Recovery Room: Born Beautiful (On Eating Disorders)

In 2015, I’m hosting various writers, pastors, and counselors as they step into the Recovery Room. Here, we’ll discuss the things that supplant inner sobriety and connectedness to an abiding God. Couldn’t we all use a little recovery from something? 

Today, welcome Esther Emery, a fantastic writer I have the pleasure of calling “friend.” She’s an off-the-grid dweller, which suits her just fine. I’m glad for her work. Connect with her on Twitter @EstherEmery.

Welcome Esther Emery to the Recovery Room!


The first time I made myself throw up it didn’t seem like a big deal. A one-time thing, I thought. Weird but secret. I couldn’t imagine how such a thing could become an addiction.

The second time was three days later.

When I was twenty-five I called a crisis line. Not because I was hurting myself, that part by that time was entirely normal, but because I had a difficult and potentially prestigious job and I was afraid that I was going to lose it. Also there was suicidal ideology, patterns of self harm. Whatever. I had been bulimic for ten years.

My therapist was a middle-aged woman from Argentina. She wore long skirts and beautiful eye makeup, but it was always a little smeary around the edges. It took me a long time to realize that it was her work that made her cry.

When I couldn’t talk sometimes I would bring her my art. Poetry, and paintings. I used to obsessively paint self-portraits. Body portraits, really, with strangely angular hips, limbs jutting out at angles… wounds. It ruined me for painting, honestly.

Like all good therapists, ever, ever in the world, she asked me, “What does binging and purging do for you, Esther? What do you think you’re getting out of it?”

“Nothing,” I said. “Nothing at all. It’s not pro-ductive. It’s de-structive.”

She kept asking. I almost quit. The only thing more shameful than being sick is being someone who likes being sick. But I didn’t quit.

It was like unpeeling wounds that hadn’t ever healed. It was like washing leprous skin. It was like bathing in very, very dirty water. I couldn’t see, and I couldn’t see, and I couldn’t see, and then one day I could.

One day I saw how my penchant for self-harm was an answer to my deep craving for the spiritual life. I saw how I had tried to subjugate my body to the will of the spirit. I saw how I had tried to make a holy sacrifice.

One day I saw how tender I was for my complicity in a food system that was destructive to earth, and animals, and other human beings. I saw how I had tried to remove myself from those cyclical patterns of destruction.

One day I saw how much I loved beauty. And I saw how I had tried to use my fierce will, my greatest gift, to form myself and my physical body into the thing I valued most.

Every single piece of my disease was made of something beautiful. My call to the spiritual life, my tenderness for the natural world, my passion for beauty, even my ferocious will like steel against a rock… I looked and saw that these were all my treasures. They were my greatest gifts.

I don’t know how to turn the eyes to hope, except to wash in all that dirty water. I don’t know how to find recovery, except to go back in and cast eyes on those demons who would turn your treasures into dust.

But I do know this. It is possible for beautiful impulses to be twisted by shame and ego. And it is possible to get them back, even teasing them carefully out of the hands of darkness.

I have been recovered now for eleven years. My body still carries the chemical patterns of addiction. I can’t hold a quantity of food in my hands without getting an adrenaline rush, and I can get very weird in moments when all my body really needs is an apple.

But I have turned my spiritual hunger towards God, reinvesting in the Christian faith of my childhood. I have turned my concern for broken food systems towards lifestyle change, learning to grow food and nurture soil. And I have turned my love of beauty right back to the Maker of all things beautiful. I pray for colors to paint with words, and for self-respect enough to keep this body-temple with care like the treasure that it is. I pray for faith to know that I was always beautiful.

me small


Esther Emery used to be a freelance theatre director and playwright in Southern California. These days she is pretty much a runaway, living off grid in a yurt and tending to three acres of near wilderness in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She writes about faith and rebellion and trying to live a totally free life at Connect on Twitter @EstherEmery


Cover.FrancisThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In the first of edition of the May newsletter (coming soon), I’m be giving away the Chapter 1 of Dear Little Brothers, a serial book. Sign up in the box below and follow along!

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To My Sons #2

Yesterday, Sarah Bessey shared about the importance of poetry (and by extension, frivolity). Through the work of Wendell Berry, she reminded us that we should daily “do something that won’t compute.” Today, I’m taking her suggestion to heart. Here’s a bit of poetry.


To my Sons #2

Some days you will race toddler tipsy,
water balloon between your knees,
against children more adept at
the awkward waddle of boyish games.

Carry best as you may–careful, careful
these sorts of events occasion failure,
joy falling like eggs from the sky,
spilling into a pool of whoops and tears.

(Is this about water balloons
or the tyranny of childish
pursuits? Who can say?)

There, let your father’s faith be gentle,
like that of a mother lifting last born
from the embarrassment of empty can’ts
and into the crook of forever
where life’s perfume lingers.






Cover.FrancisThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In the first of edition of the May newsletter (coming soon), I’m be giving away the Chapter 1 of Dear Little Brothers, a serial book. Sign up in the box below and follow along!

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More On Pimps, Pushers, and Selling Our Souls

Two weeks ago I penned a bit on the game Five Nights at Freddy’s, the viral video game phenomenon that’s captured the imagination of modern children. It’s a simple game, a game which creates artificial stress, triggering the gamer’s survival instincts. It employs fear, misdirection, implied violence, and jump scare tactics to suck the gamer deeper into the Five Nights’ world. And the Five Nights’ world is a dark world indeed.

I won’t recap the plot of the game in its entirety (For more on the plot, CLICK HERE), but in general, the game challenges the player to survive the attacks of animatronic puppets during the night-guard shift at a spooky pizzeria. What gives with the animatronic puppets? They’re characters in a complex narrative involving a child predator and a series of grizzly murders.

It sounds like good, wholesome, family entertainment that any child-development psychologist would recommend–right?

The Five Nights’ characters have become the stuff of urban legend at elementary schools across the country. Though my children have never played the game, the playground stories leave them in sleepless fits on some nights. And it’s not just my children. Parent after parent has reached out to me over the last two weeks, and told me their children are terrified of the game. What’s more, two child psychologists have sent word that Five Nights is a frequent topic of conversation in their pediatric therapy sessions.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been considering the response to that original piece. I’ve been thanked. I’ve been accused of fear-mongering and handwringing. The response has been varied and dramatic. Of course it has. This is the internet. But today, I’m writing this piece as a point of clarification. This isn’t all about video games and entertainment, see. The video games and entertainment are simply a vehicle for exploring the greater issue–the interaction between the marketplace and the soul.

The Psychology

In “Have We Become Addicted to Violence,” an article written for Psychology Today, Dr. Diane Dreher discusses the how violent and fear-driven media has affected our children. She cites studies showing that our children spend 40 hours per week watching violent television and movies, and playing violent video games. It’s a steady diet, and as our children consume, consume, consume, their brains normalize the darkness.

Dreher writes:

In a process known as “social modeling,” psychologist Albert Bandura found that we learn our values and behavior from the people around us (2003). Social modeling includes our cultural memes: what we watch and read, even the games we play.

Our technological gadgets are ingenious, ubiquitous–and incredibly addictive, according to neuroscientist Robert Numan (2014). Many of them model behavior on screen that would be diagnosed as pathological. (Citation.)

Dresser concludes that when the evidence is considered, some psychologists are coming to the common-sense conclusion. The entertainment digested by our children has, in fact, “led children to imitate in real life the sadism they see on screen.”

Does this sound like fear-mongering and needless handwringing to you? For those of you who might be unpersuaded, allow me to remind you–psychology is science.

The Marketplace of Misdirection and Addiction

These days, it’s a forgone conclusion that cigarettes cause cancer. Science has done the work. The evidence is clear. And yet, between the 1930s and 1960s, cigarettes were marketed as harmless, hip, and cool. In fact, in the 1940s a Camel cigarette commercial boasted, “[m]ore doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.”

Eventually, scientific research caught the cigarette marketing-machine by the tail and exposed the truth. Cigarettes were killing us.

The market, see, makes a habit of promising harmless addiction. It conditions us to believe that the vice of the day is normal, fun, and cool. It tells us that there is no scientific evidence proving harm from habit-X to the consumer. The market equates the absence of harmful evidence with a positive affirmation of the behavior. And lest there be any doubt, the market coopts the very specialists who should be opposed to any given addiction–e.g., the doctor to the cigarette–and uses them to affirm the addictive behavior.

“What does this have to do with fear-filled and violent television, movies, and video games?” you ask. I look at the normalization of fear and violence in our present society, and wonder how the “40 hours per week watching violent television and movies, and playing violent video games,” is not a contributing factor to the pathological sickness of our day. Perhaps there’s not a great deal of evidence suggesting a correlation today, but there’s beginning to be more. As a pediatrician informed me last week, “scientific research moves more slowly than we’d like, but it will prove what the pediatricians already anecdotally know–violent entertainment is contributing to the fear-filled and violent behavior of our children.”

I think we’re in the early stages of studies relating to the effects of entertainment on our children, and I earnestly believe those studies will show what many intuitively know. We’ll see how we bought the marketing materials, how we allowed our children to take the option of easy entertainment at the expense of their generation’s long-term health. We’ll see how we were duped by the slick salesmen and fancy advertisements. We were used.

We’ve made our father’s mistakes, just with a different addiction.

This brings me to the broader concern. It’s not a so much about the perils of entertainment as it is about the perils of the marketplace. We eat the pills they push, wash them down with the poisoned Kool-Aid. We’ve asked too few questions, trusted that the market tells us too few lies. We go blithely, consuming the next great addiction pushed by profiteers. And when we discover the market’s mendacity, we shift to the next addiction waiting in the wings.

To make matters worse, the market takes great effort to bypass the parent these days. It hopes to get straight into the hands of the children–the easiest of all manipulations. It sneaks into their mobile devices and the advertisers notify them of the coolest, hippest, newest, basest addiction. Market fear and reap a reward–this is the market’s motto.

What does it say when we allow the suicide marketing machine to infiltrate our own homes, to so normalize fear and violence that our pre-adolescents are too acquainted with the darkness of the human condition? When we fail to act on our intuition–avoid violence and fear–and instead bend to the will of the market–buy violence and fear–are we forfeiting a necessary part of our humanity? Are we forfeiting a part of our souls?

The pimps of profit-motive are reckless. They are mendacious. They systemically barter blips and bits for your parts of your Godward intuition. It’s a racket, see.



Cover.FrancisThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In the first of edition of the May newsletter (coming soon), I’m be giving away the Chapter 1 of Dear Little Brothers, a serial book. Sign up in the box below and follow along!

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Psalm #22 (For the Thirsty)

Today I’m offering my Psalm #22, which is inspired by the text from Isaiah 55. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a little nod to Carl Sandburg. But that’s it. Just a little nod.


“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!” Isaiah 55:1

Psalm #22 (For the Thirsty)


Who received the messages today,
of your brother’s business failing,
or father’s spill down the slick steps?
Or did you see your cousins contrasted
against licking flames? Baltimore


Women with their mirrors, looking,
painting lips, blushing cheeks,
hoping to be noticed by husbands,

Men in the basement, clicking.
Synapse firers. Face flushers. All the
profiteers of the pleasure traffickers,


The man in a closet thirsting for fire.
Rocks and numb, rocks and numb.
The blushing alcoholics daily born.
Shooting, shooting, always shooting. Ever-


The doctor x-raying, the lawyer arguing,
the wage worker at the restaurant, tip cursing.
Vendors vending what machines cannot.
Executives executing everything.
Everyone pitting family against the score,


The soccer mom, going, going,
in yoga pants, buying an idea
of perhaps meditation, not its practice.
Our children measured, graded, fitted,
finished, scoring, scoring, always

The long-legged girl, the pock-faced boy,
the collegians, who in their beauty
do not believe their beauty,


Who thirsts the itchy thirst, unscratchable?
Throat fire. Bone thirst. Brain thirst


Collective come. Congregation come.
Hands joined, pulling, being pulled
to moneyless milk and meat markets of

Come honest. Come thirsty.
Come together. Drink prophecies
from chalices of people, filling
being filled, multiplying, loving,

Come everyone.
Everyone come.


Cover.FrancisThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In the first of edition of the May newsletter (coming soon), I’m be giving away the Chapter 1 of Dear Little Brothers, a serial book. Sign up in the box below and follow along!

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Dear Little Brothers (a Franciscan eBook)

From time to time, I get excited about a writing project. Whether it’s Coming Clean, the great American novel (that’s all but finished), or even the Psalm series here on the blog, I’m more alive when I’m chasing down some creative idea.

These days, I’m working on a serial book for my children. It’s entitled Dear Little Brothers, and it recasts the biography of St. Francis of Assisi, as written by St. Bonaventure. Today, I’m offering the Preface below so you can get a taste of the project. Each month, I’ll release a new chapter of Dear Little Brothers, but only to my Tiny Letter subscribers. Do you want to read along? CLICK THIS LINK TO SIGN UP (You’ll receive a download link at the confirmation screen).



Carol Mouk was bad to drink. For too many years, she lived in the boozy haze, stumbled sideways into the country club or Sunday brunch. Full of too much nervous energy, and with a fuse as short as bottle rocket, she was a spark-spitting, explosive drunk. She was a screamer, a shoe thrower, and a tyrant. She was unbearable.

I don’t suppose I know the full extent of Carol’s drinking problem, but I trust these recollections. After all, this is what she told me just before she died.

It may seem like an awkward starting point for a book on St. Francis of Assisi, but for me, it makes all the sense in the world. Carol was my grandmother, and in the years before I was born, the Easter lily of a woman had been transformed by a great grace. She met Jesus in a recovery room, and found sobriety. She devoted herself to the faith of her youth, rekindled an admiration for the saints revered by her Episcopalian tradition. A lover of good literature, she held Saint Lewis—as she called the The Screwtape Letters’ author—in high esteem. A woman in need of inner sobriety, she also nursed a particular affection for the saint of light and peace—St. Francis.

My grandmother told me bits and pieces of Francis’ story, but we never spoke about him at great length. I think she liked the idea of Francis’ retreat from the cares and troubles of the world, but I don’t know how familiar she was with his writings, or the writings about him. Even still, she kept weathered stone statues of the man from Assisi in her garden, and often prayed the prayer attributed to him—“make me a channel of your peace.”

Over the last few years, I’ve been walking my own road of recovery from over-drinking. When I stopped drowning my own anxieties with liquor, I remembered my grandmother’s affinity for St. Francis and thought, “maybe there’s something for me to learn from his life.” I dove into the Franciscan literature, and there I found real spiritual treasure. Francis was a man of peace, yes. But more than anything, he was an example of one who, by obedience to his King Jesus, rebuilt and revitalized the church.

In the Spring of 2015, on a visit to Powell’s bookstore in Portland, Oregon, I picked up a used copy of a translation of The Legenda Sancti Francisci. Written by St. Bonaventure some forty years after Francis death in 1226, it is considered the official biography of St. Francis. The language of the book was stilted, and the flow was disjointed. Still, it was one of the most beautiful and timely biographies I’d read in some time.

Francis.Quote.Chap1As I read the pages, I wanted nothing more than my four children to know this great work. So, I set out to tackle the language barrier by completing an imaginative family translation.

That leads us to this work. Dear Little Brothers, comprises a series of letters, each of which is adapted from a chapter of The Legenda of Sancti Francisci. The letters open with a salutation to the “little brothers,” and close with love from St. Bonaventure himself. Every month, I mail these letters to my sons (who doesn’t enjoy receiving mail from time to time?) and we read them as a family around the dinner table, or just before bed. It’s a special time. And as I considered how enjoyable it has been to adapt Bonaventure’s biography into this series of letters, I thought others might enjoy reading along.

The purpose of these letters is to make St. Bonaventure’s work approachable for a younger audience—preteens and teenagers to be exact—and I hope you’ll read them to your children and grandchildren. But even more, I hope you’ll find some inspiration in the pages yourself. Maybe you’ll find the way peace, the way of living a life away from the world’s cares. Perhaps you’ll delve into the work of rebuilding a ruined church or two. But whatever inspiration might strike, I hope you’ll find the path of Francis leads you into a deeper understanding of the Kingdom of Jesus.

Enjoy these letters. If you do, and if you’d like to receive the next installment as it becomes available, make sure you’re signed up to receive my newsletter updates at I’ll send the new letter around the first of every month.

And now, without further adieu, allow me to introduce you to St. Francis’ personal biographer, St. Bonaventure.


Thanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In the first of edition of the May newsletter (coming soon), I’m be giving away the first chapter of Dear Little Brothers, a serial book. Sign up and follow along!

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