One Pink Toothbrush

Welcome to One Pink Toothbrush, where I will be posting moments from my days as a mum and as a wife. Funny moments, messy moments, thoughtful moments, teary moments.... and hopefully using each moment to see what God might be saying.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Mothering Anorexia - A Daughter's Story (Part Two)

I never intended to be Anorexic - I was a Christian, in a loving Christian family, happy with myself. My Dad leads Gateway church, in Poole. I never doubted that God was real, my childhood was happy. I knew my family loved me and life was very free. No food was banned and my parents were always encouraging me, in my endeavours and in my appearance. But Anorexia sprang up in disguise, due to some unresolved insecurities in my heart. 

I started at an all girls grammar school and was cycling to school. I quickly got involved with many sporting clubs, which meant that my fitness levels went up. I went on a run with my dad and found it was fun whereas before I had found it really difficult; I had found my passion and soon it would be my downfall. As I grew better at running, I joined a club and increased the amount of times I ran. I read a book, which looked to find the answer to why Kenyans are such good runners. One of the theories was their simple diets, so I decided in order to be the best runner possible, I needed to cut out all ‘unhealthy’ foods, essentially snacks. But this quickly spiralled out of control with my fierce determination. 

Food became the centre; it changed what I did, what I said. The Bible warns against idolatry, as it can crop up from seemingly good things. But when anything takes God’s place it will only end in disaster. I’m not saying that running isn’t good, but when it became more important than God, I had a problem. 

I cut out all snacks and continued to improve in running. I thought this new ‘healthiness’ was the answer. I was eating 3 meals a day and replacing snacks with dried fruit. In reality, I was only improving because I was pushing myself really hard and still had some energy stores left. I was finding my whole purpose and identity in running and as I improved I kept restricting myself more. I thought this new diet was the answer. I took sandwich fillings out, had no snacks and stopped having anything like pudding. I used to lie in bed starving hungry, but not let myself eat, as I thought it would ruin my running ability, which was fast fading anyway. 

One day, my running stopped improving. Without realising, I had been losing weight and Anorexic patterns were taking over my mind. My body was just too weak to function let alone run. A thing about Anorexia is that you want to do better, or equal, what you did last time, so when I couldn’t complete a run, I grew really angry and confused and punished myself by eating less.

All this time I had been eating 3 meals, so had managed to deceive my parents, but they were tiny and my daily intake totalled about 700 calories, (which is less than your body needs to live). I was running 4 times a week and cycling to school. During this time, I was still attending church and reading my Bible, but my ill-functioning brain had become oblivious to the fact that my love for God had been replaced by an idol. With no energy, I withdrew from my friends and literally became a shadow of my former self; Anorexia had come upon me without me realising and it had me in its grip. 

Throughout my whole battle with the illness I knew in theory that I was doing something wrong and I prayed that God would give me wisdom, but getting an Anorexic to eat is like telling a smoker to quit; it’s not that easy. My worst time came in the Easter of 2013. My Dad went to America for 3 weeks and with my running not improving I grew more frustrated, cut out even more food and was exercising ridiculously. On an average day I was walking 8 miles, rollerblading 4 miles, cycling or running instead of walking. It is evident looking back that my running ability was not going to come back without enough fuel, but at that time I just couldn’t see it. My toes were constantly numb and I was entirely sapped of energy.

My parents had obviously realised something was wrong (school and church friends had been expressing their concern) and my parents had contacted loads of people asking them to pray for me. They gave me scriptures, one of which was; “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and many sins. But God so rich in mercy, loved us so much, that even though we were dead in our sin he raised Christ from the dead” Ephesians 2

That really broke me and I felt God’s love in a really powerful way. Later, I was at a running session with my friends and I was talking to them about what they ate before a session and got answers like pork pies and ice cream. Even with my brain locked into Anorexia I could see the stupidity of my actions and God broke in. I phoned my mum and she picked me up and took me to a prayer meeting that was happening at our church. 

I really felt God connect with me and I went home determined to eat something. I had yoghurt and this was a huge step; usually I would have punished myself for not doing a running session.

From that break through moment, I began to eat more normally again and had the energy to run. I became much happier, but my brain was still confused. I was maintaining weight because I was eating, but because I was running, I was not putting weight on. This meant that my body stood still at a very low weight and was putting strain on key organs. To cut many months short, we decided I should see an eating disorders nurse. It was upsetting me that my eating was very chaotic. Now I was allowing myself to eat, my starving body was going crazy, craving everything! We got a massive shock; I was so light I was literally a heart attack waiting to happen and my heart rate and blood pressure were sickeningly low. I was told I was not allowed to do any sport, let alone run. I was really upset, as I had just started to find joy in running again, rather than seeing it as a ritual. This is where God showed his hand straight away. Anorexics do not want to put weight on, but my goal had never been to lose weight and I knew I was ill, so I agreed and submitted to their eating plan. However it was far from plain sailing from there.

Although I wanted to get better, my learned default was to eat less when I didn’t run; the plan we had been given wasn’t very clear, so I lost more weight despite not running. This carried on for many weeks, until finally, the plan was clarified and I managed to put on some weight. I was ecstatic, which was definitely God again, as a typical Anorexic would have done anything to make sure the weight didn’t go on. Puffed up by the weight gain, we went on holiday and I did way more than I should have. I lost what I had put on and more, making me lighter than when I had first sought help. 

At this time, a deep sadness filled me and I felt so helpless; I really had been trying, but it was evident I was still not wise enough to know when I needed more. I was prescribed a wheel chair and was not even allowed to stand up to get a glass of water. As someone who has always loved to be outdoors, having all aspects of freedom stripped away was indescribable; watching my family go to school and play in the garden while I sat in my bedroom day in day out.

My family went to a Bible weekend but I couldn’t go, so my mum had to stay at home with me. I saw the tension this put on my family and hated myself for what I had done to make them so unhappy. I wanted to eat for enjoyment, because I was hungry, but to put weight on I had to eat a staggering amount on a full stomach. By this point my hair had begun falling out in great sheets and I was covered in a coating of hair, trying to counteract my internal cold. I had stopped reading by Bible after the holiday, as I couldn’t be bothered and (at my lowest week) thought it would be better to be dead. But God had not forgotten me. He kept me safe and stopped me from doing anything. When you are very underweight, your brain does not work properly and this meant, despite my drive to get better I did some stupid things like skipping snacks. I had forgotten Him, but he was there supporting and helping me.

Through God’s grace I started to put on weight consecutively (after my plan was upped again) and from then ‘til the end of my treatment I did not have another weight loss. This was definitely through God’s help; most anorexics fluctuate around weights and do not reach their goal weight for many years, if at all. I had managed to do it in less than a year! A turning point was October half term when I thought why prolong it?! I decided to do all I could from there. But it wasn’t easy- I still had some things to tackle in my mind and my family had to deal with my constant outbursts and questions. I had to conquer the associations of exercise with food and my fears about certain foods and I was only able to do this with the knowledge that opposing it would be sinful. 

I missed half a term of school, then I was allowed back for 3 days, then all week, then I did PE and then slowly started to run. My Nana had a word for me that God would restore everything and this really kept me going through the toughest times. A verse that I love from 1 peter 5, says “and after you have suffered a little while the God of all grace who has called you to his glory in Christ, will HIMSELF restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” All I can say is that He has been true to His word, every thing that was taken has been restored: my friends, health, joy, running and faith.

Anorexia is a selfish illness. It causes irrationality and the people you are closest to are pushed away. When I was in the thick of it, my non-existent energy was dedicated to running, so I completely withdrew from my friends and family. My sisters were pushed aside, as my parents concern completely centred on me. I know this must have been so hard on them and there have been resulting consequences, but God is good and He is healing the bonds that were broken. 

My friends have been fantastic. My quick recovery has meant that God has helped me to re-initiate friendships and I have been able to help others in similar situations. My parents have been brilliant; they have placed so much trust in me and life has largely returned to normal. I don’t feel watched. I have been allowed to resume every activity I once did without my motives being doubted. There are still moments when we are fearful and it causes tension, however God is working through them. Getting back into normal life was quite difficult and in places like church, where people know what happened, I do feel embarrassed and guilty at times with particular people. Yet I know God is bigger than guilt and that definitely helps!

Anorexia is a life long illness and the consequences will be with me forever, however I know they don’t have to have a hold on me anymore. Like a baby, I had to learn how to live again. Anorexia is completely contradictory to what God wants; HE wants to be guiding you and controlling every aspect of your life and running had taken that place. Now, I am running again and truly love it. I am so grateful that I really am healthy enough to do it, that I do it right and that I have been allowed to do it. I have been shown immense grace and I want to encourage people that recovery is possible; God pursued me, even when I was far away. 

His love is not dependant on performance and He is ready to embrace us, if we will turn to Him. Anorexia is a binding disease, but, through God, I can have complete freedom and need not fear. There are times when I mess up, but God is bigger and He has not let me down so far. This is one of my favourite verses;

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Read Suzi's mum's story here; Mothering Anorexia (Part One)

Mothering Anorexia - Part One

I interviewed a friend of mine, whose daughter recently struggled with Anorexia, and the effects of it. Here is her account. It is part of the on-going Mothering series, which allows different mums to share the valuable stories they have.
I have been married to Matt, a church leader, for 20 years and God has blessed us with four amazing, strong and feisty daughters. They have grown up in a busy, loud and hospitable household. We have tried to encourage our girls that we are on a mission together as a family, but that it is important that they pursue a personal relationship with Jesus. Our house has often been a hub for meetings and food was, and is always an important part of this.
In September 2012, Suzi (our second eldest) started a new school and seemed to enjoy it immensely. She joined lots of clubs and seemed to be doing particularly well in netball. She also took up running and seemed to have a real talent for it. Matt and I were quite excited at the progress she was making and gave her lots of encouragement. 
The details become a little hazy, as to the time line of things, partly because through the mercy of God you forget the difficult details and partly because the illness Suzi suffered is insidious and sneaks up on you.

At some point between January and Easter 2013, I started to become aware that Suzi’s personality was changing. Her older sister was quicker to pick up on it than I was. There are elements of Suzi’s personality where she naturally works hard, is well organised and does things to a high standard, but she started to become obsessive about training and what she was eating. She became snappy with the family and angry if she didn’t perform well. She started to cut out food which she viewed as unhealthy and I noticed that she was starting to look thin. We did talk about it or rather we argued about it endlessly, but Suzi was very persuasive and her running results were still getting better.
Suzi started to be unable to finish her runs and it was making her really irrational and angry. Matt was away on a trip during the Easter holidays and I got quite frightened by her behaviour. I sat and calculated what I thought her calorie intake was and realised it was a third of what a child her age should eat, and that was not including all the exercise she was doing. I tried to talk to her about it but she would not listen, even when confronted with the maths of it all. We went swimming during the holidays and when I saw her in her costume, I burst into tears because I could not believe how thin she was and that I had not noticed.
I Googled Anorexia and was horrified that I could tick off each symptom. How was it possible that she was eating 3 times a day and losing so much weight? I called a good friend from church to come over to pray with me and she insisted that I go to the doctor and that he weigh her and refer us for professional help. So off we went. Suzi argued with me that I was fussing over nothing but he weighed her and agreed that she was a bit underweight. He referred us to a dietitian who gave us a food plan and said we could have help with the mental health aspects but he didn’t really explain what that meant.
I felt a bit ashamed about the need for a mental health check and felt it was a simple case of Suzi following a plan and submitting to God. So we tried to cope, but when I rang school to say I was concerned and to ask them to keep an eye on her, we found out that she was in the gym every lunch time on the rowing machine and was becoming withdrawn in lessons. There were endless screaming arguments at home and she tried to thump me on the way to the dietitian's meeting, which was frightening and totally out of character. In the end we decided that a mental health check might help and there was nothing to be lost by having an appointment.
I think our first appointment with Ypeds (Young Person’s Eating Disorder Service), was in early June. I realised within 30 seconds that the nurse knew exactly what was going on and we were going to get help with them. I thought this was a one off. I thought that maybe they’d say we didn’t need to be there too often. But Meryl, the nurse made it very clear that we were in trouble and would be seeing her every week. She took Suzi’s blood pressure and struggled to find a pulse (cue me crying again…was she really that sick?). Suzi was only willing to drop one running session. The nurse and the consultant discussed her situation, and dropped the bombshell – Suzi was to stop all exercise immediately and get an ECG as her heart rate was worryingly low. She was to take on a high calorie eating plan and if she dropped any more weight she would have to stop school and may need a wheelchair. It was all too much to take in so we went and sat overlooking the sea and cried together. This was the start of recovery.
PE at school stopped as did all sport at home but recovery was not straightforward. Suzi is an active girl and being made to sit still was unbearable. Her stomach was so shrunk that eating the amount they wanted was painful and it took us ages to realise that doing nothing means exactly that, doing nothing. As a result, she did too much on our family holiday over the summer and lost a load of weight. She was not allowed to go to Newday, a Christian youth event. We were both upset by that because I wanted her to meet with God more than anything. Then she couldn’t go to our church weekend away, because the nurse said she would get too cold. By the end of the holidays we were getting nowhere and she was told she could not go back to school and that she needed a wheelchair because walking used up too much energy. Suzi would not go in that chair so she was house bound. 
Summer 2014

In September two things happened at the same time: one, a group of ladies at church fasted and prayed for Suzi, and two, Suzi hit rock bottom. She decided she wanted to be hospitalised because she couldn’t cope any more.  I did fear she might die. Suzi hit her lowest weight and should have been hospitalised but the nurse we saw that day looked her in the eye and said she felt that was not the best option. “You are surrounded by people who love you, why are you fighting them? Let them help you.” the nurse said to Suzi. She also asked Suzi what she thought she needed to do now and she said “Obey my parents”.
About a week before she hit rock bottom, I had been crying out to God and knew the only way she could recover was if she chose to, but I also believed that God would not let go of her, and that he would use her for His glory because she loved Him even if she had lost her way. I also felt carried by the prayers of my friends and family.
From there the hard work of gaining weight began. She was signed off school, early summer. It then progressed to part time back at school, and she was not back in school full time until just before Christmas.  As she gained weight her mind improved dramatically, her hair stopped falling out and her moods improved. She was not allowed to do any sport for a while after that, but dealt with it all patiently. I am grateful that she recovered so quickly (I have since met many parents whose children have struggled for years and are still not free) and that we had so much support. I know that ultimately Suzi knew that she was not honouring Jesus and that her main motivation to recover was a desire to be free. We played a lot of songs about the Spirit of the Lord bringing freedom. 

Psalm 107 was a place I returned to in prayer several times;
 "Some were fools through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. He sent out His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction. Let them thank the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works of the children of man. And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of His deeds in songs of Joy".  There were times I couldn’t sleep and would just cry out to God for rescue. I am grateful for our church family. I can’t imagine how families cope without that level of support.
Suzi withdrew from everyone except me while she was very ill and we have had to work at rebuilding relationships over the past year. I have told her that I was sure God would restore everything that was lost and we have seen his faithfulness in this. Her school work is better than ever, friends she lost are restored and she is running again, which I don’t freak out about. God has given us opportunities to help others as well. We are not back where we were before, because an illness like that changes you. But we have learned that the grace and mercy of God never runs out and that His word is a rock and a lamp to our feet. We are still healing as a family, a year on. But God is faithful and I am so grateful that we avoided hospitalisation and that recovery has been relatively swift.

Read Suzi's account here; Mothering Anorexia - A Daughter's Story (Part Two)

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Live Hardcore

We have just got back from a wonderful family holiday in Spain. It took us seventeen hours to get there in the family minibus, and twenty hours to drive back. The bus was at full capacity. Full of kids, obviously. It would have been a major parenting "fail", if we'd left one behind, even if 'Home Alone' is one of our family's favourite films. I think that's purely because they're allowed to watch humorous, justifiable (it seems) violence to those pesky burglars! Although for one of them, Kevin may actually be living their dream...Home Alone with ice cream, sweets and pizza...instead of a crazy road trip with all their siblings...

In addition to kids, the bus was full of pillows, blankets, activity packs, magazines, sweets, water, juice, crisps, Brioche, Frozen colouring books, pink pens, Dot-to-Dots, chewing gum, electronic devises and anything else which could come under the 'bribery' or 'coping' title. And that's not even mentioning everything a 5month old baby might need, especially one which had runny nappies on the journey home. Such fun. I messaged a friend, when we got to Spain, with the quote from School of Rock, "You're not hardcore unless you live hardcore". 

The kids weren't allowed to ask if they were nearly there yet, as there were one thousand and thirty five miles to cover. Although one did had a chart to tick off every fifty miles. Some kids just like that kind of thing. The husband had recorded all of his tunes onto a stack of CDs, and as designated driver,(I did offer, but that got turned down for some reason) he alone was allowed to choose which music went on. Thankfully he saved Radiohead for the dead of the night when we were all attempting to sleep. 

It was great fun. It really was. Sure there were moments when we laughed hysterically, or when one of us adult types had to remind the other one that everything was OK, and that we would indeed survive this journey, the holiday itself and even the journey home. That we would make memories, one way or another... I got to sit in between the girls, when they were at their 'most tired, but not going to sleep' part of the journey. One of the boys had dutifully served his time, submitting to their 'dummy dropping' needs, and their high pitched shrieks of delight and boredom. So he got to sit up front with dad, and go through the tolls and have the iPad to himself. And I got to entertain the redhead and her sister, with stickers and my phone and milk, and hand holding, but hand holding in the right way or it caused tears, and blankets, but the right kind of blanket or it caused tears. 

There was a moment on the way home, when I was desperately trying to sleep. I couldn't ask the husband to turn his music down, as that was keeping him awake. I couldn't swap seats, because the other passengers were in car seats, in strategically placed positions. My hand was bent to an acceptable hand-holding angle. My bra had been removed, from its attempt in trying to kill me. (Female readers will understand). The Air Con was broken and of course, the baby was smelling a shade of green.

At this point, the husband said "wake up (ironically), look in front of you". I rubbed my eyes, sat forwards and peered out into the drizzle. There was the Eiffel Tower. He had decided we were making good time, so a trip around Paris was added into the journey. He explained it was definitely a Selfie moment. So I got a little more suitably dressed, and joined him outside the van, for a photo opportunity, as you do at 4am.

I was amusingly changing the baby's hideous green nappy and car seat on the edge of the road, while the husband had taken some tired, but willing minions to look at the Arc de Triomph, and I thought about how there is always more...

People joke with me that there is one more space in the minibus, for one more child. But actually its reserved for Kevin. (Sometimes the Minion version, sometimes the son's' friend version). But we could have taken more in the mini bus, its got a massive boot. 

There's always more we can take in, on the journey. I don't mean there is always more to do. That's a very different thing altogether. Sometimes, there just isn't anymore we can do, and that's okay. Some of us are still learning that it is indeed okay. What I mean, is that there is always more to take in...there is always more of God that we can take in. There is always more of His presence, His joy, His love that we can take in. There is always more of His beauty that we can take in. there is always more knowledge of Him for us to grasp. There is always more of Him to experience. And that doesn't mean you have to do something deemed as crazy, like an all-night journey to Spain with a million kids in tow. Not everyone does life that full on, and that's OK. But there is more for us to experience, whoever we are.

I was glad that the husband had added something else in, something spectacular. And I know he's that kind of character, but I believe it speaks to all kinds of characters. There are many times when I say "That's it, I've reached my limit, I'm overwhelmed." And I'm learning in those moments to come to the peace and provision and mercy of God. 

I need to live my life, knowing there is always more I can take in from Him. There is always more of His Grace that I can run into. There is always more of His love, I can rest in. There is always more of His Holy Spirit, I can be living in. There is always more of His truth I can be dwelling in. He just has so much more for me to take in. He wants to show me new things. He wants me to go on detours with Him, and He wants to show me wonderful things, whether I'm ready and asking for them, or sometimes as a complete surprise.

"...and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to all the measure of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work in us". Ephesians 3v19-20

Friday, 4 September 2015


You go on Facebook, scroll away, look at some pictures, laugh at some things, shake your head at other things, like a few things, see who likes your things, throw in a comment or two, occasionally delete a comment before its too late, and you're into a discussion you don't want to be in, post a funny or cute picture now and then, (or all the time for some of us). And you can escape the humdrum of life or pass the time away quite nicely. 

Then you see a photo of a little boy, drowned on a Turkish beach. And you have a choice; scroll on or stop and take it in. I scrolled on. I didn't really want to take that image further into my conscience. I was on Facebook to have a little break, to escape a bit, not to dwell on bad stuff or have to think. Then I saw it again and again, and it became a bit blase....picture of a cat, a talent show link, that drowned boy, funny status from a friend, a baby photo. 

But then I gave in and clicked on the link, and I decided to read. That Syrian little boy was three years old, his name is Aylan Kurdi. Him, his five year old brother, Galip and their mother Rehan, drowned. The only one to survive, was their completely broken father and husband, Abdullah. 

They were trying to flee to relatives in Canada, via Greece. Isis have been terrorising Syrians; opening fire on everyone and anyone, setting off car bombs, blowing people and places up, kidnapping people, and other terrible things that we daren't even know about. Aylan's dad had paid 2,000 Euros to board an overcrowded boat, only for that boat to capsize, less than ten minutes into their hope for a better life. Aylan, then had to fight for his life in the sea, until he lost that fight and ended up washed ashore on a beach and on my news feed. His devastated dad told of the moment he had all three dead bodies in his arms, how dark and terrifying it was.

Then I stopped for a minute to relate this to me. I have a nearly three year old, and she has a six year old brother. And I know the husband would do anything in his power to protect us. Imagining that photo to be of a redheaded little girl, dressed in pink instead of a dark haired boy in a red t shirt and blue shorts, brought it home to me. 

And then I cried. I repented of my lack of care and compassion. I had to stop and tell God that I was sorry for being numb to such atrocities. I had to ask Him to help me to be more compassionate, which isn't a comfortable thing at all. But Jesus didn't live a comfortable life, did He? He was, and is full of compassion and love for the outcast, the broken, the foreigner, the orphan, the fearful, the abused, the abandoned, the widow, the downtrodden. He has compassion for me, a sinner. He has love for me, a hypocrite. He chose to die for me, that I may be forgiven and welcomed in to His family.

And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: “This is what the LordAlmighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’" Zechariah 7v8-10

There are many different opinions on whether refugees should be accepted into different countries, where they would be housed and cared for. Petitions can be signed on a global level, food and clothes can be gathered to help the masses. But I know that God is also personally interested in my heart, throughout it all. He saw my apathy. He saw my sin and lack of compassion. And if I am to be more like Him, then I need to be broken with the things that break His heart, and I need to check myself with what I become immune to. I need to say sorry to Him, and I need to personally show love and care towards the outcast and broken, and I need to teach my children to do the same. 

It is but by the grace of God, that I live in England, that I am safe, that my children are safe from daily fear and terror, that I do not have to make decisions based on life or death. That I had the privilege of coming through the Euro Tunnel from Calais, in our stocked, air conditioned car, from our wonderful family holiday, as a free woman, not fighting for my life, or my kids' lives. We went to the beach, to have fun and get a tan, not to escape terror, and find death. We spent our Euros on ice cream, and pancakes and Tapas, not on a robbed chance of freedom. 

I am thankful that God the compassionate Father, spent His son for me, for my kids, for Aylan. God have mercy on us all. And bring your peace.