When Air Becomes Breath – Finding Jesus in our Trauma

chihuahua

A few years ago I was involved in an accident with our chihuahua, Mercy. She had hopped into the car like she so often does, ready to travel with me to the store, when she was suddenly, violently, thrown to the floor and wedged into the corner of the still-open driver-side door.

The sound was sickening.

For a minute or two I didn’t understand what was happening, and I backed up hoping to free her. But she became further wedged, and soon stopped making any sounds at all.

Mind racing, hands trembling, I yelled out for help, but none came. Finally, I got out of the car and saw that her leash had gotten trapped under the front tire. One more inch backward and her neck would have snapped. Quickly I jumped into the car and pulled forward. As her leash went slack, her body dropped lifelessly to the driveway. Urine stained the floorboard where she had relieved herself in her distress.

Horrified, I took her limp body into my arms and rocked back and forth on the front lawn, crying out to God for a miracle. By that point it had been several minutes since she had gone silent, and I knew she might not make it.

And then she took a breath.

As her chest expanded, I was overcome with emotion. Choking back tears, I drove, shell-shocked, to the vet, where they set her broken leg, treated her lacerations, and kept her overnight for observation. She was banged up, to be sure, but she was going to be alright.

That night sleep was slow in coming. Every time I closed my eyes the accident played over and over in my mind like a cruel movie, always stopping at the most traumatic scenes…

Her body slamming into the door…

Her lifeless tumble to the ground…

The odor of urine mixed with sweat and fear…

Even though the vet had assured me that Mercy was going to be ok, my brain remained focused on the worst-case scenario. I just couldn’t shake the jumble of emotions I had experienced when I was sure I was going to lose her.

The next morning I called my friend Michelle, a counselor who specializes in trauma work. She told me that what I was experiencing was completely normal.

Our brains apparently have a tendency to park on the darkest scenes of what we experience in life. Without intentional redirection, this activity perpetuates our internal trauma long after we’ve survived the external event. Which means trauma can stick with us even when it’s not happening anymore. Even when we have nothing left to fear.

“Tell me what happened AFTER the accident,” Michelle coaxed, moving me past the scenes my brain had on replay. So I told her, about holding Mercy in my arms and crying out to God and feeling her chest expand for the first time. About going to the vet and learning she was going to be ok and having some anxiety about the medical bill, mixed with immense relief it wasn’t for a funeral. (Does one even have funerals for pets? I didn’t want to find out…)

“So in all that happened last night,” said Michelle, “where did you see Jesus?”

And I knew right when it was. The moment when air became breath, and life triumphed over death. Jesus was there. He was with us both – me and my silly little 8 lb. dog. This was the moment I needed to focus on. The thing I must train my brain to remember.

It’s been awhile since the accident now, but I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learned. When bad things happen, the primary scene worth returning to is the one in which Jesus plays the starring role. Even if things don’t end up playing out the way we had hoped, Jesus is ALWAYS there. His scenes remind us we’re not alone. That we have a hope bigger than ourselves. And that one day life will triumph over any death this world can deliver.

These days, I still associate Mercy with the odor of urine, but now it’s because she’s decided to make the landing on our stairs her own personal bathroom. And in spite of how disgusting that is, and how expensive it’s going to be to replace the carpet with hardwood, I still can’t help but smile right now as I hear her snoring in the chair next to my desk.

Mercy is alive.

 

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(NOTE: My wordplay on the title for this post was inspired by a similar yet opposite phrase “When Breath Becomes Air” – a powerful bestselling book by Paul Kalanithi as he faced death at the young age of thirty-six. You should check it out.)

 

 

God Loves Your Butt

This past Saturday I was in Birmingham for the Girls of Grace tour and a really cool thing happened. It had to do with a five-year-old’s squishy bottom, and a girl in an orange shirt…

During my “More Than a Number” talk at GOG, I share about my past eating disorder, how my eating issues were triggered by feeling like a “zero”, and how I’ve learned that no external number can resolve my internal desire to know that I matter. It’s a struggle most of us face – a deep, unmet (and often unspoken) need to know we have value beyond cultural measures.

Near the end of my talk, I share the fun picture of my daughter Sophia you see here. As you can probably tell, this sassy little thing is completely comfortable in her body. I can’t take full credit for that, of course, but I have been pretty intentional over the years about helping build a positive body image in her.

For starters, Sophia has the most deliciously squishy booty which I love to squeeze. “I luuuuuuv your bottom!” I tell her enthusiastically, pretty much every day. Next, I’ll rub her soft, round belly. “One day you’re gonna have a baby in there!” Then I’ll squeeze her legs and tell her “God gave you strong legs to walk and run.” Playing this little game always makes Sophia smile. “I love that you smile with all your teeth!” I tell her, and she smiles even bigger.

After we “celebrate” her body, I always ask her this question: “Sophia, do you know why I love you?” She used to say, “because of my bottom…?” since she knows I take such delight in squeezing it all the time.

“No,” I tell her. “As much as I love all the parts of your body, what I love most is that there is only one you. If something were to happen to you, no amount of money in the whole wide world would ever make it possible to replace you. There is only one you, and that is what makes you special.”

So what does a girl in a purple bathing suit have to do with a girl in an orange shirt?

When I share this part of the story at Girls of Grace, I always turn to the audience, picking out a girl or two and saying directly to them, “There is only one you. That is what makes you special.” I don’t plan ahead for who I’ll say it to – it’s just whoever my eye happens to land on.

This time my eye went to a girl in a peach/orange colored shirt. As I said the words to her, she looked around to see who I was talking to. “I’m talking to you, girl in the peach/orange shirt,” I told her from the stage. Finally, she nodded to indicate she understood SHE was the target of my words.

Afterward, a mom excitedly pulled me aside. “The girl in the orange shirt is my daughter,” she said. “Just this morning she was complaining about the size of her butt. Then you told that story and called her out to tell her she was special!”

I got chills as she said it. It was another “proof of God” moment. That girl, that morning, needed a word just from God to her, and he used me, completely unaware of his plan, to give it.

“God loves your butt,” I told the girl at the end of the day. We both smiled and laughed a little at the potential sacrilege of such a statement. But then we agreed it had to be true. He created it, after all.

Me on stage at Girls of Grace Birmingham – where I met the girl in the orange shirt. The next one is in Dallas on 4/20/13. Come see me!

More Than a Number – Video Shoot #2

Today was shoot #2 for the More Than a Number music video – the segment when we show the “story” of the American young woman who needs to know she is more than what she weighs. A couple cool things about this shoot…

First, Lindsey Labadie is the AMAZING girl you’ll see here. Not only did she bring amazing emotion and authenticity to this project, she also has a personal testimony about being freed from exercise obsession in her own life. It was really important to me that every element of this video be “legit”, so when I heard Lindsey’s story, I knew she was the one for this. Only later did I learn that she is a pretty amazing actor, and even appears as Carey Mulligan’s body double in the upcoming film The Great Gatsby. When I heard about the millions of dollars worth of jewelry she got to wear in that filming, and considered the incredibly little expense she required in filming this video, I knew once again that God had done his thing.

The other way God showed up was in the location. When Johnny, Geoff and I originally talked about where we wanted to shoot this segment, we knew we wanted a cool, stylish, loft-type apartment that overlooked downtown Nashville. My budget was tight, and so I just started asking around, hoping we could find a good place for not too much money. I was at a movie with a friend that night and mentioned my dilemma to her, and she said, “my friend Jackie has a cool place downtown.” Turns out that I knew her friend, we just hadn’t connected in a while, so I hadn’t seen her cool digs. Not only was her apartment perfect, but it also had a workout room in the basement, so we were able to shoot everything without any location expense. God is cool! (So is Jackie…)

 

God on a Phone Call

Today was a good day. Which is strange, since it began with groggily getting kids ready for school, including a crying five-year-old who has apparently decided that being fussy is her God-given right, and ended with more crying, a pile of laundry and the feeling of never being able to get over the hump of housework, kid-work and work-work.

The good part happened thirty minutes in the middle, somewhere between a rushed conference call with my FINDINGbalance board of directors and trying to set up a new website for Hungry for Hope. There, in the middle of all the chaos, was a phone call that reminded me why I do what I do, and that God has it all under control.

On the other end was a woman I’ll call “Cathy,” who was in a particularly vulnerable moment. Last Friday, Cathy’s husband had reached out to me, asking for advice to help her get treatment for some pretty tough emotional issues. I shared with him my connections with various Christian treatment programs, and told him I’d be happy to talk with his wife if she had further questions.

Cathy initially called on Saturday, but I did not see her message until Sunday. When I tried her back, I got her voicemail. She returned my call the same day – and missed me again. Monday hit with all the force of a  suburban hurricane, and it was today – 4 days later – before I remembered that  I had never gotten back to her.

My heart sank. As much as I love checking off the boxes on my “action sheet” each day at FINDINGbalance, the most important work I do is when I get the chance to be a life-line to someone who is ready to take a step toward freedom. Especially a step as daunting as entering treatment.

I hated thinking that Cathy might have felt I was ignoring her, or that her problem was insignificant to me. I made the call, and this time we were able to connect.

We talked for a while. Cathy asked me some questions and I did my best to answer them, and then I started encouraging her. I can’t help it – this is what God does through me when I slow down long enough to let him. As I told her that God sees her, and knows her situation, and can provide what she needs, I could hear tears on the other end of the line. Especially when it came to the part about him providing for her.

Financial provision is a big aspect of seeking treatment – it can be so costly to take such a bold and intentional step toward freedom that many give up on the idea of treatment altogether. As I shared with Cathy my own daily dependence on God and how he has somehow shown up this past year in the area of finances, and my story helped her find hope for her own.

The coolest part, though, was when I apologized for my delay in calling her back.

“I think God’s timing is just perfect,” Cathy told me. Turns out, her biggest fears about provision had been realized the night before, and here came my phone call, the next day, speaking to those same fears.

Wherever you are today, however fast you are running, remember that God knows your story. He knows what he’s called you to do and he is constantly working more efficiently than we can imagine behind the scenes to make sure the work gets done.

Even in spite of our own best efforts.

The $106 bottle of eyedrops…

In the category of “God knows what we need before we do,” tonight a pretty cool reminder happened. I had gone to the walk-in clinic with the suspicion that I was developing pink eye in my left eye. Sure enough, the doctor confirmed my hunch, and suggested eye drops. I’ve been sick with various things for over a week so the idea of nipping yet another malady in the bud via prescriptive power was very appealing.

We were just about to conclude our little visit when he unexpectedly suggested he might have some of this particular medicine on hand there at the office. This sounded great to me, since I was tired and a neighbor was kindly watching two of the kids while I had sat for the last hour in the clinic.

Unfortunately, he came back without the medicine. Turns out there wasn’t any on hand after all. “Not to worry,” he said, and handed me a coupon. I looked down at the small certificate he offered and wasn’t that excited. It guaranteed I could get the drug for “no more than $20”, which was a great price, but not much different than my standard prescription copay. I thanked him anyway and tucked it into my purse.

A few minutes later I was at the pharmacy where he had faxed my prescription, only to be told that they did not carry this particular drug.

“I’ve only filled it once in the last several months,” the pharmacist told me. “Do you want me to call Walgreens to see if they can fill it?”

I agreed and she called and by God’s grace they had it. Because by now it was after bedtime for my AND my neighbor’s kids, and I really needed to get home.

Walgreen’s is just around the corner from me. I pulled up to the window, gave them my name, and then caught my breath when they informed me that since they didn’t take my insurance, this prescription would cost me $106.

“A hundred and six dollars!?!” I exclaimed with some shock. I sighed in resignation at the idea of handing over the precious amount, until suddenly I remembered the coupon. I pulled it out and handed it to the pharmacist, He looked at it doubtfully.

“Well,” he said, somewhat condescendingly, “we may give you some discount, but I can’t imagine you’re going to get this for $20.” He proceeded to a computer to enter the coupon code. A few minutes later he came back and, with some surprise (and did I detect some frustration?), informed me that the code had gone through, and I would only be paying $20.

I turned to my son Christian, who was with me in the car. “Look at what just happened,” I said excitedly to my my eleven year-old, who was far more interested in continuing his game of Angry Birds than in what his crazy mom was saying about God and the pharmacy.

“God knew that (the other pharmacy) wouldn’t have my prescription, and that I’d have to come here, and he worked it out so that I would not have to pay a hundred and six dollars for this. Isn’t it great!?! I mean, that’s like eighty-six less dollars,” I shouted.

He nodded, and got back to his game. And all I could think of was, I need to start a blog category called “Proof of God.”

And now I have…