Saturday, June 21, 2014

Venus and Me

Well, the verdict is in.  Yesterday, I made my bi-annual appearance before the Judgment Seat:  I got weighed.  I hate scales.  I consider it a gift that most of them are inaccessible.   The only accessible one I know of happens to reside in the office of one of my favorite doctors.  This I consider evidence that God has a twisted sense of humor.  I get weighed every six months, hence the "bi-annual" reference.  I've spent the last two weeks dreading the appointment.  Dreading it, and looking up images of Venus of Willendorf  on Google. There really is a goddess who is obese!  I thought about buying a statue of her--  just a little one to put by my computer.  Something to remind me that my body, which the scale has persuaded me will always be obese, is sacred.  But I'm afraid when it arrives, it will turn out to be three feet, not three inches tall.  I keep imagining the look on the faces of the CNAs and other staff members who enter my apartment every day when they see this nude statue of a woman with very large breasts and a rather prominent vagina. . . .  Then there are the people who will wonder what on earth an ordained minister is doing with a statue of a goddess. . . .  Oy.

I have had weight issues most of my life.  When I was five, a doctor told my mother that the thinner I was the easier it would be for me to walk, and prescribed a strict weight management program .  It included toast without jelly.  Toast without jelly when you're five is just wrong!  Some years ago, I went on a diet that consisted mostly of Lean Cuisine.  I walked the length of a football field almost every day (Damn impressive, if I do say so myself!).  I lost thirty pounds.  I also spent that Thanksgiving on the toilet.  My body couldn't handle the  normal food, let alone the super rich stuff, we ate that day.  Apparently that diet was a bad idea.  Then I tried Weight Watchers on line.  I kept track of food, I exercised, but the nice little line on my progress charting graph stayed flat.  Weight Watchers wasn't set up for someone with a disability:  Their profile page asked for my gender.  It asked if I was pregnant or diabetic.  It did not ask if I had significant mobility limitations.  I got very few points for movements which took a huge amount of energy; no one in their "community" depended on a wheelchair.

I have learned two things from my struggle with weight:

1.  We need a Weight Watchers for people with disabilities, or at least one that takes disabilities into account.  We will not be able to create this unless and until we expand our definition of "normal" to include people who have disabilities.

2.  It's not all about the results.  Results do matter.  Medically, those of us who are obese are more at risk for certain diseases.  That doesn't mean we are bad people.  It doesn't mean we deserve insensitive comments or to be made fun of.  It is just a fact; one of many facts about our bodies.  But it's not all about results.  It is about choosing-- Choosing to recognize our body is sacred, and treating it accordingly.  If I really believe my body is sacred, then I live that belief by filling it with good things and not filling it with harmful things; I exercise, regardless of the results.  I make choices which demonstrate what I believe.  I write this as a reminder to myself as much as to anyone.  If I made perfect choices, I would not dread my appointment with the scale.  But when the scale doesn't produce the results I'd hoped for, I need to remind myself it isn't all about the results. 

As for yesterday's verdict, I weigh the same as I did six months ago.  Stability is good.  Now if I can just find a Venus who has scoliosis. . . .


Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Tedious Holy

I am an ordained minister.  One of my favorite things to do is to take a familiar Bible story that people think they've heard a thousand times before and breathe new life into it.  I love the challenge.  I love the test of my creativity.  I love discovering new ways in which something that was "back then" and "for those people" speaks to our 21st century lives, and sharing that discovery with others.  It wakes folks up.  It moves them from "Ho hum. . ." "Boring. . ." to "Oh!  I've never heard this before. . ."  It brings this burst of energy that is pure joy.  Another one of my favorite things is when that happens to me--when someone else takes a Bible story I think I've heard before and makes it new again.  The other night, that happened to me.

The church I attend recently hired Patricia to be our associate minister.  Tuesday night, she started a Bible study.  Now, I've been to seminary.  Bible studies usually evoke a sort of "Been there.  Done that" reaction from me.  But this one was called Bad Girls of the Bible.  I had to go!  First up was Hagar, Sarah's servant girl.  Remember the story?  God has promised Abraham and Sarah that they will have tons of children--as many as there are stars in the sky, grains of sand on the beach, or whatever.  It's been a while since God made this promise, of course.  (God seems to like to keep people waiting).  Sarah's attempts to get pregnant have met with absolutely no success.  She and Abraham are about ninety something and they figure maybe God needs a little help fulfilling his promise.  So Sarah tells Abraham to "go into" Hagar, and then gets upset--really upset--when her plan actually works and Hagar gives birth to a son, whom she names Ishmael.  Sarah makes Abraham kick Hagar and Ishmael out into the wilderness where Hagar and her son almost die.  Almost, except that God shows up  in the wilderness and says, "See that over there?  It's water.  Go drink some, and give some to your son."  They drink, and they survive.

We discussed this story in detail, asking what prompted Sarah to act as she did, how we thought Hagar felt, and how we felt about God's actions in the story.  At some point Patricia  said,  "The message of this story is that sometimes just surviving is enough," and I had what Oprah would call an "ah ha" experience.

I'm a well-educated woman.  I come from an upper middle class background, and although I live in a supportive living facility where most people are on public aid, I have a roof over my head and food--most days too much food--in my stomach.  I am hardly "just surviving." And yet--I am also a person with a disability.  I spend a comparatively large portion of my day on so-called "activities of daily living"--bathing, dressing, etc.,  the basics of care and if not surviving then at least maintaining reasonably good health.  I have also often felt less than adequate as a Christian because I have not lived the life of Gandhi or Martin Luther King:  I did not change the world or the country by the time I was 25;  I have not risked my life for justice. I have spent a lot of time doing ordinary things.  When Patricia spoke, I heard God say, "That is enough.  More than enough, it is sacred.  The time you spend taking medicine, putting on your socks, and pulling up your pants is holy.  It is doing what I have called you to do."

The tedious, ordinary, basic things we do are holy.  That is the gospel.  It is very good news.  Next week, we talk about Tamar.  I can't wait!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Hello and What I hope This is About

I suppose I should begin this with an introduction:   My name is Mary.   I'm an almost 56-year-old woman with cerebral palsy.  That makes life in this body at least interesting, often frustrating, and occasionally instructive.

The interesting--For as long as I can remember, my body has required creativity.  As a child, I learned to get up stairs sideways, holding on to handrails, or alternatively, to sit up stairs, using my arms to push myself from one step to another.  (My arms and my mouth get me through life, at least in the physical realm.)  My body and soul are distinctly different (Is that redundant?)--I find the interior, spiritual world much easier, even fun, to move through--yet they mirror each other in that almost nothing about me is conventional,  a fact of which I am proud but I hope not arrogant.

The frustrating--Contrary to stereotypes about people with disabilities, I am an impatient sort.  Actually, I am the most impatient person I know when it comes to my body. It drives me crazy that I can do almost nothing physical  without having to be careful, vigilant, and aware.  Mindfulness is a wonderful thing, but I would very much appreciate some mindless moments which did not have consequences ranging from moderately annoying to disastrous. This is not a particularly PC thing to say, but I don't care.  Having cerebral palsy is not tragic.  It is not something I'm ashamed of, but it's not a picnic either.  I would not choose it given the option.

The instructive--The above paragraph notwithstanding, I have learned some important things in and from this body.  The other night, as I was struggling to address yet another of its demands for attention with some degree of compassion, this thought dropped into my head:

We are put on this earth to learn to love that which is imperfect.
That covers a lot of territory--everyone and just about everything I know-- and bodies with disabilities are ideal vessels in which to at least begin to try to learn this, though I'm sure I'll be trying for a lifetime and beyond.  (Similarly, families were created as places for us to learn about unconditional love--Receiving it if we're lucky, but giving it definitely.)

Some closing thoughts, for now:

Blogs are perhaps unavoidably self-absorbed things.  They carry the danger of being narcissistic.  That is not my intention.  If the personal is political, I hope it is also at least in some way helpful to other people.  And I hope it encourages a dialogue between us, whoever the "us" turns out to be.

One of the most oppressive realities I have experienced is the expectation that because I am a person with a disability, I can only talk about having a disability.  I am blessed to say I live a very rich, full,  and nuanced life.  I am interested in many things, as my book collection will attest to; I love and am loved by many people.  It is my hope that this blog will reflect the fullness of who I am and the life I live--a life which, like my body, is interesting, frustrating, and instructive.  I welcome your responses.