Take my arms.
They are short. Thick. Better to hide them. Sweat under the constraints of fabric, then to reveal them in public. Something I told myself for years. Believed, for years.
I suffer from arm and shoulder envy. I wish I had been born with horizontal shoulders (mine slope) and arms that have definition and length (mine are fleshly and stumpy).
Yes, exercise is a factor. Yet, finding the delicate balance to achieve definition without building muscle is tricky. (Thumbs down to the hefty, muscular arm-look on me.)
There are surgical options—liposuction, for too much fat. Or, the more extensive arm lift or brachioplasty for fat and flabby skin. But the $3,800 to more than $5,000 it would cost, is an extravagance I can’t justify.
So, I’m left with the only reasonable option. Change what I can through exercise and diet. This, I’m doing.
In the meantime, do I hide my arms, while I wait for their appearance to change? Or, do I bare them and enjoy the comfort of going sleeveless?
On the rare occasion of sporting something sleeveless, I cover up with one of the many lace, crocheted or thin linen tops that I keep stocked in my closet.
Last month that changed. I was tired of wearing extra, unnecessary clothing—of sweating more than necessary—of satisfying my vanity at the expense of my comfort.
Ignoring the usual flurry of demeaning thoughts that whip through my brain when I see my bare arms in the mirror, I went sleeveless. I greeted a house full of people. I hugged, shook hands, served food and posed for photos.
No one shrieked or laughed at me. No one pointed. Sure, my arms are not what I wish them to be. But they aren’t hideous. (A word I have used to describe them.) They’ve never hurt anyone.
It’s the flaws that can’t be seen that are hideous, and hurtful.
I can be prideful. Critical. Impatient. Unloving. I lie. I’ve cheated and stolen. I’ve shut people down. And cut people off. I’ve failed friends and family. I’ve tried to save people, when I know that only God can do the saving. And when they weren’t grateful, I blamed them.
I’m a flawed human being. And my arms are just a reminder of this truth.
Instead of being the source of envy for perfect looking arms and shoulders, instead of being the cause of my whining to God about what He hasn’t given me, my arms will be reminders of my imperfect human self. They will remind me that I need God’s forgiveness to infinity for the flaws in me that are hurtful. They will remind me that I have and will continue to experience His gifts of substance—grace and mercy, redemption and restoration—cosmic, overwhelming gifts He makes available to us, humans.
Way better, than having perfect looking arms.
If fear were a wolf–this is how you would feel at its stare. A character in Jodie Picoult’s Lone Wolf says, “If you’ve been lucky enough to look into a wolf’s eyes, you know that they penetrate. They look at you and you realize that they are taking snapshots of every fiber of your being—that they know you better even than you know yourself.
That’s how it was with the dark. When I was a child, it penetrated to my core. Insisted that I acknowledge its power over me. Like some hideous monster, it refused to turn its flint eyes from me. In its presence, my daytime bravado shattered.
Under its influence, fear flourished. Awake, I tried to fight it. Don’t stare at the closet door, or, the shape of things. Close your eyes. Don’t think about the invisible monsters lurking under your bed waiting to grab your foot. Asleep, nightmares spawned scary creatures under my pillow. I woke up crying. And was spanked. My father didn’t understand my needs. He didn’t know he was supposed to protect me.
We left my father. Moved in with my grandmother when I was a toddler. But my fear of the dark continued. In the daytime, I pretended it away. In my family, fear was a character flaw.
By the time I was in elementary school, fear of the dark evolved into fear of dying in my sleep. It began with a nightmare about the wicked witch from The Wizard of Oz. It grew, after a real obscene phone call in the night. I awoke, phone to my ear, a man asking if he could put his tongue in my mouth. Afterwards, my body shook and I couldn’t get the call out of my head. Finally, I dreamed a dead body fell on me. Why these experiences spelled imminent death in my sleep, I don’t know. Still, I told no one.
I remember the rise of anxiety, the stampede in my stomach, and then, the sense of resignation, the next night, as I headed to my bedroom, my death as real to me as my arms and legs.
Raised Catholic, our prayer included, “if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take,” but thoughts of God as my protector never entered my mind. Like cardboard dividers in my drawer that separated socks from underwear, a mental divider separated daytime religious instruction from nighttime fears. An hour later, a good scolding at my reflection in the bathroom mirror successfully dispelled my irrational fear of dying. But my fear of the dark persisted.
By my late 20s, the monsters in my room were serial killers and the evil in my dream were demons. But my faith in Jesus Christ, an intangible notion while growing up, had become real and relevant. And I knew I needed to apply truths about God to my fear of the night. Lights off, I closed my eyes, prayed non-stop reminding God of His promises to keep me safe. And finally . . . the dark turned its eyes away for good.
Proverbs 3:24, was written for me: “When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden fear, nor of the onslaught of the wicked when it comes; For the Lord will be with you. He will keep your foot from being caught.