When it comes to your identity, you can’t rely on other people and you can’t rely on yourself. I was reminded of this a few days ago when Glen and I bumped into some old friends. It’s the first time they’ve seen me since I’ve been pregnant, and the conversation went like this:
‘Aaaaah – there she is! Show me your tummy!’
Bump was duly squeezed – which would be fine, were I not a sociopath who require 2 meters of personal space. As it was, I smiled tightly, and reminded myself that this was someone who’d been praying for us and it was lovely she cared. Thankfully, it was over now.
But she continued:
‘Have you been eating? I hope you’re not starving your baby’
In some ways this is a fair question, (though the wording was a little – well, ouch). My weight’s been normal now for at least seven years, but I’ve still got a history of anorexia. I could see her enquiry was motivated by real care and concern – but like a ripped scab, it released a flood of insecurities.
Am I capable of being a mum? Can my body actually do this? Will my child’s legacy be neuroses and mental health issues? Can I accept blessings from God – or will I stuff them up? Do people think I’m going to neglect my baby? Will Glen be normal enough for us both? …
I swallowed and sent up a silent ‘help me’. ‘Yes thanks. I’m eating great and baby is healthy and well’.
‘Well you need to: none of that old business’.
Again, I prayed, fighting a rising tide of shame. I’m not who I was. My mistakes and my past are nailed to the cross:
‘Yes’, I said. ‘No going back’.
We sat down and I took off my coat. Her hands flew to her mouth:
‘Oh. My. Goodness’.
‘You! You’re HUGE!’
‘Er – yes.’ (Apparently the bump is pretty big for this stage but I’m sort of proud of it).
‘Seriously – HUGE’.
I put my coat back on and mumbled something about cheese and pickles.
‘Are you expecting twins?’
‘It looks like it. Are you sure?’
(From under the table) ‘Yes. Yes, I’m sure’.
Within the space of two minutes I went from shrivelled anorexic to human whale. And yes, her comments could have been more sensitive – but the issues were really with me. I felt like I’d come out of a blender. Was I too big? Or too small? Eating too little – or eating too much? The hospital said I was normal…but it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough. And I couldn’t make it better.
I walked out with Glen and we laughed a little about the conversation. He reassured me, but the doubts still lingered. At the check-out later I was packing my groceries and I could see the sales assistant waiting. I wondered: what do I look like to her? Normal? Or still, somehow, weird? Maybe she was wondering why my bread wasn’t wholemeal. Or questioning the whole-fat milk. Maybe they were the wrong choices. And maybe, no matter what I did, I was the wrong person too.
I came home, deflated, and resisted the urge to climb into bed and eat wine gums. I thought and prayed about my friend’s words. And I read these:
The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song, (Psalm 28:7)
Gradually, my sadness started to lift. I’m not my friend’s words or the ones I use to describe myself. I’m who Jesus says I am – and His words are full of hope.
Everyone says the ‘wrong’ words at times … and even when they say the ‘right’ words, we can take them wrong too. The truth is, that my friend’s words were spoken out of love and with the desire to bless. That’s beautiful – and whilst I’ll let some of them fall, I’ll celebrate the intention behind each one.