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Posted on Sep 18, 2013 in Marriage, Parenting | 4 comments

Naked and Not Ashamed

Naked and Not Ashamed

Today I find myself wondering how anyone can ever stand before another, even a trusted spouse, naked and not ashamed.  In our over-sexualized culture, images of perfection (not even real, but air-brushed) are everywhere.  They mock those who save sex for marriage and consider self-control impossible.

Lingerie commercials use models who have bodies covered with little more than glittering makeup to brazenly strut across our television screens.  They appear unashamed of their bodies, but stories of cutting and self-abuse filter out of their closely guarded world.  New shows glamorize adultery and betrayal.  Reality TV draws the viewer in with claims of competition and then baits them with underwear-clad, pencil-thin cast members who compete in physical challenges that often demand censors to blur body parts because they can’t keep their tiny cloth pieces held together by string in place.

Turn off the television and the billboards remind us.  Move to the country and magazines in the doctor’s office remind us.  Stop picking up the magazines and the catalog shows up in our mailbox.  Throw the catalog away unopened and see your neighbor’s teenage daughter imitating what she’s seen on the latest awards show.  Images of both desirable and undesirable bodies show up on the sides of our social media pages, our email screens, and even in newsletters from Christian celebrities.  They tell us what is acceptable and unacceptable, training us to believe that beauty can only look one way.

How am I, a 37-year old pregnant mother, to manage my emotions as the condemnation comes at me from every angle – telling me  I’m not thin enough, my hair isn’t long/curly/straight enough, my complexion isn’t creamy enough, my lips are full enough, my teeth aren’t white enough, and my legs aren’t smooth enough?  God-forbid I have any cellulite, varicose veins, or body hair!  It’s a full-time job to try to meet all these requirements.

In order to look like a supermodel, I need to spend hours each day in the gym; more hours planning and preparing perfectly balanced and healthy meals; even more hours removing body hair, smoothing and curling the hair on my head (adding hair pieces or extensions to make it thick and long enough); and even more hours getting facials, manicures,  pedicures, and body scrubs.  Let’s add to that time in the cosmetic surgeons office for Botox, lip fillers, a nose job, liposuction, a boob job, and a chin implant; then put makeup on my perfect complexion.  Fake eyelashes make my dark lashes thicker and longer, contouring deceives the eye so I appear to have more distinct features, and expensive powders remove any hint of shine.  After spending 16 hours a day on beauty treatments, where do we find time for a vocation, a family, or a social life?

tears_modelI’m convinced that’s why the models on the runway look miserable.  They’re furious about all the stuff they have to go through to have the privilege of representing the American woman to the world!  But if you take the time to do all these things and try to be the perfect woman, then people question if you have an eating disorder or need to find a job to occupy your time better.

No wonder so many like me find it nearly impossible to stand before our spouse – naked and not ashamed.

A lovely young bride confides in me that her husband has never seen her without her shirt on because she can’t see the beauty other see in her and feels mortified by her figure.  A mother of three cringes when her husband touches her in the dark, horrified that the skin on her stomach is loose and he will reject her.  A handsome young man starves himself while lifting weights, gets his entire upper body waxed and goes to the tanning bed – in an effort to look chiseled and desirable.  While he’s able to get dates, he cannot allow anyone to get close enough to see beneath his thin veneer of carefully cultivated masculinity and wonders why he’s always alone.  A beautiful woman causes her body to shut down and stop functioning properly so she feels thin enough to find a husband.  These are real people I know.

Imagine what it was like back in the days when those words were written.  God made Adam and Eve naked and not ashamed.  They lived in a garden.  They were totally innocent and unaware of comparison.  They didn’t know they were too hairy, their skin was too dark, or that they would be more appealing to Americans with blonde hair and blue eyes.  They stood before one another as perfect beings, loved and accepted.

I struggle with these thoughts every day.  Sometimes I wonder if it’s every waking hour of every single day.  Sometimes I just give up because who could ever be perfect enough?  And then at times I fight, walk the tightrope of perfectionism, and feel happy when I find myself somewhat closer to the elusive ideal.  When I was a young teenager, 5’10” tall and weighing all of 135 pounds, I felt mortified by how overweight I was.  If only I could reach the golden number of 125…  But no matter how much I exercised and starved myself, my body simply refused me.  If I wanted to weigh 125 pounds, I was going to have to stop eating all together, and somehow I just couldn’t bring myself to get to that extreme.  I was a size 5 or 7, but my significantly shorter friends wore size 1 or 3.

Fifteen years later I hired a Christian personal trainer/nutritionist to help me meet my goals.  The goal he set for me was to weigh 125 pounds.  When I laughed and told him that was next to impossible, he confidently told me I could do it if I’d just follow his plan.  Forget the fact that 125 is considered underweight for someone my height, but okay….  A month later I was injured due to over-exercise and cancelled my contract with him.

Lately I’ve been questioning myself.  Why can’t I just find a healthy balance, cherish it, and be a good example to my children?  Why must I either walk a tightrope of extreme measures or give up all control whatsoever?  What is the healthy middle ground?  And how can I find it?  Am I too far gone to ever have a healthy body-image?

I never remember a day in my life when I wasn’t on some kind of a diet, someone scrutinizing my food choices and judging me for it.  I don’t know many women who grew up differently than me.  The way I looked was always a reflection on someone else.  And it was important to meet or exceed the American standard of beauty.  Whatever the cost.  I tried hard to measure up.  I even went so far as to take laxatives, throw up, and stop eating all together, but I couldn’t maintain the discipline.  I hated the way I felt, even felt like I was sinning, and decided it wasn’t worth it.  I would take responsibility for the food I put in my mouth, for the calories I consumed, and find a way to deal with the consequences.

When I look at my precious Eliana and her perfect little form, my heart cries out in agony at the thought that I will pass this self-hatred and comparison on to her.  I want it to stop with me.  I want to find a way to cut through the lies that our culture is already throwing at her every day and somehow teach her to love and cherish her body.  I want her to feel grateful that she’s healthy, that she has a body that functions properly and is strong.  I want her to look in the mirror and see that she is fearfully and wonderfully made.

And in her security with how she looks, I want her to know that she is so much more than the way she looks.  Please God, let her know that she is valuable for who she is, for her gifts and talents, for her wit and kindness.  I want her to be full of the gifts of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.  I pray that she’ll be empty of comparison, self-loathing, and insecurity.

How do we teach our daughters to cherish and value themselves in a culture that demands perfection?  

How do we teach ourselves to accept and love our imperfections and scars?  How do we find a way to balance the instant gratification that’s available to us through processed foods and cosmetic surgery with the self-control that’s from the Holy Spirit?

I’ve searched my heart for answers and I’m still searching.  I’ve begged God for clarity, divine wisdom, and grace.  I’ve prayed for help to make wise and healthy choices, to use words that build up and do not tear down, and to show her through my example what a healthy and whole life looks like.

One day I hope to know what it means to be naked and not ashamed.  One day I hope my daughter will know the freedom of standing before her husband naked and not ashamed.  And I pray God will send her a husband who gives her no reason to feel shame but totally accepts and loves her the way she is.  I hope she will confidently walk away from anyone who even suggests that she doesn’t measure up.

As I consider a solution to the problem, the one that comes to mind kind of shocks me.  

What if I make a choice to embrace life to the fullest? To have so much life and love and joy that there’s no room for concern with self-image.

What if I fill my life up with so many good things – friends, love, laughter, children, fulfilling work, helping others, giving of myself – that I don’t have the energy to care about ridiculous things like cellulite (something even the thinnest, most athletic person can have)?

There are times when cultural norms will invade my joy-filled bubble and I’ll take some time to fancy things up a bit.  I may even hire a personal trainer to get back in shape after the ravages of pregnancy are over.  And if a facial is relaxing and I don’t have to go into debt to get one, I’ll enjoy it.  It won’t be to meet some standard of perfection, but be a way to relax and be good to myself.  Those things all have their place and we’re free to enjoy them, but when they become a measuring stick to guide our feelings of self-worth, they are tools to enslave us.

I’d love to know what are you doing to teach your daughters and sons to have a healthy self-image.  What are you doing to have a healthier self-image and stay off the tightrope of perfectionism?

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Posted on Jun 27, 2013 in Devotional, Marriage | 0 comments

Why Did God Make Me Wait?

Why Did God Make Me Wait?

A few days ago I snuck in a guilty pleasure, a 90-minute phone conversation with one of my good friends from our single days in Nashville.  We often discuss the meaning of life when we talk, trying to figure out our own crazy lives and what to make of it all.  We have wildly different ideas about theology, but it never seems to bother either one of us.  I thoroughly enjoy our conversations, both of us realizing we never answer the questions but enjoying our conversation anyway.

telephone_1950sShe began this talk with the provocative questions, “Why do you think God had you wait so long to marry Rick?  Couldn’t you two have married fifteen years earlier?  You knew one another.  You were both single adults, who wanted marriage and family life, so why did you have to wait so long?  And how does Rick feel about it?  Does he wish you’d found one another sooner?”  Rick couldn’t care less about these questions.  He just enjoys life where he is and doesn’t try to analyze it too much.  I’ve gone over and over those questions in my mind, trying to get to the bottom of the puzzle.

I gave her the practical answer:  Fifteen years ago, Rick worked too many hours to have time for a family.  I wanted to get my education, have a career, and enjoy city life.  I wouldn’t have even considered becoming a farmer’s wife in the rural Midwest.  It wasn’t until he “retired” from the business he and his father had together that he was ready to marry.  As badly as I wanted a husband, it wasn’t until I had worn myself out with trying to make my way in the world that I was willing to allow someone else to help me.  I didn’t add this part in our conversation, but the truth is that it wasn’t until I discovered how much I could trust my loving God that I could trust my life to a man.

My friend wanted to know if it was it God’s plan for me not to marry until I was 36 years old, not to have the longed-for child until I was 37.  And am I ticked about being placed at the end of a very long line, being forced to wait until the last few years of fertility?  (At least I was in the line…)  Was it God’s plan for me to wrestle with purity, to wrestle with my sexuality, for twenty years?  Ugh!  Why would God make me reach puberty in my early teens, command me to reserve sex for marriage, and then make me wait until my late 30s to marry?  Is He really that mean?

I have to believe that God is not mean, and He did not intend to deprive me.  Humans have convoluted His system, made life into something different than the ideal, and as a result we suffer needlessly at times.  As I look back on my life, I cannot help but remember a guy who adored me while I was in my teen years.  He was an active member of our church and committed to Christ, handsome, kind, and had a good job.  He and I came from a similar background and our families understood one another well.  He was too old for me, so we never had more than one ‘accidental’ date.  I knew of his feelings through things others said and the fact that he hung around a lot, not because he ever acted on them.  But I believe he might’ve waited for me if I’d responded differently than I did.  I was over-the-moon that he’d pay attention to me (he was so cute!).  But that’s where it stopped.  I thought I needed to go to college, work, live on my own for a while, and if I could get him interested in me I wondered who else I might be able to attract.  So I made a choice and he married someone else.

Years later when I finally did marry, I married a man a lot like him.  I have to shake my head in wonder at the whole thing.  I suppose I might have had a similar life to the one I’m living now, but without the years of struggle as I waited and tried to keep my desires in check.  (Who knows, there may have been a bunch of different problems though…)  So is it right to blame God for “making me wait”?  We can never really know how our lives might have been different if we had made different choices.  I can’t say that I wish I’d chosen differently back then.  I’m not even sure I was capable of making another choice.  I made an immature decision because I was immature.  I needed time to figure out my way in the world.  God knew the entire time what I needed and He sheltered me as I bumbled around, trying to figure it all out.

So the battle between free-will and predestination rages on for me.  God gives us free will, but He knows everything, so He knows what choices we will make.  Nothing surprises Him.  Knowing what choices we’ll make, He’s able to lay out a plan for us.  So He has a plan, but it’s based on what He knows of us, yet He created us as we are.  To me, it’s the unanswerable question.

IMG_20130331_153246_716I’m thankful I finally married Rick and that we have such a sweet little girl.  I’m thankful that at this time in our lives, he’s at home a lot and we are raising her as a team.  I’m incredibly thankful that Rick is the kind of dad who is available and involved in his daughter’s daily life.  He’ll be that awesome dad who can chaperone field trips and help with homework.  Both of our dads were young when they had us, faithful and responsible, and they worked around the clock to provide for us.  Both of our mothers sometimes felt like they were raising their children alone, but appreciated the husbands who made it possible for them to have homes and children.  Given the time he had to prepare, Rick is a good provider and a present parent.  I’m thankful to know who I am, not trying to raise a child while I strive and strain to become whole.  I’m grateful that within a few years of discovering that I want to be a writer, I was able to stay at home and focus more on it.

Whether it was free-will or God’s perfect plan for my life, it has worked out.  God has taken my mess and made something beautiful out of it.  God has allowed me my mistakes, seen my heart, and worked it all out for my good – giving me joy unspeakable.  He’s healed me from my struggle with anxiety and depression and set me free to enjoy the other parts of life that I wanted so badly.  He’s given me a loving and kind husband who is absolutely committed to Christ, a true man of peace.  In spite of all the options I passed by and questionable choices I made, hopefully the person I am becoming is one who brings honor and glory to Christ’s name.

Our phone conversation wasn’t all about me.  My friend has her own questions, wondering how life might’ve been different if she and her husband had known one another earlier, had different experiences.  Could they have avoided some of the problems they’ve encountered?  Might new problems have taken their place?  Interrupted in the middle of our conversation by the needs of our children, my friend and I laughed as we hung up, undisturbed by our inability to conclude our discussion.  We didn’t need to wrap it all up.  We just enjoyed trying to figure it out together.  We’re both in love with our children, in love with our husbands, thankful for the ability to devote ourselves to them full-time, and to sneak in ridiculously long phone calls every once in a while.

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Posted on Aug 25, 2012 in Fertility, Marriage, Wisdom | 4 comments

Writer’s Block?

Writer’s Block?

The writing muse seems to have taken a little vacation from me in the last several months.  Adjusting to farm life took a back seat to adjusting to pregnancy, and it’s hard to imagine that I’d keep many readers if every post began with an update on the number of times I’ve vomited recently.  I’ve attempted to write on some deeper topics that seem good as I get started, only to shut the computer in frustration and give up when it becomes obvious that my ability to relate the topic to others has somehow been broken.  How do I get back on track with writing my blog?

One of the things I’d really like to do is go back to school for a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Non-Fiction.  The degree would polish my skills and open doors into professional (i.e. PAID) writing.  And as I’ve learned over the years, a little education can go a long way to taking something good about yourself and making it amazing.  Since taking on the new role of mother has most of my attention right now, it’s not a good time to start a degree program.  However, I decided that there’s no reason I shouldn’t pursue an education in the field at my own pace during this time – preparing myself for the day I pay someone to give me feedback on all I’m reading and writing.  So I’ve been slowly reading more and more books on writing.  The subject fascinates me and I want to absorb all I’m learning.  Right now my bookshelf is full of two important subjects:  babies and writing.

A theme I’m finding in my writing books is that whether we are fiction or non-fiction writers, we must learn to write from our own experiences.  Our experiences are the only things we can truly rely on (unless we’re science fiction/fantasy writers).  I always assumed that literary fiction writers had tremendous imaginations and made up everything they wrote, but what their imaginations really do is look at the world around them, circumstances and people and things, and ask, “what if…?”  Then they allow their imaginations to take hold from there.  The details of the books are often fictionalized versions of their own lives and experiences.  (I’m feeling every day like it’s more and more possible for me to actually write literary fiction, although I’ve always felt like it was not my gifting.)

Because we must write from our own experience, it’s no wonder that writers are often full of angst, depressed, frustrated, and confused.  We must write to sort out the mess in our heads, get it down on paper (or screen) and make sense of it all.  By examining our own thoughts and feelings, we are able to make sense of the world.  As we make sense of our world, we relate it to others in a way we hope they will understand and appreciate.  So does that mean that a writer without angst, depression, frustration, or confusion is not much of a writer at all?

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself recently.  Has my world become so smooth, so joyful, so peaceful that I no longer have anything to write about that the world may relate to?

Um.   The answer to that question is a resounding NO.  While aspects of my life that I used to write about no longer fill me with fear and angst, there are new problems that come with every new stage in our lives.  But since my current sorrows involve people I love dearly, it’s hard to know what is appropriate to share and what is not my place.  How do I write about finding out several of my dearest loved ones have cancer, especially when they have chosen to manage their illness privately?  How do I write about the miseries of pregnancy when I’ve wanted for so long to carry a child in my womb – and wanted to be full of grace and beauty in the process?  How do I write about daily frustrations with sorting out married life, adjusting to a new family, and all that goes with it?  Are they my stories to share or is it disrespectful to drag those I love most dearly into such a public forum?

Is it really writer’s block, or is what I’m writing too deeply personal to publish?  Because I HAVE been writing.  It’s that I’ve been unable to share.

Lastly, I’ve been questioning if I want this to turn into a “mommy blog” like so many I follow.  I thoroughly enjoy reading about the joys of motherhood and money-saving tips on raising a family.  I could post more of my favorite recipes and share the information I’ve found on handling extreme pregnancy sickness.  But is that what I want to write about regularly?  The answer is no.  While my experiences inform my writing, and I’m currently experiencing major adjustments as a new wife and expectant mother, my hope is to share nuggets of truth and lead others closer to Christ and a healthy, biblical world view.  That isn’t to say I think my world view is the healthiest, most biblically-centered world view.  But as I grow in my understanding of that concept, my hope is to find a way to communicate it to others.  I have to write from my experiences, so the backdrop of my postings will center around my daily life as a wife and mother, but I’m hoping for something more to come out as well.

The Lord has turned my mourning into dancing, blessed me with all that I wanted and more, and I am grateful.  I want to find a way to share that with the world. In that sharing, my goal is to be respectful and honoring to those who share their lives with me and to earn their trust, so if they ever do show up in one of my blog postings, they will feel blessed.

So for today, I will not write about cancer, the shocking difficulty of this (healthy) pregnancy, or the latest negotiation I’ve had with my husband over what we do or do not need for a baby.  My life is not perfect nor stress-free, and finding my voice in that reality is a struggle.  Please bear with me as I stretch to find new ways to communicate effectively and respectfully.

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Posted on May 26, 2012 in Fertility | 54 comments

Big Announcement

Big Announcement

To my subscribers: you’re getting this post a day before it will be advertised on Facebook.  You’re the first to know.  Thank you for subscribing! 

During our wedding, I chose Psalm 40:1-5 as one of the verses we wanted to be shared with the congregation.  To me, it is a song of praise to God who has worked out marvelous things in our lives.  Today, as I get ready to share even more exciting news with you, I want to quote it again.

I waited patiently for the LORD;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD.

Blessed is the man who makes
the LORD his trust,
who does not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after a lie!
      You have multiplied, O LORD my God,
              your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you!
I will proclaim and tell of them,
yet they are more than can be told.

God has truly multiplied His wondrous deeds toward us. I am more aware of this fact than ever before in my life. Today Rick and I are ready to share with the world that God has granted us the desire of both of our hearts – a baby!
Our baby is due to be born right around Christmas.  I have had every pregnancy symptom the books mention, right on schedule.  Rick is as excited as I am, matching my own desire for children with his own.  We had to laugh when we realized our plans to celebrate our one year anniversary with a return trip to our honeymoon cabin in Gatlinburg will have to be scrapped – unless we want to bring a newborn with us!

I was afraid because it took us so long to find one another.  I feared pregnancy would be as elusive as marriage had been for us.  My heart swells with joy at the relief I experienced when we discovered in our fourth month of marriage that the miraculous had happened!

Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
3 Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
4 Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
5 Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
9 He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.

Psalm 103:1-5, 8-10

Here’s the first picture of our little peanut – at 8 weeks and 2 days old…

                       

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Posted on May 21, 2012 in Marriage | 2 comments

Facing Fears

Facing Fears

One year ago today, Rick asked me to marry him.  My life is incredibly different now than it was at that time.  But one thing has remained constant and steady – our love for each other.  It’s grown so much, adding trust and respect and grace into the mix, in the last year.

The night he proposed, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  Okay, so maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but that’s how I remember it.  At 35 years old, I was terrified to give my heart away again, only to have it stomped on.  I didn’t feel like I had the emotional capacity for another break up, another disappointment.  Old emotions had come rolling in, uninvited, and I was worried that Rick would realize he had my heart, the challenge was over, and walk away.  It had happened too many times before.  I also had a lot of fear about the changes that would come into my life if it did work out.  Facing those fears and pressing through into God’s peace were a daily challenge.

My heart knew that Rick was different, that he would never leave me; but my emotions were LYING to me.  Fear rose in my heart and took my breath away.  I was so in love and so afraid to believe in it and let hope rise.

On that precious night when Rick proposed, I felt like I could breathe again.  He had wanted to wait two more months, until we’d dated a full year.  He sensed my anxiety though and pushed up his time table, taking my heart into consideration in an act of selflessness that seems to define his very being.  Rick is methodical, careful, cautious, and precise.  He stepped way out of his comfort zone to help me feel more comfortable.  He is my knight in shining armor.

I wanted to get married right away, but I saw the look in his eyes.  He had proposed before he was quite ready and he needed some time to adjust.  He wasn’t hesitating to get married, but his cautious and careful personality needed time to adjust to the new path his life was taking.  With a new confidence that he was in my life forever, I relaxed and agreed to wait seven months to get married.  Seven months!  It seemed like an eternity.  But my sweet husband is a slow-adapter and I had to respect his wishes and not allow it to hurt my feelings.

Seven months later we DID get married and it’s now been nearly five months since we promised our lives to one another.  As I’ve grown in my understanding of him and learned to appreciate his steady and gentle nature, my love for him has grown as well.  He isn’t excitable, doesn’t make fast decisions, and he’s the steady rock I can feel safe and secure on.  He encourages me to fly and knowing that he is my safe place to land, I can spread my wings.  We are so good for one another, it blows me away.

While we were dating, I wondered at times if my fear was a warning from the Lord or my inability to trust the Lord.  Rick was so far from what I had anticipated, from what I’d looked for on my own, that I questioned our relationship from time to time.  Was I just so tired of being alone that I’d be willing to move to a farm in the north???  Have I lost my mind or is this what it looks like to trust the Lord?  I felt total PEACE with God, our relationship lined up with Scripture and Christian principles, and everyone I knew offered their support and encouragement.

I’m so glad I chose to face my fears and walk this path.  Farm life agrees with me.  The peace and joy I feel here, the security and safety, and the love I’m experiencing all reinforce the decision.  God knew what He was doing.  I couldn’t imagine it, but I’m so thankful that I gave Him a chance to bless me.

One year ago today, I said yes to the man I would marry.  Praise God for His goodness to me!

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