I thought I’d clear my head. I needed a place to write and I needed to redeem my $40 gift card, so I came up with the perfect idea to go to the outdoor mall in La Jolla. Fit with couches and fire pits and the exact shops where I could redeem the rewards I receive for using my credit card to pay off hospital bills when I’m feeling adult-ish, I figured I’d go do a little redeeming and a little writing at the outdoor mall.
I was on the phone when I pulled into my parking spot and remained there as I finished my conversation, along with nearly half a bag of chocolate covered blueberries, unbuttoning my shorts so I could feel just a little more comfortable. Yes, much like Al Bundy, I often unbutton my pants when eating, and it matters not where I am, be it at home on the couch or discreetly under the dinner table at a nice restaurant, if food is going in, buttons are coming undone.
I tried to tell myself it was okay for eating as many as I did, after all, it was only half the bag instead of the whole bag and the bag wasn’t all that big and I certainly didn’t want to obsess over a serving size, but such is the life of a girl plagued by a history of eating disorders; never knowing how much is too much or how much is not enough, and one bite over or under the maximum or minimum is enough to offset six years of recovery.
Nothing involving food ever feels normal. Last year one chocolate covered blueberry would have been too much. This year a whole bag of chocolate covered blueberries doesn’t seem to be enough, and that mindset can change from week to week, day to day, hour to hour. I make choices, because we all have them, choices. I make choices as best as I can to eat my meals and fit in a snack and allow myself the luxury of having dessert without clearing out an entire pastry cart, but I’d be a liar if I were to say the choices were easy or came naturally.
I wish I could explain the way my mind worked, mostly so I could feel understood, mostly so I could feel more free to talk about a struggle without fear, without guilt, without shame. What is a simple question for most people, “what should I eat today?” is a monster of a voice that haunts me day in and day out. The monster brings with it whispers of shame, shame about my body, and guilt, guilt for wanting to eat something that tastes good, and fear, fear that I might lose control, fear that I might not be good at anything else other than eating healthy and losing weight, or God forbid, fear that I might get fat.
I don’t like admitting that, in fact I hate it, I hate it in every way possible, but if we’re going to call a spade a spade here, then I have to stop telling my recovery story as if it is all past tense: “Once upon a time I had an eating disorder, I went to treatment, I got better, I relapsed, I got better, God is good, the end.” Yes, yes, yes and no, no, no. It doesn’t work that way, “this happened, the end.” Maybe it does for some people, who am I to say it doesn’t, but if there is anything that I feel I have the authority to say as a leader, which is a position I find myself in currently, or that I have the authority to say as someone who knows JJ best, which is also a position I find myself in currently, it’s that as a leader, as a JJ, as a girl on “the other side” of recovery twice now, I don’t have it all figured out.
I don’t have it all together. I have not arrived. Leaders don’t get to be leaders because they discovered some secret of happily ever after and then set about to lead other people into the land of happily ever after, I think some leaders think of themselves that way, but I think those leaders should be dethroned. I think they should be dethroned because they give the impression that as one ages gracefully they get all their shit together, clean it all off and figure it all out. And maybe I’m wrong, maybe I need to be dethroned, I’m certainly open to that, but for me, even as a leader, a leader in human form, I am still in the throws of my story that involves a lot of “I don’t knows” and “how comes” and “why God whys.”
When I was in high school, most of the leaders seemed to have it figured out. They never shared their own struggles, they just shared that God was good. But why? Why did they think He was so good? Because the Bible said so? Lots of stories paint pictures of really good characters and tell really good stories, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to give up my life and put all my hope and faith in a well written story… not even as a story teller am I going to do that. Why did they think God was so good? It can’t be just because the Bible said so, that’s like reading about an ice cream sundae and telling everyone how good it is but never actually knowing if that’s true or not because you’ve never actually tasted it…
“How do you know the ice cream sundae is good?”
“The food critic said so.”
“So you’ve never tried it?”
“So you don’t actually know if it’s good or not from personal experience?”
“So then why should I listen to you? Maybe you should order the ice cream sundae and actually try it before you tell me I should order it because it’s good.”
Or something like that. Leave it to me to use a food analogy.
And doesn’t the Bible even say, “taste and see that the Lord is good”? How? And why? Why did all my leaders tell me God was so good? If it was because that’s what they were supposed to do, fine, I can’t fault them for doing the best they could with what they thought, but if they really believed that God was so good, I have to assume it’s because they experienced Him. They felt their Father reach down and pick them up out of the muck and mire and wash them off and set their foot on a rock and keep their feet from stumbling and put a new song in their mouths.
I have to assume it’s because they experienced their Father’s healing hand in some way, which means there had to be something they had to be healed from. You can’t tell me God is good and not tell me why you think so. Well, I take that back, you can, but it won’t mean much to me. I think Dumbledore from Harry Potter is good, but I’m not going to live a life devoted to Dumbledore, nor am I going to believe his words as ultimate truth, especially since while he might have amazing advice, the man prefers acid pops.
For me, as a leader, it’s not enough to just tell the kids I am working with that God is good. Yes, that is true, God is good, but why? Why do I believe that? Because I sang about the B-I-B-L-E being the book for me in Sunday school? And it’s not even just the kids that need to hear why God is good, it’s that I need to hear it too, I need to be reminded, for as much as I might hate voicing my struggle, it gives me a chance to also voice my hope and be reminded of who God is and how far he has brought me. Maybe some people have sweet stories of experiencing God in the comforts of their struggle-free life, and if so, good for them, I can’t write or re-write anyone else’s story, nor can I continue to compare mine to anyone else’s. When it comes to our stories, God is just as much in the Blockbuster hits of summer as He in the sweet children’s books, we just have to look for Him. And we have to tell our stories. We have to tell our stories, not as once upon a time, but as here and now. And while our stories might have started as once upon a time, no one on this side of eternity should include “happily ever after” because our stories aren’t over yet.
Life hits and it hits hard and just because you make it through one tough season doesn’t mean you are prepared for the next one. Are you stronger? sure. Able to handle it better? possibly. Experienced? absolutely… but prepared?
How can anyone prepare for the death of a loved one, a cheating spouse who vowed to be committed, a child being sexually abused, a mental disorder that rips a family apart, a DUI, a drug overdose, an aggressive eating disorder, an abortion, an addiction of any sort… the list goes on and on. The list goes on and on because we are in a broken and fallen world and yet so many of us are walking around with smiles on our faces, telling people God is good as we struggle in silence, surviving our way to the day when we can tell people about what we’re struggling with as a “once upon a time” story.
God is good, and while the Bible does say He is good, I’m not here to say God is good because the Bible says so.
God is good because He is faithful. I don’t want sweet gifts and flowers, I mean I suppose I do in some ways, while giving someone a gift that dies isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, sometimes it’s nice to have a sunflower light up a room, but not as a replacement for faithfulness. I’d take faithfulness over flowers any day. Gift giving doesn’t make someone good, faithfulness makes someone good. I don’t want you to shower me with flowers when you cheat on me, I want you to not cheat on me, keep your flowers and “just” be faithful. Maybe I say that from a place of experience and maybe not, but more so maybe.
And so it is with God. Why do I associate His goodness with gift giving, warm fuzzies and holy hugs? Whether He gives me a new job or a shotty car, a restored relationship or money for rent, that is not the determining factor for how good He is, or even if He’s good at all. He is good because He is faithful to me. He is good because time and time again I have doubted Him, abandoned Him, rejected Him, denied Him, betrayed Him, disobeyed Him, tried to devalue Him, attempted to manipulate Him, repetitively cheated on Him as I’ve sought out other gods to live for, and yet even still He has been faithful to me. He has picked me up, dusted me off, washed me clean and set my feet to dancing. He has clung to my hand when I’ve been too weak and tired to cling to His.
He has whispered His love to me through the setting of the sun, a ripple in a pond, the splatter of a rain drop, the butt of a fire-fly lighting up and the crunching of autumn leaves in crisp October air. He has shouted His love to me when I’ve been too stubborn to listen for the whisper through the crashing of an ocean wave, the rolling of thunder, jolts of lighting through a dark night sky, the sound of a piano meeting that of a guitar and a sweet voice echoing through the walls of a restored church, and even through the loss of something I once held dear as He held me closer than I’ve ever been held before.
I have encountered the Lord in ways that most people haven’t, at least in the western hemisphere, and I’m not saying that to brag, I’m saying it to paint the picture clearly, that if anyone has been given a reason not to give up on the Lord due to their very real encounter and experience of Him, it’s me. And yet, even still, I have found myself ever so close to walking away from the only consistent, reliable, life-offering Savior I’ve ever known. And I say that to say, even though after all He’s done for me I’ve come close to betraying Him again, and in many ways do betray Him on the day to day if not by mere thoughts I entertain while I think He’s not looking (thoughts that if entertained long enough turn to action and action that leads to betrayal and one more mess to clean up); even though that has been our story on more than one occasion, with more than one mess to clean up as a result of my own spills, He has walked in with a dish towel, or sent someone to Fred Meyer to buy one for me, and He has set about to cleaning… loving me, cleaning me off, cleaning the mess around me and loving me still.
The hardest part about the cleaning process is when He, my Savior, my Dad, rubs all the gunk off of my person. I remember watching a toddler get spaghetti sauce wiped off of his face once. His mom wanted to clean him up because a) what mother leaves spaghetti sauce caked to her child’s face? b) I’m pretty sure the sauce crusts over and makes it harder to get off if you leave it there, and c) it creates more of a mess if the kid runs free in the living room with spaghetti sauce all over his face, leaving traces of it on the couch and everyone’s favorite chair. I watched that kid squirm and whine and I was quite annoyed that he didn’t just sit there and wait for his mom to finish helping him. He was actually making the process take much longer by all of his squirming and whining, and his mother practiced way more patience than I would have by continuing to wipe him clean as she spoke sweetly to him. I wanted to slap him. This might be one reason why I shouldn’t have children.
For as annoyed as I was by that kid, I’m not that far from him, except say twenty-plus years. I make a mess, leave a trail, try to cover it up and forget that I’m caked in it. My Savior Dad comes in to clean it up and wipe me down and there I go, squirming, whining, complaining about the discomfort of the wiping process. I lose sight of the fact that He’s cleaning me and I focus on the fact that He is making me uncomfortable, especially when the mess is so thick that it needs a scrub brush. “OUCH! STOP!” I yell, “YOU’RE HURTING ME!” And He continues to scrub away my gunk because He cares more about my well being, my whole person and the whole person I am becoming much more than He cares about my present comfort. He refuses to leave me caked in my own mess, and so He scrubs and scrubs and I yell and yell and even run out of the room a few times to try to get away from Him, but He chases me down and refuses to give up on cleaning off His daughter. He wants better for her… and He wants better for you.
I moved to Southern California earlier this summer still caked in a bit of my own mess. I took on a leadership position still caked in a bit of my own mess, and it’s not that we can’t be leaders and have messes, to be human is to be messy and so it goes, even for leaders. It’s that I thought as a leader my mess would have to be past tense from here on out. It’s that He was taking too long to clean me off and so I tried to run into the living room and start playing with my toys, but He chased in after me with that Fred Meyer dish towel and said He had more wiping to do. He is relentless in cleaning His children off and maybe one day my mess will be past tense, I don’t know, but for now, God has called me to lead a group of kids while still in the middle of being cleaned off.
God is good not because He lets me sit comfortably in my own mess (which really isn’t all that comfortable if I sit in it long enough), God is good because He is faithful, and no matter how long it takes He refuses to give up on cleaning off His daughter and growing her into the woman He created her to be.
I have believed some ugly lies over the course of my life, lies that have dictated poor choices I have made. God is good because He is taking me through a process of cleaning out those ugly lies so that I won’t keep repeating those poor choices. The process, for me, is a long one, and one that looks crazy to other people. And I’m still in the middle of it. I didn’t get healed in Portland and then move to California to tell everybody about it. I mean, I did, that happened and is happening, but what is also happening is the continual process of being healed, of being cleaned up and cleaned out so that no messy residue is left. And perfection won’t be reached on “this side,” I get that, but it doesn’t mean He won’t attempt to keeping cleaning us off while we’re here.
My God is so, so good because He has a messy-ass daughter that He delights over and refuses to give up on (and believe me, she gives Him a run for His money, He’s had plenty of legit outs). My God is faithful, which is all I could ever ask for or want from a savior, a friend, a lover and a father.
My God is so, so good because He is faithful first, and then He looks at His spaghetti-faced daughter and while holding her still and cleaning her up, He surprises her with glorious sunrises, blades of green grass, a hot cup of coffee, a swim in the ocean, a tree with welcoming arms to climb, a story to write, a hand to hold, and every so often, a sunflower or two to light up the room… because like I said, even in the midst of my darkest hour, my God is good.
I love you, Dad.
Love, spaghetti face.