A Series of Opinions, Part 2

I’m going to get very personal and real. Real with myself, sharing personal thoughts and feelings with you. I’m not happy with how I look and I have a lot of self-image problems. I’m sure that puts me in the majority of most Americans, women or men. It’s rare to find someone who is completely happy with his/her physical appearance or body. I have a lot of opinions about this issue, but let me give my little history first.

I can’t pinpoint an exact moment when I became aware of my flaws but I can definitely remember moments in middle school with my weight being identified by friends. Yes, in a joking manner, something was said to equate me to a whale, and while it may have just been a snarky middle school joke at the time, it obviously stayed with me. My eyes continued to be open to my flaws throughout high school and while I had gone through some physical maturing and slimming down, I was still insecure. I compared myself to my thinner, more athletic friends and never felt I measured up. I lost weight for proms so I could be really thin, and now that I remember back to what I’d weighed before even losing more weight, I scoff at what I thought was “fat” at the time.

Then came college and all the comfort food I could want. Weight gain and more weight gain. I was back to actually being obese, like I’d been in middle school, and then the loaded questions started coming from people in my life: “Your pants are getting a little tight, aren’t they?” or “How’s your exercising going?” And then the psychological connections between emotions and food became even stronger. I ate because I was stressed, upset, anxious, and lots of times just wanted something to help me feel better. I ended college 30 pounds heavier than when I started.

Marriage and jobs came next, and I tried to level my new adulthood with feeling so insecure. I lost weight a couple of times with exercise and better eating habits, but it always came back because I’d cycle through stress and eat to feel better.

Then came pregnancy. Let’s not go into detail about the comments I received about my appearance while pregnant. People who know me and strangers alike felt it was a free-for-all to comment on my size, roundness, swelling, etc… Thank goodness for the few who told me I was beautiful, glowing, and radiant. After having Ella Grace, I dropped my pregnancy weight and then some more with nursing and feeling too busy or discombobulated to eat. However, my body was totally different: scarred, stretch marked, soft and loose, and dimply. Add in the postpartum depression I’ve written about before and the self image was pretty negative. After nursing stopped, my weight climbed again and then I was moved to a new job that requires me to sit in a room full of computers all day with little to no moving around like in my previous job. That puts me to the present day in which I’m at my heaviest weight without having a pregnancy to blame. I’ve said since the beginning of the year that I’m going to lose weight, get healthier, be a better person, yadda yadda…and it hasn’t happened yet. I won’t bother with giving excuses. I know I get in my own way.

So with my little history given, I’d like to think I’m special or different for feeling this way, but I can GUARANTEE that there are countless other people who have stories similar to mine and who feel just as discontent with their bodies. But here’s the opinion part. WHY does it have to be that as a society, we’re always discontent with ourselves? And aside from the obvious answers of Hollywood and media, who else is responsible for making us feel inadequate? At what point in history did it become a societal issue to focus on a person’s weight, body shape, appearance, and level of beauty?

Frankly, it makes me very angry and frustrated that I even deal with this stuff! When I’m in a period of focusing on my body, how my clothes feel, or how to conceal my body inside of my clothes, I’m also fully aware that I don’t have to think or feel the way I do. But I can’t stop it. And even when I try to focus on the concept of just being happy with myself or my life, it never seems to work. I also try to think about my health, but I’m so darn brainwashed that my appearance is more at the forefront of my thoughts than overall well-being. And that’s insane! It’s ridiculous that I am this way in a society so focused on shallow and material matters. And even worse – I live in a region where food is so glorified and frankly, it is glorious and yummy! When the two worlds of importance concerning appearance and food meet, people like me who want both get stuck in the middle.

Another thing that ticks me off: I’m totally 100% mindful of my state of mind and my food choices. It’s not like I mindlessly eat. I am so conditioned to care about what I look like to other people that I literally have split-second thoughts about everything I eat. I get irritated by obese people on reality shows who comment that they “don’t know how” their weight got so large or they just eat without thinking. It doesn’t work that way for me; I’m aware of it ALL THE TIME. And even further, if I was focused on being happy and just living the life I want, I’d eat what I wanted and just not care! No, I’m not talking about gluttony or excess every single day or for every single meal. But it’d be nice to enjoy a full meal in a restaurant and not think about how gross I look to other people as I’m stuffing my face.

So where does that leave me? Or you? Honestly, I’m still lost and unsure that I’ll ever be comfortable or content with my appearance or body. I do my best to be inspired by quotes from people who talk about loving your body and accepting its flaws, but one look at my stretch marked stomach or my dimpled thighs deflates any quick inhalation of confidence. I will, however, continue to fight the battle of not totally falling into a pit of despair and letting myself become obsessed…with either food or my body. I don’t pen myself up into a dark room and refuse to participate in society; I’m not chronically depressed; but I think I will always have a desire to be different and/or better. I do want to be happy and healthy, and while I’d like to think that being a certain size or weight would equate to the happiness part, it probably won’t. Instead, I’ll try to find a balance between living a normal life, without outrageous dieting that’s not sustainable, and work to develop and project the confidence I have about myself in other aspects. I’ll focus on the fact that my intelligence should be important, my contributions to the betterment of future generations should be merited, and that my humor has caused others to smile and be lifted into a better mood. I have to remind myself of my own worth constantly because society isn’t programmed to do it for me.

And further, I will make it a large part of my mothering journey to instill in Ella Grace that she will always be beautiful and worthy, no matter her size, appearance, shape, or weight. I will do my best to personally work against what society and the media will try to teach her, and even if I’m not a perfect example of confidence in my own life, I will not degrade myself in front of her or allow others to make sideways remarks to negatively influence her self-image. When I compliment her, I will compliment her true person, beauty, and achievements. Telling a girl her outfit is cute isn’t a compliment to the girl. I want my daughter to have all the happiness in the world, and I’ll do everything for her confidence that I haven’t been able to do for my own.

  

A Series of Opinions, Part 1

I’m often faced with beliefs and comments from surrounding citizens concerning a variety of social or personal issues. Most of the time, I don’t engage in direct conversation with folks about these issues because my beliefs and views differ greatly from theirs, and the ensuing argument only succeeds in riling up both parties without changing the mind of either side. Talking to or trying to have a discussion with some about certain social issues is like trying to dig a hole in quick sand – it’s futile. However, with that much said, you probably know where I’m going to go with this. I want to go ahead and put my thoughts out there, and if it initiates a discussion with any reader, I welcome that. But be aware that my beliefs and attitudes will not be deterred. I will likely write a series of posts concerning various social issues, and today I’ll start with just one matter.

I suppose the greatest social issue in our country today is equal rights for the gay community. In the South, I find there is a strong connection between political ideology and religious belief. In respect to legal rights for homosexuals, individuals balk based on their religion. It floors me that the legal and constitutional rights of a group of citizens are denied because of what another group of citizens believes on a religious level. It’s not about fact, what is proven, or what is even historically set out in a governing document; it’s all about what people just “feel.” Here is where I differ from many people around me. I do not think that something political or lawful should be decided based on religion. No, I’m not atheist, agnostic, or even the anti-Christ, but to a lot of individuals in my geographical area, saying that religion and government shouldn’t mix is like sacrilege. I seem to be in the minority by thinking that discriminating against a group of people in the name of religious belief is unacceptable. Giving equal rights to homosexuals is something that falls under a governmental and legal domain, not religious.

It’s all very reminiscent of the civil rights battles fought throughout American history by the black community, and it’s absurd for a young generation to think that something so humiliating and limiting happened for so long in this country. How could a country discriminate and marginalize a group of individuals simply because of what was believed about them?  Notice I worded that question in the past tense, as something that occurred before but infers it’s no longer an issue. I don’t believe that’s true and the question should be posed in the present tense. How can this country, right now, marginalize a group of individuals based on personal opinion and belief? The laws set down by the Constitution should be upheld as a NATION and not left to individual states to decide. If the Constitution isn’t going to be honored as the governing document for the whole country, then it might as well be completely disregarded and replaced. The fact that states are left to individually decide if people should be allowed to get married, or to even define what a marriage is or is not, is ludicrous because some states will continue to be held by discriminatory practices. What if President Lincoln had left the issue of slavery to the individual states’ decisions? Where would slavery still be present? Which states? And what if President Johnson had allowed states to decide if they wanted to adopt the Civil Rights Act in 1964? Where would blacks still be segregated? What if the Supreme Court had let states decide on if they wanted different races to be allowed to marry instead of passing their 1967 decision to allow interracial marriage countrywide? In which states would interracial marriage still be prohibited today? I can say that if it was still prohibited in my state (and if it had been left to the state’s decision in 1967, I strongly suspect it would still be prohibited in 2014), I have numerous friends who would not be married to their spouses nor have the beautiful children they have.

Now bring it back to the issue of religion. I believe that states are influenced by their religious undertones, and as a result, legal rights are not granted by those states. As a result, an issue like gay marriage is not given its due course by the federal government, which is a travesty to the progression of this country.

Let’s talk about the religious group with which I’m most familiar: Christians. Yes, I am a Christian and if further definition or labeling is needed, I’d suppose I’m more of a liberal and open-minded believer of Christ. I use the Bible as a guide for my life, my faith, and my spirituality, but I do not use it to condemn or legally limit a group of people because I don’t believe the Bible is the founding document for government in this country. I put a severe line between religious decisions and legal decisions. They shouldn’t mix. My religious beliefs will not interfere with my ability to recognize that a faction of American citizens should not be denied the same equal and human rights as other American citizens. I can be and am a Christian who supports legal same-sex marriage in this country and that it should be nationwide, because I know the purpose of the Constitution as it continues to serve as a governing document. As the Constitution stated it would “establish Justice” and “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” to all Americans, then it should be honored in its pure and literal sense. The liberty and justice cited as part of the founding of our country should not be mired by religious influences. We cannot all impose our religious beliefs on government and expect the country to stand as a unified entity. So in the end, the rights of the gay community should not be left to individual states or the pressure of any religion.  My hope is that one day equal rights will be granted to ALL homosexuals in this country and that it comes from a federal decision, because ultimately, a federal decision will announce to all Americans (and the rest of the world) that this country still sticks to its founding principles that ALL citizens are afforded the justice and liberties referenced in our great Constitution.

A Love Story

Ephesians 2:10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

On Sunday in church, our pastor ended his sermon with a segment about being made exactly as God intended us to be and he shared this Bible verse. He tied in this verse and how we are just as God intended us to be in order to illustrate that we shouldn’t second-guess ourselves when it comes to faith and carrying out God’s will in our lives. He also highlighted the life of a young lady in our church who was born with spina bifida. This young lady hasn’t let her physical disability get in the way of her faith and her journey in life.

While I was touched by this girl’s story, I was thinking about a person closer to my heart and life: my husband. Andrew was born with a disease, a disability of sorts, and spent the majority of his youth in a battle to sustain his health and life. Some of you may know Andrew’s story but after being reminded about faith and overcoming hardships yesterday, I feel compelled to share his story (from my perspective and breadth of knowledge, of course). Get ready for a long post!

Andrew was born with an uncommon immune deficiency called common variable immunodeficiency. No one was aware of it for almost the first year of Andrew’s life because his immune system was sustained from his mother’s breast milk since she nursed him. It was when he was weaned that he began to develop sicknesses and infections, one after another. He would become so sick that he’d be hospitalized, often for weeks at a time. He endured many tests, none of which he remembers (thankfully). It was around the time that he was two years old that his immune deficiency was diagnosed and he began monthly intravenous infusions of a serum called gammaglobulin that contains antibodies. He was given a life expectancy of fifteen years. By the time he was five, his veins were used up, so he was given a port-a-cath in his chest. To make a long and complicated story short, Andrew lived a life with port-a-caths, limited activities, sicknesses, and monthly infusions until he was eighteen years old.  He encountered a big decision around the time he was fifteen when his health took a nose dive and the doctors warned that if he continued going to school and being exposed to germs, he could ultimately lose his life. Despite the warnings, Andrew chose to stay in school and continue to battle his immune deficiency.

I can’t say how thankful and blessed I am for that decision he made because it was during that time that we were simply friends who had classes together in school. I knew there was something different about Andrew and that he had a medical issue, but as a simple friend, I didn’t know the details. As our friendship blossomed, we developed feelings for each other and during this time, I learned more about Andrew’s condition from one of his friends. As a sixteen year old girl, I began to feel the enormity of caring for someone with a rare and serious medical condition. Despite the craziness I felt about having a relationship with someone so “different,” I began dating Andrew when we were sixteen years old, our junior year of high school.

Our early courtship revolved around Andrew’s deficiency and how he received treatments for it each month. By that time, his mom (a nurse) had learned how to administer the treatments and they were done at home; however, that meant that one night a month was devoted to staying at home, hooked up to an IV. Andrew surprised me with sharing his treatment experience the first time; he was afraid if he warned me ahead of time that I’d get scared and wouldn’t come to his house. And I’ll admit, he probably would’ve been right. To a girl who was extremely afraid of needles and hadn’t encountered anything medically like what Andrew experienced, I was VERY nervous and scared to witness his first treatment and then stay with him while he was hooked up to an IV. I was way out of my comfort zone, but after seeing how gracefully and nonchalantly Andrew handled the experience, I felt more at ease. After several months, it became a routine in which I’d go to his house and keep him company while he got his treatment. We’d spend our time doing homework or watching TV, often watching “The Newlywed Game” on the Game Show Network and trying to guess things about each other.

In our first year together, we fell in love. Young love, right? I suppose when a teenage relationship revolves around a serious issue like a terminal medical condition (up to that point, it basically was terminal), you figure out how you feel pretty quick and you become pretty mature in your relationship. There were never any immature issues or playing games. We were in it and we were committed. Andrew was past his life expectancy and each month was an unknown. There were times we didn’t go out and do what other average high schoolers were doing because Andrew was too tired and close to needing a treatment to boost his levels. Our high school romance was way different from what I perceived in other teenage couples around us. When everyone else was focused on college and the years after high school, I thought about life if something happened to Andrew. I focused on how life would work in college when he needed a treatment. We discussed several times what Andrew would want me to do with my young life if he passed away. What high school couple talks about that!? I also imagined a life that if we made it past college and got married, what would married life with this condition be like? Would I take over administering treatments? And what if we had kids? It was likely the condition was hereditary, so our child could be affected and possibly have it, too. It was a lot for a teenage girl to think about.

During the fall of our senior year, Andrew’s grandfather read a news article about a research study being conducted at Duke Medical Center for the condition better known as “Bubble Boy Syndrome.” Andrew’s mom decided to inquire into the study since it involved another type of immune deficiency. Andrew didn’t meet the criteria for that study but was accepted into another research study. The doctor behind the study, Dr. Rebecca Buckley, had a high success rate with increasing the immune levels of patients by giving them a research drug that jumpstarted their immune system (that’s probably overly simplified; sorry). Andrew began receiving the drug in October of our senior year (2000) and went several times for a quick infusion and to be examined. He continued taking his monthly treatments to sustain his levels in the event the research drug didn’t work. In the spring of our senior year, during what would’ve been a regular treatment, Andrew’s port-a-cath became clotted and he had to go to the hospital for them to attempt to unblock it. During this experience, I was a nervous wreck at school because I knew the procedure would be painful to Andrew, and I couldn’t be with him. It was one of my first big lessons in feeling helpless concerning someone you loved so much. The procedure was ultimately unsuccessful but his treatment was able to be given through a vein in his arm which could be accessed. I recall that the trauma of the medical staff trying to unblock his port caused his chest to become swollen and bruised. It was awful to see. The doctors said Andrew’s port would have to be removed and replaced because it was blocked beyond repair; however, the good news from Duke was that he could wait on that move because his immune levels were doing well and he could possibly NOT need another treatment! Miraculously, after that last treatment in his arm, he discontinued treatments and did well without them. Over the summer of 2001, he had his last port removed from his chest and did not have another one put in. During this time, we had been making our plans for college; both of us were going to Appalachian State University to be teachers. On the day before moving our belongings to Appalachian, we went to a check up at Duke and during that check up, Dr. Buckley deemed Andrew officially “cured” of his immune deficiency. The research drug had successfully worked to jumpstart his immune system and he was making enough antibodies to be deemed in the normal range!

After this miracle of all miracles, Andrew and I started college with the ability to put his immune deficiency behind us (in a way). We still worried about Andrew getting sick, but amazingly, he got nothing beyond a sinus infection or cold. He continued going for yearly checkups at Duke and remained healthy. We got engaged during March of 2004 (our junior year of college) and I finally began to envision a fairy tale marriage to a strong and healthy man. We got married on July 16, 2005 and have had a wonderful marriage. We’re both in education and spent our first five years of marriage teaching, traveling, buying a house, getting a dog, and living a happy life. When we decided to have a baby, we knew the issue of the immune deficiency would come up again. We’d have a baby knowing there would be a chance he/she could inherit the condition. We took precautions to tell the pediatrician we picked and we made sure to contact Dr. Buckley at Duke. Thankfully, our beautiful daughter, Ella Grace, passed her exam at Duke (when she was three months old) and was deemed completely healthy. She’s been completely healthy in her almost three years alive, so as I write this, common variable immunodeficiency doesn’t have a hold on our immediate family. Ironically, in the time that Andrew has been “cured,” his mother and maternal grandfather have both been diagnosed with immune deficiencies. Theirs are not as severe and don’t require treatments right now, but their diagnoses are proof to the link for heredity and genetics concerning this condition.

So as I give the long, though still abbreviated story, let me come full circle to yesterday and what I thought during the sermon at church. Andrew faced extreme challenges when he was growing up, and while so many youth choose to rebel or act out because of difficulties in their lives, Andrew remained constant to his faith and chose to embrace the blessings in life. Yes, he grew up and became mature quickly, but he also developed a kindness and compassion for others that drew me to him even when we were friends. When we were in high school and dating, I saw strength in Andrew beyond anything I’d ever seen in a person my age. He was caring and responsible – not the typical teenage doofus boy. He had a charisma and hadn’t merely been living his life; he was really ALIVE! He was already an incredible person and his strength and confidence were amazing. The Bible verse at the beginning of this post is a reminder that Andrew is God’s handiwork or workmanship, made exactly how God wanted him to be. God wanted him the way he was during his childhood because it served a greater purpose of requiring Andrew to recognize his blessings and to live each day to its fullest. Now that we are almost thirteen years out from Andrew’s cure, Andrew is still the same remarkable person he was in high school. His design, made specifically by God, has made him into a husband with intense love and sensitivity, a teacher with understanding and compassion, a father with a sense of responsibility yet fun and joyfulness, and a friend who is loyal, funny, and reliable. I used to fear Andrew’s past and how it must have caused him so much pain at times, and I also feared thinking about the future. But by accepting Andrew as a blessing in my life, and understanding how God had us put together long before we were even born, I’ve learned more about faith and the courage it takes to face the scary unknown. Our journey may not have started out so smooth and easy, and it won’t always stay that way, but we know that we are God’s handiwork – his masterpiece(s) – and we have the faith to follow His leading and do what He wants. We are the proof that even when things are intimidating and difficult, a leap of faith will create an abundance of love and blessings.