Fifty times I traced the heart. Fifty times I cut along the lines. Fifty times I wrote the words, “You are loved.” Sometimes writing, “YOU are loved.” Sometimes, “You ARE loved.” Sometimes, “You are LOVED.” Over and over again I wrote the words like a benediction. Each one a blessing on the one who would receive it. Each time stamping a belief in the truth of the statement on my own heart.
A week ago my sweet husband announced that I had an appointment with my friend Jess to go shopping. With a budget that I had to spend. To buy new clothes. So naturally...I panicked. Seriously. Why wasn’t immediately clear even to me. It’s been a long week. One that brought to the surface questions and realizations that have been a long time coming.
Like the realization that I don’t even know what I like to wear. I somehow missed that phase of life. Perhaps because I married and had kiddos so early in my 20s and was dead broke for the period of time that many women evaluate their likes and dislikes, their no-thank-you’s and must-haves, their favorite places to budget shop and their go-ahead-and-splurge places, etc. I never did that. My closet included mostly stuff that was either handed-down from my fashionista sister or happened to be on the clearance rack at Gap. Which isn’t even my favorite store.
There was also the realization that my closet was almost completely full of items for me to “fit in to.” This is I think what prompted Wanderer to call Jess. He was taking me on a date. A dressy one. Which I was stoked about. Except that I wasn’t. Because I had nothing to wear. He was gently incredulous. I have a full closet. How could it contain nothing for me to wear? He brought me in and I pulled things out. I had cute dressy clothes. A little black dress. A fun funky top and black pants. Except--like nearly every single item in my closet--none of them fit me. “How long have these not fit you, love?” he asked me. “Hmmm...,” I had to think about it. “Since before I got pregnant with Littlest” I answered sheepishly. “Love,” he was ever so kind. “That was FOUR years ago.”
The problems with this were many. Why was I willing to buy clothes for every other member of our family when they outgrew things or wore things out? Why hadn’t I updated things here and there? The biggest question of all though was this: Why was I unwilling to buy things in my current size? My waiting to do so drawing out into multiple YEARS because I could not accept the size that I currently was/am?
Many women, doula clients, and friends have heard my love and genuine enthusiasm as we discussed how birth and years passing and gravity itself change their bodies. How they must learn to enjoy what their bodies become. Feel comfortable in their skin--THIS skin. This right-now skin. Own their loveliness and lovable-ness and see that they have worth beyond measure. See the beauty in the marks the journey leaves on them. Except apparently not MY right-now skin. Not my journey’s marks. Not my loveliness and lovable-ness.
I could believe in the beauty and worth of all the other women in my life. Why couldn’t I love my own body for what it was? A strong, warrior body that had housed, birthed, and breast-fed three, BIG strong baby boys. Boys whose sojourn has left my body soft and marked. Boys who themselves have no problem honoring it.
In fact just in the last few weeks both of my younger boys have made sweet remarks of love for my body and its current shape--not the one I should or will or wish I had. Middlest said recently after asking if he could snuggle me and “lay on my belly” (even though he’s nearly too big to do so) “I love to lay on your belly. You’re so soft.” Littlest stood before Wanderer and I recently when we were watching a movie. His daddy offered to let him sit in his lap. “No, Daddy. I want to sit with Mama because she’s SO soft.” Not my skin. Or the soft T-shirt I was wearing. My body. Snuggled up against the curves and rolls that made my lap so soft and comfy to him. This body. This one. Today.
This is a body I couldn’t bear. I said words to myself like “fat” and “out-of-shape” and “just needs to lose a bit more weight.” So I didn’t buy clothes for this body. I just daily looked at the clothes I wished fit and morning after morning, for the three years since Littlest was born I have reprimanded myself for not fitting into the clothes contained in my closet.
I spent the week thinking and talking and crying about all of this. I shed a lot of tears. Which is good because I haven’t been crying much lately (which is a whole other blog). I cried body-image tears, not-feeling-comfortable-in-my-own-skin tears, lonely-for-my-close-girlfriends-who-are-so-far-away tears. I just cried. I realized lots of stuff. That I’m not kind to myself. That moving across the world so much has been awesome but has really taken its toll on my body and my spirit. That I’ve lost a great deal of “me” along the way and that clothes aren’t the only area where I feel a little lost and a little unsure. I cried for my lost sense of purpose and focus and how hugely that contributes to my being uncomfortable and feeling unsafe in my own skin. I cried for the sorry I felt to other women who I want to love their own bodies and selves so much and to whom my own unwillingness to love my own self is actually a type of betrayal.
Oh man. How could a shopping trip bring up such deep crap and pain?!? After all that crying and talking and praying I hoped I’d have it sorted, you know? That through the tears I’d wake up Tuesday morning and I’d love my body and I’d have had some sort of catharsis and be fine. Except I don’t want to be “fine.” I want to be ever so much more than “fine.”
So I took a leap of faith. I went shopping with Jess on Tuesday anyway. I chose to say, “I love you” to the body I live in right this minute and buy it--and buy ME--some cute right-now clothes. Not clothes for the interim. Not a few things hastily bought until I “lose the rest of this weight.” Clothes. Clothes that fit. Right. Now. Holy cow. It was HARD. Hard to spend money on me. Hard because I wasn’t sure exactly what I liked. Hard because I had to try real hard to love the image in the mirror every time I put on a new item of clothing. Oy vey. When you shop--you have to look in mirrors and SEE what is really there.
Guess what though? It was fun. Jess was super helpful. She took me to fun shops. She helped me pick out clothes in my right-now size. I actually look kind of cute when I wear my right-now size! Jeans that fit look ever so much better than tight I-wish-they-fit jeans or loose I-kept-these-to-wear-after-pregnancy jeans. Shirts that fit! A little fabulous flattering jacket. A pair of everyday flats--as opposed to the duct-taped Birkenstock sandals that I’ve worn nearly every day for about a year.
Then...THEN?!?! Then I wore the clothes! Cause that’s the other thing I suck at. Not wanting to just return them all the second they’re bought. Or leave the tags on just in case miraculously a lose a zillion pounds in five minutes and they end up being too big.
The craziest thing happened you guys. Get this--somehow not being defeated by the first decision of the day--What should I wear?--it has totally helped. Going in and taking something that fits and that I feel cute in out of the closet and wearing it--it has helped me feel more cheerful about my days. I have even put mascara on every day this week to go with my cute clothes! Having that decision sorted has made me more able to live my day in a purposeful way. It has made me a little more confident in myself. A little more able to feel...well, ME. In a good way. In a way that even flowed out to those around me this week.
Like when on Friday I took Jess shopping--to the Farmer’s Market. I’m much more in my element there. I pointed out the good produce. I explained the benefits of sourdough bread on our digestion. I took her to the good free range butcher and delighted as the dairy-lady explained to us how much better the un-homogenized milk is for our guts. I suggested gluten and grain-free, kid-friendly packed lunch ideas. We talked about ways this thing that I am passionate about--healthy eating for our families--is part of my passion and therefore my purpose. It was fantastic. I was paying it forward to Jess who paid it forward to me. I was less distracted. I felt like I was carrying less pain. Not because I bought new jeans--though that was part of it. No, because I’d said, “I love you” to myself for the first time in a long time.
So I suppose when my assignment for our Sunday night church gathering came through on Thursday night I shouldn’t have been surprised. My job was to make 40-50 hearts with the phrase “You are loved” printed on them. Yeah. I know, right?
I also suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when Anne Lamott posted these words as part of her Facebook status on Friday morning (read the whole thing here it’s so good):
I would tell people that no matter how awful their thoughts and behavior, God HAS to love them--that's His job. And I am Exhibit A--God has to love me, and this is not my fault. I didn't trick Him or Her, or hide the grossest stuff. God just loves; period. Go figure. It's a great system.
She says in that status that we are loved and chosen. I am loved and chosen. Me. And this is the thing--I believed her. Not a lot. But I did believe her a little. For the first time in a long time. Maybe for the first time ever.
This morning I got out watercolor paper and paints and painted--something I have in the past done only in moments of self love and self exploration and something that I haven’t done at all for over three and half years. I painted. I painted color. I painted hearts. Then when I really got going I even painted words. Words like, “lovely” and “beautiful” and “chosen” and “worthy.” Then I traced 50 hearts on the painted paper. I cut around the hearts fifty times. I borrowed pens bought by my sweet friend Alex--realizing as I wrote that she is also a friend who reflects back to me that I am loved and valued. Fifty times I wrote, “You are loved.” Fifty times I prayed those words as a benediction over the person who would receive the card on Sunday evening. Hoping that when the person picked up that heart and read those words they would believe what the words said. Fifty times over realizing that I couldn’t very well pray that, believe that, for someone else and not believe it for myself. Fifty times in a row. Over and over for a couple of hours I painted, traced, cut out, wrote, read, and chose to believe the words, “You are loved.”
“Hey Cori, YOU are loved. You ARE loved. You are LOVED.”
And so are YOU. For reals.