Tuesday, December 18, 2012

only skin-deep

A cross is a cross, but even Christ shared his for a little while. Call me Simon.

Memory, I've been told, is essential to understanding the present. 
I find it essential to revisit my old journals, to rediscover bits of myself on dusty old pages. Even if that's just a doodle I sketched in my first diary as a six-year-old. Even that is a part of who I am now.
Today, I went through several pages of old blog posts. 
That is an even more humbling exercise, and I've never done it before. 
But it's enlightening to discover how much the thoughts I thought and the reflections I reflected back at the world have grown from year to year.

A year and several months ago, my mother just sent me a beautiful article by Laurel Rae Mathewson, on body image and eating. Here's the beginning of the article: 

"The year before I was a senior in high school, I went on an exchange to France. I got skinny. When I returned to America, I felt great, looked great, and received high praise. That post-France pinnacle of svelteness is where my troubles with food began in earnest. Any more pounds represented failure, a deviation from "my best self." I began eating emotionally. I gained 10 pounds. 

 At New Year's I decided to get serious about getting back to the "right" size. In good-student fashion, I read reputable books and magazines and followed all the rules. I was the ideal dieter. I ran and lifted weights. 
Mathematical tricks of weight-loss became second nature: The calories in an apple (small, medium, or large); which foods satisfy most for the fewest calories (pancakes are great for this). I steadily lost 1.5 pounds a week for eight weeks and was in better shape than ever. 
My dieting was officially healthy, nutritionally balanced, and utterly obsessive. 

 During winter quarter I reached the nadir of my journey with food and with God. I felt inadequate and disgusting. I desperately wanted God's help in ending this vicious cycle, but God never seemed to fully deliver. When I was stuffed, bloated, and incapacitated from a binge, I would pray, weeping: Take this from me. Help me. I don't want to be like this. 

I believed salvation would come from obeying the legalistic idol of strict self-control and self-improvement that I thought God endorsed. As I wrote in my journal: God did not create me to consume my time worrying about calories. I know how sick it is ... so why don't I stop? Why do I create my own problems? ... Am I afraid of perfect happiness? … Why else would I sabotage all the gifts that I've been given, keep myself from thriving? … My thoughts disturb and distract me in lecture, in church, in conversation. … I count every calorie that goes into my mouth; yet it doesn't stop me from eating an entire package of cookie dough
Perfect happiness. 
I thought it was mine for the making—and that God expected nothing less. 

 Food is a gift from God to be enjoyed, especially with others, creating communion and fellowship. It's not meant to be an idol. Like sex, like work, like material comfort, if we seek to satisfy the hunger of our souls with food alone, we will remain empty. I used food to cope with the spiritual void of an "estrangement" from God, created by my own conviction that I could perfect myself, given enough determination and discipline. Disordered eating was my symptom of accepting neither grace nor my need for it." 

 Read the rest of the article here

I remember how much this struck me a year ago, but now it resonates even more deeply.
One of my favorite lines from her article (then and now) is: "I was created for a higher purpose than a size 6." If there's one thing I've learned over the last year, it's how easy it is to settle for a love less than we deserve. It's easy (in a way) to settle for a purpose less than we deserve. Easier to become a size 6 than to become a person filled with grace. 
In a culture that's obsessed with externals, it's so easy to loose sight of the fact that beauty is not only skin-deep. 
Beauty is radiated through a smile, through loving eyes, through a kind voice and a listening ear. Not that the happiest girls are the most beautiful girls, but that the most beautiful girls are the happiest girls.
My mother's email that accompanied this article is full of words and phrases that I have encountered again and again throughout the past year. And I find it easy to believe that I first heard them from my mother (how much I paid attention is up for debate).
Mothers, as she likes to remind me, with a playful twinkle in her eye, are always right.

"For beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; for beautiful eyes, look for the good in others. And for poise, walk in the knowledge that you are never alone." --Audrey Hepburn

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