Dear Body

Dear Body,

You’re perfect, and I love you.

This apology is long over due. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to say; I’m even more sorry that it’s taken me so long to realize.

We’ve been through it all together, haven’t we? For the past few years, our relationship has been tenuous. Strained. Most of that is my fault, I know that. You stuck with me through thick and thin, quite literally. And I’ve felt stuck with you.

I’ve been an awful friend. The truth of it is, I wasn’t very kind for awhile. Not just unkind, mean. Spiteful. Hateful. I hated you for a long time, because you weren’t what I thought you should be. I placed expectations on you that couldn’t be met. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry that I abused you. I’m sorry that I listened to lies about you, even more sorry that most of the lies came from someone that should have defended you: me.

I’m sorry that every time you tried to speak to me, I drowned you out. Yelled at you. Hated you more, for trying to defend yourself and heal our relationship. I didn’t want to like you, because if I liked you, then I couldn’t mistreat you. If I listened to you, I’d have to treat you well.

I’m sorry that I didn’t respect you. I’m sorry that I didn’t love you, appreciate you, listen to you. I am so deeply sorry. 

And in spite of it all, you stayed with me. Certainly, you fought for yourself. You quietly, then loudly, protested. You tried so hard to do what I wanted, you never failed me. Even when I hadn’t fed you, loved you, cared for you, you still were there. You let me walk outside, garden, cook. Instead of leaving me, you waited. Waited for me to be healed, so I could love you as I ought.

You knew all along, didn’t you? You knew that I was broken and hurting, and that I took that brokenness out on you. You were patient with me when I was not patient with you. You gave me grace, loving me, waiting for when I’d love you in return.

And then, when I began to heal, I’m sorry that I didn’t extend the same grace to you. I expected you to get all better, right away, after two years of damage. And when you didn’t, I was frustrated. I didn’t realize that our relationship would take time to heal. I’m sorry.

I want you to know that I love you. I really do. I accept you, as you are. Not in spite of your lumps, your bumps, your blemishes. I love you. All of you, because you are a part of me. You deserve love.

And now, I promise to listen. I promise to respect you, to honor you, to hold you and love you. I promise that no matter how you change, I will be the first person to accept you. I will continue to make it a habit to extend grace.

I’m excited for the future. For what we’ll do together, what we’ll experience with unity and joy instead of anger and division.

Love,

Michaela

What does your letter look like?

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Sweet Friendship: Receiving Notes of Gratitude

So, my last post I talked about how I was planning on writing thank you notes to people who have been significant to my life and may not realize it. Mostly, teachers came to mind, and I’ve written several of my letters (but haven’t postmarked them yet.)

The day after I decided to focus on gratitude in the form of handwritten letters, I received this from a very dear friend:

We’ve only gotten close this semester, but there is a kindred spirit within her. She is beautiful, wise, affirming. She is the first friend I seek out when I am fighting past demons, and her words always bring me inner calm and help me wage the storms. I will be writing about her wisdom in a later post. Receiving a letter helped affirm the project I am doing this week: her words were touching, and I will treasure them. Knowing the joy I felt reading her card, I’m excited to send my letters to other people.

She wrote, “I chose this stationary for you because birds represent to me freedom, grace, and beauty, and  believe you have an can achieve these things. You have beauty, grace, and strength, and through Christ and love you can achieve freedom.” 

Since I just moved from my dorm to the Vista House, I was packing up several cards and letters I’ve received this year. Here are some of my favorites that will hopefully encourage you to write those you love and those who have impacted you, and brighten their days!

This one is from Archana, the beautiful young woman I sponsor through Compassion International. She’s actually about a week and a half older than I am!

This comes from my mother and is a thank you note for her birthday gift. The inside says: God is able to make all grace abound in you, from II Corinthians 9:8.

  My sister Megan has a gift. I’ve probably received more letters and cards from her than from anyone else–she is so thoughtful and affirming. Included with this card was some wonderful Toms toothpaste with propolis. I used to guest blog for her business, and did a focus on bees.

Here is another one of her postcards. So beautiful!

 This is from the girl I nannied for my last two years of high school. She is so sweet and mature, and this letter MADE MY WEEK! 

What is your favorite letter you’ve received this year? 

Do you have plans to write anyone this week?

Dare to (Not Compare) Check in Day 6

Good Morning! Happy Sunday!

I am so grateful that this is how I started off Pit Stop Mondays–I think it has definitely set the tone for the rest of the challenges. Now, one week after intentionally not comparing myself to others, I can see that it has definitely made an impact. Since I’m not constantly looking to others to see how I measure up, I’m better able to assess my own abilities and appreciate myself.

Because of this week, I’ve noticed a few patterns that were probably very apparent but that I hadn’t connected before. First, comparison–> a more negative body image, whereas refusing to compare–>more appreciation of my body. When I appreciate my body, I treat it better and listen to its needs–whether it needs food, rest, exercise, etc. I’ve also noticed this week that there has been a drastic decrease in my temptation to binge. Because I’ve been encouraging rather than disparaging myself, I’ve been happier and have had a more realistic (and optimistic) view of myself, and I think that is what has lessened the impact of what has historically been triggering.

One of my close friends with who I have dialogued constructively about these issues shared a parenting practice a mother she knows uses. When her daughter was a baby and toddler, every time she bathed her she would say “beautiful, beautiful, beautiful” as she moved the washcloth over her body. Now that the little girl is starting to bathe herself, she too echoes that she is “beautiful, beautiful, beautiful” as she washes herself. What would happen if we adopted this practice–affirming every part of ourselves as beautiful, beautiful, beautiful?

Another realization: in my quest to avoid comparison, I’ve been focusing primarily on bodies. After going on a run with a guy friend of mine and getting discouraged that he was seemingly fitter than me (after months of only sporadic exercise and running because of an  injury, whereas I’ve been exercising consistently), I realized that I also can’t compare myself to others in terms of performance. I can do my best and no one else’s.

This is a pit stop Monday week practice that I’m going to continue. Many of the others will last only a week, but I’m keeping this around for the long haul.

Have a great week! See you tomorrow for Pit Stop Monday, Week 2!

Have you noticed a subsequent increase in happiness because of a decrease in comparisons? 
What is one challenge you could practice for a week to increase your overall health?  

 

Dare to (Not) Compare: Check in Day Three

Well, this was interesting. I had anticipated not having a lot to say as I checked in, something along the lines of “well, I consciously didn’t compare yesterday and that was interesting . . . ”

Imagine my surprise yesterday when I was shown about a dozen images of very thin, idealized, media-saturated bodies in class and told to compare my own body to them, then rate my satisfaction with my own body. Interesting how I choose a week to consciously make an effort to appreciate myself without reference to other women, and I’m instructed to do that in a classroom setting.

Now, before we all go up in arms (as I surely would if I didn’t have the background), let me contextualize this. A faculty member in our psychology department came to my wellness class to talk about eating disorders–their classifications, risk factors, treatment, and preventative measures. To illustrate a research study done, she asked us to rate our bodies on a scale from one to ten and write it down. Then, we were shown a series of thin, idealized celebrity and model bodies and instructed to re-rate our satisfaction with our own bodies.

Because I simply looked at the images and tried my hardest to not comply with the instructions, my own “satisfaction” rating stayed constant (I did not write it down, but kept it mentally. The request to write it down made me uncomfortable).

It was a hard one for me to sit through as many of the harmful practices I have indulged in were described. Some of the images shown in the presentation could have been very triggering for someone who is just starring out in their pilgrimage to healing. While I think that there does need to be much more talk, dialogue, and education about these issues I’m not sure in what way. They need to be taken from shameful, stigmatized, dark places and brought to light: but in what setting, and how? I was very uncomfortable with the study re-enactment, but I wonder if I would have been as aware if the plan to not compare wasn’t my focus this week.

After three days of consciously avoiding comparison, I have noticed . . . a quietness. There is a stillness in my mind where there was an almost incessant, disparaging voice.

Have you noticed a change in the inner monologue? 
Have you experienced any educational measures about eating disorders? What did you think?  

Vegan Banana Muffins + The Comparison Trap

Hello all!

A few days ago a friend invited me to have dinner with her and bake banana bread…I have such wonderful friends! God has blessed me with some very wise and wonderful women in my life, and these two ladies that I ate with and baked with are definitely in that category.

We started talking about the problem of labeling and choosing to follow a vegan diet. One of the other girls is also a vegan, and one is vegetarian. These past two weeks I have really been struggling with my vegan lifestyle, which is another topic for another time. This conversation came around to the inner battle we face with comparison. I know I constantly compare myself   to other women, wondering why my thighs aren’t as thin and toned, why I’m not as petite or dainty, why my hair isn’t as shiny and healthy, why my skin isn’t as clear and smooth . . . I could continue, on and on, which is really sad. I am perfectly unique and perfectly created, with a healthy and strong body that can do just about anything I ask of it.

God really works creatively. Before this conversation, I had spent a few hours on my computer looking up blog posts about body image and how to achieve a healthy one. I found this list, and one thing that continues to resonate with me is this quote: I choose to stop comparing myself to other women, including the woman I was in the past. That for me is huge. Obviously I have gained weight since I stopped restricting and over-exercising, which is a healthy change. Sometimes, it is hard for me to see that–I look at pictures of myself when I was smaller, and look at my bit of extra cushion now and feel wistful. But this is the other important thing about that quote: I have to make a choice to stop comparing myself. It won’t just happen that one day I stop comparing myself, it is a choice. Now, every time I’m tempted to compare myself, I use that as a reminder to redirect and repeat to myself that I am beautiful. I’m going to keep saying it until I believe it.

When I was really in the midst of my eating disorder, I had pushed away God completely. I knew that if I let God in, I wouldn’t be able to treat myself the way I was. If our “ideal body” is unhealthy and we still try to attain that, our emotional, mental, and spiritual selves will suffer. One of us asked, “do I want a relationship with God, or do I want thin thighs?”  If you spiritually identify differently, the question could be posed “do I want to respect myself and live abundantly, or do I want thin thighs?” When put like that, the choice seems really simple, but it’s still hard. It’s still a daily, an hourly, choice.

Today, I choose to believe the truth! And on to the muffins, modified from this recipe. Not too sweet and completely tasty, with completely safe, lickable batter:

Banana Muffins

4 Mashed bananas
1/3 cup truvia (or other stevia granules)
1/2 cup agave nectar
1/8 tsp sea salt
1 flaxseed/chia egg (1 tsp ground flaxseed, 2 tsp chia seeds+2 tablespoons water)
1/4 cup earth balance (or other vegan butter)
1/4 cup apple sauce (you can try all applesauce in place of the vegan butter, or vice versa)
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

1. Make “egg” by mixing water and seeds. You want to do this first so it has time to get a little gelatinous!
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. Mix together mashed bananas+sweeteners.
4. In separate bowl, mix together dry ingredients.
5. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients + mix.
6. Melt earth balance, add applesauce and vanilla+ stir into mixture.
7. Pour into muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes.


Beloved Aunties, Beautiful Pizza: Self-Love

Last week, as you all know, was my spring break. Woop! On the way back to Greenville from Florida we stopped to spend the night at one of my friend’s parents home in Georgia. After a delicious meal of make your own pizzas (yum!) we all stayed up late talking to the momma putting us up for the night.

Throwing the pizza, Italian style...with a lot of flour!

This thing was a beauty, and I ate it ALL! In stages...it didn't all fit at one go! Part pesto, part tapenade, part sauce for the base...filled with every veggie in the house! YUMM!

In the heart of the home, we covered the gamut of topics–the non-dating atmosphere of our school, problems with education in our country, body image. Which prompted a discussion of what we liked best about our own bodies. It was interesting–as my friends talked of what they liked best, and what they didn’t, I thought about my own body. I’ve spent so much time degrading it and treating it as an enemy, rather than a friend. Body, I’m sorry. I promise to love you better and treat you kinder.

Our favorite attributes ranged–I like my cheekbones, jaw, and lower back best. One friend likes her feet best, another her nose, one likes “the composite” of all her parts. And while my friends listed numerous parts, the house momma encouraged us to continue: “Who here likes her ankles? What about calves?” And I continued contemplating the parts of my body. My feet are odd–large, with tiny round toes. But they are unique, and I can’t imagine another set completing my legs. I was so happy to find that I kept mentally stumbling over little bits of me that I find beautiful, or quirky, or that I can simply affirm that “I like that.”

While there’s a thin delineation between self-confident appreciation and narcissism, I find that many women don’t even toe the line. We focus on what we hate about ourselves rather than what we love, and speak so spitefully and hurtfully to the image we see in the mirror, I’m surprised our bodies don’t up and leave us or rebel. I wouldn’t stay with someone who was viciously hurtful to me. Come to think of it, I think many of our bodies are rebelling from a lack of love, appreciation, and good care. We think and say things about ourselves we wouldn’t dare speak to a friend–how can we treat ourselves so lowly?

Without self-love, “love your neighbor as yourself” isn’t really all that appealing to those around us. After all, who wants to be told they are ugly, useless, lazy, or fat and then abused or deprived as a result? If that’s the way you’re going to love me, Neighbor, you can take your love elsewhere.

What are your favorite attributes? 

*The Aunties: Anne Lamott, in Traveling Mercies, (I recommend it!) says she decided to treat her thighs as elderly aunties, because then she could less easily be unkind or ungracious to them.

On being human

Sitting in the airport, waiting for my flight and sticking my entire hand into my coffee cup to get the foam from my soy latte, I’m experiencing some pretty judgmental stares from my fellow travelers. Seriously, how do you get out your foam, people? For real. I’m not going to leave the perfectly good, delicious foamy remnant of my coffee drink that I drank much too quickly. This way, I can pretend that I savored it slowly–still enjoying it fifteen minutes later!

Anywhoooo, I have to say this one is a bit difficult. That openness, honesty thing? Difficult. Sometimes, I like to pretend that I’m not human, because to be human is to be imperfect. When I was in high school I did a really good job of pretending to be perfect: I made the best grades, took the hardest classes, had a part time job, modeled on the side, was a student athlete and the president of every club. On the outside, I was golden–envied by my peers and lauded by my teachers. I convinced everyone, and on good days could even trick myself.

But I’m not perfect. To pretend to be is disingenuous, to try to be is perilous. This blog is about health, yet I am not removed from my struggles to be healthy. In this way, in being real and open and honest, I hope others can be encouraged. It’s ok to drop the facade, and in fact impossible to heal and grow when we’re clinging desperately to a false image of ourselves. I still struggle with food, with body image, with compulsive eating. One bad choice can lead to another and another, spiraling me into darkness. On the other hand, one good choice can break me from my weakening chains and lead to several weeks of freedom.

To be human is to be imperfect. I am learning to be healed, to embrace healing. Sometimes it is scary, and it is always hard. The other night I ended my journal entry with “I am still struggling,” and then realized that to struggle is to fight. Because I struggle, I have not given up, and I will not. I’ve entitled this a pilgrimage, and that is exactly what it is: a journey with hardships, joys, struggles, and happiness along the way. It is discouraging to fail. It is hard to pick myself up, to wage war against the chemicals in my body and the lies of the deceiver. It isn’t a question of willpower, which I think many people don’t realize. It is bigger than willpower, the forces waging are not simple and easily controlled.

My pilgrimage continues.

How do you stop a bad choice from becoming a series of bad choices? What good choices lead to good days for you?