Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Shaping Up My Body Image

The circle.
Round, nondescript, fluid. When I was a kid, my obesity was clearly announced with a simple chant by the other kids: “Lisa Pizza, Lisa Pizza.” Wincing, I remember thinking how bizarre that a popular name like Lisa would have to rhyme with a popular food commonly associated with being overweight. I felt as round and nondescript as the shape of that pizza. I associate my childhood memories with specially-made clothes, thighs rubbing together, the talcum powder used as salve, and struggling to fit in all through my elementary school years.

The square.
Somewhat uninteresting, edgy, evenly distributed. I think of building blocks and parallel sides when I think of the square. I’m remembering my high school geometry teacher, Mrs. Weber, with a smile. She taught us all those rules of geometry and the related theorems and proofs. By high school, I had more of an edge, but felt I still could have easily switched back to the circle if I let my guard down. I learned the rules for taking care of myself to get that edge.

The horizontal rectangle.
Later in my adulthood, I matured a bit and came into my own level of self-awareness and shape. I still had the edges required to speak up for myself, but have also had to deal with serious weight issues by this point in time, eventually escalating to being more than 100 pounds overweight. I realized I needed to make some changes in my life and habits, which would soften those edges toward a preferred hourglass shape, defining myself as a healthy woman. The required first step, however, would be the extreme weight loss needed to change shapes. My next step would keep me in rectangular form, but to turn it upright. Then, at least, it might feel familiar but with a slightly different perspective.

The vertical rectangle.
Still edgy and still structured, giving a new perspective. My vertical rectangle finally puts me closer to the hourglass shape I desire. I am surprised at times, however, when I notice “bony” shoulders; or a when a stranger calls me “petite”, or when someone assumes I am a size “small”. This general sense of being smaller is unfamiliar. I remember noticing cheekbones for the first time instead of the former roundness in my face. I’m really just an average shape, but it’s new and small to me; it will take time for my mind to adjust to what my physical body feels like.

The hourglass.
This hourglass shape is generally like the rectangle but smoother; softer; more interesting and fluid. A sense of shape but not defined by the shape. I’m moving closer to this image of myself. It may take a while, like watching the sands drop through an hourglass, one grain at a time, but it will be worth it.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Skydiving Sensations

Have you every jumped out of a flying airplane—for fun? Yup, I have. Almost 30 years ago, several friends and I decided to take the plunge. We went skydiving. Obviously, I survived the jump and although it was quite a long time ago, I recall clearly the sensations surrounding the life-changing event. Like my Christian faith, the experiences during the process varied in type and intensity before, during and after the big leap.

Excitement fueled our car as the five of us traveled to New Jersey for our all-day parachuting event. My girlfriends and I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to float freely in the sky, even for just a few seconds. What would the training be like? Would we remember what we learned? Would we get hurt? Would we survive? Four of us planned to participate in the skydiving program and our fifth girlfriend was in charge of capturing the critical photos. We had to prove what happened, right?

This stage of anticipation on the drive to the skydiving center was like learning about my faith for the first time. Could I understand God’s Word in the freeing way it was being presented to me? Would I remember what I learned? What would I accept as proof?

Next I remember the process of learning the steps for a successful jump. There were skydiving practice platforms, about four feet high, from which we’d jump, land and immediately drop and roll to soften the blow. We were taught that the ground would come quickly, but our instructions were to look straight ahead and not down. Our practice leaps were to give us the confidence to react to the body-jarring thud in a safe way. We must have jumped off those platforms 50 times that afternoon. By the time we headed to the plane, we were ready for any solid ground that would come our way.

Learning about the Christian faith is similar in that it requires practice and baby jumps at times before a big leap can be made. Looking up to the examples in Jesus and not down at our current circumstances correlate to a stronger relationship with God. There are so many thuds in this world that the practice of rolling with the punches is a useful habit. Over time it gets easier and easier.

Then came the time for the plane ride and big jump. The process of equipping began. First the jumpsuits. Then the helmets. Then the radio. Tighten all the straps. Tie on the chute. Then the reserve chute. The feelings of fear and courage flip-flopped so often and frequently that I couldn’t know what I was feeling at any given moment.

My faith needs equipping too. The Bible. Praise and worship. Prayer. Christian fellowship. Getting involved. One fabulous difference, though, is that there’s no ‘reserve chute’ needed. Faith is all I need.

Sitting straddle-style and packed like sardines, we loaded ourselves in the cabin of that small plane and held our breath while the engine whirred to life. It was just us and that little plane now. It was time. There was nothing we could do to hear or think over the deafening motor. My stomach was doing its own jumping. My eyes were glued to the instructor’s cues. First girlfriend out. I saw the blur of her helmet through the small window. I looked some more. The cords of her chute pack detached and WHOOSH!—up she went into the long-awaited floating mode, the first step of her descent.

My turn. Gulp. Three! Two! One! JUMP! The instructor’s hand, hard on my shoulder with almost a shove, helped me out that open door. And out I went. Falling, flying, falling, flying; which was it? One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand, four-one-thousand, five-one-thousand. WHOOSH! I looked up. My chute was open. Sighing, I settled into the harness and realized that I was, in fact, parachuting. I descended slowly. It was peaceful. Quiet. Beautiful. I thought a bird might fly right past my nose. Distantly, I noticed the occasional radio instructions. “Turn right! Turn left! Turn left some more!” Getting closer to the designated landing area. The ground was coming quicker. The tops of the trees were getting larger. Just a few more seconds of floating, please. Beautiful, peaceful seconds with just me and God in the world. This is true freedom.

THUD. Ugh. Drop, roll, roll some more. The ground comes up at me with a bone-jarring reminder of being on earth. Grounded. Maybe it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

With faith, I can float in freedom mode while staying on the ground.