My ribs shocked me with their visibility. It was suddenly, in this very heartbeat, I realized that I was starving. Looking upward from my achingly thin torso, I made contact with my eyes in the mirror. Those dark and empty-full eyes, reflecting my deep courageous soul. A soul determined enough to starve myself in the hopes of quelling my heart pains. I was so hungry. So empty. So strong.
Strong enough to kill myself. But did I mean to do that or was it merely a potential by-product? Maybe I did not know that a body that lives on only a few hundred calories a day cannot survive forever. But the always-tired and the always-hungry should have told me something was seriously wrong.
The memory of those days and nights comes in tired flashes. Nights when I learned to rub my feet hard against each other to keep my mind off my empty stomach when the falling-asleep was hard. Days when the walk up a flight of stairs felt so interminably long and difficult, that I had to pause to rest every few steps. Sixteen year old, starving, impossibly strong me – almost defeated by the concrete flights of stairs at the local community college. Ironic how brave I felt – my mind bigger and more powerful than even the desire for food. I would win. At any cost.
I was winning but the winning was losing. I had lost a quarter of my body weight and was still shrinking. Mind, heart and body, I was lost in every way. Lost, until a Hero came to find me. For those were the days when Jesus began to meet me face to face. He came to me through a band’s simple rendition of an old song played over and over on my big old boombox in my little green room. They sang, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”, and I remember when I first heard it and how the room shifted and the goosebumps rushed down and suddenly I was almost not there at all and He was with me. Jesus would come to me with a Teddy Bear in his arms. And it was Jesus who walked me free, who taught me how to eat again, who showed me who I was, who gave me the strength to be weaker . . . . . to let go of control and to live in trust. Jesus told me that he was punished so that I didn’t have to be. He felt pain so that I could give my heart pain to him. And this, THIS was what let me eat again. When I finally realized I was good enough to eat.
That was seventeen years ago and I tell you this old and painful story because I know you too have difficult stories. I know you might have done unthinkable things. I know that your heart has probably ached until you thought blood would pool. I know you are impossibly strong and that your strength may sometimes defeat you. I tell you this story because I believe in your beauty. Because I know that Jesus can be as real for you as he is for me.
He is the same Jesus who meets me today, eye to eye. Face to face. He meets me by the pool, and in the darkened sanctuary during worship. He meets me in the eyes of the hopeless and in the eyes of the wealthy and the favored. He meets me in the laughing hugs of my children, and as I cry by their beds when they hurt. He meets me in my greatest dreams and in the dangerous thoughts, the unspoken losses that haunt me. He meets me anyway, and anywhere, even in my shame and my failings. He knows my secrets. He listens to my complaints. He enjoys my songs, even though they are silly, and my voice is not very good.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Look full in his wonderful face.
And the things on earth will grow strangely dim.
In the light of his glory and grace.
Jesus. Oh Jesus. Just JESUS.