Tuesday, September 10, 2013

seeing me

Thinking about the days when my self image was at its very worst, and the long redemptive road to now, where it's day by day but overall good, I realized something important, about something important I'd had to learn.
Convoluted, I know. I'll break it down, 'cause I like over-analyzing things.
The thing I had to learn was to step back from focusing on flaws, and smile at my reflection instead.
This simple step was incredibly hard. but deeply profound.
And the other day I realized another layer of why it works, why it was so helpful.
In my dark days, I could never see any prettiness in me. I could vaguely see that other people saw it-beauty-in me, and so subconsciously there was this bit of hope, that maybe it was there. But I didn't see it.
And I had to slowly learn to change the way I looked at myself. Metaphorically and spiritually, definitely. But, as I already noted, a huge part of that was changing the way I actually physically looked at myself.
Other people looking at me saw prettiness, some something attractive, either on just a physical level but probably also on an emotional/spiritual level, my real me-ness that makes anybody want to talk to me for more than 5 minutes, be my friend, what have you. But I couldn't see it, and what was with that?
When I looked into the mirror, I saw a person who looked out with gleeful criticism, jumping on every flaw, every pimple, anything and everything that could ever be construed as a flaw. I looked at a person who looked out with disappointment and self-loathing.
But how did I look to someone else? They saw prettiness, and no wonder, because they saw someone who laughed a lot, and smiles at people even more, who gets really passionate and excited about important things, who tries, to the best of her small ability, to look out at everyone (almost) with grace in her eyes. Grace to know you, like you, give you the benefit of the doubt and focus on the good in you.
So I think people thought I was "pretty" because 1) I am actually fairly pretty in just an arbitrary-scale way (the scale is dumb and I reject it wholesale, but that's another post) and 2) I looked at them with grace and liking.
If I'd looked at them the way I looked at me, they too would have soon become convinced that I was highly unattractive, in fact a disgusting person. Because I would have been all up in their face, literally examining them critically from 2 inches away, crowing maliciously over every flaw they had, and a few extra I could make up and convince them they had. I would have stared at them with condemnation, and they would have hated me with a self-protective rage to defend from the inadequacy I made them feel.  Insecurity giving rise to dislike and their dislike translating into the belief that I was physically ugly because they felt ugly emotions around me. Because our emotions are so entwined with how we perceive people, the way they make us feel.
And aside from an arbitrary out there "scale" defining prettiness, I think this is why people could see "prettiness," beauty in me when I couldn't. I'm certainly not perfect, but overall I like people, I love the image of God in them, I try to extend grace. It's this strange circular thing, seeing beauty in others and them responding to the beauty in you, the opposite of the vicious cycle of seeing ugly-creating ugly.
And I had to break that cycle, take a physical, tangible step back, and smile my warmest, smile with joy and love behind it, laughter and grace extended. So that I saw in the mirror not a girl who extended grace to (almost) everyone, but everyone.
Including me.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Sabbath Semester: Day 1-The Rules of the Game and Shabbat Shalom

Today is the very first day of my Sabbath Semester Challenge. I slept in late, Saga sat over breakfast and had a true heart-to-heart with dear friends, two old and one brand new made over coffee five minutes before.
I'm doing this thing that I'm calling Sabbath Semester, where I do no academic work from Friday to Saturday night, because I'm not happy with how I have been living in my college world thus far. I have an incredible life, I have two jobs I love, and so many dear-heart friends, but still, it's been two years of the college world and I've still never felt like things were quite right. It's like the wholest, realest me only fully comes out when I am home, and to an extent I've realized that will probably always be true, and it's ok. But I still want to be living whole-hearted, centered from who I am, wherever I am.
And this crazy thing I am calling Sabbath Semester just might be the key to that whole life I want.
Sabbath is something I grew up on, a tradition my quirky Evangelical Christian family took up when we realized Sunday is never really a day of rest for Pastor's families, and when we remembered, some fifteen odd years ago, that our goal as Christians is to be as much like Jesus as possible, and he was Jewish. So we started doing a lot of Jewish things, and found an incredible amount of blessing in the Old Testament Commandments we mostly forget about as Christians.
I started out, some fifteen years ago, a little girl with Hebrew words guttural and strange in the back of my throat. And then Sabbath became something that defined my family and defined me. Sabbath is melting candles and long conversations, family time with Handel's Messiah in the background, trying to eliminate distractions of work and business and focus on us, together, and the God we love.
Despite how much Sabbath shaped me, I didn't really consider observing Sabbath when I came to school. There was just so MUCH to do. It was impractical and impracticable in this new world of stress and deadlines and proving myself, and I didn't truly consider it.
But I'm reconsidering, because in a world of deadlines and always overextending myself so I am not quite the self I want to be, it is just what I need. Because Shabbat Shalom is not just a phrase, it is everything that Sabbath is. Shalom, the Hebrew greeting meaning peace, is not just peace; it is health, harmony, rest, soundness and wholeness. It is the whole life, soul-centered living flowing out of who I am, who God is. I live harried, I live hurried and fast, and Shabbat Shalom, slowing, is what I need.
So here are the rules.
1) I will do no academic work from Friday night after dinner to Saturday night after dinner.
I was really worried about this, frantic voice in my head asking how I would get everything done. But honestly, I've practically been observing Sabbath already, vowing to get work done tomorrow on Friday but so exhausted by Saturday that I'd lay in bed and pinterest all day instead. But with it came guilt at not getting anything done, because I was never giving myself permission to just rest. Sabbath is permission from God to just rest. To just relax and trust he'll give me the strength and skill to honor him with my days and in my commitments, but for now just to be a human and enjoy being alive.
2) I will use this time of rest to focus on God and people, which Sabbath is all about.
This means it's not just permission to lay in bed and pinterest every Saturday. I want to be intentional. Sabbath days I want to journal, read my Bible, pray and take long walks and think and pray more. Do some yoga, drink some tea, and then connect connect connect with people. I want to be intentional to make plans with people, share Sabbath as much as I can. Last night I invaded my friend Bev's townhouse, and we broke challah bread I'd brought from home, drank apple juice as a wine replacement, and and I stumbled through the Hebrew blessings without my family's voices with me. My lovely roommate came, and we talked long and sleepy and it was lovely.
3) I can do reading homework on Saturdays, if I am bored and I enjoy the readings (aka my African history readings). Basically, before I do anything on Sabbath, I need to ask "Does this activity give me life, or steal my joy?" That sounds dramatic, but math homework? Not every allowed to be part of Sabbath, because it steals my soul.
4) It's allowed to be flexible. I can re-arrange the days, rest on Sunday, etc, whatever, even do a little bit of work  if I talk with God and he's cool with it before hand. Sabbath Semester is not about legalism, because obedience to God is not ever about legalism, it's about blessing. His commands are good: Eat good food, talk long with your family and people you love, talk to me and relax. Experience my Shalom peace. Wholeness, rest, soul connection.

Start living it.