when you don’t like what you see in the mirror (looking for what you cannot see)

“I don’t even want to look at myself,” she said, “I hate what I see.”

I received letters from two ice skaters last week. The first one suddenly disappeared from her sorority house due to bulimia. Rachel was the tiniest girl in the house, but her voice sounded big when she wrote to me: “When I finally graduated from college, I lost so much precious time & opportunities before I finally learned how to deal with it.”

The other is in the thick — and thin — of it now: “I read somewhere that nothing tastes as good as skinny. I’m determined not to eat. When I do, I can’t hold anything down.”
 
I can’t stand the way that wicked mirror twists what’s true. 
 

Two ice skaters. One shattering lie — you are not enough as you are. Muscular legs, a tiny waist, spinning on the ice, but refusing to eat or enjoy, while guilt and shame eats them instead — these girls are screaming for escape and the answer is not a cheeseburger. The answer is a rewiring of the mind, one wicked thought at a time. It’s a bottle of patience and a plate of hope and a table of community, a feast of knowing they are not alone, that Jesus dines with them and they can conquer.

As we wade through Beautiful Lies on FB Live this month (join us Tuesday mornings at 10:30), I’ve been studying the lies again — I remember how they warped what I saw when I looked at myself —  there is no better way to say it but to quote what I wrote when truth transformed me: 

I look into the mirror and can hardly stand what I see. My skin, once creamy, soft, and pure, is riddled with sores. Pimples mar my forehead, cheekbones, and jawline and rear their blaring faces on either side of my mouth. They are cystic and vile, clustering in haphazard pocks. I hate these ugly sores. I hate looking at myself—and the more I do, the larger they get, the more they multiply, and the greater the intensity of the anxiety creeping down my neck.

I try peels and washes and medicine and treatments. I spend money on useless remedies that don’t work. My skin only gets worse. We have just moved to a new town, and I can tell you right now I’m not signing up for Bunko or Bible study! I thought it was bad when I left the modeling industry ten years ago. Now it’s a nightmare.

Mortified that these cysts have gathered in clusters around my jawline, I barely leave the house. As my husband walks through the door, I shrink back in shame and cover my face. The treatments have made it so dry on top of the sores that I can peel off my skin like a snake in flaky ribbons. The kids want to know “what is wrong with Mommy’s face.”

Under a black sky speckled by pinholes of light, I pound my fists on the backyard deck, begging God to heal me.

In a final plea for help, I drive hours to meet a famous dermatologist. Surely he will fix me; he will give me a magic prescription to make this torture go away.

He examines me closely. He notices not only my sores but the distress they are causing me. As I describe my experience, my face flushes and eyes fill with hot tears. I can barely catch my breath to speak.

“My dear,” he says compassionately, “you are not an acne patient. You are a heart patient.”

“Your issue originates not in the skin, but in the heart and mind,” he says, as if teaching me a lesson. Ushering my attention to a diagram on the wall, he explains how the ventricles to the heart and the mind connect to the deepest layers of the skin. “You appear to have a belief in your heart and mind that you have to be perfect. Was something like that planted in you as a child?”

I start talking and I don’t even know what comes out. I slobber all over my words and have to collect myself with tissue.

He considers anti-depressants but settles on a hormone therapy which will take until Easter to work. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet.

I am panicked. My face is marred. I want a prescription to heal this now. Instead, he recommends counseling. “Once the emotional healing comes,” he says, “the physical healing will follow.”

He sends me across the hall to a kind and gentle esthetician. As I am lying on the gurney I’m hoping she will recommend a magic cream that will put a stop to this nonsense. She doesn’t. Instead she tells me to stop looking in the mirror.

“Take a month off,” she says with peaceful music playing in the background. “Do what you love; focus on what makes you happy. Don’t look.”

I cry half of the way home and start my fast from the mirror by the time I pull into the driveway.

When I get home, I announce that we will no longer focus on Mommy’s skin. “I am more than my skin,” I tell my children, and that is that. For forty days, I don’t look.

About three weeks into the fast I am dropping my son off at preschool and see his teacher, Miss Jan. Miss Jan knows my story. She knows that I’m writing a book, getting counseling, and that the buried pain of the past has surfaced on my face. Jan is one of those people who naturally invites you to take off the mask, get real, and tell the truth. 

“Jen!” she exclaims as I hang up Zach’s backpack. “You look radiant! What have you been doing?”

What have I been doing? I have not looked in a mirror for 21 days; I have turned the rearview mirror in the car away from my eye line; I have not glanced at my reflection in store windows. I have woken up in the morning, popped in the contacts in dim lighting, and done what I love: read the Word and write. I have gone to Bunko and Bible study. I have laughed with my family and ignored how I looked. What have I been doing? I’ve been living, and I’ve forgotten what I look like.

Something happened on my fast. I found out what I love and what makes me happy, and I didn’t find that from looking in the mirror or gazing at myself. I found it from turning away from the bathroom mirror and looking into the one mirror that never changes.

When the emotional healing came, the physical healing followed. I learned everything I know about beauty in the Word during that fast. It changed the way I saw beauty and changed the way I saw myself.

And then I came down from the mountain and spoke what I knew to be true.

Healing from my eating disorder and skin problems required a very deliberate tearing down of wrong thoughts and re-wallpapering my mind with the freeing truth:  I am created in His image, no matter what that nasty mirror says — I am a vessel for God’s Spirit — I am created in His image — and He was pleased with what He made. (that and about 7 other key truths you can study here).

As Rachel wrote, “There are so many girls and ladies who are desperately seeking for help. However, I know from my own experience that no drugs & doctors (who practice by the book) can help. But, someone like you, who overcame can bring HOPE and share the how-to‼”

I’m grateful every day to do what I love: teach women their value, identity, and purpose in Christ. To make a gift to our ministry so we can keep on loving these girls one story at a time, click here.

We are more than what we see in the mirror. We are enough as we are made.

Always,

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