For a year, I kept a photo taped to my refrigerator. It wasn’t a charming photo of family, or a stunning sunset, or even my cat Oreo striking an irresistible pose. It was the worst picture I could imagine. A starving Ethiopian child dying in his mother’s frail arms.
Call me a glutton for punishment…who wouldn’t feel guilty opening a stocked fridge with that photo in view every time? But the photo meant more to me than a guilty conscience. It saved me from reverting to my past obsessions.
I struggled with bulimia throughout high school and college. I controlled my calorie intake and exercised fanatically until I was underweight – skinny and deformed looking according to my concerned parents. Eating soon twisted into a burden of secrecy. Under watchful eyes, I needed to pretend I was consuming more than the carefully measured miniscule portions scattered on my plate. Controlling led to bulimia. Twenty extra calories and I’d be running to the toilet to throw up. Bulimia was slowly destroying my body and my mind since all I thought about was food. It dominated every aspect of my life and it shouldn’t have; I had enough food to eat.
After becoming a Christian in college and studying God’s word, I was able to see the sin that was strangling me. I read 1 Corinthians 3:16…
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s spirit lives in you?
I prayed, and God took away my desire to purge…but that was just the beginning. Changing the way I saw food was a long process.
When I opened the World Vision envelope and stared at the sad faces of famine, my eyes were opened. These poor children had nothing to eat; I was throwing my food away. If they could have what I had, they wouldn’t be dying. Offering this child the meal I skipped could have saved his life. I felt compassion instead of self-absorption.
I pulled out the insert of the naked boy cradled in his mother’s arms and wrapped in frayed orange cloth, a death shroud, and hung it on my refrigerator. He was robbed of his childhood. A seven year-old reduced to the body of an infant. Too weak to speak, his deep brown, glossy eyes pleaded for help. His protruding bones told his story, how long he had suffered the pain of hunger. Flies circled his rotting flesh. Did his mother wish death would come soon to bring an end to his pain or did she still hope for a miracle beneath her furrowed brow?
Displaying this photo reminded me not to take my life for granted; I’ve been blessed with so much, while so many children around the world have so little. What would these children think of a society where many starve themselves on purpose? How twisted!
That photo planted a seed in my heart, a desire to help those children in Africa in whatever way God would use me.
My husband thinks I would turn around and head home at the sight of a snake or a large beetle, and definitely wouldn’t survive a week without my Raisin Bran…he might be right about that one. I confess I still have some food obsessions such as eating high fiber cereals three times a day with low-fat milk. But if God wants me to go to Africa as a missionary, with His help, I’ll be able to conquer the last remnants of my quirky food habits. Or else I’ll have to pack a suitcase with cereal and pray it passes through customs. What if I have to eat it with goat’s milk? I’ll just have to remember that photo.
According to Unicef statistics last June, at least 126,000 children in Ethiopia were in need of urgent care to prevent severe malnutrition.
Approximately seven million women and one million men suffer with eating disorders in the US.
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