“It’s red, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it’s red,” she said resignedly. “Now you see why I can’t be perfectly happy. Nobody could who has red hair. I don’t mind the other things so much–the freckles and the green eyes and my skinniness. I can imagine them away. I can imagine that I have a beautiful rose-leaf complexion and lovely starry violet eyes. But I cannot imagine that red hair away. I do my best. I think to myself, `Now my hair is a glorious black, black as the raven’s wing.’ But all the time I know it is just plain red and it breaks my heart. It will be my lifelong sorrow.”
Oh, Anne. I have loved Anne of Green Gables since I read it the first time. She’s a firecracker who uses big words, is passionate and loyal about her relationships, verbally processes, and (of course) has red hair. As a child I use to hate my red hair. I remember clearly people calling me carrot top among other not-so-nice things, being told I was a redheaded rooster, and hearing a few adults I looked up to saying (when they didn’t think I was listening) that they hoped their children didn’t have red hair. It’s hard not to take that personally. As Anne says, you can’t wish it away no matter how hard you try.
When I became a teenager and into adulthood I decided having red hair wasn’t so bad. People remembered me, I stood out. I’ve never been one to want to blend into the shadows completely, so having something that made me different became a benefit rather than a hinderance. But then adulthood ran into getting into middle age, and suddenly my bright, copper-red hair started looking a bit less vibrant and a lot more washed out. I felt like I was losing my identity as my hair changed color so I started dying it regularly to a coppery color. But since most of the time it was a cheap box from Walmart I now cringe when I see pictures of me with that harsh hair color!
We are weird people. No matter how old we get or how much we mature, we struggle with how we look and we allow that to define who we think we are and what our worth is. I’ve noticed recently that I’ve had a lot of anxiety about what I’m eating (or not eating.) At college I struggled a lot with an eating disorder. It continued for many years into adulthood, as I would go out at night and binge on what ever I wanted, then throw it up before I went home. It wasn’t really about losing weight. I knew that I wasn’t going to get skinny in this pattern. It certainly wasn’t about being healthy – that was really the last thing on my mind. I understand now that it was my way of grabbing control of my shame that I felt.
I would feel shame about everything at that time. Shame that I wasn’t a better parent, a better wife, a better sister and daughter. Shame that I was continually gaining weight and couldn’t seem to stop. Shame that I wasn’t where I thought I should be as a Christian or an adult. Shame about past mistakes and anxiety about future ones. And shame about the way I looked and how I wished with my whole heart that I was not the way I was. People around me have been talking about dieting and weight my whole life. I know very few women who don’t talk about almost every day, so I don’t think I am an oddball about this.
Fast forward to this stage of life. Last year we started doing keto and I dropped 60 pounds over the course of the year. But I found out something about myself – I exchanged the idol of food (I can eat whatever I want) for the idol of fear (I don’t dare eat that. Or – I can’t believe I ate that, what a wretched person I am!) If I had a bad day where I would eat too many carbs, my whole mood and attitude was affected. I felt anxiety about every little thing going into my body. While I was healthier in many ways, emotionally I was still going through a lot of the same cycles.
I found myself sitting on the floor in the bathroom one afternoon weighing in on whether the shame of having just eaten bread would be bigger than the shame I knew would come if I made myself throw up. Then I broke down and cried, wondering how I had gotten back to this point.
This is not a story I want to share. I love telling those stories where there is complete victory. I would love to say that I threw up one day two decades ago, had a revelation about who I am and who I want to be, and stopped right then and there. But the truth is this temptation has been there much more than I ever imagined it would be. While it’s been years since I hung my head over the toilet regularly, the idea still creeps in every once in a while.
But there is hope.
Because here’s another truth – I have not spent every day of the last couple decades living in shame and fear. There are periods of time that these things try to creep in. And sometimes I forget the truth of who I really am and I let these lies settle in. Sometimes it’s from conversations happening around me or circumstances that pop up, but other times it’s simply my own insecurities showing their faces when I am not expecting them, so I am not ready to fight. I have learned some practical things (and I keep learning more and more) about how I cannot be extreme when it comes to food issues. I know I need to be disciplined and eat in healthy ways, but I keep coming to a better understanding of what that means for me and my family. I have learned to love walking and pushing myself in exercise and the feeling of pride I get when I make wise choices about these things – but I also know how slippery that slope can be for me with my obsessive tendencies and how fast I give into shame.
However, more than anything, I continue to learn despite the fact I fail often, and no matter how I feel in the moment, none of that really defines me or changes my worth. As I have fallen deeper and deeper in love with Jesus, I realize better and better the depth of his love for me. I understand that my salvation is not just about heaven someday, but the ability to live here on this earth in a supernatural freedom from anxiety. Over the last month we have talked about advent and the different things that we looked at were hope, peace, joy, and love. I have emphasized as I taught and wrote on it that these things are not things of this world. We are not talking about a hope in temporal things or peace and joy that comes from everything around us being just as we think it should and we “feel” good. Love is an overflowing of the Spirit from us that we can have because He first loved us. These things come from a dying to myself and surrendering my life to Him.
The same is true about these other things. Even if I have a day where I ate a box of Little Debbies, this doesn’t change my worth. If I have a day where my parenting is less than stellar and I have have to humbly apologize to my kids, my worth is still the same. On the flip side, if I eat exactly 20 carbs, walk 10,000 steps, kiss my husband every time I see him, cook a healthy meal at night, and tuck my children into bed without having once lost my temper with them, my worth has not changed. It can’t. I have already been purchased at the ultimate cost- so I am now priceless. He loves me me with a perfect love that was so incomprehensible he died for me while I was still a broken, bratty child kicking and screaming insults at him. Even then my worth was known to him.
As I go into 2020 I have no illusions that this year will be easy. I am starting a new job, learning how to balance that with still having kids at home who are doing online school, a college student, and a young adult. I am still in my first year in a new place where I am getting to know people and figuring out who my people are. We have parents whom we love that we need to be able to care for better. And I continue to fight my way through this love/hate relationship with food to a better place for me both physically and emotionally. But I am determined to go into this year with the reminder of who I am and I will dream up big, God-sized dreams that cannot happen without Him – one of those dreams being a healthier me who stands steadfastly in what I know to be true about me and about Jesus. Because, as Anne says, “When you are imagining, you might as well imagine something worth while.”