It’s been six months since our child was born and my husband and I have been intimate exactly 2.5 times since her birth. Can I just tell you how my heart breaks as I write that sentence?
It screams of my brokenness. It tells me that I am not healed as I once believed. Memories of horrific events in my younger years scream at me with accusations that I am not whole. I am not enough. I can’t even give of myself to the person I love most. Why am I paralyzed? Why do I struggle with condemnation?
I didn’t grow up with a religious upbringing. I had no one hammering the words purity and abstinence into my mind.
I carried no guilt in the number of individuals I had sex with. There was no moral compass telling me that I was off course. I took part in physical relationships with whomever I pleased whenever I pleased. Twice, I didn’t give anything — rather something was taken from me. Once I ended up pregnant.
My physical body was fine — no scars, no diseases, no outward signs of abuse. But I felt broken.
In a desperate attempt to feel whole, at twenty-one years of age I decided to stop having sex. I had recently found a church, the Lord, and several friends who talked about a second virginity. The concept sounded great.
Surely a vow of abstinence would be the final cleansing; maybe then I would feel clean and whole. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
A year later I met and married my husband and everything was not all better. It took me the better part of eight years to finally understand what I was missing. The emphasis on a second virginity and vow to abstinence only focused upon the physicality of sex. “Do not have intercourse,” was the mantra of the movement. But what of the other parts of me? While I doubt the concept of purity intended to separate the physical from other aspects of spirituality, I had to believe there was something more.
After one incredibly difficult night with my husband, I woke up the next day to find answers. I scoured the Scriptures, looking at all the passages on sex, purity, lust, and marriage.
What the Lord showed me was mind-blowing. He showed me the biblical definition of intimacy.
In Luke 10:27, Jesus teaches straight from the Shema (Deuteronomy 6.4) and says: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your strength, and your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.”
Heart + Soul + Strength + Mind = All of me.
Jesus knows. He knows we can’t separate our bodies from our emotions. We can’t separate our emotions from our will. We can’t separate our will from our thoughts. Jesus understands intimacy — with Himself and with each other. I realized that day that God wanted all of me. I can love others with all of me. And I can love all of myself which was created to work together in this amazing concept of holistic intimacy.
A New Way
For years, I had viewed my body as exhausted. I had mistreated my sexuality. I carried with me horrific memories of horrific acts in horrific places. In order to survive, I tried to separate my mind from my body which rendered me a corpse in the bedroom. Resentment and anger would take the place of love and generosity. Detachment. Separation. Compartmentalization. These were roadblocks to intimacy.
I had once believed I needed to reclaim purity — a nearly impossible feat of human effort. I now realized I needed to understand this concept of biblical intimacy.
It took a lot of mental and emotional work, most of which occurred through writing. Our fifth child was conceived during a time when mind, heart, soul, and strength were all in sync with each other and surrendered to God. Awareness of the issue was part of my battle and my husband and I experienced a sweet season of intimacy in our marriage for over a year. I thought I was healed. I thought the disconnect was over. I thought the state of engaged intimacy was permanent.
But something happened during that time of post-partum healing and six weeks of medically induced abstinence. The connection between mind and body severed. Here I am, acting broken again. I am ashamed to have lost the freedom found in surrendering all of myself to marital intimacy.
Just this morning we were talking through our frustrations and he says what he always says to me, “I love being close to you. Feeling totally connected.” And for a moment I’m jealous. What does that feel like? Why can’t I remember that feeling of total connection and surrender? What do I need to do?
I need to embrace grace. I have to remind myself that I practiced disconnecting for years.
My husband jokes that we should just practice connecting for equal number of years and then some. “Nightly practice,” he says with a boy grin and a hug.
A New Way of Teaching
For several years I taught my children abstinence from all things that fall under Christian taboo (sex, drugs, and alcohol) for fear that they will experience what I experienced. Fear based purity doesn’t sound incredibly contagious.
When I realized what I was doing, I shifted my focus and began to teach intimacy instead.
We have discussed the erotic and anticipatory speeches in the Song of Solomon. I have directed them to the garden and God’s involvement in the sexuality of humanity (see the first covenant between Adam and Eve). We talk about the four elements of intimacy and how they relate to our relationship with God and others. And yes, we still talk about purity, but now it is part of a holistic theology on biblical intimacy.
What if my kids have sex before marriage? As heart-broken as I would be, there will be no shaming in our home, but rather a reclaiming as I walk them through the journey of loving God, loving others, but also loving self.
For purity is not perfection. If it was, what need would there be for a Savior? Rather purity is a surrender — an admission that God can be trusted with the most intimate areas of our life.
Editor’s note: We’ve teamed up with a group of women today to bring grace and truth to the conversation about purity. You can find links to their stories and thoughts at “Pure Hope: Bringing Grace and Hope to the Conversation About Purity.” For more from Marian Green on this topic, find out about her project, “Bad Girl’s Guide to Intimacy,” and read a sample here.
The Next Step
In difficult circumstances, the next step is all that’s required of me. My responsibility is to be faithful and obedient to the Lord.
It has felt like boot camp every time I’ve gone. The women to my right and left are trim, toned, and can lift the heavy weights. My mid-section is a bit pudgy being six weeks out of having my third child and I have to choose the light weights as a beginner.
As we dive in to chisel class, my fitness instructor, Galey, wastes no time through each workout and each set within the workout intensifies. My arm, back, and leg muscles strain and ache from the barbell lunges, squats, and dead lifts.
During push-ups and abs, my arms are shaky and I wonder if I can keep going. I gaze at the clock wondering if I’m at the end yet. I’m starting to feel a little sick, but I know I can do it.
“This is hard,” Galey yells while crunching her abs. “Remember that’s okay!”
Finally, the ab drills are over. My whole body feels like jello and I can barely muster up the strength to do the stretching exercises. I put away my barbell and hand weights and smile at the other women. We all have that look of relief on our faces.
As I head out the door to pick up my kids from childcare, I overhear Galey talking with a new member of the class, “The key to these classes is you have to keep coming. Then you’ll start to get the hang of it and get better.”
I nod my head as I hear her talking. I know that the key is faithfulness if I want to see results. But not only would I need to be faithful, perseverance through every exercise would have to become by best friend in order to grow lean and strong.
[lead]Perseverance Through Experience[/lead]
If there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that without perseverance it’s nearly impossible to withstand the winds and the rains that beat against the doors of the Christian life. And the means by which we learn perseverance is through life experiences.
Here are a few experiences God has used to teach me perseverance:
- Undergoing years of intense study to earn my undergraduate/graduate degrees
- Praying for my dad’s brain tumor diagnosis in 2004
- Training and running my first marathon
- Enduring an ACL soccer injury, the surgery, and physical therapy
- Trusting God with my husband’s career changes
- Getting through the excruciating pain of childbirth
When I think of perseverance I’m reminded of my friends Kavan and Lindsey. In February, Kavan deployed for Afghanistan to serve our country in the Army. Their second baby girl was born just a month after he left. While it was difficult, Lindsey stayed strong and began adjusting to life with two.
Kavan’s words of encouragement, Facebook posts, and flowers from Afghanistan on Mother’s Day helped her press on in the waiting. She’s endured hard days in motherhood and being in a city all by herself. Yet she knows the hope that lies ahead. In just a few days, Kavan will return home, reunite with his bride, and meet his daughter for the first time. What an exciting day that will be for their family.
[lead]What Saves a Man?[/lead]
C.S. Lewis once said, “What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step.”
Every endeavor worth pursuing requires a first step. And I believe the first step just might be the hardest because there’s such a battlefield in the mind to overcome. It’s easier to become discouraged and throw in the towel. I have to not only fight the big letdowns, but the lies in my mind and heart that subtly say:
- I can’t
- God could never use someone like me
- I don’t have any gifts or special abilities
And exchange them for truth:
- I can do anything through Christ’s strength
- God wants and desires to use me
- I’ve been uniquely talented and gifted for God’s glory
Walking by faith is no easy task. God’s path isn’t always brightly lit. His ways are often not my ways. And trials and adversity can wear even the strongest soul down but obstacles are often the best tools for our sanctification and growth.
In difficult circumstances, the next step is all that’s required of me. It’s comforting to know that the burdens aren’t my own to carry either. My responsibility is to be faithful and obedient to the Lord.
Persevering in my faith also means that I’ve been called to continue in a state of grace to the very end as the beloved hymn puts so well:
T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far … and Grace will lead us home. – Amazing Grace
I can’t forget that God’s grace is what carries me, day by day. Somehow I lose sight of that at times and forget it is even there for me to draw upon. I’ve been given access to His grace whenever and however I need it.
One day my life will come to an end. Either Jesus will come or I will be taken home. Knowing such truth gives me the hope to endure life’s trials. I know that everything will be okay because I have Jesus and He will be there at the end.
Well, in case you were wondering I just completed my third week of chisel class at the gym. Every class has been different and it never ceases to be challenging. But my clothes are getting looser, my little girl’s baby carrier feels lighter, and I feel stronger than I was a month ago. By God’s grace I’ll make it to the thirtieth week!
[This article is drawn from our archives. It first appeared here on Ungrind on August 27, 2012.]
Love The You You Are
If you want to love the you you are, then find reasons to be thankful for who you are.
I sat down, put my toes in the sand, and could hear the waves crash in front of me. My happy place truly is this place — the beach. There is something so peaceful about it. Yet to get to the beach, one must endure the ridicule of finding a swimsuit. You must endure the ridicule of trying on suits in the winter. And then, you actually have to wear it in public. Yet, as I sit at the beach, I look around and see women of all shapes and sizes. Each one wearing a swimsuit that they searched for and counted worthy of enduring the fitting room. Each one seemingly not stressed about what they look like wearing that swimsuit — even if the suit doesn’t fit just right. They swam, relaxed in a chair, and played on the beach — without care.
I don’t know about you, but how many years have we stressed about swimsuits? I can distinctly remember being 23 and thinking there is no way I will or want to stress about my body at 40. Well, friends, I am approaching 40 and I still stress about my body. Now, granted it’s not the same kind of stress I carried in my younger years but it’s still stress. It’s still a negative view.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I can easily be convinced that what I look like is not who I am supposed to be — that there is always something more that I need to be or do. Do you ever feel like you just don’t make the cut? Swimsuits just have the pleasure of making that very obvious to ourselves.
Each of us are in different phases of life.
- Maybe you are newly married and worked hard to look a certain way for the wedding day.
- Maybe you are pregnant with your first and can’t believe how your body has changed.
- Maybe you are pregnant with your fourth and you really can’t believe how your body has changed.
- Maybe you have recently had a baby and feel like your body will never be the same again.
- Maybe you are recovering from a sickness and you barely recognize yourself.
- Maybe you are a woman whose body never quite recovered from an accident.
- Maybe you are older and watching your body change in new ways is shocking.
- Maybe you look in the mirror and hardly recognize the face staring back.
And even though we are all in different phases and look differently, we all carry insecurities no matter our age. However, no matter where we are in life, there is one thing I know is true. God wants you to love the you you are.
Swimsuit season has really challenged me to love who I am — exactly as I appear today.
I’ve learned that loving the you you are often starts with a shift in perspective. Sometimes I think that changing perspective begins with thanksgiving. I think you would agree with me. If you want to love your home, find reasons to be thankful for it. If you want to love your job, find reasons to be thankful for it. If you want to love your spouse, find reasons to be thankful for him. The same is true with who you are. If you want to love the you you are, then find reasons to be thankful for who you are.
- To the young newly married woman, thank God for your body that enables you to walk down the aisle.
- To the pregnant woman, thank God for a body that can grow babies.
- To the new mom, thank God for arms to hold that child.
- To the aging woman, thank God for your eyes that have seen years of faithfulness.
The reasons for thankfulness are endless. I know it may seem difficult especially when you’ve lived with a negative view for a long time. I want you to think of three reasons to be thankful for the you you are. And maybe you could commit for one week to write out, start your day with, three things to be thankful for about yourself.
- I’m thankful for a smile that makes my kids smile.
- I’m thankful for strong legs to carry me throughout the day.
- I’m thankful for a body that grew and delivered two healthy babies.
This may seem silly or childish or too simple but seeing yourself differently requires you to think differently. We need to change the voice in our head and drown out the negative one. So, go ahead. List three ways you’re grateful for the you you are.
A Snapshot in Time
This moment you are going through is a snapshot in a much larger story.
When I was diagnosed with a rare blood disease, my world fell apart. In a short time, I went from thinking I was perfectly fine to finding out I have an invader in my blood that I cannot fight, and I was told that carrying a baby would be too risky. All that I had planned for my future as a newly married woman came crashing down, and suddenly I was left in the rubble, not sure how to feel or think. All I knew was that I wanted to cry and somehow get up to Heaven to punch God. (I know, ridiculous!)
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2).
Seriously? Verses like that just sting so badly when you are in the midst of struggles. How am I supposed to find any hint of joy when I find out that being a mother naturally isn’t going to happen? When I feel like less of a woman because I can’t fully do my part in the marriage?
Joy is the last thing from my mind.
But it should be the first.
If you read on in James, here is what joy in the midst of trials brings: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness, and let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4)
While I don’t believe we need to jump up and down smiling and giggling through a trial, we need to be rejoicing and praising God for what He will grow and produce in us as a result of it.
I am always amazed at the patients in the hospital with terminal cancer who are making the most of their final days by sharing the good news of Christ with the staff, writing blogs or letters to others about how God has been faithful in their lives, and encouraging other patients in the same situation. At a time where they are facing sure death, so many of these incredible people are doing the exact opposite of what I would want to do, and they are rejoicing in God’s faithfulness.
Did they still feel the weight of death on their shoulders and have moments of breaking down?
Did Christ face the weight of what would happen to him on the Christ before he died?
But these patients are taking this verse from James seriously. And Christ is glorified through that.
When I look at the trials my husband and I as a couple faced during the time of our doctors visits surrounding my diagnosis, I wish so badly we had taken more time to be obedient and praise God for how He would use this trial in the future. Because if that diagnosis hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be watching my beautiful little Colombian princesses play in our backyard. I wouldn’t have met the incredible moms of their older biological sisters. I possibly might not even be writing. As a result of that trial, an incredible beauty rose from the ashes.
Dear friends, I don’t know what trial you are going through today. You may have lost a loved one, be struggling through a divorce, or be hearing the life-changing news of a diagnosis. Or perhaps you are just trying to breathe on a very difficult day. I encourage you to take a moment, even if you don’t feel like it, and thank God for your trial. Ask Him to give you the courage to face it head on and to give you peace that He will use this trial for good. His plan is greater than ours. This moment you are going through is a snapshot in a much larger story. You may not even see how He uses your struggles for His glory, but trust that no matter what, you will gain steadfastness that will lead you to being complete and lacking for nothing.
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Hi, I'm Ashleigh Slater, founder and editor of Ungrind. Here at Ungrind, it’s our goal to churn out biblically-based encouragement for women. We strive to be honest and transparent about our struggles in a way that inspires hope, faith, and perseverance.
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