Finding Freedom from Emotional Eating

For most of my life, I wouldn’t have said I had an eating disorder. 

To me, “eating disorders” were things like anorexia and bulemia: big, life-altering struggles that required the intervention of doctors, therapists and pastors. 

I never realized that every time I ran to the fridge for a snack when I felt sad, or cheated on my “vegetarian diet” (again), or couldn’t stop myself with just a few potato chips (cookies, cheese sticks, etc.) … I was essentially stuck in the same place as those women with “eating disorders” with more clinically acceptable eating disorders.

I was using food to cover up a craving inside that couldn’t actually be assuaged with sweets, salty, spicy or sour.

Today, many women comment to me that they wish they could eat vegan like I do now. “But I just can’t seem to give up the meat, eggs and dairy,” they quickly add. Others tell me they want to kick the sugar or the cola habit. Still others want to go gluten free, but the thought of no cookies or cinnamon rolls sends them running for cover. 

If any of those describe you, I’m hear to hug you and say, “It’s okay.”

I was there, too. 

The first biggest step I had to take to be free of my constant need for food, was to realize that I was in bondage in the first place. 

After my powerful full-body opening in July 2017, at which time the Holy Spirit began to speak me more directly, I began to realize all the ways I was carrying trauma and hurt in body. I also began to see how that trauma was driving me to hold on to weight I no longer needed.

Because I needed to feel safe, my brain was keeping me overweight—essentially—“hiding” me under layers of fat. And the easiest way to do that was with an addiction to animal-based, processed and refined foods. Did the drive to eat every time I felt sad, or to overindulge at every opportunity, disappear overnight? 

No, not in the least. Not by half. 

But awareness is the beginning of freedom. 

Once I knew what was going on, I could take steps to change my thinking, which changed my dominant emotional state and enabled me to finally change my behaviors around the fridge. 

So if you’re reading this today, and you know that you eat according to your mood, not according to your nutritional need … first, you are not alone. And second, the fact that you have acknowledged this pattern is a HUGE step toward breaking free. 

Because the truth is: 

  • You CAN stop equating food with emotional comfort, in the deepest level of your mind. 
  • You CAN come to a place where you no longer desire food except when your body is actually hungry.
  • You CAN adopt a vegetarian, vegan, raw foods or other alternative diet—once you are in a mental and emotional place where the first two points are already true.

And that’s the real issue here. 

Most women I know who want to change their eating are trying to do so without first shifting their dominant thought patterns and their everyday emotions. 

Adopting that new diet, losing weight or taking up more exercise simply won’t be successful if you try to “power through it” or make it “one more item on your to-do list.” 

Heart change and mind change must happen first. You won’t be able to shift your thoughts or emotions overnight. It WILL require that you confess your addiction to God and ask Him to heal you. It WILL take work to discipline your mind and body. But when you learn how to do that, and learn how to relax into receiving a smaller body, fewer cravings, and healthier food … it can happen.

Many of my my friends and mentees have experienced shifts in their eating as a natural byproduct of clearing their thoughts and emotions.

That’s how it happened for me, ultimately, as well. 

I didn’t totally set out to change my eating. My freedom from emotional eating patterns came as a byproduct of shift my thoughts to focus on God and His love, and learn how to live at the high, even emotional state that He desires for each of us. 

Eating can be a FLOW, just like love, money and creativity.

Release the struggle, and step into ease.

That Time Spring Hit the Colorado Rockies (And My Life)

I didn’t plan on spending five or six weeks of my spring 2018 in the mountains of Colorado. Not that I’m complaining, mind you: spring in Colorado is gorgeous. Witnessings the transformation into spring is even more of a marvel. But it wasn’t on my plan. (Hello, that’s why I call myself a “recovering control freak.” Because sometimes the control thing still peeks out. 

Anyway, when I arrived in Colorado it didn’t look much like spring at all. In fact as late as April 20th, winter was still in full effect. Consider this photo from my first weekend in Colorado Springs, where I stayed with longtime friends on the Air Force Academy base: 

Yeah, not much spring to be seen there. I despaired that God had brought me out of monochromatically gray Milwaukee, only to drop me into another monochromatic winter landscape. Everyone had been telling me how beautiful the sun would be. How plentiful the wild flowers. Yet I still couldn’t see it, even though May 1st was just around the corner. 

This lingering winter seemed to be a metaphor for my own life. I had believed God for breakthrough: a serious shift in my circumstances that would allow me to quit traveling from place to place and go back home to Milwaukee to settle. I loved traveling, yes. The Holy Spirit had told me to ‘take no money, take no luggage, and go into whatever house will receive you.’ And I had obeyed. 

But I was tired now. Sick of endless weeks on the road with no real purpose or activities to shape my day. Sick of always looking to the horizon for something—anything—to happen. Sick (if we’re being honest) of praying and seeing … absolutely nothing.  

I started taking my friends’ dog, Buddy, for twice daily walks. Every day I kept my eyes peeled for the famous Colorado wildflowers, even while I prayed to Heaven for a glimpse of a single petal pushing above ground in my own life. 

For awhile, it continued to look like this: sunny, but barren. The weather warmed. And yet nothing pushed above the soil.

By the time I left for Milwaukee to lay hold of the place God had given me there, the slopes of the Rockies were carpeted with God’s most beautiful flowers.  

It took a lot longer than I would have wished, yes. But the season of flowering did come in God’s time. 

Be patient through the late springs snows, and continue to watch daily for the first signs of color amid the grass. Your time of breakthrough will come if you do not grow weary. 

I believe the real test of our faith is not what happens in seasons of victory and activity, but what we do in seasons of silence and barrenness.

Those six weeks of silence, during which I saw almost no flowers pop up on those daily walks, was one of the longest and hardest I have endured. My patience and stamina were nearly at an end. I napped a lot—because there was little else to do.

Still no flowers. Anywhere.

And yet, somehow in the absence of the physical evidence I craved, Spring came. During that time I really re-committed my life to do exactly what God wanted. I heard the call to begin speaking His Name and His Word more intentionally in my relationships. Things that had been “out of order” in my life got placed back into order—none of which would have been possible had I been distracted by other things. 

God even sent me a few rainbows and beautiful sunsets to encourage me that His promises were true, and in the acceptable time, He would shift my circumstances.

There’s a funny thing about praying for God’s “acceptable time,” just as it says in Psalm 69. God’s acceptable time is very rarely ours. His time for flowering often does not match ours. We are impatient. He has infinite patience. We want to run ahead though we can only see in the moment. He sees what’s coming, and acts accordingly.

In God’s acceptable time, breakthrough did come. I got a huge tax refund—several months late—that enabled me to return to Milwaukee and pay the avalanche of bills that were coming due in June. I let go of the last of my old life and got on board with God’s program.  

And yes, the wildflowers did come out. By the time Buddy and I finished our daily routine of walks, the hills were abloom with Colorado’s finest. 

By the time I left for Milwaukee to lay hold of the place God had given me there, the slopes of the Rockies were carpeted with God’s most beautiful flowers.  

It took a lot longer than I would have wished, yes. But the season of flowering did come in God’s time. 

Be patient through the late springs snows, and continue to watch daily for the first signs of color amid the grass. Your time of breakthrough will come if you do not grow weary. 

Weightless Warrior: On Fencing Well at 30,000 Feet

NOTE: The following is a featured post from 2016 which first appeared on my former creative blog, Scrappy Storyteller. I’m sharing this as a way of embracing my past creative self and sharing ideas she had that, well, still matter today. Enjoy!


“Be fully present. Feel your heart. And engage the next moment without an agenda.” – Pema Chödrön, Living Beautifully: With Uncertainty and Change

I’ve always considered myself an armchair fencer.

My well-loved collection of fencing manuals attest to my ongoing interest in martial history. Then there’s my multi-year, still-unfulfilled intention to take an actual historical fencing class. At least, this year I started yoga again, so I can at least get back in shape for this new level of martial commitment.

One might say my interest in fencing to date has been mostly intellectual. After all, reading a manual does not make one an actual fencer. Book knowledge alone will not win a bout. Nor does intending to take a class replace for actually taking one.

Until now, I’ve been okay with that.

Let’s face it: the armchair version of combat is pretty safe. The armchair is grounded on terra firma. My backside is flat on that seat. The stakes are low, the danger nonexistent. While it’s quite entertaining to speculate how I might parry a blow or wrestle an opponent to the ground, I do not really have to do these things.

I do not actually have to dance with Death.

In fencing, there’s a fine line between fighting and dancing. An even finer line between dancing and falling flat on your face (with a sword in your back). As long as I’m tied to the armchair, I don’t have to risk much of anything. 

It’s combat, without the very thing that makes combat so exhilarating: risk. 

Recently, I’ve realized that my approach to fencing is rather indicative of my general approach to life.

While some might call me a risk-taker, and I do have a history of unconventional choices, I know deep down that I manage my level of risk pretty heavily. I only take on projects I feel have a decent chance of succeeding, according to whatever standard I’ve set up. I don’t step out very often without a lot of pre-consideration. And whatever else I do, I make sure I’ve got good old terra firma underneath my feet. 

But that was before I read Pema Chödrön’s disarmingly bold little book Living Beautifully: With Uncertainty and Change. Chodron recasts the traditional Buddhist Three Commitments—known as the Warrior Tradition—for a modern audience.

In practical terms, she argues that uncertainty is actually the only certainty in human existence. The suffering we experience is tied to our resistance to that uncertainty, not to the uncertainty itself. She renames uncertainty as groundlessness, and invites us to welcome this sense of constant shift as a welcome sign we are truly alive.

 Tallhoffer’s fechbuch is one of my favorites. Don’t these two chaps look like they’re fighting in a groundless space?

“Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet,” Chödrön writes, “to realize our dream of constant okayness . . .”

I love this mental picture of groundlessness. For me in my current stage of life, groundless often feels not just like shifting ground, but like no ground at all. When things are uncertain in my life, I feel like I’m a fencer levitating en garde at 30,000 feet. All I can feel, see and sense is the sheer lack of anything between me and the pinprick landscape below.

This, Chodron says, is exactly how things should be. And exactly how we resist them being.

She goes on to argue that groundlessness is our best training for the Warrior Tradition: the place where we really learn to live with courage, radical openness to all beings, and love that always says, “yes” to what life sends our way. In other words, for those fencing-inclined among us who are series about enlightenment, groundlessness is the perfect place to fight.

But what the heck does it really mean to fight well at 30,000 feet?

I don’t have a manual for that in my collection.

While I’m no guru on the subject, I have a few theories. To me, under these circumstances, fighting well means learning to walk on air and love the feeling. It means living each day as if you’re dancing through the clouds, knowing every lunge or pivot could break the nothingness you balance on and send you plunging to your death. 

To me, fighting well at 30,00 feet means parrying with your own mortality—and enjoy the thrill.

We can choose to see this as terrifying, or we (like Kate Winslet in Titanic) can spread our arms wide and welcome the wind.

“If we can get in touch with the sensation as sensation and open ourselves to it without labeling it good or bad,” Chodron writes, “then even when we feel the urge to draw back, we can stay present and move forward into the feeling.”

The remedy, in other words, is to stop resisting the discomfort of life at 30,000 feet. To stop looking down, and to start sitting with our anxiety, erasing the thousand storylines our brain wants to concoct about why it is “good” and “bad,” in that moment. 

The remedy, then, is to simply be.

Like warriors, we must train ourselves to fight well in any circumstances. Instead of running from the pain of uncertainty, we actually advance into those wispy clouds, blades lifted confidently, feeling the fact that we have absolutely no ground under our feet, delighting in it, and moving forward anyway.

The problem, then, is never our anxiety about uncertainty. It’s the fact that we think there’s something wrong with anxiety.

“But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it,”Chödrön says, “when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment, or awakening to our true nature . . .”

She promises a sense of rest and peace, of exhilaration even, that come with cultivating this practice of acceptance.

All this sounds wonderful enough between the pages of a book, of course. But what happens when life throws you a few curveballs, as it did to me just days long after I determined to start practicing my 30K-foot fencing skills? 

I can’t say as I was thrilled to see huge challenges loom up in my face. But I was not surprised, either. This sort of thing always happens after you decide to try on a new way of being. Some of the challenges, predictably, were tied to recent life situations that are still very painful for me.

 Yes, occasionally women did get in on the fencing action in late medieval society.

In that space, huge old fears loom large despite one’s own best efforts. It’s far easier to panic than keep a clear head.

But this time, instead of resisting the panic twisting in my chest, I decided to dance with it. I shut my eyes for 90 seconds and just sat with the feelings in compassion. No judgement. No sweeping it under the emotional rug. No suppressing it. (Which, by the way, only makes the panic worse.) 

I erased my mind of stories about whether these events were good, or bad, or anything at all, and just felt the sensation of groundlessness moving through my body.

And that’s exactly what it did: move through.

To my surprise, each time the panic evaporated, after about 90 seconds of focused concentration, I was able to release it completely and feel calm again. Occasionally, I was even able to get to what Chödrön calls “blue sky”—the place where you can see beyond fear-based storylines completely to consider how the anxiety-inducing event might actually open up new horizons.

Most of all, I felt a curious tickling in my chest: an urge to throw back my head and laugh out loud in sheer joy at the insanity of it all. After all, if you’re going to dance with chaos, you’ve got be able to laugh. 

When I did manage to truly laugh out loud, I felt a rush of freedom and a sense of exhilaration I don’t think I’ve ever felt in my life. I flung open my arms and said, “Bring me whatcha got, world. Bring me the biggest brand of crazy you have. ’Cause this time, we’re going to dance.”

I cannot remember the last time I genuinely laughed in the face of my own uncertainty and pain. Not a laugh of derision, spite or anger . . . but a true laugh of joy that this beautiful, crazy groundlessness means I am no longer asleep. 

I am fully awake now. And to be awake, to me, means so much more than to be “not asleep.” It means to be alive.

In those precious moments, I knew everything would be okay. Because to laugh with joy, and welcome with open arms,the opponent you fear most, nothing to stand on, is the truest form of fighting well. It also the path to freedom.

At 30,000 feet, there may not be much ground. There’s no armchair to keep me safe, and we’re fencing on a landscape of clouds.

It’s all blue sky up here.

When EL SHADDAI Meets FOMO: Who’s really driving our pursuit of love, creativity and money

“Yes, God is more than ready to overwhelm you with every form of grace, so that you will have more than enough of everything–every moment and in every way. He will make you overflow with abundance in every good thing you do.” — 2 Corinthians 9:8 (Passion Translation)

Ever since I began intentionally cultivating my feminine energy, goal-setting has been difficult. It’s not that goals are bad, or that people (ie: women) strong in feminine energy can’t set them and knock them out. I know that’s absolutely not true. But there’s a discontentment in modern goal-setting that fuels a certain amount of pressure, and therefore, achievement.

Did you notice that every keyword in that sentence is more associated with masculine energy than feminine? Discontentment, fuel, pressure, achievement. Masculine energy pushes for something different. Feminine energy—properly channeled—has a deep, restful relationship with the present.

Masculine energy DOES. Feminine energy IS.

While you’re busy being present, it’s a whole lot harder to try to make something different in the future. Because when you’re happy and content in God now, living each moment to the fullest, the future takes care of itself. I have seen that over and over again.

Why is it that concept scares us so much? Even me, who’s done so much work to embrace “just being?”

I’m not sure, but I suspect our pursuit of what we think we lack has more to do with FOMO (fear of missing out) than it does of really wanting what we pursue.

Have you ever noticed that while FOMO may feel compelling, it doesn’t really feel very good?

I’ve been thinking a lot about that in relationship to marriage recently. Though I’ve embraced every other aspect of my life, singleness is still something I’ve worked hard to eliminate—though unsuccessfully to date. But if you look at my life, I actually spend a lot of time alone and am completely happy and totally renewed living this kind of life.

So why, exactly, am I so eager to change this estate that I’m in? Is it because I’m really called to be married—and I sense that deep down I’m supposed to contend for that gift—or is it because I’m 35, never experienced a happy marriage, and worry that if I don’t find it, I’ll miss out on one of life’s fundamental experiences.

The reality is, every woman of God I know well right now is experiencing deep trials in her marriage. I’m praying, counseling and contending with them all for breakthrough. All the while wondering where my Boaz is and all the while wondering, in addition, why on earth I would want the trials my friends are experiencing.

Because the visions of marriage I see in my head don’t include a spouse’s spiritual problems, radical shifts of perspective that happen after marriage, children with health problems or financial difficulties. And I’m sure they didn’t for my girlfriends, either, when they married the husband they have now, all of whom love God, but are deeply flawed human beings.

Funny how saying that changes see.

When I see marriage, I see victory and triumph—not the struggle that comes along with it. Which is what I already have in my single life, just in a different form. Yet when I think about being single, I fear that deep-down, I’m selfishly just passing time for myself and missing out on the “more” God might have for me.

We’re so terribly afraid of missing out on the more. So terribly afraid of settling. And so terribly afraid that our current reality is less than God intended for us.

Or is it just me who feels that way?

Last May, in the middle of a church service invitation, God spoke to me about Isaiah 43, in which He declares that He, the “God-of-Angel-Armies” as Isaiah often calls Him, is Israel’s husband and will care for them as such. The sermon was about the Book of Acts. It had absolutely nothing to do with God as a husband or the prophet Isaiah, yet God brought that passage to my mind and asked me a question so clear and startling, I looked around to see if anyone else might have heard it.

“Am I not Enough for you?”

He asked it several times, and in doing so, brought to mind all the ways He’s cared for me, cherished me and loved me as a good husband would. Does He have skin and a body, to hold me close and pleasure me in bed? No. But in almost every other way, He’s been a far superior husband than any human man would have been. (And I can say that as a woman who’s been in a deeply broken and unsatisfying marriage!)

Yesterday I was reminded of this again, as I pondered how much I love living alone, and wondering if, in embracing this path, I am closing myself off to the relationship God might still intend to send … which is not something I want to do.

But this blog is all about receiving God’s good gifts … so I want you to know, the struggle is real! I’m not always sure where contentment ends and settling begins, or where we’re so happy with what we have that we don’t contend and believe for more.

I can’t answer that question. But I do know last night as I was praying, I heard God say, “I AM ENOUGH.”

It was as clear and forceful as the day He asked, “Am I not Enough for you?” As if, nine months later, He had quit asking the question and was answering it for me, in case I hadn’t noticed.

Doug Addison, the noted Christian prophet, once said that prophecies often take nine months to birth, just like a human being. (I’ve always suspected that prophetic gifting, which flows and responds to the working of the Spirit in the moment, is heavily associated with feminine energy … but that’s another topic for another day.)

Anyway, if what Doug says is true, then this is the ninth-month birthing of that word God gave me nine months ago, even if it came in the form of a question. Interestingly, last August, a lady prophet in my church spoke the same over me before I left for Dubai, saying this would be the place I came to truly understand God as my husband.

She wrote the Scripture reference “Song of Solomon 2:8-17” on a coffee sleeve and handed it me before I left the church that night, the very last night I’d ever spend with my church family at Mercy Hill.

It’s hanging on my fridge right now. I look at it every day and ponder the meaning.

And yet I still secretly wonder if I’ve missed out on God’s best by “settling” for singleness.

Which leads me to suggest …. perhaps my focus is the problem. If the God-of-Angel-Armies is my Husband, and He is also Jehovah Jireh (Provider) and El Shaddai (sometimes translated “Enough,” could there ever be FOMO?

FOMO is me distrusting my own ability to know what’s best for me, and choose it.

ENOUGH is me trusting the God who gives everything to give me what’s best from His overflowing storehouse of provision.

What if I gave myself permission to enjoy my enjoyment of singleness, not fight it or stress about it, and trust that the God-of-Angel-Armies will change the situation when, and if, He chooses? After all, not much could possibly withstand an onslaught of Angels! 🙂

It’s important to caveat, of course, that a person can just be shut down and unreceptive to love—and this is at the root of many of our relationship problems and our sense of isolation or alienation. It’s important to suss out those blockages so we can allow God to clean them out and bless us with a flood of His love, peace and provision.

But happiness in your current estate is not a blockage to more happiness. And you’ll know when you’re truly contented in your estate—with a contentment from God—because there will be absolutely no anxiety around it.

FOMO is an awfully heavy burden to carry around everywhere. It’s fueled by fear, not by a healthy belief that God has more for me. And FOMO is not, by definition ENOUGH. In fact, it’s the very definition of lack. And lack is the enemy of feminine energy because when you live in a place of lack, you cannot, by definition, enjoy the present.

That’s not what I believe, or who I am.

If the God Who is called “ENOUGH” is my God, then the present is more than I need. And if that changes, He will change it for me.

That’s the essence of feminine energy. It’s the heartbeat of receptivity. And, unlike FOMO, it feels … good.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Expressing my spiritual journey through cut, color and length

I’m in a struggle with my hair right now. The kind of struggle only a prophet goes through, I suppose, as she’s figuring out how to walk out her spiritual journey in her dress and hair choices.

I do believe as a daughter of God, I’m supposed to be distinctive. He loves me, He has chosen me out for a special purpose, and I ought to light up every room I walk into with His grace, joy and yes, even beauty.

In the past, when I was mired in the worst of my trauma and pain, I wanted to hide in the corner and not be noticed. And I dressed to make sure that happened. Deep inside I wanted to stand out and light up the room, but I was terrified of the power of God inside of me, and of my own radiance. It took a few years of sorting through that to really heal those fears, but I’m happy to say that I have. Now, I want to stand up and stand out—and I’m becoming bolder in my fashion choices.

But there’s the matter of my hair.

Current hair, after several months of growth

As some of you may know, in July of 2017, God told me that “Everything you want will come out of Nothing.” This began a systematic season of shedding and loss in my like that took me down to a suitcase and led me to wander the world as a vagabond for awhile. (You can read about it here.) In the process I kept letting more and more and more things go from my life, until basically only one thing remained: my hair and hairstyle I’d had for several years.

Back in April 2018, God told me to let my hair go, too, as a final symbol of letting go fully of my old life and identity. So I did, in the middle of a Nebraska snowstorm, no less, which I have detailed elsewhere on this blog if you want to read the story. I kept it shaved the entire summer. And then, once I had arrived in Dubai and gotten my job, I felt like He was saying to grow my hair out again—mostly because the season of “Nothing” was over and the season of “Everything” was now at hand.

You might say that hair, for me, has always been a barometer of where I was at in my life. Years ago I wore a cut that looked more like a boy’s, because secretly I had serious issues with being feminine. Subconsciously, I wanted to be a boy, so I wore hair like a boy’s and clothes and hats, too, that were inspired by men’s fashion.

The boy years ….

In more recent years since my divorce and the first time the Holy Spirit spoke to me in 2016, I’ve been on a journey to re-embrace my feminine identity and really own who I am as a woman. And part of that journey is making peace with my hair.

Did I mention I hate my hair? It’s plentiful but very fine, meaning it has no volume, none of the beautiful fullness and thickness other women’s hair has. So yeah, it pretty much just “lays there” when I grow it out. It’s also super oily—which means I do a lot of washing of it.

At one point I bleached it and dyed it purple. And while this wasn’t ideal for my hair’s health, it did help with the grease problem …

Wow, that really was purple!

Keeping that frustrating part of my body shaved off entirely was pretty much a dream come true for me. I loved my buzz cut, and by all accounts from the compliments I got, it loved me back. But this is a new season. This is not the season of Nothing. It’s the season of Everything according God—and having a shaved head, I suppose is not a symbol of Everything. Having really long hair is.

So, as of November I began growing my hair out. It’s entering that awkward stage now, from which it will not emerge for, like, maybe years?

Part of me has an urge every day to run to the nearest beauty parlor and ask them to shave it off again, because I don’t have my electric razor anymore!

But I’m not sure that’s what I’m supposed to do.

The big shave, April 2018

Hair, clothing and makeup are all symbols of how we see ourselves and who we think we are. What is my hair supposed to say about myself in this new season of abundance?

I’m not entirely sure, but one thing I do know …. it’s not my decision to make entirely. I am God’s mouthpiece, and therefore everything about me belongs to Him. He’s the one who gets to decide what I look like and how I present myself to the world.

I do know that I’m supposed to embrace an even more radical Bohemian style of dress. And it is true that most Bohemian fashion is traditionally associated with long flowing hair: something I haven’t had since I was like 13 years old.

I was a bald beauty on my first day in the UAE!

Funny about that—when I think back to my childhood ideal, I wanted to have really long, flowing hair “down to my butt,” as my mom always said. As a very young girl, I embraced the deep, archetypally feminine persona as my destiny. But I lost that mojo later when my femininity was attacked, through traumas I experienced as a young woman.

Cutting my hair short was the beginning of my de-association with the feminine—a rift it took me another 20 years to begin healing. Not that every woman needs to express her femininity with long hair. I’m not saying that. But I do believe our childhood desires are a key to who we really are. And for me, long hair had been an ideal I wanted to reach.

So am I really sure what I’m supposed to do with my hair now? Not entirely.

But I have an uncomfortable suspicion I’ll be growing it out.

There’s always an electric razor if I get fed up …

Dancing in the Footsteps of St. Hildegard, Part 1

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Names matter.

I’ve always loved asking people about their names, and what they mean. People, too, often ask me where the name for this blog–“That Fiery Dance”–came from.

For me, “That Fiery Dance” has many meanings. And I’m sure it may have some totally different for you.

First, for me it’s a nod to freedom. (Because what do I do when I’m totally free in body, mind and spirit? I dance!) It’s also a nod to the Holy Spirit. (Listening and following His Voice is a dance all its own.)

But mostly, it’s a nod to the woman and the prophet whose memory has inspired my own journey over the past few years: St. Hildegard of Bingen. Here’s her whole quote:

“I will tell you a secret about that divine light, about creative fire.
The more you nourish it in your heart, the more it radiates out from you.
The more you release it through your words, your deeds, of wisdom, of
loving compassion, the brighter the flame burns … and in that fiery dance,
you will find that you are, as I myself discovered, no longer aware of your years.”
St. Hildegard of Bingen

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Freedom transforms us.

It causes barriers to fall away. It lifts off our masks. It gives us the courage to get up off the sidelines and dance under all the lights where everyone can see us–and we don’t care anymore what they think.

Freedom gives us the courage to go after the dreams God has put in our hearts. To own our gifts. To stand up and let His power flow through us however He wills it to… and not to fear the outcome.

Above all, the freedom of God takes away the weight of years–literally–from our hearts, minds and bodies. It provides us a continual wellspring of Living Water within that renews and refreshes us.

No matter how dry the desert she dwells in, a truly Free Woman is young in spirit, and spry enough to dance, because she drinks from the water of eternal life.

St. Hildegard is, to me, the picture of that kind of Freedom.

Almost a year ago, I got to walk in her footsteps.

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I first learned about St. Hildegard’s life when I was researching medieval convents for a writing project about five years ago.

Even though she was born almost 900 years before me, I resonated immediately with her isolated upbringing, her love of books and learning, and the creative determination that defines her story.

In a time when more men than women made headlines, St. Hildegard became an advisor to kings and the pope, a preacher who toured Europe, the first recorded female to found a spiritual community for women in Europe and an icon of her generation.

Armed with the courage that marked her 70-some years, Hildegard became one of the first practitioners of modern medicine, a gifted herbalist who contributed treatments for women’s sexuality and health issues, a dietitian who saw the relationship between food and health in an era when many did not make that connection–and a composer whose music is still performed today.

She was also a prophet, theologian and writer who recorded original visions from God that are still not entirely understood today. And she became the spiritual mother of several convents full of women. Together, these women defied the church’s tradition for nuns to dress in plain habits and ugly veils  by donning red dresses, letting their hair down and decking themselves with pearls–because, as Hildegard insisted, they were the bride of Christ, and ought to look like it.

Along the way, Hildegard escaped being buried alive in an anchorite’s cell and almost losing her life because of her prophetic gifts. When she left that cell, after almost thirty years trapped inside it, she never looked back. Instead of letting her long confinement break her, she made it a stepping-stone to full freedom.

She also felt extremely misunderstood and, for long periods of her life, was shut away from most of society.

I was enchanted with Hildegard’s story right away. While I could not relate to her many achievements, I aspired to them. But I could connect with her experience of feeling isolated and misunderstood in my creative gifts. At that time in my life, God had not yet begun to speak to me. But as I read books about her and watched Vision, a recent German film based on St. Hildegard’s life, I wrestled with whether or not I thought this strange but magnetic woman really could have heard from God.

Foreshadowing doesn’t just happen in stories; it happens in real life. I believe God used these experiences, bumping up against St. Hildegard’s amazing story, to prepare me for the beginning of my own.

After my divorce, when God began speaking directly into my day-to-day life, St. Hildegard’s experiences didn’t seem so far-fetched anymore.  And One day, He spoke to me about her directly. When I was in Italy in September 2017, God told me to go to Germany that December, after the solstice, and retrace St. Hildegard’s steps through her home town.

And so it was, December 26, 2017, I found myself both homeless and penniless, riding a train from Frankfurt, Germany, to tiny Bingen am Rhein, Hildegard’s hometown.

I had just enough money for the hotel and food for the next three days. The German countryside was blurred with endless sheets of rain, and my soul felt just as grey. Here was the nadir of the year. I had been in Germany for almost four soul-crushing weeks. I was struggling with horrible digestive issues, not to mention a heart-wrenching lack of purpose. I had never felt less ready to make such a pilgrimage.

Though I had dreamed of visiting St. Hildegard for years, I never wanted to do it under such duress. Here I was fulfilling a life dream of following her footsteps, which had been a direct command from the Voice of God Himself. And yet I felt so beaten down. So unsure of what my own future held.

When the train pulled in to Bingen, I dragged my little red suitcase and a bag of food the 1/4 mile walk to the hotel I had booked. I remember having hot tea, prunes and a bath for my digestive condition, and going straight to bed.

I should have been excited about what was going to happen the next day. Yet I was feeling so unwell, I could hardly even think about it.

But then morning came: Wednesday, December 27, 2017.

I woke up to find that my digestive issue had been miraculously healed during the night. And I remembered one of those large facts in life that one tends to forget when they come associated with so much pain: December 27th, 2017, was also my 9th wedding anniversary.

Or would have been, anyway, had I not been divorced exactly 14 months to the day prior.

I laid there, listening to the rain on the hotel roof, remembering the hopeful young girl who had donned her wedding dress–still not entirely sure she wanted to be married, but putting on a brave face and doing what had to be done. A thousand thoughts and feelings flooded through my body at that recollection. And at all that had happened since.

Seven-and-a-half years of a life that had been aborted without warning. The roller-coaster ride that came after, including the first time of hearing God’s voice. Hildegard’s writings had carried me through that maelstrom of personal reinvention.

In many ways, I felt that, like Hildegard, I had found the key to my own cell and stepped out of it, as I began to hear the Voice of God and follow it.

And that obedience had led me here: broke, alone and empty-handed, to the womb of earth that had birthed my spiritual.

In that moment, I heard God say to me, “It’s your wedding day once again.”

I knew instantly that I had come to another kind of wedding: not the wedding of myself to someone else, but my own wedding to the vision He had given me. Coming to visit Hildegard wasn’t just another act of obedience. It was the beginning of a whole new life.

This date, which had been loaded with so much sorrow, was now reborn. December 27th will forever be “the day I visited Hildegard,” and I intend to celebrate it as such each year. Because why allow our past and our pain dictate what a day means?

Encouraged, I tramped across the rain-soaked cobblestones of Bingen, trying to imagine what it was like to be here in Hildegard’s day. Of course the town was much smaller then. And there was no railroad, nor any ferry across the Rhine River to Rudesheim, a town that also existed in Hildegard’s day, and is now dominated by a hilltop abbey of which she was abbess for many years.

I started my visit by stopping in at the permanent Hildegard installation at the Bingen City Museum, where I was able to see many artefacts I had only ever seen photos of: original paintings from Hildegard’s visions, letters she wrote to various kings and the Holy Roman Emperor, mockups of the now-destroyed monastery and various abbeys where she lived, and other documents.

Perhaps what I admire most about St. Hildegard was her willingness to be exactly who God had told her to be and speak exactly what God had told her to speak. This was her true freedom. Even as I read letter after letter where she delivered His words to popes and kings as honestly as possible … I was in awe of the authority she moved in.

“Even in a world that’s being shipwrecked, remain brave and strong,” Hildegard wrote. For many years, she herself gave testimony that fear had bound her and kept her caged in that tiny cell. But when she decided to let go of fear, she stepped into her voice and her power.

In her willingness to be exactly whom God made her, and be completely transparent about it, she made an impact that is still felt 900 years later.

In late morning, I walked up the side of a steep hill, through “downtown” Bingen, to the famous St. Rochus Chapel where a shrine stands to Hildegard’s memory.

Along the way I walked through a “garden of saints”–statues representing all of Jesus’ disciples, the Apostle Paul and others–and found my way through a muddy forest to the chapel road.

The door to St. Rochus was open, but no one was there. I stepped into a dank, chill medieval stone sanctuary, where a row of benches and a locked set of iron bars separated me from the priceless relics in the church itself. The famous icon of St. Hildegard was lit by single lightbulb on a timer; I had to keep flicking the switch to get a good look at her from afar, behind the bars that separated us.

But I was okay with the distance and the darkness, mostly. It gave me time to sit in silence, to contemplate all that had passed in the previous years and what coming to this place really meant. I felt pricked in my conscience that God was saying something me here, in this place.

Something, perhaps, about coming out of hiding myself.

Though I had not been locked up in a stone cell like Hildegard was for many early years of her life, I had been locked up in more invisible prisons than I could count. I had found the key when I had begun to find my voice, and (more importantly) the voice of God within me. But there was still a part of me that was silent and hiding.

Sitting here in the darkness, with St. Hildegard on the other side of the bars, I came face to face with that. I knew I wanted to be free to dance again–maybe for the first time in my life–and like St. Hildegard, help free other women to dance themselves.

After leaving St. Rochus, I visited the nearby nunnery, where I enjoyed a lunch cooked by the nuns from Hildegard’s original recipe, complete with wine from grapes grown on the property.

Side note: I’m in love with Dornfelder wines now, but I’ve never been able to find them in the U.S. (And good luck finding any particular kind of wine in Dubai.)

As I enjoyed this meal, I thought about St. Hildegard’s work as a healer. I myself had seen first-hand how my body had reacted to the tremendous sadness and stress I underwent during my divorce. I had enjoyed good health up to that point but found myself at the . mercy of terrible digestive issues that continued up to this day.

Every aspect of the meal I was eat was designed to heal the body. Though St. Hildegard had incomplete medical information, and not all of her medieval ideas were medically factual, she had indeed made a lot of sound conclusions. And she understood the root cause of such issues: the connection between mind, spirit and body.

What happens in the body affects the mind and the heart. And Hildegard had not been afraid to treat them together.

I have seen in my own journey how working with these three elements together brought me incredible freedom. And I want to pass that freedom on.

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As I completed my first day in Bingen, I felt that same tug in my heart that had drawn me to the city in the first place from more than 5000 miles away.

It was the tug to step into a life bigger, more courageous and more authentic than anything I had previously lived.

And just as it had begun for St Hildegard with owning her voice, her gifts and the visions God had given her … I knew it would begin there for me. This blog is the beginning of that journey. It has now been almost a year since I walked with St. Hildegard in Bingen … and God has brought me to settle in a new country and given me an entirely new life.

But have I truly stepped into my voice and my gifts? Have I really acknowledged who I am, and owned it to the whole world, regardless of what anyone thinks?

That’s a level of transparency hardly any of us reach. But this transparency is exactly the reason Hildegard’s life shines so brightly almost 900 years later.

Today, I resonate with St. Hildegard’s story more than ever. I understand now that my first attraction to her story was really God’s way of drawing me deeper toward my own calling. Like her, I hear from Him. Like her, I write down what He says–though I often am too afraid to share it. When people ask me for advice, I tell them exactly what I heard God saying to me about their situation.

I have stories to write, visions to paint, dreams to turn into dance. Not everything I have to say will be popular, or even appreciated. And I hope my life can shine brightly for some other woman who needs hope that God can transform her.

You can’t make an impact when you are sitting in silence behind prison bars. And I can’t make an impact while I’m silent, either.

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Like St. Hildegard, I found the key to my prison, and it’s time I leave it behind–and don’t look back.

The last almost three years were my first lessons in what it’s like to live without prison walls and without limits. What remains now is for me to pick up my pen, open my mouth, step into the work God has given me as His daughter and His prophet.

Because it is not in silence that we reclaim our lives. It is only in transparency can the light radiate out from us. It is only in the midst of THAT FIERY DANCE with God’s Holy Spirit and with the life that He has given us do we find that we are no longer aware of our years.

I’ve told you parts of the story but I haven’t told you the whole story. That begins here, today, in this space dedicated to speaking freely.

“I will tell you a secret about that divine light, about creative fire,” St. Hildegard once wrote. “The more you nourish it in your heart, the more it radiates out from you. The more you release it through your words, your deeds, of wisdom, of  loving compassion, the brighter the flame burns … and in that fiery dance, you will find that you are, as I myself discovered, no longer aware of your years.”  

May this blog be my sacrifice of praise and my platform of transparency.

It’s time to dance.

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