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One of my favorite things about our vacations are the photos we take that serve as a link back to the memories we make. I adore looking back through the photos even as soon as we get home. I smile and nod in remembrance at each one; yep, we did that, yes, that was so much fun, wow, that was way cool; and I’m wistful and dreamy and in love with the trip all over again. And I joyfully look back through the photos year after year, so fond of how they call forth sweet recollections and remembrances. This is all after I ruthlessly edit and crop and enhance and polish or flat out delete each and every one, of course. After all, I want the best versions possible of the memories, not the shabby ones. 

So when I saw this photo of myself, my immediate inclination was to delete it, and then go about my day, my life, pretending I had never seen it. My next proclivity was to retake the shot. My final impulse was to pause.

Because the only gear I can move forward in these days is real, and while I can almost always use the momentum of real to shift into sharing-my-story mode, I can’t access any other gear, I’m stuck in real. So that’s why I’m posting this photo that for me was loathe at first sight.

I’d handed my phone to my husband and asked him to take a photo of me on this sick piece of machinery before we handed it over to our friends for their turn to romp around the lake. Because I was in our happiest of happy places, Lake Tahoe. And we had just been careening around on a jet ski, something we had never before sprung for in ten years of vacationing in Tahoe on the cheap. I wanted to be able to use the photo to recall the joy I had tapped into; how exhilarated, over the moon, and feeling all the feels I was from the ridiculously fantastic ride we had just taken.

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Instead, the depiction I saw of myself reminded me that I had caught a cold at the start of the trip, at trip we had been looking forward to for a YEAR. And also that I hadn’t slept for more than a couple of good hours during each of the all the nights we’d been at the lake because our bed was actually a trampoline masquerading as a mattress. And also and mostly that not only is my belly refusing to let me button my jeans these days, but it also intends to display itself prominently, like a boss, if I leave it uncovered. All this bleck! made my face fall when my husband handed my phone back to me so I could scan the photo for approval, as one does.

Him, sweetly: “Want me to try again?”

Me, IRRITATEDLY, but not at him: “Um, yeah, my stomach, oh my gawd.”

Him, understandingly, and because he knows better than to try to deny what is in PLAIN SIGHT FOR ALL TO SEE: “Mine too, honey. I know how you feel.”

Me, desperately: “Let me put this life jacket back on first.”

And . . . take two:

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And then I realized my legs (only one leg is taking one for the team here but they are BOTH complicit) also don’t look like they used to, or like I want them to, or like they are having the time of their lives in Tahoe. They do look exactly like the lack of prep I put into getting them shoreline ready though, a dead ringer for it. And I hadn’t had the wherewithal to zip up the life vest either, I had just slipped it back on and so the effect made my middle look even larger and more in charge and well, just, NOPE! These were not the corresponding visuals of the memory I had just made. These digital versions were impostors, s-h-o-d-d-y representations of this moment in time; the moment I wanted to preserve in perfection for posterity.

But these photos are real and true and they are me and thus part of my story, and so I share. Because it clicked, how unfortunately my focus had shifted. Off of the joy and onto the imperfection. Away from God and everything that is good towards the only bad there was to see, due to the myopic astigmatism of my lenses. Far from the astoundingly gorgeous backdrop of the tandem that Lake Tahoe and the Sierras are and up close to perceived ugly and lacking. What was my problem? “Snap out of it!” my brain screeched. And I listened.

I did not and will not delete either photo, and I still do not and will not adore either one, but they are an accurate account of what went down all the way around during our trip, what has gone down lately in my life and what is likely to continue. Some beauty and some ick, some imperfection and some happy, some hard and some light in the midst of less than what I had hoped for but better than what could be. This kaleidoscope of real can sometimes give you vertigo and make you think that what you have, what you are, is not good, or enough. But there is always good to be mined for. Eventually sometimes, but always all the times.

I’ve not been taking good care of my body as of late, because my soul is the dependent right now and so my body has been busy taking care of it. I’ve been using the bulk of my available strength, willpower, and determination on shoring up my mentality and my marriage and my kids. As a result, my body has been coming in last. It’s barely even making the team at this point. And I don’t know if I will be making a change to the roster anytime soon.

Sharing these photos and these thoughts isn’t meant in the shallow spirit I’m praying it’s not being taken in. I know there are many out there in a terrible struggle with their weight because they feel they are either too heavy or too thin for their skin. This part of my story is not meant to be used as fuel for comparison; the ultimate joy-killer that makes us either prideful or pitiful. It’s meant to make at least someone else feel less alone and more loved and understood. It’s meant to help at least one other soul change their focus, in the way I was determined to change mine.

Because the incredible thing is, a few years ago, when I was at my best physically and feeling the most outwardly beautiful I ever have, at the same time, my marriage had deteriorated to a deplorable state and my husband felt alone in my presence and unwanted in my arms and he made the choice to seek what he needed elsewhere. Our marriage was at its worst when I was at my physical best, when I liked all of my portraits. And now, that we’re rebounding and rebuilding, by the grace of God, with the miracle that is mercy and with the love still left in our hearts and our marriage is renewed and has the potential to be at its best yet, I am at my physical worst. We both are,  and neither one of us can be persuaded to bring that fact into focus. It matters not in the scope of us.

Huh. Go figure. I did, and what I came up with is that strong relationships are not built on taut butts, toned thighs or tight abs. Lasting love is not provoked by golden, even tans, carefully coiffed hair, unlined faces or unblemished limbs. The bonds worth forging and then keeping are formed from the real in life; the sleepless nights, the missteps, the falls, the sicknesses, the heartaches, the battles, the bravery, the hindsight, the ultimately beautifully brutal rawness and truth of it all. Because of those things, we can cultivate real, enduring love, not in spite of them. They are the meaningful minutiae that matter. They are what paves a path towards deep, worthwhile connection. They are what deserves the recollection, the remembrance. Because of the real.

Not the less than expected and so then altered to perfect depiction of it, that’s a lie. Like the perfect photo that doesn’t really ring true. I don’t want lies. I want real. I also want to be able to change my reality for the better, for the health and well-being of my body and soul if the real isn’t working for me, or for my marriage. But I don’t want to hide behind the illusion of perfection while I do it. That doesn’t help anyone. Turning back around to help the next one in line does, and it’s the new black. It’s all I’m wearing in this new season of fierceness and forgiveness, no matter what I look like in it.

Originally published on Bluntmoms

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Jodie Utter

Jodie Utter is a freelance writer & creator of the blog, Utter Imperfection. She calls the Pacific Northwest home and shares it with her husband and two children. As an awkward dancer who’s tired of making dinner and can’t stay awake past nine, she flings her life wide open and tells her stories to connect pain to pain and struggle to struggle in hopes others will feel less alone inside their own stories and more at home in their hearts, minds, and relationships. You can connect with her on her blog, Utter Imperfection and on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter.

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