This 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.
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.”
Now, 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.
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. A Quick Click can bring hope to the hurting.
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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.
Now, you can continue Millie’s adventure as she moves from Mississippi to Colorado and tries to heal deep wounds from her abusive past.
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.