‘Tis the Season to…

stop judging.
Fah-lah-lah-lah-lah
la-lah-lah-lah

I mean it. Stop it!

For many of us the holidays are a wonderful time of the year.
It’s a time for celebration and togetherness.
For others of us it’s a time of survival.
A time of trying to get out of bed in the morning and put one foot in front of the other.
A time that we long to end.

I don’t know what place you are in today.
I know where I am. I know from whence I came.
Therefore I can tell you that I have experienced both extremes.
The pain of uncertainty and the joy of security.

My prayer for you today is peace and rest, contentment and delight, meet you right where you are. For an overwhelming sense of well-being to fill your soul. Tangible evidence of love so deep and wide and unconditional that you can’t help but give thanks for the moment.

For my friend who is facing the holidays without her mother for the first time, I pray for the kind of comfort that only a mother can give. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to document a day in the last few weeks of her life. What an incredible honor.

For my friend who’s husband left her a single mother by choice, I pray for God’s provision and protection in the coming year in a way that no earthly man could provide. Thank you for sharing your story with others in hopes of being a light in a dark time. I know that in time, your heart will heal.

For my friend who is explaining thankfulness to his two children who lost their mother six months ago, I pray for words of wisdom to flow from your lips into little ears of understanding. Thank you for accepting “Happy’s” from me wrapped in crazy patterned duct tape and filled with things like “happy hearts” with arms for hugging. I will never forget how during one of the darkest moments in your life, you took the time to tell me about her love of the clinging cross, helping me feel like I was there with her during the agonizing pain even when my physical presence was not.

For my friend who would be less than a month away from celebrating her baby girl’s 1st birthday, I pray for peace as memories of the days that she had in your arms are relived. Thank you for allowing me to be one of the incredibly fortunate ones who got to meet her during her short time on earth. What a gift!

For my friend with a heart aching for the man she loves who was taken too soon. My prayer for you, dearly loved, is that you will dream big! That the purpose in your sorrow would be made known as I believe it is unfolding before us now. I pray that your story would impact others in a way that no one else can. I pray that you will love again and have a long, passion filled, beautiful life. Thank you for letting me come alongside you on this journey. You are teaching me so much about what true strength is and what faith really means.

There are more of you. Please know that you are loved. You are prayed over, you are lifted up, you are thought of.

For those who will be making mad dashes to cash in on the black Friday sales, good luck.
For each of us, may we remember to stop and think before cutting our eyes at the lady with the screaming child or cutting in front of the driver going too seemingly slow. This is a time of reflection. It’s a time to look to the left and the right and ask what we can do for someone other than ourselves. In the end Darling, it’s really all that matters anyway. What we do for others, I mean. Next year you won’t remember what you purchased at the “sale.” For me, I always remember the feeling of doing something for someone else. There is nothing better.

Blessings to you in this coming season and the new year that will follow. May all that is good and true and beautiful be yours.

 

Where is God now?

How could I ever look at anything and ask, “Where’s God?!” All I have to do is look out my window. I can see God everywhere, in everything.
But I have been in that place. More than once. Spiritual desolation where God is nowhere to be found. That corner of hell with gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair.

That place where a young mother is diagnosed with cancer and dies less than a year later leaving a husband and two young children that she worked so hard to have.

The place where baby’s who are “incompatible with life” are carried full-term, the mother’s belly sliced open to give baby life and after a few short days out of the womb the mother is left with memories, photos and a wound far greater than the one from the blade of the scalpel.

The place where ends don’t meet.

There’s no happily ever after.

Where regret is a constant companion and depression is the norm.

Where one begins to doubt heaven and the existence of a God at all.

What kind of God would take the life of a 17-year-old girl with all the promise in the world, one beautiful day after a small town football game? Her mother recalls her saying, “It’s the most beautiful day! I don’t remember a day quite like it?” That was one of the last things she heard her daughter say.

Who wants to know a God that watches two small children lay flowers on their mother’s grave and ask their daddy night after night, “Where’s mommy?”

If God is so good wouldn’t he grant the wish of the young wife who has cried herself to sleep for the last 5 years when the pregnancy test is negative…again.

What about the children who are sold into a world of sex and abuse. Being promised to the dirtiest of men who use them up and throw them away when they’re finished. Surely God doesn’t see or hear their whimper for help. How could he and not do anything about it?!

I don’t know the answer. What I do know, without a doubt in my mind, is that God is good…all the time…even when it doesn’t feel like it. I have crouched, head in hands, digging nails into my scalp, hoping the pain would cure my numbness.

I have been in my corner of self-inflicted hell with seemingly no way out while making promise after promise to my Creator of what I would abstain from if only he would get me out of the current circumstances and save me from myself.I have committed heinous acts thought to push me far beyond forgiveness.

Here is what I know. The same God who calmed the sea when he told Peter to walk out on the water to him, calms my heart when I don’t understand his plan. Just like Peter, when I take my eyes off of him, I sink into the very thing I think capable of overtaking me.

I want to have faith. I do. I want to see every situation through the eyes of a just and loving God with a plan far greater than my own…but more times than not, I don’t. Half the time I shake my fist to the heavens while the other half I lay face down on the floor, arms out, palms open, “Thy will be done, Lord. Not my will, but thine.

I don’t understand his ways. Why should I? I was never promised full disclosure. If I were granted understanding, would there be a need for faith? What would it really change?

He is a God who gives and takes away.

His love endures forever and ever.

I believe.

The only other option is the opposite of hope. A life of uncertainty, waiting for the next “thing” to happen. Asking myself when atrocities occur what I could have done to prevent it, when none of it is within the realm of my control, nor would I want it to be.

God is God and I am not.
All knowing.
All seeing.
All wise.
Infinite.
Immortal.
Unchanging.
The same yesterday, today and forever.

There is one thing I do have control over.
The choices I make.
In this moment,
I choose faith.
I choose not knowing the whole story, but trusting that it will play out as it should.
I choose joy.
I choose grace and mercy.
I choose to see people as God with skin on.
I choose life.
I choose Christ.
I choose freedom.
I choose trust.
I choose forgiveness.

I choose to go out on my back porch, take in beauty that is far too majestic to capture, inhale cleansing breaths through my nose and into every cell in my body, all that is good, all that is well, all that is pure and healing. While exhaling the “what if?” “Why me?” “Why them?” “Why now?” I choose the something far greater awaiting me, if I choose to believe.

Sweet Embrace: A Letter to Elliot

Dear Elliot,

I was browsing through one of my favorite shops in a small North Carolina town when I saw this sculpture. I picked it up and read the description from the artist. This is what it said;
Thankfully I know the owners of the store because I could not hold back the tears that were imminent. While holding the artwork tightly in both hands I was able to tell them about you, your life and your legacy. That makes two more people who know how incredible you are and what a difference you are making in the lives of others.

Mary carefully packed the figure in brown paper to ensure a smooth trip home. That was three months ago. I put the bag in my closet and looked at it several times a day, but left the statue securely wrapped.
I finally sat down and slowly pulled the pieces of tape away from the brown paper. As the image began to appear I was overcome with emotion. It sounds silly, right?

Like certain music, art has the ability to move us from where we are, right back to a moment in time.

I wanted a place where, not only would I see it throughout the day, but others could as well and ask about its meaning.

While admiring it when first getting up this morning, memories began flooding in. Sleepovers with singalongs on our hairbrush microphones and talent shows from the school’s cafeteria stage. Tennis matches in the heat and humidity we had grown accustomed to in the south and seemingly never-ending miles on the church van. It reminded me of the long days of summer and the childlike anticipation of Christmas. A time that was good and innocent. A time when divorce had not been intrusive, cancer wasn’t personal and we were unaware of how incredibly cruel the world can be. I had to smile.

I am quite certain that each time I look at it another memory or emotion will surface. I’m okay with that. I don’t think chance is what took me into the store on that particular day, I think it was God.

Wyatt is celebrating his 7th birthday today. He is so grown up! I love seeing the pictures that Chris posts on your Facebook page. It’s amazing the difference a year makes between six and seven.

El, I still haven’t written those letters. I don’t know how. I don’t know what to say and yet there is so much I want to say. I have things for them that, just like the figurine, remain in a bag, undisturbed. Do you think I will ever have the courage to put my thoughts on paper and stop worrying about whether it’s worded perfectly?

The children are beautiful, Elliot. I know that you are so proud. And Chris is doing a wonderful job. It is evident how much he loves and misses you. We all miss you.

Love and Light,


Related Post:

Oh my soul

To see more sculptures by Cindy Burden click here

The Skinny on the Book ~ by E. Wierenga

It is my honor to feature Emily Wierenga and a glimpse of her incredible story of experience, strength and hope. Her journey is one that everyone should read, especially females, counselors, ministry leaders, teachers, coaches, those who have daughters, a sister, wife, mother…I think that covers everyone. I am blessed to know this incredible woman and pray that God will bless her, her family, her ministry and all those who come in contact with her.

The nurses murmured to each other under fluorescent lighting as I lay shivering on the metal hospital bed, cold. Later, I would learn that they had marveled at my hypothermic, sixty-pound sack of bones, reasoning, “She should be dead.” I was a breach of science; a modern-day miracle. Yet in that profound moment, all I
could think was: “Why can’t I lose any more weight?”

After four years of slow and steady starvation, I had finally quit eating altogether.

It started when I began to squint my eyes for the camera. I wanted to create laughter lines in a laughter-less face. Then, I began sucking in my cheeks. I liked how it made me look thinner. Model-like. I was nine years old.

The next four years were a blur. Anorexia starved my mind, but I’ll always remember the darkness. Days smudged with counting calories and streaming tears. Days filled with frowns, fierce yells and fists pounding against my father’s chest…

Dad loved us by doing his job so well he put ministry before family. He’d kiss us on the cheeks early in the morning and lead Bible devotions and sigh when we asked him questions on Sermon-Writing day. I hated Sermon-Writing day.

I got baptized at age eight because Dad said I should and I wanted to please him the same way I wanted to please God. I associated God with my father—a distant, unemotional man who said he loved me yet was too busy to show it.

One year later, I realized that even though I’d gotten baptized, Dad still didn’t ask me how I was doing, not really, and so God still didn’t care. Not really.

Food was dished onto our plates at every meal; again, I had no choice but to finish it. This inability to make my own decisions killed my independent spirit. Mum meant well; as a nutritionist, she served healthy but plentiful portions. As a result, we became healthy but plentiful children.

Meanwhile, a woman I’d become very close to, ‘Grandma Ermenie,’ passed away. And life became even more uncontrollable, and disappointment, more certain…It’s a scary place to be in, this place where you have no one, so you have to become bigger than life itself, in order to carry yourself through the pain. A nine-year-old isn’t very big. And all I wanted was to be small. Because the world told me that thin was beauty. And maybe if I was beautiful, Dad would want to spend time with me.

I didn’t know about anorexia nervosa. We weren’t allowed to play with Barbie dolls or take dance lessons or look at fashion magazines or talk about our bodies in any way other than holy, so I didn’t know anything except that Mum changed in the closet when Dad was in the room, and made us cover our skin head to foot.

A kind of shame came with this not talking about bodies and beauty became something forbidden. And I wanted it more than anything. So I stopped eating.

It was a slow-stop, one that began with saying “No,” and the “No” felt good. I refused dessert. I refused the meals Mum dished up for me. I refused the jam on my bread and then the margarine and then the bread itself…

At night, I dreamt of food. Mum would find me, hunting for imaginary chocolates in my bed. I wanted her to hug me and make the fear go away, but was worried that if I did, my guard would be let down and I’d eat real chocolates, so I stopped hugging her for two years.

My legs were getting thin, and that was what mattered, but I dreamt about her arms, and woke up hugging myself.

I slipped from a state of not being hungry to a state of choosing to be hungry. I liked how my pants sagged, how my shirt became loose, my face slim, and my eyes, big. And at some point, I became a different person, intent on being skinny no matter the cost.
***
this is how it starts.

Emily’s book, Chasing Silhouettes: How to Help a Loved One Battling an Eating Disorder.
View Endorsements here
Read Sample Chapters here
Follow Emily on Twitter and Facebook

“I know many of you have not struggled with eating disorders, but there are 8 million Americans that do… and many of them are young girls, in families that are desperate for solutions… there is only one solution, and that is Christ, and this book points to Him. Would you help me get the word out about this? 

Will you order a copy for your church library? Your school library? For the family down the street? Thank you.”

Facing the Monster

I was walking through the mall shopping for October birthday gifts when I passed by Starbucks and thought, “No, I don’t need an iced chai with soy!” However, like so many times before, I found myself standing in line with several others wondering why this place held such power over me. As I was debating with my inner monologue, I felt someone walk up behind me. Though small, I knew they were there. Doesn’t seem odd, does it? After all, I’m in line at one of the biggest coffee stores on the planet.

I turned and with a smile acknowledged the young lady standing behind me. I turned back around squeezing my eyes tightly shut and pushing down the lump in my throat. She broke away from the line and went to the condiment bar, taking three splenda though she had yet to order a drink. She stood uncomfortably close to me now.

One by one she tore the tops of the little yellow packets and poured them down her throat.
I was uneasy. People were looking at her strangely. I don’t know if it was because of her emaciated appearance or the fact that she was swallowing artificial sweetener by the pack? I knew all too well what she was doing.

She grabbed a fat-free milk and sparkling water from the cold case. I finished paying for my drink and began walking to the other side of the counter. Everything inside me said, “Say something you idiot! Tell her that she’s going to die! Tell her what she’s doing isn’t worth it!!! TELL HER!!!” (I feel rather certain that she’s heard that before.)

The young man behind the register said, “Miss. Miss! You’re $2.20 short.”
“What?” she replied. As if not to understand.
“You’re short. You owe two more dollars and twenty cents.” He said.
She began scrounging and asking if she could put something back.

“I will pay the difference.” I said.
It just came out! What was I to do?
It was the only way I could reach out to her in a way that made sense.
It was the only way to show this stranger the love she so desperately longed for.
(I don’t tell you this so you’ll think I’m wonderful. I was a thief for much of my younger years, stealing things that I can never repay. This was a small penance for years of wrongdoing.)

Her reactions were slow. I honestly don’t know how she was holding herself up.
Her head had to be difficult to support as it was disproportionately large in comparison to her starved body. She could not have weighed more than 80 lbs. and looked to be about 5’6.

As we both turned from the counter our eyes met. “Thank you ma’am. That is very kind of you.” She said in almost a whisper.
There was so much I wanted to say. Knowing it wouldn’t matter and that she couldn’t receive it, I smiled and said, “You are so welcome.” I held her stare.
Her eyes had no light. It was like staring into a dark abyss. The life that was once there had long since departed. She was dying a slow, self-inflicted death.

We walked separate ways and I said a quick prayer. “God…I don’t know her story, or even her name, but you do. You are all-knowing. If by some chance she felt hope in the few moments we shared, please multiply it and speak truth into her weary soul. Please surround her with people who seek to understand and promote healing rather than judgement and shame. Thank you for allowing me to escape the same fate….thank you for saving me from myself again and again. Thank you…

Maybe you know someone who is starving themselves or eating themselves to death or are somewhere in-between. Maybe that person is you? It’s hard isn’t it? It feels as if there is nothing you can do. This is not the part where I tell you to “just pray about it.” It doesn’t feel like enough, does it?

My prayers during the tumultuous years in the prime of my self-destruction mainly consisted of phrases like, “God please help me. Please, please, help me.” “God, if you’re out there, show me what I mean to you. Show me that I’m not worthless and damaged.” Truth is, I didn’t know how to live life. I almost lost everything because of it. Until I learned the importance of speaking truth into my own heart and mind, my behavior would could not change.

Sometimes all people need is kindness. Sometimes a smile will do. Other times it’s $2.20 while expecting nothing in return. We must be the change. We must. Saying the right words isn’t enough and most of the time what we think are the right words, aren’t “right” at all.

Want to make an eternal difference? Take notice of the unnoticeable and spread hope.

If you want to read an incredible story about healing and hope or want more information about eating disorders from someone who survived, visit my friend Emily Wierenga at her personal site and her blog Chasing Silhouettes.

Related Posts:
It’s time to step off the Scale
Ransomed
Wrestling demons
Does this make me look fat?
One Word: Enough
Anyone…anyone
Pardon me while I compare my insides to your outsides
Just like that, a Mother is born
I’m a hypocrite

As a child of God, we crawl before no one

 


“We must be entirely honest if we expect to live long or happily in this world.

We have entered the world of the Spirit. Our next function is to grow in understanding and effectiveness. This is not an overnight matter. It should continue for a lifetime. Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them…

Love and tolerance of others is our code.

And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone… For by this time sanity will have returned. We react sanely and normally, and we will find that this has happened automatically. We will see that our new attitude has been given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it. We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation. We feel as though we have been placed in a position of neutrality – safe and protected. We have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us. We are neither cocky nor are we afraid. That is our experience. That is how we react so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition.”

~ Taken from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, page 84-85 ~
AA is a group of individuals from all walks of life, who share the same ism. It is a program to which I owe my life.

 

No more pain

She went to be with Jesus and her earthly father, my grandpa Ed at 9:46. It was peaceful and I was with her.

This was the text I received from my friend whose mother has been battling an aggressive form of cancer that just recently spread to her brain.

A few short months ago I had the incredibly privilege of capturing four generations of women through the lens of my camera. I was honored when Erin asked me to come to her family home and record precious moments with her mother, daughter and grandmother. What a gift.

I would love to honor Krista by sharing a few photos of her with her favorite girls.

Thank you Erin for introducing me to your amazing mama who, in spite of the disease ravaging her body, never lost sight of the bigger picture.

© Joy Cannis and Even A Girl Like Me, 2012.

© Joy Cannis and Even A Girl Like Me, 2012.

© Joy Cannis and Even A Girl Like Me, 2012.

© Joy Cannis and Even A Girl Like Me, 2012.

 

 

© Joy Cannis and Even A Girl Like Me, 2012.

© Joy Cannis and Even A Girl Like Me, 2012.

© Joy Cannis and Even A Girl Like Me, 2012.

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; …And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. …These words are true and faithful. And He said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.~Revelation 21