Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Something"



I do not love Jesus.

I came to this conclusion while talking to some wonderful friends last week and the topic came up, "What is a Christian?" As I am still unsure exactly what to call myself, I feel "Christian" is a comfortable fall-back, but not entirely authentic. I feel the pressure to be Christian and to love Jesus since I've been back at Union, a super-Christian saturated environment, where students dress up to be seen at church, then go back to their "other" lives.

I never thought I'd be to the point at 21 years-old that I'd be Googling "Christianity," but here I am.

"Christianity is a monotheistic religion centered on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in the New Testament. The Christian faith is essentially faith in Jesus as the Christ (or Messiah), the Son of God, the Savior, the manifestation of God to humankind (Immanuel), and God (Yahweh or the "Lord") himself."

My life is not centered on the life and teachings of Jesus. I don't even really know him. It's an interesting story and I believe he was a great guy and said some great things. But how can I possibly be in love with a character from a book that I've never met or seen? I don't throw around that word "love" as a passing thought or emotion. "Love" means that I am committed. I am not committed to Jesus and saying I love him, well, that feels weird.



Here's my train of thought, keep up:
I don't get on my knees and pray, I write in my journal or go for a walk. I don't go to church and haven't attended regularly in two years, I learn about God through Speaking of Faith podcasts on NPR. I haven't read my Bible in about 2 years, but my bookshelf is overflowing with Christian books. I have called myself a Christian.

But an atheist could very well be doing the exact same things that I am. What makes me any different?

I know I "should" love Jesus. I mean, come on, I was born and raised a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. What's my deal? Life was simpler before I went to Cambodia. Life made more sense to me then.

Who decides if a person is Christian or non-Christian? It's all relative it seems. There is no right or wrong way to pray. Defining "prayer" depends on who you ask, right along with words like "faith," "church," and "spirituality." Is spirituality all relative? Does it just depend on who you ask?

Often I wonder if anyone is Christian anymore. Will it just be the tried and true 80+ year-olds who tend to be judgmental and rigid? While I would never want to be that kind of Christian, I wonder if we are all so far off in our belief that "everyone is okay" that that terrifying 144,000 have already been used up and we're just wasting our time. Growing up what sticks in my mind are gruesome crucifixion plays, end-of-time plays with people getting shot in the head, and feeling guilty for not being the good Christian I "should".

If there will be non-Christians in heaven, then, why the heck would I want to be labeled as one?

What do I believe?

At 6 years-old I loved Jesus because I was told to. There was no personal experience.
At 10 years-old I was Christian because that was all I knew.
At 15 I was Christian because I didn't want to die and I prayed desperately and made deals with God that my surgeries go well and not kill me.
At 19 I was Christian because it was too late to be anything else and people would get scared if I voiced what I was really feeling.
In Cambodia, I came to believe that there was no God. I didn't see how there could be. I was struggling and he wasn't doing anything, or so I thought.
After landing back in the States, I shifted my perspective to believe that maybe there was a God because I was still alive and couldn't explain why. I was still breathing, waking up day in and day out. The bigness and unexplainable is God, or whatever you want to call it.

I believe there is "something" bigger than me. That's where I am at. I feel like that's where I've been for awhile.

The story goes that four blind men where led to an elephant. The first man touching the trunk believed it to be a snake. The second man describes the large legs as tree trunks. The third man calls the tail a rope. And the fourth man encountering the elephant's side believes it is a large wall.

I can see that each of us has different views of the same thing, so big that we may all be experiencing God.

I just imagine that I must be doing something wrong. I don't look like other Christians. Who sets the standard? Why do I want one so badly?

I've grown up knowing right from wrong and that was comfortable to me. Now suddenly when there is no wrong way to be a Christian, I'm lost. I don't want a little box I have to fit into, but I don't know what I believe and that bugs me.

Friends have helped me see that I can only criticize and discredit a belief system for so long, until it will be exposed that I have no idea what I'm talking about. I need to stop looking around me and comparing myself to others. I need to stop reading Christian books and hearing everyone else's opinion. I need to stop feeling guilty about who I am and what I believe. I need actually read the Bible.

If I am going to claim that I am not a Christian and I don't love Jesus, then I better know exactly what I am claiming to not believe.

-I know with 57% certainty that there is a God.
-I know for sure that I need to read the Bible to find that out.
-I know for sure that religion isn't the only or best way to God.
-I know for sure that you don't have to go to church to believe in God, in fact some people are better off if they don't.
-I know for sure that the Bible never mentions anything about a "personal relationship with God" or "daily devotions" so I don't ever want to feel guilty for not having either of those things.

-I know for sure that I want to know what I believe, wherever that takes me.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I'm glad I woke up this morning...

I'm back at Union. Back to school. Back to classes. Back to the world of 20-somethings. Back to academia. Back to deadlines. Back to hurry and rush. Back to college.

Yeah, I'm not a fan. Ever since I drove my little red car, her name is Scarlet appropriately, into Lincoln, I've felt like turning back around and leaving. Don't know where I'd go. But something about here just doesn't feel right.

On my first day back I drove my stuffed car over to my new apartment to move in. My rooommate, whom I'd spent maybe 20 minutes with ever, hadn't arrived yet. I carried box after box, and unpacked random items like saran wrap, hairspray, textbooks, and dried banana chips all from the same box. It seems that my organizational self checks out when I'm packing up to leave somewhere. Unpacking is an adventure.

I felt like I was intruding. Moving into someone else's space. My chest felt like it was being pressed on and the more I looked around at the big empty apartment, the more anxious I got. Something just didn't feel right.

I unloaded everything and drove back to Ben and Ashley's house with a head full of thoughts, mostly This doesn't feel right. I talked to Ben about it. Actually, most of the time was spent just laying on an air mattress staring at the ceiling, with the occasional, "Ben, I...I...just don't know. I don't wanna live on my own."

After over an hour of this, I asked, "Would you ever consider letting me just live in your basement?"

"You're always welcome here," he said.

After that, it was pretty much decided. So yes, the same day, a few hours later, I moved all of my stuff, right out of the same apartment I had just moved into. As silly and horrible as I felt for doing this and changing my mind, as soon as I began moving to Ben and Ashley's, I just felt...lighter.

I went to registration the next day, Monday. Oh man. Lots of people. Lots of, "So, what'd you do this summer?" as they glance around casually for other people to talk to. Too much. I'm a one-on-one kinda girl. Mass chaos and socialization is not for me.

Most of the time, I felt ready to burst into ugly sobs that left me feeling overwhelmed, unseen, and scared. "I don't make a lot of friends, I make a few really good friends," I told Mr. Blake later in the afternoon.

He replied, "Ya know, if you keep saying that, you're going to start believing it."

He's right. He usually is. As much as I hate being here without my best friends; Rachael, who is thriving in So Cal at Loma Linda for Physical Therapy; Katelyn, who is happily married and just moved to Minnesota; and Jeremy, who happens to be getting a masters in outdoor education for free from Southern, the more I say how much I "hate" making new friends, the better chance I won't.

Dangit.

I was found by Tyler, a friend. He went through line with me and made it much more bearable. After spilling my guts to him about feeling less-than thrilled to be at Union, he said, "So, why are you at Union again?"

Classes began. Overwhelmed. Over analyzing. Tired. Lonely.

I don't get on my knees and pray. I write.

I write long and hard about what's going on in my life, my dreams, and my fears. Writing is healing for me and continues to be.

What Mr. Blake said about being a "few friends" kinda girl, the same could be said of change. You've heard me say it before, "I hate change," but on Wednesday I considered changing the mantra to, "I can handle change," because I can, I have, and I will again.

Change is part of life. It might not be my favorite part of life. But I can't make it on planet earth without it.

So here I am, Friday. One week down.

It's going to be all right.
I am not running out of time.
Life won't be this way forever.

I am blessed. I have to consider the good or else the opposite will overwhelm me.

I'm glad I woke up this morning...
-for a cool, morning bike ride.
-to live with Ben and Ashley.
-for a safe home.
-because I have a loving, supportive, understanding boyfriend.
-for Tiffany.
-because I have no M.J. Sclerosis classes this semester.
-because I finished the final edits on my book.
-because of Tyler.
-because of Sierra.
-to have fun writing for the newspaper.
-because I'm taking interesting classes (minus A&P).
-for good teachers.
-for the Tallmans offering their place as a refuge, and it will be.
-for Pastor Rich.
-for Mr. Blake.
-for good health.
-because the eating disorder is losing ground.
-because time is running away from me, it is there for the taking.

-because I can handle change.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I can handle change.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Abundance

"To fully recover from an eating disorder a woman has to lose her conception of who she thought she was or thought she should be...She has to relinquish her effort to craft a constructed self and instead must let herself be who she is."

The author of Gaining: The Truth about Life after Eating Disorders, tells a story about recovery. She is attending a party with a friend. Not her usual environment, but going along for the ride, she feels uncomfortable and makes her way toward the door to leave. As she glances left she sees Ben, a man she had known several years before, when she was anorexic. She hadn't seen him since that time in her life. She feared that he wouldn't recognize her because he was only interested in her starving body during anorexia.

"It was almost like a panic attack, this explosion of shame at the prospect of facing someone who had last seen me at less than a hundred pounds. The thing was, I couldn't tell whether I was more ashamed for having been anorexic, or for having recovered."

AH HA! (One of many "AH HA" moments I have had while reading this book. Bear with me.)

I know that feeling. I've felt that several times over the last 3 years. As I was furiously underlining and pondering the chapter I had read, I started a list of people whom I had felt this way around. I quickly came up with 9 guys and two girls from high school, "toxic" people if you will. I don't blame them. They might not have realized what they were doing. It was my response to them that was the problem.

Oh, high school. How can people really look back and say that was the best time in their life? I'm not feeling it. I was thrilled to move past that stage in my life. Still am.

I swiftly scribbled down the 11 people in my life that I felt would be disappointed with me for recovering from anorexia because what they seemed to like most about me was what I looked like. I was terrified to see them again. What would they say? What would they think?

After returning from Cambodia a year ago and going to trauma counseling, Marsha asked me, "Why did you stay in Cambodia?"

I knew I didn't want to let the school down or let my kids down. I didn't want to up and leave part-way through the year. But mostly, I didn't want to be the SM who failed. My parents would've welcomed me back with open arms. Family friends wouldn't have batted an eye. My close friends were asking me to come home. But my pride kept me there along with a few "toxic" people that I was trying to impress, that I was trying to prove something to.

Never again will I let pride make my decisions for me. Please quote me on that.



I've never felt more beautiful then when I was starving myself. I hate saying that. I hate feeling that. But I know I am not fully recovered until I can look at these pictures and know: I was sick, I needed help, and true health and true beauty are never found in denying my body of anything.

I remember having a hard time focusing that night because I was so hungry. Afterward there was a reception which, of course, always has drinks and food. I avoided that table like a sewage plant, busying myself with taking pictures with friends and pretending to be happy. I thought I was. I was in control and I felt proud of myself for not eating. I was somehow better than them, more powerful, more something.

I've contemplated deleting the photos of my graduation from my life. I figured erasing it from memory was the best thing to do. But I believe that some day those pictures can serve as a reminder of how far I've come. Some day they'll be a testimony.

I've learned to change my response to people. I can be whatever I want to be. No longer do these people have free reign of my life. I've learned to limit my interactions with life-sapping people and to surround myself with soul-nourishing community and good people who are searching for the same things I am: balance, whole-health, mercy, and abundant life.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Her

I wonder if I have some disorder. I know right? Add it to the list.

I feel like I can handle much less than the average person. I know everyone gets overwhelmed at times. But I feel like I get easily overwhelmed by the slightest disturbance, change in plans, or new concept. Maybe it is a personality trait, maybe everyone feels this way on different levels. I don't know. I hesitated even writing this blog because I didn't know where to start.

The beginning seemed good.

I am a recovering perfectionist. Surprising as it may be, I used to be much worse. I don't deal very gracefully with change. I like things in order, organization, plans, reason.

But when I can't put every aspect in neat little jars, I struggle. So I write them here. Lucky you. Random thoughts in no particular order:

-parasites suck. Still fighting the bugs I came home with. After a year of arguing and losing to the bugs, we've worked out an agreement. Apparently if I eat less than a handful of food every hour or two and only eat wheat gluten if completely necessary, they are pretty happy. How ridiculous is that? As you can imagine, this diet does not look healthy to anyone who knows I have an eating disorder, but my dietician and doctor don't know what else to do

-surgery sucks. I'd rather spend 12 straight hours alone with screaming 12 infants than go to the dentist tomorrow.

-growing up is scary. I'm moving into an apartment next week. I'm not at all out from mom and dad's protective wing and financial support, but come on, now I have to clean my bathroom, cook my own meals, and lock my doors at night. I can't just up and leave anymore. I have responsibilities and stuff. What if the heat goes out? Do I have to shovel the snow off my sidewalk? What gets out ketchup stains?

-I'm not so great at living in the moment. It is hard for me to not look at the future with a twinge of negativity. I don't always like what I see. I don't like not knowing what's coming. I want to know that teaching is what I'm supposed to do with my life. I want to know that this eating disorder will one day be a thing of the past. I want to know that Jeremy and I can survive a long-distance relationship and be together, ya know, in the same state. I want to know that it's going to be all right.

-I have too much stuff. I have clothes coming out of my nose and constantly hanging all over me for that matter. I have at least 7 half-used bottles of shampoo. I have books I've never read, and shoes I've never worn, with tags still attached. I have talents I'm not sure are being used and dreams I fear will never be actualized.

-How can I save the prostitutes I left in Cambodia? How do I end sex slavery in India? How do I battle an unspoken war between closed doors in the homes in my neighborhood: molestation, abuse, fear? How do I save women from hating themselves to death? How can I possibly feed the hungry, adopt all the children, and still finish school, beat an eating disorder, be a friend, and make a difference? It's too much. It's overwhelming. I don't know how to not feel inadequate, selfish, and useless when I'm confronted with the pain in people's lives. Ever seen the movie Taken, or Hotel Rwanda? There are needs and I don't know how to meet them. It never seems enough.

Perfection finds me weary of all the things in life that cannot be controlled.

"The problem with perfection is that, by definition, it is unattainable, so perfectionists live in a state of perpetual frustration and disappointment." The new book I'm reading and gaining insight and inspiration from is called, coincidentally, Gaining by Aimee Liu. The cover reads, "The truth about life after eating disorders." Reading it blows my mind nearly every time I open it. It is helping me better understand myself.

"The emotional promise of perfection is security: no one will criticize you, try to change you, or touch you if you have your universe in order."

"Unfortunately, what perfectionists strive to prove is impossible. NO one is perfect, and everyone has limits. What kills us will not make us stronger or prettier or more lovable. A sense of purpose, connection, and perspective, however, can and will."

I sat in Mr. Blake's office awhile ago. He asked me to make a list of all the things that perfectionism had gotten me in life. I walked out with an empty piece of paper.

"Stress tends to heighten the perfectionist's appetite for order...What's less widely recognized is the frequency of relapse later in life during stressful events such as career transitions and relationship breakups."

Lightbulb. BING!

I may not binge and purge my whole life, but if I don't journey toward full healing and just end the behaviors, I'm not really doing anything. It is the perfectionism, self-hatred, and control that needs mending.

Liu writes about attending a woman's book club meeting a few minutes early to find the hostess poaching chicken, rearranging furniture, fanning slivers of lemon onto saucers, fiddling with edible pansies that garnished a side dish, and brewing coffee. "Please don't take this the wrong way," she asked, "but were you by chance ever anorexic?"

My dietician has been trying to explain this to me for awhile. Because basically I try to convince her I don't have an eating disorder anymore if I don't throw up every day or even every month. You can't really look at me and know it. It feels like I am making this up. She explains that while I am not acting on life-threatening behaviors anymore, the thoughts remain, the temptation, the muscle memory. I know my options and I need to consistently choose the right path.

"When people return to normal eating habits, however, multiple areas of the brain spring into action to override the disordered response to food...The more time that passes without relapse, the stronger and more permanent the bridge becomes. I cannot however produce a truly normal appetite response. Even decades after their last fast or purge, former anorexics and bulimics will respond to the sight of a layer cake with a complex mix of attraction, resistance, guilt, calculation, permission, and release."

As David after Dentist says, "Is this gonna be forever?"

No, no. Healing will come. Waiting just sucks.

Waiting goes against the lingering perfectionist in me that screams, "This can be fixed now! And if you were not a worthless slob, it would be already."

Her voice is getting less deafening and more discreet. Someday she'll move out completely.

Until then I'm gaining, slowly.

Recyled air and Big Franks

I'm not a big fan of airports.

I think I would have a different opinion of airports, if like malls, I could just go and sit and watch people, when I'm not traveling. Can you imagine working at an airport? No one has time to talk, everyone is rushing around, hurrying off to catch a plane. People come and go, no real consistency. People getting mad at you for the airline's mistake, re-routing, delays, missed flights, screaming babies, tearful good byes.

I'm not a big fan of flying.

Popped eardrums, recycled air, a melting pot of body odor, perfume, and that man's tuna sandwich with mayonnaise dripping onto your arm rest. Yeah, you get the picture.

Yesterday I arrived at the Philadelphia airport with Jeremy in hand. After 2.5 months enjoying what I imagine normal couples call a short-distance relationship, we went back to our long-distance one. After a summer of holding his hand, seeing his smile, and sharing life, the alternative...well, it sucks.

If there are positives to flying, they include:
-getting to see a new land
-observing people

and personally...
-time to think.

It seems that flying offers transition. Usually, we walk from place to place without a holding tank in between, that's what a plane is. You walk in, sit awhile, and walk out in a new place. I get time to think and read and write, when my sinuses aren't clogging with that over-sanitized plane smell.

So as the prospect of a few, restful days at home was looking wonderful, I found out I am having some dental surgery tomorrow. Dangit. My gums are retreating from my teeth. Apparently, slicing my gums with a laser should do the trick and I'll be feeling great and less puffy in a week. Grrrr.

I have finished my book. That is right Honestly, I'm Struggling by Heather Bohlender will be published and sold in Adventist Book Centers everywhere come 2011. Oh boy. Just think, right next to the Big Franks you can pick up all 196 pages and 59 chapters of my book. I'll even sign it for you, ya know, for when Oprah calls me up. Any day now.

Landing in Colorado, I'm at peace. This is home. This is familiar. Those are my mountains. This is my bed. This is my family. Man, I've got it good.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Polly

"How are you adjusting to being back in the States?" I ask.

"Pretty well," she replies with a smile.

I believe her. Polly is well-rounded, wise, and open. She takes things as they come and leaves the rest up to God. I met Polly in Cambodia. She was working at Logos Christian school as the kindergarten teacher. She graduated college and signed a two-year contract. She served a year, we both returned home, then she went back.

She went back.




She fulfilled her contract. She might've wanted to just do a year and come home, but she didn't. The second year was difficult too, but she made it. When I try to say, "Polly, you are a trooper. I can't believe you stayed two years and you did so much good." She usually replies with, "Yeah, but you were there one year. I'm not any better than you."

When I state facts or try to remind her how awesome she is, she doesn't discredit what I am saying because she has low self-esteem or wants me to keep going. She just has a good head on her shoulders and wonderful sense of self.

I was nervous about seeing her. Would we have anything to talk about? That is such a silly concern. We are girls. Girls talk, especially two girls who endured the hardest time of their lives together. Oh, we talked.

Jeremy and I met her at a Starbucks here in Rehobeth beach. It was so strange and surreal to see her nonetheless sit down and talk with her. We sat for about 3 hours just catching up on what just couldn't be updated over the phone.

She told me about the last year, how it was different, how it was the same, what she learned, how she changed. She showed me pictures of the school she fundraised for and delivered school kits to. She told me about her Khmer friends, the school, and being home. She found a large community of support there. She lived with 4 other girls who also taught at the school. She attended different Christian churches. She made friends there who live in the States.

Listening to her, I couldn't help but wish I had the same. Pastor Rich came to visit me the first week I was there and my parents came to Cambodia at Christmastime. These are the only three people in my life who crossed into both parts of my life. So Cambodia didn't feel real because it lacked all the people that made up my life at home, and it doesn't feel real now because no one can relate or know what I'm talking about.

"Do you remember the shop at the corner of Mao Se Tung and Norodom, past the tower?" Polly asks me.

"Umm..."

"Ya know where we went to Cafe Fresco Easter Sunday with the girls?"

"Oh yeah, kinda."

"Well I went there with Srey Neck for a cooking class and learned how to make Loc Lak."

It felt like she was speaking another language. Because she was. It's not like I need to talk about mangosteen and Soriya market to survive. Reminiscing about people and places is not critical to my adjustment process, but without it, the re-entry process has been...abrupt. Because I went from one crazy place to another, without any crossover in between, it was refreshing and healing to talk to Polly yesterday.

Sitting with Polly over chai, pictures, and memories, was a type of closure I didn't know I needed. It was healing to listen to her, a life well-adjusted, and see that she is ready to move on and keep going. Cambodia has not left her bitter or stagnant. She's tired, she's weary, but she's going to be alright.

Now as she searches for a teaching job, the support she left behind, and new identity with all that she's learned, I am excited to see what comes next for her.

I'm proud of this girl.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Book

I'm on chapter 41 of 50.

Between arriving home, editing blogs to make sense to my audience, compiling in chronological order, deleting some, adding some, sending for review and approval, gaining approval and a check in the mail, sending to editor, receiving back, and making corrections, I am now on chapter 41 of 50 and the end will be sweet.

The book will be called, Honestly, I'm Struggling, by Heather Bohlender, with Chris Blake. Ah, doesn't that sound...wonderful?

A few months ago a girlfriend of mine asked, "How's the book coming?"

"Slow, but good."

"What's it called?"

I answered, "Honestly, I'm struggling."

"Oh, having a hard time coming up with a title, huh?"

Writing this book has been an awesome learning experience for me. I don't think I'd be where I'm at, learning what I am, if Mr. Blake hadn't encouraged me to write this book. I wonder how long it would have taken me to read through my blogs from Cambodia, if at all.

I needed to sort through my emotions. I needed to re-open those wounds as much as I didn't want to. I needed to see where God fit into a picture I'd mostly shut Him out of. I needed to heal and that is a continuing process. Healing.

Working on my book was like diving back into Cambodia; the streets, the noise, the isolation, then shutting my lap top and re-entering life. The story was no longer the only reality that surrounded me. Now I could read about it, and walk away from it, something I couldn't do before.

I'm grateful for the opportunity and I'll be even more grateful when all of you go buy it!

Camp is over. As my new friends were walking out the door, they ask, "Are you on Facebook?" All my previously held beliefs crumbled and I indeed am now on the book of faces. It's not so bad I realized. Just like every other tool in my life I can choose to use it when I want and the opportunities around me do not have to control me.

From Indian creek, Jeremy and I drove 14+ hours to the great state of Delaware, where he is from. Road trips with him are different. We stopped at this place called Sheets. Little known to the midwest, this gas station is...classy. Hot food made to order, clean bathrooms, good stuff. On our way I got a midnight tour of the monuments in DC. We talked. We solved all the world's problems one conversation at a time. Yeah, we do stuff like that.

We stayed at his house 2 nights, then drove back to DC to get the full experience with some friends. We met Ryan, Cody, and Sara and stayed at her apartment a few nights. When I say the "full" DC experience, I really mean, I can just say I've been there. I didn't have an agenda, which I'll admit is a new idea to me. I just knew I wanted to be with good people and see a few things, so we did. We stayed up till 1 am watching the Matrix, slept in 'till 10. Made our way downtown by 2pm, strolled through the Lincoln monument and World War II memorial. We saw a few Smithsonians, experienced the Holocaust museum, and played frisbee on the mall, yes, the very mall where Obama was sworn in.





























Now I am at Rehobeth beach in Delaware, with Jeremy's family. At noon, I have a date with a splendid individual, Polly. Yes, Polly of Cambodia, who lived there 2 years, and just got home a month ago. How perfect is it that she is visiting family this week 30 minutes away? I am nervous to see her. I'm excited to talk to her.

Moving on.