Tag Archive | shame

My Mental Nickname is Fat-Pants McGee

mirror mirrorYesterday I broke a zipper. While wearing a dress. Like, to give you the mental picture of my horror, I’d already tried to put on one dress, a beautiful pencil skirt/blouse combo dress with a creamy satin top. I nearly got stuck with it at my shoulders, and the moment it hit my hips, I knew it was going to be one of those exorcist moments when you fail about helplessly, wriggling up and down like one of those balloon men at a car dealership as you try to get it off. That straight-jacket sadness now on the bed, I grabbed my second skirt/shirt combo dress, this time with a maroon satin top. Not my favorite, but I hadn’t done wash in a while and before #2, it had been way too big. I slither and struggle my way into this one. (And let me tell you, I’m still not entirely convinced that the zipper up the skirt but stopping at the shirt is a logical idea. Take it to the armpit, people. If you can’t manage to hide that with good seams, then don’t design it.I swear I thought I was going to pop the sleeves before I EVER thought I’d break the zipper.)

After some tugging and shrugging, I got the skirt down. Blamed freshly-moisturized legs for the sticking. Grab the zipper, fully confidant that it’ll go, and – POP!

I swear to you, I nearly started to cry. Tears welled up. I nearly lost it, right then and there. Why?

Three days before, I’d gotten out of our truck at my parents to be greeted 10 seconds later by “Are you gaining weight?” Not by my mother, mind, who has decided that bikinis are no longer for me and my flubby, stretch-marked belly. This from my father. The man who is supposed to build up my (fragile now) feminine outlook. Usually, it’s “are you pregnant?”, so I’m not sure if he was trying to avoid the entire idea of another grandchild or has just started to pick up my mother’s lingo. But there it sat, heavy and horrible. Summoning my best strength, wobbly as spaghetti noodles, I lifted my chin, smiled, and said, “Yes.” Because I am. No clue why, but I am. He frowned. Closed the car door. And said, “Why?” 

No really, Dad, please punch me in the gut. It’s flubby enough that it shouldn’t hurt.

Fast-forward back to last night, and I discovered that I was too out-of-shape (and possibly too shapely) to sit up in the tub without using the sides to help. My abs, my abs, why have you forsaken me?!

And then the dress. There is nothing so terrible a sound as the pop of a broken zipper followed by the sound of the zipper undoing all. the. way. down.

I mention all of this in honest query: I work in the beauty industry. My entire life’s mission is to reveal each and every woman’s (and man’s) inner and outer beauty. I love people, and I love finding the things about them that are amazing and wonderful.

Yet here I sit, a pile of clothes on the bed that I’ve finally given up on and one of my most depressing post ever on the screen.

HOW, people, should I or any of us feel beautiful when everyone looking at us doesn’t see that beauty? When strangers on the street see our smile and our eyes and our beautiful personalities, but the people who are supposed to be our rocks – our family and closest friends – ask questions like this? I don’t mind people telling it like it is. Constructive criticism is great. Sometimes I wear dresses that are too short or too low or not cut right. Sometimes, a helpful tip like, “I love the way you look in that high-waisted dress! The flare makes your waist look tiny!” can both change my wardrobe to be more flattering and boost my ego. Why can’t we all do that instead? Compliment what we DO like and not mention what we don’t. Or find a way to mention it that doesn’t bruise our friend’s esteem. Why can’t we say, “I love your heels! But… I love you, and I’m not sure that they work the best with that dress… The pattern on it’s super cute and looks great with your skin, but the heels and the skirt together make it look a little shorter than I know you usually go.” Then, she loves her shoes more, she knows what pattern or color looks great on her, and she doesn’t feel slammed. Instead, it seems like I hear, “Ummm… So I don’t know if you realized it, but you look like a hoochy-mama in that dress. Girl, too much skin!”

Today, I’m trying to remind myself that I am beautiful. Am I the same as I was in high school? No. Am I perfect? No. Am I fearfully and wonderfully made, with a body that bears wear and tear from creating and nurturing life? Yes.

Do I have bad habits? Yes, but I’m working on it. Am I aware of the way I look? Ha. Hahaha. Who isn’t? Seriously.

If it wasn’t for the sincerity of my husband, though, I think I would have completely lost it. Not only are the HEB shelves lined with magazines telling me that my size (even at a 10) is too big, but my parents and others are shaming for the weight. People, it is time to wake up! What good does it do me or anyone to point out what I already know? What good does it do to tell any woman that she’s put on weight? I can guarantee that her clothes told her LOOOOONG before you ever noticed. Pointing it out does nothing. Well, does nothing except add fuel to the “I can’t beat this” fire. This coming from someone who has had all of the training in positive mental talk and affirmations. I can affirm myself all day long, focus on my goals, work towards them, form new habits. One careless comment, regardless of how it is meant, can seriously shake if not destroy all of that. After all, why try if everyone just thinks I’m fat? If everyone just thinks I purposely wear short skirts (that are short because the girth is greater)? If everyone assumes I’ve gotten lazy and have no work ethic? (The number of times I’ve heard THAT one are astounding.)

I know the majority of this post was one huge rant, but I am beyond frustrated with myself and with others. I hate hate HATE that those words echo in my head every time I look in the mirror. I hate that a broken dress makes me want to cry. Even more than that, I hate that I feel like a hypocrite, trying to show you guys your beauty, while hating myself.

I don’t know how to fix it other than avoiding certain people. I don’t want to do that. I don’t know how to fix any of this except to fix the way I interact with the world. My truth is that I am beautiful WITH all of my imperfections, and so are you. Everyone has room to grow and learn. Mine right now is physical growth, relearning how to take care of my body. Or, learning how to love the body I now live in. I cannot control the words of others, but maybe – JUST MAYBE – one person will read this or share it, and that one person will change the way that they talk, too. 

One person can change every single person’s life that they touch.

So, today my affirmation is “I love my body, flaws and all. I am not who I used to be. I am better. I have room to grow, and I love myself for doing it.”

Are you willing to take that challenge? Will you start listening to the words you say? To the thoughts you have about yourself and others? Because, people, our bodies change. If we can’t love them at every stage, then we will live very sad lives indeed. Bringing other people down with us in our self-hate does nothing but spread the misery. So, are you willing to bite your tongue with those snide comments, those hurtful things you say to make yourself feel better, those gossipy comments you say behind people’s backs? Are you willing to ignore the negative with the attitude that it’s something they’re changing, and focus on the positive? Are you?

 

 

** I am not in any way supporting unhealthy lifestyles. You can still love your body and image while working to make it better. And, sometimes our bodies are just fine as they are, and a focus on getting that “perfect” place is actually more unhealthy than where we were to start with.

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“It’s So Immodest!”

http://www.mamabeanparenting.com/

A poster ad for the University of North Texas

Look, I understand. I promise I do. No self-respecting woman wants to expose herself. Seriously, tell me if my panties play peek-a-boo when I bend down. And I’m just as mortified as the next girl to realize my bra isn’t as thick as I wish it was for those “nippy” days. That said, this idea of “immodesty” is one of the biggest hurdles I face as a breastfeeding mom, and it isn’t just on your part.

I won’t blame society alone. I know a lot of my experience is self-induced. I grew up in a household where anything below the collar bone was immodest, where one-piece swimsuits were the only acceptable suit, unless it was a tankini. Even our swim team speedos were frowned upon behind closed doors, because Lord knows those have no padding. So I grew up being ashamed of my chest and seeing it as a body part to be hidden. When breastfeeding arrived, along with its massive bust change, it was difficult to put aside those previous feelings and just enjoy the moment. It still is difficult. I was embarrassed on Sunday night at church when #2 pulled off the nipple to giggle at a friend as he was picked up, and I couldn’t get my hand over it fast enough. A lot of my attempts at modesty fail, though. Both boys, though moreso #2, hated being covered up. Anything near #2’s face gets yanked off within seconds. He also likes to play. A lot. Reference the nipple-reveal from Sunday. And it’s mortifyingly embarrassing.

But I’m not trying to cause it. It’s the other person at the end of the boob. I have no control over him or his actions, but I do have a responsibility to feed him. What’s more, he is a person in his own right. I think sometimes people look at a nursing mom, and all they see is a giant boob. Sitting there. Staring at them, with one giant cyclops eye. Let’s all rub our eyes now and look again. It’s one person helping another survive. When did our culture become so sexualized that a natural process has become “immodest?”

Let’s look at it this way. If someone told your 1st grader to go eat in the bathroom stall, you would be horrified! Moreover, if your boss said, “Mary, I cannot stand the sight of you today. You need to go eat in the bathroom for lunch,” you’d probably file for harassment or verbal abuse. After all, bathrooms are full of germs and possibly diseases, especially public restrooms. That’s if no one is in there! “Mmmm…. tuna salad with a side of the farts. Delicious!” “I just love eating my minestrone soup while So-and-so deals with their food poisoning.” Not.

Or, would you let your daughter go eat her lunch in your truck on a Texas summer evening? We’re all well-acquainted with the method of cooking frogs. They don’t realize that the temperature is rising, and so they let themselves be cooked. It’s the same method.

And why do you breathe into a paper bag when you’re hyperventilating? To reduce the amount of oxygen in your blood by breathing in carbon dioxide. A cover with no opening (think blanket) does the same thing.

All of these are things regularly expected and considered “normal” for a nursing mom. Don’t believe me? With #1, I pumped in shame in a locker room during breaks I had to fight for. I ended up losing my milk production because I was too ashamed to ask and too embarrassed to have milk in the work freezer. With #2, I nursed him in a back corner of the airport bathroom at 3 weeks old. I got to listen to one girl force herself to throw up, and another have some serious bowel issues. Neither are pleasant smells or sounds. And for three months while I finished my degree, I pumped in whatever bathroom stall I could get, though I did my best to use the handicap stall. That way, I could be farther from the toilet and any potential splatter. Think about that. Breastmilk in a bathroom. I also often nurse in the truck whenever Little Man gets hungry inconveniently. We live in Texas. Our winters are 65* at noon. We won’t mention our summers.

But that’s expected. After all, no one should be subjected to seeing another person’s personal parts, right?

Right?

I’m sorry, but that is wrong. And hurtful.

I, and most nursing moms out there, am doing my best to be modest. I’m not talking about Extreme Breastfeeding Mamas of America here. Most of us genuinely want to respect our bodies and your feelings by staying covered up. The inherent lie of it all, though, is that breastfeeding is immodest. So many people will say, “It’s just not modest,” but when actually faced with a situation, when it’s gone into more deeply, change their tune because they realize how silly the notion is. We shouldn’t be shamed into hiding in bathroom stalls for your decency. We shouldn’t have to melt in our cars because we’re worried about what you’ll think of us.

It’s often in ways you don’t even realize, so here are a few examples of what a nursing mom often sees:

The raised eyebrow – what we think you’re thinking: “What is she thinking?” “Is that a boob?” “Why isn’t she covering up?” “Weird…”
what we feel: ashamed, embarrassed, like freaks.

The slight frown – what we think you’re thinking: “How immodest!” “Can’t she take that somewhere else?” “This is not the place to do that.” “Women these days…”
what we feel – immodest, ashamed, looked down upon, like sluts

And those are just the most common. There’s also the quick glance away and blush, the lip twitch, the wide-eyed stare…. We know that most of you aren’t meaning to hurt our feelings. We want to work with you, honest.

We just aren’t willing to degrade ourselves or our children for your sensitivities.

So, next time you see a mom nursing, give her a smile. Look in her eyes, not at her chest. Realize that there’s a cute pink critter eating, not a lady flaunting. And please, tell her she’s doing something awesome, even if you don’t mean it yet. One judgmental look, one casual phrase against it, and we’re back in the bathroom stall praying no one poos while we’re in there.

The Power of Shared Tears

The Child Who Was Never Born - Martin Hudacek

The Child Who Was Never Born – Martin Hudacek

It never ceases to amaze me how I feel when a friend or acquaintance opens up about their miscarriage experience. There is this feeling of awe, that they would trust me with such a powerful, painful experience. And sadness, because I know my own story, and so I can empathize. Even more, though, there is a sense of loss.

Perhaps many of you who have gone through this can relate. Maybe some of you who’ve never had a pregnancy but want one can chip in, let us know if it’s the same/similar for you.

I feel like we as a community of people have lost the ability to empathize. I don’t know if it’s an American/Western issue or just an issue with those around me, but crying with someone just isn’t really a thing. Especially if it’s anyone but your best friend or sister, crying is just… “weird.”

There is nothing else I longed for, though, when I had my miscarriages than for someone to cry with me. We all know that hollow feeling you get when you either say or receive an “I’m so sorry for your loss.” We just don’t know what to say in that moment. Really, words just don’t quite cut it. Actions, though. Actions are a literal balm to my soul. All I wanted was for someone to wrap me in a hug and let me let it all out. Someone to say, “It’s ok to cry. Let me cry with you. Let me be your protection so you can be weak.”

And yet, that’s so far from what often happens.

In my own experience, I thought I had to face it all on my own. Part of it was due to our history: 18 and pregnant isn’t a great place to start, and 21 and pregnant with no money isn’t much better. My mother, God love her, was and is and always will be very concerned with my welfare and that of our family. She is just one of many people who were and are, so this isn’t an attack on my mother. She is amazing in so many ways. I knew, though, that her concern for us would leave her very disappointed in us getting pregnant. I was afraid that she would say, “Honey, I’m sorry you’re going through this, but it’s for the best” or “It’s better this way.”  I couldn’t face that. Regardless of better or worse, it was a life. A life that I lost. I wanted to go to her and cry in her arms, let Momma kiss it better. But, I couldn’t be certain that she’d be honestly sad for me. I couldn’t bear the thought of even an iota of thought that the miscarriage was a good thing.

Then, there was the fact that both pregnancies ended very, very early. The first was 4 weeks 3 days in. The doctor was amazed I even knew I was pregnant. Ohhh… the words “chemical pregnancy” still make me tremble. The second passed at 6 weeks 1 day, but the sonogram at 5 weeks was so full of cysts that the doctors weren’t even sure which was the baby. Apparently, it never progressed from 4 weeks gestation. I’d gone in at 4 weeks when I got the positive because of the previous miscarriage (a case of incredibly low hormones). Turns out, I was wise to. Again, it was hormonal. One doctor told me that, at that early in the pregnancy, neither are actually considered pregnancies because they aren’t viable. It was so relieving to have my nurse squeeze my hand and say, “Baby, as soon as that positive sign pops, it’s a baby. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.” Her validation made all of the doubt and poo-pooing of everyone else bearable. To me, they were babies. They might never have gotten past those first stages, but they were still my babies. Every time someone brushed it off as my being dramatic, I died a little inside.

The worst, though, was the pain from those I did confide in.

One that I treasured as a confidant told me I had it better than her because I had a baby to hold when I lost the ones I couldn’t. She said it was worse for her with her miscarriages because she didn’t have a baby yet. I wanted to run away when I heard that. Neither is better or worse. The pain is there all the same. I might have had #1 to hold, but I knew the feeling of the first flutter. I knew the sound of a baby’s heartbeat impossibly emerging from my belly button. I knew the feel of kicks and heart burn and itchy skin. I knew that amazing feeling of birth and the moment directly after. I knew it all, was waiting for it, and lost it.

Another told me that “It just wasn’t God’s timing.” Granted, looking back I can see that it’s all been worked out for the best, but I firmly believe that God is not orchestrating fetal deaths. He might allow it, due to our fallen, corrupted world where our bodies and those of our children are not perfect, but I seriously doubt that God sits up there and rubs his beard and says, “Hmm… Grace needs to become more organized and needs to have more faith in me. Rather than let her have this baby, I think I’ll use it as a chance for her to grow.” The God I love is not cruel, nor is he manipulative. He uses what is presented. He does not force it to happen.

And the worst confirmed all my fears. “It’s better off this way.” File that along with the “You’re too young to have another kid” and “Y’all don’t have enough money for another baby” and “You’re not ready anyway.” I know mentally that they are meant in the best manner possible, and yet all I felt in the midst of my pain was condescension. I’m sorry, it’s not better off without my baby here beside me. And that comment of “there was probably something wrong with it anyway” is no better. I would give an arm and a leg to have a baby I could kiss, even for a moment, rather than not have them here at all. I know it’s selfish, since I do believe in heaven and I do believe that it’s a place of wholeness and perfection. Still, my human heart refuses to accept that away from me is better than with me. It hurts too much to think about.

The only response I really wanted was exactly what that nurse said. I wanted validation for my pain. I wanted someone to look at me and say, “It’s scary right now. It’s going to be scary for a while. But, you will make it to the other side.” I wanted a friend to come up, offer me a glass of wine, and let me cry. A few months after the second miscarriage, I got exactly that with a close high school friend who’d lost her baby at 12 weeks. It was the most healing thing I’ve ever felt.

I will be honest with you all. I’m sure a lot of my pain and suffering emotionally was because I did try to keep it all to myself. Those fears I talked about last post, the voice and the fears and the doubts? I didn’t mention that to my husband. The times that I screamed at God, demanding why? No one else was home. I couldn’t let anyone else see my weakness. After all, I had a toddler to care for and a career to keep up with and a husband to not freak out. So I sat in the bathroom with the door locked screaming into a towel.

It’s not the way it should be. We women (and the men who love us) should learn to empathize more, to break down that invisible personal bubble and offer a shoulder to cry on. How drastically less would my heartache have been if the words I heard had been, “Oh honey, I’m so sorry…” or “Come here, let me hug you.” I don’t know, honestly. And before I hear the “give it to God” comments, I did. It kept me sane. And lemme tell you, it was one of the worst, most beautiful moments of my life. It was one of those prayers where the pain is so much that there just are no words. Where your mind is so fractured that all you can do is scream. And scream I did. If God were human, he’d have slapped me silly. He’s not, though. Instead, he wrapped his arms around me and comforted me. He let me vent all my anger and fear and shame and feelings of failure on him, and he just held me.

We should do the same for our sisters. Maybe you haven’t experienced the pain of losing an unborn child. Have you lost a child after? Have you lost a loved one? Lost a marriage? Lost anyone important to you? The pain of relational void is something we have all experienced to some degree. I’m not saying we should all try to be in her shoes. No one can know exactly what you’re going through, and that’s ok. All you need to do is remember your own pain and then share that pain with hers. Silently is usually best, I’ve found. Just knowing that someone else has hurt like you have is so amazingly healing. And more than that, knowing that you have someone who knows what happened and is willing to be there to listen, to check up on you, and to be your strength when you have none left: those are the greatest friends I have.

The fears left from those sweet babies of mine may never go away. I feared I’d lose #2 up until the moment he arrived. Part of me still fears that he was a fluke, a miracle given to heal my heart. I know, now, though, that I have people who will stand by me regardless. The women I’ve met since who opened up about their own miscarriages have become a refuge from my fears. My husband has been amazing, blowing me away with his compassion and grace and understanding. Without him, I’d still be lost. Most of all, I’ve discovered that for every misplaced comment and painful minimization from one person, there is another personout there who has the wisdom or the longing to connect with me and bridge that gap.

It hurts. It always will. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, it merely pulls them away from the front of your mind. As soon as it comes up, though, it’s like it never left. I will not hide that pain anymore, though. And I hope I can be brave enough to break the wall and reach out to someone hurting.

There Goes My Life

The sky outside today is stunning.  Even a blue sky cannot compete with the mystery of a pewter-colored expanse. It always calms me, leaves me mellow and contemplative. A blue sky is energizing, never quite the same color. I remember the first time I realized that a blue sky changed color. I was 10, standing on Mt. Egmont in New Zealand. There was a soggy, icy plastic bag in one hand and snow-soaked mittens slowly numbing my fingers, but all I could do was stare up. It was the deepest blue I’d ever seen, a blue I could get lost in. It faded to a lighter blue, then nearly white at the horizon, disappearing into the blanket of clouds below us. I was mesmerized. Today’s sky, though, holds a different allure. Grey skies have one color, a blanket of grey that mutes the soul, makes the green of the earth vibrant, and promises something, though it’s never clear what. I can just as easily get lost in it.

Today, the sky matches my mood. I’m hovering on the edge of nostalgia and contentment, desire and depression. The house is strangely quiet. The washing machine swishes away in front of me, Luke Bryant plays on Pandora, and #2 is playing on the carpet. The husband is still sleeping after a hard night of over-time. #1 is with his grandma, about to head out on a 4 day trip through America.

I miss him. Watching his brother, I realize just how much #1 changed my life. It might not always be stress-free. It might be full of bumps and bruises and temper tantrums, but I needed him. I like to pretend that he needed me, too, but we all know that our children are really sent to us, just at the moment where our hearts are most open, most vulnerable to love.

In some alternate universe somewhere, I’m in graduate school pursuing my academic dreams. I’m probably debt-free, alone, and focused on myself. Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like if I hadn’t gotten pregnant, if I hadn’t left school for my new family. And then I get dive-bombed for bananas or drooled on by a happy, toothless creature.

My teenage pregnancy was something I struggled with for a very long time. Some days, I still do. According to my plans, it was horribly timed and totally insane. It tore me in half, leaving part of me longing to hide it while the other half wanted to rejoice. After all, I was 18. I was supposed to be a “good Christian girl.” My cover was shattered.

I’m learning that God’s plans and timing are much better than my own. He gave me the option to have free will and choose to act as I did. He loved me enough to use it to bless me. Would I change it? Before, a part of me would have cringed in shame and said, “yes…” Now, though, as I look around my house at the toys scattered across the floor, the dishes in the sink, and the baby biting my pj pants, I can 100% say, “Definitely not.” That alternate self would never have found love so unconditional, so unchanging, or so challenging. She would never have been forced out of her comfort zone, never experienced what it meant to depend wholly on God, to rely solely on one other person to make it through.

I will be the first to tell any young person that sex is for marriage. Of course it’s wonderful. Of course it’s addicting. The consequences that come with it, though, namely that of pregnancy, are not something a young person should be having to shoulder. No one should have the responsibility of another life until they are ready. Life happens, though, and thankfully, with help, we were able to become ready. It isn’t easy. It isn’t pretty. Bills sometimes don’t get paid and fights are sometimes had, but this is a beautiful, wonderful life.

Today, I feel very much like the sky outside, blanketing my heart with memories I hold close. I might cry, I might blow away. I’m not sure. How I’m feeling exactly is a mystery, but I know that I wouldn’t change it for anything.

 

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The Failure of Femininity

Libetry University's Modesty Code - 2012

Libetry University’s Modesty Code – 2012

There is an article, Naked and Ashamed, which I think every young Christian woman should read. It addresses the issues many of us have with our bodies, our sexual desires (gasp, I feel immodest even writing that), and our inevitable failure to achieve that purity standard. In it, Amanda Barbee writes:

“There is something about shame that separates us from other people through the fear of rejection. The shame perpetuated by the purity movement fits well into this definition because it is very clearly based in fear. The literature is full of threats of what might happen to a woman and her relationships if she chooses to have sex before marriage. Kendall and Jones warn, for example, “Allowing sex to enter into a relationship before marriage will almost always result in the loss of an intimate friendship with the one you desire to know you for you.”29 They warn of parental shame, haunting flashbacks, a ruined Christian testimony, spiritual pain, and separation from God.30 In short, the purity movement attempts to scare teenage women into sexual purity. The movement instills them with the fear that if they have sex before marriage, they will be rejected by their future husband, their family, their community, and even their God.”

I’ve written an earlier post on this, and I think I need to address that. When I wrote the post The Church Stole My Sexuality, I was bitter and frustrated and confused. Not confused on my feelings, but unsure where they were coming from and why. Amanda’s article helped clarify it and through away a lot of the bitterness, though the frustration remains and grief has joined it.

I don’t think that the church leaders, or even my parents for that matter, meant for any of this sexual frustration to happen. Really, they probably meant to save me from the pain and suffering they themselves experienced. Instead, though, they set up a dichotomy in my mind. I had this ideal set before me. I have journal entry after journal entry written trying to get my mind to wrap around the idea of “Jesus is my boyfriend.” Laugh if you’d like, but it was the only alternative to not having a boyfriend. I can remember falling to sleep at night, pretending that my pillow was “my husband,” for fear my brain might get some ideas, and trying to imagine what it’d feel like to have someone’s arms around me. Eventually, I stopped doing that because it was shameful. I broke up with the majority of my boyfriends, once I actually started dating, because they’d want to hold hands, or kiss, or one even grabbed my butt! I, as the female, was obviously more level-headed. I was the one, I was taught, who had to take control of the situation and get out. The problem was, I ended up leaving myself behind.

I wasn’t just seeking an emotional connection, but my normal, innately human and God-ordained desire for a physical connection was deemed “bad” by the studies and books I’d read. I internalize things a lot more than others, I’m beginning to realize, so perhaps there aren’t many others like me out there. Still, I know there are bunches of you ladies like me who were told to write a list in your small group of the characteristics you wanted in a man and not to settle until you found that. One of my biggest that I realized early on was nearly pointless was a man who was sexually pure in his thoughts and his body. Giving that up was hard. Facing the fact that I was not so pure, either, was impossible.

I was taught that if I think about sex or intimacy at all, I’m marked. If I fail to keep myself modestly dressed, if I cannot keep a boy’s “sexual self” in line, I have failed. There was no fall back, no comfort for the times I had to “give up” relationships or had relationships shoved into my face because of my “purity.” And there was no forgiveness offered or allowed for any kind of sexual act. Especially self-forgiveness. It was ingrained that purity was the ideal, my body was the stumbling block, and I was the one who needed to keep it all in check.

And I failed. Just like anything, the moment you start to slip, it feels like you might as well just give up entirely, because there’s no point in going back. You can never be perfect again, you believe. You can never fix what was broken, and obviously these desires, these wants, this need for connection, is bad. If it’s bad and you can’t control it, can’t keep it down, you might as well give in. You’re already messed up and useless as it is.

And so we enter marriage, carrying along our little Failure Mentality, going into our wedding nights with a “here’s all I’ve got” thought and an image of broken, rusty, disgusting pieces. And it stays with us. Forever. Intimacy is stripped away. Love struggles to appear. Why? Because in our minds we. are. not. worthy. We aren’t worthy of it! How ridiculous is that? Yet I still believe it. I still believe that I am not worthy of connecting with this man because I defied my God and somehow failed to stop the other men from wanting me. I failed to “dress modestly.” I failed to squash my own sexual desire. I failed to shoulder all the responsibility, as we’re taught, and “just say no.” I failed to remove my own humanity. I wanted to be held too much.

What was my saving grace? My husband. While he is not perfect, was not “pure,” and wasn’t necessarily a strong Christian, he was exactly what I needed. Why? He hadn’t grown up in the church. He didn’t have all of these ideas about purity or love or intimacy. He did what he knew, and that was to love unconditionally, faithfully, and to adore me, both mentally and physically. His attitude of “so what?” to my flawed past has let me begin to crawl out of my shell and experience both life and marriage as God intended: without judgement or reproach, but full of acceptance and joy and enjoyment. Pleasure, even. Am I all the way there? Most definitely not. It’s taken me nearly six years on constant, unwavering love to get even to this point. What makes me the saddest is that there so many women who have experienced this removal of self, and not many men willing to put up with the after-effects.

It is so wrong, this burden of shame and responsibility that young women must bear. It is all over the place. It is corroding the young women of our Christian generation. At the least, it corroded me. Thank God that He knew better than some well-intending authors.

The Church Stole My Sexuality

princessAnd when I say church, I mean the “church.” The Bible didn’t take away anything. In fact, reading the Bible has given me back some of my sexuality. Song of Solomon, anyone? The “church,” however, with all their good intentions and attempts to protect, have crippled me in my marriage. They have locked up my sexuality and thrown away the key.

Harsh, you might say. And for those of you who know me, you might be rolling your eyes. Yes, I did have sex at 18. Does that mean I have a free sexuality? No. It means I participated in the act. The Medical Dictionary defines sexuality as “the condition of being characterized and distinguished by sex.” I am most definitely not that. And to be honest, it sounds pretty awkward and uncomfortable for a blog topic. Think about this, though. In ancient India, they had a profoundly different outlook on sex. They were a sexual people. (Think Karma Sutra and some of the temples over there, decorated high to low with images celebrating the act.) They were characterized and distinguished by their acts. To them, enjoying sex didn’t make them nimphomaniacs or sluts or “guys being guys.” It made them human and provided a way to join themselves more than just physically.

Do we have that in today’s culture, especially Christian culture? No, no we do not. At least, I didn’t get that message as a youth group member. The message I got was that sex was sacred, do everything to avoid it until you’re married, and then flip a switch. Were we taught why it was amazing? No. Were we taught how to enjoy it? No. Seems like something you might not be taught in church, but I think it should be. Sex was created by God. He told Adam and Eve to populate the earth, and saw that it was “good.” So if God says it’s good… we should not talk about it at all, because it’s a weird, awkward topic and not safe for church? And we should teach our young women to completely hide themselves for fear of tempting our young men “before it’s time?” And we should, even moreso, teach our young men that their desires are evil and wicked? What??

The church is creating future marriage issues for its people. By ignoring or shaming an act that God created, it is fostering an aversion and a desire that is altogether unhealthy. The young women of the church (using myself as an example) are raised to believe that our bodies are not a temple, they are a brothel. If our shirts are slightly too baggy when we bend over, we are a temptress. If our skirts show our knees, we are a temptress. If you see a bra strap, because God forbid we let people know we, as adolescent and grown women, wear bras, we are temptresses. On our end, we’re constantly told that we need to wrap ourselves up and hide from the world to preserve ourselves for our husbands. And then we get married. Suddenly, 20+ years of indoctrination is supposed to magically fly out the window? Yeah right!

The young men of the church fair no better. Men, God created you to be visual. There is so much biologically that is hardwired in you to be visual. And in the moment. And of a one-track mind. All the marriage books point out that one of your biggest needs is sexuality, once you are married. So why then does the church tell you that’s wrong? The young men of the church are raised to believe that their eyes are inherently sinful. If they think about women sexually, they are lechers. (For those of you who don’t know what a lecher is, it’s a guy “given to excessive sexual indulgence.) If they wonder about sex, they’re lechers. If they desire sex, they’re lechers. They cannot even touch it, for the church’s fear that it will spiral out of control. It’s almost like that old superstition that speaking a thing’s name will cause it to appear. “Sex.” BAM! All the guys suddenly are mad, raving sex fiends. I beg to differ. I wonder if the majority of the sexual issues we have within the church have arisen because we try to stifle what is God-given. I have no answers, and I could be totally wrong, but I wonder what it might look like if older men stepped up with younger men and said, “Hey, your desire is totally normal and ok by God, as long as you use it to get ready for your wife.” Otherwise, we have a man who is also supposed to flip magically on the night of his wedding from snapping his wrist with a rubber band at every lascivious thought to adoring and wanting his wife.

Titus 2:3-4 says, “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children.” I want to take that and perhaps twist it a little. Older women, we younger women need you to teach us. We need you to step up beside the teens and college-age women around you and mentor us in how to be wives. We need you to show us. It might sound taboo, but we need you to explain to us how to use our bodies and how our husbands will desire us. To teach us, “Someday you can give all of this unexplained and forbidden stuff you have to hide and not learn about to your husband,” is more than a little ridiculous. That’s like taking remedial math and saying, “Someday, you will go into Calculus and you’ll use these numbers to do math problems, and we expect you to do it wonderfully.” It won’t happen. We’re being tossed into marriage unarmed and unaware, and then wondering why we encounter hardship.

I am so desperately hoping and dreading that I am not the only one out there with this issue. I hope I’m not the only one, because this blog post is otherwise incredibly embarrassing and horribly offensive. I dread that I’m not the only one, because that means I’m at least partially right, and some other woman is struggling like I am.

In my own marriage, we have had to face some other hurdles due to our pre-marriage sex. In a strange twist of fate, my husband does not have many of the sexual vices Christian men seem riddled with. Does he have his moments? Yes. Do some of the things he watches hurt me? Yes. But I take offense and get jealous over a pair of boobs on a movie in theaters. I’m weird like that. Is he addicted to pornography and the other sexual deviations out there? No. And what is more, he adores me. He wants me. He has no problem channeling his innate desires to what they were created for. I, on the other hand, feel dirty and slimy and wrong when he does these things. Why? Because I have been taught that sex is bad.

That needs to change. I am NOT advocating that the church begin promoting sex at any time. Trust me, sex is much better within the protective walls of marriage. But we can’t send our youth into such a huge commitment unarmed. Older women, you know the ins and outs of men. You know what pleases them and what doesn’t. The Bible doesn’t shy away from sexuality, and neither should we. Teach us younger women how to value our bodies. Teach us what we can do to please our men and feed their desire. Teach us that our body is a temple, and that we dress ourselves in a way not to keep from tempting men but to show off our God-given beauty. Teach us that it is ok and absolutely deserved and necessary to be adored and wanted. Teach us, and give us the framework. I wish so desperately that I had had a woman to step up along side me and say, “You don’t have to give your body away to be adored. You have so many things that you can give to them. Let me teach you how, so that when the time is right, you are ready.” I spent years giving away nothing (literally, I gave hugs to boyfriends. And then they left. Because hugs are lame, apparently.) and received little to no affection. Senior year, I began trading small physical things for that affection and adoration I so craved. The first used it to his own ends and then cut me off, since I was his dirty little secret. The second played me, refusing to say I was his girlfriend and going so far as to cheat on me with two others and say it was normal. The third adored me. He cherished me and wanted me and held me when I was hurting. Is it any surprise then that I did what I did? Does it make it right? Definitely not. But I was lonely, dismissed, and couldn’t even use what the world said was the “currency of love.” WHY, church? Why did you let me believe such a lie? The only thing I can say about it is that for some reason, I was blessed enough to make that choice with a person who does cherish me the way God intended, in a sexual way.

And I can’t do the same.

When I have a daughter, I will raise her seeing my husband and my affection. I will raise her knowing that there are “mommy and daddy” times. I will raise her with as much confidence and self-worth as I can, teaching her that her body is not something to hide. Clothes are not meant to “wrap up the present.” They are meant to high-light the person. Like Audrey Hepburn, I want her to accentuate her beauty with dignity and grace, not shame and worry. And my sons… Oh, my sweet sons… I want to raise them knowing that God made them to have those desires. I want them to learn how to channel those desires, giving them to God perhaps or talking to an older role model, rather than feeling ashamed of them. I want them to be men fully aware of their potential and their place and the adorer and leader of their sexual household. I want them to love as their father loves, because their wife might be like their mother. That love might be the only thing to save her from the church she was raised in.

The church stole my sexuality from me. I hope I am alone, because it’s a very sad place to be, stuck with my chastity belt on and struggling to be the woman I am supposed to be.

Crippled

Today was a relatively good day, but for the wrong reasons. Have you ever noticed how life smooths out when you stop fighting the current? Today was one of those “this fight is over,” “retreat and recoup,” enemy victory dance kinda days.

I honestly am not sure what to write about it. I’m not feeling entirely comfortable even admitting that I made such a foolish choice, but I promised not to hide behind a mask. Masks are so much more comfortable than the reality of this shame. Th perfectionist and good Christian girl inside me is hiding in a dark corner.

That’s the real reason today has been calm. What need does the Enemy have of targeting me when I’m doing an even better job of destroying myself. The technicality of my choice was ok, but the circumstances were not. Everything in me is overwhelmed by shame and guilt and fear. How could I, someone who knows the warning signs and knows the Bible, do something like this? How can I face my Father? There is no way I’m a decent representative of my faith. If people knew what a hypocrite I was…

I don’t have a solution to these thoughts just yet, other than to lay them out before you and before Jesus. As cheesy as it sounds, I don’t know of any other way. My stifling those fears has only led to harm in the past so this is the last option I have. I am afraid, though. I’m headed into a throne room covered in mud and grime where hundreds of people and my Family will watch me walk the walk of shame. I’m not entirely sure I can handle it. Still, here I go. Tonight, as much as I’d prefer to avoid the conversation, I’ll talk to God. If a solder is defeated and wounded in battle, he runs to his commanding officer, not away from him. If I keep that mentality, maybe tonight won’t be so difficult to face.

~day 3