The week our husbands graduated from seminary, Amber and I met in our apartment lobby and drove through the May Texas oven to a tattoo and piercing parlor. She and I were part of a group of women who called ourselves “The Sugar Mamas.” Our paychecks were largely deposited into our husbands’ tuition accounts as they prepared for our lives to come.
Those were some of the sweetest years of our lives—ever-studying husbands, subsidized housing, minuscule grocery budgets, and all the rest.
I went first, the needle puncturing my skin as I breathed like I’d learned in a birthing class the prior year. I told Amber the piercing didn’t hurt that badly. She disagreed. I probably should have factored in that, at that point, I’d had a baby and she hadn’t. Pain concepts change a bit when one has carried and delivered an infant, I suppose.
That infant, Owen, was nine months old when I came home with a “sparkly freckle,” as my friend’s daughter called her mom’s nose ring. The tiny stud seemed the perfect memorial stone to the past four years of our life in which Jared had completed a 120-hour master’s degree program, I had worked my way up at a nonprofit organization, and we had become parents.
I loved the sparkly freckle, as did Jared, and, it seemed, Owen too. He communicated his affection by reaching for the stud while nursing, successfully grabbing it a few times and drawing blood. I’d often felt like my insatiable infant wanted more of me than I could give, and his grasping seemed like further evidence. My milk wasn’t enough—he wanted my blood too.
After a month or two, I had to remove the stud. Owen clenched it one too many times, I caught it in my sleep and woke up to a horror movie of a pillowcase, my skin started to scar over the sparkle—it just wasn’t working. I laughed a bit bitterly as I removed it, as countless memories of attempts-and-failures flooded into my mind. The girl who could never do a cartwheel or whistle or get the hang of a curling iron was now a woman who couldn’t handle a nose ring.
It’s been nearly five years since that graduation week. Another baby, Gabriel, joined our family. Gabriel’s body seems to war against him just as mine wars against me. His legs and feet lack muscle tissue for reasons mostly unknown. The part that is known? He has a genetic mutation, and it comes from me.
More days than not, it’s hard for me to believe that my body is a temple. For all the good it has done—bringing two children into the world, and, well, that’s all I can think of—there is a list of pain and difficulty a mile long: cancer, disordered eating, a chemical imbalance causing depression, a mutation that renders my son the wrong kind of one-in-a-million. There’s more, too, stories I’m not ready to tell.
Jared tells me that I am home to our children, that my body is their safe place. I believe him, but only because I know he has no reason to lie. I don’t actually get it.
The truth is that I consider my body to be more of a threat than a blessing, more of a liability than an asset. I am tempted to let my form fade away as much as a possible—a temptation I’ve given into too many times, telling myself at one o’clock that it’s okay I haven’t eaten yet, since there was cream in my coffee. If another person ever said that to me, I’d put my hands on his or her face and say, “That’s a lie.” But, since it’s me, I instead found myself in the doctor’s office last week, listening to her tell me that my BMI is dangerous, that I have to come back in six months having gained weight.
I got my nose re-pierced yesterday. Breath flowed in through my nose and out through my mouth as the needle was forced through my skin. I thought about memorial stones and temples.
That tiny rock of remembrance clings to me now, calling to mind the past month in which God shed a layer of long dead skin from me. Even as his faithfulness persisted, I wondered if feeling like my soul had been pierced was my new normal. And so I needed to feel the pain of the physical piercing, and then arrive at the moment when the pain subsided. I needed one more memory of pain not lasting forever, of it leading to something good.
Maybe if my body contains the memory, my mind will surrender.
Each day, I need to eat five times. I need to tend to my sparkly freckle three times. I need to do yoga one time. This is exorbitantly more body care than I prefer, and that’s exactly why I’m trying all of this at once. My body has had about enough of my mind telling it to go away.
A few of my friends text me occasionally to ask if I’ve eaten enough today. Sometimes I have, and sometimes I run to the pantry and take a few bites before I respond. Sometimes my friends are the only reason I take care of myself at all on days when my kids are at school or with my husband—when the only perceivable reason I need energy is for myself.
Those are the days, and there are far too many of them, when I think of myself as an island, when I believe that if there are no one else’s needs right in front of me to meet, it hurts no one for me to waste away. As if the God who made me flesh and bone doesn’t grieve my carelessness. As if it isn’t true that when one part suffers, all parts suffer.
I hope that I’ll get to keep my sparkly freckle much longer this time. The mirror will reflect the memorial back to me, a reminder that I am not merely a mind or soul, but a body, and that God delights in my flesh.
My yoga teacher said yesterday to let discomfort bring awareness to old patterns and the need for new ones. My arms shook as she spoke those words, as atrophied muscles trembled in the process of rebuilding. The whole of me trembles in the process of rebuilding, I suppose. But as I occasionally enjoy breakfast for the first time in years, or I hold a pose longer than the day before, or I catch a glimpse of the sparkly freckle, a hint of hope glimmers too.
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