Thursday, February 25, 2010


Watching baby birthing footage has convinced me that babies come out of the womb angry, confused, and disoriented. I'm not sure if they're in pain as much as simply unable to express, "What the hell is going on?!" From my own minuscule recollection of birth, I'm pretty sure that's what I was feeling too.

I'm not sure this feeling ever goes away, I feel equally confused on most days. It seems that the first time a baby feels comfort and a slight amount of peace after such a traumatizing event is when that baby meets its mama. The very first thing an infant must learn is how to eat. Eating is necessary for survival, though the baby doesn't know this. That's okay. Somehow, magically, wonderfully, that baby learns to eat.

It's humbling to be re-learning the most basic of human traits. Learning to eat. I realize we live in a pretty dysfunctional culture when it comes to food, exercise, and health. Health-nut gurus and pastors preach from every available pulpit, magazines to TV shows, telling us what "healthy" means. Amidst the confusing messages, I got lost.

Anne Lamott writes in her book Traveling Mercies about learning at age 33 how to feed herself. So by those standards at age 22, I'm way ahead of the game. She recounts her story of a battle with bulimia that has spanned most of her life. I like this part:

"It is, finally, so wonderful to have learned to eat, to taste and love what slips down my throat, padding me, filling me up, that I'm not uncomfortable calling it a small miracle. A friend who does not believe in God says, "Maybe not a miracle, but a little improvement," but to that I say, Listen! You must not have heard me right: I couldn't feed myself! So thanks for your input but I know where I was and I know where I am now, and you just can't get here from there . . . Learning to eat was about learning to live--and deciding to live; and it is one of the most radical things I've ever done."

Oh Anne. How do you do it? Genius.

I'm reading a book my counselor gave me entitled, Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, about learning to eat like we used to as children. We had that inner voice gauge that alerted us of hunger and fullness. I've been ignoring mine for so long, I have to go back to what I must've known as a child, how to feed myself.

I stopped eating what I wanted to eat, and instead, what I should.
I stopped listening to that voice that said, "I'm hungry" or "I'm full." That voice must've been crazy. How could I be hungry or need food when I look like this? No, I don't need food. My body must be confused.
I stopped hearing cues from my body: pain, frustration, anger, fear, and lastly, hunger.

Later, as children, we learn to ask for what we need, to defecate, and to sleep. I have to admit I've got the first two down, but the last one still comes rough to me. Relaxation, rest, easy-going-ness are not among my spiritual gifts. Taking deep breaths takes practice, which is why today was so important. My first reaction to nearly every event/emotion/situation is: eat. Eating solves other problems, like hunger, but has yet to solve the feeling of fear, frustration, discomfort, and exhaustion.

As I sat at school doing homework, hunched over my books I thought, I should eat. Of course. No. Wait, wait. Is this hunger? No. Is this loneliness? No. Ah ha! I'm tired! You must understand that amidst a lifetime of neglecting to listen to my body, this is huge. I sat long enough with the feeling to realize: I'm tired. I need rest. I don't want to do this homework. So I didn't. I went and played piano, then I went home and I took a nap, damnit! Some of you are thinking, "What's the big deal? I take naps all the time." You're right and that's awesome! I'm so jealous of you. I have all these rules in place about things I can and cannot do. Rest and self-love are usually at the bottom of my list of priorities. Taking a nap was a big deal. I'm re-learning how to rest.

As babies learn to breathe, to eat, to poop, and to sleep, they eventually gain a personality, character that makes them unique. A laughing baby may be one of the sweetest sounds on earth. That innocent, hearty giggle melts even the toughest heart. At 22 years-old, I'm learning to have fun. I remember having fun as a kid. As I grew older though, I recall having more "responsible" and "productive" fun. I know, that hardly counts. But my mom would joke that I was her "little adult" which apparently means, no fun.

Back-to-school shopping as a kid frustrated my mom as I bought plain colored tops and perfectly matching pants. "Honey, don't you want to buy clothes with a print or design or something?" Why? That wasn't practical. Then they wouldn't match everything else.

Becoming a Zumba instructor was a direct contradiction to the eating disorder voice inside: You can burn just as many calories on a treadmill. The other wiser side said: Yeah, but it looks like fun. And it is. I've been teaching Zumba fitness classes for about 6 months now. I teach four classes a week and I can truthfully say, "Zumba makes me a better person."

Basically, I get paid to shake my booty. I'm not a dancer. I'm not particularly sexy, but wow, this is fun! I've been averaging a healthy number of attendees at the YMCA, but last Tuesday night 47 people crowded into the cardio room as we salsa-ed, merengue-ed, and basically, acted slightly inappropriate and called it exercise.

It's humbling to be learning as an adult what I learned at one time as a child: learning to eat, to take deep breaths, to rest, to dance.

Learning to live.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


How I Might Be Contributing To Another's Eating Disorder
Betsy Reynolds, MS, RD

1. Encouraging someone to pursue slenderness/diet/deprive themselves of "fattening" food

2. Teasing someone about their eating habits

3. Criticizing someone else's eating habits or choices

4. Admiring weight loss, diets, or weight loss dieting

5. Admiring rigidly controlled eating

6. Criticizing your own eating habits and choices

7. Making negative comments about your own or someone else's fatness

8. Supporting the assumption that no one should be fat

9. Diapproving of fatness in general

10. Saying or assuming someone is doing well because of weight loss

11. Saying something that presumes that a fat person wants to lose weight

12. Saying something that presumes that a fat person should lose weight

13. Saying something that presumes that fat people eat too much

14. Referring to "good" and "bad" foods

15. Talking about "being good" or "being bad" in reference to eating behavior

16. Admiring appearances

17. Admiring slenderness

18. Making weight important

19. Encouraging perfectionism

20. Admiring excessive exercise

Good stuff. Good reminders.

Our society has decided that thin = good and fat = bad. There are "good" and "bad" foods, "good" and "bad" exercise habits, "good" and "bad", this and that, we know exactly where we stand by some people's standards.

Women trip and stumble over themselves when they reach for a second helping or a slice of pie, "I really shouldn't, but I've been good," or "I've earned this." No, we don't have to earn the right to eat. When babies first pop out and they're chillin' in the maternity ward, designated by boxes with tags, how do we decide which baby is better? Which baby is the best? We don't. That's weird. Yet we do it to children as soon as their walking and it continues for the rest of our lives, labeling: good vs. bad, smart vs. stupid, band geeks vs. jocks, homemakers vs. "working" women, health nuts vs. lazy slobs, and on and on.

Imagine if people stopped commending people solely based on their appearances. What if instead of always complimenting a person's shoes or hair, we said, "Ya know, you are such a generous person," or "Thanks for taking the time for me. It means a lot."

For as long as I can remember I've been told, as are most little girls, how "pretty" I am, how I look so much more "grown-up" than 14, how I'm going to break all the guys hearts. We are told what we should want, what we should do. Boys are complimented on their abilities, their skills, what they can accomplish. This has it's pros and cons too, but what I'm getting at is the extreme, ridiculous, outlandish, remarkable, proposterous, iddiotic pressure that is put on women to be attractive, pretty, sexy, hot, and beautiful.

As I starved myself thinner and thinner in high school, the cheering section grew louder and louder: "Wow Heather, you look great. Have you lost weight?" or "You look so healthy, so pretty." This only fueled me to skip another meal, again. I got ridiculous amounts of attention and praise for wasting away, many women are.

One day, my algebra teacher stopped me in the hallway, "You look...thin."

"Thank you," I chirped as I continued walking.

She stopped me, "I'm not saying it's a good thing. You don't look healthy. Are you taking care of yourself?"

Smiling. "I'm fine. Really. Thanks. I'll see you later."

This happens again and again. Did you really expect me to say, "Yeah, I've been starving myself." No way. For a short time, I turned into a professional liar to others and most harmful, to myself.

Number 14-20 on the list above perfectly describes my time in high school and most people's experience in a world obsessed with appearance. We can do better.

Since I began talking publicly about this eating disorder (remind me not to call it "my" eating disorder), I've lost count of how many women and girls have bravely talked to me about theirs. A few from church, a few from high school, some random people on-line, at least a dozen through Facebook, and several more at Union. Women are killing themselves to make the grade. We feel like we're winning, but what does an A+ look like anyway?

In my anorexic mind, an A+ would've been 105 pounds. Instead, I went to counseling and got an F. I failed, by ED standards, I asked for help. I needed help. I started talking to people. I started admitting my lack of perfection. I reached out. I fell on my butt and asked for a helping hand to get back up. It's been up and down and ugly and bumpy, but I've never been more happy with an F in my life.

Apparently, it's Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Union College acknowledges this by putting a blank table in the lobby with 10 or informational brochures. This is a step. This is progress. I picked up every one and will read them to be better informed. But, we can do better. What if someone was actually standing there to answer questions? What if we organized talks and discussions? What is we raised awareness by showing "Killing Me Softly" Jean Kilbourne's incredible documentary about media's influence on women's body image? What if there was a group who helped educate people on how to help someone with an eating disorder? What if people were actually talking about solutions in stead of contributing to the problem?

Disordered eating encompasses more than most people realize. In fact, I would argue that more people fall into this category than we think.

If you gain pride from dieting

If you use food as comfort

If you avoid "bad" foods and limit them to weekends when you've been "good"

If you feel guilty about eating a "bad" food, then think of ways to fix it

If you feel bad about the number on the scale as if it has anything to do with your worth as a person

If you compare your body to others and wish yours looked different

If you talk negatively about your body

...then join the club.

I'm not saying that you have an eating disorder. I am saying that as a culture we've got issues. When 8 year-olds are dieting and 13 year-olds are getting gastric bypass surgery, we've got to accept: This isn't right. We can do better.

Monday, February 22, 2010

"A Finger, Two Dots, Then Me"

(The Poem I'd Like My Future Wife to Read When I Finally Crap Out)

Lying together in the park on Seventh,
our backs smoosh grass and I say
I will love you till I become a child again,
when feeding me and bathing me is no longer romantic,
but rather necessary.
I will love you till there is no till.
Till I die.

And when that electroencephalogram shuts down, baby
that's when the real lovin' kicks in.
Forgive me for sounding selfish
but I won't be able to wait under the earth for you
(albeit a romantic thought for groundhogs,
gophers and the gooey worms).

I will not be able to wait for you...but I will meet up with you
and here's where you will find me:get a pen--Hold your finger up
(two fingers if your hands are frail by now)
and count two stars directly to the left
of the North American moon.
You will find me there.

You will find me darting behind amazing quasars
Behind flirtatious winksof bright and blasting boom stars!
Sometimes charging so far into space
the darkness goes blue.

I will be there chasing sound waves
riding them like two-dollar pony ride horses
that have finally broken free and wild.
I will be facing backwards, lying sideways,
no hands, sidesaddle, sometimes standing
sometimes screaming zip zang zowie!
My God, it's good to be back in space...
Where is everybody?

You will recognize my voice.
You will see the flash of a fire trailburning off the back of me
burning like a gasoline comet kerosene sapphire.
This is my voice.
Don't look for my body or a ghost.
I'll resemble more a pilot light than a man now.
I'm sure some will seethis cobalt star white light from earth
and cast me a wish like a wonder bomb.
And I'll think "Hmmph. people still do that?"

I'm sure I'll take the light wonder bombs
to the point in the universe
where sound does end.
The back porch of God's summer home.
It's so quiet here, you float.
It feels the way cotton candy tastes.
I say to him... why do I call you God?
He says 'Because Grand Poobah sounds ridiculous.'
(Who knew he was so witty?)
I ask him 'Lord, so many poets have tried to nail it and missed, what is holy?'

At that moment,the planets begin to spin and awaken
and large movie screens appear on Mars, Saturn and Venus
each bearing images I have witnessed
and over each and every clip flashes the word holy.
magic tricks--holy
cows' tongues--holy
snowballs upside the head--holy
clumsy first kisses--holy
sneaking into movies--holy
your mother teaching you to slow dance
the fear returning
the fear overcome--holy
eating top ramen on upside-down frisbees
cause it was either plates or more beer--holy
drunk beach cruiser nights--holy
the $5.00 you made in vegasand the $450.00 you lost--holy
the last time you were nervous holding hands--holy
feeling God at a pool hall but not church--holy
sleeping during your uncle's memorized dinner prayer--holy
losing your watch in the waves and all that signifies--holy
the day you got to really speak to your father cause the television broke--holy
the day your grandmother told you something meaningful
cause she was dying--holy
the medicine
the hope
the blood
the fear
the trust
the crush
the work
the loss
the love
the test
the birth
the end
the finale
the design
in the stars
is the same
in our hearts
the design
in the stars
is the same
in our hearts
in the rebuilt machinery of our hearts

So love, you should know what to look for
and exactly where to go...
Take your time and don't worry about getting lost.
You'll find me.
Up there, a finger and two dots away.
If you're wondering if I'll still be able to hold you...
I honestly don't know
But I do know that I could still fall for
a swish of light that comes barreling
and cascading towards me.
It will resemble your sweet definite hands.

The universe will bend.
The planets will bow.
And I will say "Oh, there you are. I been waitin' for ya. Now we can go."
And the two pilot lights go zoooooooom
into the black construction paper night
as somewhere else
two other lovers lie down on their backs and say
"What the hell was that?"

--Derrick Brown

(thanks Michael)

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Painfully, I sat through three basketball games this weekend. The teams did fine, the fans were tolerable; no drama, no injuries. The most excruciating part of these basketball games was the fact that I just sat there. I sat there. I watched my home jersey, #10, run up and down the court on some other girl's body and realized, That jersey isn't mine anymore.

Since fifth grade, my girlfriends Rachael, Tiffany, Victoria, and I played every sport our school offered us. I miss those days. We played together all through our senior year of high school.I played varsity volleyball, basketball, and soccer all four years of high school. Some people would think that we decided to play sports because they had the good grades. No, we maintained grades and attended classes so that we could play sports. Four years out of high school, you'd think I'd be over it. I played basketball my freshman year of college, went to Cambodia, and didn't feel much urge to continue playing, it wasn't the same.

Sitting on the sidelines this weekend, I realized: I miss that part of who I was. You could not pay me to return to high school. Nope. No thanks. I don't want the drama, the boys, the rules. But if I could just step onto that court one more time. If I could return to a life that was less complicated, I'd be overjoyed. This weekend, I sat with the parents. As I recalled these memories and how simple life was then, one mother said, "You sure didn't think life was simple then!" She's right. I suppose we always think our drama is the heaviest, when really it just depends on who's looking at it. They were wonderfully patient parents enduring our music, our drama, and our moods.

Part of me misses who I was. I was Heather--the athlete, the snowboarder, the hard worker, the resilient, bubbly, extrovert. Now I'm Heather, the . . . the . . . I'm not sure. I feel weary, heavy, burdened, stuck. I'm Heather--the writer, the introvert, the healing perfectionist, the girl who needs therapy for that eating disorder, the girl who talks a lot, and can't seem to shake the same lingering struggles. I feel like life was brighter in high school. The last four years since high school have felt pretty dreary. I'm all too familiar with this cloud.

My old basketball coach, Keith, met me at the Mill on Thursday. We recalled games and memories and lessons learned. I dreaded the inevitable question he would ask, "How are you doing?" He knows my stuff; still, I feel that in many ways I'll always remain frozen in his mind as the girl who played for him in high school. So it's tough to say, "I'm . . . okay. Life got complicated after high school. I'm not who I was."

I tried explaining this to Jeremy tonight. "I miss pushing myself and reaching goals I didn't think I could reach. The goals were simpler. Making that three point shot got me applause and cheers. Now my more important slow, but steady victories are just part of life."

We move on. We keep living. In real life the daily struggles, the ups and downs, the complexities of bills and deadlines, seem overwhelming and you just don't get the same kind of rewards. You keep going because that's what you have to do.

I miss the simple life. "You'll probably say the same thing when you're our age," said one of the mothers I sat next to at a basketball game yesterday. "You think life is hard now, we all do. Then you realize life just changes and you can handle more than you thought you could before."

Fernando Ortega performed an inspirational concert last night at vespers. Whenever I hear musicians, particularly pianists, perform, I think, I should start playing piano again. Not that I stopped, it just gets bumped aside when ensuing deadlines and a list of tasks as long as my leg take over. I listened as his beautifully simple melodies saturated the room. I took a deep breath. I remembered certain songs that remained on repeat during my year in Cambodia. Songs that reminded me both of isolation and loneliness, but also my students. I don't miss Cambodia. I miss parts of Cambodia. Those songs took me back.

I miss parts of Cambodia.
I miss parts of high school.
I miss parts of my childhood.
I miss parts of home.
I miss parts of last semester.

Perspective can be bumpy because we look back and think, What have I become? Is this really who I want to be? What may be worse is realizing, "No. I'm not what I thought I'd be."

I can't just jump back on a varsity basketball team.
I can't hug my kiddos in Cambodia.
I can't pay for their education.
I can't guarantee they'll be safe.
I can't gain back clear skin (yes, the same skin I found a way to complain about then too).
I can't keep up with all the things from my past: basketball, music, scrap booking, snowboarding, guitar, reading.
I can't rewind pre-eating disorder.
I can't undo what's been done.

But I can work out my competitive nature playing Ultimate Frisbee.
I can continue writing letters to Cambodia.
I can be grateful for what that year taught me.
I can play piano and sing for the joy of it.
I can honor that once playful, happy little girl within me.
I can take time for hobbies I enjoy, one at a time.
I can heal from one mental illness at a time and learn from the journey.
I can accept what is and move on with vibrant hope.

I have to.

I want to.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hey Girl,

Slow down. Deep breaths. One step at a time. Have a seat. Watch Oprah.

This might not ever look like you thought it would, what you hoped it would. But this is it. This is your life.

Today, you're tired. Aim for more sleep tonight.
Today, you're sore, you played hard yesterday.
Today, your body said, "Oy." Respect that.
Today, you're weary. It's okay to be weary.
Today, you're best might not look like it did a month ago, a year ago. This is your best today. This is what it is.

You can be gentle.
You can be kind.
You can walk a little slower.
You can say, "I don't know."
You can be late and not get everything done.
You can feel a little less-than.
You can enjoy the day for what it is.
You can resist the urge to control, to worry, to think too hard.
You can just be.

You're not losing time.
You're not losing hope.
You're not relationships.
You're not losing your identity.
You're not missing out.
You're not losing your life the longer you fight these demons. Life is this battle. Life is this struggle. This is what our lives are made of.

These questions you have no answers to won't go away the more angry you become. Your frustration with yourself only hurts you. You can't do this alone. Well, maybe you can. But in that way, you'll probably feel confident and happy in about 60 years, but by all means, go for it. I'd just recommend people, community, time, God, and healing.

Take your time.
Life isn't going anywhere.
It's right in front of you.


Me Gusto

I like a boy. His name is Jeremy. We’ve been dating for a little over a year. Though we both dislike long-distance, we’ve become pretty good at it.

I like that the long-distance thing has forced us to communicate. Though I loathe the circumstances, I know that we are probably closer and better communicators because of it. We’ve had to learn to talk because words are all we have most of the time. Where some couples might just make-out when they’re bored, we actually have to talk, and we do, about everything: my eating disorder and perfection, his struggles, God, sex, the future, politics, how to love each other better, what we want, and what we need.

I like that when he picks me up at the airport, he always brings flowers. Yup, we’re that lovey, slightly mushy couple in the airport.

I like that we have the 24 hour rule. I think many people, including myself, would assume that when couples haven’t seen each other for awhile they just kiss for the a solid 3 days once they are together. Not true, and I like saying that. We take 24 hours to get used to each other again. We want to be intentional.

I like when his finger traces, “I <3 U" on my arm or leg as we're sitting in the car or in a restaurant.

I like when I catch him smiling at me across the room.

I like it when he says, “I’m proud of you.”

I like when it’s my turn with the little black book that we pass back and forth. We take turns writing to each other and then hide it in the others luggage or a coat pocket on the return trip.

I like that we are getting good at reading each other and asking for what we need.

I like when he reminds me, “You are not a number.” He knows my struggles to be good enough, thin enough, pretty enough. We talk about it. He asks, “How can I help?” Usually just the fact that he asks is help enough.

I like that we can disagree and, we do. This tough, outdoorsy IRR major likes country music, NASCAR, and Taco Bell. He’s a strong, somewhat conservative, Christian. His hair is longer than mine. He’s often running late, prefers spontaneity, avoids plans, and stays up late. e’sHI’m an English major who favors acoustic folk music, yoga, bookstores, and tofu. I lean liberal and would call myself a spiritual seeker. I am consistently on time, breathe lists and plans, and prefer the early morning. We may be different, but we find common ground.

I like that we can admit when we’re wrong.

I like that I feel good enough for him. A year-ish ago, he came to visit me in Lincoln. Much has changed since then, and I’m somewhat ashamed to say this, but I had very different ideas about dating based on a previous relationship in which I felt that most of what I was good for was a kissing buddy (I’m so relieved to be done with high school). I felt pressured and heavy thinking of all the ways I was not enough for him. I wanted to be something I wasn’t. I didn’t realize I was carrying around this belief about men, until Jeremy said, “I’m not him.” That was the moment I knew I was in love with this guy. We talked through who he was versus who that guy was. I had to reframe what I believed about dating, about guys, and about myself. We didn’t kiss again for six months. Do you realize how important that was for him to say, “I’m not going anywhere. You’re more to me than that. Take your time”? Oy. Flutter, flutter.

I like that we don’t fight dirty. We talk carefully through tough conversations. We don’t yell. We don’t slam doors or phone receivers. We clarify. We don’t call them fights, we call them spats. We’ve had our share and frankly, our spats give me confidence in our ability to talk about hard things. He has hurt me. I have hurt him. We will do so again, hopefully not on purpose. We know so much about each other, we have an armory of weapons we could use against each other, but choose not to. Maybe that’s love.

I like that neither of us have life figured out, but I feel hope knowing we’ll get through it together.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Sometimes I feel a little, less-than.

Sometimes I wonder if hope really will come in the spring.

Sometimes I wish I had a filter.

Sometimes I feel like I'm missing something.

Sometimes I am way up, then way down, and wish I felt more consistent.

Sometimes I wish I was stable.

Sometimes I am jealous of my sister, her calm, her put togetherness, her love.

Sometimes I think I'm going crazy.

Sometimes I think too hard.

Sometimes I want to fall asleep, for a year.

Sometimes I wish words like "anorexia," "bulimia," "therapist," "perfection," and "Cambodia" were not part of my vocabulary.

Sometimes I wonder if people think I'm kidding when I say I am insecure, unconfident, and introverted.

Sometimes I wish I came equipped with REWIND, FAST FORWARD, and PAUSE buttons.

Sometimes I can't figure out why everyone's so happy.

Sometimes I feel like I'm missing something.

Sometimes I wish I wasn't so honest and people would lie to me.

Sometimes I wish I had an alcohol addiction instead.

Sometimes I wish were shorter, bustier, thinner, blonder, nicer, smarter, better.

Sometimes I wish I didn't write things like this, because chances are I'll feel slightly better in the morning and I imagine people reading and thinking, "Geez, she's always complaining about something!"

Sometimes I wish I could snap out of this, this weird sadness thing, you know the opposite of the happiness I felt 2 weeks ago. What's with that?

Buddha says, "Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most." (thanks Hannah)

Sometimes I don't like Buddha.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Yesterday, I buttered my bread, thoroughly. Yes, I toasted a piece of bread, sliced the butter with my knife, and spread it on my warm bread. The creamy goodness oozed into the nooks and crannies of the bread. Then, I ate it.

I do not write this because eating buttered bread is a sin.
I do not write this because eating buttered bread shows indulgence or lack of self-control.
I write this because it's been a long time since I ate buttered bread and enjoyed it, guilt-free.

I feel like I need to offer all of these disclaimers because I don't want anyone to think that somehow eating butterless bread makes me a better person, in fact, it makes me quite a ridiculous person. For the last four years, the decisions I make related to food and exercise have been loaded with deep emotional meaning. It's not just buttered bread my friend, that right there is downright, blatant rejection of that little voice inside that says, "Don't do it. You're just going to get fat."

This is me saying, "Shut up, I'm trying to enjoy my breakfast."

Sometimes the most obvious realizations seem to come to me by way of brilliant people who show me the light. Like last week, my new counselor, Lynn, asked, "Why do you think you binged last night?"

To which I replied, "I lack self-control? I was tired? I was lonely?"

"Umm, I think you're body was saying, "I'm tired of vegetables! Feed me something good.""

"Huh?" I've only associated my disordered eating behaviors with emotion instability and deeper issues, to which Lynn said: "Nuh-uh."

She's been challenging me to consider this ED from a more physiological viewpoint. More than habit, more than inadequacy, more than stress, and self-hatred, she says, "What if your body is simply craving what you've been restricting for so long?"

I've never once binged and purged on broccoli or radishes or oranges or cantaloupe (wait . . .oh nope, never on cantaloupe!). If I'm seeking to fill holes within myself with food, the last thing I'm going to pick is produce. When I'm full of self-hatred and wanting to control, distract, and numb myself from a life that hurts too much, I'm going to eat peanut butter, cheese, cookies, ice cream, and nachos.

Ding, ding, ding! Duh. Comfort food.

Okay, I can't say I've never thought of that before, but Lynn's got a good point. If 90% of the time I'm restricting my body of these foods, of course I'm going to want them more than just about anything else. We always want what we can't have, especially if we're told we "shouldn't."

"How many grams of fat do you eat on a typical day?" Lynn asked me.

"Umm, I eat nuts. And there's some fat in my soymilk."

"Yeah, okay. That doesn't count. The RDA recommends more like 50 grams of fat per day."


"Yeah huh!" (Yeah, we have pretty intelligent discussions sometimes. This is why she gets paid the big bucks!) "If you ate what you actually wanted to eat during the day, you'd be far less likely to binge and purge at night."

The idea sounds terrifying. I realized this as she began explaining practical ways to add slightly more fat and protein into my diet. "What happened?" She stopped mid-sentence, "I lost ya."

"Oh, um. I just....I don't want to."

"Well, it's your call. But I just imagine that since you're depriving your body of the food it actually wants and needs, you're going to continue feeling ravenous and unhappy."

Dissatisfaction is a great American past-time. We are educated to be unhappy with their bodies. We are primed at an early age that, no matter what, we should probably always be dieting, always exercising more, always reading more books, always recovering from something, and always trying to make ourselves better. While I may not intentionally go on a weight-loss plan, I'm always well-aware of the extra 20 or so pounds I gained in Cambodia. Always.

Lynn says, "There's a good chance that you'd been anorexic for so long, only now do you actually weigh what you should for your height. So it might feel like a lot, but that was your body saying, "Feed me"."

I don't like to hear that. I don't like to think that the way I look now is how I'm supposed to look. I don't want to hear that this is my healthy weight. Counselor after counselor has told me, "If you eat right and exercise, your body will decide what it needs to weigh." This seems backwards to me, but really, it's our culture that is messed up. We tend to pick the number on the scale or the pants size that we "should" have, instead of letting our bodies do the talking.

My body may be talking, but I've gotten really good at ignoring it. I have a system for the way I eat. I usually leave home and spend 12+ hours at school each day. So I pack my food for the day: snacks, lunch, dinner. I divvy out the portions like a scientific equation. I don't think in food, I think in food groups: 3 fruits, 3 veggies, at least 50 grams of protein, some gluten-free grains, and some healthy fats. Whatever fits in those categories goes in the lunch box. I eat while working on homework or distracting myself with something else. Sometimes I'll eat cold pasta or soup. Heating my food doesn't make sense when I'm just trying to get it over with. I eat quickly, usually alone, and brush my teeth immediately after. Get it over with and move on, forget. Eating around people makes me nervous. Being in the presence of food makes me uncomfortable. If any meal takes longer than 10 minutes, I just get weird.

"The way you eat sounds like punishment," my friend, Rachael, told me sympathetically last week. She's right. Why should it be anything different? If I enjoy food, then I'll eat too much, and I'll become out-of-control, and...and...I fear food taking any more time, effort, or thought than necessary.

I realize this is sad. I realize this isn't normal. Lynn wants to help me with this because I've learned that I can't do this for the rest of my life. I can't just avoid and stuff away the uncomfortable feelings. I have to deal with them. I have to learn how to eat again. Humbling, because I feel like I am back in diapers to the time when children, even infants, learn how to eat. I guess in a lot of ways I am.

Friday, February 5, 2010


Yesterday, Pastor Rich stopped me on my way to class to say, "I've been looking everywhere for you. I read this and thought of you." He handed me a newspaper and pointed to an article on the side. "You'll like this."

By glancing at the title, I was already appreciative. "Thanks."

Pastor Rich is a wise man. I don't mean to be stereotypical, but I'm always surprised at how open-minded and non-judgmental he is considering he's probably pushing 60 years-old. Just like a proud papa, he sits on the front row whenever a Union college student is involved and takes pictures. The last two times I've been up front, he was right there encouraging me, even saying out loud, "You got it" and "You can do it. Just say it!"

He welcomes my questions. He accepts me where I am. He's a good one.

"Wrestling with God part of the Struggle"

by Michelle DeRusha

Last month I wrote about grace and an old New Year's resolution, and in response a reader questioned what he or she called my "blind faith."

That got me thinking: why the assumption that all faith is blind faith?

Don't get me wrong, I would love to enjoy blind faith. I wish there was a fast-faith drive-thru, where I could pull up to the window and place my order: "Yes, I'd like the No. 3, the blind faith, please, with a side order of patience and good will."

As it turns out, my faith is far from blind. Raised Catholic, I abandoned religion, and God, for nearly 20 years before returning to faith at nothing short of a glacial pace. There was no road-to-Damascus conversion. No lightning bolts. No obvious miracles. The process was fraught with questioning, grappling and great doubt. In some ways, it still is.

I've come to believe, though, that God allows us to struggle, and even encourages the struggle at times.

Take the Genesis story, for example, in which Jacob literally wrestles with God on the shore of the Jabbok River. What's interesting about the story is that an omnipotent, omniscient God clearly does not need to wrestle with a mere human, yet he does. Why?

To me, this story is less about the physical conflict itself and more about the fact that God allows us to wrestle with him. God did not need to wrestle with Jacob at all; rather, God knew Jacob needed to wrestle with him.

God condones struggle, even encourages it, because our trials in this life are a catalyst for transformation. God saw that Jacob needed to struggle to transform, to shed his manipulative, deceitful self and grow in his relationship with God.

God, it seems, will not overpower our free will; he won't force us to love him. He doesn't coerce trust out of us but works through the process with us. God didn't pin Jacob to the sand or immobilize him in a headlock, but allowed the match to continue all night long. In the end, Jacob transformed on his own accord. He refused to release his grasp until God blessed him, and to symbolize Jacob's metamorphosis, God renamed him Israel (in Hebrew, Yisrael), which means "he has striven with God."

Many of the people in the Bible, including the disciples, are ordinary humans - fallible, conflicted, questioning and doubting. Few have blind faith. Yet through these ordinary people and despite their many imperfections, God accomplished great things.

I have hope and faith that my questions, doubts and struggles, my wrestling with God, are all part of the growing pains I will experience in my deepening relationship with him. The story of Jacob tells me it's OK to wrestle, and that I don't wrestle alone. I am striving with God.

From the Lincoln Journal Star

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dear God,

I'm tired.

You know those kiddie roller coasters at amusement parks? The ones that only take-up a small corner of the park? Usually, they travel in a circle, with a few bumps, really little, just for interest. It probably looks pretty dinky to someone watching, like parents who know little Susie is having the ride of her life, but still kind think, Oh, someday she'll experience the real thing! But Susie's on board having the ride of her life. Yeah, that feels about accurate.

My life probably seems pretty small to you. It's hard to imagine that you don't look at me with the same eyes that I do and think: Oh come on, this again?

I'm tired of breaking promises to myself. Again. And again. And again. Four years worth of broken promises, well, at least in this realm.

Maybe I'm confusing you with what I imagine other people are saying, or at least what I know I am saying: All right, that's enough. This is ridiculous. It was an interesting off-shoot for awhile, but this is getting out of hand.

God, it's nice to have people around me who can say, "You're doing okay. You're only human. It's okay to feel this way." Okay, I get it. It's all right for me to feel this way, but I DON'T WANT TO. I'm tired.

I don't want to get out of bed this morning.
I don't want to show up to life.
I don't want to go to class.
I don't want to smile.
I don't want to try to make people feel special.
I don't want to be dating a boy who lives across the country.
I don't want to eat.
I don't want to keep talking about this. I'm tired of talking about this.

The problem is, I don't know what I want. I know I don't want this. I don't want to feel this. I don't want to be living this. Beyond that, I guess I'm just whining because I'm out of solutions.

I've talked to so many people about this that friends of friends of friends in San Bernadino, California (a place I've never been) know about it. I've shared my story with a few thousand people by now. I mean, I've literally written a book on it. I've seen 5 different counselors. I've done EMDR trauma counseling. I've attended eating disorder groups. I've tried method after method. I've read books. I've practiced tapping into my body's algorithms. I've meditated. I've prayed. I've journaled. I've listened.

I don't want to sound like an indignant child who assumes that because there is a God life will be easy. I learned that one in Cambodia. Uh huh. I'm done being angry with you. I'm done waiting for my name to be written in the sky (though, if you want to, I'd be okay with that). But if life is going to hurt with or without a God and you're not going to be painfully obvious, then I don't know what to do with you.


Monday, February 1, 2010

God: Part I

The “faith” question continues to evade me. Though I can’t say I’ve whole heartedly been chasing it either. I can’t—nor do I want to—avoid the question, but really: What do I believe? Some people seem to fit nicely into a little box called “religion.” In a way, I see some appeal. You get this nifty label that says, “Christian” or “Catholic” and then people just know what you believe without question. No, that’s not what I want. There are always exceptions. I want to think. I want to consider. I want to make decisions that make sense. I want to believe in what I believe. Life was simpler when I was a kid.

I’m a born and raised Seventh-day Adventist Christian. I rocked cradle roll, primary, juniors, and youth Sabbath school. I awaited that wonderful day when I could join Pathfinders. At ten years-old, I held my breath beneath the waves of baptism on July 25, 1997. Attending Adventist schools, eating Loma Linda veggie foods, and singing hymns make the perfect Adventist right? Graduation day from an Adventist academy pushed me toward my next stop, an Adventist college.

I was not brainwashed. I’m not directly regretful about my Christian upbringing. This is just the way it was. After a year at Union, I decided to adventure towards another very Adventist thing to do: serve for a year as a student missionary. Packing a years-worth of items into two, fifty-pound bags, I boarded that plane bound for Phnom Penh, Cambodia when I was 19 years-old.

There are three phases of culture shock: the honeymoon stage, resistance, and finally, acceptance. So at first, I thought, This is charming. Oh look at the people, the market, the traffic! Some travelers enjoy travel immensely because they only stay a week. That’s why it’s called a vacation. Some long-term travelers hang out in the honeymoon stage for weeks and even months. My honeymoon stage lasted about 24 hours. My reality became real very quickly. I got off the plane, spent one night in Cambodia, and realized, This is not what I thought it was going to be. This took me into the next phase of culture shock: resistance; which is pretty much where I spent the next 8 of my 10 months in Cambodia.

In my checked baggage I brought clothes, teaching supplies, and an eating disorder. This brought pain, anger, hurt, frustration, isolation, loneliness, and a host of other feelings. Amidst bulimia, a rough living situation, sexual assault, being hit by a car, and a few other memorable experiences, I decided there could not be a god. This hurt too much for there to be a god who was watching over me. Everything that used to seem so sure to me—Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so—no longer made sense, not in Cambodia.

The last phase of culture shock is acceptance. Okay, it’s not perfect, but this is interesting. My situation improved steadily the last two months as I started preparing to go home. I tried to be an atheist. That lasted about a week. I think I’ve been agnostic ever since.

Agnostic- a person who claims that they cannot have true knowledge about the existence of God (but does not deny that God might exist)

That feels about right. I think more people are agnostic than they’d like to admit, because really, not one person on planet earth can prove God. If they could, without a doubt, prove the existence of God, everyone would believe in Him. It’d be an established fact like gravity. We all know gravity exists. We don’t argue about facts. The Christians I love and respect the most are those who are willing to say, “I don’t pretend to have all the answers,” because they’ve accepted that they just can’t.

God: Part II

I’ve been making a list the last few months of the similarities between someone who claims Christianity and someone who claims . . .um, not-Christianity (for lack of a better word). I see so many similarities between these two groups that I started writing down what they share.

Christian- Ask for forgiveness and move on, changed.
Non-Christian- Forgive yourself and move on, changed.

Christian- God is the biggest, baddest thing ever; we can never fully understand Him.
Non-Christian- Life is big and deep and wide, we’ll never have it all figured out.

Christian- Surrender to God and His ways.
Non-Christian- Surrender to the universe, let life happen, don’t be a control freak.

Christian- Be still. Listen for the voice of God.
Non-Christian- Be still. Take a deep breath. Listen to your heart. Trust yourself.

Christian- Tell God the burdens of your heart.
Non-Christian- Embrace your thoughts. Say it out loud. Write it down.

Christian- Church unites believers.
Non-Christian- …so do Super bowl parties, dance clubs, concerts, and coffee shops.

Christian- I’ll pray for you.
Non-Christian- I’ll be thinking about you.

Christian- I believe in miracles.
Non-Christian- I believe that amazingly life always works things out.

Christian- I trust God to lead in my life.
Non-Christian- I trust that life will happen with or without my permission.

Christian- To follow God is to accept His will.
Non-Christian- To be a sane human being, is to accept that you can’t micromanage life.

Both Christians and non-Christians can be nice, volunteer at a homeless shelter, donate money to charities, surrender to let life happen, build community, and avoid substances that may be harmful to their bodies. The list goes on. I’m trying to figure out what makes a Christian different than anyone else. Because if they’re pretty much the same, why would I choose Christianity? Especially in light of a book I’ve been reading called, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity. . And Why It Matters by David Kinnaman. The writers conducted a nationwide survey project in which they asked, “What do you think about Christians?” The top six answers among 20-60 year-old non-believers were that Christians are hypocritical, pushy evangelicals, anti-homosexual, sheltered, too political, and judgmental.

Now, let’s think logically. If there aren’t many significant differences between Christians and non-Christians and it all comes down to a choice; why, oh why would I choose the Christian side? What’s in it for me? Scorn? Lost credibility? Disdain? Dislike?

Claiming to be an Adventist-Christian sure would make my life easier in some ways. I could take the title and then I wouldn’t have to think so hard about it. My parents would feel better and I wouldn’t seem to make people around me feel so uncomfortable.

God: Part III

Yesterday, a friend asked me, “What has been the most significant change in your life since you returned from Cambodia?”

Couldn’t help it, couldn’t deny it, though I tried: Come on think of anything else . . . “Before I went to Cambodia, I believed in a loving God.” Sometimes I lack a filter.

I’m not anti-God.
I’m not anti-Adventism.
I’m not anti-Christianity.
I’m not anti-anything.
I’m pro-truth.

I’m seeking answers.

It was easy to believe in a loving God when I was 6 years-old and the Bible told me so. It was easy to believe in a loving God at 10 years-old when the biggest trial in my life involved surviving my older brother’s torment and spit-torture. It was easy to believe in a loving God for most of my years until life really hurt me and I wanted someone to blame. God seemed the obvious choice, I suppose He always is.

Life was simpler when I was 19. I didn’t have to think so hard. I didn’t have to confront my thoughts or the reality of a world in which people are hurting, and dying, and killing each other for no reason at all. The grey areas of life continue to become more obvious to me as I search for the good ‘ol black-and-whites I grew up knowing well: Don’t steal. Don’t cheat. Don’t have sex. Don’t question God.

For the last two years, my identity has been built on my doubts. Am I being too stubborn? Are the answers right under my nose and I don’t want to see them for fear of being wrong? I think it’s easy to get stuck here. I don’t want to get stuck.

I often have conversations with people about God, but over the last week, the topic has come up more than usual. Probably because last week, I performed a song at church and last night, I attended vespers; both of which events I haven’t attended regularly in years.

I’ve found a group of people—Christians and non-Christians— who accept my questions and who welcome my doubts. I like them. I learn from them. I have some very Christian friends, but I also made some very not-Christian friends. It’s interesting to me that because I’m open about my doubts with God and my questions about Christianity, that I’ve gained an entirely new group of friends who are in a similar place. I realize we get a long for many reasons, but we seem to agree on the fact that Christianity doesn’t look super appealing right now. We relate on this. We agree on this. Last week, I told one of these friends I was singing at church, and felt the strong urge to tell him, “Well, I’m doing it for a friend and I only agreed because I am singing a song that I wrote. And I’m going to leave right afterwards.” I felt like such a big dork, foolish for trying to be cool enough to not be Christian. It’s like I was trying to prove that I still had my doubts and needed to be wary and resistant.

He ended up attending to hear my song, then left. The next day, he told me about how uncomfortable it was for him to be in church. I heard what he was saying, but it struck me as we were talking that it seems sometimes because of my identity as a doubter, that I want to disagree with Christians. I somewhat look for what they’re doing wrong, instead of what they’re doing right. So in the end, while I may complain that some Christians can be judgmental, I’m being just as judgmental by assuming they’ll disappointment me.

The other night, as I walked into vespers, a not-Christian friend latched onto me and whispered, “I don’t want to be here.” Her eyes daring side-to-side. “I haven’t been in church for so long. It makes me uncomfortable.”

“Well,” I said. “I don’t think anyone is forcing you to stay. You can leave at any time.”

Antsy. “No, I’ll stay.”

But throughout the service, I glanced around at some truly awkward not-Christians as they huffed under their breath and slightly rolled their eyes. I sat there thinking: We need to get used to this. Otherwise we’re fighting change. We have to endure uncomfortable situations all the time in which we are surrounded by people who may believe differently than we do. How about a Republican convention? How about a National Rifle Association meeting? Or simply a classroom where the discussion shifts and new ideas are presented? What makes some, including myself, so uncomfortable with church? Unfortunately, I haven’t been looking for truth. I’ve been searching for the flaws. That’s not fair. I’m sorry. That’s a pretty sad way to live. It’s like I’ve been taking my anger with life out on Christianity, as if they are somehow responsible.

Some people believe that Christians are unintelligent, simple-minded, and shallow thinkers. That’s not fair either. Look at some of the smartest philosophers in the world, some believed in God, some didn’t. After a few thousand years, the world’s smartest people can’t figure it out either. Is there a God or not? If they don’t know, who am I to decide? It’s like I’m waiting for one more scientific study, or one last missing piece that will confirm what I should believe. Maybe I have everything I need and it all comes down to a choice.

God: Part IV

The other night I told Jeremy, “I want to believe in God.”

“Then believe in God,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s that easy,” I said exhaustedly.

“I think it is.”

One of my favorite quotes, which I apparently lost, goes something like this: “Sometimes life requires us to make decisions based on facts of which we are only 51% sure.” I may never have every answer, maybe that’s why it’s called: faith.

I am far from ever exploring all possible questions and possibilities related to the topic of God and faith. But I’m taking hints from the rest of the world. If there isn’t an answer yet, there may never be. And if it comes down to a decision to believe one way or the other, I don’t want to just stubbornly hang out in the middle for the rest of my life.

My wise brother-in-law, Ben, tells me, “I think, to some degree, you’ll always be in the middle. Life isn’t requiring a full-fledged decision of you one way or the other” (He’s so good at helping me breathe). “Some days you might believe whole-heartedly, without a doubt, that there is a God. Other days, you’ll relate more to non-Christians. You’ll sway back and forth. Making a decision one day, doesn’t mean that at some point you can’t say: I don’t know.”

He confirmed that I don’t have to lose friendships with anyone if I decide that Christianity is for me. Judgmentalism, hypocrisy, staunch fundamentals, and rigidity don’t just come with the Christian title anymore than radical, extremist, and creepy do.

I want to accept not knowing. I want to be okay with being wrong. If I insist on being right about this, I will stubbornly hang on to my hypothesis that God is a myth, created to make ourselves feel better, and I’ll never find truth, especially if it contradicts everything I wanted to be true. We are all biased, but I don’t want to be jaded.

Creationists and evolutionists will never agree.

Philosophers will debate about truth until the end of time.

The government might just make a National Saturday law (wouldn’t that just bring the Adventist house to shambles?)

Angry Christians will still stand on street corners holding signs that scream: “God Hates Fags!”

Wars will be fought and people will die, all in the name of Allah or Buddha or God or _______(any other name for a higher power).

Someone will get a “genius” idea, sway a large following with Kool-Ade, and say, “Jesus told me to do it.”

These situations will always exist. There is no easy answer. But the crazies shouldn’t spoil the whole batch. All I can do is continue seeking truth while fully aware of my own biases. I can surround myself with good people whom I trust. I can take another look. I can consider another perspective. I can say, “I don’t know, but I’m willing to listen.”

Right now, February 1st, 2010 at 5:32pm, I can say:

-I believe in a God

-I believe Jesus existed and there are plenty of things I can learn from Him

-I believe the Bible is one of the oldest and most historically-sound documents we have, it might be worth my time to read

Of most everything else, I don’t know. I still don’t think I’m a Christian, because I’m not in love with Jesus or “following” Him anywhere. I still don’t think I’m an Adventist, because I like to wear jewelry, say “bad” words, and I can’t tell you one of the 28 Fundamentals Beliefs.

Yet, I do believe what Jeremiah 29:13 says, “"When you come looking for me, you'll find me.”Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I'll make sure you won't be disappointed."


Listen here: Adddison Road, "What Do I Know of Holy?"

(Thanks Kylie Schnell)