Monday, May 30, 2011

Embodying the Body

I had minor surgery last week, an elective procedure to relieve excess and increasingly painful menstruation.  I had reached my limit in coping with this problem that plagued me for decades.  Thinking about what I’ve done afterward, I realize that for most of my life I’ve treated my body as a troublemaker, a problem causer.  I swallow handfuls of vitamins and herbs each day to stave off symptoms, to make up for deficiencies and lack, treating my body as something that has failed me. 

I had an expectation of perfection.  Not that I’d be thin and tan and blonde and wrinkle free forever, but that my kidneys, digestive and reproductive systems, my thyroid and adrenal glands and hormones would function with one hundred percent accuracy, doing all the things they’re supposed to do without error.  I expected my body to operate in textbook fashion.  When it didn’t I took up acupuncture and chiropractic, donned support hose, cooked vile tasting Chinese herbs and drank the brew, gave up wheat and gluten, eggs, soy, most dairy and half a dozen other foods, and added enzymes and herbal remedies to my diet. 

I have learned to accommodate and live with my chronic conditions, but I have not learned to accept and love them, just as I have not learned to accept and love all the aspects of my personality.  I judge my feelings and behaviors that are fearful, angry, clingy.  I view them as cause for shame instead of extending compassion.  In theory, I know that being human means making mistakes and built-in imperfection, but somehow I expect more of myself.  Struggling to be good enough/perfect, it’s not difficult to understand why I have viewed my body mainly as something to manage, if not control.  I want it to conform to my expectations.  Impossible expectations.

I’d like to be able to let go of perfection and appreciate my body for all the ways it contributes to my wellbeing.  I’d like to thank it for holding up for nearly fifty years, despite my neglect. I’d like to honor the ways my body communicates to me—warnings of danger, feelings of safety, the ways it tries to get my attention, and protect me—even if I don’t listen well, even when I pop ibuprofen and tell it to shut up.  I confess that I have been removed from my body’s messages and its wisdom.  I have not paid attention.  I have not acted with respect.

I’d like to repent and move toward an attitude of gratefulness and thanksgiving.  Without my body, there is no me.  My body is not inconvenient.  My body does not interfere with me carrying out my plans and intentions.  Exactly the opposite.  My body is the only vehicle and conduit my mind and spirit have for self-expression.  It is only through the body that I live.  The body makes me human.  Incarnate.  And like all humans, I am imperfect.  My body is imperfect.  I pray that I can learn to live differently––To accept my body and love it exactly the way it is.  In doing so my physical issues won’t magically disappear, but acceptance seems the next necessary step to continue my journey toward wholeness.  Toward God.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Showered with Blessing

At a baby shower earlier this Spring we played common party games––cutting yarn at absurd lengths we thought matched the mother-to-be’s belly circumference and surrendering diaper pins to the observant who caught us saying the forbidden word baby.  We oohed and aahed at the sweet onesies, snuggly pants and flowered socks the new baby girl would wear and practical necessities—blankets, stroller, bathtub, the new mother received.  At was all very nice, welcome and predictable.  But before the festivities ended, the mother-to-be’s mother, who was one of our hostesses, took the celebration in a different direction.  She asked the guests to gather in a circle surrounding the guest of honor and to offer her a blessing, a prayer for the upcoming birth, and the journey of becoming a family.  

We pulled our chairs around our pregnant friend on the floor and told her how much she meant to us.  Some of us, her mother’s age, told her it had been such a joy to watch her grow up, to celebrate the confident woman she had become—a labor and delivery nurse––and the gifts she was offering to the world.  Her peers laughed at the challenges they’d been through together and how they admired her determination.  One young mother, who left her children at home to attend the shower, told her to make time for herself and her marriage in all the demands that would soon fill her life.  Other mothers with grown children said that although some days with a baby seemed interminable, they looked back fondly on that special time with an infant, and wished her the ability to appreciate motherhood in the sleep-deprived moments.  Some spoke of quiet time nursing their babies in the middle of the night, how precious it was to hold the sweet and holy being entrusted to them, and of how sometimes, especially when there were older siblings, this was the only time they had alone with the new baby.  Many of us cried.  All of us were moved.  How often do we sit in a circle and tell someone what she means to us?  And how often do we reflect on what our lives as friends and mothers have meant to us and speak the truth of our hearts with no other agenda than to bless another?

 This kind of vulnerability and honesty could feel awkward, especially at a party, and being the center of such intense focus could be embarrassing.  The mother-to-be handled all this with such grace, and much of that comes from her mother, a single-mom for many years, with an incredible faith in God and reliance on the Holy Spirit for provision.  This mother had to be strong, and she had to be vulnerable, relying on God and allowing herself to ask for and receive help from those who held her and her children in their hearts.  She knows the power of blessing, and she called upon us to bestow that gift upon her daughter.

In that circle we offered our prayers for a safe labor and delivery.  But our offering and our tender words encompassed each woman in the room, no matter where she was on life’s journey, whether she was a mother or not.  We blessed the mother-to-be and we blessed one another with our honesty and our words of thanksgiving.    It was a moment of prayerful joy.  It was worship.  It was the best kind of party.