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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.*

It’s Okay to Cry

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By Erin McNew | Staff Writer

Photo Credit | Donna Irene Photography

I’ll never be afraid to cry.

I have a weird appreciation for people that aren’t afraid to cry. So many people label the act of crying as weak, but I think it is incredibly strong.

We have a warped view of strength for the most part. We act like holding everything in and ignoring the things that hurt us makes us stronger, by I personally believe this couldn’t be further from the truth. We are never stronger than the moment we admit we are weak.

I have a friend that’s a few years younger than I am. She once told me that sometimes she had to cry just to release all of the pain and suffering she tried to hold in at a particular time. She told me that all the agony she committed to withholding would keep her from experiencing joy to the fullest extent that she imagined God wanted her to. Could you imagine a more beautiful way to explain a few tearful moments?

Saint John Paul the second said, “It is better to cry than to be angry, because anger hurts others, while tears flow silently though the soul and cleanse the heart.” This brings me to the reason I think I appreciate the act of crying so greatly.

Crying reminds me of rain. Ever tear that slips down our cheek brings to mind raindrops falling from the clouds. And rain is so powerful. It allows the vegetation to grow and thrive. Each drop literally brings new life. And I believe that tears are the same way.

Tears empty us of those hateful, hurtful, and pained emotions that prevent us from shining God’s light to the extent He desires us to. With every tear that falls, our heart grows lighter and becomes more capable of loving others and ourselves. Tears are truly healing.

Crying doesn’t indicate that you’re weak. Since birth, it has always been a sign that you’re alive.

“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!” | Psalm 126:5

P.S. You are enough.

What if I mess up?

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By Maura Byrne | Founder of Made in His Image

A woman asked me, If I make a mistake in my journey of recovery, does that mean I’m back where I started from? In my non-professional opinion, no, it absolutely doesn’t mean that.

I use to have an extremely hard time letting people display simple forms of physical touch towards me – such as hand shakes, hugging, sitting close to me and letting someone braid my hair, just to name a few.

I remember the first time I let someone braid my hair after the abuse had stopped. I wanted to work hard at getting comfortable with simple displays of physical touch, so I asked someone to braid my hair into two french braids. I hated how it felt that first time. Then, after some time had passed, I asked her to braid my hair again. This time it felt better, but it still wasn’t normal. I asked her a third time, and this time in an appropriate way it felt good to let someone braid my hair. Afterwards, I felt guilty that I liked letting someone braid my hair. I scratched my head forcefully and frantically unraveled the braids. I need to calm down, it’s just a braid, I told myself. Then my friend re-braided my hair, and even though I didn’t like how it felt this time, I tried my best to sit still.

Time passed, and I actively worked on looking people straight in the eye, while firmly shaking their hand, and letting people hug and sit close to me. Before long, she braided my hair for the fifth time, and I was more comfortable than the last time.

This same method could pertain to an eating disorder. I vividly remember the last time I drove my body through rigorous hours of exercise. Or when I would starve myself for weeks and survive on next to nothing. As I started to recover, I took steps forward, as well as steps back, just like the braid example.

There were days that I thought, surely I have this whole eating disorder recovery down. I’m eating three normal meals, even a snack too and I’m only running normal miles. I can totally do this. But then fear would inch its way into my mind, because after eating normally, I often felt fat. I’m not eating tomorrow to make up for what I just consumed. This cycle would repeat itself frequently, but as time passed, and I continued to work hard, the periods of starvation lessened, as I formed new habits.

Just because you have a moment of struggle, defeat or a bad day in your journey to recovery from abuse, an eating disorder or anything doesn’t mean you haven’t made progress towards freedom. Don’t be to hard on yourself and take it one step at a time, life is a journey, embrace the change. But when you do fall, dust off the dirt, as you rise to thank God and begin again, always embracing each opportunity in life to seek beauty.

So when you feel overwhelmed, confused, frustrated, alone or sad remember that we are closest to Christ when we are rejected, isolated and alone. Instead of turning inward, try with God’s grace to turn your suffering into seeking beauty in your cross. Instead of dwelling on the pain or falling backwards, try to mimic and cooperate with God, who will, with your cooperation (faith and hope), help you begin anew.

“Only those who do not fight are never wounded; those who charge the enemy with the greatest spirit are the ones who receive the most blows.”  – St. John Chrysostom

P.S. You are enough.

Why You Should Fall in Love with Someone Broken

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By Patrick Dunford | Guest Blogger

Photo Credit | Jenny Haas Photography

She was perfect. That probably should have been one of the first signs of trouble.

Maybe it was because I was a late-bloomer to the dating scene and she was the first woman I’d ever asked out. Maybe it was because we met through a campus ministry retreat and I thought that showed we were clearly meant to be. Maybe it was simply because she said “yes” to a date with me, period. Whatever “it” was, I thought she was the most perfect female human being I had ever met and I let myself be completely taken in by that feeling.

I even went to buy a pair of date shoes with a friend. I settled on a brand new pair of Adidas Sambas, because in the mind of a college man there’s nothing like full grain leather and suede indoor soccer shoes to win a lady’s heart. She had to pick me up because I didn’t have a parking spot on campus (read: car at all), I wore the only articles of clothing in my closet that weren’t a t-shirt and cargo shorts.

I hope, I did, anyway.

I remember a lot from that date: the restaurant we went to, some of what we talked about, even the chicken wrap I ordered and was too nervous to finish eating (c’mon younger me, a chicken wrap? Really?). I remember the friends of mine the waiter randomly seated next to us, and the admiring wink one of those friends shot me over my date’s shoulder. There’s one thing, though, I remember most about that date and what led up to it.

The moment I realized she didn’t exist.

Now, I’d gone out with a woman that evening. No Russell Crowe “Beautiful Mind” action going on here. That woman is a wonderful, good, holy person who is real, one I’ve been blessed to know. The “she” I’m talking about is the “she” I never called back after that date. An image I had projected over the true self of the real woman in front of me, loaded with unrealistic expectations and assumptions. An image which led me to a year of emotional unavailability, hung up on a relationship which never could have been because the person I hoped to be in a relationship with never was. (Granted, part of this feeling can be blamed on the depressing German Lit. course I took in the same time period. In German Lit., everyone you love dies.)

This is the objectification even good men and women find themselves a part of perpetuating. We don’t want to call it that, as if it were “A Sin That Shall Not Be Named.” Objectification reminds us of shameful things like cat-calling and pornography, the obvious diseases and usual suspects. It is painful admitting we could fall victim to something like this ourselves, when our motive seemed so pure. We only had a positive image of that person, didn’t we?

In the definitional sense, objectification simply means to treat a subject as an object. If we allow our expectation of who the person is (subject) to supersede reality, we are creating a “something” (object). We turn the individual in front of us into a Dorian Gray, only seeking to see the positive characteristics and hiding the wounds of their soul as if it were a portrait in storage. I was “in love” with the idea I’d formed of the woman I went out with, in the sense of a strong emotional bond to it. I couldn’t have truly romantically loved the actual woman in front of me in the space of time we’d known each other, and willed her good in that sense. I simply didn’t know her well enough. I allowed her reality, and thus the fullness of her beauty, to be obscured by idealization.

It wasn’t her fault. In fact, I don’t think any of the responsibility fell to her. Most often our own wounds cause us to place others on pedestals. Or even to rip them down from their rightful place.

This excerpt from C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed, written as he mourned his recently deceased wife, paints even more clearly this concept. Lewis realizes he must not give in to the mistake of loving the idea of God, his wife, or his neighbor, but love the person in theirreality. After all, he says,

“…don’t we often make this mistake as regards people who are still alive—who are with us in the same room? Talking and acting not to the man himself but to the picture—almost the précis—we’ve made of him in our own minds? And he has to depart from it pretty widely before we even notice the fact. In real life—that’s one way it differs from novels—his words and acts are, if we observe closely, hardly ever quite ‘in character,’ that is, in what we call his character. There’s always a card in his hand we didn’t know about.”

Lewis makes it very clear why he thinks this occurs, telling us his “reason for assuming that I do this to other people is the fact that so often I find them obviously doing it to me. We all think we’ve got one another taped.”

There’s risk in loving a real person. It means we don’t have them “taped,” it means they’re unpredictable. It means you might be able to hurt me, and I might be able to hurt you and there’s no way to plan exactly when or how to defend myself. I have to allow my brokenness and your brokenness to become our brokenness. If we desire authentic love, people cannot exist to us as a solution to our sufferings and insecurities. They must become a companion in it.

Companion. From the Latin companis. To break bread with one another. Our human relationships are inseparable from that which is broken. Venerable Fulton Sheen said:

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

If you want to love for the sake of covering your wounds, date gauze and ACE wrap. There’s not enough bandage in the world to cover the wounds of a soul, to allow it to heal. The wounds can only be healed in the presence of the light, the open air. This is where I was afraid, and where I still find myself afraid at times as I strive to accept the truth of having to love broken people. To allow someone to fully love me, they have to see my brokenness.

We all want to fall in Love. Few of us want to admit our love is fallen. To admit how far we must fall from our pride, or more appropriately how far we must rise from our pride to authentically love another. If I am granted the gift of a wife, the gift of marriage, true love will demand our mutual admission of brokenness.  And not just an admission on the broad scale, but an intimacy within our weaknesses. I will need to choose to invite her into my own insecurities as she invites me into hers. To show our portraits to each other with their own imperfections. No edits. No Photoshop.

I’ll have to bare to her the insecurities that might make me reluctant to highlight my facial profile in our engagement photos. Reveal depths of my battle against feeling inadequate for a lack of worldly achievements. The fact that I’m an open-mouth sleeper.

She might have struggles with her body image that won’t just go away, even when I tell her she’s deeply beautiful. Or believe she’ll never live up to that sibling who’s achieved so much. Or there’s that obscure obsession with having the toothpaste on one side of the sink at all times.

We might both believe we’re not what the other deserves.

And as far as what we deserve, we’ll be right.

At a friend’s wedding, the very same friend who let me buy Sambas for a date, the priest caused a moment of nervous laughter in the congregation with one of his homily lines. He turned to the bride and told her she doesn’t deserve my friend. She doesn’t deserve his self-sacrificial nature, his humor, going on and on. Then, turning to my friend, he continued: “and you definitely don’t deserve her!” The following list was clearly much longer.

Father J was dead on. My friend doesn’t deserve his wife’s qualities or her love. Nor her, his. Not because they’re not loving or faithful, but because we don’t “deserve” Love in the first place. It is the gift most freely given by our Creator, what we were made from and for. We don’t deserve a Savior whose greatest gift came at His most vulnerable and apparently broken moment. We don’t deserve to fall in love. The word “deserve” as we most commonly use it hardly factors into real love at all.

This is the overwhelming truth of loving broken people, that our beauty is revealed within brokenness and not apart from it. Beauty is found in who a person truly is and as they truly exist, as they were created and as they are continually allowed to exist by their Creator who loves them enough to sustain them just so.

As C.S. Lewis knew “All reality is iconoclastic. The earthly beloved, even in this life, incessantly triumphs over your mere idea of her. And you want her to; you want her with all her resistances, all her faults, all her unexpectedness. That is, in her foursquare and independent reality.”

In his or her foursquare and independent beauty.

It is true God wants us to become perfect. We are called to a perfection we accomplished by His grace and unity with Him. So brokenness does not translate to justifying sin or choosing to stop allowing Him to make us great. It is Love which banishes the excuses of brokenness. All of this is in the true sense of reality, the reality of failings which will not hold us apart from our purpose but are transformed into that which helps us achieve it. The truth of brokenness redeemed.

If we buy into the lie telling us we’ll find love with someone who’s not broken, we’ll never fall in love with a “someone” at all. We’ll only ever be in love with something, only possess an inferior love for that which can never exist in this iconoclastic reality. In the lines of Vance Joy, we say “this mess was yours, now your mess is mine.”

With few exceptions, God has only loved weak and imperfect people. And with those same exceptions, so He asks us to love. As for who to date? Who to join with in the process of intentional choice and wild intangibility that is falling in love?

They’ll be broken. That’ll be one of the first signs of something good.

P.S. You are enough