No one likes to hear the word No. It chafes and rubs and makes us feel like children being chastised for eating too many cookies. But the truth is no one always needs to hear yes either. Learning to accept No and learning to say No are practices that can draw us ever closer to the Father. Read how a No from God reshaped my view of him and led me to start saying No. My newest blog post is featured this week at More To Be. Click the picture below for their link.
I was eleven when I decided I was fat and went on my first diet. I don’t remember a defining moment or a singular soul cracking incident that did me in. Maybe it was the night a family member saw me eating two Oreos after supper as dessert and started singing the fatty, fatty two by four song to me, maybe it was the time I overhead a boy in one of my classes at school say I’d be pretty if I weren’t so big, or maybe it was one of the many dressing room disasters I endured while trying to find clothes that actually fit my awkward stage of life.
I couldn’t really say there was ever one moment when I knew I wasn’t thin enough or how that translated into believing I wasn’t good enough.
I just always knew.
So, when a group of my preteen friends decided they wanted to lose some weight I joined in without hesitation. We all embarked on our first diet together. I quit eating cafeteria food and brought my lunch. I cut out snacks and sodas. I started eating salads and fruit. I convinced our parents to let me go workout after school at the local gym. But truthfully, I had no idea what I was doing. Thankfully, the internet wasn’t even a thing back then or I would have quickly become an expert in eating disorders. At my local library, I found weight charts that spelled out exactly how much I should weigh at any given height. Thus, began my daily weigh in sessions.
I also discovered no one noticed that the tape measure from the household sewing kit had taken up a new permanent residence on my desk. I measured every round surface on my body, arms and thighs, waists and hips then dutifully kept track of whether my numbers went up or down by a fraction of an inch. I really thought my plan would work. And I tried so hard with my eleven-year-old willpower, I just knew if I stuck to it I could lose the weight.
Then I’d be thin enough.
Then I’d be pretty enough.
Then I’d be good enough.
Back then I had no way of knowing that I’d never look at a plate of food again and not wonder, “Should I be eating this?” It occurs to me now that at thirty-nine years old I’ve been actively worried about my weight for seventy-one percent of my years. I’ve been beating myself up, comparing my body shape, and remaking workout plans for as long as I can remember, always hoping that eventually I would get the extrinsic factors right so the number on the scale would be a reflection of my strength and commitment.
What a terrific waste of talent.
What a bloody shameful waste of time.
Once, between having child number 1 and child number 2 I started running and working out with a vengeance. I woke up at five every morning so I could work out for an hour and a half every day. I followed my eating plan like a religion. Eventually I fit into dresses with single digits and I started seeing those things people call abs. And part of me was really proud but mostly I was just tired. Because truthfully, I had changed everything on the outside but nothing much had changed on the inside. The same heart still beat to the rhythm it did when I was eleven.
Not good enough.
Not good enough.
Not good enough.
When I found out my first little one was a girl, I cried, not from pure joy, but from fear. How would I raise her to not be like me? I vainly prayed God would make her pretty and give her the metabolism my older brother had inherited. Maybe, just maybe, she wouldn’t have to navigate this world as the overweight smart girl in glasses. Perhaps, if I prayed hard enough the little girl I carried would be good enough to have a different life, a better life, an easier more beautiful life.
I was a foolish, foolish woman before Jesus took the wheel.
I tell you these things because watching my daughters with your daughters is as much magical as it is maddening. These tender girls are beauty’s I can scarce describe. They are fragile yet unbreakable beings that surprise me daily with their tenacity and strength. Their intelligence and compassion could run the world if the politicians would get of their way.
And many of you have these types of girls at your houses, you see them every day but somehow you see through them. You see through them to the sixteen competitive activities you have them enrolled in and the crown you are busy trying to bobby pin to their heads. God forbid one of them not be thin enough, or smart enough, or successful enough.
At times I have the rare privilege of having them sit at my oak kitchen table with their sock feet tucked under them, hair falling out of messy buns, with smudged eyeliner on their faces and I listen to their hearts while they nibble at chocolate chip cookies and sip cold glasses of milk. They pile into my not so cool minivan and fill my ears with the details of their lives, their doubts and exhaustions crowding the seats and floors to overflowing. And it breaks my heart every single time, with every single story because what I hear over and over and over is this.
I am not thin enough so I must not be good enough.
Mommas and daddies if I could clap my hands square in your faces and shake your shoulders until your teeth rattled to the heavens,
I would do it.
Hear me when I say this, your babies are not eating. The babies you breastfed and rocked and paid extra money for organic food are not being good stewards of their bodies. Your daughters are doing things that are unhealthy for the sake of how they look because they do not know who they are or to whom they belong. And they are tucking this secret knowledge into the well of their hearts where it is setting up camp for the rest of their lives.
We as their parents and loved ones are walking the paper thin edge of loving them and failing them all at the same time.
We have through active criticism or passive living allowed the world to define what beautiful is to our children and they are fruit dying on a poisoned vine because of it. And I have watched it for as long as I can without speaking out on their behalf. This is me, a fellow parent and recovering self-loather, waving the double red flag of disaster as high as I can reach so that you will notice how dangerous the water is where our daughters are swimming.
It is life threatening and soul stealing, this belief of being not good enough.
It is also a lie.
And I’m a big believer in telling the truth. So if you’re a girl or a grown-up woman who is still walking around believing that what you look like has anything to do with how much you’re worth let’s just address that right now.
Jesus does not care how much you weigh.
He does not care if you reside in single or double digit clothing. Your physical statistics do not impress the man who made your genetics. You have nothing to prove and you have nothing to hide. Our culture and Satan will consistently tell you otherwise. They will tell you that being thin is sexy and important. Then they will start defining what sexy and important is too. If you listen long enough they will convince you that everything you ever wanted is only a few pounds, a few dollars, or a few broken promises away.
And they will do it from the cradle to the grave if you let them.
Do not let them.
This culture is not meant to be our culture. We are called to live differently. But I think you should know something else too. Something folks often forget.
Living separate takes guts.
It takes nerve to survey this sexist world with all its judgments of who you should be as a woman and turn your shoulder into Jesus instead.
It takes power we don’t have on our own. But Jesus does. The same power that pulled him from the grave is more than capable of covering you as you create a new life steeped in him and safe for you.
And if you are living with people who are telling you different listen instead to what God has to say about you,
Listen, Daughter, and pay careful attention:
Forget your people and your father’s house.
Let the king be enthralled by your beauty;
Honor him, for he is your lord. (Psalm 45:10 NIV)
He calls you beautiful.
And I would think that the maker of the world would know beautiful when he saw it.
After all, he created it.
Three small beings settle into our big unmade king sized bed. The covers are already warm from the middle sister turning up the electric blanket for her post shower warm-up. There’s always fighting over who gets to sit next to momma and I won’t lie, I like that part just a bit.
It’s good to know, that for now, I’m still someone’s favorite. I’m still the one they’re willing to fight over.
The youngest usually wins and gets to settle into my left wing sucking that sassy with the tiny blue elephant on it with all his Ethiopian might. We’ve started back reading together at night and it seems that of all the children, this baby, this youngest in arms, who probably understands the least about our convoluted stories, gets the most out of them. He has settled in these past two weeks and no longer cries the cry of terror as we tuck him into his crib, proving once again that there is a secret magic unleashed when words are read.
On this night, we are reading a series by Suzanne Collins, no, not the Hunger Games, our American politics give us enough drama to resemble that tale. Instead, we are deep into Book two of Gregor the Overlander. There’s fighting and fury and myths and innocent sisters that need to be saved. All the fun elements necessary to keep children begging for another chapter as I end reading one and tuck the bookmark in between the secondhand pages.
After our story, as is our habit, I reach for my bible running my fingers along the thin edges of paper. This night I open to Mark chapter sixteen and I read the words about Christ’s first appearance after his death.
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. (Mark 16:1-11 NIV)
I run my fingers through big brother’s fine brown hair and start asking questions about the passage of scripture wondering what all of them will think of the Jesus they sing about in Sunday school.
“When you read this section of scripture what do you notice about Jesus first?” I ask them.
It is the Harry Potter look alike who replies without hesitation, “He appeared to them first, Momma.”
“Who?” I ask.
“The women.” He says.
And I look at him now considering whether he realizes the weight of what he has spoken. But he is looking at his brother touching that elephant pacifier where it meets the tip of his nose, totally unaware that he has innocently declared Jesus an equal opportunity deity.
“That’s right little man. Jesus appeared to the women first. And did you know that wherever you see Jesus speaking to women, ministering to women in the bible you will find him treating them the same as he did the men. He gave them the same respect, the same love, the same consideration. This was not normal then, this was special.”
He looks up at me with those blue eyes my grandfather handed down through maternal genetics and smiles gently as he leans against my arm. I breathe deep into his hair holding onto that moment of little boy gentleness for as long as my heart will allow. He breaks the silence though.
He surprises me when he says, “I will always treat girls the same momma. I will always love them like you.”
And I can’t help but smile and hold him closer knowing this little man has the heart of both Jesus & a feminist.
And so, it is here in my house, in the room where I have rocked these babies through teething, and toddling, and night terrors that I am teaching all four of them the importance of watching the Savior. We can always trust Him to show us how to walk even when we don’t want to stand. We can trust Him to pull us forward in our thinking even when we insist on dragging our heels.
That’s what love does, isn’t it?
It forces us to become more like it and less like ourselves.
What a glorious thing to behold when the spirit of our Sovereign Lord is embodied within the people who serve Him, whether male or female.
*For another view on being both a Christian and a feminist visit Sarah Bessey's post entitled On Being Christian and Being a Feminist....and Belonging Nowhere.