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Anne Marie – My Precious Baby Girl

june 16

By Christi Marcheschi | Guest Blogger

Today marks one month…

It was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. We had reached the 20 week mark and gathered up our two little ones in excitement as we headed to the doctor’s office for the big ultrasound. The ultrasound tech squeezed that cold jelly all over my stomach and started pointing out our baby’s face, spine and…. I knew she was going to say “heartbeat” but she hesitated and the flicker of excitement in me died. She searched and searched, but it simply was not there. I nodded my head in acceptance as she expressed her sympathy and I covered my mouth as I burst into tears. After the tech left the room, Matt embraced me with our two little girls in arm and we all cried together, completely heart-broken that we’d never get to welcome this precious life into our home.

Gianna, almost 3, tried to wrap her little mind around what this might mean. During those intense moments and in the weeks ahead, she would astound me with the compassion and incredible faith she showed. While still at the doctor’s, she knelt down on the cold, tile floor clasping her hands and prayed, “Lord, please help the baby in mommy’s tummy to grow.” When the 2nd ultrasound confirmed that our baby indeed had passed, she gently placed her hand on  my shoulder and with a concerned expression said, “Sometimes these things happen, sweetheart.” I fought back the tears again as I thanked God for the gift of Gianna and the strength she was bringing me.

It was no coincidence that we miscarried our first baby at 6 weeks, four years previous, on the very same feast of our Lady. Matt’s Uncle Graz gave us a beautiful reflection over the phone that night that began to carry me through this impossible time. He pointed out that Mary must be asking us to share in her suffering. Each time the pain of tears pierced my heart, I began seeing Our Lady weeping over the death of her only Son at the cross.

The nights ahead would be the most heart-wrenching nights of my life. Every night I awoke hysterically crying, wondering how this could have possibly happened. Only 1% of pregnancies end in late-term miscarriage. Why us? Had I done something wrong? Could this have been prevented? What are you trying to teach me, Lord? I clung to Him, more than ever. The words of John 6:68 echoed in my heart: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” I knew I could get angry at God and that He would be big enough to handle it. But, I just couldn’t bring myself to it. I’ve experienced life without Him and found it wanting. To whom else would I go? I know deep in my heart of hearts that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

So many graces began flowing. Mom flew in that night to be with Matt and I during the delivery the next morning–it meant the world to have her here! Our nurses were the most compassionate women I could have ever hoped for. They treated us with such kindness and our baby with such dignity. The process of delivery seemed something from hell, as it took over 4 times as long as it “should” have, but even through the pain I was able to maintain a peace about it all. After 26 hours, Anne Marie was born. Our doctor cut her from the amniotic sac, folded her tiny hands, wrapped her in a blanket and handed her gently to me. Having prepared for the worst, we all marveled at how perfect her little features were. In many states, it is perfectly legal to kill babies her size, throw them out as if they have no dignity or worth, and my heart just broke at the thought of it…at the thought of any baby being cast aside in abortion! I counted all ten fingers and all ten toes and soaked up all the beauty that was Anne Marie. We had 9 precious hours to hold her, sing with her, pray with her, cry over her and celebrate her. Matt’s parents  and some dear friends came to share in these sacred moments with us and we treasured being able to share the gift of her. After 36 hours in the hospital, we said our goodbyes, entered into the bitter cold of the night and headed home.

The laughter and kisses from Gianna and Gemma helped me through the day, but the nights left me feeling empty, both literally and in my heart. I felt so alone, so dead inside, but felt a nudge inside, begging me to choose life. I refused to fall into despair, knowing that the cross is the path to Christ and even the path to true joy.

Over the next few days, we planned our daughter’s funeral and burial. We visited with the wonderful bereavement minister at St. Edna’s, picked up an infant casket that was graciously donated and bought a grave-site in the Holy Innocents section at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines (the same cemetery where Matt’s grandparents are buried).

Somewhere I once heard that suffering is easier when you look up, towards the cross. Christ never desired for us to undergo suffering, but in His infinite wisdom and love He does allow it. I trust that He brings good from all things, even though I won’t understand the bulk of it this side of Heaven. What I do know is that through this most difficult time, there have been many graces that have put into my heart a great joy…an impossible joy. All this happened during Advent, our preparation for the birth of Christ. So many compassionate souls expressed their deep condolences to us and many told us how it would change Christmas for us forever. They were right. The joy of Christmas never shouted so loudly in my heart! We were made for Heaven..and then we screwed it all up. In God’s great mercy, He sent His only Son to suffer, die and rise again. All this to win me, to win you, a chance at Heaven, a chance at eternal union with our Lord all those who have gone before us.

There has undoubtedly been great sadness this past month, but there has also been joy! The joy of being inspired by my husband’s deep and constant faith and feeling more united to him than ever. The joy of being with and learning from my amazing daughters, Gianna and Gemma. The joy that has come from so many friends and family expressing their love and care for us. The joy I’ve found in sharing the story of Anne Marie and the sacred photos I was able to take of her. Above all, the joy of Christ…the one, the only lasting joy of this life and the next.

Life is truly a gift! Anne Marie, pray for us…

You can follow Christi’s blog by clicking HERE.

I’m Worth It and So Are You

oct 15

By Maura Byrne | Founder of Made in His Image

I receive hundreds of emails asking for help and one of the main questions I am asked is why I went to therapy and how I made it through. It is my hope that God will use the following to inspire those who need professional help to seek it out. Five years ago I was very sick and didn’t know what was wrong. I went to IPS (Institute for the Psychological Sciences) in Arlington, Virginia. While there, I participated in two full days of intensive psychological testing. It was one of the most emotionally and physically draining things I have ever encountered. Several weeks later I went back to hear my results. I was diagnosed with chronic post traumatic stress disorder due to various life experiences. Three doctors recommended for me to engage in intensive trauma therapy for two years.

The thought of getting help consumed me with trepidation.  Why should I go and reveal my heart and soul to a psychologist? In my naivety, I convinced myself that:

1. They will never understand.

2. I don’t even know how to form words to describe how much it hurts to a friend, let alone a stranger. 

3. I can’t afford it.

4. I’m scared and the thought of talking to someone makes me shake with nervousness. 

5. What if the people who hurt me find out that I told?

6. If I get help I’m displaying a sign of weakness. 

Well, after completing a year and half of intense trauma therapy I can tell you from my heart that:

1. There are doctors that genuinely care and understand. They might not have experienced the same difficulties you have, but are trained extensively to help you. It takes tremendous faith and trust on your part to trust them.

2. There are countless ways to express your pain and struggles. It will take time, but you can start slowly and build up to revealing more. You can also draw as well to express your feelings, trauma and emotions. Art therapy is very common and helped me tremendously.

3. I worked 7 days a week in the beginning to pay for the care I needed. In addition, I was awe-struck at the generosity of my doctors who made my care affordable for me. Two doctors never even sent me a bill for thousands of dollars of care they administered. They wrote off the entire bill. One receptionist told me “In his twenty-five years of practice I have never seen him not bill a patient.” People genuinely want to help and it’s good for wounded hearts to receive love through others generosity.

4. It’s okay to be scared. I would actually be concerned if you weren’t. When I first met my doctor I was terrified. I had only spoken with him once on the phone and the sound of his voice frightened me. I knew God wanted me to see him; I knew in my heart He wanted me to take this leap of faith. So I packed everything I owned into my Honda Accord and moved to Tennessee. If it didn’t fit in my car I left it behind. The first time I met my doctor in person, I knew everything was going to be okay. He was one of the most gentle, patient, faithful and educated doctors I had ever encountered. Was I still scared despite those characteristics I listed about him? Of course, as that is only natural, but sometimes, we are our own worst enemies. We need to learn to trust those who are deserving of our trust.

After God, I credit him for my healing. Made in His Image would never have been possible without him. He now sits on the Board of Directors for Made in His Image.

5. Contrary to what I thought, you are exhibiting tremendous courage and strength in seeking out professional help. It might not feel as if you are, but you are. Your vulnerability, bravery, determination and perseverance will shine through the darkness, it simply takes time.

I sat in Arlington, Virginia at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences (IPS) when Dr. Kathryn Benes compared me to a solider returning from war. Dr. Benes is the Director of the Catholic-based Psychology Ministry at Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Denver. Prior to moving to Colorado, she served as an Associate Professor and the Director of the training Clinic at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences. Dr. Benes also developed a nationally recognized, diocesan-wide mental health program that ultimately became a doctoral-level psychology internship site in the Nebraska Internship Consortium in Psychology, an institution accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). This program is currently the only APA-accredited internship site in the nation that is specifically designed to train psychologists from a Catholic perspective.

Seeing Dr. Benes’ credentials and hearing what she said about me helped reshape my thought process. Also my brother is a Captain in the Marine Corps and has served two missions overseas, if I knew he needed help I would encourage him to get it. And would most certainly not think him weak for receiving that care. I would think him tremendously courageous for embracing what needs to be dealt with, instead of simply ignoring it. Why didn’t I see myself as worthy of the same care? Why wasn’t I good enough to receive help? 

I wrestled with those thoughts and came to discover my dignity as His daughter worthy of care. Our Father desired nothing more than to provide, protect and take care of me in my illness and beyond and His generosity is boundless. He simply asks us to trust Him.

Will you not let Him provide for you the same way?

Question: I can’t seem to get inside the doctor’s office for therapy, can you help me? I’m asked this a lot.

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps you could try something similar? Think of something or someone who you would like to offer your therapy sessions up for and proceed courageously from there. You can do it and Made in His Image is here to support you along your journey of healing.

Another question I’m asked a lot: I’m so tired after therapy, is that normal?

Be at peace, it is completely normal to be tired after therapy. Therapy is hard work, it was harder for me to complete therapy, than to be a Division 1 athlete. Due to the nature of what you are talking about it is completely normal for you to feel physically and emotionally drained. You are engaging your mind, memory and senses in events that were/are exceedingly traumatic or painful for you. And this requires energy, which is the reason you are tired.

Something that I did, that you might consider trying, is to take it easy after your therapy sessions. I would always go pray afterwards, then do something relaxing, for example: take a nap, go for a walk, write, draw, go for coffee with a friend, or something fun. Perhaps you could try to do something painless and easy after your therapy sessions too.

Also, it’s okay to cry too when it hurts. Trust me, I did plenty of crying before, during and after my sessions. And remember, crying doesn’t mean you’re weak.

Imagine if you ran a marathon, what would you do afterwards? You would relax, refuel and take it easy, right? Picture therapy as your marathon. Therefore, you need to relax afterwards and realize that it’s okay to be tired. Would you get upset at yourself if you were tired after a marathon? Of course not!  Now apply the same mindset to your therapy sessions.

As a runner, it’s easy for me to compare life situations to running. But if you aren’t a runner, you can easily compare it to something else that you do on a regular basis.

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen. – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

 P.S. You are enough.

Our Engagement

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By Mary Jean Lanzilotti | Guest Blogger

We were waiting for the moment. The moment our lives would be offered, and thus received. The morning of my 24th birthday, I sat down to reflect and write. Searching for something of substance, I picked up one of my favorite books, He and I by Gabrielle Bossis. It read:

“Your keynote for the year: Believe in Love. Have faith in My Love. Let me create Love in you.”

And so it has been for us a year of believing in love, having faith in  love, and letting God create love within us anew.

Our story is very much a love story. And I attest that primarily to Trev’s masculinity. His persevering pursuit of his bride. And the way he invites me, in the words of Kenny Chesney, to just be the woman with him.

I spent the month of July 2013 in Florence, Italy studying art at the Sacred Art School of Firenze, discerning a three year masters program abroad. For eight hours a day I sculpted, I painted, I drew, and I created in the studio. On the weekends I traveled. I held in my hands what had been for three years my dream. And in that time I realized that God had grown in me–over the past nine months of dating Trevor–a new dream: one of life with him.

On Thursday, July 18, Trevor boarded a plane in Newark, NJ with ring in pocket. He landed in Rome, Italy on Friday morning at 7:45. That same Friday morning, I woke up at 5 and boarded a 6 o’clock train to Rome. By 10 am we were holding each other within the arms of our Mother Church in Vatican City.

We strolled down the streets of Trastevere, a small neighborhood south of Vatican City. Its name comes from the Latin, trans Tiberim, meaning literally “beyond the Tiber” and it’s one of my favorite parts of Rome.

A bolt of thunder cracked and within minutes we were harboring under the shelter of a quaint bar sipping on cappuccino watching rain stampede cobblestone streets. I think God wanted us to talk. We put it all–all our thoughts, hopes, fears, inhibitions, feelings–on the red and white gingham clothed table. And we agreed that in God’s time–perhaps a few weeks or months, but certainly after I was settled and stable back in the States, we would take the next step toward marriage. I left that conversation with the deep peace of trusting Trevor’s leadership in our relationship, knowing that the time he chose would be the best time and letting go any whimsical hopes of taking that leap in Italy.

That night, we met with one of Trevor’s dearest confidantes, Fr. Geno, at La Nocetta, a quiet and capacious restaurant outside the hustle and bustle of busy streets of Rome.

I found out after all was said and done that Fr. Geno was in on Trev’s scheming all along. But more on that later. Our night together ended with a drive over to Piazza Garibaldi–a beautiful view and a beautiful memory.

DAY 2 in Rome: July 20, 2013 (THE DAY WE GOT ENGAGED!!!!)

We woke early. After some strong espressos and cappuccinos and a power breakfast here, we started our adventures. By 8 am our feet were climbing the 551 steps to the Vatican cupola. The higher we got, the tighter space became, especially for 6’4″ Trev. But he kept that smile glued to his face through the sweat and the cramped spiraling staircases.

And boy was the view worth the climb.

Per Fr. Geno’s counsel the night before, our goal for the day was to visit the four major basilicas of Rome. And so we set to it after our climb.

One visit after the next, we were in and out of taxis to make the most of our time. The whole day was in itself a big pilgrimage. I could write books on the beauty contained within each basilica–it was tremendously powerful to kneel before the chains of St. Paul; before what tradition maintains to be the remains of Christ’s manger; and in each basilica, before the Blessed Sacrament.

After a quick stop for some delicious Italian pizza, we were energized for a few more tourist hotspots, including the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. We even bought a little hand carved wooden giraffe! One of Trev’s favorite animals because “They’re always stickin’ their necks out for people.”

I remember Trev begging for a nap. And so we moseyed on back to Hotel Bramante for a true fashioned Italian riposo, where we napped from 3 to 5.

When we woke, Trev grabbed a bottle of wine and his rosaries and beckoned me to do the same.  I did, and followed him out to the hotel’s private garden where we sat and sipped and prayed.

By 5:30 it was time to get ready for our date. And by 7:00 pm our taxi rolled up in front of Ristorante al Quirinale where Fr. Geno had made reservations per Trevor’s well planned request.

We dined over the most delicious meal: wine; caprese salad, prosciuttoe melone, sea bass, tiramisu and espresso.

We talked about the beauty of the day; the beauty of the gift God had given us in each other. And about the desire to be all in. We left it at that.

Until after dinner. When we strolled up a big hill and climbed to the spectacular view of the Vatican we had been promised.

But what was more breathtaking than the view was the question that followed. I’m not sure I can describe it – really I can only remember flashes of what Trevor said when he got down on his knee and asked me to marry him. What I can say is:

Yes, it was a total and COMPLETE surprise.

Yes, he got down on one knee.

Yes, he had the ring and it was sparkling by the light of the moon.

Yes, he had my father’s (and mother’s and older brothers’) blessing.

Yes, I said YES!

One receives one’s life precisely when one offers it as gift.  - Pope Benedict XVI

You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful

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By Melissa St. Ledger | Guest Blogger | Chastity speaker for Generation Life

I love the video that blew up on YouTube titled, “Dove Real Beauty Sketches.” If you haven’t seen it, watch it. I won’t explain the premise, but just that it reminded me of the fact that most women in America are unsatisfied with their physical appearance. They do not think that they are beautiful at all. Why? Here is a clue: the problem is not that these women are not beautiful.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” While this may be a cute way of saying that the perception of beauty is subjective, I take it as something more than this. Beauty should be in the eye of everyone who beholds the body of a woman (or a man), because it is beauty which they are beholding. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. See the difference? If the viewer cannot see beauty, the problem is the eyes, not the subject.

American media and society has set impossible standards for physical “perfection” of women. They do this mostly through the means of photoshop. Clothing lines, film studios, and advertisement agencies pressure women to lose weight so that they can be the blueprint of perfection. Yet when these women have lost the pounds and weigh in at a not-so-healthy 108 lbs. at 5’10” as it was for the case of now ex-Victoria’s Secret Model Kylie Bisutti, their pictures are still edited to make them look even smaller. Left and right, models are ditching their scantilly-clad careers and turning to something more substantial – Faith. This was also the case for former American’s Next Top Model contestant, Leah Darrow, who now travels the country speaking to young ladies about true beauty.

Like any other woman, I have always wrestled with the question, “Am I beautiful?” During a chastity talk today with middle school girls I was almost brought to tears speaking about this topic. In looking around the room, I was absolutely convinced of their beauty and I told them this. However, I kept asking them, “Do you believe me? Do you believe that you are beautiful?” And their answers were the same. “Nope.” I wanted to cry. And then kick Victoria (if that’s even her real name) in the shins. I knew that I could never convince these little girls of their beauty. It would take the voice of the loving Father to do that, to undo all the knots and lies in their hearts.

So my prayer is that all women grow to understand their true beauty. And I’m not just talking about a cutesy inner-beauty. I am saying that every single inch of you, from your head to your toes, every pore and every hair is literally gorgeous! The kind of beauty that brings you to tears. But if our eyes are foggy and our heads are filled with media messages and rap videos, we will never see this. So put down the Cosmo and open your eyes.

Oh, and by the way, One Direction is wrong when they sing, “You don’t know you’re beautiful…and that’s what makes you beautiful.” You are allowed to know your beauty. In fact most men agree that confidence makes you even more attractive.

P.S. You are enough.

The Need to Lead

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By Craig Pytleski | Guest Blogger

Let’s face it. Society has let men get by when it comes to relationships. There is no accountability in place to ensure that men are living up to a specific standard. (Any standard at all for that matter…)

As a young man who has been involved in various facets of church ministry for the past 5 years, I’ve had the opportunity to lead in various positions. From dating relationships to friendships, project management to individual mentorship – I was asked to lead and responded. Why? Because there was an invitation – a door of opportunity was open and I walked through.

For a plethora of reasons (society, poor upbringing, etc…) many of these doors of opportunity to lead for men have been shut. Now, we both know that our society glorifies youth, looking young, feeling young, etc. Now, I don’t think youth is inherently a bad thing – not at all – but when we promote youth and being forever young we sometimes forget that we need to grow up. I’ve seen it and so have you, our peers living the life of a Perpetual Spring Break with no cares, no worries for anyone but the party or the next hookup. But that begs the question…What the heck is next? Who is going to take the lead? Who is going to grow up? The bottom line is that our culture and society desperately needs masculine leadership – masculine leadership inspired by you, our female counterparts.

Speaking for the majority (if not all) the men out there, we have a desire deep down in our beings to lead and to have a sense responsibility. Why? Responsibility provides a framework to our lives; it structures our minds to focus on things beyond our Xbox 360 or next career move. Responsibility is what makes men, men. As some may say, It’s the thing that separates the Men from the Boys. When we have underdeveloped men leading in our Fortune 500 companies, politics, or more importantly our families – the world suffers.

Now, how does this have to do with women? It has everything to do with women. We need you.

Men need women to invite them to lead. I’m not saying to tell us what to do, or where to lead. I am inviting you to allow your femininity to inspire the men around you to lead. Most men have a desire to lay their lives down, but many haven’t been invited to do so, or have been laying their lives down for the wrong thing (career or money). It just takes a little redirection, a shift in their mindset. To clarify, I’m not saying that women should stop working or leading in our society. Female leadership is just as important (and necessary) as male leadership – but as we have seen throughout history; if men aren’t invited to lead, most of them won’t and that is a terrible place to be, a world with no male leadership.

Ladies, we need you. We need you to help us lead, help invite us back into responsibility. PLEASE, affirm us when we do lead – we need that too. I can’t speak for all men out there, but to have someone by your side that affirms, challenges, encourages, and invites you into something greater than himself, greater than his puny vision for his life, into something greater – a life of leadership for others. That’s what we long for, an invitation to something greater than…well, us. I am sure that there is a cluster of men out there that are just waiting for the invitation. Go ahead! Invite us, we need you, just as much as you need us. Try it out; the world will be a better place if you do. Let’s drop the past and pick up the future.

P.S. You are enough.

Sexual Purity. Overrated?

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By Tim Scheidler | Staff Writer

Is sexual purity overrated? Simply put: absolutely not. But it can be… if it is motivated incorrectly.

There is no doubt that your virginity is one of the greatest gifts you can save for your spouse. There is no doubt that it is rare to save all – or even some – of your purity for marriage. There is no doubt that such rarity makes that gift even more valuable, and thus increases in worth every day that it is cherished.

But the important question is not: have you gone too far/hooked up/had sex or have you not? The important question is: why?

Why do we want to wait (or why does society/the church want us to wait) to give ourselves in marriage while at the same time we have the innate desire to unite with another? What motivates our battle for chastity? Is there a purpose behind the fight when it is just so hard? I understand the seemingly paradoxical nature of these questions because I struggle with them too, and I’ve lived them from almost every angle.

On one hand, physicality feels pleasurable. I know. I’m a sinner. I’ve gone too far, hooked up, felt physically blissful for a while, felt spiritually empty after that. But on the other hand, while I’ve done almost everything, I’ve also saved the final gift of sex for the future. Once again, the question is: why?

When I was younger, I decided to wait because I wanted someone to wait for me too. I was raised religiously and had been taught that you waited until marriage. And it was hard. So if I suffered through years of frustration, I wanted to get something for it. And in reading that, I hope you can spot the problem… Way too many references to “I” and “me” in there.

Out of that selfishness, I started to rationalize and make excuses. “If I love her, I want to express that love. We will just have to wait to have sex until we are married.” That is a slippery slope. And it opens the door to doing just about everything. Which is exactly what happened. So to all of you who have said similar words to yourself, who have gone too far with too many people, I’m here to tell you: me too.

Still, there was always an ever-present will to stay strong and to draw the line somewhere. Over the years I was in a number of different relationships, and I will always be grateful that my decision to wait was respected. It was incredibly tough. But the most valuable things in life are tough. So to those of you who have waited, who have suffered the pangs of loneliness, who have felt embarrassed that you’re waiting to experience what most others have, who think you’re the only one left out there, let me say: me too.

***

My mentality changed a few years ago – dramatically – when I discovered Theology of the Body. Nearly half a century ago, it was the first teaching that Saint John Paul II preached after becoming the pope, and it has become massively popular. Thanks to Christopher West, our current generation was reintroduced to it and is savoring every word. The more we get, the more we want. The public was starving for an antidote to the poisoned culture we live in; the culture that shoves sex-saturated everything down our throats. We have been craving something that orients our bodies and desires in the direction our hearts know they should be. Thank the Lord we found it. Theology of the Body is incredible in its depth, breadth, and beauty.

This became very real to me last year in daily Mass. That day the gospel shook me to the core. Before that morning my thoughts about Theology of the Body focused on the details: sexual doctrine, chastity, the rhythms shared between marriage and God’s union with each of us, healing from our sexual transgressions, the great harmony between this philosophy and all the rest of Catholic thought (it marries up perfectly).

In spite of all of this, I failed to grasp the fundamental foundation until I heard the words of Christ:

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say,
‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing,
but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’
Blind fools, which is greater, the gold,
or the temple that made the gold sacred?
And you say, ‘If one swears by the altar, it means nothing,
but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.’
You blind ones, which is greater, the gift,
or the altar that makes the gift sacred?”

I was awe-struck. So simple. So profound. So right.

After that morning I understood that underpinning the entire teaching of Theology of the Body is this central truth: we are vessels of the Holy Spirit. That makes us, and the gifts of ourselves, sacred precisely because we contain holiness. Caring more about the act of sex itself than the reason why it is precious is putting the cart before the horse.

Which is greater: the gift of our sexuality, or the altar, our bodies, imbued with the Spirit, that makes the gift of that sexuality sacred? The answer is simple. Our very bones, imbued with the Holy Spirit, retain a sacredness above what our actions can add to or subtract from.

This answer has profound implications. Because it means that if you have kept every bit of your sexual purity, you are valuable beyond measure. And if you have fallen in the past, you are valuable beyond measure. The answer always remains the same.

***

It is especially challenging to hear this message in a culture that tells all of us that true manhood conquers as many women as possible, as quickly as possible, as often of possible. Our society tells us to objectify, use, abuse, forget. This version of masculinity is completely false. True manhood requires that we lead, protect, and provide.

So guys, if you have waited for Miss Right, led her by example, protected her dignity, provided for her spiritually – and ladies, if you’ve done the same for Mr. Right – bravo to you. That is worthy of heartfelt congratulations and gratitude! Keep fighting the good fight!

And if you’ve stumbled, remember that if you’ve truly turned your life around, true chastity heals these wounds! Because chastity isn’t a list of things you can’t do. It is an all-encompassing recognition that for all people – single, married, those who waited, those who didn’t – our sexuality is meant to be a completely selfless gift, given freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully to our spouse. If you haven’t given yourself in that way, then you have the very best left to look forward to! And that sounds a lot better to me than hooking up…

The true message of Christian sexual morality defends against the lie our current culture spews: that sex is about what we can get for ourselves. Christ teaches that sex is about what we can give our spouse. And that gift is valuable beyond measure once we realize that we are made in the image and likeness of God, with His spirit within us.

This view of sexual purity has such profound respect for the human person and individual dignity that, once you embrace it, I promise it will make you anew.

To the Girl Without a father

jan 24

By Maura Byrne | Founder of Made in His Image

The most pandemic wound of our world is fatherlessness. Every little girl yearns to be pursued by her father. She desires to be wanted. She asks the questions, Do you delight in me? Am I worth fighting for? Do you want me? Do you see me? Do you value me? Am I beautiful? Am I enough? When these questions are answered through a father appropriately loving, touching, kissing and affirming his daughter she doesn’t need to run off with the first boy who finds her attractive.

But when these questions aren’t answered in an appropriate way, she seeks to find these answers on her own. When a father doesn’t give his daughter the attention and love she craves, her need for male acceptance is bottomless. Often times these unanswered questions lead to eating disorders, depression and promiscuity to name a few.

All my life I’ve yearned for love. Craved physical touch so deeply at times I thought I’d faint. Ached for it, yet feared it with every fiber of my being. I was abused so much I didn’t even know what good physical touch should feel like. 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 searched for these answers on my own. I thought if I achieved a certain weight I would feel beautiful and enough. But the truth is, the more weight I lost the more empty I felt. My quest to find beauty could have killed me.  I got so sick that I could literally hear my heart struggling to beat. I was petrified. One night 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 was killing myself. All my heart ached for was to be held and told I was beautiful.

In college I pursued men because I wanted to be noticed. This left me feeling even more empty and alone. Every guy I liked was addicted to pornography. What the heck was wrong with me? Was this my fault? 

Then a guy wanted me to get plastic surgery. When he mentioned those words my heart froze. I felt gross. So does this mean I’m not beautiful? You don’t like me just the way I am? You don’t think I’m attractive? You think I’m ugly. Even though I would never even consider the mere thought of plastic surgery, those were painful words to hear.

Then I went to India and my life changed.

I never knew that God the Father loved me and didn’t even really know He existed. In India, Eric Clark, a FOCUS missionary at the time, gave a talk about God the Father’s love. I broke down and wept. I had never heard about a love like that before. I couldn’t fathom someone loving me the way in which Eric described how God loves us. He used adjectives to describe God the Father that were foreign to me. He said God was gentle, loving, merciful, understanding, compassionate, and that He adored us (His creation). It was exceedingly challenging for me to digest what Eric was saying. But there was something about God the Father that captivated me. Even though I didn’t know Him or understand how He could love me, I yearned to with all my heart. I desperately craved love. And not the counterfeit love that the world offers, but genuine authentic love – the love of the Father.

After Eric’s talk I went up to him, Eric I want to know God like that. Can you teach me? One of the things Eric told me was that in order to know God, I must frequent the sacraments. So I made a commitment that I would attend daily Mass, go to adoration and go to confession more.

It changed my life.

As I healed I learned that my validation of beauty and sense of acceptance isn’t the width of my waist, my BMI, the fact that I don’t have a boyfriend or the fact that I do. 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.

I want to lovingly encourage you that no matter where you are with your relationship with God to make a commitment to get to know Him more. If you don’t pray at all, then pray for 5 mins. If you don’t go to Sunday Mass, then go this Sunday. If you already go to Sunday Mass, then pick an extra day to go during the week too. Pray the Rosary and if you’ve never prayed it, that’s okay, just start. Take little steps each day at furthering your relationship with God the Father. And sit in silence too and ask Him to show you who you are as His daughter. He sees beauty in you. Tell Him you long to see it too.

God adores you. You are precious to Him. You are His daughter. He loves you so. And He desires to lavish His love on you. You are beautiful, wanted and loved. You are enough.

I would go to Adoration and just sit there in silence. Daily I would ask Him, oftentimes in tears, to show me the beauty He sees in me. I would beg Him to show me His love. Then I would just be still. He showed me His love and how beautiful I am because I’m His daughter.

I’m far from perfect and I definitely don’t have it all together, but I still do these things daily and will for the rest of my life. A lot of women have told me that they think if they had a boyfriend or husband everything in their lives would be better. This is not true ladies. The truth is, if I didn’t first and foremost find my identity and beauty in our sweet Father I would never believe my boyfriend when he tells me I’m beautiful. Never. No exceptions. You must find your beauty and worth in God first.

Read the book The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen. It changed my life and I know it will change yours too.

And don’t forget, no matter what you have done, the Father adores you. He died to take your sin. You are His creation. He created you out of love, to be loved. He has a plan for you! You have a purpose. Go to Him. He is waiting with His loving, compassionate and gentle Arms to forgive, heal and restore you.

Worry about finding a man to love you?

God created the universe, surely He didn’t forget about your future. Every woman yearns for a man who is going to protect and cherish her. And remember, you are worth waiting for. You are worth a man who will fight for you. A man who will protect and cherish you. A man who will truly keep you safe in ever sense of the word. Wait for a man to honor you for the beautiful gift that you are. The man God has for you won’t pressure you to have sex, he will wait patiently until your wedding night, so you can both give yourselves to each other as a sincere gift of self. Don’t ever conform to immorality to attract a man. And if you have sinned in the past, then go to confession and begin again. You are worth more than that. In fact, your worth is beyond human comprehension.

Also if someone is pressuring you to change your body, remember that plastic surgery is like saying, sorry God, but you didn’t make me good enough. I think I should help you out there and make a few changes. Satan throws lies at our insecurities all the time saying we aren’t good enough. But confidence in God, can and will, combat those lies. In order to do that, you need to be firmly rooted in who you are. Ladies, don’t let society mold your confidence.

My last nugget of advice to you and something I have learned over the years… Don’t search for your father’s love everywhere, find it in the Father.

P.S. You are enough.

To Every Girl Who Looks in the Mirror

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By Alison Fleury | Guest Blogger

First, there is a face.

A young, innocent face. A smooth, clear, happy face.

One day, the face comes, and it is sad. The next day it is painted; concealer hides lack of sleep. Makeup hides a broken heart.

But it can’t hide a thinning face.

The face is too plain, it says; too young. It gathers up pieces of metal and pieces them through the nose. It hurts the face; less than a broken heart.

The face has pain now-pain apart from the break in its heart, for it now has holes in its heart as well as its face. New makeup hides the holes; conceals the mistakes. The face is tired.

But paint can cover it. It puts on a new face; one that is not tired. Is it pretty enough?

The face does not know.

There is paint in one color, and then another. The problem is not the look, says the face, it is the money. But there is money to be had, says the face; money enough…

The face comes back, and the nose is different. It is a famous nose, says the face; this nose will be famous. It has no holes, and no crooked edge; it is better to the face.

The face is different.

The face comes back, again and again, to pull at the hair. The hair is too short; it does not grow right. The face does not like it.

There is no more color in the skin, says the face, putting on its own face; color will help.

The face is thinner.

The face has taken off its own face to cry.

The hole is growing; the face cannot always cover it. But makeup; it covers everything…

I am not beautiful, says the face; this is not a famous face.

The face is thin.

It is covered in nothing but salt water for its pain. Not pretty enough, cries the radio.

The face does not understand; the face is tired, the face has changed…

The face is tired of playing charades, it says; charades are for the famous.

Salt water has washed away the paint on the face; the face can see without the black lashes.

The face was like this once, it says. The face was young, and it was beautiful…

The face is beautiful; says the mirror.

P.S. You are enough.

The Power of a Man’s Love

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My girl got sick. She was constantly nervous because of problems at work, personal life, her failures and children. She lost 30 pounds and weighed about 90 pounds. She got very skinny and was constantly crying. She was not a happy woman. She had suffered from continuing headaches, heart pain and jammed nerves in her back and ribs. She did not sleep well, falling asleep only in the mornings and got tired very quickly during the day. Our relationship was on the verge of a break-up. Her beauty was leaving her somewhere: she had bags under her eyes, she was poking her head, and she stopped taking care of herself. She refused to shoot the films and rejected any role. I lost hope and thought that we’ll get separated soon…

But then I decided to act. After all, I’ve got the MOST beautiful woman on earth. She is the idol of more than half of men and women, and I was the one allowed to fall asleep next to her and to hug her. I began to shower her with flowers, kisses and compliments. I surprised and pleased her every minute. I gave her a lot of gifts and lived just for her. I spoke in public only about her. I incorporated all themes in her direction. I praised her in front of her own and our mutual friends. You won’t believe it, but she blossomed. She became better. She gained weight, was no longer nervous, and loved me even more than ever. I had no clue that she CAN love that much.

And then I realized one thing: the woman is the reflection of her man.

If you love her to the point of madness, she will become it.

-Brad Pitt

Disclaimer: I am not saying that I agree with everything Brad Pitt has ever done but this is beautiful and exceedingly inspiring. He is living what it means to love. 

P.S. You are enough.

Pornography…Not Just For Men.

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By Christine Saah | Guest Blogger

Pornography. It is one of those things that really makes most of us very uncomfortable. To even think about it makes my skin crawl. I have heard about it, but have not really acknowledged it’s role in my day-to-day life. Sexual images are everywhere in the media. There’s really no running from it so I don’t know why I have tried to for so long. My school’s campus ministry gave out free books, and I decided to pick up a copy of Delivered by Matt Fradd. It consists of stories told by men, women, professionals, everyday people, and even very good Christian folks that have struggled with pornography. This addiction does not discriminate. I didn’t know this until I started reading it, but some of my wounds were about to be cut open. I read this book, and my soul cried out with blood stained tears. I had to stop running from my darkest wound.

I thought I was doing just fine. I am doing well in my eating disorder recovery. I struggle with body image daily, but that is normal. To me, struggling with chastity was embarrassing. I felt like it was not right for me as a woman to have this struggle. I still remember the first time I found a stack of pornography magazines in my basement. I also remember the moment I went into chat rooms and talked with strangers. We would create these fantasies, and I would feel so filthy afterwards. I cannot believe that as a 10-year-old I was doing this. I knew it was wrong, and so full of shame. I told no one, but I made an effort to prevent my twin sister from getting into this. I blocked the chat rooms. However, I still went on them. In middle school, I found myself going on everyday after school. I couldn’t stop, and no real harm came from it. At some point, I made up my mind that I was going to quit. I did, and I would say I thought I  succeeded. Looking back, I realize I quit going on to the sites, but I still had an impure heart and mind.

This impurity carried me into high school. I knew that as a good Catholic (not that I had much of a faith life) I could never give up my virginity. I kept busy in my sports, SGA, and who knows what else. I was the girl who had it all. I felt completely insecure, and scared with my Mom being so sick with cancer, but I kept on faking my joy. I was always too scared to even think about dating or being close with a guy, especially after my experience in middle school. I was scared, because I hated the impure thoughts that flooded my mind. By senior year, I was fed up with life, and started to give into the world of sin. I so desperately wanted a guy to like me. I had lost a lot of weight, and knew I was now acceptable enough to be loved. Now I just had to change my mindset in order to get the guy.

I had never had my first kiss, and basically planned it with someone who was a good friend. We sat in my car, and we went for it. He started groping me, touching me in places I had never been touched, and using his tongue. I freaked out, but allowed this awkward situation to continue for a few moments more. It ended, and nothing was ever said of this incident. I couldn’t tell anyone. I then pursued this other guy I was attracted to in the most unchaste way. To make it worse, his girlfriend was one of my teammates. Every time I chilled with her, he was usually around. It made my life so difficult. I couldn’t help but have these fantasies of him and me. He was a big tease too so that did not help. Nothing ever came of this, but I had a very unhealthy attachment to him. It still pains me as I write this. I had no clue what love really was, and kept searching in all the wrong places.

My very first weekend my freshman year of college set me on the wrong path. I was already in some guys dorm room, practically giving myself away. I never had sex, but was touched in so many places that I felt so much shame. Every time there was a dance, I usually gave myself away on the dance floor and would have a public make out session. There was always a different guy, different dance, and the same old me. I felt unworthy of real love, because I did not know what it was. The problems continued as I became anorexic/bulimic. I had my eye on this guy, because he had lost his father to cancer and I had lost my mom to cancer. We were two damaged people looking for healing or love or something… He was a great guy, but his flaws were so evident. He revealed to me his past chastity issues, but I didn’t care. There was one night that I stayed over until 4 am. It wasn’t like we would have ever had sex, but our closeness was not healthy. He made me feel good emotionally and physically. I feel like I used him a lot in an emotional way. Our texts back and forth always turned the heat up between us. We eventually broke up, because I was too busy having a relationship with an eating disorder.

Where am I now with all of this? I don’t really know. I would say I have certainly changed my unchaste ways. I make sure I don’t drink too much, and even when I do I know how to stay chaste. I think I have certainly overcome this struggle, because I have built up my relationship with God my father. My father loves me so much, and only wants the best for me. I think it’s the pain from the past that hurts the most. That is why I wanted to share this. As St. Frances de Sales says, If you struggle with a virtue, make a public statement about  it. It isn’t necessarily a struggle anymore, but it was for so long. This issue of chastity needs to be talked about.

P.S. You are enough.