Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by yours truly! I have something very close to my heart that I wanted to share with you today. So here it is. If you do want to follow my personal blog or twitter, they are laurennicolelove.com/blog and @laurendubinsky! xoxo – lauren
Dear teenage girl:
I want to take a minute to write down some words for you, because I feel like it’s really important that someone says these things.
In the grown up world, “teenage girls” are kind of a lame stereotype, and I want to say that I’m sorry. You seem to be a demographic that is written off as silly, fickle, short-sighted, simplistic, shallow, and desperate. No one seems to respect you very much.
I often hear men (and even women) refer to you in an offhanded manner as if you’re the easiest group to manipulate, to sell to, to convince of things, to understand, and to predict.
This makes me incredibly sad because half of planet earth has been a teenage girl at some point, or currently is one, or will soon be one. And the other half? The other half either has or will desire you.
To joke about and put down “the teenage girls” is to put ourselves down. Somewhere along the way, we’ve either been one, or we’ve wanted nothing more than to love and kiss one.
There is no way to talk poorly of teenage girls without talking poorly about ourselves, and hurting those around us.
I wish I could make everybody stop it, but I can’t. But what I can do is write what I know to be true about teenage girls.
I know that we are more passionate than any other group of people I’ve ever found.
I know that we are capable of great depths of insight, able to give and receive wisdom.
I know that we are extremely joyful, and also have an impressive understanding of grief – which gives birth to one of the Universe’s most glorious things: Empathy.
I know that we are intelligent, and that learning is easy for us.
I know that we are capable of autonomous, individual opinions and decisions.
I know that we create better art than pretty much anyone else.
I know that the words we write are more true to our souls at this age than at any other age; that honesty comes naturally to us.
I know that we carry a great burden of being both adult and child at the same time, which gives us a view of the world that no one else has.
I know that we see beauty where no one else sees it, which is possibly the most honorable attribute a person can have.
I know that we have the innate resilience to overcome family trauma and dysfunction, and that at any given moment, every single teenage girl is wrestling through intimate struggles caused by someone in her family – and yet she rises to be present at work, at school, at play.
I know that our capacity for hope, for love, for art, for creativity, and for Becoming Better and More is unstoppable.
I know that we aren’t “exactly like” all the other teenage girls we know, because we are all fantastically unique, and that’s also why we love one another so much and can produce such awesome things.
I know that our bullshit detector is solid.
I know that we know when glamour starts and when it stops, and that even though it may look otherwise, we don’t give it more credit than it deserves.
I know that we aren’t crazy, and that we actually balance logic and emotion pretty well.
And I also know that we are capable of just as much positive change, beneficial passion, and enthusiastic love as any other male or female human being around us.
I wish I could tell you that the world will suddenly have a better opinion on teenage girls tomorrow when you wake up, but they probably won’t. I’m not terribly worried about it though, because I know what most people don’t: We are stupid amounts of strong, and already have years of experience to sticking to our guns when siblings, acquaintances, teachers, students, parents, relatives, and the majority of mass media are at our backs.
So, a love, a kiss, and a lot of badass glitter to each and every one of you. Carry on with your magnificent life. You deserve respect and admiration, and you’ve got mine.
A 25 year old girl who still feels like a teenager
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Kirsten Oliphant. She blogs at stillhatepickles.com and tweets at @kikimojo. I read her submission with great relief and peace. It also reminded me a little of Hannah’s post, The Life I Discovered Inside of 13 Days Without Social Media. Enjoy the rest of your week, girlfriends! – Lauren
The past few months I have been branching out online, reading blogs and posts and sites that are a little outside the typical, comfortable easy space for me. It has been really enlightening to hear views from women I respect and admire about feminism, submission, marriage, oppression, and the Proverbs 31 woman. Many of these posts and voices are in complete disagreement with each other, which is great for making me think.
At first, I was taking in all these new ideas, mulling them over and letting them sort of steep in my head. I felt excited and energized and like I had so many things to think about, places I needed to grow.
But now I just feel tired.
Weary from the reading and the thinking and the weight of so many expectations of me – just one woman. According to these various voices:
- I am to be like the Proverbs 31 woman in all her success and busyness. Or, I am not to be like her, but to celebrate the victories in my day, small and large.
- I am to submit to and respect my husband. Or, I am to be his equal partner.
- I am to think of myself as my husband’s complement. Or, I am to think of myself as his exact equal, which is somehow not his complement.
- I should strive to be a homemaker. Or, I should strive for success wherever I feel gifted.
- I should dress myself in a way that doesn’t make men stumble. Or, I should know that it is a man’s responsibility to tame his lustful thoughts.
Do you feel tired yet?
I chose opposite viewpoints and over-simplified them just for the sake of example. In my reading, I have found that there are so many beliefs about who a good, godly woman should be – running all in between (and maybe outside) those polar points.
The bottom line, however, is that no matter what blog or viewpoint I was reading, I ended up feeling weighed down by expectations of being a Woman. Can I take a timeout?
I’m still not sure where I land on a lot of these ideas, but maybe I don’t want to pitch my tent in a camp with a title on it, whether that be complementarian, egalitarian, feminist, or something altogether different. I want a break from categories and expectations.
I want some rest in trying to interpret what every directive towards women in the Bible really means in today’s culture and in my life.
I want to take some time and stop thinking of who I need to be as a woman, and simply think of who Jesus wants me to be as a human being. As a follower. As a sinner, washed clean by his grace.
For this moment, that seems a big enough task without adding on top of that what kind of woman I am supposed to be.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” Paul says in Galatians 3:28. Why? As he tells us in the prior verses, this is because we have been clothed with Christ.
The outer trappings of our selves are colored with the inner trappings of a heart washed clean, belonging to Jesus. This clothing transcends gender and culture and position. It transcends denomination and affiliation and movement. For a brief time I can rest easy in this truth, shaking off that feeling of pressure to be the right kind of woman. No, my affiliation is ultimately with Jesus.
Paul is not saying that those things do not matter, only that underneath all the divisions we have a unity that transcends them all. For a time, I simply want to rest. I want to rest at the feet of Jesus while he speaks, not busying myself with other things, as significant as they may be. At his feet, I see the grace of one who crossed barriers and social constructs and religious expectations. I see the grace of one who touched the unclean, who put his own spit in the eyes of the blind, who let sinful women wipe his feet with their hair.
The view from down here is lovely, and when I’m looking up at him, I don’t need to worry about what kind of woman he wants me to be. I think that he is pleased with me being right here at his feet in worship and adoration, in intimacy. I can just be.
I greatly appreciate all the smart, thinking women who are so eloquent in their written thoughts about womanhood. I will continue to read their blogs and posts and tweets. I’m not saying that womanhood isn’t extremely significant, or that affiliations and identity and persuasions do not matter. I simply need a break every now and then to put them in perspective.
My identity, beyond that of womanhood, is as a person of God.
So I am taking a break for a moment to get back to the well itself, from which I can drink deep, be refreshed, and then dive back into the fray of diverse thought on what it means to be a woman.
Editor’s Note: January 1st can be difficult. With others around us posting and shouting about how amazing their last year was and how much more amazing this new year will be, our own failure can swell within us until we can hardly bear it. I don’t often write for Good Women Project, but today’s little piece is by yours truly. I blog at laurennicolelove.com/blog, and I tweet at @laurendubinsky. So much love to each of you as you rest in the old and the new, and as we all learn to perceive our constant change. – Lauren
* * *
to fight the stagnant.
there is an art to change.
and the secret is not in the pursuit of it. or in it’s accomplishment.
but rather in the art of perceiving it.
* * *
you have moved. you have grown. you have changed. you have improved. you have become strengthened. you have learned.
you have seen. you have been. you have said.
you have created. you have chosen life. you have ended death.
you have become more beautiful. you have grown into yourself.
you are more.
there is an art to observing the change you have made.
there is an art to knowing your growth, and ending the lie in your bones that says you are right where you always have been.
it is worth your time to document your movement forward. it is worth the hour of your day to know what you have done with your time.
sometimes we must move into our past, in order to accurately see our present.
create a place on the page, in the journal, on the blog, in the portfolio, on the table, in your soul. create a place to document your change.
* * *
look at your first month of blog entries.look at your journal from three years ago.
look at your first photos.
do you see the movement?
write down the lies you used to believe.
write down the truth you know now.
write down the part of your heart you hadn’t met 5 years ago.
do you see the growth?
find your first pieces of art.
find your first songs.
find your first designs.
do you see your progress?
think about the mistakes you’ve made that will not be made again.
think about the depth of character that was lacking 10 years ago.
think about the hidden places of the old depression.
do you see the new life?
sift through your albums, your archives, your chapters.
sift through your resumes, your childhood, your classes.
sift through your failures, your accomplishes, your proofs of action.
know the growth reflected in the dissonance between the past and present – know that your present will always be your past, and soon.
* * *
he says he is faithful. to move, to carry, to nurture, to redeem, to assign purpose. he is faithful to carry onto completion the good work he began in you.you cannot help but grow. he has not forsaken us. like a tree beside still waters, you could not cease to grow even if you so desired.
because he is the great i am.
and in him we live, we move, we have our being.
* * *
refuse the lie of stagnancy. refuse the lie of stillness. refuse the lie of hopelessness.
document your change. be encouraged. and continue to move.
happy new year, beautiful girls.
Editor’s Note: I believe that when the enemy can’t change our innocent actions, he’ll attempt to convince us our motive is untrue. False guilt keeps many a heart from living out of it’s new goodness. Today’s post is by Samantha Hardcastle. She blogs at The Lady Journal and you can follow her artwork and writings here. – Lauren
I’m so glad that I came across a place where I can allow my raw and broken side to be unveiled.
I’ve struggled hard with perfectionism and trying to be accepted in a world that did not seem to listen—if at all.
Throughout it, I battled beauty, self-worth, despair, loneliness, anxiety and fear; so, pretty much all of the ugly ones. All of my infliction caused me to be too shy to grab a tissue in junior high. It caused me to silence my lips even when I wanted to shout. I’d hide in Wuthering Heights. I’d hide in my worn torn sketch book. The person I was becoming, I slowly began to realize, was not the woman I was made to be.
Then again, what kind of pretty little version of Christ was I supposed to be anyways? One that never sins?
One that never gets angry? One that never glares at another woman for glaring at me? I began to surrender to, but despise, the whispers that told me I had to be a saint to be truly loved.
I felt this constant burden that I had to be an inner nun to be accepted wholly by God and by those around me. I felt ashamed. I felt futile. I felt my heart sting every time I’d apply mascara. Would I really allow myself to be exposed the way I naturally looked in the mornings and be OK with it? My goodness, there are people dying along the dusty trails of third world countries for the sake of Christ - and here I am, pettily applying dark-brown mascara to my eye-lashes. I fell even tinier into my already deflated image of self-worth. Would it ever stop?
I feel angst when anyone says, “Oh, she won’t even go out without make-up,” so I cover it up with things like, “Hey, I just like to feel ready for the day.” To top it off, I just got out of an English class where a young man beside me wrote about how women shouldn’t wear make-up—and of course, I was the only one out of the two ladies in the group who wore make-up that early morning. Just lovely.
What was so wrong with getting ready and why in the world did I always feel guilty for doing so?
To be honest, I’m just a mere student attending college, getting my degree to hopefully raise money to do things I’d hope to do in the future. My heart has many desires. Yet, I have never been on a mission trip and for some reason that shoves me harder into feeling that I am just a vain woman walking this earth: fellowshipping, blogging, painting, writing, and working. I have hopes of helping worn torn people in places like India, but what was I doing now?
And then I felt God’s gentle press on my soul. A good work is never rushed, he’d whisper. God shows me I’m following the narrow path in the smallest of ways.
I remember when I had just lost my grandmother and I was sitting in my painting class near the window, facing my old ballet slippers that I was trying to sketch to paint. I couldn’t do it, so I got up and went to the bathroom and tears began to ache within my eyes. I brushed up and walked back in and my heart melted at what I saw—my painting professor was sitting in my chair, my sketchpad bent over her lap as the pencil was moving about the page, going over my disfigured attempt. She was sketching it for me because she knew the sorrow I was going through. She even asked about it. During the end of my last fall semester, she was in her office as I swiftly walked by and saw her; I told her I’d be in the studio working on a project for my cousin’s baby shower that weekend. She started to talk to me and ended up saying how she and another professor were talking about my major and work. “We were saying how you’re our best art minor,” she smiled.
I’m not all that great with compliments except saying “aww” and “thank you” in at least three octaves higher than my natural voice—and then to quickly walk off. I don’t think she’ll ever know just how much she’s uplifted my life. She says I paint with a Renaissance style. So, who knows, maybe I really am a lady keeping it classy, while crazy for Christ.
So, in the smallest of ways and somehow even in the most personal of ways, God showed me and told me that he loved me, that he cared for me, that he was proud of me of who I was becoming. He often tells me through my loving family and caring instructors.
I don’t have to feel guilty or allow the world to make me feel awful for getting ready in the mornings; I’ll get ready, sip my vanilla cappuccino and thank God for his patience and grace within me as I embark on the journey of the new day.
I’m sure Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa would’ve enjoyed putting some eye-shadow in her brows, showing her pearly whites and treading the streets of the city. Would it have taken away from her natural disposition, flawlessness and beauty? Absolutely not—paint can’t do that. At the end of the day, when the make-up comes off and she nestles under her blanket, she is still Mona Lisa. I am still me when I wash my face, get my coffee and write under my woolly blanket.
I now think of me this way: I am a canvas.
God is painting me little by little, perfecting my faith season by season. God never rushes on me to work on someone else; He takes his time with each of us. I think when looking at a masterpiece, such as the Mona Lisa, you can talk about it – but there will always be the absence of words that speak the most.
Such as all of us in the end; when God lays down the brushes as he studies our faces and begins to speak. It won’t be what we have to say. It will be the canvas he pulls out from behind him—the one that is full of life, of sorrows, of perseverance, of stumbles, of hope, of strength, of integrity, of faith and of abounding love.
I am now a confident woman in Christ. I am a good woman. I can now call myself an artist. I can sign my name on the bottom of my paintings without feeling guilty for doing so; I have always believed it took away from the mysteries of a telling painting. But, I can do it now. Though I will always be a work in progress, I believe that in the end, when I step up to the canvas God painted of my life, I can tenderly press my fingers onto it and feel God’s fingerprints within the paint; feeling where he smoothed out the many rough seasons of my life with his determined, gentle and loving touch.
Editor’s Note: Today’s piece is less of a story and more of something I wanted desperately to share with our audience. Luke Harms was gracious enough to let us republish this, and I am grateful. Since the beginning of Good Women Project, I have received dozens upon dozens of women sharing with me their eating disorders, cutting, depression, struggling sex lives, and dropping out of church ministry or missions because they have been told that their body is a distraction and inhibition from God using them; that they are the reason the men around them fall into sin. Luke’s words are an important part of the conversation about men and women living freely in love. You can follow Luke at @LukeHarms and read his blog at livinginthetension.com – Lauren
My virtual friend Emily wrote a great piece for the “Church Leaders” website yesterday about the problems with modesty rules in Christian culture, and rightly pointed out how these rules unfairly shame women into particular behavior patterns, often resulting in lasting emotional and psychological damage.
It was an honest, personal story of one woman’s struggle with reconciling her freedom in Christ with the rigid behavioral codes often handed down to women from the pulpit or from Christian culture in general.
It was a great article.
And then there were the comments.
Sweet. Jumping. Jehoshaphat. The comments.
(The comments are the reason that I put “Church Leaders” in scare quotes in the opening sentence. Admit it, you went back and looked.)
I definitely suggest that you give the article a read, but I actually recommend you don’t read the comments. It got a little cray-cray in there for a minute or two, and it will probably just destroy your faith in humanity no matter which side of the argument that you’re on (though I’ll admit, there actually were some really bright spots of honest dialogue that I genuinely enjoyed). **But especially don’t read if you’re easily triggered by things like spiritual abuse or rape apologists.**
The basic premise that many of the commenters were defending was that women have a responsibility to dress modestly in order to keep men from sinning (by thinking lustful thoughts). Most commenters were pretty forceful in driving this point home.
But here’s the problem as I see it: If, as many of the commenters suggest, men (even or perhaps especially Christian men) are sexual predators who are incapable of looking at a woman who isn’t covered from head to toe without wanting to rape them (or at least mentally rape them), that is decidedly not a problem that women should feel *obligated* to or even *can* solve. Perhaps that bears repeating, and in simpler terms:
If men are skeezy pervs, that’s decidedly an issue for men to address.
Shifting the blame to women just passes the buck along and enables men to continue being skeezy pervs. “Oh, I’m getting all lusty because she’s wearing skinny jeans and a v-neck.” No bro, you’re getting all lusty because you have a distorted view of women as objects that you need to get under control.
Now, before we get into the heresy-hunting here, I should say that yes, I believe that modesty is a quality that *all* Christians should strive for (and yes men, that includes you), but scriptural notions of modesty go far beyond the dress codes for women they’re often reduced to in Christendom.
But to me, what this discussion exposed was a deeper underlying problem. The fundamental question that wasn’t being addressed was why this notion of modesty, and the moral obligations being derived from it, was so lopsided.
Why were we making all of these proscriptions on the behavior on women, but essentially ignoring the behavior of men?
To me, the answer is as simple as it is disturbing. Call it what you want: misogyny, patriarchy, institutionalized sexism. I call it rape culture.
It’s the same culture that teaches freshmen college girls tips for not getting raped at orientation instead of teaching freshmen college boys NOT TO RAPE FRESHMEN COLLEGE GIRLS.
It’s the same culture that blames and shames victims of sexual assault into silence, instead of bringing the perpetrators to justice.
It’s the same culture that sees women’s bodies as objects to be controlled as means to men’s ends.
In the end, it’s about control. It’s about maintaining male privilege and perpetuating patriarchy. As these (mostly) men approached this issue of modesty, there was rarely a question of the man’s responsibility in this cycle, and when it was mentioned, it was an afterthought. “Oh, sure, men should be modest too, and they’re responsible for their own actions, but women shouldn’t cause them to stumble.” [heavy sigh]
Now I just met you, and this is crazy, but I think this might, *might* be one of those speck/plank scenarios that Jesus was talking about. Maybe instead of addressing the culturally ambiguous standard of “modest dress” for women, we should worry more about our attitudes towards the objectification of women. Maybe instead of trying to place the blame on women for our own shortcomings, we should do the hard work of re-wiring our brains, removing the influences that continue to perpetuate our distorted view of women. Maybe instead of writing off rape culture in the church as “living in a fallen world”, we should focus on what it means for us as men to partner with God in bringing the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. (Pro tip: the Kingdom of God probably doesn’t include rape culture.)
To read Emily Maynard’s original piece on Modesty Rules, please click here.
Editor’s Note: I find it appropriate, after taking a month long sabbatical this September, to begin again with these words by Hannah Katy. They punched me in the face. September was beautiful for me. I rested much, learned much, and shifted pieces of my perspective back into place – and Hannah’s words here on taking a 2 week social media fast align with much of it. Hannah blogs at hannahkaty.com and tweets at @hannahbrencher. – Lauren
There had been a retweet.
Somewhere around 3am there had been a retweet. A few stray followers. Two emails to prove there were still night owls in my inbox. A single, solitary friend request. Half a dozen hearts on Instagram for a cup of coffee and fresh nails I’d painted yesterday.
This is what I’d normally find in the morning– sleep still in my eyes as the glow of the screen takes me network to network, collecting the communications I’d missed over night.
Stale. Two-dimensional. But sacred to me.
The fast began 13 days ago.
It’s been 13 long and hard tweet-less, like-less, instragram-less days.
A social media fast. The first of its kind for me.
Before this, I’d pent up fasting with the Bible definition and reserved it for pockets of days spent without calories. But to fast is to seek God with an obedience. To insert prayers unceasing where there would have been food or that object that causes you to hunger for more. Now I’m praying as constantly as I would have been checking my social networks. And though Peter and Paul never pulled off from the streams I think God would have found the same barrier in getting to them if they’d been tweeting while Jesus was preaching with swooping hands from atop the mount.
Conviction set in thirteen days ago. The start of the fast. As if Conviction had met Overwhelmed at the middle school dance and they chatted for hours by the punch bowl and decided they never wanted to leave one another.
I’ve chipped away at God’s power in my life with my social streams. It is my way of rebelling, of saying, “What you ask of me is too hard–I’ll turn to photos of faces I don’t see any longer to envelope me… distract me from the things you really want of me.”
“I’ll turn to 1,500 followers (maybe the mass grew heavier over night), I’ll post a photo at 10pm and be witty with 140 characters right before bed so that I can wake up “Like”d in the morning and with even more “friends” who won’t ask me hard questions. Won’t challenge me. Won’t mold me but will admire for all the fragments of a lens I’ve given them into a life where my hair is always perfect. And always, I am laughing. And always, I look skinny in sepia-stained lighting.”
My body – unrest. My thoughts – ungodly. My spirit – unfed. Me – in a steady, steady habit of checking my email before bed. 3am. 6am.
My day sculpted already by the responses I must give to people, the photo albums I’ve devoured, the outfits I’ve seen pinned and the people I must call.
Found and digested, all before God could even lift up His mighty hands and say, “Child, when shall I gear you for the work ahead? When will you realize the world will never feed you?”
It’s idolatry and I’ve never known it. To make myself a demigod. A person worth following. And if my streams, my Instagrammed actions, my blog holds no trace of the God who rains in my soul then who am I? Who am I and what kind of disciple have I been for you?
Thirteen days in and it’s coffee dripping on the stove beside me as I stretch and wait to add a packet of sugar. The longer it takes, the better before I find a spot, tuck my knees beneath me and eye the Bible in my lap.
I’m here God. It’s painful but I’m here. And this isn’t my day, it’s yours. You made it so plant in me what you need me to do for you today.
It is the hardest prayer I’ve had to pray. It’s gritty and gravelly and uncomfortable. And it has taken days of saying it to make me feel like it’s semi-habit to let God in and take over all the drivers’ seats before I let my soul be touched by hundreds of fingerprints across half a dozen social streams.
I’m listening more. I’m heeding more. I’m not picking up the phone–straight in the middle of the messages He has strung for me– to snap pictures of verses and send them wafting into the ether for others to cheer me on and like me and call me “holy.”
I’m using the Bible. In a way I’ve never had to before. To scour out and find my identity as a Child of Christ. To know, for certain, what I have in His Kingdom. To see me — without makeup, power and likes– the way He saw me yesterday… today… tomorrow.
Because suddenly, to find self worth in blog stats and comments is no longer an option.
Whatever I am carving out for worth is raw… coming from one mouth. And I find it whispers to me constantly, when my ears are finally perked to listen: You are my daughter. My gem. My rose. Find worth in that, Little One. Find Worth.
And I’m learning all the curves and craters and sacred spots of this life that God was paved for me. The sky as she preps like a night maid for the thunder, fluffing pillows of hushed greys with sheets of violent yellow. A heat storm and a new notebook. Bare feet. Wine and Oreos. Christmas lights glowing in the center of August.
All the parts of life and living – my first thought no longer to smash them all into a status update for others to virtually digest.
My first thought is to savor. Save the moment for me. Given. To me.
By one who loves me and is too jealous to share my attention.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is anonymous by request of the author. Make sure you come back tomorrow (Tuesday), as we’re hosting a beautiful giveaway by Lionhart! – Lauren
It started in my head, and the image was only there for just a split second. He laid over me, looking down into my eyes. I hardly knew him aside from a few short conversations about building houses and being a musician. That made him more attractive to me; the less you know about a man, the less you have to feel bad when you don’t respect him. I am four years older than he, which makes me more attractive to him just by age alone. I closed my eyes and he bent his arms to lean down and kiss my lips. And then it was over. The fantasy, that is.
Fast-forward three weeks and despite the numerous times we have been around each other now he still calls me by a name that is not mine. I shake my head about how I ever could have thought I was attracted to him – even if it was only long enough for a short fantasy. I know nothing about him, and he knows nothing about me.
To me, he is just a silly boy with a poor memory. He is fit, quiet, and cocky, young and surprisingly irritable. He is not my type at all, but I know nothing about him. And about me – my heartache, my brokenness, my struggles – he knows nothing. My conquests, my achievements, and the battles I have won: nothing. He does not know how gently to hold my heart. He does not know when to push and challenge me past what I think I can endure. He does not know what a far way I have come from the mess of a girl I once was, to the woman of God I have fought so hard to become. He does not know me. To him, I am just un-sunned skin covering bones to a medium set frame with a mess of long, graying-black hair on my head and a pair of blue eyes.
To him, I am just breasts and a nice butt, a little less fit than I ought to be and a tiny bit shorter than most girls. He knows nothing about me.
So why is my fantasy a problem?
Well, I’ve realized it is a little bit like the culture of pornography. It allows me to create an ‘other’ in my mind that is completely suited to my desires (in this case sexual) and nothing else. He caters to my needs and politely goes away when I am distracted by something else. But I have a connection with him. And this particular fantasy, ‘him’ represents a real man. With real characteristics and a real personality, real struggles and a real heart. And now I have mucked up the reality of who he is – a creation of of the Most High God, made in the image of the Lord – and I have made him into something he was not created to be.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)
Ladies, these words apply to us as well. So I ought to have repented for my lustful thoughts and adultery, and leaned into the Holy Spirit for strength to hold this man to the respect he deserves as a child of God. But instead I ignored it, assuming nothing would come of only a few desire-filled thoughts.
“…but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.” (James 1:14-16)
Rewind to last night. I just wanted to flirt. I just wanted a little attention. And those desires, those silly thoughts, those fantasies…still lingered. The maturity I have found in the four years since I was his age told me that I shouldn’t have anything to do with this. Everything started innocently, moving slowly enough that I could stop before anything went too far. Just a foot rub, from a man who is not mine. Just a lean on his shoulder. No need to drag me away, I had already been enticed. And suddenly the exact image I had created of this boy in my mind had become my reality. I closed my eyes and he bent his arms to lean down and kiss my lips.
As he did so, the most peculiar thought popped into my head: “This is the problem with culture of pornography.”
I played the thought over and over in my mind, wanting to shout it out, but the boy I barely knew filled the space that was meant for those words with his tongue. Like every other time with other boys, I catered to his needs and desires just to the point of making me uncomfortable and then distracted him elsewhere. Like every other time, I became a slave to this man’s fantasies and images that he has collected of sexy women. I am still working through why I did not stand up, smack him in the face for taking a foot rub to a butt grab and go inside, but that is not the point I am making.
This is the point: my random thought about the culture of pornography came from the realization that this boy has never and will never love me. I am nothing to him. Just a face he will see for the next month or so, and then likely never again this side of Heaven. I was his live porn, of sorts. The kind you get to touch, except when she asks you to stop for a bit. An even better way to get off, and still not have any emotional ties.
The culture of pornography teaches us that human beings are to use each other for our own pleasure.
It teaches a man that he can satisfy the nagging erection without ever having to listen to the girl bitch about picking up his socks or putting down the toilet seat. It teaches a woman that men like her sexy, and after that, she’s useless. And it teaches us to come together and use each other’s bodies for our own selfish pleasure without any care or concern about how the other is doing. The culture of pornography creates sexual disunity between men and women.
I looked the boy in the eyes and shook my head. “You don’t know anything about me,” I finally mustered up the courage to say to him. His response? “Is that such a bad thing?”
It is easier to use the girl next door to satisfy your needs if you do not know anything about her life, just as you do not know anything about the girl on the screen. And real life is better isn’t it? And it is easier to use the boy down the street to satisfy your unmet desire for just one kiss if you know nothing more about him than you know about the boy inside your mind.
I walked away from this with a new understanding of my sexual sin and the struggles of my past. By God’s grace, I have grown so far away from a lifestyle filled with hook ups and late night make outs that I forgot how long I would need to shower until I stopped feeling dirty. By God’s grace, I hope never to return to a place where love is absent and sexual immorality is abundant.
I still haven’t figured out a nice way to tell him that my name is not Kim.
Editor’s Note: Today, Lindsey Morgan Quam writes for us. She blogs at ezer-kenegdo.tumblr.com. Find grace again. Today and every day, for we never stop needing it. – Lauren
I’ve wrestled and fought to understand why my life has panned out as it has. I’ve tried to change it and I’ve tried to ignore it by drowning my sorrows away with a bottle of tears.
There is no cut and dry answer here. No solution to this math problem.
Over the past four years I have given up everything. EVERYTHING. Relationships, worldly possessions, dreams, hopes, fears, life, death.
I’ve always thought that if you gave up everything to God, He would return the favor and give you more than you’ve ever thought possible.
Well…here I am and I still have nothing.
Correction. I have nothing of what I expected to have at age-almost-26. Honestly, I’m not sure what I thought my life would look like – but I know it wasn’t this.
Here is the place that I have made my home. In a bed full of sorrows, fears, unanswered prayers, doubts, lost dreams and broken hearts.
Sounds pretty pitiful, right? I know. My friends and family have fought for me in prayer and love. They have not been afraid to point out my faults and tell me that I reek of sorrowful stench and regret. I am so thankful.
Recently, after a very long run, I decided to nurse my wounds with a bottle of white wine and a hot bath. I spent the rest of the evening hugging the porcelain throne. The next morning I reeked of more than just sorrow. As I spent the next hour scrubbing every inch of my bathroom, I felt the love of God so tenderly kneeling beside me helping me scrub my bathroom clean.
At that very moment I came to the very real conclusion that my life will never look the way I thought it would when sixteen-year-old me made a dream board of how my future would pan out.
I am okay with this. More than okay.
Why? Because I would rather be where I am, here, single and completely enamored with the love of Christ. I’d rather be here than anywhere else. It doesn’t matter where I live or where I work; as long as I have this relationship with Him, than that is enough for me. In fact, sometimes it’s more than I can handle.
After all my running and stumbling and fighting I have now come to a posture of surrender. Complete and utter surrender to you. Do with my life whatever you will God and I will praise you in the midst of every circumstance no matter how lonely, or sleepless, or heartbreaking they may be.
I have given up everything, and He has given me everything that is of true value back in return.
Because He is worth it all.
Editor’s Note: HAPPY JUNE! I am so excited that we are sharing experiences about being a woman in the workplace this month. If you have a good story + advice, please submit here! Our first post is by Sarah Heinss. She blogs at Simply Sarah Writes, and this post was first published on her blog here! She tweets at @sarahheinss – Lauren
It has been one whole year since I graduated from college. This fact officially makes me…
One: An adult.
Two: A participant in “The Real World.”
This year has taught me a LOT. About careers, about guys, about life, and most importantly, about myself. So for all of my little dearies who just walked that stage, here’s what I’ve learned. Here’s what you need to know.
10 Tips to Prepare Women for “The Real World”
*Disclaimer: this is the advice, based on my experience, that I would give. But every situation is different.
**P.S. Every tip below is stuff I am still working on and reminding myself of every day.
1. Get a Job. Any Job.
No, I’m not insulting your intelligence. I know it isn’t easy. I also know we’ve been raised with a glamorized view of what our first job should look like. I don’t know about you, but I expected it to look something like working out of the Empire State building in a pants suit, ordering people around and directing Hollywood movies on the side. REALITY CHECK: I graduated from college, quickly realized that jobs, even with connections, and ESPECIALLY in New York are not easy to come by, so I waited tables for the first 7 months out. You know what they say, its easier to get a job when you have one. Just get a job and start making some money.
2. Aim for Your Dream
Just because you don’t have your dream job, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aim for it. Make connections, talk to the people that are working your dream job and figure out what its going to take to get you there. Is it really what you want? Do you want it bad enough? And if necessary, start at the bottom. The fact is, it’s going to take hard work. If you are crazy passionate and work really hard, something great will come of it. For me, I started a Wedding Cinematography business and though it is crazy hard work. I LOVE IT. It’s a great thing to pursue a dream that feels alive.
3. Say No to Dates
The world of boys and girls outside of college is a different universe. Nothing could have prepared me for it. People don’t have a tendency to maintain casual friendships, or even good friendships with the opposite sex. It’s kinda like, “Hey, what’s your name? Cool, wanna go out to dinner?” Holy Smokes! Can a brotha get a minute? Maybe people are desperate. Maybe people are just more forward. The point is, if you don’t want to go or you’re not into him, say no. Plain and simple. You get to choose here. Enjoy that privilege.
4. Say Yes to Dates
Wait…but you just said…? Yes. Don’t be afraid to YES if you are mildly to severely interested. Especially if you’ve been burned in the past. Get over yourself, and try again. Yes, it does mean you run the risk of actually falling for someone again. I know, breathe. You’ll be ok. And if you’re not getting asked out, allow your friends to set you up on a blind date. Yeah, it’s awkward. But it also makes for great stories. Grow up. You’re young, single, out-of-college, and in need of a little male attention. Let’s be real, who doesn’t? So if you’re interested, say yes.
5. Take a Trip
Around February, I was so depressed that I decided I didn’t care what anyone thought. I had just interviewed for a good job, and knew that if I got it (which I did), I might not have time for frolicking about the country. So I bought a ticket, and by George, though everyone thought I was crazy, I headed to California for 2 weeks by myself. Was it the best trip of my life? No. Would I necessary recommend an exact replication of my trip? No. But did I have all kinds of crazy adventures? Yes. Do I have crazy stories? Yes. Ask me about them. I can say one thing for sure: I lived. You don’t have to put down 1,000 bucks to go on an incredibly memorable trip. And you sure don’t want to spend your whole life saying, if only I’d gone on a trip before I had kids.
6. Move Out Of Your Parents’ House
I repeat, move out of your parents’ house. I know I know, it’s just so cheap. You just can’t afford to move out. You just need it for a little while, which turns into 5 years. I understand living with your parents as your getting your feet wet and finding a job, but after you have the job, settle for a dump that is at least a place of your own. I would put a 6 month cap on the parents’ house thing. It’s not cause you don’t love them. It’s not cause you don’t need them. It is because for your emotional and psychological health, you need that independence.
7. Know How To Set Boundaries. Physical, Emotional, And Professional.
Set boundaries at work. This is what you are willing to do, this is what you are not. This is what you are willing to allow other men to say to you, this is what you are not. This is time for work. This is time for friends. This is time for yourself.
Also, don’t allow yourself to be talked down to. Learn the phrase, “Wait just one minute.” This is a great opening phrase to show someone they crossed a boundary you set for yourself. Another great phrase: “I don’t want to be talked to like that.” This is my new favorite phrases in customer service and yes, I use it regularly.
8. Know How To Be A Lady
I heard a quote this week that said, “If more women stood up for being Ladies, more men would stand up for being Gentlemen.” Or something like that. The saying goes the other way as well. Be classy, even if it doesn’t seem popular. Stand up for what you believe. Comments that turn you into an object should not be OK or tolerated. Speak up. You are strong, confident, beautiful, and by golly, YOU LOVE WHAT YOU LOVE. Some guys like to think that if only girls would like guns, war-movies, rock-climbing, and Family Guy, then they would be perfect. The thing is, if every girl loved all those things, we wouldn’t be girls. We would be men. And I promise, they don’t want that. The guys you want to be with will appreciate the things that make you a woman. You are worth waiting for.
9. Invest In At Least 3 Complete Outfits That Make You Feel Crazy Beautiful
Need I say more? It’s worth it. And you will need one of them the day after you ate a pan of cookies after work.
10. Know That You Are Worth It.
If you are not married, GOOD. In the South, we are constantly under a social expectation that when we graduate from college, then duh, the next step is to get married. If you did, great. I am genuinely happy for you. If you haven’t found him yet, FANTASTIC. You have been given an incredible opportunity to find things that make you YOU. Invest in girl friendships, watch chick-flicks whenever the heck you want, explore random hobbies cause you can. Craft, cook, run, write, travel, spend time with family, go on dates, develop crushes, buy a poster of Zac Efron, get your nails done, mentor younger girls. HAVE FUN and enjoy this time. All the while remembering, you are worth waiting for. I know I said this earlier, but it is the most important thing. You might even need to write that on your bathroom mirror. Remember the things that make you awesome and wait for a guy who notices those things too.
Editor’s Note: Street harassment seems to be like the small scab that gets picked at and ripped off, little by little. Most say that not big enough or deep enough to take it seriously, but I beg to differ. Anytime something evokes strong negative emotions, it’s big enough and important enough to talk about. So today, I’m writing a bit about my experience, sharing some emails I’ve received, and asking for your comments! – Lauren
A couple days ago I got an email from a girl from California, studying abroad in Europe.
“I really cannot deal with the street harassment I’ve gotten in Europe. I’ve been called names (from slightly humorous “beyonce’s” to really hurtful sexual names, gestures, and slurs) and I’m really just sick of it. I’ve been harassed and followed until I’ve given my number to guys literally every week of being here and although I’m having fun, I’m also a bit afraid to go outside. Three men followed me home last month and they waited outside of my house for an hour until I called the police, who basically excused their behavior because they were drunk. I don’t really know what to do – I [honestly feel] that there is nothing wrong or inappropriate with my clothing. I have really long natural hair and so I decided to straighten it to garner less attention, but that didn’t work. I met a man who I thought I could trust and he ended up using me and getting really upset when I wouldn’t have sex with him. I feel like I can’t trust any men I meet. I’m feeling a bit broken right now and I’m wondering if you have any advice as to how I can try to toughen up for the rest of my time here so that I can enjoy it instead of crying all over my apartment. I was hoping that God could help me forget about the opposite sex for a while [while studying in Europe ] so I’m not consumed with wanting a man/being afraid of them, but I’m still sitting in Starbucks and feeling like I want someone to hold me, hoping the man God created to love me will come around the corner.”
I know this ache that seems to conflict from every angle. Wanting nothing to do with men, but wanting nothing more than a good man. It’s in studying this conflict that we find the truth: The war is not one of gender, but of the individual. When I was 22, someone told me, “the day I stopped viewing people by their gender and instead by their actions, my life changed forever.” And my life changed the day I heard that.
Still, being the on the receiving end of degrading sexualized comments can wedge a bit more disgust between myself and the male race. Yesterday, I asked you girls on our Facebook how you felt and responded when you were sexually harassed on the street.
Most of you replied that you ignored it, and kept their eyes down. Avoid eye contact, and simply keep moving as quickly as possible. A few women shared that they reply with clear, “that’s not appropriate” or coals-of-kindness, “thank you – God bless!” in hopes of offsetting their vulgarity. But all of you said that it resulted in these feelings:
- taken advantage of
On top of this, if you’re a woman who has been sexually assaulted or abused, even a series of honks or a vulgar shout can feel like knives scraping the raw flesh of your heart. There are women who may find it a compliment, and others often tell us to “suck it up and understand that you’re just an attractive woman,” – but this only serves to echo the devastating voice of, “this is your fault” or “stop bothering us with your imaginary problems” that we’ve heard after rape, molestation, infidelity, abandonment, or any experience where we have been hurt badly as a woman.
Note: It doesn’t take rape or extreme sexual assault to experience physical or emotional pain because of a man. Being hurt by men can come from our fathers, brothers, community, guy friends, boyfriends, a bad breakup, anywhere. And they may not have been malicious about it. If you feel like your heart is overly sensitive, accept it and own it. You were created with that heart for a very intentional purpose, and it is GOOD.
Clinically, depression is often described as anger or severe disappointment turned inwards. If we are angry at one man, certain men, or all men – particularly in relationships where we have not been able to express our anger or hurt to them – street harassment can be an instant trigger for depression and any of the coping mechanisms we are relying on. This means that if you are beating yourself up for having such a strong emotional response to a cat-call on the street, I will hold your hand and say that it’s okay, and that you are not a weak woman. You are simply a hurt woman. And hurt is not synonymous with weak.
Street harassment is something I battle with weekly as a young woman living in Los Angeles. My friend Rhiannon told me recently, “As a 24 year old married woman, I’m afraid to walk down my street. I’m afraid of getting the honks, catcalls, and stares I get when go for a jog at the park. Living in a tiny apartment in LA with my husband, with no balcony, or terrace to speak of, leaves me longing for just some time outdoors. But I become a prisoner of my home because I am terrified of walking down to the park down our street. Even if I wear baggy clothes, I’m scared some man will stop me, or stare at me, and it would be all my fault for dressing this way, for putting lust in his heart.”
I don’t have the answer, but I have two thoughts, and I covet your opinions, stories, feelings, suggestions, revelations, comforts that you have on the subject. So please comment!
There seem to be two parts to handling street harassment:
1. Responding externally (to men). ihollaback.org recommends responding with clear, declarative statements, such as, “Stop ________” and “Do not whistle at me.” I personally am scared of responding to men and having them become violent, but sometimes “just taking it” puts us again in the place of the voiceless victim, and does additional damage to our hearts. What do you do, or say?
2. Responding internally (to ourselves). I feel angry and taken advantage of. I remember jokes that men I’ve cared about have made, implying that all I’m good for is sex. My skin crawls. My posture changes. I feel objectified. And I feel worthless. BUT. I need to start paying more attention to what “truths” I passively accept in the moment: ”All men are animals,” “I hate men,” “all men want from me is sex,” “all I’m good for is sex,” “I hate being a woman sometimes,” and on and on. Sometimes they’re just feelings, but I want to try to put words to them. Knowing how to identify feelings and emotions is invaluable.
Passively agreeing (which is what happens unless you identity the False thought and consciously counteract it with a True thought) means we begin to accept truths into our worldview, our perspective, and our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us – without realizing it. It’s kind of like throwing a party, letting every person on the street walk in, and then looking around and saying, “but I didn’t invite any of them to my party!!”
As women who have had our boundaries broken and crossed by men in the past, we often let all of these negative thoughts and feelings in, believing we don’t have the right or ability to stop them. The goal is to re-build our mental and emotional boundaries so that they stop at the front door on their own, before they scrape at our hearts. But we have to re-create the door that was destroyed, in order to keep them out.
Every time I feel taken advantage or made worthless by a crude gesture or cat-call on the street, I subconsciously agree to what that man is communicating, unless I consciously disagree. Even though I would tell you that I’m not ‘just good for sex,’ and that my husband wants me for things other than sex, I still feel taken advantage of, simply because other men want to behave that way – and up until this point, I’ve felt helpless to fight this feeling. So, I’m making a commitment to myself to start paying close attention to what I think and feel every time I’m whistled at and called names. And to fight those thoughts with truth about who I am, what I’m worth, what my husband believes of me, and what God says about me.
What will you be doing? How do you respond to men? What thoughts go through your head when you’re cat-called? Do you feel helpless? What truths, statements, or verses do you fight your thoughts with?
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Emily. Last week I asked what the definition of “boundaries” was to her, and she answered: ‘courageously owning your limited existence. As a life-long religious addict and people pleaser, learning boundaries was both an incredible struggle and one of the biggest blessings I’ve ever received. Boundaries, for me, are essentially tied to the word enough.‘ In this post, she expands upon that. It’s fantastic. Emily tweets at @emelina. – Lauren
The past two years in particular have been filled with fears. Fears of not being enough for my family, my friends, my job, my romance, my church, my dreams, my city, and my God.
But my name means ‘Diligent One,’ and I’ve always lived under the label that I just have to work harder to achieve anything. I kept trying to be fun enough, big enough, kind enough, generous enough, self-controlled enough, patient enough, fit enough, strong enough, sexy enough, educated enough, woman enough, diligent enough, faithful enough, smart enough, good enough, beautiful enough, spiritual enough, enough enough… And I was exhausted. I was completely spent and still hadn’t met my goals.
I thought the problems were in my relationships, my job, my experience, my past, my knowledge, my faith, my family… But really, all of that spinning around the different spheres of not being enough were because I wasn’t willing to confront the idea that I might not be enough. I wasn’t willing to let my existence be based on the goodness of God and His love, so I was trying to be everything. I spent all my time taking care of other people, ineffectively at best, because I never asked for help. When I did attach, it was to people who masked my insecurity and fed the control monster inside me. I was living without boundaries and at every whim of circumstance. I lived desperate for things to settle down so I could regain a sense of hope, but life, it seemed, never cooperated. No matter how hard I worked, moving external things around never truly shored me up on the inside.
Do you feel like that?
Do you work tirelessly to fix every part of your life, your friendships, your family, your career, your dating life, your marriage, your finances, yet live in the exhausted land of imminent collapse?
The first thing I want to say is: I can’t fix you. This blog can’t fix you. A mentor can’t fix you. BUT: you don’t have to live for the goal of finally getting everything right in your life. You don’t have to do enough or be enough.
It’s crushing to not be enough.
Really, truly, gut-wrenchingly, devastatingly, powerlessly, impossibly, adverbially, crushing. I am in no way denying that.
But it’s debilitating to spend life trying to be enough.
In the midst of my exhaustion, I learned about boundaries and the ways they could free me. Then I realized I was going about life all wrong. What if being enough isn’t the ultimate goal of my existence? What if, in all of this trying to be enough, I’ve been seeking the unattainable thing in an impossible manner? What if I’ve been trying for something I never had to try for? What if that pressure was never mine to take for myself? What if I don’t have to be enough? What if Love is just waiting for me to accept it? What if Love, in fact, shows up best in the midst of that very act of recognizing that I am not enough? What if by admitting: I AM NOT ENOUGH to the impenetrable heavens, I might actually find them opening?
Because the one thing I really want: Love, by its very nature, cannot be earned. It may be accepted, but it cannot be forced or bought or manipulated. And for me, I can start accepting Love the minute I realize that I am not enough, that I never had to be, and that all my attempts – even at good things – brought me no closer to Enough. When I started accepting my finite self and living from a reservoir of Love rather than control, I felt a little more internal peace. And when everything in life starts spinning out, I can still cling to the fact that I was never meant to hold up the world and everyone in it. Boundaries have allowed me to become more of the Emily I am made to be because I stopped trying to be everything.
Boundaries are me courageously owning my limited existence.
Here’s the craziest thing of all: when I stop trying to be enough and I am loved in my not-enoughness, that’s where I find the ability to love, give, have fun, and be a kind, generous, fit, self-controlled, patient, strong, sexy, educated, diligent, faithful, smart, good, beautiful, spiritual, and yeah, just enough woman. And I find more of that ability than I ever did while I thought all those things would make me enough!
Boundaries are about letting go of my desire to save the world, and instead joining with a God who has and is actively redeeming every situation and person. So I just get to be me. My identity is no longer consumed with being enough. And I don’t have to demand any other human be enough to mask my own not-enoughness. My old desires show up now and then, but I can recognize that urge to “be enough” for the lie that it is, and continue healing. I don’t have to be enough for you, my family, my friends, my job, my romance, my dreams, my city, or my God.
I just get to be me. Silly, ridiculous, free, friendly, small, diligent, strange, loving, fit, clever, average, learning, creative, sexy, confident, fantastic, intelligent, strong, lovable, smart, flawed, beautiful, not-enough me.
Because Jesus is enough. Because God’s love for the world is enough. Because God’s love for me is enough.
And that’s the most freeing limitation I’ve ever believed.
Editor’s Note: Modesty and lust are heated topics within our community, and we are tackling them full-on. Over the next few months we will be working towards debunking the “modesty myth” of our traditional conservative backgrounds and looking at what the Bible actually says, what women are really “responsible” for, and what freedom looks like. Today’s post is by Hugo Schwyzer, Ph.D. He’s a professor, author, speaker, father and husband – and Jesus lover. He teaches college courses on women’s history, men and masculinity, body and beauty, and more. We love him for his commitment to remind us of the strength of both men and women. He blogs at hugoschwyzer.net and tweets at @hugoschwyzer. – Lauren
A few years ago, I read a blogpost in which an adult woman named Rachel recalled that when she was a teenager, she struggled to find a way to dress that would keep “creepy older men” from hitting on her while still attracting guys her own age. As a male youth leader for many years, I was often asked a similar question. Here’s the response I wrote, addressed to the 16 year-old Rachel – and all the young women like her.
I wish that I could offer you specific fashion tips that would guarantee that creepy older guys wouldn’t hit on you. For that matter, I wish I could share with you how to dress in a manner that would assure that your peers wouldn’t frequently judge you, either to your face or behind your back. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how to ensure those things — because the sad truth is that no matter how you dress, no matter what you wear, you will be perceived by some men as a target for their unwanted advances.
You may have heard people say things like “girls who wear short skirts are asking for ‘it’”. By “it” they may mean anything from rape to crude comments and penetrating stares. But as you may already have noticed, girls aren’t immune from harassment when they’re wearing simple or “modest” garb either. I’ve had plenty of students who’ve been accosted while wearing sweatpants or long dresses. I’ve had Muslim students who chose to wear head coverings, and they’ve been harassed both religiously and sexually. The bottom line is that there’s nothing you can wear that will guarantee respect from others. And the reason is that the root of this problem isn’t skin or clothing, it’s our cultural contempt for women and girls.
Have you noticed the way this works yet? If a girl is thin, she’s accused of being “anorexic”; if her weight is higher than the cruelly restrictive ideal, she’s “fat” and “doesn’t take care of herself” or “has no self-control.” If she wears cute, trendy clothes she “only wants attention” and if she wears sweats and jeans, she “doesn’t make an effort.” If she’s perceived as sexually attractive, and — especially — if she shows her own sexual side, she’s likely to be called a “slut.” If her sexuality and her body are concealed, she’s a “prude.” As you’ve probably figured out, the cards are stacked against you. You cannot win, at least not if you define winning as dressing and behaving in a way likely to win approval (or at least decent respect) from everyone.
The advice I’m going to give may sound clichéd, but it’s important nonetheless: you should dress in a style that makes you comfortable.
Comfort, of course, has many dimensions. There’s physical comfort to consider. A fashion choice that leaves you sweating and itchy on a hot day, or shivering on a cold one, is by definition uncomfortable. When the weather’s warm, wearing more revealing clothing is often as much a matter of comfort rather than style.
Of course, there’s a psychological aspect to comfort, too. The more revealing your clothing (regardless of your reasons for wearing it), the more of your body others can see. It’s important to be honest with yourself about how that makes you feel. Different people have different levels of comfort with having their bodies noticed. That’s a normal variation, and the key thing is to be aware where you are on the spectrum. If your peers or parents urge you to dress in a style that leaves you feeling vulnerable and uncomfortably exposed, you have a right to push back against them. The reverse is true, too.
It’s important too to note that however much skin you are revealing, you are never responsible for another person’s inappropriate behavior. Save for the blind, we are all visual people. We notice each other. There is no right not to be seen. But there is a right not to be stared at with a penetrating gaze of the sort that makes you feel deeply uncomfortable. While it may seem that you get those leers more often when you’re showing more skin, you’ve probably noticed that you get those creepy stares at other times as well. And the key thing you need to know is that men can control their eyes — they really can — and women can control their judgment. Your body is not so powerful that it can drive others to distraction. (And yes, if we’re honest, sometimes we wish that our bodies were that powerful, particularly if it meant drawing the attention of someone to whom we are attracted!) If some men choose to be distracted by you, that is their choice, a decision for which they (not you) are solely responsible. No matter what anyone tells you, you need to remember that.
It is not inconsistent to want to be seen and not be stared at. You know the difference, I suspect, between an “appreciative look” (which can feel very validating) and the “penetrating stare” that leaves you feeling like crawling into a hole. While people are not required to give you the former, it’s not unreasonable to expect them to avoid giving you the latter. It’s also not unreasonable to want guys your age to be interested in you, and want the creepy old ones to leave you alone. Remember, it’s not hypocrisy or naiveté on your part to dress in a way that you hope will get you that positive attention you want without also bringing the negative attention you fear and loathe.
Sometimes, of course, we need other people’s insight and advice. There are little fashion rules that it can be helpful to know (even if only for the sake of breaking them, like the old one about not mixing browns and blacks, or not wearing dark-colored bras under light-colored tops.) Friends and family members may have suggestions for what colors or styles are most flattering to you, and sometimes those suggestions may be helpful. I’m certainly not suggesting you shouldn’t listen to those tips. But I want you to know there’s a world of difference between saying “you know, I think lime green isn’t really your color” and saying “you shouldn’t wear short skirts, because then men will think you’re easy.” The former bit of advice is rooted in an aesthetic truth (aesthetics is a fancy term for the study of what is beautiful or good), the latter in an anxiety that is based on a false assumption about male weakness.
It’s okay to ask, when headed to a new school or a workplace or a party, about the dress code. Few of us want to stand out as totally different from everyone else. Most of us can figure out that what you wear to a birthday party at the water park is different from what you would wear to a funeral service in a church. Dressing for the occasion is part of living in a community with others. But that standard should still have room for a lot of flexibility. A bikini is probably not appropriate at Thanksgiving dinner (unless you’re poolside), but when it comes, say, to school, don’t let anyone tell you that can’t dress up (or down) depending on how you feel.
Here’s a key point: As a father and a teacher and a youth leader and a feminist man who has been around a while (and worked with thousands of young people), I want you to know that while not all men are safe and trustworthy, men’s bad behavior is never, ever, ever, ever, ever “your” fault. Your miniskirt doesn’t cause guys (of any age) to do anything they don’t choose to do (no matter what they say to the contrary). It’s not your job to dress to keep yourself safe from men.
Lastly, let me say that finding your own style is an adventure. It involves a lot of trial, and some not infrequent errors. I promise you, ten or twenty years from now you’ll look at photos of yourself at 16, roll your eyes, and say “What was I wearing? What made me think that looked good?” Despite what some folks tell you, these are not the best years of your life. Not even close. And in terms of your style and your beauty, you aren’t anywhere near your peak. I say that not to belittle you, but to reassure you that you don’t have to get it right yet. You have much more time than you think.
All the very best,
Comment Policy: For many of us “raised Christian,” this may rub you the wrong way. We recommend doing some additional reading before you get too flustered: Calling Bullshit On Religious Misogyny, How Modesty Made Me Fat (& her followup: A Response), How The Myth Of Male Weakness Turns Women Against Each Other and Modesty, Lust & Emotional Rape. If you wish to disagree, please do so constructively and respectfully.
Editor’s Note: For today’s post, we’re sharing something a little different. Carole Chege, one of our beautiful readers, lives in Kenya. This Valentine’s Day, she went to the slums in Ngong town and took dozens of red roses with her. She knows most of them by name, and spent her day handing out roses – reminding people that they are loved, not forgotten, and cared for. This is Carole’s daily life, and she is incredible. Below are her words, some of the photos from the day, and a link to her entire Facebook album. Be moved. – Lauren
I’ve been meaning to write to Good Women Project for a while, but I always figured I don’t have the words to articulate myself.
As women from around the world with different cultures, we all have differences. So similar and so different.
This year I had my greatest and most fun Valentine’s. My main need to share is that I hope other women see beyond the “Africa and poverty” mentality; it’s much deeper than that. Love is all the same, whether done in wealth or in poverty. The truth is there are also extremely poor people in US, the UK and many other places. It’s about love. Not continents.
Hope I can share my story in pictures, am sure the women will blessed. Valentine’s is so much more than lovers day.”
- Carole Chege
Editor’s Note: Today’s beautiful post is written by Renee Roden. She is a theater and theology major at the University of Notre Dame. She blogs about college life and other things here.
I was outside my dorm having a classic Tuesday night meltdown. Wednesdays this past semester were always crammed full to the brim and overflowing with classes, meetings, and projects to finish. This particular Tuesday, it seemed as though the weight of the world was on my shoulders. I sat on the front steps of the dorm, in cold grey November drizzle, with my head in my hands.
I kept whispering over and over again: God. I can’t do this. God. I’m not strong enough. God.
Suddenly, I heard a voice:
“Are you okay?”
When I finally registered the voice was directed at me, I looked up abruptly, and standing there was a young man, with earbuds in one ear, wearing a puffy North Face jacket and basketball shorts. Classic Notre Dame attire.
I forced a smile and responded with an: “Oh yeah, I’m fine.” As soon as I said it, I knew how ridiculous I sounded. I was sitting on the front steps of my dorm crying in the rain. Of course I wasn’t “fine”.
When our vulnerable side starts to show, there is some bizarre reflex in human beings that automatically kicks in. We start to pretend as though we are in complete control. When it looks like there might be a chink or crack, we reinforce our protective armor. We build up our defenses, and completely forget that we are called to let ourselves be vulnerable.
He looked at me with kindness: “Okay. Are you sure?”
“Oh yeah, I’m good,” I responded casually, with a dismissive “it’s no big deal” wave of my hand.
He walked away, and I returned to sitting and staring into the misty rain. Then, I heard him turn around. He came back and approached me. “You look like you could use a hug,” he said, and then he wrapped his arms around me in a giant bear hug. I was so touched. So moved. “Thank you,” I smiled – a genuine smile. I was so completely overwhelmed by his kindness. How beautiful of him to reach out to someone he didn’t know, and comfort them when they were feeling down, even when they politely – and foolishly – rejected his help at first. “Whatever it is, I hope it gets better,” he smiled, and then jogged off into the rain. But that simple little interaction had completely turned around my night.
There’s a great fear of being vulnerable in our society, and rightly so. It is terrifying to be unarmored in this wide and sometimes perilous world. But if we lack the ability to open up and allow ourselves to acknowledge our weakness and our essentially broken human nature, then we close ourselves off from not only what it means to be human, but also what it means to love someone. A synonymous word with vulnerability may be “openness”. What the anonymous guy displayed in his actions was an openness to and an awareness of the people around him. This generosity of spirit and focus on others allowed him to respond with love to the people hurting around him. That anonymous guy is exactly the type of person I aspire to be. Someone who can bring a little bit of light into someone’s dark night.
A favorite quote of mine is one from C.S. Lewis’ book, The Four Loves: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.” Although this may seem rather harsh, it is undeniably true. The only way to truly love and live is to open ourselves, which frees us, but also ushers into our lives the possibility of being rejected or hurt. And that’s scary.
As a college student, one of the ways I see my generation close themselves off to vulnerability and genuine love is the hook-up culture. A drunken make-out session is not going to call upon a person to share their heart with someone, to care about someone, or to open up to them. The people involved in a hook-up just share your body, while safely keeping your feelings locked deep inside. The morning after, each person continues on with their business as usual, callously attempting to pretend that nothing happened, and there is no emotional bond between them whatsoever.
The second half of the C.S. Lewis quote goes like this: “If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
Although vulnerability will often include pain, precluding vulnerability also leads to pain. And, unlike being vulnerable, turning in on yourself and shrouding yourself in protective armor cannot lead to happiness – only bitterness and more pain, which is exactly where I see so many of my friends and peers find themselves after trying to find love through hooking up. Instead, true love is found in listening to another person, and in turn opening up to them. Allowing yourself to share your heart with another broken human being. Opening up doesn’t mean burdening someone with your struggles and problems. But, rather, it means not hiding the incredible beauty of your soul.
During a discussion of theatre in class, my professor once said: the power of theatre to seduce is unbelievable. People onstage look beautiful and dazzling, and we find ourselves in love with them in spite of ourselves. Live theatre portrays human beings being very vulnerable indeed. Think of Shakespeare’s plays: imagine Juliet and Romeo risking their pride by confessing their love for each other after knowing each other only a few hours, think of Beatrice and Benedick, loving each other in spite of themselves, or Helena, chasing after her one true love, who has rejected her in a moment of madness. These women are beautiful, strong, and alive. They are completely and vulnerable, and generations of audiences have fallen in love with these women. Because they present themselves onstage, letting their radiance shine through in a way that only the truly vulnerable can.
Each of us is capable of that sort of dazzling beauty and stunning brilliance. But we can only achieve those heights if we allow ourselves the possibility of being hurt, if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Kelsey Manning. She’s the one who takes care of our Facebook page and is simultaneously obsessed with music, puppies, puns, and Jesus. We love her like something else around here. You can read her full bio here or check out her blog and Twitter! Tomorrow we’ll be doing a SPECIAL GIVEAWAY for Valentine’s Day, so make sure you pay attention! – Lauren
Last year, to celebrate Valentine’s Day, my friends and I watched Kill Bill and broke dishes.
I’m pretty sure that it’s not quite what Hallmark had in mind.
It’s not that I’m against love, but watching gory revengeful movies and getting out all your feelings on one of the dumbest holidays ever is healthy. Because, you know, I’m an expert who needs no entanglements or silly boyfriends or head-over-heels-crushes to stay happy. Or you know, I might just be a cynic of love who is scared to admit that she still is a hopeless romantic who loves musicals under that tough skin and making-fun-of-relationships-facade.
Being single on Valentine’s Day is dramatic even if you don’t acknowledge it. Every commercial on television is for chocolate and perfume and K-Y warming liquid. Every store display is disgustingly overdone with teddy bears and roses. But it isn’t the cheap gifts or obnoxious displays that get me – when you’re single on Valentine’s Day you entertain the thought that there may be something wrong with you, because it seems like the rest of the world is coupled up. You hang on to the reason you’ve failed in relationships in the past, unable to let go. And then, at least in my own heart, I pile on guilt from other mistakes I’ve made and suddenly one tiny little holiday makes me feel worthless.
Last year, all these feelings had hit me at once, along with my group of friends – all fantastic people, yet all feeling guilty and left out by being single – and I decided we should take action against these feelings. And when I take action, most often, I do so with a vision.
You see, I’m a visual learner. As much as words can comfort me and I can bask in them, roll them around on my tongue and rewind television shows just to hear the rhythm in the way certain sentences sound, if I really want to drive a point home, I have to see it with my baby blues. I want to open my eyes wide and get to know the colors and shapes and textures and how the light hits something just so.
Luckily, I got to learn this particular way last February 14th, when my friends and I had ourselves a little “Break” party.
What does this entail?
It’s simple, really. We drove to Goodwill and collected a handful of cheap plates, all of different colors but all those that looked extra fragile. We then brought the plates back and attacked them with Sharpies, writing out everything that we wanted to see break into a million little pieces. Fears, shame, bad dreams, regrets, doubts, guilt, experiences that hurt, and, since it was Valentine’s Day, most of our plates had failed relationships, lost loves and the names of soul-crushing boys and heart-stealing girls that we wish we’d never run into in the first place written all over them. We kept our plates to ourselves, mulling over them until we were all ready, then trekked out to the railroad tracks behind my apartment, and huddled together, we said goodbye to our precious regret-stained dishes. One by one, we said goodbye to pain and failures and secrets and feelings that left us worse off. Standing across from each other, we addressed our plates individually, addressing them like they were our own hearts, and, as if in slow motion from our very own Tarantino movie scene, then smashed them down into the tracks, watching them all break away and cheering with each broken dish at the realization that, surely, it was all just words on a plate anyway.
When we’re wrapped up in the past, we’re unable to handle what happens day-to-day, much less think about the future. God says that when we ask for forgiveness from our mistakes, he cleans our slates (or plates!) immediately. Psalms 103:12 says that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” But even believing in this promise, after being forgiven, we still so often hold onto the guilt and shame with a clenched fist. We know we’re forgiven, but the ways in which we’ve failed come up in our conversations like word vomit and hang over our heads like a dark cloud, refusing to let us live. But the truth is, that is no way to live at all!
So this Valentine’s Day, I’m trying to approach it less dramatically. I’m trying to let Hebrews 10:22 wash over me – ”let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience,” and simply invest in my own Valentine’s Day by remembering that I am fully forgiven, justified just the way I am and loved deeply by Jesus.
But, I’m not promising that I may not invest in another 25 cent plate and a sharpie.
Call it dramatic, call it childish, but I can honestly say that last year, I left a few things on that railroad track that I won’t be needing anymore. Maybe Valentine’s Day isn’t meant to be spent wallowing in romantic comedies and cookie dough. Maybe our mistakes in love shouldn’t bring us down, even on a day that can be hard to be alone. Maybe visually smashing the things that we need to let go of costs way less than therapy.
Maybe plates need to break so that we don’t have to.
Editor’s Note: This incredible, incredible post was written by Billye Wynn. She is one-half of Wyatt & Wynn, the authors of the upcoming book, The Last Beholder. You can follow them at wyattandwynn.com or on Twitter at @wyattandwynn. And PS, you MUST follow them. They are full of surprises. – Lauren
When I was a little girl, there were two things a person could say about a female: you were either pretty or charming. Now that I’m grown, and now that I have grandchildren, I am made aware by the spectrum of beauty, intelligence, wit, and inner being that is constantly hovering over the heads of every waking woman at all times during the day.
We mentally assign numbers to creatures of hidden holiness as we interact with them. I do it every day. My daughter comes in and her hair is atrocious. I slide her “beauty” marker over to “needs improvement”. She says something complimentary about my wit and her “intelligence” marker moves to the “in perfect order” area.
This practice was, as most practices are, most likely taught to us by people in our lives that didn’t have the emotional capacity to properly see us. Someone we desperately loved couldn’t love us back the perfect way we held up in our hearts, and the measurement system popped up over our heads.
If you had any sort of decent parenting at all, you certainly heard the words: “you are fine, just the way you are” at some point during your childhood. This came from a person who wanted to shield you from the measuring system, who wanted to implant goodness and truth and beauty in your brain before the Kardashians could worm their way in there.
Unfortunately, the Kardashians are very wormy.
Because, truth be told, even if someone has managed to set you straight, the world is constantly yelling at you that you’re wonderful, and what a great personality you have, but it’s whispering lies to you. And although lies about beauty and physical appearance are the foremost criminals, there are more subtle lies: lies about your heart, lies about your mind, and lies about your soul, which if not stopped, will create cracks in you that can only be absolved by death, cracks that you will carry with you and use to form a half-life for yourself, until you die, and Jesus holds your face in his hands and tells you the Truth.
And a beautiful thing about the Gospel of our Lord is that we are okay. Scripture upon scripture of being formed by his hands, of being known before birth, of being made in His image, of wearing the mark of the Holy Spirit upon us. And we, as believers, know that Jesus is perfecting us, daily, hourly, by the minute, but the hard part is stepping out of our homes and into the world, and steeling yourself against the agents of death that seem to skip ahead of us everywhere we go.
You are okay, but it’s not okay.
It doesn’t take a Tesla or a Twain or a Tennyson to tell us that the world is in pieces, shattered and shredded beyond man’s repair. There is poverty (which, in most cases, is not the noble of cinema or our minds, but soul-crushing and unbearable, causing mothers to make decisions that you or I could never dwell upon), there is jealousy, there is greed, there is resentment, there is a void of forgiveness, of courage to stand against these things. And it seems that even the people who do try and help are but drops of water in the ocean, and no one can ever seem to find the answer to the all the pain. Even the religious, who claim that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life can’t seem to offer more than platitudes and a feeble (yet hopeful) promise that all shall be well, one day, probably too far off to even see right now.
And that’s just the sickness inside the nations and civilizations, to speak nothing of our own hearts. Even the best of us harbor black thoughts that fester inside of us, hemming and hawing at our attempts of goodness. The world, and souls who have been tainted by the world, come at our inner selves with scrapers and chippers, ready to bruise, ready to steal, and hoping to devour so that they will not feel so bone-shatteringly alone.
This world and its inhabitants are not okay. You are okay, but it’s not okay.
These two truths vibrate in the universe as opposite magnetized forces. How can we be okay, and everything in the world, and in our own hearts, be so powerfully and painfully wrong? The answer is not easy. It comes in the form of one of those platitudes I spoke of earlier, which is in fact not a heavenly brush off, but the key to why we feel so tired, so sick, and so broken.
“I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:10-11)
Our hearts were not made for this realm. Our souls are constantly pressing against the constraints set upon it the moment Adam and Eve took the first bites and our feelings of malaise and malcontent haunt us, because we’re butterflies flopping about in a mason jar, when the true world is behind unbreakable glass and warped in our vision.
It’s possible (probable, really) that God is set above time, outside of it, so that He isn’t bothered with it. Which means that while we’re here on earth, we feel the tug of our true selves, set outside of time, already in communion with the Lord, the time when we are truly and finally okay. But since we live within time and the various spaces it occupies, we continue to fruitlessly throw our bodies against the glass, knowing that something else is there, but unable to truly see it, unable to take part.
So you are okay. You are okay because God has chosen you. Because Jesus Christ was so desperately in love with you, and eager to have you as a co-heir in the Kingdom of Heaven, and because the grace and glory of God is too much for anyone to bear, that he died for you, because while you’re okay, you’re not okay. But that’s okay. Because you’ve been redeemed, you’re a precious lamb that is worth more than angels, you have value, you have worth.
But the world is broken beyond repair other than by way of a miracle. And praise God, that miracle is coming. It will be here one day, and we will see His face, and His hands will wipe tears away, and the Truth will hold us tightly.
Reject the measurement system. It has no place hanging over any woman’s head who calls upon the name of the Lord. Know that you’re okay. But it’s not okay. But soon, it will be.
Editor’s Note: I don’t want to add a single word to Leslie’s post below. Read it, and read it again. Share it with the newlyweds or not-so-newlyweds in your life. Leslie Lee blogs about faith, creativity, and life at leslielaughs.com and tweets at @leslielaughs. – Lauren
Right now, I’m the main bread-winner for our family.
My husband hates that I have to write that sentence.
I hate the emotional strife this sometimes leads to in our marriage.
I hate that sinking dread that precedes looking up the checking account balance.
I hate it when people think I must be unhappy because of where we are in life.
The thing is, I am happy, and I’m finally starting to see that this season in life has taught us invaluable lessons that we would not have learned on an easier road. We’ve learned to fight against resistance, to push into honesty, to pursue sacrifice, and to protect each other for the world-weariness that can tear so fast so deep.
My husband is still working on his degree, and he also works a labor-intensive full-time job to help us pay the bills. I’ve graduated and am working at a great job. So, we still live in the college town that I moved to back in 2005.
Four years here has turned into… more.
Four years has turned into waiting and learning.
Four years has turned into calling this season of in-between home, sweet home.
And me and In-between? We’re BFFs now, after being frenemies for quite a while.
Honestly, I’m surprised that I’ve learned to deal with In-between. I think the keys have been, one, learning the importance of remembering that my husband and I are on the same team and, two, realizing the power of hard-fought contentment.
The fact is that genuine contentment doesn’t come easy. For me, longing to start a family and start “putting down roots” can throw me down quick into a deep, dark hole of discontentment. Losing sleep, pounding my fists against the wall of In-between, turning God-given longings into childish whining – it can weigh me down all at once.
But eventually my fists get sore and I recognize familiar, insidious discontentment.
It seeps through the cracks in your heart, eventually making you unhappy about everything – dirty dishes, hopes, apartments, babies, cars, parties, jobs, carpet—it all gets sucked in and labeled NOT WHAT I WANT.
But by the grace of God, instead of hanging out with my NOT WHAT I WANT label-maker, these days I’m holding tight to a pieced-together, mismatched, fragile hem of hard-fought contentment.
My contentment is frayed on the edges and worn in the middle because my emotions are emotions: they can build up or tear down, they can point to issues or conceal them. They can help me identify problems, deeply feeling both the good and the bad, and they can help me listen to my intuition as a woman. But, when I take them to be absolute truth, putting my very heavy hope in what my feelings say, tightly hoarding them up into a layer of faux protection, I actually open myself up to discontentment. In-between starts to look like an attack against me and my beautifully orchestrated plans that must be God’s will.
Thankfully, finally, by God’s grace I’ve learned to make nice with In-between. And it’s a good thing too, because life is a long series of in-betweens. Life doesn’t always fall into our pre-scheduled blocks. Expectations fail and we find ourselves floundering in the In-between.
‘Arriving’ and finally getting to where you want to be in life is contrived. I think that as a culture, we usually get to one milestone and sit and enjoy it for about a second, only to quickly move on and set our eyes on the next milestone – because that next step will surely, surely make all of life better.
What we sometimes forget is how much shaping and learning goes on during these in-between times. The habits you make in the in-betweens will not magically evaporate when you get where you want to be.
So, I try hard to remember that the perseverance we’re cultivating now will serve us so much better than sitting unhappy until we get to that next milestone. We actually haven’t hit any huge milestones since we got married a year and a half ago. We’ve seen tons of sweet, small successes, and we’ve celebrated those together. We’re having fun, trucking along in this hybrid adult/college student season. Sometimes we screw up. Sometimes the valleys seem long. Sometimes we ask for help. Sometimes I love this season. And sometimes I don’t. But we’re still here, still in the college town, still persevering and learning.
And damnit, that’s okay.
Because I’ve learned that there is no arriving.
Yes, we must cultivate dreams and longings and goals, and we must work hard at them, but I am beginning to learn that the Lord will come through on those when it’s time.
And, even in the midst of His provision, every. single. season. will have its own imperfections and struggles. There will never be a flawless season in your life.
Someday soon, I won’t be main bread-winner for our little family anymore. But, guess what? Life will still be screwy then, too.
So, I say we don’t have to thrash through the In-between, pushing reckless to get to that magical arrival point at any cost, in any condition.
Instead, let’s stick to our guns. While we work hard to move forward, let’s stick to our hard-earned contentment and learn to embrace In-between.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post was written by Jen Sorenson. I love this post. I’ve never been anti-secular or an only-listen-to-super-Christian-music believer, but it is true that the music we let soak into our skin directly affects our emotional health. For the rest of this month, I challenge you to be intentional with the music you listen to! Eliminate a few bands, find some new ones. And let us know how it goes! – Lauren
This summer was a very emotional summer for me. There were times when I felt completely trapped by my emotions and that they were too overwhelming to even comprehend anymore. I didn’t like this, so I did some serious thinking and came to some conclusions that have made a big impact in my life.
I realized that ever since junior high, I have been using music to affirm and amplify my toxic emotions. By toxic, I mean negative emotions that have the potential to do some serious harm if left unchecked.
In 8th grade, I fell head-over-heels for my best guy friend who didn’t like me back. I felt so much sadness, heartbreak, and pain over this first “unrequited love” — and what did I turn to? Emotional music. When I felt like it was the end of the world because this boy didn’t like me back, the music told me that nothing else mattered besides this boy and how he felt about me.
I would play my favorite songs on repeat every night as I cried into my pillow, never realizing that the music was really making everything feel more intense than it actually was. Was my sadness justified? Sure. It is sad when you’re 13 and really like someone who doesn’t like you back. But is it worth hours and hours of tears and so much wasted energy? No. My emotions might have been easier to handle if I hadn’t made them feel so much bigger with sad music.
This pattern continued through high school. When I felt lost, like I had no friends and nobody cared, I listened to sad songs that made me feel like I was right — nobody did care. I was all alone. Instead of finding constructive ways to face loneliness or turning to God for comfort, I embraced the loneliness and let it define me. Music was my primary method for this. I always wanted to listen to songs where I could relate to the lyrics, but this wasn’t really doing me any good. It only kept me where I was and didn’t encourage any growth or positive change. Instead of going out and trying to make new friends and believing that I was worthwhile and had something to offer, I became more withdrawn, and my loneliness spiraled out of control.
My husband and I had a pretty rocky start to our marriage, and by the time four years had gone by, I was starting to feel pretty angry toward him and hopeless toward our situation. As my feelings of anger, resentment, and hopelessness grew, I soothed myself by listening to angry and hateful music. Funny enough, my anger just seemed to keep growing. Was all of my anger “wrong”? No, not at all — but the way that I dealt with it was very misguided and unconstructive.
I believe that the music I was turning to as a form of therapy was actually making the feelings much worse. Turning so much to music caused me to focus far more on my emotions than on the actual problems themselves. It was always about how I felt, how I felt, how I felt — never about what was the right or wrong way to react in a situation. Angry and hateful music also amplified my selfish attitude: belief that I was the only one wronged and that I was the one who deserved apologies.
I really began to realize that angry me + angry music = more anger. Why would I ever want that? The point of feeling angry is to find resolution. Resolution based in love and hope. The point is not to increase the anger.
Music, to me, became like that toxic friend who will listen to your complaints and only tell you that your feelings are completely justified. The one who tells you what you want to hear, not what you need to hear.
In September, I completely cleared my iPod and filled it back up with only positive music that inspires hopeful feelings in me. In the car, I listen to music I never knew existed until recently. My outlook on life has changed dramatically, and my faith has grown so much. I don’t feel overwhelmed by toxic emotions anymore — I still feel sad or angry at times, but it’s like a plant that I’m not watering anymore. The sadness and anger are much easier to handle and are balanced out by so many positive emotions that I didn’t allow myself to feel before.
The other day I was feeling kinda down, and “We Found Love” by Rihanna was playing in the store. I could immediately feel my mood going further downhill. Amazing.
Maybe this is rare, and maybe I’m far more susceptible to negativity from music than the ordinary person is, but I am very thankful to have learned this about myself.
Editor’s Note: Thank you for being so patient with us as we adjust to big changes in the new year! Have you met our new team yet? Go say hello to them! Today’s post is by Leeann. She blogs here and tweets at @leeleegirl4. – Lauren
When I saw the topic for the month of January, I immediately thought about fear.
I have learned how to deal with happiness, sadness, anger, and jealousy – but fear has always been a problem of mine. I have let my fear control my life.
When I was a kid at school, I would think about every possible worst case scenario and be absolutely convinced that they were all going to happen to me. For example, I was afraid to sleep over at my grandmother’s house because I was convinced that lions were going to get me. It made absolutely no sense. There were no wild lions roaming in New Jersey! There were certainly no lions that knew how to unlock doors. And yet, inexplicable relief came over me when I learned that the scary noise was not lions, but just the heater turning on.
One might think that as I realized these outrageous scenarios were not going to happen to me, I would be okay. Fear is not an emotion that can be controlled by reasonable thought. I had hoped my fears would lessen in number as I grew up, but my fears only grew deeper as I matured. Instead of scary lions and loud noises, I was afraid of the dangers of the world.
It wasn’t that I didn’t try to overcome my fears. But did you know that no shortcoming can be overcome by itself? It needs something greater and more powerful than itself. I found the greatest tool ever when I was twelve, but I did not yet understand how to use it. I chose to personally believe the faith I had grown up seeing, but I did not understand there was more to ‘faith’ than a simple prayer.
My parents had taken me to church pretty much every Sunday. I chose to believe in God before I knew what else was out there. I did not understand that God wanted to change me, to challenge me, to force my faith to grow. As a freshman in high school, I found the first key to unlocking the puzzle of fear. I found a Bible verse about defeating fears. I immediately adopted this as ‘my’ verse.
I thought that praying one time, at church, would eliminate all my fears forever. Words cannot describe the disappointment I felt a few days later when I realized that was not the case. I hated it. I didn’t want fear to rule my life. Fear took the fun out of everything.
I was scared of new opportunities. I was scared of failing and ruining my perfect image. I was scared of being forgotten. I was scared of rejection. I was scared of missing something great. I struggle with fears of potential car accidents and being hurt by my friends. I am scared right now as I write this post.
I was jealous of all those who looked like their life was put together. I was jealous of their confidence. I was jealous of those who got what I wanted. I felt like a total mess.
Remember the tool I mentioned earlier to overcome fear? Faith. But a tool is only as good as one’s knowledge of using that tool. It has taken me years to understand just enough about the nature of God to use my faith as a tool. And it is more of a weapon really. Faith comes with great power, if we can only learn to trust beyond what we can see.
Fears come mainly from the lies we believe. We could choose to give in to them or see them for what they really are. That fear of rejection? It is really saying that I don’t think I am important unless you say I am. The truth is, our worth does not depend on a single other person.
The fear of missing out on life? That is saying that I am being ungrateful for all that I do have. Lies. I don’t have to believe these lies and neither do you. The fear of tragedy is just a lack of faith that God will see us through our darkest nights. Saying that we don’t believe God will be present through the potential worst.
These fears did not develop in a day, and it takes a long time to come to terms with unreasonable fear. There are indeed some things in life that should rightly be feared, but they are far fewer than we think.
It is a daily struggle to choose God’s truth over the world’s lies. If it was up to me alone, I would fail. I am not alone and neither are you. Part of being a community is sharing our weaknesses and learning how to be strong together. Together, along with some faith, we can beat our fears.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post was written by Laura Nicholson. She tweets at @lauranicholson. I am reminded that we are an amazing group of women who have seen SO much love, grace, and healing in our own lives. Laura, thank you for sharing your story. – Lauren
Forgiveness is powerful. I can remember back to my childhood where forgiving someone would be a simple “I’m sorry for hurting you”, but not actually understanding the real power of the words. This year, Jesus taught me how freeing it is to forgive someone.
My story begins eight years ago at the age of 12. I grew up as an only child in Canada, in a loving home with a wonderful mother and father. Things were not as perfect as they seemed, as my parents announced their divorce at the beginning of December in 2003. Confusion, hurt, and anger were just a few of the emotions inside of me. My parents decided to live in the same house even after announcing their divorce. They hoped to keep the family together for Christmas and then hoped to proceed with their divorce in the new year.
December 23rd was supposed to be the day where my family celebrated Christmas with my grandmother. Instead it was the day my dad killed my mom and then killed himself. As a police officer, my dad had access to a gun and brought it home and made the fateful decision. I was home at the time and firmly believe God was protecting me from my father and spared my life. I heard the gunshots and ran upstairs, only to find their bodies bloody and lifeless. Panic set in and I phoned 911. I ran outside to the snowy, cold morning and felt completely alone. Orphaned. Abandoned. Not worthy. Hurt.
I was sent to live in foster care for two months because no one in my family wanted me, except for my aunt and uncle, but I did not want to live with them because I knew they were Christians. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with God. My mom had told me Christians were crazy so there was no way I was going to live with them. My legal guardian who was supposed to take me did not want me. My other uncle said, “it won’t work out.” So off to foster care I went.
After two months of misery, I decided to go live with my aunt and uncle. It was then I was introduced to Jesus. Less than a month of living with them, Jesus transformed my life. I accepted Him at the age of 13 and have not looked back. God is my comforter, my Father, and my healer.
In the past eight years, I ignored my emotions. I was hurt my own family abandoned me and that my father left me, but I didn’t necessarily know what to do with these feelings.
This year, I prayed, thought about it, and spoke to several wise Christians about my emotions. Throughout this, I discovered anger has never been an emotion I have felt towards my dad, and I know that is a miracle from God. He has given me such a heart of compassion and forgiveness towards him. I picture my father as a child. So innocent. So hurt. Completely broken. I see how having Jesus in his life could have had a completely different outcome for his life, my mother’s life, and mine. If he had hope in Jesus, he could have seen the freedom he has in being a child of God.
I have learned what forgiveness is not this year. It is not accepting what happened to you is okay and acceptable. It is not ignoring what happened to you. Instead it is a powerful choice that brings so much freedom and takes the load you are carrying, and gives it to Jesus.
I have been wrestling with feelings of anger and abandonment towards my family that rejected me when I needed them most. I realized I can live with these feelings, or I can choose to do something about it. I believe only with the power of Jesus will they realize they did anything wrong. It can be hard for someone to apologize for something if they do not think they have wronged you. Forgiving them is for me. It willingly saying, “I forgive you. I do not accept what you did to me was okay, but I have forgiven you and will not hold it against you.”
God has shown us the perfect example of forgiveness. He forgives us no matter what our sin. He may be sad or disappointed in a decision we have made, yet he always forgives. He gave me this power with my dad miraculously, but I still struggle with my feelings toward my extended family.
Forgiveness is a long process. It is not instantaneous. It hurts to forgive. It is humbling to forgive someone who has done us wrong. But ultimately, it gives us a freedom we could never experience otherwise.
While I am technically an orphan, I have the best Father a girl could ask for. I have a Father who will never leave or hurt me. He loves me. He provides me with guidance. God has taken a horrible situation and has made it beautiful. He has taught me the ultimate lesson in forgiveness.
Editor’s Note: Michelle Gutierrez recently quit her job in Arizona and traveled to Sydney, Australia to pursue what God has in store for her life outside of the office. She’s learning a lot about herself on this extended holiday and grown in a deeper understanding for the Lord and His faithfulness during the rough seasons. She loves social media marketing and has an obsession with green tea. You can find her tweeting about her travels and more from @gtea. – Lauren
Growing up around Christians, I became quickly distracted with religion. I became distracted with the image of Christians – what they wore, sang, and did with their spare time. I became distracted with the rules and the controls within a church, and lost sight of the reason Christians gathered together. So distracted that when Christians failed me, I thought God did as well.
But God never fails. He’s the victor of a battle that goes on against evil (Ephesians 6:12).
It wasn’t until this year that I fully realized my role in this spiritual battle. That I am called to be a a soldier, placing the full armor of God on every day (Ephesians 6:13). And some days I forget to. Some days I still get distracted with guys, shopping, beauty, gossip, and money. In fact most days I get distracted, but God never does. He is faithful, even when we are faithless (2 Timothy 2:13).
This was one of those nights when I realized my sorrow in forgetting that I am a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
Father, I want all these things, but it would break my heart if I want them to replace you. Father God, I don’t want to fall out of love with You. That’s the truth. Father God, I would be lost without you. You have healed my brokenness in more ways than I could have ever imagined. You have stuck by my side closer than any other friend or boyfriend I have had. You are always there to listen. You are always able to meet my needs. You are always able to give perfect wisdom. You have the perfect plan. You are loving and caring no matter what. You are glorious and large-and-in-charge, manly and amazing. Father God, I don’t want to fall out of love with you. You have dried my tears with your Words when I was weeping in bed alone. You told me that I was beautiful even when I hurt my body, gained weight, or shoved a ton of food into my mouth.
Father God, You said that You didn’t care if I didn’t feel like I wasn’t enough. You told me You are enough. You told me Your Son died for me. You told me that You love me and will never let go. You told me that You are going to support me, hold my hand, and take care of me. You told me that I don’t have to be perfect. You are.
Father God, writing that pains me to think of the ways that I have wronged You and sinned against You. Writing that makes me tear up in thinking how much I broke Your heart every time that I committed adultery against You. Every time that I cheated on You, Your heart hurt.
Father, draw me into Your heart. Draw me into who You are and how to be obedient to You. Father I have read Your Word, and I don’t want You to just exist on paper. I want You to be living in me and doing miracles through me and dripping off my tongue in the conversations that I have with people.
I want You to hold my hand and lead me back to the cross, where the greatest love story was ever told. Where You died. You died, and then lead me to the grave where You rose. You rose for me. You defeated death for me. You told the Devil: No! Hands off, this one is mine. This woman I adore and will do anything for. This woman, Michelle, is the most amazing creation. She is special and I love her, and I will always love her. You cannot have her. Devil back off! She is beautiful isn’t she? And I will treat her like she is. Your lies are terrible, and you have tainted and hurt her. No more. No more. My Son defeated you by dying and rising again. And now she will fight you as well. Take that!
Father, when I am distracted will You remind me of that? When I think that anything on this earth is more than enough. Remind me that nope, Your love story is enough. You have captured my heart before anything else. You are the alpha, omega, beginning and end. Lead me to Your heart, that I may love other people just as you love them Father. It doesn’t matter what other people think. It just doesn’t matter if they think that I am crazy. I want to love people well. Would You give me a mind that can soak up the Word like a sponge? Would You give me a mind that continues to fight for this love?
I love you Father, and I don’t want anything else. Your love is satisfying and continues for eternity. Your love changes me and changes other people. Your love makes us do crazy things. Unbelievable and miraculous things. Things that only love made complete here on earth can do. Your kingdom – show glimpses of what Your kingdom will be like to the unbelievers that I am around. Make your name know through me, Father.
I have found myself in You. Keep my eyes from being distracted by the places and the things that I see. Keep my ears from hearing the lies in music, people, or places. Keep me hearing and seeing You, even in the darkness.
Editor’s Note: I’m a chronic “yeah I can do that!” girl. Saying ‘no’ is not in my natural vocabulary, and I can vouch for Kera. I too, used to look down on people who played the “I don’t want to get burned out” card. But burnout is real, even when you’re young. I’d argue particularly when you’re young. Taking care of yourself is more important than not letting people down. Today’s post is written by Kera, who blogs at www.kerapackage.com and tweets at @kera_package. – Lauren
“You know they say it’s better to burn out than rust out, but either way you’re out.”
When this adage is shared, I usually scoff at the hypocrisy or ignorance of the statement. “You are telling me about time management? Mr. Over-Commitment himself is suddenly an expert on this topic.” Or I think, “Really? You always play it safe; you rusted out before you even started.”
It’s easy to mock others for fearing burnout when you feel like you are invincible. “I’m different than them. I’m young. I’m innovative. I’m resilient.”
But the tide turns when you realize that you are only twenty-two and you’ve already had a complete burnout. Twice. In one year.
My career as a missionary officially started in August 2010. I was getting paid to share God’s love with college students. Life couldn’t get much better.
By May 2011, I found myself completely burnt-out. I became rather indifferent towards my job. I wanted nothing to do with my friends. I struggled to spend time with God. My body was rebelling against me in a constant stream of illness. I was battling insomnia, forgetting to eat, and hadn’t consciously exercised in months. Some days, I found myself too worn out to even leave my apartment. I had no energy to do any of the things that I loved and no motivation to change my circumstances.
Thankfully, summer brings a welcomed change of pace in campus ministry. The break began with a confrontation with my roommate. She was concerned that I was falling apart and frustrated that our ministry was suffering because I wasn’t fully present. I knew she was right, but I didn’t want to hear it.
Fast forward through three weeks of me attempting to pull things together. At the end of May, I boarded a plane and headed to Spain for the summer. There I worked with an awesome team of missionaries focused on prayer and street outreach. My teammates confronted my over-commitment issues, forced me to learn to rest, and taught me how to live life with a healthy rhythm of work, play, and prayer.
When I arrived back on campus in early August, everything I learned about rhythm was quickly forgotten in the busyness of a new semester. Long days, sleepless nights, forgotten devotionals, and the resurfacing of all my bad habits. By early October, my boss noticed an onset of fatigue again and confronted me because I was seemingly withdrawn. Later the same week, I found myself spending the night in the emergency room because the combination of a virus, anxiety, dehydration, and exhaustion had left my body completely wrecked.
The last three months have been a slow recovery, but in the meantime, I’ve missed out on a lot of opportunities. By time my body forced me to reevaluate my schedule, I had to put myself on the bench for much of the game just to ensure that I could continue to be a part of the team in the future.
Burnout isn’t just a word that older folk use to scare and contain the younger generation – as I had previously thought. It’s a psychological term used to describe exhaustion and diminished interested.
Here are a few facts, verifiable by good ‘ole Wikipedia and more reputable sources:
- Surveys show that about one third of young adults struggle with burnout.
- The most committed, enthusiastic employees are the most likely to burn out.
- Burnout is a vicious cycle rooted in the compulsion to prove oneself.
For much of 2011, I tried to prove to myself and to others that I was making a difference. I worked harder, took on too much, and was fueled by a competitive desire to succeed. In doing so, I wrongfully attempted to take control of things in my life and simultaneously quenched God’s ability to work through my life.
As the new year rolls around and I prepare for another semester, I know that something needs to change. This time I’ve learned my lesson. Restoring a rhythm of work, play, and prayer is nonnegotiable.
I’m either an expert on this topic or a hypocrite for attempting to discuss it. Either way, I won’t try to prove myself to you. I’ll simply share some things that I know I need to keep in mind in this new year.
- Get the rhythm right. It’s actually prayer, play, and work. – Did you notice I inverted the order? Priorities make all the difference.
- Put God first and foremost in everything. – If I continually invited Him into every aspect of my life, I would have no reason to stress.
- Allow God to defend you. – God is my defender. I don’t need to justify myself to anyone. He’ll do it for me or kindly correct me depending on the circumstances.
- People who believe they can sleep when they’re dead never really get to fully experience life. – Sleep is so important. I can function on four hours of sleep, but what’s permissible isn’t always beneficial.
- Rest is a form of worship. – Over the summer, I had to retrain myself to enjoy free time. I’ve never been so thankful for opportunities to exercise, appreciate nature, play my guitar, write, hang out with friends, read, and just explore the awesomeness of the world. Rest is about trusting God enough to take the time to appreciate His blessings.
- Turn off the technology. – Let’s be honest, I don’t need my Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and three email accounts pushed to my iPhone every five minutes. I tend to idolize technology as in I spend more time with it than I do with God and with people God has placed in my life.
- It’s okay to say ‘no’. – There is freedom in admitting that you can’t do everything.
- Be honest with yourself and your friends. – To guard against burnout, I’m inviting more accountability into my life.
- When you miss out, others are missing out too. – God placed me in my circle of influence to leave an impact. When I’m not fully present, I’m robbing people of what God wants to do in their lives through me.
- God is God. I am not. – If I remembered who God is and who I am in Him, I would be less likely to work myself to the point of burnout. He is in control, and as long as I follow Him, I’ll be okay.
In 2011, I tried really hard to be the best person I could be in my position. Obviously, I failed. I attempted to succeed through my own strength, and it quickly ran out.
I’m sharing this experience rather light-heartedly because I am truly grateful for the lessons I’ve learned this year. It’s much better to burn out in year one than to face the possibility of a vicious cycle of fatigue in the future.
Overall, I’ve learned that I’m simply supposed to love God, to love people, and to laugh whenever possible. This year, I’m going to just focus on following Jesus and my guess is that His strength will get me much farther than my own.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post was written by Diana Rausin. She blogs at Just Be Loved and tweets at @LadyDi1115. I really love all the relationship advice that is crammed into this article! SO MUCH goodness. – Lauren
This past year I’ve come in contact with many different forms of relationships.
Some of my friends entered their second year of marriage.
Some of my friends got married.
Some got engaged.
Some just started dating.
Some broke up.
Some have been married for many years.
And none of them are the same.
I decided a while back that I would try to learn from what everyone around me in relationships had to offer. How do relationships really work? What’s normal? What’s is trying to make it work and what is beating a dead horse? What makes a relationship last?
So I’ve watched. I’ve asked. I’ve taken mental notes. And I’ve prayed. Most of all, I’ve learned.
I’ve learned that no two relationships are the same. They all start differently, they all have different struggles, and they all have different ways of functioning. You cannot compare your relationship to that of someone else. Just because one relationship starts really quickly and one takes months of months of being friends before dating… doesn’t mean one will last and one won’t. There is no cookie-cutter relationship that we should all hold as our standard.
I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be hard. I’m not saying that it is always going to be easy, or that you will never fight. But I’ve seen a lot of my friends in couples over the past few months… and it doesn’t have to be that hard! If while you are dating: you fight every single day, you can’t agree on anything, you talk bad about each other when you aren’t around one another, you’d rather be alone more than being with your significant other, you can’t trust them… there is better! Maybe you work it out with the person you’re with. Maybe you decide to move on. But I’ve seen it. It does exist. Relationships are work, but they don’t have to constantly be hard work.
I’ve learned the importance of dealing with your baggage BEFORE you enter a relationship. I never realized that the things that have scarred me in my past –’daddy’ issues, the way I have been treated in past relationships, the way I behaved myself and the scars I caused myself – will show up in your relationships! In a major way. No one person can make me whole. No one person can ‘fix’ me. It is up to me to allow Christ to do that and to genuinely seek becoming more like Him and healing those scars. He is the ONLY one that can do that.
I’ve learned that your spouse will always come second. I used to believe that my future husband would come above anything and everything else in my life. If we had children, they would follow. Then I fell in love with Jesus Christ. And He wants to be first in my life. ABOVE ALL ELSE. That includes a husband and kids. That includes family. That includes EVERYTHING. If you do not have a significant other that feels the same way or sees Christ the way you do, you need to seek Christ together and ask Him to change your hearts, make you fall in love with HIM, that way you can allow room for Christ in your heart and in your relationship.
I’ve learned my position as a woman in a relationship. I used to get soooo offended at the thought of ‘submitting’ to my husband. I am my own person, why should I let him get the say? It takes an entire post to expound upon this, but in the end, it’s not a power thing… it’s respect, it’s Godly, it’s trust. The Bible calls me to be with a man worth leading me and making the decisions when it comes to our well being, our walk with Christ, our children. Ladies, if he’s not worth submitting to, don’t. Men, we need you to lead us. We need you to be worth submitting to.
I’ve learned that no matter how hard, difficult, or confusing it may seem at the time, sometimes you have to walk away. I get so upset with friends who allow themselves to be walked all over. Because I’ve been there. Ladies, if he is having an emotional affair with someone BEFORE you get married, what makes you think he won’t run to another woman when you’re married? Guys, if she’s cheated on you once, what on earth makes you think she’ll never do it again? She did not have the respect or love for you to not do it the first time. You may be afraid of being alone, you may not want to give up, but God wants you to. Let go of a bad, abusive, emotionally trying relationship. Don’t settle.
I’ve learned not to settle. I need someone to lead me in my everyday life and my spiritual walk. Someone who makes me laugh and laughs with me. Someone who appreciates me. Someone who is not abusive in any way. Someone who loves Jesus way more than he will ever love me. Someone who is ok with the fact that I may know just as much about football and baseball as he does. Someone Godly, respectable, and endearing. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. I’d rather be picky, have high standards, and not settle than be in a relationship that is destructive for the rest of my life. I’ve come too far to give up now.
I’ve learned it’s not about me. My entire life, I have desired a relationship with a man. I’ve wanted a family. And more recently, I have desired to be a stay-at-home wife and mom. But these are selfish desires. I’ve learned we must align our hearts with God’s. If my relationships, if my life, does not honor and glorify Him, then what is the point? I do not want a relationship, simply to have a relationship. If I can serve God more furiously as a married woman, FANTASTIC. If I serve Him better single, then He will grant me the peace and understanding to do so for the rest of my life. I fully believe and put my hope in this truth.
I’ve learned the best and most fruit-bearing relationships bring you closer to God every single day. I’ve observed some pretty incredible relationships this year and have been so lucky to get to be a part of the lives of those in them and learn from them. And the biggest lesson they have all taught me? You can’t get closer to each other, without getting closer to God. Intimacy was CREATED by God Himself. How do we expect to know it, to have it, without Him? It’s like a triangle: The closer you get to Him at the top, the closer you get to each other. It also keeps your relationship strong and keeps Satan from attacking you with the everyday struggles of life. Those can either magnify the relationship or destroy it.
What advice do you have? What have you learned through relationships of your own or from others around you? Are you looking to learn? What could you learn?
Editor’s Note: Today’s post was written by Elsie. What we keep in the dark, eats at our hearts. For 2012, make a resolution to spill your secrets to someone you trust. And if you don’t have someone you trust, resolve to pray and pray hard for that woman. It is a perfect time too, to volunteer as a mentor or request one. Check out our mentoring page. Much love, and Merry Christmas! – Lauren
I never thought that I would be the girl that got to write this story. It could turn out to be a spin-off tale about depression and loneliness and a fight so hard it almost tore my soul out. I know what it is like to feel so alone that you cry yourself to sleep every single day of the week. I know what it is like to want something so much that you will do crazy things just to get it. I know what it is like to fall in love with wrong person that your life soon becomes a living hell. I know what it is like to wear your heart on your sleeve, and that is where my story begins:
I was only eight and I remember my brother having two of his friends coming over to our place to play video games, but they soon turned out to be R-rated movies. There were times they would literally kick me out of the house to watch their ‘horror movies’. Being the little girl that was scared of monsters under the bed, of course I obliged, but after a while my curiosity got the better part of me. That is when I had my first exposure to the porn world. Soon after he left for boarding school, I knew where he hid his stuff, so it was only natural that the nosy little sister went fishing for the good stuff.
I was addicted soon enough, and I was careful enough to never get caught. I was the girl who went to church, who said enough, did enough and never got caught in any wrongdoing. And of course when it was time for my baptism, I was right there reciting those vows like I had no care in the world with the rest of my friends. Nobody knew my secret. No one could see anything wrong with what I was doing.
But things like this tend to affect one in ways that you cannot imagine. I became a recluse, because half of my time was spent in search of videos or romantic novels. My relationship with any guys was practically non-existent because in my eyes, none of them fit the bill. None of them were as hot as those I saw in my movies ,or even came close to the tall, dark, and handsome ones in my books.
Crazy enough, it was around this time that my pastor talked to my youth group about the importance of waiting until marriage to have sex. And who was I to be left behind? I jumped right in and even had my ‘purity’ ring made. I went out a few times but they all fled when I told them I wasn’t going to sleep with them. That is when my depression kicked in. On one hand, God was tugging on my heart – and on the other I had all this stuff in my mind with no way of venting it out. Who would this little ‘miss perfect’ tell about what was really going on? I was too keen on maintaining that image that I wasn’t going to let this ‘stuff’ ruin it.
College didn’t make anything easier. Even though my hideaway was still the church, all my spare time was spent ‘researching’ ways to make sure I could keep my future husband. (Read: porn.)
The problem is that you can’t serve two masters at the same time. You will end up loving one and hating the other. I ended up blaming God that the problems I was experiencing were His fault. He was supposed to be so powerful, but I felt that He had somehow forgotten me.
I had met a guy and fallen so much in love with him, only to realize that I was the rebound from his breakup. When he left, my world came crashing down. Really. I started drinking, and my depression got worse with each passing day. I couldn’t sleep because the images I had been watching over the years began tormenting me. There were a few times I contemplated suicide because everything was falling apart. I had no one to talk to, because I had worked so hard in pushing people away. I was tired and miserable and the guilt was eating away at my soul, chipping away at everything I once held true. Masturbation somehow became my outlet. Some crazy form of comfort.
Even when I thought He had forgotten all about me, He still knew who I was and He fought to have my heart back. Of course, I fought back like crazy, because I had vowed to never ever love again – even though He was the creator of the universe. The walls I worked so hard to build around my heart? He slowly chipped away, and now I am believing again. He has sent me amazing friends, people who have helped me get through the dark moments. Now, I can smile again. The journey to recovery is not easy and there are days I crave the feelings again – but I know that someday He will replace it with something that is genuine and that is true.
I will not fear to be alone anymore because He really is my solace, my shelter, and above all, my greatest love.
I may not be where I want to be, but I am getting there, one steady step at a time, with my Father holding my hand.