This bus is very much like the one we loaded on our way to a remote Honduran village, the summer of 1994. No wonder the ride was scary.
The open air bus slung us left and right, and we pushed hard down on the flats of our feet to steady ourselves. Gravel roads, rutted and bumpy, bounced us up and down. As I gripped the nearest railing, we seemingly leaned out over the mountain’s edge, the bus careening around sharp corners.
Across the aisle, I locked eyes with my best high school girlfriend, who had made a pact with me. Yes, we will go to Honduras. We will get the shots. We will sleep in mosquito netting and take ice cold showers. We will spend a week of our poolside summer serving alongside doctors as they treat poor families who have no access to medical care.
The months leading up to the trip, I practiced thinking more sacrificially. I remember eagerness overwhelming my sensibilities. I couldn’t wait to meet the people, learn more about practical medicine, and live a little more rugged than I was accustomed.
But the bus ride on the way to the village was making me think differently. For the first time since leaving stateside, I was scared. I started considering that this bus ride might be my last. And that is when my thoughts turned inward. I bowed my head and prayed. My seventeen year old self felt helpless. My forty year old self would have jumped up out of that seat as soon as we hurled across the first sharp pass, and I would have had words. Plenty of words.
Keeping my head down, I opened my eyes. Immediately, I noticed I was much better off looking at the floorboard than at my swirling surroundings. But what I did next, ever so subtly, is the beginning of a memory I just can’t shake.
Looking down, I tilted my head to the side of my body, and I noticed something I had never seen before. My left leg was jiggling with the rhythm of the potholed roadway. Amidst the jarring movements, I noticed my cellulite for the first time, and I was horrified. In fact, it was more shocking than a good horror movie because I couldn’t look away. I kept staring and staring, forgetting that a few moments ago I had feared for my life.
Yet, I took this recognition so seriously that I think, momentarily, I chose to exchange one perceived crisis for another.
My entire life, I had been the skinny one. The skinny daughter and granddaughter and niece. The one who must have had a hole in her leg because she ate so much and stayed so skinny. The skinny cheerleader that was easy to toss. The skinny one of my friend group. Skinny was a large part of my identity. And how could it not be? It was the word that could be used to describe me, whether you knew anything about me or not.
Image-words are like that. Image-words stick with us and define us deeper and attach us to our skin closer than the words that speak truth about who we really are.
Our girls process these remarks, whether intended for evil or good, more than any generation in history. They are constantly barraged by sexy Internet snapshots hovering on the page’s sideline and abrasive group text responses from “friends” that communicate image-words say something about who they really are.
So, what are we going to do about it? How are we going to join together to affirm these young women that they were made by the perfect Creator who doesn’t make mistakes? How do we teach them how to fight for their beautiful lives against a culture that covets their tender souls?
We have to teach them how to live when they feel like their hearts are dying.
We teach them how to live by clinging to the truth. May we be bold as He leads us to listen and love and teach in times of need. Especially when the rocky roads threaten to silence us to fear and helplessness.
As I pray for us, leaders entrusted with these precious girl gifts, I return to Hebrews 4:16 for courage. “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”