Sep 29 2014
When I was young and more than a little naïve, I got the idea that if I wanted to love God more, I needed a little more adversity in my life. So I prayed for it.
I don’t know what I expected as an answer to this prayer. Pimples, perhaps. Athlete’s foot. Maybe a fender-bender or two.
But God tends to deal with prayers such as this on the level of global cataclysm, and that is how He answered mine. I was blessed with infertility, which is the kiss o’ death in a Mormon household.
And then, Fluffy and I had some challenging years, maritally speaking. Oh, we both tried to make the marriage work. The problem was that Fluffy and I never seemed to be trying at the same time.
It was never open warfare, you understand. We liked each other fine. But I don’t know if either of us was actually crazy about the other person the way we are today. We never really understood one another, and I didn’t know if either of us ever really would. (Thank goodness the problem was temporary! Our marriage couldn’t be better now.)
Most of my problems, however, were health-related. My immune system caved in, early in our marriage. So did my lungs. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. I was always on the verge of keeling over. Doctors were always implying, although only one of them outright told me, that I had only a few months left to live. The problem was, my body never cooperated. I never actually cooperated and croaked.
For years, aspirin and Coke kept me alive, and I didn’t even like Coke. I would drink a ton of it with aspirin for long periods and then go cold turkey, just to make sure I wasn’t getting addicted to it. I never was, thankfully. I’d stay off it for six weeks or two months or a year and never get the headaches. Then the aches of the autoimmune thing would overwhelm me, and I’d be back on the Coke again.
But all those things were peanuts. The elephant in the room — and boy, is that an apt metaphor — was Kathy herself. Because God gave me the one trial I absolutely could not endure. He turned me into a circus freak.
I know what many of you are thinking. If you’re fat, there’s only one way you got that way. I don’t blame you for thinking that. A lot of doctors are in your camp. And no offense to you if you agree with them, but they’re idiots.
I used to be the same way. We had neighbors down the street who were fat, and I thought that if I ever started gaining weight, I’d simply exercise until I got skinny again. Ha! I’ve wondered many times since then if my judgmental attitude is the very reason that God knew He had to teach me a lesson.
I had a tonsillectomy in January of 1981, and I immediately lost enough weight that I was able to fit into some size 9 sailor pants that I hadn’t been able to wear for several years. Oh boy, did I look good! I was feeling on top of the world. Life was sweet, and I was so happy I couldn’t stand it.
I wore those sailor pants all winter. You know the kind. They button up each side and across the top and lace up the back to tie in a sweet little bow. You want the buttons and the bow to show, so you wear the blouse tucked in. I wore the blouses tucked in, and the pants fit. I looked so pretty. I’m glad I remember that, because it was the last time in my life that I did. I was thirty-one years old.
In April, I started gaining weight. There was no reason why. My eating habits had not changed. Fluffy and I had only one car and he drove it to work so I walked everywhere. I got a ton of exercise already, but true to my promise I redoubled my exercise program. I started running up and down our basement stairs listening to ABBA songs for a half hour a day in addition to all my walking.
It did not help. I continued to gain weight.
I went to our doctor. He sent me to Nautilus, as well as to other doctors — specialists. They could find no reason why I was gaining weight, although one of them said, “If I were a fly on your wall I would see you porking out all day when nobody could see you.” Doctors are idiots. At least, that one was. The other ones just didn’t have a clue.
I continued walking everywhere, I ran up the stairs to ABBA tunes for a half hour every weekday, and I went to Nautilus three times a week. I got so strong that the firemen who worked out beside me at Nautilus used to stand around and watch me when I used some of the machines. The muscles in my forearms turned into rocks. I had solid fat.
It did not help. I continued to gain weight, but it was solid weight.
I was in a panic. I turned to God. I cried. I pleaded. I cried some more. Being horribly fat was the worst thing I could imagine. It was worse than being childless. It was worse than having a not-perfect marriage. It was worse than having bad health. It was far worse than any of those things.
Being an object of ridicule was the worst thing of all.
But God did not answer my prayer. I continued to gain weight.
Despite all the doctors, despite all the walking, despite all the ABBA tunes, despite the Nautilus, I gained weight until October. I had gained 140 pounds and was a mound of rock-hard blubber. I was the fattest person in our ward. I was fatter than the people down the street whom I had ridiculed in my mind. Then, in October, I stopped gaining weight just as inexplicably as I had started. I weighed 300 pounds.
I had done nothing to gain the weight. Well, actually, I had. I had prayed for adversity. I had not prayed, “Any form of adversity except….” Of course, God would in all likelihood have ignored the “except” part anyway. He always did have a sense of humor.
Weighing three hundred pounds was the worst thing in the whole, wide world — but God wasn’t finished with me yet. After we moved to Virginia and I got congestive heart failure and pulmonary hypertension, I couldn’t exercise at all. Then slowly, inexorably, I packed on the weight even more. From being a sumo wrestler I became Jabba the Hutt.
I was no longer the fattest person in my ward. I became the fattest person in any room. When I walked into an establishment — any establishment — heads turned. People felt free to make horrible comments about me, and to me, about my fatness. The assumption was that I was fat because I was lazy, or stupid, or (usually) both. In either case, I was fat because I was lacking in character.
I couldn’t blame people for feeling that way. Once upon a time, I had felt that way about fat people myself.
Then, in December of 2012, I went on the Coma Diet. People think of my coma and subsequent hospitalization as a horrible event. Not I! I lost a hundred pounds! I went from being a circus freak to being an overweight but normal person. How could I help but be the happiest person on the planet?
I was so excited about my new body. There was only one chin. There was kind of a waist. When I was lying in bed, I could feel ribs. There were hollows in my legs. There were places in my body I had never felt in my adult life. I was so overjoyed that I could barely stand it.
But at the same time I remembered a priesthood blessing I had received in the hospital. It said, in part, that before we were born, Fluffy and I had “agreed to the bodies that you have, with their imperfections.” So even as I rejoiced in my new and beautiful form, I waited for the other shoe to drop. I wondered if the fat would return.
In the past few months, I have wondered if the fat was returning. I have seen fat sagging between my legs and been afraid. Is it old, empty flesh, left over from when there used to be fat, or is it new fat growing back?
I have laughed and felt my body quiver, and I have been horrified at what it may portend.
When we were out of town last week and I was in unfamiliar surroundings, I had to navigate an unfamiliar bathroom. I felt like a lumbering elephant. When that happened, the sadness loomed.
And then I remembered that I had always — every moment of my life before the coma — had a cloak of sadness over me. No matter where I was or what I did, I felt the eyes of the world and my own eyes judging me. Even though I knew that I had done nothing to deserve the fatness, I judged myself as harshly as my harshest critic. And I hated myself as much as all of them combined.
A few weeks ago, as I was praying during the sacrament, I was mourning over my fatness. I have been scared to death that I am gaining weight. I have been terrified that even despite strict portion control I will one day be as fat as I was before the coma. I have told God not once but many times that this is the one trial I just cannot endure again.
As I was telling Him this yet again in my prayer, I heard the words, “If you spent as much time doing good works as you do worrying about how ugly you are, you could be Mother Teresa.”
I don’t know whether those words came from God or from my own subconscious. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it is probably true.
I am wasting my life worrying about how I look. All the worrying in the world isn’t going to change a blessed thing, because I look the way I am supposed to look in this life. I am learning the lessons I am supposed to learn. The people who judge me or who refrain from judging me are learning the lessons they are supposed to learn. (Or maybe they aren’t. It depends upon the people.)
Maybe it’s time to focus on becoming Mother Teresa. If I’m supposed to be round and roly-poly, or even the female version of Jabba the Hutt, I should revel in it, rather than railing at God because He didn’t keep me skinny.
All I can say to the rest of you is this. Do not ever ask God to give you adversity if you don’t mean it. Or if you do, make sure to write a contract telling Him exactly what you want to keep out of bounds. You’ll be a whole lot happier if you do.
Now I guess I’d better get off and do something related to being Mother Teresa. There are starving orphans to feed. But first, maybe I should order a nun’s habit from eBay. An extra-extra-extra-large sized nun’s habit, thank you. If I’m going to be Mother Teresa, I might as well dress the part.