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The Day a Scale Gave Me More than a Number

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By Erin McNew | Guest Blogger

Photo credit: Donna Irene Photography

Today, I ran across a scale that I found to be pretty incredible. Underneath the top where it would read your weight, it said the words “you are beautiful” in purple script.

Okay, so I’m a total sap. I accept that. But it turns out that I’m the kind of sap that just about sheds a few tears in HEB (store in Texas). Because, honestly, this really stuck me. I think that as women we really need things like this in our lives. Because, if you’re anything like me, you probably forget.

I forget that weight is just a number.

I forget that it’s a number only I can see.

I forget that the pound or two fluctuation that I see in my weight isn’t evident to the human eye.

I forget not to let petty things like a number weigh in on my heart.

And I forget that beauty is not measured or dictated by external factors.

As women, I think we do forget. I think that we forget that God doesn’t necessarily make girls like the ones we see on magazine covers. That the girl that we spend countless hours working out to look like doesn’t even look like that. That she’s been slimmed and toned to the specifications and ideals of an individual whose face remains hidden behind the screen of a computer. That she was created by the world.

As women, I think that we forget that our image of beauty is inherently flawed. We forget as we poke and paint and cover and tone that our image of beauty had been largely dictated by the world.

As women, I think that we’ve failed to realize the validity in the words of our earthly fathers. We no longer see the validity in him having told us that we would always be beautiful.

And, as women, I think we’ve lost sight of our heavenly Father. I think that in the process of growing up we managed to convince ourselves that believing in natural, God-given beauty is like believing in fairy tales. That it’s naïve or childish or just false. And we cover some of God’s greatest works of art with a product created with the intention of altering His creation. We’ve taken to fueling an industry that thrives off telling women that they’re not good enough. That if they use this mascara or this eye shadow they will in some way be better, maybe more desirable or attractive. We’ve lost sight of our Father’s creation. And not only have we lost sight of it- we’ve hidden it. We’ve hidden it from the eyes of the people we love thinking that it will please the world.

I’m just as guilty as anyone else. I’m just as guilty or thinking that that little number on a scale somehow directly correlates to people’s perception of my attractiveness. I’m just as guilty of relying on make up to make me beautiful. And I’m just as guilty of taking into account my beauty according to the world ahead of the beauty seen in me and given to me by Christ. I’m just as guilty of being blind to a reality that isn’t dictated by miniscule elements.

But we’re wrong. We’re all wrong. We’re wrong in our reliance on earthly things to make unnecessary “improvements” on what was already deemed lovable in the heart of Christ.

Because you are beautiful. Not because of a product or a number or an article of clothing. You’re just beautiful. You. Right now. As you are. Make up or no makeup. You’re perfect. And you’re perfect because you’re you. Because you were conceived in the mind of the Lord. And you were accepted into His heart as an individual with value and worth. You are always beautiful.

“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” – 1 Samuel 16:7

P.S. You are enough.

Get up, get pretty, and get over it

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By Erin McNew | Guest Blogger

Photo credit: Donna Irene Photography

Take a look inside, girl. Take a minute to reacquaint yourself with your soul and the Person who created it. Now try telling me that you aren’t worthy of love. Try telling me that when a man comes along with the most beautiful heart you’ve ever met you’ll still be thinking about the boy who hurt you. He’s just another stepping stone in the path to a romance created by the King.

No matter how bad it hurts, you have to pick your head up. Because you’ll never be able to see all the blessings God is bringing your way when you’re hanging your head in shame, regret or looking back at the man who couldn’t see how deserving you are of proper love and affection and wishing he would head back your way one day. Leave him in the past. That’s where his home in your life is now. Wipe those tears away. He’s not worth it.

You’re worth it. You’re worth someone’s time and attention. Someone in this world is waiting, even praying to find someone exactly like you. In fact, you are the woman of some man’s dreams. You may not see it now and it may be difficult to keep in perspective, but that man happens to think you’re one of the most beautiful women in the world. He’d do anything to have you by his side.

He makes fairy tales sound like jokes in comparison to the love story he’s going to write with you. He’d rather die than leave you. There is a man in this world with your soul written on his heart. And you’ll never be able to give those words meaning to him if you’re still caught up on the boy who could have been or should have done better or never really was.

Your past is the fairy tale. Your future is the life you could hardly even imagine. It’s better than you ever dreamed. It puts Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White’s Prince Charming to shame. Because your prince is real. He’s probably not going to show up on a horse. But he’s going to show up. And he’s going to make you wonder why you ever spent so much time fretting to God when His perfect plan could have been trusted from the very beginning. Hang in there, hun, it’s coming your way. And it’s a life more incredible than a story book could ever have imagined. Designed by the Creator of your heart and tailored to your soul, it will sweep you off your feet and leave you in awe the moment you lift your head to face it.

“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious…” – 1 Peter 2:4

P.S. You are enough.

Your first love

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By Bobby Blood | Guest Blogger

Photo credit: Jenny Haas Photography

You are My lily among the thorns. I created you. I, love itself, created you. My dear daughter I want you to know how much I love you. This love I speak of does not fade, and at every moment you can count on the fact that I’m thinking of you. Why? You make me happy. I know you make mistakes but I’ve seen you pull yourself back up to see me time and time again. Don’t be afraid to grab on to me when you are falling. I’ll hold on tight and keep you safe. You are strong. You are beautiful. You are mine.

I have perfect plans for you.

Amidst the difficulties of life I have a mission for you. This mission I trust with you alone. I have written it in the desires of your heart. When it is time your heart will be set aflame in a special way and you will carry much responsibility. I see the great weights that you are bearing for the sake of My kingdom, but they will become heavier, so will my love.

You are going to bring many to Me. When you smile, I smile. Your joy radiates My own joy and My dear daughter that will cause many to search for Me in you. Daily you remind Me why I carried that cross. I want to see you in heaven forever. I want to love you in ways that you can not yet imagine. I want you to bring many souls with you. You have already grown My Church by your life.

I will share your heart with another.

I love you and you are mine. However, I have made your brothers strong. I ask them daily to give their hearts to me to be purified so that they are more worthy to be shared with you. They will make mistakes; they will love little, but they are trying to show love to My highest creation, you. Don’t lose faith in them for I am working day and night to make the man in whom you will share your life with holy and full of virtue. Don’t lose hope.

Since the beginning of time I have loved you. This love will never cease.

- God, your Father.

P.S. You are enough.

Love Costs Everything

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By Jesse Garcia | Guest Blogger

Photo credit: Jenny Haas Photography

I’ve always been a romantic. When I was little I would dream of ways to sweep a girl off her feet. I remember the first girl I ever fell in love with. It was a bright sunny day in Los Angeles, California. The cool breeze swept through the playground as she slowly turned around, her brown hair looked sleek in the sunlight. She slowly tucked her hair behind her ears as the sun radiated her shy smile. I was in love. I wanted to walk over to Karla that day and profess my love, even though I had not met her yet. 

I saw how the other guys looked at her and I knew I had to move in quickly. I mustered up all the courage I had saved for that year to ask my dad for a new bike for Christmas, but this was bigger than a bike; this was love. I slowly started making my way across the elementary playground as sweat started slowly crawling down my back. My palms started feeling as if I was holding a melting popsicle. I had cleverly acted like I was checking for something in my pockets so I could wipe off the sweat. I coughed on my bicep to check how my breath was, and then quickly wished that I hadn’t. Doubts started running through my mind, “she’s not going to like me, she’s way too beautiful. Maybe I can just send her a note asking if she likes me…” As I looked up, she was right in front of me. 

I mutter around my words trying to say “uhhhhhhh… hi, I’m Jesse” as I extend my hand to shake hers. She softly blushed. “Hi, I’m Karla.” We both started laughing like we were lost friends who had just run into each other after years later. “So… we should sit at lunch one day… like together…,” I said to her. Just as she looked up and started to say, “I would…” a ball came soaring right in between us. A group of guys came running after it. James quickly picked it up and looked at Karla and asked her, “why are you with him? Come play with us.” He put his arm around her and they both lived happily ever after. My heart felt as if it were a shirt that she had rung out dry for all it had and then she simply put me up on a clothesline to be forgotten.

Karla broke my heart, and on that day I didn’t want to open up my heart ever again. It hurt and it was painful, why would I ever do that again?

Twelve years later I found myself in the same place all over again. I was in love, or at least my idea of love, but I didn’t want to get hurt so I kept my heart closed. I didn’t want to be the one sending text messages first, I didn’t want to be the one asking, “we should hang out” first, I didn’t want to be the one to make the “first move,” and I didn’t even want to be the one to say, “I love you” first. My idea of what a relationship was; if they love me more, I have the upper hand. I have all the power if they like me more and I can walk away at any time when they can’t.

Relationship after relationship year after year I kept doing the same thing, leaving behind women who have full heartedly put forth effort into the relationship as I kept my distance. As I reflect back on all my mistakes I have to apologize to these women. For I have done a great disservice to you. I’ve allowed you to think that you are not enough, that you are not beautiful, and worst of all that you are not worth pursuing. But the truth is, as a man, that is my job. That is my role as a man to not just pursue you through the great valleys and mountains, but to fight for you when you are tempted by a serpent, to be a mirror and reflect the beauty that God created you in, to uphold your dignity and not defame it by watching pornography, to point you back to God instead of to my own desires and pleasures, and to treat you as a subject not an object.

We live in world that strips women of who they are and men, we don’t do anything about it but say “did you see the way she was dressed she is just looking for it.” Men, when did we submit ourselves to the passion of lust and let it cripple us into an animalistic state? When did we stop seeing women as daughters, wives, and sisters? How long will we entertain companies that diminish the true beauty of women? Men, how long will we continue to fail to protect the women around us? These are some questions we must answer in the silence of our hearts. These are some questions that I myself must answer.

Women you deserve more and I pray you believe these words. You deserve the best. You are beautiful. You are worth pursuing. 

Karla taught me something very important that day that I’ve never noticed before. That love must be fought for, love must pursue, love is selfless, and love must take a leap. Is it going to hurt sometimes? Yes, but love is worth it. Love costs everything.

P.S. You are enough.

The 24-Year Old Virgin

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By Patrick Dunford | Guest Blogger

She was already drunk when I arrived at the party. Her roommates were starting to get worried about her, and I was the only one who wasn’t in some way inebriated. She and I had a class together that semester, her roommates recognized me from study groups and campus organizations and asked me to walk her home. It was a chilly night and she wasn’t dressed for it so I gave her my jacket. I’d had a crush on her the whole semester, she still looked beautiful even in that state. She was rambling about a whole lot of nothing, but sometimes an attractive girl walking next to you makes subject matter of a conversation seem inconsequential. We finally arrived at her apartment and she made a beeline for the bathroom with my jacket still in her hand. I waited patiently in the apartment’s foyer. She emerged from the bathroom in only her underwear, holding my jacket. She looked at me almost expectantly. I remember thinking “God, I hope she doesn’t remember this tomorrow.” So I stepped away from her, out of the door frame, and walked home in my t-shirt.

Relationship speaker Jason Evert often addresses crowds at his talks like this: “Girls, wouldn’t you agree, guys never think about sex?” There’s a lot of nervous laughter and expectant confusion that follows. He goes on to say “We talk about it, we joke about it, we watch movies about it, we listen to music about it, but how often do we stop and think about it? What is the purpose of the gift of human sexuality?” He’s right. My decision to walk away from that young woman wasn’t a result of fear, or nervousness, or promise of a girlfriend’s wrath later. I’d made a commitment long before I ever stepped foot in her apartment leading to my choice to walk away. The decision to wait until I marry to have sex.

Sex represents the some of the checked luggage of all our problems, too large to be stowed carefully under the seat in front of us until the captain has turned off the fasten seat belt sign. With that in mind, I want to lay out first what this post isn’t. It is not a condemnation of anyone who’s had sex out of marriage, if we go by the numbers it’s likely 70-80% of the friends in my life have already. There’s as much hope there in God’s mercy as anyone who has abstained, so give me the benefit of the doubt until the end of this post as to why. This is my challenge on behalf of our beauty and dignity to the common idea in our culture that remaining a virgin until our wedding is at best passé and definitely worthy of humiliation and feelings of inadequacy. It’s a decision I and many others have made out of recognition of the beauty and truth about sex, the law of Love written on the human heart about intimacy.

The relationships we have are meant to be built on a firm foundation. Cheap car parts will last you a few thousand miles and break apart again, even good ones last a short span. So I offer to you a progressive relational foundation built on parts designed for eternity. The first two points are the foundation on which all our relationships are meant to be based. The second two directly address sex and marriage. So, in the words of Salt N’ Pepa which I’m slightly misinterpreting for the purpose of clever pop-cultural reference “Let’s talk about sex.”

1. You were created by and for Love, by virtue of which you are beautiful and have an inherent dignity.

2. We are only able to share this Love insofar as we come to know it and its role in our life. Without this Love as our center, our ability to Love is incomplete.

3. Sex is not this Love, but a gift meant to express a deep reflection of it and commitment to it in our lives.

4. Waiting for sex until marriage is not just a rule, nor is it stifling. It is meant to liberate us to Love others more fully.

We take our own origin from God, exist for one reason and purpose: Love. We see this reflected in God creating the world in Genesis, seeing that all He creates is “good.” You’ll notice the most descriptive pronouncement of any particular beauty is Adam addressing Eve, when he says “This at last is bones of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” Basically, “Whoah, good one God, this whole Woman idea You had is definitely the best.” Women, you’re the crown of creation, no doubt there. They were good simply because Love made them so. God created these two Goods to share in the goodness He’d already made, and before, during, and after their fall continues to give them the choice to love Him back and choose Him over anything else. Even each other.

Ladies, can’t you just imagine Full-House era John Stamos leaning toward you over a bowl of brand-name greek yogurt, looking you in the eyes, and with a voice like a combination of wine, chocolate, roses, and Ryan Gosling’s 5 o’clock shadow telling you “Baby, you’ll never be my everything.” Isn’t that every twenty-something woman’s dream? No? I guess I only had you until the end there. Let’s take a moment to recover from thinking about that jawline aaaannnd…and we’re back. What I could possibly expect you to find sexy in a man telling you (Gentlemen, there’s tact involved here with the how, so don’t run out and tell your significant others right away) you’ll never be the center of his life? It’s because I want you to consider that if a man tells you you’re his everything, there’s a good chance you’ll end up being his nothing

We saw earlier God calls man to seek, know, and love him. First priority: seek, know, and love God. So Ladies and Gentlemen, I propose this to you: If we do not have our heart and mind set on this priority how can we expect to truly love others, especially a romantic other? C.S. Lewis hammers this idea home with: “You can’t get second things by putting them first. You get second things only by putting first things first.” God is the first thing, our relationship with Him the first principle to address in life. Lewis expounds this point further in a separate essay, reminding us “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things. We never get, say, even the sensual pleasure of food at its best when we are being greedy.” If we don’t put God first, we lose the second things.

In his writing Humanae Vitae Pope Paul IV beautifully proposes the reality of love in marriage: “Married love particularly reveals its true nature and nobility when we realize that it takes its origin from God, who “is love,” the Father “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” It takes its origin from God. Its origin. It begins with Love Himself, Christianity directed toward a “whom” rather than a “what.” So we don’t therefore “make love” as a certain clothing brand’s widespread ads command us to do, but as recipients of a divine Love are given the gift of being able to share it. Love is meant to always be pointed back to God who created us, first things first.

 And we return now to how this all relates to sex. Humanae Vitae goes on to say:

“Just as man does not have unlimited dominion over his body in general, so also, and with more particular reason, he has no such dominion over his specifically sexual faculties, for these are concerned by their very nature with the generation of life, of which God is the source.”

Where’s he pulling this madly counter-cultural message from? That we aren’t meant to “American Pie” styled masters of our lives and sexual destinies? We hear in the Gospel of Mark (referencing Genesis itself) that “a man leaves his family for his wife and the two become one flesh.” That “one flesh” represents the act of a man and woman consummating their marriage, the baby-making. Even sex, then, is not just about the man and the woman but the “very nature” of the act as creating life. Spouses selflessly telling each other “I love you so much that I am willing to lay down my life for you and bring life into this world.” So here’s point 3: if the sex isn’t open to uniting two as one flesh it’s incomplete. We even go so far as to call some contraceptive methods “barriers,” a distinctly separating connotation! 

The openness to life comes as a man and woman grow in Love for God first and by His Love for them Love for each other. He gifts them with the ability to Love and sacrifice for each other, that like Him they might come to desire to share their Love with the result of its progression. That progression being babies, who grow into children who throw their sister’s Barbie Jeep (Mattel TM) down the stairs, who grow into horribly ungrateful teenagers who cause their parents to wait in the E.R. in formal wear because he decided to break rules which caused him to need to run from a certain situation which caused him slam his forehead into a wall, who start to mature into young adults who start to understand what mature selfless Love means, who turn into lovers of God and each other to start the cycle all over again. None of that was anecdotal, probably.

So the final point here, why is all of this liberating? It’s because sex as God intended it is meant as a selfless act. It springs from the root of the true definition of Love: To will the good of another. 

Not just to will mutual pleasure or satisfaction, but to tell the one you love “my priority in life is to lay it down for you.”

Women, this is where you’ve been lied to most egregiously. The night I stood in front of that woman in her apartment broke my heart, because I realized something. She didn’t know she was worth selfless, exclusive Love. I am so sorry for what I’ve contributed to that lie myself, for objectifying you and satisfying my own pleasures in the past. If no one has told you anything like the following paragraph before, read it, and ask yourself if it is true. At least ask yourself if you wish it were:

“I am loved by Love Himself. I am worth selfless, complete, and dedicated Love from someone who has put first things first. I am beautiful, not because commercials and beauty commercials tell me so but because the inherent fibers of my being were made out of sheer goodness by True Love. I am worth waiting for, I am worth being sacrificed for, because my body does not define me. I have a heart that deserves knowing first, and a body worth giving to someone who wishes to be united to it to become one flesh.”

It is true. You are worth all these things. Oh, and to my brothers? You’re worth the EXACT SAME THING. Substitute some details like “I’m not a worthy of being a man as a result of wearing Old Spice, having huge biceps, and wrestling bears but because God has granted me masculinity” and we’re there.

So what if I’ve already had sex, where does all this leave me? I promised I’d get here. God is good and infinite in mercy, and perfect in justice. By putting first things first we allow God to redeem our broken sexual lives and recommit. It’s the Backstreet Boys moment of “I don’t care who you are, where you’re from, what you did, as long as you love me.” If I end up falling in love with a woman who admits she’s had sex before I’ll strive to have the strength to tell her the same thing. And man, that’s courageous of her. To turn away from what’s become a life-stealing habit, to fight the lies, and to rediscover dignity or meet it face-to-face for the first time in the mirror of the heart or bathroom wall. 

So far, I’ve tried to show you how beautiful this all is. But I have a confession. This is difficult. I am terribly broken, and not free of past sins with my own sexuality. This is a constant battle; thankfully true courage and virtue are formed in fire. As iron sharpens iron, we should surround ourselves with people who will support us in the decision to choose profound Love. Not to only have friends who line up with us on all our beliefs, but to have a core group in the midst who affirm our difficult choices in the name of Truth. 

I’ve heard a speaker make the joke that guys don’t start having thoughts about sex at puberty, but from the moment they’re born. I understand that place that’s coming from. I have to make a choice on a regular basis to recommit to this goal, to choose to will the good of others over myself. But to encounter True Love in Jesus Christ is to encounter and learn to love our very self.

First things first.

P.S. You are enough.

The Heart of a Fighter – Let’s Have a Talk Ladies

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By Erin McNew | Guest Blogger

Let’s have a talk here, ladies. Let’s have a talk about how incredibly worthy you are. About how no matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done or who you’ve been you are worthy of the absolute best.

I know it’s easy to forget. But you are worthy of every ounce of love you receive and more. And those times when you didn’t receive the love and respect you deserve? Don’t think that the mistreatment dealt out by another is an indication of your self-worth. Your worth is inherent. It was established on the Cross and made manifest upon conception. It remains untouched by mistakes and imperfect or harmful events. No one can alter it. Because it’s magnitude is determined only through the eyes of God. It is no more or less than others. Those that you view as being better than you or cleaner than you or prettier than you? They are loved equally by God. Their place in His heart is no larger or smaller than your own. Their potential is no greater than yours.

Are you getting it now? Are you getting that the lies you are told every day are silenced the moment you turn to your Savior? The lies that you aren’t pretty enough. Or that your mistakes are too big. Or your boobs are too small. Or that your future was sealed with your past. Or that you were deserving of the wrongs committed against you. Or that someone else is better than you. Or that you are incapable of your dreams. All those things that the world yells in our face as God whispers in our ears- they are lies.

You, my sister, are beautiful. You have a future. Your past does not have to define you. You are limitless. You are loved. You are perfectly made. You are deserving of proper treatment. You are destined to be cherished. You are unlike anyone else. You were worth the sacrifice. You will find new reasons to smile. Your life is just beginning. You are capable of handling the struggles you’ve been given. You may voice the words written across your heart. You don’t have to give up. Your dreams and your thoughts and your feelings are valid. You have a friend. You don’t have to have it all together. You can tell your story. You are allowed to be hurt. You are going to rise. Your mistakes do not define you. You should look in the mirror and recognize the beautiful woman looking back at you.

Because that woman will never be fulfilled if she is unable to love herself. The love of others in association with her will never reach its full potential. The words, “I love you,” will turn to ash on her lips. The insults and the pain and the burdens will ring in her mind and rule her life until she quits giving them the power to bruise her heart. She will find sadness in the face of obvious joy and block others from a heart that is longing for affection, companionship and contentment. She will settle for mediocrity even though she is destined for the extraordinary. And she will go through life a stranger to love because she refused to give it to herself. Because she let her circumstances overshadow her existence.

That woman deserves the opportunity to rise from the rubble of loss and abuse and misfortune. That woman deserves the opportunity to love and be loved in return. Let that woman come to know the heart of a fighter.

P.S. You are enough.

Photo credit: Elissa Anne Photography

I had sex but it wasn’t worth it

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By Alanna Burtis | Guest Blogger

Tonight I sobbed into my prayer journal and realized just how far I have come. I thanked Jesus for not giving me what I wanted this summer but for giving me the wake up call that I needed to leave the past in the past, for me to follow Him and for Him to heal me. 

I have been scarred, abandoned, lost, afraid, defeated, and beaten down for oh too long. All the while I kept believing that I was “fine” because I “thought” asking for forgiveness for my sins and revival from my destructive past was “just enough.” And no. It was absolutely not. Being abused by my father for two years with three phone calls made to the police horrified me. Post traumatic stress disorder controlled my life. I trusted absolutely no one and denied any of my friends coming over. Being angry and jealous over my friends who had a daughter/daddy relationship that I was so wishing I could have. 

From that, I took advantage of my athletics when I began to cheerlead. I strived for perfection and the approval of others, from boys, coaches and the bystanders watching me cheer. I just had to look more skinny and fit. I formed an eating disorder and lost 40 pounds in one month. I was satisfied with my looks, but on the inside I was dying for love. Someone to call me their own, someone to provide me with affection and someone to guard my heart. I still felt as if I was not enough so I turned to alcohol and drank the pain away. Even that wasn’t enough, so I started to self harm. Still, my urge to feel “free” from the life that I wished to not call my own only lead me deeper into the waters that kept washing my heart and identity away. 

I met the love of my life (or so I thought) my freshman year of high school. I gave myself away. Someone who noticed me, cherished me, and loved me took advantage of me. Everything I thought I once wanted was everything I wish I never had been provided by from a boy. I wish I had Jesus to gain all my wants from. It didn’t matter that we were so-called Christians and acted like the most pure couple on the face of the Earth. God knew all along I was masking my shame. Even though I asked for forgiveness over and over again, I still felt dirty, unapproved, and unholy. I felt as if I didn’t deserve to be loved by such a great God. 

I regret having sex. Some churches teach young woman that  sexual sin is the worst sin to ever commit. And this fills them with shame, and that shame masks a heart that was once filled with the praise and holiness of Jesus. I was taught that there was absolutely no way I could ever be the same after wiping away my most sacred treasure of my virginity. This is not true and a huge misconception in the church. And I am so sorry to every Christian girl who has learned and believed this misunderstanding. God wipes away every sin and can and will make you whole again. All is not lost and you can begin again. No matter what the price, He will heal your heart. Just ask Him to heal you and for the grace to begin again. He erases sin and all is forgiven and wiped away. It took me far too long to believe this for myself. But once I did I realized I was never going to be who I was before, for I am a new creation in Christ. 

I am not going to let not having a father figure for part of my teenage years upset me. For I have a Father up above who loves me immensely and widely and is capable of rewarding the desires of a daughter’s heart. I am never going to let any relapse of my eating disorder define me anymore. No matter how high that relapse number goes up, it will never erase the truth that this battle has already been won by my Jesus. I am never again going to let myself get lost in the wanting of a man. For I know being pursued, prayed for, and cherished by a man is more sacred than getting my immediate wants and dreams fulfilled. It would only hurt and expose my heart.

I have learned that exposing my heart to God has been such a beautiful experience. Being real and authentic with Him about my past has brought me perspective of the happy future that He has for me. And I believe that I am worth so much more than I ever once thought about myself. That not only am I forgiven by my God, but I am not condemned at all by anyone. 

For who I am in Christ is exactly who I want to be and living out His praise and love is who I am. I am a sinner but I am also a daughter that has been forgiven and offered a new life to live with Christ. Through and through Jesus will keep mending my broken heart to find His Love that is everlasting and all-powerful in all my life’s situations. My heart is now protected and guarded by Jesus. Nothing will ever be able to separate me from God because of my sin. I will never believe that lie ever again. I am beginning again. 

No sin can ever hold you back from the offering of forgiveness and beautiful grace that Jesus has. Begin Again. It is never to late to start again.

P.S. You are enough.

Maura’s Story: How I got through therapy

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By Maura Byrne | Founder of Made in His Image

Question: Where you anxious/nervous about going to therapy? And how did you actually get inside his/her office for therapy? I can’t seem to get inside for my sessions.

First of all, good for you for being brave and courageous and going to therapy. That’s awesome and really demonstrates that you want to get better. You should be proud of yourself, as this is a huge step in the right direction. WAY TO GO!

Just to put it in perspective for you – after several months had passed and I slowly became more comfortable with my doctor, he told me that the first time I came to see him, he thought I was going to faint from nervousness. Looking back now, I can laugh at that, which is a good thing because it’s good to laugh at yourself.

So, to answer your question, you bet I was nervous! For several weeks my hand use to shake as I opened his office door going into a session. While my nervousness and anxiety definitely lessened over time, I think it’s completely normal for you to be nervous going to counseling during the first few weeks, or even months.

Something that helped me greatly, that you might try is the following: I decided to offer my therapy sessions up for a special intention, which helped tremendously. My third session was exceedingly challenging and when I left that afternoon I couldn’t stop crying. This is so hard, I don’t know how I’m going to make it through. I’m just not that strong, how am I going to do this? Later that day I went to adoration and decided that I was going to offer up each session and homework activity for my future children. I desperately yearn for my future children to not have to suffer from the ramifications of abuse. So, when the anxiety seemed unbearable, or I had to draw or describe events and bodies that I thought I would never be able to do, I would close my eyes and picture what my future children might look like. I imagined their tiny hands and toes and how I would desire to surround them with love and tenderness. I thought about all that I would want to teach them about God the Father, Jesus, Mary and the Saints. Then I thought about how strong I would need to be for them and how much I needed to grow and heal before I could get married and have children. Then I closed my eyes gently, as I opened my doctor’s office door and proceed to another therapy session.

Perhaps you could try something similar? Think of something or someone who you would like to offer your therapy sessions up for and proceed courageously from there. You can do it with His grace.

Another question I’m asked a lot is, How did you keep getting up when you were recovering from your eating disorder, depression and abuse? That is an excellent question and my answer can really be applied to any struggle you are faced with. When you fall down in any type of struggle you must make the resolve to get back up. And when you fall again, as you will, you get up again. Then when you think you’re doing fine and suddenly fall again and are tempted to stay fallen, you must get up again. No matter what you have done or what you are struggling with you must reach out your trembling hand to the Father and let His gentleness guide you to freedom.

I am alive today because of Him. Without His love and hope I would have despaired and  taken my own life.

One time I asked my Spiritual Director, Why didn’t God stop the abuse? He looked at me and said, The same reason He didn’t stop the Romans from killing His Son.

God gives us free will and while He doesn’t will evil to happen, He allows it because He will not take away our free will. It it up to us to decide how we will use this gift He has given to us. I challenge you to use your free will to fight for freedom, whether that be an eating disorder/abuse and or any type of struggle. Be a solider for Christ, walk with Him to Calvary and as you fall along the way, ask for the grace for the cross to be placed squarely on your shoulders as you rise again.

P.S. You are enough

Image Credit : Elissa Anne Photography

Taking Femininity Out of Feminism

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By JSB Morse | Guest Blogger

I used to love awards shows like the VMAs or the Emmys. Then I turned 12.

Today, I was reminded why I don’t watch anymore—why awards shows are probably the worst form of reality television: they are a microcosm of everything that’s wrong with society.

Take the idea of feminism, for which the mega-international-superstar Beyoncé was the curious spokesperson on Sunday evening’s showcase of slop. She stood before the world with “Feminist” shining behind her, implying that she was the epitome of the word.

The root of feminism, naturally, is feminine and when you ask someone what feminine means, you might get an answer like effeminate, nurturing, beautiful, or dainty. Some may answer like dictionary.com: “sensitivity or gentleness.”

But Sunday, Beyoncé didn’t display those qualities. She sang about performing oral sex in the back of a limo and having a guy “tear that cherry out.” She had a song that tells women who don’t respect her sufficiently to “Bow Down Bitches.” And of course, how could a self-professed feminist perform in front of a national audience of tweens without gratuitous dry-humping and S&M themes?

It was almost as if her idea of feminism was strictly sexual in nature and an adolescent mysogynistic version of sexuality at that. To most keen observers, there was a distinct lack of femininity in Beyoncés feminism. As one blogger wrote, it was utterly hilarious that Beyoncé claimed feminism between the strip club vignette and the ‘Bow Down’ song.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? She wants to separate the idea of feminism with femininity. She wants to act like a barbaric male and pretend that since she has breasts that it is somehow feminism. She and her handlers want to change what it means to be feminine.

Of course, you can’t do that. Femininity isn’t a cultural construct. Yes, fashions change; trends come and go; but the core nature of woman is written in a woman’s genes and no amount of testosterone supplements or MTV can change that.

So what happens when you try to take the feminine out of feminism?

You end up getting this:

feminism

Now, for those of you who still have your lunch…

I’m not the most observant person in the world, but I don’t know who would call Hulk Hogan on crack feminine. It’s what happens when you try to take femininity out of feminism.

This article was originally published on JSB Morse’s site: JSB MORSE.

So what does it really mean to be feminine? 

By Maura Byrne | Founder of Made in His Image

Our culture is plagued with false truths about beauty and self-image because often times women don’t know what their true and lasting identity lies in. Confused, women turn to the media for reassurance and guidance. And what does the media tell them? It tells them that in order to be considered “beautiful” they need to look like the latest ninety-five pound manufactured celebrity on the cover of People Magazine. So, because of society, countless women strive after false beauty, perishable fame and attempt to quench their thirst for happiness with fleeting pleasures. But Truth tells women that lasting beauty stems from virtue and character, which is found within. 

In fact, woman has a genius all her own, which is vitally essential to both society and the Church. It is certainly not a question of comparing woman to man, since it is obvious that they have fundamental dimensions and values in common. However, in man and in woman these acquire different strengths, interests and emphases and it is this very diversity which becomes a source of enrichment. – Blessed John Paul II

What are these “different strengths and interests” that John Paul II talks about?

One of the greatest treasures Blessed John Paul II left to the world is his book -Theology of the Body. In it, he talks about the human person and explains how God is made manifested through humanity. Theology of the Body delves into what it truly means to be a man and woman, and how we should live out our masculinity and femininity in accords with how God created us. If we yearn to be the best version of ourselves, then we must embrace the unique qualities of our gender. To do this we must go back to the very beginning when God created us. Genesis 1:27 tells us, God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 

God created us out of love, for us to love and be loved. The way in which this love is expressed and revealed is different for men and women, which is how God in His infinite wisdom designed it to be. And it is the unique characteristics of men and women that enable this love to come to fruition. We exist to complement one another. In Theology of the Body, John Paul II tells us that we are called to exist as a gift for one another. He describes this gift as a sincere gift of self, and it is only when we lay down our life for another in this way that we will experience genuine fulfillment.

In order to understand God’s plan for humanity in our fallen world we must go back to the beginning and see what God intended for us. It is only when we do this that we will be filled with hope and peace. In the beginning of time after God created the world he saw that it wasn’t good for man to be alone, thus He created woman. Eve was created as a sincere gift for Adam, and Adam as a gift for her. They were created to complement one another in their union, each to offer themselves to the other as a gift.

Our society today has lost sight of this quintessential ideal due to selfishness. Our culture is plagued with violation and unrest due to a “hook up” mentality, lack of chastity and self-control, pornography and a genuine lack of respect for the human person.

How can we bring our culture back to God’s original design? Women, in order to do this you must embrace your femininity in a unique way. You were created with a unique purpose and plan and your dignity flows from the Father’s love for you.

Some qualities that are unique to women are receptivity, sensitivity, generosity, and maternity. Please keep in mind that men can most certainly be receptive, sensitive and generous, a woman simply embodies these characteristics in a different way. The way in which a woman expresses these values is not better than the way in which a man does and most certainly not in a lesser capacity either. Simply put they are just different, and different never means greater or lesser. Picture for a moment Leonardo da Vinci’s painting – the Mona Lisa, now picture the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. While both works of art are masterpieces, one is not better than the other, they are simply different.

God designed a woman to be of great charm and mystery. And when a woman exhibits feminine traits she reflects this beauty and appeal in a unique way. Why? Because she knows her worth. 

Take for example the way some music performers dress. Their actions scream, “look at me.” They are yearning for attention. 

Femininity asks the questions, Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? And femininity cherishes the sacredness of the human body in our overly sexualized world.

 P.S. You are enough

My story: What an eating disorder and recovery is really like

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By Maura Byrne | Founder of Made in His Image

Two months before graduating from eighth grade, while warming up before field hockey practice, I overheard two high school girls gossiping about a girl in my class who had a heavier build than I. Why are they speaking about her like that? That’s so cruel! My mind raced, I wonder if they talk about me like that? What if they laugh about me and think I’m fat too? I glanced down at my scuffed up Oxford shoes and noticed my skirt, which was supposedly two inches too short for the school. Every morning one of the teachers reminded me, Maura, your skirt is too short. Please tell your mom to hem it or you will need to get a new one. 

Then I panicked. Great, now people are going to talk about me because I’m fat and my skirt is too short. I was an exceedingly anxious child and when corrected or talked to harshly, I shattered. Upon arriving home from school later that day, I told my mother that I wasn’t going to be eating desserts again. My mother, an exceptional chef, looked perplexed. After all, what normal child says such things?Well I’m going to show them that I’m not kidding. I’m going to start running and swimming more and eating less. I’ll prove it. 

I was one of the thinnest girls in my class and have been a runner since I was five years old, so naturally, my weight was never something I needed to even remotely worry about. But that night I stared intently in the mirror and decided that if I was going to be considered beautiful I needed to lose weight. All I could hear was the mirror shouting at me, Beautiful girls are thin and you’re ugly. 

My mom insisted I eat breakfast before school, so I started purposely getting up later so I wouldn’t have time. I promised her I would eat my waffles as I walked to the bus stop. But I lied.  Every morning I tossed the waffles down the sewer as I approached the bus stop. I have to do this because no one believes that I need to lose weight. What are they thinking? Why don’t they see how fat I am? 

As the weeks passed, the lies started darting out of my mouth daily and the person I was becoming frightened me. Oh, I already ate breakfast mom. Yes, lunch was delicious, thanks mom. 

I had a snack on the bus. I’m not hungry. I only ran five miles (when I had actually run 8). I’m babysitting tonight, so I’ll eat there. And once I got to babysitting, I was really hungry so I ate early at home. See mom I ate lunch and there’s my dish in the sink to prove it. When I had really just taken a clean dish from the cabinet and placed it in the sink.

I weighed myself 20 times daily. I allowed myself one hundred to two hundred calories a day. If I survived the day on one hundred calories I considered it to be a good day. If I had overeatenwhich meant three hundred calories, I made sure to punish myself the next day by running more miles and eating more meager portions. I went to bed starving and most nights I couldn’t sleep because my hunger pains kept me awake. My body ached.

I shunned every reflection of myself, whether that be through a mirror, window, pane of glass, the pool or ocean. When I saw myself I shuttered. Ah, I’m so ugly. I can’t even stand the sight of myself. How do people even look at me?

I had a pair of khaki J.crew pants that I would try on multiple times throughout the day. Those pants defined me. They were literally my life. If I felt like I had eaten too much or gained weight, I would immediately try those pants on. Ah, they are too tight!! Okay, I need to lose weight and run more. Or,Phew, they are sill loose. Okay, I can relax for an hour or two. I was a slave to those pants for years.

When the doctor told me that I would still be considered thin if I gained thirty pounds I nearly passed out. Thirty pounds?? Are you crazy?? I would explode if I gained ten pounds! I wouldn’t be able to fit through the door or sit in a normal seat on an airplane, let alone look at myself if I gained thirty. Gross, I’m already ugly enough. Why does she want me to be a whale? Maybe because she is overweight herself? Yes, that’s got to be it, she doesn’t want anyone to be thin because she’s fat. This doctor is crazy! 

Past trauma and abuse in my life plagued me and my eating disorder was all I could control. I  yearned for love. Craved physical touch so deeply at times I thought I’d faint. Ached for it, yet feared it with every fiber of my being. I was abused so much I didn’t even know what good physical touch should feel like. I didn’t think I was worth three meals a day. And I was terrified that if I started eating again I wouldn’t have the self-control to stop. I convinced myself that it was better not to eat breakfast because, what if I couldn’t stop and just kept eating and blew up to three hundred pounds overnight? I was afraid that if I stopped running 50 plus miles a week I would let myself go.

Several weeks later as I was lying in bed I could literally hear my heart struggling to beat. I was petrified. I took my pulse and it was in the high twenties. I fought back the tears because I was afraid my heart wouldn’t be capable of handling the energy my tears would produce. My bones were protruding, I was freezing, my hair was falling out in clumps, my finger nails were purple and I had fine hair growing all over my body. I knew that it was either make a change or I could die. I promised myself that if I was alive the next morning I would get better and one day be an advocate for women in their recovery.

After that night I realized that I was missing out on life. I wasn’t allowed to go to dance class anymore, compete on the swim team, run or go to summer camp. Yes, I was breathing, but I wasn’t living. I was simply surviving, hoping that tomorrow I would still fit into my J.crew pants.

I wanted to be healthy. I yearned to enjoy my life minus counting calories. I day dreamed about what it would feel like to eat a bowl of ice cream without worrying about the caloric intake. I wanted to put half and half in my coffee like a normal human being. I wanted to lick the bowl after making brownies and not obsess over the fat content in the chocolate and butter. I wanted to drink orange juice again.

I wanted to live.

As I recovered I removed the towels I had put over my bathroom mirror. I splashed water on my face while washing it, combed my hair and gradually was able to glance in the mirror without cringing. For the first time in years, I didn’t see an ugly human being anymore. I learned that seeing my ideal number on a scale would never fulfill me. It’s exceedingly empty and tiring. And trust me, I tried everything. At my lowest weight, I was thirty-five pounds lighter than I am today and it’s a miracle I’m alive.

Instead of dwelling on what I disliked about my body, I tried to focus on what I liked. I wrote a list in my therapy journal and here is what it said.

I love my hair. I love my big blue eyes. I love that I have long legs. I love my cheekbones. 

I love that I’m athletic and like to run. I love that I can create things with my hands. I love that I can swim in the ocean and know how to ride the waves. 

It’s interesting, I have one dimple on the right side of my face. I wonder why I don’t have them on both sides? Anyway, I use to hate that dimple, but then a boy told me it was cute. It’s growing on me. I don’t love it yet, but I’m getting there. 

I love my resilient attitude. 

I contemplated how much physical exertion it took to exercise without any fuel in my body. Or how many hours I spent planning my meals, which were more like small snacks. Along with the days I wasted obsessing over counting calories, keeping my eating disorder a secret and the relationships my eating disorder strained.

I use to think, What would happen if I put all of the energy that I use to keep my eating disorder alive towards recovery? Actually, scratch that, what would happen if I just used a fraction of that energy towards my healing? I would be a changed person, I’m sure of it. I know it would hurt. But on the flip side, I can’t live like this forever. Let’s be real, I’m miserable. I’m destroying relationships and slowly killing myself. Alright, let’s do the darn thing. Let’s recover! I want to live again!

I tried to remember that just because I had a moment of struggle, defeat or a bad day in my journey of recovery it didn’t mean that I hadn’t made progress towards freedom. I actively worked on being patient with myself and taking it one step at a time. I sought to embrace the change and when I fell, which I did, I didn’t stay down. Instead, I dusted off the dirt and tried to embrace each opportunity in my life to seek beauty. And I started anew the next day and no matter how many times I messed up I never gave up.

I learned that recovering from my eating disorder isn’t about being perfect. But it was about making smart daily choices, even if I didn’t feel like it. Those daily choices eventually helped me to form new habits, which cultivated a lifestyle change.

It was an intense challenge for me to put a spoon or fork in my mouth. I felt like I was shoving food down my throat. So in the beginning, I would put a serving of whole grain cheerios on a plate, along with some sliced strawberries. No matter how agonizing it proved to be, I didn’t get up out of that seat until I had finished. I did the same thing with pasta. I would heat up tomato sauce and dip my bow-tie pasta in the sauce, while using my fingers. I had to eat with my fingers in the beginning and eventually I started using utensils again.

I saw just how much progress I had made over the years, when I worked as a baker. The fact that I was able to work as a baker and be around food all day still mesmerizes me. It’s such a beautiful grace. Today I can eat a bowl of ice cream at one o’clock in the morning and not give it a second thought. I drink orange juice now, just like I desperately yearned to be able to do. I can go out to dinner at a restaurant and not wonder how many calories are in the meal. And when I get full I take the rest home with me, without worrying what people will think. I work out in moderation four to six days a week. I never run over five miles and don’t think I ever will again. I can go to my favorite coffee shops and get a mocha or cappuccino and not obsess over the caloric content. Even though it’s been years, I do get full very easily, so I have learned that it’s best to eat small meals more frequently.

Our society defines beauty as a number on a scale, a dress size, inappropriately clad swimsuit models, pornography, the number of calories you eat in a day and the fact that you don’t eat hamburgers or ice cream. And each day, millions of girls and women from every country, get on a scale and hope to quench their yearning for happiness and success through the number that flashes back at them. I speak from experience when I say, that is fleeting beauty. I used to be 35 pounds lighter than I am today and could have easily died. My life, your life, is a miracle: cherish it.

It took me a while to comprehend that seeing my ideal number on the scale would never fulfill me. It’s so empty and tiring. The scale can’t measure your strength, beauty, courage, determination, perseverance, joy, love, gentleness, compassion, athletic ability and purpose. So you see, your validation of beauty and sense of acceptance, is not the width of your waist or the number you see on the scale. You aren’t your hair and skin color. You aren’t your shoe size or lipstick shade. You are not the number of miles you can run or sit-ups you can do. You aren’t the number you see in your jeans or the number of calories you consume at lunch.

What you are radiates from the beauty of your soul. You are beautiful because you are compassionate and sensitive. You are beautiful because you love passionately, have a gentle spirit and giving heart. You are beautiful because you find your worth in God the Father. You are beautiful because you are His daughter. You are beautiful because you embrace the challenge to be an authentic woman. Authentic beauty flows from the heart onto the face. Authentic beauty is compassion, forgiveness, gentleness, modesty, courage and strength. Authentic beauty is the Blessed Mother.

It’s been over ten years since eighth grade and reflecting on my journey I have learned that my validation of beauty and sense of acceptance isn’t the width of my waist or my BMI. I can never quench my yearning to be loved through the number that flashes back at me on the scale. My worth comes from my intrinsic dignity as a human being. Today I can look in the mirror and say, I am beautiful. I am valuable. I am enough.

P.S. You are enough.