Thursday, 27 February 2014

Sinking and swimming

Advisory:  This post contains nothing profound, nothing revelatory or inspirational, nothing very spiritual or deep in any sense at all. (Unless you count the deep end, which is 12'6". Not the place to drop your goggles.)

As part of my latest drive to shake off some excess poundage, I have started to swim again. The water level of the local swimming pool rises ever so slightly twice a week as I climb in and trawl up and down for a bit.

I have to say, getting in is a bit easier than getting out; funny how heavy you feel when you try to exit a swimming pool. Heavier than you were when you got in, strangely enough, which is unfair given that you've worked off some calories while in the water - it stands to reason that you should feel lighter when getting out, but sadly not. I hate getting in and out - much more than the actual swimming, which I don't mind too much.

The distance from the ladies' changing to the shallow end seems a long way to me. While in the water, I'm just another head and shoulders, the water happily distorting all that lies iceberg-like, beneath. It's a great equaliser; until we all start moving, it's hard to know who's the swimming club star out for a bit of serious training, who's the sinewy lifelong swimmer with lungs of iron, and who's the portly middle aged woman trying to work off a bit of flab.

That's me, the last one. In case you were wondering. 

My aim is to swim twice a week. 

The other day the water was quite warm, for a change. Last week it was so cold that you could see your breath and the lifeguard had a jumper on; it felt like a Christmas Day swim in the Solent. The cold wasn't the worst of it, mind you. The worst bit was that I saw five people that I knew.

Five. That's not good news for someone as self-conscious as I am. I try to keep track of people I know when I see them in the pool so that I can engineer a good moment to get out when it's time to flee. I try to wait until they're on their outward length when I head for the steps so that their backs are turned when I make my exit but with five people that wasn't too easy.

That's how self-conscious I am. I hate being spotted in my swimsuit, even though I know intellectually that nobody actually cares. The casual observer probably has no interest in the sight of me staggering to the changing rooms but still it preys on my mind.

I was swimming along, trying to stay submerged as much as I possibly could, but it seemed that every time I came up for air, there was someone grinning at me. Figures from the past (junior school classmate: might not have recognised me in goggles - I can only hope), someone from the school run (no such luck, wanted to compare notes on the school trip), a couple of people from church (likewise, bright smiles) and a waitress from my favourite cafe (might not technically count as someone I know, but nonetheless...)

On the upside, I was motivated to keep moving. Chatting at the pool requires effort and concentration as my eyesight is limited without my contact lens and more often than not my goggles are steamed up or half-full of water. My hearing, never that acute at the best of times, is also somewhat compromised when my ears are swishing with water and so more than an awkward 'Hello!' between breaths is about all I can manage. Am I the only person who gets hung up on the possibility of social encounters at the pool? I bet for most people it's not a thing at all.

Sigh.  It's so much easier not to bother, but I must do something. I've asked God to help me with the problems I have with eating and myriad other problems relating to self esteem, body image and health and so it's only right that I should try to help Him help me.

So - up and down the pool.

It's amazing how your mind wanders while you're swimming.

I've tried doing lots of things to relieve the boredom as I trawl up and down the pool - I have counted breaths, counted strokes, sung songs in my head, recited poetry, tried to pray, but it's all a bit disjointed and incoherent, as if the act of swimming demands not quite enough concentration to be absorbing, but too much to allow the thoughts to do anything constructive. 

'Breathe...breathe...breathe...ouch...shoulder that a hair clip on the bottom of the pool or a small creature? Blimey, that guy must have lungs of iron...water in my goggles...breathe...breathe... cracked tile...hello, Jesus, been meaning to talk to you about...bit cold tonight...LAND OF HOPE AND GLORY...did I send Katy's school trip permission form back...?' 

And so on. 

In my own little world, watching the underwater world go by, looking out of my little round windows. 

Goggles. If ever there was an invention straight from the devil, it's got to be goggles. I have a hate/hate relationship with mine. 

Before I invested in my first pair I asked about, got some recommendations and deliberated long before choosing which to buy. Make and model. Then a few weeks passed without the opportunity to nip into a sporting goods shop, so I ended up getting some out of the vending machine in the foyer of the leisure centre. 

That was a palaver in itself as I managed to jam the machine and someone had to come and open it up, rummage in the bowels of the machine (isn't it fascinating, the inside of a vending machine?) and extract my goggles and my change. Then it turned out that I'd inadvertently purchased a pair of kids' goggles, so had to do some apologising before I was allowed to change them for an adult pair. By this time I had no bargaining power and so accepted the first pair that were handed to me. This pair were a sort of grey and purple and, if I do say so myself, I looked a complete prat in them when I put them on. 

It was about two weeks before I got the hang of actually putting them on without snapping them painfully on the bridge of my nose or accidentally removing eyebrow hair, but then it turned out that they leaked. I'd read the instructions on how to adjust them but I just couldn't get it right. Maybe my eyes are the wrong distance apart or something. Every time I raised my eyebrows, they sort of slipped down. Of course, the ability to raise one's eyebrows unimpeded while swimming is a bit of a necessity, isn't it?

By the time I splashed my way to the deep end there they'd be, half steamed up and half full of water. I would squint through the murk and tread water while I emptied my goggles. So I tightened them a little more, but still they leaked. I think my eyes must have bulged with the pressure, but since I can't see much it's not a problem. Actually, as I have one short-sighted eye and one long-sighted eye, I am able to see any distance if I kind of lose focus in one eye, but that involves a slight turning in of the eye I don't use, so I don't tend to do it very often for fear of unnerving those around me. (Imagine: a fat middle aged woman treading water with half-full goggles and a wandering eye?)

Those goggles never did stop leaking. I tightened them until they started making a sucking noise when I took them off, and still they leaked. They left a pair of rings, raccoon-like, that stuck around for an hour or so after I've finished swimming, which isn't a good look for the school run.

Then there's the issue of steaming up. All goggles steam up, even the ones with the non-steam coating. I was struggling with mine one day when a stranger volunteered the information that you had to spit into your goggles to stop them steaming up. He demonstrated (on his own goggles, I'm pleased to say) and then stood there, waiting for me to do likewise. I hesitated, then delicately licked the lenses in as ladylike manner as possible, and he laughed, informing me that I'd be better 'gobbing' in them.  I muttered something and pushed off from the side with as much dignity as it's possible to muster after an exchange like that. 

Next time I was at the pool the helpful man was there again and he smirked at me from the far lane. Had I felt like it, I could have informed him that his advice didn't work as copious quantities of saliva still hadn't solved my steaming up problem, since I'd had a sneaky gob on them before I left my cubicle in the changing rooms. Maybe there's something wrong with my spit. 

I think my current pair are a bit better, and I have to say I have finally cracked the steaming up problem, if not the raccoon rings or the looking like an idiot. My goggles are reliable enough for me to leave in my lens these days so I have a better chance of identifying objects beneath me on the seabed without adding a floating contact lens to the debris. 

The struggle continues. 

Up...down...tiles...tiles...turn...agh, much longer? I'll be 44 next birthday...MUSIC AND PASSION WERE ALWAYS THE FASHION AT THE COPA, COPACABAAAANA...oh, lovely swimsuit...bit chilly tonight...'Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him, Horatio...' ouch, my hip...breathe, breathe, breathe...



1.  I am not actually a Barry Manilow fan. Really.
2.  The secret to unsteamy goggles appears to be a tiny, tiny drop of washing up liquid rubbed over the inside of the lenses. Pass it on. Let's eliminate the need for goggle-gobbing.
3.  This is my 400th post. Thought I'd make it an important one. 

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Needing a miracle: letter to the hungry

I’m feeling a bit peckish. 

In the cupboard there are no biscuits that I like, because I don’t buy biscuits that I like, because then I would eat them. I buy biscuits that the children like, because they eat biscuits, being normal people with normal appetites and because I’m desperate that they don’t develop the same sort of subtly distorted relationship with food that I have.

Food cannot be inherently ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’. It’s food. Everything in moderation; except I’m not very good at moderation. There’s no point in one biscuit.

The thing is, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that I might eat biscuits I don’t much like, just because they’re biscuits, and they’re there. My levels of self control fluctuate between negligible and non-existent.

Being hungry has very little to do with it.  I saw a scene in a film recently when a man offers a huge box of doughnuts to a lady in an office.  She declines, saying that she isn’t hungry. Confused, the doughnut man asks what that has to do with it?

And that’s the thing. I don’t have to be hungry to say yes to a doughnut, or a scone, or a bit of flapjack. I just have to be… needing one. To those who don’t consider that nobody really needs flapjack, I say I understand, I know what you mean and how, oh how I wish I saw things that way.

I like eating, and I’m good at it. The reason I’m overweight is that I ingest more calories than I expend, and it’s as simple as that. I can’t argue that it isn’t. I don’t have anything wrong with my ‘glands’, my genes seem to be predominantly thin ones and so I have no excuse. My metabolism is slow because I don’t do very much to perk it up. 

I like meals, and I don’t like getting out of breath.

The only thing is, it isn’t as simple as all that. There are lots of layers in this equation.  The obvious ones are food choices (I love all the hearty stuff like lasagne and pizza and pasta and shepherd’s pie and biscuits) and portion size (what do you mean, I should have less on my plate than my 6’4” husband has on his? That wouldn’t be fair.)  But there’s other stuff. More insidious stuff that I just do not know how to deal with.

I eat when I’m happy:  ‘ You know what would make today absolutely perfect? Cake.’

I eat when I’m sad:  ‘Cake will cheer me up.’

I eat when I’m  anxious:  ‘I can’t be worrying about my weight on top of everything else. I’m going to have some cake.’

I eat when I’m overwhelmed. ‘Don’t think about it. Have some cake.’

I eat when I’m celebrating:  ‘Hooray! Let’s have cake!’

I eat when I’m commiserating:  ‘Oh no. What a disappointment. Still, we have cake.’

I eat when I’m bored:  ‘What shall I do? I know, I think I’ve got some cake.’

I eat when I’m tired: ‘I can’t be bothered cooking tonight. Let’s order pizza.

I eat when I’m procrastinating: ‘I’ll get this done when I’ve had some cake.’

I eat when I associate two unrelated things:  ‘Let’s watch a film. What is there to eat?’

I eat when I drink coffee (this is a killer – I drink a lot of  coffee) – but what’s a cup of coffee without a biscuit?

And so on. Believe it or not, I’m not even finished. Whatever you can find in the way of emotions, there’s a reason to have something to eat.

People who don’t get this just say, ‘Well, don’t eat for those reasons. Cheer yourself up with a bubble bath, or a massage or something instead’. I have a couple of things to say about that.

One: Has anyone ever celebrated something with a bubble bath? 

Two: Anyone like me who has longstanding problems with overeating probably has a body to match, and the idea of someone laying their hands on it and kneading all that flesh, no matter how therapeutic it might be in principle, is a horror that might well drive them to cake.

So the cycle continues. The mirror and the scales only pass on bad news which causes misery and embarrassment and worry, and the overwhelming urge is to have something nice to eat to take away the pain.

The diet can start tomorrow. Or next week. Or after the cake is finished.

I have tried, or at least considered, every diet known to man, and some that I made up myself. I understand people who eat and then make themselves sick; it makes perfect sense to me. If I ‘d been able to do it when I was fifteen, who knows what awful direction my life might have taken. 

I’ve been this way since I was very small – or rather not small – young.

I remember at primary school being terrified that the kids in my class would make the connection between a fictional fat kid called HT and my (then) initials.  They did.

I remember kids – and the PE teacher - at senior school calling me names that hurt badly. 

I remember being crushed when someone realized that my name rhymed with ‘melon’.

I remember the lady fitting my wedding dress urged me to try extra hard to get thin because ‘It’ll be worth it to feel beautiful on the day.’  I didn’t. I couldn’t….and I didn’t.

Fat isn't beautiful, is it?

I know all the tricks – the ones that work and the ones that don’t. Pulling a cardigan tightly round in front to cover as much as possible (not really; just makes you look defensive). Wearing dark colours and long lines to elongate the body. Wearing multiple layers so people might not be completely sure what shape you really are. Sitting with legs on tiptoes so that thighs don’t spread out too much.  Control pants (just push it all upwards). Control shorts (just push it all downwards). Control polo-neck-to-knee underwear (if only…) Never, ever, ever, sitting on anyone’s knee (though the older I get the less this is an issue.)

And now I'm middle aged and it all gets a little more serious. It's not only about dress sizes and how I look in a swimsuit. It's about clogged arteries and joint pain and breathlessness; the ability to exercise if I wanted to. It's about running around with my children and walking round to sightsee on holiday. It's about getting to old age with enough energy to actually do some living. 

Several times in my life I’ve tried hard to get thin. I have never managed it, but I’ve lost a significant amount of weight on three or four occasions, before putting it all back on again with a bit more besides.  Nothing seems to work for long. Herculean efforts at self control eventually evaporate and the momentum subsides, leaving me in front of the cake once more, a fork in my hand.

If I lose some weight, people tell me how good I look (comparatively) and they’re being lovely, encouraging. But what my distorted mind wonders is what they used to think when I was even bigger. Thin equals approval, acceptability; fat equals disapproval, rejection.

I hate it. There aren’t words for exactly how much I hate it. I hate that I have no control. I hate that my clothes are getting bigger and bigger and that I acclimatize myself to shopping for a larger and larger size each time I need something new. I hate that I hate shopping.

I hate that I didn’t feel beautiful in my wedding dress.

I hate that I look in the mirror with disgust, and I hate that I am powerless to do anything about it.

It’s not just about eating.

It’s even less about being hungry.

Here’s where I’m at.

I’m 43 years old and I love Jesus Christ. I try to live my life as He wants me to live it.  And this is not it.

He came to set me free, and I am not free.

He came to give me life in abundance, not the half-life that I’m living.

He thinks that I am beautiful, but I think He’s wrong.

He speaks only Truth, but I have believed lies.

I have believed that it’s all down to me. That other people don’t have this problem, and so there’s something wrong with me, because I emphatically do. I’ve believed that I’m fat and ugly and there’s nothing that I can do to improve matters; I should just get used to it – be the jolly fat lady, only I can’t be jolly.

I’ve believed that everyone sees me the way I see me, and so everyone is looking at me, assessing me, judging me.  That I am no good the way that I am; I am unacceptable. Strengths, gifts, achievements - I know that they're there, but they pale into insignificance next to this thing that I can't do. I believe that the only thing others see is the fat, the lack of self-control, the self-indulgence, the weakness.

Sometimes I get a glimpse in my head that those things are not true, but, oh, God, it’s been a long, long time believing them and it’s going to take a miracle to think any differently.

So, I need a miracle.

I need the Almighty Creator who made me to reach down and heal me. I need the God who loves me to breathe something new into my lungs, into my mind. I need my heavenly Father to take away thirty five years of defeat and self-doubt and bring health and restoration.

I know that He can do miracles. I do.  But for some reason, for all the things I’ve tried, I’ve never laid all this ugliness in front of Him.

I don’t know why. It’s not as if it hasn’t occurred to me before that He’s the only one who can help me, that God is my last chance. Maybe deep down I’ve known that if asking Him for help ‘doesn’t work’, then there’s no hope for me at all. As if Jesus were a genie in a lamp, but He might not come out when I rub it.

He’s never let me down, not once. When I’ve trusted Him with something, He’s always been there. Not always in the way I wanted Him to be; I don’t for one minute expect that He’d arrange it for me to wake up one moment a size twelve with no joint pain and a wardrobe full of clothes that fit, though that’d be fine by me. I know that He works in a quite different way and I know that His timing is perfect, even if I do want all this sorted out yesterday.

I trusted Him with a long standing problem with anxiety, and although I’m a work in progress, I am much less anxious.

I trusted Him with my tendency to lose my temper with the children (especially at bathtime) and again, He is not done with me yet, but I am better than I was.
‘…in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.’Romans 8:37
You see?  He can do things that I can’t do.

He can.

So maybe He’s waiting for me to give it all over to Him, not holding anything back. Not expecting Him to do all the work, but by the same token, not trying to do it all myself. Just admitting that I cannot do anything about this. I can’t. Nope.

Because here’s the thing. I need a fundamental change in the way that I think, feel, handle emotions, and I cannot do that on my own. When I am tired and lonely and worried and scared and all those other reasons I eat – what I need is not cake, but Jesus.
‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’Romans 12:2
I’m looking for comfort, and there is none to be had without Jesus.

Maybe I’m hungry for Jesus.

He is the only One who satisfies. He is the only One who has what I need.

I give up.

I can’t do this any more.

Renew my mind, Lord Jesus, I like food, and I don’t like exercise. I’m not healthy, and I’m far from happy.

I hate this. I’m ready to change whatever needs changing to find the freedom and life that you promised me.

I need you, not cake.

I need you more than cake.

You are the God of hopeless cases and you are the God who heals.

So, I’m going to get some exercise. I’m going to try and say no to the biscuits more often than I say yes. I’m going to try and live a life that doesn’t revolve around food. I don’t want to put anything in your place but I know that I am not strong enough; I’ve proved it over and over again... and yet:
‘I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength’.Philippians 4:13 (NLT)
When I can’t help myself, I need you to help me.

I'm on my knees.

I’m giving it all to you, Lord Jesus.

Joining with Ruth and Sabrina for Letters To...
(because they seem to get into my head). 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

You need only to be still: letter to the tired


You there. Feeling overwhelmed; trying not to cry. This is for you. 

I know that you're so, so tired. 

I know what's going through your mind right now, and I know that it's all jumbled up and confused and you've given up trying to make sense of things. I know that you feel that everything is going wrong and that you're further than ever from where you want to be. I know that you're exhausted trying to keep up with your racing thoughts as you struggle to work out what to do next; what to say, where to go, what to think, what your next move should be. 

I have a message for you. 

You're not on your own. I know what you're going through and I am right there with you, even in the dark. I never lose my way, and I will not allow you to be lost either, because you are my beloved child. 
'...even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.'
Psalm 139:12
You know when they tell you that the darkest hour is just before dawn, and that at the moment that you think you simply can't keep going any longer - that's when daylight might break over the horizon?  

It's not as simple as that. It's not a matter of holding your breath and putting everything on hold until you can see again. Only I know how long the darkness will last. It might be that at any moment glorious light will flood your life and everything will fall into place, or it could be that you can't see the way forward for quite some time. Don't be afraid of the darkness.

I want you to learn to breathe, even when it's dark. I want to show you how to be so calm, so still, that you can see the pinpricks of light in the night sky. I want to show you the stars. 

I'm teaching you about trust.

When you are still enough, close enough, you can learn to find beauty even when your eyes cannot make out anything else. There is beauty in the dark too, because I am there.

I see you agitated because you can't see, because you don't know. I see you struggle to make sense of life, trying with all your mind to understand things that are out of your control. 

Stop. Be still. I will fight for you.
'The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.   Exodus 14:14
There are times for dynamic action. When you can see the path ahead and you know what you need to do, these are full-speed-ahead times. There are other times when I want you to do nothing. Times to hide in the shadow of my wing. You're always asking me what to do, but doing is not always what is necessary. Sometimes I want you to stop, just sit with me for a while. 

When it's dark and confusing your instinct to rush off can cause you to trip over things, to dash off in the wrong direction and I would save you that.
'Be still and know that I am God.'
Psalm 46:10 
Stop thinking that it all depends on you. You are not responsible for other people. You're not responsible for their happiness, or their success, or their opinion of you. You answer to me and me only, and I say - stop. Just for a while.

Stop striving. None of your dreams depends on you. I have the keys to all the doors that you wish would swing open in front of you and my timing is perfect. I see the end from the beginning - I know the damage that would be done if I gave you all that you ask for when you ask for it. I know you. 

Maybe the dawn is just approaching, or maybe the night will go on for a while yet; that's up to me. I will work it all out for good.  If the darkness persists, then I want you to come close to me and hold on tightly. 

'But those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not be weary; they will walk and not be faint.'
Isaiah 40:31
I want you to rest and listen to the beat of my heart, feel the warmth of my arms around you, draw strength from my strength. If you are still enough, if you put aside the hopes and fears and worries and lean into me, you'll hear my voice whispering to you in the dark. Listen to me. I speak words of truth. I guide you. I prepare you. I inspire you. 

I will give you the strength to carry on. 

I will never leave you in the dark. 

With my love


Linking up (rather late) with Ruth Povey and Sabrina Fowles for 'Letters To...' 

Thursday, 6 February 2014

On my own with Him

And finally...

I'm walking in a meadow, on a cliff top, on a beautiful summer day. 

There are flowers everywhere. Blues, reds, yellows, grasses as high as my waist in places, swaying in a breeze with a gentle shushing sound. It's restful, like a lullaby. 

The sun is warm and the sky blue with wispy summer clouds high above. I can't see the sea because I'm a few hundred yards inland from the edge of the cliff, but if I listen carefully I can hear the sound of the waves and now and again as the wind blows I feel refreshing misty spray against my face. I breathe it in, remembering that was how the clouds felt when I flew with God.

I knew it was the Holy Spirit in my lungs then, and it is now.

I am walking, slowly, shoulders relaxed, swinging my arms, a smile on my face. I am wearing a dress, which is unheard of, for me. I never wear dresses. It's a pretty floral print with short sleeves and a full skirt and I am comfortable in it. I'm not pulling at it self-consciously. It's not too tight or scratchy or clinging; it's cool and pretty. Bare legs, sandals, hair blowing back as I walk into the breeze and inhale the sweet, fresh air.

I am transformed. I am beautiful and confident and carefree. I am light and peaceful. 

I know that God is with me, even though I am alone. He is with me in the meadow just as he was with me in the sky and with me as I tried to climb the mast on the tall building. He is right here, and I smile to myself, knowing that I am walking with my Lord, that He will never leave me.

I am happy, on my own with Him.

I walk and I breathe deeply, I take in the beauty of all that is around me. I am completely content. Surrounded by the breathtakingly intricate beauty of His creation, accompanied by the Creator, who points out His wonders to me as we stroll along; breathing in the fine sea-spray mist of the Holy Spirit.

I can walk alone, and still be with Him. I can have my feet on the ground, and still breathe in the spirit. I don't know where I'm going, but it doesn't matter. He is with me and I am just enjoying the walk. There is no better company.

I am home. I am safe. I am alive.

There is freedom and space. All is well.

I am His daughter. 

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