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MIHI changed my perspective of Eating Disorder Recovery

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By Alanna Burtis

Photo credit: Donna Irene Photography

Thanksgiving is tomorrow and this will be the first holiday ever in my four years of having an eating disorder where I am not currently relapsing. There is such grace in all this, God’s Hand has pulled me into a time of Victory; He has won. But I need to declare: this has not been easy. I have wanted to give up numerous times. I struggled for many, many, exhausting years. I would not be where I am today without Made In His Image, my friends and family, or my amazing Church leaders who have invested their time and prayers in the midst of my frustrations of not being “normal” by not having a mind where it would stop giving me eating disorder thoughts. I would cry because I wanted to just be done. I wanted to be done with the pain of not feeling good enough. I wanted to be done with the comparisons I would make throughout all of my days. I wanted to stop staring at models and their pictures for hours on end, thinking of what I needed to tone up next. I wanted to stop exercising at ungodly times; so early in the morning and late at night.

I wanted to be free.

The key to eating disorder recovery is wanting it for yourself. You will not change until you want to change. You have the up-most power because it is your body and your mind. No one can change how your “eating disorder schedule” is until you want to change it for yourself.

It was in April of this year and I had everything I wanted. I was doing well with my position of serving in my Church, was doing amazing with my studies and had an amazing boyfriend. But then I went through a relapse and this relapse took everything from me. It took away my pride, my thought of having a future and took most of my energy out of me. It was a relapse that I knew was not healthy at all. I saw my ribs becoming more evident on my body and felt my hip bones poking through. I was so satisfied! I finally had the body I always wished I would have, but I still did not feel like I was skinny enough. I indulged in only drinking hot tea, protein shakes, and working out vigorously. I heard every day I was pretty and good enough, yet nothing anyone was saying was enough for me. I wasn’t enough for myself. And once I realized the self-hatred I had of my body, I knew I had to change. I could not be depressed about my own self any longer. I broke up with my boyfriend to start from the bottom and build my way up during recovery. I wanted to learn to love myself by myself.

I did. But it was a very slow process. I remember it took me an hour and forty-five minutes to eat my first meal. Beef, rice, and green beans, I cheated by drinking a sip (more like a gulp) of tea after every bite. I refilled my glass of tea so many times. I was an emotional wreck. It was not normal to take so long to eat food. But then I realized: an eating disorder is not normal. I was not normal. This whole process of being “free” from my eating disorder will feel awkward, will have a lot of tears and fears, but it is supposed to be. A life without skipping meals was foreign to me. But I gained my strength by reading numerous blogs on Made In His Image’s website, would hear from other girls and their stories, and was encouraged by Maura and her grace to love those who are going through the same thing she went through. You are not alone. Feeling like a stranger to everyone else, including yourself, during recovery is not different to us who have been fighting this fight.

I re-tore my ACL while on a mission trip in July and had to get ACL reconstruction surgery. This  was a test of how strong I am in my battle of defeating my thoughts of relapsing and staying healthy for the purpose of getting back to my athletics and running again. I was very upset that I re-tore my ACL, especially since cheerleading was the cause of my injury, and cheerleading was the cause of my eating disorder. I was angry at God, but I had to get over myself and believe in His Victory. I know God did not make me re-tear my ACL but I know He was teaching me an important lesson of relying on Him even in my weakest moments after my surgery. I wanted so badly not to gain weight after surgery, but I did. I wanted to skip meals because I could not run my first 4 months after surgery. Satan wanted me to act upon my thoughts, but I said no to him and his lies. I know my Victory is in Jesus and through His grace I haven’t relapsed in seven months. It is such a marvelous mystery to me because years ago I thought I would never have a break from my relapses, and God has been with me through it all, through my highs and lows, He has never left me.

It is such a grace to share my story with you. If you are struggling with this battle please know you are not alone. Made In His Image has been such an inspiration for me throughout my years of battling my eating disorder. You get to see a glimpse of some personal stories and see the greatness of God just breaking through and healing hearts. Your heart is not too weak to be healed by our Father. Your cries are not too loud or small for God. He is there to wipe away the tears running down your face when you feel like you are not enough or cannot possibly move forward with this horrible disorder. Your worth does not rely on what your mind is telling you or by what pictures you are looking at. You are made in His image. He calls you lovely. He calls you redeemed. He calls you enough. He calls you beautiful. He calls you precious. He calls you His beloved. Believe in this Truth my dear. You are worth so much more than what you think you are.

P.S. You are enough.

You are worth being pursued.

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By Erin McNew | Staff Writer

Photo credit: Jenny Haas Photography

You’re beautiful. Has anyone told you that lately? Because that fact stands independent of others’ recognition. You are beautiful. The way you live and the way you love make you unique and special. They’re direct indicators and effects of God’s love for you and of the work He’s doing in your life at this very moment. I know it can be easy to lose sight of. But I promise you, beauty is a quality that can be ascribed to your existence on any and every given day.

You’re special to God. He knows you. He knows the imperfections in your smile, the quirks evident in your eyes, and just what puts a spring in your step. He is well acquainted with the way you live. And He’s forever pleased with being invited to be a part of your life.

Sometimes I feel as if we spend our lives just waiting to be noticed. And we neglect to recognize that we are. We always have been. Whether we were vying for the attention of others or shying away from it, we were forever basking in the attention of our Eternal Father. He’s complimentary when we need it, supportive when we’re falling, and loving always. He’s our ultimate friend. And he sees things in us we sometimes fail to see in ourselves. He sees beauty where we see imperfection. He sees life where we see death. He sees hope where we see despair. He’s always whispering those things in our ear that we long to hear from others.

I sometimes find myself questioning why God isn’t enough for us. Why we long for the affirmation of others over His. Why we seek the help of others before we ever reach our knees. Why it takes being down to nothing to utilize our most incredible resource and Friend. I know I’m just as guilty of it as anyone else. I know that in the light of claiming to be a good and loyal Christian, I sometimes chose to remain in the darkness of solitary. I chose not to turn to God. I talk to other people and expect them to lead me to answers that are known only by the heart of Christ. I turn into myself because I don’t think anyone will understand. And, deep down, I know those tendencies are fruitless. Whether driven by laziness, mistrust, unfamiliarity, or discomfort, I know they are representations of faults in my faith life.

With imperfections abound, Christ’s love for us stands in stark contrast. It stands an image of perfection. When we fail to see ourselves the way Christ sees us, when we fail to love Him rightly as He does us, when we fail to recognize His importance, He never fails. He is perfect. He is recognizing. His sight is clear. His love is pure. He is forever pursuing us.

The ache of singlehood can be a strong ache for some. As women we desire and yearn to be wanted, cherished and loved by a man. We desire to communicate and share our hearts and lives with someone. To be happy and to love life with a best friend. If we stop for a moment and reflect on our lives, do we love and spend time with our Father, the giver of love and all things? Do we believe that He hasn’t forgotten about us? And that He has the perfect love story written just for you? Let God pursue you so that the man He has for you will find you in His heart. Because I promise you this dear one, you are worth being pursued by a man. 

“He counts the number of the stars; he gives names to all of them.” – Psalm 147:4

P.S. You are enough.

You are beautiful – Scars and all.

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By Maura Byrne | Founder of Made in His Image

To the girl who stands in front of the mirror criticizing every inch of her body, you are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.

To the girl who thinks she needs to lose 15 pounds for a man to ever love her, you are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.

To the girl who can’t keep her dinner down because the number of calories consumes her every thought, you are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.

To the girl who starves herself all day and binges at night, you are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.

To the girl who exercise for three hours a day because she is driven to lose weight, you are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.

To the girl who cries on the cold hard tile of her bathroom floor, bloody razor in hand, you are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.

To the girl who wears a long sleeve shirt in the middle of July to hide all of her scars, you are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.

To the girl who gulps down pills just to feel normal for a while, you are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.

To the girl who stays in bed all day crying because she’s too depressed to get up for class, you are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.

To the girl who thinks she constantly needs to give her body to men for attention, you are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.

To the girl who reveals her body for all to see, when all she desires is to be seen for the beauty in her heart, you are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.

To the girl who yearns for physical touch and craves attention and affection, you are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.

To the girl who drinks more alcohol than water to drown her thoughts and feelings, you are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.

To the girl who watches the one she loves fall in love with someone else, you are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.

To the girl who’s mother tells her she isn’t enough, you are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.

To the girl whose father beats her, you are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.

To the girl who locks her bedroom door whenever her dad’s been drinking, you are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.

To the girl who won’t go home at night because her parents are always fighting, you are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.

To the girl who feels hopeless and alone, you are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.

To the girl who doesn’t want to live anymore, you are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.

Sweetheart always remember that a bruised and broken heart is actually quite beautiful, because it reveals the tenderness of the human spirit. Don’t journey through life thinking you have to be perfect in order to be enough for someone. The truth is, we are all broken.

P.S. You are enough.

You are not damaged. You are not baggage to be managed.

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By Erin McNew | Staff Writer

Photo credit: Donna Irene Photography

It is absolutely incredible how we learn strength out of brokenness and righteousness out of misadventure. I’m six months out of what I hope to be the worst relationship of my life and every day I find new blessings in healing. I find strength in painful memories and resilience in sight of the face I once thought I’d spend forever with.

I guess I kind of have someone new in my life right now. And as weird as it is, I truly feel that whatever way it ends up it’s a blessing. He walked me home a few nights ago leaving me with a kiss on the forehead, and, upon entering my room I just plopped down on my bed and cried. No joke, ladies. Six month later and that pain still sneaks its way out sometimes. I cried because I realized that everything I thought was normal in romance was wrong. That there was a man out there who thought I was smart instead of naïve. Strong instead of childlike. Who saw innocence as something to preserve rather than test. Who would make me a priority instead of an option. Tear after tear fell and with each bit of pain and each memory that crept up into my head I felt lighter. I felt that pain turning into strength. I started to feel like I’d been waiting to feel for so long.

Ladies, every day God is making me new. He’s showing that a bad situation has the infinite possibility of being turned into grace. And, if you allow Him the opportunity, I know He’ll do the same for you. He’ll show you that your instance of abuse doesn’t have to be a pattern. That you can stop it in its tracks by taking refuge in His embrace. He’ll show you that it’s not normal to be mistreated. That love can be passionate without raising its voice. That connection can be established without forced touches. That you can be seen as small in a man’s arm without him having to make you so with loveless words. You, darling, deserve the absolute best. And your story of abuse? Consider yourself blessed because, though you may not realize it yet, it ends in hope.

You are beautiful. You are strong. You are whole. You are moving forward. Your abuse does not define you. Metaphorical and literal bruising will heal. You are not damaged. You are not baggage to be managed. You are just loved. In every sense of the word. Ladies, don’t give up on yourself. Because I’m not giving up on you. And God’s not giving up on you. Your family is not giving up on you. And there’s a man out there who will never give up on you.

You deserve to be cherished. There is beauty and blessing in leaving it all behind.

Broken things are precious. We eat broken bread because we share in the depth of our Lord and His broken life. Broken flowers give perfume. Broken incense is used in adoration. A broken ship saved Paul and many other passengers on their way to Rome. Sometimes the only way the good Lord can get into some hearts is to break them. – Fulton Sheen

P.S. You are enough.

Brittany Maynard: Suicide and Suffering

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By Maura Byrne | Founder of Made in His Image

Photo credit: Donna Irene Photography

It was Sunday evening November 1, and while taking an apple pie out of the oven, I glanced at my ringing phone. Having a pie in my hands, I couldn’t answer. A few minutes elapsed, I picked up my phone and skimmed my newsfeed. My heart sank. Brittany Maynard, 29-year-old woman with brain cancer, has committed suicide. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, NOOOOOOO. I opened the article to read it, just to see if it was really true, sadly, it was.

Brittany was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer and committed assisted suicide after moving to Portland, Oregon. She ended her life by swallowing a fatal dose of barbiturates. Oregon is one of the states that legally allows assisted suicide.

Now, I’ve never been diagnosed with an incurable illness and have absolutely no idea what that feels like. I am not writing this to judge Brittany, her family, or anyone. I am writing this because suffering has meaning, suffering is beautiful.

In all candor, I haven’t always thought that though.

In college I was plagued with suicidal thoughts. It’s only through the grace of our Heavenly Father that I am still alive. Suicidal thoughts are scary. People would say, just think happy thoughts. I would silently be thinking, you have no clue what this is like. You have no idea what it’s like to see your own bottle of prescription drugs and want to swallow the whole thing. Or how it feels to want to jump off every bridge you see, drown yourself in the pool, smash your car into the median on the highway, or pray that you just don’t wake up in the morning. Then the morning comes and you can’t get out of bed. Brushing your hair becomes an accomplishment, washing a load of laundry earns you at least a four-hour nap, it was that exhausting and getting out of the house feels like running a marathon.

The darkness feels like it’s going to suffocate you. You can’t think about tomorrow or next week because that’s to overwhelming. You can’t even think five minutes from the present moment, thirty seconds is enough. The pain is relentless. You feel like you’re in a dark hole and you can’t seem to find the light. You want to get out, but you don’t know how. You are always tired, even after sleeping for fourteen hours. It’s a bleak place to be, and you just can’t stop crying, it doesn’t matter where you are. 

There is only one thing that keeps a person alive in these situations. And that is hope.

I understand that Brittany’s situation wasn’t like this, but hope is universal.

My heart goes out to Brittany, and I pray that she is now resting in the loving and gentle Arms of our Heavenly Father. Imagine how scared she must have been knowing that she was going to die? That anxiety compounded with excruciating pain, the poor woman must have been terrified. I don’t think most of us have experienced pain and anxiety like she did. She loved her life and didn’t want to die. 

Brittany told People Magazine, My glioblastoma is going to kill me and that’s out of my control. I’ve discussed with many experts how I would die from it and it’s a terrible, terrible way to die. So being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying.

Five years ago I watched a woman with brain cancer die, and I assure you of this, this woman died with dignity.

During the summer of 2008 I went to Kolkata, India to serve with the Missionaries of Charity in their home for the dying. While in India, I witness some of the most courageous souls I’ve ever seen, men and women who were dying. The poverty, destitution, illness, smells, heat and intense noise were aspects of their lives that they had grown accustom too. Families lived under garbage bag tents, with most just living on the street. Their children were naked and sleeping in filth not knowing where their next morsel of food was going to come from. The poor would hang on us begging for food and money and people went to the bathroom, bathed, slaughtered animals and threw trash right in the street. The filth and stench were enough to make a person pass out, and at times one did.

Kalighat is Mother Teresa’s home for the dying, and it was her desire that all of those who came would die with dignity, knowing that they are loved, cherished and wanted. While at Kalighat, we would be washing the patients clothes with our hands and feet and see dead bodies and amputations being brought in and out. But these were not just bodies or body parts, these were the bodies of precious souls who had suffered until the very last moment of their lives. These were souls who had died with dignity. One woman there, who suffered from brain cancer, particularly captured my heart and showed me what it was like to die with dignity.

Early one morning one of the nurses called me over to the bedside of this dying woman. She asked me to help her cut the skin covering her deteriorating skull, which then fully exposed her worm invested brain. Looking at this woman’s brain was like studying the brain in a biology book. I’ll never forget the look on her face as we proceeded to pull worms out of her brain with a tweezer and the way in which she would squeeze my hand to alleviate the immense pain she was in, as we had no pain medication to give her.

The last day I served at Kalighat was an incredibly hard day, as I didn’t want to leave her. I loved just sitting with her and holding her hand. She never smiled at me or made eye contact, which I attributed to the excruciating amount of pain she was in.

During my last hour at Kalighat, I got some cream and lathered her whole body at least five times as she slept; her skin was so dry that the cream would immediately dry up. Before I left, I wanted her to know that someone loved her a great deal; I wanted her to feel the love she had given to me.

Ten minutes before I left Kalighat for the summer, I placed both my hands on her head and prayed over her as she slept. My last prayer for her was that if God willed it, He would take away her pain for as long as He desired and give it to me so she could die knowing that she was incredibly loved. I wanted to feel what this woman felt. I prayed that if she felt loved, she would make eye contact with me and smile, something she had never done

Nothing happened and she continued to sleep as I traced the sign of the cross on her forehead. As I walked away, I turned to take one more glance at her, she had opened her eyes at this point and I ran back to her side. She reached for my hand and tenderly squeezed it, and for the first time it wasn’t a squeeze of pain. One tear fell from her right eye as she looked directly at me and smiled! I had tears in my eyes and got the chills in the 115 degree heat.

This woman died with dignity. 

While watching this woman die I learned from her that suffering has a purpose. She never spoke to me, but she didn’t have to, her example was sufficient. Christ Himself, was a Man of few words, when He stood before Pilot He remained silent, He didn’t need to flaunt His power because He came to serve us. He came as a servant to die for us, so that we could have life. Suffering has meaning because we are called to mirror Christ, we are called to lay down our lives for one another and for each person this will look different.

But we can all share in the same beauty of offering our suffering up for the good of another. Imagine seeing Christ face to face when you die and hear, Well done My good and faithful servant. You suffered well for Me. That gives me goosebumps just typing that and I desire nothing more in my life than to hear those words from Our Father. I literally have tears in my eyes right now because I think that’s so beautiful how we can love one another through our suffering.

Who are we to know what God had planned? Maybe He is sending us a certain trial or illness to test our faith? To draw us closer to Himself? Maybe He has a miraculous healing in store? Maybe He wants us to suffer to lead others to Him? We just don’t know. And we can’t play God, His plan is a mystery.

Someone might argue, well that’s easy for you to say since you don’t have an incurable illness. And they would be correct, I don’t. But I do know that God doesn’t send us anything we can not handle with His grace. 

Suffering is a gift – though, like all gifts, it depends on how we receive it. And that is why we need a pure heart, to see the hand of God, to feel the hand of God, to recognize the gift of God in our suffering. – Blessed Mother Teresa

P.S. You are enough.

For All of My Single Ladies

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By Kathryn Gibbs | Guest Blogger

Photo credit: Donna Irene Photography

A lot of my friends right now are struggling in their singleness, either battling the shame of past decisions or the hurt of past relationships. While I understand what they are feeling, I think that maybe God gives us those experiences, along with the hurt, to know what we deserve, who we are capable of loving and what we should refuse to settle upon. There are so many of us ladies who get weighed down by what we believe a man to be – with thoughts like, what if no guy out there finds me desirable? or  Oh I’ll never find a man with all those qualities. Or (my personal cynical favorite), well all guys are like that. But maybe those assumptions, regretful memories, and past hurts are the devil’s way of holding us down from hoping there could be anything better, that our hearts are capable of more, a love story that God Himself has designed.

Just like love is a choice, hope is a choice and I get to choose to hope. I get to choose to hope that one day, I will gaze upon a handsome, faithful man in a sharp suit who will be my husband, waiting for me at the altar. I get to choose to be hopeful for the men in my life, which includes my brothers in Christ who are struggling with their own crosses. I get to choose to let Christ surprise me with a love story far better than my simple-minded limitations could give me.

Just like all women, I want a man who will fight for me, who will pursue my heart and see the beauty God has created in me, but somehow I forget. I forget that Christ is a Man who always chooses me and constantly fights for me on the cross, never giving up on winning my affection. We forget that what we yearn for in our hearts has been placed there by a God who yearns even more to be desired by us. Jesus is always at the altar, wanting to give of Himself entirely. Christ is pursuing you, giving you an example of how a man should be pursuing you – actively, relentlessly, unconditionally. He is the world’s biggest romantic (just look at any sunset) and He wants to give you every desire your heart longs for.

In order to do that, He wants you to first know who He is as Love before He can replicate that in your life. He wants you to know who you are, even if that means making the dark corners of your heart vulnerable to Him. If you’re going through a dark time of heartbreak or doubt, give Jesus a chance to romance you, as corny as they may initially sound. When I find myself caught in moments of isolation or loneliness, I ask Christ, Could You show me how You love me today? Could you wrap Your Arms around me right now so I find strength in Your embrace?

Sometimes I think Christ gives us periods of heartbreak and singleness to cry out to us, “No, no my darling, can’t you see how much I long to hear from you in the same way you long to hear from him? Don’t you see how I long to be noticed by you in the way you long to be noticed by him? That I wait for you in the same way you wait for him? That I don’t want you to let Me go in the same way that you don’t want him to let you go?”

I think, as women, if our hearts ached for Christ in the same way that our hearts ache after a bad break-up, we would recognize more how we are truly capable of being loved and how we should be loved.

Ladies, if you are struggling right now, wishing your situation was different or dwelling in the shame of past guilt, God is right there with you by your side, especially in the moments where you find yourself thinking, How am I going to get past this? and Why does this have to hurt so much? Let God hold you in His healing Arms today, He can bear looking into the hurt in your heart and would be honored to do that for you, trust me. And just remember, you can embrace the pain, heck, even after His resurrection, Christ still had scars. But you are not defined by those wounds, have confidence in Our Good Father that He knows all of His daughter’s needs. Here’s a prayer that has helped me along that way that might help you too.

Be Satisfied with Me (by St. Anthony of Padua)

Everyone longs to give themselves completely to someone,
To have a deep soul relationship with another,
To be loved thoroughly and exclusively.

But to a Christian, God says, “No, not until you are satisfied,
Fulfilled and content with being loved by Me alone,
With giving yourself totally and unreservedly to Me.
With having an intensely personal and unique relationship with Me alone.

Discovering that only in Me is your satisfaction to be found,
Will you be capable of the perfect human relationship,
That I have planned for you.
You will never be united to another
Until you are united with Me.
Exclusive of anyone or anything else.
Exclusive of any other desires or longings.
I want you to stop planning, to stop wishing, and allow Me to give you
The most thrilling plan existing, one you cannot imagine.
I want you to have the best. Please allow Me to bring it to you.

You just keep watching Me, expecting the greatest things.
Keep experiencing the satisfaction that I am.
Keep listening and learning the things that I tell you.
Just wait, that’s all. Don’t be anxious, don’t worry
Don’t look around at things others have gotten
Or that I have given them
Don’t look around at the things you think you want,
Just keep looking off and away up to Me,
Or you’ll miss what I want to show you.
And then, when you’re ready, I’ll surprise you with a love
Far more wonderful than you could dream of.

You see, until you are ready, and until the one I have for you is ready,
I am working even at this moment
To have both of you ready at the same time.
Until you are both satisfied exclusively with Me
And the life I prepared for you,
You won’t be able to experience the love that exemplified your relationship with Me.
And this is perfect love.

And dear one, I want you to have this most wonderful love,
I want you to see in the flesh a picture of your relationship with Me.
And to enjoy materially and concretely the everlasting union of beauty, perfection and love that I offer you with Myself.
Know that I love you utterly. I Am God.
Believe it and be satisfied.

P.S. You are enough.

Pornography: Women Struggle Too

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By Marriana Leach

Photo credit: Donna Irene Photography

“Why am I doing this? I don’t want to. I do not want to do this. I hate it. It’s not worth it. It’s not worth it. It’s not going to make me happy. What is wrong with me? This is not who I want to be. Why can’t I just stop?”

These are the thoughts that go through an addict’s mind when they’re on the verge of a relapse. I know, because I’ve been there more times than I could count. I know what it’s like to feel chained to something you hate, to feel pulled towards something that kills you. I know what it’s like to finally feel as though it’s over; you’re free; it’ll never happen again. Then you to run back to the poison, hating it the whole time. You hate that you want it. You hate that you’re doing it. You hate yourself when it’s done. For some people, the “poison” is drinking, or drugs, or an eating disorder. For me, it’s lust.

When I was a little girl, I was ridiculously introverted. My best friends were books, and that’s how I liked it. I read everything I could get my hands on and my parents didn’t always monitor what I was reading. Why should they? It was just a book! I remember the first time I stumbled upon one of those pathetic “romance” novels. I was eleven years old and, though I’d heard about the birds and the bees, I was not ready for the explicit content I found in what I’d thought was a love story. I remember being surprised by the graphic scenes. I re-read them a few times, out of curiosity more than anything else, but then I put the book down. It was so poorly written, I didn’t want to keep reading. I didn’t even know the term at the time, but that was my first exposure to pornography.

As I got older, life got harder.  My daddy was once my superhero, but by the time I was in middle school, he had become distant. Eventually distance turned into emotional and physical abuse. The bruises healed, but the heartbreak stayed. I remember sobbing because I didn’t understand what I’d done to make him hate me. Why wasn’t I good enough anymore? What did I do wrong? I became desperate for his approval, for approval in general. I realize now that I was looking for someone to rescue me, to cherish me, to see a beauty in me worth protecting. I was desperate for authentically masculine love.

Middle school provided a crash course in over-sexualized language. I was shy and innocent, and guys in my class would tell me dirty jokes just to watch me blush. I remember googling the word “masturbation” because I didn’t know what it meant. Some things are better left unlearned. Not too long after that, I came across another one of those novels, and this time the scenes stuck with me. I was already spending hours imagining different ways I might escape from the chaos at home, and “love” stories became another means of running away. Little did I know there was actually a physical, neurochemical dependency forming in my brain, just as though I’d been smoking crack. Pornography is a drug, and like any other addict, I spiraled. Before long, I’d graduated from reading trashy novels to watching hardcore videos. I tried to stop, but I always went back, and I hated myself for it. I stopped believing I would ever be free. I stopped hoping.

I remember hearing several chastity talks throughout my high school career. The women’s sessions were always about beauty, body image, modesty, and dating. The guys would be in the next room over, being offered encouragement, resources, and accountability to help them get rid of their lust addictions. No one ever acknowledged that women could struggle too. Never. I felt so alone. I felt as though I was struggling with something I didn’t have a right to struggle with. People always joked about how “pure” and “innocent” I was. They said I was beautiful, but I was convinced if they ever found out my secret, they’d be disgusted. I felt so dirty. My body image and self worth plummeted, and I grasped for control in dieting. I tried to believe it when people told me I was beautiful, but I was never convinced. The porn crippled my ability to love and be loved. My addiction wounded my femininity.

I now know that, as a woman, beauty is intrinsic to who I am. Despite what Cosmo may think, it’s not something that can be painted on or photoshopped out. Beauty is literally written into my feminine soul, and it’s intertwined with my desire to be radically loved. That’s why the porn was killing me. Every single time I tried to escape into a fantasy, I was yearning for someone to want me, to cherish me, to be captivated by me. I was desperately yearning to be loved. The thing is, lust is a counterfeit. It promised to fulfill my desires, but it always left me empty. It’s like drinking salt water when you’re dying of thirst. No matter how many times I went back, no matter how much farther I was willing to go in search of the high, it could never satisfy me. I was made for greater things. I was made for love.

Despite my dark secret, I was actively learning about and promoting chastity. I felt like a total hypocrite, but there was a truth about the chastity message that made me feel alive, so I kept coming back. The more I learned, the more I wanted it. As I formed relationships with like-minded people, I encountered men who truly loved me for who I was, not for how I looked or what I could do. The respect with which they treated me communicated that I was someone precious, and I began to believe in my beauty again. I met women I could trust, and I was able to open up about my struggle. They didn’t think I was disgusting; if anything, they loved me more, and they told me so. To this day, they encourage me and offer me the accountability I need. Love has changed my life. I’ve also learned one crucial piece of truth: I was never alone.

Over the last few years, many women, from seventh grade girls to forty-five year old housewives have shared with me that they too struggle with lust. Current statistics say one in seven women is battling a pornography addiction. Others have stayed clear of porn, but masturbation is crippling them. Others are seeking affirmation in sexting, chat rooms, hook-ups, and sexual relationships. Most of the women who approach me say something along the lines of, “I want to tell you something, but you’ll never look at me the same way again.” They expect me to see what they’ve done, but the reality is, when one of my sisters is vulnerable enough to share her struggle with me, she’s not showing me what she’s done. She’s showing me her heart, and every single time, I am awed by her beauty. No one hasever done so much that they can’t start over. We are human and we make mistakes, but we can always be made new. We can always be set free. If you are reading this and you feel chained by lust and the shame it brings, please, let these words sink in. It is never too late. You are not alone. There is hope. I encourage you – no, I beg you – reach out. Ask for help, and let love light up your darkness.

Sometimes people ask me what it’s like to not struggle anymore. Then I laugh. I’ve learned a few things on this crazy journey, and one of them is that freedom isn’t about crossing a finish line and never looking back. Freedom is the race. Freedom is choosing authentic love right now, in this moment. Freedom is knowing I am beautiful with my imperfections. It’s saying even if I fall again in the future, I swear, I will get up again. I will never, ever stop fighting. Freedom is choosing to believe I am not the sum of my failures; It’s rejecting shame. Freedom is vulnerability and honesty. It’s in giving and receiving authentic, selfless love.

The culture promised me lust could satisfy my desires, but it turns out my desires are too great for lust. Now I know love, and I know freedom, and I know what it is to be fully alive, and I am forever changed. I look forward to the day when the rest of our culture can say the same.

P.S. You are enough.

If you are a woman struggling with pornography and or a sex addiction, Marriana would love to hear from you. You can contact Marriana by emailing her at [email protected].

This article was originally published by The Culture Project. Click HERE to “like” The Culture Project on Facebook. And follow them on Twitter.

Growing Pains – My Recovery from an Eating Disorder

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By an Anonymous Guest Blogger.

Photo credit: Donna Irene Photography.

Rarely does any kind of fruitful growth happen without some discomfort.

Little 5’6” 120 pound me struggled to find peace in my changing body. Evolving into womanhood is not easy. It, like so many other countless things, requires a process. And a process requires patience.

I have journeyed the journey and walked the walk to find total acceptance of the woman God made me and the body He gave me, but each day it’s given anew, and the embrace comes anew.

In high school, I wrestled with the curves that marked my coming of age. Junior year was the hardest. I had gained weight from the sedentary lifestyle of recovery after tearing my PCL in a skiing accident that winter.  Growing up, I had never had to TRY to be skinny. I was always active and it was natural for me. But that winter on the couch, out of commission, took a toll on me.

I tipped the scales at 140 pounds and I resented myself for it. 

It was never diagnosed, but I can look back at the years following and see that I struggled with anorexia. I would go a full school day with only a corn muffin or an apple to sustain me. I would work out for hours at a time, take back to back spin classes, and weight-lift to help burn more fat.

The pounds did shed. And I can say that struggle as I did, I was always in touch with reality. I could see when I was losing weight and when I hit my target, and I would be happy then. The scale never dropped below 109. And I maintained an average of 115 with a rigorously restrictive diet and a time-consuming, compulsive work out plan. I did not miss a day at the gym. And I did not have peace in my body.

On Thanksgiving day, I declared myself a vegetarian, a concise and healthy way to cut calories and avoid the stuffed food coma nap on the couch. 

The following Easter of my senior year, I declared myself a vegan, an even more restrictive diet and a sure way of cutting calories and keeping the pounds from climbing onto my bones. I was trying to be healthy about it. But the veganism proved far too taxing on my body. After a month of it, I had lost fifteen pounds, weighing in at 100 meager pounds. Reason kicked in, and I knew I couldn’t continue at that pace, so I switched gears back to vegetarianism.

Freshman year of college started up and my oldest brother Joseph decided he would join me at Ave Maria University to complete his master’s while I embarked on my bachelor’s. Protective brother that he was, I think he knew I needed him.

I would eat at the cafeteria and opt only for salads, turning my nose up at the greasy fries and burgers loaded on friends’ plates. I would scrutinize my body and compare it to the curves, or lack thereof, of my peers. I would be jealous of the girls with boyish figures and squirm in my own womanly body. 

I would get depressed and binge. I would be invited out for dinner and decline. I would work out, then work out more. I would study, then study more. And if a paper kept me from my normal predinner work out, I would hit the gym at 1 am. EVERY day, I needed to sweat. It was how I controlled the fat from seeping onto my hips and waste.

Control.

That was what it came down to. And it was my brother, Joseph, who showed me that. 

On my birthday that November, he came to my dorm to surprise me with a piece of cake, topped with ice cream, sprinkles, and a lit candle. 

And my response wasn’t the one any healthy girl would have. Though I felt loved by the gesture, I was repulsed by the notion of eating something so unhealthy and so full of despised calories. 

I blew out the candle and thanked him, but told him I wasn’t hungry for any cake. 

Perceptive brother that he was, he looked into my eyes and asked why. It was the first time I had been confronted for my abnormally restrictive eating. He waited for an answer, and when no words came and his eyes were still searching mine for a reason, tears came. Because I want control. Because I’m afraid that if I indulge, I’ll want more, and I’ll give in to more, and then I’ll hate myself, and spend countless hours sweating in the gym to try to undo it. Because I hate my body and the way God made it. Because I wish I had no curves. Because I’m trying to be perfect and it’s HARD.

The philosopher in him did not react to my rash words, but responded to the eruption he had evoked. Years of holding back and not talking came out in one powerful protest. I thought I’d want to take all the words back. But I saw them scatter. They were gone and they were out of me. I was emptier, lighter, for the first time in years.

I felt the first wave of healing come over me. 

He did not judge me. He only looked at me with a flood of sympathy and compassion. In that moment I was not alone in my battle. 

There was a pause. And words exchanged. Words that struck my heart more than my memory. What I know is that he called me out, in loving, fraternal correction. He made me see how twisted my world was, how much my gaze was focused on ME, selfishly, and how sad that was.

He challenged me to start going to daily mass. So I did. And I started going to confession, to talk through my struggle with vanity and over-scrupulousness. In days of temptation to revert to my unhealthy self-absorbed ways, I would go to adoration, where I would kneel before the Blessed Sacrament and ask our Lord to empty me of me and fill me with Himself. 

And His grace was sufficient. He blessed me with a friend who pulled me from my self-imposed isolation. I began to model my eating after her. It was like therapy. I witnessed her eat FULL meals and not gain weight. I didn’t know this was possible. We worked out together, in moderation. She taught me to balance my life, through her own beautiful, natural, ordered, lived example.

She showed me what freedom from compulsion looked like. 

My weight stabilized without a battle. I thought less and less about the number on the scale. I thought more and more about the friendships I was making. 

God pulled me out of the trenches I had been stuck in for so long. And there was Joy.

Why do I share this story? I share it because I don’t think I was as alone as I thought I was. I think the crosses I carried are crosses shared by many women. And I want to help them. 

I want to share 10 seeds of practical wisdom–learned and lived advice–for any woman struggling with an eating disorder (whether it’s diagnosed or not):

PRAY. Surrender your struggle to Christ, and He will help you. If you don’t know what to pray, repeat the same intention again and again. “Lord, take me from myself and give me to yourself.”; “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew as steadfast spirit within me”; “Lord, let there be less of me and more of you;” “Lord, help me to love myself as you love me.”

TALK. We are weakest when we think we are alone. But the truth is, we are never alone. Find counsel, and open up.

BE STRUCTURED. Commit to three solid meals a day. Have a work out routine. The ordered life is the sanctified life. Strive for holiness in the minute virtues of daily living.

DON’T SNACK. Snacking lends itself to disorder. If you need something to carry you through from one meal to the next, limit it to whole nuts or fresh fruits and veggies.

DRINK WATER. All day. It’s so good for your body and your energy level. Want some flavor? Squeeze a lemon into it or infuse it with cucumber or fresh mint!

BE COMMUNAL. Going out with friends is GOOD FOR YOU! It will bring laughter to your life, and keep you from idleness, the devil’s best friend. Try to make eating more about the communal aspect than about self-indulgence. One of the best Lenten sacrifices I made was when I gave up eating alone for the full 40 days. It taught me total detachment from my own appetite, and it enforced the importance of sharing meals Eucharistically. 

DON’T LOOK AT THE NUMBERS ON THE SCALE. Just focus on being healthy, all around. Muscle weighs more than fat, anyway.

STOP THINKING ABOUT YOU. Think about others.

FOCUS ON THE POSITIVES. It’s tempting to tell ourselves what we should NOT be doing – “Don’t eat now”; “Don’t think about food”; “Don’t crave that piece of cake.” But the problem with this way of thinking is that it puts all your energy into what you should NOT be thinking about. So instead, build your thought process around what you want to be doing rather than eating. Go fishing”; “Write thank you notes”; “Tidy up the house”; “Start an art project” – Think about all the action-oriented good that there is to be enjoyed in life, and pursue it!

REJOICE IN YOUR BEAUTY AND THE BEAUTY OF OTHERS. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of comparison. The truth is, however, that we are all incredibly unique. There are all different kinds of beautiful! When you see someone whose beauty catches your eye, thank God for the gift of His creation! Do not scowl that your eyelashes are not as long as hers; that your legs are not as toned as hers; that your hair is not as flawlessly styled as hers. This kind of thought leads to jealousy, and that’s poison for the soul.  Instead, admire what it is that makes her beautiful. Learn from her. And rejoice for what makes you YOU.  God admires you! Let His love radiate through everything.

P.S. You are enough.

To my girls

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By Sarah Kroger | Music Artist & Guest Blogger

Photo credit: Donna Irene Photography

“Jesus is the one who sees you when you feel the most invisible.”

This past weekend I had the honor of serving at a women’s conference in Dallas. It had been a great day already, filled with joy and powerful moments of prayer. There I was, just quietly listening to a beautiful talk by Sister Amata (of the Sisters of Life). All of a sudden, my mind just stopped. I couldn’t get past that line. “Jesus is the one who sees you..when you feel the most invisible.” I don’t know why it struck me so much in that moment. All I know is that I couldn’t shake it.

God sees us. He knows us by name. He doesn’t want us to hide. He wants us to draw near.

So why do we still hide sometimes?

I’ve been skinny my whole life. It doesn’t matter what size or age you are, self-image is almost always an issue for women. I remember countless times being made fun of for my weight in middle school. Girls would come up to me and ask if I was anorexic. The lies started. I remember thinking, “Maybe if I was just a little bit bigger, I would be pretty.” I was constantly judging myself on the way my legs looked in shorts or the way my arms looked bony in a sleeveless top. Even though I had a loving mom who told me I was beautiful, I couldn’t shake the pressure for perfection at school. I was the only one in my group of friends that didn’t date until college. Enter in a whole other set of lies. I felt like I wasn’t good enough for anyone. I wasn’t interesting enough, pretty enough, funny enough, smart enough, I was too into my faith etc. It seemed like a non-stop attack from the enemy. The pressures built and built until one day, I heard a message that changed my life forever. It was a simple message that I had heard before, but it had never quite stuck until my youth minister drilled it into us at a women’s session on a retreat.

Jesus loves me. He has claimed me as His.

You see, to the God of the universe, I am everything. I matter. I am loved beyond comprehension. The God who made the stars made every single piece of my body and He loves every single piece. No matter what size it is. No matter what the world thinks is acceptable or pleasing. He loves every single part. He even loves my forgetful mind, my crazy emotions, my (sometimes) klutzy side. He sees me when I feel my ugliest, in my darkest moments of temptation, in joy, in sorrow, in every season. Whether people see me as smart or funny or love able, God sees me. God takes me, just as I am. And the same is true for you, dear sisters.

If we truly believed this, if we as women knew, without a shadow of a doubt, our dignity and value in the Lord, I know this world would be a different place.

There is a song I’ve been listening to recently that has brought a lot of healing to my heart on this matter recently. It’s called “Wonder” by Bethel. The lyrics talk about being caught up in wonder and awe of God, and seeing beauty in everything He does.

May we never lose our wonder

Wide eyed and mystified, may we be just like a child

Starring at the beauty of the King

You are beautiful in all your ways

While I know that the song is supposed to be us singing to God, I can’t help but hear God singing it over me.

I know it’s not as easy as hearing a “God loves you!” message to get over the lies that you’ve maybe struggled with for years. It has taken me a long time to get to the point of loving my body, the way God made it. It’s taken me a long time to let Him draw close and show me exactly what He loves about me. Today, don’t be afraid to let God see you. To let God see the mess. To talk to Him about your struggles. Ask Him to show you exactly how He sees you. Pray for the grace to see yourself through His eyes every. single. day. Surround yourself with people who see you as Christ does. This life is too short to hate the way you look. It is a daily choice to see yourself as beautiful and good.

This is my prayer today. That we as women may always be in awe of who God has made us to be / is making us to be. That we never lose sight of the amazing, beautiful, powerful ways He formed us in His image. May we never forget that when we glance in the mirror, we are staring at a reflection of the beauty of the King. May we know that He makes our ways beautiful. He makes everything beautiful. He has the power to create a stunning portrait out of the messy pieces of our lives.

Jesus sees you, today and every day. His heart is on fire with love for you. Just as you are.

P.S. You are enough.

This post was originally published on Sarah’s Tumblr. Check out Sarah’s website and “like” her on Facebook. She has amazing talent.

The Virgin Woman

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By Erin McNew | Staff Writer

Photo credit: Donna Irene Photography

As women, we get caught up in the beliefs of the world. We get caught up in the world’s thinking that we have to wear this new cosmetic or have this new hairstyle in order to be beautiful in the eyes of our male counterparts. We get caught up in all of these material things and forget that we can establish beauty in the eyes of others simply through our decisions and our actions.

Did you know that purity is beautiful? I believe that committing your body to the Lord before a man makes you beautiful. And as many mornings as I wake up, do my hair, put on make-up, and throw on a dress, in my heart I know that I’m beautiful without all those things.

Purity, chastity, and virginity have all come to be somewhat strange words for men and women I believe. For so many individuals they’ve grown to be inherently intimidating or fear inspiring words. And coming from someone who strives to adopt those words to their identity in the eyes of Christ, I find that kind of sad. I find it discouraging to know that the decisions of myself and others have grown to be things that have the potential to make a person undesirable and strange. Because I feel as if that’s discounting a personal choice. And, honestly, sometimes it’s almost discounting a personal feat.

I would venture to say that humans have the inherent desire to be sexually active once they come of a particular age. And that to refrain from that desire is almost to refrain from instinct. Not to flatter myself or anything, but it takes a lot of strength and focus not to act on those desires. And it takes a lot of wisdom to be able to recognize those things that will increase those desires within you. Humans have a natural want to live in communion with others. And it’s difficult to remind your mind and your heart that sex doesn’t guarantee that when your body is telling you it does.

For those who don’t understand why purity is in some sense of the word attractive, I would honestly venture to say they don’t understand. Hard work is attractive. Passion is attractive. Cleanliness is attractive. And, just as those things apply to our lives in general, they apply to purity and chastity. An individual who works hard to preserve the best of their physical self for a spouse they have yet come to know is attractive. An individual who has a passion for the Lord and his promises of redemption, healing, and new life is attractive. And an individual who pursues cleanliness of heart that it might function properly in the context of love and affection is attractive.

I commend the man who ventures to pursue the heart of a chaste woman. Because each and every day I’m becoming increasingly well acquainted with the difficulties this brings. It’s hard to mold your heart to a value it does not inherently hold for itself in the interest of another. I get that. I get the questions that must go through your head. I get that you must wonder if it’s worth it. I get that friction and frustration must be encountered when you desire something your significant other refuses. But I’m telling you that despite any argumentation or spats that may result from this disjunction, she appreciates your effort. It’s hard. It’s hard to justify expecting that of someone for the sake of nothing but your own heart. But there’s little you respect more than someone willing to try. The human heart is well versed in the art of empathy. And it’s in that art in which so much of your strength lies. It’s that art that lead our Savior to give his life for us. And it’s that art that gives romance a heartbeat. For love is not a selfish endeavor, but rather on that thrives in an environment bathed in selflessness.

Your body is woven from the light of heaven. Are you aware that its purity and swiftness is the envy of angels and its courage keeps even devils away. 

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:4

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. –  1 John 4:18

P.S. You are enough.