Monday, August 4, 2014

Size Matters

Back to school shopping is always a chaotic endeavor, but especially these days when my kids demand to pick out their own clothes and supplies.  Usually we do a scouting trip where they can show me what they like as I prefer to return on my own and shop at my leisure.  This time I went armed with photos of their picks, but as I went back through the store, I had to improvise.  The "shorts" that my six year old had picked out turned out to be a tight denim mini skirt, and I had doubts that the skinny jeans she wanted would fit her.  I sighed in frustration, knowing she would be disappointed and wondered to myself whether this ridiculous skinny jean fad will ever end.

While I have been grateful in past years for "slim fit" adjustable waistline pants for my small children, it's a little jarring this go round as it's the first time that slim fit doesn't fit.  The kids are a perfectly healthy size and weight, but it's impossible not to notice the change.  I try so hard not to obsess about size, but it is hardwired in me, and reinforced with a culture that emphasizes a certain look.  In sorting through the dozen pant options for my girl, I couldn't find many in her favorite store that weren't slim fit or skinny, and the scant options were not the trendy ones displayed on the mannequins.

And again, let me remind you that she's only six years old.  It starts early.

We've had to think about size since our first child was born.  Our boy weighed in at under five pounds and was slow to eat and put on weight.  We counted every ounce of breastmilk and formula he received for months, waking him every two hours to eat through the night and day.  He was weighed and re-weighed and each ounce seemed to be the measure of my success or failure.  "Failure to thrive" gets pretty personal when you're breastfeeding.  He wasn't even ON the growth chart for years, and even when he grew stronger and healthier, he remained the smallest in his class.  It has only been in the past year, since he turned eight, that he has finally reached the clothes size corresponding to his age, and is catching up in height with his peers.

We were envious of the chubby-thighed babies of our friends when feeding our tiny son and keeping him healthy had been such a full-time battle for the first year of his life.  It was a relief when our daughter was born weighing almost seven pounds and was pronounced slightly above average in size.  Now ages eight and six, our children are healthy eaters and they are growing well mentally and physically.  But with a history of obesity, diabetes, and heart conditions on both sides of the family, I want to instill within them healthy habits without it becoming a source of anxiety and shame.  I see them mindlessly eating when they are bored or immersed in screen time, and I realize I need to set a better example.

I have struggled with my weight for years and have watched the shame that my mom carries about her weight.  In middle school I was teased for being chubby, and I responded with a diet that slimmed me down, earning me the nickname "little Jenny" from one of my high school teachers, along with more acceptance and confidence.  But it was a battle I never completely won, and the negative voices remain in my head.  My weight goes up and down with my level of stress and lack of self-care and exercise.  I don't want my kids to have that struggle (either internally or externally), and I certainly don't want to be the one that puts the idea in their mind that they are not enough as they are.  They hop on the scale now with pride to see how big they are; I hop on with the opposite goal in mind.

We are a culture obsessed with numbers and measurement.  We want to know how much money we can save as we shop sales.  Meanwhile, we MEGAsize our drinks and our waistlines with unhealthy (but cheap) food.  We try to squeeze into skinny jeans because the number on the label is more important for our acceptance by others than our comfort with ourselves.  I remember Maryn tearfully trying to squeeze her feet into too small shoes last year, telling me that she would rather look good and be in pain than wear ugly but comfortable shoes that she didn't like.  I measure myself differently, but it is not without pain.  I anxiously await my school grades so that I can see where I stand.  It is where I found my value and motivation in childhood and that internal standard of judgment and anxiety remains, even though my current grades are pass/fail.  We are always measuring ourselves based on some standard, comparing ourselves to others or to society's expectations.

Churches have bought into this, too.  We count our attendance, mourn the decrease, and have visions of megachurches while Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, a little child.

We seem to have lost all sense of what really counts.

We measure ourselves against yardsticks and scales when God reminds us that the true measure of a person is in their heart, in how they love.  God provides the ultimate model by knowing us intimately and accepting and loving us as we are.  I wonder what it would be like if I truly embraced my favorite scripture as my measuring stick:

Psalm 139
1O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
3You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
4Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.
5You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
8If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”
12even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
13For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
15My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
17How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
18I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.

May we be known and loved completely, realizing that we are fearfully and wonderfully made just as we are in God's abundant presence.

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