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In dealing with my sadness over the murder of Jessica Ridgeway, I posted my thoughts on this blog and, before that, on Facebook. Lots of people, also shocked and grieving, responded with insights poignant and stirring.
In addition to all the public comments, one friend wrote me privately, responding to my musings about what atrocities may have been visited upon Jessica’s murderer when he was a child, to have twisted him into someone capable of such inconceivable evil.
In her letter, she responded to the question I’d suggested—where could such evil possibly stem from?— from a particularly heartbreaking viewpoint:
She wrote from the perspective of a mom of a violent son.
Her note so moved me, I asked her permission to share her thoughts. Here are a few passages from her letter to me:
Not every monster was raised by a monster. I should know, because I raised my children well, but one of them…well, I am afraid that he will be one of those people on the news someday….
…My son is an addict. He has been through rehab twice. He has a host of mental illness diagnoses. He is on a cocktail of psychotropic medications. He is violent. Before he was 16, he had 2 disorderly conduct tickets and a restraining order. He assaulted a girl, a friend, and me. He broke two of my ribs. He is now 17 and lives in a specialized foster home. Family services removed him from my home, not to save him, but because *I* wasn’t safe. He told his therapist he was going to kill me. I believe he meant that. So did she, which is why she called the law. They had been called before because he was beating me, but the laws in our state did nothing to save me. I thank God for his therapist. She prevented me from ending up in a pine box…
…And yet, my son was raised with two loving, Christian parents. He was brought up in the church, prayed for, prayed with and prayed over. I homeschooled for 13 years. We were actively involved in a very large homeschool group, various community service activities, community theater and pee-wee type sports programs. He was loved and cherished every moment of his life and told what a treasure he was….
…Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that not all bad people are that way because they grew up in bad homes. I can only hope that this man’s soul will be saved. I pray it for my own son, too, for God to free him from these chains that bind him….
Where does evil come from? Reading my friend’s words, I am reminded that there is an enemy of our souls, and his passion is to kill, steal and destroy. Abuse, mental illness and addictions are just a few of the myriad weapons in his dark arsenal.
Answers? I have few, if any. But conversations like these help, you know? Being able to share my thoughts–and hear yours in return–helps me process my immense sadness over this unfathomable tragedy. Grieving together, at least for me, feels a bit like being immersed in a warm current of healing waters. Grieving alone, we run the risk of becoming stuck and stagnant. But in grieving together, our sorrows are given the chance to be washed, softened, loosened and perhaps eventually carried away in the salty, healing stream of our shared tears.
In Romans 12:15 we are encouraged to “weep with those who weep.” A few verses before that one, we are told to “abhor what is evil.”
I think that, this week in Colorado and perhaps in the nation, we’ve got both of these covered.
So tonight I met this very nice woman in a well-lit Target parking lot to look at a pair of cowgirl boots she was selling on Craigslist. We chatted briefly as I tried on the boots (which happened to be very cute) and, after some small deliberation, I bought them.
I was getting ready to climb back into my car when the woman, already tucked behind the steering wheel of her Jeep with the engine running, rolled down her window and said, “I’ll just wait here until you’re on your way. Be careful. Be safe.”
And I began to cry.
I knew exactly what was on her mind, because it’s been on my mind all week, and especially today. (In fact, I’d been teary-eyed driving to Target to meet her). Pulling my car out of the parking lot and toward home, I called my youngest to make sure she was safe (my oldest, I already know, is safe with her hubby in California), then prayed and cried some more.
And as I drove, I thought of the lengths we go to as parents to make sure our children’s noses are wiped and their bodies don’t catch cold from wearing one too few layers to school on windy days. I thought about how we obsess over making sure skinned knees are treated with Neoporin and love. I thought about how we don’t let them go barefoot on splintery decks, or ride in the back of pickup trucks, or run with Popsicle sticks in their mouths. I mulled over the moments and hours and weeks and years of loving care in which we strive to protect them from even small scratches and minimal wounds, either physical or emotional.
And to think that someone–an absolute monster, really–would make the very intentional choice to wreak brutal anguish and utter destruction on one of these we have so loved and cherished and tried with everything within us to protect…well, it’s nearly too much to bear.
Driving home in the company of reflections like these, I didn’t know what or how to pray. I just let myself cry and be heartsick in His presence, knowing He was there with me, knowing words were unnecessary.
Before I pulled into my driveway, however, I was blindsided by a totally unexpected thought. It was unexpected considering the hatred I feel for the man who abducted and murdered Jessica Ridgeway. I was hit with a fleeting thought of him as a child, and I found myself wondering what atrocities may have been visited upon him when he was innocent, to twist him into what he is today. The thought wasn’t meant, nor did it serve, to justify or excuse what he did. It doesn’t absolve him of the heinousness of his choices, nor reduce the need to see him brought to justice. And it certainly doesn’t lessen the horror of how Jessica died.
But it does remind me that there really aren’t any monsters. There are, however, broken hurting people who hurt people who become broken hurting people who hurt more people. And the chain of pain goes on and on.
Tonight our whole community grieves. As diverse as we may be, as distracted as we are by our personal worlds and problems and agendas, tonight we are linked by bridges of grief.
And bridges of concern and kindness, too. What last week would have been a simple exchange of boots and cash between strangers, had a different ending tonight. “I’ll just wait here until you’re on your way. Be careful. Be safe.”
I guess in chains of pain or blessing, we’re all links. Whatever our histories, whatever our hurts, what we choose to pass along to the people—and to the children—around us is a choice each of us gets to make every day.
My doctor said something weird the other day. He told me to eat more real food. I thought it was strange because, you know, it’s not like I’m five years old and eating imaginary cookies. I told him I do eat real food and I can prove it. I grabbed the tire around my waist and said, “You don’t get this from make believe tea parties!”
But he might be on to something.
Have you ever thought about the things you and I crave? If you’re like me, it’s more along the lines of cookies, not carrots. The stuff that calls your name usually falls into the faux food category, things that don’t exist in nature, such as chicken fingers and curly fries. I’m thinking if 90 of what I eat comes from a factory and not from a field or farm, it’s probably not a good thing.
Enter Diana Walker, cravings coach. She says that whether we’re stressed or relaxed while we’re eating may make the difference when it comes to food cravings and even weight loss. In fact, one of the major reasons you experience cravings, according to Walker, is because your body isn’t properly using the nutrients that it is receiving.
She suggests having real “sit-down” meals. Slow down and don’t rush your eating. Paying attention to your emotions is also crucial; we need to relax before a meal with meditation, for instance, or other ways.
Even for an experienced binge master like myself, Diana’s words are revealing. Instead of trying to solve the problem that’s making me eat—which is a lot to pack into the two minutes it takes to grab a plate, checkered bib, and utensils and plant myself at the table for a serious chow-down—maybe all I need to do is relax.
What else can stop a craving dead in its tracks? Different things work for different people. Here are just a few ideas:
- Brush your teeth. It’ll keep you from putting food in there.
- Drink a big glass of water. You’ll stay hydrated, and spend less time in front of the open fridge door hunting for something to satisfy that unidentifiable urge.
- Eat carbs that are high in fiber. Avoid most non-white, processed carbs and reach instead for brown rice, whole-grain breads, and fiber-rich fruits and veggies to feel full longer and enjoy a steadier energy level.
- Get out of the house. Go for a walk or talk a drive.
- Take your vitamins. Cravings are a sign that you may be missing nutrients.
- Have healthy snacks prepared and ready to go.
- Find something to do with your hands. Knit, garden, scrapbook, or write. It’s hard to shovel stuff in your mouth when your hands are busy.
Okay, I suppose you can still binge even when your hands are busy, but your odds are definitely lower. Or you’re eating something other than real food. Those imaginary cookies don’t require much handling, and they don’t drop crumbs on your computer keyboard.
Don’t ever underestimate the power of small changes.
I’m all for creating and pursuing grand visions for our lives. But sometimes focusing too much on the big picture can feel overwhelming. Sometimes, we’re better served by starting small and letting each small success give us the confidence to go a little further, then further still. Imagine each small puff of success as a single burst of steam. Get enough puffs of energy, and before you know it, you’ve got the momentum of a 150-ton locomotive propelling you down the track.
When I wanted to lose weight some time ago I set a goal to lose fifty pounds in three days. I launched a megamongo workout campaign and three days later I was not only too sore to move, I was still fat! I was so depressed that it took an entire tub of Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk just to lift my spirits enough to reach for the Twinkies.
Too ambitious. Ya think?
Plan B. I set a kinder, gentler courser for myself—for five days a week I’d put on my sweat pants, drive to the gym and stand on the treadmill. That was it. Just stand.
This was a small change, to be sure. Some might even argue it was too small. And yet it was a place to start.
A lot of days I’d be standing on the treadmill and think, Well, heck, as long as you’re here, you might as well turn the thing on. So I would walk for ten, fifteen, even twenty minutes. Once I got really crazy and broke a sweat.
I soon realized that something was being trained and changed: my mind-set. I stopped asking myself if I would go, but when. Within a short time, going to the gym became a nonnegotiable part of my day.
My small change transformed my mind and my habits, and, once underway, changing my body seemed like the next natural step. I started drinking more water, keeping a food journal, and going to bed earlier (they say that helps with weight loss). Over the following ten months, I lost sixty pounds. And it all began with a very, very, very small change.
So if small changes pick up speed and turn into something bigger, what are we waiting for?
We’re not talking extreme makeover here. We’re talking about starting with a single small change. Pick one. Any change. Then watch the momentum roll.
I think I’ve finally come up with a surefire way to actually follow through with the New Year’s resolutions I make this year.
Best yet, I’m going to share my secret with you. In fact, by following my instructions, you, too, can wow your friends in April by announcing that you have honored your New Year’s resolutions for four whole months with a flawless fervency that even Gandhi would have admired.
My secret is simply this: When you make your New Year’s wish list this year, select the kinds of resolutions that you could execute successfully even if you were in a coma.
For example, this year I plan to remove from my list the goal of losing twenty pounds. I’m going to replace it with a goal that states, “no conventions attended by Elvis impersonators will be allowed to convene in my home during any month that ends in the letter y.”
And you know the resolution that says I’ll get out of debt by eating out less often, reusing tinfoil, and making homemade Christmas presents out of recycled dryer lint? Well, forget it. Instead, I’m resolving to never, ever allow my children to engage in science fair projects that involve the words “plastic surgery,” no matter how much they beg or how many chins I have.
In fact, for even less stress and an even great chance at success, consider resolutions such as these:
“I promise to air out the sheets on my bed by leaving it unmade whenever I am running late for work.”
“I resolve to end the new year older than I am today.”
Sometimes less is more.
If I were to put a passage from the Bible on my list of New Year’s resolutions I’d choose Micah, chapter 6, verse 8: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (NASB)
Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with my Lord. Now there’s a resolution worth its salt.
Okay, so it doesn’t exactly fit my “things you can accomplish while comatose.” But you have to agree it’s not too complex. Best yet, it comes with a perk or two. For starters, when I’m having a hard time following through, the Holy Spirit is waiting to help me and turn these powerful words into reality in my life. All I have to do is ask.
And when I stumble completely—when I am downright unjust, mean, and proud—Jesus is waiting to forgive and give grace.
All I have to do is ask.
What a deal!
Every January I get frustrated because my resolutions are the exact same promises I made to myself the previous year. But if you ask me, the words from Micah deserve to be on my list of resolutions year after year.
Right next to my ban on Elvis conventions in my living room.
They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. I say it starts with a trip to the bathroom. Or maybe a visit to the ATM.
The other thing that can launch a journey of that magnitude is an epiphany.
I had that kind of moment recently. I was sitting at my desk with a computer mouse in one hand and a box of Lucky Charms in the other, when it dawned on me that the first step toward change is a willingness to seek the truth.
Emotional eating and truth don’t usually go hand in hand. In fact, denial often launches our binges as we eat to avoid pain or stress. And once we start eating, denial keeps us going strong. After all, do we really want to know how many calories or carbs we’re consuming? I think not.
But lately I’ve been trying something new. Whenever chaos, change, or crisis threatens to send me on a junk food safari, I’ve tried hunting for the truth instead. I ask myself three things:
1. Am I experiencing any discernable signs of real hunger? Stomach pains? Fatigue? Headache? Anything at all?
2. If not, then what am I feeling right now? Sadness? Loss? Stress? Can I put a name to my emotions?
3. If I close my eyes and imagine myself experiencing different emotions, does the craving suddenly feel a little less urgent?
The next time you feel the urge to merge with all 19 doughnuts left over from your son’s science club meeting, reach for the truth instead. Ask yourself what you’re really feeling.
Then pay attention to your answers. The answers just may surprise you.