A Dare to Love Yourself: An 11-year-old talks about being made in God’s image

It’s The Love Dare, people. Welcome! The moment I read Lydia Lee’s blog, Out of the Ordinary, I was reminded of Katie Davis from Uganda. Lydia’s heart bleeds for the people of Haiti. She is one of the most gifted young writers I have ever met. I’m so honored to welcome her here to my site today to talk about how she’s daring to love herself as an 11-year-old girl.

Weeks ago, I saw Rend Collective in concert. I was standing in the front row, listening as one of the musicians spoke about God having a “huge, cosmic sewing machine” in the heavens. Those words soaked straight into my heart, because it reminded me that we are all handmade by God, just the way He wanted us to be.

Rend Collective was one of the opening acts for Tenth Avenue North’s “Struggle Tour.”

And I have had my own “struggle tour,” even though I am only an 11-year-old girl.

For the rest of this post, join Emily at her personal blog, HERE.

**to pre-order Emily’s new book at 45% off, Mom in the Mirror: Body Image, Beauty and Life After Pregnancy, go HERE.

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about a skinny girl who wrote an eating disorder book

Maybe it’s one of the reasons I whisper hallelujah each time I find a boy in my womb growing long and limber, although I know eating disorders are just as real for them, 25 per cent real in fact, and we just don’t realize it…

That men sometimes hide in toilet bowls and candy wrappers and weigh scales, but 75 % of women struggle with disordered eating and I never really wanted to have a girl. I never really liked the color pink, and I still struggle with OCD and I joke that it’s like ADD only different acronyms but when the stress becomes high it’s truly debilitating.

Prayer is the only antidote and if I did have a girl, I fear I’d always be adjusting her pink ribbons….

(for the rest of this post, and a chance to win a copy of Chasing Silhouettes, won’t you join me at my friend Amber’s place tonight? love to you all…)

In which my daughter wants to lose weight (Guest Post by Sarah Bessey)

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We were sitting across from each other, at our chipped white Ikea kitchen table, the tinies were eating oatmeal, I was eating peanut butter toast, the baby was chucking bits of food off her high chair tray, and I was studiously ignoring it. My coffee was almost ready. We were talking about the day ahead. First, math, then maybe playground? I want to ride my bike. Okay, we can do that. Laundry absolutely MUST be done (note: it did not get done).

“Mum? I want to lose some weight.”

Boom.

whaaaaaaat?

Boom.

My heart has started to pound, my wrists feel weak, my palms, oh, my God, now? already? this morning? SERIOUSLY?!

Boom.

In an instant, I thought of that letter I wrote to my daughters, about how I wouldn’t call myself fat. I thought of how we studiously avoid television or access to commercials, how we limit music, how I keep magazines out of our home, how I avoid the mall, how we homeschool, how we try to celebrate and affirm womanly beauty in many ways and forms ….and still.

Still.

Still.

Oh, darling girl. How are we here … already?

I laughed nervously, oh, don’t be silly, I sputtered.

“I’m not being silly, Mum.” Serious blue eyes across the kitchen table, shaggy blonde hair slowly growing out of her pixie cut, long limbs swinging beneath her chair, then the baby chucked her plate to the floor with a crash. Anne is nearly six now.

And in that sentence, my baby girl of the triangle mouth seemed to grow up before my eyes. I couldn’t dismiss her, move her onward and elsewhere with laughter or distractions. She meant it. Now.

I got up for my coffee. I was stalling.

We talked at the kitchen table this morning. we talked about her body, about her self. It turns out that she’d heard my sister and I talking about how I wanted to lose a bit of weight, we hadn’t known she was listening, but she was (aren’t they always?). And she thought, well, if my Mum wants to lose weight, I probably do, too.

Boom.

She said, “people ALWAYS tell me I’m thin and I’m tall, so I don’t want to be fat” and I couldn’t breathe for just a second, I didn’t know what to say. She is very tall for her age, all legs, naturally thin, she takes after my husband’s sisters in her body shape and every one feels the need to remark on her physical stature in some way. And already, she feels labeled.

It’s in these moments, the ones right now, on the ground, in my real life, with my own child sitting across from me, that I can only pray I don’t screw this moment up. You can read, you can prepare, you can think, you can philosophize, you can hypothesize, you can cast judgements on others, but when it’s your sweet and perfect and wild and tender baby girl, there, tall and thin and waiting for something, she doesn’t even know, does she? But she is, she’s waiting for something, from me, in that moment, and all I could think was, “I have no idea what to say now.”

I don’t have words to say that she’s beautiful and perfect. That it doesn’t matter, that I don’t care, that she’s healthy and strong, that life is about living and working and loving and not about what size your clothes are, that I like her just the way she is. There is something in me wants to lay down rules, to order her to not “EVER say that again!” but I don’t want to do that and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing half the time, do any of us?

You’re beautiful.

You’re healthy and you’re strong.

Fill your mind and your heart and your life with things that add to you, darling, don’t consume yourself with restrictions and deprivations. Just fill up with all of the good and glorious stuff of life, and grow, grow, grow. Grow up to love Jesus and love people, grow up to be fully alive in your own life, it’s wild and it’s precious, and you only have this one, you know. This is your childhood, please, just go ride your bike, read a book, build a house out of Legos, let me wash your hair in the bath tub, I’ll use the baby shampoo that you still like so much, and I’ll pour water down your back in rivers, I’ll sing “Danny Boy” into the echoes of the bathtub, I’ve been singing it to you for your entire life, I’m so in love with you, honey, and I’ll tell you again and again, in a million ways, that to me, you are beautiful, and you are enough, just as you are right now and then and someday, always enough.

We finished our breakfast. She wanted seconds. I lathered on the butter. She asked me if I liked my own body, and, like a prophet, I said, yes, yes, I do. I like my big breasts, I nursed all of you, I like my belly, I carried three huge Bessey babies past term, you know. I like my arms, I like my blue eyes, I like my freckles,  I ran a 5K on these legs, you know, aren’t they strong? (Even though I don’t like my own body, not really,  not most of the time, because all I can see is what I wish was there, and I want to fit into cuter clothes, but I wanted to believe it about myself, and so I said what I wanted to believe) and she looked like she believed me, she said, “I like your body, too, Mum, because you’re warm, I like to be close to you. I don’t think you need to lose weight. Let’s just not do that.”

Speak those things that are not, as they will be, I whispered, and I said, I love my body, too. I like to be healthy, too, but we can’t do that without worrying about that stuff, right? We both like our bodies, isn’t it great?

And that will have to do for today. Who knows about tomorrow?

She learned that from me (Guest Post by Kim Van Brunt)

She — the girl closer than my skin, the one I love as deep as an ocean and higher than the mountaintops and everything big and bold and bright — she is so much like me that I ache.

Feelings hurt, she explodes back into the house, taking it out on anyone, anything, screaming to diffuse some of the pain twisting her heart.

She learned that from me.

Proud of the outfit she put together, she marches into the van for school, sparkly sequined hat and all, and then just before we pull up to school drop-off she pulls the hat off, casts it aside, smooths her hair, wary.

She learned that from me.

Asking tentatively, because she’s already put it on, if she can wear eyeshadow today because “I want to look pretty today, mama,” and my heart breaks open and I even get a little angry as I repeat “You are ALWAYS pretty, honey,” and not today.

She learned that from me.

And just tonight, when I encouraged her to eat her last bites of dinner because she’s growing and I don’t want her to be hungry later, she says she needs to lose weight because her tummy sticks out too much.

My heart drops completely through the floor, my protective instincts rear up and I want to defend her from this lie, from whoever told her this, from the evil lurking, from the cynicism and pain that’s already knocking at her door — and then I realize that it’s me. It’s me she needs protection from. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned my desire to drop these extra 20 pounds in her presence, because I’m fairly careful, but even if I didn’t say those words, I know:

She learned that from me.

And it all crystallizes: I cannot give her what I do not have. What I do have, I pass on to her whether I mean to or not.

The hardest part? Is that the solution can’t be motivated by her. I have to cultivate self-love and self-compassion from within, and it has to be directed within. She can inspire it, but it can’t be about her. How easy that would be — I would scale that mountain in a day if I knew it was for her. But for it to really be genuine and true, it has to be for me. For me, in me, so that it can naturally flow out of me.

So that when I see her show such amazing empathy for people around her, I can say

She learned that from me.

When she becomes bolder in her choices and surer of her own likes, I’ll guess that maybe

She learned that from me.

When she cares about health because of a respectful relationship with her body and with food, oh how I long to be able to say

She learned that from me.

This — this learning self-love because I cannot afford to be selfish about not caring anymore — this is one of the hardest things I will ever do. But I’m inspired by the love I have for her, and pushed on by the love I see in all of their eyes, love for me, acceptance of me, embracing of me, and I know I’m on step one of a marathon, but I will keep going,

And then the perseverance, the hope and leaning into the pain

She can learn that from me, too.

Kim Van Brunt blogs regularly at kimvanbrunt.com.

Guest Post by My Dad

Neil C. Strait said, “The best gift a father can give to his son is the gift of himself – his time. For material things mean little, if there is not someone to share them with.”

In my own life, I learned this too late. This fall our eldest daughter, Emily Wierenga, is publishing an autobiographical book about her battle with an eating disorder, Chasing Silhouettes. I am very proud of her accomplishment as an author, but unfortunately some sections of the book reflect poorly on me. My daughter perceives that the lack of time and attention I gave her was a big factor in her developing anorexia, ‘starving for attention’ as it were.

She recalls this about the years between ages 9 and 13:

“Days filled with frowns, fierce yells and fists pounding against my father’s chest… Dad loved us by doing his job so well he put ministry before family. He’d kiss us on the cheeks early in the morning and lead Bible devotions and sigh when we asked him questions on Sermon-Writing day. I hated Sermon-Writing day. I got baptized at age eight because Dad said I should and I wanted to please him the same way I wanted to please God. I associated God with my father—a distant, unemotional man who said he loved me yet was too busy to show it. One year later, I realized that even though I’d gotten baptized, Dad still didn’t ask me how I was doing, not really, and so God still didn’t care. Not really.”

My preoccupation with my job (notwithstanding it was a ‘religious’ one) provoked my child to anger – exasperated her – caused her to become bitter and discouraged. I was pushing to go ‘faster’ in my career, at the expense of being a father. In our desperation to save our daughter’s life, we turned eventually to a Christian counsellor. Among other things, he asked me to describe my daughter in detail. I soon realized I didn’t know my daughter very well, couldn’t describe the uniqueness of her individuality because I hadn’t really taken the time or focussed my energy to get to know her.

The King James Version renders Ephesians 6:4, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” NURTURE – that’s what I was missing out in raising Emily. Being careful to ‘feed into’ her life. Taking time (as she notes) to ask her how she was doing – really.

Sigmund Freud didn’t follow Biblical wisdom in his practice of psychology, but he did nevertheless make some astute observations about human nature. He said, “I could not point to any need in childhood as strong as that for a father’s protection.” This Father’s Day – and all other days of the year when we’re tempted to go ‘faster’ rather than father – may the Lord help us slow down enough to treasure our children and truly nurture them, love into their lives, rather than embittering and exasperating them.

(my Dad is one of the most humble men i know, and while we still don’t totally ‘get’ each other, we love each other deeply and foster a deep and nurturing relationship. you will find more of our story here, in a talk we did last summer at Hungry for Hope. happy father’s day, friends!!)

(picture of my Dad, Ernest Dow, with my oldest son, Aiden Grey)

How to train your daughter not to have an eating disorder (when you’ve had one yourself)

Gosh, I’m trying not to project my body issues onto my daughter.

I think she’s stunning. And beautiful. And a little snotty, but mostly good-hearted. And this week was incredibly eye-opening for me.

Sophia has this performing arts thing going on. She’s got some great natural talent when it comes to singing and acting…of course she has a lot to learn, but the passion is there. And she’s good.

She has dang vibrato. She teaches herself songs on the piano. I could never do any of that. So, we enrolled her in dance last summer because I can tell you from experience that performers can only benefit from having some dance training…

And she picks it up fairly quickly.

But she hates it. The summer classes were fine, but from the second she started this fall, there has been nothing but tears and complaining. It’s horrible. Wednesday morning brings with it the hovering dread of 5 o’clock. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even remember why we were doing this.

It’s important to finish what you start. That’s the lesson we wanted her to learn. That and the fact that even though you have a modicum of natural talent, there’s still SO much to learn…and no one learns by being lazy.
Instead, all we’ve taught her is that dance is something she has to do, whether she likes it or not.

So, after posting on Facebook about my revelation that maybe forcing this on her was a bad idea, I got a wealth of knowledge from other moms and even people who’d been there as kids…and it started to make so much sense to me to pull her out…to let her study an instrument and voice and pursue the performing thing in another way…

But my friend Ali mentioned something about digging a little deeper…maybe there was something more to this…so last night, I took Sophia shopping with me. Apparently, it’s winter and no one has appropriate outerwear, so off we went.
And as we scooted through Target, she asked me how you find out how much your supposed to weigh when you’re ten.

And just like that, I was a kid again, back in my own dance class and embarrassed to be wearing a leotard. Just like that, I was the tallest (and probably biggest) kid in my class, feeling awkward and out of place in my own skin.

“Is that what this whole dance thing is about?”

She shrugged. “The other girls in my class are like *this little*” She put her hand below her chin. She’s right too, they are the tiniest girls.

Because dance isn’t really friendly towards girls who aren’t tiny. And there’s not a lot of sympathy for changing bodies and the awkwardness of not wanting to wear a skin-tight leotard in front of a bunch of smaller people.

How do I, with all my disordered eating, a former anorexic/bulimic, train up a girl who doesn’t see herself as anything but just right? How big a deal do I make of this to help her see that health is the most important thing? How do I encourage her not to let that feeling of being different stop her from being amazing–from going after the things she’s so good at?

And most of all, how do I make sure she knows she is loved…exactly the way she is?

It’s interesting to see your struggles reflecting in the faces of little ones you love so much. And as I talk to her and tell her not to compare herself to other girls…and explain that different is GOOD and it makes us special and unique…I wonder if these are the same words God’s spoken to me over and over again…
The same words I have yet to really hear.

How do you teach a child to be exactly the opposite of you?

(By Courtney Walsh)

(Please visit my dear friend Courtney here, at her blog… and be sure to look for her novel, A Sweethaven Summer, coming out soon!)

God’s love in a fortune cookie (Guest Post)

I don’t believe in predictions that come through fortune cookies. But I do believe that if God wanted to speak to me through a fortune cookie, He could do that. In fact, I’m convinced that He has.

It wasn’t really me He was trying to reach but my oldest daughter.

You need to know that it’s been a tough year for her, and she’s been struggling of late; mainly with food. Too much, too little, what kind, whether it’s foe or friend.

I remember being at the same age. It was one of my worst years as a teenager. Dark thoughts ran through my head and I wasn’t sure if life was worth living. Now, I thank God for His persistence in loving me through those overcast days. Somehow, by listening to His still, small voice, I was able to hang on and believe in something bright shining around the bend. I shudder to think of all the beautiful things I’d have missed out on if I’d given up on life at age 14.

Now, I’m a mother of five, trying to convince my oldest daughter that the hard things she’s going through now shouldn’t be given the power to squelch the beautiful things that are coming.

Last week, we were both reminded we’re not alone in the difficult task ahead.

She’d just opened up to me about how hard this was going to be; this commitment to start eating normally, to shun the voices (including the interior ones) attempting to lead her away from health and that beautiful future I know awaits her. I told her it was going to be hard but I knew she could do it.

A short while later, we were in the kitchen, just the two of us, unpacking Chinese food. And out it dropped — the broken-up fortune cookie.

“You can have that,” she said. Truthfully, I didn’t want any arguments over food. I also knew there were usually only a couple cookies in the bag and there could be vicious fights over who would get to consume the fortune cookie. I determined that eating the broken one right then might save on some squabbling later. “Fine, but it’s your fortune. Whatever it says it’s for you, okay?” I said in compromise.

I opened the little package and out spilled the slip of paper with the fortune on it. I read it out loud, verbatim:

“Don’t give up, the beginning is always the hardest.”

I looked at her, she looked back, eyes wide. The world stopped for an eerie moment. “That really was for you,” I said. She smiled, then set about arranging the plates and glasses.

We called the others to the table and ate our dinner. The whole time I wondered…did she hear what I had heard, and did she know the source?

I found confirmation a short while later on her Facebook wall, where she’d shared with her friend what the white slip of paper had revealed. “It’s like Jesus came to me in a fortune cookie!” she wrote.

Then, while I was out, she texted me: “You know how my fortune cookie said that? Then on the back it has like your lucky numbers and a ‘learn Chinese’ thing?”

“Yes?”

“Well,” she continued, “the ‘learn Chinese’ phrase on the back of that fortune was ‘to eat’…o.o. mind blown.”

“Wow!” I answered. “I think God is running over hurdles to get your attention. That’s how much He loves you.”

Maybe you had to be there. Maybe you needed to have been right in the middle of it all to understand how precisely timed it was, and how that, as much as the rest of the details, is what sent tandem shivers through us. How could we be misreading this?

She was needing a sign to tell her she could do this, that she wouldn’t be alone. I was needing a sign to tell me I could help her do this, that I wouldn’t be alone.

And there it was…in black and white. Mere coincidence? Maybe. But if there were any doubts, the message on the back was the confirmation we needed. “To eat.” The chances of mere coincidence just did a nose-dive. There was no doubt in either of our minds.

The way I see it, four miracles took place. One was the miracle of having had the chance to talk earlier that afternoon. Two was the miracle that she’d gotten verbal affirmation from God that she’s not alone in this trial. Three was the affirmation that I wasn’t, either. And the fourth? Well, that happened the next day.

“Mom, you can write about the fortune cookie if you want.”

“Really?” I asked, not certain I was hearing her correctly. “You mean…are you sure?” We both knew that in order for me to write about the fortune cookie, we’d have to tell the whole story. And that would mean being vulnerable and public about something that has been difficult.

“Yep.”

Many people wiser than I have cautioned me to not overlook the smaller miracles while searching for the big one. My daughter’s offer to share this tells me she’s already realizing, even in her dark time, that by sharing a piece of her story, she might be able to help someone who is struggling with the same. Even if that means having her mom write about it on her blog and making it public.

She’s glimpsed that there’s something bigger at stake, and that she might have to come out of her comfort zone a bit to let it be free. That in doing so — in bringing something difficult to the light — we free ourselves and give others the permission to do the same.

(Thank you, dear daughter, for trusting me with this. I love and believe in you!)

Q4U: Where was the most unusual place God reached out to you?

(thank you, Roxane, for sharing of your heart here…)