When I was in college, the president of my university gave a speech that made a lasting impression on me, about how we make choices, and that limits the other choices we can make. I appreciated it because it was really thoughtful and honest, like he was preparing us for adulthood: “You’re going to have to make choices. That’s great! How lucky you are to have choices! When you do make those choices, there are other choices that will no longer be available to you. That’s called growing up.”
I’m in my late 30s now, and I’ve made a lot of choices. With that has come the bittersweetness of knowing (or wondering if) there are things that aren’t available to me anymore. It is bitter in the sense of grieving the loss of things that I thought might be – but aren’t. It is sweet because I have received what I wanted most.
Last night, Mike came home from dinner with a colleague we had both known in CA. He said that she had asked how I was doing, and that he had told her, “She’s busy being the first Christa.”
The first Christa! Ha!! There remain many fewer “first” or “youngest ever” opportunities for me. But Mike sees that I am trying to very carefully create a life that reflects my deepest values and to be the best mother I can be to Emma and Maggie, who have never had any mother ever before. I am trying to not waste a drop of this one wild and precious life.
Being named the first Christa is the best birthday gift I received this week.
And you are the first you! Congratulations!!! You must be so proud. ❤️
Yesterday, as I was changing in my gym locker room, I caught out of the corner of my eye the scale that stands watch in the room. I smiled as I realized that it’s been well over a year since I weighed my self. In fact, I can’t remember when the last time was.
Two days after I turned 15, a boy at church made an unkind comment about my weight. I stopped eating for almost a year. Even after I started eating again, I spent a long time unlearning the harmful messages that I had internalized for years, that made it possible for one comment to finally break me.
On my 35th birthday, I threw my scale into a dumpster, and I bought my self and my family a dining room table that was exactly what I wanted, around which we could nurture our selves and laugh and cry and witness each other and accept each other.
In a few weeks, I turn 38. I now weigh two little girls who make me laugh all the time. I weigh 11 years of marriage. I weigh living in another country, where I found my self. I weigh reading books that make my brain light up. I weigh coffee in the white mug that fits perfectly in my hands in the mornings. I weigh walks in my neighborhood, stopping to take pictures of flowers. I weigh girl friends who love me and whom I love back. I weigh quotes from saints that I’ve copied down and pinned to a board that hangs above my desk. I weigh so many things, that I’ve put away in my being to keep for warmth and nourishment and happiness. I am full, and it is enough. Not too much, not too little. It is just right. I am just right.
This past week has been a stunning display of patriarchy in America. Like many people, I’ve felt personally sucker punched by its acute audacity and cruelty. At the same time, I’ve been thinking about things like the nearly 500 immigrant and refugee children who are still separated from their parents – a stain on our conscience from which we should never recover.
The most accurate description of patriarchy is not men vs. women. It is those with power vs. those with less or without. This is one of the reasons that my upbringing in the Christian faith was the original force behind my deep commitment to push back on patriarchy. Jesus said the first will be last and the last will be first. Jesus sided with those with less power.
When we resist patriarchy, we do so for women, and for our babies, including all the babies in tent cities in Texas and those separated from their mothers and fathers, because all children are our children. We do so for the differently abled and those without access to living wage jobs. We do so for all those with less power.
In her book Memories of God, Roberti Bondi wrote that for the ancient Christian teachers, “humility was about slipping underneath the whole hierarchical social web of judgments by which we limit ourselves and one another in order to love and act fearlessly with power and authority.”
We slip out from patriarchy, we claim power through acts of love, and with that power we bend the arc of the moral universe to justice.
This has been a really busy week with work and events with the kids. Usually I go to the gym or for a walk every day, but due to the packed schedule, I haven’t done so since Monday, opting instead for some stretching at home. By this morning, my legs we aching to move. Outside, it’s been alternating between a downpour and a steady rain all morning, but I didn’t have time to get to the gym between meetings, so I grabbed my husband’s baseball hat to keep the rain out of my eyes and set out on a walk.
* * * * *
As my arms glistened with raindrops, I felt the comfort of having listened to my body. When what I needed most was rest, I rested. When what I needed most was a walk, I walked.
* * * * *
Caring for our bodies is a struggle for many (most?) women. We exist in a society where our bodies are aberrations to be controlled, not lives to be loved. I’ve been fighting through this for a long, long time. Three years ago, having gained some weight after starting a new medication, I did something radical: I stopped weighing my self at home. I had been taking baby steps into radical body acceptance, and this was a giant leap. I had come to believe that if I could slip out from under the shame of weight, I would actually become healthier. I also believed that would probably end up helping me lose weight, as my body naturally settled into its organically set weight.
About two months after I had stopped weighing myself, I went to a doctor’s appointment. When I stepped on the scale, I saw that I had gained three pounds. That was not what I was expecting.
* * * * *
I still believe – now more than ever, in fact – that radical body acceptance is a path to a healthy self, including body, and my views on the correlation between weight and health have evolved. But that’s another post – the point of this one is that when I stepped off the doctor’s scale, I made a choice to keep accepting my self. And that led me to walking in the summer rain three years later.
* * * * *
This spring, I spent several weeks talking with my therapist about how I could feel more secure in relationships. How do we make our peace with the fact that no one will ever understand completely how it feels to live in our skin? It feels so lonely. Who can I “come home” to, resting in unconditional connection and attachment?
Me. Each of us is the only one who can provide that depth of acceptance to our selves. I remember looking out the window of my therapist’s office, and it crystalizing for me how closely linked this aching need for not-being-alone is to acceptance of my body. My body, a battleground of not being good enough. Some thing from which I had to dis-connect, in order to find (superficial) connection with others, to be treated better by them. If I could accept my body, I could accept anything about my self. My self could live at ease, knowing I will not betray her. I will not hurt her. I will protect her as lovingly as I protect my children.
When I am tired, I will rest. When I need to walk, I will walk. I will treat my body with the gentlest of care and respect.
* * * * *
nayyirah waheed said:
“be softer with you.
you are a breathing thing.
a memory to someone.
a home to a life.”
The most tender and dangerous and important adventure of my life is being a mother. (It is not the most important adventure of every woman’s life, and that is ok!)
As my children grow, my arms must open wider and wider to let them run their own paths. Today, they both expressed a need that, as much as I would have liked to, I couldn’t meet. I felt sad, and I grieved. In both cases, though, someone else stepped in and did for them what I could not do. Someone else nurtured them and loved on them.
A time will come, over and over, when I must trust my children to the world. I am not enough for them. I never will be. I was never meant to be. I have to trust that there are other arms waiting to hug them, other eyes waiting to see them, other hearts waiting to know them.
There was a time when I held their very being. Their breath was mine, and mine was theirs.
That time was never going to last forever. They were always going to have to learn to breathe on their own.
And there is a place outside of time, where I will always hold them, always bear them. I will be to them an anchor to being, to love, to belonging forever.
After getting a master’s in international relations, I started my career, supporting a campaign to end the genocide in Darfur. Then I helped create a nonprofit that partnered with locally-led initiatives in Rwanda to provide job training and education.
One of the things I observed while I was doing this work was how fiercely African mamas worked to take care of their families and others in their community. I use mama in a broad sense: all the women who nurture, from biological mothers to young women who, as teenagers, took in smaller children after the Rwandan genocide and raised them. I felt a conviction, for lack of a better word, that the most powerful, most influential thing anyone could ever do was take care of their closest community, starting with their selves and their families, and moving out in an ever-widening circle of compassion.
This shift in the way I was thinking about my work happened at the same time that I was, unexpectedly, becoming a biological mother myself. In several different ways, I moved from my “big” work to the very immediate work of growing a child.
Continuing to create my life – including my career – in the years since has been a sometimes pain-staking process that has required a lot of grace (from my self to my self) and patience and trusting that if I take a step, the path will appear. I still have to trust that, every day. I want to make the world a better place. I also want to be there to pick my daughter up from the bus stop in the afternoon. The meta shift in my thinking about what it means to serve my community exists alongside the real-life practice of caring for my family.
I took this photo at a conference I attended this week, to look back on as a reminder that, as difficult and scary as it can be trying to create one’s own path of career and parenting, I am incredibly grateful that I’ve been able to do what I love most, which is: first, to love on my babies, and second, to build stronger communities through health and education access.
The topic of this education conference is the Future of Work. I hope to support educators preparing young people for meaningful, self-sustaining careers that allow them to be their best selves and take care of their families and communities. We all deserve that.
This poem has been on my mind this week, as I did something hard, the consequences of which could not be completely foreseen. But I did it for the same reason a caged bird sings. I did it because it was the only thing I could do. I had to open the door.
Prospective Immigrants Please Note
Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.
If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.
Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.
If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily
to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely
but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?
The door itself makes no promises.
It is only a door.