Tag Archives: shame

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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A Thrill of Hope.

If you think God doesn’t want you, you’re precisely the one he wants.

In church yesterday, Pastor Mary highlighted God’s track record of coming down to us. Jesus arrived from heaven down to earth. The Holy Spirit “descended” on him like a dove. The veil in the temple ripped from top to bottom when Jesus was crucified. The New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation comes out of heaven to settle on our planet. God sent his Spirit from on high down to us humans waiting here for his return.

Not only does he physically meet us in our lowly condition, but he also reaches right past middle- and upper-class, white Westerners to get to the stepped on and forgotten castes in our modern societies. His pattern is so beautifully consistent, even when it comes to the grand entrance of his only Child. All the people he chose to immortalize in this miraculous story are the ones we in contemporary America tend to think of least – and think the least of:

  • Elizabeth and Zechariah, parents of John the Baptist, were elderly.
  • Elizabeth, for her own part, was infertile.
  • John the Baptist was an insanely weird hippie who feasted on bugs and lived in the desert.
  • Mary was a pregnant teenager who, theologians think, became a widow early on.
  • Joseph was a blue-collar carpenter.
  • Mary and Joseph became political refugees when Herod began the infanticide.
  • The shepherds, invited by angels to the birth of the Son of God, were impoverished.
  • The Magi, who came to visit Jesus in his toddlerhood, were pagan astrologists.

And if you go back to the lineage of Jesus, you’ll also find a prostitute, a woman who pretended to be a prostitute, and a pair guilty of adultery. Not a single one of these groups are esteemed, or even respected, by most middle- and upper-class, white Westerners. In fact, they’re all the crazies, the useless ones, those helplessly and forever stained by sin and misfortune.

But for God – they are the chosen people.

The chorus they comprise sings the truth of Luke 1:37: “For nothing is impossible for God.” He went to such lengths to prove his point as to make an old woman pregnant with an infant who would become a penniless desert preacher, shouting about repentance. That guy wouldn’t get much airtime in the city where I live, unless he was used as a headline for The Onion. God also made a teenager pregnant before she could even get married to a much older, poor carpenter, with whom she would end up running away in the night to escape an evil ruler who wanted to kill their brand-new son. God also handed out invites to his Son’s birth only to the most impoverished, worst smelling men in the country. That is who our God is. That is who he wants on his team.

Funny, because I was once rejected from a seminary’s application process just for being divorced. And yet God keeps choosing people exactly like me – weird, heartbroken, sinful, awkward people – to do the storytelling when it comes to his love. I’ve said and done terrible things. I’ve hurt, disrespected, and rejected others with my actions. I bear the scars of people doing the same to me. All stories for some other day that’s not Christmas. But based on the cast of Luke 1, looks like I’ve got a pretty fair shot at being used by God to show other people what his grace feels like. All those weird, dirty people in Luke 1 had enough goodness in them, enough light and hope, that God chose their weird, dirty selves to bring about his kingdom.

That’s just exactly the kind of God I can worship. At Christmas and all of forever.

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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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What devotion looks like.

Having grown up in church, I’m sometimes guilty of parroting words and expressions I haven’t thought through. “Surrender to Jesus,” and “Put God first,” are excellent examples. I know they’re true, I just don’t know what they look like in practice. But true to God’s nature, when you ask for understanding, you get it (see Luke 8:10).

My most recent “Aha!” came with the word “devotion,” which has largely come to mean “time spent reading the Bible and praying,” an unfortunate reduction of a strong term originally derived from “to consecrate,” or “to make sacred.” What does “making oneself sacred” mean exactly? We’re instructed in Titus 2:12 to do just that in order to live in an evil world, so how do we do it? I found a simple, beautiful picture of devotion in Mark 16, a picture that’s worth hanging onto.

On Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Salome (the disciple, not the scary one) famously went to Jesus’s tomb to anoint and care for his body. On the way, they discuss a problem: an enormous stone bars them from Jesus. They even ask each other as they walk, “Who will roll away the stone for us at the entrance to the tomb?” (Mark 16:3, NLT).

Get this: three women – Jesus’s mother, at least, would be in her forties by now; I’m not sure about the others – encumbered with spices and oils, are headed out to anoint a corpse blocked by a huge stone.

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They know there’s an obstacle. They know they’re physically incapable of the task they set out to accomplish. In case we’re missing it, verse 4 epithetically points out, the stone “was very large.” But nothing was going to keep them from their Lord. They physically can’t do what they’ve set out to do and they know it, but they packed up their oils and spices and hit the road anyway. And their devotion to Jesus affords them the greatest blessing in all of history: they’re the first to witness the fact that he rose from the dead. When they make it to the tomb, the stone is already off to the side. An angel is waiting for them and says, “He’s alive! Here’s proof!”

Devotion results when nothing keeps you from loving Jesus. It doesn’t matter to you if showing your love for him sometimes seems useless or even laughable. It doesn’t matter to you when obstacles are in your way. It doesn’t matter to you if it’s just you and a couple other people who seem as weak or broken as you are, you’ll do whatever it takes to get to him. Devotion doesn’t care about drawbacks and impediments. Devotion says, “I’m on my way, and I’m trusting you to move the stone when I get there.” Devotion remembers that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).

The faith these three women showed is what gets us through our evil-occupied world (Titus 2:12). When matched with enormous stones that can keep us from Christ – stones like addiction and other sinful patterns, dubious track records, pain you’ve caused, pain you’ve experienced, or any other thing that worries you or brings you shame – devotion says, “I’m coming anyway, Lord.” That’s the kind of devotion I want.

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Sex Scandals Got Jesus Here.

In my Human Sexuality course last spring, I wrote a paper outlining my personal theology of sex. In it, I discussed the mysterious beauty of the act and how it reflects a unified, three-in-one God by unifying a two-in-one marital relationship. But I also spent one paragraph’s worth of space on its misuses because of the clarity and severity with which the Bible condemns certain sexual practices. Spoiler alert: it is grave. First Corinthians 6:18 implies the disease associated with sexual laxness. Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:5, and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 warn that it precludes inheriting the Kingdom of God. Mark 7:20-23 labels it a “defiler” of the heart and mind. Hebrews 13:4 cautions that it ushers in the judgment of God. Revelation 21:8 identifies death as its natural consequence. God is relentless on this point: misuses of sex will never create joy for you. It will bring pain, destruction, and perhaps disease, but never joy.

But this is not an essay on poor sexual choices. This is about how big God’s grace must be because three kinds of sexual immorality are in his own genealogy. If stronger evidence of John 3:17 – that God came into the world not to condemn it but to save it – exists, I certainly don’t know where it is.

The first woman listed in the genealogy of Jesus is Tamar (Matthew 1:3), whose story is found in Genesis 38. She needed to produce an heir for her in-laws but found it impossible. Her first husband died, her second husband was deceitful and died as a result, and the third husband she was promised was never given to her. With a ticking biological clock, she dressed as a prostitute, knowing her father-in-law would proposition her. It happened, she got pregnant, and that boy ended up in the genealogy of Jesus.

The second woman listed in the genealogy of Jesus is Rahab (Matthew 1:5), whose story is in Joshua 2. She was an actual prostitute, not just for Halloween, who hid two of God’s men and saved them from certain death. After talking with them on the roof while they hid at her house, she declared her faith in Israel’s God. Her son is also an ancestor of Jesus.

The fourth woman listed is Bathsheba (Matthew 1:6), whose story is in 2 Samuel 11. By far, she has the most soap-operatic story of them all. King David sees her bathing and wants her immediately. They end up pregnant, which is a problem because Bathsheba is married. So David arranges for her husband to be killed in battle. A child resulting from their union, Solomon, is also in the messianic line.

Even more interesting: women just weren’t included in Jewish genealogies. Inspired by God, the author of Matthew went out of his way to make sure you know about Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba and their place in the line of Jesus.

So it’s true that sinful uses of sexuality are some of the evilest, gravest sins a person can engage with. But in Jesus’s own line, there is incest mixed with deceit; prostitution; and adultery mixed with murder. This is how God chose to get Jesus to us. There’s no way around the fact that sexual immorality leads to death. But when given to Jesus, even sexual immorality can result in life and hope and grace.

Furthermore, as serious as all sins are, God’s grace is even more serious about rescuing you and cleaning you out. God’s grace is serious about setting you free and filling you up with joy. That’s a force to carry you through anything, even the pain of turning to him after sin.

May you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. — Ephesians 3:18-19

Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. — Romans 8:38-39

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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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The Title-Loan Disciple.

By some cruel twist of fate, my family had to pay the IRS this year. It’s not yet been explained to me in a way I find satisfactory. Even so, it’s nice that the IRS isn’t an evil oligarchy running the show and illegally making money off the poor in order to oppress them further. From what I’ve read, that was the case in the Roman Empire a couple millennia ago. Tax collectors took not only the requisite income tax but also outrageously more in illegal funds to keep for themselves. Worse, they were abusing their own people: the brutal Romans hired them as Jews to steal from the Jews. The profession, of course, attracted the greediest, most dishonest thieves alive. They were so sinful that Jesus lumped them together with pagans (Matthew 18:17).

So it’s odd that in Luke 5:27, Jesus stops at one of these booths and asks the guy inside to be a disciple, in Jesus’s most intimate circle of friends. I think this would be kind of like Jesus stopping into a title loan shop and inviting the manager to become a disciple.

But not only did Jesus choose that kind of person, he also gave the invitation while the sinner was in the middle of sinning. Matthew’s at work, stealing from everyone, generally being abusive and awful, when Jesus says, “Wanna get away?”

Jesus saw this terrible man not as he was but as he would become. Jesus knew the strength and goodness seeded in Matthew’s heart. It caused Jesus to push past the sin in the guy’s story to get to the real man underneath.

And look what it does to Matthew: the immediately following verse tells us he threw a huge party at his house (Luke 5:29). He went from being swallowed up by greed, hatred, and abuse to utter generosity. He was willing to pay to feed everyone so they’d come over and meet Jesus too. That’s what Jesus can do: when he calls you away from your junk and starts whispering to you about who you really are, it changes you. Whatever ensnared you the most forcefully can be completely reversed. You simply can’t look at both options – the sinful you and the freed you – and want to stay where you are.

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There is one thing that can keep people from Christ though, it seems. He says to the religious bigots, “I have come not to call those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” (Luke 5:32). A person who “thinks he/she is righteous” is pride-full, and that’s what apparently keeps Jesus away. In order to receive the grace of the Messiah, you have to know you need it.

But why choose greed and pride over Jesus? He is kind, protective, loving, and holds all power. He has sustained me with joy in my very darkest moments. He has surrounded me with a community of people who, because they love him, hold me up and cherish me as he does. He has not stopped giving me the desires of my heart since I trusted my life to him. And even if none of those things were true, he is still all we need on this earth. He literally provides everything from food to healing to comfort. There is no one like my Jesus. And even though I started out as selfish and sinful as Matthew, Jesus is fulfilling his promise to accomplish inside of me all he promised to accomplish since the beginning (Psalm 138:8). Since it’s a promise made to everyone, that promise goes for you too.

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