Inside Out

Posted at 16:10pm on 26th February 2019

‘Making clean-eating a dirty word gets my vote’, so says Bryony Gordon in The Daily Telegraph.  Quoting the Duchess of Cornwall, who was speaking at a reception for the Royal Osteoporosis Society, she warned young women against ‘fad diets’ which have the potential of making them ill.  Lack of dairy products can lead to severe bone damage, while doctors warn that ‘no-carb regimes’ were leading to a deficiency of fibre which can result in bowel cancer.

‘I can’t stand this obsession with looking “good” on the outside, at the expense of your insides,’ writes Bryony.

Her comments resonated hugely with me, but for somewhat different reasons.

POOR BODY IMAGE

Born with an undiagnosed, life-threatening intestinal condition, I was in constant pain.  Little wonder!  Hirschsprung Disease, whereby a deficiency of ganglion in a section of the colon causes a lack of peristalsis, results in chronic constipation.  With my mother being told to leave me to cry, I grew up being labelled a ‘naughty attention-seeking child’.  Not only that, one of the symptoms of HD is listed as ‘growth failure’, and it was this that affected my self-confidence throughout my childhood and adolescence.  While both my sisters’ thighs grew to full length, mine were short and plump, incurring much ridicule from school friends and others.

‘You have footballers’ knees,’ my mother would tease me when, hearing how attractive my younger sister was deemed to be, I would ask if I, too, was a pretty little girl.

AND LACK OF SELF-CONFIDENCE

Naturally, bowel conditions are not the norm in everyday conversation.  Moreover, I was brought up in an era when children were told to be ‘seen but not heard’.  Having been diagnosed only twenty-five years ago, I lived most of my life being informed that my condition was ‘my fault’ in that I was eating insufficient fibre, and taking too little exercise.

Needless to say, this perspective impacted on my mental health as well.  The tendency, henceforth, was for me to believe that I was culpable for every problem I encountered.  Eldest child syndrome, whereby parental expectations have to be met, a disastrous adolescence, divorce and a drug-addicted daughter, followed by her death – all, I reasoned, must have been due to some deficiency in my abilities.

TEENAGE MENTAL HEALTH

Which is why, when my publisher, Malcolm Down, asked me to write my memoirs, I realised that with mental health issues rife amongst young people these days, I should reveal all.  Not, however, as a narrative of victimhood: a poor me, don’t you feel sorry for me?  Rather, that in God’s hands, suffering may lead to perseverance, and perseverance to purpose.

And so it was that, with God’s leading, I wrote each chapter showing a particular part of my life story, followed by reflections on the lessons I’ve learned since, and questions for the reader.  One of these episodes shows events that occurred on the afternoon of my thirteenth birthday when my mother presented me with the cake she had made.  After blowing out the candles, I inserted the knife and found, to my embarrassment, something hard and unaccountable in the middle.

‘Mum!’  I hissed, afraid that my party friends would take the mickey.

‘Why don’t you finish cutting that piece and see what’s there,’ she said, calmly.

So I did!  And even more embarrassingly out came a soggy chunk of greaseproof paper.  Was this some error I wondered?  I felt my cheeks redden as my friends gathered around to see.  However, urged by my mother to open it, I found, inside, the most beautiful, delicate cross-and-chain necklace.  My parents’ birthday gift to me, bought by my father, I later learned, when I was born.

BEARING FRUIT THROUGH TIMES OF HARDSHIP

Reflecting on the incident at the end of the chapter, I revealed how, years later, I realised that God was showing me that it’s not what is on the outside of us that matters, but what is inside!  As Bryony Gordon says, we should not obsess with looking “good” on the outside, at the expense of our insides.  

Hence, the soggy greaseproof paper was, like my body image, irrelevant, while that gold necklace had a story to tell.  We are precious to God.  However, if we are to be the *beautiful* people he created us to be, we need to accept the gift from him that’s wrapped up within, and thus nurture our inner being.  In order to do so, we need to leave our sin nailed to the cross.  And like that delicate necklace,  our hearts should be bound – linked – to the One who died for us.

This is one of many stories told in my book.  As each one portrays, God is the gardener, while we are the soil in which he sows his seeds.  When we put down roots and send up shoots, then despite the difficulties of life, we shall blossom and bear fruit.  Rainy days may persist, but these should be seen as a gain, just as the poohy periods of life act as fertilising manure.  In his hands, all the ugliness of life can be turned to good. Only by accepting that can we fulfil our potential.  Only then may we know ourselves as Picked for a Purpose.  Only then may the fruit we bear, through good times and bad, be used for the nourishment of others.

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