sweet

“I’ve been fighting to be who I am all my life. What’s the point of being who I am, if I can’t have the person who was worth all the fighting for?”
Stephanie Lennox

The first week of Lent is finished, and I am happy to report that it was largely a success.  My girls and I accomplished all of our goals and stayed faithful to the promises we made.  We supported each other in our different struggles and came away from it closer than ever.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is, Saturday sucked – like, a lot – and it was all my fault.  I was awful.  I was moody, depressed, and overwhelmed with every little thing my girls did or didn’t do.  I went to bed that night exhausted and on the verge of a significant identity crisis.  I was so distracted that I forgot to set my alarm and overslept for church the next morning.

Want to know what fueled this horrible, no good, very bad day?

I gave up sugar.

To be precise, I gave up white carbs (as per the 4-Hour Body prescription) because I know what a stumbling block empty foods are for me.  I use them to distract, divert, and procrastinate, and I always feel terrible later.  Since I am focusing on Hebrews 12:1 this Lent, casting off complex burdens with food seemed the obvious choice.

The initial results were devilishly easy on the physical side.  I have given up soda, junk food, and even this range of carbs before, each invariably resulting in at least one day of detox: migraines, fatigue, nausea, the whole bit.  This time, nothing.  My body felt fine – even good – the whole week.

Then there was Saturday.

I have to say it scared me a little bit and here’s why: What if I’m not the nice girl I have always thought I am?

My whole life, the words that people have used to describe me have always been along the lines of friendly, optimistic, helpful, sweet…  What if it turns out that I’ve just been hopped up on sugar for thirty years?  What if my soft, gooey center is vinegar instead of jam?

Turning to research for answers, I noted with dismay that identity crises go hand-in-hand with addiction.  Some addicts become addicted because of an identity crisis; others experience the identity crisis as a phase of recovery from the addiction.  The luckiest of all turn to addiction for relief from the identity crisis, then face a new identity crisis later during rehabilitation – a cyclical loop of uncertainty.

It will take some time for me to dig up my root causes, and I won’t bore you with my soul-searching here.  Suffice it to say that a new project as I press on through Lent is going to be reviewing who God says I am, meditating on my identity in Him rather than in human eyes.  I thought I already knew this.  Clearly, I have overestimated my depth of understanding.

Coincidentally enough (if you believe in such things), I just happened to see Flight this weekend in my race to be fully informed before the Oscars, and this struggle is brilliantly portrayed therein by Denzel Washington.  The question of “Who am I?” is a recurring theme in his life and the life of others who struggle around him through the story.  It’s not a pretty picture, to be sure, but I am encouraged knowing that I’m not the only person to wrestle with such seemingly elementary issues.

Today, I am thanking God for movies, long baths, my family’s gracious patience, and especially Sundays!

the stuff of dreams and lent

Last night, I had an epic trilogy of nightmares.

In Part I, I was first pursued, then held hostage by a serial killer.  This dude was scary; he was Hannibal Lecter and Lex Luthor and Nurse Ratched all wrapped in one.  I kept trying to get away from him, but he always caught up.  I couldn’t let anyone around me know what was happening or else he’d kill them all, too.  He wanted me and only me, and I felt like a mouse being played with by a cat.

Eventually, I was able to distance myself and my family from him somehow, because Part II found us at church.  The service and Sunday School were over and we were about to go outside when a brewing storm system suddenly gave birth to about a dozen tornadoes.  Most of them were far away, but I saw one coming right for us, so I ushered us down into the basement.  It passed over us without harming us or the structure around us, but I could hear people’s screams outside as they were sucked in.

This transitioned into Part III as we drove home and settled in.  My girls went to bed and I was talking with my mother, when out of one of our bedrooms came the person with whom I have the most difficult relationship in my life.  She came out and stared right at me, but she wanted to talk to my mother, not me.  I stepped aside and let her pass, and then walked away, praying fervently my mom wouldn’t allow herself to get hurt in the conversation.

Then I woke up.  I believe my profound thought upon rousing was, “What in the [bad word] was that?!”

Now I’m no Joseph, but I enjoy dream analysis and interpretation very much.  There is a lot of material in these dreams to pore over, and it doesn’t take a genius to speculate that there is some kind of stress / turmoil going on in my head.

Do I think it a coincidence that my last thoughts before going to bed that night circled around Lent?  Absolutely not.

I have observed Lent since I was sixteen years old and it is always a complex labor of love.  Deciding what to do / not do for forty days seems straightforward, but I easily devolve into a sort of tug-of-war between what God is calling me to do and what I think will benefit (or, let’s be honest, what will look best on) myself.  I must constantly check myself and pray over it, or I can degrade the spiritual work by turning it into a glorified New Year’s resolution.

And that’s the “easy” part.

After that comes the real work of living it out.  Giving without letting my right hand know what the left is doing, keeping up appearances so as not to garner the praise or sympathy of others, and doing it all without complaining or arguing…well.  I can barely master those disciplines on Christmas Day!  Throw in a little warfare against my human nature and will and it’s amazing how fast and furiously the rationalizations start to fly.

The truth is, I know this all affirms that the work is good.  If my flesh lashes out, it’s because it needs the discipline.  When my mind tries to talk me out of it, it only shows that it needs this retraining.  Every swing of my emotions will only reorient them to the One I really need to connect with for peace.

Serial killers?  Come ahead!  I’m killing myself anyway so I can live with Christ.

Tornadoes?  Blow away!  I serve the One who will both use and calm the storm.

Enemies?  Do your worst!  I will walk in love and forgiveness, and God will make everything right in the end.