Thursday, February 7, 2013

This I Know

I grew up singing the words "Jesus loves me, this I know..." but sometimes I have to wonder how much I actually believed it.  Because I was suddenly a teenager, remembering the words of a song I thought as baby-ish, and I hated myself.  I could blame it on other people and what they said, like the guy in a random McDonald's when we were driving across the country just before my thirteenth birthday who caught me looking at him and said, "What are you looking at?" then to his friends, called me "the ugliest girl in the world."

Oh, but it had started before then, boys on the school bus who would torment me daily.  Their nickname for me was Medusa and they said if they looked at me, they'd turn to stone.  Their other, slightly better nickname was Joykenstein.  Everyone says that's what boys do when they actually like a girl, but I still don't believe it for a second.  I'd get to school on the verge of tears, and keep fighting them back all the lonely day long.

At thirteen, though, I couldn't look at myself in the mirror without grimacing.  I looked nothing like the magazines all said I should, and everywhere there were voices of hatred and uncaring.  The guy who kicked me in the head during P.E., the school that didn't have time to deal with it because I wasn't hurt badly, the girl at church camp who told me to shut up when I said we needed to go do our kitchen duty because she was doing her hair and with a look of disgust on her face, she told me, "Some people actually care about how [they] look!"

I got back to my boarding school after being away a year, and I was a mess.  Not only was I missing the friends I'd actually managed to make during that year of torment, I'd just watched my father almost die of anaphylactic shock.  Everything seemed out of control and uncertain except that I was worthless... and then some of the staff at the boarding school actually told me as much.

Then it was too easy.

Too easy to start cutting back the amount of food I ate -- never starving myself completely, just eating tiny amounts and then exercising like crazy.  Too easy to like that patch of raw skin on my back from all the crunches I did on the hard floor and the pain of emptiness in my stomach because it gave validity to the pain of emptiness in my heart.  Down, down, down the vortex I went -- willingly, happily, because I was "in control."

Until I was cold all the time.  And tired all the time.  One morning I fell asleep curled in a chair under a blanket in the sunshine, trying to warm up, and I saw a hospital room and the pattern of the curtain around the bed and a mirror -- that horrible tormenting mirror.  And a voice told me, "If you keep doing this, you will die.  You will not know the love of a happy marriage or the voices of your children.  You will die."  Then suddenly I was crying, begging the voice to be wrong.

I tried to get myself to "just eat more" but I was trapped, then, by my self-constructed cage of "control."  A week or so later, Dad and I flew back to California from Thailand, so I could get the help I needed.  We stayed overnight in Singapore, and I drew a bath in our hotel room that night -- since I was still cold.  There were mirrors everywhere in that bathroom and I tried not to see my reflection as I undressed and tested the water. But what I saw out of the corner of my eye could not have been me.  I turned to face it fully and prove my suspicions wrong.  The reflection looked like a skeleton, but I wasn't ever trying to be a skeleton.  I looked like a prisoner of war, when what I'd wanted was just to be loved.

A couple days later, I was in the hospital -- the very hospital room I had seen in my dream.  I tried not to believe it at first when I saw the curtain and the bed, but when I looked out the window and saw the view of the courtyard from it, I knew.  And I knew I was going to die if I didn't make some big changes -- and fast.  I had a choice.

I chose freedom.

This day twenty years ago, I left that hospital.  I had spent twenty-six days there, watching my heart rate and blood pressure do crazy, dangerous things as I slowly put the weight back on, feeling a strange ache all over my body -- like a bruise on my skin.  The staff was sure I would return.  They told my parents to expect one or two more stays... at least.  But I had made my choice, and as I stepped into the cold drizzle that afternoon, I knew I wasn't going back.  I didn't love myself -- I wasn't even sure I liked myself -- but I knew I wanted freedom.

I've said before that I didn't completely recover that day -- no, not by a long shot.  There were still almost eighteen months of tallying calories in my head as I lay in bed at the end of the day, making sure I hadn't eaten too much.  (But not too little either.)  It was a slow untying process -- releasing the cords of control I'd bound myself so tightly in.  Most days I still have to remember the Serenity Prayer -- "Lord, grant me the serenity to accept that which I cannot change, the courage to change that which I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

But now I sing the words to that song I thought so baby-ish once to my own precious babes, "Jesus loves me, this I know."  And I sing them from my heart.  I am certain that Jesus loves me, that the only reason I'm alive today is because He made me a new creation.  He gave me not just freedom but the wings to enjoy it.  He showed me the depths of Love I could never have imagined, Love that brings me to tears as I try to fathom it.

Jesus loves me, this I know.


  1. This is beautiful, Joy. Praise God that you chose to live - really live - and see that happy marriage and wonderful children.

  2. Grateful for your honest, transparent heart, Joy.

  3. Life really change and I know how hard it is when you are just starting your days in school. I'm glad to see the person you are and the lovely family you have right now :)
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  4. I sing this song to Isaac. Every night I pray that he is happy... Not generically, but happy bc he knows and likes himself, bc he has dreams and works towards them, bc he knows how much I love him, bc he knows God and knows how special he is in His eyes. I think it is so telling that a beautiful, smart, special girl like you could feel like that bc if you could, then anybody could. It makes my heart hurt to know what you went through. And I'm SO glad you know how special and truly beautiful you are.

  5. This is such a beautiful blog and such a perfect post. I'm sure you've already heard of it but I love the children's book 'On the night you were born', I read it to both my babies every night. It follows the message

    I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    (Psalm 139:14)

    More than anything I want my babies to grow up knowing that they are perfect just the way they are. I think as women we know the pressures our daughters will face and we can only try to give them the confidence to believe in themselves. I actually blogged a little about this the other day

    We have to remember though that the messages which apply to our children also apply to us. We are ALL special and loved.

    Thanks for such a beautiful post and such a personal one. I am new follower!

    1. Yay! Thank you! I loved what you said in your post, too! Thanks for your kind words and encouragement here.

  6. This is such a amazing post. I can not tell you how much I need to hear your honesty and openess on this subject. You are truly a answer to prayer, and God is using you in a amazing way. Please keep up the good work!

    1. Thank you so much for saying that! Honestly, every day I have moments where I wonder if I should even bother blogging any more, so I am SO glad to know my words might have helped you. Your words are an answer to my prayers! :-)


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