40 Years In…My Purpose & Pain

There is so much I could say, in the blank space, with cursor blinking, waiting to be filled. I’ve sat here many times before today, staring, with thoughts racing, too much to begin.img_5872I was honestly surprised…and not…to see the tab at the top of this page stating in all caps that I have 87 Drafts. Eighty-Seven works in progress. How silly. Knowing that each time I release my truth from the inside out, it unlocks a new aspect of freedom that I didn’t know was there. And yet, if I think about it too long, I won’t hit “Publish” on this one either.

jcp-2016-croppedSo…For today, let’s dive in before I convince myself to “Draft” it.

In the weeks leading up to my 40th birthday, I’ve thought a lot, maybe too much, about the purpose and pain through my first 40 years on this earth. While I genuinely hope this helps someone reading, it is as much for my own benefit as for anyone else’s.

My journey has not been one of ease, though it has been better than many, and more privileged than most.

The List…jcp-2016-5869

  1. Trust can take years to build and moments to destroy.
  2. Happiness can be bought (temporarily) and then lost, while true joy is internal and untouchable by outside forces.
  3. Grace is one of the most priceless and underserved gifts. Though freely given, we must receive and embrace it before it can manifest in our lives.
  4. Intuition is absolutely real and divinely instilled.
  5. The ability to forgive is key to authentic beautyNothing will age you faster than resentment.
  6. A steller hairstylist is a must. Once you find said stylist, tip well.
  7. Anger rots your inner being before ever showing up at surface level.
  8. Fear only leads to greater fear.
  9. Prayer works.
  10. When searching for an answer, love almost always fills the gap.
  11. It’s about “who” not “what” you know. (This applies to everything.)
  12. Baby wipes are essential for life. They remove crayon from a painted surface, that unidentified sticky residue just beneath a child’s car seat that’s been there for God only knows how long, mascara, lip stain, mud on wedges…etc., etc.
  13. Smiling more will inevitably lift one’s own spirit while providing warmth to the stranger passing by.
  14. It’s true, you cannot out-exercise your fork.
  15. We never see our true-self clearer, nor exert our need for a Savior more, than during times of trial.
  16. Failure is not optional, it’s necessary.
  17. Lessons will either shape you or break you.
  18. People do not control your destiny.
  19. God is not mad at you.
  20. Sunscreen actually is important.
  21. If you have one true friend you can trust with your weirdness, you are richly blessed.
  22. There is a deep human longing in us all to be fully known and accepted anyway.
  23. Death is not the end. It’s the transition.
  24. Grief is unpredictable.
  25. No matter the color of our skin, just below that thin layer, we all look the same.
  26. Generosity is key to contentment.
  27. Everything (really is) going to be okay (eventually).
  28. We don’t have to share the same DNA to be family.
  29. Miracles still happen.
  30. Everything we say and do begin with a thought.
  31. Being an adult can be really hard.
  32. We can decide, at any given moment, to change direction.
  33. There is no excuse to be unkind (to anyone) (ever).
  34. Gratitude changes things.
  35. We remember moments.
  36. God created each one of us with great intention and purpose.
  37. The most sacred space of witness is during birth and death.
  38. If we could truly grasp our worth, nothing would have the ability to intimidate or have a stronghold in our lives.
  39. Don’t put earthly limits on a heavenly God.
  40. Time goes by so quickly.

1. We don’t have to be afraid.
2. Everyone is important to someone.
3. Labels were never meant for people.
4. Sex doesn’t have to be a dirty word.
5. Right and wrong is relative.

So there ya go. With hundreds more to be added at another time. As I live out this first year in my 4th decade of life, what would you add?



Tattoos or Jesus, which one will it be?

JCP-4475I vividly remember a close family friend telling me that I was disobeying God by getting a tattoo and because of its permanence, I was in a state of constant defiance. He quoted scripture (from memory, of course) to back up his point from which the core of his unsolicited advice originated. (This was after the tattoo was already there. What was I to do about it, except put on the heavy cloak of guilt placed before me?)

I was 17 years old.

I have since added several more tattoos…and piercings to my body. This one is especially meaningful to me.Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 3.40.06 PM

For years I’ve been reading different views on this subject. It is interesting and at times crazy how defensive people can be with their written words. The ALL CAPS and number of exclamation points following the scripture references that, in their mind, confirm and validate their rightness. It leaves me wondering, “Why would I ever want what they have? How could I ever follow the God that they profess to emulate?”

As I’ve said before, “I can justify absolutely anything.” I am a Master Justifier. Maybe that is the case here. I am justifying the fact that I, a follower of Jesus, willingly marked my body.

This will cause debate. There are some of you reading now that are already irritated. That’s good. Whether you’re irritated over the thought of someone being able to love Jesus while tattooing their body, or you’re irritated over the people who are irritated…take this moment to ask yourself, “Why does this bother me so much?”

Here is what I have to remember, I am accountable to God. When I approach the throne of grace, it is not while locking arms in a group of others. It is alone. It is personal. It is intimate.

Let’s think outside of our comfort zones for a moment.

What if, every sin that you have ever committed or thought about committing was written on your body? Adultery, stealing, murder, gossip, abuse, pornography, envy, gluttony, betrayal, denial, blaspheme… Which one would you want across your face?

Things don’t have to be written in ink to leave a permanent mark. Try these labels on for size…shamed, guilty, jealous, abandoned, greedy, whore, liar, addict, alcoholic, convict, loser, hypocrite, enabler… Though not written in ink, individuals clearly wear these labels.

If God really does see past our flesh, into our hearts, what does he see? I envision Him seeing a heart covered in permanent markings.

And then Jesus came…and all of that changed. He is our Intercessor, Savior, Redeemer. He stands in the gap of all of our different perceptions and definitions of “right” and “wrong.”

God sees us through His son. His perfect son. So we no longer have to argue who is more right than wrong, or justify anything. Once we see Christ for who He is, we are given the invitation to lay down all of our judgements, isms, character defects, labels and prejudices at the foot of the cross.

No matter whether you think tattoos are “right” or “wrong,” the cross is enough. Whether you have thought about stealing from someone or have actually stolen, the cross is enough. Whether you have always seen yourself as damaged because of an image that was self inflicted or projected onto you by someone else, the cross is enough. It’s enough.

It’s about a personal relationship with the One who paid it all.

Let’s visualize ourselves removing the lenses through which we currently see everything while asking, “Father, please help me see everything, including myself, through your eyes and from your perspective. Transform my perception of others, crushing all misconceptions.”

As you think of the person whom you consider marked up, damaged and pierced, remember, they…I, have a place to bring all imperfections and lay them down. The foot of the cross. Right there beside all the prejudices and judgements. Once there, they are all the same.

In Christ, there is no condemnation.

To my Beautiful Children

My Loves

It’s no secret that I have wrestled demons in the past. One of them being body image. As I read posts on social media raising awareness this week about eating disorders (ED), I cannot help but be grateful. It wasn’t too long ago that I was in the depths of my illness. In an effort to help others and avoid ever going back to that place, I cannot forget what that desperation and skewed sense of self felt like.

My body put up with 12 long years of abuse. Starvation, binging, purging, excessive use of diuretics, substances…many things that would cause bewilderment one day when looking back.

My relationship with food is still not one to be envied. It’s rather dysfunctional and requires much work on a daily basis. As with everything in my life, it’s about progress, not perfection. Someone once told me, “Even if everyday you take two steps forward and one step back, you’re still one step further than you would be.”

If you remember nothing else from these writings, please remember this, “Let go of perfection. It will ruin you.”

I bring you into this conversation to acknowledge the times when I will say silly things like,
“I wish my thighs still fit in those jeans.”
“I remember when my stomach was flat and toned…before babies”
“I don’t even tan the same after having children.”
And any number of other things that are disrespectful to this body that has housed me for over 30 years.

It’s true that I am a mere version of my former self. It’s true that my thighs are thicker, my belly softer, my arms looser, my backside…well, let’s just say, things don’t sit where they used to. It’s also true that pregnancy, nursing, lack of sleep, unnecessary worry, baby carriers, and bending over cribs as slowly as possibly in an effort not to wake you after finally rocking you to sleep, had something to do with it. Those are the beautiful reasons for my transformation. The not so beautiful and less mentioned reasons are the results of my lack of discipline in the areas of exercise, eating junk food, staying up too late, not enough water, and various other things.

My Darlings, when I look at you I know that you are my greatest investment.

When I stand naked and vulnerable in front of the mirror, surveying my body, familiarizing myself with the curves, lines and dimples that have claimed permanent residence on my frame, I run my finger along my cesarean scar reminding myself that just beneath the surface of this scar is a womb that cradled you until my arms would. Just below that layer is a vessel for life. How could I ever regret that?! When I turn sideways and see the pooch that has become a constant companion, I stand up a little straighter and remember how far my belly skin stretched as you grew into a living, breathing, human being. When shopping for the “perfect” fitting bra that eludes me, I am reminded that these breasts sustained three lives! How can I be upset by the inconvenience that I feel they sometimes cause me?

Depending on when you’re reading this, that last paragraph might make you cringe. I get it! I almost didn’t type it! But I’m not going to be a host for shame anymore. I’m not going to sit quietly while other women feel isolated in their thinking. I’m not going to allow anyone to tell me that I’m not okay the way I am.

The truth is my loves, I am more than okay. I’m fantastic. I’m better than I have ever been. This beautiful body has done more good than I ever would have given it credit for. After years of mistreatment by its tenant, it has been very forgiving.

If there was only one thing that I could tell you about body image it would be this, “When looking, thinking about and caring for your physique, remember to be grateful for its functions. There will always be something you wish you could change. Always. Why not focus on the miracle that is life? I think you will discover that you have everything you need to be an exceptional version of yourself.

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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.
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.

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
Wrestling demons
Does this make me look fat?
One Word: Enough
Pardon me while I compare my insides to your outsides
Just like that, a Mother is born
I’m a hypocrite

I’m a hypocrite

Some days… when standing before my reflection stripped of everything… motives, guilt, expectations, past images, I can honestly look at my body and speak the words of Psalm 139 with great certainty.

There are other days when I stand before the mirror and wonder whose body I’m trapped in and when the merger occurred. I look at my curves as too curvy. My hair appears dull. My laugh lines are deep and obvious. My image is distorted.

These are the times when the Father whispers my name, Chosen one. Beloved daughter. I have called you by name. You are mine.

I used to have such a hard time with the phrase, “Beauty is on the inside.” I felt like everyone I heard say it was unattractive and used it to self-soothe. (Mean and judgmental, I know.) Interesting how perspective changes when inner beauty is realized in others and strived for in oneself. It is much more difficult to acquire, maintain and increase than outward beauty. It is the great reminder that this “shell” is temporary. Appearance is fleeting. What’s on the inside will indeed show through…eventually.

I have found it fascinating how the inside begins seeping through the eyes and the smile. The mannerisms and responses. The posture and tone. I know several women over the age of 55 who have a rare beauty that a 20-year-old doesn’t even know to wish for and certainly could not understand. My perception of beauty now differs greatly from when I was 20 or even 26. I don’t think it can adequately be defined. It’s like trying to wrap ones mind around “forever.” It simply cannot be done.

Truth be told, twelve years of abuse to one’s body doesn’t just go away. I know that eating disorders in general are a phenomenon to many. For those of us walking through it, it could not be more real. Some days I wonder if I will ever have a healthy relationship with food. I wonder when I will stop wanting to bend over and vomit every time something passes my lips. I wonder when I will stop trying to force my curves into straight leg jeans. I don’t know?

What I do know is that when I stand up in front of your daughters and mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives and friends and tell them that God made them with a purpose in mind and we should embrace the body he has created for us, I better be living what I’m speaking.

Some days I do. There are days when I have too much confidence. Those who know me well would attest to that. On the days when I’m not appreciating my laugh lines, the curve of my hips or the scar on my belly (that provided a safe delivery for our son) I remember the verse that I have given out to so many women and girls. “I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation!” Psalm 139:14

I am not the crease in my brow or the lines encompassing my eyes. I am not the stomach lacking definition or the thighs that will never fit into a size 4 again. I am not the arms that hide from sleeveless shirts or the boobs chest that is, at times, less than manageable. I am not the chin that is no longer well-defined or the insipid, brown hair on my head. The fact that more things jiggle when I walk than I would like, does not decrease my value or deflect me from my purpose. All of these things make up my physique, but they no longer define me.

I am a child of God. Made in his image. Created with great purpose and craftsmanship. I am his masterpiece. Dearly beloved. Beautiful in his sight. Purchased with his blood. Worth dying for.

And darling, so are you.