“Well, look at you, Mimi!” These words tumbled out of my 18-month-old grandson’s mouth as I walked into the room wearing black-and-white striped PJ’s. I looked like a prisoner straight out of the penitentiary, but in his eyes I presented myself with a flare he had not seen before. This little toddler was noticing something different about his Mimi than what he had seen before. He was fascinated by what he saw, and he wanted to engage further with me. I found myself responding to his invitation of playfulness.
This is a poignant memory I have not forgotten because it kindles my heart’s desire to be known. For years I made assumptions that if others really got to know me they would be appalled by who I am. My data for thinking this comes with a long history of secrets and lying about my eating disorder addiction. I was sure I could never tell the truth about my past because others would reject me. Yet my desire to be known was actually the impetus that caused me to confess to God that enough was enough. I could no longer live in the shroud of secrecy. It was killing me emotionally, mentally, and physically, and I longed to be seen as my grandson saw me—as the unique woman that I was becoming in Christ.
During this time of longing, a vision of myself as an elderly grandmother of 75-years-old still dangling my head over the toilet haunted me. There was an unrest within me, and I knew I wanted something different for myself and ultimately for the next generation. It was like a coming out celebration as I slowly invited others into my struggles. I experienced the deep pain of telling the truth coupled with the glorious freedom of being known in the messiest parts of my life. I also discovered the tenderness of my heart as I opened my life as an offering for others to see me and to be known by them.
To be honest, my heart was a lot more sensitive than I had originally thought possible. It was like those years of secrecy had surrounded it with a crust to protect me from feeling the pain of striving to become the person others wanted me to be…thin, talented, pretty, creative, strong…the list could go on. I was all of that and more. The difference is that I came upon “my knowing” without denying my heart to make life work for others. It has been a slow release from pleasing others as I have picked away at that crust in order to free the goodness of knowing my heart for the release of myself.
Since my encounter with my grandson, with me in the striped PJ’s, I’ve had many “Well, look at you!” moments. They are seasoned with a “knowing” of being seen and received. I will always credit him with his innocent, playful invitation to be known by others. It is an engagement that calls out more for me, not for what I can do, but for who I am.
Today my heart feels tenderness and kindness for the girl who hid for so many years.
I’ve come to realize that my longing to be known started years before my eating disorder. Now I feel compassion for the girl who struggled to find her path to be noticed in ways that embraced her pain and loved her potential. And I can boldly say, “I have become the woman to this girl, and I know her and love her well.” She resides in my heart, which is a safe place. She is smiling because she knows there are more “Well, look at you!” moments ahead as I become the woman I am.
Mary Jane Hamilton loves her life living on Lake Michigan with her husband of 47+ years. It is her family that brings her the greatest joy especially her 6 grandchildren. MJ readily admits that she adores her dachshunds and rests in the comfort they provide. She smiles at life and “rolls with the punches” that are thrown her way. MJ loves Jesus and beauty, MJ loves wind, waves and thunder, MJ loves fashion and good wine, MJ loves…