Fat Girl Diaries: But God.


Fat. I am fat.

Automatically the connotation of that one little word has many of you readers shifting around uncomfortably in your seat, readying your fingers¬†to type the oh-so-cliche words: “You are beautiful!” “You just do you.” “You’re not fat!” “You were made that way. You’re just big-boned.”

I’m holding my tongue on the big-boned argument. For now.

But you’ve been warned: a rant is coming.

I’ve been wanting to talk about this issue for awhile. In fact, I’ve been talking about it for more than a decade of my life. I remember crying when I reached 100 pounds at 8 or 9, but that was nothing in comparison with what I would have to deal with later on.

Ten years old.

Ten years old. Chunker. ūüėȬ†

I remember talking to my friends at sleepovers about my weight, grabbing my stomach and saying, “I’m so fat!”

And they’d just say something random to change the subject and move on.

I remember looking at my legs and thinking they resembled turkey legs. It’s kind of funny when you think about it. . .

I remember being fourteen and looking myself over in the mirror, clad in a pink and white plaid top, and running my hands over my waist. “Maybe I would have a figure. . .if I was¬†skinny,” I remember thinking.

If, if, if.

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And then I remember being 18 and standing in a Bojangles line with my dad. One of those sharp pains that had been bothering me for several months shot down my left arm. And I recall saying, “I don’t want anything, Dad.” For the first time.

That started an eight-month period of mind-numbing fear that I would have a heart attack as a freshman in college. Irrational, yes. But part of my journey, all the same.

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November 2010. 253 pounds. 

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December 2011.  Approximately 200 pounds.

Then, the fear evaporated and college was in full swing. And cupcakes go really well with French tests. Let me tell you.

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December 2012.

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July 2014.

I want to talk about this because it’s part of my journey. I want to talk about this right now because I feel different about myself. I’m finally getting to the point where I’m okay with being myself. Not Amanda Lee Russell, the perfectly beautiful and talented woman I planned on becoming. Not Amanda Lee Russell, heart-breaker and narcissist extraordinaire.

No. Mandie Russell–the broken, messy sinner in need of grace. The girl who struggles with weight and struggles with self-discipline, yes. But also. . .the girl who God created in His image. The girl who loves star gazing and her little world. The girl who will never get it all right, but has value and purpose anyway. The girl who can sum up her life story¬†in two little words: But God.

No. I need to shout that out: BUT GOD. BUT GOD. BUT GOD.

Oh Jesus, you lifted me up out of the miry clay. YOU LOVED ME WHEN I HATED ME AND WAS ANGRY AT YOU. YOU LOVE ME. YOU. LOVE. ME. And You WILL redeem this life. YOU WILL.

How can I keep what He’s done for me a secret? How can I not write about my own journey and my own battles?

So, yes. I’m starting this series of blog posts and, yes. I’m calling it the Fat Girl Diaries. In it, I believe I’m called to write about what it feels like to struggle with obesity.

This is part of who I am, but it’s not all that I am. It will affect where I’m going, but it’s not my life.

I’m gaining my wings.

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45 days.


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Artwork done by Laura Byler.

I’ve struggled with the Fourth of July. Those were the days my family always had some sort of big argument over something incredibly dumb. And by dumb. I mean D-U-M-B. That’s capitalized, people. And hyphenated for emphasis. You really can’t overlook how dumb these arguments were.

Mom wanted to take us downtown to see fireworks.

Dad had some serious issues with Greenville’s parking situation.

Words were said. Gradually, the words grew louder as we kids got involved.

And then the van was full of yelling until Mom would eventually say something to the effect of, “Fine, let’s just go home!”

And then there would be more fighting.

And we’d go home and eat jello. In the shape of a flag. With a variety of flavors. I’m talking cherry. I’m talking blueberry. I’m talking whipped cream in the middle.

You get the theme here, right?

But one Fourth of July managed to impact my life in a way that I didn’t see coming at all. Nothing really happened, actually. My sister and I were on a trip with our grandma to Virginia. On the Fourth of July, we visited Williamsburg and had well…an interesting time:

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Later that night, Abby and I went to the beach with our cousin to watch the fireworks. We found a spot on the crowded beach and laid down our beach blankets and just…sat. Listening to their conversation, I remember sifting the sand through my fingers and feeling completely at ease. Night fell and the music played on in the background while we waited for the show. We talked about life and, I’m sure, we talked about love. We laughed.

Finally the show started, right over the water while the stars kept watch. Awestruck, I kept asking God to let me stay there. In that moment. To be honest, I didn’t want to leave that beach because leaving that beach meant going back to Bob Jones and moving on with life. Leaving that moment meant that maybe some ugly moments would hit me.

And they did.

I didn’t want to leave the beauty. I didn’t want to leave who I was in that moment. But I had to. I had to walk away because I needed to learn a few more things about life.

Nearly two years later, I sit in the same spot. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Graduation lies just within my grasp, 45 days away. Even after all the struggle, all the tears, all the heart-ache. . .I don’t want to leave. How do you leave your cocoon? I laughed here. I loved here. I found purpose here. Leaving doesn’t feel happy to me. Leaving feels like being shoved off a cliff. ¬†How do I leave when I haven’t learned everything I feel I should know? How do I let go of all the mistakes–all the failure? How do I leave my sister here?

How? How? How?

And how is it possible that my moment is up? I just got here.

But. . .I sit and shift the sand through my fingers while I look up at the stars. With a sigh, I get up.

And walk off the beach.

Why I Write What I Write


She was quiet simplicity with a heart of gold and an infectious laugh.

He was a fireball of pain and dysfunction, representative of a past filled to the brim with nightmares.

She was homemade apple sauce on a crisp, fall day.

He was afternoon boxing matches with his older brother.

She walked to school, blending in as best she could.

He fought his way through school, refusing to take anything off of anyone.

Fire and water. Night and day.

But together? They’re home. My home.

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With her sense and his emotive personality, they brought three brats into this world.

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And they were a family. But let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. He went through job after job after job for 13+ years, never able to catch a break. Sometimes he would call and she and the three brats would hold their breath–was he fired? It took him 6 months last time–how long will it take this time?

And she would cry sometimes.

And he would stay up late at night worrying.

And the three brats would endure babysitting until they were old enough to take care of themselves.

And the whispers would start. Yeah. We knew. And yeah. It hurt.

You know. He was lazy. Or he complained too much. Or he needed to lose weight. Or she needed to leave him. And what are they doing to those children? What sort of parents do that? Children deserve stability, you know. Are they eating? They need to manage those finances they don’t have. I mean, what.on.earth.are.they.thinking?

I mean, with the coupon system, how could ANYONE be poor? We’re talking 50 cents off Cheerios, people.

Sometimes the kitchen was borderline empty.¬†Sometimes they had to use food stamps. Many times they used unemployment checks. Sometimes vehicles¬†were taken back. Sometimes buying clothes wasn’t feasible at the time. Sometimes the electricity was turned off. And one winter was spent without heat and they’d pile into the living room around that old kerosene heater each night.

It is at the moments where you realize you’re different, where you realize that most people have the nerve to believe you did it to yourself that you feel the most alone. It is said that “no man is an island” but how many are left to drift away in the sea of hurt? How many people out there scream silently every. single. day?

Simply put, I write because I get it. As far as sorrow, quite frankly, I wouldn’t know true sorrow if it bit me in the butt. Which is why I’m thankful for growing up poor. I’m thankful I was given just a small enough sampling of the human struggle to mold me into the grace-filled person He wants me to be rather than the self-serving narcissist I barely avoided becoming.

All of these struggles mold what I write because I want to write truth and I want to write real. Maybe I’ll be that one person who can make someone feel like they’re not alone in this world because I know how it feels to feel alone.

I don’t want to be those people I admired¬†anymore. I don’t want to walk through life with my eyes shut tight against pain. Because when I shut my eyes to the¬†pain of others, I lose a sense of my own humanity. I become part of the problem. I become apathetic and cynical, tearing others apart rather than building them up.

I want to seek out the Mandie Russells of this world, crying on a bathroom floor because they feel like they can’t do anything right. I want to live my life with passion and never forget where I came from because where I came from is a gift. I want to reach out to the broken-hearted and cup their face and say, “Hey. You’re doing great, OK? And you can’t give up. It’s too important that you stay in the game. And if you need anything, anything at all…let me know, OK?”

So when I write and you wonder if I’m depressed or if I’m crazy…no. I’m really not. This is just what I feel called to do. I feel called to write honestly and to be open about my life.

Because somewhere…¬†someone cries on a bathroom floor.