Friday, October 3, 2014

Look beyond......

Many of you know that I work at a small community college in rural, northern Michigan. My work is sometimes very stressful because I advise the students with some of the biggest challenges and barriers to success. Some days it seems as if I “put out fires” all day; other days, I struggle to motivate even ONE student to “get it together” and work harder.  All in all, however, I love what I do and I’m blessed to work with great people.

The college recently hired a new president, Dr. Christine Hammond.  This week, she took time out of her incredibly busy schedule to visit the class I teach to first-time, at-risk students on how to navigate and succeed in college.  To say that I was honored is an understatement!  Dr. Hammond has only been at MMCC for around 8 weeks and has so much to do in her new role.  I had the pleasure of meeting her many years ago when our advising staff traveled a couple of hours north to visit another college for a meeting.  Dr. Hammond was not directly involved in the meeting, but took our group out to lunch afterwards.  I was fortunate to sit next to her at lunch and she made quite an impression on me; not because of her incredible knowledge or position at the college, but rather, because she looked beyond my appearance and spoke to me with sincere respect and interest in my perspective.  I never expected that we would meet again, but now, many years later, she is the “captain of our ship.”

When I met Dr. Hammond the first time, I was over 400 pounds and unable to walk on my own.  I remember that I chose to drive myself up to Petoskey (about 2 hours away) and incur the cost of gas, instead of riding with the rest of the staff in the college van, because I knew it would be a real struggle to go there. Just trying to load and unload the bariatric walker in and out of a vehicle was a chore because it was heavy, large, and awkward, and it only fit in the trunk of my full-size car ONE way. I dealt with severe pain all day, every day, but a 2-hour drive made the stiffness worse. I knew I would be in sheer misery all day and I preferred to deal with that alone during the drive to and from the meeting. Any alteration of my routine of going to work and coming home added stress to my life.

 I remember that day very well. I remember trying to get the walker out of the car and struggling to get into the building.  I remember the set-up of the room; a large table with chairs all around. I had to leave the walker at the door because it didn’t fit in the room.  I remember the anxiety BEFORE the trip. Where would I park? What if it’s not close to the door?  What if the chairs in the room have arms and I don’t fit in the chair?  What if this…and what if that?  That stress of WHAT IF….was the norm for me when I had to go anywhere/do anything out of the norm. Essentially, this is what kept me home and isolated, and led me to refuse invitations. It was just TOO HARD to go anywhere; too much stress; too much pain. It was so much easier to go home and go to bed with a bag of chips and a 2 liter bottle of soda. Eventually people quit inviting me or expecting me to do anything. Even my employer realized that going to a conference or a meeting off-campus would be too difficult, so they quit asking.  Not anymore; I’m traveling to a wedding out of town this weekend and I’m heading to Petoskey next week for 3 days to speak at a conference on Student Success.  YES, life has certainly changed! But I digress…. Back to Dr. Hammond.

Dr. Hammond took our group to lunch before we traveled back to Harrison and I had the privilege of sitting next to her. At first I was very intimidated because I was a relatively new advisor and she had a doctorate degree and a very high administrative positon. And, I was morbidly obese and unable to walk.   And yet…she was so kind to me and was genuinely interested in what I did with students, how I felt about certain things, and the insight I had regarding students.  She was able to do something that not a lot of people were willing to do: Look beyond the weight; look beyond the chair; look beyond the pain and despair in my eyes…..and SEE….the passion I have for helping students succeed.  She made a lasting impression on me and I was able to forget about the physical reality of my life for a short time.  She saw my heart and soul; not my double chin and excess weight. 

I’ve been blessed to have many others, family members and life-long friends, in my life that have done that as well. I was humbled yesterday to read many comments to my updated profile ‘before-after picture” expressing the “I loved you then as I do now” sentiment. This means so much to me to have those people in my life.  The former president at the college, Carol Churchill, was one of them; as well as the majority of my co-workers. Oftentimes, when they see a “before” picture, they comment that they didn’t EVER see me that way, and yet some of those “before” pictures were taken either at work or shortly after returning home.  I worked side-by-side with these people in the “Old Theresa” days and they don’t recognize me in those old photos.  What a gift to have at people in life that can “look beyond….”and still see goodness and potential.  It is that love and acceptance that has inspired me to keep working to be a better person. It is that same sentiment that I feel for those of you in this group that have shared your personal story with me.

When I saw the above clip-art posted on a friend’s Facebook wall this morning, all of these thoughts came together. I love those words: “If only our eyes could see souls instead bodies; how very different our ideals of beauty would be.”  Incredibly powerful words that truly say so much.  I WANT to be that kind of person. I pray to be that kind of person each day when I ask God to open my eyes so that I may see His face in every person I encounter each day; that I may see HIS eyes in those that I meet; that I may “look beyond” the poverty, mental illness, sadness, pain, weight, addiction, fear, selfishness, disability…..and even the ‘what I define as stupid and foolish choices’ that others make.

I also struggle to ‘look beyond” the flaws of “Theresa” and see goodness.  I’ve shared frequently how difficult it is for me to deal with the excess skin and wrinkling left behind from the weight loss. It was a very long time before I could look in the mirror and not see a 4 or 5X body….even after I had lost a lot of weight. Even know, I often see the 20 pounds I’d like to eventually lose instead of the 270 that I’ve already lost and kept off. I’m very hard on myself. I think we all are sometimes because the world defines beauty so differently than God does. God looks beyond….and sees our souls.

Today…. I encourage you to join me in a sincere effort to attempt to “see” things in a new way. Start with yourself.  Make a list today of all the wonderful things about yourself….things that have NOTHING to do with your size, your past mistakes, your flaws or weaknesses….and try to see the goodness and potential you have deep within, buried or hidden by weight, fear, addiction, or past failure. It might be hard at first to come up 5 things because our tendency is to see our faults, especially if we have those in our present or past that continually remind us of them!  Try to see things like kindness; love; helpfulness; generosity.  Try to see those areas where you are strong and victorious, not those areas that need improvement. WE ALL …are a work in progress!

Instead of…..I’m such a loser; I gave in to that stupid candy bar….how about…’ I made it all the way until 3 pm today before I gave into temptation. Yeah, me, I’ll try again tomorrow and maybe I’ll make it until dinnertime!”

How about….” Yuck, I look so fat in these jeans…I just hate it…I’ll never lose weight”….how about, “I still have a long way to go, but last year at this time I wore a bigger size. I rock…Yeah, me!”

Instead of, “I’m so weak. I can’t believe I gained 20 pounds back after I worked so hard to lose the weight in the first place. I KNEW I couldn’t keep it off”….how about… “Yeah, so what, I gained 20 pounds, but I’m still 25 pounds lighter than I used to be, and I know how to get the weight off so “let’s get er done!’

How about…. “So what….I’m not where I want to be YET….but…. I have a kind heart; beautiful eyes; a wonderful family; and people in my life that love me IN SPITE OF.”  I’m going to make changes in my life so that I feel better about ME; not so someone else feels better about me.”

You get the drift…..if we want others to look beyond our weaknesses and flaws and see the beauty in our souls; we have to do that as well, first in ourselves and then in others.  Beauty has NOTHING to do with appearance, regardless of what Vogue magazine and Maybelline may say. Beauty comes from within. As I’ve said multiple times… “I’ve seen some very UGLY (ugly defined as rude; conceited; unkind; selfish, etc…) skinny people!”  YOU…are beautiful TODAY because you have a beautiful soul!

Have a great day and a wonderful weekend. I’m off  tomorrow to a wedding on the beach of Lake Michigan…with a forecast of temps in the 40’s and rain….but….It will be a BEAUTIFUL celebration….because I will try to “look beyond the cold and rain.”