The Love Dare: On How God Sees Us, as Mothers (by author Jena Morrow)

(Guest post by author Jena Morrow)

All my life I had dreamt of becoming a mommy. It wasn’t my only dream, but it was certainly the most important dream in my little girl heart. I was the child who never went anywhere without a baby doll tucked under my arm — and I wasn’t the type to toss my baby doll aside when the ice cream man came down the street or when my favorite TV show came on. No, Annie came along with me, and I included her in every detail. It mattered to me what Annie wanted from the ice cream man (snow cones were her favorite) and if she understood the jokes in that week’s episode of Punky Brewster (and as I recall, I often had to explain them to her).

Some women come into motherhood by accident, and others are ambivalent throughout their young adult lives about whether or not they want children. And both of these types of women can become amazing mothers despite how they come into the role. But for me, as sappy as it may sound, I had always believed I was born to be a wife and a mom, and I had it penned into my life checklist early on: Finish undergrad (majoring in Music Education) by 22, by which time I would have met Mr. Right (who would also be an education major so we could teach in the same school district, which would be adorable); get married by 23, take two years for grad school, and be blissfully pregnant by age 25 with my MA on the wall and my hunky husband at my side. Then we’d have our second child two years later, and if we had the finances and the energy, a third two years after that. Voila: two degrees, a fulfilling career, a healthy marriage, and three kiddos — and all in time for my 30th birthday. Nothin’ to it.

I once read a bumper sticker that said “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” And while I don’t believe for a minute that our compassionate, perfect Father laughs at our dreams and plans, He certainly doesn’t seem to hesitate to rearrange them for our good. 

My carefully calculated life plan had derailed before I was even to have completed step one. There was no undergrad degree by age 22, because the anorexia that had chased me all my adolescent life had caught up to me by age 18 and nearly killed me. Instead, I found myself hospitalized for most of 1996, with a tube in my nose and a weight on my heart far heavier than the sad, sickly weight on the scale. I left the hospital the day before my 19th birthday, owing around four hundred thousand dollars in treatment costs. There would be no college — and worse, within six weeks of my discharge from treatment, I had lost thirty of the forty pounds that had been put on me. I had gained the necessary weight, but I had not learned to feed myself — because I had not learned to love myself. 

Fast forward just a few years, to age 24. Steps one and two of my checklist had not come to pass, and as I approached 25 — the age by which I HAD to be married and pregnant — I panicked. I met a guy at church, and figured that since my pastor approved of him and we quickly became the iconic church couple, mascots almost, surely God would bless our union despite the fact that we were completely wrong for one another and both brought unresolved emotional baggage into the marriage. I mean, we met at church; if it didn’t work out, that would make God look bad.

For a few months, the courtship was exciting. Even though I wasn’t in love with my fiancé, I was madly in love with the idea of marriage and family. My dream was coming true — even if I had to force it. And since I wanted children and felt I was running out of time (according to my checklist), I began eating healthily and increased my food intake enough to restore myself to a healthy weight. A grown-up weight. A mommy weight. I absolutely hated my body during this time –but I believed this was the one thing that meant more to me than the sense of control I felt from starving myself. In exchange for the fulfilled dream of marriage and family, I would surrender.

The naive little girl inside of me, still clutching her original childhood dream for dear life, cried tears of grief and confusion when the honeymoon ended before it had ever begun, and the marriage became unsafe. This was not the plan. What had I done wrong? But in the midst of my darkest hour, I was to meet my greatest joy. A month into our marriage, we were expecting a baby.

Those around me were unsure how pregnancy would effect me, having never made peace with my body image before the pregnancy began. But to their surprise and my delight, I loved every minute. As I wrote years later in my memoir, Hollow, “This expanding, itching, stretching, round, swollen body of mine was suddenly a great pleasure to me. The same body I hated and despaired of and punished and starved and cut and cursed for years was now doing me the ultimate favor, by fostering life and turned me into something I had always wanted to be: someone’s mom.”

The challenge to love the mom in the mirror came after my son was born. By the time my son was eight months old, his father and I had separated. And while we worked to reconcile through marital counseling, it was becoming progressively clear to me that I was going to be a divorced woman.

A divorced woman. A single mother. A divorced single mother who never went to college. The checklist had been abandoned. And in my rigid perfectionist mind, the same mind that had driven me to starve myself for so many years, I was a failure. It was then that it became especially hard to look at myself in the mirror.

But the story gets brighter. It always does, at some point, friends — because we have a God whose love pursues us tenaciously and tirelessly. 

In the darkest time of despair, when I was hardest on myself for having seemingly ruined everything, God provided me with moments of peace that were as overwhelming as they were fleeting. They usually occurred in the quiet moments of nursing my baby boy. Nursing infants have a way of communicating love to their mothers in such a way that even I could not argue with the force of that love. My baby needed me — but beyond that, he longed for me. He was jealous for me. He wanted to be near to me, to feel my heart beat next to his. 

Credit the hormones if you must, but those moments became spiritual experiences for me. They reminded me that God Himself is jealous for me. Longs for me. Wants to be near enough that my heart can begin to beat in sync with His. I could not love “the mom in the mirror” on my own; I needed to borrow from the love that God had for me. I had made terrible, life-altering mistakes — and none of them had shaken or even touched His love for me. My checklist had never mattered to Him, in that He had never had such rigid standards for me as I had had for myself.

My baby boy, Jaden, didn’t care that his mommy only had a high school education. He didn’t care that his mommy was carrying a little post-baby weight; in fact, if anything, he rather enjoyed it because those were the pounds of selfless love which allowed him to be fed and nurtured. When Jaden looked at me, both then and now, he didn’t see an imperfect body to be tweaked and sculpted or a failure at life in general. He sees his mom. He looks at me through love. 

When God looked at me, both then and now and forever and always, he sees His daughter. He looks at me through love and through the blood of Jesus, which has erased the sin of those life-altering mistakes of mine. 

My son is eleven years old now. I never had another child, never remarried. I still get angry at the mom in the mirror sometimes — and it is in those moments that I know what has happened: I’ve moved away from God, and I need to scoot back over to where I can hear His heart beat.

His heartbeat always sounds the same: You. Are. Loved. You. Are. Mine. 

My part is simply to take His word for it.

Jena Morrow’s debut book, “Hollow”, chronicles her nearly three-decade-long battle with eating and body image issues. In her second book, “Hope for the Hollow”, Jena takes readers on a thirty-day devotional journey to challenge eating disordered thoughts and beliefs in light of God’s Word. In addition to being a writer, speaker, and activist for eating disorder awareness and prevention, Jena works as the Alumnae Coordinator at Timberline Knolls in Lemont, IL, a premiere residential treatment center for women and girls battling eating disorders, substance abuse, mood disorders, self-injury, and PTSD. Jena makes her home in a suburb of Chicago with her son, Jaden, his pet snake Stephanie, and a mischievous cat named Prim.

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Pre-order Emily’s new book, Mom in the Mirror, for 42% off, here.

On Blog Talk Radio Tonight (and announcing one week off from blogging)

I will be sharing my story, the one in which I relapse as a young married woman, the one in which Trent becomes Christ incarnate for me, on Blog Talk Radio HERE, tonight; will you pray for me, that God be glorified? Thank you friends.

Also, I will be taking the next week off from blogging… I am going to spend it reflecting, and praying, and seeking God for direction… last week was particularly hard, and I’m in need of a respite. I will resume with Imperfect Prose on Thursdays the following week, after Thanksgiving.

May you all know Christ’s undying love in a resurrected way this holiday, and may your celebrations be full of him.

So much love, e.

“Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ looks compassion into the world.
Yours are the feet
with which Christ walks to do good.
Yours are the hands
with which Christ blesses the world.” (St. Teresa of Avila)

on learning to love ourselves as women

…we’re in bed, and my husband leans in, and i ask him to tell me, just one more time. “but why?” he says, this farm-boy that walked me through my relapse when i was 23. “don’t you know it by now?” he says.

i shake my head. “tell me again,” i say.

“i love you.” he pulls me close. “i’ve never stopped loving you,” he says. “and i never will.”

i let him kiss me then.

and i’m learning to stand up for myself this way, to treat my body with kindness. and i know it has nothing to do with me. i know it has everything to do with me being a product of God’s genius. his hands molding dust into skin into breath.

he’s the one who makes me beautiful. so i sit boldly at the kitchen table in the afternoon light and eat a bowl of ice cream, my sons beside me, eating theirs, because we need to do this together, this life. this learning to eat, this learning to be gentle with ourselves and others.

(so delighted to be over HERE at (in)courage today where Chasing Silhouettes is being featured as a Fall Recommended Read… won’t you join me?)

ALSO, She Loves Magazine is doing a book study on Chasing Silhouettes HERE through the month of November, so purchase the book for only $10 at Amazon, and join the study group! we’re considering these questions together, today:

1. What was your view of God like when you were young, and what factors influenced this view of him?
2. How has your view of God changed since then, and why?
3. What was your view of food like when you were a child, and how has that changed? What factors have influenced how you view eating and mealtimes in general?
4. How do you talk about God and food within your homes, with your children? Do they/you associate God and food with love, or fear?
5. How do you seek to affirm your children, and to speak their love language to them?
6. Is being skinny important to you? If so, why?
7. How do you talk about yourself around your children and husband?
8. How does your husband talk about himself, and others, around you and your children?
9. What are some efforts that can be made by yourself and your husband to foster a more affirming,positive environment when it comes to food, faith and self-confidence?
10. Do you suspect yourself, your husband, your children, or any other loved one of having an eating disorder, and if so, why?

in which i renew my vows, online

you’ve always saved me, in your own quiet Christ-like way.

“i don’t ever want our house to be without children,” i tell you. “even when we’re old, so long as we have beds, we have children,” and you nod and you smile.

but just hours earlier i’d been the one on the phone, calling our foster sons’ mom, leaving a message saying we couldn’t do it anymore. weeping into the receiver saying it was causing too much stress and i couldn’t see the light.

then you called her back, while i was in the shower, saying “don’t worry, emily didn’t mean that, she’s just feeling sad. i know she still wants to take care of your children. just give her time.”

and, after i got out of the shower, and you prayed for me, i called her back, and left another message, not knowing you already had, saying, “i’m sorry, i didn’t mean what i said. i was just stressed. please forgive me. we are more than happy to take care of your children.”

and the heat of this july the same as that one: when we stood under that trellis in my parent’s backyard and said “for better or for worse, till death…”

and you didn’t know that meant three years of anorexia. you didn’t know how close i’d come to death. you didn’t know i’d change my mind after getting married about wanting children. all you knew was forgiveness.

it’s not been perfect. you’re not perfect. i’m most certainly not, as my poor cooking attests to but our lives are being made perfect, with every kiss goodnight, with every child we make, with every child we help, with every prayer we utter together, it’s the hardest, and most holy, of offerings. and i do, i do, i do.


so with that, and all i’ve learned, i vow the following:

1. i will never forsake you, not just physically, but emotionally, spiritually and mentally. i will never “tune” you out or ignore you, or make fun of you, or gossip about you.

2. i will respect you in heart, and in my word, and in deed. i will not treat you like a child. instead, i will treat you like a man. i will say, “i appreciate you” instead of “good job” and “thank you for taking care of me,” instead of “i can do it by myself.”

3. i will let you enter your cave when you arrive home from work, i will give you space in which to dwell, i will not pester you until you return, emotionally and spiritually, to me, each day. allowing you to rest.

4. i will not demand of you what you cannot give. i will ask my friends, and my God, to fill the places that you cannot.

5. i will laugh at more of your jokes.

6. i will kiss you more, in public.

7. i will submit to you. this is so hard for me, but i will, because i know that on judgment day, God will ask me if i did this, and then he will ask you if you listened to God. my job is to listen to you, and yours, is to listen to God.

8. i will trust that you love me, even when we’re arguing, or you’ve hurt my feelings.

9. i will always be excited to see you, and not just because you help me with the kids. i will be the smitten girl you fell for in bible school.

10. i will nurse you back to health when you’re sick, even when it’s just a cold, and i will stop making fun of you for needing me, when in fact it’s this very needing each other that nurses this marriage. this one-ness.

for you save me, babe, in your own quiet way. and for that, i thank you.

(happy ninth anniversary, trenton nathan wierenga)

(to pre-order my book, chasing silhouettes: how to help a loved one battling an eating disorder, please click here)

in which i struggle with being good enough

everywhere, the crocus is springing purple. the weather, puddling wet and the boys in splash pants and boots. there is no greater joy than a pair of rubber boots in a puddle. no brighter picture than yellow rain-jackets.

and then, at the end of every day, it’s time to make supper.

i hate making supper. it hurts my head. ever since my eating disorder, i struggle with what is normal, and how much, and when, and it’s all so complicated. i was the girl that ate cheese and crackers throughout university, who snacked on marshmallows, and now i have four hungry boys and a man to feed and it’s all a bit much.

so i make menus and i study recipes, but some days, it’s tuna melts on bread with tomato on top, and those are the days joey won’t eat, and trent sends him to bed because he won’t see his wife weep hard for nothing.

and then there are meals in which i serve too much food. “let me help you,” trent tells me, taking the bowl full of tomato soup i’ve poured for aiden, and dumping out half, and it hurts my feelings. because i don’t know portion size.

“i don’t want your help,” i tell him, like the sinner i am.

i just want to be good enough.

i want to be the one to clothe and feed and care for my children and it’s hard to receive help. especially for something as ordinary as portion size. and one night trent takes the plate of spaghetti i’ve dished out for joey and he shoves half of it back in the pot. “he’ll never eat all of that,” he says, and again, i cry.

will i ever be normal? and will correction always hurt this much?

and i’m reminded of aiden falling down the stairs. of me, running and holding him him as any mother would, and then joey pretending to fall down the stairs too.

“oh joey, you don’t have to do that,” i said. “you don’t have to hurt yourself to get my attention. you’ve got it, sweetie.”

i feel like that. like i’m always falling down the stairs trying to get God’s approval.

when i had it, all along.

(‘the springing of the crocus’ by e.wierenga, found here)

we never stopped holding each other

I lie in red pajamas on the living room sofa, my husband, Trenton, on the other in his comfy clothes—his green-ribbed shirt with the hole and his fuzzy pants that have no waist. “Our good times were more than our bad,” he says in a voice that aches.

“Yes, but our bad times were so bad.”

“But we never went to bed angry,” says Trenton. “We never stopped holding each other. Even on the worst nights, we would still watch shows together until finally you fell asleep in my arms. We ate pizza together, and I made you wings…”

“That was my one meal of the day,” I say. “I guess I was so focused on making it to that meal that I didn’t notice the rest.”

“But there was the other,” he says. “There was always the other. We never had a fight we couldn’t fix. I don’t even remember what we were fighting about. We had, maybe, four big fights, but the rest of the time, it was good. And we never stopped holding each other. Never.”

(will you follow me to The High Calling for the rest of this story, friends? thank you…)