My 21 month old is drawn, like a magnet, to our bellies– if he sees a bare belly he runs to pat it and say “bebbie.” I am learning to see and experience it as a blessing. This sweet little guy has not been saturated by what culture says is beautiful. All he knows is that he sees a belly and wants to pat it and say “bebbie.”
Since the birth of my second child 6 years ago, I have used my stomach as a whipping post for myself. My stomach has been the measuring tool by which I judge myself. This belly has housed three,10 pound, boys. This space has been their cave and hide out while they are being perfected. Each time my body grew with my boys, I was amazed at how it could accommodate another person. It is truly powerful. And yet, now that I am not pregnant, I judge myself and come up short every time because my stomach has changed and still resembles the shape it did while I had people inside. I reduce my self and my worth to the appearance of a body part. I know myself to be a much deeper and wiser woman than to succumb to this.
Part of appreciating beauty is knowing the story within it… things and people become even more beautiful when you know their histories. Growing up, my mother had an abstract painting hanging in our house that was made, just for her, by a famous artist. There was history, she had grown up beside this man and is still best friends with his daughter. This painting has been a topic of many conversations. Knowing who made it and why allows the painting to hold more weight, more depth, and more beauty.
There is a lot of story when it comes to my belly, my body— years of sexual abuse, 2 hernia surgeries by age 7, three babies, one ending in a cesarean. When I refuse to engage the story and the process, I refuse to see the depth, variation, complexity and simplicity of beauty.
I am being invited to a deeper –more true story as I join with my almost two year old and bless my “bebbie”. Finding kindness rather than disdain leads me to more space and breath. I do not begrudge myself for the struggle. But the lust of a flat stomach, that desire has gone wildly mad and can take over the deep truths that I know. I know better really- but I still find myself yielding to this lust.
I have known too much shame in my body. It is time- well, it is time again—to say NO to hatred and allowing cruelty to win. This is my confession. I have been here before with other things, and yet back again – like a labyrinth that keeps making its way into the loving arms of Mother God. SHE is inviting me again to lay down my desire gone awry and to hear Her sweet still calm voice to love and be loved in this very place. This very “bebbie” is mine to love.
Beauty is in the imperfection—it is in the swarm of the dark and seemingly dead places that beauty forms and is birthed. The beauty of my belly is not (or not only) in the flat and non-marked, it is in the three dimensional. It comes from a long trodden story. It is the soft compassion of another. It is in knowing the true stories that make up the chapters and loving the complexities. Beauty is in everyone and is everywhere. Sometimes, I need to get out of my own way to see and feel my son’s hand blessing his “old house.” Beauty is the fabric that is woven into our bodies, hearts, and story. Oh for more freedom to embrace the wild and sweet wind of love and kindness as we each find our own beauty and freedom in the places we have become stuck and unkind.
In this very spot may we can trust and hold wildly to that truth—swing like mad on the freedom that comes in knowing that in the end, all is healed and all is well.
Laura Wade Shirley is a wife, mother of three, therapist, and teacher. She lives in Seattle and teaches at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. During summer she enjoys camping with her family, hiking, and gardening when she can find the time. She loves triathlons and running, though sitting in a quiet house reading a book sounds delightful too.