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.

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A Dare to Love Yourself: When you don’t want to be photographed

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It’s A Love Dare, friends, a dare to love yourselves in all of your rawness. We’ll be doing this link-up every Monday, until Mother’s Day (when I’ll be releasing my new book, Mom in the Mirror). Today I’m welcoming journalist, author and blogger Jennifer Dukes Lee, to tell us how she is learning to let herself be photographed… in a couple of weeks, we’ll also hear from her daughter, Lydia.

On the night I went looking for photographs, I knew something had to change.

I needed a few photos of me with my two young daughters for a video I was creating. So I sat in the blue glow of the computer screen, scrolling through files and folders, looking down deeper and deeper to find photos I was certain were there.
Where had they all gone? I wondered. Where were all the photos of us together?

The sad truth dropped like a weight in my gut: The photos were never taken.

Among the thousands of photographs I had snapped over the years, I found only a handful of me with my daughters.

At first, I blamed the lack of mother-daughter footage on the fact that I’m usually the one behind the camera. But that’s only partially true. The bigger truth is this: I have not wanted to be photographed….
(For the rest of this post, and a link-up, please join us over at my personal blog here.)

A Dare to Love Yourself

We sat across the table from each other, and there were thin girls walking in and out, and the smell of coffee and the young girl was twisting her hands.

She was telling me she enjoyed food. That she was looking forward to being released from the Eating Disorder Unit because she liked to cook food at home, and this isn’t uncommon for girls with eating disorders. When you have an eating disorder, food is all you think about. You write about it, dream about it, and prepare it for others. You just don’t let yourself eat it. Or, you do, but then you purge.

“So, I know you like food,” I said to her. “But what about your self? Do you like yourself?”

She stopped; sought the ceiling. Then looked back at me. “I’ve never really thought about it,” she said.

“Because until you like you, it doesn’t matter how much you like food,” I said. “Until you believe YOU are worth eating for, healing won’t be possible. It’s all about how you view yourself.”

Self-love is not a sin. Vanity is (excessive pride in one’s appearance or accomplishments), but self-love is not. Self-love is being willing to die to sin so that you might live. FULLY live. Self-love is being willing to die to society’s expectations and believe in who God says you are: Loved. Redeemed. Forgiven. Accepted. 

It doesn’t matter how well we take care of our kids, or our husband, or our dog. It doesn’t matter how nutritious the meals we cook, nor how much we exercise, nor the number of hours of sleep we get. One could say, “Without love of self, a healthy lifestyle is but a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

Until you learn to like the way your left ear hangs lower than your right; the way you limp a little when you walk, or the way you snort out laughter; until you learn to say “Thank you” to your body for bearing your babies and for carrying you through life and for pumping oxygen through your veins, you’ll never be able to truly love another person.

“The art of gentleness toward ourselves leads to being gentle with others,” writes Brennan Manning in Abba’s Child…

(to continue this post, please follow me over to my personal blog, HERE. thank you friends.)

real beauty: you are not fat (guest post by Rachel Haas)

i have a formspring. you know, one of those places where people you know and people you don’t can ask you any number of questions about any topic they wish.
and today there was a question sitting there in my inbox from that coward, anonymous. innocent words strung together to form something so much more painful.
so you’ve used pregnancy as an excuse to let yourself go, then?
 
and my blood ran cold. because in my mind’s eye, i saw fifteen-year-old me crying in the dressing room because i felt so fat every time i tried on anything. and my sister could fit into clothes that i never could, because i was curvy. 
 
and then i saw another little girl.
 
a little girl whose face i couldn’t see clearly, but that i knew better than my own all the same. and she sat there in the mall food court picking at the pile of lettuce with the dressing on the side that she called lunch and sipped at her water while she smelled the burgers and watched the other girls drinking their smoothies.
i saw my daughter’s face.
and the blood turned to ice in my veins, and some strange mother-bear anger stirred in my stomach right next to the little rolling flutters that mark my daughter’s current home.
this anger was not for me. i’m growing stronger now. words, yes, they still hurt. but this anger was not for me.
with hand on stomach and face curved toward the sky, my soul screamed
don’t you dare call my beautiful little girl fat. 
 
don’t teach my little one to count calories instead of the stars. because she has my genes, the curvy genes with rounder hips and fuller breasts. the ones that might not fit into the teenage carrot stick world into which she is being born.
{via pinterest}
and maybe there will come a day when you come to me with big eyes and slender limbs and say words like carbs and calories…too soon, too young, too early.
and i will pray for grace and i will pray to not break down until i am behind a closed door where i can weep for this world where little girls starve themselves and big girls stare in mirrors and whisper i hate you. 
and this is the letter i will read to her even before she understands the world, in which i have promised to not call myself fat anymore, and i pray that she will see her mama living in truth and not on the scale.
beauty is not size 2 defined.
beauty is health, not break-ability. beauty is dressing on your salad and chocolate for desert. beauty is forgiving eyes and kind smiles and a soft heart, and chins lifted with so much peace and warrioress pride.
because there is a Lion in Heaven that roars with rage when people talk bad about His daughters, and when people whisper lies into little girl ears that are too innocent to know better. there are millstones for people like that, and He has them in a line and waiting with rope for tying.
don’t you dare call My little girl fat.
(By Rachel Haas at Dramatic Elegance)

in which i implore women everywhere

we are the heartbeat of the home.

but more than that, sisters…

we are the heartbeat of the world.

i see a woman’s Facebook status rejoicing that she’s lost 45 pounds, and multitudes are clicking “like” and it’s triggering me to check what i’m eating, to hop back on that anorexic train to skinny-ville.

and i think we can be more. more than our weight, more than our looks, more than our jean size, because i have two chubby-faced boys staring up at me as i write and they see me as so much more.

they see me as Mama. as nurturer, as creator of love and life and they see me as HOME. they see me as soother of fears, as prayer warrior, as getter-of-, as lover-of, as hugs.

they call me always, they never stop calling me, and they smile every time i enter a room. cry, when i leave, and one day, i will stop being their world, but they will never stop being mine.

i have a 52-year-old friend who is single, and stunning, and she wants to get married but God hasn’t opened that door and so she waits. pure, and holy, she waits. and she is one of the most radiant women i know because she is more. MORE than what the world says she is. MORE than single, she is steadfast and faithful and prayerful and devoted. she reads the Bible more than anyone i know, and God is currently using her to mentor fathers of daughters. every week, her living room is full of married men, and she helps them get back on track with their families. this single lady is not letting a stereotype define her.

we aren’t just the reflection in the mirror, friends. we are the reflection in our family’s faces. we are the reflection in our friends, in the people we disciple or mentor, in the face of the fast-food server, because how we treat others and ourselves is what we look like.

so i implore you, as bearers of life, as vessels of God’s creative spirit, be careful what you say on Facebook, be careful what you write on your blogs, be careful how you talk to your neighbors and your husbands and your friends and your children.

because you are MORE.

you are the heartbeat of the world.

i love my hips (and other ways women are beautiful)

i’m used to apologizing for them.

“i’m sorry about my wide Dow hips,” i said as my friend slid into the sled beside me, both of us with babies on our knees and toddlers between our legs, children left and right and me voicing contempt for the body that bore them.

and then i corrected myself even as the snowmobile started and we moved down the track of snow. “i mean, i’m sorry about my beautiful birthing hips,” i said, and my friend laughed.

and it’s a start. i’m beginning to speak in love about myself. it’s not perfect, but i’m not either, and God is and he is making new everything about me, spirit and body, even as i get older. because i’ve invited him in. i’ve invited him into my heart, and into my eyes. i’ve invited him into my soul and into my mouth.

because becoming a new creation is actually pretty literal. it doesn’t mean feeling new. no, it means becoming new. it means God taking our old natural instincts and replacing them. it means him breathing spirit and life into our vision and our speaking and our thinking.

oswald chambers puts it this way:

“Our Lord never patches up our natural virtues, He remakes the whole man on the inside. The life God plants in us develops its own virtues, not the virtues of Adam but of Jesus Christ. Watch how God will wither up your confidence in natural virtues after sanctification, and in any power you have, until you learn to draw your life from the reservoir of the resurrection life of Jesus.”

i have a lot of days where i barely look into the mirror because i’m so busy looking into the faces of my children. i don’t have time to look at my reflection, and yet my children always think i’m beautiful. “do you see the way kasher looks at you?” trent says. “with the utmost adoration.”

and my boys see me at my physical worst: at my sweats and bathrobe, messy hair and sleep-worn eyes worst. they smell my coffee breath and my unwashed body and they snuggle closer. they keep their hands on my shoulder even as they play because they don’t want to lose contact with me.

our depth of relationships, with ourselves, with our children, and with our creator, define our beauty, because relationships are eternal. they give us meaning and value and worth. the world wants us to think that appearance defines beauty because it can profit from that philosophy. it can’t profit from something intangible, like love. only we can.

so i’m trying to speak kindly about my beautiful Dow hips, to stop apologizing for my existence. because this body gave birth to two boys, and it gives birth to marriage every day, and it bears spiritual life too.

i love my hips. i love my lips. i love my life. not because of who i am but because of who lives in me. and he is beautiful. 

http://www.etsy.com/shop/canvaschild

on how our mothers save us

we’re five on a couch, eating cookies. my husband will not be pleased. i will have to vacuum, yet again. (i vacuum constantly.) but food is one thing i try not to have many rules about. it makes me happy just to see my children eat.

because once upon a time, i didn’t. i stopped eating when i was nine years old, a shy home-schooled pastor’s daughter, and for four years i was given blood tests and cod liver oil and time-outs and counseling sessions, but all i wanted was love.

i think that’s all any child wants, and i’m learning to bend low and gaze into their old souls. my two biological sons, and two foster. to hold them close while the dust of heaven rubs onto mine because they’re fresh from the other side…

(over at incourage again today, friends… join me HERE for the rest of this post? thank you for love…)

**also delighted to be featured at Devotional Diva’s amazing site today; please pay her a visit HERE.

 **and don’t forget about the book club happening at She Loves this month, HERE.