A Conversation with My Body

Joshua tree.

Enjoy some photos of Joshua Tree National Park

that I took as part of our holiday vacation while you read. :-) 


So, in the wee hours of the morning that transitioned New Year's Eve to New Year's Day, I vomited for the first time in my life since I was 7 years old. 

And I did it five times in succession. 

It was a violent introduction to an illness that would render me in the most miserable state I have ever experienced in my body, and it lasted 4 days.

Lots of these cute fuzzies, called cholla cactus, in Joshua Tree.

The timing of this violent illness was not lost on me. In fact, I consider it a grace to have happened, even as miserable as it was. 

And here's why.

In mid-November, in a session with my spiritual director, Elaine, the conversation took a surprising turn toward a discussion of the body -- and specifically, my body. It wasn't something I planned to discuss with her, nor did I see it coming when it came, but I had known for quite some time that eventually we would need to enter that territory and talk about it.

Fuzzy cactus, found in Joshua Tree National Park.

Here's the skinny on my story about my body so that I can bring you up to speed. 

I grew up with a super-high metabolism and never worried one bit about what I ate until I was 25 years old. When I moved to college, I gained only two pounds and felt proud to have avoided the dreaded "freshman 15." I sincerely loved being small and petite and loved being able to fit into any clothes I wanted and to eat any food. 

I ate like a bird, but what I ate was absolutely not nutritious in the slightest. At one point in my twenty-fifth year, I noticed that I was practically subsisting on Jack-in-the-Box tacos, Dr. Pepper, and Hot Tamales. But since I hardly ate anything, it didn't seem to matter. I was thin, and I loved not having to worry about it. 

Joshua tree.

But something changed on my honeymoon in Europe with Kirk in 2006.

It's something that I think had been slowly changing for several months beforehand, actually, and the thing that changed is that I no longer ate like a bird. 

Something about being with Kirk made me feel safe and secure and loved. I felt able to rest. And I felt especially able to celebrate life with him.

So on our honeymoon, celebrate we did. I must say, I reveled in the delicious fare that Paris had to offer, in particular. There's a restaurant I will never forget where I ate the most incredible risotto of my life. We drank wine and ate pasta, and we always -- always -- ordered dessert.

And when we returned from our honeymoon, the celebratory approach to food that I'd adopted with him continued. 

Another joshua tree from the archives.

I gained 10-15 pounds on our honeymoon. It sounds incredible, but it's true. And I really didn't know what to do about it.

The reason is, I've never learned how to care for my body. I don't know what it means to take care of the physical fibers of my being. I never had to worry about it, and so I never learned, and once my lifestyle completely changed -- and my body with it -- it took a long time for me to face the reality that things had permanently changed in the body department for me. I kept denying my body was no longer able to ingest whatever I gave it without so much as a stumble. 

But it had changed. Incredibly. And I had no idea what to do about it. 

Dry rocks.

The truth is, too, that I didn't have much motivation to do anything about it. I simply didn't care to take care of my body. I considered my body to be an object that was supposed to serve me -- make me look good, and not flinch at anything I gave it to consume -- and when it stopped doing that, I had nothing to say to it, except maybe bad and exasperated sentiments.

So the last five and a half years have been a very confusing and frustrating ride -- a vascillation between denial and fear continually.

Which leads me to the conversation that cropped up with Elaine in November. I didn't want to talk about it, but there it was -- the issue with my body had slipped out of my mouth without my intending it, and the invitation to talk more about it was there. 

I'll share more about the content of our conversation and my reluctance to do anything new to care for my body in my next post on the subject, but for now I will share that by the end of our session, I was able to tell God the most honest thing: "Help me to learn how you view my body, and help me learn how you want me to care for it."

And another.

Which is why the physical illness that landed me on the tile of the bathroom floor at 4 in the morning on New Year's Day was not lost on me. We'd taken my dad and his wife to a very nice dinner for New Year's Eve, and immediately following the dinner, I felt it had been a mistake. At least, I felt that I'd made a mistake: I ate too much food. Incredibly rich food. Way too much rich food.

All the way home from our very enjoyable evening, I felt a pressure in my abdomen that would not subside. We rang in the new year with my sister and played some games at the kitchen table, and all the while, the pressure in my stomach was there and I felt pretty low. I went to bed, but by 3 a.m., I was moaning and tossing in my bed, still feeling incredibly bad. 

An hour later, I vomited five times. The next 12 hours are among the most miserable hours of my life, and the 24 following that were pretty miserable too. In all, the illness lasted 4 days and this is the first day I've actually felt like a real human being again.


By now, I've learned that I contracted a stomach virus -- not food poisoning, and not indigestion, as I originally thought -- but at the time it happened, the way I felt was so closely connected to that last meal that I'd had, and all I could say to my body for the first 12 hours of my illness was, "I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry." Over and over again. Repentance. Repentance.

I simply could not -- and still cannot -- fathom eating a rich meal like that again. The sickness took me one step closer to a willingness to treat my body better. 

This illness was actually the third sign offered in the course of a few weeks in answer to my prayer that God would teach me what it means to honor and care for my body. I'll be sharing this ongoing journey here with you -- what the struggle to care for my body has been like for me, what the other signs in response to my prayer have been, and what I'm learning as I continue to journey forward.

In all of this prayer and talk about the body, I trust there is something redemptive and grace-filled to be found and learned for me. In fact, it has already begun.

Perhaps there'll be something in this prayer and body conversation for you, too.