simplyjan

A Simple Look at a Not-So-Simple Life

Archive for the category “Quotes”

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. 🙂

Reading with a Pen: Life and Art

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.

corner desk

Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.

Today’s quote comes from one of my top five favorite books on writing: Stephen King’s On Writing.

I am writer at heart. Whether I will ever be an official “author” with a published book all remains to be seen. I’ve read all kinds of advice on writing and blogging. Write every single day. Write a set number of words every day. Post to your blog on a regular, dependable schedule if you want to build a following. You get the general idea. It’s great advice. I try to abide by it . . . somewhat.

Two weeks ago, I began writing this series. I got some good feedback. I enjoyed sitting down every day to create each post. I actually wondered at one point if maybe I could keep it going for the month of July. Of course, I was on week one of a two week vacation. Week one was staycation – a laid back week of relaxation. Then came week two: a week with family at my parents’ house on the farm in the Upstate, enjoying my niece’s two precious children while she was on a mission trip. The kids are 3 and 1, full of energy and life, more precious than words can describe, fun (and funny) . . . and exhausting. (My hat is off to you Melinda! I had forgotten how all-consuming parenting toddlers is!) Except for a few text messages, I did not write a single word all week long. And you know what? That’s absolutely okay, because the purpose of my life is not just to enhance my writing. My writing is meant to enhance my life.

I believe that is what King was getting at with his statement above. Life isn’t a support system for art, in whatever form your art takes. It informs art. It inspires art. It is expressed through art. I can’t imagine life without art. But art is not the main thing. Life is. There was nothing more important than the people, the experiences, the learning, the love. It’s when we get really lucky that we find ways to share the gifts of life with others through art, enhancing their lives as well as our own.

Reading with a Pen: Time

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.

Today’s quote comes from Quitter, by Jon Acuff:

You have the perfect amount of time each day for the things that matter most. The key is spending time on those things.

I know. It is hard to believe that we ever really have enough time for anything, much less for the things that matter the most. It’s a constant battle for me. My life often feels like the classic plate-spinning act. I run frantically from the most pressing project, to the church member in need, to my children, to the pile of laundry, to the hungry pets, to the writing project with a deadline, to the overgrown yard . . . It goes on and on.

spinning plates

I don’t have enough time for everything. But Jon didn’t say we have enough time for everything. He said have enough time for the things that matter most. When you look at it like that, the problem isn’t with the clock, it’s with our priorities.

* Having a decent yard is fairly important, but having a manicured yard is not.

* Having clean clothes for my family to wear is important. Keeping an empty laundry basket is not.

* Having a house that is clean enough to be healthy and not a total embarrassment is important. Having a spotless house that is always neat is not.

* Doing my very best to meet the needs of my congregation is important. Micromanaging every part of church life and/or making sure everything gets filed away neatly by the end of the week is not.

* Using my time and skills to make a contribution to my church and my presbytery. Attending every single meeting and event is not.

For some people, having a manicured yard and a perfect house, or having their hands in every cookie jar at work, or making sure they are seen at every event is important. And that’s just fine – for them. For me, if I try to do all those things plus everything else, the things that are most important to me will suffer. And so will I.

What is really important to me? My children. My extended family. My health. The parts of my work where I know I can really make a difference. My friends. My pets. Having time to observe and enjoy nature. Having time to write. Having time to be alone – to think, to dream, to rejuvenate.

These are the things I will have enough time for – if I make them my priorities and let go of the need to keep every. blasted. plate. spinning. all. the. blasted. time. The other stuff? I’ll get around to it – eventually. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay – it’s enough!

Reading with a Pen: For My Inner Critic

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.

This is a quote I copied in my journal while reading Debbie Macomber’s Knit Together:

It’s difficult to complain to God about how terrible you are when you remember you’re talking to the original designer. (p. 39)

I have memories of one of my junior high youth leaders telling us, “God don’t make no junk!” That’s something that every young person needs to hear over and over, because the world can be pretty cruel (and so can your friends and classmates) in those critical transitional years. By the time we become adults, we may not hear the same kind of voices from around us, but we usually still hear them within us.

I have an ugly talking inner critic. Sometimes he tries to mimic the voices of real people I know or have known. Other times he is just a grouchy voice. (And yes, my voice is a he. Go figure.) I’ve written about him here.

If this reminder from Macomber won’t shut up the voices that tear us apart, whether they come from outside us or inside us, then nothing will. When I read this quote, I am reminded that it’s true. God don’t make no junk.

no junk

Reading with a Pen: Releasing the Story

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.

This first quote comes from Devotion, by Dani Shapiro. I ran across the book by chance at Goodwill. A few months earlier I read the sample selection on my Kindle and put the book on my “books to buy when I have the disposable dollars or when Kindle puts them on a great sale” list. Needless to say, I was thrilled by my bargain find.

My copy of Devotion is marked up everywhere. While the specifics of Shapiro’s journey and mine are significantly different at some points, other points had me saying, “Yes! I know exactly what you’re talking about!” Here is one (of a gazillion) marked passages.

Yogis use a beautiful Sanskrit word, samskara, to describe the knots of energy that are locked in the hips, the heart, the jaw, the lungs. Each knot tells a story – a narrative rich with emotional detail. Release a samskara and you release that story. Release your stories, and suddenly there is more room to breathe, to feel, to experience the world. (pp. 16-17)

As for yogis, I know nothing of them. As for yoga, I know only a handful of poses. As for knots of energy in the body, I am an expert. I carry the heavy energy of responsibility (at home and at work) in my neck and across my shoulders, almost as though I am carrying a yoke. I carry the energy of writing in my lower back. Maybe that’s really because I sit too long in unfriendly chairs. Or maybe it’s because words can be heavy sometimes. I carry restless energy in my legs. Anxiety, when it attacks, steals energy from my lungs. The energy of grief and regret sits heavy in my core. The energy that is created when I fail to speak when I know I should takes up residence in my jaw, and I will awake in the morning painfully sore from clenching it through the night. I carry protective energy – whether it is self-protective or a need to protect my family – in my hands, either in a clenched fist or by holding my thumb.

thumb

I know. Weird, right?

Once upon a time, I was fortunate enough to live near an amazing friend who is an equally amazing massage therapist. For several years, I kept myself on a regular schedule of massage. Some days I had no idea going into a massage how tight my body was until she began working to loosen the knots. Some days, about halfway through the massage, I found myself feeling emotional – like I was going to cry. I learned to pay attention to these things and to become more mindful of their origins. What stressors, what fears, what hurts was I guilty of shoving inside my body so that they wouldn’t be seen by me or anyone else? All of these things – the bad and the good – create an energy. That energy must reside somewhere, whether I choose to acknowledge it or not.

Each knot tells a story – a narrative rich with emotional detail.

I love stories. I get great joy from telling stories, especially The Story, in my work every week. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t record some part of my day’s story somewhere – in a journal, on my blog, through Twitter or Facebook, or in a file on my computer. On those days when I have a hard time thinking of any story worth 140 characters on Twitter, when I think that nothing has happened worth telling, maybe I should pay more attention to those knots of energy in my body. They are trying hard to tell my story – if I will just let go, if I will just risk being vulnerable, if I will just trust my circle of loved ones to love me no matter what. If I can just let go, risk, and trust, then I’m bound to become unstuck as the stories of life begin to flow freely around me.

Release a samskara and you release that story. Release your stories, and suddenly there is more room to breathe, to feel, to experience the world.

Coincidence?

I spent a couple of hours last week sitting in the rocking chairs overlooking the Lake Susan dam, reading through different books from the Montreat Bookstore to see if there were any I wanted to purchase. There was one book in particular that caught my eye: Attempting Flight by Kristen Jongen. It was a unique little book – part art, part poetry, part prose. Honestly, it’s the kind of book that I normally wouldn’t give a second glance. For some reason I was compelled to read it cover to cover, stopping a couple of times to jot down quotes that struck me. When I got back to the apartment, I read over them again and wondered why they struck me and why I bothered to write them down. Odd quotes, indeed.

This has been a rough week. As I drove home from the church, exhausted after tonight’s Hands of Christ, I was feeling a strange mix of elated (from the night’s successes) and weepy (from life overall). I remembered writing down those quotes, but couldn’t for the life of me remember exactly what they said, or even what they were about. As soon as I got home I found my journal and flipped until I found it. Kristen wrote:

When I am vulnerable, I will repress the urge to cling. To run after. To beg, convince and remind. Of course, that is not what I want. It is not what I need. Don’t we all want a love that is running towards us with the same speed?

Feeling vulnerable beyond belief right now. Not sure what to do with it, but wondering if the Spirit was equipping me last week for what I would face this week.

Or maybe it’s just a coincidence.

What do you think? Spirit talk or coincidence? Wise words or a bunch a baloney? Right now, I just don’t trust what I think or what I feel.

Flip a Coin

Surely I’m not the only indecisive one around.

coin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe I should try flipping a coin more often.

Quote of the Day

As the mother of two 5-year-olds, a boy and a girl, I find the following definition of conscience to be the best I’ve ever seen!

Conscience is what makes a boy tell his mother before his sister does. (Evan Esar)

Quote for the Day

Too many people are thinking of security instead of opportunity. They seem more afraid of life than death.

– James F. Byrnes

Quote of the Day

We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.
– Anais Nin

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