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Adopting a Survivor’s Heart

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By Erin McNew | Staff Writer

Photo Credit | Donna Irene Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.S. You are enough.

An Eating Disorder: This is Not About Food

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Photo Credit | Donna Irene Photography

An eating disorder.

This is not about food.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not about food.

P.S. You are enough.

I Am Enough: My Recovery from Anorexia

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By Maura Byrne | Founder of Made in His Image

Photo Credit | Elissa Anne Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past trauma and abuse in my life plagued me and my eating disorder was all I could control. Every time I had a nightmare I stopped eating. I had a pit of anxiety in my stomach from the abuse that crippled me. All I wanted was to be loved. I craved physical touch so deeply at times I thought I’d faint. Ached for it, yet feared it with every fiber of my being. I was abused so much I didn’t even know what good physical touch should feel like. As a little girl and teenager I was never told I was beautiful or enough. These unanswered questions left my curiosity with a hunger that couldn’t satisfied my heart.

I didn’t think I was worth three meals a day. And I was terrified that if I started eating again I wouldn’t have the self-control to stop. I convinced myself that it was better not to eat breakfast because, what if I couldn’t stop and just kept eating and blew up to three hundred pounds overnight? I was afraid that if I stopped running 50 plus miles a week I would let myself go.

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

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

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

I wanted to live.

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

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

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

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

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

I love my resilient attitude. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.S. You are enough.

Get Up and Get Over It

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By Erin McNew | Staff Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

”But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9

P.S. You are enough.

I Got Flowers Today

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By Paulette Kelly

Photo Credit: Elissa Anne Photography

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

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

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

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

P.S. You are enough.

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

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By Patrick Dunford | Men’s Staff Writer

Photo Credit | Donna Irene Photography

My barista lit my coffee on fire yesterday.

I’m serious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, let me narrow that down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See how he speaks to her:

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

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

Love has no whims. Love is constant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.S. You are enough.

Who Tells You What Beauty Is?

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By Erin McNew | Staff Writer

Photo Credit | Elissa Anne Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.S. You are enough.

What I Didn’t Know When I Stopped Having Sex

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By Tori Vissat | Guest Blogger

Photo credit | Donna Irene Photography

I want to make him happy. 

I enjoy it too.

I love him.

I’m just having fun.

My friends will think I’m weird if I stop.

I have said each of these and more. For years, I believed that the only thing I could offer a guy was my body. That somehow I wasn’t pretty enough, smart enough or fun enough for him to love me for me. Maybe I didn’t know how to have a normal conversation with men? I laid awake in bed and felt it down in my core: a deep longing in my heart. The voice of my heart was screaming to be held. I’ve been held before, quite often actually, for many years, but never in the way that I’d truly desired.

Night after night in a dazed state of drunken confusion, I’d laid in bed with a man whom I knew I didn’t like, let alone love, wondering the next morning how I got there or what I even did. Or maybe I did remember. That was worse. It was never right; the causal nature of it all, how common it was to share that intimate moment with a stranger. It was never right. There was always something that didn’t feel okay. How did I get to this point? The girl at 13 who started to be physical with her boyfriends was now tossing herself at a different guy each weekend. For what? I was having fun right?

I could have never guessed years later I would be seething in pain from the loss that accompanied giving away a part of my heart each time I succumbed to having sex. Each time I allowed him to come over past 10pm even though I knew where it would lead. And I know that many women continue to do it, with someone who isn’t their husband, and I get it. I really do. I get the need to be cherished, desired, held and mostly, to be loved. To hear someone tell you the things your heart longs for. Yet, it was not until 3 years after I stopped having sex that I realized the way my heart really felt; bruised, crushed & angry. Really angry.

Angry with men and I had no idea why. No one told me that sleeping with that guy from the bar would leave me feeling more empty than I thought possible. No one told me that it would make me feel more unworthy and more alone. No one told me that with each one-night stand, my heart was building up walls that would keep everyone out. That allowing men access to my body would make it seemingly impossible to receive a hug, hear someone tell me I’m beautiful, or let myself be loved. I stopped having sex and you have the freedom to stop as well.

In college, thanks to God’s intervention, I realized that the lie I was living needed to end. That despite what the world was telling me, I could stop having sex. I could save it for its proper context and I could regain the part of me that is so precious. My heart could remain with God until He asks me to give it away. Meeting God in the depths of my heart and hearing His voice was for me the start of the battle to change.

The battle to claim a new life in Christ and to shed away the masks of false identity. And it was scary, really scary. Would I find someone who would love me for me? I was graced with the presence of many influential women at the time who continue to show me that living with dignity and strength comes from my knowledge of who my Father is, and who I am: His daughter. I learned that while on His cross, the Lord saw all those lonely nights I lay in bed wondering if this is as good as it gets. He bore the pain of my wounds and today allows me to live in the freedom, which He has promised. The wounds that sometimes still feel open and raw I have slowly and gently placed into the Hands of Him who speaks the truth of my goodness to my heart. He is my Father and yours, First let Him in and He will do the rest.

P.S. You are enough.

Climbing Out of Fear

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By Scott Weeman | Men’s Staff Writer

What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” – Romans 7:15

Have you ever been caught in a life cycle of actions that feeds the negative thoughts and feelings you have for yourself or the world around you?  In that same cycle, do those negative thoughts and feelings you have for yourself and the world around you feed the delusion that the only way to feel better is by re-committing those same actions in the first place?

If so, you have experienced addiction in some degree.

While you can probably rationalize it somehow, it still leaves you sinking further into a pit that seems harder and harder to get out of.  Its as if youre digging the pit yourself, although all you want is to get back onto solid ground.  It makes no sense.  Yet, thats what is so painstaking about the process. 

DROP THE SHOVEL!!!

I get it, the solution is simple but nowhere close to easy.  The addictions that leave us further and further underground are sometimes the only comforts in life we may know.  Those comforts may be very short-lived, but they seem more viable and accessible than the light that shines above. 

Do not be deceived!  There is a way out, and each day – perhaps each moment – we have opportunities to change the direction our life is going in.  It can seem daunting. 

I recall when I started reaching for the Light above me as I climbed out of the great pit that all of my addictions had me swallowed up in.  I kept the shovel out of my hand, but I was still carrying the weight of all the shame, disgust, and unworthiness that accompanied my downward journey.  Am I even deserving of a better life after all I had done?  Maybe Im okay right here.  As long as I dont get any further down, I can still operate at this level and be alright.  I see others who are living life at this level and they seem to be okay.  The Light above is going to expose a lot of stuff that I dont think I want other people (or myself) to see anyways.” 

Then I was struck with this gem from a mentor of mine: The best way to gain esteem is by doing esteemable things.

It hit me that I was looking for personal satisfaction and self-esteem in all the wrong places.  Even while not caving into the temptations of drugs and alcohol, I was still not allowing the love and grace of God to spill over into every part of my life.  I was digging in other directions with other shovels.  I was playing the victim in every situation.  I was feeling held down by the fact that my level of achievement in life was not adequate in comparison to others or by the standards of society.  I was measuring my insides by everyone elses outsides. 

It has been my experience that small, esteemable actions taken with regularity can add up and create an environment where virtue can nestle.  A way of life where getting out of bed on time, doing one extra thing for another person, not being so controlling over my time, choosing to pray rather than chase a lustful thought, and many other examples where evading short-term pleasurefor long-term esteem started adding up.  With great imperfection, life started trending in a direction I could rest comfortably with.  The cloud of unworthiness and hopelessness started to lift and confidence in what God was able to do with me was starting to be realized.

I am sometimes reminded of how dependent I am of certain lifestyle choices and commitments when I travel for vacation and get away from my routine.  When put in different environments I have found struggle in making those dedicated choices to think less of myself and more of others.  I justify sleeping until whenever I want to, eating whatever I want to, doing whatever feels good, and asking God to direct my life for that day less and less.  What happens when I return?  I find myself lacking esteem, which makes prayer harder, getting out of bed harder, and I tend to be thinking of myself more and more. 

The ultimate result is fear.  Its the same fear we find ourselves in when we look up from the depths of the hole weve dug and see that the Light seems farther away.  It is what keeps us reaching for the comfortable, for the short-term pleasure, for a relief we know we can find – if only momentarily.  However, peace is offered to us and it is an offering that we can find in the company of others and with the courage of understanding that our Lord does not leave us as orphans.

In my first few days of recovery I had the opportunity of getting to know a man by the name of John, a fellow recovering alcoholic with decades of sobriety.  I will surely re-tell more about him in the future as John has been a great source of inspiration for me to continually pursue esteemable things, even in the face of great suffering.  Since knowing him, John has suffered a great deal as the strength of his body, including his voice, has been taken from him by ALS.  Giving humble witness to his courage, he shared with me a little bit around this idea a few months ago.  Typing slowly on his iPad and with a half-cocked smile on his face, he wrote out:

“Since I got sober, especially now, looking back, it seems like my life was laid out perfectly, and every experience built on what lay before it. I realize how much time I wasted on fear. It seems God had my hand leading me the whole time. And it seems the longer Im alive, the more true it is. I have several prayers I like, but my favorite was written by Thomas Merton.  It seems perfect for me:

 My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, And the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust you always Though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me. And you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Esteemable things, regardless of how small, are steps we can take towards a positive future and allow ourselves to bask in the Light and Glory of our Creator.  You are deserving of a better way of life.  You are worthy of esteem.  You are capable of esteem.  You can realize the confidence in what God is able to do with you.

P.S. You are enough.

Chill Out, It’s Just a Date

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By Therese Aaker | Guest Blogger

Photo Credit | Elissa Anne Photography

It’s not hard to look around and notice that there’s a problem with today’s dating scene.

Our culture seems to operate on two extremes. On the one hand, we have the hookup culture. Hooking up is wrong because it’s totally selfish: we use another person for our own pleasure.

The other extreme is found in our own backyard. Catholics tend to take this approach — taking dating far too seriously. 

Ultimately, the purpose of dating is to eventually get married; so in that sense, we can’t date willy-nilly and play with people’s hearts. We have to be bold and clear with the other person of our intentions. Still, we have a tendency to take dating so seriously that we never even make it on a date! Or, we throw casual dating out the window and expect to marry the first person we date right off the bat.

What we’re going for here is the mean. Aristotle said that virtue is the mean between two extremes. Casual dating offers this mean: men and women go on lots of dates with different people for the purpose of getting to know each other. After a certain amount of dates, they let each other know if they’re interested in dating exclusively or not, and if they are, begin a relationship.

As Catholics, our strength lies in reclaiming. We meet culture where it’s at and make it holy. We reclaim Halloween, which celebrates death, by celebrating the vigil of All Saints Day, or “All Hallows Eve.” Popes have exhorted us to use the media for the glory of God. We find profound truths in secular music, such as songs by Mumford and Sons. (Awake My Soul, anyone?)

We need to reclaim the dating culture and pursue healthy relationships in a healthy way.
How can we date in a healthy way?

First, we need to bring back casual dating. Here’s why.

Thomas Umstattd wrote a great article in defense of casual dating; he argued that courtship (which made a comeback in Christian culture with the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris) puts too much pressure on people to marry the first person they court because it’s taken so seriously. With casual dating, there’s less temptation, more interaction, more self-awareness and honestly, more fun. (If dating isn’t fun, you’re doing it wrong.) Thomas writes:

With Traditional Dating, asking a girl out on a date is no big deal. All the guy is asking to do is to get to know the girl better. Maybe this leads to a deeper relationship, maybe it doesn’t. Either way, the interaction is easier and more fun when it is not so intense.

You get to know more people this way and your chances of finding someone you’re actually well matched with is far better.

I’m not saying dating shouldn’t go anywhere — at some point, guys and gals should be clear about where they’re at, state their intentions, and let the other know if they’re interested in taking a step toward a relationship. Or not. But our attitude from the beginning should be, “Let’s just get to know each other and have fun; if it goes somewhere, great, if not, oh well!”

A date is just a date.

Ladies, here are some tips for you in regards to casual dating:

  • Make yourself available. Don’t expect to get asked out if you sit in your room every weekend. Get out, meet people and have fun.
  • Show him you’re interested. Guys need encouragement. If you’re interested in a guy and you’d like him to ask you out, don’t be afraid to subtly show it. Stand near him. Ask him questions that go beyond small talk that show you care about getting to know him. Personally invite him to some upcoming event you’re going to. If he has an inkling that you’ll say yes, he’s more likely to have the courage to ask.
  • Say “yes” when a guy asks you on a date. It’s just a date. You don’t have to be in love with him to say yes.
  • Be open.  Don’t share too much on your date. At the same time, be open to getting to know him and letting him get to know you. Keep the conversation relatively light. (Topics could be: family, friends, hobbies, passions, music, movies, etc.)
  • If you aren’t interested, be clear and gentle. If you’ve gone on a date or two and you aren’t interested, find a nice, gentle way to tell the guy and be very clear about it. You’d want the same!

 

Some tips for the gents:

  • Ask the girl out. I know it’s hard. Really hard. But even if she says no, you honored her as a woman by simply asking and you’ve grown in the virtue of courage! But generally, most girls will be very flattered you asked.
  • It’s just a date. You’re not proposing for marriage by asking her out, you’re just wanting to get to know her better. However, after going on a few dates with a girl, you have to commit one way or the other. Have a conversation about where you’re both at and decide to become exclusive, or to stop dating each other.
  • If you’re both interested, try it out. You don’t have to have life figured out before you pursue a relationship. If you’re both interested, give the relationship a go, and if it works, great! If it doesn’t, it’s going to be okay. You never know if it’ll work until you try it.
  • Pay for the date. It makes a great impression.

 

For both ladies and gents:

Have fun, and be more casual with your dating. Dating shouldn’t be a big deal. If we take the casual approach, date with clear intentions and pursue relationships in a healthy way, our chances of finding a great spouse are much better.

Most importantly, pursue a relationship with God first. But don’t be afraid to have fun getting to know people in the process!

P.S. You are enough.

*This article was originally published by FOCUS.*