Monday, June 10, 2019

Online Shopping and the Memory Pouch

Lately I've been scrolling through the websites of those ads that float through Facebook, looking for a dress. I'm not really sure why I'm looking for a dress as I don't have a lot of occasions to wear a dress, but they look so nice and airy and I picture myself in one and it makes me happy, so I scroll anyway.

I saw a dress I liked today and then I asked myself, "But would that dress accentuate my Memory Pouch?" My Memory Pouch is the lump that my husband and I have decided to affectionately call that area of my front between my belly button and the nether regions. It's that bump...you know, the thing that looks like a fanny pack but isn't because it is part of you? The thing that might make some brave and/or clueless people ask if you are expecting but they won't because they know you're not because you have grey hair and wrinkles and sag in places. Yes, that place. We call it the Memory Pouch because when you have spent 55 years on this planet you have a lot of life and a lot of memories to store somewhere and, if you are like me, your brain sure as hell ain't doin' it.

Anyway, my reflexive response to seeing this dress was how would I look in it? And all you ladies know this. That those models are all 5'9" with thin, gangley bodies, no hips, and certainly no Memory Pouches. So it is hard to tell if I could pull off such a dress or would look like a sleeping bag poorly rolled into its stuff bag.

Then it hit me. When I see a woman with a perfect body, especially a woman my age or older with a perfect body, I feel a total disconnect. They aren't like me. They must have it together. They must have more discipline. More time. More energy. More something that I ain't got. And I step back and step away.

I remember one day watching Chopped. I hate cooking and I love watching Chopped. It doesn't make sense to me either. Well, after years of watching Chopped I have found that I really admire the women chefs who serve as judges. During this particular episode the judges themselves were competing with each other. Now they were no longer talking torsos behind the judges panel but full bodies, rushing, and chopping, and cooking. And I noticed that the chefs like Alex Guarnaschelli and Amanda Freitag, though both gorgeous in any estimation, had normal looking bodies. They weren't supermodels with killer culinary skills. And this may sound strange to you and maybe I am just weird like this but for some reason the fact that these highly esteemed, awesome, beautiful women had ordinary bodies gave me permission to have an ordinary body, too.

Those who spend any time reading my posts on Facebook or my blog posts know that I feel things intensely and have some pretty strong (an understatement that would make my husband snicker) convictions and one of my convictions is that the unrealistic expectations regarding women and physical beauty must change. I have realized that I cannot be simultaneously caving to these standards and trying to change them at the same time. That is why I no longer color my hair (and, yes, people now assume that I am older than my older sister).

Back to the dress and the Memory Pouch. What if I bought a dress I really loved and I let my Memory Pouch do its thing? What if the obvious presence of my Memory Pouch makes another woman feel more normal? More acceptable? What if having an ordinary body gives somebody else permission to have an ordinary body, too? Then it is all worth it. Bring on the dresses!




Thursday, June 6, 2019

Mother Love

When I was a young mother, the emphasis in parenting was all on training. Training your kids to do things. Training them to work hard. To do chores. To obey the first time. And cheerfully at that. I failed terribly on most of these fronts.

The emphasis was on structure. "Kids need structure," I was told again and again and again as I shrugged when asked about naps and meals and bedtime schedules and rituals. I wasn't so good at structure.

The push was always on performance. Either theirs or mine. A woman called me one day to ask how I got my kids to make up their beds neatly every morning. Her children were 2 and 3 and struggling to keep up with the program and she was baffled. Why on earth she thought I would have a solution, I'll never know.

Babies were supposed to be able to fall asleep alone and self-soothe. Kids were supposed to learn responsibility and competence and independence. I knew kids who, by age 10, were capable enough to run a small country.

What I never heard was how important it was to just flat out love on your kids. To nurture them. Rock them. Sing them to sleep. Listen to their fears. Rub their backs. Laugh with them inside their forts made of appliance boxes. Cry with them. And love them no matter what.

In Without a Map, Meredith Hall tells the story of a friend who gives blood every time there is a blood drive. When she tells her friend how generous this is her friend responds, "I only go because I need the mothering so much. It feels good to be touched. The nurses are kind and make me feel loved."

This breaks my heart that there is an adult woman out there who so desperately needs someone to nurture her, even for a few minutes, that she has to seek it out at the local Red Cross.

Mothers, love on your kids. Even when they make a mess or fail a test (even when they could have done better) Love on your kids when they make you proud and when they embarrass the heck out of you. When they grumble and grunt at you or roll their eyes. Love on them when they come home pregnant or come out of the closet. Be there for them. Be their safe place. Give it to them while you can. Love on your kids.

Nobody should have to go to the Red Cross to get mothered.


Sunday, June 2, 2019

In Defense of Medication

A few weeks back I was driving down the road when some words leapt off a sign and punched me in the face.

Taking meds to make you healthy is like getting a loan to make you rich. 

I just about ran off the road in a mad rage with steam puffing out my ears and my eyes all Cruella DeVille-like. I am so so SO freaking sick of the idea that medication is not only unnecessary, it is downright bad.

This isn't the first time I've encountered this ideology. I once saw a meme that basically gave you the option: a basket full of fresh, healthy produce or a spoon full of pills. As if a it is an either/or proposition. As if eating your fruits and veggies will mean you don't need to swallow those evil pills pushed on you by Big Pharma and the corollary being that if you need to take those pills, you obviously aren't doing it right. People, this has got to stop.

While it is true that eating in a healthy manner and getting regular exercise can reduce your risk of a number of illnesses and while it is true that many people, in changing over to a healthier lifestyle, have been able to reduce or eliminate their need for certain medications, it is also true that there are so very many conditions out there that are NOT impacted by the food you eat because there are so many other factors at play. And to those who have these conditions,  this anti-medication bias is discouraging and downright cruel.

While others out there may brag that they don't take any medication for anything or that their Grandpa Carbunkel is 87 and still isn't on any meds, as if it is some sort of a professional accomplishment or test of his character, there are a lot of us....a LOT of us, who take daily medication. And for many of us, taking medication isn't because we refuse to give up our Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls or our 3 packs per day of Marlboro Lights or our PBR 12-pack. Many of us take medication because our conditions are not in any way related to our food or exercise choices. We take medication because we struggle with faulty wiring, intense pain, hormonal imbalances, a crappy set of genes.

Nobody relishes the idea of having to take medication on daily basis. But many of us do so because that medication makes a huge difference in quality of life, in the ability to function at our jobs and love our families and do the things we love. For some of us, that medication means that we will be able to stave off the debilitating effects of disease for years longer. And for some of us, that medication means the difference between life and death.

Please be gentle then, you who have stellar bodies and naturally mentally healthy minds. Please use restraint, you who believe that your herbal remedy or special diet is the right potion for everyone. Please respect that some of us (and I say us because I am one of us) need medication for reasons you might not understand. Please trust that we are not lazy or stupid or easily duped by some corporation but that we make informed decisions based on benefits and risks.

And please stop with the pithy sayings. And, for the record, sometimes taking out a loan to build wealth is a wise thing to do.


Monday, May 6, 2019

Doing Better

Sometimes it's a big thing, a life-altering tragedy, a death, a disfiguring illness, or financial ruin that breaks you down. But sometimes it isn't. Sometimes it is the accumulation of smaller things. The kick in the belly while you are down. The second, third, fourth blows to the already fractured skull. You are left flattened. Motionless. Unable to move on. And wondering where the hell God is. You can't see him. You can't feel him. You can't touch him. And you are all alone. Or so it seems.

Kelly Kapic, Covenant College professor and author of Embodied Hope, says this in an interview with By Faith Magazine:

One of the reasons our suffering can be so difficult is that in the West, including in the church, we have become so individualistic. We put all the weight on the isolated person, rather than also seeing that person within a larger community. 
Employing the ideas of faith, hope, and love, I try to argue that we need each other if we are to live this Christian life, and that seasons of suffering just make what is true undeniable. I want people to know that amid their difficulties, it shouldn’t surprise them to have really hard questions and doubts about God, about His seeming absence or unconcern, and about their struggles. 
During these difficult times, we must lean on other people; when we struggle to believe in God’s compassion and presence, they believe for us; when we find it almost impossible to hope in the promises of the Gospel, they gently hope for us, embodying those promises to us; and when we feel alone and afraid, they are genuine physical representatives of God’s loving presence. Alone we are in trouble, but together, we are sustained in faith, hope, and love.

I'll be totally honest here. I don't think we as a church know how to do this. Oh, we are good at fixing others. Giving advice. Teaching them. Rebuking them. We are trained in right theology and saving souls and personal piety and whatever manifestation of that we prefer. But we don't know how to come alongside the suffering. Hold them up. Stand in the gap. Plead for them and with them when they can no longer plead for themselves.

Too many of us have opened up and begged for help only to be set aside, ignored, chastised, patted on the head, or worse. Nothing is more painful than begging for support and care and being met with silence, pat answers, or reproof. As one friend said, "I've learned to be very quiet in the church building....it is messed up..."

People, this should not be.

We in our fragile shells of humanity cannot go it alone, (no matter how much we introverts want to try). At some point we need each other. We are called to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. We are told that if part of the body hurts the whole body hurts. Then why is it so damn hard to care for each other?

People don't get in the way of ministry. People are ministry. We are called to be the flesh and blood of Jesus to one another. If we can't even love each other what business do we have trying to tell people God loves them?

We can do better. We are called to do better. We had better do better. I want to do better.





Friday, May 3, 2019

A Sword Is a Dangerous Thing

People like to get up in each other's business. It's natural. We are relational beings. The problem comes when we get up in each other's business in hopes of controlling and changing each other.

Honey, that ain't your job. 

The problem gets even worse when we jump to conclusions and rush in to fix whatever it is, waving around the Word of God like a battery operated light saber, eager to be the one to save the day and save the soul.

The Bible likens the Word of God to a sword. A very, very sharp one. Sharp. Not like the knives I have in my kitchen. Sharp like the knives I see on Chopped.  In Ephesians 6 the Word of God is called to be our weapon. Even children know that weapons must be handled very, very carefully or people get hurt. Really hurt. Waving around the Word of God, often out of context and in order to further our own agenda, can cause unspeakable destruction.

In fact, using the Word of God to bolster our own position (and this has been done throughout Christian history to the detriment of mankind and to the shame of the church), in my opinion, qualifies as a violation of the 3rd commandment, to not use the name of the Lord in vain.

I've seen the misapplication of God's Word and some really circuitous and faulty Bible-speak used to endorse all sorts of ideals and control the choices of others from how you feed your baby to how you educate your children to how you dress to what you eat or drink (or don't) to how you spend your money to whether or not you have a right to leave your husband or call the police. Scripture can be worked into a pretzel to say anything anybody wants it to. This is straight out of Satan's textbook. He, after all, used the same moves on Jesus.

The reality is that we all need to be very careful about the assumptions we make about another person and what our role might be in coming alongside. We may be called to care well or to confront boldly. We may need to speak the truth in love (but never in arrogance). But we need to remember that we may not have all the facts. We may not know the whole story. And we always have to remember that it is never our job to control the other person or to get a guaranteed outcome.

If we truly trust God to work in the heart of someone we care about, we don't need to fling around his words, willy nilly, to get the kind of outcome we think is right. We can use the Word of God carefully, love deeply, and trust God with the outcome.




Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Hiding My Story

Some of you know my story, especially if you knew me as a teenager or have read the My Story posts of my blog. Some don't. There is a lot of my story I haven't shared in length or detail. A lot I don't mention very often. But here goes....

July 1981 found me in the hospital. Seventeen years-old and 82 pounds of anxiety, depression, confusion, and despair. The psychiatric facility, a trip to hell and back, had only made matters worse. My home life was torture. A diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa in 1981 meant that nobody understood what was happening nor knew how to treat me. Socially, I was a freak. I felt I had nothing to live for. 

That is when I opened the Bible I had brought with me and the pages fell open to Romans 8:28. 
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Because of that verse, I kept reading. Because of that verse, for the first time in my life, I had hope.  My spiritual development from that moment on has been a dizzying trip, complete with carsickness and full of ups and downs, twists and turns, growth and setbacks (or seemingly so), but that is beyond the scope here. But that day I had hope because I believed God when he said that all things, including the horror of my eating disorder, would work together for good.

In college, I thought that was happening. I thought God was using it. I could tell people my story and they listened and were amazed. Eating disorders were a hot topic in the 80s. Celebrities such as Karen Carpenter died as a result of her eating disorder so people listened. Everybody knew somebody with an eating disorder and so my story meant something. It seemed to have a purpose. Then things changed.

In 1988, shortly after Matt and I were married, I chose to tell my story to my small group at church. It was a group of about 10 couples. We were taking turns telling our stories ("testimonies" as they are called in church circles). The guy the week before me had told his story of drugs and crime and years in a motorcycle gang and how God had stepped in and plucked him out of it all. He was met with the "ooohs" and "ahhhhs" of admiration and approval. So the next week I told my story. It was met with horror. Discomfort. Silence. It was the silence that was the hardest. With the exception of one person, nobody ever spoke to me again. For the first time I felt shame. Shame about my story. The very story that I believed God was going to work for good.

I pulled back. After that I rarely told my story and when I did, it was with fear and trembling and so very much shame. And when I did, it was almost always met with silence or disinterest or, worse, condescension (my least favorite reaction on the planet).

Then it happened. It was 1997, I was the mother of 4 children. A couple from church offered to provide a babysitter and take us out to dinner. As we sat down at the table at the restaurant, the husband asked us how we came to know Jesus. I got brave and went first. And told my story. Then our food came. He thanked me for sharing and then he pointed at my food and said emphatically, "And you are going to eat every bite of that food!"

You know how in movies or TV shows and it does that little rewind thing to show what happened earlier, yeah, that. All of the sudden I was no longer the 33 year-old mother of 4 and wife of 9 years. I was the emaciated teenager, angering and exasperating those around me. I was a child. A naughty child, being told what to do. The shame was suffocating.

My past had followed me, but not in the way I had expected. I wouldn't share my story again.

And I didn't for many, many years. Perhaps I didn't because life has thrown me so many, many other stories. Perhaps I didn't because an eating disorder, for me, is a thing of my past, and distant past at that. But mostly I didn't share because of shame.

The reality is that people still don't understand eating disorders like they don't understand most mental illness. But there is something about eating disorders that is even MORE shameful, I think that other mental illness.

I think Christians love stories of guilt and redemption. That is why the druggie biker dude who shared his story the week before I shared mine was applauded for his journey. We have a theological framework for sin, guilt, repentance and redemption. We don't have a theological framework for complex combination of biology, family dynamics, trauma, and cultural messages that produce an eating disorder. Christians don't know how to "fix" that. They don't know what to do when they can't point to a willful sin and shout "REPENT!"

But, for whatever reason, I am wanting to share again. I am wanting to see God use that particular, horrible chapter of my life for good. I'm not sure why, because I only know one person right now with a diagnosed eating disorder. And yet I see so many that I suspect do struggle terribly, even if they may not be classified as such according to the DSM-5.

I think it is easier to hide an eating disorder these days. The cultural obsession with healthy eating and fitness can mask a far from healthy personal obsession. In fact, it is those of us who do not jump on the bandwagon of organic or paleo or vegan who are viewed with skepticism or considered uninformed.

I suppose that what I am trying to say is that if you are struggling with an obsession over what you put in your body or the shape and size of your body, I get it. I've been there. And while I have had what I consider an amazingly healthy attitude toward food for almost 30 years, my body image issues have been a bit slower in healing. Menopause ("when your metabolism slows down but your appetite doesn't") and aging are forcing me face some of my deep-seated beliefs of what gives me value and to let go of the last tidbits of a screwed-up sense of self. I am still a work in progress.

But if you have a tortured relationship with food or your body, please know that I get it and am here. I'm not hiding my story any more. And you don't have to, either.


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Gift

All around me I am seeing marriages falling apart or in varying degrees of anguish. So much heartache. So much hard.

I know what I have. I know he is a gift. I know he is something that I never, ever deserved, this husband of mine.

He isn't perfect and Lord know's I'm not. But we are each other's best friend and somehow we are able to work together as business partners without killing each other (so long as he doesn't boss me around, I say).

But I know this is special. And I know the deep pain others may feel when they see us together or interact in playful banter on Facebook. I know that pain because I feel that same pain when I see other relationships that showcase what someone else has and I have not.

Today a friend wrote a long monologue to her grandfather who passed away at the age of 96. Her relationship with him was something that I could never imagine. Other times friends write of their fathers in a way that says they knew and were known and loved and were loved. It is beyond my comprehension. I read stories of close families and cousins and cherished memories and I don't get it because I never had that. And it can hurt.

I think it would hurt less if I knew that people understood just what a blessing a relationship is. What a gift. If, for example, when they post a moving tribute to their dad on Father's Day they acknowledged how rare it is to have someone like that in their life.

So I want to acknowledge something. I want to acknowledge that, for whatever reason, God gave me a tremendous gift. I don't ever want to take what I have for granted or wave it in front of another. I want to cherish what I have and thank God for it. I want to learn from it and give out of its fullness to those who don't have this.

And I want to thank you, Matt Barker, for being there. For being my safe place. I love you. More than you'll ever know.