Christmas Lights

Originally published on December 15, 2016 at the Rebecca Bender Initiative.

For many of us, the holiday season has the tendency to trigger memories we would rather forget: feelings of loneliness or abandonment, reminders of horrors we have experienced, or the grief of loss.

I used to struggle with extreme anxiety when I saw Christmas decorations go up in stores and become saturated with red and green tidings of good cheer. I would weep uncontrollably when I saw Christmas lights being put up on the houses in my neighborhood. And as people gathered with excitement around me (including posting pictures of their loved ones on social media), it was my habit to silently retreat into my introverted shell so no one could see the raw depth of my grief.

Over the years, though, I have slowly learned to appreciate the beauty of a fresh snowfall and the magic that it produces on Christmas morning. I have opened up and have allowed myself to feel the pure joy that comes from entering into a family’s tradition of decorating their Christmas tree, as well as embracing the innocence of making Christmas cookies for the first time. And in the midst of this… I have slowly softened and have allowed God come in to heal some of the deepest pain I have experienced.

I am not fully healed, nor do I see complete healing as a destination that I will fully achieve on this side of heaven. But as I choose to bow my pain and my healing journey to the Lord, one of the things I am learning is the fact that He not only heals deeply - His healing is permanent. God doesn’t go halfway with the healing He brings. Instead, God takes each of us on our own healing journeys and intimately meets us in the midst of our needs.

One visible way that I see healing in the midst of this holiday season is the fact that I have been humming Christmas carols for the past two months, I have longed to put up a Christmas tree (which is something that my husband and I can’t do this year due to moving), and I can now look at Christmas lights with peaceful joy, which is a complete miracle.

It was several years ago while being triggered by Christmas lights and the memories associated with the ways that they were used by my traffickers to indicate that I was open for business, God told me to go for a drive around the neighborhood; He told me that He wanted me to show me something.

As I got in the car, I remember the tension in my body and the intense pain cloaked around my heart. But instead of turning around and going back into the safety of my house, I put the key in the car and while the engine was gently humming, I heard God whisper that He wanted me to drive down the streets with the most Christmas lights on them. I was mad. Why would He ask me to do that???!!!

Slowly as I drove around the snowy neighborhood, instead of seeing the trauma’s from the past, I saw the beauty of colors I had never seen before. I saw childlike simplicity. I saw joy that brought a small and tender smile to my lips. And I saw what God wanted me to see. I saw Him!

I wrote the following poem when I got home and reflected my encounter with Christ.

Christmas Lights

As I look at the Christmas lights shining on houses and trees, A cloud of darkness descends, because of what these lights say to me. They speak of pain, sin, and stain inflicted by man's sick, selfish greed. In desperation I plead "Heavenly Father, speak to my hurting heart and tell me what these lights mean to Thee"

He said "Daughter, look at the lights as you drive around tonight, and I will tell you what each color means to me, in the beautiful twilight. Christmas lights reflect My love, light, and hope I bring this season bright. So despite what has been said and done "look on them from the viewpoint of My sight." 

"Daughter, first of all, remember that Christmas is a celebration of Me, As a little helpless babe, I came to earth, to pay your sins penalty. So, every time you see a RED light bulb... a beautiful reminder let it be, of the precious blood I gave and the victory I won on Calvary.

"The light from the WHITE Christmas light you see, brightly radiates to everyone my transparent purity. Daughter, you've been washed clean by my blood totally. No matter the past, you're clean and shine My purity."

"The BLUE light that radiates, reflects that you are royalty my princess fair, I'm the King of Kings, who looks after you with love, concern, and care. I love you so much to see you hurt, My heart it does tear. Please come to me, rest in my arms. I promise to speak peace to you there."

"YELLOW, as it shines, is an earthly reminder of My Kingdom bright. Darling Daughter, I've known every time you have felt that there was no hope in sight. Remember, though, your time here is but a moment. New hope I have given -- live in Eternity's light."

As I drove around looking upon the light of the warm ORANGE glow, I began to hear beautiful angelic voices flow. They were singing "Glory to God..." in praise and adoration. So now, whenever I see this warm winter light, I will worship the giver of Salvation.

With open ears, I wait in wonder to what the Lord is going to teach me with GREEN, I hear Him, but in my weak frailty, I'm having trouble understanding fully what He means. He is telling me "Daughter, though your life I want to do something amazing, beyond what can be seen. Trust Me, I'm making something beautiful in my arms rest and lean.”

One of the last things said before the trip was over was a challenge to me."Daughter, you are a bright shining light in a world of darkness what you walk free. Light overcomes the darkness. So let your light shine for all to see. When they see My light radiating through you people will return to Me!"

* * * * * *

The tears well up in my eyes as this journey with my Lord fades away. Although I am home now, the lessons I have learnt will forever stay.

I never knew that Christmas lights could ever be so pure and bright, but they are - because I now see them from His sight.

With joy I will gaze upon each Christmas light I see, and think of my Savior and all that He did for me.


More Than A Number

Originally written and published August 31, 2017 on the Rebecca Bender Initiative.

In 2015, at a wellness check, my doctor found a large tumor on my thyroid and after my specialists got the results back from the biopsy, I ended up in emergency surgery to remove not only the mass, but my entire thyroid gland. The morning after surgery, when I woke up in the hospital, my endocrine surgeon was standing at the foot my bed. During that conversation I was told how to take the thyroid medication that would become the start of the rest of my life. Unfortunately, several months later it became widely apparent that my body was having great trouble absorbing my thyroid medication and because it was not working correctly, I ended up gaining a lot of weight very quickly.

A few months ago, as I hit the emotional two-year anniversary of my total thyroidectomy and celebrated the stability I had recently gained with new medications, the thought that went through my mind was, “Yay I am finally able to do the things I used to do before surgery and I am finally overcoming the weight that I had gained through this journey.” I was really excited!

Sadly though, a few days later, I ended up in severe car accident on a major highway here in Colorado. Being sandwiched in the middle of two trucks is a very scary experience, but what has been even more challenging is the depression that has cloaked me as I work through the long-term effects from this accident—including the inability to run, work out, or even drive and type normally. This string of unfortunate circumstances has ultimately resulted in multiple doctor’s appointments where I have had to stand on the scale numerous times for nurses to write down my weight or where have had to tell how much I weigh to technicians performing tests. And in the midst of this, each time I stand on the scale or recite how much I weigh, shame covers me like a heavy blanket.

Honestly, this shame has caused me to shy away from writing this blog, because once again I have been bombarded with the internal struggle to accept the season I am in with my physical ability and weight. Once again, I am having to say that although I do not engage with anorexic patterns of thought and behaviors right now, it is easy to engage with unhealthy thoughts that try to control my being once again and could easily lead me back down that road.

Outwardly I can say that the number on the scale does not define me, but then I get self-conscious when clothes don’t fit and I have to go up a size. I get worried when I cannot exercise like I used to before everything happened, or when my medication doesn’t work properly and I begin to see the number quickly go up.   

It’s hard. In fact, it is incredibly difficult.

My entire life I have felt like I could never measure up to the cultural ideals of beauty leading me to struggle on and off with anorexic patterns and behaviors ever since I was a young child when I was being sexually abused, used in child pornography, and then trafficked. And over the years, thought patterns situated around starving myself to meet an unattainable image, be in control, liked, accepted, or loved, used to consume my being. Although I hated the ways that these thoughts were branded onto my mind, I could not escape the ways that they led me to eat tiny bites like a bird, obsess about the number on the scale, and run to burn calories that were almost non-existent within my body.

It wasn’t until four years ago, shortly after I had finished my first half-marathon, that I started to understand the seriousness of my eating disorder. This led me into a conversation with my therapist and several trusted individuals about my anorexic struggles.

Since darkness ferments secrets, bringing my eating struggles into the light and being honest, with myself and others, was one of the hardest battles I faced. Yet, this step also brought the most freedom. Light created an environment where my eating disorder was no longer hidden and through this action it began to lose its power. After I entered into this place of intentional work, my therapist partnered with a nutritionist to help me stay accountable, teach me about normal serving sizes, create healthy associations to food, and learn how to eat healthy in a well-balanced way. As my therapist and nutritionist helped me to untwist the negative ways that food was used against me, we began to talk about the ways food was not safe and was part of of the trauma I experienced. For example, my trauma had led me to believe in a twisted fashion, that choosing to starve myself was better than being forced to not eat. Food (or the lack thereof) was used to either punish me and/or manipulate me into the person that my traffickers were strategically creating—a puppet in the hands of a masterful puppeteer.

Through putting in a lot of hard work, time, and effort in therapy (and at the dinner table)—my life has changed drastically. My anorexic behaviors no longer rule my life! I have learned that food is good for me and that my body could not live, function, or survive without it.

I do admit, when life gets stressful and is difficult (like the past couple of years) the first thing that I think about is my weight and mindlessly start entertaining thoughts about how I do not like what the scale says, which then in a domino fashion leads me to think about ways that I could lose a few pounds. Despite these thoughts, since I have gotten stronger and have gone through multiple layers of my healing, the ways I respond to these thoughts have changed. I can now say that although I have them, they do not define my existence. Yet, it remains a battle that I must face and fight on a daily basis. Several ways that I fight these thoughts include:

1)    I am real and honest with God about my struggles. At first, when I realized the seriousness of my eating disorder, I was terrified to take off the mask before God and other safe people in my life. It took courage, but as I got on my knees and entered into a deeper place of authenticity and intimacy with Jesus, I found myself not only freer to enter into conversation with others about my struggle, but I started to see the ways that my past history of abuse was correlated with the present. Being real with God did not make things magically better and I still had to fight for each bite I ate, but I saw His power in a profound new way.

2)    I choose to believe that the number on the scale do not define me. When I train people I often tell the audience that my past does not have the power to define my future, but then I stand on the scale at the doctor’s office and the number that pops up defines me for not only 24 hours, but for the next couple of weeks. If I am going to walk in the truth that my past does not define the future then I also need to walk in the truth that my weight does not have the power to define who I am. I am more than a number!

3)    I am accountable to trusted and healthy individuals. Over the course of this journey, being accountable to safe, trusted, and healthy individuals was and continues to be really important for me. As I have given these individuals permission to ask the hard questions they have fought this battle with me on the front lines. Through this, I have come to learn that healthy relationships do not equal perfection, but rather healthy relationships create an environment for holistic healing to take place.

4)    I choose to see my body as a gift. I might not always like my weight, pant size, or physical ability—but I have made the choice to see my body as a gift and take a posture of gratefulness for what I do have. Yes, I have real limitations and yet, I still have so much to be grateful for… God has given me so much!

I have learned there is no quick and easy fix for eating disorders, but if this is one of your battles, know that you are not alone—there is hope! Through choosing to fight this battle, I believe, you will be able see yourself as more than a number.