Friday, June 28, 2019

How to lose weight by eating whatever you want

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

I have a tiny problem with authority (with a nod to Anne Lamott). I don’t like anyone telling me what to do — even diets. If I go on a diet that says I am not allowed to eat certain foods, I am soon obsessed by the desire to eat that forbidden food. I start telling myself — and believing — that I deserve to have it, in fact I deserve to have whatever I want. And I have lost 30 lbs. in 2 years by doing just that — eating whatever I want.

“Two years?” you say? Yes, this is not a miracle diet. I lost 30 lbs. very slowly, and I have kept them off. Also, I am not thin. If you saw me you would be unimpressed by my (not) svelte body. This is a way of eating that has worked for me, and I plan to eat this way the rest of my life.
It started with Geneen Roth, specifically the book Women, Food, and God, which I read years ago. Roth’s writing made a lot of sense, and her words and ideas influenced my own change in behavior, which happened many years later. I think of that change as my “You can have anything you want…do you still want it” method.

Like many, I have tried a lot of diets over the years. I was most “successful” with Weight Watchers — I didn’t feel hungry and I lost weight. But I never lasted more than 3 weeks on any diet, even Weight Watchers. I would say it was too hard to maintain because I had to make different food for me vs. my family. But there were many other reasons: I couldn’t keep up with planning ahead, I didn’t feel like going to meetings, I got tired of thinking about what I should and should not eat all the time, I did not want to deny myself food that made me happy.

In a kind of desperation I once tried Jenny Craig. I paid for the entire package — had the food delivered to me. No double workload. No decisions. I did lose weight. But as soon as I switched to “maintenance,” it all came back — with a vengeance. It seemed like that “returned” weight was harder to lose than any other.

Then the diagnosis: Type 2 diabetes. I had had gestational diabetes so I knew I was more susceptible to Type 2 diabetes. But, to be honest, I thought I wasn’t eating that badly, I wasn’t so overweight, and if it did happen it would be when I was old. I was 59 when I got the diagnosis. I suppose I thought that was old back when I was having babies in my 20’s and 30's.
Anyway, I realized diabetes was not something to ignore. I needed to do something to get that A1c number down (a test that shows your sugar level over the last 2–3 months). Diabetes could kill me, and I want to be around for a while yet. Diabetes could make me lose my sight, or even a limb. Yuck. No!

To be honest again, I was ashamed. I did not want to tell anyone I had Type 2 diabetes. It took me a while to admit it even to my husband and kids. Why the shame? I am not sure. It felt like failure somehow. It felt like I had failed. It felt like people would think I was a weak person who could not control herself. When I did tell people, some of them expressed shock. I could take that as a positive — I must not look to them like someone who overate and was overweight. But instead their shock made me feel like I was being judged deficient in some way. I am not really sure what causes this feeling of shame. I still fight it.

But what would I do now that I had this diagnosis? I hated dieting, and had never been able to stick to a diet. As often as I heard that you have to change the way you’ll eat for all your life, not only while you’re dieting, I could not imagine I could change for a lifetime. Each time I went on a diet, I thought it would get me to a better weight, and from then on I would stay at that weight by being careful. The change in eating would be temporary, only while I was on the diet. Problem was, I never got to that better weight. And, of course, I’m sure if I had, I would not have stayed there.
What to do? I had to face it: I needed to change the way I ate forever. But I could not imagine being able to give up potato chips forever, give up chocolate forever, give up ice cream forever, give up bread forever, give up french fries forever. I could not even imagine being strict with myself and forever eating less of all the food I loved. To make a lifelong change, I needed to be able to lose weight but still eat whatever I wanted. Anytime I asked myself if I could eat something I wanted, I needed to say yes.

But of course I couldn’t eat as much of those foods as I had been. That’s tricky. Geneen Roth wrote to take notice of what you are eating, pay attention to everything about it — the chocolate cake with all its moist, rich layers, the frosting that was just the right sweetness and smoothness, the great way it looked on the plate, the beauty of its chocolate brown color, the incredible delicious scent, and so on and so on. That sounded like a good thing to try — take notice, pay attention.

I also read that, in reality, after the first few bites you stop truly tasting whatever you are eating, even super delicious things. I took note and discovered that was true. After several potato chips, they no longer have that potato flavor goodness that was so delightful in the first few bites. I still like their texture. I still like the saltiness. That lasts a bit longer. But if I really pay attention and I am honest with myself, after several bites those chips don’t taste as delicious any more.
Photo by Jeniffer Araújo on Unsplash
I was diagnosed right around the holidays. Where I work, our kitchen area becomes laden with goodies during the holidays. Vendors and sales reps shower us with gifts. Food, food, food. Sweet, salty, crunchy, melty, silky treats. Chocolate, nuts, chips, crackers, cheese, cookies, cakes, candy. Mm-mm-mm. I would walk past the counter and ask myself, “Do you want that, Mavis?” And if I said, “Yes,” I would pick up a piece and take a bite. Then as I continued to take bites, I would ask myself, “Do you still want it? Does it still taste delicious?” (When I told this to a friend she said, “So if I want to lose weight I need to talk to myself, right?” Well, yes.)

I gave myself permission to waste food. That was part of it. I decided not to have a guilty conscience about putting perfectly good, even super delicious food into the garbage. It was O.K.. Besides asking myself whether I wanted it, whether I still wanted it, whether it was still delicious, I had a mantra repeating itself in my mind. In fact, I still do: “You can have whatever you want. You can have whatever you want. You can have whatever you want.” All day long.
I did also cut back on sugar as much as possible. I don’t put sugar in my coffee anymore — I use Stevia. And I take notice of how much bread or other carbohydrates I’m eating. I never tell myself I cannot have them, though, if I want them. I use the same method with myself, telling myself I can have whatever I want, asking myself if I still want the next bite, trying to answer myself truthfully, and stopping when I actually don’t want more, or it really doesn’t taste great anymore.

A couple other things: I pay attention to how many carbs I’m eating. I never deny myself, but when my weight is creeping up to that target number, I look for more options, usually at lunch, with no or very few carbs. Also, I like to read or watch TV while I eat, which can easily result in mindless eating. Some experts say just don’t watch TV or read while you eat. No, that’s boring. So I try to pause, look up, think a second with each bite, and notice what I’m eating — while continuing to watch TV or read. 

One last trick: If I really want something but there’s a lot of it, I eat part now and eat the rest later. When I had gestational diabetes, the medical experts told me you want to keep your blood sugar from spiking, keep things level, small meals and snacks throughout the day. Using that logic, if, for example, I get a big bagel with topping for breakfast, I save half and have the rest at coffee time a little later in the morning.

I weigh myself every morning. I’ve been at around the same weight now for months and months. Many experts frown upon weighing yourself every day, and I realize that it could be unhelpful for some people. But so far, it doesn’t seem to make me unhappy or dissatisfied. I’ve given myself (for now) a weight that I don’t want to be higher than. As long as I don’t go past that, I feel like I’m good. And if I do seem to be getting close to going over that number, it reminds me to pay better attention.
How is this working for me, you wonder? Well, I have gotten that A1c number down but it’s still not in what’s called the “normal” range. I still officially have diabetes. My doctor has increased the dosage of the medicine I take. I hope that, along with maintaining this weight, or even losing more, the A1c number will get into the normal range. I also need to figure out how to do more exercise — even just walking more. But, the fact is, I lost 30 pounds. It took over 2 years, but it has stayed gone. I still look at myself in the mirror and am not completely satisfied, but I feel more content with how I look and feel.

What Jessica Knoll wrote in her article, “Smash the Wellness Industry,” rings true for me:
Most days, I feel good in my skin. That said, I am probably never going to love my body, and that’s O.K.. I think loving our bodies is not only an unrealistic goal in our appearance-obsessed society but also a limiting one. No one is telling men that they need to love their bodies to live full and meaningful lives. We don’t need to love our bodies to respect them.
In regard to food, I feel freer, and therefore happier. No food is bad. I don’t have to feel guilty that I ate something “bad,” something that would make me fat, or “go straight to my hips,” or make my already pot-belly bigger. I can go ahead and love whatever food I love. The food I love is good. Plus, I can have whatever I want! How great is that?! I am nicer to myself, and I like having that nice me as a friend. Yes, I know that sounds weird. Do I have split personality or what? There’s me and there’s me. But, it works. For me. And me.

Everyone is different. Many factors affect each individual’s health, what motivates one person as opposed to another. What works for me may not work for you. I get that. I am NO expert! Talk to your doctor.

I tell people about this method because I want others to feel happier. I want them to have their own nice selves as friends. It makes me sad when I watch people I love going on diets that deprive them of things they would like to have, and when they talk about certain foods as bad. I can see they are unhappy with the way they look, so much so that it messes with their self-confidence. It makes them unable to do what they are meant to do, what they love to do, to fulfill the desires of their heart that God wants them to fulfill. I hope and pray that what I have written here helps in some way to make it so someone can have a better, richer, more joyful life.

(published on Medium)

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

suffering for love

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot written by Richard Rohr. I receive his daily meditation and this is a recent one that made me stop and think.

You’ve probably heard things about loving and suffering, as I have. I’ve heard that when you love someone, you are opening yourself up to be hurt because no one lives forever. When they die, or if they leave you, you’ll hurt. Often the follow-up is that the future pain is worth the present happiness. Or sometimes I’ll hear the quote, “If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. And if they don’t, they never were.” (Kahlil Gibran) What Richard Rohr writes about is different than those sentiments.

If we love anyone or anything deeply and greatly, it is fairly certain we will soon suffer because we have given up control to another, and the price ... will soon show itself. Undoubtedly, this is why we are told to be faithful in our loves, because such long-term loyalty and truly conscious love will always lead us to the necessary pruning (John 15:2) of the narcissistic self.

and

Authentic love (which is always more than a heart feeling) initially opens the door of awareness and aliveness, and then suffering for that love keeps that door open...

He’s not talking about future suffering -- like after someone dies, or after you let them go -- he’s saying we suffer in the present, while we are loving. He’s not talking about the pain you suffer when you lose someone. He’s talking about a different kind of suffering.

What kind of suffering is he talking about here? He says, “...the necessary pruning (John 15:2) of the narcissistic self.” That verse, John 15:2, is from the quite well-known passage where Jesus says “I am the vine; you are the branches” and in that particular verse he says, “...while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” I haven’t thought very hard about that particular phrase before. It’s good when a branch bears fruit -- right? -- yet Jesus says he still prunes it. I think of pruning as cutting off the branches that do not bear fruit, and Jesus says he does do that, but he also prunes the ones that do bear fruit.

So, here I am trying to be a “fruitful branch,” and, I hope and pray, actually doing that at that at least sometimes. I don’t always show the love of God to others, but I think I do quite often. I don’t always act unselfishly but I keep trying to do better at that. I don’t always speak kindly and uplift conversations, but I know that’s something I need to keep working on. I don’t always extend mercy and help those who have less than I do, but I give to charities and try to do my bit. I could be a more fruitful branch, but I do bear fruit.

Yet, Jesus seems to be saying, even though I am a fruitful branch, he prunes me. I’ve heard that verse used when talking about the fact that Christians suffer, and suffering builds character, and makes us better. I think that is a true application, but Rohr talks about “pruning of the narcissistic self.”

So, what is this “narcissistic self” about? I want to read and think about this more, but here are some of my thoughts: Narcissism is being “extremely self-centered with an exaggerated sense of self-importance.” In another article, Rohr quotes Thomas Merton: “Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. This is the man [or woman] that I want myself to be…” That rings true to me, does it to you? I have this image of the self I want to be. I know in my mind that I’m not as good as I want to be, yet when someone else points that out, I so badly don’t want that to be true that I get all defensive. 

I listened to an interview with Richard Rohr this week, and he said he prays for “one humiliation a day.” He explains that he fears his fame and the adulation he gets because of it will make him vain, so he asks for at least one humiliation a day in order to watch his own reaction to it, and to learn from it. 

I don’t have to worry about fame and adulation, but maybe this gets at what is meant by pruning -- things happen (people say things, or I say things, or I read things, or whatever) that convict me in an uncomfortable way. I suffer humiliation. I suffer disillusionment. I realize that I am not the person I like to think I am. And God uses that suffering to make me “even more fruitful.” I learn a truth that helps me love God and others more. I see someone else’s pain and can contribute to healing. My heart is softened so I can accept more. Somehow, God makes me “even more fruitful.”

May we all experience God’s love in such a deep way that we become “even more fruitful.” I don’t pray to be humiliated, and I certainly am not praying each of you will be humiliated so that you become more fruitful. Pruning is shaping, too. We are constantly being shaped and transformed by our experiences, even when we suffer. All that we experience becomes who we are. May God’s love continue to form us in his image -- make us more and more like him. May our extreme interest in ourselves melt away as we sink deeper and deeper into the mysterious, wondrous oneness of the Trinity -- the father, son, and holy spirit.

What can I pray about for you?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Say one for me, Jesus

Have you ever been mentioned by name in a prayer? How does it make you feel? I can remember a couple times when someone prayed for me or my family or a request I voiced. It made me feel kind of self-conscious but at the same time honored. It felt like a hug from someone who cares about me. People like being prayed for. My dad, who was a chaplain in the Air Force, called his memoir Say One For Me, Chaplain because he heard that request so often.

In John 17:20-23, Jesus prays for his disciples and says, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.” I’ve always thought that was pretty cool -- Jesus praying not only for the disciples, who are with him, but also for people in the future, like me. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for Mavis.” Put your name in there: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for _________________.”

He was praying not just for individual people like me and you, but for all of us in the future. Later in the passage he says, “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” And elsewhere the famous verse, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” (John 3:16) He loves the whole world. So it could be something like, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for Mavis and ______________, and for all the people Mavis sends this email to, and everyone in the whole world -- past, present, and future.”

And what does he pray? That we may all be one with the trinity -- him, the Father, the Holy Spirit -- and each other, to see his glory, and to know his love. That is my prayer for you, too. Each time I send this email, and many times in between, I pray that you know God loves you.


Note: I don’t know if any of you have noticed, but I use masculine pronouns when talking about Jesus and God. The footnote on this website states my reasoning well. To paraphrase: Finding appropriate and inclusive language for God is difficult. It does not work perfectly to call the Father, "God," and the Son, "Jesus," because such language may imply that Jesus is not also "God the Son." On the other hand, the repetition of "Father" and "Son" too many times reinforces an inaccurate understanding of God as male and of divinity as masculine. The point of the language is not the mistaken idea of the maleness of God. It is the reality that the way to speak accurately of God is to use words that describe the intimate, loving relationship the trinity has, and that we have with Jesus and God. When Jesus calls God father and refers to himself as God's son, he is expressing that intimate, loving relationship.

Beauty

I wish everything I wrote turned out like this.

https://www.mbird.com/2019/06/notes-on-beauty/
Notes on Beauty
I am getting older. If you believe in science, which I do, then I guess we’re all getting older. The aging process for me has been underway for 35 years now, but I’ve only really become aware of it recently. My hands are starting to look like my mom’s. Things that were once firm and fixed have begun to give way to gravity. The curves of my body have turned soft and squishy — even — gag — lumpy in places. Of all the bodily betrayals, the wrinkles buried into my forehead are the most focal point of my self-loathing — as if I did something specific to render them. Shame on me for emoting with every last inch of my face. And it’s only going to get worse. Like when I turn 36. The whole thing is egregious.

With this new attentiveness to my own aging, I’ve been thinking a lot about beauty. As much as I’d like to play the gal who is mysteriously aloof about her looks, I have to confess that I long to be beautiful. Specifically, I long to carry beauty into the world — like lavender brings calm — like a fire brings light. Be delighted by me. Be overcome by me. Be awed by me. Let me bring you joy. Let me put a smile on your face. I want to move through the world like a song. This longing seems writ into the twirling strands of my very DNA. Though it might be a broad-spectrum “woman thing,” perhaps men can relate.

Real, meaningful beauty has inner and outer dynamics at play. It’s a both/and. It’s a this/that. Like body and blood, the two cannot be separated or pulled apart.

*

If we believe in a Creator God, then we must also be convinced that he is deeply, prolifically, extravagantly concerned with beauty and the aesthetic. Look no further than the lily or the live oak, the sparrow or the sky. There is both a glory and a whimsy with which this world was conceived. And I keep thinking: that same glory and whimsy must apply to me, too.

If the created world is any indication, God’s idea of beauty spans a puzzling yet somewhere near infinite spectrum. The same God who created the gardenia and called it good also designed the duckbilled platypus. I wonder, did he giggle with delight at the genesis of the platypus? Or was he run through with chills at its spectacular splendor? God’s idea of beauty is stretched wide like open arms, in which all manner of odd creature — including me — is elevated and encompassed.

Romans 1:20 says this: “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” The apostle Paul is saying here that the created world, the things God has made, tell us all about him, his character, his personality, his beauty. The wind, the fig leaf, the desert, even the Shih Tzu, they all communicate something about who he is — the boundless beauty of creation is designed to point us back to the boundless beauty of its Creator.

*

Paul Zahl once described grace as “love coming at you that has nothing to do with you.”

Grace, in some ways, is just a holy way of saying gift. And so all beauty must be grace; I cannot see that real, divinely inspired, inherent beauty has either strings attached or any convincing evolutionary purpose. Real beauty is to be received, enjoyed, taken in like a long-awaited house guest, worn like your most beloved piece of clothing, experienced. And God has continued to find me through the beauty of this created world — like love coming at me that has nothing to do with me — throughout my life.

As a kid outside, surrounded by the beauty of creation, I’d sit and daydream in a tree for an entire afternoon, or catch roly polies in the driveway, or tadpoles at the creek, or I’d lay on my stomach for hours making daisy chains and hunting for four-leaf clovers. Everything ordinary — including me — became extraordinary outside. The sweet churring of robins talking to each other in the pines, wind whispering through ancient oak limbs as if a living, moving thing; the smell of mowed grass and fragrant honeysuckle, a light layer of pollen and dirt covering every inch of my well-fed kid-body, and the warm embrace of the sun on my skin and clothes. Everything that had gone on the rest of the day — the demands of school, friends, my home life, the waif-like body standards of the early 90s, every thin line I wasn’t measuring up to faded away outside, overtaken by the glory of the ordinary world around me.

We don’t just experience beauty from places like treetops or wading in the froth of an ebbing ocean. We experience beauty person to person. A photograph or quick impression cannot offer real, lasting beauty (think of the Grand Canyon). Beauty in its truest form is found and kept by fully experiencing it — and in the case of people, experiencing it in the framework of relationship. For example, I don’t typically find beauty in other people’s children. But waking up in the morning to my own four-year old daughter tenderly rubbing my back – she may have been there for a minute or an hour — with her nest of tangled blond bed-head she’s the most beautiful person in the world. The gesture shows her heart, her already soft edges. Or my Kindergarten-aged son who will casually walk into a room and ask me curious things like, “Mama, am I outgoing?” The kid is a rare, outgoing delight. Or my mother who, in my direst hour, did not offer advice or a motivational speech but just sat with me — both of us barely squeezed into the same leather armchair — and cried; she glowed with something saintly. Or when my husband held my hand for the very first time as we laid on a Georgia beach that winter. It had taken me weeks or a few months to catch onto his beauty. We stared up at a boundless span of navy darkness with strewn bits of heaven bursting through its ceiling; every now and again, a shooting star. He said if he had to survive a nuclear apocalypse with only one person, he’d want it to be me. He had a dark hoody pulled up over his head. He wore thick brown nerd-glasses. And I wanted to kiss him so badly I thought I’d explode along with the stars.

If you’ve ever used something like Tinder, you know all this to be true. Real beauty must be experienced in order to be seen. No matter the filter, a photo or just a glance cannot suffice.

Only when Jesus himself drew me into relationship, where he once seemed withholding and rude, moody and judgmental, did he gradually come to be radiant with the most abundant, life-giving beauty.

*

Matt Capps says that “the revelation of beauty is an act of God’s self-revealing love… God alone is the source and substance of true beauty. And not only were we crafted in his image as aesthetic creatures, we were endowed with the capacity to enjoy and cultivate beautiful things.” But how far is too far when it comes to things like chemical peels or jade rollers or vampire facials? (I personally haven’t found the line yet.)

In the last year, I’ve begun to wage war on my own maturing body. I’ve dumped a truck load of money into things like collagen peptides, retinol serums, micro-currenting, and semi-regular hydro-facials. I don’t know half of what any of these things are specifically accomplishing, but I’ve been assured by the Instagram accounts of people like B-list celebrities that cumulatively, I will eventually, literally, turn back into a child.

All in all I’m a little worn out from the whole thing and feel nothing like a child. I’m still a 35-year-old who emotes with every inch of her face. I still jiggle and flop when I’m trying to be sexy. And while I can’t say I have any plans to let go of these semi-aggressive efforts, I think “the beauty regimen” is at its finest when embraced as a form of gracious and loving upkeep — like a gardener tending to her flowers. Flowers, like beauty, are pure gift. You cannot wrestle a flower up from its bed. You just water and weed and let the sun do its bidding. Overly manufactured beauty — beauty caught by strangulation — doesn’t ring with the same enchantment as a beauty who has grown and evolved with lovingkindness towards herself.

What’s my version of weeding and watering? Well, I do Pilates. I walk. I find a deep pleasure in taking the time to wash my face most mornings. I pay care and attention to applying all of my expensive lotions and creams, waiting a minute or two between each. I let my creativity come to life as I put on a bit of makeup. And before I turn out the lights in my bathroom I take one final look in the mirror. I stare myself right in the eyes, smile like I’ve got a secret, and quietly call myself the only thing I know to be true, with or without all that stuff: “beloved.”

*

The freneticism with which our culture demands we go about our physical upkeep is completely exhausting. I know this because (clearly) I get swept up in it too. But none of it holds up with real beauty because real beauty doesn’t exhaust. Real beauty invites us to come stay a while. Real beauty brings rest.

A few years ago, I learned a technique that aids in stopping a panic attack dead in its tracks: you take off your shoes and your socks, you open your backdoor, and you put your bare feet to the earth. Easy. Of course there’s something chemical that happens, like splashing cold water on your face. But note that a cool floor feels different on your feet than cool earth. After that first blessed shock when skin meets ground, I start to notice things. A warm, dry breeze blows my hair out of my face; the blooms of bougainvillea drift airily from their vines, and the smells — hickory smoke from the Naples rib company down the street, salt and oil from the offshore rigs, the sweet citrus of our young lemon tree out front; the sounds of car engines, boat engines, mourning doves, and kids shrieking with laughter over at Mother’s Beach. All this because of actual, divinely created and inspired dirt — cold, hard earth — connecting with the living soles of my feet. The tension peels away and I am overwhelmed by the bigness and beauty of everything else, the smallness of me, but affirmed more than ever that small and striving me is still deeply and distinctively related to the strangeness and wideness and wonder of the world.

Cheryl Strayed says in her memoir Wild, “… perhaps being amidst the undesecrated beauty of the wilderness meant I too could be undesecrated, regardless of the regrettable things I’d done to others or myself or the regrettable things that had been done to me. Of all the things I’d been skeptical about, I didn’t feel skeptical about this: the wilderness had a clarity that included me.”

The undesecrated beauty found in things like gardening, surfing, trail running, a night sky, or just standing in your backyard, speaks to and pours forth a sort of clarity, a clean slate, peace, soundness, and an invitation to receive it all. This is the gospel. That our sins — our massive failures, our disgusting habits, our inability to live up to all the many laws in life (including cultural beauty standards) — all of it has been atoned for, once and for all, on the cross of Jesus.

Stepping outside barefoot is a little like opening the plane window for the first time as you land in a foreign country. Or like running off of a cliff and then feeling that sudden pull of a parachute catch you from behind. In the most ordinary sense, putting my feet on the ground does something about shocking me into my actual life. It forces me to be present, in all my exactly-as-I-am-ness. All these sensory signs of where I am become the setting, the reminder of who I am — created. I, like the bougainvilleas and the sea have been drawn with lovingkindness, known and planned from the beginning, loved with an everlasting love. I can rest. I can pull up a chair. I can stay a while. This is exactly how I’d like for you to experience me, at both 35 and 85.

*

Revelation 21:5 says, “Behold, I am making all things new.” We know that God will one day, finally and completely make all things new. Yet scripture tells us here that His magnificent process of undoing — of perfecting and remaking — has already begun. Most days, this seems impossible to me. The idea that God could be in the full-fledged midst of performing a massive, upending redeeming act seems nearly laughable. How can we be in a resurrection cycle when the world around us looks like Isengard’s orc pit from Lord of the Rings?

If we believe what scripture says, that God is making everything beautiful in its time, I think we have to also believe that God is using the aging of our bodies as a part of His redemptive movement in the world. That what plays out in our aging is not just a descent towards death, but instead a distinctive sphere where God is simultaneously undoing and redoing all the wrong and sad. That we really are becoming more beautiful with age (and not just because our husbands say so).

1 Peter 3:3-4 says, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” At first pass, I want to hate these verses. Like, barf-hate. But if I marinate for a while on “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit,” it starts to sound like peace, like rest, like surrender, like the swaying lilies of the field that do not labor or spin. The authentic beauty we reveal as a created people comes from our hearts at rest. And a heart finds expanding rest in the day-after-day love and delight of Christ.

Aging, in all its aches and pains, its griefs and hardships, can lead us right to the foot of the cross. Leslie Jameson said in her talk at the 2019 Mockingbird conference, “Grace has never lived in the unbroken parts of my life, but in the broken ones — the ones that still ached toward the possibility of beauty. Not possibility, actually, but rather acknowledgment — the awareness that beauty was already all around us. It never left.”

Like Psalm 51 implies, God sometimes breaks bones and bodies in order to heal hearts — nobody knows this better than Jesus. Which means that even my wobbly tummy and cavernous forehead creases are part of his plan for eternal beauty, like the scars on the resurrected Christ, marks of his faithfulness toward me.

*

A friend of mine says he likes to think of wrinkles like bodily Ebenezers. In 1 Samuel chapters 4 and 7, “Ebenezer” means “stone of help.” Samuel erected the Ebenezer stone as a reminder to the Israelites that “Thus far, the Lord has helped us.” Our wrinkles and lumps are, in a similar sense, reminders of all that God has already done for us — we are here, we have been rescued, and we’ve lived another year to tell that remarkable tale. In another sense, because no amount of Vitamin-C serum can actually terminate the aging process, age is a reminder of our total helplessness outside of God.

This is how our insides are tended and pruned. This is where our decaying turns into becoming.

There is a sublime grace in aging. It is not so much a loss or a lack but an abundance, each year another raised Ebenezer: a physical, in your face, minute-by-minute reminder of how otherworldly beautiful we are to Jesus, and of the stunning reality that he’d choose us again every time. This is redemptive beauty. That when we cast our broken, failing bodies into the arms of grace, over and over again, we are remade; we are stilled; we are quieted by his love, and quieted by his love, and quieted by his love. I have only ever found true rest here, on my knees, in that one-word act of surrender — Help — a beautiful invitation, the very utterance itself a gift.

Here, our fixation on the world’s standard of beauty falls away. And what takes its place is a reliance and dependence on Jesus himself as the ultimate beauty.

If our redemption is a sort of re-versing (like a poem or a song), we continue to bear the notes and marks of what has been. Like a map of our stories, we wear our past joy, our suffering, our great love, our grief, our strange adventures, our unyielding grace. Francis Spufford says that “Everything taken into the Kingdom becomes more itself, not less…” Over time, we become more of the quirky and particular people God created us to be as unique image bearers. By the second, we are perfecting reflections of his divine beauty. And divine beauty is a heart at rest, a heart that invites rest, a surrendered heart, a hidden heart, a kept heart.

Here I raise my Ebenezer.

*

One summer in high school, I went on a biking trip through the Pyrenees with twelve other kids. It was grueling. I was not prepared. Yet I don’t really remember all the tears, or the hormone-induced acne, or even the disgrace and embarrassment I surely experienced from being the caboose of the group every day. My failures and my physical limitations and my inability to perform well are not what stick out to me about that trip when I think about it now. What seems significant were the fields and fields of sunflowers, spanning the horizon like thick yellow paint strokes. How sometimes there would be a mile between me and the next person in the group, and the peculiar silence of a rural space — interrupted only by my own heavy breathing. I think of one downhill specifically that followed a particularly punishing uphill. As I eagerly tore down this mountain that had all but bested me just moments ago, an actual swarm of butterflies — the technical term for which is a kaleidoscope — a kaleidoscope of hundreds of thousands of small, delicate, white-green butterflies overtook me like a wave of lace. I could feel their wings on my face and my body as I pedaled freely, unhindered, effortlessly down this mountain, as if I were being carried. I laughed with my head thrown back. Nobody was around.

You are moving through this world like a song, Charlotte. I am delighted by you. I am overcome by you. I am awed by you.

It was serene, as restful as an inhale. A clean slate. Clarity. And outside, without walls, a temple curtain, or “the perfect skin tint,” I could see the moon, I could see creation, and I — a dirty, sweaty, mess — was a beautiful part of it all.


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Zombies? Seriously?

I heard an interview on the podcast "Makers and Mystics" with Jonathan Pageau. I had heard of him a little because of my friend Paul VanderKlay and his connection to Jordan Peterson. In this interview, the host asks Pageau about "Pentecost for the Zombie Apocalypse." I decided to listen to it. I don't like zombies. If you don't, either, don't let that stop you. If you do like them, there's a lot more to them than you might think. The video is about an hour long but worth it. A richness of thought, art, religion, connections, symbolism, church, the world, icons, meaning. So, so much.


Sunday, June 2, 2019

Love rivers

Recently I heard and read two things that made beautiful images in my mind. I want to share them with you.

One was a poem that Amanda Held Opelt read at her sister Rachel Held Evans’ funeral [1].

Deep & Blue
by Rachel Held Evans

Flying a kite,
like fishing upside down.
I gaze into the infinite, dizzying blue
and wonder what’s swimming around up there,
catching invisible currents of air
that tug and tighten up my string.
I’m glad we live in in between,
not the top or bottom of anything.

I also read this poem in a newsletter I receive every day from the Center for Action and Contemplation, founded by Richard Rohr:

Effortlessly,
Love flows from God into [humans]
Like a bird
Who rivers the air
Without moving her wings.
. . . Thus we move in [God’s] world
One in body and soul, . . .
Though outwardly separate in form.
As the Source strikes the note,
Humanity sings—
The Holy Spirit is our harpist,
And all strings
Which are touched in Love
Must sound.
—Mechthild of Magdeburg (1207–c. 1282/1294) [2]

“Flying a kite, like fishing upside down.” “Like a bird who rivers the air.” We sound a note when the Holy Spirit touches us like a harpist touches the strings. Wow. Words. What a gift they are.

My phone and photo sharing site have lots of photos of the sky. Beautiful clouds in a blue sky fill me with joy. I never thought of the sky as a river. The kite and the bird “river the air.” (Since when is “river” a verb? Love it!)

Love rivers from God to me. Love rivers from God to you.
Love flows from God into me, into you,
Like a bird
Who rivers the air
Without moving her wings.

[2] Mechthild of Magdeburg, “Effortlessly, / Love flows from God into man,” Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women, ed. Jane Hirshfield(Harper Perennial: 1995), 93. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.