Friday, August 18, 2017

Body Talk: Naked and Unashamed

Our family loves the beach. If ever we land ourselves a sunny day off together, you can pretty much guarantee we will be strapping the stand-up paddle board to the top of the minivan, loading up the life jackets, and heading for the water.

I am always captivated by swimsuit-clad kids at the beach, the little girls in particular. I adore their innocence. I am, in fact, rather envious of it. I love how they run around with no abandon, rounded bellies pooching out from their adorably-ruffled bikinis. I love how confident they are, how they give not even a thought to how they look.

 “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” Genesis 2:25

Inevitably, a short way down the beach from the youngsters, lie a crowd of teenage sun bathers. One or two will stand erect, feigning confidence. These are the queen bees, the leaders of the pack. Though they appear at first glance to give not a thought to their bodies, the way they carry themselves tells me that not a second passes where they don’t long for affirmation. The other teens are less successful at hiding their insecurities. They tug at their swimsuits obsessively. They reach down to smooth their already-concave bellies, willing them to be even flatter. They rub themselves down with little brown bottles of tanning oil and look around hopefully, to see if they are being noticed.

As ridiculous as it may sound, I am jealous of this tribe too. Their bodies are fresh and young, free from wrinkles, unscathed by childbirth. They have no surgical scars, no stretch marks, no love handles. Their breasts are perky and full; babes have yet to suck the living life out of them. Multiple times over. But my feelings of envy are short-lived. More than anything, I am heartbroken for these girls. They have no idea how much will change as they age, how “good” they have it now, according to our culture’s standards. Yet they too, are utterly dissatisfied.

“And He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked?’” (Genesis 3:11)

As a mother to daughters, I worry a lot about my girls. And I worry about my son too. Right now, they all walk around so confidently in their skin. They have yet to learn from their culture that their bodies "aren't right.” Their innocence is at stake and I fear the day when it is lost. Can I stop this process? Certainly not entirely. But I’ll do my darndest to try.

This is our culture. And this struggle is a result of the fall.

I long to be the innocent child playing on the beach again. Don’t you? I want to be blissfully unaffected and confident. I long to erase all the things society has told me I must achieve, the way I must look in order to be fully accepted.

This bliss makes me think back to Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. In the beginning, they were privileged participants in perfection, living in communion with God and each other, surrounded by beauty and the total absence of shame. Reading through the first few chapters of Genesis, I am reminded of God’s vision for humanity and how far off base we have landed. Here are just a few snippets of what He says of us. We are:

  • Created in His own image (“Created in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Gen 1:27)
  • Blessed ("God blessed them" Gen 1:28a)
  • Intended for fruitfulness (“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it." Gen 1:28b)
  • Very good (“God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” Gen 1:31)
  • Made for a purpose (“Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” Gen 2:15)
  • Not designed to go at it alone (“It is not good for man to be alone.” Gen 2:18) 
  • Created uniquely for the unity and oneness of marriage (“For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” Gen 2:24)
  • Naked and unashamed (“And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Gen 2:25)  

I don’t even pretend to be any sort of theologian. All I can do is read and study Scripture to the best of my feeble abilities and pray for the Holy Spirit to enlighten me and help me understand. What strikes me as I read through the first three chapters in the Bible is how blatantly we have rejected God’s word and vision for us when it comes to our bodies. We are created in His own image and He looked upon all that He had made and called it very good.

Let’s just ponder that thought for a moment.

Do we make mistakes? Of course. Do we lie and judge and dishonor the names of others? Most definitely. But if we really stop and think about it, how do we view ourselves? When we imagine God looking down on us, do we envision Him replacing our names with “Liar” or “Cheat?” Do we hear Him skipping over “Kelsie” and instead whispering “Not Good Enough” or “Failure?” Oh how I pray this isn’t the case!

But is it for you?

Then look again at Genesis. Read the first two chapters in their entirety. Examine God's words closely as He created this world. As He created us. Watch for the tone of admiration as He speaks. I don’t get a single hint of negativity. Did you? First, He creates Adam and then He determines he needs a partner. He thinks intimately of our needs and He longs for us to be in deep relationship as well as fulfilled by meaningful work. Do you see it? I am struck by his abounding love and the beauty of His design. He bestows blessing on His creation and calls it all very good. This life in the garden is perfect and lovely.

And then the passage comes to a close. I find it profoundly interesting that the story of creation ends with “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

This verse is the precursor for what is to come. Shame was never a part of God's design for humanity but inevitably it would enter the picture.

More than ever, I am aware of the gap between the reality of where we are today and the vision and design God had for us as His people. I recognize this disparity was introduced with the fall of man, when sin’s evil kiss first corrupted the beauty of the garden.

A heard a recent sermon that reminded me to “mind the gap.” In other words, we were charged to pay attention to this gap between what is and what could be (God’s vision for us). And so I think it is important that we take inventory of the present state of affairs and here is the verdict I land upon: the way we talk about ourselves (physically and otherwise) does not align with God’s vision. 

We have missed the mark and have accepted so many false messages about ourselves. And so this we pray…

Forgive us, God, for believing the lies that the world has told us about who we are and the way we should look. Forgive us for all the ways we have contributed. Forgive us for refusing to accept that we are your Beloved. Help us to see ourselves the way you see us. We know that this gap is one that we cannot bridge on our own. Do your work here. It is only through the redemptive power of your work on the cross that we have hope and healing. Amen.

Are there any lies that you have allowed to seep into your being and reek havoc on your soul? If God is tugging at your heart and urging you to reject a word that is not from Him, I pray that you would find the courage and strength to do so. I pray deeply against any shame that you might be experiencing. May you see yourself as His Beloved. Together may we grow to live into who He created each of us to be, fearfully and wonderfully, naked and unashamed.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Body Talk: How the Purity Movement Failed Us

If you are just joining me, I’m in the middle of a series I’ve entitled “Body Talk.” With fear and, let’s be honest, a heavy dose of trepidation, I’ve decided to tackle some hard issues surrounding our bodies head on. I’m exploring how we think about our bodies, physically, sexually and spiritually (and everything in between!) I’m pondering aloud how we can best talk about our bodies with our peers, our spouses or significant others and especially with our kids. I hope you will participate and follow along! Also, I hope you will feel free to share this series if you know someone with whom it might resonate. My prayer is that no one would struggle in silence.

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”  
~C.S. Lewis

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Early on in my marriage, I went to see a counselor. Together, we spent quite a bit of time exploring my perceptions about my body and how I might go about raising the next generation to not fear theirs in the same way that I did.

I remember one session in particular, where she was describing to me as an illustration, an interaction she had with her firstborn daughter when she was just shy of one year old. She had grown attached to a stuffed elephant that she took with her everywhere. One day, this counselor told me, she was changing her daughter’s diaper. As always, her daughter was clutching the elephant close to her chest. The diaper change was nearing completion when her young daughter reached down and began rubbing herself with the trunk of the elephant.

I sat there, squirming miserably in my seat as I listened to my counselor tell me this story. This is so awkward, I thought. Why are we talking about this? I felt awfully uncomfortable. But it was what she said next, when she recounted her response to this behavior, that nearly sent me running for the door. She didn’t slap her daughter’s hand away nor did she tell her that what she was doing was “dirty” or “gross.” Instead, she did what was absolutely the furthest thing from my mind: she said to her baby daughter “That feels really good, doesn’t it?”

I was all shades of crimson when I heard this; I sat in shocked silence. My counselor's response to the situation was unexpected, unheard of even for me. I had no idea what to do with what she was telling me other than to raise up my inner red flags of alarm. Proceed with caution, this feels unsafe, all the voice in my head blared at me. In a matter of seconds, I had erected a wall of record heights, guarding and protecting the belief system I had formed about my own body and the bodies of others. Suddenly these were being put to the to the test and I felt very wary of this counselor. It seemed so “un-Christian” of her to let her child touch herself and then to affirm that it felt good.

The church I was raised in, like many other conservative evangelical churches, kept the topic of sex mostly under wraps, at least that I can recall (other than to preach that it was wrong outside of marriage). I am told some of the adult Sunday school classes covered the topics of sex and physical pleasure in marriage - and I am grateful to hear this - but it was not a topic young congregants were privy to. And I find this unfortunate. I wish I would have heard some more positive things about sex other than that "it's not for you yet." Of course I don't think children need to hear everything in explicit detail but, as in so many other things, not talking about a topic sometimes sends louder messages than actually talking about it.

I do remember many sermons that covered God's creation of humankind. There was never a doubt in my mind that God made Adam and Eve and that, in turn, He made me. But I wish I would have heard that our sexuality - our sexual urges and our bodily desires - too were created and designed by God. That's a hard thing for one to figure out for oneself when the collective church (not just mine!) fails to address it clearly outloud. So, in the silence, I was left thinking anything relating to sexual urges and bodily desires were bad.

Except for when one was married.

Then they became good?

Oh right, I am married now. So I think they are good?

Or wait. Are sexual urges okay? Or was I not supposed to have them at all?

Now I'm confused.

This was a complicated enough web of messaging in and of itself to untangle as a newly-married young woman. But to translate these messages and figure out how to talk to a child on the diaper changing table who is discovering her sexuality? This was more than I could handle. I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t ready to respect or even hear what my counselor had to say about sexuality. And so I quit going to seeing her.

I could not get beyond the messaging of my youth that had me convinced that Jesus and sexuality (my body) were mutually exclusive, not integrally intertwined.  

This hasn’t been our culture, at least in my experience in conservative Christianity, to view our bodies and God as intertwined. And I can understand why. It's really complicated and confusing. We are quick to say God created our physical bodies and that they are beautifully and wonderfully made, but do we really, truly live this message out in our actions? 

I see it all the time, well-meaning parents responding in less than ideal ways to their kids about their bodies. Our kids say or do things that catch us off guard every day. Words slip out. Or our facial expressions reveal what we are really thinking. I walk past my daughter’s room and see her with hands in her pants and, without stopping to think, I tell her to go wash up to get the germs off. It’s like second nature for some of us. Private parts equal dirty. It’s terrifying how impactful our responses in these little blips in time can be. 

Before I go any further, I want to make sure it is clear that I think my parents (who read this blog and have given their blessing in my sharing this post) are AMAZING and I have the utmost respect for them and the incredible job they did raising their brood of four. I hope there is never any question about that. (I mean, look at us - we are all pretty awesome if I do say so myself!) Sure, they could have done some things differently but I believe we all try to do the best we can with the information presented to us. I know they were doing their absolute darndest to raise us to the best of their abilities. It just so happened that they were doing the majority of their child rearing smack dab in the middle of a strong and pervasive Christian cultural trend of the 1990s known as the "Purity Movement." 

There were many well-known individuals and organizations that played a large role in creating the momentum for the Purity Movement, a period in evangelical Christianity where singles (particularly teenagers) were asked to commit to purity and to abstain from having sex before marriage. While I am all for abstinence prior to marriage, I believe the leaders of the Purity Movement missed some key factors. Anna Lynn summarizes it nicely on her blog Thoughts By Anna Lynn. She writes:

"What I am saying is that the purity movement addressed pre-marital sex without addressing marriage. Instead of painting a beautiful, fascinating, healthy and realistic picture of marital sex, they attempted to control the behaviour of teenagers and left marital sex almost entirely out of the conversation. No one was preparing young people for sex, they were trying their best to get them not to have it."

Back in 1997, when he was only 21 years of age, author Joshua Harris published a book entitled I Kissed Dating Goodbye. In it, he writes about sincere love, purity and purposeful singleness. He presses readers even further, advocating that couples not to just stay sexually pure, but also commit to "courting" vs dating (an approach where one sees another only with the intention of marrying them). He urged couples to use this method as an alternative to society's secular dating scene. His book was very popular in Christian circles and read by many. One of the premises he speaks toward (that has since received much criticism) is that each time you go out with someone who you do not end up marrying, you are essentially "cheating on" your future spouse. 

I believe Harris was well-intended when he wrote the book, as were many others before him who created momentum for the Purity Movement. However, over the past few years, Harris has received a lot of negative feedback from readers who were hurt by the principles in his book. They say his words (and all the messaging from others they received during the Purity Movement surrounding sex) have caused them to experience feelings of shame surrounding their bodies and guilt over any form of sexual desire. Enough feedback has reached Harris that he is revisiting the book and has gone as far as to set up a place on his website where people can share their stories. He is taking the criticism he's received and he's addressing it. Kudos to him! I admire his bravery.

I never read Harris' book and neither did my parents. We didn't court or practice purposeful singleness. I bring him up simply because his book is a fascinating example of some of the ideology of the time period AND because his is a perfect example of the Purity Movement gone awry. 

Tina Sellers, a marriage and family therapist, founder of the Northwest Institute on Intimacy, and professor at Seattle Pacific University, is one of very few academics to research the negative impact of the Purity Movement. She recently published her first book: Sex, God and the Conservative Church: Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy which made it on my list of 5 books I couldn't wait to read this year (click on image below for more details).

Sellers came and spoke at my MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group a few years back and her talk was striking for many reasons. One thing in particular that she shared, I just couldn't shake:

She told us how woman who lived under the messaging of the purity movement often present in therapy exhibit symptoms similar to those who have experienced sexual abuse.

She writes about this more here and I will warn you - it is just as graphic as it is sobering. I guarantee you will feel a healthy dose of wild discomfort, particularly if you spent any amount of time living under the ideologies of the Purity Movement, or if you were encouraging youth to do so.

The challenge with every new trend, every movement, is that unfortunately we aren't privy to it's successes or failures until much, much later, typically long after the rewards have been reaped or the damage has been done. This phenomena occurs in every area of our lives. Take diet for instance. About a decade ago, there was the low fat craze. Fat was to be feared and reduced-fat and nonfat products started flying off the shelf like hotcakes. We were told to avoid fat at all costs and our food supply was altered as a result - fat was removed from many manufactured food items and replaced with....wait for it...sugar!! And now we have record numbers of people struggling with obesity and diabetes. Go figure.

This is essentially the story of humanity, going hard after one craze, like a school of fish lunging after food in a feeding frenzy. Later, once we learn of the downfalls of what we were so whole-heartedly pursuing, we change directions completely. We ride this pendulum constantly, as each new or novel idea gains velocity only to eventually hit the brick wall of failure and swing backwards again. It feels good and fun and right on the momentum of the upswing as we ride that wrecking ball freely. But when it makes contact with the wall, reality, there inevitably is some devastation.

There was a point in my life where I seriously considered saving my very first kiss for my wedding day (Thank you, Purity Movement) because I believed it would somehow make me a "better" Christian. In my recent research, I have come to realize just how many individuals have been profoundly impacted by the messaging of the purity movement. This isn't a topic often talked about because it is uncomfortable. Which is probably why you find me sitting here typing about it on a blog rather than standing on a stage holding a microphone. Sometimes it's easier to begin these conversations shielded by the safety net of our computer screens. Face to face, eye to eye dialogue about our bodies, our pasts, our shame, our misinformation can be unbearably uncomfortable. But we'll get there. 

My intent here though is not to blame but rather to shed light for healing and redemption to occur. Like I’ve said before, I certainly don’t pretend to have the answers. But what I can do is help illuminate the problem. Our experiences inform us and one of the reasons I am thinking about this topic so much is because I want so desperately for my kids to grow up knowing them were created intimately by God – ALL parts of them – and I want them to be proud of their bodies and to be confident in them.  

It’s a journey folks. Praise Jesus that His mercies are new every morning!

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Body Talk: The Art of Being Wildly Uncomfortable

Remember how I said in my last post that I by no means have all the answers? True statement. I am a work in progress. A dear friend reached out to me after reading said post. She knows a lot of my struggles surrounding body image and shame. She has walked alongside me and has been my cheerleader as I’ve worked through some hard stuff. She noticed something in my wording, in the way I chose to talk about the “playing doctor” incident that occurred between me and the neighbor girls. She was struck by the fact that I called our behavior “wildly inappropriate” and she said that it made her heart hurt for me. And so I owe you an editor’s note.

This word choice is evidence of my past. If you were to ask me point blank if I actually believed it wrong for kids to practice curiosity and explore their bodies, I would say “Absolutely not!”  Yet, I still fight former ideologies and they will at times sneak their way into my words without my awareness. Instead of referring to our body curiosity as developmentally normal, as I now know it to be, I wrote, without a second thought, that our behavior was “wildly inappropriate.”  It is an ever-present struggle to fight against the messaging of our youth.

Don’t mishear me. Certainly, I am not trying to say we should be encouraging body exploration as a playdate activity. What I AM trying to say is that body curiosity in and of itself is not wrong and bad. And we need to be extra careful that we don’t portray it as so. Yes, we should be proactively talking to our kids from the get-go about what is and is not appropriate behavior surrounding their bodies and it’s interactions with others (such as only exploring their own bodies and doing so in the privacy of their own room or the bathroom), but to shame them for being curious? This is the practice I would like to eradicate.

Rather than referring to my first explorative childhood experience as “wildly inappropriate” (as I did in my first published draft of my last blog post), I have since changed the wording to reflect what I actually believe: childhood body exploration is NOT wildly inappropriate. It does, however, make many of us as the adults, “wildly uncomfortable.”  So that’s why we need to ponder this more.

If even reading this post brings up feelings of “wild discomfort,” it could be a sign that this is an area where work is needed. Take it slow. Give yourself lots of grace because this is a process. But I would encourage you to rehearse and prepare your response for that inevitable day (trust me, it WILL come!) when your child does something that, were they a grown adult, might be considered an “indecent exposure.” If we are to set our kids up for loving and accepting their bodies as created by God, this is absolutely an area we must give adequate focus.  

But we need to take care of our own stuff, our own body baggage first. If we are to raise our kids to love and appreciate and value their bodies the way they are, we need to first address any negative messaging and any misconceptions from our own upbringings. And doing so will most likely not be comfortable. But I’m learning that being uncomfortable isn’t wrong or bad. It just is. Sometimes we need to sit in that discomfort for a while, and think and talk about hard things. We need to process our discomfort, examine where it stems from and why we are feeling it. I, for one, hate this process but you know what? IT’S OKAY. I’ve learned that I can be in uncomfortable places AND still be okay. It’s not rocket science but it takes some of us 32 to years to get there.

My hope as I raise my kids is to be calm in the uncomfortable. I want to be open. Maybe discomfort is simply our body’s way of alerting us of an opportunity for growth. I kind of like that, don’t you?

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Body Talk: Thinking Back

Thanks to all you lovelies who reached out and commented and emailed and affirmed that this is indeed an area where we need to focus this summer - thinking about our bodies. I'm so excited that you are joining me! Please continue to leave comments, ask questions and make observations. I will share my thoughts and experiences, peppered here and there with insights from my professional background as a registered dietitian, but I want to be candid from the get-go: this is very much an area where I too struggle and I don't pretend to know all the answers. I really want this to be a topic we dive into together. Are you ready?

Let’s begin this journey by first going backwards. I want you to think about your upbringing. Think about how you first learned to view your body. Did you talk about it much? Did you view your body as weak or strong? Did you ever feel ashamed by it and why? Was weight a big focal point in your home? Were you taught to care for your body and use it well? Ponder whether any of this has changed. Do you view your body the same way now or do you view it differently? The messages you and I received about our bodies during childhood and adolescence impact us profoundly as we enter in to adulthood.

I'll start by sharing a little bit about myself and my own experience with my body. When I was growing up, my body was something I learned to fear, and not in a healthy kind of way. I don’t believe it was intentional (these things rarely are), but the underlying message my culture and my church communicated to me was that my body was, suffice it to say, a problem. Allow me to explain.

I remember the first time I experienced shame about my body. It was, one might say, my first sexual “incident.” It happened sometime during the elementary years, I’m going to guess I was about 6 or 7. I was homeschooled but had managed to land myself a pair of sister neighbor girls as my friends. We passed many afternoons after they arrived home from school playing together at each other's houses. 

One day, they were over at our place when we decided to switch gears and play doctor (and you already know where this is going…) We had all been to enough of our mothers’ doctor appointments to know that the patient must strip down to her birthday suit to allow the doctor to obtain an accurate physical exam. And, since we were very thorough “doctors,” we left no cavity unexplored. I’ll suffice it to say that after taking vitals and giving immunizations, the visit concluded with us taking turns shooting syringes of warm water into inappropriate places… 

I remember this procedure tickling in a new and nice way and thinking it was a lot of fun – that is until my mom discovered us and our antics locked in the downstairs bathroom. Her exact words escape me but I do recall feeling very, very ashamed. My friends’ mom was called immediately and my mom had to go through what I now as a parent realize must have been the incredibly mortifying experience of telling her what had happened during our little play date. My friends were sent home and I never attempted anything like that again. 

Looking back, I know my behavior, though it makes many of us feel wildly uncomfortable, came about out of sheer curiosity. Those of us with kids have seen how our children like to explore themselves (and sometimes others) at all ages. My little “procedure” with my friends felt good but then I got in trouble and my 6-year-old brain didn’t know how to process this. This was the first point at which I recall feeling shame about anything body-related.

As I got older, I received a lot of confusing messages from my church about my body. I knew what went into it was very important (drinking alcohol and smoking were not looked fondly upon) and that using it to do hard work was very important. Enjoying the pleasures of life (food, drink, sex, rest and otherwise) were not things I recall being mentioned very often.

Then came my years in the middle and high school youth group. Though they were never said in these exact words, these were the messages that informed me as I went through my adolescence: I heard that my physical urges were bad (save those for marriage). I heard that my curves were bad (and I should keep them covered at all times - one-piece swimsuits only please and no spaghetti straps). I heard that my body moving to music was bad (because dancing leads to sex).

There were a lot of well-intended rules with a side of legalism that landed me seeped in the belief that my body, as a then-single woman, was a powerful vessel for all things evil, a temptation, something to be kept hidden and covered up lest I cause the opposite sex to stumble. It's no wonder I've struggled with body confidence and insecurity and seeing myself as "fearfully and wonderfully made!" 

These are strong words, I recognize, but they inform so much of who I am and where I have been and how I am transforming still today. Though I never recognized it at the time, my body was absolutely something I learned to fear. 

What about you? What are some defining moments that shaped how you view your body? Maybe you didn't fear it. Maybe you were raised to love it. Do tell!! We have so much to learn, so much more growing still to do.

Oh friends, no system, no school, no culture, no church, no parent is perfect. This we know without a doubt. We will fail. We will misinform. Or we will be misinformed. I pray though that as we continue to think about our bodies, that we would have the minds of Christ. That the lies about who we are would be erased and covered by truth. That, as we journey together, we would catch glimpses of how God see us - fearfully and wonderfully - created with a purpose from the inside out.

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Friday, June 30, 2017

Let's Talk About Our Bodies

The time has come. Y’all, dare I say, it’s the moment so many of us have been dreading…

Maybe that last sentence doesn’t make you cringe. And if so, TEACH US YOUR WAYS. But for most of us, this isn’t exactly our favorite time of year.





Iced coffee?


But swimsuits?


Bare the back fat? Show the stretch marks? Reveal those long-lost legs? Let the below-the-boob pooch see the light of day (what is up with that stuff anyways!?)?

Umm, no thanks.

I wish it weren’t this way. I wish I could take a giant eraser to our culture and eliminate all the shame associated with our bodies and all the self-worth we wrap up in it too. I wish there was much less focus on the exterior. I dream of a day when our eyes aren’t tuned to assess, to judge to size up the bodies of those around us. It just happens, doesn’t it? Automatically.

Last weekend, we celebrated a Father’s Day Re-do. The actual day the week prior had been less than ideal in the Crozier household. I’ll suffice it to say there was car trouble, unanticipated expenses and a whole lot of stress. It was far from relaxing for my husband (or my children or my parents or myself for that matter), so I promised Graham in particular another celebration to redeem the first.

The weather was perfect, the kids’ attitudes were tumultuous; it was shaping to be a typical Saturday. We donned our swimwear, packed a “Dad Picnic” (chips, guac and beer), and headed out to explore a new river, about 40 minutes southeast from our home. I was mentally prepared to be the “on” parent that day, allowing my husband an opportunity to relax and read a book with his toes dipped in the water. And for once, that actually happened. I know you were probably anticipating a tale of a plan gone awry, but this time, the sailing was smooth.

The day was fabulous from all outward appearances. Graham read his book and the kids and I waded in the water, our swimsuit-clad bodies smothered in sunscreen. I'd experiences a welling of insecurity that morning when I’d slipped into my swimsuit. I tried to ignore it. Was it just me or was the bottom fitting more snugly than it had back in April? Hopefully not.

When we arrived at the river, I was grateful to stumble upon our own private beach. No fellow beachcombers to judge the stretch marks I was sporting or the massive precancerous-mole-removal scars across my back. Phew! I began engaging with the kids and even stopped worrying about my body for a short while when the squirt guns came out of the beach bag. The distraction was good. I had to think about my placement on the rocky shore - too close to the kids and it was guaranteed I'd be pelted with streams of freezing water. But too far away? Then I couldn’t return the fire.

My three-year-old son was being hysterical in the best sort of way. All I had to do was point my squirt gun in his general direction and he would stumble away shrieking and dodging and eventually, losing his balance and falling down in laughter. His giggles were contagious and I soaked up his joy as I oriented my stream of water toward his legs. Suddenly I became aware of the fact that I’d forgot to think about my body and whether it was looking OK in my swimsuit. What a phenomenon! I was playing with my kids and wearing a swimsuit and *almost* not even caring about it! Glory! 

Of course this blissful moment was short lived. Waves of insecurity about my body surged and receded just as steadily as the water around my ankles. I was grateful for the presence of my husband and biggest fan. He knew nothing of the mental battles waging in my head but anytime negative thoughts began to take over, he would shoot me a timely look. His gaze sent a message that was loud and clear: he liked the way I looked.     

I let his glances of affection affirm me, let his teasingly-raised eyebrows communicate to me that I’m OK the way I am, stretch marks, scars, belly pooches and all. This stamp of approval helped mediate my critique of myself for the rest of Saturday but when I awoke on Sunday, I was in a nasty head space. I kicked off the morning by getting on the scale (always a terrible idea), testing the previous day’s notion that my swimsuit had seemed tighter. The numbers I saw at the tip of my toes confirmed my suspicion. And those numbers have battered and haunted me all. week. long. I can’t get dressed without feeling down on myself. I can’t look in the mirror without thinking horrible thoughts about my body.

Suddenly my sense of self-worth has tanked because of three stupid numbers. No, my friends. Just no. This shouldn’t be. This is messed up thinking. I am a nutrition professional and I know it. But my degree does not make me immune to the struggle. You know it too. I know you do. We live in a very image-focused society and it is absolutely pummeling us.    

Ladies (and you Gents too!), this has got to change! I hate that so many of us have grown to view our bodies with such negativity. This sour attitude is pervasive and damaging and certainly not something to be ignored. These bodies, these exterior shells – they are the vessels for our souls. They are the work of an Artist, a Creator who does not make mistakes.

So let’s stop with the negative talk. Are there going to be things we dislike about our bodies? Always. But we owe it to our kids and to ourselves and more than anything to our Creator to combat these negative attitudes.

Summer feels like a fitting time to spend a little time here, thinking about our bodies and challenging the notions our culture, our upbringings, and even messages the church has taught us regarding them. Let’s do a little series. Let’s talk about our bodies and figure out together how we can begin to see them as the gift that they are. Will you join me?

When I woke up this morning, I wasn’t sure what I would be writing about but I prayed that the Lord would guide me. And folks, I think this is it. Someone out there needs to explore this with me. Someone needs to be encouraged here. It might not be comfortable but it needs to be addressed. So let’s go there together. Until next time, I’ll leave you with this little tidbit to ponder:

Though it is never our intent. when we criticize our bodies, we put down the glorious work of the Great Artist. We are His masterpiece! Let's learn together to see ourselves that way, shall we?

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