A very wise friend of mine recently encouraged me to not be down about super-speedy-runner-girl who effortlessly ran 6ish minute miles in her first 5K (and is, as my husband reminded me half a decade younger than I am; I love that man). This lovely friend said something about how when she runs, she’s thinking about people who run a pace faster than she does. “We all have our rabbits,” she said.
This made me think of a very familiar quandary many runners face in their lives. (If you’re not a runner, bear with me here because I’ll soon make this more universal.) There’s the newbie runner who signs up for a Couch to 5K training program and just wants to finish the race. When she does, she’s elated. Soon she decides that next time she will try to run the entire race without walking. Mission accomplished. Then she starts training to get a little faster. She embraces a clean diet. She strength trains. She adds fartleks (just say it aloud – hilarious! This doesn’t say a lot for my maturity level. Fartlek! Fartlek! ) to her training and lo and behold, she rocks her next 5K. Maybe she even places in her age group, but she didn’t come in first. Maybe next time. She keeps raising the bar. There’s always that speedy rabbit who’s just ahead of her whom she starts to chase. What used to be more than “good enough” – just finishing the race – is suddenly overshadowed by the desire to be better than last time or maybe even to be a the top.
Recall Doctor Faustus who sold his soul to the devil for more knowledge and power. He was born gifted, but it wasn’t enough. It’s never enough until we make the decision to be content with our own gifts and to celebrate all those “better” rabbits out there instead of always chasing after them.
“There’s always going to be someone who’s faster,” my sage of a husband told me recently. And someone smarter. And richer. And with more children. And with easier children (you know the ones who easily fall asleep in their parents’ arms and never throw a tantrum and start sleeping through the night at eight weeks. Yeah, I’ve NEVER had one of those kiddos either). And with more children and mad running skill. And with a bigger house. Or maybe just a cleaner house. Or an enviable kitchen. There’s someone prettier with better hair, better legs, whiter teeth, or better toenails (you should see mine right about now; one is black and on the verge of falling off, and another one did fall off. Lovely.). Yup. There are a lot of fine, white rabbits out there. Thank God for that. Thank God for all the blessings so many people have. Thank God for my own blessings.
But there are also many people who have so much less. The people in Oklahoma come immediately to mind.
Once upon a time I thought the size 0 was the Holy Grail of happiness. For a brief moment, it was. I felt powerful when the smallest of clothing were loose on me. But it waned. Soon I wanted more, but there was nowhere to go except down. Healed and almost whole from those awful eating disorder days, there are still some relics of my past. These inner demons are always driving me toward endless self-improvement. They give me tunnel vision that only sees what’s ahead instead of all that is. And what is is a beautiful, charmed life.
Although I want to make the most of my potential and my gifts, I don’t want to spend my lifetime chasing rabbits. I want to celebrate with and for those who are ahead of me. Besides, my worst enemy is the voice within me that taunts me, telling me I’m the classic case of mediocrity or worse. I want to silence that voice and to be my best but to forgive myself when I fall short. And I never want to forget the ones behind me, the ones who have so much less. Sometimes I even want to slow down and walk with them, so they know they’re not alone and so I know I’m not alone either.
Last year Elizabeth Foss invited me to share a New Year’s guest post over at her space. It’s a timely post since so many of us are probably busy coming up with a self-improvement plan, which often translates to weight loss goals – as if losing weight will – poof! – make our lives instantly better (and make us better as well).
My primary resolution this year has little to do with my figure and everything to do with what’s going on in the inside. I really, really, really need to work on showing up for prayer more even when I don’t feel anything or see any immediate benefits of quieting myself long enough to just be still and to try to believe.
Anyway, here’s the old post, tweaked just a bit for this year. May 2013 bring you joy, fun, and peace in your heart as well as peace with yourself.
For as long as I can remember, from the moment the champagne bubbles stopped fizzing and the confetti settled lifeless and limp on city streets across the globe, I started working toward the same New Year’s Resolution: Lose weight.
Some years I didn’t spell it out so directly. I’d hide my desire to be thinner under the guise of health-happy language: Eat better. Exercise more frequently. Start strength training. Cut out refined carbs.
Most years I’d even include other important resolutions: Pray more. Worry less. Relinquish control. Trust.
But losing weight was always at the core of my self-improvement goals – and, sadly, I made it the center of my existence, primarily because I hadn’t mastered those more important resolutions.
My body loathing began when I was nine. (I have my journals to prove it.) Nine. I was a little girl who should have been thinking more about mud pies, fairies, and playing dress-up than agonizing over every inch of my skin and that Little Debbie I really shouldn’t have eaten.
When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I had my stock response ready. “A writer, actress, and horse trainer,” I’d say.
I did aspire to be all of these things, but silently, I thought, what I wanted most of all was to be thin.
I wasn’t one of those spindly, little girls. I was chubby and people occasionally teased me because of it. But I was a good child, a creative, sensitive child, a child whose inner beauty was enough. With God’s grace and love within me, I was enough back then when I was overweight. I was enough when I was too thin. And I’m enough now that I’ve finally found a mostly healthy place. It’s just taken me more than two decades to figure that out.
I can’t remember when I officially started dieting. I do know that after some cruel boys oinked at me in middle school and others called me names like Miss Piggy, I began to vilify food.
Food was a seductive enemy, though, and I could not live without it. I felt weak and powerless when I continued to eat, when I noticed my friends were rail-thin or beautifully curvy while I was puffy with a full face and thick middle.
When I finally went through puberty at 15 (I was a late bloomer), I began to naturally thin out. You might think I’d begin to be happier with my appearance, especially when the same boys who had once made fun of me were now asking me out on dates. Instead, I turned my body into my official logo. It was the only mark of me that mattered. As I gained in popularity with my new looks, I mistakenly thought it was controlling my body that made me powerful and deserving of affirmation and attention.
So I began to pay homage to the scale and the mirror, and managing my body became my religion. How I looked was no longer important; it was all that mattered. I began to wear skirts that were several inches too short because I wanted to be noticed. I didn’t want to return to being that frumpy, little girl who got teased. If I ate what I thought was bad or too much, I forced myself to throw up. I’d do anything to expunge myself of the subterranean feelings that I was defective. I ran not because I wanted to be healthy and strong, but only because I wanted to be skinny.
Skinny – as well as sick – is what I got. There’s a photograph of me from my sophomore year of high school and I’m all angles and concave cavities. My collar bones are what you really notice – the way they jut out, looking like they’re about to rip out of my skin.
Irony is, I distinctly remember seeing that same school picture and thinking I looked fat. So I made a resolution to work out harder, eat less.
Eventually, my restrictive dieting backfired. My metabolism plummeted and when I began to eat again after pleas from my loving, worried parents, I packed on pounds. Once in college, I decided that I had let myself go and needed to shape up and lose weight again.
Once again I was “successful” and reduced my figure to a shadow of my former self.
In this vicious cycle, the high of being thinner and losing those last 10 pounds did offer me, at first, what felt like happiness. I felt like I was more in control and easier to like being thin. But my signature trademark that defined me – that body of mine – always eventually began to lose its newness. People stopped noticing how thin I was or at least they no longer talked about it. I forced myself to think of other ways to atone for being myself. Eat less. Sweat more. Purge.
What I discovered each day I grew thinner, is the fantasy of losing weight was far more alluring than the reality of it. I also woke up one day and realized I was living a rote, empty life that had been whittled down to exercise, fat grams, calories, and what I could eat and couldn’t eat.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like my body. I didn’t like myself.
This is no way to live. Not for me. Not for you. Not for anyone who may or may not resort to extremes to control his or her weight but still thinks constantly about food and weight.
Later after I’d experienced healing and had underwent treatment for a clinical eating disorder, I still struggled with wanting to weigh a certain amount. I was no longer adopting unhealthy behaviors, but I still routinely added “lose five pounds” to my list of New Year’s Resolutions. I couldn’t let it go. I wanted to, but I didn’t know how.
Then, one day, earlier in my mothering career, my husband came home from work to see me frazzled and overwhelmed. I burst into tears and confessed that I’d lost my patience with the two littles I had at the time.
“I’m not a good mother,” I lamented. “I can’t write anymore. I’m not even good at getting skinny anymore.”
He hugged me, not sure what to say (we’d been through this before; I’ve been gifted with a patient, kind husband). I thought of what I’d just said: “I’m not even good at getting skinny anymore,” and something finally began to sink in. I’d known it all intellectually for awhile, but it hadn’t made it into my heart until that moment. All those years, all that energy wasted in engaging in a never-ending war against my body weren’t about the number on the scale. I recognized a lot of my relentless pursuit of thinness had to do with control and an endless hunger for affirmation from all the wrong places. I could not make myself loved, but I could make myself thinner. But there was something else at play here. My wanting to control my weight and what I ate wasn’t really about being thinner; it was about being better – even perfect – at something, anything.
Yet, motherhood and being the imperfect mother to imperfect children has, like nothing else, taught me that this life of mine does not hinge on reaching perfection. It’s not about being what I sometimes irrationally think of as the perfect weight. It’s not about being the perfect writer who never makes a grammatical blunder or who is never guilty of using cliches. It’s not about being a perfect parent. We are not called to perfection. We are called to a perfect union with Him. We are invited, day after day, to trust in God, the only perfect parent there is. To satisfy our hunger pangs and that deep longing in our hearts to be enough, we have to accept our Father’s lavish love as well as the love of others who see us as valuable and good enough even when we slip up and yell at our children or nosh on a few too many holiday cookies.
For the past three years, I haven’t added anything remotely related to weight to my resolutions come January 1st or during any other goal-setting occasion. (Though this year – 2013 – I have set a goal of running a half marathon in April. I’ve started lacing up my running shoes again, and I feel good even if I don’t look any different.)
Yet, I suspect after the holiday binge that begins with Thanksgiving and doesn’t start to let up until the golden wrappers of those Epiphany chocolate coins are empty, many women are hoping to start anew, take better care of themselves, and to lose five, ten, twenty, or more pounds.
Maybe you’re one of them. For some of us, taking charge of our health may be necessary. God doesn’t want us growing winded after walking up our front porch steps. He wants us to treat our bodies with respect. Goodness knows, we need strength and endurance to meet the tiring demands of being a wife and mother. Perhaps some healthy lifestyle changes would be fruitful.
Personally, I’m not a fan of diets, but I’m very much aware of the fact that each of us is different and needs to pray for prudence and temperance to achieve the right balance when it comes to nurturing these God-dwelling temples of ours.
Recently, meditating on the words of St. Augustine have helped me as I work to take care of my body and soul: “Take care of your body as if you were going to live forever; and take care of your soul as if you were going to die tomorrow.” (Thank you to, Deanna, for sharing this quote with me.)
However, we must always be careful to not allow a good desire to turn into an unhealthy need. It is a noble aspiration to want to rein in gluttony, to be attractive for our spouse, and to take care of our bodies. But it is not good or productive to turn our weight or appearance into our only identity or to make them the barometer of our self-worth. We don’t need to be thinner or what society defines as outwardly beautiful to be loved, valued, or to have dignity.
It wasn’t until I began to truly believe this that I was able get over the body barbs of my past, forgive those who had intentionally or unintentionally maligned my physical appearance, make peace with food and the shape of my body, and start to treat myself with the kindness that I once believed only thin or perfect people deserved.
I’m over the belief that there’s nothing to respect within me unless I weigh a certain amount or look a certain way. I’m also working on making peace with my extra seven pounds because I’m healthy. That’s what matters. I refuse to hate myself if I’m not at what some twisted part of me thinks is my ideal weight.
God did not create any of us to relentlessly attempt to lose the same five, ten, twenty, or more pounds. Goodness and loveliness are not only possible to attain without hitting that “magic weight” that you’re convinced will make you happier, better, and more fulfilled; goodness and loveliness are you. You personify all the beauty that God, in His perfect artistry, has created. You, made in God’s sublime image, personify Him.
You don’t have to be a prisoner to food, the scale, or broken resolutions. God is a revolutionary. He came to us as a helpless babe and grew into a man who would save us all. He transforms ashes into beauty. He changes the conflict within you into peace. He takes what is dead and gives it new life.
Turn to Him if you really want a makeover. You were created to be a reflection of God’s love and beauty, and it is prayer – more than another fad diet – that will restore you to His likeness.
Yes, keep striving to be the woman God calls you to be, but this person may not look like your neighbor-the-marathon-runner or that silver screen starlet. She may not even look anything like the younger you – and that may be a good thing. She’s going to stumble. She’s going to goof up again and again. But none of this makes her bad or unlovable. It makes her – you – human.
2013 is a new chapter in our lives. It may offer us the opportunity to make some positive changes. But happiness in this new year doesn’t require a new you. Need to lose some weight to arrive at a more healthful place? Then pray for the will to do it, but don’t despise yourself during the process. Wherever you are at, whatever you weigh, whatever your age, whatever your past, remember this: You are your Father’s beloved, and you are perfectly lovely in every way.
Because “shower” really shouldn’t be on my to-do list & 21 other reasons why I’m taking a blogging sabbatical
Please note item #15.
Good thing my hair looks fuller and more vibrant when it isn’t freshly washed. And when things get really busy, thank goodness for dry shampoo. My favorite? Oscar Blandi Pronto Dry Shampoo, but in a pinch the economical Batiste Dry Shampoo works well, too. I don’t mind its stronger smell, but I’m not sensitive to strong aromas (probably because I’m knee-deep in my children’s waste products).
Baby power does the trick as well, but you have to be careful to not leave white residue on your scalp because then people will be on to your laziness.
What’s the deal with talking about something as random as dry shampoo?
I opened with a small, everyday glimpse into my life and then switched gears to product placement simply because I don’t know what else to say. Or what’s really more accurate is this: I don’t know if I want to say what needs to be said and just be through with it already.
I mentioned to a dear friend the other day that I always felt like I was really good at time management, but lately I’m having trouble keeping all the balls in the air. That’s an understatement. Sometimes I don’t even know what balls are swirling above me, and I’m ducking my head afraid one is going to fall down and thump me on the head.
There are a lot of things I can’t drop, but some of the things that are keeping me feeling flustered are non-essential. Like blogging. Like engaging in social media.
My mind is churning over a lot of what-ifs lately.
What if I disappeared from the online world (with the exception of email) and just focused on building relationships with my husband, my children, and friends I can regularly hang out with at the park?
What if I used all the time I devote to blogging, promoting my blogging, and connecting with others in social media to exercise, to move my body, and to get those happy endorphins flowing?
What if I stopped making excuses about not having time for prayer and showed up to listen to God half as much as I showed up to blog, send a tweet, or check in with Facebook?
What if I never published another thing in Cyberspace and just wrote what I wanted to write when I wanted to write it in old-fashioned journals?
What if I just worked on my short stories and that novel I’ve been wanting to write for so long?
What if I completely ignored the siren song of all those chirps and beeps from my Smart Phone and showed my children I’m smarter than any phone because I know what’s really important in life?
What if I just went cold turkey on it all – blogging, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. – would I miss it?
What if I stopped thinking of God as my Xanax in the sky and really talked to Him instead of reading about Him or reading about how others relate to Him online?
Yesterday my husband encouraged me to get out of the “what if?” limbo and just take a sabbatical. Try it. It doesn’t have to be permanent. You might find your life is fuller. Or you might discover how much you miss blogging and the like. Either way, you’ll put an end to all the “what ifs.”
Okay. I’ll do it!
Last night I was all fired up, folks. Today not so much.
When I was getting therapy for my eating disorder, one counselor told me if I wasn’t obsessing about my weight, I’d find something else to go all OCD about. Sometimes it’s been my parenting. I must do everything right because if I don’t my kids will turn to drugs, promiscuity, hate, eating disorders, anything to fill that void my poor parenting left in them.
Right now it’s blogging, which is ridiculous on one hand but also a lot less stress-inducing than sweating the small and big stuff in the trenches of motherhood. Still, the fact that I’m giving so much thought to something like blogging is absurd on many levels. What a pampered life I live if a stressor in it involves deciding whether or not I should be logging on to my computer as much as I do.
There are mothers who are worried about what they’re going to feed their children tomorrow, and I’m struggling with deciding whether to blog or not to blog? C’mon, Kate. Get a grip. Get some perspective. Go eat a brownie. Do something other than worry about blogging!
Ah, but my blogging sabbatical decision only (not surprisingly) spawned further “what ifs?”
What if the publishers interested in having me write a new book ditch me?
What if the friends I “met” online – the ones who are really and truly in-real-life friends even if I don’t yet know their physical embrace – forget about me?
What if when I come back and return to blogging – and I will come back, right? – no one remembers me and there are no more relationships to build or moms to encourage or friends to laugh with or share only the most flattering photos of my progeny with?
What if it’s just back to my mom reading my words and I’m writing into a black hole?
What if, what if, what if…
But there’s another “what if” that’s nestled in my heart. What if I find my life is richer, more peaceful, fuller, less noisy, more present, and less hurried when I step away from this online life? What then? Will this hiatus turn into a permanent good-bye?
I don’t think so. But maybe. I just know the only way to make peace with these “what ifs” is to close shop for awhile.
So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m listing the reasons a blogging sabbatical is necessary for me right now. This list isn’t only for me – to help me sort things out and feel better about leaving such a big part of my life behind (even if it’s only temporary); it’s for you, too, because some of you have been with me since I first started filling this blank, white screen with my ramblings (and typos) way back in 2007. Some of you are new readers who loyally read my random posts. New or old, you have blessed me with your comments, your emails, your prayers, and your insight. You’ve also blessed me with your oversight, looking past typos and things that don’t make any sense and posts that were most definitely NOT Spirit-led.
I know I’m leaving behind a good thing here. Remember that. And please pop in here every now and then to see if I’m back or at least to share your intentions in The God Box. This site isn’t going anywhere, and your intentions will still be prayed over.