Blog

The day my son was born

pio labor

By Maura Preszler | Founder of Made in His Image

I recently found this photo on my husband’s computer and my eyes welled with tears of joy and gratitude upon seeing it. And not for vain reasons, because let’s be clear, at this point I’ve been in labor for about seventeen hours without medication. I know right, what was I thinking? I have thirty pounds strapped to my stomach, haven’t eaten all day and they wouldn’t even let me have my trusty cranberry juice (at least I’ll have my cranberry juice, I thought to myself when I knew I couldn’t eat) and have been to the bathroom all over myself and the nurses (bringing a tiny human into the world makes one lose more than just sleep).

During my pregnancy women would say to me, Oh you’re pregnant, don’t you just love it? Or, I loved everything about being pregnant. Then I felt like a bad mom because no, I didn’t like being pregnant. To be honest, I thought I was literally going to explode at times.

So yeah I wasn’t feeling so hot in this picture. But I love this photo for the beauty of the journey this has been for me and for the healing our Father has blessed me with. Being pregnant was extremely difficult for me, my depression returned, I gained 30 pounds which was extremely hard for me with my past eating disorder struggles had insomnia for 9 months, heart burn and acid reflux (yeah I never got “the glow”). I waited for it, trust me I did, but it didn’t come. But what I did receive was the greatest gift and blessing, our precious son to raise as a saint for the Kingdom of God and a deeper understanding of our Heavenly Father’s love for us.

When I was in therapy for my recovery I decided that I was going to offer up each session and homework activity for my future children. So when therapy, 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.

That day during labor, I knew what I had tried to do for Pio and I couldn’t wait to meet the precious boy who had inspired my healing. So yes, I love this picture and as odd as it may sound I loved that day of labor because it reminded me of where I’ve been and how much God in His goodness has blessed and healed me. Since Pio’s birth I haven’t struggled a day with depression. I’m so thankful that I imperfectly surrendered my recovery and vocation to Him. He indeed took and continues to take my brokenness and has turned it and continues to turn it into His beauty.

P.S. You are enough.

Where is God in abuse?

iStock_000019184367_Medium (1)

By Maura Preszler | Founder of Made in His Image

For most of my life I’ve wrestled with the questions, Where is God in abuse? What’s He doing while it’s happening? What’s He thinking? What’s He feeling?

Last night I read an article about how Pope Francis met with five adult survivors of sexual abuse by priests while he was in Philadelphia. I’ve always loved Pope Francis but was really touched that he would do that. Most people just ignore it, as if it never happened, as if not talking about it would cause it to go away. I was moved that Pope Francis desires to expose the evil of abuse for what it really is – evil. He is the Vicar of Christ and is leading his people by example, not just by words.

I continued to read the article and his words penetrated my heart so deeply. “I remain overwhelmed with shame that men entrusted with the tender care of children violated these little ones and caused them grievous harm. I am profoundly sorry. God weeps.”

I started crying. “God weeps.”

I said it over and over again. Maura, this is where God is in abuse. This is what He is doing, this is what He is thinking and this is what He is feeling. He is weeping. He is weeping for His precious children. He was weeping for you. He was weeping for you Maura. I wept. If I could go back and tell my younger self anything, I would tell myself that God was weeping for my pain. 

I use to think, could I have done something to make it stop? Why did this happen to me? Was it my fault? Could I have fought back harder. It must have been because I was weak, if only I had been tougher. Maybe it was because I was bad?

It’s okay to think those thoughts initially. My doctor use to say that such a response was only normal. But it’s important to claim these thoughts for what they are.

Lies.

These are nothing but lies, from the king of evil. The devil. And we need to recognize that so we don’t dwell on it. What I have learned in my journey of healing is that God gives us free will and while He doesn’t will evil to happen, He allows it because He will not take away our free will. It is up to us to decide how we will use this gift He has given to us, some use it to harm others (abuse) others for good. While abuse is always evil, that doesn’t mean God doesn’t love you. Because God has given us free will, He could not physically stop your abuser from hurting you, because that would have been going against His very nature as God. He does not force His children to make the correct choices in regards to our freedom. While God desires nothing more than your protection and safety, He can not force people to follow Him. Therefore, because of our fallen nature, evil is prevalent in the world.

Pope Francis continued to say, “The crimes and sins of the sexual abuse of children must no longer be held in secret. Abuse survivors have become true heralds of hope and ministers of mercy. We humbly owe each one of you and your families our gratitude for your immense courage to shine the light of Christ on the evil of the sexual abuse of children.”

And this goes for all abuse survivors. And I want to challenge you to bring abuse to the light. The horrific evil of abuse must be exposed and not remain hidden in the dark. It must be brought to the light, no matter how hard that is. Left in the dark, it festers and becomes an uncontrollable monster covered in shame and self-hatred, which leads to mental illnesses and at times suicide. Although very difficult, exposed to the light, justice can be served and true healing began. Because in the end, a person can either own the abuse or it will own you. And this is why abuse is oftentimes generational, because it becomes a learned pattern. And when someone is exposed to abuse at a young age it becomes a learned behavior for them and when provoked or stressed they revert to the only behavior they know – abuse. And so it repeats itself, generation after generation.

But the time is now to fight for freedom. To fight for your recovery to fight for your future. The only person that can change your future is you. Yes, abuse is horrific and there is no excusing it, but you don’t have to let it define you. There comes a point in life where you need to decide, you need to make the choice to be a survivor, and not a victim. You need to move on. You need to start your own life free from the shackles of being a victim. Yes, the past will still haunt you from time to time, but you need to make the choice not to dwell on it and to focus on the positive.

The truth is, you are stronger than what happened to you. You need to take control, set up boundaries and practice saying no. This is your life  – own it. Contrary to what negative stereotypes may tell you, you are exhibiting tremendous courage and strength in seeking 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. 

Five years ago I left the east coast to start a new life in Nashville, TN because of abuse. It was hard. It was really hard. But I can tell you this, I never looked back. And I’m so grateful for the journey, because it has and continues to teach me my worth. Trauma therapy was exceedingly challenging, but no matter what I promised myself I wouldn’t quit. I had no money, I worked up to three jobs at once to pay for the medical care I needed. Every time before I went to therapy, I would close my eyes and picture my wedding day and I knew unless I did this for me, I would never be able to be in a healthy relationship and get married. I would picture meeting my future children for the first time and all that I would teach them. I would picture our family – free from the chains of abuse. Three years after that, I met my husband, and three months ago we were married. And before I walked down the aisle, I thought of all those therapy sessions and was in awe of God the Father’s faithfulness. I cried tears of joy and walked down the aisle to meet my husband. And this would not have been possible without therapy and without owning my past.

I challenge you to be a solider for Christ, walk with Him to Calvary and as you fall along the way, ask for the grace for the cross to be placed squarely on your shoulders as you rise again. Choose to see beauty despite what has happened in your life, or how others have wronged you. Forgive, pray, ask for grace and seek beauty in the ambiguity of life.

Such is the rule of our warfare.  We advance by yielding; we rise by falling; we conquer by suffering; we persuade by silence; we become rich by bountifulness; we inherit the earth by meekness; we gain comfort through mourning; we earn glory by penitence and prayer.  Heaven and earth shall sooner fall than this rule be reversed; it is the law of Christ’s kingdom, and nothing can reverse it but sin. | John Henry Newman

P.S. You are enough.

Breathing Room

iStock_000074442739_Medium

By Arden Whitehurst | Guest Blogger

Lord, I need breathing room.

That has been my prayer the last couple weeks. When my therapist breathed those words out and I breathed them in– breathing room– a weight I didn’t even know I carried, lifted.

Breathing room. Space. Leeway. Margin. However you say it, I need it.

I’ve never had breathing room. I’ve lived the last 8 (at least) years in a confined space, a box, a little square drawn in the sand. I’ve lived stuck. Stuck in a tight spot. Claustrophobic but afraid.

Eating disorders, many mental illnesses and compulsive behaviors leave no breathing room. They are the tightest-of-tight boxes and the smallest-of-small spaces. There is no room for anything but the rules, the expectations (of self or others), the behaviors. There is no bending from anorexia to go to a birthday party. There is no pausing over-exercising, self-harm or purging just because there is an opportunity to travel. No. No, because there is no breathing room in any of those situations. There is no room for error, no room for a change in plans. You do not stray from the black line. You do not change plans. You do not change your mind. You simply do not, because there is no room for that.

There is no room, because room, margin, leeway, they all mean mistakes, errors, mess-ups, mishaps – failure. Room to breathe means room to fail. And I have never allowed room to fail. Perfection, yes. Failure, absolutely not, I’d rather die.

Perfection leaves no breathing room. Anything outside of the realm of perfection, of the expectations placed upon us, is utter catastrophe, sending the world into a dizzy.

I grew up sticking myself in that little box out of fear, desire to please, perfectionism. No one had to put me there. I didn’t need anyone to draw those black lines of my “allowed square inch.” I did that myself.

Strangely enough, I have always hated tight things, anything that confines me physically. I am seriously claustrophobic, yet I am drawn towards this tight confining life. The life that says when and what you can eat, who you can see, what you can do and say, unwritten rules galore.  Rigid, unrelenting, changeless, unforgiving.

So when I heard those words — breathing room, give yourself breathing room– I thought “Can I? Can I really?” All the confining I had done on purpose. All of the restricting I had inflicted upon myself. All of the rigid rules. I did those things. I inflicted it, enforced it. I gave myself a life of confinement, a life without air, without any room to breathe, to fail.

I gave myself that kind of life, but now I’m choosing to give myself a life that breathes. I need  to give myself room to have hard or bad days. I need room to get overwhelmed and cry. I need room to be imperfect. Because life is not perfect. My family and friends are not perfect. College will not be perfect. There will be overwhelming, hard, straight up bad days where I just want to throw my hands up in defeat. Without breathing room those days are too much, unrecoverable. Those days are failure and make me want to quit. But, insert some breathing room, stretch that square inch a bit, and that same day can be called good. I can laugh at that day. I can pause, breathe deep and say, “this too is good.”

That extra room means that what would have been failure in my teeny-tiny perfect box can instead be called grace, growth, good. That extra room means release of the pressure to be good enough, an end to the proving and the living up. That extra room means God has room to move. Room to change me, bend and break me, mold and challenge me, love and grow me. In my confining life there was no room for anything “else,” not even God.

As I have thought and prayed over this need for breathing room, God gave me this — You don’t need more breathing room. You already have all the room you need. I gave you all the room you could possibly need on the Cross. Just take it. Use it. 

Talk about dumb-struck. Of course I have all the room I need. Jesus gave me all the room in the world to fail and fumble and fall on the cross. He gave me so much room, grace (unmerited, undeserved favor), to mess up that I will never be able to use even half of it. It’s immeasurable the grace He has bestowed upon me. James 4:6 says, “But he gave us more grace.” He didn’t just give grace, He gave more grace and even more on top of that. His grace has no constraints. It is freely given to all. Titus 2:11 says, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” Not just the good or the perfect or the tall or the thin or the pretty or the smart or the talented, but to all. Yet this grace was not given because of something I did. No, this grace is a gift. It’s a gift that God gave in His Son. It’s a gift that cost more than we will ever be able to comprehend. And it’s a gift that we choose to breathe in and live out of daily.

I will leave you with this question – do you need to use more of your gifted breathing room?

P.S. You are enough.

My Father Is…

1979897_924565444255415_3241523932347287287_n

By Tori Vissat | Guest Writer 

Photo credit | Donna Irene Photography

My Father never rushes, He is patient and waits for when I am ready

He is soft and gentle, never harsh or condemning

He sees me from afar, whispers in my heart His words of love

He draws near when I want to run

He knows my past and is unafraid

My Father is not ashamed of me

He sees my scars and with His precious blood heals them

He holds me when I feel unworthy of being touched

He invites me in when the world seems scary

He puts life back into a heart that feels numb and unfixable

My Father had me in mind from the beginning of time

He has never once forget me

He is waiting when I stray from Him

He calls me beloved, beautiful, His precious jewel

He is strong when I am at my weakest

He speaks my name when I want to give up

He sees my addiction, my wounds, my fears and takes them into His sacred side

My Father longs to be with me in my darkest days

He sees past my outer appearance

He knocks at the door of my heart

I let Him in.

P.S. You are enough.

The Shorts

481922_541581295887167_1883807700_n

By Arden Whitehurst | Guest Blogger

Photo Credit | Donna Irene Photography

These cute striped Loft shorts. I’ve only worn them once but they tell a story. Granted, it’s a story only I know. To everyone else they look like any other shorts. But not to me. Would you like to hear the story?

A couple of years ago, my mom bought me these shorts as a gift because none of my clothes fit. I thought they were adorable, but I didn’t wear them for months because I was hiding. Hiding from what, you might ask? I was hiding from life. I was hiding from myself. I was hiding from the world. So these shorts hung empty in my closet, until I packed them in my suitcase. They made the plane ride and got hung in a new closet. They hung empty in this new closet for a month. I wanted to wear them, but I was still afraid. I was still hiding. I was still holding on. Finally, I got a challenge from a special lady. “Wear something that’s pretty and be proud in it.” Some of you might think, “That’s not a challenge. I do that everyday.” But it was a challenge for me. I woke up the next day and took out the shorts and a white shirt. I put the outfit on. I stood barefoot in front of a floor length mirror and turned side to side. Did I like what I saw? Could I do it? Could I be that brave? Regardless of if I liked the reflection, I did it. I wore the shorts. I got so many compliments that I think a part of me thought, Hey, maybe being seen isn’t so bad?

Flash forward, almost two years and those shorts still hang in my closet, unworn since that challenge day.

It’s the time of year where I clean out my closet. I try everything on and get rid of what I don’t like. So out came the striped shorts. I was scared. I’ve changed since the first time I wore those shorts, yet part of me felt like that scared little girl in hiding again as I held those shorts up. Deep breath as I pulled them on. They zipped and buttoned. Exhale. But they were tight. Sigh. When I say tight I mean tight. Tight as in spandex tight. I don’t like tight clothing. Never have. Probably never will. Which is usually fine with me, but this is different.

I take them off and hold them up again. Were they really tight? Yes, yes they were. Sigh. I folded them before sitting down to think. Not going to lie, a few tears fell as I faced an inner battle. What would I do with this? 

You are probably wondering why I care so much about these shorts. For Heaven’s sake, why would anyone cry over shorts! I didn’t cry because of the shorts. I can buy new shorts. I cried because of what the shorts stand for. You see, the last time I wore those shorts I was 10 (ish) pounds less than I am now. I had been in treatment for anorexia and had already gained a painful 20 pounds when I first put those shorts on, but I still had another 10 (ish) pounds to gain. That’s why I was scared. I was scared to be seen even though that was what I desperately wanted. I was scared to look pretty. I was scared to be looked at.

The shorts fit loosely when I first wore them. I tucked my white button down in, lifted my chin and whispered, Be brave, Arden to the girl in the mirror. The second time I put those shorts on, I found myself whispering the same thing. Be brave, Arden.  

Now I sit with the shorts wondering what to do. Do I get angry and beat myself up about having gained 10 pounds? Do I go work out until my legs give out? Do I skip dinner and pray that the shorts will fit tomorrow? No. No, I don’t do any of those things. A few years ago I would have, but not today. Today I simply sit with the shorts and give thanks.

I give thanks to God for those 10 pounds and the 20 pounds before the shorts. I give thanks not because I like the fact that I had to gain back the 30 pounds I had lost or because the shorts don’t fit. Instead, I give thanks because of the life I live post – the shorts. Because those shorts no longer fit I can dance for hours on end. I can hold my weight in pointe shoes. I can jump and turn without fear of breaking bones or passing out. Because the shorts don’t fit, I can run after my dogs in the rain. I can play tag with the kids I babysit and hold them for hours. I can work out with my brother until I’m sweaty and panting. Because the shorts don’t fit, I can stand and worship at church without having to sit down and shut my eyes in order to stop the world from spinning. I can have cupcake dates with my best friends and spontaneously drink hot chocolate while watching a cheesy Hallmark movie with my parents. Because those shorts are too tight, I have new friends and a church community that I love. I have relationships and opportunities that would have been impossible 10, 20 or 30 pounds ago. Because those super cute shorts don’t fit, I have a life and a good life at that.

So I give thanks and keep living brave even though the shorts don’t fit.

P.S. You are enough.

Life Is Not Fair

10941853_893328400712453_2662978733004931586_n

By Erin McNew | Staff Writer

Photo Credit | Donna Irene Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.S. You are enough.

Letting Go of Insecurities

1533907_684883014890327_914947396_n

By Scott Weeman | Men’s Staff Writer

Photo Credit | Donna Irene Photography

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

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

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

What’s missing?

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

The Gift Of Desperation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He does.

P.S. You are enough.

This Is What Really Holds You Back in Dating

10397813_10152766127113233_1598101086316853854_n

By Therese Aaker | Guest Blogger

Photo Credit | Jenny Haas Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s the answer?

Courage.

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

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

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

Do you have the courage to choose?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Either way, He’ll bless you.

Courage, dear heart.

P.S. You are enough.

Adopting a Survivor’s Heart

11034912_911882925523667_5000061530022607575_n

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.

I Am Enough: My Recovery from Anorexia

feb 25

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.