Being beautiful has been very important to me since I was really young. And for me, being skinny, not fat, was a big part of what it meant to be beautiful. In my mind, I wasn’t as yet so successful in obtaining that desire. In fact, I saw myself as failing. I started keeping a diary when I was 9-years-old. I still have it. The first entry reminds me of this obsession.
My Journal at 9 Years Old
To transcribe the image to the right, first page (the sentence is continued from the previous page):
“Friday, June 16, 1978…is ugly but skinny. sandy is pretty and skinny they are luky. lesly is ugly but skinny I think tracy is a show off and ugly but skinny the tow twins across the street are ugly and fat. I still like Denies even though she’s fat. she gave me a poster of benji. and she gave me some of her candy. Im kind of fat to.”
What would my 9-year-old self say if she knew I was sharing her diary publicly? I would tell her it’s for a good cause—to help others who have strong Desires like her learn to obtain them through Standing Steadfast in Christ.
Before & After
In this blogpost I’m describing the weaknesses I started with as a young girl in order to demonstrate the BEFORE in the before and after story, I’m relating. In the Standing Steadfast in Christ blog post, I spoke of how much I admired our Savior’s ability to remain balanced in the face of adversity instead of losing it and Turning and Reviling Again. I sketched a pretty good picture of what it means to have this character trait using examples from both Joseph Smith’s and Jesus Christ’s lives. But in order to really drive home why I admire this strength so much, I need to show that I was the opposite. And I need to describe how the Savior retrained me. He made this weakness into a strength for me. That’s the middle part of the story and the AFTER. It’s hard for me to show these things. I expose myself. I’m evidently guilty. But paradoxically I am also guilty by association. Telling this story is a way that I can give my life for Him because it clearly demonstrates that everything beautiful that I am now is a result of his association with me. By myself I was weak. With him I am strong. It is a living testimony of his Atoning power. Back to the story…
Should We Value Appearances?
I’m not sure where I learned how to value appearances so highly. It could have been from my mother who was always talking about losing weight. It could also have been from society in general which stated so loudly and clearly: A thin young woman with a pretty face is a beautiful woman. Most likely it was from both. My mom was influenced by her mom who was also always worrying about losing weight. Both were influenced by society’s obsession with weight and appearance. And I know I have influenced my own kids to be concerned about their weight as well. On and on it goes. Where it starts and ends nobody knows.
I’m not saying that it’s a bad value to have the desire to be fit and attractive. I’m saying that if that is our desire, then we need to be taught what we can actually DO to obtain it in a healthy way. How did I need to eat? What foods should I have avoided more? What healthy relationships did I need to develop? What sports could I have gotten more involved in? Did I know that walking, running, playing, moving (which I was doing to some degree–see pic to the right) could burn fat? Who did I need to hang out with more? Additionally, we need to look to REAL standards to know where we stand. Was I overweight or not? Let’s look at this objectively. How much should I have weighed for my age, height, and body structure? And how much did I in fact weigh? Now that is sense. I didn’t have much of it back then. I was looking to the opinions of everyone and their dog to tell me if I was successful in my goal or not. Why look to these arbitrary, unstable sources for validation? (see blog post Choice: The Crucial Conjunction)
…and why the heck would I allow my brother of all people to be my judge?
Because this Desire to be fit and attractive meant so much to me I was very sensitive to people telling me I was fat (even though in that Hello Kitty Diary I was pretty brutal with defining others as such). My sensitivity is very similar to how Anne of Greene Gables felt about her red hair.
Somehow (Hmmm…I don’t know how!??) my younger brother got wind of this information and as is the case with most siblings, he used it against me. He may have been teasing but from my perspective, it felt like torture. Pure torture. Let’s just say he knew how to push my buttons.
“Flashback, step into the scene. There’s you and there’s a very different me…” ~Me Without You by TobyMac
A few years after the above journal entry, when I was around 13-years-old (about 1982-1983), my sensitivity to my brother’s reviling increased. At that age, I was extremely conscious of my body image as most tweens-teens are. I still wanted to be skinny and had even started trying to diet. But as previously mentioned, I didn’t have the slightest clue about how to lose weight the right way. I just did these crash diets that involved grapefruits and toast or just pure starvation. Anyway, my brother had some friends over and he got them all to call me FAT. Not a good idea. I’m sure I must have been doing something to irritate him but I can’t remember what it was. Or maybe he and his friends were just bored. I know when my own boys were young they always needed to have something to do or they’d get into mischief. So I remember this specific day of mischief because of how intensely it hurt. It was one thing for my brother to call me FAT. It was another for all of his friends to do it too.
In response I was angry. Some girls would cry. I didn’t. My brother and his friends were all barricaded in his room. They were holding the door closed and laughing. The anger inside me burned. I tried to get into the room. I was seeking vengeance. That was the only way I knew to resolve the intense conflict within me. Who knows what I was going to do against so many boys if I ever did get in? Definitely not thinking rationally. But I couldn’t get in. So I found a stick, the type which we used to secure a sliding glass door. I went around the backyard to my brother’s window and swung. Yep. I swung and hit the window. The window broke. The anger inside me ceased abruptly. I had shocked even myself. Now I was scared. I don’t remember what I did from that point on. I think I hid. I don’t know if my brother and his friends were injured in any way. I think it just scared them.
You know who’s turn it was to revile again. And that’s what he did. He and his friends left the house and they happened upon a police officer in the neighborhood. They told him what I had done. And the dude actually came to our house and knocked on the front door. I answered it. I think my brother and his friends were out in the street watching and laughing. The policeman questioned me. I was SCARED TO DEATH and totally humiliated. I answered him frankly. Yes, I did break the window with a stick. He just told me not to do it again, that it wasn’t good for me to do something like that and left. I felt so much shame. I felt like a monster for what I had done. And that was my brother’s revenge. He brought me to Justice. What did I do in response? Smoldering, deepening hatred for both my brother and myself. Turning and Reviling Again never ends. It just never ends.
I wonder now why I didn’t think of just separating myself from the situation. But that resolution process never entered my mind. If I could go back and whisper something in that little 13-year-old’s ear, it would be, “Hey, guess what? You can actually leave this house and stay away from it for long periods of time so you don’t have to be around him. You can go to a friend’s house, get involved in some more school stuff, sports, or other community activities. And in fact, that was what ended up happening in less than a year from this incident when I started going back to church. Thankfully someone from church came and brought me back. I attribute that to my Savior. I was so far from being able to resolve these familial conflicts on my own in the right way. I seriously had no clue. Just Turn and Revile Again. That’s all I knew.
There was something else that meant a lot to me. My younger brother and I are pretty close in age–about 17 months apart. In our early childhood, we were best friends. We did a lot together. We went on all kinds of adventures. Got in trouble together. I developed a dependence on him as a good friend. I loved him. I probably wouldn’t have admitted it then. We had all kinds of normal sibling rivalries and squabbles but they didn’t affect the foundational love I had for him. We’d get into a squabble and the next minute we were outside playing together. But during our tween years, things changed. Conflicts between us would escalate out of control. I have heard it said that we hate the most those we would have loved the most. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened to our relationship during those years.
It would be several more years before I had been thrashed by adversity enough to drive me to my knees. I had to do things my way for a while in order to figure out the dead-end street I was on. I’m not saying I didn’t learn earlier how to stop myself from breaking windows and fighting back in such an obviously dysfunctional manner. It wasn’t too much longer after this event that I learned to hold the anger in much better—hide it. I was motivated by SHAME. The encounter with policemen and other policemen-like people caused Toxic Shame to develop inside of me. But no matter how much I used shame to stop myself from feeling so angry, I couldn’t do it. Hiding it or trying to keep it stuffed all inside of me only caused me to be in constant turmoil. Around and around it went. Why couldn’t I be good? If the adversity got hot enough, drops of the dysfunction would be squeezed out in my words and in my behavior. But the thing is, the frequency of Conflicts with others decreased as I got older. The Virus became dormant…until I got married and had my own children, which increased the adversity in my life to levels that were very difficult to bear for a person with my Steadfast skill level.
“O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted…” ~Isaiah 54:11
In writing this blog post, I’m working on facing the Shaming Judge. It is part of the Lord’s present training process for me. Again, it’s important to note that I don’t have the close relationship with him that I do because I’ve been a righteous pillar of strength my whole life. I haven’t been. I have this relationship with him because I’ve been down in the dirt and when I finally had enough I came to him to figure it all out.
“What do I know of Holy? What do I know of wounds that will heal my shame?” ~Listen: What Do I Know Of Holy by Addison Road
“And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.” ~Luke 5:31
I know how hard it is to Stand Steadfast in Christ in the face of Adversity. I know about the temptation to fight back. To see others stand steadfast makes the admiration in me go through the roof. I know what both Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ could have done in response to the abuse and persecution they received. I know that’s the natural way to respond. It used to be my way to respond. Those who Stand Steadfast in Christ are my role models and seeing them do this, as well as others, now sustains my ability to do it too.
“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” ~Matthew 5:44-45
In the next several blog posts I’m going to relate to the best of my ability how the Savior retrained me to Stand Steadfast in Christ. I’m still learning, but I have come a long way.
Listen: Wait and See by Brandon Heath