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Life Is Not Fair

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By Erin McNew | Staff Writer

Photo Credit | Donna Irene Photography

In life I think we experience about a thousand things that aren’t fair. People subtract themselves from our lives without warning. People hurt us without justification. People overlook our uniqueness and treat us like we’re replaceable. People fail to value us.

Life is hard. It hurts. And you just never know when or where it’s going to remind you that you aren’t really in control. In fact, sometimes I feel like it’s those moments when we feel the most in control that God chooses to remind us that we’re not. Sometimes we just have to have the ground ripped from underneath us to remind us to stop looking down at it and start looking up to higher things.

Some days are awful. But we have about a hundred good ones in their wake. We have a hundred good ones to give us memories to hold onto when people leave us. We have a hundred good ones to learn from. And we have a hundred good ones to think about when life smacks us in the back of the head.

Life changes so fast. It literally happens in a moment. And sometimes all it takes is that moment to prevent us from ever going back to the way things were. I revel in those moments. I revel in those moments that give me something to hold onto in the aftermath of change. I revel in those moments that remind me that I had something to love. Because someone who is loved, even when lost, is a beautiful thing. It’s not something to take lightly. Because as much as negative events are life changing, those moments that are captured in love are life-giving. And they give us life that, no matter what happens, cannot be taken from us. Because they give us a life in the Spirit. They show us glimpses of love that we don’t often experience.

No matter what anyone says, tears are healing. Because it’s those moments in which tears are shed that we are reminded that something or someone meant something to us. They probably still do. They arguably always will. Because love, whether romantic or platonic, may never truly go away. It may numb, or it may change, but I’m not sure you can just expel something from your heart. I’m not sure that’s how God made us. I’m not sure He wired us to view the things we love as being disposable or temporary. Though I think He’s granted us the knowledge that their physical existence may fade, I think He’s endowed us with the inherent capacity to combine our own existence with that of another, even if only in spirit. Because though hearts may stop and feelings may change, a place in someone’s heart is not something you rent. It’s something you keep. It’s something you change by touching it with your own unique love.

Smiles are beautiful. They’re something I have a hard time forgetting about people. And I love that. I love that God grants me the ability to remember positive things about people whose existence in my own life was imperfect. I love that He’s constantly reminding me that I have a reason to love people. Even if it’s just one smile. Or one laugh. Or a few words. Because, oddly enough, when people are gone those are the things you grow to remember. The small things. The small things grow to define their entire interaction with you. And the small things, just as fast as life knocked you down, have a way of picking you up. They place their hand under your chin and slowly tilt your lovely face up to God, because we forgot in our own troubles. We forgot how much God longs to see our smile.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

P.S. You are enough.

Letting Go of Insecurities

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By Scott Weeman | Men’s Staff Writer

Photo Credit | Donna Irene Photography

One of my least favorite questions that people ask me when I first meet them is “What do you do?”  For some reason, this question triggers all sorts of insecurities in me as a man, as if there is some right or wrong answer to their question, and the answer I’m about to give is certainly the wrong one.  While the person asking the question is simply attempting to get to know me better (or doing the best they can in the undesirable arena of small talk), what happens internally is that I end up projecting all of my insecurities onto the other person, waiting for judgement to come after sharing a little bit about what I do professionally.  Sometimes I’ve even dodged the question’s true intentions, responding with,

“Well, I play golf.  I ride my bike around the beach.  I play volleyball with my friends.  I help out at my church doing various things.  I get together with many guys on an individual basis to discuss life.  I write.  I drink coffee…  Oh, you want to know what I do for work?!”

I have spent quite a bit of time analyzing why this question has created (and to some degree, still creates) a gross amount of turmoil within me.  What occupation would I be happy to proclaim as one that I “do”?  I love my life, I love the opportunities that my job as a server in a restaurant (which I have done for seven years) has created as a result of my availability and the flexibility it offers.  I get to do all the things I responded with above during my free time, and I get to enjoy myself while I’m at work.

What’s missing?

I have made some mistakes in my life based on selfish ambitions and short-sighted grabs for pleasure that have squandered dreams and efforts towards achievement.  A few blatant examples of this include a few attempts at school that were ended abruptly and a relationship that offered me second chance after second chance, only to be ended in great pain.  What was the end result of all of these losses, all of which were tied to my addictive and alcoholic behavior?

The Gift Of Desperation.

I admitted I was powerless over alcohol and that my life was unmanageable.  With the help of many others, I came to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.  I (slowly and imperfectly) turned over my will and my life over to the care of God as I understood him.

In short, I found God.  I found that a life run on my own will was leading me nowhere and that God still had great plans for me regardless of how much I screwed up the things I wanted so badly.  It turned out God had greater plans in store for me than I had for myself.  Confidence – not in myself, but in the love and strength God has been guiding me with – came back.  I started to realize that the people who truly care about me are less interested in what I’ve done and care more about what I’m going to do, and that they’re willing to help me get there.

This has been my experience.  We all experience varying degrees of insecurities and the unhealthy defenses that accompany them.  When those appear, we have options.

One is to stay in self-pity, resorting to being the victim of the show that we’re doing our best to direct.  Sometimes it feels good to stay stuck in self-pity.  It feels familiar, and for some reason that offers comfort, albeit short-lived.  When those shame-based emotions of being “less than” are triggered by another, it’s common to think that the world is against us.  In reality, though, this can be very toxic and instill great anger and resentment towards others.  In his book, Healing the Shame that Binds You, John Bradshaw notes that this reaction is formed very early in life.  “Since the earliest period of our life was preverbal, everything depended on emotional interaction. Without someone to reflect our emotions, we had no way of knowing who we were.”

The better option is to ask God to direct our lives and accept our role as actor in His Divine Script for us.  Sometimes the will of God is made painfully clear by the closing of doors and opportunities that can seem vital to our existence and hope for a bright future.  It can feel that way in relationships – whether romantic, friendly, or familial.  As in my example highlighted above, it can feel that way regarding the educational and career ambitions that we have in life.  Furthermore, it can feel that way as we embark on a progressive spiritual life.  It’s quite common to be fed up making the same spiritual blunders that we feel should be behind us (which can sometimes be God’s way of regaining our attention and renewing our sense of desperation).  Be sure that God will use what you perceive as a failure to bring you closer to him or to strengthen you in some way.

As virtue can often be found in the middle of opposite extremes, it’s critical to ensure that the opposite of shame does not seep it’s way into our psyche.  Upon receiving that job, relationship, or spiritual achievement, let us not be caught in the trap that we have all-of-a-sudden “made it.”  It can be quite tempting to think that God’s mercy and love is greater when we’ve achieved a level of notoriety or a position befitting of glory.  That’s just not true.

“Giving and receiving unconditional love is the most effective and powerful way to personal wholeness and happiness,” Bradshaw writes.  Surround yourself with people who love you as you are.  Love others as they are.  Use the insecurities that surface as an opportunity to re-evaluate the values that are truly important to you.  You’ll probably find that there are a lot of good intentions and motivations behind them, but that somewhere they got twisted.

Hearing someone say “I love you no matter what” must be the greatest words that can pass through the ears.  Hearing God say “I love you no matter what” must be the greatest words that can pass through the heart.

He does.

P.S. You are enough.

This Is What Really Holds You Back in Dating

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By Therese Aaker | Guest Blogger

Photo Credit | Jenny Haas Photography

My last post about dating addressed one huge obstacle when it comes to dating as Christians: the extremes.

But there’s another glaring obstacle when it comes to dating in a healthy way: fear. More specifically, fear of failure and fear of vulnerability.

I know tons of people who want to find the right relationship, but when an opportunity arrives, they freeze.

I get it, though. When we’re doing it right, dating is actually really scary.

We let our walls down. We let that person see a bit of our life. If there’s no red flags and we’re moving forward, then there’s more of a commitment to get to know them — and (*gasp*) let them get to know us.

It’s hard to let our walls down and let ourselves be known and loved, little by little, assuming that we’re sharing an appropriate amount of ourselves, not over-sharing. Especially because there’s always that risk of it not working out.

Or if we’re dating someone who probably isn’t the best for us, and we know we’re settling…it feels like a failure, in a sense, to let that person go.

Either way, it’s scary to let someone in and let someone go.

It’s scary to make a choice. What if it’s not the right choice?

The fear of failure, the fear of making mistakes, of doing the wrong thing — it’s okay that the fear is there. But it’s not okay to let it hold us back.

So what’s the answer?

Courage.

See, what we’re really asking for here is a sense of safety and security when it comes to our decisions in dating. We want certainty.

But I think the answer to having a healthy relationship with God, ourselves, and the souls we’re privileged to get to know while dating is to choose despite those fears.

Maybe what Jesus asks of us is courage to choose in the midst of our uncertainty, and to take that step, one way or the other.

Do you have the courage to choose?

To say no to the person who’s not leading you any closer to Christ?

To say yes in taking the next step with the person who does? To be vulnerable with someone and risk pain? This is what real love demands of us.

We need to stop hiding behind “discernment,” (and by that I mean thinking and praying without ever acting upon it) and stop expecting a lightning bolt answer to fall from the sky when it comes to dating. Trust God and choose.

So here are some tips when it comes to discernment in your dating:

Pray. Make sure you’re seeking God above all else and your relationship with Him comes before any other relationship in your life. When it comes to a point of choosing, pray about it, and then just choose a road. Don’t wait for clarity, we were never guaranteed that. Just choose a road.

“Love God and do what you will.” – St. Augustine. God’s will isn’t some hidden thing. He speaks to us through our deepest desires. And sure, even some of those deepest desires could be obscured with selfish desires on top of them. But God works good through everything, even our imperfections. He absolutely has the power to bring about His will, even if we make a choice based on a desire that’s not completely purified. God can bring about his will in so many ways…it’s not some linear thing where one choice is right, always. In that special instance where it IS the case, you can trust God will make that clear to you.

Choose based on love. Obviously, we shouldn’t choose based on following whatever we want; we should seek to make choices based on love of God and out of a desire to serve Him well. But if that’s at the center of our heart, we can trust that simply in having the courage to choose, God will bless that. And we can trust that if for some reason we’re choosing a path He doesn’t want for us, He’ll let us know. And usually very gently, by simply changing our desires or helping us realize that we should go another route.

Date with the right mindset. See, we have no guarantee of safety in our walk with Christ, and this includes our dating life. If we have the right mindset, dating can be really selfless. We might share little pieces of our hearts and lives with them, and it might not work out. But dating is actually a privilege, it’s not something we’re entitled to. We share ourselves despite a risk. We allow our lives to touch — we hope for the long-run — but maybe just for a moment. And how beautiful, to peek inside another soul. With this in mind, those fears don’t seem so big after all. If we date seeing it as an opportunity to find beauty in another soul, it’s not so terrifying. If we’re dating to “get” something out of someone, it’s much scarier.

At some point in our dating, we have the information we need. We don’t need certainty. We need the courage to say yes. Either yes to God’s better idea for your life, or yes to the person He’s presented to you as an opportunity.

Either way, He’ll bless you.

Courage, dear heart.

P.S. You are enough.

Adopting a Survivor’s Heart

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By Erin McNew | Staff Writer

Photo Credit | Donna Irene Photography

I fell in love after the relationship I never thought I’d bounce back from. And you know what? It’s still a struggle sometimes. It’s still a struggle when the man I want to spend the rest of my life with unknowingly says things that trigger memories of the man I wish would never cross my mind. When he has to dry the tears that result from the scars left by another. When he’s left struggling to understand the shattered pieces of something he never broke in the first place.

Let me tell you ladies, sometimes we find ourselves fighting a fight we never pictured ourselves dealing with in the first place. Sometimes we find ourselves surviving the wounds of an aggressor we never realized was a danger to our heart. And sometimes we find ourselves healing with a man by our side that we never thought we’d come across after our hearts were broken.

I’ve heard you never truly know how strong you are until you’re made weak. And I believe that’s true. But sometimes I’d like to take that thought one step further, sometimes I think it takes feeling unloved to realize how deserving of love you really are.

Now, I’m sure some of you are already shutting down and 8 months ago I would have been too. I would have faced the thought of me being lovable pretty harshly. I would have taken blame for things that weren’t my fault as evidence for my attitude. And as I look back on it, I know I would have been wrong.

When someone treats us wrong, we really find ourselves at our own mercy rather than God’s. I’m no psychiatrist, but there really is something about instances of abuse that increase our temptation to turn into ourselves. We turn into ourselves and seek justification for our aggressor. We wonder how we could have let something like that happen to ourselves, we wonder what we did to deserve those behaviors, we wonder how we could have stopped it, but we very rarely subtract ourselves from the situation and admit to ourselves that our situation was not our fault. That despite the fact that we were not given proper love, we were deserving of it all along. That one person’s lack of respect for us does not make us undeserving of respect. That one’s person lack of attention towards us does not deem us anything less than a priority for the right person. And it certainly does not mean that we have been made unlovable in the eyes of God.

God loves us at our darkest. He loved you before it, He loved you through it, and He’ll love you after it. And not only that, but He’ll write purpose across a shattered heart. He’ll take the broken pieces and put them back together in such a way that you are made even more beautiful than before if you allow Him to. He’ll look into your eyes and make your tears His own as He seeks healing for you. He’ll whisper the words you’ve been deprived of into your ear until your mind and heart begin to echo them to your soul.

You, love, are a survivor. Society boasts of them all the time – cancer survivors, war heroes, accident survivors – humanity has a love affair for the stories of those who fight against the odds and come out stronger than ever before. Let your story escape your lips and inspire those in similar situations as your burden is lightened by the support of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Let your story be a testament to the love and mercy of God.

“I loved you at your darkest.” – Romans 5:8

P.S. You are enough.

An Eating Disorder: This is Not About Food

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Photo Credit | Donna Irene Photography

An eating disorder.

This is not about food.

This is not about looking good in a dress or wanting to be a supermodel. This is not about wanting the cute guys to turn their heads and stare at your beauty. This is not about going to a store, sliding a size zero skirt over your hip bones, and laughing all the way to the check out counter.

This is not about wanting attention. This is not about enjoying feeling death and refusing food until you need to be force-fed with a tube in an ICU. It is not about deliberately annoying the nurses on the ED unit by hiding your Cliff Bar and Boost under your sweatshirt and stashing butter in the bed pans. It is not about selfless starving for all the children in Africa. It is not about the latest fad diet or losing the holiday weight. It is not about reading fashion magazines and pining for the Body Mass Index of Paris Hilton’s pet Chihuahua.

This is about having the self-esteem of an insect. This is about having no life because it’s impossible to go out with friends to a restaurant and order a bowl of dry lettuce. This is about weighing, measuring and counting pasta, cereal, raisins and anything that passes your lips, including toothpaste. This is about secrets, lies and shame. This is about not wanting to admit that you need to eat and that you deserve to live.

This is about being scared. This is about being terrified. Of everything.

This is about control. This is about numbing away the feelings of abuse. This is about starving away the pain. This is about wanting to disappear, so as not to be taken advantage of again. This is about hiding under layers of clothing that are mostly black so that no one sees your womanly body. This is about non-verbal communication. This is about avoiding. This is about denying the past. This is about intense self-hatred.

This is about needing so much that you can’t stand it. This is about wanting to not need anything at all. This is about not wanting to be touched but afraid to be let go. This is about having emotions that bubble up and spill out and scare people away. This is about being so overwhelmed and traumatized that it’s easier to avoid everything by obsessing over the amount of calories in a grapefruit. It is about getting lost in the mirror and scale instead taking responsibility and facing the truth.

This is about wanting to be safe. This is about wanting to curl up in a nutshell and ignore the big bad world that’s too noisy and dangerous and can’t be trusted. This is about not trusting anyone and relying on food (or lack of) to give you an all enveloping comfort blanket when the feelings bloat you up and make you feel fat, ugly and intolerable in your skin.

This is about really crappy coping methods. This is about a way of life you’ve known for 13 years. This is about habit and second nature. This is about making a choice that could kill you. This is about chaotic relationships, hospitalizations, devastated families, worried friends, treatment programs, trying and failing, and more hospitalizations. This is about losing your period, failed kidneys, and hollow bones. This is about cardiac arrest at age 21. This is about being sick. This is about not being sick enough to think you need, or agree to go into, treatment. This is about being so sick that you have to be court ordered into a hospital.

This is about trying to be understood. This is about fighting with all you’ve got and more hard work than you ever imagined. This is about exhaustion, tears and needing support. This is about fighting a battle with yourself and the world. This is about trying to survive.

This is not about food.

P.S. You are enough.

I Am Enough: My Recovery from Anorexia

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By Maura Byrne | Founder of Made in His Image

Photo Credit | Elissa Anne Photography

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 to 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 cook, 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 overeaten, which 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. Every time I had a nightmare I stopped eating. I had a pit of anxiety in my stomach from the abuse that crippled me. All I wanted was to be loved. I 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. As a little girl and teenager I was never told I was beautiful or enough. These unanswered questions left my curiosity with a hunger that couldn’t satisfied my heart.

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 pastry chef three years ago. The fact that I was able to work as a chef and be around food all day still mesmerizes me. In my years of working there I never once slipped up. 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 days a week. I never run over four 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.

It’s been over fifteen 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.

Get Up and Get Over It

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By Erin McNew | Staff Writer

Okay, so lately I’ve been thinking about this whole “poor me” stage that people like to go through when something less than desirable happens to them.  I’m going to go ahead and say that this is incredibly unproductive and unconducive to healing. And, I’m going to go ahead and admit that I am just as guilty of it as anyone else.

But here’s the deal: stand up, put a smile on, paint your toenails, throw on a cute dress, and get out there. Because this “poor me” stage is keeping you from living your life as God called you too. Adopt an attitude of gratitude and turn your sorrows into joys. Have a grudge against someone? Look for their positive qualities, focus on them, learn to appreciate them, and prepare for life to get considerably easier. Find ways to take those imperfect aspects of life and view them perfectly through the eyes of our Father.

This is your time. Those times what life seems less than perfect? They’re actually perfect for personal growth, exploration, and admiration. And we all need a little bit more of that. There are opportunities that imperfection reveals to us that we do not come into contact with at other times. Take advantage of them.

So, GET OUT – Go have fun. Celebrate yourself and the imperfect life that God has given you. Challenge yourself in new environments and experiences. Let healing begin in a setting where anything is possible and memories are just dying to be made.

GET UP – Wake up, stand up, and smile up. God’s been missing those expressions of joy. Because, even though we may not always be able to see it, He’s deserving of them at all times. Pull yourself out of whatever rut you may be in because, in reality, you can’t expect someone else to do it for you. You’ve gotten your opportunity to be sad, now God’s asking you to find reasons to be glad.

CLEAN UP – Make yourself presentable. In all honesty, you just never know who you are going to meet. Approach each day feeling adequate, special, and beautiful. Because you are.

LET UP – Quit being so hard on yourself. Release that blame and guilt that may or may not belong to you that you might live rightly and freely. Provide yourself with all the confidence and self-esteem needed to live the life you’ve been waiting for.

HEAD UP -Look life in the eye instead of focusing on the past. You’re living in the present. The present is relevant and limitless. Don’t let the past keep pulling your mind back.

OFFER IT UP – Concerns? Thought? Questions? Problems? Offer them up to the Lord. He’s your ultimate friend right now. He’s constantly there to listen and He’s always walking beside you. Tell Him what’s on your mind. If you need to vent, try venting to Him. If you need help, ask Him. He’s just waiting to hear from you. And He has all the words you’ve been waiting for someone to tell you.

”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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9

P.S. You are enough.

I Got Flowers Today

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By Paulette Kelly

Photo Credit: Elissa Anne Photography

I got flowers today.
It wasn’t my birthday or any other special day.
We had our first argument last night,
And he said a lot of cruel things that really hurt me.
I know he is sorry and didn’t mean the things he said.
Because he sent me flowers today.

I got flowers today.
It wasn’t our anniversary or any other special day.
Last night, he threw me into a wall and started to choke me.
It seemed like a nightmare.
I couldn’t believe it was real.
I woke up this morning sore and bruised all over.
I know he must be sorry.
Because he sent me flowers today.

I got flowers today,
and it wasn’t Mother’s Day or any other special day.
Last night, he beat me up again.
And it was much worse than all the other times.
If I leave him, what will I do?
How will I take care of my children?
What about money?
I’m afraid of him and scared to leave.
But I know he must be sorry.
Because he sent me flowers today.

I got flowers today.
Today was a very special day.
It was the day of my funeral.
Last night, he finally killed me.
He beat me to death.
If only I had gathered enough courage and strength to leave him,
I would not have gotten flowers…today.

P.S. You are enough.

Love Isn’t Grey: A Post Not About 50 Shades

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By Patrick Dunford | Men’s Staff Writer

Photo Credit | Donna Irene Photography

My barista lit my coffee on fire yesterday.

I’m serious.

He fired up a culinary blowtorch and introduced me to the eighth wonder of the world that is the crème brûlée cappuccino. It takes three accent marks and seven syllables just to describe that bad boy, a drink as complicated as it is delicious.                                                                        

Seems like we’re getting pretty advanced as a culture, pretty complex too. Look at how we’re able to dry our hands. I mean, come on, it’s like a gentle wind massage for your hands. There’s a bracelet-like selfie robot that you toss out in front of you, smile for the camera, THEN WATCH RETURN TO YOUR WRIST.

We are maybe 5 years out from “Terminator”- esque Skynet stuff, people, max.

It’s arguable whether some of these things count as “advances,” even if I would give anything to replace the selfie stick. Leave it to the Western world to solve problems that aren’t really there. Maybe it’s no surprise that in all this seemingly forward progress, we’ve also found a way to complicate love.

So let’s be clear: This isn’t an article about “50 Shades of Grey.”

Ok, it sort of is, you caught me, officer. But please, no handcuffs.

Chances are, by now you’ve made up your mind, in one camp or another. I’m not here to convince you of what “50 Shades of Grey” IS or ISN’T, there are more than enough well-written blogs and videos with names like “50 Shades of Abuse” or “50 Shades of Sexy”  to reinforce anyone’s perceptions of its massive moral depravity or ultimately liberating sexuality.

I can’t even count the number of shades that must be out there now. The goal of this article, its purpose, is to help you see what Love ISN’T in order to help us see what Love IS. And maybe, just maybe, to help explain how we can authentically fulfill the desires of our heart that would lead us toward something like “50 Shades of Grey” in the first place.

Let’s start with the big audacious ISN’T at the core of it all. Love ISN’T grey. I mean that beyond the desperately obvious pun I used to get you reading all this in the first place. There are very clear things we can talk about concerning the Truth of Love which separates Love utterly from any grayness.

To get to those points, though, we need to delve into the origins of Love and intimacy. I’m personally not in the camp proposing how America and a large part of the world became sexually deviant overnight because poorly written Twilight fan-fiction was published. In fact, I’ll make an even more scandalous concession:

I think there may be a reason (heck, even a few) so many people are drawn to “50 Shades of Grey” that makes total sense. I believe it’s a reason which goes deeper than people heading out in droves to see a film and stick it to the man, or millions suddenly wanting to get involved in BDSM themselves. In fact, it might even be biblical.

I don’t mean the obvious fact that Sodom and Gomorrah are always begging to be dragged into the debauchery conversation, attention-hungry cities that they are. Well, everything-hungry cities that they were, anyway. I’m talking Genesis, that whole in the beginning deal.

You see, the life of submission and domination we see in our dear Ana and Christian in “50 Shades” (remember, this is not about that story) isn’t too far off from the life God asked of mankind’s parents in the Garden of Eden. I present to you Genesis 1:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

I mean, whoah, “subdue…and have dominion?” Bet you forgot those words from Sunday school. This would probably be E.L. James’s favorite passage (still not about that story, promise). But here’s where we get it all wrong:

We’ve gone from the gift of dominion over and subduing of nature to dominating and subduing each other.

You see, in one of our Creation stories God takes Eve from Adam’s rib. From his side. Not from his head to suggest superiority (sorry, ladies), and not from his feet to suggest inferiority. From his side, to simultaneously show equality of worth and intimate unity between the two.

I mean, we’ve all heard plenty of times how Adam and Eve totally blew it by eating the forbidden fruit and how that led to our broken relationship with God. I think we often forget, though, how that incompleteness has damaged our ability to recognize and pursue the intimacy with EACH OTHER we were meant for.

Aristotle in his work “The Nichomachean Ethics,” asserts “Happiness then, is found to be something perfect and self-sufficient, being the end to which our actions are directed.” Basically, no matter how we act, we’re always acting in pursuit of something we perceive as a good. Something which will make us
“happy”, something that will make us like Pharrell.

I’m using a Greek philosopher, a fancy foreign book title, and the word “asserts” here so I have to be right.

BDSM is all about the pursuit of a perceived good or two, certainly pleasure and maybe even intimacy with another. But acting to achieve a good, Pharrell, isn’t enough in itself. The key here is a perceived good. This means we can act expecting a certain action will in some way be good for us, even when the reality results in disaster. So we have phrases like “looking for love in all the wrong places,” “I knew you were trouble when you walked in, so shame on me nah-ow,” and “Kardashian.”

Which leads us back to molten cappuccinos, and Love’s freedom from grayness. Love is mysterious, but it’s not complicated.

Well, let me narrow that down.

Yes, Love is incredibly complicated to some degree. Love is very difficult to get a handle on (read: impossible), which is why billions of dollars are made on books and movies every year which promise to have finally figured “It” out. I’m not so audacious as to deny the complexity.

But we have to distinguish between the “complicated” nature of our experience as creatures made from and for Love, and the complications which come from choices we make based on our expectations of what Love SHOULD be.

We’ve been raised on a steady diet of images including men sprinting through airports to stop the girl from getting on the plane, very public bleacher-dancing-megaphone-sing-alongs (R.I.P. Heath), and women waiting by their comatose man until he springs back to action. We expect Love to be a BIG FREAKIN’ DEAL.

A little dangerous, a little risky. There aren’t as many movies about a guy and girl who meet at church, have a nice dating relationship, then decide to get married. It’s just not as engaging to us. We want it to be bigger, we desire to be swept up in something greater than ourselves. But are those two pictures mutually exclusive?

We’re designed to embrace mystery, in fact it’s admirable and natural to recognize Love as a grand adventure. But what happens when brokenness enters the equation? I think we stop appreciating the mystery and start forcing it.

In the story this article isn’t about, what Ana sees in Grey is part of a deeper longing. I think we see in Ana’s experience (from which comes our desire to experience HER experience by reading or watching) the mystery and intrigue we long for. Love’s path seems to be there in front of her to some degree, if obscured and often clearly misguided.

But does the end justify the means? We have to pursue True Love in terms of its reality to achieve the fulfillment of the desire we’re designed for. Love as willing the good of another, even above and beyond our own. This transcends mutual pleasure, it results in a profound mutual good. We’re gifted with the opportunity in our relationship to help others grow in their ability to receive love, not merely raise their threshold for pleasure and pain.

Here is where the paths diverge in the wood, where the desires for Love and pleasure/pain deviate in their natural conclusions. Our lives have no “Love threshold,” there is no point in our lives at which we plateau in our potential for giving and receiving Love. It is not “too much Love” which would destroy us, only Love’s potential used irresponsibly. Too much pleasure or pain can kill us. Sure, the argument can be made that the pain of fasting etc. we experience in holy pursuits represents the same principle as Love used poorly. But pain and pleasure aren’t equally necessary for the fulfilment of our desires, where our very existence depends completely on God’s eternal Love for us.

We progress down both paths in similar ways, learning and becoming committed to them gradually. God’s revelation comes over time, gently guiding us on. Christian doesn’t hit Ana with a belt on the first date, that comes later, but seduces her slowly into accepting more and more of his lived-out fantasies.

See how he speaks to her:

“So you felt demeaned, debased, abused & assaulted – how very Tess Durbeyfield of you. I believe it was you who decided on the debasement if I remember correctly. Do you really feel like this or do you think you ought to feel like this? Two very different things. If that is how you feel, do you think you could just try and embrace these feelings, deal with them, for me? That’s what a submissive would do.”

Now, Love is meant to be the dominant force in our lives, and we are even asked to submit our hearts to Love. To be vulnerable. St. Paul boasted in his weakness, not his strength. But Love does not demand we be “submissive” or passive recipients. To bend to each and every whim it asks.

Love has no whims. Love is constant.

Love is not “taken” from anyone, Love requires no inferiority from giver or recipient. These represent the antithesis of Love. God Himself, Jesus Christ, “no longer calls [us] servants, but friends.” We have in our modern-day been delivered from one bondage to another, the OG sin of our ancestors into a bondage we choose now.

I don’t buy the idea that this is all somehow liberating to our desires, as if setting us free from purported fetters of Western Christianity and society and delivering us into feathered handcuffs and leather straps is a victory. We come from a history of salvation, it’s no wonder we forget we can’t do that for anyone else.

C.S. Lewis had it right when he asserted the problem is not with the strength found in our human desires, but in how they are lacking.                    

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

We’re never truly satisfied by these inferior desires because as Lewis also knew “We do not want merely to see beauty . . . We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”

So it is the same for Love. We wish to be bathed in Loved, to be consumed by Love. Not because it represents weakness, but reflects the reality of the human heart’s desire to fully surrender to Love Himself. We desire to receive an infinite gift of Love with finite hearts. When we are not satisfied with God’s gentle constancy in our journey, we surrender anyway. We give in to the weakest and most base of our desires, and therefore receive the weakest and most base of rewards. We choose an inferior and limited pleasure over a vacation at sea, immediacy of gratification over returning to our true home in Love’s embrace.

Now, pleasure is not bad in and of itself. But how often is religion accused of being the retirement home for our desires. No, the graveyard. Despite Song of Songs and its erotic Love poetry, there might as well be billboards out there proclaiming “Christianity: Where Sexy Goes to Die.”

Having sex and eating, the two actions most essential to human progress and thriving (next to bacon), are actually wired by God with pleasure to reinforce the desire in us to, well, do them. They serve as a poor substitute, however, for the depth of the Love for which we are created.

Sometimes Love itself leaves room for pain and hurt, experiences clearly not relegated to the secretive rooms of wealthy men. But the pain we find Love wounding us with prepares us for the infinite Love and relationship for which we have been created. Pain from submission and domination only ever remind us we could have them “fully” and still never be satisfied. Only in God’s love for us and in sharing His Love with others can we find what we are ultimately searching for.

Love isn’t grey because Love isn’t meant for the darkness. Love isn’t grey in morality, nor is it dark in joy. Love can only be fully realized in the light, because authentic Love exists for us in one, perfect, absolute shade.

The brilliant shade of a Creator’s Love for His most beloved creation.

P.S. You are enough.

Who Tells You What Beauty Is?

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By Erin McNew | Staff Writer

Photo Credit | Elissa Anne Photography

On a scale of one to ten, your beauty is measured in love. And it’s directly correlated to your worth in the eyes of God.

As women, we’re hard on ourselves. Some men rate our attractiveness in correlation to other women, or to their idealized characteristics of what a woman should look like. I wonder if they realize that we do that too? Only not as much in relation to our attraction to the opposite sex, but in relation to how we compare to the attractiveness of other women. Who tells us what’s attractive? Magazine editors? Clothing designers? Fashion photographers? Victoria’s Secret models? We’re accustom to rating our beauty according to unattainable and unrealistic standards. As much as guys may rate us, they don’t realize that the comparisons they make have little power against the ones we make against ourselves.

You are beautiful. You are beautiful because God crafted each and every portion of your body with His Hands that they might assist you in fully reaching your potential and pursing the plan He has for you. You are not too fat or too skinny. Your hair is not too short and it isn’t the wrong color. The size of your bottom and of your chest do not correlate to the amount you’re worth. You are infinitely lovely, divine in creation. And any number that you or anyone else may put on you could not possibly account for the inner workings of your heart and soul. Those things that are often unseen, those things that God lets thrive inside of you, are where your true beauty lies. It’s a beauty that can’t be captured by a garment, relayed through a magazine, seen in a photograph, or mirrored in the physical appearance of a model. That beauty is uniquely yours. It is recognized by God and revealed at the perfect time.

You’re beauty exceeds the label of a number. In fact, it often exceeds descriptions that can be put together by words. Our words are flawed. So many of them were our own creation. Beauty is measured by God. It’s seen to its full extent with pure eyes and a heart free of judgment. For the most part, we lack the capacity to see the full extent of a person’s beauty, but this ability is only further hindered when we deliberately apply the standards of the world to it. Beauty doesn’t have a rule book. It doesn’t have a check list. It doesn’t wear clothes. It doesn’t put on makeup or shoes. Those are adornments we added into the equation. True beauty is confidence. It’s knowing you’re beautiful. It’s possessing a heart filled with love and compassion. It’s attributing your attractiveness to the work of Hiis hands. It’s more than a number.

Recognize the power of your words against those who are unaware or unsure of the divine nature of beauty. Recognize the fact that words have power over the reasoning and self-concept of people who have yet to discover their strength in the Lord. Speak in such a way that you build others up rather than limiting them to the heights of others. The opinion of a single person has the potential to ring clearly in our ears and weigh heavily on our hearts for years to come. And if for some reason you are already plagued with this weight, cast your burdens and misunderstandings on the shoulders of Christ. He bore our sins and is just waiting for the opportunity to tell one of the children He struggled for how beautiful they are in the sights of the Lord.

 “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

“You are altogether beautiful, my darling, And there is no blemish in you.” – Song of Solomon 4:7

P.S. You are enough.