I saw a photograph of myself today. I instantly hated it, it showed my as over-weight, I am over-weight, but the angle highlighted it. It was a photo of me welcoming nursery aged children to talk about what baptism is, it was a lovely morning, I got down to their level and talked about God’s love then I “baptised” all of the dolls and cuddly animals they had brought, including the genderfluid “Daniel Annabelle” who had changed her name and gender on the way across the road. It was a lovely morning, it is a lovely memory, but when I look at the photo I don’t see the loveliness, I see me, fat and unattractive, and I enter into my spiral of self criticism again. How could I have let myself get this way again, especially after loosing all of that weight just three years before. I know the answer, Covid, Long-Covid and depression, all of these led to inactivity, and then to comfort eating, because I am a comfort eater- why of why can’t I be someone who can’t bear to eat when depressed, why do I want chips and cheese and crisps????? I think I know the comfort eating answer, it lies back in my childhood.
I have never been comfortable in my own skin, or at least I can’t remember being so, not for any length of time. Although I was a prem baby I soon grew, tall and big-boned I take after my dad in that, and I remember worries about my weight from the age of six or seven, if there were treats I was restricted because I was fat, or getting fat, though looking back at photos that really isn’t true, I was big, but not fat. I was also fit, we swam every day after school, and I was good, at the age of 9 I was training, and was swimming 100 lengths in a training session. I loved swimming, I still love swimming, it felt good, immersed in the water my body can move with a fluidity that I could never achieve on land, I would be hidden at the back of my ballet class, and of school photos, and would always be re-cast as a boy in country dancing because I was tall. I was not comfortable in my own skin.
I was not comfortable in my own skin, that fact dogged me right through my socially awkward teenage years, by this point, my parents had taken the decision to move from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the home I knew, to England, the swimming after school was lost to me. I hated school and struggled to fit in, not helped by the fact that we moved 4 times, for me between the ages of 11 and 18 this was totally confusing, and disorientating. I retreated into my own alternative reality, and learned a new way of being, living behind a wall of protection, but it was protecting a disintegrating and self-hating person within! I remember being desperate to fit in, and to find a relationship with a significant other like many of my less socially awkward peers, this if course meant finding a boyfriend, but that is not what I really wanted, I remember being very attracted to a girl in my form room, she had amazing blond hair, but I soon pushed those thoughts away, and like many teens utterly confused love with sex, which led to me hating myself even more.
The result of mixing love and sex was I guess inevitable, and I found myself pregnant at the age of 19, my mum wanted me to have an abortion, his mum wanted to adopt the baby, so we did the right thing and got married! He is a good man, I was going to say was, but is , is the right word, because although we are no longer married he is still very much alive. We have 5 amazing children, and 4 amazing grandchildren. There were many good times, and many good memories…
The trouble is when you are hiding behind a wall of self protection and self hatred, and never being yourself, burying your true self so deep that you loose sight of her, and when you are desperately trying to fit into the mould of good person, good wife, good mother, and feel that you are failing at every turn, the only thing you can do is add another brick to the wall. I had coping mechanisms, and they included eating, drinking and spending, anything to plug the inadequacy and unhappiness I felt. This went on for 32 years!
In the meantime God had found me, as a teenager, my efforts to be good had led me to church, a small Anglican Church on a hill top, with traditional liturgy and stained glass windows, there was comfort in repeating the words of the creed, and the Lord’s Prayer, there was comfort in the body of Christ, even before I was confirmed.
A move, due to the afore mentioned pregnancy took me to another Anglican Church, more modern than the first, and it seemed more demanding somehow, if marriages were to take place and babies were to be baptised then certain expectations had to be met. Somehow I managed the outer appearance despite the inner hatred.
Another move, then another, and a church in a village that welcomed families, we were a family by now, but once again I was adding more bricks to my outer façade while sinking inwardly, the feeling of not being good enough deepened, oddly as my faith in God grew, and somehow God meat me in the depths of the secret place I had constructed for myself, but I was living a double life, and barely coping. Another move, this time to Texas, and an awful course that I was talked into going on by Marriage Ministries International, who had definite ideas of how mew and women should be and the place they should take in the family. I almost had a break down, in fact I think I did have a breakdown, but somehow managed to rebuild the wall again if somewhat shakily.
Time passed, back in England now and a move from Essex to Norfolk, working for the Methodist Church, where a call to ministry became evident, alongside this, the cracks in our marriage were beginning to be obvious. Where on earth was God in this, where is the healing when you need it? The trouble is the healing I was seeking at that point, wasn’t really healing but the restoration of an illusion, a happy family, a happy marriage, a happily ever after story! Roses around the door etc, etc….
I have learned that God is not so concerned with how things appear, nor with roses around the door, God is concerned with the heart, and with the true soul, not the one trying so hard to be something else. The odd thing is I know, and have always known ( I think) my true self to be loved, maybe that is what has kept me from the edge of the abyss, because when I get there I find myself enveloped in love and grace, this is what I preach week after week, this is what I know, even when I am trying to appear different, and thankfully, when I put myself forward for ordained ministry this is what the church saw. The authentic self called out, was calling my whole self into being. There are no roses around the door.
God is not concerned with roses around the door, God is concerned with reality, and while the photo I dislike so much shows me that I am overweight, it also shows me that I can speak to little ones about a depth of love that is real, and holds them before they ever knew it, and I pray that they will come to know it, in a deep way, and before they begin to feel the full force of the demands that society can place upon them. It also reminds me of the grace that holds me, because the baptism liturgy contains my favourite words ” All this for you, before you could know anything of it”..
This Sunday the Gospel reading from the lectionary concerns the ten lepers who are made well by Jesus, all 10 are cured of their leprosy, but only one comes back, had they all gone and shown themselves to the priests, had they all been declared clean? We don’t know, but what we do know is one came back to Jesus, and he was a Samaritan, an outcast, an outsider, he came back, and he gave thanks. Could it be somehow, that it wasn’t simply his leprosy that received healing that day, but also something in his deeper identity, did he know himself seen and loved by God for the first time, had the stigma of his race fallen away, revealing to him that he too was fearfully and wonderfully made. Had he received a deeper healing?
A deeper healing is what I needed, despite ordination I did not feel the worthiness that was declared over me by Conference ( a part of the ordination service), I continued to feel inadequate, and to look for the roses around the door. Divorce shattered that false expectation, and sent me seeking again, I tried to add a few more bricks to my very wobbly wall, but being both shaky and wobbly now, and built with no foundations it came crashing down. I needed to find myself, my God created self, the self that I could take back to Jesus, just as the leper did, the self I could give thanks for. This is a daily task, sometimes a moment by moment task. I am slowly beginning to own my queer self, but that can be difficult in a new room when you don’t know how the room will react, will there be more trauma, because there has been plenty of that, that is why I hid in the first place… when building a wall keep adding bricks…
Today I painted a picture, its working title is through turmoil and trauma, it sort of explains my experience of the last few years, maybe the last 10, of my wall falling, and working through allowing myself to be seen, it depicts some of the trauma of the God in Love Unites Us discussions, which have wonderfully led to the decision of the Methodist Church to celebrate same sex marriages. But it wasn’t without cost. It is scattered with gold leaf, amongst the mess and the explosions. It is how life still feels at times. I know my wall building and turmoil have affected others, and I am sorry for any hurt I have caused, or illusions I have projected.
This I know, I like many am on a road from brokenness to wholeness, I like many and piecing together the fragments of an unlived life, from amongst the debris of a lived one, and in all there are blessings. My children and grandchildren are blessings, and I am thankful for them.
This I also know, the promise of God is that all will be well, that walls and roses around doors and a bit of extra weight will one day be reconciled in ultimate healing, all will be well, not only for me, but for all of us who are walking the road of life, taking one step at a time, for those who are in hiding, and for those who aren’t, all this is for you, all will be well….