Grace comes in all different forms. That's what I've been learning lately. Sometimes it comes in the form of slow conversations savored over delicious meals. Sometimes it comes in the form of afternoons spent in a hammock with a book on a dock.
And sometimes it comes in the form of autumn-like days in the middle of a Georgia summer.
If you've never lived in Georgia during the summer, I'm gonna let you in on a little secret — it's hot. And it's sticky. And, generally, it's just pretty gross.
We lived in southern Georgia when I was a kid, and during the summer we had a lot of what were called "black flag" days. Those were the days when it was 100+ degrees with close to 100% humidity. The chance of heatstroke or severe dehydration is extremely high, so on black flag days, you're supposed to just stay inside.
When I first moved back to Georgia, I was chatting with a friend of mine and made the passing comment that I would probably have to buy shorts at some point.
"You don't own ANY shorts?" she asked.
"Not really," I told her. At the time, I owned three pairs of shorts I actually wore — and two of them were knee-length.
I've long been uncomfortable with my body.
I've been 20-30 pounds overweight for the last eight years. I've gone through various phases where I've worked hard on eating healthy and working out and dropped anywhere from 10-15 pounds, but then life gets busy and I get lazy and the pounds creep back on.
Most people don't think I weigh as much as I do because I hold most of my weight in my lower body, which means one thing — "thunder thighs."
If I could pick one thing to change about my body, it would be my legs. They've never been the long, thin, beautiful legs that look great in everything from skinny jeans and pencil skirts to shorts, capris, and everything in between. And since high school, I've been ashamed of them.
I don't fully recall the first time I became aware of my weight or body shape. As a theatre kid, I was measured for practically every show I participated in, so checking that kind of thing wasn't anything new to me.
I look back over pictures from middle and high school and try to pinpoint the moment. When exactly was it that I became ashamed of how I looked?
I try to define the time when my legs went from the shapely, toned legs of a former gymnast, dancer, and swimmer to the legs I see every day in the mirror and wish I could exchange for something new. And I cannot find the moment. I cannot find the time when the enemy crept in and began telling me the lie that my worth was in any way connected to the shape of my thighs and the size of my pants.
But whether I can define it or not, the moment happened. The lie seeped in and I began to hide. I hid my legs under layers of long pants in hot summer months and I hid my fears and my doubts that the number in the back of my jeans would somehow make me less desirable, less beautiful, less worthy.
It might come as a surprise to some people, considering my serious lack of height, but volleyball is one of my favorite sports. It's the only team sport I've ever played, and though I can't spike a ball to save my life, I'm pretty great at the bumping and setting thing.
On Sunday afternoons in the Georgia summer, we played volleyball. We wore socks to keep the sand from burning the bottoms or our feet and we lathered on the sunscreen to keep ourselves from being lobsters in the office the next day. We wore tank tops and shorts and bumped and set and spiked and guzzled water until we were all ready to fall over from exhaustion. Then we'd head over to the lake, strip off the shorts and tank tops to reveal swimsuits underneath and jump in the water.
Sunday afternoon volleyball was about the only time that summer I wore shorts, and even then, I did so begrudgingly, knowing the athletic capris I'd much prefer to wear would bake my legs and make me even hotter than I would already become.
And as we'd play, I'd run across the court — bumping and setting, falling into splits more times than I could count as I reached for a ball and the sand slid beneath my feet. All the while, in the back of my mind, a small voice would whisper and I'd wonder — are they judging me? Are they looking at my blinding white, untoned, bigger-than-I-wish-they-were legs?
In reality, no one but me probably notices. But in my head, everyone does and what happens in my head often outweighs what happens in reality.
And so I hide.
Last summer in Georgia was quite mild. In mid-July, we were averaging days in the 80s with the humidity in the 50s and 60s. It was the loveliest summer in Georgia I'd ever had and an overwhelming gift of grace.
I'm on a journey to learn how to love my body no matter what — whether I have "thunder thighs" or not. I'm on a journey to loving this gift God gave me, this gift that He fashioned and formed in my mother's womb, before I was even a blip on my parents' radar.
I'm not there yet. I wish I could say I was. I wish I could say that every day when I look in the mirror, I see the incredible miracle that my body is. I wish I could say I thank God for the way He fashioned and formed me out of sincere joy and celebration.
But I'm not there yet.
And the Lord knew that. He knew that temperatures soaring into the 90s and 100s with crazy high humidity that makes you sweat five seconds after you walk out your door would be hard for me that summer — and not just because of the heat. He knew I would suffer in my jeans that hid my thighs until I could bear it no longer.
He knew how hard that would be for me. He knew that I'm on a journey, but I'm not quite there yet. He knew that I'm learning to love myself and love the life He's given me and celebrate it every single day.
And I think He knew that I wasn't ready to reconcile with my thighs yet. He knew that my heart wasn't prepared to learn how to show them to the world without shame. He knows I will get there eventually, of that I am certain, but He knew that last summer, I wasn't there.
So He gave me grace.
He gave me grace to learn how to love my body exactly how He made it. He gave me grace to keep wrestling and fighting for joy and an identity resting solely in Him. And He gave me grace in the form of autumn-like days in the middle of a Georgia summer