Learning My Body Like I Once Learned My Heart

Curly tail.

I've been so aware while on this body journey just how "duh" I feel about all of it. And I say "duh" in the sense that I don't know anything

I think about my body, and nothing computes. I think, "I should take care of my body," or "Jesus cares about my body," and then I think, "Why? So what?" 

But then it occurred to me: The way I'm responding to my body is the same exact way I responded to my heart nearly 15 years ago. I didn't know I had a heart, much less any idea what was going on inside of it. I didn't understand why Jesus cared about it. I certainly didn't know how to care for it. 

And so I began the very slow, winding, often-feeling-backwards journey of learning about my heart. 

It took years. And it is by far the best, most precious journey I've ever taken. It's what I prize the most about my life, about my connection to Jesus, and my care for others in their own journeys. 

It took a long time, but I knew it was important. And I was content to be a beginner because I knew that's exactly what I was. (I was a quite stubborn beginner, too! No one could talk me out of what I was trying to learn.)

So here I am. Learning my body like I once learned my heart. Feeling like a complete ineptitude. Feeling like I have no bearing on this whole thing at all. But taking tiny, tiny steps. Experimenting. Wondering. 

And trying to allow myself the grace of being a beginner.

"I Care About Your Body, Christianne."


Last night, as Kirk and I were settling in to listen to the day's Pray as You Go podcast, I was startled to hear the voice of Jesus cut so clearly through my thoughts. 

We were on the shoreline of the beach, picking up right where we'd last left off talking, and the sun was setting slowly against the water's horizon, the water lapping at our feet as we stood there.

"I care about your body, Christianne," he said. 

You do?

It was a statement that made me stop and pay attention. Why? I wanted to know.

I'm sure there are more reasons than one that he cares about my body, but the reason shown to me last night is that I mediate the world through my body. It's what I'm encased in and carry around everywhere as I go about my life.

Jesus showed me that he desires for me to live a long, full, vibrant, and healthy life. He has things he wants for me to do. He has life that he designed for me to live.

For him.

So, it matters what I do with my body. It matters what I feed it -- whether I feed it nutrients or dead empty things. It matters what I do with my muscles and my bones -- whether I tone and strengthen them in fitness or let them languish and become useless and heavy weight or weak, brittle things. 

I don't currently care very well for my body, as I've been sharing here this year. But Jesus does. He cares about it, and he cares how I take care of it, too. 

This may make all the difference in the world.

Inhabiting My Real Self

Me. Today. (It's a head scarf kind of day.)

Here I am.

Yesterday in a session with my spiritual director, Elaine, I became aware of a dynamic in me that amounts to the equivalent of living outside myself. I wrote about this dynamic a bit on Still Forming today, comparing the experience to "what if?" clouds and pretzels

When I pay attention to the "what if?" clouds, I'm living in the future -- the possibility of something that might happen -- and it affects my right-now reality because I start preparing and obsessing over how to prevent disasters that may never, in fact, happen. 

And that's when the pretzel contortions come in. I'm not inhabiting my real self there, either -- I'm twisting and turning and curving into whatever shape I think other people might expect or want or demand. 

New haircut -- I went short!

This is me. 

And now, here I sit, wondering if this all somehow connects to the body series I've been writing this year in some unexpected way.

I keep having this image of not living in the throes of the "what if?" clouds and not becoming a pretzel in response, and it's an image that takes the form of standing up straight and inhabiting my real self and body. This morning, that took the form of continuing to walk with Jesus on the beach in the way that we do these days, just being myself with him and agreeing to live openly and in risk for the things he is asking and calling me to do. 

Standing up straight and inhabiting my real body. 

Maybe the dynamic of clouds and pretzels in my life is connected to my lifelong existence of not caring for my body in any real, substantive way. If I choose to inhabit my real self, then maybe caring for my real body will come along as a greater priority and desire in my life, too.

Such an interesting new thing to ponder.

Some Thoughts on the Body I've Been Holding

This is my world.

I mentioned in my last post in the body series that God's first response to my prayer to learn how he views my body and to teach me how to view it, too, was to give me a freelance assignment of editing a health book and that this led to writing down my health goals for 2012. 

The second way God responded was to give me another work-related assignment. 

I was at my dear friend Kirsten's house one day in mid-December, and I happened to check my e-mail on my phone while I was there.

In my inbox, I found an e-mail from the editorial director of one of my favorite magazines. We'd been discussing some possibilities of work I could do for the magazine, and she'd recently invited me to write a 6-part study guide for a book they would be sending to some of their subscribers. She needed some time to decide which book they were going to use, so I'd been waiting to receive word from her on that point.

The day I was at Kirsten's house was the day I found out the book they wanted me to use. And it was, as you might already have guessed, a book about the body. Specifically, it was called Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith

Pretty perfect, no? 

As soon as I read the title of the book in the e-mail, I let out a really loud hoot and then covered my face with my hands. "Of course it is," I said. "Of course that's the book they want me to use." 

My book list is a little out of control.

When I shared with Kirsten what was going on, she walked over to her bookshelf and pulled another body-related book off the shelf. It was called Reclaiming the Body in Christian Spirituality (pictured above in blue), and she said I could borrow it to further help me along in my journey toward understanding the body. 

As it turns out, Kirk and I already owned a copy of that book, and so I decided to take it with us on our holiday trip to California. 

I am so glad I did. 

Time for the morning quiet.

While Kirk and I stayed at a retreat center for three days at the beginning of our holiday, I read the introduction and first chapter of Reclaiming the Body in Christian Spirituality

It totally started blowing my mind, filling me with new thoughts and questions related to the body that I discussed with Kirk and also put down in my new journal. 

Thoughts on the body I've been holding (for a body series I've been writing on my blog).

Below, I've listed out the initial (huge) thoughts that Kirk and the book prompted me to hold, and which I have continued to hold ever since. 

  1. Offered by Kirk: "Everything I know about you is mediated through your body." Even though we know each other at a soul-deep level, we only learned that could be the case through interactions our bodies mediated in the first place (talking, e-mailing, holding hands, enjoying experiences together, intimacy, etc.). 
  2. Furthermore, it is only through the body that we know anyone. I know all of my friends through their bodies -- their voices, their facial expressions, their mannerisms, what they choose to share with me in conversation or things they write. 
  3. God encased all of creation in a body of some sort (ie., matter). There is something about created matter and bodies that God saw fit to make. And this got me wondering: What is "good" about matter and our bodies?
  4. To become like us, Christ had to assume a body. There is something fundamentally human about having a body. 
  5. A question inspired by the book: Do we "have" a body, or "are" we a body? The book offered this quote by Stephanie Paulsell: "Such is the mystery of the body. Sometimes we know that we are our bodies, that our capacity for life and death makes us who we are. At other times, we feel that we simply inhabit a vessel that is inadequate to contain all that we are." 
  6. And perhaps the most transformative question that I encountered of all: Are our bodies meant to experience formation, just like our souls are? 

That last question is one I've been carrying with me for two months now.

From a simple line in the book ("being transformed and glorified in [our bodies]"), I started thinking about spiritual formation and how intensely and single-mindedly I focus on and care about the formation of our hearts, souls, and minds. 

But what about our bodies? Maybe our bodies are also meant to form over time.

And if so, what shape are they meant to take?

It's a question that's kind of been blowing my mind ever since, and totally rocking my world.

Paying Attention to God's Signs

Today. Me.

Self-portrait, January 2012

So, I mentioned in a previous post that once I asked God to teach me how he wants me to view my body, he began to answer my prayer.

I shouldn't have been surprised by that, but I was. 

And the first two times it happened, I laughed out loud.

(As you know, the third time it happened, I apologized to my body for the first time in my life.)

Healthy snack.

Here's how God got my attention the first time: through my work. 

You may or may not know that in my paid working life, I'm a freelance book editor. This means that a variety of different book publishers contact me when they have a manuscript that needs copyediting or a book that needs proofing just before it uploads to the printer.

(Sidenote: I absolutely love that my professional history over the last 12 years now affords me the opportunity to work from home on projects like this. Every book is different from the next, and I always learn so much from each one.) 

The nature of being a freelancer is that I don't often have a lot of context for the books I'm going to edit until they reach my inbox. But shortly after I prayed that prayer -- it may even have been the very next project sent my way -- I received a health book to edit. 

That's right: a health book. 

So I laughed. 

And then I paid attention. 

A declaration.

One little gem in particular jumped off the page of that book and lodged itself in my being, and that was this: to write down, with pen and paper, my personal commitment to my health journey -- and to specifically detail what that commitment would look and what I would gain from adhering to it. 

So I cracked open my brand-new 2012 planner, which I'd just purchased, and turned to the very last page. And I wrote the following: 


I want to lose 25 pounds so that I can feel comfortable in my clothes, feel comfortable in my body, feel attractive to Kirk, feel strong, and not have to expend mental or emotional or physical energy worrying about how I look. 

In writing this, I realized something I'd never realized before: I spend a lot of time and energy thinking and feeling things related to my body.

Every day when I get dressed, I'm aware that my body is not what I want it to be. Every time I look in my closet, I'm aware of the clothes I can no longer wear. Every Sunday morning, I'm reminded how few Sunday dress clothes fit me anymore. Every day when I leave the house, I'm aware I don't feel attractive. Every time I pass a mirror, I'm aware of every shape and contour of my body visible to me. 

And that's just for starters. 

So the next thing I did was get specific with a plan.

My health goals for 2012.

My primary intent for the plan was this: 

Be realistic and gentle.

I wasn't interested in going from zero to sixty in three seconds flat. I was interested in gentle changes that I would realistically incorporate into my life. 

Things like choose water instead of soda. Or eat a piece of fruit at least once a day. Or take myself out on a photo walk three times a week for 30 minutes. (Photography has become such a nurturing and integrated part of my life these last six months, I figured that a creative photo walk was one gentle way I could motivate myself out of the house to walk a few times per week.)

I set very gentle goals for the first four months of this year, then broke the rest of the year into two more sections and slowly graduated my commitments -- with one caveat:

Only hold myself to the graduated commitment if the previous commitment has become a normal part of my daily life by that point.

Strawberry-banana-peanut-butter smoothie. Just add ice!

A current favorite:

strawberry-banana-peanut-butter smoothie.

Just add ice! 

So far this year, things have really improved on the consumable goods front. I haven't had soda all year! And I've eaten at least one fruit per day this month, if not more. I'm in the habit of eating oatmeal for breakfast and usually a snack of string cheese or almonds or apple slices with peanut butter or a fruit smoothie at some point during the day.

But the photo walks have been slower to come along. So far this year, I've only taken one walk. 

It's feeling really good to feed my body better food. I like asking myself each day, "Did you eat your one fruit?" and smiling when I notice that I already did. I like that my normal snack foods are sources of better nutrients for me. I like that all of this is becoming habit. 

Slowly, slowly, treating my body well is becoming something I choose -- gladly -- to do.

Toward a Theology of the Body

Archangel Michael.

The thing about this body stuff is that I had no motivation whatsoever to do anything about the problem. Yes, I hated the way my body had changed. Yes, it completely befuddled and bewildered me. Yes, I knew that the tools for change were right at my fingertips.

But nothing I thought about or pursued went deep enough for me. No amount of information or even discomfort in my own skin was enough to propel me into action.

Over the last five years, I have tried so many thoughts, admonitions, truths, and experiments on for size in trying to face the reality of the changes in my body.

When Kirk and I first got married, for instance, I worked full-time as an associate book editor for a publishing company that published health books under one of its imprints. Through editing books under that imprint, I gained a lot of great information about how to live in health -- drink lots of water, eat fresh whole foods, exercise, and so on -- and so for a while I faithfully brought my bottles of water and bags of almonds and carrots to work with me for a midday snack. I tried working out at the gym, first on the elliptical trainer and then by swimming laps in the pool, and then later by trying yoga classes, Zumba classes, and even a class called Boot Camp. 

None of these things stuck, and I'm convinced today that it's because the motivation simply didn't reach deep enough for me.

I was doing these things because I felt I was supposed to, not because I was deeply convinced it was the right thing to do or because I really wanted to do them. I was doing them because I felt ashamed of my body and knew that the shame would continue if I didn't get a handle on what was happening with my body.

I also knew that some people get motivated by the science and the numbers of it all. There's the reality of biology -- that a correct blend of protein, carbohydrates, and fat is optimum for the human body. And there's the reality of math -- that consumable items carry calories and that the amount of calories consumed minus the amount of calories burned will result in either gaining or losing weight. 

But the science and math just didn't matter or stick. It felt like a tennis ball bouncing off a racquetball court wall. I was completely unmoved, and I really didn't care about those things -- no matter how true they were.

So, what to do? 

This is where the conversation with Elaine in my spiritual direction session comes into play. I shared all these things with her -- told her the background with my body and how it had changed, told her the motivation simply wasn't there, and yet I still was left with this problem with my body.

I just didn't know what to do.

On the one hand, it seemed like part of the problem was the way I viewed my body that had changed on me. I resented it, and it seemed like that resentment wasn't the best possible view to have of my body. Perhaps acceptance was part of what needed to come into this situation quite a bit more.

But I also knew the way I physically lived inside my body was not in line with what science or math taught about what the body needed. Even if I learned to better accept my body in its current state, that current state was still not healthy. 

And that's where the motivation aspect mattered. 

We wondered aloud what motivation would really make a difference. Was there anything that would get down deep enough? 

That's when I recognized the only thing that would matter enough to change my view of my body was to come to understand why my body really mattered to God. Not in a shame-inducing, "Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit!" kind of way, but in a real and deep-down way of understanding that was rooted in my relationship with him. 

And so, even though it took me a couple tries to be able to pray this prayer from an honest and heartfelt place -- even though I didn't want to say these words at all when Elaine first invited me to talk to God about it -- eventually, I was able to say to God in spirit and truth: "Help me learn how to view my body, and help me learn how you want me to care for it." 

I am so far from understanding these things, and I have such a long way to go. But at least the initial steps have been taken, and I'm aware this is something I'm in the process of learning and discussing with God.

A Conversation with My Body

Joshua tree.

Enjoy some photos of Joshua Tree National Park

that I took as part of our holiday vacation while you read. :-) 


So, in the wee hours of the morning that transitioned New Year's Eve to New Year's Day, I vomited for the first time in my life since I was 7 years old. 

And I did it five times in succession. 

It was a violent introduction to an illness that would render me in the most miserable state I have ever experienced in my body, and it lasted 4 days.

Lots of these cute fuzzies, called cholla cactus, in Joshua Tree.

The timing of this violent illness was not lost on me. In fact, I consider it a grace to have happened, even as miserable as it was. 

And here's why.

In mid-November, in a session with my spiritual director, Elaine, the conversation took a surprising turn toward a discussion of the body -- and specifically, my body. It wasn't something I planned to discuss with her, nor did I see it coming when it came, but I had known for quite some time that eventually we would need to enter that territory and talk about it.

Fuzzy cactus, found in Joshua Tree National Park.

Here's the skinny on my story about my body so that I can bring you up to speed. 

I grew up with a super-high metabolism and never worried one bit about what I ate until I was 25 years old. When I moved to college, I gained only two pounds and felt proud to have avoided the dreaded "freshman 15." I sincerely loved being small and petite and loved being able to fit into any clothes I wanted and to eat any food. 

I ate like a bird, but what I ate was absolutely not nutritious in the slightest. At one point in my twenty-fifth year, I noticed that I was practically subsisting on Jack-in-the-Box tacos, Dr. Pepper, and Hot Tamales. But since I hardly ate anything, it didn't seem to matter. I was thin, and I loved not having to worry about it. 

Joshua tree.

But something changed on my honeymoon in Europe with Kirk in 2006.

It's something that I think had been slowly changing for several months beforehand, actually, and the thing that changed is that I no longer ate like a bird. 

Something about being with Kirk made me feel safe and secure and loved. I felt able to rest. And I felt especially able to celebrate life with him.

So on our honeymoon, celebrate we did. I must say, I reveled in the delicious fare that Paris had to offer, in particular. There's a restaurant I will never forget where I ate the most incredible risotto of my life. We drank wine and ate pasta, and we always -- always -- ordered dessert.

And when we returned from our honeymoon, the celebratory approach to food that I'd adopted with him continued. 

Another joshua tree from the archives.

I gained 10-15 pounds on our honeymoon. It sounds incredible, but it's true. And I really didn't know what to do about it.

The reason is, I've never learned how to care for my body. I don't know what it means to take care of the physical fibers of my being. I never had to worry about it, and so I never learned, and once my lifestyle completely changed -- and my body with it -- it took a long time for me to face the reality that things had permanently changed in the body department for me. I kept denying my body was no longer able to ingest whatever I gave it without so much as a stumble. 

But it had changed. Incredibly. And I had no idea what to do about it. 

Dry rocks.

The truth is, too, that I didn't have much motivation to do anything about it. I simply didn't care to take care of my body. I considered my body to be an object that was supposed to serve me -- make me look good, and not flinch at anything I gave it to consume -- and when it stopped doing that, I had nothing to say to it, except maybe bad and exasperated sentiments.

So the last five and a half years have been a very confusing and frustrating ride -- a vascillation between denial and fear continually.

Which leads me to the conversation that cropped up with Elaine in November. I didn't want to talk about it, but there it was -- the issue with my body had slipped out of my mouth without my intending it, and the invitation to talk more about it was there. 

I'll share more about the content of our conversation and my reluctance to do anything new to care for my body in my next post on the subject, but for now I will share that by the end of our session, I was able to tell God the most honest thing: "Help me to learn how you view my body, and help me learn how you want me to care for it."

And another.

Which is why the physical illness that landed me on the tile of the bathroom floor at 4 in the morning on New Year's Day was not lost on me. We'd taken my dad and his wife to a very nice dinner for New Year's Eve, and immediately following the dinner, I felt it had been a mistake. At least, I felt that I'd made a mistake: I ate too much food. Incredibly rich food. Way too much rich food.

All the way home from our very enjoyable evening, I felt a pressure in my abdomen that would not subside. We rang in the new year with my sister and played some games at the kitchen table, and all the while, the pressure in my stomach was there and I felt pretty low. I went to bed, but by 3 a.m., I was moaning and tossing in my bed, still feeling incredibly bad. 

An hour later, I vomited five times. The next 12 hours are among the most miserable hours of my life, and the 24 following that were pretty miserable too. In all, the illness lasted 4 days and this is the first day I've actually felt like a real human being again.


By now, I've learned that I contracted a stomach virus -- not food poisoning, and not indigestion, as I originally thought -- but at the time it happened, the way I felt was so closely connected to that last meal that I'd had, and all I could say to my body for the first 12 hours of my illness was, "I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry." Over and over again. Repentance. Repentance.

I simply could not -- and still cannot -- fathom eating a rich meal like that again. The sickness took me one step closer to a willingness to treat my body better. 

This illness was actually the third sign offered in the course of a few weeks in answer to my prayer that God would teach me what it means to honor and care for my body. I'll be sharing this ongoing journey here with you -- what the struggle to care for my body has been like for me, what the other signs in response to my prayer have been, and what I'm learning as I continue to journey forward.

In all of this prayer and talk about the body, I trust there is something redemptive and grace-filled to be found and learned for me. In fact, it has already begun.

Perhaps there'll be something in this prayer and body conversation for you, too.