I did not know I was asleep.
Four days before our wedding, I moved to a new place. I drove my gold ’96 Saturn northbound on I-35, from Austin to Dallas. My car was packed tight and high with boxes, and behind me, my parents’ truck hauled the rest of my belongings.
And for most of the three hour drive, my insides felt like a witch’s bubbly concoction, brewing and unsettled. My excitement about moving somewhere new brought a smile to my face until the cackling sound of Fear reminded me I wasn’t moving somewhere dreamy like London or Madrid. You, my pretty, are moving to Dallas. Ha, Ha, Ha!
My excitement about finding a new job would last a few minutes until Fear plopped into the black cauldron of my swirling emotions. Fear threatened, The only job left for you will be teaching English to a room full of hormone-driven, entitled middle schoolers. Ha, Ha, Ha!
Excitement and fear swirled together down deep in the pit of my stomach, and the condition of my heart was murky, at best.
But at least I was going to get married.
The first few years of marriage were tougher than I could have imagined. I scrambled to get home early in the afternoons in time to cook dinner, often overreacting if my husband was running a few minutes late. In my spare hours, I attended graduate school at night and trained for triathlons. In Dave’s spare time, he watched ESPN. We had more than a few arguments about how low the television volume really needed to be so that I could still study and he could still watch football. Or basketball. Or hockey. We disagreed on almost every financial decision — the grocery budget, the clothing budget, the eating-out budget.
Keeping my nose to the grindstone, my head down and focused on the next task ahead, I stayed busy. Busy was my distractor. If I could stay busy, I could close my eyes, refusing to see the girl in the mirror who was growing more lonely and confused in her role as wife. I look back and see her standing quietly in front of the flimsy, full length mirror clipped to the top of the doorframe. She stares ahead, confused and hurt, wondering, Why don’t I feel like I’m enough? I have everything I want.
Marriage wasn’t making me the woman I thought it would. So I closed my eyes to my insecurities, especially those entangled with my own negative body image. I told myself that if I wasn’t starving myself, I was fine. If I wasn’t hiding in the bathroom, I was healed. If I wasn’t losing weight, I was healthy.
I did not know I was asleep.
But four years ago, a series of circumstances poked at me. Moved me around. Jostled me awake to see some things I didn’t want to see. One of them was the harsh judgment I used to keep my body in line. If I didn’t use fear tactics to keep myself a certain size, I’d unravel, surely. Eat this, but don’t eat that. Exercise this many days a week. Weight gain is not allowed. Be careful of weight loss; you don’t want to look anorexic.
Choosing to wake up, I acknowledged something hurtful. I was verbally abusing myself. Cruel talk rattled in my psyche when I spoke to my body about her imperfections.
Timid and desperate for a new way to live, I asked God to help me see. And He did.
Admitting my own tendency to self-shame was the first step in helping me heal. Sharing my body image shame with God, with a few trusted friends, and with the most important person who wanted to know me, my husband, invited new conversations. These conversations woke me from a self-induced slumber, and I realized that my shame did not have to consume me.
Jesus has a way of waking up those of us who are sleeping when we ask him to “do a good work in us” or “change our hearts” or “help us see with His eyes.” As I consider the changes women are challenged to speak into social media, their workplaces, and in the intimacy of their families, I see Jesus moving women to love people who are hard to love, with an irrevocable love.
I see women attempting to be grateful for the bodies they indwell, maybe for the very first time in their whole Jesus-loving lives.
I see women bending down to their daughters, nieces, and goddaughters and summoning courage to speak truth, eye to eye. You are beautiful because God made you beautiful, precious girl.
In Mark 5: 35-42, the power behind Jesus’ healing hand amazes me. The ESV translation illustrates how his compassion wakes a beloved twelve year old girl from death, bringing her back to life with his simple command, “Arise.”
“While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”
36 But overhearing[e] what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38 They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus[f] saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.
39 And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.”
40 And they laughed at him.
But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was.
41 Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, Arise.”
42 And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.”
In the midst of weeping and wailing and a houseful of people laughing at him, Jesus stayed his eyes on the healing work at hand. He removed the distractions from the room (all those people weeping and laughing and probably whispering gossip), forcing the swarm of people outside. Next, Jesus led the young girl’s parents to sit by her side. He also came near. He gently stroked her growing-cold hand and woke her from a slumber so deep that, moments before, she had appeared beyond help or hope.
And then He performed a miracle that left the people overcome with amazement. He commanded her body to sit up and her feet to walk the gravelly-dirt floor. Arise.
I wonder what the Holy Spirit might be asking of you today. Is your tender and generous and bold woman-sister-daughter-mother heart bogged down by something heavy? As you reread the excerpt from Mark, can you see a place in your present-day journey where he is coming alongside you, taking you by the hand? Is He saying to you, Talitha cumi. My sacred, dear one, I say to you, Arise?
He is saying Arise to me. He is firmly clasping my fingers with his blood stained hands and walking me through some new ways of living. Juleeta, do not close your eyes when you sincerely struggle with comparing your body with another. Do not close your eyes to the woman sitting next to you because you are uncomfortable about where the conversation might lead.
And then there is the writing. I hear His voice empowering me as I craft the words on this page. Writing about the depth of pain that many women carry about their imperfect female bodies challenges me to be alert and awake to questions that are difficult to answer:
-How many women out there are believing lies about their own bodies?
-How many women are asleep to the idea that they are passing around their own ill thoughts about the female body, like a virus, to the people they are closest to?
-How many women have no idea their self-derogatory comments are the foundation of their children’s understanding of the bodies we live in?
-How many women want healing from unhealthy body image bondage and don’t know where to start?
I believe that answering these kinds of questions will help us, as a female whole, to see that healing is possible. Maybe even having the right people in our corner can advance hope-filled conversations that will propel women forward as we arise from centuries of physical discrimination and too-harsh judgement.
For years, I think, some of us have been asleep. And we did not know it.
There is no shame in the sleeping unless we choose to ignore the source of our hurt. We must avoid the temptation to close our eyes after feeling the nudge of the Holy Spirit to wake up.
Arise, (maybe) He is saying to you.
Arise, (I know) He is saying to me.
Join me next week as we discuss the first of many people we need in our corner to trailblaze body image change for the future of girls and women.