“Take the shackles off my feet so I can dance I just wanna praise you… You broke the chains now I can lift my hands and I’m gonna praise you.” This song by Mary Mary was playing on the radio yesterday as I reflected on how far God has brought me. I don’t often mention the physical part of my freedom journey but I speak openly about my mental, emotional and spiritual journey. (See the “The Great Divide” and “The Great Divide part 2”.) But Passover has become a special personal theme in my life and yesterday was its anniversary. Let me explain.
In addition to the heavy weights I carried in my inner self, my outer self has carried heavy weights, as well. Not long ago, on a very special run, I understood God showing me that every inner stress, fear, hurt and struggle has been mediated by my physical body; everything I have gone through inwardly has been processed in my body’s tissues. I had never thought of that. My inner self has known tremendous devastation; I hadn’t appreciated how my body had been required to field all the accompanying chemicals and hormones and tension and recovery. For so long I’ve ignored the fact that my body has been a significant battle field in its own right, and I have not appreciated how well it has served me before now.
You see when puberty struck, so did an endocrine disorder called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). It began with cystic acne, the kind they often treated with Accutane, but because of concern about the side effects, mine was treated with Tetracyline – every day, for many years – and Retin A. I went from being a very slim athletic child to gaining about ten pounds a year until I went on the birth control pill when I married Terry. That is because PCOS is a disorder that affects the hormones of the body. It is best-managed with high levels of Estrogen, thus the body pads itself because fat generates estrogen. My weight was likely a combination of the PCOS, emotional stresses and poor nutritional habits. But when my hormones stabilized with the addition of the pill, so did my weight.
By the end of my last pregnancy, I weighed a great deal more than I should on my 5’3″ frame. In the process of all this, I was continuing to grow in my personal relationship with God, seeking Him daily in Bible study, journaling, and teaching a women’s Bible study class. By the early Spring of 2000, my youngest was weaned and I felt God stirring in my heart that it was time to LIVE. Vanity wasn’t my driving force – I wanted to be healthy and strong and live a full life. As God was strengthening my inner self, I was feeling the call to strengthen my outer self. (Special note: Terry has always loved me for who I am, accepted me implicitly, and desired me deeply. He is God’s greatest gift to me in this human realm.)
In my personal Bible study, I’d been reading through Exodus and was so struck by God’s heart towards His people – freedom. His heart is captured so beautifully in so many places, and the compassion with which He administered His help, that I felt a stirring that He was calling me to levels of new freedom as well. He also told them that “Every place they put their foot” He would give them. I began to feel Him saying, “Every where you put your foot…” I had recently picked up a book that talked about the importance of exercise, drinking water, proper nutrition and rest and I felt God breathing on me: “It’s time.” My boys were still tiny. It meant getting up even earlier to have my Bible study AND squeeze in exercise before Terry needed to leave for work. Yet I felt God summoning me and purposed within my heart to immediately. These days this is how I refer to that dynamic: when the wind of the Holy Spirit starts blowing, I want to set my sails and catch that wind while it is available. How often do we miss out on God’s added empowerment because we want to be the one to set the schedule and the program?
He spoke it to me during the day on April 19 and I launched out into obedience early Thursday morning, April 20, 2000. It was the Thursday before Easter that year but it wasn’t until 3 years later that I realized it had also been the Jewish holiday of Passover that year. Passover rarely coincides with Easter, but that year, God had very intentionally launched my journey towards physical health on Passover in 2000. Just as He called the Israelite people to accept His offer of life by securing themselves within the house with blood on the door frame, He had asked me to trust Him for life and freedom by securing myself within His care. He was taking me on a pathway towards life and wholeness.
My journey would take three more years and even then I have never landed exactly where I had hoped to land physically. Each time I would lose about twenty pounds, my hormones would get out of balance and that is when the PCOS was diagnosed and began treatment. Until my hormones would balance out, I could not lose weight no matter what I did. There were no special supplements and no quick-tips. I had weeks of discipline and weeks without it. I initially used the Weight Watchers “points” system, but eventually learned which foods stuck to me like glue. Every one is different, and over these years, I’ve learned which ones will trigger food cravings, which ones work against me and which ones allow my body to feel energetic without feeling dull or slowed down. It took me three years to lose 110 lbs and these days, few people really remember where I’ve been. There was a crushing, devastating season at the end of 2003, a season that reopened all my own sexual abuse wounds. I also sustained a stress fracture in my foot and could not exercise. The combination of emotional upheaval, no exercise and taking prescription anti-inflammatories for three months resulted in a discouraging 30 lb. gain. For the next three years I could do nothing to lose that weight and carried immense frustration that I’d lost some of the ground I’d fought so hard to win.
I had terrible inflammation, joint pain, fatigue, and terrible digestive issues in those years and continually prayed God would free me of these physical struggles. In March of 2007, with no prior warning, I felt God calling me to a forty-day fast. I was furious, I was terrified, and I was hurt towards Him. I wanted to believe I was hearing wrong but I felt the sinking certainty this was not an invitation – it was a call to obedience. It felt like punishment and I wasn’t at all sure I could do it (and I only had the strength because He called me to it and empowered it). I noticed within the first couple of days that I continued to experience terrible reflux, although I wasn’t eating food and had eliminated milk. It came with my morning coffee and stayed throughout the day. After a little internet investigation, I discovered I was intolerant of the milk protein, casein, which was in the non-dairy creamer I used in my coffee. Casein (often called sodium casseinate) is any many products that are “non-dairy” even though when they list it in the ingredients they include “a milk derivative”. To this day, as long as I avoid all milk products, I do not have the debilitating symptoms I lived with for a couple of years. I also discovered, as I researched the effects of fasting, that it allows healing on a molecular level unparalleled to any other kind. The body benefits from a rest in the gut and is able to repair itself amazingly when given the time to do so. In other words, the forty day fast WAS healing, WAS freedom.
Guess what? When I counted forward from the day God called me to fast, the forty days ended on April 20 – the very day I’d begun my journey seven years before. I was allowed to celebrate the end of that fast on the very day He’d called me out seven years before, on my personal anniversary, when the Death Angel passed over me in a very real sense and God brought me out with an outstretched arm. My family and I celebrated the end of this journey as I released 40 white helium-filled balloons into the evening sky and then we sat down to eat together as a family for the first time in 40 days.
For a few years now, God has kept me free me of those 110 pounds and although I haven’t been able to get any lower, I’ve learned to feel pretty content with who I am and very, very grateful for what He has accomplished for me. My focus is no longer on all my imperfections, which are still plenty. My focus is on Him, and keeping in step with Him, with being in fellowship with Him. Who I am and what I do flow from that relationship and I am progressively learning how to trust Him all the more. While He has asked me to progressively reveal my inner journey, He has recently reconnected how the outer journey was integrally related with the inner journey and I have a renewed appreciation for all that my body has heroically endured.
The Hebrew seder (passover meal) includes many beautiful words that Jews all over the world recite that night. Here is one of my favorite parts: “Long ago in this season, our people set out on a journey. On such a night as this, Israel went forth from degradation to joy. We give thanks for the liberation of days gone by. We pray for all who are still bound. Eternal God, may all who hunger come to rejoice in a new Passover. Let us sit at Your table, drink the wine of deliverance, eat the bread of freedom. Let us remember, for now and all time, that freedom starts in our hands, in our hearts, in our minds, with our internal reality. Let us remember that freedom begins with acknowledging what IS and then choosing to be free, taking actions to become free, to allow freedom and harmony into our lives. Because this is a story of how a people was broken by slavery, we begin by breaking the bread but we do not conclude the seder until the halves of the bread are reunited. This story is about how the broken is made whole. The brokenness is the bread of affliction. The bread of affliction becomes the bread of freedom when we share it.”
Freedom. Life – overflowing, effervescent, perpetual and abundant – that is what our God is all about.