May 29, 2012

Tuesday SHINE....

Today's Reading: Job 29

Good morning, SHINE girls! I hope your weekend was safe and fun!

As we celebrated Memorial Day and the price that comes with living in a free country, I kept hearing the word "Freedom" ringing in my ear.

Not only Freedom, religiously and politically speaking, but freedom from anything that keeps us in bondage as girls, women, mothers and wives. Bondage can keep us from living the life that God meant for us to live.

With this in mind, today we have a special guest blogger.

Kate Wicker is a mommy, a wife, a writer, a friend, and a wonderful woman of the Lord.

Kate so graciously has prepared for us a beautiful testimony of her struggles with body image. This topic is very dear to my heart, because not only have I struggled tremendously in this area a lot of my life, but I believe that many of us have. (and still do struggle.)

So, girls, grab your coffee, and be blessed by Kate's inspiring journey to freedom. If you feel that anyone else in your life may need to be encouraged by her words, I urge you to pass this along to them.

Kate's Story:

I am so humbled to be sharing a small snippet of my story here today. Jill has an amazing ministry going on here, and I’m grateful to be a part of this community of beautiful, Godly women.

I hope this might speak to some of you. Some of the pain, believe it or not, is still raw, but I truly believe God is calling me to take a step out of my comfort zone to reveal this heart of mine. I pray some of my words were Spirit-led and will offer you peace, healing, and above all, the awareness that you are indeed a beautiful woman. SHINE, lovely ladies, SHINE. God designed you to do just that.

 When I was a little girl, my parents told me I was beautiful. When I was really young, I believed them. But despite the outpouring of love from my mom and dad, before too long I started to feel like I was not pretty enough, thin enough, or good enough.

The first vivid memory I have of believing there might not be anything lovely about me was when I was 9.  Nine. I was a little girl who should have been thinking more about mud pies, fairies, and playing dress-up than agonizing over every inch of my skin and that Little Debbie I really shouldn’t have eaten.

When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I had my stock response ready. “A writer, actress, and horse trainer,” I’d say.
 I did aspire to be all of these things, but silently, I thought, what I wanted most of all was to be thin.
Unlike most of my friends, I wasn’t a stick-skinny little girl. I got teased and called names like Miss Piggy. Sixth grade was a very awkward year for me.  I was a fashion disaster. Seriously, I walked around wearing busy, colorful clothing smattered with flashy zigzags or lime green polka dots! looked like Walt Disney had thrown up all over me.

And I begged my mom to let get a perm. She relented. Big mistake. My thick hair did not take to it well, and instead of the beautiful ringlets I longed for, I ended up with  a crazy, frizz-ball head of hair.

Oh, I had braces, too. Top and bottom. The chunky, silver kind.

One particularly painful memory stands out from this time in my life. I was walking between two lines of school buses at the end of a school day when I heard laughter and oinking. I looked up to see two boys with their heads sticking out of a window, pointing at me, pushing up their noses, and oinking.

From a very young age, I started to ask, “How do you get rid of what you are?”

When I was 15, I thought I might have the answer. You stop eating.

I started to diet because I desperately wanted to protect myself from ever being hurt again: from the boys who had oinked at me, from a relative who had told me I smelled funny, from anyone who had ever chipped away at my eggshell sense of self.

I embraced the misguided messages of my past emotional gashes that I wasn’t lovable when my body didn’t look a certain way. I couldn’t make myself loved, but I could make myself thinner.

Even when I wasn’t thinking about how much - or how little to - eat (which was rarely), I was thinking about how I could use my body to feel loved. I couldn’t make people notice the real me, but I could wear skirts a few too inches short or wear a tight shirt across my developing body and people might look in my direction. But only briefly. And they didn’t ever see what I wanted them to see.

I spent a big chunk of my life believing dieting  would free me from suffering. I thought beauty only wears skinny jeans, and power only comes from attracting men by wearing revealing clothes.

I know differently now. I look back at the photos of me when I was teased, and I no longer see a girl I’d want to change. What I see is a good child, a creative, sensitive child, a beloved daughter of God, a child whose inner beauty was enough. With God’s grace and love within me, I was enough back then when I was overweight. I was enough when I was too thin. And I’m enough now that I’ve finally found a mostly healthy place. It’s just taken me more than two decades to figure that out.

I spent much of my teenage years and early adulthood battling an eating disorder. Not eating and later purging when I felt like I’d eaten a “bad” food made me feel powerful. Sometimes I even thought I was happy, but it was a fleeting happiness that hinged on how “good” I was about not eating and what number happened to show up on the scale the 10, 15 times I weighed myself daily. What I hadn’t yet discovered was that my disordered eating and unhealthy body image weren’t about me not liking my body. I didn’t like myself.
I hit my rock bottom in college. I stopped menstruating. I was depressed.  One morning I woke up - throat raw from vomiting, feeling exhausted and scared. I was tired of smiling and pretending everything was fine while living an empty, rote life that was whittled down to how many calories I’d eaten and how much I weighed.

So I sought help. I worked for over two years to overcome my clinical eating disorder first at my university’s multidisciplinary treatment center and then with a therapist.

Again, I thought I was better. And in many ways I was. But, first off, any struggle that has to do with food is very, very difficult to overcome. Imagine telling an alcoholic they can have three drinks a day but they just can’t get drunk. Essentially, that’s what many of us have to do with food. We can’t take the all or nothing approach. We have to learn to approach food with temperance and a healthy spirit of self-control. That’s not easy.

However, I no longer was starving myself or making myself throw up or taking laxatives. I exercised to focus on health not a slimmer physique. And,  in many ways, I was physically cured, but I still wasn’t healed. A priest that’s a family friend of ours shared with us once that there’s a difference between being cured and healed. Being cured is sometimes the easier part, but healing takes place on a deeper spiritual level. It takes place in your soul. Jesus came to HEAL - not necessarily cure the sick. So yeah, I was cured, but I still wasn’t healed because I hadn’t fully turned myself over to the Great Physician. I still felt the need to constantly be tweaking myself. The body barbs of my past haunted me. If it wasn’t my appearance, it was something else I was afraid of being rejected.

 I know now - because hindsight really is 20-20 - that the problem was none of my healing and recovery or my plans to get better involved God. Because I wanted to come up with a way to be healed that didn’t require me to trust anyone else - not even my real Savior. I may have not been controlling my weight any longer - at least not in radically unhealthy ways - but I still was trying to control my world because I thought that if I had total jurisdiction over everything that happened to me, I would not be so vulnerable. I could inoculate myself against angst.
What years of turning the scale into the ultimate barometer of my self-worth really taught me is that the fantasy of losing weight was far more alluring than the reality of it. Suffering isn’t just for overweight people. It’s not just for average or thin people either. It’s for people period.
It also taught me that there wasn’t anything wrong with me for wanting to feel beautiful. When I blossomed into a young woman, I felt shame at first for my beauty. Then when I was deemed “physically” recovered from my eating disorder, I was tempted to relegate anything related to beauty - makeup, wanting to wear pretty clothes, even wanting to be at a health weight - as vanity.
It’s taken a lot of prayer to help me to see that women are meant to portray God’s design for beauty. If we are truly made in His image and likeness, then we are visible reminders of the invisible God. A God who is Love itself, and Love is indeed beautiful.
I suspect some of the SHINE readers don’t struggle with body image problems or have probably never suffered from a clinical eating disorder. Some of you have probably don’t even struggle with eating the right amount of food as I have. Some of you probably don’t have inner monologues about whether or not you should eat another cookie or potato chip. There are probably some of you who, God bless you, who have never even had a bad hair day.

Yet, I truly believe every single woman struggles at some point in her life with feeling unloved, under-appreciated, or misunderstood. They may not be able to put these feelings into words. It’s just as if a part of them is missing, or maybe there’s a part of them they desperately want to keep from others. Or maybe they’re constantly trying to do more, to be more.

Don’t think or a minute that these doubts, these chronic twinges of inadequacy are because we’re weak.

Oh, no, the very reason women are being assaulted with a torrent of doubts is because of how inherently strong we are. We have so much power. Our feelings of worthlessness; they are a spiritual attack against women.

The enemy is constantly whispering in our ears:

 “You’re not good enough. You’re not as put together as that mom over there. You don’t sew or homeschool or cook amazing meals. Your house is a mess.

Hey, and you over, you’re just an object in the world’s hands or in a man’s arms.

As for you, do you really think you could give this baby  in your womb a good life? You’re not even married. Abort this baby. Make it go away.

Oh, and you. You’re still not married? You’ll never be desired. No one will ever want you.

As for you, you are beautiful, sexy. But that’s absolutely all you are - a pretty, shiny package.”

The list goes on.

But the very reason we’re bombarded with these doubts is because of how beautiful and powerful and BELOVED we are.

Stasi Eldredge and her husband John wrote an amazing, life-changing book called Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of the Woman’s Soul.

They write:

             “Woman is meant to be the incarnation-our experience in human form - of a          Captivating God.  Beauty is what the world longs to      experience from a woman. We know that. Somewhere down deep, we know it to be true. Most of our shame comes from this knowing and feeling that we have            failed here. So listen to this: Beauty is an essence that dwells in every       woman. It was given to her by God. It was given to you.”

My dear sisters in Christ, you are beautiful. You don’t have to be a prisoner to food, the scale, or broken resolutions. God is a revolutionary. He came to us as a helpless babe and grew into a man who would save us all. He transforms ashes into beauty. He changes the conflict within you into peace. He takes what is dead and gives it new life.
Maybe you need to work on reining in gluttony or try to carve out more time for exercise. Having healthy, realistic goals is one thing. But telling yourself you’re worthless until you exercise more self-control is betraying your Creator. You are His canvas, and His signature is on your heart.

We don’t need to be thinner or become what society defines as outwardly attractive to be loved, valued, or to have dignity.
You are beautiful just the way you are. Ponder that. Pray about it every single day if you have to. And start living a life that shows you believe it to be true.
Personally, it wasn’t until I began to truly believe this and believe that God loved me and would pursue me even on an “ugly day” that I was able get over the body insults of my past, forgive those who had intentionally or unintentionally maligned my physical appearance, make peace with food and the shape of my body, and start to treat myself with the kindness that I once believed only thin or perfect people deserved.
Wherever you are at this point in your life, however you feel about your body, turn to God if you really want a makeover. You were created to be a reflection of God’s love and beauty, and it is prayer - more than another fad diet - that will restore you to His likeness. 
Yes, keep striving to be the woman God calls you to be, but this person may not look like your neighbor-the-marathon-runner or that silver screen starlet. She may not even look anything like the younger (pre-baby?) you. She’s going to stumble. She’s going to goof up again and again. But none of this makes her bad or unlovable. It makes her - you - human. And our Father loves His imperfect darlings.
A dear friend of mine passed along this beautiful passage from Father Jaques Phillips’s Interior Freedom, which articulates how in order to accept ourselves - all of ourselves - we must recognize how beloved we are in God’s eyes.

He writes,

“Only under the gaze of God can we fully and truly accept ourselves.  We need to be looked upon by someone who says, as God did through the prophet Isaiah: 'You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you'. Consider a girl who believes she is plain (as, curiously enough, do many girls, even pretty ones!) begins to think that she might not be so frightful after all on the day a young man falls in love with her and looks at her with the tender eyes of someone in love.  We urgently need the mediation of another's eyes to love ourselves and accept ourselves.  The eyes may be those of a parent, a friend, a spiritual director; but above all they are those of God our Father.  The look in his eyes is the purest, truest, tenderest, most loving, and most hope-filled in the world."

God sees you as nothing less than lovely and the truth is - no matter how much we succeed, how many pounds we drop or wrinkles we erase - we will never be enough without God. So let’s stop trying. Believe you were made in Heaven and are absolutely beautiful and desired by Your Beloved Father. Believe in the one who created you and His love for you, and that is what will SHINE through and the world will behold the beauty that is YOU.

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