never fully be a part of the one they live in now. No matter what a passport or birth certificate says. Cultural belonging is like the ability to breathe. You don’t really notice how important it is until you are waylaid with a cold and can’t sleep. So deeply a part of you.

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But over the years I have begun to love this. Even in the hard places. Because it's served to remind me where my true Home is. We are all sojourners in a strange land. Awaiting the making new of all that is lost, and all that is foreign. Outsiders brought in.

As C. S. Lewis put it, describing Aslan's country, 'I have come home at last. This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.' {The Last Battle}

This is a discussion that we will probably be coming back to time and again on this blog. For now, I leave you with a question.

Where do you get your sense of belonging from?

 {Grace}