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 4}

People often ask me what I miss most about Scotland. I am sure nobody will be surprised to hear it is not the weather (parts of Scotland get 250 days of rain a year), haggis (though a sheep’s stomach full of offal is surprisingly good), or even the landscape (which is actually good, see all that rain). You are getting closer if you guess I miss the accent, the ‘could be misconstrued as mean but is really playful’ banter, and generally the ‘we will rise as underdogs’ spirit of the Scot. But the real answer is quite boring because it is so obvious. My friends and family.

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I left Scotland knowing I would take a handful of best friends with me. These are friends who have been through it all with me and I knew we could build a transatlantic friendship. These friendships are worth preserving but it is also slightly disheartening because the circumstances of life mean the way these friendships work has to change. All of a sudden you don’t see these people regularly like you used to or share the same experiences. You can't just meet up for a natter or grab dinner together. These friendships require a different kind of intentional work. They take on a new significance in your life. 

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It may sound like an awkward thing to say but I also need friends here. I believe we were made for relationship. It would be a bit weird if I only had friends in Scotland and tried to just live in New York without really investing in relationships. I have great deep friendships that are transitioning into long distance relationships but I also need day-to-day friends. Friends that see your life. So they can see when you are having a bad day without you needing to tell them and be there to celebrate with you in the happy moments. You need the friends who can hang out with you last minute. You need the friends who see your vulnerability. I mean I probably could survive without any more friends but I probably shouldn't. 

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So here I am at 30 years old trying to remember how to build friendships again. I watch my son play with a kid in the park and suddenly become best buds. It is all so simple at 3. Just play a game of tag and share a toy car. I don’t know about you but I no longer play with toy cars and I am busy. I have children that require constant love and attention, a husband that requires slightly less love and attention, and we are trying to pastor a church that perhaps needs the most love and attention. With all that it can be hard to have room for friends. I am just not in the friend making sweet spot that was my twenties. 

I may have just admitted I need some friends but no one likes to look like they are desperate for a friend. I think we probably all have hang-ups left over from High School and the pressure to look like you had the 'required amount' of friends. And like dating, being in a state of building new friendships is not always a comfortable experience. The other day someone asked me if I have made friends since moving here. Which is a really tricky question. Needless to say, I spluttered, started to overthink the whole idea, and then tried to get my husband to answer the question for me. My brain was going,

‘Gosh, what even constitutes a friend? In all my life have I ever had a friend?’

It wasn’t my slickest moment. It was like watching a millennial's brain shut down through over-analysis....oh wait it was watching that. I should add this answer came even though I have lots of interesting people I hang out with and I am building friendships here. I can only imagine what my answer would have been if I was feeling all alone. Our culture makes it awkward and uncomfortable to desire some more friends as adults and it judges our worth accordingly. 

But I don't think my awkward situation is exclusive to those of us who have moved country. Maybe you have just moved city, changed job, or gone to college. Perhaps your life stage changed or you had a baby and now your friends are all working 9-5 while you have the afternoon chat shows to keep you company. It could be that all your friends moved away or got married (which is sometimes harder because they drop off the face of the earth and still live on the same street). Maybe, you took a look at your life and realized you need some better friends. 

I think that we should just admit right now that this is normal. If you have never found yourself needing some more friends I guarantee it will happen at some point. Sometimes we just find ourselves in a friendship deficiency and we should embrace that as a standard experience. Because we are no longer in High School it does not have to mean something terrible about our identity. It just means we are humans experiencing human things. When someone admits they feel lonely or would like more friends we don't have to feel pity or look down on them. We should just empathize that this is living. 

{Ailsa}                                                


 

Friendships {Part 3}

Moving across an ocean at 17 did NOT do wonders for my FOMO. I mean, it wasn’t even a handy acronym at the time, but it was definitely still a thing.

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For any of you who have made a significant move in life, you will know what I’m speaking of. That fear of missing out. More and more this is becoming the story of our world. People living thousands of miles away from the most significant relationships in their lives. Missing out on graduations, holidays, weddings, births....and deaths. Distance is heartbreaking.

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Back to 2005. Several of my friends were off to the same university, or still in high school, and I was about 3,000 miles away. That first lecture, I sat in a 400 seat auditorium and didn’t have one person who had known me longer than a week in the entirety of the undergrads that walked on campus. (Granted there were a few masters students who were a part of the church plant team, but no one my age.). And most of these people didn’t really like Americans either. Loooools. The fear of missing out stepped up a notch. Skype didn’t exist at that point. No what’s app. We had instant messenger, emails, or phone cards. Daily life went on, and I was not a part of it. The fear of not knowing what was going on in the lives of those I loved....the fear that we’d drift apart and I’d drift off into a sea of loneliness....though it sounds overly dramatic, it was so real.

Looking back, some relationships have grown and deepened over the years. Others have faded. A part of my life back then, but no less beautiful. For me, a few things have defined the former....

First, I think long distance friendships require real intentionality. I’ve been known to schedule Skype dates over a month in advance. It sounds crazy....but it’s so vital. Intentionality also involves messaging the other person even when they forget to ask. You had a big day last week at work and they didn’t remember to text and ask how it went. Tell them anyway. Be vulnerable. In an intentional way, not in a passive aggressive way.....ha. (She speaks from experience. Oops. Sorry.)

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Second, friendships that span the miles require perseverance. Perseverance past the insecurity and fear. A transcontinental friendship can really reveal to you your deep insecurities. Are they forgetting about me? What if they meet someone awesome and stop sharing their life with me? The fear of unworthiness is real. But the reality of the God of love is more tangible than any lie that would try to tear you apart. The antidote to fear is always love. Receiving love, enables us to give it without fear.

Third, I think in ordered for these relationships to thrive there has to be an awareness that both of you are no longer the same person that you were when you lived in closer proximity. New experiences have become a part of who you are. You’ve both grown and changed. And this is a GOOD thing. Not a thing to be feared!

2011. My bridesmaids and I, the week before my wedding. Now they are all long distance friendships! 

2011. My bridesmaids and I, the week before my wedding. Now they are all long distance friendships! 

And fourth? An embrace. Embracing all the transition, the loneliness, the messiness, the pain, the longing, the change, the joy, the laughter, and the uncertainty of it all. Embrace the sharpening iron of friendship.

This started off being about long distance friendships. But here’s the thing.....distance is measured in miles, but also in years. We all have lived lives of distance. And when love travels the distance of miles and years, there’s a beauty that wouldn’t have been there if it weren’t for the deep pain of separation. Physical. Emotional. Mental. The pain breaks you open. And if you’re broken open - broken free from insecurity and lies - more love, joy, and grace can break in.

 {Grace}

Immigrant, Not Expat

This week I went to renew my massively out of date US passport. As I took my napping child through the metal detector, passed off my phone to be kept in a compartment for me, and stepped into this tiny (and very full) waiting area, I couldn’t help but smile to myself. Anywhere in the world where official American documents are processed involves such a high level of security.

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And then I began to pay attention to those around me, because of course I didn’t have my phone to distract me for the better part of an hour.

Here I was, in close proximity to a diverse group of people like me. Who, for various reasons, were living far from their land of birth. There was an elderly professorial type gentleman (who was rather snippy and demanding to the poor woman behind the glass), an academic proofreading JSTOR articles, a young family of African descent there to register their son’s birth, a rotund white man with wild hair down to his shoulders applying for his grown son’s new passport,....and me. All of us. Common legal standing. Common nationality.

Immigrant. ‘A person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.’

As a white, middle class woman….why do I call myself an immigrant? I grew up in a time when Americans who lived abroad used the word ‘expats’ to describe themselves. The term harkens back to an era of romanticising colonialism, widely understood to signify a person of skilled work, an artist, or a professional who chooses to live outside their native country. People who have been sent by or recruited by companies or governments.

Wealth. Power. Autonomy.

Immigrant? I’m sure the connotations are springing to mind already. They come to leach. Take, not give. Cause problems. Get in the way of our progress. They come, backwards and regressive, to complicated our national identities.

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Traditionally, any white person coming to live in a foreign country has been called, or called themselves, an expat. Including me. Whereas, any person of a different skin tone or class has been dubbed ‘immigrant’ or ‘migrant worker’.

Words matter. What we label ourselves and each other….it matters. Words have power to break down the dividing walls of class, nationality and wealth. This is why we choose to call ourselves immigrants. To identify with the outsider….because, quite simply, we are. 

This is not to say that I want to minimise the struggles, injustices, and traumas that are felt by a refugee or immigrant who is fleeing from oppression….not at all. Of course I do not have an experience of what that feels like, or the courage it takes to journey to a new land that so often wants to reject and oppress them.

But hear me out. When we recognise that some words are rife with colonial oppression and anglocentrism, when we come to see the inherent problems with choosing to define ourselves with labels that set up these dividing walls between each other….we can do one of two things. We can either close our eyes and ears, and get offended and defensive. Complaining of political correctness and semantics. Or, we can come with humility, recognising our privileges (yes), but also choosing to honestly call ourselves what we are....

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People who have all come, with different histories and perspectives, for one reason or another, to a new land. And are attempting to make it into our home.

{Grace}