Mommy, when you are a hundred, will you be as tall as the clouds?
This, my little daughter asks me from her seat on the swing in our backyard. Her sweet up-turned face looks past me to the billowing clouds overhead. To her, growing up means growing taller so she can reach the monkey bars unassisted and ride all the rides at the theme park. Surely 100 years should be enough to reach those clouds, she concludes.
While our growing taller comes to an end during our teens and early twenties, our growth doesn’t stop then; it merely goes undercover. Throughout our lives, our bodies are busy reshaping, remodeling and renewing themselves, not only to heal after injury or illness but as a regular practice. Cellular turnover is part of our programming.
This notion always came as a surprise to the students in my anatomy class who, though quite a bit more advanced than my small daughter, generally assumed that once they stopped growing up they started growing old. Actually, there’s a whole lot of reconstruction going on.
Even our bones, which seem the deadest of things thanks to archaeological excavations and Halloween decorations, are active and changing our whole lives long. Even when they aren’t growing longer, they’re growing stronger in response to the pushes, pulls and pressures they endure. It’s the beauty of weight-bearing exercise. We’re designed to fortify ourselves. What breaks down gets rebuilt, only stronger, given sufficient time, good design and quality building materials. We are always undergoing renovation.
We call this maturation, and I’m pretty sure it’s meant to be a total make-over of body, mind and soul.
Kids think that once they’ve grown up they’re grown-ups, figuring they may have some “filling out” to do but otherwise they’re ready to take on the world. We, who have spent some time in the maturing phase, know that the growing never stops. Though we’re not getting any taller, we’re always remodeling and reorganizing: filling in gaps, replacing old notions, and fortifying things in light of new information.
We who have reached our full height are meant to be filling in: building spiritual muscle, agility and fortitude as God reshapes it along with our minds, hearts and souls. We are clay in the hands of the potter, teaches Jeremiah 18. A contemporary retelling might call us plastic, hardened at room temperature, but pliable at God-temperature.
God’s not done with us yet. That’s such very good news. God’s continually defining and refining, affirming and growing us, inside out, as we will let Him. That’s not just for our own good, but for the good of all of our relationships, including the precious ones we have with the generations to come.
They’re sure to ask us in Sunday school or confirmation class, around the dinner table or after ball practice, on their graduation day or on their wedding day, “Mom and Dad, do your think you’ll ever be able to touch the sky?” They ask, not because they really think we will, but because they want to. And they can’t see ever doing it without us.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Oh my yes, little girl, there’s every chance I will reach those clouds because, thanks to God, we’re both still growing.
Two hours down and I have only gotten through half the stuff in my closet. At the urging and with the help of my youngest daughter who conveyed handfuls of items to try on, each piece of clothing received a yea, a nay or a “second chance.” The pile of “no’s” grew precipitously, demanding a second bin even larger than the first to contain all the send-offs.
Lo and behold, there’s a reason I frequent elastic waist bands and loose-fitting sportswear; most of what I own no longer fits or has become yesterday’s style or color. “Shoulder pads, really Mom? They’re so retro. I can probably sell them on my clothing website.” The message is clear: I shouldn’t have all this stuff. Why am I keeping it?
The easy answer is, I’m too lazy to go through it. The more honest answer is, I don’t want to try it on to see that it no longer fits. Gone are the days that I can hang onto jeans hoping I might shimmy in if I just lose that last 10 pounds. Today, as buttons don’t button and zippers don’t zip, I fight the urge to hate myself for the shape I’m in. Heavier, rounder and softer.
While some people fear that others will find what they’ve been hiding in their closet, I fear what I have been hiding there from myself. Now, here it is, in living color, undeniable and staring back at me from the mirror. The body you used to have is gone. Now you’re stuck with this one. With me.
It’s amazing what a closet shows you about yourself. Can I handle the truth? I am not who I used to be, no matter how tightly I hold onto the used-to-be me. The grip I have on the last vestiges of myself is slipping.
I can’t run full steam ahead with all my ideas like I used to. limited energy. limited time. limited passion. limited resources. What will I give my future? What’s worth giving it to?
Allow me this moment of lament for those youthful days when growing out of something meant growing up. Jeans were too short because I had grown taller, not wider. Shirts were too tight because I had grown bustier, not thicker. Toes poking out my sneakers meant a longer instep, not flattening arches. The only things that lasted more than a season were my favorite t-shirts and sweatshirts which, when they lay in frayed tatters, my mother insisted it was time they go.
Can I see today’s growing out of not as growing up but as growing into?
Can I grow into an older self, more secure in my skin and more comfortable with my size? Can I embrace the truth which no one will tell me unless I tell myself that I am not my weight or the number on my label? This physical change is, if not inevitable, at least for me is real and not avoidable. Here I am in the body I have, for which I am grateful and to which I am dedicated in my care taking. Can I accept the newly old me?
“I’m trying not to hate myself,” I hear myself say out loud to my daughter who should never hear me say this.
“It’s okay, Mom. We’ll go shopping,” she says smiling and without a trace of the indictment, derision or self-flagellation I feel certain I deserve. All of these years I have toiled to maintain a fit physique – I’m in the fitness business after all – so as not to be accused of not working hard enough to be thin. Now, I need to make peace with healthy and as high performance as possible, given the raw material I have to work with.
Apparently, what I’m growing into is someone who’s not afraid of what lurks in my closet. It’s not hiding now; it’s in plain sight. I guess this is just my version of coming out. What I see in the mirror is just fine. Mine to take care of. Mine to use. Mine to share.
Everyone has a closet.
“So, Jesus, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Joseph asked.
“Christ,” Jesus answered, finishing the last of the bread on his plate.
“I told you, dear.”
What does that mean, growing up into Christ? as a daily practice? as a foregone conclusion? as a ‘calling,’ a compulsion, a drawing out.
How did he know? Did he wonder? doubt? struggle? argue?
All we know (from the book that tells us about him) is that, at 13, he sat in the temple in his Father’s house, listening to and speaking with the elders there. In fact, he lost track of time.
How did he know his time had come? — his mother hinted after he started strutting his stuff at a wedding in Cana, changing water into wine.
How did he know “his time was up?” — he begged his Father to change his mind about calling him in for dinner, but came obediently anyway.
What do I want to be when I grow up?