I Have Something to Say About My Hands

handsThis weekend, I posted a photo on facebook. In the snapshot, my hand was caked in mud from a day spent gardening, and I asked: “If you haven’t gotten your hands dirty today, what are you waiting for?”

Within seconds, a sweet childhood friend commented: “Julie Perkins Cantrell – Those are not your hands, LOL!”

This led to one of those lightbulb experiences — you know, the kind Oprah would call an A-ha moment. (Thank you, Jason Glascock!)

Follow Me to Middle School:

Sometime around seventh grade, when girls become hyperaware of our bodies and are trained by society to focus only on our flaws, I became ashamed of my hands. While other girls seemed to have long, thin fingers, ideal for playing piano, my fingers seemed short and pudgy, always swollen from the Louisiana humidity, and looked, for lack of a better word, manly.

Add to that, I constantly bit my nails to the quick, a sure sign that I was battling overwhelming insecurities and a bone-deep desire to make everyone else happy. (Anxiety was rooted in the impossibility of ever reaching that goal).

What that little people-pleaser didn’t yet realize, was that along with making others feel more at peace comes the need to absorb all their worry within oneself. It was inevitable — the tiny girl with big hands became the carrier of the whole world’s weight. And I was fine with that. For forty years, I was convinced I could handle it.

Flashback to My Wedding Day:

March 18, 1995 was a lovely day at LSU in Baton Rouge. Crocuses were in bright yellow bloom, azaleas were already budding, and the long, lean lilies were poking their heads out for the sun. Everything was perfect. In that silent moment of our private rehearsal, before the crowd arrived, the spring sunlight slanted through the high, broad windows of the University Club as my betrothed slid my wedding band down to meet the diamond engagement ring that had circled my finger for a full year.

I’m not sure what I was expecting in that magical fairytale moment. Perhaps, despite my best efforts to protest the helpless-princess-saved-by-a-handsome-prince scenario, I had swallow the fantasy pill. Somewhere deep down, I had envisioned a Disneyesque peak of romance for my wedding.

Fail.

My fiancé didn’t spin me around like Cinderella, nor did he scoop me into his arms and carry me into forever like Sleeping Beauty. In fact, he didn’t even look me in the eye and say he loved me. Instead, he stared at the ring and said these words to me: “Feels like I’m marrying a fat old man.”

Say What?!

cinderellaNow, I’m not one who gets easily offended. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to hurt my feelings, so my natural response was a laugh. And it was genuine. My fiancé’s comment was funny, and it was meant to ease our nerves. I’m a Louisiana girl. I always appreciate humor and feel sorry for folks who take themselves too seriously to laugh. Besides, I was marrying a doctoral-level organic chemist. I was well aware of what I was signing up for. Scientists are known for being brilliant, quirky, and the best problem-solvers in the world. But they are NOT known for being romantic (sigh).

To his defense, my dear hubby had no way of knowing I had spent months overcoming my lifelong habit of nail-biting and had even splurged at an expensive salon for my very first manicure. He couldn’t have known I was uneasy about everyone looking at the ring and dreading the moment when the photographer would ask us to place our hands on the official marriage certificate to show off our shiny, infinite bands of gold.

I had not confessed to him that if there was ONE thing I was most insecure about that entire day, it was my hands — my big ugly fat oversized old man hands.

red_riding_hood

Source: http://students.ou.edu/J/Curtis.N.Johnston-1

While he may not have meant it, one thing stood out. Throughout the rest of our wedding day, my dear husband did not once tell me I looked beautiful, or that he was happy to be marrying me, or that he was the luckiest man on the planet — all things a girl would love to hear on the day she gives her life to one man (or heck, we’d like to hear that kind of thing any day, wouldn’t we ladies?). Nope, instead he made a point to focus on the one part of me that made me feel worst about myself… my hands.

For years, I rolled his comment around in my head like a cold, hard stone. I would tuck my hands behind my back, curl them together out of view, or hide them in pockets so no one would notice my large, knobby fingers. When people would reach to shake hands, (my least favorite thing about being American) my stomach would always turn flips as I worried they’d draw back repulsed.

And even in recent years, when I would travel on book tour, speaking in public and signing hundreds of books for eager readers, I was always a little insecure about signing — because that meant they would see my hands.

But That Was Before My Lightbulb Moment!

Let’s be honest here, friends. I am a forty-year-old out-of-shape mother of two. My hands are the least of my worries. But that’s the incredible gift of hitting middle-age. What comes with reaching 40 is a calmness, a knowing, a recognition of what truly matters.

It may have taken me forty years, but I now realize these hands have blessed my life in more ways than I can name. But just for the fun of counting our blessings, I’ll point out a few.

As a young girl, these hands enabled me to turn cartwheels and climb trees, squeeze sliced thumbs with my best friend and become someone’s blood sister.

These hands shot free-throws, tackled receivers, caught pop flies, and engaged in the world’s fiercest pillow fights and tickle wars.

These hands have allowed me to weave my fingers between those of the ones I’ve loved, some for a day, some forever, but all have touched these hands.

With these hands, I’ve caught my first fish, pulled close for my first dance, and pushed away from my first kiss. I have cheered for some, shielded others, served, prayed, given, and received.

Despite my husband’s scientific tendency to focus on my flaws, these hands have worn a wedding ring for 19 years, standing loyal and faithful and devoted through it all. And because of that, these hands have held two beautiful babies to my breasts, nurtured their wounds and tended their every need. These hands have wiped tears, harnessed fear, and held us all here, together, through the flames that sometimes lick at our feet.

These hands have dug gardens, planted seeds, harvested fruit, and stirred the soup. They’ve milked goats, gathered eggs, shucked corn, and shelled peas. These hands have fed my family and cleaned the mess, wiped tears and tucked the covers tight.

These hands have allowed me to tap out a tune, run my fingers through soft fur, comb my children’s knotted hair, teach a generation of future leaders, and heck, they’ve even allowed me to pen a story or two.

Today, at age forty, some may still like to point out my many flaws. But I am no longer interested in fueling that fight.

Thankfully, I am worlds beyond the insecure, nail-biting teen I once was. I’ve got so many better things to do with these hands — these healthy, strong, wonderful, capable hands.

I ask you, dear friends, what have you done with your hands today? If you haven’t yet used them to bring joy to the world, what are you waiting for?

Consider this one simple thing you can do with your hands. Quick Click can bring hope to the hurting.

9780781404259_HI (2)Please take a moment to DOWNLOAD WHEN MOUNTAINS MOVE for Free.

This offer ends TODAY, and is available across all e-book platforms, so please hurry!

In case you don’t yet know about this book, When Mountains Move is the sequel to my NY Times and USA TODAY bestselling debut, Into the Free, which features a heroine by the name of Millie Reynolds. Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review and it received several literary honors including the Christy Award for Book of the Year and the Mississippi Librarian Association Fiction Award.jpcoverphoto

Now, you can continue Millie’s adventure as she moves from Mississippi to Colorado and tries to heal deep wounds from her abusive past.

We are offering this story free in hopes of drawing attention to National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Please download and share the link so others can find hope and healing.

For more information about these important issues, please visit http://juliecantrell.com where my newest Journal post offers both resources and statistics.

Finally, don’t forget we’ve got some new books launching from the Southern Belle View authors this season. Be sure to check out all the new “book babies” including Shellie’s Heart Wide Open and Eva Marie’s Road to Testament.

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Julie Cantrell

New York Times bestselling author at David C. Cook
Julie Cantrell is a tree-hugging organic-farm girl and mother of two who happened into a mid-life adventure as a novelist. She's having fun parenting, writing, teaching, speaking, and living the dream.

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Comments

  1. says

    Wow. Beautifully expressed. I love my “forty-something” self and wouldn’t trade my extra pounds and ever-increasing wrinkles for the crushing insecurities of my youth for anything. Oh, that we could know at twenty what we’ve learned at forty!

    • Julie Cantrell says

      Tracey, AMEN! You said it best. I like to think those “40 years in the desert” brought us to the good stuff. Thanks for joining us on the porch today!
      j

  2. says

    Oh, Julie. One of the most beautiful, heartfelt posts ever penned. I have my mother’s hands, through and through; they are small but heavily veined on top and our nails are almost always ragged (except when I’m pregnant, then they actually grow). Thank you for making me appreciate these hands and the history behind them…and the future they will hold. And let’s just forget about the American handshake and give big hugs, eh? ;)

  3. says

    Lovely post. It struck many nerves with me. First, Julie, I know you’re beyond self-doubt about this, but I wanted to say I’ve met you and shaken your hand and looked at photos of you that I took, and I did not once notice your hands.

    It is quite terrible to realize how ingrained it is for women to self-examine ourselves and find flaws nobody else sees. When I was a little kid, I hated my knees. I thought they looked too big and knobby compared to other knees, and I asked my dad if I could have plastic surgery on them. He said no, not ever, b/c that wasn’t done. Boy was I disappointed.

    My husband, in contrast, always had to wear “husky” boys’ clothes because of his build. His legs were too big for regular pants, still are. If I had to wear the girl’s equivalent, I’m sure I would have forgone every treat ever to starve myself down to the “regular” sizes. I asked him if he had been self-conscious about having to shop in the husky section. “Nope,” he said. “That’s just how I’m built. No big deal.” Wish I could be more like that.

    Every woman I’ve ever met, whom I’ve gotten to know just a little bit, has confessed to hating something about herself, and being jealous of someone she thinks is prettier. It makes me sad, because we shouldn’t constantly be competing with each other for the imaginary crown of Most Perfect. Nobody wears that crown, and nobody really cares– multiple beautiful women can exist at the same time, each with their own particular “flaws.”

    And, I’ve been told my hands are aesthetically pretty. When I look at them, I think of my mother, because we were hand twins. But my hands often hurt and tingle. They are weak. I can no longer play the piano. If I want to write, I must forgo gardening and chores and bike riding, because my hands will hurt too much to do more than one thing. I’d rather have your hands.

    Every day, I verbalize to my daughters what I’ve discovered, to value the machinery of their bodies over the appearance. They’re involved in sports, unlike me, and I think they take it to heart– but then they will also comment about what they don’t like.

    So this makes me despair a bit. Plus there are incidents like this: Yesterday I read a post by Rita Arens over on BlogHer about how she was at dinner and a bunch of drunken adults began commenting on a group of girls in prom dresses, critiquing the girls’ appearance in loud voices. If society in general does this to our girls, how can us mothers compete?

    May our words serve as a partial inoculation to this kind of thinking.

    • Julie Cantrell says

      Margaret, what a beautifully-penned response. So much to think about there. You nailed it when you contrasted the way men vs women view our bodies. My new motto is stolen from you dear hubby: “That’s just how I’m built. No big deal.”
      And yes…I have heard and observed FAR too many grown women judging and criticizing young girls, even on facebook, for the way they look/dress/eat, etc. This is so damaging and cruel, and I can’t understand why they would sit at that table and act like they were in middle school. Sad stuff, indeed. Why do we do this to one another? Can you imagine a table of men talking about the guys in their tuxes? Would never happen. Shallow and sad. Time for a CHANGE! Hugs, sweet Margaret. And thanks for joining us on the porch today.
      j

  4. Rachel Hauck says

    Oh Julie, what a great post! Did you ever tell him how you felt about your hands?

    I have hairy arms. GRRR and UGH!! I HATE them but early on decided, “It is what it is” and learned to live with them. I also have old lady hands from getting them sunburned too often (Florida girl here.)

    But I’d have felt self conscious if my husband joked about my arms. I got married in March so I could be sure to wear long sleeves to our Florida Spring wedding. Hairy arms look twice as ugly with a camera flash.

    Oh, our insecurities. God love us through them all.

    I love how you brought it around to the beauty and good of your hands! Amen!!

    Love,
    Rachel

    • Julie Cantrell says

      Rachel, you said it, sweet friend. Hairy arms, flabby bellies, stretch marks, fat old man hands…whatever we’ve got…it’s OURS, and God-given, and each part, no matter how flawed or frayed, delivers gifts daily. Here’s to you wearing SHORT SLEEVES in that warm Florida sunshine. Cheers, j

  5. Melanie Backus says

    Sweet Julie Girl, it is a shame that at times we are our own worst enemies. Your post is such an eye opener. We should all remember that we are God’s children with our unique qualities and characteristics. Whether it is our hands or our noses, our arms or our hips, we are loved by the Greatest. At fifty-eight, I still fret over the different undesirables on me but your post has made me think, Why? My new motto, ” Be thankful, be greatful, be kind in word and deed to oneself.”

    Thank you for this great post. I love you, Sweet Julie!

    • Julie Cantrell says

      Melanie — Your comments make me smile. I see not a single flaw in you, and I hope today when you look in the mirror you see yourself the way I do…perfect in every way. Hugs, j

  6. Lisa Wingate says

    Julie, this is such a close-cutting bit of truth. Isn’t it strange how we women value or devalue ourselves based on how our bodies look rather than on what they can do? So many “hands” in this world are used to hurt, destroy, and do damage.

    Hands that love and nurture and create are perfect hands.

    There’s a song by Jewel that I really love (it’s on her Christmas album). I could be a little off on the lyrics, but it says:

    We are God’s hands
    We are God’s eyes
    We are all reflections of God

    (I think God did a great job on your hands, my friend. Beautiful hands do beautiful things ;)

    • Julie Cantrell says

      Thanks, Lisa. You always sum things up perfectly for all of us. And I really do love Jewel’s songwriting and poetry. Even if people don’t like her voice, they should read her lyrics and her book of poetry. Cheers, j

  7. Nancy May says

    That was beautiful and brought tears to my eyes. I have always had a crooked smile. Do not like my picture taken because of it. As adult I reconnected with my half sister. As we were getting to know each other again she looked at me and said “You know what I remember most about you?” No, I couldn’t guess. She said “Your smile. When you smile your heart is in your smile.” That was many years ago. Her words made all my insecurities about my smile disappear. Words, kind simple words, changed my world! Thank you reminding us that what we see as flaws are part of our story.

    • Julie Cantrell says

      Hi Nancy, I love your story! And I love that you and your half-sister reconnected as adults. Keep smiling…and keep sharing your heart. j

  8. says

    Uh . . . late to the party again today. Filming the promo for my upcoming release. Relevant topic on the Porch today. Nothing like a camera to bring out body issues . . . !!

    But I love my hands . . . I have my momma’s hands. Everyone says so.

    • Julie Cantrell says

      Kellie — Can’t wait to see the promo! And I know you well enough to know … it will be PERFECT! Xoxo, j

  9. says

    I’m so glad I backed up for this post, Julie. It’s beautiful, as are you. Your hands– why, I can never get past your ear to ear beautiful smile and dancing dark eyes to see anything else. I have a feeling I’m in the majority on that one. :)

    It’s a shame what we do to ourselves, the way we devalue our “parts” if they don’t measure up. I’ve been as guilty as anyone in my youth, and I can STILL do it, but I’m learning. Thank you for another well articulated lesson! Happy Easter!

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