WEIGHT A MINUTE! A 30-pound love note from my soul

For most of my life I’ve thought I was bigger and heavier than I actually am. I can look at pictures from each of the last five decades and see now that I was never the size I thought I was. In fact, I was considerably smaller. Now that I am heavier than I have ever been in my life, I’ve finally had a breakthrough in understanding.

I know I cannot depend on how I see myself in the mirror or the plate glass store windows. I finally recognize the fickle unreliability of my own perceptions. I know I cannot use my physical self-image as a motivation for change because it will always tell me I have missed the mark.

I know for a fact I felt fat when this picture was taken in the early 1980s.

I know for a fact I felt fat when this picture was taken in the early 1980s.

Like many others, I have tried a variety of diet and fitness programs over the years to whip myself into shape after I crossed a certain line known only by me, an arbitrarily-shifting standard. There’s no question I can control my weight. I’ve lost the same pounds over and over again through calorie counting, portion control, exercise, herbs, even amphetamines. I have starved, denied, punished and shamed myself. When I finally paused to wonder why the weight always returns, I realized my body was asking me for something. Like maybe—at the very least—a willingness to listen and a little kindness and appreciation.

My body started changing more dramatically than usual about four years ago. Many persons in the second half of life will understand, especially women who, like me, quit smoking in their 40s and are now post-menopausal. Anyone who has suddenly gone from active to sedentary or experienced a season of loss and grief will know what I’m talking about. Persons who are trauma survivors and utilized food or other substances to self-soothe will also relate. For me, all of these factors combined and conspired simultaneously to translate themselves into a 30-pound love note from my soul.

For the first time in my life, I responded with compassion. I stopped punitively weighing myself. I ceased self-denial and revisited my beliefs about food. I didn’t swing into action to take control. I started observing how my perception of my body could change quite markedly from day to day or even between morning and evening. I asked why I was never satisfied with myself and what impact that might have on my physical container.

From the outside I’m guessing it may have looked like I had indulged in that folly we whisper about behind our hands: oh, my! She’s really let herself go. Or so I imagine in my insecure, judging, body-shaming mode. But in a newly-emerging aspect of my psyche, I was literally embodying something quite different: I was challenging myself to accept my form exactly as it was, precisely as it had expressed itself.

As I sat with that idea—and sat and sat and sat, seemingly immobilized in some way I can’t explain, a formerly super-active person suddenly shockingly sedentary, sitting still, and uncomfortably, at that—I began to wonder. I watched my feelings arise with as much mindfulness as possible. I appreciate Dr. Daniel Siegel’s acronym for the kind of mindfulness I was led to practice about my body—COAL—curiosity, openness, acceptance and love.

Acronym by Dan Siegel, watercolor by Elizabeth Winterbone

Acronym by Dan Siegel, watercolor by Elizabeth Winterbone

This process of raising awareness and aiming toward self-acceptance has lasted close to two years, 700+ days of unpredictable emotional rollercoasters and perceptual funhouse mirrors—days of love and days of loathing—until finally I realized what I’d been missing. Those pounds kept coming back over the years to ask for acceptance. They wanted me to stop throwing myself under the bus of external opinion and impossible ideals. They invited me to love my softness and roundedness. They offered repeated chances to embrace myself unconditionally. They asked me to surrender into a full trust of my whole self.

Instead of obsessing with external standards of physical beauty and acceptability, I began offering my body gratitude for its amazing resilience and service over the last 56 years. I began looking at myself in the mirror and saying I love you.

The eventual reward for my willingness to listen to my body and offer it unconditional acceptance came suddenly as a clearer awareness of how I was feeling physically. I could notice that my several years of sitting still had affected my fitness. I suddenly wanted to feel better, more lively and energetic. I felt the urge to move. A high school friend inspired me to get a fitness tracker. I’ve always loved biofeedback and friendly competition with myself. Suddenly I was running up the stairs to my apartment multiple times a day to get my heart rate into the cardio zone, walking instead of driving to the grocery store, and finding reasons to run errands on foot. I am doing this with great joy and playfulness.

Here is the radical difference from past self-improvement efforts. There will be no before and after pictures; this is not about how I look. I am not weighing or measuring myself, counting calories or measuring portions. I am listening to my body’s intuitive guidance. I am trusting its wisdom. Finally. I am not hating, rejecting, or punitively trying to control any part of myself, I am filled with a deep and radiant desire to be my best self.

I am motivated by love instead of fear, and I believe that will make all the difference.

Aster

God made a little Gentian—It tried—to be a Rose: A love letter to heterocentric Christians

Dear heterocentric persons of faith and good will (which includes most of my dear family of origin):

I want you to know first of all that I can intellectually and compassionately understand both your consternation and some of the vehemence with which you defend doctrines on sexuality and marriage. Can we start there? Can we begin with me saying with love that I hear you and I see where you are coming from? Because I do.

Like you, I have been culturally conditioned since birth to accept heterosexuality as the prevailing paradigm and the normative ethic, both socially and religiously. I can certainly understand why those for whom attraction to the opposite sex is as natural and unquestioned a behavior as breathing would assume that any deviation from the norm is, well…abnormal, and perhaps even a willful rebellion against what’s natural.

My personal experience, starting from a very young age in this same milieu—specifically in the 1970s in the Church of the Nazarene—I’m guessing was exactly the opposite of yours, and for me, equally natural, unfolding softly like a wildflower. I did try to meet the cultural expectations, but those attempts in high school and college were strange, awkward and felt like a fraud. In 56 years of life, I have never fallen in love with a member of the opposite sex. Not once.

To be clear, this is not because I dislike men or have been damaged by a man. In fact, I love and appreciate men very much, starting with my Dad, grandfathers, and brother, all of whom were unusually loving, gentle, kind and approachable. I hung out with boys a lot during my teen years and they mostly treated me like one of the guys, which made me feel safe and comfortable, a pal. Secretly, of course, what we had in common was our attraction to the girls.

I never once said, oh, I think I’ll squelch my heterosexual identity and give myself over to lust for my own kind in defiance of the Church’s teachings. As far as I can tell, I only ever went with the flow of my own innate selfhood. I was a Marva. And even as it became clear that I would face disapproval and rejection, I did not consider twisting myself to fit cultural and religious expectations because I felt purposeful as I was and courageous enough to stay that way. I knew somehow in a very deep place—seemingly against the odds—that I was unique and beautiful and loved by my Maker, who is famous for moving in mysterious ways.

The fact that I have always felt this unexpectedly deep confidence in the face of pressure to conform to the norm, remains my single most powerful and self-evident argument against the moral depravity judgment. If I am an abomination or a mis-creation, why do I feel so confident in my holy birthright? Why would I take a path so painful, rocky and counter-cultural simply for the sake of rebellion, and if it were a phase, wouldn’t it eventually end? And why, if the way I am is a deep perversion subject to the wrath of God, do I manifest in my daily life so many of the fruits of the Spirit? How can I be the happiest and most peaceful person I know?

That’s all I have to offer, my own story, my own sweet certainty of the sacred validity of my personhood exactly as I am, and these heartful inquiries. If you would be willing to sit prayerfully with those questions, I would be so grateful. For the moment, I would love it if we could we drop our defenses and simply see each other face to face, and heart to heart, without scriptural interpretations and a church manual as wedges between us.

In case you wonder, I am writing because I have this wild, idealistic notion that it’s possible to befriend and heal the misunderstood pink elephants of shame that have been standing in the shadowy corners of so many good Christian living rooms for so long. These elephants are the unspoken plights of our children and grandchildren, cousins and nephews, mothers and fathers.

One of the motivations that spurs me onward now is the desire to heal my own hidden hurt by bringing it out into the light. I didn’t even realize how potent it was until I heard last week’s announcement of the Supreme Court decision for marriage equality and found myself ducking and bracing as if I’d just heard the unmistakable freight-train-roar of a tornado bearing down. Or of thousands of pink elephants crashing out into the public square.

While millions of happy people of all proclivities and nationalities joined in celebrating a step forward in human rights, I took a step back and felt inexplicably sorrowful, in part because I knew how many of you would feel about the announcement. I’ve made the mistake of reading too many condemnatory articles and offensive comments. I’ve stepped away in despair from many unfruitful and unfinished conversations over the last 30 years.

I am also inspired to speak because of my desire to encourage others to not give up on living authentically. I am convinced we all have a purpose in the beautiful spectrum of being—simply because we exist—just as we are.

And finally, the deepest driver of all—the most potent of motivators—the craving for wholehearted love and acceptance—not the confusing contradiction of I love you, but, or the poison razor of love the sinner, hate the sin—but love without condition, in the manner of Christ.

I am convinced this unconditional love is abundantly available to me from my Creator. I feel it purposefully and joyfully in every cell of my body and every particle of the cosmic consciousness in which I am an avid participant. I don’t need any religious institution to validate my spiritual passport; I have traveled a great distance without external approval.

What would be lovely, however, would be to feel that my fellow humans, especially my own extended family, did not condemn me for being myself. I am totally coming out of the closet as a Marva. I can do no less if I wish to be free and whole. Perhaps my heart can be a bridge. I offer it freely as a gift to the troubled waters.

Much Love, Marva

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