of monasteries and bags of hope

I sent a text to a friend a few days ago:
"Imagine my surprise when cleaning out a closet I found a bag of buried hope. It was from you."
The contents of the bag was pants, pairs and pairs of them. I went on:
"...Really nice pants. Pants I wanted to wear. Pants I couldn't. So I set them aside."
Until I found that bag last week I had forgotten it was even in my possession.  I did bury it for a really, really long time. In the place I was when I got them - my usual place - that just felt easier than knowing they were there; too small for my body and so somehow reminding me how much I still, in my 37th year, wasn't getting it right in terms of caring for and nourishing myself, settling instead for pacifying my whims and cravings, wishing things different, but never creating changes that lasted.  I buried the pants, and with them my hope for figuring out a solution to this lifelong struggle. The pants and very nearly my hope were as good as forgotten.

In this moment I wonder why I even kept that bag of pants. Whatever the reason, I'm glad I did. Exactly 150 days ago my body was thirty-five pounds heavier and unmeasured-inches larger. Today, I can wear the pants from the buried bag. And put on hope.

There's no real good starting place for telling this part of my life and story. It's long - much longer than 150 days - and winding and full of all sorts of details that only make sense or matter to me, and even then not all of them. It's enough to know that being overweight has been an everyday-of-my-life situation for thirty years. Doing anything for that length of time carves a deep groove of habit and "ways".  Deep grooves become ruts and ruts become trenches.  Trenches are not easy to get out of.

On May 28th of this year my husband and I went away for the day on a spiritual retreat. We dropped our kids off in good hands, drove an hour away, arrived at a place called the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, and went our separate ways for the day. Life is crazy-busy, isn't it? Quiet and introspection and soul-care comes in starts and stops and sputters the majority of days. The both of us sensed that we needed to "away" on this day. But even knowing that, I have to admit my supremely low expectations for the outcome of the day. In all honesty, I expected to come away from the day hearing Ma Luffin Mayun relay all of the insight and clarity and vision God had given him during the day while my experience would be more like a day spent frustrated and twiddling thumbs waiting for some booming voice from heaven that never came.

You can believe in a God and have a real and personal relationship with him for a long time and still be really foolish. God is kinder than I am wise or intuitive. He had been waiting for an "away" with me, with much higher expectations than mine.

That day was beautiful. The quiet and the reflection, the reading of scripture and pouring out my thoughts on paper, the slowing myself down to be still - to just be - was a balm for all of my dry and cracked places. It took only minutes for all of that to become so clear, and those feelings just built from there throughout the day. What I didn't realize in the time that I was there was that the day was also a turning point.

That day I took time to really think and write down toxic thoughts I had been thinking, deeply embedded doubts or fears or insecurities or judgments. As best I could I tried to stay and simmer myself as long as it took to let the toxic thoughts boil to the surface. I won't lie; that's not the most comfortable thing a person can do, but I just had a sense that nothing was more important than doing that hard thing in that place. I realized all of the toxic thoughts generally fell into categories: those I think about my family, my marriage, my kids, my friends, myself, and my God. It was thorough and deep surgical work, and I knew the sense I had to do it was right and God-directed.

God doesn't hear me . . .
I'll always struggle with being fat . . .
I can't achieve difficult or challenging goals . . .
I can't change . . . 

But it wasn't enough to just identify the toxic thoughts, to pull them up to the surface and give them a once-over. It's as if each of those thoughts have a carved niche in my person and that there is an elastic band attaching the thought to the carved-out place. The thoughts could be pulled up, inspected, deemed unwelcome, but if nothing else came in to snip their tie to me, to fill the hole they had all-too-comfortably resided in, the thoughts would rebound right back to where they had always been, spinning their iniquity and perpetuating my discomfort.  I prayed. I sat still and quiet, unrushed and unhurried. I opened the Bible and began to search the psalms for truths that would replace the lies that my toxic thoughts were built on.

God doesn't hear me . . .
I'll always struggle with being fat . . .
I can't achieve difficult or challenging goals . . .
I can't change . . .

-"You know everything I'm going to say before I start the first sentence." (Psalm 139:4)
-"He listens the split-second I call to him." (Psalm 4:3)
-"At last God has heard my sobs." (Psalm 6:8)
-"'If you'll hold on to me for dear life,' says God, 'I'll get you out of any trouble.  I'll give you the best of care if you'll only get to know and trust me. Call me and I'll answer, be at your side in bad times; I'll rescue you, then throw a party. I'll give you a long life, give you a long drink of salvation!'" (Psalm 91:14-16)
-"Real help comes from God. Your blessing clothes your people." (Psalm 3:8)
-"At day's end I'm ready for sound sleep, for you, God, have put my life back together." (Psalm 4:8)
-"You get us ready for life: you probe our soft spots, you knock off our rough edges. And I'm feeling so fit, so safe: made right, kept right." (Psalm 7:10)

A seismic shift happened that day. I didn't see it until months later.

Those pants weren't the only things buried, stuffed down into dark corners. Packed down with them was hope, belief in my ability to become disciplined enough to bring about change in my physical body. A lot of days even the desire to actually do anything about it slept in that hiding place. That's a lot of stuff to discard in a closet.

On June 1st the journey to here - and the one that will go beyond here - kicked off. The details and the methods, the lessons, the passes and fails, are all for another post. For a while now I have thought of June 1st as the starting point for this journey to better health and weight loss, but it isn't. Of course there are the thirty years leading up to now, but I can look back to May 28th and see that the starting point was still and quiet, devoid of a "plan" beyond putting my thoughts under a microscope to see which ones were malignant, and then pouring in the antidote.

The pants didn't fit me on May 28th or June 1st. And really, neither did hope. Not so much. I'd say that the shrinking of my waistline and the expansion of my hope have happened in direct proportion to each other. Some days the pants will still feel tight, and maybe the hope small, but those are just days. The real and enduring shift has already happened. It happened in a chapel on the grounds of a monastery.

"You get us ready for life: you probe our soft spots, you knock off our rough edges. And I'm feeling so fit, so safe: made right, kept right." (Psalm 7:10)


  1. Anonymous11:02:00 PM

    Wow! You write with such ease. It always has such insight for me. I too am a life-long struggler of all things healthy about myself. It is amazing that I have been able to help so many over the years but never have seemed to be able to conquer and overcome my worst enemy -- Me. Maybe that has been the issue all along -- I have been leaning on myself. Sounds stupid even as I write it. Thanks for the voice of hope. I love you, Blondie.


    1. That doesn't sound stupid at all, Daddy. I completely understand what you're saying. I love you so very much.

  2. Anonymous8:35:00 AM

    This is beautiful, inspiring, and thought-provoking. And God speaking through you. ILY.



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