“Greetings, my name is Vera. Welcome to Slim Hope.”
Whatever expectations I had regarding a weight loss ministry, this was not it. Vera Cain was not wearing army boots, nor did she have a whistle hanging around her neck. The trim, forty year old smiled at the dozen people seated around her.
“This was me just five years ago.” Our host held up a glossy photo of a morbidly obese woman.
“Let me tell you my story and a little bit of what I learned along the way.” Vera Cain scribbled on a white board as she spoke. “Ten years ago my husband left me.”
The words “Respect earns acceptance,” appeared in red letters.
“My spiritual road map promised me acceptance if I could earn enough respect.”
Our host added two more lines, “Worthy people are taken seriously. Perfect people are loved.” My eyes focused on the first sentence and for several seconds I was lost in thought.
“…so one night I decided to get some takeaway. “
Vera added another line, “My relationship to food.”
“I found a drive-through and ordered six chicken bites and a tub of spicy sauce," she laughed. "The flavor just exploded in my mouth. Suddenly I didn’t feel miserable. I felt euphoric.”
Several heads nodded in agreement.
“From that moment my relationship with food changed. It no longer just nourished me. Food was my comforter.”
Vera Cain scribbled another line. “Food is my reward.”
“As I piled on the weight and became increasingly lonely I turned more and more to food until it was the only thing in my life that gave me pleasure.”
The final line was written in capital letters. “WITHOUT FOOD LIFE IS NOT WORTH LIVING.”
“I know what that feels like,” someone laughed.
Suddenly Vera clapped her hands.
“The sun sets in an hour. That gives us time for a quick walk.”
Fifteen minutes later we trudged down a pathway onto the beach and followed the shoreline for a hundred yards. Eventually we came to a picnic area which gave us an uninterrupted view of the coastline.
“This is my favorite place.” Vera Cain opened her arms wide.
Out in the surf a pod of dolphins frolicked in the waves. Somehow their natural joy made our deliberations more serious in comparison.
Two hours later we regrouped in the meeting room.
“Slim Hope is built on three ideas.” Once again she started scribbling her ideas on the white board. “First of all, fifty per cent of the battle is choosing the right friends. Secondly, the body your parents gave you is only ten per cent of the problem. Finally, forty per cent of the program is finding a lifestyle that suits you.”
Suddenly Vera turned to me and flashed a familiar smile. “Joel, I noticed you looking intently at the board before.”
For a moment I squirmed under her scrutiny.
“You wrote down something about being taken seriously,” I stuttered.
“Do you come from a religious family?” she asked.
“My father was a pastor.” A familiar feeling stabbed at my heart.
“Many Christians come from families that set unreasonably high standards.” Our host seemed unafraid to tread on dangerous ground. “Tell me, Joel. In your mind when are you worthy enough to be taken seriously?”
The question seemed to suck the breath out of my lungs.
“Um,” I stammered. “I’m not sure I understand the question.”
“Yes you do!”
Vera turned to her white board and wrote, “The kingdom of God is giving and receiving, not buying and selling.”
“Joel?” she continued. “Do you take me seriously?”
“Of course,” I stammered.
“Because you deserve it,” I spoke cautiously.
“Hmm. Did you get the bit about my failed marriage?” Vera’s smile disarmed some of the tension. I opened my mouth and then closed it without speaking.
“Five years ago I made a conscious decision to replace the comfort of food with the comfort I receive from God’s people,” Vera spoke softly.
“Joel, how would you describe your relationship with food?”
That morning I had climbed on the scales and groaned with despair. High blood pressure and the threat of diabetes had brought to this retreat looking for answers.
“My job is very stressful,” I mused. There was long pause before I spoke.
“Food is my life,” I said. “Without it I would have nothing.”
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