I pulled and tugged at the shower curtain-type contraption hiding me from the world beyond. It was almost as ill-fitting on its aluminum pole as the garment in my sweating hand would soon be on my body. Too much area to cover and not enough material!
I welcomed this annual summer event as much as an unmedicated root canal. Why did I have to go swimming anyway? Who invented this stupid piece of clothing? Are these horrid mirrors in this dressing room from an old carnival? Are they making me look like a misshapen balloon when, in reality, I am just a large-boned woman? These and other questions flew through my head in rapid succession so as to put off the moment of dread-looking into the full-length mirrors surrounding me in this department store closet.
I wished again that I lived in the 1900's, when bathing attire consisted of long, striped knickers, a high-necked, long-sleeved top, heavy stockings, and ankle boots. Pulling, stretching, adjusting, rearranging, and hopelessly holding my breath did not make the lycra torture device now covering my lumpy torso look any better. Trying to think positively, I took stock of the entire picture before me in the shiny surface. No luck. The only parts of my over-exposed body that looked anywhere near decent were the portions of leg between my knees and my ankles. And they were in dire need of a shave.
Frustrated and humiliated, I hung the swimsuits back on the racks and dejectedly left the mall, fighting the temptation to pull into the nearest ice-cream parlor for a hot fudge sundae with the works. Instead, I drove to my favorite chapel to have a few moments of quiet before heading home to the family fray and the supper I had to cook.
A cool peace enveloped me as I found an empty chair. Others already there were busy with their prayers. A woman with deep circles etched beneath her eyes slept contentedly with a Bible opened on her lap. Several rows in front of me, a young student dug pen and paper from his backpack along with a small stack of inspirational reading material. Some knelt to pray the rosary, others read Scripture, and a few had their eyes closed in deep concentration on their conversations with Christ. Yes, this was a good place for me to escape the unpleasant activities of the day.
As hard as I tried, I couldn't get the experience out of my mind and pictured again and again trying on suit after suit as my disgust mounted. It was like watching a movie that was stuck in the projector, replaying a segment over and over. No style seemed made for me. I just was not a bathing suit person.
Jesus, how can you love someone who is in this shape? I have failed to take care of the temple you have given me to house my soul. I am ashamed that I am not doing a better job of keeping in shape, I prayed to my savior. Consumed by the peaceful surroundings and small sounds around me, I continued to pour out my heart to Jesus. As always when I came to this place of worship, my conversations were focused and heartfelt. No worldly distractions or interruptions followed me here except the ones in my own mind.
In my dream, I was before the Throne of God, sitting on a small footstool at his feet. He was lovingly patting my head, and the soothing touch brought instant and intense joy. It was like having days on end of gloomy rain and suddenly, the sun peeks out and the skies clear. The warmth of being surrounded by goodness and a fresh new day invades the senses.
Embarrassed, I was telling him of my failure in keeping myself in shape, and he gently asked, "Do you not know, Daughter, that I love you just as you are? Indeed, I see your interior features and they are on the whole pleasing."
Uplifted, I felt many pounds lighter. We talked on in this semi-dream state, and I saw that I did have work to do-on both body and soul-but that I was not a disgrace to the Lord. He preferred me to be healthy, yes, but that was so I could have energy to do all of the work he had planned for me, not because he considered me ugly.
I was next looking down at a small flower garden. A beautiful swallowtail butterfly with royal blue and brilliant yellow markings floated from stem to stem before lighting on a pink carnation. Beneath the umbrella of the flower's petals, a small toad sat unmoving. The fluttering of the butterfly's wings cast a moving shadow on his lumpy green and mud-colored head. I looked back and forth at the two small creatures, enjoying the scene.
A swift brown sparrow dove from some unseen tree branch toward the butterfly. In a flash, the toad leapt for cover beneath the flower's stems and was hidden and camouflaged by his coloring. The butterfly was carried off in the blink of an eye, and the frog continued on its journey.
The squeak of the heavy wooden door opening to admit someone to the chapel woke me and reminded me that I, like the toad, had better get on the road. I knelt to say prayers of thanks and to offer intentions for friends and family members in need, then I made my way to the parking lot.
A lone butterfly drifted by me toward the bank of magenta azaleas. I hoped a hungry bird would not find this lovely specimen for its supper. I was reminded that the creatures in my chapel vision had their beauty and worth, neither more so than the other. The butterfly was beautiful to behold, but the toad's strong legs and God-given hues had protected it from harm. Smiling, I drove home to prepare a meal for my waiting family.