First Step on a New Journey

I read the other day that, in the age of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, social media venues that have launched a whole new “selfie” industry, our society is breeding more and more narcissists.  Wikipedia, that font of all knowledge, tells the story of a young man named Narcissus:

800px-Narcissus-Caravaggio_(1594-96)_edited

“In Greek mythology, Narcissus (/nɑːrˈsɪsəs/; Greek: ΝάρκισσοςNárkissos) was a hunter from Thespiae in Boeotia who was known for his beauty. He was the son of the river god Cephissus and nymph Liriope.  He was proud, in that he disdained those who loved him. Nemesis noticed this behavior and attracted Narcissus to a pool, where he saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus lost his will to live. He stared at his reflection until he died. Narcissus is the origin of the term narcissism, a fixation with oneself and one’s physical appearance and/or public perception” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissus_(mythology)).

Having been a social worker, clinical and otherwise, I can professionally attest that to be diagnosed a narcissist takes a lot – and I mean a lot – more than being obsessed with one’s physical appearance and/or public perception.  When I left social work, I gave away my DSM (diagnostic manual), so I won’t go any further than that.  But I will say that, as so many others, I do get tired of seeing selfies…

…unless they’re mine.  Oh, I have become a selfie queen.  When I started losing weight 2 years ago, I discovered that I’m kind of cute!  And I really liked seeing my new, thinner self on screen.  Since then, I have mastered the art of manipulating light and angle and facial position to successfully camoflage jowls, multiple chins, and wrinkles.  The power of retouching is harnessed in a cell phone and is mine for the clicking!

My selfies are GORGEOUS…and they hide so much:

  • days when makeup is too much work to deal with
  • moments when my dazzling smile is overwhelmed by stress and tears
  • 30 pounds of weight gain

Yes, I have gained 30 pounds since last September.  That’s roughly three pounds a month, and it’s a whole lot easier to put on than to take off.

This ticks me off, because it had been coming off so easily.  Already being gluten- and caffeine-free, it seemed I could eat anything as long as I hit my bike and kept up with my walking and yoga.

There’s a big difference between 45 and 47, however; we won’t talk about the hormonal shifts that have commenced in just the last few months.  We can talk about being middle-aged and in grad school again, the hours my backside has been stuck to a chair instead of on my bike, the stress of a new position that brought it’s own cortisol-inducing situations, and my growing addiction to SUGAR.

Well.  At least it wasn’t 50.

And, my Heavenly Father, with His inimitable tender mercy, crossed my path with another woman whose midlife looked an awful lot like mine.  As had her waist.  She shared with me what she’d been doing to shed her own midlife baggage, and inspired me to do the same.

My life is, for the most part, an open book, so I’m going to post my Day 1 photos and, every now and again, I’ll share how my journey to optimal health is going.  Unlike my myriad of adorable selfies, these photos are raw and uncensored: nothing hidden, nothing retouched – just an honest reflection of the state of this temple, which is now undergoing some serious remodeling and long overdue maintenance.

Here we go – front view:

Front_1_072017
Starting weight: 245.5 pounds.  Still 55 pounds less than my heaviest about 10 years ago, but I certainly don’t want to get any closer to that!

Aaaaaand side view (just breathe!):

Side_1_072017
Starting measurements: waist 40″; hips 52″; bust 44″; neck 16″; calf 18″; thigh 28″; upper arm 16.5″.  Note the jowls and double chin.  They’ll soon be GONE!

I’m 47 years old.  I started my first diet when I was four.  I remember the nurse who told my mother to only let me have one piece of toast, rather than two.  That was the start of my battle against my body.

The body that God Himself crafted for me, I tried to destroy – fad diets, bulimia, overexercise – I tried it all.  And the one time I seemed to be losing weight effortlessly and naturally – two years ago – turned out to be a trauma response.  Life isn’t traumatic anymore, so it came right back.

But something has changed in the last two years, the two years I’ve been nestling into the God who loves me and calls me “daughter”:  I’ve come to truly love myself.

Which is why I can post my fat pictures.  Because even though this temple in which I reside is very unhealthy right now, it is still beautiful because it houses a princess.  It has carried me, sheltered me, protected me [I also won’t go into how fat can be quite the protective mechanism].  It has walked and biked and danced and sang.  It is worthy of my respect and my love.  Not in a narcissistic, obsessive way, but in a let’s-give-you-what-you-need-to-thrive sort of way.  It’s time I gave it that respect, that love in return.

If I hadn’t seen my friend’s Facebook post a few weeks ago, about her own amazing journey to health, I would still be stuck.  As it is, I have taken my first step on my own amazing journey, surrounded by encouraging and inspiring people who walk with me.

What a tender mercy!

 

 

I Wait For You

 “Oh, that I might have my request, and that God would grant me the thing that I long for.”                                                                                                                                     –Job 6:8

I used to write a lot of poetry.  Back when I was young, and single, and unfettered by daily cares, my prayers often took the form of verse. Some were even fitted to music.

I don’t often feel the poetic muse anymore.

But today, as I read Job, and considered how God has worked in my life over the last few years, the muse struck.  It struck rather hard.  Portland has some lovely, secluded spots just asking for deep contemplation and prayer…

bridge over stream

I wait for You, so quietly,

Amid the babbling brooks and rustling trees.

The air is still, the sun is calm,

And in this place I know You’ll come

And offer balm that heals my weary soul

And speak the words that mend and make my spirit whole…

I wait for You and know that soon

My wait will end and You will meet with me again.

lcedu

I wait for You, and in my heart

Your precious words of love, they do their part

To calm the storms of life outside,

To reassure that I will ever be Thy bride;

And even though I know not when You’ll come

And greet me as Your friend…

I wait for You and know that soon

My wait will end and You will meet with me again.

hoyt arboretum

Oh, there are times the wait is hard,

And I feel ready just to leave it be,

But then Your Voice, so calm and clear calls

“My Beloved, come and sit and sup with Me.”

japanese-garden

I wait for You, and as I wait,

I sing the song that Love has given me,

Redeeming Love has changed my heart,

And placed Thy holy image within me.

So if the wait should seem too long,

I will go back and sing that lovely song…

I wait for You and know that soon

My wait will end and You will meet with me again.

 

 

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far…

In my few moments of free time, I’ve invested quite a bit of money and effort in researching my family tree (you can read more about that in my last blog post).

I got my saliva analyzed…

spit sample
Took five minutes to fill that vial…spit, spit, spit, spit…

…and spent hours reconstructing what is now several hundred years of ancestors, thanks to the good folks at Ancestry.com.

family tree
Just a bare snippet of the family tree I’m uncovering…

I have so enjoyed reading different stories that different distant relatives have put in the files of shared ancestors, watching how the different branches of this tree migrated from various countries to the United States and then across this country, and really just discovering how I came to be.

But my favorite part?

Pictures.  Pictures that show the miracle that we call genetics.

This is my paternal grandmother, Bubby Hannah…

bubby hannah

…and this is her mother, Bubby Pauline (yes, I’m Jewish).

bubby pauline

And here’s me:

Me (2)

Perky nose, high cheekbones, Cupid’s Bow lips, widow’s peak and pointed jawline…it’s all there.  I am their spit and image.  But it’s not just physical; my Aunt Diane, Dad’s younger sister, frequently tells me that I remind her of her mother not just in appearance, but in personality and life.  She was a violinist who worked with at-risk youth at the Jewish youth center in the Bronx.  I’m a pianist and choir teacher who has been a social worker and teacher most of her life, working with at-risk youth in multiple communities.

Not only am I the offspring and image of my forbears, but my very life creates an image of them and recalls their memory for others.  It really is quite fascinating.  This apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree…

apple tree

…and this apple easily identifies the tree from which it fell.

When I was put on the calendar to preach today, I turned to the assigned Scripture lessons and read the following:

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.  For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor[a] he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live,  so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.  For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,

‘For we too are his offspring.’

Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.  While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”                                                        (Acts 17:22-31, NRSV)

And what caught my eye?  We too are his offspring.

What does that mean, to be God’s offspring?  To understand that, we have to go to ancient Athens, where Paul spoke these amazing words.

acropolis-of-athens-mars-hill-Greece.jpeg
The Aereopagus, also known as “Mars Hill”, site of Paul’s most famous, brilliant sermon.

Ancient Athens was, much like our own society today, a polyglot of religious and cultural diversity.  Ancient Greeks were generally polytheistic, believing in a variety of gods and goddesses.  Their observances were similar to ours:

  • They met for corporate worship on designated days;
  • They expressed gratitude for blessings;
  • They asked for blessings;
  • They gave gifts to their sanctuary.

But there was one great difference.  Christians understand God to be the ultimate source of love.  We rely on His love to drive the relationship we have with Him.

The ancient Greeks, however, understood the deities differently.

Greek pantheon
The Greek pantheon – assortment – of gods…some of them…

In Greek mythology, the gods didn’t love humans.  They were fickle, subject to the same emotions and responses and poor judgment that we, as mortals, experience every day.  So, rather than worship being a loving response to a loving Heavenly Father, worship for them was a way to curry favor and avoid offense.  And Paul acknowledges that.  In the King James Version, he calls them “too superstitious”:

Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To The Unknown God.

In the Greek mind, that altar was necessary to avoid angering a god they may have missed.  And Paul uses that paradigm, that superstition, to introduce them to the truth.  He even goes so far to use their own poet/philosopher, Aratus, to address their practice of idolatry:

Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken.  

For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus.

Even the sea and the harbour are full of this deity.

Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus.

For we are indeed his offspring.

(Phaenomena 1-5)

Amazing…if we substitute “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “the LORD” for “Zeus”? It might sound a lot like something King David might have written…

So, if we come from God – if indeed we are His offspring – then how can anything we make ourselves be God?  Their idols of gold and silver and stone were just that – idols – with no life or power or love.

We know, from our reading of Genesis, that we indeed are formed in the very shape and likeness and image of God, and as such, we are capable, even now, of very God-like things.  We have the capacity for doing great good in the world, for being creative and innovative and loving and merciful.  We look so much like our Father, we are destined to be like Him.  Jesus Christ, who was the spit and image of the Father, even said,

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.  (John 14:12, NRSV)

We are God’s offspring, meant to look and act and love and give and be like Him.

It’s awesome.

But unfortunately, it’s far too rare.

In the culture of religious and philosophical diversity that we call home, how often do onlookers watch us and have created for them an image of that “unknown God” that is absolutely counter to the truth of who God is?  How many people look at those who have been baptized into Christ’s body and see:

  • Cruelty
  • Bigotry
  • Judgment
  • Double standards
  • Hypocrisy
  • Hatred
  • Anger
  • Divisiveness
  • Add your own here…

Because, although we can’t create God, just as we are created in His image, we create an image of Him for others.  What they see in us, they believe God to be – and that belief could be the fulcrum, the essential factor, in their choice to follow, or not to follow, to reject or to accept, the Gospel.

Our great example is the Savior, Jesus Christ.  He was the image of God for us.  And as we emulate His life, we can be the true image of God for others.

So, are we, as baptized followers of Jesus Christ, as those who have dared to take on His name, His identity, and His mission, living lives that show the true identity of the “Unknown God”?  Or are we confusing the issue?

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

My prayer is that this apple will lead people to the Tree of Life.