Stretch Marks

I remember the day I saw my first stretch mark, created lovingly by this little gal I carried inside of me.  I don't know why I thought that maybe I would be one of those women who powered through pregnancy, unchanged and unscathed by the process.  I thought I would be able to muscle through long hours without getting tired or sore and of course I would keep the same work-out regimen and diet because I've got will power baby.

But of course, none of those things played out quite like I had planned (though I should say I had a fairly easy pregnancy).  I wasn't sick much and didn't have any strange food aversions or cravings (though if it contained chocolate or peanut butter, it was probably consumed in copious amounts on the daily).  However, as easy as my pregnancy was, for some reason, when I saw the purplish-red stretch marks start to appear on my belly, I had a bit of a meltdown.

"Oh why me?!" "I'll never be able to wear a bathing suit again!" "I'll never be able to run again!" "My clothes will never fit again!" "I'll never be the same or have any time to myself, ever again!"

**You can clearly see the logic behind my thought process**

And with time, the number of stretch marks increased and the wear and tear on my body increased.  Post-delivery, my body felt like a war-zone.  Nothing was where I left it.  Every muscle was sore, there were bags under my eyes, my feet had swollen to three-times their size and I no longer connected with the version of myself I saw in the mirror.  I looked and felt like death warmed over.

With time, the muscles have been healing and my feet have returned to their normal size and my sanity has slowly started to return...and I mean VERY slowly.  Obviously, not everything will return to normal, nor should it.  But as some things are retuning to normal, those pesky stretch marks seem to be amplified with the absence of my baby-belly.  It's hard to look at oneself and feel pretty as the post-baby-pudge flows in abundance, and even harder to accept that some of these changes will never fully go away.  

In the Old Testament, Ebenezer stones were used as visual reminders of God's protection and provision.  The stone was a sign of remembrance; signifying "we were here and we endured".  It was a visual representation that God had been faithful.  Everywhere we go, we see visual reminders of monumental moments.  We proudly hang wedding photos, share Christmas cards with the highlights from the past year, frame diplomas and certificates.  If it feels like an achievement, we display it loud and proud and 99.9% of the time those achievements are aesthetically pleasing.  But there are times when visual reminders of seasons endured don't look "pretty".  They're a bit messy and unpolished and awkward.  Rather than embracing those visual reminders, we cling to what looks good and not necessarily what is real.

In some odd way, I think God gave me stretch marks as an Ebenezer of sorts.  A raw and authentic reminder of the journey endured and the ways in which God brought us through.  Meaningful seasons rarely leave us unscathed or unmarked, and this season was no different.  So as I slowly catch up on sleep and begin to adjust to a new normal, I'm starting to make friends with this new version of myself and this new version of my body.  I'm slowly starting to appreciate the imperfections, specifically the ones that lie out of my control; embracing the stretch marks and giving myself lots of grace for the journey we've been through and the one that we're on.

Let us proudly raise our Ebenezers (stretch marks and all) so we may boldly proclaim of God's goodness, and that we may be constantly reminded of where we have come from and can confidently embark on the journey ahead.

Ashley Sider