simplyjan

A Simple Look at a Not-So-Simple Life

Seasons change

I’ve had a hard time getting out of bed in the mornings for the last few weeks. Not because I’m lazy or staying up too late or depressed. No, I have a hard time making myself get up because I know that the first few steps of my day are going to be excruciating. For the first few minutes that I’m up, every step I take with my right foot feels like a step on a bed of knives. Some of you unfortunately know why this is – plantar fasciitis. It’s a painful condition that is at its worst first thing in the morning or after sitting for a period of time. For one of a variety of reasons, the fascia along the bottom of the foot gets tiny little tears in it which causes inflammation and pain. When the foot is at rest, the tendons relax. When you stand or walk, they are stretched taut again over the bones. Inflamed tissue and tendons + tears + stretching = OUCH! It takes weeks, sometimes months, for it to heal. Can I just say that I’m not happy about this?

This is my third round of plantar fasciitis over the course of my adult life. The first two times were back when I was running some. Plantar fasciitis tends to be an overuse/abuse kind of issue. At least then I could call it a running injury. That makes it sound more like a trophy than a weakness. There has been no running for me for the last couple of years, so I can’t use that explanation this time. I wish I knew why it is back. The most likely reason that I have been able to come up with is…shoes.

Now I know that there are a lot of women (and plenty of men) who love shoes. They like shoes for every outfit and every occasion. Y’all, I hate shopping for shoes. Hate it! I mean, I really don’t even like to wear shoes very much. A dear friend in Charleston who knew me very well even bought me a plaque for my office:

barefoot

Unfortunately, shoes are a necessity. So I go for comfort more than anything else these days. Once I find a shoe that meets my needs and is comfortable, then I’m set. I don’t want tons more shoes. I like the ones I have. And sometimes I will wear them until  there are holes in the soles. (Yes, it is embarrassing to admit it. But really – I loved those shoes!) My daughters and my best friend harass me about this all the time. “Get new shoes,” they say. “But I like these!” I insist. “I think I can make them last at least until the end of the season.” Never mind the wear and tear – always uneven, thanks to my bowlegged gait that causes me to strike more heavily on the outside of my foot. Never mind that they are dingy and a year or two out of style. By golly, I like them and I will get my money’s worth out of them!

Here’s the thing. They really were good shoes when I got them. They were super-comfortable before the soles became worn. They were stylish – at least in the season that I bought them. But nothing lasts forever, no matter how hard I try to make it.

And it’s not like I can’t afford new shoes. I just hate shopping for them. Quite frankly, I like what I have and I don’t want to change. If it’s worked for me this long, why should I?

I want you to know that I rarely spend time thinking about shoes. Really, I don’t. But because it’s been hurting me so much to walk lately, they’ve been on my mind a lot more. And the more I think about it, the more ridiculous I feel. Of course the shoes that I wear bearing the shock of step after step under my “more than it should be” weight aren’t going to keep working for me forever, no matter how much I loved them when I bought them or how comfortable they were when I first put them on. Everything has a season and seasons are made to change. As are shoes!

I mull over this as I hobble along and then….Aha! This isn’t just a lesson about shoes! This is a life lesson about, well, just about everything. We try something. It works. We like it. We get comfortable with it. We get attached to it. We cling to it, determined to make it work long after it’s lost its usefulness. We don’t want something new, or something different, or something better. We want what we know. There’s just one problem. What we know has outlived its usefulness and has now reached the point where to hold on to it means it now cripples us. All because we fail to remember that there is a season for everything, and seasons are meant to change.

I wish I could say that I’ve now learned my lesson for good, but I doubt it. It is our nature to cling to the familiar. It’s not a tendency that is easily overcome. And goodness knows I come from a long line of hard-headed, um, I mean, strong-willed women. I will have plenty of opportunity to be reminded of this lesson, however. Like, with every step I take for however many weeks it takes me to get better.

So for now, ice and heat, shoe inserts, compression sleeves, stretches, rest…and good shoes. Let’s just hope I don’t get too attached to these…

Advertisements

I don’t think I meant to take a hiatus, but…

IMG_1213

I quit blogging almost two years ago. I’m not sure why.

Lack of time? I’m sure that played a part. I moved, started a new job, bought a house, accepted a second, part time job. It’s true that I don’t have a lot of time to spare. But I’ve never had a lot of time to spare and I used to blog almost daily. So that can’t be the whole reason.

Changes in the world of blogging? Everybody, their brother, and their dog seem to have blogs now. And most of them are EXPERTS who can tell you how to ___ (reach your ideal weight, write a bestseller in four days, quit your day job and become a millionaire) – all in ten easy steps! (Or seven. Or three.) You can learn these easy steps by enrolling in their online course for a mere $299 for five sessions. For $150 more you can get a 3 minute one-on-one phone consultation with them. This doesn’t work for me because (a) I’m not an expert at much of anything, (b) I wasn’t born yesterday, and (c) I’m not going to spend money on “expert” advice that sounds identical to the lead articles in the magazines that crowd the checkout line in grocery stores that are approximately $296 cheaper. Nor do I want to sell “expert” advice for a ridiculous price. There are still some good writers out there who are putting up good work without hawking “expert” advice, so this can’t be the whole reason either.

Social media? That must be it. Next to money (or maybe surpassing it, at least on Twitter lately), social media has become the root of all evil, right? It’s true that it’s easier to post a photo on Instagram with a short caption and a few carefully chosen hashtags and then cross post to Facebook and Twitter than it is to write out a blog post. Not to mention that it is usually safer, provided you avoid topics like politics, global warming, sexual assault, gun control, racism, feminism (or any ‘ism), equality, health care, etc. In spite of all those ticking time bombs and the other countless ways one can unintentionally offend others online, blogging still feels more…vulnerable.

And therein lies the root of my blog abandonment. Writing is one of the most vulnerable practices a person can undertake. I have said in the past that I would rather walk down Main Street naked than let the general public read some of pieces of my writing. What if I offend someone? What if I fail to live up to expectations – and expectations are many and high for folks in my line of work. What if something I say disappoints my parents or embarrasses my kids or angers my congregation? What if I sound stupid? What if by writing I prove one of my biggest fears to be true – that I have absolutely nothing to say that is worth saying?

Maybe I don’t have anything to say worth saying, but even I won’t know if that’s true until I write. Writing is how I put shape to my thoughts and feelings. It’s how I process experiences. It’s how I make sense of my world. When I don’t write, my brain goes stagnant. For whatever reason, it is far easier for me to tune in to other people’s feelings, needs, and wants than it is for me to acknowledge my own. (Is that an Enneagram 9 thing?) I am absolutely capable of gliding through life knowing more about the people around me than I do about myself. That can’t be okay, can it? What was God’s point in creating me in the first place if I don’t know my own heart or use my own voice? Surely God gave me those things for a reason!

My words may not carry profound insights that change the world, but they do carry my take on my experiences with my world. My words are my way of drawing attention to the things that have demanded mine. We know that words can be weapons, but they can also be tools. When I neglect words for too long, my very soul begins to wither. When I use words well, I can lift up all that is good and beautiful and grace-filled in our world, and maybe in turn lift up someone else.

Sometimes words are meant to be private. This year for Lent, I started the practice of writing in a journal every day. When Lent was over, I kept up the practice. For a little over seven months with the exception of two or three days, I wrote something every single day. I was surprised at first by the words that appeared on the page. Over time, however, they felt more and more like navel-gazing. I started missing more days. Those days turned into weeks. And now I’ve only written maybe 3 days over the past month. I got tired of me. I don’t give myself good feedback and I’m not my own best accountability partner.

Maybe words fare better when they are laid out in the open for others to see. I would love nothing more than to piece my words together into a novel, a memoir, and/or creative nonfiction. I have dozens of ideas for projects. I come up with new ones just about every week. Then I either forget them, or I start them with zeal only to be distracted by yet another project in a week or two. Projects that sound brilliant in my thoughts when I’m drifting off to sleep at night often turn out to be pretty ridiculous when examined in the light of day. Coming up with and starting new projects happens to be one of my favorite procrastination techniques. As long as I’m coming up with new ideas, I am not committed to finish the half-baked ones I already started.

So I will write. Right after I decide which project is best. And right after I take care of everyone else’s needs. And right after I get over my fear of sharing. And right after I get the perfect office space set up in my home, and after I learn the ins and outs of Scrivener, and after I’ve organized my thousands of photographs that I might use to illustrate some of what I write, and after I set up and design a brand new blog, preferably with the perfect domain name and and blog template. I will write right after I figure out the perfect schedule that allows time for in depth research and writing while working two jobs, raising my kid, taking care of my home, walking and feeding my dogs and cats, and being, for lack of a better descriptor, Wonder Woman.

Or I could just write something up right here on my old and neglected blog that hasn’t been touched for almost two years and has probably lost every follower I ever had. Maybe it could be like the old days on my first Blogger blog when I posted my very first entries and then was shocked to learn that a few other people actually read what I wrote. Whether people read or not can’t be my focus. Instead, I want to focus on saying what I have to say, not on writing what I think might please and attract the largest number of people. But I have to admit, feedback would be nice unless it comes from trolls whose only purpose in life is to reinforce one’s fear of being stupid, misunderstood, and targeted for ridicule.

My words. My thoughts. My explorations. My wonderings and wanderings. Sure, it would be nice to build a “platform” and create a “tribe” and write something that went “viral” for all the right reasons. But since my creativity doesn’t function well under pressure, I will try to forget those things and just meet myself on the screen for awhile. I actually am interested to learn what it is that I think. Don’t hold me to a schedule, though. After all, as much as I wish I could be, I’m really not Wonder Woman.IMG_1213

Following the Path

I’ve become the keeper of the labyrinth, so to speak. I inherited it with my new job. It’s tucked away at the back of our property, close to the edge of the woods. I don’t know much about labyrinths. I’ve walked one a time or two at Montreat, but it still seems foreign to me. I’ve been at my new job for a little over three months now and I’ve only eyeballed our labyrinth from the parking lot. I figured it was about time to take the plunge.

labyrinth

A labyrinth is not a maze, although people often mistake it for one. You can get lost in a maze. There are wrong turns and dead ends. But not in a labyrinth. A labyrinth is a single path that leads you to the center. It is not, however, a direct path. Right when you think you’ve almost arrived, the path will double back, leading you off in the opposite direction. So close, and yet so far! But if you stick with the path, if you continue forward on your journey, you will without fail end up in the center.

By the time you reach the center you realize that while you thought the destination was the most important part, it was the journey that has benefit you the most. For as you followed that path with its switchbacks and unexpected turns, you began to shed the burdens that you carried at the start of the path. You became more aware of yourself, your breath, your movement. The closer you draw to the center, the more at peace you feel.

The labyrinth is a great metaphor for life. We are each on a path. We each have a destination in mind. Our paths often take us in unexpected directions. Right when we believe we’ve arrived, the path leads us in a new direction. But if we remain intent on completing our journey, on reaching our goal, we will eventually arrive. When we do, we will find ourselves lighter, freer, and more ready to accept the gift that awaits us.

Today is the first day of 2016. It’s a new year. A new path. A new opportunity to move closer to the center. Who knows where our path will lead us this year? Regardless of which unexpected turns we take, may we keep putting one foot in front of the other, enjoying every step along the way – and if not enjoying it, at least learning from it as we get closer and closer to our goal.

Happy New Year!

A Tiger’s Roar

Clemson ring

I’ve been a Clemson fan for as long as I can remember. My mother is a Clemson graduate. I am a Clemson graduate. The university had a hand in the shaping of our family, our careers, and how we have been equipped to give back to our community.

My grandfather would have been a graduate of Clemson as well. He completed one year there, but the death of an older brother and the failing health of his father meant he had to return to the family farm to keep it going. Those were the days before the term “hobby farming” had been invented. This was no hobby. This was the livelihood and survival of the family. His dream was never fulfilled, but I know he was proud of both my mom and me when we earned our Clemson diplomas.

I can’t help but roll my eyes when our rival fans make fun of Clemson students as being backwoods, ignorant, toothless rednecks because of our school’s agricultural roots. They probably make up their tacky jokes while eating hamburgers (that may well have been raised by farmers who learned to improve the quality of beef at Clemson) while tailgating by their nice vehicles (that may well have been made safer and more fuel efficient by automotive researchers from Clemson) near artfully constructed buildings (that may well have been designed by architects trained at Clemson).

I’ve always wondered why they choose to attack the people of Clemson even more than the football players or program. Surely they can find something to ridicule about a young team that rises to the top. Or about a coach who invests just as much into the development of his athletes as scholars and individuals as he does into developing them into winning players. I know – they could make fun of the fact that Dabo dances funny. Wait, even Clemson fans laugh about that, so that’s out. And who cares if our coach dances funny? We’re proud because we have a coach who loves the game and loves his players so much that he isn’t above demonstrating his unadulterated joy – even if he looks a little silly while doing it. But no, the best attack they can find on the team is the term “Clemsoning.” And look – we “Clemsoned” ourselves to an undefeated regular season, a #1 ranking that we’ve held long enough to prove it isn’t a fluke, and another year of state bragging rights. The term kinda loses its punch when you look at it like that.

So yes, I am proud to be a Clemson Tiger. I am proud to be a graduate of a university with roots in agriculture. I am proud of the graduates who join me in trying to sing that beautifully un-singable alma mater – all the teachers, architects, engineers, nurses, business leaders, politicians, community leaders, and yes, all the farmers. I am proud of those kids – and remember, they really are still kids – who somehow survive the unbelievable pressure that the world of college football places on their shoulders in order to play – and thoroughly enjoy playing – this crazy game. I’m proud of the coaching staff who holds their players to high standards both on and off the field. I’m proud of a head coach who keeps the joy of the game and the development of young men as his top priorities. I will always be a proud Clemson fan, whether the team’s record is 12-0 or 0-12, because it’s not really about the game at all. It’s about a place, a tradition, a set of values, and an education that reaches far beyond the classroom walls and the football field. Go Tigers!

Signs for the Road Ahead

The New Year has arrived. Though the road lies directly before us, not all ahead is clear to see.

Road ahead

There will be unexpected curves in the road as we travel.

IMG_0757

We will come to many crossroads. There will be decisions to be made. Which way should we go? To the left? To the right? Stay the current course?

crossroads

We need to stop, look, and listen before moving ahead.

Stop

Let’s shed any unnecessary burdens we are carrying from days gone by and travel light into tomorrow.

Load notice

And always, keep your eyes on the light that leads us forward.

light

Many blessings in 2015!

new year

A Little Crisis

We had a little roach crisis at our house tonight. I heard my son mutter, “Holy crap! Holy crap!” when he exited the upstairs bathroom after his shower. Since “crap” is on my children’s banned word list, I quickly reprimanded him from downstairs. “Sorry! But there’s a huge roach on the wall up here!”

You may not know this about me, but I hate roaches. In fact, I am quite afraid of them. Dress them up with a name like “Palmetto Bug” and they’re still the same nasty bugs that rustle when they walk and refuse to die. There are only four things that I hate about living in Charleston: being so far away from my family and the farm, the traffic, the unbearable month of August, and the prevalence of roaches (or “Palmetto bugs,” to speak proper Charlestonian English).

My little man hates bugs, too, but he’s been stepping up lately as the spider crusher so I thought he might be up to the task. “Take care of it!” I called. Because I knew he could. And because I needed to keep the new giant puppy away so he wouldn’t eat the roach when it hit the floor – because he really does eat everything. The last time he ate a bug, he spent the next 30 minutes throwing up. Yeah, those are the reasons I wanted my son to kill the roach. Not to mention that I was scared to do it myself.

I heard some shuffling and such. “Did you get it?” His reply was the last thing I wanted to hear. “No. I lost it.”

Dang. I forgot to remind him of the cardinal rule of roach killing: never take your eyes off of it – ever!

Did I mention that the roach was spotted in the hallway right between the three bedrooms? I shuddered to think that it might be hiding out in one of our rooms. Mia insisted that her brother search her room, which he did. He found nothing. With my luck, I figured it ended up in my room.

It was a school night and now it was their bedtime. I tucked them in, trying to assure them the roach is probably more scared of them than they are of it (Yeah, right!) and that they could go on to sleep with no worries. I was pretty sure I would be awake enough all night for the three of us, but I didn’t tell them that.

About 30 minutes later as I was finishing up a phone call with my mom, my son came flying down the stairs. “I hear something in my room!” Now I know I said something earlier about how roaches can rustle when they walk, but really I was exaggerating. Mostly. I figured the fear of the roach had taken up residence in his mind, as scary thoughts sometimes do at night.

“Go turn on your light and see if you see anything. I’ll be up in a minute.”

By this time, he was close to tears, but he went back up. About two minutes later he returned, truly frantic. “It’s in my book bag! I know it is!”

I somehow doubted that the roach had crawled into his book bag, but he was getting closer and closer to hysteria. “Take your book bag to the garage. I’ll check it there.”

“But I’m scared!”

I excused myself from my phone call and marched myself right upstairs and picked up his book bag. I started back down the steps and told him to go on back to bed. He was still too scared. We had a brief exchange on the staircase while I held the suspect bag. “It’s in here, remember? You are fine now.” I didn’t really believe it was in the bag. Apparently neither did he, and there was no convincing him.

I gave up and headed on out to the garage. Once there, I turned the bag upside down and gave it a shake. Out dropped the granddaddy of all roaches. I heard it hit the ground with a thud and then I heard it rustle as it made a hasty retreat. I was barefoot, so there was no stepping on it. Not that I could have stepped on it anyway. I cannot bring myself to do it. First, you have to get too close in order to step on it. Second, I cannot stomach the crunching sound. I’ve learned that drowning a roach with Windex kills it faster than even roach spray will, but I didn’t have any Windex on hand. Or any roach spray. So somewhere in my garage, a granddaddy roach is plotting his return. He lives for another day. Who am I kidding? He’ll probably live the rest of the century!

The house is now quiet. The kiddos are asleep, probably with visions of rustling roaches dancing in their heads. I’m ready for bed now myself. I must get ready for tomorrow’s two morning battles: will I be able to get Gus to use his book bag ever again, and are any of us brave enough to dash through the garage to get to the car, knowing that granddaddy roach is somewhere out there? Stay tuned…

Looking for Granny

About a year ago, I stumbled across a grand old Charleston house tucked in among the massive buildings of the downtown medical complex made up of Roper Hospital and Medical University of South Carolina buildings. It seemed so out of place. It was obviously no longer a private residence, so I ventured onto its porch to read the placards posted on either side of the door.

This was the first one I read. Interesting, but no big deal.

IMG_1390 

Then I read this one, posted on the opposite side of the door.

IMG_1389

This one got my attention. Home for nurses? My great-grandmother came to Charleston for nurses’ training. Was this where she lived the two years she was here? That one question got me started on a research project I had loved but abandoned when my first child was born. I mean, face it, how many of us have time for genealogical research while raising young children?

My hopes were dashed when I found out that she graduated from the Charleston Training School for Nurses in 1903, predating the establishment of the Kinloch Home for Nurses. I returned to the house later and worked up the nerve to enter. This might not be the place, but at least it was from that era. This is what I found inside.

IMG_1379

Yeah, I know. I total mess. What was once a grand home is now in great disrepair. That majestic stairway looked more than a bit shaky from up close.

IMG_1382

This is what they look like when you stand at the bottom and look up. By this time, I had roped Cathy into coming with me to explore. It took several visits before we found someone who (1) gave us permission to venture upstairs, and (2) assured us it was safe to do so. But in those visits prior to going upstairs, we wandered around the first floor, noting delightful details like this:

IMG_1375 IMG_1422_1 a

The place just felt right. It had to be the place! I just had to prove it. Curiosity stoked,the research kicked into high gear. We were able to learn that this house, once a private residence, had been converted into Riverside Infirmary during the time period that Granny would have been in Charleston. And get this – the infirmary occupied the first two floors, but the nurses in training lived on the top floor. EUREKA!

Last week, we returned to the house once again, determined to make it to the top floor. We were in luck. We encountered Melissa, whose construction company is under contract with the hospital system and who has an office (of sorts) on the second floor. She not only assured us that it was safe (as long as we watched our step), but that we were welcome to look around as much as we would like.

Yes, it was a mess. Cathy is such a good sport to humor me like she does. (Ha! Don’t be fooled. She is as caught up in the research as I am at this point!)

IMG_1523

I walked from room to room wondering, “Was this your room, Mary?” (Somehow it seemed okay to call her that, since she was far from being a Granny at the time she lived there.)

IMG_1513

Most of the third floor windows were shuttered, but from one that was not, I got a glimpse of the kind of view she would have enjoyed, minus the power poles and modern buildings, of course.

IMG_1521

After seeing as much as we could see for the day, we descended the stairs as she would have done countless times. “I hope she was surefooted,” I thought, remembering the dress and shoes of the day that she would have worn – a far cry from the jeans and running shoes I wore. I held on to the rail as I made my way down. I’ll be back. There’s more to the story that took place under that roof, and I want to learn it.

IMG_1532

Here is the Jonathan Lucas House/Kinloch Home for Nurses – home to my great-grandmother Mary Reagin (later Beaty) from 1898-1900, now and then.

IMG_1391

Old Jennings House Riverside Infirmary

You Blink and Time Flies

Where, oh where has my little blog gone? Where, oh where can it be…..?

music notes(Do you have an earworm now? You’re welcome!)

You know it’s been a long time since you’ve posted to your blog when you’ve forgotten the password to even sign in. I didn’t realize that it had been quite this long, however. Over 3 months!

What has been happening since that last July 24th post? First, there was the week in Minnesota at the Collegeville Writing Institute. (Ironic that I went silent after a writing retreat, huh?) Then there was Hands of Christ. Presbyterians in the Charleston area understand immediately the importance and impact of that. Then I moved my oldest back to college for her senior year. How is that even possible? I got my two youngest started back at school – 4th and 5th grades. Things kicked back into high gear at church, where in addition to regular church activities, we’ve had 3 deaths and numerous surgeries/accidents/illnesses. Some things are happening that really aren’t bloggable. They aren’t bad things. In fact, some of them are very good. This just isn’t the forum for sharing them.

My “open” time this fall, when there has been open time, has been spent in research and exploration. I’ve spent hours in the SC Room at the main branch of the library, in the Waring Historical Library, and in the MUSC Archives. I’ve written numerous emails and made several phone calls, many to complete strangers, looking for information. I’ve poked around the dusty corners of a 200+ year old building in disrepair trying to transport myself back in time.

And why am I doing these things? I’ve picked up where I left off almost 22 years ago – prior to Anna’s birth – in my search through my family history for stories and personalities and roots. I had forgotten how much fun this can be. Raising children took my mind off these things for many years. Now that my kids are getting older, my interest has been renewed.

My current research is centered around my great-grandmother’s life, specifically the period from 1898-1903 when she went through nursing school and midwife training. It’s a giant scavenger hunt – chasing down details, searching old records, asking for people to tell me stories, looking at old photographs from the period. It helps a lot to have a friend who is a gifted (and fast) researcher. My children shake their heads at the nerdiness of it all, but even they perk up when I share some of the stories.

Which is why I am back here on the blog. It is one of my best and longest running records of some of the stories of my own life. It might not be of great interest to my children right now. But maybe one day they, or my grandchildren or great-grandchildren, will be glad that at least some of the details were saved for their entertainment. If nothing else, maybe they’ll figure out where their own nerdiness gene came from!

Things That Go Bump In The Night

I made it through today with all the clarity of a sleepwalker. I’m a girl who loves her sleep. Most of the time I sleep well. Sometimes though, not so much. Like last night, for instance.

I crawled into bed on my regular summertime schedule – later than during the school year, but not too late. I dropped right off to sleep. Then sometime around 2:30 a.m., I began waking up. I was in that “not quite asleep but not really awake either” stage when the air conditioner cycled off. It made a loud click. As I rolled over to settle back into sleep, the thought crossed my mind: “That sounded a lot like it does when the kids go in or out the door downstairs.” That’s all it was. Just a thought. I mean, I knew the air had gone off. I felt it. But . . . what if?

bumpinthenight

The likelihood of someone merely walking in one of our doors at night without waking the neighborhood from breaking it down is about nil. I’m pretty OCD about some things. I always unplug the flat iron or the curling iron before I set it down on the counter. I watch the garage door go all the way down before I drive away. I always make sure all appliances – stove, dishwasher, washer, and dryer are off before I go to bed. I check the locks on every door – sometimes twice – before I go upstairs for the night. Not only am I compulsive about checking locks before I turn in at night, my youngest always reminds me as I tuck her in and as we exchange kissing hands: “Don’t forget to lock the doors and to make sure everything is off.” Every. single. night.

Still, the responsibility for my family’s safety rests on my shoulders. It probably was just the air conditioner. I was 99.5% certain. That .5% kept setting of my internal alarm. Sigh. I rolled out of bed and stretched. Rookie grunted and rolled back over, unconcerned. I stepped out into the hall and checked on the kids. All were sound asleep. First one, then two sleepy cats abandoned their perches to join me as I made my way downstairs. By this time, I knew all was well. A snoring dog and nonchalant cats are always pretty good signs.

Determined to finish what I started, I circled the ground floor. The light over the stove (always left on so that nights like tonight would be less scary), illuminated my way as I checked: front door, back door, garage door – all locked. The house was quiet. The neighborhood was quiet. The kids were quiet. The cats were settling into new sleep spots. Rookie was still snoring.

Me? Wide awake. Daytime awake. Maybe I should just stay up and accomplish something since I can’t go back to sleep awake. But I didn’t get up. I rolled from left side to right, from back to stomach. I made lists in my head. I thought about how tired I would be after being awake so long. I prayed. I sighed a lot. I was annoyed, but not anxious. There was that much to be thankful for, at least. The last time I looked at the clock, it was 4:23 a.m.

Sometimes it’s tough being the grown up, the mama, the responsible one, the one who checks the house when things go bump in the night. The funny thing is, I don’t even know what I would do if I found the bumping thing. I guess my goal is to find it before it finds my kids. The rest I would make up as I went along. Let’s just say that I hope that the bumping things are always as harmless as they have been to date.

In the meantime, maybe I’ll move my son’s extra baseball bat up to my bedroom. You know, just in case.

bat

Reading with a Pen: Wearing Skin

I do my best reading with a pen in hand. When I stumble across beautiful sentences, or wise quotes, or unforgettable scenes, I feel like I need to put down a flag of discovery so that one day (hopefully) I can return. Sometimes I underlines phrases, sentences, or entire paragraphs. Sometimes I draw smiley faces or exclamation marks in the margin. Sometimes I initiate my own conversation with the text by writing in questions or comments. (I am so thankful that Amazon built these capabilities into their Kindle!) Sometimes I move the entire conversation – quotes and all – into my journal so I will have room to explore. Too often, however, my marks just sit on the page – forgotten until or unless I pick the book back up again at some point in the future. I thought it might be fun to go searching for the flags I’ve planted around words in some of my favorite books.  

For instance, I can say that I think it is important to pray naked in front of a full-length mirror sometimes, especially when you are full of loathing for your body. Maybe you think you are too heavy. Maybe you have never liked the way your hipbones stick out. Do your breasts sag? Are you too hairy? It is always something. . .You have gotten glimpses of your body as you have bathed or changed clothes, but so far maintaining your equilibrium has depended upon staying covered up as much as you can. You have even discovered how to shower in the dark so that you may have to feel what you presently loathe about yourself but you do not have to look at it.

This can only go on so long, especially for someone who officially believes that God loves flesh and blood, no matter what kind of shape it is in. Whether you are sick or well, lovely or irregular, there comes a time when it is vitally important for your spiritual health to drop your clothes, look in the mirror, and say, “Here I am. This is the body-like-no-other that my life has shaped. I live here. This is my soul’s address.

These words from Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World, reduced me to tears. It was a deep but unexpected emotional reaction that left me confused. What is it about those words that touched so deeply, and what exactly is it in me that they touched?

Like the majority of women (and many men), I have a love/hate relationship with my body. In my mind, I am still the skinny girl that I used to be. In reality, I haven’t been skinny for years. And speaking of skinny, I look back now at pictures of me in my teens and early 20’s and realize that the skinny I was so proud of was anything but a healthy-looking skinny. I looked like a skeleton. I looked anorexic. In retrospect, I believe I was.

As a junior in high school, I was my current height – 5’5″. My weight dropped to 89 pounds at one point. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to eat. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t keep most food down. For almost a year my diet consisted primarily of Ensure, milkshakes, and mashed potatoes. I wasn’t worried about my weight. I was worried about not being perfect. I had to make A’s. When I auditioned in band or orchestra, I wanted to make first chair. The problems started when I discovered that an A in chemistry under Mr. Phail (yes, pronounced ‘fail’) wasn’t likely to happen and first chair belonged solidly to my best friend. It was stupid. Earning a B (or even a C) in Mr. Phail’s class was nothing to be ashamed of and second chair was still an honor. But I felt like I was failing. As the 3rd child in my family, I followed my sister who was a whiz kid and my brother who is musically gifted. I didn’t feel like I was measuring up.

I remained skinny into early adulthood. I weighed about 105 pounds when I got pregnant with Anna. I gained more weight than I was supposed to during pregnancy. Still, I have pictures from a beach trip when Anna was 7 months old and I was skinny again, back down to 107 pounds. I didn’t lose that weight because I was disciplined or determined or dieting. I lost it because of stress. My husband left me when Anna was just 10 weeks old. Before he left, he firmly imprinted in my mind that I was ugly and undesirable. I believed him. After all, I heard it from him so often and so long how could it not be true?

It took about 4 years of failed efforts to reconcile before the divorce was finalized. By that time, I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t love me. I didn’t believe that anybody else would love me. I threw myself into motherhood and seminary and work. For 2 years I lived in a little rental house in my hometown while I worked and finished my seminary degree. Try as I might, I cannot remember eating a single meal in that house sitting down at the dining room table. I usually ate standing up in the kitchen, or behind the driver’s wheel, or at my desk. Slowly, my weight crept upward. I was too distracted to notice.

In my mind, nothing had changed. Imagine my shock when I finally woke up and saw myself in the mirror looking far different than I expected. You know that feeling you get when you first hear a recording of your voice? You think, “That’s not me! I don’t sound anything like that!” But you do. It’s you. That’s what this epiphany felt like. “That’s not me! I don’t look anything like that!” But I do. It was me. It is me.

It is a constant battle for me – a major mind game. I flip flop between self-loathing and self-acceptance. I exercise regularly, or try to. I try not to focus on numbers on a scale or on tags in clothing. Instead I seek to be healthy and strong. I try to accept my body, to love it, to believe that someone else could love it too.

Then the images and mixed messages from the media try to convince me how off-base I am. There are all the skinny, fit, pretty stars who set the bar hopelessly high. And then there are countless TV shows dealing with weight loss. I’m hooked on The Biggest Loser. Over the years, I’ve watched bits and pieces of other shows like Ruby, Diet Tribe, Bulging Brides, and Last 10 Pound Boot Camp. Some of them make me feel okay about where I am. Others, well, not so much so. When a bride-to-be who weighs 35 pounds less than I do breaks down over her weight, I have to admit I slip back into the self-loathing.

And then I read these words:

After you have taken a good look around, you may decide that there is a lot to be thankful for, all things considered. Bodies take real beatings. That they heal from most things is an underrated miracle. That they give birth is beyond reckoning.

When I do this, I generally decide that it is time to do a better job of wearing my skin with gratitude instead of loathing. No matter what I think of my body, I can still offer it to God to go on being useful to the world in ways both sublime and ridiculous. At the very least, I can practice a little reverence right there in front of the mirror, taking some small credit for standing there unguarded for once.

Thank you, BBT. I needed that.

“Here I am. This is the body-like-no-other that my life has shaped. I live here. This is my soul’s address.”

body image
NOTE: This is a lightly edited version of a post I wrote back in 2009. I received powerful feedback from it in the form of comments and emails. I chose to repost it because  I believe this is a struggle that many of us continue to have. Also, my readership has changed over the years and there may be someone who needs some encouragement who would have missed it years ago. As for me, I still have my good days and my bad days, but the good days tend to outnumber the bad. Oh, and I’m still hooked on The Biggest Loser. 🙂

Post Navigation