Thursday, October 24, 2013


About six or eight weeks ago, my daughter took away my bathroom scale.

Rather unceremoniously, she took it out of my bathroom, put it in the trunk of her car, and drove off. I think it’s still there, beneath jumper cables and grocery bags. I wonder if it misses me stepping on it three or four times a day. I missed it at first, but now that my habit has been broken, I’m not sure I want to be reunited.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with my weight/body image/scale addiction. They are not all the same thing, and I’m still discovering how they are all connected. According to the charts, I’m overweight, maybe even obese. (I don’t know for sure without that trusty scale.) I’ve been normal on occasion, but according to said charts, doctors, Weight Watchers, people on the internet, and the whole wide world, I’ve been fat for most of my life, and I’m fat now. OK. That’s just the way it is.

Body image is another story. There’s no chart that you can look at that tells you how to feel about yourself. I can be fat and happy or skinny and sad. I can think I look OK and then see a photo of myself or catch a glimpse in a mirror and decide that I don’t deserve to be fed. I know people who are much larger than I am who have wonderful confident attitudes; they love their bodies. I know of very slim, fit women who struggle every day with self-hatred. It’s a complex issue, rooted in ultimately in our sense of truth, beauty, and love.

The scale was simply the tool I used to link the data and the image. It was my barometer of self-worth.

If my weight was down, I was happy. When it went up, I was devastated. It meant that I was not good enough. I was such an out-of-control beast that I couldn’t even do this one thing right. I was a failure.

I was powerless.

I have often told my husband that this struggle is less about what others think of me and more about power and control, and he always asks me “Why do you have to have control?” This enrages me. How dare I try to have control of anything! Who do I think I am? What kind of woman thinks she has any right to be empowered about anything?

Yes, I said woman. I do believe this is a feminist issue, and I am an authentic feminist. Some men, many gay, suffer from these issues as well, and I don’t downplay their suffering, but I’m writing as a woman here. As a woman I am sick to death of this. I am tired of wanting with every fiber of my being to be something I cannot be. I am exhausted with my obsessions. I am so over weighing every particle of food and counting every calorie, because even though they tell you at Weight Watchers that this is normal behavior, IT IS NOT. It is not normal to write down every crumb you eat, and use a measuring cup to count the ounces of wine you drink. It’s nonsense. It’s not normal to weigh yourself every day – or even once a week at their meeting – and base your happiness on that number. It’s not healthy to deny yourself birthday cake on your child’s birthday, or bring raw veggies to parties so you can eat them while everyone else has pizza.

I’m writing this today because a part of me wants the scale back. I have probably put on a couple pounds since it left me, and I’m scared. I’m scared that I will become even fatter, fatter every day; that I will become so fat that I become invisible. I fear that this will happen even though I actually eat very well and exercise, because without the scale to tell me to hate myself, how will I remember?

Some part of me knows the truth, the big truth that I am not my body, and that this shell that contains Me will never be adequate to reflect the wonder of who I really am.

But I am still seeking power. What if I could grasp the power that I already have, as a child of God? What if I recognized that fat or thin, young and beautiful or aging and wrinkled, I am worthy of love? What if I focused on my inner beauty (i.e., the fitness of my soul) instead of the circumference of my waist?

I’m not there yet. I am vain and I’ve been deeply influenced by years of cultural influence. I’ve allowed the image of feminine physical beauty to be my benchmark. But I am willing to experiment with a new idea. Might I be enough as I am?

For now I will avoid the scale. Maybe eventually I will forget about it. Maybe I will find new ways to measure success, power, and worth.

You cannot gather those things in your arms and hold them close, so that they will register when you stand naked, waiting to be judged. You can only release them and wonder at how light you feel when you finally stop trying to grasp them, and let them go.

(I stole the title for this post from my friend Kate's book. I'm in the dedication so I didn't think she'd mind. Go to her site to learn more.)

Friday, October 4, 2013

I carry her heart

The other night someone I barely know told me her abortion story.

I was at an appointment and this person was the tech taking care of me. I see her about once a year, and when she asked me what was new, I told her I now had seven grandchildren with another on the way. This led to a discussion of how many children I had. At first I said I have six, not mentioning Celeste. But as the conversation progressed, and she mentioned a family member who was expecting at age 40, I said that I too had a baby at that age. I briefly shared the fact that my daughter had only lived for four months, and that despite her challenges she was a huge blessing in my life.

I've had many responses to Celeste’s story, but I won’t forget this one.

When I said that Celeste had a heart defect, I could tell her interest was piqued, and she wanted to ask more. When I said that I didn't know about the defect until my baby’s birth – that it had not been detected by ultrasound – she said, “If you had known, would you have terminated?” I responded quickly with the truth, “absolutely not! Heavens no.”

Then she asked if I had suspected anything was wrong during my pregnancy. When I said that I hadn't she started to talk quickly, eagerly sharing her story.
“I had a pregnancy once,” she began. “I knew something was wrong, and even though my doctor told me everything was fine, I just felt like something was off, so she ordered another ultrasound.” She laughed. “Well, you know, Mom knows best and all that.”

I started wondering where this story was going. I had just told her that my daughter had died after we removed her life support, after discovering she had brain damage, after watching her suffer through numerous illnesses, after navigating the emotional roller coaster of a possible transplant.

“Well wouldn't you know,” she went on. “The baby wasn't forming right. I looked at it on the ultrasound, and it looked like it had a hole in its heart.”

I started to feel a little dizzy. I thought about Celeste and the holes in her heart. I also thought of the many babies I've heard of who were born with holes in their heart, who are now grown up healthy adults.

“They told me that I probably wouldn't abort spontaneously, but of course I knew what I had to do,” she sighed. “I felt so bad, but you know, I couldn't imagine looking at it and seeing that….They told me that some people would say this was an abortion, for religious reasons, but , well…. I did go to some counseling about it. I used to feel really bad. My husband wasn't as upset as I was. But you know, the mom is a mom right away. The dads don’t really connect until they hold that baby.”

Essentially, she said this: "You just told me the story of your much-loved child, and how her life was difficult yet such a blessing. If I had a child like that,I would have killed her. In fact, I did."

That sounds and feels like madness.

I didn't know what to say or do, so I did and said nothing. I just sat there, numb, while she continued her work, telling me the story of the baby she aborted because “it” wasn't perfect, because “it” might suffer, because “it” might die soon after birth. We went on to talk about how much ultrasounds could detect nowadays, and how cool it is to see a 3-D one.

I am not surprised that she had an abortion. Nor am I surprised that she convinced herself that she didn't. I am sure this caused her a good deal of suffering, and no matter what you might think, I don’t think she is a horrible human being. I do not judge her; while I don’t know her well, my gut tells me she is a genuine woman who truly meant to make the right choice. She had been lied to by medical professionals and the culture and pretty much the whole world. She had believed the great lie that suffering is the enemy.

I am simply horrified that my telling of Celeste’s story may have somehow confirmed her belief that she “did the right thing.” I am sick thinking that somehow the fact that my daughter suffered and died at a young age meant that I should have ended it before her birth, limiting our collective pain.

I wanted to tell her that despite Celeste’s sufferings, I do not regret for one moment that she lived. Every human being who is allowed to be born will suffer – even those of us whose hearts arrive intact. I wish I had had the presence of mind to tell her that.

Instead I mumbled an apology for bringing up something that might have made her uncomfortable. I said a silent prayer, a plea for mercy for myself and this woman and for all of us here on this planet who don’t seem to know how to love. I offered up my agony for a couple I know of whose two month old baby died last week.

Then I thanked God that my daughter died in my arms and that I was able to bury her precious body in our family plot. I thanked God that I had been given what is apparently an extraordinary grace – the grace to suffer with my daughter at the foot of her cross.

When I first met this woman I liked her right away. She is kind and has cared for me very patiently more than once. I still like her, and I’m reminded I need to love her. And pray for her.

I write this not so that we can all sit back and judge her and say that I’m so much better because I chose to let my child die a natural death. I write this because there are holes in my heart, too, and writing sometimes helps me patch them. Despite my brokenness, I’m still breathing, even though it seems like I shouldn't be sometimes. I pray that she and I can forgive and be forgiven and heal. And really think about what it means to suffer, to live – and most of all, to love.

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]

e.e. cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

marriage, rotting corpses, and true love

It’s wedding season, and despite the fact that more than half of the couples who marry this summer will someday divorce, countless couples will dive right in. There is buzz that tomorrow, the Supreme Court will make a decision about whether or not same-sex couples have the right to marry. All this, and the fact that I am married, in and out of season, has me thinking about marriage today.

One of my favorite bloggers compared marriage to a rotting corpse in her post today. Ooh, that’s gross. Bizarre. And also true. Read what she wrote and come back, so we can talk about what she said here:

Marriage changes you. Marriage requires that you give things up, forsake all others, step through that door to the other side. Marriage requires that you die, and that you look death in the face and let it happen. When you marry, you cannot preserve your radical independence. You cannot preserve the idea that your needs and wants come first. You cannot pretend that you are a solitary person anymore.

Hey, I thought marriage was all about “love.” Isn’t that what everyone’s saying? That couples who “love” each other should have the right to marry, regardless of gender?
Let’s talk about love.

Leaving the same-sex debate for another day, I’d like to propose a radical concept.

Most of us haven’t the faintest idea what love is.

When I married my husband almost 27 years ago, I thought I loved him. I mean, he was sweet, kind, and attractive. We had fun together. Spending the rest of our lives together seemed like a fine idea at the time. We were “in love.”

But we didn’t know a thing about love.

Thinking about getting married? Want to know what love is about?

Maybe a rotting corpse is a grotesque example,but damn, it’s brutal, this love thing. Like Simcha said, it’s about death, people. It’s about dying to your very self, about putting the needs of your spouse in front of your own. It’s about forgiving, over and over and over again. It’s about recalling that you did not marry this person because it was going to be nice, fun, rewarding, or pleasant, although there will be times when it is all those things. If you are really loving your spouse, you are intentionally striving for that person’s salvation, whatever the cost.

You are also united into one flesh. One flesh doesn’t have two heads, two hearts, two wills. One flesh is one. If I am one, I hurt when my spouse hurts. I struggle when he struggles. When he sins, I repent with him, and I bear the results of his sin in my own soul. If he stops growing, so do I. If he is far from God, can I really say that I am close?

When I am loved by my spouse, I am cared for intimately. When seen through the eyes of love, I am beautiful – not necessarily as I am now, in my imperfection. My spouse loves me as he loves himself, and he sees in me possibility. He sees the wo(man) I can become.

I cannot, in my wildest imagination, dream of a scenario in which this would be possible without Grace.

This summer, brides will walk down aisles to grooms who will promise to cherish them, to be faithful to them, to lay down their lives for them. Many of them will fail. Many of us fail every day.

But miraculously, through Grace, we can “succeed” at marriage. (Success in marriage means, of course, we shall get each other to heaven, right?) We can only do this by death, the figurative and literal kind. We can only stay married, find a peace and even joy in it, if we look at the crucifix and say, “Yes. I am going to love. like. that.”

So first, we die. We die to self. We accept the horrible fallen state we are in, that we are sinners who will hurt each other again and again, and we will look at our other half, our image, the rest of our self, our spouse, and instead of asking, “Am I loved?” we will ask, “Do I love?”

That’s all that really matters, isn’t it?

Monday, January 14, 2013

the yellow bowl

I pride myself on the fact that I am not attached to many material things.

If asked, "Your house is on fire, and you can only grab a few things. What would you take?" I used to answer that all I needed were my photo albums, as everything else could be replaced. Now that most of my photos are somewhere in "the cloud," I say I need nothing.

It has come to my attention lately that I have been lying to myself.

Years ago, perhaps in my first year of marriage, I bought a yellow bowl at a garage sale. It was pretty much like the one pictured above. It was in great condition, and I paid 10 cents for it, took it home, and didn't think much about it.

Then I used that bowl, for the next two and a half decades. I used it mostly when mixing pancakes or a batch of cookies. And always for birthday cakes. I'm not good at math, but I had seven children, so that's quite a few cakes over the years.

The yellow bowl stood for something good and meaningful. It stood for Sunday morning. It represented the times when Mom threw caution to the wind and made chocolate chip cookies, even though she knew she would eat a lot of dough and that was NOT on the diet. It meant cakes sometimes made from scratch, but mostly from a mix, because it was easier and that's what the kids prefer, anyway. It meant little children begging for the spatula, children with chocolate smiles who needed to lick that bowl!

A month or so ago the rubber ring on the bottom of the bowl disintegrated. Beneath it was a mess of moldy yuckiness. Without the ring, the bowl slid around the counter, making it no longer practical. So in a sensible, practical move I non-ceremoniously threw the bowl in the trash and went on with my day.

I can't stop thinking about that bowl.

I imagine it in a landfill somewhere, wondering why it's not on my counter, playing a starring role on a special occasion.

I see the faces of my children around me, begging for a taste or frosting or asking if they can have the first pancake.

I'm overwhelmed with nostalgic longing. I'm overcome with the realization that something so simple could mean so much to me.

My google search for images made it clear that this "vintage find" might be available for purchase if I keep an eye out for it. Sadly, there is no replacing that bowl. A counterfeit could never take its place.

Instead I have begun to train myself, yet again, to "keep all these things, and reflect on them in my heart." Children grow up; they grow up and venture out into the world, and our motherly hearts break a little each day with the realization. Sometimes I have to catch my breath when I allow myself to think about it. I am teaching them, intentionally, to no longer need me. They are transforming before my eyes - and their growth is utterly and completely out of my control. The world will be unkind to them, and they will suffer. They will stand at my elbow, asking for a taste of something good, for such a short while.

Like the yellow bowl, I will do my job and then, eventually, be all used up.

I hope I do my job as well as that bowl did. I hope I will be a memory to my children of one who held and offered good things, who fed them, and who was a part of every celebration.

Goodbye, my yellow friend. Thank you for the lessons - and the pancakes.