Another Year More Beautiful

Ask me what is the most difficult thing about winter, specifically winter in Michigan, and I will tell you – the end of daylight savings time. The days are already getting shorter as it is and then you go and “Fall Back” and all the sudden it’s almost lunchtime and you haven’t even seen the sunrise yet.

The other morning, I was awake and out of the house while it was still dark, and I noticed a little heavy feeling inside me.  Not like sadness. More like someone came in the middle of the night and covered my chest with one of those aprons you wear when you get a dental x-ray.  The heaviness made me hyper-aware in my senses, even more convinced than usual that I am not just an eternal soul with a disposable body wrapped around it.  That my body and soul are deeply entwined. Music on the radio instantly pricked my eyes with tears. The barista saying, “Good morning!” made me feel all cozy and familial and Christmas Eve-ish.  Even walking the grocery aisles, I consciously carried with me the purpose to love this world, strangers and weirdos and all.

It was a few hours before I finally put my finger on what the feeling was and what might be causing the heaviness. It was comfort. It was the Comforter. Coming to rescue me.

The day before, I had had a very hard day. {Understatement.}  I was hateful and condescending and judgmental and mean.  I accused and shamed and criticized, and it was all pointed at my own self.  More specifically, it was pointed at my body.

The first time I can remember comparing my body to someone else’s was in fifth grade.  My friend and I were talking about our belly buttons, standing in front of a mirror with our shirts held up and I remember noticing that the sides of her torso curved in at her waist and then back out toward her hips and my sides just fell straight down from my ribs to my hips.

Many women probably have a similar first memory.  Maybe there wasn’t a negative or positive feeling attached…just a comparison.  Maybe the comparison was to a grown woman.  To a character on TV.  To a model in a magazine.  And if we live in certain circles, we spend the rest of our growing up years bombarded equally with the media’s images and expectations of what we should be and reactive essays and exhortations about how, as Christian women, we should not be concerned with what “the world” says.  We are confronted and opposed and we battle right back with Bible verses and calls to action and campaigns for true beauty to shine through.

Here’s the problem: as far as my experience goes, it doesn’t matter if you have an involved father, or an affectionate husband, or encouraging friends, or if you find your identity in Christ or if you steer clear of glamor magazines or if you take all the other cautious, careful steps to avoid the comparison trap of lining yourself up with the standards of the people who are rich and influential.

Sometimes, it is just not enough.  Sometimes, you lose.  Sometimes, you still hate yourself.

Maybe this is something you get over once you’ve had enough quiet times or once you’ve achieved the correct epiphany or once you’ve read the right book and have the right fightin’ words to carry around with you in your back pocket.  I don’t know.  I don’t really think so.  Nor do I claim to have this figured out.  But if you are like me and sometimes you feel so exhausted and so full of despair, I hope it helps you to know that you are not alone.  I know how it feels.

I know how it feels to walk into the bathroom after a meal, staring with dread and also with resolve into a toilet that promises to fix you if you just surrender your lunch.

I know how it feels to be obsessively concerned with the position of your body, where flesh wrinkles and rolls when you sit or stand or lay certain ways.

I know how it feels to hear, “Charm is deceptive; beauty is fleeting,” and to still wish that beauty would come, even if it only stays for a year or two.

I know how it feels to see the way a piece of clothing drapes off the shoulders of a model’s svelte body and then to wish you could shrink yourself into such a thin, weightless form that you would vanish from your own self-consciousness. Even if that form is little more than a veiled skeleton.  Even if shrinking means starving.

I know how it feels to watch an anti-hunger commercial and not feel compassion or sympathy or sadness but only jealousy toward the foreign poor woman featured and her skinny wrists and ankles.

It is exhausting, isn’t it?

I don’t have the solution figured out. I do not know how to fix this problem. But I do know that when things are confusing and painful and so very bleak, the right thing to do is always always to look at Jesus. Search His words.  Seek His face. Line your heart up as closely as you can with where you think His heart might be and then see if that tells you anything.

Truth be told, sometimes there are no solutions.  Only steps.  And Anne Lamott says writing and faith are both like driving in the dark. You can only see as far as your headlights shine, but you can make it all the way home like that.

In my struggle, there have been a few glimmering pin holes shining through and helping to restore my buoyancy a little.  This is one of the more recent ones.

{Photo by Brian Wolfe(y), of his beautiful snow-angel-queen-wife.}

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