Monday, December 30, 2013

Self-Image and Relationships

What does hatred of myself have anything to do with anyone else?  Experience has taught me this: it has everything to do with everyone else.  If you hate yourself, you will never expect anyone else to love you.  You won't accept it.  You won't believe it.  And you'll offend them without meaning to, and you could lose those who love you most.  Why?  Because hating yourself damages your ability to accept love.  You will distort it.  You will curse it.  You will bashfully tiptoe backwards, with rosy cheeks of embarrassment.  Those who love you will feel like they've lost the fight to love you, and they may even perhaps feel that you don't want their love and affection.  And so you're continuously cycling back to the very thing you don't want to be: alone.

Eating disorders aren't all about food; in fact, they're more about guilt, shame, and the constant pressure to remain in control.  Imagine a person who feels guilty for eating (a needed, natural function!) in a friendship, in a family, or in a romantic relationship.  I mean, WOW!  Can you even function that way?  A boyfriend wants to take the woman he adores out to dinner, and she declines, with some false excuse...what is he to think?  "She's not into me."  But this woman feels she can't tell him the truth: "If I eat that food, I will spend the rest of the evening clothed in garments of shame. I will hate myself.  And if I go, with the intentions of pretending to eat, you might notice and think that I'm weird, and I will lose you because of the guilt I hold against myself."  

How about friends?  Friends often love celebrating togetherness by going out for lattes or dinner, having a beer or cocktail, relaxing with popcorn and a movie, baking Christmas cookies.....!  I cannot even possibly tell you how many times I declined invitations to do things because my friends mentioned food as part of the plan.  At the time, I thought something was wrong with people!  "Why can't we ever hang out without putting calories in our bodies?!?!"  I settled for loneliness instead of sharing in the lives of my friends because it would interfere with my workout, it would make me feel anxious, it wouldn't be conducive to my self-destructive lifestyle.  I couldn't be a friend because my eating disorder made my life revolve around me -- the "me" that eating disorders created.  Though I don't live with regrets, I often look back at the life-breathing doves God gave me for friends - peacemakers and fun-lovers and soul-seekers - and I feel a sadness for not knowing them better. 

You see, if I didn't love and accept myself, my relationships became tainted.  Wanting to hide a part of myself made me want to hide the WHOLE self!  "No one should see this." 

I asked readers to write messages to me about how their personal self-image affects their relationships.  All respondents were women, and there was this common theme in ALL responses.  The theme can be paraphrased like this: If I feel lovely, if I feel beautiful, then I am equipped to be with others, to serve those around me, and to have lasting and meaningful relationships.  

If you haven't read the book Captivating by Stasi Eldredge, DO!  I read it in my early twenties and it changed my perspective on who I am because of how God made me.  I want to quote her a few times here (all quotes are from the book Captivating), and then explain further how the messages I received relate to these quotes.  It's astounding to put all of this together.  Really, really.

“We desire to possess a beauty that is worth pursuing, worth fighting for, a beauty that is core to who we truly are. We want beauty that can be seen; beauty that can be felt; beauty that affects others; a beauty all our own to unveil.” 

“A woman is a warrior too. But she is meant to be a warrior in a uniquely feminine way. Sometime before the sorrows of life did their best to kill it in us, most young women wanted to be a part of something grand, something important.” 

“That longing in the heart of a woman to share life together as a great adventure-that comes straight from the heart of God, who also longs for this. He does not want to be an option in our lives. He does not want to be an appendage, a tagalong. Neither does any woman. God is essential. He wants us to need him-desperately. Eve is essential. She has an irreplaceable role to play. And so you'll see that women are endowed with fierce devotion, an ability to suffer great hardships, a vision to make the world a better place.” 

“Beauty is transcendent. It is our most immediate experience of the eternal. Think of what it's like to behold a gorgeous sunset or the ocean at dawn. Remember the ending of a great story. We yearn to linger, to experience it all our days. Sometimes the beauty is so deep it pierces us with longing. For what? For life as it was meant to be. Beauty reminds us of an Eden we have never known, but somehow our hearts were created for.” 

“What if you have a genuine and captivating beauty that is marred only by your striving?”

Girls, did you ever twirl in a dress when you were little, letting the skirt circle out around you, all fluff and lace?  I remember doing this anytime my parents made me dress up for special occasions.  I would be vastly disappointed if I had to wear a dress that didn't twirl satisfactorily.  I had my favorite red dress, fringed with white eyelet details upon each layer.  It bounced when I walked and twirled magnificently when I happened to dizzy myself silly just to see it take air around my body.  I felt like maybe I was clinging to the edge of beauty when I was adorned with a dress and "pretties" in my iron-curled hair.  I imagined people saying, "Cherie, you look so pretty in that dress!" or perhaps silently smiling in awe.  It wasn't that I was a conceited kid at all... I just wanted to be lovely.

Stasi Eldredge so eloquently pointed out that we desire beauty that can be seen and felt and that affects others.  We do.

One young woman wrote to me that she is starting a new relationship, and struggles with low self-esteem.  She finds herself re-applying her make-up, redoing her hair, and also texting him before a date to let him know she doesn't look her best.  Though he has told her he treasures her for her kindness, genuineness, and humor...AND he reassures her of her beauty...she still wants to feel worthy of him.  Without bias, I can tell you that this young woman is one of the most physically gorgeous people I've ever known, and her spirit shines even brighter than her outward beauty!  However, she doesn't always see what those around her see.  She is still trying to answer the question, "Am I lovely?  Am I beautiful?"  Entering this new relationship has left her heart wanting to make sure she can possess a beauty worth fighting for.  Sweet woman, the moment you were born, you possessed all of that and more!  

How many women can relate to this young woman?  According to my other responses, many!  One woman wrote this.  And others agreed with her. :

 "I think every woman needs to feel good about herself if she is going to be effective in serving others. I know if I get up and someone shows up at my door before my makeup is on........I am not going to answer the door before at least putting eye liner on! People seem to respond to people who are clean, well groomed, and well dressed differently than they respond to a person who has holes in their clothes, unshaven, hair not groomed, etc. It seems to be human nature. I also think it is human nature for healthy people to want to look their best for themselves and others."

Someone else responded with this:

"Feeling good about yourself is key in most every aspect of a person's life....whether its dealing with others or simply making decisions in your own life."

And the theme continued.  We women not only need to believe we look beautiful, but we need to feel worthwhile.  We want to be a part of something grand, but we won't attempt it unless we feel good about ourselves!  How can this be attained in a society that is constantly telling us that we need to buy the next new product to be appealing?  How do we believe that we are women with purpose that FAR surpasses our outward image?  And how can we function in relationships if our feelings about ourselves are so...fragile?

I think it only makes sense to turn to the Author of creation to ask the question of our worth and our beauty.  He is the One who invented beauty; He is the One who spoke it all into Being!  Why in all of God's-created-universe would we look to any other definer than God?  But I know it's difficult...the images, the words spoken by others, the thoughts-against-self are all so distracting!

I'm more sensitive than most people I know.  One experience can be etched in my memory like it's a real-again, living moment.  I remember being made fun of in third grade for my "little, weird ears" and my "big lips."  In fifth grade, someone made fun of the shoes I was wearing during kickball.  One boy called me "short" all the time.  I no longer dwell on these things, and I KNOW it was just kids being kids, but those comments and observations by others didn't just brush off my shoulder like they do for so many other people.  I filed those things away as true, and they took away from God's answer to the question, Am I lovely?  My sensitivity may have blemished my childhood, to be honest, because I took every word to heart.   Maybe I was seeking extra hard for acceptance because I was born with immeasurable self-doubt.  Whatever the case, I am so glad that I've found not only Scripture to tell me who I am in God's eyes, but I have personally experienced God's undying affection for me.  I pray that each of you would experience this in a very real way; you will never be the same.

I want to address Stasi's quote that says, "What if you have a genuine and captivating beauty that is marred only by your striving?"

Many of the women who wrote to me expressed a striving -- a need to earn beauty, instead of it being inherent.  It's usually SUPER TRUE that the world judges by outward appearances.  But thankfully, we know that the Lord judges by the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).  He sees our inherent beauty, the beauty He painted in our DNA, the loveliness that courses through our veins; all if it every bit as powerful as the wonders of nature.  He gave us graciousness and love as gentle as the first quiet snowfall.  He gave us the wisdom of the ages so that we could mother our precious children.  He gave us the fierce devotion of a warrior; the knowledge of the scholars to construct awe-inspiring words that make people feel our love; the hearts of rivers, steady and true and strong; the swift feet of a seasoned hunter, that we may do many things at once; and a many-colored soul that can touch and reach the spirits of others, each in a unique and deep way.  This captivating beauty is already yours ... God gave it to you when you were being formed in your mother's womb.  He wrote it before you were born, and no matter how you try to un-say it, it doesn't change the truth.  You are God's creation, and therefore, you are beautiful and lovely and worthwhile and enchanting - before the mascara, before the clothes, before the "perfect body," before a man tells you so, and even before you believe it for yourself.  All the trying in the world can't make it more true...but is it possible the striving could make it less true?  Perhaps by striving for beauty, we aren't giving God and others our most treasured beauty.

Please note that I am not saying we can't put on our make-up, dress nicely, do our hair, or other things.  I like doing these things as much as the next girl!  However, I am saying that these are NOT the things on which we should base our beauty.  

1 Peter 3:3-4 says, "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."

When I don't see that God already made me beautiful, and I set my eyes on outward appearances to attain beauty, I am less confident in how I relate to others.  It doesn't matter if I'm at the grocery store, or having lunch with my husband; if I doubt my worth or loveliness, my countenance is different, and I sacrifice a positive interaction.  When I used to feel the relentless "need" to be skinny, I couldn't form healthy relationships.  My constant hiding in shame was my priority, and all relationships were clouded by my unhealthy image of myself.

The true issues of this are so much wider and deeper than I could ever explain in paragraphs or pages.  I know the hell some of you are experiencing when you try with all your might to believe some of the things I've just said.  I know full well the attacks of heart, mind, and spirit that just seem to never go away.  I know how your eyes flood with tears at the smallest things, the littlest attack on self.  I also know that you realize the effect this has on your relationships with people.  Sometimes it might seem impossible to ever feel "normal."

I pray that each of you would remember the grand dream you wanted to be a part of, the vision that God put on your heart.  I pray that you wouldn't give up or believe that you aren't capable of being a warrior.  Be a warrior in your relationships; fight off any temptation to believe you aren't good enough, aren't worthy enough, aren't lovely enough to be treasured by all the people in your life.  Believe that you are here with a divine purpose, that God made you beautiful already, and that He has a plan to use that beauty to make the world better.  

Hang out with your friends, and believe the good things they say about you.  Talk to your family, and accept their love.  Be held by your beloved, and don't worry that you have some imperfection he might notice.  You have nothing to worry about because you are part of God's grand plan for the universe.  Are you lovely?  Yes.  Are you worthwhile?  Yes.  Are you dazzling?  Yes!  Yes to everything wonderful about you, sweet woman.  You have captivated the Lord already -- He looks at you and says, She is beauty, as I made her.  I love her and will never stop loving her.

Monday, November 25, 2013

In Case You've Forgotten: Beautiful Things

I want to follow up the last post with something that's difficult to learn, but wonderful to receive when you finally allow yourself to receive it...

No matter what you've done, how deep of a hole you're in, who you've become, what you've endured YOU CAN BE MADE NEW.  Your life can change.  You can find joy and peace.  HE MAKES BEAUTIFUL THINGS OUT OF US!

Here's a song.  I feel like someone needs to hear it and make it the soundtrack of their lives.  Is it you?

Beautiful Things by Gungor

All this pain
I wonder if I'll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all.

All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found?
Could a garden come up from this ground at all?

You make beautiful things.
You make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things.
You make beautiful things
out of us.

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground.
Out of chaos life is being found
in You.

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things
Out of us.

You make me new.
You are making me new!
You make me new.
You are making me new!

He makes all things new.....even you, dear one.  Even me.  Even us.

Confessions of the Damaging Place: A Path to Healing

Words paint meager pictures for the hell one endures when experiencing eating disorders or severe body-issue trauma.  I have to try, though.  I have to take your hand and lead you down to the Damaging Place and ask you to please look upon the hurt of another so that your compassion can grow, and healing can become complete for me, for you, for us.  This is not a pity party.  This isn't an over-dramatization.  I don't want you to feel bad for me, or for we who have endured such things; I want you to be aware and loving-minded.

Imagine a force so evil and so cunning that it sneaks upon you like a big cat on a lovely hike.  The force can be sudden, but it can also be gradual.  It can strike in the middle of sorrow.  It can beat you down in the middle of the most joyful day.  It is a tight grip that strangles you after you've fallen from the first blow; the familiar choke around the neck squeezes ever tighter, evoking the pain you've been stuffing into all the caverns of your heart.  You look around in anguish and panic, seeing life go on around you as usual.  To protect those around you in the "real" world, you shut down so that this experience is yours and yours alone; the shame, mixed with the likelihood of hurting those you love, keep you from screaming for the one thing you most desperately want....HELP, PLEASE!  But no - you don't cry out.  You walk down to the Damaging Place all alone.  With head down, heart forlorn, spirit trying to pull you back up from the stone steps of torture, you trudge down darkly-painted steps toward your torment.  You know this place as your place now, without knowing how you let it get this far.  All around you, life is happening normally, but you are sucked inside of another dimension; being two places at once, people see a look in your eyes of sickness, of eeriness, and they wonder whether to ask about it.  But, being polite and loving of you, they don't ask, so to spare you any embarrassment.  It's an act of kindness they don't ask, but you want them to ask so bad; you are clawing the sides of the pit of torture and need a way out -- but you will not ask for help; it NEEDS to come to you.  Strangely, you don't even know if you would be honest about your goings-on, and on the rare occasion someone does ask, you lie because you are afraid and ashamed.  This hell is yours, and no one should be exposed to it because they will either hurt or they won't understand, and either scenario is too painful for you to imagine.  When purging your dark secrets, the most frightful thing to endure is someone looking at you with confusion and offering a simple solution ("I'll pray for you."  "I'm sorry to hear what you're going through."  "Well, couldn't you try ____[something too surprisingly simple that you tried as an infant in this struggle___]?").  That means you failed to describe this pain, to the point that it seems trivial to the outsiders.  And this adds to the shame.  The force attacks you stronger after such conversations, and it is no one's fault as far as you can tell.  You want to have them imagine this:

This invisible force picks you up by one leg and dangles you over the pit of raging, vicious, biting, scorching, unbearable suffering.  You are forced to look at images that make you feel weak and ugly and tired and overwhelmed.  You look down into the moving pictures beneath you and see yourself squeezing the fat on your stomach, arms, thighs.  It bulges between your fingers mockingly. You are injected by the biggest needle with the desire to have that "fat" all gone so that bones grin evilly through your skin.  You see images of those more beautiful than you, laughing with their fake-white teeth, their bronzed and thin bodies; you see your boyfriend or your husband looking at them lustfully.  You are shown the things you've done wrong - the times you lost your patience while mothering, the moment you chose to be lazy instead of do an extra workout, the way your fat rolls over your pants when you slouch, the times you spoke disrespectfully to someone you love, every morsel of food you ate that day (if you chose to eat at all).  The words ugly, weak, unworthy, fat, lazy, undeserving, bad mom, b*tch, stupid, hate myself hate myself hate myself are all planted in your mind and labeled "REAL".  And you cry and you cry and say stop stop stop, but you feel you are all alone.  No one is there to heroically swing from a branch and swoop down and save you because you've blocked them all out from this place.  The people saw your barricades, said "okay", and respectfully walked away.  So here you are, and you don't know how long this will last, or how frightfully-altered you will be when you finally leave the Damaging Place for awhile (never long enough).

Pretty soon, you become used to this Place and you start owning it, pulling in your couches, chairs, draperies, and cosmetics; you're going to be living here.  I used to be so scared when my aunt started saying "my cancer" when talking about the cancer attacking her body.  "NO!" I wanted to yell, "It is not yours!"  But I now realize it was the same when I would accept these attacks as something for me, a struggle of mine alone.  The injections of thin-desire coursed through my veins, and the images shown to me in the pit were now persistently running through my mind like an old picture movie.  I let this life choose me instead of choosing against it.  I didn't know there were options. Even my counselors told me that I would NEVER live without ED (eating disorders) again; I would simply learn how to fight "him."  Do you know what incredible pressure that puts on a young woman?  I know they didn't mean to, but they made me think I had to take ownership of my eating disorders instead of disown them.  I believed that every day of my life would be a fight and a battle.  How did I get so tired as such a young girl?  So cynical?  So easily-offended?  So angry?  When you believe you're fighting a battle of your own every day, one that you can't even describe to other people (even your counselors), you become a different sort of person.  I thought everything else was fading: joy, kindness, laughter, friendships -- when you think you're fighting for your life (and I was), you believe that the good things are fleeting and the bad return like a promised future.  You own a life of fear.  And I was so scared.

I was scared of gaining weight.  I was scared of my family commenting about my looks.  I was scared of what would happen if I skipped a day of exercise.  I was scared I would have to buy new jeans.  I was scared of grocery stores.  I was scared of driving alone.  I was scared that something terrible would happen to my son while he was gone from me (control is very important to a person with eating disorders).  I was scared that my friends would abandon me.  I was afraid if I gained weight, and someone saw me, they would wonder what happened to the beautiful girl (the skinny one).  I was scared of cupboards, refrigerators, crowded places, restaurants... I was scared of most things.  I was even scared of God.

I told NO ONE of my fears.  I didn't even tell God for a few years.  He knew, as He always does, but He was waiting for me to confess.  You see, He chose not to heal me until I truly wanted it and admitted my weaknesses, because His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).  After owning the Damaging Place, I even tried to keep Jesus out.  If I am honest with you, I really did "see" Him and feel His
presence as I was dangling above the pit of torment, but I wouldn't take His hand because I thought He would make me do the things that I regarded as too difficult: face my fears, eat more, become radically healed and different...gain weight.  Not understanding the Lord enough, I thought He would make me do those things alone, at a pace too quick for me.  Knowing the Lord now, I know that taking His hand meant that He would restore me in His perfect way and not let go of my hand.  It took years of unneeded horror for me to realize this, to give Him the control over this area of my life.

But OH!  The glory of His presence and hand in my life is more than I can even describe!  The deliverance of that ugly disease was at a perfect pace, a manageable pace, to where I look back and think, I don't even remember going from not eating and counting every calorie, to the point where I am now.  I don't remember realizing my brain is working normally again, giving signals for hunger and fullness, when that function used to be totally lost.  God is sensitive to us, even in our weaknesses in which we fail many times on our own.  He is patient and kind and good, and to Him be the glory for my deliverance.  It is nothing I did, but all His doing.  All I did was give up, and ask Him for help sincerely.  He picked me up and helped me walk through the dust and blood of my loneliness, showered me in His grace and holiness, and guided me down the right paths, battling the danger for me along the way.  He provided the right people to be my friends, He showed me the good food that He made and helped me to enjoy it (go natural!), He provided me enough time to have a balanced exercise routine, He kept pointing toward hope whenever I would falter.  I finally realize it's not about me, but about God's love and restoration, so that I can help others and bring more people to Him.  He loves us, and calls us to do more than live for ourselves.  And for these things and more, I will praise Him my whole life and point others to Him.

Speaking of others, God taught me things about healing through other people.  I had partners (friends!) to walk alongside me because He put them in my path.  I experienced unconditional love in heavenly proportions, and through this, I learned to love myself and others more deeply and thoroughly.  I did not meet one person who also had eating disorders, but people who were magnificently healthy in their way of thinking about and "doing" eating.  Through these people, I learned about organic and whole foods, eating when hungry and stopping when full, gardening, eating on special occasions, eating everyday foods, homemade cooking, and how to see God's design in how we nourish ourselves.  That may sound like the silliest thing you've ever heard, but eating disorders had maliciously stolen all of my abilities to rationalize nourishment.  Everything I had learned about eating in the 16 years before eating disorders was lost, and I have just recently regained the ability to eat "normally" -- TEN years later.  Because of God's sensitivity to my human concerns and weakness, He allowed this process to be gradually transformational.  I could not have done it without the friends he sent my way, along with the relentless love of my family.

It wasn't until I started confessing my pain and torture and, let's just call it like it is...SIN, to others that I felt the fresh breeze of healing begin to wash over me.  I wish I could say that I was healed in private, still able to hide my cuts, gashes, and scars from those closest to me, but I wasn't.  I was healed on the battleground.  James 5:16 says this: "Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective."  When I began opening up to others, and praying to God for healing in the meantime, He started to use those people to lift my eyelids to reveal the truth.  They lovingly stitched my gaping wounds, calling me "beautiful" the whole time, while stroking my hair and reteaching me about the world around me.  Some people prayed with me and for me; others were God's instruments of healing in other ways.  I tell you the truth: James 5:16 is alive and real.  Find someone to share your pain with, a righteous person who will pray for you, who will keep it confidential (no gossip!), and will love you unconditionally.  You don't have to battle this on your own; this is not your battle.  God is more powerful than any struggle we face...ANY STRUGGLE.  And He is for you, not against you, even if you're filled with shame.  How would you treat your son or daughter in the midst of a life-changing trial?  With love.  And how much greater is God?  Infinitely.  Again, He is for you.

If you have been a true friend, a family member, or a loving acquaintance of mine (or my husband! Wink, wink, Ben!) anytime from when I was 16 until now... I want you to know that God used you as a powerful tool in my life, even if you weren't aware of it.  I have learned from each and every one of you what it is to be free and lovely.  God looked down and said, "That person!  She needs that person!" and our paths crossed.  Your impact in my life is eternal, and because of you, I am now able to help others in this struggle.  Thank you.  With all my loving heart, I thank you.

So I challenge you, dear reader, confess.  You might not have eating disorders or body image problems, but you might struggle with depression, addiction, self-doubt, faith, relationships, motherhood, a too-busy schedule, commitment, adultery, anger ... the list goes on.  Confess to God and receive His grace, and then find someone to talk to about your struggles.  It's not a pity party to tell someone about the demons raging against you; it's a path to healing, and a certain way to quiet those demons forever.  You don't have to whine or over-dramatize anything.  You just have to say it -- get it out of your soul and let the angels slay it in mid-air.  You aren't alone.  You. Aren't. Alone.

Please watch the link below.  You may have seen this.
How do you see yourself?  What beauty about you can be revealed through the eyes of another?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Letter of Remembrance and Encouragement

Dear Friends,

Recently, my beloved Aunt Sue passed away.  I remember the first night I started praying for her over 13 years ago.  My dad told me that she had breast cancer, and in anguish I felt the first taste of cancer's bitterness.  The "it's-not-fair", the "anyone-but-her", the "God-why-can't-you-just-take-it-away"... I made a bed on the floor in my room and let salt water gush from my eyes while praying that Sue would be healed, that I wouldn't lose my loving aunt.  I prayed for her almost every night for over 13 years.

Sue and Matt
Sue and Sarah
She did overcome breast cancer, and was in remission for a few years.  We were happy and inspired for a time.  Then, she was afflicted by a different, much more rare type of cancer.  She was miraculously healed (we gave thanks to God).  But then cancer attacked her again...and again.  I'd be lying if I didn't sometimes say, "WHY, GOD?!  Why would You heal her, and then take her healing away?  WHY!  I don't understand..."  To me, evil people could have such torment, but not Aunt Sue; she wasn't evil, she was lovely and kind.  

After years of on-and-off treatments for various types of cancer, Sue recently had one last shot at remission.  She took it, knowing that the outcome would either equal life...or death.  They did it!  They got rid of the cancer!  But it wasn't enough.  In the end, cancer didn't take her earthly life.  Her body just sort of shut down, and I understand how that could happen with all she's been through!  The last month really just had me praying, "God, let Your will be done.  If You are calling her Home, take her Home without suffering.  Your will, not ours."  Even though it made me feel pain to pray that, I knew that everything she would experience in heaven would be SO MUCH GREATER than anything Earth had to provide.  

Sue's funeral was beautiful.  People talked about her unconditional, endless love.  People sang her songs.  People joked about her love of peacocks and purple, and "anything obnoxious."  Her children (all grown up) recounted stories of her joy over them...even about the snacks they ate!  Her husband, my uncle, talked about her faith.  Everyone agreed that Sue had heavenly love for everyone she encountered.  She had the heart of Jesus.

My cousin Matt told us that in Sue's last days, she had awoken for brief moments.  One time she said that she had seen Jesus.  The next time she said she wanted to go back and be with God.  My heart nearly stops when I think about this.  Sue had held on for SO LONG, battling with all her might every day so that she could continue to be with her family...and now she had found something for which it was worth letting go; she found her Home.  What would she say if she could speak to us from her side of heaven?

I think she would weep and tell us it's all real.  She would encourage us to remain true to our faith.  She would beg us to evangelize, to bring the lost back to the Father.  I think she would make it seem like it's the ONLY THING THAT MATTERS..... because it's true.  I can't say any of this for sure.  But I knew my Aunt Sue; she would want everyone to experience the joy that she now has.

I have a friend named Alex who respectfully challenged Christianity (many times).  He once argued that Christians don't really believe in heaven and hell, or they at least don't believe in hell.  I said, "I do.  Why do you think Christians don't believe in that?  It's in the Bible."   Let me paraphrase his response:
Ok, let's just say I'm a Jewish person in Nazi Germany.  I live in a Jewish community, my family is Jewish, and I know what the Nazis do to my people.  Now, let's imagine that I've been told information about an upcoming Nazi rampage on our community; they are secretly plotting to come and get us - to either kill us or take us to a concentration camp.  Wouldn't I run to my people, screaming at the top of my lungs that we HAVE TO GET OUT OF THERE!  I would make sure every single person knew what was going to happen to them so that they could get out and be saved.  I would die trying if I had to.  Christians don't do that.  If they believed in hell, they would be like that Jewish person who knew the Nazis were coming.

WOW.  My perspective changed in that moment.  WOW.  Wowowowowowow! I had never thought of it like that.  My friends have always known I'm a Christian -- but was I trying to save them if they didn't know Christ?  No.  I was always afraid of bull-dozing people with my faith.  I thought that too many Christians come off as condemning, judgmental hypocrites.  I didn't want to be like that!  But apathetic about their eternal souls?!  No way.  I didn't want to be like that, either!

So, friends, here I am to tell you that I believe that Jesus died for our sins and he is THE way to heaven.  I believe that to know him is to be saved.  I believe that if you accept him into your life, you will experience eternity in heaven; your soul will not perish, and you will not suffer in hell.  But you have to answer to God's call to your heart.  He already knows you; He's already been trying to speak to you.  You have to answer.  Furthermore, there is a very REAL evil force in the world, a force that desires to forsake your soul.  There is an entire army that is without God and against God, and they want you to join their side.  They are speaking to you, too, if you let them.  They are telling you you're not good enough, you're not pretty enough, you're not smart enough, you're talent-less and useless...or maybe they're even telling you that you're TOO smart for that stuff; only an illogical, needy imbecile would believe an invisible Being created everything and also loves you.  If you've read my other blog entries, you know that I have suffered at the hands of the evil army.  I still call upon the Lord to help me fight them each day.  He wins.  Every.  Time.

In any case, there's a battle raging for your soul.  Can't you feel it sometimes, the discontent, the irritability, the there-must-be-something-more?  We can't ignore it.

If you are reading this and you're a nonbeliever, or even a compromising believer (i.e. One who says, "I believe in all that, but I also believe in many other 'roads.'"), then I want to be the Christian that my friend didn't believe was out there.

I am running to your village. I am screaming down every street. I am crying out to you: There is an eternity, and you have two choices!  If you stay this way, you will suffer.  If you stay here, you will die.  But, friends, I love you too much to let that happen!  I have but one earthly life to tell you the things of heaven, to tell you there's a Savior -- there's a way out of this mess of doom!  This Savior restores, he knows your name, he protects you from evil.  He does not make your life perfect, but he is perfect and will guide you through every struggle.  I would not say this if I didn't believe it with all that I am.  You are too precious to pass up!   Your life is at stake!  Choose life

It's about the ultimate Love Story:

"This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us." 1 John 4:13-19 [emphasis mine]

I can't wait to meet my Lord face-to-face someday. I can't wait to see Sue, my grandmothers, and many others in heaven. I believe that I will. God wants a relationship with His people because He loves us. He welcomes us into the Kingdom, and we will have a dwelling place that is full of joy.

There, I've said it. I pray that anything I've said matters to God, so that He can speak to you more clearly about His purpose for your life. You were bought at a price because you're precious to Him. He cares. He speaks from the sunrise and the stars, from the oceans and trees, from your heart and mine.

Dedicated to my aunt, Susan Vinson: a message I know she would want me to send.
Susan Vinson, the woman who loved like Jesus does

Thursday, October 31, 2013

He Makes All Things New

My wedding day was the sweetest day.  It was full of more charm, more warmth, and more sobbing-my-thankfulness prayers than I had ever imagined.  It was cozy and full of love from the people whom I am closest to; it was small and intimate, but left the biggest imprint on my heart.  It was the day I had, in reality, never imagined, and often times didn't want to.  And I'm finding that perhaps it's because I didn't know the sweetness that comes on the other side of the wedding.

The evening of my wedding day, I kept looking at my husband Ben.  Husband... It was such a lovely word, the privilege of saying it left me breathless.  Husband.  The word had been locked and hidden behind my lips since I was a little girl.  I didn't even realize I had concealed it somewhere in the chambers of my heart, never knowing if it might reach my mouth.  When I was young, I never imagined how my wedding might be; I just wasn't that girl.  But most little girls know they want to be married someday because it is on her heart to be pursued and adored forever and ever.  Husband meant that to me, and I would say it as a whisper over and over again during the next few months with a smile that only the spirit knows.  With giddiness and ecstasy, I was suddenly "that girl" who blushed as my lips formed 'my husband' either out loud or in my head.  The newness, the deep meaning, the forever-ness still leaves me in silent wonder sometimes.  I hope this word can always bring me to my knees in gratitude.

The few who leave themselves pure for their future spouse are the blessed few.  To me, they are heroes and saints.  They don't even know what they are holding out for yet, but they are still holding tightly to the promise of intimacy and beauty beyond measure in a future life-mate!  They will never be tainted by past experiences, people-they-thought-were-forever, or the heartache of being ripped away from by someone they trusted with heart and body.

If you are pure, I urge you to wait.  Love is everything wonderful that you believe it is, but true love does wait.  And girls/women, if it is true love with the man you're with now, he. will. wait.  He will honor you.  And if he does not, it's time to question if he actually is your one true love.  We all know this in the depths of our hearts, but we compromise so we don't lose a man's attention.  It doesn't have to be this way.  Really.

"Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." ~Proverbs 4:23
"Do you not know your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore, honor God with your bodies."  ~1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Most of us don't have the luxuries that purity provides.  If you're like me, you may have even justified the sacrifice of purity because of the word "love" and the way it tangles your heartstrings, or because of a promise given.  The trade-off seemed fair and good, and you felt wonderful and attractive because someone seemingly valued your flesh and they liked to hang out with you.  Other women have endured many damaging things as children, through abuse, neglect, rape, and other horrific things I can't even begin to fathom.  And so, most of us end up here.  It's a place where we constantly reevaluate what relationships mean to us, each time setting boundaries for the next guy we might date, boundaries we're not even sure we'll keep if challenged.  We just want to be pursued and treasured.  It's on all of our hearts.

Here's the thing, though: the world around you won't tell you this overtly, but relationships don't have to determine your value and self-worth.  Being part of something doesn't make you any more whole than you are by yourself.  You are a significant soul in this universe from the moment you're conceived.  God looked at you and called you lovely, valuable, beautiful, even before you were looked upon by your earthly parents.  This is regardless of "relationship status."  In fact, while you wait for the one God prepared for you, you can increase your effectiveness for the Kingdom without distraction (yes, sometimes husbands are a distraction! hehe).  You are free to develop that woman God is calling you to be!  This way, when a man comes along, you are who God wants you to be, and that man can choose your gorgeous soul or not.  If he doesn't, he isn't the one!  What freedom!  We must be self-assured, through God, of our own worth before we can pursue a life mate.  If we look to a boyfriend or a husband to fill our voids, we will only end up disappointed (and it's not the guy's fault, especially if we put this on him!).

I speak from experience.  Those of you who don't know me that well may find it interesting that I got pregnant during high school (didn't find out until after graduation), and was a single mommy for six years.  I have been a Christian since I was five, and had the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart the whole time, but at 17 I decided I knew more about love than the Bible does, and wrote my own addendum to all of the verses that tell us to wait for marriage.  As a result, I will now forever proclaim that God's Word isn't trying to kill our fun or freedom when it tells us to wait; He is trying to protect us from certain trials and heartache that He didn't design for us.  I learned God's Love in a very difficult and real way while caring for my little boy at a point in my life where many girls are only beginning to build dreams of motherhood....someday.

A sweet moment with my son before the wedding
I want to say that my son's dad and I are true friends today.  God taught me a lot about forgiveness and humility; neither of us did anything perfectly.  He now has a wife whom I adore and appreciate, and they have a little boy that is a sweet little brother for my son.  Likewise, I have a husband and family that is infinitely more glorious than anything I could have conjured up in my happiest of musings.  But the road to get to this point is filled with more anguish than I can again relive.  The sadness of believing I had forever ruined my son's concept of "family", the realities of single-parenthood while working and going to college, the guilt that hung heavily on my spirit each day...these things I wish upon NO ONE.  I am blessed to have trusted in God through and through, to have sought His strength and wisdom, to know that when I am weak, He is strong.  There are many women out there who are trying to do it all on their own.  I wish that I could help them all.  I would turn their tear-streaked faces to the sky and urge them to pray.  God has always had a better plan than this; now we need to turn to Him and ask Him to redeem our situation.  Thanks be to Him that my son has a huge, loving family and that his mommy and daddy don't scream and yell at each other, making him choose sides.  Because of God's grace, my situation turned from sadness to joy, heartache to fulfillment, shame to exuberance.  He makes all things new.....even you (and me).

Why do I tell you these things?  I want you to know that if you don't already have a husband and a family, you have a way to make things pretty perfect.  Remain steadfast and pure.  Get to know yourself; ask God what He plans for your life based on your passions and interests.  Allow yourself content nights at home, joyous times with friends, a good book and coffee ... these things are good for your spirit, sweet woman.

When you're in a relationship, don't compromise the most treasured parts of yourself (physically, emotionally, spiritually, ANYTHING).  Stay true to you.  Let the man who pursues you get to know you, the REAL you.  If he walks away, so be it.  You still have you.  And you always have God.

Married women, let this be said of us: that we pray continually for God's guidance as our husband's bride, that we selflessly serve our families with happy hearts, that we sing as the sun rises and sets, and that we teach our sons and daughters the value of who they are.

No matter which walk of life we are in or which age bracket we belong to, it's never the wrong time to ask God to make us new again if we need it.  Married or single, we belong in His presence.

Here's a song that has touched my life, both as a single girl and a blissfully married woman:

Laughter from the Lord

Monday, October 7, 2013

Remove the Shackles; Exercise in Freedom

Ever since I was a teenager, I would imagine that heaven would somehow include this scene:

I am running, my heart is beating quickly, yet steadily.  There is nothing behind me but beauty, nothing ahead but the magic of a sunset, the glory of the sky, the swaying of the trees.  There are my footsteps, as light as dragonfly wings, as free as grace.  I feel no pain in body or in breath; just a steady, certain gaze and joy abounding deep in my soul.  I can run as far and as long as I want to without growing weary.  I do not need rest.  I am boundless.  I am liberated.  I am graceful.  I am doing this for no other reason except that it is an act of worship to the one true God, that Maker of this moment and all of the moments before, and all of the moments yet to come.  Honest, passionate, heavenly, chainless running - just me and God and the breeze and His majesty.

Wouldn't running and exercise be so beautiful if it was that pure and purposeful?  Let's be honest: exercise is often one more thing on our to-do list (and our to-do brain), demoralizing us if it doesn't get done.  It's something that stresses us out until we get to the gym, hit the road, hop on the trails, etc.  Once it's over, we often feel better.  But sometimes we don't truly feel better. Sometimes we did it because we had to burn a certain number of calories, we had to make sure our shell(body) is looking good/doesn't get fat/loses some flab/gets that six-pack.   And in a culture of "I-want-it-right-NOW," the results of exercise take a bit too long, and we feel worse instead of better because we're looking for an external result for our external efforts.

Before I begin talking too much about this, I want to be honest and clear about something... If we allow our bodies to get severely overweight, there is no freedom in this.  We are limited in our activities, we are hurting our organs, and we are putting our lives at risk.  Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Let's give the Spirit a dwelling place in which it can work!  Similarly, if we are starving ourselves, become obsessed with exercise more than anything else, counting calories like it's a full-time job, craving (pun intended) to see bones protruding, lusting after six-pack abs, then we are just as sick as the overweight person.  Starvation, especially combined with overexercise, also puts our organs and lives at risk.  The Spirit cannot work effectively in this environment, either.  YOUR BODY IS A TEMPLE FOR THE LIVING SPIRIT OF GOD.  Our most important work is eternal work.  It's important that you know this before reading on.  Also, I'm talking to myself as much as I'm talking to all of you.  :o)

So, what if exercise was less an external effort, and more of a way to help energize us for our eternal effort?  What if it was even a little less about us, and more about God and other people?  In a culture obsessed with image, with ever-increasing pressures on women to be skinny and men to be "buff," the idea of exercise being about someone else might seem a bit asinine.  How does this work?

I used to use exercise to rid myself of the guilt that eating brought to me.  I would count calories meticulously, be sure to run miles upon miles per day, and still feel guilty after eating a small dinner.  My response to that guilt would be to run the next morning before work and class.  I would add an abdominal workout and push-ups at night.  I would pine and pine and pine after a perfect body.  I was less than a "perfect body," as if there is such a thing.  My son's dad Aubrey once came to pick up our son, and he looked at me and said, "I'm just waiting for the day that I come to pick Julien up, and I find you dead."  That moment was a bit of a wake-up call to me.  It changed my perspective just for a second, but those were words I revisited many times in the next couple of years as I slowly clawed my way toward freedom.  Would I die of a heart attack while I was out running, my son forever losing his mommy?  I worried.  I knew I wasn't free; I was exercising in bondage, chains clanking with each forced step.

Exercise is healthy, and God designed our bodies to respond very well to physical activity; we weren't created for completely sedentary lives.  I had lots of fun researching the way that exercise affects brain activity, and I became enthralled with the science behind God's design.  For example, study after study shows that exercise is a natural anti-depressant, relieving stress and anxiety because of the chemicals released in the brain.  Exercise enhances mood, releases endorphins (runner's high, anyone?!), and  actually generates new neurons.   If you are currently an exerciser, you know what I'm talking about!  

In order that these paragraphs don't get long and I lose you, I will simply list the positive effects of exercise on your brain.  We all know the benefits of what exercise does for your body, including your cardiovascular system.  Here is what exercise does the following for you and your brain:

1. Increases the size of hippocampus and improves memory
2. Increases cognitive function in children, adolescents, and young adults
3. Increases the levels of brain derived neurotrophic factors (has to do with serotonin and dopamine - linked with good mood and well-being) and improves neuroplasticity
4. Makes the brain more resilient to stress
5. Enhances your mood (often within five minutes!!!)
6. Normalizes your sleep
7. Increases the production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that anti-depressents try to regulate
8. Alleviates depressive symptoms in those diagnosed with depression (obviously...)
9. May even prevent depression and anxiety !

The list could go on for much, much longer.  I don't need more than nine reasons, though.  Do you?  Exercise is created by God, we've been doing some form of it since creation, and we are meant to do it.  I understand that there are some of us who cannot because of physical conditions.  That is understandable, and there are other ways that we can get these benefits, often through means of personal expression...and, of course (most importantly), by connecting with God.  But for those of us that can, we should.

However!  and this is a big however, we cannot, cannot, CANNOT start worshiping self through exercise.  And this, my beautiful friends, is a tricky thing to do - a thing that I struggle with daily, a thing I have to keep in check with myself.  "Am I doing this to worship myself, or am I doing this to keep myself healthy enough to help others and give God glory?"  The latter is good, and is the light side to exercise.

As a woman who was a single mom for six years, I needed a way to keep my sanity.  I needed "me" time, a time which to reflect on not only myself, but on what I needed to get done and how I would accomplish those tasks.  Before Julien was born, I had already started a running routine.  When he was born, I felt tremendous guilt for wanting to run instead of spend time with him.  Eating disorders aside, there were many reasons for the "need" to get out and run.  However, no one ever told me, "Cherie, it's okay to take time for yourself.  It's healthy and it's good."  I had to figure this out on my own.  I noticed that on days I skipped my workouts, I was grumpier, more overwhelmed, and definitely more scattered in my accomplishments.  I felt feelings of resentment for all of the things I had to do "on my own," and went to bed with deep feelings of inadequacy.  I needed the time to run, yet it seemed CRAZY to even think that I "deserved" that precious time.  What kind of a mother wants to make time for herself, instead of her child?  These were my qualms, and yet EVERY mother knows that WE NEED TIME AWAY!!!  This is not because we are neglectful; it is because sanity is important in order for us to keep on nurturing!

Raise your hand if you're a mom or dad and ever needed a moment away.  Yep, that's what I thought.  Lots of us!  (If you're not yet a parent, take notes.)  Those lovely little bundles of joy are worth all of our tears, heartache, smiles, struggles, hugs, diaper changes, EFFORT ... but let's be real - you are the best you when you take a moment to remember that you are a human being just as much as you are a mom or a dad.  And since we already read about all of those God-given benefits to exercise, let's not pretend that taking a run or bike ride or weight-lifting session isn't the perfect escape.  Your body and mind will be healthier; if you pray while you're working out, your spirit will also be fed, AND you'll actually have MORE energy to give to those sweet little darlings (the tone of "darlings" is sarcastic or not, depending on the day).

If you aren't a parent, or your kids have left the house already, we still need to exercise.  But again, it's not out of self-worship, but out of well-being to better serve those around us.  If you exercise for no other reason, the BEST reason to exercise is to worship -- the second best reason is so that we can serve others with joyful, refreshed bodies, minds, and souls.  By helping yourself, you're helping others so much more.  And hey -- why not witness to people and be a LIGHT to others while you're at the gym/on the trail/etc.???  Try telling someone else how great they're doing, encourage them to keep it up, tell that God rocks, whatever you're comfortable with.

I have a friend who always says, "Looking good, Sunshine!" or "Great job!  Keep it up, Sunshine!" whenever we pass people while we run - no matter if she knows them or not.  I have always admired that attribute to motivate and inspire others, and have taken it upon myself to bring that attitude into my workouts no matter where I am (thanks, Danni! ;) ).

But we must also talk about the dark side of exercise.  There is a dark side.  We need to avoid it.

If you exercise because you're afraid you'll look disgusting if you don't, you are bound by exercise.  If you exercise because you have a set number of calories that must be burned or else, you are bound by exercise.  If you exercise because you hate what you see in the mirror, you're bound by exercise.  If you exercise because someone made a comment to you about your appearance, and that comment just won't get out of your heard, you're bound by exercise.

If you lift weights because you feel like an inadequate representation of a man, you're bound by exercise.  If you lift weights because having not having "bulk" isn't an option, you're bound by exercise.  If you lift in order to appeal to women, then you're bound by exercise (Dude, she's gonna love you with or without muscles if she cares at all about you!).

If you run because you ate, you're bound by exercise. If you run because you hate yourself,  you're bound by exercise.  If you run because you feel forced to, not freed by it, you're bound by exercise.

**HOWEVER, if you exercise because your health would suffer and you need to lose weight to stay alive, or to live a better life, please don't take any of the above into consideration over your health.  You can't help others if you're not here ... so if a doctor told you to, or if you just know you need to exercise to keep your heart ticking, then do it.**

I may have offended people by saying some of the things I just said.  But I once chained myself to exercise instead of letting God free me through it.  I don't want anyone having to reevaluate their psyches over and over again to come to the healthy conclusion.  I am saying it out of love and out of experience.  I'm saying it to free us.

Yesterday I ran with my husband.  Even he will tell you I wasn't in the best of moods while running, which is rare.  I was beating myself up during our run, and felt no better afterwards.  I realized the intention of that run was to remove the label of "lazy" from myself (we had had a wonderfully lazy morning together).  It wasn't a pure reason.  Later, I decided to run by myself, to be outside and enjoy God's beauty, to see what I could defeat in my head that made me feel inadequate.

It worked.  I prayed, I ran, I looked at the water, at the sky, and my soul just sang.  After the run, I sat on a bench and prayed to God - Lord, let my words be Your words.  What do I say to people about exercise?  What do I say?

These words flowed into my head, maybe they will mean something to you:
Grace Abounding, Peace Overflowing, Undying Love, Breeze that speaks....(long pause while I waited in silence).........Sovereignty.

I pray that each of you would find exercise to be an act of worship that makes you more energetic and effective to serve other people.  At the end of the day, it's not about what we do for ourselves - that doesn't last.  What do we do for others, to show them love, to give them hope?  How do we worship? These things matter.

Below: pictures from my run yesterday evening.

The Great Artist features His Autumn Sky in Winona.

Beginning of my run

Middle of my run

From where I prayed

God bless all of you!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

You Are Worth More Than Your Body

The day was a sweltering one.  90+ degrees, and little shade would be provided along the course for our runners.  The day stood still as activity bustled within it.  After an almost two-hour bus ride with our 7th-12th grade cross country team, we had arrived at the course and stood in speculation.  What would this race bring to the kids, physically, mentally, and emotionally (perhaps, hopefully, spiritually as well)?

Lots of things to do in little time.  Get your timing chip.  Pin your number on your uniform.  Go use the bathroom.  Hurry!  C-team, let's warm up!  I had a nervous-giggle kind of jog with our C-team girls, all of them asking me various questions about the course, about what time they should finish, and how they should pace themselves.  They were newer to this sport, and anxiety mounted as gun time drew near.  I was distracted by my full bladder and the silly decision to wear a cotton t-shirt that day, so I had few answers for their many questions.  As a (volunteer) coach, I wanted them to believe in themselves and find success, and so I told them so.  As a Christian woman, I wanted them to understand how God had made them wonderful and beautiful, no matter how they finished.

Lots of running and a few races later, I finally got a break to use the restroom and go back to our Winona tent area to check in on the other runners.  As I was high-fiving runners and finding more water, I came behind a group of Winona girls and overheard this statement, "...even though I run just as much as everybody else, I'm still the fattest girl on the team."  {Note: this isn't true.  It really isn't.}  She looked down at her legs and stomach with disgust, and those around her tried to reassure her that it wasn't true.  My heart sank, and then started beating very quickly.

"Hey, hey, hey," I said, "There is nothing fat about you.  You are beautiful.  You are athletic, and have endurance.  I don't ever want you to say something like that again, even to yourself.  You are BEAUTIFUL.  Ok????"

She turned around and looked at me like I was crazy.  "Sure," she said, and the girls' conversation continued.

I was so disturbed by hearing that, thinking about that young lady and how she was beating herself up. She was already considering herself not good enough.  She was basically saying, "Well, I do this thing (running), and yet this other thing just won't happen for me (too-thinness), and it doesn't make sense and I don't like my body for that!"  A high school girl's distorted reality.  Many girls'/women's distorted reality.  The starting point for a life of thinking if the body is desirable, then the soul will be, too.
I wish I could say that is the only comment I've heard her and other girls on the team make.  In fact, it isn't.  I've had girls say they wear certain shirts so no one can see their fat bouncing on their stomachs.  I've seen a girl refuse to eat certain foods because of "empty calories," though that item didn't have empty calories at all.

And so I have a message to other girls and women.  It is inspired by a sermon from my church, First Free in Onalaska, WI.  I will include the link at the end for watching it.  The sermon was actually about sexual immorality, but I had prayed this morning for inspiration to write, and when Pastor Shane said, "You are worth more than your body!" I knew what God wanted to speak through me today.  Let these be His words, and not mine.  I pray for each of you who read this; please try to understand what God thinks of you.  More importantly, that what He thinks of you is worth far more than what culture thinks of you.

First of all, I want us to think about Adam in the Garden of Eden.  Whatever you know about the story, you probably know that Adam was first.  He was alone.  He was only man.  Then God sent Eve along, made from one of Adam's ribs.  I see colors of blue and green, translucent, flowing through her.  Eve was to be his helpmate.  Think about this: What was God imagining when He made the first woman?  What attributes did He want women to have forever and ever?  He gave us the gift of emotion, the privilege of compassionate instinct.  I imagine God pouring over the details of us because ALL of humanity would come to depend on our mothers for 1) physical support, and 2) tender care while in the womb and thereafter.  He must have said, "Let woman be warm in heart, care-giving in spirit, gentle with her touch, full of unconditional love.  In this way, she will bear My image.  Through her, My goodness will be reflected."  And He breathed her first breath in her.  And she was Eve.  And she is me.  And she is you.  You see, it's about WHO YOU ARE -- what's in that eternal soul?  How has God made you?  Do not forsake this, and you will never thirst for more than what you are given, even in body.

But we know it's not that easy!  We are tormented by images day in and day out that tell us we are not worthy of lust or love if we do not conform to an image that is almost unattainable.  God's intent for beauty through a woman's heart has been tarnished and destroyed by our culture!  Our self-worth all of a sudden becomes wrapped up in how attractive we are perceived to be, how many men want to date us and/or have sex with us, how sleek we can get our hair, our name-brand clothes, the length of our eyelashes, our manicured nails, our smooth skin, our smell, our perfectly shaped boobs and butt, our willingness to put out, and the list could go on forever, in the wrong direction.  And in trying to attain all of that, we are killing our souls.  We are selling out.  We are assimilating to our culture that is very, very wrong about the role of a woman in the world.

Pastor Shane shared this statistic: From TV alone, our kids get 14,000 sexual images, references, or innuendos PER YEAR.  This is just TV; it doesn't include music, youtube, movies, computer, or anything else.  All of those images are basically telling our kids it's ok and perfectly normal to have sex outside of marriage.  What does that mean for girls?  The more they see images of women as sexually desirable, the more they buy into the lie that being desirable on the outside has something to do with their worth as a woman.  She will have sex to feel worthy.  She will have sex to feel beautiful.  And the boys she's hanging out with - they have been fed these same media messages.  He is a man if he conquers a woman's flesh.  He is valuable if he is tough, if he is on the sexual prowl (and succeeding), and he is a "man" once he loses his virginity.  So, we all become victims of this culture.  We all lose our self-worth in trying to attain it.  You are worth more than your body.

How attractive men find you has NOTHING to do with how much you are worth.  Think of a woman who has touched your life in a meaningful, valuable, soul-filling way.  What made her beautiful?  What qualities about that woman stand out to you?  Hopefully you aren't imagining a woman who taught you all you need to know about make-up, push-up bras, and sexual positions.  If so, reevaluate and try again!  ;)  I bet the woman you are imagining was some version of kind, gentle in spirit, loving of you and others, wise, helpful, or anything else similar.  She probably seemed to have a seemingly effortless comfort with who she is, and the ability to make you believe something wonderful about yourself, too.  What men thought of her physically probably had no bearing on others' view of her, even if people did view her as physically attractive.  Her unique, kind, woman-ness defined her beauty, didn't it?  The same is for you.  The way your soul shines, and the way God reveals Himself to others through you, is the effective piece of who you are.

As a mother, I look at my son and I see a handsome boy, full of intelligence and whatever future he wants because of his qualities.  I see all of the good, even when I'm reprimanding bad behavior.  I love him with all of the immensity of the universe, and that will never change.  How much more does God love us?

Women, because He made and designed us, He knows the roots as well as he knows the leaves on the branches.  He knows every fiber of the trunk, and every parasite that has tried to destroy us.  He knows our soil - He is our soil, and He is our rainwater, too.  With this kind of intimacy does He know our potential and our attractive qualities.  With all of His perspectives, He sees us on the outside and on the inside.  And both of those things are good enough, and both will bloom with beauty for eternity once we accept His grace.  He will show us our worth, and it will be good enough for us, too once we understand what He's showing us.

I urge you not to look to the culture to fill you.  I try with all my might not to look at ads in magazines or in stores.  I don't even look at mannequins.  They're all lying to me.  Companies are trying to make me feel like I'm not good enough so that they can have my money.  They are DECEIVING us.  Culture (and satan and his demons - a spirit-related blog for a different day) is tempting me to be a victim of eating disorders again, and it's tempting you in some way that will make you believe you're worthless.  Right now, tell yourself, "I am worth more than my body."  Seriously.  Out loud.  RIGHT. NOW.  That means you are worth more than the number on a scale, you are worth more than the length and thickness of your eyelashes, you are worth more than gawking eyeballs from men, you are worth more than sex, you are worth more than an expensive date, you are worth more than compliments, you are worth more than clothes, you are worth more than a shapely figure, you are worth more than counting calories, you are worth more than looking good in pictures, you are worth more than jewelry, you are worth more than a nice house, you are worth more than abuse, you are worth more than any man's lust, and you are even worth more than all of your talents.

Again I remind you of Proverbs 31:30: "Charm is deceptive and beauty if fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised."  All of the things that culture tells us is important will fade; those things are temporary.  But your soul is not.

I want to end what I'm saying here for today because I really want you to watch some of the sermon (link below).  If you only have a little bit of time, then skip forward to minute 39 through 44 (or further) to hear more of God's heart for women's worth.  It actually refers to sex, and how men pursue us sexually, but it's relevant.  You won't regret it.  You will find something in there for you, I promise.  God adores you and knows how much you are worth.

You are worth so much, and it has nothing to do with your body.  Isn't that relieving?  Isn't it liberating?  You are gorgeous.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

That's Totally Weak

Friends, family, and strangers, I must be honest with you.  The past two weeks have been a struggle.  I have been fighting my battle daily with self-esteem, attacks on body image, overall self-loathing, and fear.  And I realized I must face something: I have always had low self-image, it has always been easy for me to hate myself, and I've had irrational fears since my little blonde head was only knee-high.  So, of course, with this blog, I thought: how can I talk to these people and encourage them in their battles when I am faltering in my own?  But "to give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift," right? (Prefontaine quote because I am a running nerd!)  So here I am, still licking my wounds, typing away so that the gift of forthcoming freedom is ours to be had.

Weakness actually works in our favor.  Weakness takes us off of our pedestals.  Weakness creates empathy.  Weakness makes us stop and realize there are some things we can't do alone.  If you haven't realized that yet, perhaps it's time ...
If you've read any of my posts, you know the Reason for the hope I have in all things.  There are just some things you can't fake and you can't take away.  For example, I am a mother; you can't fake certain things when you are a mother.  You can't fake your love because a storehouse from heaven, full of love, fell upon you the second you learned that you were harboring an eternal soul.  You give out this love freely, without thinking, without second-guessing.  You tell others of this love, both directly and indirectly, every day.  The same happens when you have experienced God's grace, deliverance, and love.  I can't help but talk about it... :)

Let's look at the darkness for a minute, to see how the light chases it away (metaphorically, unless you want to turn your lights on and off - that's cool, too).

When I lived by myself in an apartment by Gundersen-Lutheran in La Crosse, I was very lonely.  I had my son Julien with me, and I enjoyed every second I had with him, but I lacked any healthy adult relationship.  I had such a set routine it was ridiculous: run in the morning, take Julien to daycare, go to class, go to work, go back to class, go back to work, get Julien home, get him to bed, do a 2nd workout, eat the tiniest bit possible, go to bed, repeat.  Sometimes when Julien visited his dad, the loneliness was so overwhelming that I found myself crying in his room.  When I left his room, I would fidget for awhile - people who close themselves in don't know how to appropriately contact others to hang out.  I felt like I'd be a burden.  Because of this, sometimes I would eat a lot of food that I would NEVER let myself eat normally, and then panic out of guilt, and make myself throw up.  (Don't read on if you have a woozy stomach.)  I would watch the toilet fill up with everything I just ate; I knew every bit of content and in what order I ate it.  I would puzzle at how my stomach had mixed it up so quickly.  Gag, gag, gag, splash.  I would feel a certain satisfaction when I felt my stomach emptying, my esophagus burning, my hand full of chunks of food, my body crying for water.  Again, again, again, until nothing was coming up but saliva, and abdominal muscles burned from the effort.

I was mutilating myself for having a weak moment and eating too much food.  I was mutilating myself for never being good enough at what I did.  I was mutilating myself out of self-created loneliness.  I was trying to find some satisfaction in taking control because I was WEAK.  I didn't want to be WEAK, I wanted to be STRONG.

Almost every single time I made myself throw up, from the time I was 14 to the time I was 23, I would look myself in the mirror when I was done.  I would get really, really close to the mirror and look at my own eyes.  I would stare and say to that stranger-girl: "This is not who you are.  You are better than this.   This isn't you.  You don't have to do this again."  And then I'd cry because I was ashamed.  No matter what I did, I was ashamed.

The year I lived at that aforementioned apartment in 2007-8, I had a recurring vision of myself.  At this point, I was so weak in my battle against eating disorders.  I wanted deliverance.  I wanted freedom.  I wanted to eat dinner with my son without counting calories and comparing if he or I ate more.  I wanted to not care what my body looked like.  And I kept getting this vision of myself in holy anger and terror, throwing a scale out of my bedroom window and watching it smash into smithereens. Then I would take a sledgehammer and smash my full-length mirror over and over and over.  At the end of these efforts, I would fall to my knees and cry out to God with tears pouring down my face.  That ended the vision.

Just a few months ago, I was at Bible study.  My friend Dannielle had something for us all to do.  She had been taught an activity before, and she was going to lead it.  We each had to close our eyes and let the Holy Spirit just talk to us as she told us questions to ask Him.  I know this may sound pretty "out there" to those of you who aren't Christians, don't pray, etc., but trust me - it was beautiful.  OK - so she had us ask questions to the Lord.  One of the last questions was, "What is your favorite moment with me?"  So, in my head and heart, I asked the Holy Spirit, "What is your favorite moment with me?"  And that vision came back to me - the one where I was smashing scales and mirrors!  It fell upon me like a ton of bricks and I started bawling in front of this group as I retold the whole story.  Other people were reminded of times when they were kids, or a brief moment in the past that seemed happy, but I was given that painful, weak time!  I just kept asking, "Why is that Your favorite, God?"  But I knew the was then that I truly surrendered my whole life, recognizing that without Him, I wasn't strong enough to overcome eating disorders or any other area of weakness.

When we give up our weaknesses to God, we are provided with strength that far surpasses our own.  And sometimes that weakness stays because it is then that we turn our eyes to the One who is greatest.  I realized this before even reading the following verses, but I think it's so cool that the Bible affirms this:
"Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it [a spiritual tormenter] away from me.  But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong."  -2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Perhaps this makes sense to you, perhaps it doesn't.  But we can't give up on the things that torment us. We can't put power in the wrong hands.  We can't do it all on our own.  Heck, I've seen so many people vent personal, private information in their facebook statuses!  We're all crying out for help in some way!

Whatever your weakness, whatever your struggle, whatever your battle, don't ever believe that it is too much for you to overcome.  Say a prayer, I dare you.  Know that there is overwhelming love and grace - I can feel it for you as I type, like a gift waiting to be unwrapped.