In defiance of the muffin top


Have you ever deleted a photo of a happy occasion because you didn't like how you looked in it? I have. But I want to defy that...

 

We hosted a barbecue for some friends and co-workers today. It was a festive, delicious, happy affair: the lawn freshly mown, kids jumping on the trampoline, and stories shared over a potluck feast.

My husband and I had been happily hosting: each attending to kids and guests and let-me-show-you-to-the-restroom. We crossed paths while lunch was being served, and I leaned in to hug my partner and love. We stood there a minute, enjoying the scene of people feeling at home and savoring the buzz of happy chatting.

Our son was underfoot: taking his new LEGO creation on a maiden voyage. We scooped him into our arms, asking him if he would like to be the peanut butter in our parent-sandwich. He giggled and told us he couldn’t be peanut butter because he had a rocket in his hand, and my hubby and I joked that maybe we should change to being a roast beef sandwich, because beef goes well with rocket (hardy har har – I’m lame like that). Our boy snuggled and giggled and pressed in close… while unbeknownst to us, a friend saw our montage and snapped a photo, melting over the cuteness of the moment.

She sent it to me later.

muffintop2I nearly deleted it on the spot.

Confession: I was horrified to see what a pronounced muffin top was showing over the top of my jeans. My outfit had passed the once-over test in the mirror this morning, but I had no idea I looked like that in action, and I was ashamed. The ten or so pounds which have been sneaking up on me stared accusingly at my from the photo, and my finger trembled over the delete button.

But then I looked at the photo and saw a glimpse of what my friend had seen: not a photo to shame me, but a moment she was celebrating for its love, joy, and rightness…. and I realized I was missing it: I was blinded by an extra inch of muffin top.

In truth, this photo is all sweetness. My boy will one day be too big to pick up and press into a sandwich, and we will look back on these days with misty eyes and hearts swollen to bursting with remembrance. Of all the things that are significant about this time: surely my waistline should not factor into my reckoning?

I looked at the photo several times during the afternoon; trying hard to quash the accusatory thoughts and to focus on the good ones. It is hard, repetitive work this: this teaching myself to be kind to myself and my body. I struggled with me all afternoon.

The guests were gone and we were chatting with our kids before bed time. Our youngest asked for music (“Pandowa?”), and the eldest quickly rallied: “Dance Party!” I considered the moment. The last thing I felt like doing was shimmying my fat, but  recalling that I was trying to mark the day with mommy-win-moments rather than mommy-shame-moments, I jumped up and joined her as we let Miley and Beyonce and Maroon 5 belt out tune after tune.  We twirled and jumped and kicked our legs high, and then I scooped the boy child into my arms and twirled him until he giggled drunkenly.

Mid jig(gle), I looked up and spotted a dozen or so flies on the ceiling, miscreants who had obviously sneaked during the earlier festivities. “We have to interrupt our dance party and get those flies!” I yelled to the kids. “Yeah! We’re a SWAT TEAM!” shouted my son, and I belly-laughed at the awesomeness of his pun. Armed with fly swatters and rolled up dish towels, our Swat Team of 5 launched a full-scale attack on our little winged enemies.

Our youngest began to get frustrated that he couldn’t reach, so after a while I offered to be his portable crane truck. He swatted haphazardly, chortling with joy all the way. Again, a photo was snapped.

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Again, I noticed the muffin top. But this time, I also noticed the smiles, felt the joy, savored the moment.

I post these photos and write these words in defiance of the muffin top. We moms need to do a better job of staying in the picture, literally. The photos of my children’s childhoods should not just be documenting their joy and smiles, but who they were joyful with (me!) and who they were smiling with (me!) These are photos of triumph, not shame. No one else is looking at my waist. 

I dare you. Post a photo in defiance of the muffin top. Because really, it’s the least important thing in that picture.

Let me tell you about Mini

I think it’s time to tell you a story. The story about Mini. It is not an easy story to tell, but it gets easier with each telling.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited to pee as I was on that cold, December morning. We had started ‘trying’ just two months before, and I was a day ‘late’. We bought a pregnancy test and waited until the next day, having heard that first-thing-in-the-morning was the best time to test. I woke up before 5am, and bolted for the bathroom. The test said to wait three minutes for the result, but 45 seconds later I could already see a faint, second line developing on the stick – and with tears and squealing and oh-so-much-joy ran into the still-dark room to tell my husband the happy news that our two was now three. We named our expected one Mini. We called our parents and siblings, we went out to dinner, we dreamed of the future: the future of us-with-Mini.

Two weeks later we were at a conference in Missouri and I came down with a cold, and we delightedly fretted about whether taking airborne and extra vitamin C would be safe for our new baby. The kind medic at the Urbana missions conference assured us that taking vitamins was totally safe, and we walked out holding hands, smiling our secret to ourselves as we huddled with throngs of students.

Two weeks after that, the bleeding began. At first just a spot, then a little more. We called the doctor, who said something about ‘implantation bleeding’, and advised us to rest, wait and see. I rested. I waited. I bled. I prayed.

The bleeding continued and so we did what young, anxious parents of our generation do: we searched the internet, trawling for numbers to give us hope. As if the statistics and probabilities of others would reveal the future of our own. One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, I read. Which means three in four don’t, I reasoned. But which also means one in four do.

Two days later, still bleeding, we called the doctor. She agreed to see us and scheduled an ultrasound. With a compassionate but matter-of-fact face, she took a look at the blobs on the screen and interpreted them for us: “this is not what we should be seeing with a healthy 8 week old foetus,” she said, “I’m sorry.” We went home silent, stony and crushed.

The worst part was not the waiting-to-see-if-something-was-wrong, nor the hearing-that-something-was. The worst part was coming home, knowing that our baby was lost, and yet still having to endure a few more days of losing Mini. I sat at home: weeping and bleeding and waiting for it all to pass. My best friend, four months pregnant and grieving for me even as she carried joy of her own, brought me tea and books and let me cry.

Returning to work was hard. Cheerful students and co-workers who didn’t know brought welcome distraction but also somehow intensified the ache. We hadn’t asked them to celebrate Mini’s life when we first found out, and so it seemed unfair and unnatural to ask them to grieve our baby’s death. We were lonely. We felt very grown up.

I remember taking a counseling class where the teacher posed the question: “what is the worst type of grief?” I remember scouring my mind, weighing up the imagined relative trauma of losing a spouse, of suffering great violence, of burying a parent. The lecturer’s words cut into my thoughts: “Your own,” he said. “The worst grief is your own.” His words came flooding back in the wake of losing Mini: maybe it was worse to lose a child already born, or a still-born child, or one later in the pregnancy… but those great griefs were not our own. We had lost Mini early on, but that grief was our own, and it was the worst.

A few moments stand out from that first month after our loss. The moment when a co-worker asked about my absence from the staff party: “Are you pregnant?” they asked. Stunned, I blurted out “I was”, and left them floundering in the parking lot as I ran into the building. The wedding we attended a week later, where more-than-a-few people asked us if we were planning to have kids any time soon. I don’t know how we made it through that night. In the photos from that day, my mouth is smiling and my eyes are glassy. Then, on retreat with our young adults group a few weeks later, a come-to-Jesus moment when I sat all alone in a snow-silent world, and cried all the tears I had stuffed in silence in the weeks before.

And I recall how, one by one, I slowly started to hear others say that the same thing had happened to them. “That happened to me too,” said the smiling Mom-of-five after church one Sunday. “We lost three,” said another. “I’m so sorry,” whispered yet another, “I remember how that felt.” And all of a sudden that one-in-four statistic wasn’t just about our odds for our baby, it was the story of at least one-in-four women that I knew and loved and saw often… but we had just never shared that part of the story before.

More than anything, it was comforting to know I was not alone.

I think perhaps we make a mistake when we keep pregnancies a secret until we’ve had an ultrasound to say that “everything’s okay”. A baby is a baby and a life to be celebrated long before an ultrasound says it is so. A life is a life before anyone has measured its spine or assessed its chances. Mini was a baby, and it was right to celebrate. And then we lost our little one, and it was right to mourn.

We found out we were expecting again a few weeks later, and our mourning for Mini became less intense, and less frequent. From time to time I would feel the loss acutely: standing in the snow, or hearing another’s story, or reading “Heaven is for real” all brought fresh tears for old sadness. But the tears were less, and the sadness more distant – especially as I heard the stories of more and more friends experiencing similar loss and became one of those offering a hug and whispering “that happened to me too.”

A few weeks ago, I told our eldest that there had been another baby before her. I told her there was a little one who had first made us a Mommy and Daddy, but we hadn’t had a chance to meet yet. I told her we didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl, but that we would meet them one day and know for sure then. My daughter assured me it was a girl: the sister she had been longing for, but would one day meet. The next day she told a stranger at the park that she had an older sister in heaven. This is going to be awkward, I thought. But it wasn’t, and she didn’t mention it again.

Until this week. I was cleaning up after breakfast and came upon my daughter playing with her brothers in the living room. She was holding an arm full of stuffed animals, and introducing them to her admiring audience: “this is me, and you, and you”, she said as she gestured to three bears and to the three of them on the sofa. And then, holding up a tiny, fourth bear, she told her brothers “and this is Mini. She is our sister too, but she’s in heaven.”

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There they are: my four children. Three in my arms, and one in Jesus’. Telling the story has made it easier. And now, hearing the story from the mouth-of-babes has brought a fresh wave of hope and joyful anticipation.

And so I’m telling you. Because maybe it’s a story you need to hear today. One-in-four, and all that, but for the one – it’s the worst grief of all.

Cancer is Not Her Tagline

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Wednesday

Her hair is falling out.

Every time she touches her fingers to her head, they return with a fistful of hair. “It started yesterday,” she says. “They said it would happen soon after the chemo started, but this is faster than I expected.”

We walk through town, and spend longer than usual looking at hats. “Maybe someone will teach me how to wrap a scarf around my head so that it looks pretty,” she says. I nod, mute and marveling at her resolve.

Thursdsay

I am wiping down a counter, watching her play with her children. Matt Redman’s song based on Psalm 103 is playing overhead:

Bless The Lord, O my soul, O my soul.
Worship his holy name.
Sing like never before, O my soul,
I’ll worship his holy name.”

I’m humming and wiping, humming and wiping, and next thing I hear her singing along to the final verse:

“And on that day when my strength is failing,
The end is near and my time has come.
Still my soul will sing your praise unending,
Ten thousand years and then forevermore.”

I am undone. I turn to hide the tears in my eyes, marveling at her resolve.

Friday

She is standing behind a microphone, the first speaker up at the conference. Her hair is cropped close to her head, and from where I’m sitting she looks like a model: elfin, ethereal, radiant.

She tells a story from a dozen years ago: how she called a work contact on the phone and introduced herself, “Hi, I’m R’s wife.” The gracious voice at the other end of the line said, “I know who you are. And you are not just his wife. Your identity is found in Christ.”

She tells how later that evening, her husband of three years came home and announced that he didn’t love her anymore, and wanted out the marriage. The strange phone greeting from earlier in the day rang in her ears. “I am not just his wife. My identity is found in Christ.”

I sit with a room full of women, breathless as she continues her story of how, in the months that followed, she delved into the Scriptures and sought the arms of friends who could act as conduits of Christ’s comfort. Clinging to Psalm 62 and the promise of a strong and loving God, she made it through. The years that followed brought travel, growth, a wonderful new husband and three gorgeous children.

“Six weeks ago,” she continues,”I found out I have breast cancer. It is not what I wanted. But….” (you could hear a pin drop) “… I am in that place once again of needing to trust God through this. Once again, I am learning that I am more than a wife. I am more than the Mom of three little ones. I am not the-tragic-story-of-the-young-mom-with-cancer. Above all, I am a child of God and deeply loved by Him. I’m clinging to him.”

I nod, mute and marveling at her resolve.

Saturday

It is my turn behind the microphone, and I am teaching about being a daughter of the King. I talk about how Jesus has rescued us from the marketplace of slavery to sin. I talk about how he has moved us out of the courtroom of condemnation, and brought us into the family room of God, where we now stand as adopted and beloved children of God.

In the sea of faces, I keep finding hers. “There she is,” I think to myself, “the daughter of God.”

She is my friend. She is a wife. She is a mom. She has cancer. But those are not her taglines. Each of those relationships, while real and precious, are temporal. If one has to have a tagline for one’s life, it should be one that will outlast the seasons. Cancer is not her tagline.

Above all, she is the daughter of God.

Sunday

This morning she is wearing a hat. “I washed my hair,” she explains. “It all came off. Eventually I had to get out the shower because there was no end to the shedding and I was clogging the drain.”

Her hat is cute, but this is not the time for admiring her fashion-sense.

I am fighting the urge to cry. I fight the urge to make a lame pun and let laughter mask the awfulness. I swallow my words, “hair today, gone tomorrow.” I nod.

“I didn’t realize it before,” she says, “but it’s true what the Bible says about a woman’s hair being her glory. It really looks terrible. We were made to be with hair.”

I look at my friend and imagine her glory lying in clumps in the shower drain. But then I look at her and Psalm 103 comes to mind again:

Bless The Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits….
…. he crowns you with love and compassion.” (Psalm 103:2, 4)

She may not be crowned with hair, but her head is covered with glory. She is the daughter of the King, crowned with His love and compassion.

She may have cancer, but cancer does not have her. She does not belong to chemo, she belongs to Jesus; and His glory is written all over her.

I watch her walk out the door, sporting a diaper bag and a different, cute hat. She is on her way to church to worship her God.

For the first time, I’m beginning to feel her resolve.

You may also like this related post: To be or not to be
This post is part of the 31 Days of Belonging Series. For a complete list of posts, click here.

To be or not to be?

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I had to read Shakespeare at school. I could understand enough of it to vaguely track the plot and appreciate the occasional wordy insult or clever pun, but not much more.

But Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” speech kept running through my mind as I was preparing a talk on Philippians 1, and it was serendipitous to look it up and find that for the first time in my life, I could really appreciate Shakespeare on my own. And what’s more, it turned out to be both educationally and spiritually encouraging as I compared Hamlet’s speech with Paul’s writings in Philippians 1 – as both of them wrestle with a choice to live or die.

Both are famous passages. Both deal with life and death. But the differences are significant too. In Hamlet’s speech, he is debating whether or not he should commit suicide. On the one hand, he is tired of the pain of living: being subject to the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and the “heartache and thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to“. And so he longs for death to end it all: he wants to “sleep“. But, on the other hand, he says if he were to die, there is:

the dread of something after death.
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others we know not of.

And so Hamlet chooses life because, he says, “conscience makes cowards of us all“. He longs to die but is afraid because he is not sure what comes afterwards. For Hamlet, to be or not to be is a lose-lose choice which he ultimately decides as a coward.

Paul, on the other hand, sees the choice between life and death as a win-win choice. In Philippians 1 he boldly writes: “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body…”

For Paul the choice is not, as it is for Hamlet, between painful life and uncertain death. For Paul, the choice is between a fruitful life knowing Jesus now, and eternal life with Jesus beyond death without any of the nastiness of this life. His choice of the latter is a no-brainer, but he chooses life because he still has work to do here.

But here’s the thing which got me excited about comparing these two speeches. The big difference between Hamlet and Paul’s outlook is their view of the afterlife. Hamlet talked of a hope of “sleep, perchance to dream“. Life after death was wishful thinking at best. He describes it as an “undiscovered country“, and laments that “no traveller returns” from there to assure him of what it is like.

Aye, there’s the rub.”

But the difference was that Paul had SEEN THE RISEN JESUS. He had met that one traveller who had travelled through death, who had not only discovered but conquered that “country”, rising again to proclaim that for those who know Him, death has lost its sting. Paul knew that beyond death there was resurrection life to be experienced with Jesus. And so for Paul (with apologies to Shakespeare),

There is no dread of something after death.
The eternal country from whose bourn
Jesus has returned, delights the will,
And makes us bear the ills we have today
’til we rest in bliss we know not yet of.

(reposted in honor of Kathi, who did not lose her battle against cancer so much as triumphantly gain eternal life. “For I am convinced that whether in life or in death… We are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”</em>

Of course, it’s already broken

Amidst the pages of adverts for kiddo gadgets and gizmos in my parenting magazines, I came across an article yesterday which was well-written and surprisingly thought-provoking. The author was discussing the chaos that comes with children (and their toys which come in many lose-able pieces), and confessing her OCD-must-clean-now tendencies. Her suggestion: maybe the answer is to be a little ‘zen’…

She writes, “There’s a lovely Zen parable about a meditation master, Achaan Chaa. When his students came to him and asked how he could be happy in a world of such impermanence, the master held up a glass and said, “For me, this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. But when I put this glass on a shelf and my elbow brushes it and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that this glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”

The author concludes that it helps her a lot to think that “the puzzle piece is lost before you tear off the shrink-wrap, and the action figurine is down the toilet or lost under the ficus even before you’ve paid for it.” Every moment before that is, in its own way, precious.

I like it. Even as a Christian, I think there is great wisdom in not seeking to try and maintain perfection and control in a world where, unavoidably, things fall apart. There is wisdom in recognizing the fallenness of the world when it comes to all things pertaining to having kids: discipline, naps, toys, sickness and much more. One day my children will leave the house (and leave this life!) – in fact, they are closer to leaving and closer to dying every day… every day before then is indeed a gift.

And yet I think the Christian faith offers more than the Zen-realism. Where as Zen very wisely counters against a false desire for control and perfection in this life in favour of realism… the Christian faith tells us that the desire for perfection is still not wrong. It’s not that we deny our desire that toys never break, houses never get dirty, children never get sick, and people never leave… Those desires should not just be denied: they reflect part of our human nature! It is a good thing that we long for the perfect! Surely then the answer is not to eliminate desire, but to keep somehow working at locating our hopes in the life to come. Easier said than done – but that’s the path I’m working on. I long for the perfect – but this life, of course, is already broken.