I had the privilege of speaking to a group of 30 teenage girls last night on the topic of body image, value and worth. Our church sponsors this girls night a couple times a month. It is held at The Red Barn, so it is not in the church and those in the community who are not members of the church will feel comfortable and welcomed. It it truly an outreach ministry. There are a couple of adults who oversee the program and four or five girls from our university volunteer to mentor and help.
I would like to share a little bit of the basic message I shared with them last night. I have changed some of the images, but the message is the same.
Look at the picture below and tell me what words come to mind.
The words I usually hear are:
When I was born, my parents loved me and adored me. They gave me a special name, a name that no one else in the family had. It was my own name selected for me by my parents. Carolyn Denise. They rocked me, they loved me, they sang to me, they had hopes, dreams and wishes for me.
I grew into a happy go lucky girl who loved to sing, dance and twirl around in frilly skirts. I also loved to climb trees, run, swim and just thoroughly enjoy live. I was the perfect tomboy princess.
Around the age of five, some other images started entering my world. There was lots of fighting in my home. Loud voices. Doors slamming. Name calling. Threats. I remember being afraid, a lot. Afraid of losing someone I love. Afraid of being hurt myself. Afraid that the mean words that were spoken might be true.
Over the years I started feeling bad about being a girl. The messages I had received said it was dangerous to be a girl. I could get hurt. Someone could want to hurt me, just because I was a girl. A stupid girl who deserved it. How could I be so stupid.
To deal with the abuse, my mother withdrew from my father and from me. She attempted suicide twice by overdose when I was a teenager. I felt abandoned by someone I loved. Someone I had tried to protect. A woman, like me, who felt no value or worth. I must not be worth much. I must not be valued. There are the messages I heard in my head.
At the age of 17 a boy I had known since the day he was born, violated my trust and love for him. In that moment, it was so painful to be a woman. I had developed a very curvy body at a young age and had always drawn the wrong kind of attention. I hated my body. I didn't want to be a woman. Girls are trouble. I'm nothing. I'm a whore. These are the devaluing words I heard in my head.
In response to the messages that screamed lies to me in my head, some eating disordered thinking that had started in my early teens began to escalate. I began hording food, binging, and practicing different forms of deprivation.
This past year, at the age of 43, I had what I refer to as my epiphany year. In a time of emotional crisis, I cried out to God to deliver me. After a couple months of spending time in meditation and solitude with God, my journal and a devotional book, I had the most awesome gift given to me. I had a vision. I know, call me kooky, whatever. It was the most awesome experience and changed my life completely.
I saw myself as a five year old little girl, scared, hurt and ashamed, hiding her face from the world so they could not see her pain. In the vision, I was sitting in the middle of a grassy meadow with no shelter to hide under, nothing to shield my shame. The grassy meadow was the palm of the hand of God. And then I heard him call my name. MY name. It sounded so sweet and so gentle, like a song. But I was ashamed to turn and look at Him. Afraid that he would see how worthless and un-valuable I truly am. Then He said my name again in a reassuring way that told me that He knew everything about me and still loved me. When I turned my head, I was looking into the eye of God. I cannot tell you what He looks like. His eye is all I could see. I cannot tell you what His eye looks like, because all I could see was His love and compassion for me. In His eye, I saw the reflection of all He created me to be. I saw myself as He sees me! And it was beautiful. I was created for beauty. I was created to enjoy life and to live passionately. All that other stuff was just a delusion that kept me in bondage.
I suddenly realized that all the messages I had received were lies. I had long ago forgiven my father. I love him. He deserves grace, mercy and love. I had reconciled my relationship to my mother. She is beautiful. She deserves grace, mercy and love. I had forgive XYZ for violating my friendship and trust. He was young, he didn't realize the impact his action would have on me, he didn't intentionally hurt me. I had extended grace, mercy and yes, even love to him. Each of those violations of trust and love extended of just a short period of my life. However, the most egregious violator of trust and love was . . . ME! I had allowed the voices in my head to continually abuse me on a daily basis. I was mean to me. I was harsh on me. I demanded perfection from me.
Suddenly, I realized I could make a different choice! Once I saw myself as God sees me, I never wanted to be anything less! My heart felt light, there was a skip in my step, a light in my eyes and a beaming smile on my face. THIS is ME!!! And I love me!
So the next time you see a lady (maybe yourself) who looks like this:
Reserve your judgment. Show some compassion, love and mercy. Remember, God sees her like this:
Replace any negative adjectives with the lovely ones you would speak to this little lady!
Live Beautifully! Speak Kindly! Love Passionately! Twirl Little Girl! Twirl!
P.S. After the presentation, one of the college girls asked to speak to me alone. She shared with me a struggle she is having with an eating disorder and that the things I had shared really resonated with her. We talked, cried and prayed together. She and I will be having lunch together soon. I believe I was there to say those words for her and her alone. That very afternoon before coming, she had written in her journal how very alone she feels in her struggle with anorexia. She had no idea what I would be sharing and surely had no idea of her struggle.