Friday, September 20, 2013

Remembering: The act that brings thanksgiving, praise, faith, and trust

I have been in a highly reflective mood lately.

My assumption is that this is due primarily to the fact that I am writing again. Although I have not been posting regularly to my blog, I am taking a creative writing class, as well as leading a writer's small group. These two groups require me to dig into my life for material, and as a result I have been regularly experiencing flashbacks.

Compounding these flashbacks, is my physical body. Normally, paying attention to my body is a negative force. Today, however, it led to thankfulness. I realized today that my weight is equal to what it was prior to running track my senior year of high school. Now, by no means, am I implying that running track led to my anorexia. But I do believe that losing weight in track (combined with dating my first boyfriend) brought an awareness of my physical body that had been shut down. This realization of my stabilized weight has brought a wave of thankfulness upon me. For the first time in five years, I am neither losing nor gaining ridiculous amounts of weight. Sure, my anorexic-trained mind will probably always want to be skinnier than I am now, but I am finally treating my body well--refusing to push it in either direction. I am not restricting; I am not binging; I am not compulsively exercising. I feel at peace.

It is this peace that allows me to tip-toe through the memories brought up by my flashbacks.

The act of remembering occurs often in the Bible. The Passover, which is arguably the most important holy observance for both Jews and Christians, is rooted in the act of remembering. The book of Deuteronomy is Moses's repetition of the Israelite history and the laws that have been given to them. Many songs of the Bible (especially the Psalms--see Psalm 105) are purposefully reminding the singers and listeners of past works and deliverances of God. Even the New Testament exercises remembering (think of Stephen's speech before he was martyred).

Not only does remembering bring Thanksgiving and Praise to God, but it also renews Faith and Trust in the God who has proven Himself trustworthy.

My flashbacks are doing this for me.

I am surprised to be where I am today. I shouldn't be alive. I shouldn't be alive physically. I shouldn't be alive emotionally. I shouldn't be alive physically. (Heck, I even almost killed my intellectual self, as well.)

I have mentioned the following quote by Bonhoeffer before, but it seems especially pertinent today: "He is a prisoner and he has to follow. His path is prescribed. It is the path of the man whom God will not let go, who will never be rid of God." Bonhoeffer described the prophet Jeremiah, thus. But it became a description of himself, as well. And now, it has become a description I (cautiously) apply to myself.

I tried to rid myself of God. I think back to everything I went through and put myself through. I tried to push God out. There is no reasonable explanation as to why I am still walking with Him. The only explanation I have is that it was God who refused to let go of me. He refused to let anything stand between me and Himself. "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-9 ESV). God has kept His grip on me. And He did this by placing perfectly, hand-picked people into my life at the times that I needed them the most.

So, today, I want to recognize a few individuals. There are many who have walked along side of me during this journey, but the individuals I am about to list rose to challenges far beyond what is required of a normal relationship. So if you see your name (I will only give first names, since I don't have anyone's permission to give more), I just want to say, "Thank you for being available. God used you. Thank you for loving me. You were God's arms embracing me. Thank you for sacrificing your time and energy. Without you, I would not be alive today."

My thanks go out to:
Janet, Sue, Mike, Ashley, Courtney, Bruce, Amy, Ericka, Anna, Barry, Lindsay, Natalie, Kaitlin, Kristin, Kristina, Sue, Joseph.

Thank YOU. And thanks be to God for placing you in my life and for never letting me go.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Paradox of Yearnings: the search for community

I am starting a writing group that meets for the first time this Friday. The first assignment is to write a brief introduction of yourself. However, this simple assignment is causing complex unrest within me. You see, I also want to create genuine community in this group. According to M. Scott Peck, in his book, The Different Drum: Community-Making and Peace, "if we are going to use the word [community] meaningfully we must restrict it to a group of individuals who have learned how to communicate honestly with each other, whose relationships go deeper than their masks of composure, and who have developed some significant commitment to 'rejoice together, mourn together,' and to 'delight in each other, make others' condition our own'" (39). Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks of community, in his book, Life Together, thus:

By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth. Only a fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God's sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both. A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community. Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. (27)

I read the words of these two men, and I feel at a loss. I am ever aware of my conflicting desires to reveal myself and to hide myself. And then I think of all the other group members; they must be going through the same struggle. Community is so foreign to us. My goal with this group is to use writing to encourage openness and community. But I know that I can also hide behind my words and use them to distance myself from others (one such tactic is to call them "my audience;" instead of thinking of them as people who might actually dialogue with me over what I am saying). My writings may appear real, but I can use them as a mask to hide the even-more-real.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Reconciliation to Myself: thoughts on fictionalizing the self

The first major creative piece that I wrote was an attempt to recount and then understand my own decent into anorexia. The piece, entitled “Hope,” was written as my final project for a class on autobiographies. To add to the mayhem, I was concurrently going through my most vicious relapse. As part of the assignment, I was required to attach a more specific genre to “Hope”—for “autobiography” includes a wide variety of subgenres. My chosen subgenre was that of scriptotherapy. In their book, Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives, Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson include the following description of a scriptotherapy:

A term proposed by Suzette Henke to signal the ways in which autobiographical writing functions as a mode of self-healing, scriptotherapy includes the process of both “writing out and writing through traumatic experience in the mode of therapeutic reenactment” (xii). Henke attends to several twentieth-century women’s life narratives that focus on such childhood trauma as incest and abuse, which adult narrators—for example, Anaїs Nin and Sylvia Fraser—record in order to both heal themselves and reconfigure selves deformed by earlier abuse. Some theorists, however, dispute that writing is always a form of healing from abuse or loss. (279)

Although “Hope” was initially an attempt to heal from anorexia, it also opened the door to addressing the sexual abuse that was deeply hidden in my past.

I have written much since (and even before) “Hope,” and, although not all of my writings are attempts to self-heal, the motivations of self-awareness and healing are never far-removed from any outflow of my pencil or keyboard.

I am finding this to be painfully true in my most recent writing attempt. For this piece—which I have not even begun to formally write—I am fictionalizing four different parts of myself. More specifically, I am fictionalizing myself at four different stages of my life. This task is proving to be extremely difficult—mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

While working on my characters, I have discovered an extreme revulsion to one of the girls. This, naturally, means that I have a revulsion toward that part of myself—which, although a “past me,” is still very much a part of who I am today.

The theme of this past week—as per a sermon series by the pastor at Union Center Christian Church—has been “I am reconciled.” It was easy for me to assume that the end of this phrase is “. . . to Christ;” however, while discovering this aversion to part of myself, the following end can also be added: “. . . to myself.” This is difficult for me to swallow.

As a writer, I must make this unwanted character come alive to my reader. However, this cannot be done until I can see through her eyes. And seeing through her eyes is the last thing I want to do. (This isn’t helped by the fact that my third character hates her—I am much better at seeing through this third character’s eyes.)
A further realization was made a few days ago: reconciliation is not possible without forgiveness; and forgiveness is not possible without grace. Can I have grace for this girl that I am so angry with? Can I forgive her? Can I reconcile myself to her?

Today, in church, was the closing of the series (as well as the focus on reconciliation). As part of the closing, we were to take communion and then receive a name tag that says, “Hello, I am ____”. The blank had a few predetermined options: more, special, important, loved, reconciled, and free. I thought about which one I wanted. I wanted “Hello, I am loved” because of a previous writing encounter I had had with God (see my post “The Song”). I was consumed with the moral dilemma of whether or not to specifically choose this one—the other option being: close my eyes and reach in blindly. When it came my time to receive my tag, I was surprised to find that they were being handed out—I would not have a choice in which one I received. I received communion and then put out my hand to the smiling woman. When I looked down, I was pleasantly surprised to see the words, “Hello, I am loved.” I walked back to my seat thinking about what God had taught me a few weeks ago. But as I was remembering this, God shoved my unlovable character into my thoughts—I had not been writing this new piece at the time of the love theme. Suddenly, I was forced to apply this love to her, as well. If God loves me—all of me; past and present me—then He must also love this fictionalized me that I was struggling to love.

Can I love this girl? I ask myself. I admit that I certainly cannot feel love for her in this moment. But perhaps, I can allow God to show me His love for her. And then there is the one thing that I can and must do for her: give her grace.