Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My Fear of Sermons

When I was probably eight years-old, I remember hearing the story of Steve Arrington (the ex-drug dealer, convict, shark diver for Jacques Cousteau, who also happens to be Seventh-day Adventist). He came and shared his story at our church. Afterward, my parents bought the movie made about his life and it officially made the videos-approved-for-Sabbath-viewing list. Which means I watched it about once a month (alternated, of course, with Charlton Heston's The Ten Commandments, Veggie Tales, and Mary: Mother of Jesus).

I don't remember a lot of his story, but I do remember this: he was Adventist and he struggled. He got wrapped up in drugs. He was sent to jail. He contemplated suicide. He lost sight of God. He found God. He became an advocate for drug-prevention. I watched Arrington's story unfold nearly every fourth Saturday afternoon and each time it confronted me with a startling fact I didn't know what to do with: How was he Adventist and, yet, fully human?

Arrington and others who have been brave enough to share their stories have fueled my own.

Now, fifteen years later, I gain strength and passion from sharing my story with people.

Not because my story is unheard of.
Not because my story is thrilling.
Not because my story is witty or funny or more special than anyone else's.
But because my story is mine.

I know the relief of looking into eyes where I expected judgement and seeing only love and acceptance.

I know the liberation of saying out loud, "I'm not doing okay."
And having a friend reach across the table--surprise in her eyes--and say, "Me neither!"

I've been doing some traveling and speaking this semester. My next adventure will be to Colorado and Texas. I am slotted to give six different talks, two of which seem to be causing me the most stress: two Sabbath morning sermons.

There's something formal and official about a sermon. Something sacred and prestigious. Something somehow more important. Something that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Maybe it's because of all those assumptions we all make about how a church service should go, what the music should be, what the person should be wearing, how long it should take; and feeling that it would be impossible for me to measure up.

Wikipedia tells me that a sermon is "an oration by a prophet or a member of the clergy" (whoops). "Sermons address a Biblical, theological, religious, or moral topic." Something I found interesting is in researching the etymology of the word "sermon." Popular hits were "a discourse," "a stringing together of words," and "a conversation."

"Sermon" sounds daunting.
But I can string words together.
I can have a conversation.
And I think that's precisely what I'll do.

I have been asked what my sermon title is. Oy. I know that I lack the Biblical knowledge of a prophet and wouldn't want to tackle Levitical law just because I felt like that's what I should do. So I e-mailed both churches:

Sermon Title- "The Things We Don't Talk About in Church"

Ahh, why do I do this? Why risk angry comments? Why bother stirring the pot?
Because it's worth it.

I want to talk about why we don't talk about these things.
Why we avoid them.
How it harms us.
How it "helps" us.
And why it's shaking the Adventist church empty of young people like a kid rattling a piggy bank. We're dropping like flies and I understand why.

I'm not angry at the church.
I'm not disgruntled.
I'm not out to point fingers or place blame.
I want to focus on what we can do better.
On how I've been discovering, more and more lately, that maybe there's a place for me here after all.

Not because the church is perfect.
Not because I'll never be hurt/frustrated by another person's insensitive and presumptuous comment about what a "true" Christian or a "good" Adventist should do.
But because there's truth there.
I'm still learning about it.
I'm still struggling through it.

But if there's actually a place for me, I'm willing to give it a try.

Monday, February 20, 2012


With 8 minutes until the end of the lunch period and two more classes to teach, I write for my sanity (and my student's safety...).

Today I am subbing at a middle school.
I'm not a fan.
I got the call while I was dreaming at 7am this morning.
I was supposed to be at school by 7:45am.
I got here at 7:53am.
The students were waiting.
Class started at eight.
I scrambled for notes, papers, books, attendance sheets.
I wore a metal head band. Bad idea. Big headache.
I wasn't given thorough lesson plans.
I didn't know the behavior management procedures.
It's been rough.
Two students refused to leave the room when I sent them to "time-out."
I wanted to reason with them.
I wanted to cry.
I had to call an administrator to handle them.
A passing teacher just told me that the next period will be the worse.

So here I sit in an empty room for five more minutes.
Listening to the Weepies.
Taking deep breaths.
Toughening up.
Getting ready for the students who will likely need to be sent out of the room.
Last weeks sub made numerous notes and remarks about this upcoming class.
Teaching is no fun when it's all discipline.
Learning is no fun when it's all discipline, too.

So...good thoughts. True thoughts. Moving forward.

I am a good person.
I am a human being.
They are just kids.
I was once a kid too.
I can take deep breaths.
I can smile.
I can be firm.
I can be kind.
I can handle whatever they throw at me (literally, or figuratively).
I am a strong, confident, intelligent, beautiful woman.
I am worthy of love and belonging.

Two more hours and I'll be outta here.
And I never have to come back.
Muah ha ha.

The bell just rang.

Monday, February 13, 2012


Sometimes (i.e. rarely) I feel like I have very little say.
Other times, I have much I could say, but I'm afraid to say it.

It's nothing controversial.
Nothing scandalous.
Nothing out-of-the-ordinary.
Just the same self-hatred that I still don't know what to do with.
Don't know how to feel about it.
What to change.
How to be better.

I'm afraid to talk about it because sometimes it feels like it's all I talk about. I suppose that's what I should've expected when I "signed up" for an eating disorder almost six years ago. Healing from this demon takes time (7-10 years on average). Helga's been louder than usual lately. She's quite an impatient twerp. She's that nasty voice in my head regularly reminding me that I am nothing. That I really "should" stop talking about this. "I mean, aren't you over this already? You are so weak," she says.

I'm reminded of what I read in When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies lately: that women tend to use their bodies as a metaphor for their anxiety. So when we are critical of our outward appearance, we're often feeling unsafe, unheard, or attacked in our soul. I get that.

Yesterday, I sat at the Estee Lauder make-up counter seeking the "beauty" products that would make me look just perfect on my wedding day. What I found was that the most expensive make-up applied by the most experienced make-up artists could not make me beautiful (according to Helga) and I felt like somehow I had failed at doing that one thing that women are supposed to do in our culture: be beautiful.

So I left attacking not only my face, but my body, my value, my work ethic, and my heart. And I cried. Because I felt empty. And it took awhile to recognize this wasn't only about my reflection, It was more so about my soul.

Any good therapist would probably say, "Well, Heather, give yourself a break. You've been going through so many changes lately: graduation, engagement, holidays, stress of not having a job, wedding planning; it makes sense that your old habits of coping (eating disorder) would flare up again."

And they have. And they are. And bouncing back, getting back on the horse, standing up again, feels dreadful. And familiar. And old.

And at this point, the only thing I can think to do and the only thing that ever really "works" is to keep breathing. To show up. To do my balanced best. Which really gets old that apparently those are the only things that help. But they're true. So I do them anyway.


It's nice to know I am not the only one with a Helga... (thanks, Em)

All the Beauty
by JJ Heller

I know that she's a liar when I look into her eyes
But I believe in every word she says
She's out to start a fire burning everything I have
I can't put it out 'cause it's all inside my head
And then you sing
I hear you sing

You call me lovely
You call me friend
You call me out of death and let me try again
You call me beloved
You call me clean
Then you show me all the beauty that you see in me

I still hear her whisper and sometimes I hear her shout
You're not good enough and you will never be
But if I focus on your singing I can start to tune her out
'Cause you came with a love to set me free

I know that you love me enough to die
And I will try to see the value that you place on me
And you say I'm worthy

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Last week, I was wandering through McKay's used bookstore looking for a way to spend the $15 credit a friend had given us. I found a wedding book, a journal, and I randomly picked up an older (and quite drab) looking book (for 75 cents) called, When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies: Freeing Yourself from Food and Weight Obsession (Jane R. Hirschmann and Carol H. Munter). The cover is boring, the content is thrilling.

Speaking of women's self-hatred, they write that if this self-loathing were experienced by only a small number of women, we'd wonder at the source of the problem. But the fact is that fat feelings--or bad body feelings--occupy the minds and hearts of the vast majority of women. "Bad Body Fever is neither viral nor bacterial, but it is epidemic."

Last week, looking over a crowd of college-aged gals at dorm worship, I said quite literally those exact words. I told them that we have a beauty distortion epidemic on our hands, it affects nearly every woman I've ever met, and it must stop.

But women haven't always harbored this kind of livid self-hatred towards their appearance and their bodies. If you go to an art museum, you will not find any paintings of women that resemble (even slightly) the bodies of Molly Sims, Giselle Bundchen, or Britney Spears.

According to historians, women's bodies were not regarded as "packaging" until the eighteenth century. Naomi Wolf argues that the hatred of "fat" did not emerge until women began to join forces and reject their inferior status. She writes in The Beauty Myth that "soft rounded hips and thighs and bellies were perceived as desirable and sensual without question, until women got the vote." The more powerful women become, the more pressure there is for us to get rid of the "packaging" that makes us inferior. That makes our bodies different from men.

I'm not at all saying that I long to have the body of a man. But I know the privileges and rights and freedoms that come with being male and I'd be crazy to say I haven't sometimes wanted it. They write, "A woman's body hatred is her internalized version of cultural misogyny. She tells herself each and every day that her body is wrong and that she takes up too much space in the world."

I get this. Almost two years ago I got a nasty, anonymous comment on my blog accusing me of smelling up trash chutes with my vomit and warning me to shut up because no one was listening. I remember distinctly thinking He's right. I'm taking up too much space. I should just keep my mouth shut. Why did I ever think I had a story worth telling? These thoughts of self-doubt, of being too big with my presence and my voice triggered intense insecurities in my body and my safety. I questioned very seriously whether I was taking up too much space. Saying too much. Being too much. Eating was a struggle, as was seeing myself as worthy of taking up anymore space than absolutely necessary.

The authors talk about how when a woman says, "I feel fat" she really means, "I don't feel good enough" or "There must be something wrong with me." Like the eleven year-old girls awaiting the start of the play performance they'd been rehearsing for weeks: "I feel so fat" one anxiously said to the other. "No," her friend responded. "You look great. But look at my stomach." We turn our bodies into metaphors for our feelings. We talk about our bodies instead of the anxiety. They write, "We live in a culture that accepts body hatred and dieting as normal components of femininity." In fact, if a woman declares an end to tirelessly manipulating, probing, and depriving her body, she is breaking the rules.

There's a groaning that I feel.
In my story.
In the stories of women.
In publications.
In movies.
In dressing rooms.
In kitchens.
In bathrooms.
It's this groaning to reconcile the truth we know of ourselves with the "truth" we're being fed about who we "should" be.

An epidemic we overlook because it's not small pox.
But it's an epidemic we can't overlook because it's changing our world.

And it's not for the better.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Last week, Jeremy and I took a road trip to Tennessee. We did so because Southern asked me to come speak about eating disorders as part of their mental health speaking series. I was honored to come share (especially on their dime).

So we made the trip: seventeen hours across the country. In a car. Together. For seventeen hours (did I say that already?).

Actually, it went pretty fast. Road trips are fun. Especially with Adventures in Odyssey. And Jeremy.

We got to spend time with lots of good people:
like Amy and Jon Ronning who fed us non-road trip food (which was much needed)

and Jessica Hunt

and the Lewellen familia

and that was just the first two days....whew!

On Tuesday, we got to have breakfast at the Cracker Barrel with Frank and Euwayne (BMA buddies of Jeremy's). Then, I forgot to take a picture which made me sad.

We also got to see the lovely Beth Hartman and we made the journey to "the sock store" to score some cheap Smart Wools (but keep that on the down low).

Then, that night, I spoke for two girls' dorm worships at Southern Adventist University about eating disorders and disordered-eating.

On Wednesday, we got to have lunch with Lance and Sophie and Euwayne (and Quincy, though not pictured).

We had a bit of downtime for me to work on that night's talk at Panera (where I am sure that any day now they'll catch on to the gluten-free trend).

Then, for dinner we met up with the wonderfully quirky Sutton family for Mexican food.
From dinner, we scurried back to Southern where I was speaking for joint worship (guys and gals) about authenticity. After that, we met up with Michael, Jessica, and James for a late night run to Wendy's for Frostys and French fries.

Thursday, I spoke at Collegedale Academy for their chapel. It went well and later that afternoon we went to McKays used book store (which is really a warehouse of wonderfulness). Later for dinner, we met up with James, Ryan, Mariela, Andy, Michael, and Jessica at The Yellow Deli.

If you're ever in Chattanooga, this is a must-see and a must-eat. When you walk in it feel like you just stepped into a hobbit pub. They make awesome sandwiches, soups, and drinks.

I can't believe this kid used to be shorter than me (and eight years-old).

Afterward, we played poker at Ryan's.

And what better way to play sneakily than with tanning goggles hiding your eyes.

And what better post-game reward than a pile of pocket change and a "Celebratory Poker Log" (banana, peanut butter, and M&Ms).

On Friday morning, we left early for our next (and last) speaking appointment at Sunnydale Academy in Missouri. It was a long ten hours in the car. We stopped in St.Louis to be tourists momentarily and rolled in to Sunnydale relieved to be out of the car for the day. We had haystacks with Matt Evens and I spoke for vespers. Then we found out there was a huge-mungous snowstorm headed through the mid-west, so we got back in the car and rumbled into L-town at 3am.

The next morning, we were glad that we came home when we did.

It's good to be home.