Surprised by Joy

Today was a strange day. I attended a lecture by Dr. Jennifer Gaudiani, a widely recognized and respected eating disorder specialist. She is also my former doctor. She is brilliant, compassionate, and as a medical concierge, she is wildly out of my price range. We do not having the funding for me to continue under her care. While I was under her care, however, she did help me significantly, championed my case, and advocated for me. Her medical intervention saved my life several times during the year of 2017. Because she practices out of Denver, I was excited to have the opportunity to see her in person today.

While she specializes in eating disorders and medical complications, her medical expertise is relevant to my case because much of what I face medically could very well be related to long-term medical consequences of my prolonged (well over a decade long) battle with severe Anorexia. Not all of my illnesses are related to the aftermath of the eating disorder, but enough symptoms are correlated to warrant Dr. G’s involvement in my care. If financial resources were unlimited, I would invite her back on board in a heartbeat.

Sitting in a psych conference room at the local hospital, listening to Dr. G talk about medical complications related to Eating Disorders, I found myself traveling down memory (or nightmare) lane. (That type of trip is easy when an entire presentation could be a presentation on Megan’s teens and twenties).

As my friend and I chatted in her car after the conference, trying to boost my critically low blood sugar with some Wendy’s fries and frosty, we shared stories of our own eating disorder battles. I felt myself floating in deep gratitude over my years of healing and recovery that I now have safely secure under my belt. I reflected on the abuse that my body has endured, the starvation, the vicious cycles of over-exercise, suicide attempts that should have been fatal, and all of the medically critical moments of my life. I also reflected upon the years of mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational torment that began long before I ever hit the double-digits in years.

As I closed my retelling of my tragic, painful, and tormented life before the age of 30, I stated emphatically:
“My life has never been so abundant, joyful, and life-giving as it is today.”

I caught myself mid-sentence and wondered how absurd that statement might seem to an outsider. Medically, I am a walking disaster. Last week, I tiptoed the tightrope between anaphylaxis and cardiac distress. I haven’t been able to drive for years, I can’t walk to the mailbox without chest pain, I can’t go outside (or even to church) without pre-medicating with Benadryl and having an epi pen in reach. I have to rest for an hour after showering, and I pass out daily. I could go on for another couple thousand words with more examples of how my life doesn’t “look” ideal, but you get the point.

Thirty minutes prior to making this statement about my current level of joy, I had desperately reached out to my former doctor, with tears in my eyes, saying, “I just don’t have the energy to champion my medical care anymore. I need an advocate. I’m so sick and tired.”

But here I was, blood sugar still critical, still shaking, now experiencing agonizing GI distress and heart burn, saying to my friend, “My life is the best that it’s ever been.”
After that declaration slipped out of my lips, I sheepishly chuckled: “That’s statement either reflects how awfully my entire life has sucked, or that I am filled with some kind of unshakable joy and hope that is otherworldly. I’m choosing the latter.”

Strangely, surprisingly, my life really is the best that it has ever been. I have more joy than I ever thought possible. I have healthier relationships than ever before. I have come to know Christ intimately and deeply in suffering and in waiting. So many lies of my early life are being erased, and new truths about my identity in Christ are bursting forth each day. Pain and discomfort are no longer the worst things, and I am no longer afraid of them. I am learning what it means to truly love others, what it means to lay down my life for others, what love really is. I am learning that I am beautiful, that I am uniquely gifted, that I am worthy of space, love, and compassion. I am learning that my experiences are valid. I am at peace. I am filled with hope. I can encounter emotional crises without becoming entirely derailed. I am learning how to grieve, how to hold space for questions without answers on this side of heaven, and how to long for heaven and walk on earth at the same time.

Even in this body that seems to be falling apart by the day, I have come to find a home. I have no idea what my life would look like today had my body not fallen to pieces after birthing my two miracle babies. I have confidence that God would have worked His great redemptive plan for my life whatever the physical circumstances.

But this my lot at this point in my life. And God is working redemption in spite of and through my medical disaster of a body.

It’s messy. It is anything but simple. I would gladly receive physical healing in an instant, and I’m not about to give up on praying for complete healing. But if I were to hold a mirror up to the whole of my existence: (spiritual, physical, emotional, relational, and mental), I could declare definitively that my life is the fullest and most beautiful it has ever been. And I can be thankful.

I have hope because my God is making everything beautiful in its time. And as Jesus told the disciples after He rose from the grave and before His ascension as they were pressing Him for some sort of timeline for the sequence of events that He had promised for the early church,

“It is not for you to know the time that the Father has fixed…..
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” (Acts 1:7-8)

I constantly want a set timeline: When will the promises come to fruition? But as the resurrected Christ tells the disciples, the question of “when” is often the wrong question. The challenge is to let go of the quest for absolute knowledge, so that we can receive the gift of power from the Spirit, in order to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth.

As I lay down my question of “when”, God rests His power upon me, enabling me to be His witness. And as I look at my life as a whole, I see the Kingdom. I see downward mobility, I see His power magnified by my weakness, I see my sickness as a showcase for God’s glory, I see a weak person who’s only hope is in the strength of Her Savior and Redeemer. I see a miracle on every page of this story of mine, and I see the outline of a greater miracle taking shape around the edges of this epic narrative that God is writing through my entire timeline. Beyond that, I see the coming of the Kingdom, the rising up of the weak, the rag-tag hooligans, the sick, the marginalized, the outcasts, the unlikely, unwelcome, and unwanted, the young, the minorities, and the ones who know nothing but humiliation. I see a bunch of earthen vessels, filled to overflowing with the Spirit of the Most High God, bowed down in absolute end-of-self surrender, singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty.”

4 thoughts on “Surprised by Joy

  1. Amen, and may God continue to use us for His glory! It’s not an easy road but I am thankful for your reminder that it’s not about easy. It’s about God using us despite our health. Because we are so much more than our physical bodies. We are so much more than our past sins and mistakes. We are daughters, and sons, of the Most High God. How amazing is that. Thank You, God, for lavishing Your love on us in amazing and abundant ways. Help us to keep our eyes on You no matter the circumstances!

  2. I am so, so thankful to say that “I know you.” Obviously, I know you more through your blog, rather than in “real” life (a situation we MUST change!), but it is a true privilege and pleasure to have even a tiny glimpse of the power of God at work in you!!

    Thank you so much for being willing to share so openly about your life and all that you have been through. Thank you for seeing it all through Heaven’s eyes, too! You could so easily see it all differently (and I realize everyone has hard times; thank you for sharing those too!). But, at least for me, you have given me the courage to look at circumstances in my life from a different perspective, to “consider it all joy,” not because those things and people were joyful, but because of the those people and situations, I am closer to Christ than I would have been otherwise. Praise His Name!!!

    1. Wow, thank you, Allison! I do have hard days. But, truly, God is faithful all the time.

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Pastor Al Gilbert

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