Potatoes and Grace
“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Psalm 103:6
The year was 2007. In the middle of the produce aisle, I smiled sheepishly at the camera while holding ten bags of potatoes. I wanted to mark this occasion with something tangible. I had just lost one hundred pounds and was the smallest I had ever been in my adult life. Always my willing accomplice, Terry passed me the bags as I held in each hand five ten-pound bags of potatoes. As the camera clicked, I promised myself I would never again carry these “potatoes”, full of yellow globby fat. But promises to yourself can be broken, and in a few years, ounce by ounce, and later pound by pound, I was carrying those potatoes and more. I don’t remember being aware of gaining weight or when I needed to buy new clothes. I don’t remember ever discussing it with my husband. I just knew that, at one time, I felt thin and then I didn’t. Research has shown that fat cells have memory, and within those yellow fat cells lived years of memories of shame and hopelessness that I didn’t deal with until recently.
Last week, the calendar marked the official start of fall accompanied by a cool breeze blowing in my open windows. Pumpkin Spice has tantalized my taste buds for weeks, and fabric pumpkins and acorns are scattered throughout my home. If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know I celebrate each fall with gusto. It is my favorite season where the colors, smells, and sounds combine to form a harmony that makes my world brighter, clearer, and cozier.
I am in disbelief that 2022 is close to three-quarters of the way done. The year has been a whirlwind of family celebrations: Maggie’s and Will’s wedding with family and friends, birthday parties, and the arrival of a beautiful granddaughter. I can also see some things that I haven’t accomplished. Besides doing research, I have barely touched the memoir I am writing. We still haven’t found a place to move into, which makes my life seem in a holding pattern. I haven’t been spending as much time outside as I had last year. And I haven’t been able to get consistently back into the habits of eating healthy and exercising.
In the past, I’ve discussed the importance of reminding myself I am on a journey and to show myself grace. These are truths that I hold onto and would encourage my friends if they shared similar struggles with me. I have solid reasons as to why some of these things have not been happening. I was consumed with the wedding for the first half of the year. I pushed myself during that season, causing my RA to flare, depleting my energy, and leaving my body struggling to move. I have also been doing a lot of internal work dealing with my past. This has consumed a good portion of my emotional energy. All these reasons are good and plausible explanations.
But my clothes are tighter, my face is fuller in the mirror, and I am losing some of my strength and flexibility. This reality and my plausible explanations are forcing me to ask myself some hard new questions. When do explanations become excuses, and when does the journey look like I’m turning the wrong direction? When does not recording my food choices and hitting the snooze on my alarm become a sign of avoidance instead of engagement? When does grace look like enabling myself to stay where I am, comfortably eating to soothe myself with hard emotions, and sleeping to avoid doing hard things?
I’ve learned a lot about myself on this journey to better health. One of the areas I have discovered is that I didn’t have an awareness of my body. I wasn’t aware of the space I took up, often stepping into other’s personal space or bumping into things resulting in unexplained bruises. In the gymnastics unit of PE, I recognized that I couldn’t do anything on the uneven parallel bars. But I wasn’t aware of my awkwardness when channeling my inner “Mary Lou Retton” in the floor exercise routine. For years, I blissfully walked around without any discomfort until my friends pointed out that my socks were sideways on my feet.
After doing some research, I realize this was a result of my childhood. Often when a child experiences trauma, they can cope with the abuse by dissociation. This affects memories, emotional attachment, and, in my case, awareness of your body. I disconnected my mind from my body by not paying attention to signals of pain, discomfort, and fluidity of movement. This coping helped me to not only ignore the painful abuse but also avoid the truth of my morbid obesity.
By inviting God into this weight-loss journey, and with regular exercise, Pilates, and some deep breathing techniques, I am rediscovering my sense of space. I feel like I move differently, step more lightly, and pay more attention how my socks fit on my feet. Although I still get the unexplained bruises, I am fluid when I work out, feeling less awkward and less unsure of how to move. Along with this self-awareness comes the awareness of the weight slowly creeping back on. I feel the weight clinging to my body, feeling more bloated than I did 150 pounds ago. And that’s a good feeling, one that I am grateful for: a good God who loves me enough to address hard things.
God doesn’t use shame tactics or feelings of contempt to address any areas in my life. Instead, as I draw closer to Him by indulging in the spiritual disciplines, I will be less inclined to indulge in the bowl of caramels sitting on my counter. When I set my alarm at night, I will ask God to be with me when I work out in the morning. As I eat my meals, I will thank God for the good gift of nourishment and pleasure, trying to be aware of feeling full and satisfied. But all these things involve some movement of mine towards Jesus: I draw closer, I set my alarm, I ask God, I thank God and I pay attention. My movement positions me to receive from Him all I need from Him.
Grace is not just about showing myself kindness when things are hard. As Max Lucado says, “Grace is the voice that calls us to change and then gives us the power to pull it off.” My whole life, not just my healthy journey, is positioning myself to receive from Jesus, to be tapped into His spirit, so that I can change and grow.