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Behind the Pictures

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Behind the Pictures

I got a message several weeks ago and I have been pondering and praying for the best way to respond. I wanted to make sure I didn’t respond to stupidity with anger, but you know what? I am mad. I’m furious! Someone sent a message via Facebook messenger asking why I thought I always had to post about sexual assault and rape. They went on to say that they are tired of hearing about nothing else and why can’t I and the rest of “these women” just sit back, shut up and leave things the way they have been for years…because the world has been fine until we started “yapping.”

I know that those comments may sound innocent enough, but they aren’t. They are destroying and devastating words. Those are words of ignorance – selfishness – compliance. Words like those remind me of why I feel so alone and shamed for something I didn’t do.

I feel like the best way to express myself is through a little story time with pictures.

I am three years old in this picture. The earliest memory I have is of this same age. I was sitting in one of my Psychology classes and we were talking about how the brain makes and retains memories. The professor had us go around the room and tell everyone one of our earliest memory. I had to make up a memory because the very first memory I can recall is of a grown man in my family coming into my bedroom – pulling my covers down and tracing my little body with his fingers. Look really closely at this picture – look at how small I am. Only three years old and I was being used for a grown man’s sexual gratification.

This is a sweet picture. It was my birthday and I had just turned 5. Everyone is all smiles and having a great time. What you don’t see in this picture is that at the tender age of five, I know what will happen later that night. I know what to expect when everyone has gone to sleep. I know I will hear the door open and my bed creak. It turned out that later that night, that man who had been to my room dozens of times before would not only come in again but this time he would take his abuse further. He would not only use his hands to explore my body under my clothes, but he started using his tongue, mouth, and penis. Are you uncomfortable with my story yet?

I am 10 years old in this picture. TEN. I am still in elementary school. In case it isn’t as obvious to you, I am pissed in this picture. I am a little kid eating a popsicle and my abuser had just said to me – I think I will bring a popsicle to bed tonight. He said it loud enough for me to hear, but low enough no one else did. I could only stand there as frozen as the popsicle in my mouth.

I am 11years old here.  In my short life, I had a man come into my room and do with my body whatever he wanted hundreds of times. I can hear you thinking why hasn’t she said something? Why is she letting this go on? By this time though, he had held a knife to my throat and a gun to my head and threatened me. He told me if I ever said anything about what he was doing in my bedroom all those nights – it would be the last thing I would ever say.  And you have to realize that I was a kid – and this was a family member who was supposed to be looking out for me. It wasn’t only his threats on my life that kept me silent though, he said that if I didn’t lay there quietly while he did his business, he would go to my sister’s bed and get it from her. I knew the pure hatred and self-loathing I felt. I knew that every day I prayed that God would just kill me so I wouldn’t have to go through this anymore. I know the pain I felt every second of every day and there was no way in this world I would let him give that to my sister. So, I remained still and silent.

This is the last picture I have where I am a virgin. This was taken at the beginning of my 7th grade school year and just a few weeks later – that same man who had tied me down, threatened my life and my sisters, this man who had touched every single part of my body with his – finally took the last piece of innocence I had left – he took it while I punched him with my little fists. He took it while I tried to scream and he taped my mouth. He took it while he pulled his gun out. He took it while my 13-year-old 90-pound body tried to fight off his 30-year-old 200-pound body.  I couldn’t win. And that was it. I laid there still as stone and finally let go of every last piece of myself.

So you ask me why I always talk about sexual assault. This is why. Because for over ten years of my childhood – I was a sexual ragdoll for a family member. For more than ten years my body was not my own and I had no control over what happened to it and I had every piece of dignity and innocence stolen from me. Because here I am nearly 32 years old and I still struggle. I still have days where I am brought to my knees because of the pain and darkness of my past. I speak because some simple everyday act can catapult me back to my childhood where I lay helpless and defenseless against an adult male who saw me as an opportunity to perpetuate his sick lifestyle.  Because my voice was ripped from me just like my innocence. Because I live in a world wherein the time it takes you to brush your teeth, another girl is sexually assaulted. I speak because I live in a world where I have seen my 8-year-old daughter catcalled. Because I live in a world where silence and compliance are not only expected – but demanded in cases of assault. Becuase I live in a world where a sexual assault victim is shamed and demonized while the abuser goes free and is felt sorry for.

I speak about sexual assault so often because, even though I have found my voice, there are still millions of men and women – boys and girls who are too terrified and traumatized to speak. So I speak not only for myself and my experience but for them as well. I will speak until no one ever has to go through the things I have been through. As long as there are still people who have to walk the same path as I have – I will speak. For years I had felt such shame over what happened to me – I didn’t want anyone to know – I didn’t want anyone to see me as less than – I already knew I was. I have lived a life where I was not only completely immersed in darkness – I was the darkness. I had held so tightly to my pain and shut myself off so completely that I had fossilized my hurt and let it envelop me. Acknowledging my past and allowing my self to fully accept that none of it was my fault has allowed me to chisel away at the jail of despair I had created. I pray that as my words free me – maybe they can help someone else free themselves.

Even one is too many.

 

 

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More Than a Statistic

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More Than a Statistic

One in every one thousand children are victims of their parent’s neglect and abuse. I am a part of that statistic. 13.1 million children live in a food-insecure home right here in America. One in four girls sexually assaulted. I am a part of all these statistics, but I am more than that. We are more.

I grew up in a very abusive house. I had a mother who was a prostitute and chose her men, drugs, and beer over her children. I liken my early life to that of Dave Pelzer. I’ve had my face, coccyx, hands, clavicle, teeth, feet, and ribs broken. I’ve been forced to brush my teeth with a toothbrush that was used to scrub a toilet. I’ve been screamed at and convinced that I was not worthy of the air I was breathing. I have gone days and days without eating because my mother chose her alcohol and drugs over me. I spent years of my childhood as a sexual plaything for a man in my family. I’ve had a gun held to my head and a knife at my throat. I know what it is like to not know what a mother’s love feels like. I know what it is like to not be protected by the very people who brought me into this world. I know what it is to be forgotten. But I am just one. There are so many others who live through worse each day, and too many who are silenced and have had their voices stripped from them. I am not ashamed of my statistics and I am no longer fearful. So I speak.

I started my life as a mere statistic. One of the many forgotten destined to continue the cycle of abuse and hate. Too often the perpetuation and silence are chosen by those who have been significantly hurt. Each day I actively seek ways to guarantee my cycle has been broken and my voice is loud. I have dedicated my life to giving my children the assurance that they are loved. In all the ways I mess up as a mother, the one thing they can never doubt is my unconditional love for them. At every opportunity, I write or speak of the atrocities afforded me in my life. Silence is not the answer. Voices that ring out regarding the deplorable things going on in our world are what we need. Especially in light of the relentless and escalating vile acts of hatred and bigotry we have seen in our country. Remembering and acknowledging the “one-ins” is how we bring change. The normal statistical curve is the continuation of the cycle of hate and abuse. I choose to be part of the change to see the curve move in a healthier direction.

My life has been interwoven with mere statistics that are so easily glossed over. But, I am more than that. I am one of the 1 in 1000 children who have been beaten and neglected by their parents, but there are others who have drawn that number as well. I am one of the 13.1 million children who worry about food and face profound hunger. I am one of the 1 in 4 girls who have been sexually assaulted, but there are more number ones. We need to remember to not just look at the numbers. There are people, faces, lives attached to those numbers. They are human beings who are deserving of recognition. We cannot allow them to be just a number. They are more. We are more.

We cannot be a Nation that forgets the “one-ins”. We cannot live stagnant lives and forget to strive to better the statistical failures of this world. We cannot allow our voices to be stripped from us any longer. We cannot stand silent and turn our eyes away from the things we deem uncomfortable, difficult, or anything we think doesn’t directly affect us. Because it all affects us. We are one nation and one world. When we are silent about the sexual assault of a young man or woman, we are condoning their lives being destroyed and the attacker’s actions. When we turn our eyes away from the bruises on someone’s face or the child hoarding snacks because they don’t know when they will get food again, we are saying their lives are not as important as ours. When we witness monstrous acts of hate and sit in front of our tv or computer screens and say nothing, we are throwing our humanity in the garbage. The very essence of our being, regardless of creed or religion, should be love and kindness. Always. That means speaking up for those whose voices have been stripped from them. It means comforting the victim of all types of hatred and violence, REGARDLESS of their color, sexual orientation or gender. It means standing beside and behind our brothers and sisters who are violently being marginalized.

Right now we are a country standing on a precipice. On one side, we devour each other with hate and silence and leave nothing left but the empty bones of immense potential and possibility. Or, one by one we stop accepting the statistics that have been placed before us and demand change. We speak up for the heinous acts happening to the people around us and realize we are all connected. We live our lives and leave behind seeds of hope, love, and kindness. We refuse to accept the dark and twisted path we have been so hell-bent on going down in the past and demand love – we demand kindness – we demand light. We are so much more than the empty husks we pretend to be. It is time we start acting like it.

Gentleness ≠ Weakness

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Gentleness ≠ Weakness

We live in a fast-paced world, and sometimes, we forget to be gentle. We also forget how important it is to be gentle. We will emphasize integrity, intelligence, and honesty. Gentleness, though, we don’t talk about often and when we do, it’s usually in a negative light.

We tend to equate gentleness with weakness – and then we sling it at each other like it is some horrible insult.

I saw this video a couple of years ago and it is asking a group of people to throw like a girl…

When I finished watching it though, I saw that they didn’t even realize that they were putting girls down. It is so commonplace to assume girls are weak – and when we are equating weakness with gentleness, what are we supposed to do with that? But then I found this video, done by, as my kiddos would call them, The Guys Who Blow Things Up.

This video is about throwing a ball, but it also speaks to how the world thinks being a girl makes you inferior and how anything perceived as “girly” is bad. So we assume gentleness is an ugly trait and a weakness.

Gentleness isn’t a weakness, it’s not anything close to that. My favorite way I have heard gentleness described is “Power under control.”

“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)

Blessed are those who have their power under control and use it for God’s work.

When I think about power, I usually tend to think about horses. Their average galloping speed is 25-30 miles per hour. They can weigh anywhere between 840-2200 pounds. There are also these competitions to see how much weight a horse could pull. As of 2014, the record weight two horses could pull was 14,000 pounds. That is the same weight as a helicopter, a school bus, or even a small jet. It is pretty safe to say that horses are some seriously powerful animals.

I had this friend and he used to break horses. He would take these wild horses and work with them every day. Once, when he was working with a new horse, he was kicked. He ended up with stitches, broken ribs, a concussion, and a giant horseshoe print on the side of his face. After his body had healed some, he went right back out to work with that horse. Then, 6 months after that, he put his little girl on that same giant horse. His little girl whom he loved with all of his heart, was on the back of this horse who just under a year earlier, landed him in the hospital. Do you want to know what the horse did when the little girl was on his back? He trotted…very slowly, while the little girl squealed with delight.  

Now, was that horse any less powerful than he was a few months ago? No. So what was different? The horse was still as strong and deadly as it was before, but now it had harnessed his power. He had all of his power under control and was using it to do what his owner requested.

So what does that look like for us? What is our power and how do we get it under control?

First, I like to start with our eyes.

“The eye is the lamp of my body; so then if your eye is clear (Or sincere) your whole body will be full of light.” (Matthew 6:22)

We can say so many things with our eyes without saying a single word. There is a little game I like to play when I am teaching a class, you turn to someone beside you, and looking at your partner, you try to say: I have a secret – with only your eyes. Then, say “you disgust me” and finally, say “I am sorry” All without speaking.

You then realize how much of our communication is done with our eyes. It is not always easy to control our eyes though. And what types of things should we be saying with our eyes that would demonstrate having our power under control? Only the things that will glorify God.

Then, our mouths. This one is pretty hard for me, I have a biting sense of humor and it tends to get me in a lot of trouble. Our words are the second most powerful thing we have.

“A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit” Proverbs 15:4

Three of the biggest less-than-gentle things we can do with our mouths are gossip, lie, and tear others down. Think of all the times words have made a difference in your life. Think of when someone lied to you or about you. Or when someone was spreading horrible things about you. How crappy did that make you feel? On the other hand, think of when someone randomly came up to you and offered a compliment. For me, it’s the little things like that, that change my entire days.

Next, our hands – our actions. We have heard it said time and time again, actions speak louder than words.

“When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”  And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” Matthew 8:1-3

This is one of my favorite passages in the Bible, but what is so important about it? Pay attention to verse 3. Jesus reached out and TOUCHED him. He touched a man with leprosy (which by the way was even worse than the cheese touch). He touched a man that had been deprived of any physical contact. We all know how important touch is – a hug from family and friends. Imagine not ever having that again. Sometimes the difference between life and death in a sick baby is simply the touch of another human. Human contact is life giving.

Did Jesus need to touch this man to heal him? No. He could have spoken the words or even simply thought them, and the man could have been healed, but Jesus KNEW how important it was for that man to be touched.

We need our actions to be like that. We need to do things that support each other. We need to do things that show love and compassion.

“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him:haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies,and one who sows discord among brothers.” Proverbs 6:16-19

I spoke about gentleness once at a camp to a huge group of girls and before I did, I spent several weeks praying. First I prayed that I wouldn’t have to do it (A public speaker I am not!) But I really wanted to make sure that everything I was saying would really make an impression on everyone who heard my words. I soon realized that I couldn’t do that unless I shared some of my own story.  I couldn’t talk about getting my power under control and making good choices that glorify God and not do the same thing.

So….

I did not come from a loving family. I can’t tell you what it is like to know and feel the love of a mother. I can’t tell you what it’s to be protected and cherished by a father. I grew up knowing only two things:

1.) I was a worthless nobody

2.) My only job in this word was to protect my sister to make sure she didn’t feel the same pain and desperation our parents handed out to me. I lied to provide for, love, and protect her. I was young and wanted nothing to do with God….I was not a gentle person.

When I was 14 years old my sister was 11. We had decided to go to the local park and play. She and I spent all of our time outside of school, together – and as much as of our time as possible away from our house. Our home was not a safe place, but as it turned out, the park was not a safe place that day. A girl and her friend, who were just a little older than I was, hurt my sister. They were bullies and threw rocks at her and one hit her in the mouth and made her bleed…and that’s where I stepped in.

There were so many choices I could have made that day, but the world needed to know that I was not weak. These girls needed to know I was strong. So, I decided to grab one of the girls’ hair. She was much bigger than I was, but I didn’t care. I threw her to the ground – I could have stopped there, I had already asserted my dominance over her – she had stopped hurting my sister and we could have just left, but I was out of control – I had the power – but God had no place in my life, so I had no reason to try to glorify Him. This girl had just hurt my sister – the only thing I had truly loved the one person I swore to protect. I couldn’t just walk away from that…I needed to make these girls pay. I hit her again – then again. After that, I kicked her. Her friend decided to step in so I hit her too. Again – again – and again. I had hit them long after I had won the fight – long after they had given up -I just hit. I had no control and I was strong…so very strong. Those poor girls never stood a chance.

When I was finished, I stepped back and I left them there – both of them on the ground bloodied and not moving. I left them for someone else to clean up. I found out 2 days later when the police showed up at my doorstep – that one of the girls, I had broken her nose, her cheek, broken two of her ribs and she had a skull fracture with a concussion. The other girl had a broken tooth, nose and a torn ear.

I thought I was strong, but I wasn’t I was out of control and weak. I should have been looking at some time in juvie, but because of a corrupt system and a technicality, I walked away scot free.

I felt good about that fight for a long time. I felt so powerful – and by the world’s standards, I was.

Fast forward almost a year and a half and a ton of stupid mistakes later – I hit my bottom. I had come to a point in my life where I could no longer protect my sister – I couldn’t provide for her. Yes, I gave her attention and love, but she deserved more than that – so, I let her go. I let her be cared for by someone else…and then…I spent the next 6 months homeless. I prided myself on being strong and self-reliant…So how in the world did I not only end up without my sister…the only person I loved, but homeless??

I thought I had hit my bottom before, but this was something much worse. I met a friend while I didn’t have a place to stay, and honestly, I was probably only hanging out with her because she had food…oh my goodness was I so hungry. We eventually built a relationship and shared how we both ended up with the lives we had.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I knew who God was – I knew the Bible. I spent a few years at a Catholic school – so I knew, I just hated him and he was not someone I wanted in my life.

Our conversations eventually became honest and vulnerable and after a long time, those led to a new relationship God. I was a person who thought she had absolutely nothing in this world and even less to offer anybody, but my God said otherwise. I developed a real relationship with Him and my life was forever changed. All of that was possible because one day a girl with her eyes, conveyed truth, with her words conveyed kindness, and reached out and touched my hand.

Now, my life is nowhere near like what it was then. I am still my sister’s protector, that is a role I will always have, but my responses to the situations I am in are different.  

We have been in other situations which my first gut reaction was some sort of violence, but I have found that it actually takes so much more strength to walk away than to throw that feel good punch. We were never promised an easy life though.

Today though, thanks to my God – I know what it is like to have a mother’s love. not because I have received it, but my life’s path has led me to be the mother of the 5 most awesome kiddos you will ever meet. Their faces show that they know they have a mama who loves them fiercely. And that has only been made possible because of my God. He provided the guidance I needed to get my power under control.

I also know a father’s devotion and protection – because I truly know our Father and have accepted my role as his daughter. I also get to look over at my husband and see how he watches over our babies and cherishing them.

My story isn’t your story – we each have our own stories, but the takeaway is the same.

Each and every one of us are beautiful and strong. We are powerful. That is how God created women. We all need to remember that gentleness is not weakness. Gentleness is taking all of our power and using it for His glory.

 

 

So I March

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So I March

I feel the need to explain why I personally participated in yesterday’s Women’s March. There are so many ugly words being slung and so much misinformation being shared. I am being told by several people why they assumed I was marching, and almost every single assumption was wrong. 

I marched because my rights are not being protected.

I marched because when I was 5 years old, a male family member started visiting my bedroom when everyone was asleep and started his exploration of my tiny body.

I marched because as the years went on that same man got bolder in his survey of my developing body. He not only roamed my skin, but turned his attention inward, and finally taking all I had left of myself when I was 13 and stealing the last of my innocence and taking something from me that I was not ready to give away.

I marched because that man who shared my blood and took all of me never had to pay for his crimes because, at five years old, “I should have protected myself better,” – “I should have guarded myself in my sleep better.” Instead of the man who SEXUALLY ASSAULTED a FIVE-year-old and continuing for years and finally RAPING her when she was 13, was subjected to a seventy-two-hour evaluation hold because authorities weren’t sure of the merit of my claims.

I marched because I need to remind myself every morning that I am worthy and that I am more than what has happened to me and my body. I live in a world where I am constantly on guard because the only thing standing in the way of someone touching me is not my consent, but eye contact or a smile or my clothes.

I marched because every night I have to will myself to close my eyes. I have a beautiful man whom I share my life and bed with. I know with every fiber of my being that he would never hurt me and would do everything in his power to protect me, but the terror of my body being used and a knife to my throat to keep my mouth shut runs on repeat through my mind EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT.  

I marched because I worry someone will take one of the most precious pieces of my daughter from her simply because she offered a smile.

I marched because a world in which my daughter is less-than simply because of her anatomy is unacceptable.

I marched because I cannot accept my sons buying into the worldview that that are worth more than any woman simply because they have a penis.

I marched because I worry that not only do we live in a victim-shaming culture where rape is acceptable, but that when it’s pointed out people don’t see it and the ones who do don’t care.

I marched because I know that there are too many other girls out there who have gone through what I have, and don’t have a support system in place at all, and are trying to do it by themselves in a country which insists it is their fault and lets their attackers walk free.

I marched because in the desire to pick specks out of others eyes in the form of homosexuality we toss the whole person aside.

I marched because after all this time we still blame women and their clothing choice, makeup, and words for the actions of a man.

I marched because 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in their life. 

I marched because every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. While only 6 out of every thousand perpetrators will go to jail.

I marched because my body is my own and not yours to grab at your own will.

I marched because I am more than those statistics.

I marched because I am not better than my darker skinned brothers and sisters.

I marched for love – for peace – for equality – for healing.

This is just part of my story. I was one of millions of women and men who gathered yesterday each with their own stories – their own heartache – their own stories of hate and oppression.

So I marched to support them and to love them.

Rising by standing on the backs of those we pushed face down in the mud is not rising. Rising comes when we unite and lift each other up.

We are supposed to be the foremost nation in the world, so we need raise the bar and act like it.

Bodies: Wonders to Love, Behold, and Respect

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Earlier this week, Rob Sparks asked if I would add a motherly perspective to the discussion about modesty he is having on his blog, christocentricity.  Here’s the first of a few posts I’ll be sharing with him in the next week or two as I think about what I want to teach my daughter about modesty.  Be sure and check out his stuff, too.

Alright, Ladies and Gents. It’s that time of year again – the time of sun, and sand, and endless articles on modesty. I can literally see your eyes rolling and hear the hefty, drawn out sighs.  Don’t worry. I did the same thing when I thought about writing this post, but please bear with me.

Modesty. With summertime finally here, it’s a very hot topic.  Everyone has an opinion on what modesty looks like. We point fingers and say you have to dress like this, or don’t do that because they might think or feel this.

There are a few problems with this way of thinking, though. First, modesty is not an unchanging set of concrete rules. It varies: from religion to religion; from culture to culture; from generation to generation. Second, we always point fingers.

Always.

I think our time would be better served if, instead of pointing fingers, we asked, What can I do to make this betterTo make me better?

Since we all come from different directions on this issue, I say two of the most fundamental issues are respect and responsibility. Most “problems” with modesty boil down to those two things.

Growing up, I lived in a home without rules, and without concern. No one cared where I went, who I was with, and certainly not what I was wearing. It wasn’t really a “problem” until my teenage years.

I quickly learned I could get what a wanted with a short skirt and a tight top. I would manipulate and tear down others with my clothes. If I liked a boy, or he had something I wanted, I would throw on my shortest jean skirt, my lowest, tightest top, and bat my eyes. BAM! It was mine.

If I was fighting with a girl, I would dress to make sure she felt bad about herself. The clothes on by body weren’t the “problem”, it was how I was using them. I was actively using my clothes and body to hurt others. I didn’t respect the boys I was manipulating by actively toying with their hormones. I didn’t respect the girls who I was purposefully trying to make question themselves. I certainly didn’t respect myself.  I wasn’t alone in this. In high school you are ranked by your clothes and body and how you used it. Respect…I didn’t have it.

Thankfully, I have grown and matured a little since my high school days. Now fifteen years later I have a daughter.  I pray every day that she is not anything like I was. I find myself more concerned with, and more invested in, the whole subject of modesty and body image. I’m continually rethinking and reworking the best ways to approach and live out a healthy body image. I’m am constantly searching for a solid middle ground.

The modesty mess can be taken to extremes, just like anything else. On the one side, we say if you have it flaunt it. Sex sells. Bare it all – show me everything you got. With that though, comes a myriad of problems. (Hmmm, that sounds like another good blog topic.) We have nine-year-olds doing things that still make me blush to think about…and I’m a married woman!!

We say we are an oversexed country, and in our quest to right ourselves we veer too far the other way and drill into our girls to cover up and hide their bodies completely. We tell them it is entirely their responsibility to control the hormones of others. We are telling them that any form of attraction is taboo. When we do this, do we teach them their bodies are something to be ashamed of?

When we say girls are entirely responsible for a boy’s lust, what we really are saying is: “Men, you are nothing but animals who have absolutely no control over your body. You are completely helpless creatures when it comes to your thoughts and sexual appetite.”  We tell our daughters: “Ladies, if a man comes on to you, it is because of something you have done or because of the way you are dressed.”

What do we say to girls who are raped? Is it their fault? You can’t say girls are entirely responsible for men’s hormones and subsequent actions, and not say the victims of sexual assault are instigators, not victims. (Yes I have read several articles that say just that.)

We have to do better. Plain and simple. Middle ground. We have to find it.

I don’t want my daughter to struggle with her body image like I did. I don’t want her to think the way to get what she wants is by manipulating others with her body. I also want her to be confident in her skin, to know she is beautiful on the inside and out. I want her to respect herself and the others around her. I want her to know that she shouldn’t toy with emotions or hormones, but also it isn’t her responsibility to hold someone’s hand and say, don’t look that way;  don’t feel this way. She is responsible for her own actions.

It’s not easy, but I think we make it a finer line to walk than it should be. It should be a path, not a tightrope. We constantly push and tear each other down when we should be building each other up. We extend our hand not to help, but to point blame.  We need to be more accepting, and less judgmental – quicker to help and slower to hinder.

It all comes down to respect and responsibility. Respect for yourself. Respect for others. Accepting responsibility for your mind and body. You are the only one who can. This will look different from person to person. We are different body types with different personalities coming from different backgrounds. Let’s be slower to condemn and quicker to show love and acceptance.

Lessons on modesty can be a difficult topic, but it is one that we should address openly and honestly. We need to teach our young girls their bodies are not something to be ashamed of. They aren’t something taboo.  They are beautiful.

We need to teach our girls that modesty is a form of self-respect. Again, that may look different from person to person. Love and acceptance and respect are the answer. We need to be careful to not encourage self-objectification.

Whatever your level of modesty is, make sure you are empowering instead of hindering.  We need to teach our young men that girls are more than their bodies – they are human beings deserving of respect.  Everyone is responsible for their own actions and thoughts.

Our bodies are beautiful things – works of art. There are paintings and sculptures and poems dedicated to its beauty. They aren’t something to be ashamed of. They are wonders to behold and love and respect.

 

Bodies: Wonders to Behold, Love, and Respect

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Earlier this week, Rob Sparks asked if I would add a motherly perspective to the discussion about modesty he is having on his blog, christocentricity.  Here’s the first of a few posts I’ll be sharing with him in the next week or two as I think about what I want to teach my daughter about modesty.  Be sure and check out his stuff, too.

Alright, Ladies and Gents. It’s that time of year again – the time of sun, and sand, and endless articles on modesty. I can literally see your eyes rolling and hear the hefty, drawn out sighs.  Don’t worry. I did the same thing when I thought about writing this post, but please bear with me.

Modesty. With summertime finally here, it’s a very hot topic.  Everyone has an opinion on what modesty looks like. We point fingers and say you have to dress like this, or don’t do that because they might think or feel this.

There are a few problems with this way of thinking, though. First, modesty is not an unchanging set of concrete rules. It varies: from religion to religion; from culture to culture; from generation to generation. Second, we always point fingers.

Always.

I think our time would be better served if, instead of pointing fingers, we asked, What can I do to make this betterTo make me better?

Since we all come from different directions on this issue, I say two of the most fundamental issues are respect and responsibility. Most “problems” with modesty boil down to those two things.

Growing up, I lived in a home without rules, and without concern. No one cared where I went, who I was with, and certainly not what I was wearing. It wasn’t really a “problem” until my teenage years.

I quickly learned I could get what a wanted with a short skirt and a tight top. I would manipulate and tear down others with my clothes. If I liked a boy, or he had something I wanted, I would throw on my shortest jean skirt, my lowest, tightest top, and bat my eyes. BAM! It was mine.

If I was fighting with a girl, I would dress to make sure she felt bad about herself. The clothes on by body weren’t the “problem”, it was how I was using them. I was actively using my clothes and body to hurt others. I didn’t respect the boys I was manipulating by actively toying with their hormones. I didn’t respect the girls who I was purposefully trying to make question themselves. I certainly didn’t respect myself.  I wasn’t alone in this. In high school you are ranked by your clothes and body and how you used it. Respect…I didn’t have it.

Thankfully, I have grown and matured a little since my high school days. Now fifteen years later I have a daughter.  I pray every day that she is not anything like I was. I find myself more concerned with, and more invested in, the whole subject of modesty and body image. I’m continually rethinking and reworking the best ways to approach and live out a healthy body image. I’m am constantly searching for a solid middle ground.

The modesty mess can be taken to extremes, just like anything else. On the one side, we say if you have it flaunt it. Sex sells. Bare it all – show me everything you got. With that though, comes a myriad of problems. (Hmmm, that sounds like another good blog topic.) We have nine-year-olds doing things that still make me blush to think about…and I’m a married woman!!

We say we are an oversexed country, and in our quest to right ourselves we veer too far the other way and drill into our girls to cover up and hide their bodies completely. We tell them it is entirely their responsibility to control the hormones of others. We are telling them that any form of attraction is taboo. When we do this, do we teach them their bodies are something to be ashamed of?

When we say girls are entirely responsible for a boy’s lust, what we really are saying is: “Men, you are nothing but animals who have absolutely no control over your body. You are completely helpless creatures when it comes to your thoughts and sexual appetite.”  We tell our daughters: “Ladies, if a man comes on to you, it is because of something you have done or because of the way you are dressed.”

What do we say to girls who are raped? Is it their fault? You can’t say girls are entirely responsible for men’s hormones and subsequent actions, and not say the victims of sexual assault are instigators, not victims. (Yes I have read several articles that say just that.)

We have to do better. Plain and simple. Middle ground. We have to find it.

I don’t want my daughter to struggle with her body image like I did. I don’t want her to think the way to get what she wants is by manipulating others with her body. I also want her to be confident in her skin, to know she is beautiful on the inside and out. I want her to respect herself and the others around her. I want her to know that she shouldn’t toy with emotions or hormones, but also it isn’t her responsibility to hold someone’s hand and say, don’t look that way;  don’t feel this way. She is responsible for her own actions.

It’s not easy, but I think we make it a finer line to walk than it should be. It should be a path, not a tightrope. We constantly push and tear each other down when we should be building each other up. We extend our hand not to help, but to point blame.  We need to be more accepting, and less judgmental – quicker to help and slower to hinder.

It all comes down to respect and responsibility. Respect for yourself. Respect for others. Accepting responsibility for your mind and body. You are the only one who can. This will look different from person to person. We are different body types with different personalities coming from different backgrounds. Let’s be slower to condemn and quicker to show love and acceptance.

Lessons on modesty can be a difficult topic, but it is one that we should address openly and honestly. We need to teach our young girls their bodies are not something to be ashamed of. They aren’t something taboo.  They are beautiful.

We need to teach our girls that modesty is a form of self-respect. Again, that may look different from person to person. Love and acceptance and respect are the answer. We need to be careful to not encourage self-objectification.

Whatever your level of modesty is, make sure you are empowering instead of hindering.  We need to teach our young men that girls are more than their bodies – they are human beings deserving of respect.  Everyone is responsible for their own actions and thoughts.

Our bodies are beautiful things – works of art. There are paintings and sculptures and poems dedicated to its beauty. They aren’t something to be ashamed of. They are wonders to behold and love and respect.

 

Uhmmm…did you forget to tell me something?!

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Ah, little boys. Did anyone else read the little pamphlet the hospital gave you on “how to care for and raise your little boy?” I read the whole thing multiple times. It was filled with really good information. What to do when they get sick, the number of calories they needed each day…Yada Yada. Did you notice anything missing? I didn’t at first, but when my oldest turned about 11 months, slowly I started to realize…they didn’t tell ANYTHING about raising a little boy. About raising beautiful Disney movie perfect little prince yes, but not a real life human boy!! NADA!!!!!!!

Here are the 10 things they “forgot” to add to the little pamphlet they sent with me from the hospital about raising little boys.

1.)They are loud. I’m talking if you get out of ear shot of the shrieks, your ears will literally be ringing. They only come in two volumes. Terrifyingly loud and Metallica. That’s it, there isn’t an in between. Just accept it. You won’t be able to out yell them, it’s a physical impossibility. Just know one thing. As long as they are loud, everything is ok. If it EVER gets quiet, they are doing something they shouldn’t be and you better find them quickly!!

2.)They are dirty. Very dirty. I’m not just talking dirt, which there will be plenty of. Your bath will need a bath when your little boy gets out. But there will be snot everywhere. No matter how hard you try, tissues will only slow them down, so they will use whatever happens to be easiest to access. Whether that be their hand, sleeve….your shirt. They will touch everything – dead animals – their butts – the inside of their noses. There will be an entire layer of just grossness that will envelop them. Keep wipes on hand and shoot for “marginally gross” seriously…that’s as good as it will get.

3.)Trips to ER. You will be on a first name basis not only with the night time nurse at your pediatricians office, most likely you will know at least one of the nurses at your local ER as well. Boys are rough and they are daredevils. They are convinced down to the very core of their being that they are invincible. I have four boys and between them we have had, 5 cases of staples or stitches. 7 broken bones. 1 official concussion (there may have been others). Swallowed enough spare change for a drink AND a snack from the machines. Swallowed a broken Christmas bulb. Had to call poison control FOUR times. And so many bloody noses and bruises I can not even count!! Peroxide will be your be best friend…it gets blood out of most things.

4.)They CAN’T sit still. EVER. Some part of their bodies will be in constant motion…and it’s usually fast. Even when they are sleeping…they won’t be still. There will be jumping and running of course, but did you know they could climb walls? Seriously, they will climb up the door frames like some sort of deranged monkey. Yes I checked, duct tape and straight jackets are apparently frowned upon…you have to accept the constant motion.

5.)The penis. Once they find it, they never let it go. I swear I think they are afraid it is going to run away or something so they ALWAYS have to check. They have to check while watching TV, while eating dinner, in the dentist chair, at the store, when your boss is over…even while they are sleeping. Oh, and they will compare it to each other too. Who’s is bigger…longer…There will be peeing contests…I have even seen sword fights.

6.)Clothes. What clothes? Any chance they get, they will strip down. The VERY first thing my boys do when they get home from school, is strip down to their under-roos. It’s almost as if the fabric of clothes is coated in some sort of acid that rips at their skin if they come in contact with it too often or for long periods of time.

7.) Destruction. They love it. They will spend hours building things with Legos just to have a monster come through and tear it down. They love breaking things. My boys spent and hour and a half on the back porch popping balloons. An HOUR AND A HALF breaking things!!! They will also break the glass you said to be careful with and the heirloom glass egg that they weren’t even supposed to breathe around.

8.) Bodily functions will be awesome. Belches are hilarious. There will be contests – which are no longer just for length, but for style and pitch and who can talk best while doing it. Oh, and farting is side splitingly awesome. Again…with contests…Oh and let’s not forget about the bathroom. They will call you in to inspect what they just dropped in the toilet. Especially if it is an awesome color or if it’s giant. They made it and will be proud. Oh I almost forgot crop dusting and “The Cup”. I wish I were joking or exaggerating, but I’m not. If you don’t know what the last two are…Google it…you need to be prepared.

9.) They are always hungry. If you have one boy, that’s bad enough…if you have more than one…stock up now. They may look tiny…but those little things can pack the food away. Not only will they eat man sized portions at meal times, but they will snack ALL DAY LONG!!! The empty/full gage usually does not come standard on the boy models. It takes two crock pots for one meal and mine aren’t even teens yet. 6 loaves of bread – 3 jars of peanut butter – 7 gallons of milk. This is the standard for our home for one week JUST FOR SNACKS!! Get a couple deep freezers and start your stash now. Maybe even invest in a cow and pig every year.

10.) They will steal your heart. There will be the occasional time where you will wonder if his warranty is out or if it’s too late to return him (I’m joking…a little) most of the time though your heart will be bursting with love for the little monster who just colored all over every wall in the he house. There are no sweeter kisses than those from a snotty nosed little boy. Too soon, they will grow up and the silence in the house will be deafening. You will miss the roar of life ripping through your house. The best hugs are mud covered. The sweetest sound are the squeals of delight as your little man is running down the hall. You will find your self looking at this gross looking alien like creature and think…Wow, that’s mine. I made you. How stinking awesome are you?! Each day you will fall deeper and deeper in love with him. Watching him grow will be both magical and painful.
Savor these messy and loud moments, they won’t last forever.

Strength in vulnerability

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Vulnerable. Weak. Exposed. Defenseless. What comes to mind when you hear these words? Something ugly right? Something to shy away from. Something dirty. We ALL have thought that way at one time or another during our lives. It is always…Be the best…do better…hide all traces of weakness…do not let them see you struggle. I think Elsa from Frozen sums it up best. “Conceal, don’t feel. Don’t let them know.” (Unless you have been hiding under a rock the last year, you get the reference.) Elsa spent most of the movie hiding her powers because she thought it was a great weakness of hers. She felt different and like an outcast. She hid a vital part of who she was, because she felt like others wouldn’t understand.

How often do we do that? I do it ALL THE TIME. I have seen and experienced some very ugly truths about this world. Because of that, I formed a wall at a very young age. A very high. very thick, very strong wall. And I prided myself in that wall. It was impervious, which then made me impervious. For years it served me well. It protected me from things that I could not yet comprehend. Saved me from heartache and disappointment.  And it saved me from myself. My wall did what I constructed it to do. It separated me from my feelings and from any possible chance of getting hurt.

It took me years to realize that my beautifully constructed wall wasn’t protecting me. It was enslaving me. I hadn’t built a wall. I had built a jail cell. I didn’t realize that each of those hand crafted bricks I laid, were not preparing me for an imminent attack. They were promising incarceration designed by my own two hands. My bricks were forged  each time I hid my feelings. Every time I refused to show my vulnerability. Every time I dismissed feelings of fear or despair.

I remember one night, being out with a bunch of girlfriends. We were having fun, laughing and talking. Then something triggered a memory. Something from my past, that I prefer to leave in the past. That memory though led to crying…in public…something I never do. It wasn’t the sweet crying, it was the heaving sobs kind of crying. The kind where you hyperventilate, make gross noises and have giant snot balls streaming out of your nose. I was a hot mess. Want to know what was running through my head? “Oh my goodness, they can’t see me like this, suck it up…suck it up…suck it up” And that made me cry more. I was surrounded by girls who I shared my life with. We shared secrets and laughs. We shared so many things, why could I not share my tears? I cried for a good 15 minutes then took another 10 to be able to talk like a semi-normal person. And you know what? They didn’t think less of me. They weren’t disgusted by me. They loved me and embraced me, and helped me through. I was so afraid of what they might think of me if they saw me like that. Scenes like that have always been one of my greatest fears.

AND THAT IS RIDICULOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Things need to change. First and foremost in my life, but I think in our society as well.
Its not normal for me to cry in front of my husband and I have never cried in front of my children. I have always viewed crying as a solo sport. And that is a shame. I truly think I have been doing them a great disservice by not letting them see me emotional. They need to see everyone has moments of weakness…AND IT IS OK…And when we see someone who is upset or hurting, we need to show love and extend a hand to help them up, not push them down. We need to show compassion to those who are hurting, and we need to allow others to comfort us when we are hurting. We teach them by example. If they see we have vulnerable moments, they in turn will feel it is acceptable for them as well. When they see we do not shun another person in their time of weakness, but rather embrace them, then in the future, they will do the same.

In refusing to allow my weaknesses to be seen, I had forbidden myself access to my life, to love and true happiness.  Without struggles, how can we appreciate triumph? Without sorrow, appreciate joy? Without heartache and vulnerability, how can you truly understand love? And weakness…how can you possibly understand strength without knowing tears and failure? We need to trust our family and friends enough to show them all aspects of our being. We need to show the world, strength isn’t never being hurt or heart broken. True strength is when you are so broken you aren’t sure you can find all your pieces, but still picking them up, and moving forward. It is loving, when you feel unloved. Serving when no one has served you. Strength is acknowledging and accepting all parts of yourself, including your feelings.

I think the greatest injustice we could do to the next generation…to our children…to ourselves, would be ignoring our short comings and failing to share them with others. Imperfections and weaknesses add color and vitality to the woven blanket we call life. I think the most beautiful flowers spring from the ugliest of places. Flowers can not thrive in constant sunshine, and neither can we. Accept it and embrace it. Love others in their hour of need, and love yourself and let others love you in yours. I have realized the only way I could escape my self made prison, was to voluntarily allow people to walk in. To allow them to see the parts of myself I had hidden from the world for so long.

The only way I could truly be free, was to be vulnerable. My vulnerability gave me the strength to open my cell door and walk through it, on to my life.

This is my body? You are joking, right?!

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I have been lied to. You have been lied to. Every woman who has given birth has been lied to. It may sound a bit dramatic, but just hear me out. Our lives change as soon as we see that double pink line on the stick we just peed on. There are books and internet articles and TV shows about pregnancy. They cover everything from: Morning sickness, the first kicks and what contractions feel like to Oh wow, my boobs are so big what ever will I do?
Information, information, information everywhere.
Then there is just as much information on the delivery.
What to expect. The different birthing options, birthing plans, any question you could possibly think of about delivery, there are dozens of resources for. And do NOT even get me started on “how to raise a child” Everyone has an opinion on how to raise your child.
Everyone.

But tell me, where is all the info on my post baby body? Not the, rose colored version..I mean the real stuff. We NEVER talk about what to really expect. It’s too taboo. We don’t want to associate anything ugly or embarrassing with the miracle of life.
I’m going to.
While each of my pregnancies have been different, the recovery from each one has been very similar. Here is my list of what to expect from your body post-baby…the ugly version.
Just an FYI…this is going to get dirty….

1.) Expect blood. A lot of it. Everywhere. It starts right after delivery when you have to do the walk of shame (you thought those would be done when you settled down and started a family right? Wrong! They just change forms!) from your bed to the bathroom and you leave a nice trail of red behind you…ya know….so the nurse doesn’t lose you. Oh, but it doesn’t stop there! You get to go home with a nice set of diapers. For you, not your kid. Feeling sexy yet? Fast forward a few days. You will be feeling good and decide to venture out…you will be standing there talking to the first grown-up you have seen in days..then you feel it. A big wet ball slip out of your underwear, and roll down your leg. Oh you weren’t expecting that? You should have. It’s not the only one that’s going to come out either. This will go on for weeks. Yes, weeks. So get ready.

2.) Stretch marks. You may be thinking, well I knew I could get them, my stomach is growing. But see, I wasn’t talking about your stomach. Oh no. Yes they will pop up there, but also your legs, your boobs, your back,and your butt. They will appear in places you didn’t even know could stretch.
And then we get this false hope about all these miracle creams that will make them disappear. HaHa. It may lessen them, but honey, they have taken up residence. They are there for the long haul.

3.) Your vagina will be gross. Yes, gross. It will be stretched out if you delivered vaginally. A normal period will be a thing of the past. You will be leaking some sort of fluid from it almost all the time. You cough…you tinkle a little. Accept it. Oh, and a discharge. Of unknown causes. It’s just there. To annoy the heck out of you. Panty liners will be your best friend. Stock up.

4.) Shame and embarrassment. Might as well let those two things go. You will find yourself talking about things you never thought you would before. Bowel movements and their consistencies. You will sniff another human beings butt…in public. Nothing will phase you anymore. You just had your entire world on display for an entire room filled with adults. And all of them were focused on your vagina. And what was coming out of it. If you choose to nurse, get ready for a lot of nipple talk. Did you know there was such a thing as flat nipples? Yeah, there is. And if you need help from a lactation consultant (which I did), you get to sit there while another lady looks you straight in the eyes and fondles your boob.

5.) Hemorrhoids. A lot of us will get them during pregnancy. The doctor will tell us it’s normal and they will go away. They are normal, but I think a more accurate term would be dormant. They will become dormant. They may not be raging, bleeding, little pain balls anymore, but as soon as you have an impressive bowel movement you will irritate them and again it will feel like you have a lit candle sitting in you rear.

6.) Weight. We have all seen the picture going around Facebook of the lady who had like three kids and took a picture of her perfectly fit body and told all pregnant ladies that childbirth wasn’t an excuse for being fat. It’s ok to want to punch her in the face. First off every woman is beautiful no matter what size or shape.
However, we need to be honest with ourselves. If we are uncomfortable with out post baby bodies. Admit it. Then do something about it. It’s not easy when you can’t even take a pee by yourself how are you supposed to exercise? Just do what you can. Then accept yourself. We are aging. We are not going to have the body of a 17 year old. Unfortunately life doesn’t work that way. Then you just grew an entire human in your belly, that takes mad skill and room. Sometimes those last 10 pounds will just not go away. No matter what. That’s ok. You are still beautiful. At any size. Let yourself acknowledge that.

7.) Your feet will get big…and did you know they don’t shrink? They may not be as swollen, but if you went up a size in pregnancy, chances are you will stay that way.

8.) Sweating. You will sweat. A lot. Even when everyone else seems perfectly cool, you will be looking for the AC and dripping puddles everywhere. Stock up on antiperspirant and rock the pit stains. Sweat happens.

9.) Personal space. This may not deal directly with your body, but it involves your bodily functions. You will no longer use the bathroom alone. It will become a team sport. Along with company you will get a play by play. “Mom, what color is your poop, you are pooping right? Are you done? Did you wipe?” Showering will also become a two person sport. Your plate is now a communal plate. You will no longer have anything that is just yours.

10.) Your heart. This may seem silly, but I think it’s an important one. We go through life and we think we know what love is, but when we first see our child and hear him cry the first time, we realize we didn’t know anything. You will love beyond your wildest dreams. Each day your child will grow and you think, wow kid, I really love you. Then they do something so ridiculously sweet and you can literally feel your heart expanding. Every day your love will grow stronger and your heart will grow bigger. With loving so deeply inevitably there comes a great risk for sadness and pain. You realize that the tiny person totting around is holding a vital part of you. When they get sick, you feel pain. When they are hurt or sad, you feel it. You will forever worry. Your heart is no longer your own. A snot nosed, blue eyed, kool-aid faced toddler now holds it in his jam filled hand. You hope it’s jam.

It has been over two years since I delivered our last child and I am still going through a lot of these. When I was told about postpartum “me” I thought six weeks. They told me six weeks and I would be pretty much back to normal. It has been 105 weeks, and I am still not back to normal. I have had to adapt to a new normal. A new me. And that’s ok. It has taken a lot of time, anger, tears, and love, but this is me. I am covered in stretch marks. I weigh 50 pounds more than I want to and 85 more than I should. I haven’t pooped alone or showered alone in 7 years. A normal period? I don’t believe there is such a thing. But, I have a husband who loves me and thinks I’m beautiful. I have children who think I know everything and hung the moon. I am happy. I am satisfied. I am me.

Life after childbirth is not always a pretty process tied up in a nice neat bow, but it is beautiful. You are beautiful. You brought new life into this world. You are a rock star!! Love yourself. Flaws are beautiful, they are real, they say you have lived. You aren’t photoshopped or fake.
Embrace the mess.
Own up to the dirty.
This is life.