The baby found my belly.
It seems every baby has gone through this stage when during or after a nursing session they are fascinated with and amused by my midsection. Each time it's gotten softer. The skin that was seven times stretched to fullness of life displaying the evidence of its past work more with each new life it's housed. A few more silver stripes here, some new creases there, the skin a bit looser and softer everywhere. In the middle marks the quirky looking belly button that popped out and never went back in. The baby thinks it's entertaining. My husband says it's beautiful. My mom taught me that they're my battle scars. If our bodies speak a language, then I want mine to say that I gave. I don't want to be embarrassed that my womb was eight times blessed to be the home to new life, my breasts filled and emptied tens of thousands of times. I don't want to look with disgust on the hips widened and sometimes aching by the passage of seven fully grown, fully healthy babies. I don't want to try to erase the creases on my face caused by too loud laughter or sick with worry nights. I don't want to spend precious energy seeking cures for what is simply the risk of my vocation. I want to offer my body, given up for them. For Him. And I don't want to look like it didn't happen. We won't have our bodies immediately upon death. But as Christians we do believe that at the end of time we will. Our bodies will be resurrected. While we don't know what that will look like, the fact that Christ's resurrected body still had the wounds of His love, makes me wonder if we, too, will still have ours. Perhaps at that point, viewed in the Presence and with the eye of God, they won't be deemed ugly or offensive, disgusting or embarrassing. Perhaps they will be our glory. Perhaps they will be a bit like His wounds, an eternal testimony that we chose to love beyond ourselves, to sacrifice our bodies for another. They will be the scars of a battle won. My battle is now. It is against powers and principalities and the voices of the world. It is not against others' flesh and blood but it is often against my will, desires, and wounds. It is a battle to choose love, to give until it hurts, to be like Him, offering my very flesh and blood for the sake of another. It is a battle to reject the voices around us that scream that our worth is in our youth, our purpose mere pleasure. And just like Him, we who are called to this vocation will often bear the marks of battle on our bodies. This is my specific call from Him. What a tragedy it would be if I were to die having preserved my body from any signs of that love. What a waste if at the end I have found I've squandered my energy on perfectly manicured hands and cellulite-free thighs. God help me if I stand in front of Him one day and have to answer for a talent buried in the ground, kept clean and perfect, but bearing no interest. I can't bring Him much but I can bring Him this body, the wrinkles and scars a testament to how I tried, albeit incredibly imperfectly, to love. My goal, my calling, is to love. Love costs something. Mother Teresa said, "Love to be real, it must cost, it must hurt, it must empty us of self." She had more pressing things to do than worry about her crow's feet or sagging skin. She was too caught up in love to be dissecting herself in the mirror. I will do what I can to be healthy, yes. I'm weaker than I should be and I am obliged to care for my body in the way I eat and exercise. I honor Him by honoring how my body was designed to work - with real food from the earth and with real movement from work and play. I respect His design for my body enough to only use medicines and supplements insofar as they help my body to function as He created it. I can be more open to life and available to love when I take care of what He has given. Absolutely. But I refuse to mourn that using my body in love will leave its mark. If my back aches let it be from carrying His children. If my eyes grow weak, let it be from straining to see the little people around me. I don't want to be a person whose eyes are turned inward, mourning what for every single one of us will pass away. I don't want to grasp at the exalted body of a teenager, a body that has never known the joy of a baby's smile, drunk with milk from its breasts, a body that has never known the triumph after the last agonizing push as new life slips out from it and into aching arms. I want to rejoice that He gave me the opportunity to love and I want to honor that this love was so real it changed my very skin and bones. If we are to be running a race, I hope to show up at the finish line sweaty and aching, knees bloody and heart pounding. What I want is to reach the end of my days, wrinkled and worn, scarred and used up. I want to give it back to Him and say, "This is what I did with what you gave me. I tried to live. I tried to love." No doubt I grapple every single day with letting go of the image of me in my head, an image formed by the world's eye, to meet the reality of what I have become, what I hope is an image formed by His. But I will try because I want to be a woman who gives my assent again to continue that fiat started long ago. Be it done unto me, Lord. Even the stretch marks. I don't want to look back and regret what I didn't give and when in doubt, I hope I will err on the side of giving too much. I want to reach the end of my days having held nothing back. I want to reach His feet, exhausted and scarred from the battle, and hear Him say those words, "Well done, my good and faithful servant. The battle has been won."
"We are...always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh." 2 Corinthians 4:10-11