The Glory of God in Eating

Did you know this week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week? Neither did I. To be honest, it’s never something that is on my radar. I care about cancer. I care about depression and suicide. I care about victims of rape and sex trafficking. I care about orphans. But, if I’m being honest, I don’t often take the time to care about eating disorders.

I’ve been thinking about why that might be. I think a part of it is that eating disorders make me uncomfortable in general. It’s one of those “secret sicknesses” that everyone inevitably ends up knowing about and ignoring when we see it in our friends. You’ve probably been there before. I know I have. You’re eating dinner at a friend’s house, helping yourself to a second helping of garlicky pasta. Your friend excuses herself to use the upstairs bathroom and leaves the water running for five whole minutes while the rest of you continue eating and talking at the table, avoiding the exchange of glances and dipping your bread in the sauce. It’s an elephant in the room. One of those moments where everyone knows but no one does anything.

I guess I never know what to say. Why? Why are you doing this? When did it start? How does it make you feel?

These are questions that imply answers. I’ve found answers hard to come by when having open, raw conversations with my friends struggling with bulimia or anorexia or binge eating. They don’t know why they do it. They can’t remember when it started. And by now, they might not feel anything at all. Numbed by shame, or maybe empty from guilt. I always leave those conversations feeling as awful and gutted-out as my friend must feel, unable to stop, incapable to help.

On weeks like this one, I’m tempted to continue to ignore the subject of eating disorders. I can’t remember a time when I ever intentionally skipped a meal. I’ve never stuck a finger down my throat. I don’t have these stories and these scars like so many of my close friends.

But, as a woman, I know how it feels to view eating as a crime. Instead of starving myself, I overeat. On days when I’m stressed or bored or lonely or tired, I grab chocolate or heat up spaghetti or buy a Poptart from the gas station vending machine. And I eat. Boy, do I eat. Seconds, sometimes thirds. I eat until I’m more than full. Until my stomach, which I’ve heard is the size of a fist, is the size of a quarterback’s head. And I may not puke in a bathroom stall, but I do something just as bad. I hate myself.

Ask any woman, whether she has a history of a diagnosed eating disorder or not, if she’s ever hated herself after eating a large meal, and she’ll undoubtedly tell you yes. Ask her if she’s ever looked in the mirror and seen nothing but overspilling skin and tree-trunk thighs, and she’ll say of course. Ask any woman, whether she’s thirteen or twenty-seven, or fifty-six, if she’s ever slapped labels like “hog” and “fatty” and “heifer” on herself and worn them like well-deserved Girl Scout Badges. You know the answer as well as I do. Yes.

It’s a terrible form of self-mutilation. We may pride ourselves in the fact that we’ve never gone twenty-four hours on nothing but Saltines. We may feel sorry for our sisters and cousins and bio lab partners who lock themselves in bathrooms after meals and run the water to hide the noise. But how do we approach the topic of food? Is it something we’re self-conscious and apologetic about? “I can’t. I ate three chocolate chip cookies last night. I’m going to blow up like a Goodyear blimp.”

I’m beyond convicted of my own unhealthy approach to food. For years, I’ve yo-yoed on a never-ending series of diets, binge eating periods, more diets, and more binging. I’m sure it confuses my friends. One week I’m ordering a Cookout burger with onion rings and a milkshake on the side. The next week I’m nibbling at a bag of nuts and claiming I’m not hungry. The taste of corndogs is like ashes in my mouth. I swear.

Why do we do this to ourselves? There’s no consistency, so there’s no pacification. I can eat nothing but salads and eggs for a week, then a few Five Guys burgers, a Chickfila milkshake, and a box of Kraft mac and cheese later I’m ready to write hate sonnets dedicated to my own disgusting body. All I want to do is eat, and all I feel after eating is sorry. Sorry I ordered fried chicken when I could have ordered soup. Sorry I ate my cousin’s fries after my own onion rings. Sorry I made those cookies. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Lately, though, the Lord has completely regenerated my heart attitude toward food. For the past few months, I have been making a healthy conscious to eat in a way that will nourish and not confuse my body. I’m realizing that food is a good, good thing. That eating food can be a joy, and not a crime. When I stop hating myself, when I stop jumping back and forth between crazy diets and junk food, when I stop denying myself any sweet and rich pleasures… I learn to love to eat.

Shauna Niequist said, “Maybe it matters because even though so much of modern life and theology insists that what matters is my mind, my soul, my inner self, my heart, there is still this nagging part of me that knows on some deep level that the things we touch and hear and taste are spiritual too…”

How often I need to remind myself of this. My body is spiritual, too. The things I put in my mouth, the things I hold with my hands, the things I press on my tongue… These are all vehicles of worship. They are opportunities to rejoice, to feel joy, to express emotion. When I stuff my body full of food and then prick my stomach and thighs and hips with steely thoughts of contention, I’m ripping down the veil of the temple. I’m destroying what God has made as beautiful. I’m polluting my worship for Him.

There is a way to eat to the glory of God. Did you know that? I don’t think I ever knew did, and some days I still wonder if I fully understand what that means. How is there a way to shop and prepare and cut and slice and grind and bake and flavor and eat with joy? How can I take these foods and let them enter my body with an attitude of “It is good?” How can I silence the serpent in my ear telling me that it’s not good, that I’m not what He’s said I am, that the fruit of sin is better than the food I have been given?

This is something I’m still struggling through. It’s hard on the days when I want sugar cookies and I choose to eat peanut butter. It’s annoying on the days when I want more fries and I choose to make egg salad. Even harder on the days when I’m surrounded by friends and I choose to relax and eat a hamburger. When I choose to believe that it’s okay. That my body is still sacred. That the mornings involving avocados are beautiful and the afternoons involving corndogs are sacred.

I’m learning that God is glorified when I eat in a way that brings me joy. For me, I’m finding that means being healthy. Choosing to love my body. Desiring to mix spices and add color and relish every crunch and gulp and flavor. But it also means loving myself when I do eat a hamburger. Being okay with the way my stomach sticks out after a bowl of curry. Celebrating a birthday with cake and cold icecream, because choosing to indulge means choosing joy. And joy comes without a price tag of loathing.

I still don’t know what to say to my friends and loved ones struggling with debilitating eating disorders. I ache, I cry, I struggle with you. I encourage you to look for the help you need and believe that you are worth the sacrifices others will make to be there for you. I’m here for you too.

But don’t think that just because your attitude to food can’t be summarized in a clinical term beginning with an “a” or “b” that you are worshiping God with your body. To truly radiate God’s glory in every area of our lives, we have to learn to love this form of worship called eating. We have to embrace the daily sacrifice and joy that comes in sitting at a table, spreading out an offering, and relishing the produce He has provided. Whether it’s spinach. Whether it’s pizza. When we eat with glad, thankful hearts, we affirm to God: “This is good. You are so, so good to us.”

-Rachel

P.S. If you want more information on National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and how you can find help or help others, check out their website here!

Stories From My Life: Chicago Trip

I’ve been trying this new thing lately where I record the stories of my life, either as they happen or as I look back on them. Actually, in reality, this isn’t a new thing at all. It’s basically journaling, which is something millions of people have been doing for thousands of years. But to me it feels precious and mine to hold. I’m really bad at writing in a journal, mostly because my handwriting is atrocious and also because I’m a wimp when it comes to hand cramps. But I’m good at typing on a computer or making notes in my phone or sticking post-its around my room, and these are the ways I choose to tell myself stories.

So until that day that I compile them all and publish the scenes of my life, I’ll continue to share bits and pieces with you all. 

*

Last week I went to visit my boyfriend in Chicago. My mom went with me, and it was the first time we’ve traveled together in almost two years. We woke up at four in the morning and my dad drove us to the airport and the sky was dark and crushed like velvet and also cold. It was a quiet and uneventful flight. The clouds turned pink and we went back in time a bit, traveling east to west in the early hours of the morning. When we landed, white light was spilling through the airport windows and all the shops were opening with their egg sandwiches and bagels and coffee. We washed our faces in a sundrenched bathroom and everything inside was warm. Outside it was cold but we were happy and excited or maybe I was happy and excited and my mom was just sleepy.

Chicago was cold. The kind of cold that numbs the inside of your nose and makes your cheeks hurt. I bought mittens so my fingers could snuggle and wore wool socks under my boots. We spent Thursday morning at my boyfriend’s school, meeting professors and walking in the snow and eating rice and beans for lunch. Then I took my mom to the hotel and we stayed in bed all afternoon. It was quiet and warm under the sheets and I ate dried mangoes and watched TLC. There’s a happiness that comes with doing nothing. You’ve probably experienced it too.

My boyfriend’s name is Tim and he’s about a head taller than me, which is actually very tall, and he wears flannel shirts and studies both chemistry and theater. He’s a juxtaposition of thinker and artist that excites me.

He picked me up that first night after the sun had set and we drove into the city to watch a play. But the traffic was terrible and the car would inch a few feet then stop, boxed into the grid of countless headlights around us. We were going to be late. Very late, and there was no way around it. And I stressed and sympathized and regretted all the money he had spent and he held my hand and sang Elton John songs and told me he didn’t care.

We were late. Too late to make the show and so we spent twenty seven dollars on parking and took a walk around the block and almost cried from the cold and made up for it by holding each other very close. Then he bought me a slice of cheap pizza bigger than my head and told me he would have spent so much more just to have an evening with me. I’m a girl and he’s a very nice boy that I really like, so when he says stuff like that I kind of melt. It was a very melty moment.

On Friday, my mom and I took the metro into the city on our own and visited the University of Chicago campus. Strangers were nice to us and that made us very happy, despite the cold, which had the tendency to make us very sad. We had lunch together and shared words that were hard and important and read in a big blue reading room that felt very grand. I can’t remember the last time I had lunch with my mom. Busy lives lead to too much work and not enough conversation.

We made up for a lot of missed conversation last weekend.

My mom got sick after that trip into the city, probably from the metro or train ride. She spent the rest of the week sniffling and coughing in bed, and Tim and I got her medicine and let her heat up leftovers and sleep while we had more adventures. He took me to his brother’s apartment on Valentines Day, and we danced around the coffee table while someone played the guitar, and I sat sideways beside him on the sofa so my legs dangled over his knees. He bought me Thai food and we snuck photos of his brother with his girlfriend and it was a cold night again but no one complained.

On Monday night we went to a ball at his school. My dress was thin and my legs were bare and the wind snapped like a whip. We rode a bus full of college students who were laughing or talking or selfie-ing in the dark, and we pressed our foreheads against the chair in front of us and whispered. We danced to every song for almost three hours, including the silly ones and the slow ones and the ones we hated. The people there were great. Girls in red lipstick that danced alone and boys in dark suits jumping up and down and letting out bottled energy. It was too loud for conversation so everyone just danced, packed together and shimmering and happy. The lights made the ceiling purple and there was a staircase lined with candles that was both a definite fire hazard and the most instagrammed spot of the night.

Within each day and each night and each experience, there are half a dozen tiny stories embedded in the moments. Some of them I want to keep to myself and some of them are just too long or detailed or funny to attempt explaining in a blog post.

A lot of good things came out of Chicago, though. A new appreciation for deep dish pizza. The renewed awe of hand-holding. A soft spot for “Fix You” by Coldplay. Haircuts and missing gloves and mismatched buttons. Burritos.

Tiny pieces of a story and blurry iPhone pics of a week I spent being happy.

-Rachel

On Beauty

Once upon a time, I cried in front of a computer screen. It was late at night and my family was watching “Dancing with the Stars” while I melted into a puddle of hot salt water at my mom’s desk. Four words was all it took.

I was fourteen years old and I’d joined the newest Christian-teen-girl fad of a website. It was all about fashion and modesty and being darling and all of that great Christian-girl stuff. People posted photos of the outfits they’d worn and everyone voted and commented on them. I’m pretty sure it was designed to be encouraging. At least I always got excited when I was on it, and I was anxious to upload a photo of my own. I asked Hannah to take some pictures of me in my white shirt and yellow gingham shirt, then I loaded a photo to the website that evening with a cute little comment about the sunshine and yellow skirts.

The comment that broke me was only four words. A question of sorts, in some teenage girl’s half-hearted attempt to be funny and maybe kind of clever. Definitely intended to draw some laughs, although I still don’t know who from. I logged on the computer and saw, under my photograph, the comment.

“Looks like a man?”

It was me. Fresh-faced. Curly-haired. Thick eyebrows and pre-makeup and wearing the girliest outfit you ever did see. But those words cut me open and bled all over my yellow gingham existence. I cried and cried and read it again and again and felt like the ugliest man-woman in the world. My mom came in and held me for a long time before I told her what happened. I suppose that was five years ago. Sometimes it still feels like it happened recently.

I’ve accumulated many stories over nineteen years of times I felt absolutely devoid of beauty, charm, and grace. Moments when my heart felt naked. So it’s very interesting to me now to see a growing tend in social media promoting women to make declarations of beauty. Trends like the #20beautifulwomen challenge that cause thousands of teenage girls to post pictures of themselves on Instagram acknowledging that they are beautiful and special and important.

All it takes is one comment or thought for us to struggle with an issue for the rest of our lives. Five years have passed since someone made a joke about my masculine features on social media. But almost every time I get dressed or put on makeup or pull back my hair, I feel like her words are Sharpie-d on my forehead. Looks. Like. A. Man. Do you see it, world? Does my hair look like a 70′s rock band drummer? Is my nose too wide? Does my chin stick out? Are my eyebrows thick and furry? I still catch glimpses of myself sometimes and think “man” before I’m able to push the thought away. In a way, I don’t think that will ever stop. I’ll be a seventy-year-old lady who probably fears she looks like an old geezer and avoids polo shirts like the plague.

I’ve been bothered, burdened, and even plagued with self-image issues my whole life. Too masculine. Too white. Too heavy. Too awkward. Too everything. And yet, even after all this, if you asked me, “Rachel, do you think that you are beautiful?” my answer would be a resounding yes. Why?

Because it’s taken me time, and it’s still taking me time, to realize that these shortcomings don’t define me. They can’t keep me from choosing to believe I am beautiful. And not in a doe-eyed, ruby-lipped kind of way. I believe I’m beautiful because I’m strong, and because I’m happy, and because I’m loved.

Who do you let see you on your worst days–when you’re sweaty or frizzy haired or crying or vomiting? Your family? Your best friends? Your significant other? Your oldest acquaintances?

Now how do those people view you? As ugly? Hog-ish? Masculine? I asked a few people to answer rapid-fire what the first word that came to their mind when they thought about my appearance. My best friend said, “Beautiful”. She’s held me at eight in the morning while I sobbed into her arms and dampened her pajamas at the news of a friend’s death. My boyfriend said, “Snazzy.” He’s seen me without a touch of makeup, with wet hair pulled back in a bun and a stretched out orange sweatshirt. My little sister said, “Cute.” She’s seen me fresh out of bed. Crusty-eyed, wild-haired, and cranky.

Do I believe them? Absolutely. Why? Because they honestly, truly, deeply love me. They love me despite my flaws, my quirks, my failings. Despite the way my hair looks in the rain or my body bulges after vacation. They think I’m cute and snazzy and beautiful and I believe them. Adjectives only hold power in the words of those who speak them. Those who know them to be true. When a word is spoken against you, it is stuck in the hands of the person who spoke it. It doesn’t control you. Doesn’t define you. What words do you choose to define yourself? “Strong. Loved. Chosen. Special. Beautiful.”

Now if that’s just how much your physical family and friends, how much greater are you loved by God? How does He see you? You are a most prized possession to Him. A jewel in His crown. He has formed you and held you and seen you in every high and low and secret moment, and He still sees you as His beautiful, precious child.

I can love my body–can love myself–when I see how preciously and carefully I’ve been created. No mistakes. No mishaps. My eyebrows are intentional. My thighs are intentional. My nose is intentional. This is exactly how God wanted me to be and He has given this body to me as a gift. As a temple for His presence.

When you are confident and content in the way Christ made you, there is no room for sin to tear and scar you. 

-Rachel

Makin’ Moonpies

Want to know one of the coolest parts of being a writer? Getting emotionally involved in your characters’ lives. It extends way beyond research. Since I typically write historical fiction, there are lots of things I have to research in order to to feel comfortable with the settings in my books. Politics, world events, pop culture, technology, etc… I definitely read a lot of books and ask a LOT of questions!

But every now and then I find myself in a situation that no textbook or novel is going to fully explain to me. I’ll be sitting at my computer writing a scene and realize I have no idea how to do what I’m making my characters do!

When I wrote “Chasing Jupiter”, I realized I had never baked a peach pie before. So I went to the store, bought a bag of peaches, and made two pies that afternoon. I jotted down notes like “slippery”, “slimy”, and “strong smell” so that when I went back to working on the story I could make the scene more realistic with the first-hand knowledge I had acquired!

So yesterday, when I began working on a scene revolving around two characters making homemade moon pies and realized I had NO idea how moon pies were made, I made a quick Walmart run for some much-needed supplies! A box of graham crackers, a jar of marshmallow cream, and two bags of chocolate chips later and I had my afternoon cut out for me. I spent two hours making homemade moon pies in my kitchen, jotting down notes so that my characters could experience it the same way I did.

So, yeah. Being a writer is fun. There’s nothing deep or meaningful I have to say in this post, other than that moon pies are GREAT and that you should have your characters make some yummy food so you have a chance to indulge…

{Enjoy the following dorky photos of me with “moon pie eyes”}

Oh and I should mention that I started a Pinterest board with some inspiration for Book No. Three, so you should check it out if you like stalking my life and want some clues as to what I’m working on! I also occasionally talk about it on Instagram, so you should follow me there too!

-Rachel