I had an idea for what I wanted to do for lent--but I am your basic evangelical, wherein I don't really understand everything that lent is but I know it might be good for me and bring me closer to God--and you know I am all about that striving.
But pregnancy has messed with me a little bit and right around the time of fasting was supposed to start I was having a bunch of inner meltdowns about my physical self. It was all very weird, since I have consistently been below average when it comes to body issues (the plus side of not being considered culturally beautiful is that you don't bank your entire identity on it!) and in recent years I have gotten more active and continue to feel quite OK about myself.
But as the scale continues to creep up and my joints ache and my fingers start to swell I find myself battling two sorts of anxieties: one, I am getting sick again (and oh, the rabbit trails this on leads me down) and two, that I look positively frightful at all times.
I wrote a little bit about this over at Good Letters (you can read that piece here) and the horrid/wonderful little gym I now go to (although I only paid for 2 months--a crumpled $20 bill--and now that MPR is saying winter might be over by friday (!) so I might go back to lovely outdoor walks sooner rather than later). This gym seems to have taken on almost mythical proportions in my mind: it is the perfect metaphor for how wonderful and awful it is to try and live with at least a scrap of intentionality.
There is no doubt in my mind that if I had the money and if I didn't battle a constant and teensy-bit-crippling driving anxiety then I would get my butt down to the glorious YWCA at the edge of my neighborhood and elliptical away my sorrows while I watched cable television. But thanks in part to a few of our choices (work less, less cash, one car, try and stick to the neighborhood/what our neighbors do as much as possible) that isn't a possibility for me. In many ways I am glad for the structures we set up for ourselves, for they help keep commitments in dark wintertimes when I feel sad and I just want to work out in a pleasant, calm, quiet environment with other women who look just like me.
The neighborhood gym I wrote about in that piece makes me so anxious--too small to hide from people, too small to avoid all of those excruciating little interactions with strangers. The other day a man got on the only other treadmill, right next to mine, and proceeded to walk very slowly whilst clutching his discman to his chest and singing loudly. The manager/personal trainer made a comment about how he is so going to help me get my body back as soon as I have the baby. People ask me to help them turn on the machines, they stare at my sweaty red face, I look straight ahead and remind myself: we are all just trying to get healthy.
Intentionality takes work. For lent, I am committed to exercising every single day. Oftentimes this looks like your typical white-lady yoga DVD that I do for 20 minutes alone in my bedroom. I love it. And a few days a week it means bundling up, trudging over to that gym, and entering the blast of heat and sweat and strange-yet-familiar faces. There is good news to be found here. My fingers have stopped swelling so much. My anxiety has gone down a few notches. I look in the mirror and try not to dwell on what I see there. I visualize a healthy baby, fat and full-term. I think about bodies working correctly, even as I am surrounded by so many who don't.
Easter will fall right around the time I got sick with my first pregnancy. When I come to that day, I will throw myself into the celebration of resurrection. The story my daughter wants me to read over and over again in the Jesus Story Book Bible is when the tomb is found empty and Jesus appears to Mary in the garden--the artist draws her leaping and dashing to tell all the others (who, of course, didn't believe her). Jesus, that one who was so intentional about everything--who he chose to appear as his resurrected bad-ass self to first, for example. Jesus, the one who sought out the poor and the sick and the sad, yet who seemed to attract all stripes and shades of privileged and academic and religious. He didn't exclude anyone, but he was very strategic in who he sought out. It's the opposite of trickle-down anything.
There are so many ways we want to live and move with purpose in our world. It could seem overwhelming at first (especially when you tackle the big ones first--where do you live, who do you eat with, who do you worship with) but I have come to find it a pleasing and baffling puzzle. It is creative work, to not just slip into the easy rhythms of what you and yours need, of climbing the ladders of more money or power or intellectual credit, of desperately shoving down all of your grief at the in-equality in the world. Living with intentionality isn't just for the few, the proud, and the self-righteously set-apart. It is for all of us, and it comes with great big breaths of freedom.
I say this all even as my insides squirm at the thought of going back to that gym. The unglamorous yet perfect solution, it is real life at it's finest. I dress frumpy, careful of my Muslim neighbors. I ignore the loud and off-key singing, even as I want to shoot nasty looks. I smile at the manager and tell him that I'm just here to be healthy, nothing fancy, I'm not looking to get my body back when this 9 month journey is over. I am just learning to accept it for what it is, even as I long to hurry on towards the day of new life. I'm just trying, and failing, and trying again to be intentional in all of the small ways that make up a life.