170 Pounds of Potatoes
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” John 6:35
I love to plan trips. After picking a destination, I start researching like a mad travel agent. I look in the obvious places, like a city’s tourism website, but I also connect with travel bloggers, reading their recommendations for a trip. I create a Pinterest board for the destination, including hiking trails, coffee shops, museums, historical spots, bakeries, and bookstores. Then, based on my research, I create an itinerary that results in mostly successes with the occasional disappointment. For example, in 2012, our family spent a long weekend in Philadelphia, jam packed with my researched itinerary. We walked the cobblestone streets of Rittenhouse Square, and explored the Rosenbach Library, where old manuscripts of favorite authors were displayed along with Herman Melville’s desk where he wrote Moby Dick. Later that day we ate the creamiest avocado gelato at Capogorio, which was considered the world’s best ice cream according to National Geographic in 2011. Unfortunately, Capogorio has since closed its doors. On that same trip we spent a lot of money to explore The Franklin Institute, which ended up being a huge disappointment due to the signs stating “Closed for Maintenance” on many of the exhibits.
Two and a half years ago, I started on a journey that has forever changed my life. I had no idea of my destination, or how I was going to get there. I only knew that my life needed a change of direction. I did some research on how to start, and what changes I needed to incorporate into my life. I created a Pinterest board on healthier living and read some other women’s blogs, trying to gain some insight on what helped them be successful. Unlike trips I had planned before, this time I did not calculate the cost because I knew this was a journey that I had to take no matter the cost. I took baby steps, set reasonable goals, celebrated small wins, hit some obstacles and, sometimes, changed direction. As time went on, I became more confident in my direction and determined to keep pressing forward.
It’s hard to remember what it was like being 170 lbs. heavier than I am, now. The mental imagery of attaching seventeen ten-pound bags of potatoes to my body and dragging that extra weight around daily is mind-blowing. I cannot imagine how slow I moved or how that extra weight hindered me. On family trips I remember having to rest during some of the museums while the rest of my family continued to explore. I remember taking a taxi in New York from one destination to another while Terry and my friends walked ahead. I sometimes made my Rheumatoid Arthritis an excuse for these rest breaks and taxi rides, but looking back, I wonder, was it really my RA, or was it the extra pounds? I avoided climbing the stairs in my home, often asking my kids to grab something I needed as they were coming down the stairs. I tried not to inconvenience my family, fully realizing, now, that I did.
The weight I carried affected not just my activity level, but everything I did. I was nervous about sitting on fragile-looking furniture. I never sat in a porch swing because I was over the weight capacity. I tried to sit towards the middle of picnic benches, afraid I would fall if someone else got up too quickly. I did not swing with my kids because I was too wide for the swing, and the chains pressed painfully into my hips. I was embarrassed that I had to ask for a seat belt extension when flying, afraid they might charge me for a second seat. My wardrobe was minimal because trendy, attractive clothing was expensive and difficult to find in my size. I tried to position myself in photos so that most of my body was blocked. I never owned a belt or anything that was tailored.
One of the most horrifying experiences of my adult life was getting an MRI prior to my shoulder surgery. The doctor, in a kind but matter-of-fact tone, warned me that I might not fit into the MRI machine at my local hospital and I may have to consider going to another location. I smiled understandingly, but inside I was stressed. I remember sliding onto the MRI table and being rolled into the machine, paranoid that I would get stuck, trying to not breathe at all, and praying they would be able to take the needed pictures.
Recently, my daughter took a picture of me for my new Facebook Public page. When I posted the picture, two of my former teachers commented that they would not have recognized me in this photo. I could not agree more because I don’t even recognize myself! I catch a glimpse of myself as I pass a mirror and I am startled by the reflection. I hang up clothes in my closet astounded that I fit into them. When I am walking and I pass someone, I move far to the side, unaware that I take up much less space than before.
In addition to not recognizing myself, I am astounded at how full and complete my life is now! Despite my morbid obesity, I want to acknowledge that I still had a good life before the weight loss. I had an incredible marriage, wonderful children and great lifelong friends, who all loved me for who I was. I had a relationship with God and was involved in meaningful ministry. But despite this good life, those additional 170 lbs. had a strong hold on my life that kept me from fully being who God intended.
Today, I have the energy to sustain a full life of activity and ministry. I have a greater appreciation for God’s creation because, through walking and hiking, I see more of the world God created. I feel stronger and less physically dependent on those around me. I regularly accomplish more in a day than I did previously. Mentally, I am sharper, and my emotional levels are more stable.
The greatest change has less to do with the amount of physical space I inhabited, but more with the amount of shame and unworthiness I lost with each pound. The shame of being overweight was not just the fear of being made fun of in public or of not fitting into the MRI machine, but of what the weight covered up. It masked a woman who desperately wanted unconditional acceptance, so afraid that if people knew the real Sherry, they wouldn’t like her. I was still the little girl trying to conceal the ugly secrets of childhood sexual abuse. I was still the young girl hoping to be stylish when her fat clothes made her feel ostracized from her thin classmates. I was still the wife afraid of exposing the flawed person underneath the layers of fat, terrified her husband would leave. I was the mother trying to overcompensate with lots of activities and family fun so my children wouldn’t be embarrassed by their morbidly obese mom. I was still the woman trying to please God by giving 100% to every new ministry that came my way, afraid that God would reject her if she gave anything less, or if she said “no” to anything.
Underneath the layers of fat, I discovered a vulnerable woman who has not only learned about herself in this journey but has learned about herself in relation to God. When I no longer devoured bagels, French fries, and pasta to satisfy my hunger, I hungered for the word of God. When I no longer craved Sonic limeades and Starbucks Frappuccinos, I thirsted after God’s righteousness. When I didn’t fill empty, stressful and difficult moments by nibbling on a pan of Magic Cookie bars, I found fulfillment in the arms of God, resting in His strength. When I stopped feeling ashamed by loading up on burritos, bacon, and ice cream, I had room to deal with my emotions in a healthier manner, pouring myself out to God.
All this hunger, thirst, rest and lack of shame has brought me to the best place I have ever been in my life. Although I am close to entering my fifties, I feel stronger in my spirit, body and mind than ever before. This journey has enriched my life in so many ways. Yes, I have a new wardrobe! Yes, now I can hike! Yes, now I can sit on a porch swing! However, the biggest enrichment is not the before and after pictures, or what can be seen in my closet. It is the complete comfort and rest I have in being fully known and fully loved by God.