I was in Atlanta, GA last week for the National Young Preachers Festival. 100+ young folk (14-28) from a variety of church traditions congregated at the Grand Hyatt on Buckhead and shared the messages that God had placed on their hearts. Some messages were incredibly exciting while simultaneously theologically suspect, some were quite calm and deeply challenging clarion calls. I listened to many poignant stories and heard some GORGEOUS singing by the American Spiritual Ensemble. There was so much to reflect on but in these most immediate moments I've been struck by one thing - how I felt about MYSELF while I was gone.
It's probably incredibly normal to experience feelings of diminished worth and attractiveness in the aftermath of infidelity. It's probably absolutely mundane to feel frustration and shame in regard to your personal attractiveness after you've been pregnant and during the post-partum period. And I didn't realize it, but the last 2.75 years have been defined by my own negative feelings about myself, my body, my worth.
It's hard not to see my light stretch marks and my transformed breasts and my wider waist and feel a sense of loss for those years defined by the adjectives perky, toned and smooth. It's hard not to look in the mirror and see only my uneven complexion and frizz-prone hair and wonder if my appearance was a contributing factor to Cliff's wandering eyes and hands. And these negative shadows, these embedded disappointments had become so deeply ingrained that I forgot they were even there.
Until I got to Atlanta.
And it was in that hotel that I looked in the long mirror in my room and felt beautiful for the first time since....since before I was pregnant with my son.
Every day I put on a carefully crafted outfit (thanks mom & dad!) and thought - "Look at you! What a fox!" I had more positive feelings, more delighted self-talk, more moments of sheer confidence than ever before. I was the funny one, the energetic one, the confident and bright and vibrant one. I talked to strangers and made people laugh and unwaveringly lead worship and felt incredibly capable. I remember being this woman long ago, i remember those days when i loved myself and the world i inhabited, but I thought this woman had been lost forever.
Who thought I would find her in Georgia?
Maybe it was because no one in Georgia knows the story of my deepest pain. In Atlanta I could carry on and not be expected to shoulder my grief - no one in those conference rooms or preaching seminars saw me and saw the specter of tragedy that those in Texas always associate with me. In Georgia I was merely what I appeared to be, I was not shackled to a story of woe. There was freedom in that lie. It is a lie by omission, but a lie nonetheless. I was free to be whimsical and glib and sparkly as if my days were full of only laughter. It was so relieving to not be in mourning.
And then I flew back to Texas and I've been losing that woman again with each passing moment.
I could wear those exact same outfits here, tomorrow even, and I know my internal dialogue would not be the same. I'm back in my house and my job and my responsibilities and those familiar internal voices have piped up again.
At this point I don't even know what is real - was the Sparkly Atlanta woman the true self, unburdened by the afflictions of life? Or was she merely a character I played, a momentary relief? Is this Mournful Woman the true self, grimly focused on the challenges ahead? Or is she merely a character I play, forcing away the joy to continue the Greek tragedy I perceive around me?
It's 2013, an odd year that I'm hoping is filled with better moments than the last three have. Perhaps this year, I will discover a way to give equal voice to both the Sparkly and Mournful women who lie within my mind.
Who will you discover that you are?