Monthly Archives: September 2014

Masterpiece.

Earlier this month, I threw a book on the floor in disgust. I was reading A Jewel in His Crown by minister Priscilla Shirer, and if the title leads you to believe the book is nutty, you’re mostly right. However, the comment that initially angered me has proven far wiser in the weeks that followed than I ever imagined: “A continued struggle with weight…is a direct sign that we have not submitted ourselves completely to the Lord.” I was aghast – where did Shirer get off, suggesting my weight was tied to a lack of submission to Jesus? I am absolutely submitted to the Lord, I protested in the margin. While I am thoroughly imperfect, I live my life for the glory of God as best as I humanly, possibly can.

The short version is, turns out she’s right. I dealt extensively with my food addiction while in graduate school and was able to whip myself eventually into obedience. When I felt God was assisting the process, I took the project back over from him and willed myself the rest of the way. Then when the old habits came back during my pregnancy, I was dismayed but not shocked. I kept telling myself, “Well, this is who you are. What did you expect?”

THAT IS NOT THE VOICE OF JESUS.

I continued to let that voice serenade me after the 60 pounds had been gained during 37 weeks of pregnancy. And I continued to let that voice serenade me after my daughter was born. And I continued to let that voice serenade me until I threw down my copy of Shirer’s book when my explosive disgust let me know she was right.

It was time for another kind of throw-down.

I started exploring myself with grace and even acceptance, becoming curious about my thoughts and actions. What else had that voice said to me? I grew militant about uprooting the beliefs, rendering the voice laryngitic. In order to do that, I had to listen, but I did so with beginner’s ears, as if listening for the first time.

The voice said, “You are not free. You must please everyone else. If you don’t at least eat whatever you want, you will have no freedom at all.”

It said, “You cannot control anything in your life. You have experienced so much pain, and it just keeps coming. You should at least be able to eat for enjoyment.”

It said, “Comfort eating is merely a bad habit. If you really want to stop, willpower will be enough whenever you’re ready.”

It said, “Food will give you what you want. You’ll feel free and in control, and you’ll be happy again. The depression will recede and the stress evaporate. You’ll be able to go back to your responsibilities having at least had a little break.”

Jesus doesn’t talk like that. Which means I was listening to a voice with no authority.

But here’s the problem: a diet doesn’t silence that voice. It says all the same things and allures with new gems like, “You’ll be worth something when you lose weight.” “You’ll finally be beautiful when you lose weight.” “You’ll finally be happy when you lose weight.”

The Bible, however, doesn’t say those things either. The Bible says I reflect the glory of God (Genesis 1:27). The Bible says God crafted me (Psalm 139:13). The Bible says God has collected every tear I’ve ever cried because he has that much compassion for me (Psalm 56:8). The Bible says God dances and sings with joy over me (Zephaniah 3:17). Logically, then, I am already worth something, something deep and irrevocable and priceless. The Creator of the whole universe finds me breathtaking. I am already whole. Until these truths bloom in my heart, my life will have no real vitality.

That’s why it could not be more crucial for me as a mother to submit to Jesus the ugly voice, the impaired thinking, and all the lies about who I am. For the issue of weight is fused to the issue of self-esteem, and I cannot teach my daughter to be what I am not. I can’t instill in her a sense of self-acceptance if I haven’t accepted myself. How will she learn? Furthermore, how can I fully embrace my husband if I haven’t fully embraced myself? Will I not always question his love for me if I believe no man could ever find me desirable?

This means, then, what I need is not a diet. Not even a “lifestyle change,” every diet-hater’s favorite euphemism. No, what I need is inner righteousness, an inner power fueled by the One who created me in the first place. What I need is belief in his love and ability to transform me. It is time to put myself in the way of grace and healing. Without submitting the ugly voice to God, I will never be the emotionally, spiritually, physically healthy woman he designed me to be. And I am, by the way, designed. I am a work of art, a cathedral, a masterpiece.

Kill the ugly voice before it kills you. For you are a masterpiece, too.

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Filed under Addiction Recovery, Broken Beauty, Jesus Loves Me

Enough With the Suicide.

Orange and yellow are sneaking up on the trees across the street from my house. I’ve noticed it while walking my dog on these cooler, drizzlier mornings. For some, I know autumn brings on melancholy and loneliness, brings dying to the forefront, but I’ve never looked at it that way. Sure, everything is letting go: leaves are turning loose, summer is breathing its last, and the sun’s heat is fading. But it’s all so nature’s renaissance can play out again at the right time. This is what’s happened to me over the past nine months – a shattering of who I’ve been so I can get rebuilt.

I first noticed it a few weeks ago when my man made his daily after-school call to me. His greeting is always the same: “How are you?” My typical answer sounded like this: “I’m finishing up some grading and then heading to pick up the baby. How are you?” You might already notice the discrepancy, but it took me two years to realize my answer didn’t match his question. He didn’t ask what I was doing. He asked about me. My “I’m-working-hard” response betrays one of the reasons I landed where I did after my daughter’s birth: empty, depressed, hiding. I have worked so hard for so long to please so many – God, my parents, my man, my children, my superiors at work, my students. I have aimed for perfection and a happy audience, but I can’t keep up with myself any longer. I’ve shattered.

My counselor says the root of perfectionism is shame: we try to be perfect because we’re ashamed of who we really are. This is true of me, with perfectionism leading straight to jealousy. Deep, intense jealousy. I’ve been jealous of other’s bodies, relationships, families, and even ministries. I’ve been jealous of my man’s creativity, my mom’s determination, my sister’s beauty, my dad’s sense of humor. I’ve been jealous of one friend’s intelligence, another’s gentleness. Underlying it all is the sense that if I had that – whatever quality that might be – I’d be better, worth more. The problem with all this people pleasing and jealousy is the same: it’s suicide. It’s all me attempting to be, or wishing I could be, something God didn’t make me. Luckily, I shattered at the right time. I’m a new mom, I’m a new wife, and I’m weeks away from 30. Everything is just beginning (or re-beginning, in this case).

Here are some things that are true:

1.) I am not a person enticed by money or any other god of the for-profit world. I would rather play with words, notice the subtle shifts in my daughter’s face over time, and breathe in a sunrise than be in the office early to earn six figures. The shame I’ve carried over this aspect of my reality has shattered. It doesn’t fit me.

2.) I am not the perfect mother. We eat a lot of spaghetti and tacos because I don’t like to cook. I get frustrated when my nine-month-old cries a lot. In fact, I sometimes put her to bed early because I need a few extra minutes to myself. I couldn’t breastfeed, I am not currently teaching her French, I don’t play classical music for her, and she does not get my best every day. My guilt over not being Mother Incarnate has shattered. It doesn’t fit me either.

3.) My journey toward increased health will not be a one-time turn from all my bad mental and physical habits. I am stumbling my way there. I am learning self-care and hope to one day be able to teach it to my children, especially my daughters. My shame over my imperfect body and mind that has grown like a snowball over the years has finally shattered. Just like a pair of size-4 jeans, it doesn’t fit.

Since guilt and self-hatred haven’t worked for me yet, I’m beginning to try grace with myself. I’m trying to allow myself to be rebuilt from the rubble of all that’s broken, sorting through the façades to find the solid stone. I can accept who I am with grace and honesty, or I can keep, as my man says, should-ing on myself, telling myself I should be smarter, slimmer, happier, more graceful, ever more compliant, and so on. The fact is this: I have an identity, a soul, given to me by God. Allowing anything to eclipse it – whether perfectionism, shame, even good things like motherhood – kills a precious piece of the human puzzle. Where I am is acceptable. Where I am going is even better. But all along my journey, I am needed to be me, you are needed to be you, and together we will hold hands and breathe and find ourselves some peace.

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Theme for Motherhood 101

Here is a confession.

Every moment with my daughter is not beatific smiles and homemade cookies.

This is what my Facebook hopes you will believe, because it is what I would like to believe. I am a classic perfectionist: in my mind, I should start each morning at 6:00 with a bright smile, brew my husband a steaming mug of Cost Rican coffee, spend an hour in powerful intercession as the rosy-apricot sunrise streams golden bars of light through my window, dress my daughter in a fashionable baby outfit that stays clean all day, work out my slim legs and shapely arms for an hour in the gym, cook a healthy and delicious dinner for my family, and cuddle myself into bed at 10:00, at which point the Lunesta butterfly will settle on my shoulder and marvel at my seraphic glow.

Alas, that is not my life.

Except for the Costa Rican coffee, which I typically brew for myself.

The truth is more like this: I wipe sleep-slobber off my face and groan when the baby monitor tells me my nine-month-old has awakened before I can eat breakfast or even brush my teeth. We survive the day until 3:00 p.m. when she morphs into a screeching monkey. I’m endlessly patient until, you know, 4:00 p.m., when I find myself counting the hours before bedtime: three and a half. We sigh, we cry, we grunt. We just generally wish the other understood why she has to stop acting like this right now I-mean-it. I flop into bed later than I mean to, stressed and aggravated with myself over my stress and aggravation. And if any medication-induced fauna enters my bedroom, it’s most likely the green Mucinex crud-globs, trying to invade my sinus cavities in the night.

Perhaps women like my perfect dream-twin do exist, but I think they might be fairy-tale elusive, like woodland sprites. In my lucid moments, I know this; in my more numerous everyday moments, I believe I should be one because I believe everyone else is. It’s probably this belief that led me to hide in a closet a couple Sunday mornings ago, shaking and sobbing, with my journal – failures splashed in blue ink all over – covering my ears to block out the dreadful waking-up sounds of another day. The reason I am even around my daughter at 3:00 p.m. is that the doctor wrote me out of work for three weeks to try to recapture whatever dim glory I might’ve had before The Closet Incident. Simultaneously being a wife and new mother – if you’re aiming for success at both – is really hard on the soul.

In life as in writing about it, I’m accustomed to ruminating on the difficulty of certain situations and then tying it up neatly with a crystalline truth, something sweet and precise, maybe even helpful. However, since becoming a mother, I feel sort of shabby, like my crystal isn’t polished anymore and the prisms are harder to come by. I am exhausted, disappointed with myself, and frequently at a loss for truth at all, much less that which can be artistically voiced. The one solid bit, the gravity holding my feet to the ground even when my feet are drenched with tears and hidden in the closet, is the knowledge that Jesus loves me. How odd: Jesus loves a shabby, puffy, ill-tempered mother on antidepressants. Jesus loves a screeching-monkey nine-month-old whom I call “sweetheart.” Jesus loves a stressed-out set of parents who beg incessantly for his help, even though He has a perfect track record of coming through for us since well before Day One.

Jesus loves me.

Jesus loves me.

Jesus loves…me.

Maybe I’ll make it after all.

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Filed under Broken Beauty, It's a Girl!, Jesus Loves Me