Having a baby changed everything about my body. Every single part. I’m gradually losing my hair, breaking out in pimples like I’m back in high school, still dealing with swollen fingers and feet, and don’t even get me started on my jello-like belly and thick thighs.
I like to talk about my postpartum body because it’s real. And for the most part, I like my body, too. I’m still so fascinated by the fact that it housed a tiny human for nine months and is able to produce the only source of nourishment that tiny human needs. When I look in the mirror, I often see a strong woman, a mighty warrior, and a great mom. But when I take the time to really examine my body, I begin to remember the way it used to look and start to notice all of its flaws.
Lately I’ve been noticing the flaws more and more. I’m no longer on that “new mom high” and I’m paying more attention to things outside of my life with a baby, like what other people are wearing or what size they are or how flawless they look on social media. I still want to appreciate my body and feel confident in my own skin, but I can’t shake the feeling that I should be thinner, tighter, and trendier. I don’t like that none of my pre-pregnancy clothes fit me. I feel frumpy in my seamless nursing bras. It bothers me that I still look like I could be four months pregnant. And if I’m being totally honest here, I feel far from sexy with this saggy, squishy body.
I could spend the rest of this post ranting about how our society has failed us –how it’s difficult to find flattering clothing for curvier women, how we’re surrounded by pressures to get rid of our baby weight, how filters and editing apps create an unrealistic expectation of how women should look, and how Victorias Secret doesn’t even carry plus-sizes (I may or may not have shed tears at the mall after discovering this) — but I know that my problem isn’t just with society. The problem also lies with me.
I’m the one who has a problem with the way I look. Sure, I call myself “beautiful” because that’s what I’m supposed to believe about myself, but I still pick myself apart like most women do. I’m the one doing the analysis. I’m the one who’s deciding I don’t like what I see.
This past Sunday evening at church, I was trying to focus during worship, but all I could think about was what a disaster my shopping trip had been that day. I went to the mall with expectations of finding clothes that would make me feel pretty and I instead left empty-handed. It’s not wrong to want to feel pretty or to want to dress up and look nice. But because I failed at fulfilling this vision for myself, I began to question my beauty as a whole. Am I really beautiful? Because I think my muffin top says otherwise and my greasy hair disagrees. How I would love to be just a few sizes thinner! Or have amazing, long hair or a smaller chest or a nicer wardrobe.
But the Lord had something to say about that.
“You don’t get to pick and choose what parts of you are beautiful. You either are beautiful or you’re not. And my darling, you are beautiful.”
Me? Really? I’m beautiful?
I let this sink in for a moment. And I had to ask myself, is it enough for the Lord, my heavenly Daddy, to say that I’m beautiful? Is that enough for me? If I stopped getting likes and comments on my photos, if I stopped wearing makeup or curling my hair, if I didn’t have anyone around to compliment my looks, would it be enough for me to know that God himself sees me as beautiful?
I don’t like my answer to that question. Because truthfully, it’s a no.
I don’t have that confidence yet. I don’t have that security in myself. I don’t have that positive body image. I want it, but I’m just not there.
Praise the Lord for grace upon grace.
I was created for more than this world, but I still get caught up in it. The Lord formed my body, but I tear it down. I am blessed with life, but I curse the vessel I’ve been given. My Father in heaven calls me beautiful, but I act like he’s a liar.
But I know there is immeasurable grace for me in my moments of weakness. And I know that if I come to him with a desire to change, to see myself as he sees me, he’ll give it to me. It’ll take time to believe the truth he whispers in my ear and it’ll take effort to cast out the lies the enemy whispers in the other, but one day — Lord willing — I’ll get there and it’ll be so worth it. I have hope there will be a day when I will be able to stand in front of the mirror without a made-up face or the pretty, frilly things of this world and fully, completely, irrevocably see myself as beautiful. From the top of my head all the way to my toes.
But for right now, when I am asked to believe that I am beautiful, I at least pray, “I do believe… but help my unbelief.”
Allie Shirley is a twenty-three-year-old, Jesus-loving entrepreneur, chasing after the dream Jesus has now brought to a reality. Marque Modest Apparel is a company set out to proclaim the name of Jesus, to rebrand modesty, and to inspire others to dream again. Aside from being a business owner, Allie is a mom to a Miniature Schnauzer named Emmie, has a passion for adoption, and is obsessed with sweet tea. To check out more from Allie, visit Marque Modest Blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram for updates on her latest posts.
A note from Allie: I pray that something shared in this blog post will encourage you, inspire you, and bring you a little freedom as you continue to walk with our precious Savior.
Take the Pressure Off
As women we put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect, to have things all together all the time when in reality those are unrealistic expectations for anyone. Yet we put those standards on ourselves daily and it leaves us feeling like we aren’t good enough or even depressed.
I know these feelings all too well because as much as I don’t like to admit it, I’m a perfectionist and an over-thinker. I get upset if my hair and makeup don’t look flawless, I obsess over my company being perfect, and I even try to put on a really good front before God that I have everything all together. Instead of coming before Him with my brokenness, I try to stand before Him like some supernatural human that can handle herself.
I don’t know what battle you are facing, whether it be comparison, materialism, perfectionism, or a slew of other things, but I do know we can take the pressure off. Jesus never meant for it to be there in the first place. He wants us to come as we are, to give ourselves grace for today and to live our lives in a way that is honoring to Him.
The day He went to the Cross He bought us our freedom from any insecurity, any shame, and any self-doubt. We can be confident in knowing that even when things are messy and even when our lives are broken that He is holding it all together. He is making our crooked path straight.
I could go on for days about what we deal with on a daily basis as women, but instead I would rather encourage you with truth. His Word is the only thing that can set you free from whatever is entangling you; I can only encourage you to seek that freedom.
Here are some of my favorite Scriptures that I pray encourage you to take a step toward finding freedom in him.
Come As You Are:
“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Anxiety Be Gone:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the PEACE of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Freedom in Jesus:
“It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set us free. STAND FIRM, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
“I will walk about in FREEDOM, for I have sought out your precepts.”
Peace that Passes Understanding:
“You will keep in PERFECT PEACE those whose minds are steadfast, because they TRUST in You.”
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
If you truly want to take the pressure off and be set free from whatever you are bound by, the Word of God is where you will find that freedom.
Praying that each of you will find your identity, security, self-worth, value, and ultimately your freedom in Jesus alone. The world can’t give you what Jesus can. Run to Him; His arms are wide open.
. . . . .
A note from Jessie: this week, I am part of a guest blog loop with the Bloggish community. Allie is a part of the Bloggish community with her blog at Marque Modest Apparel, where you can read more of her posts and check out her clothing line. To read a guest post written by me, check out To Raise an Ebenezer. Continue to follow the links to read more posts and find bloggers you love! Happy reading!
“Comparison is a trap,” he tells me over the phone as tears stain my pillow and midnight approaches. “Satan wants you to believe these lies about your worth. It’s all bullshit, Jessie.”
Some nights strong words such as these feel needed.
I’ve been letting myself get caught in this trap of comparison, jealousy, and insecurity for far too long. I’ve been letting social media suck me in and make me believe false things about my worth. Who has more followers? Who has better filters? Who gets the most attention, affirmation, and adoration?
Time is wasted in front of the mirror every day in my house. Lord, I was going to spend more time with you. I’m sorry. I let myself care too much.
Isn’t that a miserable realization? You’re letting yourself care too much. And if you could, you’d care less. You’d throw off your worries like a coat instead of the boulders they really are. But alas, you don’t know how to care less because you feel stuck — stuck in this trap, this awful yet irresistible trap.
Let me tell you something about myself: I am a woman dealing with one too many insecurities.
Those are the words my therapist used yesterday afternoon, and I sighed in resignation because I knew she was right. It’s the same sigh I release as my boyfriend and friends try to puncture the lies with the truth, the truth that I’m blind to while it’s clear as day for them. Along with that sigh comes a small chuckle because it’s hilarious really — preaching on confidence and worth and strength when I seem to have none.
I’m going to preach on reality for this one minute. And the reality is that I do feel trapped by comparison.
Jealousy is at my door, begging me to pay mind, and I always do. Insecurity asks for more time, and I always give it.
The reality is that I worked hard on my selfie for Instagram this morning and every bit of attention it receives today will be used to temporarily calm my fears, the fear that I’m not loved enough and the fear that everyone else in the world is more put-together than me. I’ll be brainstorming ways throughout my day on how to become more popular, even subconsciously, and I’ll realize later as I scroll through news feeds that I’m not all that popular and never will be. Not like her. Not like they are.
The reality is that I’m wishing for more followers and likes and shares of any piece of writing I produce because some days it feels like my writing is all I have. I tell myself that at least if people are paying attention to my work, then I know I’m doing something right. And with each thing I post or publish, I send up a prayer. Lord, please don’t let this be about me. I know it’s all supposed to be for you. If it’s not for you, don’t let a single person read it. But people do read and I get confused on who this is really for and what it’s really all about.
I feel so silly for my silly insecurities. I feel so petty for my petty jealousies. But telling myself I’m silly and petty doesn’t do the job of getting me back into the truth, away from that stone-cold trap.
This morning I spent what little time I had, the time between staring at myself in the mirror and heading into work, in prayer. I prayed for relief from the lies. Jesus, I need to see myself the way you see me. Show me my worth.
And then I turned to Ecclesiastes where I found wisdom staring right at me, obbvious wisdom that somehow escapes my grasp.
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 8-9).
Yes, I think. This life is so wearisome. I try to improve and fix so many things every day of my life and somehow realize the futility of my efforts and collapse exhausted into my bed. That’s where my midnight phone calls come from: this place of restlessness and weariness. Nothing is enough for me. Not me, not my efforts, and sometimes not even the promises or truth God has for me.
And when the sun comes back up and I begin again with my attempts to make good out of my life, something falls apart for every thing that comes together. And what does come together is nothing new, nothing noteworthy. What I speak or do has been spoken or done before and will continue to be spoken or done for years to come. What I write about has been written before and will continue to be written for years to come.
When I’m working on the proposal for my book, I work so hard to convince myself this is something worthwhile. I tell myself that this book will matter because it’s different and special and written by me. But when I finish a chapter or make a revision, I close my laptop and again feel the weight of this life’s futility. This book I’m pouring my heart into may very well never get published. And if it does get published, it may very well not change one thing.
I want to be a world-changer, but the truth is, I probably won’t be. Certainly not if I’m still standing in front of the mirror and critiquing my image, and certainly not if I’m still scanning social media and letting myself be worn down by numbers.
This morning I found an email in my inbox, a perfectly timed email.
Your sense of worth should never boil down to a good Instagram post or a sexy filter though. It should never have anything to do with numbers. Not followers, either. Followers don’t change the fact that you fail people. Or let people down. Or regret people. Followers don’t mean you’re not still the regret of someone else. They wash away quickly. They don’t show up for you at 2am. Don’t get so crazy about them. Don’t think you are so important. Just do something that is follow-worthy. Keep the focus on others. Make people think. Think more on your own actions. Above all, be who you say you are.
Oh, beautiful Hannah Brencher, you reached through the screen and held my hand once again.
I need a hand to hold and a whisper in my ear that says I’m beautiful and worthy. Period. I need a reminder that what people say or don’t say on those two subjects does not matter one bit. They don’t see me when I’m crying out earnestly to my Father. They don’t know the way my heart cringes for injustice. They don’t understand just how precious the words permanently etched on my shoulder are.
The other day, I was wrapped in Grant’s arms in the simple hallway of my dimly lit apartment. And as my head turned to the side to rest against his chest, I happened upon our reflection in that moment: him and I in a warm embrace with mismatched yet fitting bodies. And I thought to myself that this is a lovely sight not many get to see. And if they did see, would they realize just how lovely this is?
Yes, I need reminders that I’m beautiful and worthy, but not the kind of reminders typed with careless fingers and placed beneath filtered photos. I need the kind of reminders that come while catching quick images of myself I know only God could truly see and value.
And I need that challenge, that boldfaced question: Am I who I say I am?
Am I reflecting my identity as a radiant, redeemed daughter of God? Or am I letting the enemy twist my perception of my identity so as to take God out of the picture?
Between the photos and publishes and pretty things, I’ve been forgetting that God has been and always will be on the one pedestal that matters. He is on the one true throne.
Who gives a damn if we squeeze our butts onto makeshift thrones in this world?
News flash: this life and this world as we know it will not last forever. We can’t take social media to heaven. We can’t please God with shiny hair and stick-thin bodies. We can’t insert long-lasting meaning into what is passing away.
Everything in this world is meaningless, the book of Ecclesiastes cries out to me on this difficult morning. Everything in this world is pointless, my soul groans after my foolish body exhausts all possible mediums to gain approval that can’t satisfy.
With our bodies aging and this world dying and our efforts failing, what can we do? We can praise God for the little time we have left to touch hearts and point to Jesus. We can fight lies with God’s Word like we’ve been summoned to do.
Send those lies back to hell and get your hands, your lips, your bodies back to the calling that has been placed upon your life.
This is what I’m doing in this moment: sending lies back to hell on both of our behalves. I know the lies are trying to burn holes into your heart like lasers. Comparison brings heartache. Jealousy brings hate. But my darling, you can let yourself peek at the truth. Look up from your phone and get a glimpse of your Savior. Look up from this world and let yourself wonder at heaven, that eternity we’re moving closer to with each minute. Don’t let that sneaky, villainous snake grab hold of your arm and convince you to stay in that trap.
The truth is, you can step out of the trap. It’ll take many predetermined steps, but every one of those steps will be a victory. You are not in chains as you believe. You are beautiful and radiant and free.
Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:1-3).
I’m wrestling with what it means to be authentic.
Because more often than not, I’m giving off a false impression of myself.
I’m not that calm, collected girl who walks into class with her coffee and combat boots, no care in the world. I’m not that wise, oh-so-godly girl who sits in Bible studies and leads worship because Jesus is all she thinks about and lives for 24/7. I’m not that confident, positive girl who just likes to laugh at jokes, meet with friends at coffee shops, and wear yoga pants (because they’re by far the comfiest things in the world).
I might try to look like that girl. And I might even succeed. But she’s not me.
Truthfully, I’m still figuring out what kind of girl I am. I’m still discovering my interests, likes and dislikes, and personality. I’m learning that I’m a lot like my mother, which brings into question how much of me is really me. I also know that I often mold into my friends, putting on a different mask to be around different people. And I know better than anyone that I’m a messy, complex person who is one way today and then a totally different way tomorrow.
Can the real Jessie Nyland please stand up?
In all of my wrestling, I’ve been learning a lot about myself, the world we live in, and God.
And here’s one of the most important things about being authentic that I’ve seen and am now believing: it begins with telling the truth.
You’re not going to destroy all those false images that have been built up around you overnight. You can’t dismantle all those lies just by saying to yourself, “okay, be YOU now.”
Odds are that if you have been pretending long enough, you’ve started to believe that girl is really who you are.
So authenticity has to start somewhere, and I believe it starts with telling just one truth. One scary but necessary truth.
And after that truth gets out there, you tell another one. And another one. Until eventually, when people see you, they don’t just see the girl with the nose ring, combat boots, and cool blog. The one who keeps to herself and seems to have her life together.
They see the truth.
They see the girl who’s insecure, weird, moody, and confused. They see the girl who’s struggled with perfectionism all her life, but is learning how to keep that under control in her relationships and everyday life. They see the girl who loves God, but has nowhere near all the answers to living a faithful, godly life. They see the girl who has no idea what she’s doing.
The art of being authentic is telling the truth so people can stop seeing one thing and start to see another.
And in seeing you in this new light, you are somehow given permission to keep being yourself. After all, once the truth is out there, you can’t really take it back. Might as well keep unraveling.
I think this is why I write the way I do, why I’m becoming more and more honest about who I am. I’m tired of the lies I think people might believe about me, the lies that say I’m fine and I love my life and my faith is on point and I don’t need help.
(and I’m also a little tired of the lies I believe about many of YOU. There’s nothing more crippling than the insecurity that comes from seeing someone in this perfect, Instagram-filtered life and knowing I could never be that)
Authenticity needs to be more common. I’m pretty sure I need it if I’m going to stay sane.
I made an Instagram like four days ago and I’m already considering deleting it because I’m OBSESSING over what filters to use, to hashtag or not to hashtag, and why-oh-why is this girl so drop-dead gorgeous and perfect while I’m…. not?
You see, this is hurting me. The lack of authenticity and vulnerability I see all around me is hurting me.
It’s why I took so long to tell anyone about my loneliness or sadness. It’s why I don’t ask people out for coffee or invite anyone to come over to my house. It’s why I feel awful after watching a movie with beautiful, stick-thin actresses. It’s why I feel like a failure in every aspect of my life.
I believe that everyone else in the world is pretty and perfect while I’m pitiful and pathetic.
And that’s not healthy or even true.
We’re ALL really good liars.
And I’m so tired of being one.
If we’re going to have healthy relationships with others and with ourselves, we have to start telling the truth. Yes, the scary but necessary truth.
And if we’re going to have a healthy relationship with God, we have to start believing the truth about who HE says we are, too.
This is my new philosophy and it’s taken me many years to get here.
Here’s my truth for today: I’m far from feeling secure in who I am. But I so badly want to be. And I’m clawing at these lies as fast as I can, hoping to reach the point where I can look into the mirror and say, “this IS you.”
I don’t think I want to be that perfect, happy girl in my profile picture anymore. I want to be a real girl. An honest one. And even though I know you might be holding onto your own false images, I hope you can feel just a bit more comfortable being yourself after seeing the real, honest me. I want to invite you into realness, too.
Can we please, for (literally) the love of God, start telling the truth? You and I both, hand in hand. Just pushing those truths out there into the blinding public eye so the lies can leave us in peace to be our true, beautiful selves.
All it takes is just telling the truth. One scary but necessary truth at a time.
Some of the guys I’m working with have joked about initiating a no-shave summer. You know, a summer where you just let your facial hair grow and get all long and manly and unkempt? Some can make it work. Others… not so much.
Well, a few of us girls thought it’d be funny to pretend like we’re doing a no-shave summer, as well. In Clarkston, it’s actually not too difficult to pull off. When you basically have a dress-code of wearing jeans and a t-shirt all summer long, it’s not hard to justify putting down the razor. I mean, let’s be honest: shaving your legs is a drag and just a tad unnecessary if no one can see them anyway. Am I right?
But in a moment of complete honesty, I AM doing no-shave summer. Ladies and gentleman, I am not shaving… my upper lip.
Yes, I have hair on my upper lip!
(Men, ask around and you’ll realize most girls do)
There’s this stigma surrounding the idea of girls having hair on their upper lip. I mean, girls don’t really want to be associated with mustaches. Especially this girl right here. I swear I’m like part Italian, part ape. My hair is so thick and long and dark. It’s just always been that way, and the hair on my face isn’t much of an exception.
But shortly before I came to Clarkston, I decided to stop trying to mask it. Why?
Because I was spending so much time worried about what I look like when the truth of the matter is that PEOPLE DON’T CARE.
I stopped including shaving my upper lip in my weekly maintenance schedule, and no one noticed.
The only person to mention my sudden growth of a mustache was my boyfriend. And he doesn’t count because he’s a lot more acquainted with my face than most people.
Not only that, but I stopped tweezing every week. How many people commented? None.
And then I stopped wearing as much makeup. Who told me I was ugly? Nobody.
Then I decided to wear my hair back in a messy bun just about everyday, cutting down on the time and stress that maintaining this wild mane usually required. And guess who cared? No one.
And I don’t think it’s because people are being nice. I’m at the point with my roommates where I know they’d say something if they noticed an obnoxious uni-brow growing on my face.
The truth is that I have spent a good majority of my life trying to make myself look perfect when I could’ve just let those things go and nothing would have changed.
I would still have the same friends. I would still feel just as pretty.
And please know that this security I have only came through practice and persistence. I was pretty horrified when I looked in the mirror the first couple days after letting the hair on my face grow back. But I stuck with it. I was THAT tired of caring.
Yes, I’m still tempted to hide all these imperfections. I want to smooth down my hair and pluck my eyebrows and get rid of my girl mustache. I want to keep my nails painted and get rid of the calluses on my feet. I want to lose a few pounds and whiten my teeth.
But the longer I hold off, the more victorious I feel.
In a way, I feel like my persistence is my way of standing up for the women who feel like they have to hide behind acne treatments, diets, and tweezers. This is my way of fighting the fear that us girls have of our NATURAL beauty. And I don’t mean the kind of natural where you use a nude lipstick and a gold-shimmer eye shadow. I’m talking about the unshaved, unmasked kind of natural. The natural we only let our pets see.
I’m tired of being insecure around anyone and everyone who isn’t my dog. I don’t want to feel like I have to hide my under-eye circles or leg hair just to go out in public.
And I certainly don’t want to shave my darn mustache.
Girls have hair on their upper lip. Deal with it.
It’s no-shave summer, baby.
P.S. I’m fully aware that people are now going to start noticing it more. WELL, GO AHEAD AND STARE. At least I called it first.
It’s taken me a very long time to get to this point of openness and honesty, and it’s still a work in progress. Ask my best friends, my boyfriend, or my parents: I have been a mystery, fighting off inquiries for a very long time, and I’m just now learning what it means to be intimate and known.
I feel like you’ve been able to see this journey for yourself, as well. I began this blog in 2010 as a new believer, fresh out of sophomore year of high school. My writing was light. A lot of surface-level stuff. I talked about God, about what I thought He might be teaching me. I advised and encouraged. I told stories and created metaphors.
But it was only in this past year that I finally talked about me. I finally showed the world who Jessie Nyland was. And even then, it was just small glimpses, never a full story.
Right now that’s all I really have to offer: small glimpses of who I am.
I’m still discovering who I am for myself. The hardest thing is that I’m always changing, always maturing. How am I supposed to know who I am if I’m different tomorrow than I am today?
But some things remain intact: my past, my hardships mostly.
And there’s something so concrete about myself that I find imperative for you to know:
I come from a line of strong women, but I have lost my own strength in another person and I’m just now getting that back.
This is why I write about women, about being confident and embracing imperfections. It’s because for years I haven’t been confident, at least not confident enough to maintain my integrity and dignity in the relationship I fought both for and against for three long years. Definitely not confident enough to have faith in myself and my worth.
I loved somebody and I ended up losing myself in the process. I don’t think I really knew who I was in the first place, anyway.
This relationship that I coveted and worked for wasn’t good. It had its good moments, but we didn’t really know how to treat each other right. We were both abused and abusers. I knew deep down I was worth more than the way I allowed myself to treated, but I exchanged my strength for cowardice and neediness. And he could say the exact same thing, only vice versa.
He made the move to end things before I had the sense to. It was good for things to end, but I found myself heartbroken and didn’t know what to do with that.
What do you do when the person you thought you were going to have around forever is suddenly choosing to walk away? And nothing you can do or say can make them turn around and come back.
There really isn’t much to do except try to heal.
Here’s what I’ve learned from that awful ordeal: strength is found in God alone.
I thought strength could come from this person. I thought he’d be the one to keep me safe so I relied on him more and more. When I was needing something, he’d be the one I expected to come through– attention, affection, affirmation, everything. But to have one person be your everything… it never ends well. No one can be another person’s everything. Flawed human beings can’t be perfect partners.
But you see, I didn’t understand that.
I thought he could save me. I thought he could do it all. And in my effort to make sure he was perfect, I grasped on to him even tighter, choking him in the process.
He left because I didn’t know how to let him breathe.
I couldn’t let him breathe because I thought he was my life source, my strength, my everything. I was stealing his own chance to live.
If I could go back in time, I would let go of the hold I had over him. I would stop expecting, stop complaining, stop tearing down. I would let him be happy and not make him make ME happy.
And no, I wouldn’t want to fix the relationship; it was broken from the beginning. Unbeknownst to me, our relationship was built on lies. Then there was the manipulation and controlling behavior on both ends that I only recognized in hindsight. We were toxic to each other.
There’s no way I could’ve fixed that. The only thing I could’ve done was left (but I was never really good at leaving). He had to call it quits for both of our sakes. I loathed him for that, but I also secretly envied him after a while. He got to be the strong, cold-hearted dumper and I was left as the pathetic, sobbing dumpee. It felt like I lost my dignity that day. Surely following someone around, begging and bargaining, after they repeatedly tell you to get lost is a sign of a loss of something. Sanity, maybe?
When he did leave and I saw he wasn’t coming back, I then thought strength could come from myself. I thought I could pick myself up from my boot straps and move on with my life. But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. Sleep was all I could bear to do, and even then I stained my pillows with tears for many nights. Food didn’t seem appetizing, friends didn’t seem encouraging, and everything just seemed to lose meaning.
After three years of having someone around to take care of me, I kind of forgot what it was like to take care of myself.
Time stopped for a few months. I call that time my grieving period.
But after realizing that 1) strength can’t come from him, and 2) strength can’t come from myself, I finally looked for strength in God.
A lot of my efforts to find strength in God looked like me yelling at the sky with tears streaming down my face. Why didn’t you warn me? Why did you let this happen? What can I do to make things better?
And a lot of his efforts to give me strength looked like nothing.
I was still heartbroken and confused. I was still vulnerable and an emotional wreck. I was like a little child throwing a tantrum for four straight months, and it felt like God was a detached Parent watching me from afar, just waiting for me to quit.
But all along, He was doing something. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but he was showing me a better way.
He showed me what a relief it was to be out of that damaging relationship. He showed me the things I so badly needed to escape from, the things that were ignored, excused, or left unidentified for years.
He showed me what love is in the form of pursuit– pursuit by Him and pursuit by the ones who love me most. My parents came and cuddled with me in bed when I couldn’t stop crying. My Grammie bought me a “boo-boo” teddy bear. My friends gave me the typical “you were too good for him” lines. And then when the time was right, that pursuit came in the form of another man, one who’s treated me so well and has been so understanding as I continue to heal from what’s been done and said.
I needed all of that, all of that relentless pursuit. I needed that love from them, the love that I know comes from a strength of their own.
Everyone’s been hurt, but there are those who find their strength again. Again, I come from a line of strong women, and I know it’s because I also come from a line of women who have endured much.
God gave me beautiful people to see me through that brutal time.
He is my strength, I discovered.
Strength is found in God because that’s where true love is found, too. His love gave me strength to move on. His love gave me strength to keep loving. And that very same love is still doing so much in my life, more than I can even see right now.
I’m still on the road to healing. Ask my best friend or my boyfriend and they’ll be able to tell you that I have some things to work through– some insecurities from long ago, some fears I can’t seem to shake off. When you’re in real deep with someone and then that person leaves, sometimes they take pieces of you with them.
But I am fighting for those pieces back. One by one.
I come from a long line of strong women, and I see how they have handled hurt and betrayal, rejection and heartbreak. They made it through, as can I.
I am learning how to hold on to peace from the God-fearing people around me. I am figuring out what love is when I see it played out before my eyes in marriages, friendships, and in the church.
They are my guiding stars, gently urging me back to wholeness (which I know now is really just another word for God’s loving arms).
This is me. Not the whole me, but a pretty large chunk. I’m handing this piece of me over to you now, trusting that it’ll be taken care of and not abused. I’m laying down my pride and shame to share these things because I find healing in letting myself be known.
I’m letting myself be known by you, whoever you are, because I feel free.
The saddest thing I’ve realized is that for a majority of girls (myself included), being a woman is characterized by shame.
We are ashamed of being women.
And that’s not something you would normally say so blatantly and directly. Some of you might not even agree that’s true.
But when you look at the things we as women are ashamed about, the things we fear and worry about, the things we beat ourselves up for, it’s clear as day that we are ashamed of being the women we are. Deep down we feel like we’re too messy.
We’re ashamed that we are emotional. We’re ashamed of how easy it is for us to get our feelings hurt. We blame ourselves for not being more secure and fear that the people in our lives are going to leave when they realize how impossible it is for us to find emotional stability. And so out of that shame, we hide our feelings. We swallow our hurts and wounds and sometimes let people step on us so we don’t have to share our pain and risk being seen as lunatics. We’d rather be hurt and find ways to get past it on our own than own up to the fact that we are emotional, fragile beings who need assurance and hugs. We don’t want to have those conversations that reveal just how insecure and emotional we really are.
We’re ashamed that we want affection. We’re ashamed of our desires to receive those sweet “good morning” calls, find flowers on our doorstep, and be told that we are beautiful. We feel like men will look at us funny or find us impossible to satisfy and so we let things slip and allow others to treat us the way they want to treat us. We’d rather cry to ourselves than let on to the fact we require affection, affirmation, and admiration to feel loved. We’re ashamed of how hard it is to feel loved as a woman. We’re afraid that we ask too much and so sometimes we don’t ask at all.
We’re ashamed of our bodies. We’re ashamed that our bodies are different from other girls’, the ones plastered all over Pinterest with the clothes that fit in just the right way. We’re ashamed that we can’t pull off a single outfit that the mannequins wear in Forever 21. We’re ashamed when we’re too modest and we’re ashamed when we’re not modest enough. When girls with smaller waists and a smaller chest wear the same things in our closet, they’re seen as cute while we feel slutty. Because of this shame, this feeling that we ought to have a better body and better appearance, we resort to envy, discreet dieting, and shopping splurges. We constantly have to battle the lies we hear when we’re looking in the mirror. How is that we feel so confident without makeup one day and then feel utterly ugly without it the next? We are addicted to add-ons and trends as a way of fighting the lies and shame we have to deal with day after day.
We’re ashamed of being women. We’re ashamed of being highly relational and emotional. We’re ashamed of the way we care about our appearance. We’re ashamed of our insecurities and fears and weaknesses.
And that shame is killing us. It’s destroying us.
It’s making us feel less and less like the beautiful daughter of God we are. It’s making us hide more and more from the people who NEED to hear the truth so they can better love us and understand us.
I don’t know how this shame can be combated besides through God’s truth. And I know even then, it’s a matter of a girl’s heart. If she doesn’t want to accept the truth or doesn’t know how, she can be stuck in this shame for a really long time.
But what’s beautiful is when a woman does have her heart open. It’s been wounded enough times to the point where there’s enough cracks to let the truth pour through. So here’s the truth just waiting to pour through:
You are a beautiful woman. You were never designed to live in shame. You are beautifully made. God knows your heart and delights in it. You are made in God’s image. You are made to have emotions and feelings. You are made to care about relationships. You are made to be loved and accepted and cherished. You ARE loved and accepted and cherished. You are worthy of being romanced. You are perfectly imperfect. Your life as a woman is not to be looked down upon. Your life as a woman is meant to be celebrated. You are a woman worth celebrating.
I love you, sisters.