RheasOfHope

one girl's thoughts on life, mental illness, eating disorder recovery, and hope.

When you accept Christ December 16, 2017

“You mean they’re going to touch me,” I incredulously—and somewhat cynically–ask my best friend Julie, “You know how I feel about touching.”

 

“You’ll be fine,” she reassures, “They just put their hands on your shoulders, and say a prayer over you or with you. You can always ask them not to touch you.”

 

After experiencing an alarming relapse in eating disordered behaviors that left me feeling even more shameful and unworthy than usual, Julie thought it might be beneficial for us to attend our church’s monthly healing prayer gathering.  I tug open the heavy wooden door to the sanctuary, and gently insist she goes inside first. Though I’ve been in this sanctuary hundreds of times over the past eleven years, I still feel undeserving to enter first. She chooses our pew, takes off her coat, and sits down while I shuffle anxiously behind her. When I take off my coat, I briefly consider setting it and my purse between us—a barrier to protect myself from potential harm. I then remember: Julie is safe, she won’t hurt me, and I don’t need that wall of protection from her. I place my purse and coat to my right, with Julie on my left.

 

I tuck into myself— “crisscross applesauce:” my typical sitting position—meticulously smoothing my dress over my thighs as I wrap my arms across my chest; fingers dancing across my collar bones.  I must make myself as small as possible as a measure of protection, and so as not to impede in Julie’s pew space or have others notice my presence. A subconscious manifestation of my anxiety becomes visible as I intensely wring my hands together, dig for my collar bones, and twirl my rings around my fingers. The more I will my hands to stop, the worse the movements became. I turn to my left—towards Julie. My eating disorder reminds me that I’m at least double Julie’s weight and more than half a foot shorter. I shake the thought from my brain; willing it to be more mindful. Tears begin their migration down my cheeks; this journey is familiar to them.

 

Julie’s upturned palms are resting on her sylphlike thighs, her eyes peacefully closed, head tipped slightly back, and her extended legs are gracefully crossed at the ankles.  The juxtaposition of our body language was not lost on me…which only increases the ferocity of the hand wringing as I draw my knees closer to my chest. Noticing my tears, Julie places a tissue packet between us, pats my arm, and gently states that they’re “communal tissues.”

 

Despite the rivulets of tears, I refuse the tissues. “Using them would be a weakness! You mustn’t have needs!” my shame proclaims. I dig through my coat pockets, finding the two unused tissues I had placed in there earlier in the day for my students to use at recess. They’re reduced to shreds minutes later. The tears do not stop.

 

A woman says opening remarks, a duo sings “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel,” and the service begins. Julie returns to her serene posture, and I to my anxiety and crying. The longer I sit—overhearing mumblings of Julie’s prayers, crying, wringing my hands to the point of pain, body checking, feeling unworthy, and avoiding eye contact—the more I feel what I can only describe as the Holy Spirit move in me. Tonight was going to be the night; the night I finally accept Christ.

 

You see, I’ve grown up in the church. I did not, however, grow up in Christ. Which, I now know, is a very big distinction. My step-grandfather–Lloyd–is a pastor, and my cousins and I grew up, essentially, as PKs (pastor’s kids). I’ve a wealth of Scripture committed to memory, live my life in accordance with Christian values, have lead many lessons on the Bible, problem-solve based on Christian principles, I firmly assert that Jesus is the son of God and He was a living sacrifice for our sins, and truly believe every word of Scripture is God-breathed and God-inspired…for everyone but me.  You see, it’s hard to accept that a perfect God could—or rather, would—love someone as broken and unworthy as me. Never mind the fact that I have scripture to prove otherwise, and that I trust that no one is beyond the love of Christ. It was hard to believe that a God of love could see past the barriers of shame and self-loathing that I built up around me to “protect” me from others. Because I had spent so many years in my eating disorder, in self-harm, and in self-loathing, I felt I was a huge slap-in-the-face to God. It is because of this unworthiness before God, that I didn’t feel I deserved His salvation…that is, until the night of December 7, 2017.

 

I feel my heart begin to soften. I must do something before shame/anxiety/Satan/eating disorder convinces me not to, before I lose my nerve, and before anything else happens. Glancing to my left, Julie remains serenely in the Word. Everyone around me is quiet. I couldn’t just blurt it out. I look around the sanctuary as if a billboard would appear telling me what to do. I almost lose my courage and conviction—what kind of Christian can’t say aloud that they want to accept Christ? I realize, however, that that is the voice of shame talking.

 

What do writers do when they don’t know what to do? They write! I reach into my cavernous purse, and locate my planner. I flip to the “notes” section and scribble in hasty cursive, “Julie, I want to accept Christ.” I lay the planner on the tissues between us. Julie remains peacefully unaware, and I sit in nervous anticipation. What if she doesn’t see my planner and I miss my opportunity? My fingers quicken their dancing around my collar bones as my shame increases. I take a deep breath and reach out, but I don’t want to touch her. I feel my touch will mar her perfection in some way, and I do it anyway.

 

Cautiously, I tap her forearm and nod my head towards my open planner. Julie inhales deeply, and touches my arm. My tears increase, and so does my anxiety and shame. Julie turns to me, and takes me in her arms. I don’t resist. I allow myself to be enveloped in her hug. It feels good to be held; as much as a vocally protest being touched. She whispers to me that she’s never walked anyone through accepting Christ, and that she would like to bring someone over to help us. I nod in approval as my tears land on her shoulders. Julie names an individual I know to be in the room, and asks if she can bring her over. Through the tears, I choke out a “no.” This person will only increase my shame and anxiety; leading me further from Christ. Julie, undeterred, asks if she can bring over her husband, Patrick. I’ve known him for over eleven years–Patrick is safe. I say yes; unaware that he is on the other side of the sanctuary.

 

Julie excuses herself and disappears, returning what seems like seconds later with Patrick. Standing behind me, Patrick pulls me into a hug; the scruff of his beard on the crown of my head. Again, I don’t resist the touch—which increases the tears yet again. He kneels behind me, calmly rubbing my back, and speaking words of reassurance. I cannot recall everything Patrick said (thanks emotion mind), but I know I accepted Christ. Patrick repeatedly states that I am worthy, that I am loved, and that I am enough—not because of anything I did, but because of what Christ did for me. I am deserving of all these things simply by my being a daughter of the King (not to be confused with my father, Mr. King). Julie, Patrick, and I pray together. I invite Christ into my heart forever. I give him my eating disorder, I lay down my depression, and I relinquish my past. I am His.

 

Instantly, I feel lighter—like God had lifted my burdens, my sins, my shame, my eating disorder, and everything else that was keeping me from him. I feel–instead of shame–a warmth; a closeness I’ve never felt before. Patrick and Julie excuse themselves to allow me some time for self-reflection. I curl back up into myself and cry. This cry is different, though. This cry is a cry of admiration for all that He has done for me while I lived in self-loathing, shame, depression, anxiety, OCD, self-harm, unworthiness, and eating disorders. This cry is a cry of humility that He waited patiently for me while I self-destructed–knowing one day His daughter would return. This cry is a cry of appreciation for His love of my brokenness. I am a daughter of the King, “I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back, no turning back.”

 

Amazing Women

It is an honor to know, love, and be loved by these women. Kelli (Left) and Julie (Middle), you inspire me to be a better daughter of the King, “mom,” teacher, woman, and all around better person. These two are the most amazing women—Christ-focused, intelligent, funny, humble, compassionate, wonderful wives, and caring mothers who live their passions and follow where God leads them. They’ve taught me, loved me, trusted me with their kids, cried with me, showed me forgiveness, laughed with me, and helped call me out of the darkness. They’ve each played an integral role in my life over the past 5-ish years (and this week in particular as Julie and her husband Patrick aided my acceptance of Christ). I love these ladies more than words can say, and can’t wait to make more memories with them—preferably in clothes as refined as these

 

 

 

Ephesians 2: 1-10

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

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When you’re inundated with body shame March 31, 2017

no wrong way

Two images stare back at me from my computer. The one on the left portrays a sad, frumpy larger version of the person—so sorrowful you can almost hear Sarah McLachlan in the background. The one on the right displays a happy, half-naked thinner version–who most certainly has an amazing life and personal jet by now. These images typically have many exasperating hashtags, list the number of pounds lost/goal weight, and describe how much they hate the person on the left. I don’t even know this person, and yet I’ve fallen victim to their expertly- curated Facebook life and their thin-ideal proselytism. These images awaken the demon of insecurity that lives deep within us, and stirs the spirit of body-shame.

These before and after transformation photos are meant to sharply juxtapose the fat, unhealthy version of that person with the thin, happy version. These photos prey on our insecurities, and desire to fit into the cultural thin-ideal. This pervasive thin-ideal convinces us that—when we attain the perfect body—we will gain health, wealth, love, and happiness. It impresses upon us the idea that the thinner body is a “good body” and the larger body is a “bad body”—and, through the transitive property of equality in mathematics, the person living in the “bad body” must also be “bad.” When presented with these transformation photos that perpetuate the thin-ideal, the culture of body-shaming and normalization of self-hatred is perpetuated ad nauseam. This perpetuation has a cost, however, and that cost is self-destruction, self-condemnation, and devaluation of those of us who do not fit the ideal.

Society criminalizes and fears fat at the same time—leading fat to become the last socially-acceptable form of discrimination. The prevalence of weight-based discrimination has increased 66% from 1995 to 2006 (NEDA). This is likely why 42% of girls in first through third grade want to be thinner (NEDA), and 81% of ten-year-olds have a fear of being fat (NEDA). This is also likely why the dieting industry rakes in $64 BILLION annually—outearning the wedding industry and the baby product industry. Society conditions us to second-guess any of the confidence we’ve developed about our bodies and question how someone—with our less-than-perfect body—can be accepted looking the hideous the way we do. How much we weigh, eat, exercise, etc. is nobody’s business but our own. Our bodies belong to us—not to social media, not your friends or family, not your doctor, no one. The phrase “Compare and despair” comes to mind—thank you Jenni Schaefer.

Here are the facts: THERE IS NO “PERFECT” BODY and YOUR BODY ISN’T SOMETHING TO BE “FIXED.” Contrary to what society shoves down our throat every minute of every day, there is no perfect body. Have you seen the lineup of female Olympic athletes from the various events throughout the years? Each of them represent the peak performance level of their sport, and yet every single one of them has a different body size and shape than the woman standing next to them. Not to be outdone, men from various nations recreated a similar photo. Health, like our bodies, comes in all shapes and sizes. Thin does not always represent a healthful body, just as fat does not always represent an unhealthful body. Health cannot be measured on a scale or through the flawed mathematics of body mass index.  While weight can certainly be an aspect of health, it is not a sole indicator. Health is also measured through mental and emotional wellbeing, effective relationships with others, meaningfully contributing to society, and myriad other aspects. There is no one right way to have a body!

Olympic women

There is no one right way to have a body!

Olympic Men

Remember, your weight does not make you any better or worse than anyone else. When we focus so intently on our perceived flaws, we will never be able to see the remarkable, astounding aspects of our bodies. There is more to life than food or weight—don’t let it become the central fixture around which your life revolves. The answer to our body and self-acceptance isn’t found in a fad diet, a new exercise trend, a pill, a cream, a tea, a detox regime, a cleanse, constricting shapewear, expensive exercise equipment, shakes, or anything else the diet industry/thin ideal perpetuators use a propaganda to convince you that you’re worthless while further lining their pockets with cash. As the amazing body-positivity activist Sarah Vance says, “Loving yourself isn’t going to come from changing your body.”

So how can we grow to love and accept our bodies—as they are in this very moment—in a world that is constantly conspiring to do the opposite? I’m no expert on body-positivity. In fact, I’m still working on it myself. What I can do, however, is recommend the celebration of a day of body love as a place at which to start. On this day, for every negative comment you say about your body, consciously counter is with a positive. Write a letter of gratitude to your body—sure it will be weird, and it will be worth it. Wear an article of clothing in which you feel great. Compliment yourself and others on their character, not their body or appearance. Respect your body’s needs: if it wants to move, move; if it wants to rest, rest; if it wants to eat, eat; if it wants a massage, get a damn massage. It’s your body and you know its needs better than anyone else. Having needs is not a weakness—though society will actively work to convince you otherwise—and denying ourselves of our needs is not the strength we are lead to believe that it is. I also recommend participating in some body activism projects. I’ve joined some body positive groups on Facebook, and blocked a TON of friends who consistently post body negative updates. I also turn around magazines that objectify bodies by promoting the thin-ideal—if people can’t see them, they can’t buy them or fall victim to their propaganda. If you’re feeling exceptionally brave, you can post body positive post-its on those magazines or on diet products. Be bold.

I leave you with this: appreciate your body, it is yours and you get only one. Your body is a masterpiece of creation and there is no other body out there like yours…none. Live your life on your terms in your body, and appreciate all the wonderful things it does for you.

 

 

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:3-4

 

When you ask for help May 21, 2015

Seated on a borrowed bike, I continued to pedal despite the South Carolina humidity and the fact that I was sweating out of body parts I didn’t know were capable of sweating. What had been described to me as a “quick, easy bike ride to the beach” was turning into the 2012 Tour de Hilton Head, and I was a female Lance Armstrong (minus the steroids). I had followed the signs along the sidewalk that pointed to the beach, but had, somehow, become lost along the way…VERY lost. My sister was behind me asking me to stop; more like pleading for me to ask for directions. However, I continued on; determined to find my way to the beach without asking for help.
Half an hour later, and, as we could come to find out, twelve miles in the wrong direction, I finally stopped at the guard station to an apartment complex to ask for directions. I unceremoniously dumped the bike on the sidewalk and handed the last of our water to my sister before approaching the security guard for directions. I, typically, am able to create a good rapport with elderly people—this man, however, was NOT having it. Before I was able to ask for directions, he barked, “Get that bike off my sidewalk; people walk there.” I went back to move the bike to the grass, then returned to his station.
“Hello…” I looked at his name tag hoping that adding his name to the question would make him nicer, “Albert. My sister and I were looking for the beach when we got really lost, and we…”

“You’re way off girls. Not even close. Just follow those signs back to where you came from” he said as if my mere presence was inconveniencing him; as if he meant to say “Be gone peasants.”
“Sir, I would really just like to rest for a moment. We came all the way from the stables. I would just like to stay here until my cousin can come pick us up.” The old man was unmoved by my statement, but allowed us to stay until my cousin arrived with a pick-up truck to collect me, my sister, and our bikes.
So, why tell a story like this? Because, as I move along in recovery, I recognize how events such as this one mirror my own journey in recovery. Hear me out on this one…
When I was an 8-year-old girl constantly being bullied for my weight, my poverty, my brains, my clothes, and just about anything else kids would find to pick on, food became an escape; somewhere I could go that the pain wouldn’t follow me. I ate to numb, to shove down emotions, to find friendship, to search for love and acceptance…and I ate and I ate and I ate. For, roughly, the next ten years, I continued turning to food to “cope”. I continued on that path, just as I had continued down the bike path, in the wrong direction. What I had originally turned to to alleviate my pain, had only clouded my path; causing me to become lost in an eating disorder. Instead of helping myself, all the eating was only masking and exacerbating the pain. And yet, I continued down that wrong path, insisting to myself that I knew where I was going and what I was doing.

When I entered my first year of college, I was convinced that the only way to help myself was, again, through food…so I began restricting as a means to reach the “right path”. The restricting, again, only served to get me more lost and continue to distance me from the life I desired. However, people began to give me positive attention. I was lauded for my “weight loss”, my “control”, my “dedication”, my “discipline”, and a whole bunch of other adjectives that described my eating disorder, but not Rhea. I thought, though, that maybe these people were on to something; that maybe my eating disorder would be a ticket back to the right path that would get me to where I wanted to be. So I kept restricting. It was then that I realized I had no clue as to what my “right path” was. However, my eating disorder convinced me that my “right path” was towards sickness…and so I followed it miles out of my way; away from my dreams, friends, family, ambitions, happiness, and, most of all, away from health.

After three years of restricting, I got bored with my eating disorder, and felt I was no closer towards finding the right path. Naturally, I returned back to food. “This time will be different,” I told myself, “This time I will be able to find my way out of the muck and onto the right path.” Thus began purging, over-exercise, self-harming, and laxative abuse; as well as seeing a “counselor” who refused to admit I have an eating disorder. I feel this mirrors the point where I asked the old man for directions; it was merely a holding area. I definitely wasn’t going towards recovery or the right path towards health, but I didn’t have any clear signs on how to get there either.

After working with Lindner, my current (amazing) therapist, Thom Rutledge, and doing lots of HARD work, I have a clearer idea of the right path. My “right path” includes: teaching, writing, photography, working for an eating disorder treatment center, treating myself well, and leading a mentally healthier life. It does not include my eating disorder. I no longer self-harm or use laxatives. I am eating more and have drastically reduced the frequency of my purging. Asking for help, in both of these experiences, was the wisest and healthiest thing I could have done. Does that mean it was easy? Hell no! Asking for help is one of the hardest things (aside from recovery itself) that I have ever done. At the same time, asking for help is, singlehandedly, the best thing I have ever done in my recovery. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; it may just end up saving your life…I know it did for me.

Psalm 107:28-30

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven.

 

When you talk to a 5 year old March 30, 2015

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“Whatcha playing Miss Rachel?”

I look up from the screen of my phone at the wild mop of blonde hair covering her blue eyes, “Just a text from mommy, that’s all.”

“Oh. OK” she sings and bounds off to play with her my little ponies.

I look back down at the screen and reread the text from Abby’s mother, “Abby has made two comments lately about being ugly or not liking her face. She had told me she doesn’t like her face and then a few nights later that she was ugly. I can’t figure it out.”

Abby is FIVE. She reads and writes on a first grade level despite the fact she is only in pre-school. She loves to take care of her two year old brother. She sings, dances, and enjoys putting on shows. She is funny and sensitive and loves Disney princesses. And, apparently, at the age of five, has decided she is ugly.

My heart dropped after reading her mother’s text. I remember that feeling like it was yesterday; hating myself, thinking I was ugly, feeling like I did not fit in, wanting to be like everyone else, knowing I was fat…all of that and more, I felt all those things at Abby’s age. And there is no way in hell I was going to let this little girl feel the same way!

I remembered Abby’s mom had made a book with the photos I had taken at Abby’s 5th birthday party, and retrieved it from the shelf. I wanted Abby to hear what I would have wanted to hear at her age. Abby and I sat down on the couch to read the book together. Then I found the photo I had been looking for; Abby’s friend Lee. Lee was recently adopted from China at age 5. Lee is amazingly smart; learning English in only a few months. He loves to tell stories, and is very fond of dancing. Lee also happens to only have half of a left arm and a deformed hand on his right. I discussed with Abby what she likes about Lee and what fun things she does with him. Never once did she mention his physical differences. I asked her if Lee being different mattered to her. Abby said that Lee would be her friend no matter how he looked. We talked about how God made Lee special as we continued looking through the book. On the next page was a photo of Abby talking with Queen Elsa from Frozen (well, an impersonator Elsa).

“What do you like about this girl, Abby?” I asked as I pointed to a picture of her.

“That’s just me, silly”

“Seriously, Abby, what do you like about this girl?”

Abby thought for a few minutes before hesitantly responding, “I am smart. And I am funny. And I’m a good singer.”

“Anything else?”

“I’m fun to play with, and I’m good at helping mommy with Ross (her younger brother)” she said with more confidence.

“And do you know what I like about you Abby,” I asked. Abby shook her head no. “I like how nice you are, how much you love others, your smile, the way you laugh when Ross chases the cat. I like you for you, Abby. I like you because God made you Abby and there is no one else like you.”

Abby smiled and looked up from the book, “Wanna try on princess dresses Miss Rachel?”

“Yes Abby, yes I do” I responded.

On her way up the stairs Abby turned around, “I love you Miss Rachel. You have a big heart.”

“I love you too Abby bug. You are smart and beautiful and loving. I am lucky to be your babysitter.”

That day Abby taught me to take a moment to love myself. She taught me how important it is to remember the amazing qualities God gave each of us. She taught me to view the world through a lens of love instead of hate, and to let the light within me shine. This week I am writing down two positive self-talk moments a day to remind myself of the goodness and grace that exists in me. Each time I reread one of these moments, I am able to remind myself that, just like Abby, I am awesome. I encourage you to write down your positive self-talk and then revisit it often. Never forget that you are an amazing person!

Abby

Princess Abby with the Elsa decoration from her party.

Isaiah 64:8

Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.

 

When toddlers teach you about self-acceptance March 20, 2013

Fun house mirrors. They are everywhere. From Coney Island and haunted house attractions to pediatricians’ offices and the baby room at my job. Looking in one mirror, my 5’2″ frame becomes Goliath-like. Another turns me into Violet Beauregarde after her ill-fated chewing gum incident. Fun house mirrors make you look at the reflection in them in a different way than you would normally view it. They distort your perception of reality by forcing you into this new view of yourself. The mirrors force you to confront your previous perception of yourself compared to what is reflected in the fun house mirror  These differences in views are a lot like what it is like to have an eating disorder.

As I continue on in my recovery, I realize how true the comparison between fun house mirrors and confronting recovery can really be. Recently, at work, in an effort to console (or at least distract) and crying toddler, I put her in front of the fun house mirror. I did this simply because no amount of toys, bubbles or cheerios seemed to lessen the severity of her crying and I was running out of ideas. When her red, tear-streaked face stared back at her from inside the fun house mirror, the crying suddenly ceased. She timidly put a chubby hand on the mirror’s surface; carefully patting her reflection. This would be the point when she would be be questioning the difference between her prior perceptions and her current reality of her appearance. She paused. Her hand dropped. A peal of laughter rang out from her baby belly. Every time she looked at her face, she giggled in delight. The fun house mirror is nothing more than a mirror to this little girl.

I wonder, when do we lose this innocence and self-acceptance. This baby was absolutely thrilled to see her face in the mirror and loved what was reflected back to her. Whereas, I kept trying to hold her in front of me so I did not have to see myself reflected back. I hated what I saw, what I see. I go out of my way to avoid mirrors so as not to be reminded of my appearance. However, this one-year-old embraced the reflection and adored what she saw. I want to be more like this baby. I want to look in the mirror and have enough self-acceptance to like what I see instead of treating my reflection like Frankenstein’s monster. I want to embrace my body, and everything it does for me. As Ralph Waldo Emerson states, “Make the most of yourself…for that is all there is of you”. There is only one you in this entire universe. You bring so many unique characteristics, likes, talents, skills and gifts to this world. And the world deserves to see that. I am going to  accept myself for who God intended me to be, a messy beautiful creation all His own. He never intended me to be perfect. He only wants me to love; love Him, love others and love MYSELF. From now on, I am going to take this child’s approach to life and learn to embrace who I really am outside of my appearance and my ED.
Proverbs 31:25 and 30-31

25: She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.

30-31: Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Image

I took this photo of some baby I do not even know at the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial. I feel it speaks to this post. In the midst of all the violence, destruction  and hate that had been at this site, this baby finds the good in the situation by finding a nice place for a quick crawl…plus it is in front of the reflection pond where you can see his beautifully unique and perfectly imperfect self reflected in the water.