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.

Distortion to Health and Wholeness

“Behold, I will bring it health and healing: I will heal them and reveal to them the abundance of peace and truth.” Jeremiah 33:6

After recording what I ate at my daughter’s wedding shower, including the cupcake, this message popped up on my screen from the food tracking program I had just joined. “Life is hard. Go easy on yourself. Slip-ups can feel like the end of the world. They’re not. Take a breath, listen to a 5-Min Coaching session.” What was meant to be a word of encouragement frustrated me. Although it wasn’t their intention, I felt shamed for making a conscious decision to enjoy my daughter’s shower by making sensible choices. I had one cupcake, and a Panini sandwich. I was aware that this would put me over the suggested calorie intake. But an application only sees what you record, not your thought process.

Once again, I am having to address a small weight gain. The weight gain was enough to make my clothes uncomfortable and for me to notice the difference. It was a tough winter, and I found myself creeping back into old habits, using food as a comfort. I knew I needed to address it and my old methods of tracking didn’t seem to be enough. I needed another form of accountability, so I joined a weight loss program I had used before, hoping a different system would inspire me to be more faithful.

This latest program has me asking some deeper questions: what is healthy eating? and how do we change our habits to eat healthy? As I am counting according to this new program’s system, I am finding myself frustrated. It does personalize it to your lifestyle, so currently eggs, avocados, quinoa, and chickpeas are not counted. But nuts, which are a good source of protein and fat, are penalized. Just ¼ cup of sea salt assorted nuts cost me almost 1/3 of my suggested daily intake of food. I find myself “cheating” by not being as diligent according to the program’s rules. And why do I see this as cheating?

I found this picture a few years ago, and I feel that my position and expression indicate some of the trauma that I was experiencing. It is about this time that I started gaining weight, moving towards obesity.

Like most sensible weight loss programs, they use some scientific research for their program, and are trying to help you become more self-aware of what you are putting in your mouth. Over the course of the winter, I had forgotten that my beloved pistachio lattes with oat milks are a huge percentage of my suggested daily intake of food. The program is doing its job, reminding me that I need to be more conscious of what I eat. But it doesn’t answer the deeper questions.

I noticed something with my almost 2-year-old grandson. He loves to eat, and mealtimes are one of his favorite parts of the day. It is not enough for him to be sitting at the table by himself, he likes to be with his family and interact with them at the table. He also likes a variety of things: fruits, eggs, vegetables, and whole grains. But when he is done, he is done! He tells his parents “aught” which is his way of saying “all done”. He eats enough to fuel himself up and then is done with mealtime and ready to move.

Do I know when I am done? Do I eat a variety of things, and turn down things I don’t enjoy? Do I focus on the company or on my food? What has interrupted my God-given internal sense of knowing when enough is enough? And how often, when I am done with a meal, do I feel like taking a nap instead of moving? And is it possible to get back to that same place where my grandson resides?

All weight-loss programs are businesses at their core. They are businesses with the goal of helping people get to a healthier version of themselves with the additional goal of making a profit. I don’t believe they are trying to take advantage of people and I believe that the programs can help you get started on your journey to being healthy. But I don’t think any single program is the answer.

I just started reading “It Was Me All Along”, a memoir by Andie Mitchell. It is about a woman who decided to lose weight and find happiness in her twenties. I am in the early chapters but one thing she said resonated with me so far. She said, “That whenever I start to feel even one inkling of boredom, doubt, anxiety, or anger, food would soothe me.” Food has habitually covered all my emotions over the course fifty years. I may have started out with a healthy relationship with food, but my pictures from two years old and beyond mirror the distortion I had with food along with the distorted life I was living. Trying to address that distortion and have a healthy relationship with food was a journey I started four years ago. But habits are hardwired and take lots of consistent and deliberate actions to change. And sometimes I just get tired, angry, and anxious, and use pistachio lattes to soothe the difficult emotions.

And sometimes I get it right, like I did at my daughter’s shower in April, and external sources, even if it’s an automated response, shame me into thinking I did it wrong. This post has taken me since April to write. I thought maybe I would come up with a solution to share, or an epiphany of thoughts. Instead, I am still in the same place I was earlier, still trying to grapple with the answers to the questions I asked earlier.

Maybe I am not in the exact same place. I am no longer mindlessly using pistachio lattes to soothe me. I could joke and say I have switched to iced lattes since it is summer. And although that is my drink of choice right now, I am consciously choosing when to have that drink and when to set it aside. And as far as that weight loss program, at the end of July, I will cancel my contract and continue with the program that seems sensible to me.

Finally, I recently showed my niece and nephew a picture of me when I was at my heaviest, neither of them recognized me. I also don’t recognize the young girl in the photo in this post. It is so easy for me to look at the scale or clothes that don’t fit as well as they used to and become discouraged. But numbers and sizes don’t show the transformation that God has been doing in me both internally and in my journey to healthier living. What has been distorted in the past, God is making whole, where I can enjoy a cupcake without shame, eat for nourishment, and move towards freedom.

Same Message, Different Dress

“Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” Psalm 25:5

My dress for my daughter’s wedding arrived. The romantic blue floral with long sleeves and tassels at the cuffs felt perfect for my daughter’s upcoming whimsical outdoor wedding in June. I rushed upstairs to try it on, having already worked through that the sizing of the dress made me feel like a failure. This company, after taking my measurements, had me ordering a size dress that I hadn’t been in for two years. These little insignificant numbers seemed branded on the front of dress, like a scarlet letter. I rushed upstairs and as soon as I took the dress out of the package, I had a sinking feeling. The dress lay on my bed, cut in ways that seemed disproportionate and unnatural for most women. I reluctantly tried it on, unable to button it in certain areas while other areas it hung on me oddly. Moments of my wedding dress fiasco flashed through my mind, making me feel “less than” once again.

Twenty-five years ago, we decided to have a much smaller wedding than originally planned by getting married in three weeks. Although we moved up the wedding, I still got married in the church I had always planned surrounded by people who loved us. My mom threw us a small wedding reception, with the traditional cake. Although everything else seemed to be working out, finding a wedding dress had been a challenge. A dear elderly saint offered to make my wedding dress in three weeks. I was looking for a romantic style with flowy sleeves and soft lines. When we shopped for the fabric and pattern, she led me to pick out a formal dress with more ruffles than I thought would flatter me. She also picked out a fabric that she thought was dressier. Again, I acquiesced to her request. In a final fitting, two and half weeks later, the wedding dress of my dreams was a bad mixture of clown ruffles in front, a skirt that folded in like baggy shorts, and linebacker shoulder pads with too-tight sleeves. She recognized that it needed a few changes and offered to do the final alterations. I agreed, fighting back the tears, knowing deep down that no alterations would make me feel beautiful.

When I picked up the dress, I was adamant with Terry about breaking tradition and begged him to give me his honest opinion. So, we went back to my apartment, and I tried on the dress. When I came out of the bedroom, his eyes were wide and his mouth dropped open, not with pleasure, but in disbelief. He had no words, and I threw myself down on my bed crying, threatening to call off the wedding or walk down in jean skirt. After calming down, we went out to look for a replacement and found something in the second store that was close to what I had envisioned.

Yes, my final dress was pretty, and when I walked down the aisle, Terry beamed with absolute joy. Yes, everyone I loved said I looked beautiful, but years of being overweight and the wedding dress fiasco reaffirmed internal messages I felt about myself. These messages of feeling less than, clownish, and like a linebacker taking up too much space in the universe robbed me of the joy I should have felt on my wedding day. For years, when looking back on my wedding pictures I have focused on Terry’s smile, my hair and avoided my body, still feeling less than. I have put on a brave face and laughed about my wedding dress story, trying to believe the words I told others, “In the second store, I found the perfect dress.”, knowing deep inside, it always felt less than perfect.

And once again, I have an important event where I am feeling less than. I am not writing this to receive a lot of comments about how far I have come or that I am beautiful. I know the truth of what everyone is saying, and it’s the same wisdom I would offer a friend. I know I need to show myself some grace. I know that I have taken some steps to address the weight gain, which I will share in later post. And I have had a tough year, with some hard losses. I know that in times of crisis, its common to revert to old habits of coping. And at different points in the last few months, food has been a source of comfort for me, especially the pistachio lattes someone in my family has been generous to buy for me.

I have all the head knowledge and know the right things to do and speak. But it doesn’t stop the internal messages from blaring in my ears; the feeling that in my daughter’s wedding, my dress will emphasize all that I have believed is wrong with me. It will shout out my lack of grace and femininity while emphasizing the twenty pounds I have gained, the hanging skin on my arms, and the large space I believe I take up.

But this blaring voice is not the voice of God. Yes, God wants us to submit all areas of our lives to him, including how I use food as a comfort instead of relying on him. But God doesn’t look at how much space I took up when I was 361 pounds or how much space I take up 150 pounds less. He doesn’t look at the size on the dress tag, or the numbers on the scale. He doesn’t look on my outward appearance. He sees a woman who has internalized the messages of the world and allowed them to have more influence on her heart than His truth. He sees a woman who is forgetting what her wedding and her daughter’s wedding day are about.

My wedding day had nothing to do with my dress, Terry’s smile, or even the cake. It was about entering into a covenant relationship with God and my husband. When I make it about me, I lose sight of what is important. Maggie’s wedding is not about how I fit into a dress. It’s about celebrating with family and friends the covenant relationship she is entering into with Will and God.

And what is the truth? The truth is that God wants me to know that I am fully known and accepted, saggy skin and all. He desires for me to draw closer to Him, to become more confident in how He sees me. At times when I feel less than or, in some cases, too much, He wants me to know that I am just enough for Him. Yes, I need to grow and become more Christlike, not because I need to measure up to an ambiguous, ever-changing standard, but because I see His goodness and want to be more like Him.

I am waiting for dress five to arrive later this week. Both Maggie and I love the dress and feel confident that it will work. Regardless, I am reminding myself who I am in God and what Maggie’s wedding is about. It is going to be about me standing next to my husband, surrounded by family and friends who are traveling from afar, to share this moment with us, as my daughter enters a covenant relationship with God. And no matter the space I take up, God is with me, filling me with His peace and assurance that I am enough!