First Step on a New Journey

I read the other day that, in the age of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, social media venues that have launched a whole new “selfie” industry, our society is breeding more and more narcissists.  Wikipedia, that font of all knowledge, tells the story of a young man named Narcissus:

800px-Narcissus-Caravaggio_(1594-96)_edited

“In Greek mythology, Narcissus (/nɑːrˈsɪsəs/; Greek: ΝάρκισσοςNárkissos) was a hunter from Thespiae in Boeotia who was known for his beauty. He was the son of the river god Cephissus and nymph Liriope.  He was proud, in that he disdained those who loved him. Nemesis noticed this behavior and attracted Narcissus to a pool, where he saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus lost his will to live. He stared at his reflection until he died. Narcissus is the origin of the term narcissism, a fixation with oneself and one’s physical appearance and/or public perception” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissus_(mythology)).

Having been a social worker, clinical and otherwise, I can professionally attest that to be diagnosed a narcissist takes a lot – and I mean a lot – more than being obsessed with one’s physical appearance and/or public perception.  When I left social work, I gave away my DSM (diagnostic manual), so I won’t go any further than that.  But I will say that, as so many others, I do get tired of seeing selfies…

…unless they’re mine.  Oh, I have become a selfie queen.  When I started losing weight 2 years ago, I discovered that I’m kind of cute!  And I really liked seeing my new, thinner self on screen.  Since then, I have mastered the art of manipulating light and angle and facial position to successfully camoflage jowls, multiple chins, and wrinkles.  The power of retouching is harnessed in a cell phone and is mine for the clicking!

My selfies are GORGEOUS…and they hide so much:

  • days when makeup is too much work to deal with
  • moments when my dazzling smile is overwhelmed by stress and tears
  • 30 pounds of weight gain

Yes, I have gained 30 pounds since last September.  That’s roughly three pounds a month, and it’s a whole lot easier to put on than to take off.

This ticks me off, because it had been coming off so easily.  Already being gluten- and caffeine-free, it seemed I could eat anything as long as I hit my bike and kept up with my walking and yoga.

There’s a big difference between 45 and 47, however; we won’t talk about the hormonal shifts that have commenced in just the last few months.  We can talk about being middle-aged and in grad school again, the hours my backside has been stuck to a chair instead of on my bike, the stress of a new position that brought it’s own cortisol-inducing situations, and my growing addiction to SUGAR.

Well.  At least it wasn’t 50.

And, my Heavenly Father, with His inimitable tender mercy, crossed my path with another woman whose midlife looked an awful lot like mine.  As had her waist.  She shared with me what she’d been doing to shed her own midlife baggage, and inspired me to do the same.

My life is, for the most part, an open book, so I’m going to post my Day 1 photos and, every now and again, I’ll share how my journey to optimal health is going.  Unlike my myriad of adorable selfies, these photos are raw and uncensored: nothing hidden, nothing retouched – just an honest reflection of the state of this temple, which is now undergoing some serious remodeling and long overdue maintenance.

Here we go – front view:

Front_1_072017
Starting weight: 245.5 pounds.  Still 55 pounds less than my heaviest about 10 years ago, but I certainly don’t want to get any closer to that!

Aaaaaand side view (just breathe!):

Side_1_072017
Starting measurements: waist 40″; hips 52″; bust 44″; neck 16″; calf 18″; thigh 28″; upper arm 16.5″.  Note the jowls and double chin.  They’ll soon be GONE!

I’m 47 years old.  I started my first diet when I was four.  I remember the nurse who told my mother to only let me have one piece of toast, rather than two.  That was the start of my battle against my body.

The body that God Himself crafted for me, I tried to destroy – fad diets, bulimia, overexercise – I tried it all.  And the one time I seemed to be losing weight effortlessly and naturally – two years ago – turned out to be a trauma response.  Life isn’t traumatic anymore, so it came right back.

But something has changed in the last two years, the two years I’ve been nestling into the God who loves me and calls me “daughter”:  I’ve come to truly love myself.

Which is why I can post my fat pictures.  Because even though this temple in which I reside is very unhealthy right now, it is still beautiful because it houses a princess.  It has carried me, sheltered me, protected me [I also won’t go into how fat can be quite the protective mechanism].  It has walked and biked and danced and sang.  It is worthy of my respect and my love.  Not in a narcissistic, obsessive way, but in a let’s-give-you-what-you-need-to-thrive sort of way.  It’s time I gave it that respect, that love in return.

If I hadn’t seen my friend’s Facebook post a few weeks ago, about her own amazing journey to health, I would still be stuck.  As it is, I have taken my first step on my own amazing journey, surrounded by encouraging and inspiring people who walk with me.

What a tender mercy!

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: Radical Spirit

BOOK REVIEW: Radical Spirit

We live in a world of superficiality, a world where Facebook and Instagram and Twitter are flooded with selfies and soundbites, where we communicate in “textese” only as much as our data plan will allow, and where our “race to the top” is a contest to see who can have the biggest (or smallest, if you’re into the tiny house movement), the fastest and newest car, and the funnest vacation.  Parents throw exorbitant Pinterest parties for their toddlers, and “creating fun memories” is on the cover of every family life magazine.  Pleasure and enjoyment has become the end in life, and we slog through our daily lives just to get to the next fun activity.

But the house leaks, the car breaks down, the toddler screams while sitting in a messy diaper, the boss is making work life miserable, and the 4,307 “friends” we have on Facebook aren’t there when the fun ends.  Our personal life planters have beautiful blooms for everyone to see…but when the scorching heat of difficulty and pain bigan baking us, we discover that there is no root system, and everything we think is secure withers and dies.  Our faith, along with everything else, fizzles, and we wonder what the point of it all is.

Sister Joan Chittister, in her inimitable fashion, has the answer.  It’s not a new pop psychology theory, or a 3-step system to self-fulfillment.  No, in her newest book, Radical Spirit, she presents truth that is thousands of years old, and is as generally ignored as it is old.

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What is “radical spirit”?  Both words are so overused and colloquialized in modern language, I decided to look them up.  Based on the primary definitions of each word I found, I translated the title to this: “Thorough Soul”.  That still didn’t satisfy my curiosity, so I followed the word “thorough” back to its Latin roots.  Thorough, from the Latin radicalis, meant in middle English, “forming the root.”  And there I had it: forming the root of the soul.  In our rootless, groundless, modern existence, finding a stable root system for our lives is exactly what we need…and this book delivers.

Based on the Benedictine Rule of Humility (and who better to bring this into the modern era than a modern Benedictine nun?), Sister Chittister walks us through the remarkably radical – that is, countercultural and counterintuitive –Twelve Steps of Humility (strangely similar to the twelve steps of recovery…) established by St. Benedict himself.  She paraphrases the process like this:

  • Recognize that God is God.
  • Know that God’s will is best for you.
  • Seek direction from wisdom figures.
  • Endure the pains of development and do not give up.
  • Acknowledge faults and strip away the masks.
  • Be content with less than the best.
  • Let go of a false sense of self.
  • Preserve tradition and learn from the community.
  • Listen.
  • Never ridicule anyone or anything.
  • Speak kindly.
  • Be serene, stay calm.

In a world that encourages self-promotion and promises reward for climbing to the top, this Rule – based entirely on the Holy Scriptures – encourages self-effacement and full reliance on and obedience to God, and those whom God places over us in our lives. Just as Christ taught in the Beatitudes, “the meek shall inherit the earth” and as St. Francis prayed, “It is in dying that we find eternal life”, these 12 steps guarantee exaltation not through self-effort and striving for praise and glory, but through the pursuit and practice – yes, practice – of humility.

If relief from the rat race and refreshment from the unending, empty cycle of self-fulfillment is what you seek, read this book.  Then start with Step One.  Although each step is a greater spiritual challenge than the one before, you will sense a freer, calmer, and more grounded sense of being.  Your life will have a well-developed root system, protecting it from the harshness and heat of life’s difficulties.  You will find freedom.   From the introduction:

It is humility that stands to set us free.  Free from the ambition that drives us, from the angers that rule us, from the greed that consumes us, from the chains we have mistaken for success and superiority.

I loved this book, and will read again and again as I, in my midlife years, search to achieve a sense of authenticity and true meaning for the rest of my life.  “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (James 4:10, KJV).

(Chittister, Joan. Radical Spirit: 12 Ways to Live a Free and Authentic Life.  2017. Convergent Books: New York.  ISBN 978-0-451-49517-4. $22.00.  I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.)

 

Fresh Starts

This is not the post I meant to write.

The post I meant to write is one I’ve been chewing on for weeks.  That one’s about patience, about the bite of patience, the burden of patience, and the blessing of patience.(Alliteration is so fun!)  Very serious and contemplative and deep stuff.

Keep your eyes open for that one – it’s gonna be AWESOME.

This one, on the other hand, is one I’m just dashing off because…because of THIS:

new journal
I thought I’d go with this cool Celtic design, being 22% Irish and all…

Yes, you’re right! It’s a new journal!

Not everyone is a journaler (I don’t know if that’s a word!), but I have been since I was a freshman in college.  I would journal faithfully, every day, logging events and emotions and story ideas and frustrations and spiritual insights…I LOVED my journals, and eagerly anticipated reaching the end of one so I could crack open a brand new one.  My “hope” chest is crammed full of volume after volume after volume…

And then came marriage. And children. And financial worries and woes. And stress. And packing. And moving. And again. And self-care (of which journaling is most certainly a part) went out the window for years…

But just over two years ago, right when my personal story was getting super dramatic and the growing crisis was reaching a boiling-over-point, I picked up my pen and a half-used journal and started there.

In the last 2 years, as I’ve made a habit of penning my thoughts and feelings and insights and questions (no, not daily- still married, still parenting, still sorting out finances and dealing with stress…fortunately NOT moving, at least not anytime soon!), I’ve found a sense of stability and release and have re-claimed the ability to look at what I’ve written and receive insight on how to manage it.  Once it’s on paper, everything is so much less threatening.

And a new journal – ohmygoodnessitsafreshstartanewchapterawholenewworld!

Congratulations if you could read that the first time.

But it’s true, isn’t it?

fresh journal page
Just look at that pretty blank page!

Something about a blank journal page is so promising and hopeful and exciting!  As much as I loved writing in the last one, I couldn’t help but quiver in anticipation as I saw that last page getting closer and closer, knowing that, when I close the back cover of that volume, it’s all history! Sure, I can go back and read and ponder (and I do frequently), but that new volume gets all my creative juices flowing and reminds me that I can write my life however I want to.  The last chapter has ended, the new has begun.

It’s a lot like New Year.

And it also reminds me of our Heavenly Father – the grandest Writer and Architect and Composer ever.  I am a master of mucking things up (explaining the crisis I found myself in 2 years ago), but He?  He is the Author of fresh starts, new chapters, blank pages.  That He can walk into a life and re-boot it, wipe away all the mistakes and the wrong turns and the poor decisions and say, “Here’s a new book – try again!” is, by far, a tender mercy beyond compare.

In 1993, I wrote a sonnet.  Yes, a sonnet.  One of those Shakespearean language nightmares.  It was never accepted for publication, but perhaps that was meant to be because now I get to share it. Looking at that new journal, that fresh start, that steppingstone towards greater things, brought it to my memory, and it’s so perfect for this moment:

WRITER

With pen in hand, I’m poised to make a mark

Upon a brand new page, so clean and white.

The words reflect my thoughts: confused and dark

And jumbled; nothing that I scrawl sounds right.

I dash and scribble, frantically erase

Mistakes that mar the beauty of my piece;

I sweat and toil and gasp for words of grace

And elegance – the struggle does not cease!

The piles of crumpled paper on the floor

Are proof that untried words may have no part;

But patience soon prevails…my eyes, strained sore,

Behold the finished work of priceless art.

The Writer of my life, with no less care

Inscribes in me a text of radiance rare.

God can, and will, rewrite your life. It is His joy to “give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3).

 

Sometimes it’s not about the journey

Sometimes it’s not about the journey

My favorite statement from Kayla’s beautiful blog – and she’s SPOT ON: “Sometimes, I realized, as I stopped dead in my tracks to catch my breath, realizing there was yet another switchback that hinted at us being nowhere near the trailhead–the journey is ugly. “

These Mountains We Climb

This blog post came to me precisely around the time the snow pack shifted under my hiking boot and I felt my ankle “crack”.

It wasn’t a break–I knew that right away. But it was uncomfortable enough that the 8 or so miles to go didn’t sound too exciting at that moment.

It was around that time when my cute partner turned around with his hiking poles in hand, his eyes covered by dark glasses to keep away the glare from the white–and he said genuinely, “Babe, do we need to turn back?”

No, was my response of course–as I winced, adjusted my hiking boot, and continued onward. I’m stubborn like that–and he knows it.

snow trekker

It was the very last hike of our weekend and I wasn’t about to let it slow me down. He had planned the perfect anniversary weekend. We stayed in a train car that was…

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Following Jesus

This is not a whine, or complaint.

It is, however, a statement of what is.

25 years ago, this weekend, I was commissioned (ordained) as a Salvation Army officer (minister), alongside 51 other people with whom I ate, studied, played, prayed, preached, and traveled in ministry.  We were – are – the “Followers of Jesus”.

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Our session flag.

I did so not out of a strong sense of divine calling (in fact, the night we signed our covenants to serve as Blood and Fire officers in The Salvation Army for the rest of our lives, I felt a nearly overpowering urge within me to not sign, a voice, almost, saying this is not for you…), but out of not knowing what else to do.

I was born and bred to serve.

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My very first covenant with God – signed the day after my 7th birthday, when all children in The Salvation Army can make this promise.  Big promises for a 2nd-grader…

I knew no other expression of Christianity than that which wore navy blue uniforms, called each other by rank, and populated those ranks with souls rescued from abuse, addiction, and overall life trauma.

I was young – 22 – and I wanted to make my parents proud.  This was the natural progression for a young lady who rose through the ranks as a Junior Soldier, Sunbeam, Girl Guard, Senior Soldier, and Graduate Corps Cadet.  “Officer” was next.

cadet me
Cadet Berko (we had no first names) – 22, genuinely bright-eyed and bushy-tailed!

After being commissioned, I lasted two-and-a-half years, miserable every day, knowing that my path had to be different, because the path within The Army could not possibly reflect the joy and peace of God promised me.

Not one day of joy, not one day of peace…just longing for something else.

I was 25 when I walked away.  After much prayer, and fasting, and more prayer and fasting, I resigned my commission and followed Jesus on faith alone.

Against the counsel of leaders, I walked away and followed Jesus.

Even though it broke my mother’s heart, I walked away and followed Jesus.

Not looking back to answer the questions of others and address many raised eyebrows, I walked away and followed Jesus.

The road hasn’t been easy, but along that road I have discovered the love of God in so many different ways, in so many different places, and with so many different people.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes – or what I thought were mistakes. There have been dark spots…places where this sheep was truly lost and could no longer hear or see the Shepherd…

…but it was in those times that I discovered just how creative and out-of-the box He is when He comes to the rescue.

Mistakes? Maybe. Wasted time and life? Not at all.

I do not regret my choice.

I have returned twice to lay service in The Army, and every time, it brought out the worst in me and ended badly – very badly.  No one can say I didn’t try to find a place within their ranks – I most certainly did.

That this worldwide, beloved-by-many Christian church, known for its selfless service to the indigent, the poor, the ignored and oppressed, is not my place is no longer in question.

I have found my place. After a long journey through many denominations and experience gathered from countless forms of vocational and avocational ministry, I have found my place. A quieter, more isolated and solitary place, one that relies on secret prayer, unspoken devotion, and receives no great attention.  No banners, no bands, no flags and drums.  And I continue to follow Jesus Christ with joy, just as do those of my dear friends whose place remains in that band of spiritual soldiers.  Perhaps because it was woven into my very DNA, I continue to love the unloved, never reckoning the cost…and I am happy.  I am at peace.

But.

On the 25th anniversary of that momentous event, I can’t help but miss the relationships, the camaraderie, the sense of unity and purpose and direction – almost a “lockstep” with companions that a more solitary walk with Christ just doesn’t have.  I miss the late night, post-service “afterglows”, the common stories, and the wordless glances where volumes are communicated in an instant.  I miss a common paradigm for life and service. I miss the music…how I miss the music…

commissioning music
Music was always my passion – sung, played, composed…on top, the Followers sing our session song.  I don’t know what we, the band, were playing…maybe it Leslie Condon’s march, “Celebration”, which we did play rather frequently and is my all time favorite…check it out here: https://youtu.be/Ta1q8zswza0)

It is a family – a family within the family of God.

As I look at pictures posted on Facebook of my sessionmates celebrating the 25th anniversary of our commissioning, watching many of their children celebrate that same, powerful event, a solitary tear is trickling down my cheek.  Not one of regret, or even sadness.  It is a tear of nostalgia, a tear of contemplation as I reflect on just how unique the journey for each individual follower of Jesus is.  Unique and tailored to most fully develop the image of our Savior in each one of us.

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Can’t believe it’s been 25 years…and Nancy still has her session jacket! Wow!

The day I walked across the stage at the Scottish Rite Auditorium in Long Beach, California, to receive my commission and my first appointment, General Paul A. Rader spoke this Scripture to me, and it has echoed in my soul for the last quarter century:

For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.  (2 Chronicles 16:9)

Even though my path has been different, and life has taken turns and detours I never even imagined, the Lord has shown Himself strong on my behalf – so many times, and in so many ways.

His tender mercies have flanked me behind and before, and He is acquainted with all my ways (go read Psalm 139!).

I am still, in every way and now more than ever, a Follower of Jesus.

I Wait For You

 “Oh, that I might have my request, and that God would grant me the thing that I long for.”                                                                                                                                     –Job 6:8

I used to write a lot of poetry.  Back when I was young, and single, and unfettered by daily cares, my prayers often took the form of verse. Some were even fitted to music.

I don’t often feel the poetic muse anymore.

But today, as I read Job, and considered how God has worked in my life over the last few years, the muse struck.  It struck rather hard.  Portland has some lovely, secluded spots just asking for deep contemplation and prayer…

bridge over stream

I wait for You, so quietly,

Amid the babbling brooks and rustling trees.

The air is still, the sun is calm,

And in this place I know You’ll come

And offer balm that heals my weary soul

And speak the words that mend and make my spirit whole…

I wait for You and know that soon

My wait will end and You will meet with me again.

lcedu

I wait for You, and in my heart

Your precious words of love, they do their part

To calm the storms of life outside,

To reassure that I will ever be Thy bride;

And even though I know not when You’ll come

And greet me as Your friend…

I wait for You and know that soon

My wait will end and You will meet with me again.

hoyt arboretum

Oh, there are times the wait is hard,

And I feel ready just to leave it be,

But then Your Voice, so calm and clear calls

“My Beloved, come and sit and sup with Me.”

japanese-garden

I wait for You, and as I wait,

I sing the song that Love has given me,

Redeeming Love has changed my heart,

And placed Thy holy image within me.

So if the wait should seem too long,

I will go back and sing that lovely song…

I wait for You and know that soon

My wait will end and You will meet with me again.