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Renaissance.

I guess I’ve always assumed God didn’t care one way or another about my body. Certainly, we can only delight in each other if I’m alive, but, past that very low bar, I pictured him opinion-less on other corporal issues, assuming him to be more the heart-and-soul kind. Plus, this body – flesh, to echo the Apostle Paul – only gets me in trouble anyway, right? In a Flesh versus Spirit contest, we’re always pulling for Team Spirit.

So in January of this year when God kept whispering to me about a renaissance, I assumed we were talking “spiritual awakening.” I kept my eyes open for when he might show me something new or arrest my attention on my drive to work and dissolve me into a puddle of tears.

Didn’t happen. At least, no more than usual.

Which means I didn’t even recognize it as “spiritual” the first time I looked at my toddler’s face last winter and audibly gasped at how jaw-droppingly much she looked like me at three years old. It was almost spooky – you pull that girl’s bangs back and voilà! It’s little Amie, but with lighter hair.

Other people noticed too. I began hearing the clichéd “mini me” stuff. We ran into one of my former professors who said, “Well, didn’t your mama just spit you right out?” (My daughter, confused, said, “No.”) Luckily, though, she takes this as a compliment and even asks me regularly, “Will you put my bangs back so I can look like you?” (Tears!)

That’s when I began to understand. I don’t have to lose weight to be a better mom. My being overweight does not consign her to a life of the same. She is not me, and her life experiences will differ from mine. BUT if her appearance is constantly equated with mine and I’m constantly talking about how I don’t like the way I look, she’s going to absorb this about herself. I knew this already, but I began to grasp the urgency. When you’re three, if Mama says it, it’s true. If Mama says it enough, it becomes your bedrock belief. Whatever I uploaded to her about myself, she would compute as a message about herself.

This revelation fueling me, I made excellent health choices for a few months. I felt wonderful about how I was treating my body and what I was teaching her about hers. Then in mid-March, I was hurled into the dark canyon of postpartum depression, about six months after giving birth to my younger daughter. Postpartum depression for me is a ravenous, chilling, inky black that seeps into my brain and consumes all light. I didn’t know it had been crouching in the shadows, waiting for a vulnerable moment, nor did I know when I’d be able to wrest myself free. I felt angry and helpless and feral. And for the record: I don’t feel one ounce of shame over the way I ate during that period. There are times I believe we must simply survive, even if it means allowing the better angels of our nature to hibernate.

But, three months later, I resurfaced. I remembered watching a boyfriend run a 5k on Thanksgiving a decade earlier, noting with surprise the varied sizes and shapes of the runners. I remembered the urgency I felt to raise more body-confident girls than I had been. I remembered the maternal care I had solemnly promised to give myself when I started my weight loss journey in 2011. I remembered the merlot-colored leather pencil skirt and chic black sweater I wore at my 28th birthday dinner. I remembered the feeling of blowing a kiss to the mirror in the morning after I finished my makeup. I remembered, in short, who I was.

That’s when God’s promised renaissance sparked. In July, we moved into a house with a pool. I got in every time I wanted, in a swimsuit without a T-shirt, no matter who was around. I realized my body was swimsuit-ready and that I had to show my daughters regularly that theirs are too. In October, I started running. In November, I ran my first-ever 5k with my sister. For my birthday, I got my ears re-pierced and sayonara-ed everything in my closet that made me feel ugly. This month, I established myself with a primary care physician for the first time since my childhood. (I used walk-ins for a couple of decades since they don’t weigh you.) I’m halfway considering springing for an Infinity Curl Pro with any Christmas money I might receive because I love curly hair. I’m eating well 80% of the time, which is the least strict and most committed I’ve ever been. Weight is coming off, slowly, but speed is no longer my focus.

I’m coming around to my body; we are on speaking terms now. I’m not trying to destroy it with sugar or punishing workouts. I’m not holding it to an impossible standard and then berating it when it can’t keep up. I’m trying to get to know it, care for it, and do with it what I hope my girls will do with theirs: show it respect. This is completely foreign to me, but I’m only 33. I’ll get there. And as best as I can, I’m going to raise this firework to keep dancing in tulle-skirted princess dresses with superhero capes because that is one thing these bodies were always designed to do.

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My Before and After Photos!! The Transformation Is Amazing!!

If you could abolish one thing off Facebook, what would it be?

For me: before-and-after weight-loss photos. All of them.

No, I’m not being sarcastic or funny. I loathe them. I know when we’ve had this type of success, we love to shout it from the proverbial rooftops and bring everyone along. And that’s noble. I’ve felt those things before too – I lost 103 pounds between the fall of 2010 to the winter of 2012. But I never posted before-and-after pictures because they have this really dark side, especially when they’re used to sell a product or program.

Every time you post a picture of yourself looking sad and fat and then happy and thin,
Every time you use a picture of a thin person – yourself or otherwise – to ask if my own body is “swimsuit ready” and whether I want your help to get there,
Every time you implore me to use your product for the sake of my health but couch it in terms meant to appeal to my vanity,
You attack the value of my body and every other woman’s.

“NO WAY!” you might scream. “I value your body so much I want it to be as healthy as possible.” I want that, too. But health might look different for the two of us.

Consider my own “before” picture:

 

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That was taken in the spring of 2012. I hadn’t had babies yet, wasn’t married, went to the gym for an hour or more every Monday – Saturday, and didn’t have to consider anyone else’s preferences when preparing dinner. I took extremely good care of my body by anyone’s standards – except, perhaps, my own. I was mostly slamming my body into submission, having hated it for so long. That’s probably a post for another day, but since it had produced nothing but dysfunction, ridicule, loneliness, and miscarriage, I had very little use for it. So, I did with it what anyone does when they hate something: I tried to destroy it. First with sugar and then with austerity measures.

Then, this thing happened. I gave birth to the two most beautiful girls I have ever seen, one in 2013 and one in 2016. And oh my gosh, did my relationship with my body change.

Here’s an example. I put on baby weight with both girls. I hadn’t taken off the weight from the first when I got pregnant with the second. Even after they were born, I couldn’t take my PCOS medicine while nursing, so that translated to even more weight gain. American culture, before-and-after photos, weight-loss salespeople, and most men would have me believe this made me not “swimsuit ready.” And yet, I have worn swimsuits much more frequently and confidently after having the girls because I realized 1) I had a body, and 2) I had a swimsuit. Boom! Swimsuit ready. I never, ever want them to see me not doing something I love – especially something physical – because of body shame.

Not only that, but I also realized that if my body could be broken for them, to give them life; if I could say to them, “Drink, drink,” after they were born; if the smell of my skin and the feel of my warmth could soothe their tears…my body might be worth something more than filling out a swimsuit in the first place.

It seems to me, having lost weight, had babies, and gained some of the weight back, that a woman must first love her body before trying to change it. Requiring compliance without love leans suspiciously toward prison wardenship, which is not the ideal relationship between soul and body. I speak from experience.

Besides, what good is dieting as an antidote to hatred? Just like I can’t ask my car to brush my teeth on the way to work, I can’t expect a diet to make me love my body. It can reshape it, maybe even revitalize it. But it can’t uproot shame and disgust. If all I do to combat body hatred is decrease in size, then the minute I put a few pounds back on, the shame will come roaring back. That is real life, y’all.

So I don’t do the before-and-after pictures and never will because I don’t want a single person to feel worse about what she looks like right now. I don’t want a single person to look at a picture of me and learn osmotically she must apologize for her body, cover it up at the beach, wear the grandma pants, and never show her thighs. I want anyone seeing pictures of me, especially my girls looking back on this time in our life, to feel empowered, strong. To feel like someone with agency. To feel like she can conquer, regardless of her size. Because, women, we are strong.

Here is my “after” picture:

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I weigh more than in the first photo, yet far from the heaviest I’ve been. But you know what’s different? I believe in my strength, my power, my – dare I say it – athleticism. My size-XL self trained to run a 5k with my beautiful sister, and I ran it.

I am a daughter of the King.
I am a mother.
I am a runner.
I cannot be shaken.
I am a woman.

~ Amie

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P.S.: This is my older daughter. After seeing me finish the 5k, she asked her dad to put the chain down all weekend so she could “cross the finish line like Mama.”

What we do with our bodies and say about our bodies matters. Count me swimsuit ready every single day.

 

 

 

 

Here’s what my car looks like now:
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Here’s my sister and me crossing the finish line:
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Adventure.

One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers – Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew – throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed him (Matthew 4:20, NLT).

I wish I had that kind of pull with my toddler. “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to thoroughly clean up your own messes.” And she would leave Elsa’s ice castle at once and follow me.

Ahh, a mama can dream.

But in fact, when I invite her away from what she’s invested in to do something different, she’s usually dubious. “I just want five minutes longer,” she says. (She comes by negotiation honestly. I’ve seen my man haggle over prices at Walmart.)

She also says a lot of, “Why?” No surprise there; she’s three. And human. “Make it worth my while” is a refrain we’re probably all familiar with, regardless of age. Why should we drop what we love for something we’re not sure about?

It’s hard to get too frustrated with her in situations like this. (Actually, no, it’s not. Because TODDLERS, MAN.) I do exactly the same thing when God asks me to do something I’m unsure about. It’s been happening since last July. He’s asking me to take what feels like a running leap from one side of the Grand Canyon to the other and just trust that he’ll be there.

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I’m all like, “I just want five minutes longer.”

But look at the model of Peter and Andrew. They hear the voice and Christ and, boom! In the next sentence, they’re dropping their nets “at once” to follow him. No hesitation, no questions, no “Did he say what I think he said?” is in the text.

They didn’t negotiate with him. “We’ll leave if you’ll prove we’re going to be successful.” “We’ll leave if you promise it won’t cost our safety.” “We’ll leave if you pay our wages to our families while we’re away.” “We’ll leave if you let us secure our boat in the marina first [or whatever is the culturally appropriate version of a marina].”

They didn’t try to take the lead. “Okay, but let us show you the best spots.”

They didn’t try to get Jesus to join them instead. “Hey, if you want to hang, you’re welcome out here on the boat. We’ve got plenty to eat.”

Without any assurance from Jesus of anything, they let the Holy Spirit whisper in their hearts that he wasn’t fooling around, that he meant business, and that he wanted them in on it if they could be bothered to join. And they dropped the nets and went after the Stranger.

I bet they didn’t look back.

Will I?

For that is what God is like. He is our God forever and ever, and he will guide us until we die (Psalm 48:14, NLT).

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grace > ice cream

She’s just so crazy about her dad that I said, “How about I take the baby on home while you guys finish up here?” I knew she’d love to be alone with him for a while, her princess status unshared with mom and sister. I was right: she glowed at the suggestion and gleefully laced her fingers with his as they took off to collect the rest of the groceries.

What surprised me was when I put her to bed that night and asked, “What was your favorite part about your date with Dadoo?” (That’s what she calls him, Dadoo.) I expected to hear “When we had ice cream” or “We sang the whole ride home” or, as she once said with a sigh, “He’s just so beautiful.”

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Instead, she beamed and said, “He told me it was 100% not a big deal.”

Intrigued, I asked, “What was 100% not a big deal?”

She said, “I thought he’d be mad, but he wasn’t!”

Still I had no idea what we were talking about, so I tried again: “What happened right before he said that?”

She replied, “The thing that wasn’t a big deal!”

I know better than to attempt to pull something from a three-year-old – odd, ultimately frustrating verbal judo inevitably results – so I asked her dad later. “She says her favorite part of tonight was when you said, ‘it was 100% not a big deal.’ What happened?” He looked a bit mystified and told me about something gross she did that he corrected. When her eyes filled and chin wobbled, he said, “Don’t worry. It’s 100% not a big deal. Just don’t do it next time.”

Her favorite part of the night was grace.

During this Lent season that we just finished, I felt strongly as if God were dealing with my pride. An occupational hazard as a counseling graduate student is hearing stories of some of the worst things people do to each other, especially to children. I ended up developing this righteous anger that somewhere became unrighteous, thinking, “If I could just get ahold of those child abusers / rapists / neglectful parents / the ones who inflict fates worse than death, I’d fix them once and for all.” I had no trouble imagining them at the Good Friday scene: throwing stones at Jesus, screaming for his death. Bad, bad people. I’ll show them.

Here’s the problem. As a sinner, I was there too. Also throwing stones. Also screaming for his death. Also committing sinful acts that nailed that perfect man to the cross. Because that is what sin does (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8-10). We are the same, the “bad people” and me. We are all bad people without Christ.

If I want him to show me grace, I can’t keep it from them. If I don’t want him to give me what I deserve, how can I turn on them, hoping they get what they deserve?

And my favorite part of my story with my Father is grace. When they make their way to him, I bet theirs will be too.

My daughter already knows this, even though she’s only lived three and a half years. In Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God,” she always replaces the second word with “grace.” You can correct her all you want, but she stands her ground. (Believe me, I’ve tried.)

But there’s something that rings very true when you hear a toddler singing her lungs out:

How grace is our God!
Sing with me, how grace is our God!
And all will see how grace, how grace, is our God!

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I Quit Forever.

I made a New Summer’s Resolution. I am quitting all diets forever, and I mean forever.

This isn’t a new idea. “It’s not a diet; it’s a lifestyle” has become cliché in our age of dietry. So I want to be clear: when I say I am quitting all diets forever, I don’t mean I’m adopting a certain diet as my new way of life. I am not a new Paleo convert. I literally mean I am quitting. All diets. Forever.

It occurred to me one day that I have spent a ton of time being afraid of and simultaneously drawn to a few “bad” foods; namely, cookies, sweet tea, and French fries. These are my heroin, my security blankets, and my antidepressants (that seriously don’t work). But these foods have no inherent value; they are not “bad.” They are inanimate, valueless. My method of consumption is what determines the wisdom of eating them.

Well, here’s the thing: I don’t want my daughter to end up waging the same war I have for 30½ years. I want to win it and end it, perhaps for us both at once. I’d rather my daughter know that some foods are everyday, all-you can eat foods; some foods are treats; and some foods are just for parties. I want her to see food as sustenance and occasionally a social enhancement and definitely a gift from God (as evidenced by the existence of taste buds, according to my pastor). What food is not is an emotional anesthetic or a substitute for affection. I want her to know that fruits and vegetables have superpowers, and that’s why God made them so bright and colorful. I want her to know that singing and dancing and laughing and playing all make for better journeys than Oreos do.

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I don’t want her to be scared of food. I definitely don’t want her to be scared of being fat.

So I’m not quitting health. I’m actually kind of finding it, now that I’m exiting the diet funhouse with all its mirrors that distort and lie and frighten. It’s a hard place to leave, because as restrictive and hateful as diets can be, they’re also seductive. They tell you sexiness and happiness and all your dreams-come-true are in following their simple regime.

It’s a lie.

Instead, we walk together, my daughter and I. We have Bath-Time Dance Parties. We snack on grapes and avocados when we’re hungry. We point to different parts of our bodies and say, “Anna has pretty arms; Mama has pretty arms! Anna has pretty feet; Mama has pretty feet!” And we remind each other that strong is more important than gorgeous, but gorgeous is a given.

A really beautiful memoir I read earlier this year included the line, “Contentment doesn’t double by the serving.” Very true: more potato chips have never led me to more joy. But I’ve learned that you don’t have to diet to eat fewer potato chips. You can just choose an alternative ending. Sure, you’ve always eaten the whole bag. See what happens if you don’t this time. I’ve been practicing. The skill sharpens with repeated success. And it definitely keeps proving the point that more food never equals more contentment.

When I get to the end of my life, my daughter with me in my room, I sure hope she doesn’t say, “Mom, you taught me how to diet.” I hope she says, “Mom, you had soul. You knew how to fight and win. You knew how to dance.” If that’s the story I want to tell, I’d better stop the dieting, choose something greater than the cookies, and just for the love of God get started dancing like she does:

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Patterns.

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In the first grade, I failed at patterns. The worksheet asked us to color a series of shapes in a red-blue pattern, but that bored me. Instead I colored mine teal-violet-violet-teal-violet-violet – a pattern, to be sure, but the wrong one. My teacher not only gave me an F for the assignment but also refused to let me leave during bathroom break. The anger on my mom’s face when I told her about it that afternoon might have been amusing had it not been so terrifying.

Still, it is of vital importance that we get our patterns right. Like a quilt is composed of its patterns, we humans are composed of patterns too. A repeated choice to numb pain with alcohol creates an alcoholic. A repeated choice to overeat in loneliness creates a food addict. A repeated choice to light up creates a smoker. The patterns make the person.

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Not only that, but our patterns end up manifesting themselves in our children too. They do what we do. That scares me a little; I know how often I fall short of perfection. However, blessedly, this is a biblical concept, which means there’s hope attached. In 2 Timothy 1:5, Paul thanks God for Timothy’s mom and grandma, who passed down their faith, establishing a pattern of Godliness for Timothy. They were examples to him of how to live wisely, and they also raised him in truth and love. We can do the same, constructing the same type of patterns within ourselves and our children. If our children can be persuaded to scream when angry because that’s how they see it done, they can also learn to be patient when angry if it happens around them. Paul says that’s what teaching is for in the first place – building patterns for living. In verse 13, he tells Timothy to “keep the pattern of sound teaching with faith and love in Christ” (NLT, emphasis added). We’ve got to show our children how to live according to Godly patterns.

Some transparency: in my story, what has most often kept me from the patterns Jesus wants is a belief that I have no self-discipline, as in, “I’d eat better, but I just can’t seem to stop.” That often leads to a second, more detrimental belief: “It’s just who I am.” But that’s not Godly. First Timothy 1:7 says, “The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.” It’s not a quality you have or don’t; it’s part of the Spirit given to you by God. If you have him, you have self-discipline. Self-discipline for the Christian is like quad muscles: you’ve got them already, but you have to exercise them if you want them to be strong. You can get your patterns sorted out. You can stop yelling when you’re angry. You can find another way to deal with boredom. You can end any bad habit or any destructive pattern. Jesus gave his life to secure freedom for everyone (1 Timothy 2:6), which means you’re in.

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In addition, I’ve spent a lot of time believing that “one piece of chocolate won’t hurt.” It seems many of us fall prey to this: “one cigarette won’t hurt,” “one porn film won’t hurt,” “one beer won’t hurt.” And maybe it won’t (although these statements have not been evaluated by the FDA), but the pattern you’re setting up will. The pattern of all that chocolate, all those cigarettes, all those hours of porn, all those beers, all those moments spent killing time when you could be talking to Jesus…those will eventually hurt. In fact, they’ll eventually destroy.

Know what I’ve found to be even harder? When you know all that, and you even keep trying to change your patterns, but your efforts produce nothing. Simon Peter, the day he met Jesus on the lake, had been trying all night to catch fish, and nothing had worked. Every fisherman’s technique he knew failed him. Then, Jesus said, “Try one more time. Row out to the deep water and give it one more go.” Simon says, “I’ve already done that. But hey, if you say so.” He rows out and, boom! More fish than he and his partner can lug into the boat. (The story is found in Luke 5.) That’s the power of obedience: it can change your patterns. You’re trying, you’ve seen yourself fail repeatedly, and Jesus says, “Just one more time.” When you respond, “Okay, if you say so,” it will work. It will. It still may not be a straight shot from sickness to health, but you’re headed in the right direction. Just take his advice; he’s Jesus, so he’s right.

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It probably goes without saying that you won’t ever get your patterns right all by yourself. It’s not because you’re weak. It’s not because you’re a failure. It’s because you’re human, a condition that’s not going away. But God has “unlimited resources” (Ephesians 3:16) to help you follow a different pattern.

And we have to – we really don’t have a choice if we’re going to be followers of Jesus. It’s part of “training for holiness,” as Paul labels it in 1 Timothy 4:7, 8. Paul knows we won’t get it right the first time, just like you’re not ready to participate in the Iron Man until you’ve spent a considerable amount of time training. We are called to holiness, and that’s a tall order. But we’ve also been equipped for it by a God with unlimited resources. Besides, imagine what that would be like: complete freedom from the pattern you’re so tired of following.

So maybe give it one more try. See what happens if you row back out one more time. Jesus will make sure you have everything you need to change your patterns. Jesus will set you free.

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Strollers.

One of my favorite things to do with Anna is to walk around the university. The campus itself is gorgeous, but there’s also the park with the creek that attracts beautiful mallards. She points out every one, as well as every dog, child, ball, or brightly colored item. She loves it when we’re the only ones on the path for a few yards and I push the stroller in a zigzag pattern. She loves it when I randomly roll the stroller back so she’s looking directly up at me. She giggles and reaches for me, and I steal a kiss.

I thought the other day, “If God and I were taking a walk, what would it be like?” I realized, almost immediately, that the only reason I can be the kind of parent I am, eliciting as many giggles and cuddles and kisses as possible, is he is that kind of parent. I’m made in his image – I’m his daughter – so we resemble each other. I laugh and snuggle and delight in my daughter because I’m like Abba. And he’s infinitely better at this parenting gig than I am. He gets even more joy from me than I do from Anna. He loves me even more than I love Anna. In fact, Zephaniah 3:17, one of my favorites, even says God dances and sings over me. Over me!

All of a sudden, I felt safe.

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