And then there were two…

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Introducing my second grandchild, Micah Alan Courtney who was born on December 1st, weighing 8 lbs. and 4 oz. Big brother, Walker is smitten with his new little brother. And Mimi is gearing up to spoil him rotten. Thanking God for this littlest blessing!

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When Mercy Meets Your Mess: Sarah’s “Move On” Story

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By: Sarah Moran

I’m not a big fan of messes. Ask anyone who knows me. My parenting goal for this summer? To teach my girls to clean the house—thoroughly. Not exactly the “Judy Moody Not-So-Bummer-Summer” they were hoping to have!

As a little girl, I made a tape (yes, I said tape!) of myself singing the “Monster Mash”. Don’t ask me why this was my selection. In the background, my little brother can be heard making noise and begging for chips. The recording concludes with my exasperated declaration, “You made it all yucky!” (Never mind that my singing was yucky.) All I knew at the time was that my brother made a mess of my plans.

You could say that I come by this trait honestly. My mom’s oft-spoken stories about my grandmother are tales of her paste-waxing the floors by hand. And, as a kid, I remember waking up on Saturday mornings to my own mother vacuuming around my bed. (She also literally vacuumed us out the door when we went on vacation. Need I say more?).

But, I can’t blame nurture entirely. My own nature was bent on seeking out order and beauty. As I have recovered from the less lovely aspects of this part of my personality (perfectionism, caring too much what others think), I have also come to understand that, at the root, this trait is a God-given desire for the beauty of His original plan (without sin, without death, orderly…perfect.)

Before I could learn to appreciate that truth in its fullness, God had to refine me the hard way. He allowed me to experience messes in order to make me more like His son and to position me for the abundant, fruitful life He desired for me.

During my teens, my parents endured severe marital trials. For years, my dad was in and out of the house. Miraculously, my mom, dad, brother, and I all came to Christ during this difficult time. My parents reconciled during my second year of college. I learned a lot of important things from this experience; but, I was young. And somehow, if subconsciously, I came to think that if I obeyed God and made good choices, I could avoid that kind of pain in my adult life. I dreamed of having a happy family, a good marriage, and happy, healthy children. I also had a growing desire to honor God with my life. I was not prepared for the messy way He would accomplish that purpose.

WeddingI met my husband Bryan at the age of 20. We had a fairy-tale courtship, engagement, and wedding. God was gracious to us. Every worldly thing easily came our way. My plan was off to a great start.

We went on to have three baby girls in three years. What a blessed and insane time that was! I loved being a mom, but I was tired all the time, and without my knowledge, Bryan was stressed and coping poorly. His mother was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer just before our second child was born. And, after our third child was born, I got very sick. All the while, Bryan’s mom was undergoing brain surgeries and chemo therapy. I finally got medicated for anxiety and depression. My mother-in-law died two weeks later.

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Audrey Nov. 2007After a year, I was feeling strong again. I had one kiddo in kindergarten, one in Mother’s Day Out, and one at home for some much-needed attention. I remember thinking to myself, “It’s all going to be o.k. now.” Then, on November 14, 2007, I took Audrey (my youngest, then age 2 1/2) to a friend’s home so I could run some errands. A couple of hours later, my friend called me panicked. Audrey had been hit in her driveway by a carpet cleaning van leaving her home.

Shortly after we arrived at Dell Children’s hospital, the doctor came in to inform us that “there was nothing they could do for Audrey.” She had died. What happened next only makes sense because the Spirit was palpably present in that room. Nearly the first words that came out of my mouth were:

“I will not be able to bear up under the weight of this unless it has eternal significance.”

A fire burned inside of me from that point on to make sure that it did.

The next year was both devastating and sacred. An acquaintance aptly described the territory of our grief as “holy ground”. I spent an abundance of time alone in God’s Word, and He began a transformational work that has impacted the way I view literally everything now. I dug into the truth about Heaven and gained the treasure of an eternal perspective.

It’s a good thing God was building His truth deep into my soul, because the onslaught of trouble was not yet complete. In October of 2008, as I prepared to give a talk to my Moms Together group about Heaven, I became aware of my husband’s long-time secret struggle with internet pornography and subsequent infidelity. In a matter of two short years, absolutely everything that mattered most to me had been attacked (and likely fatally destroyed). That was when I crawled into my bed and thought about not getting out.

As God would have it, destruction was not an option. I am witness to the indisputable fact that God still rescues and heals! I did get out of bed. Friends and family surrounded us with love, grace, and support. God sent an anointed counselor to help us through. We were hanging by a thread in every way, but God restored our marriage slowly and painfully. It was a long, ugly, loud, snotty, teary process. But it was worth it!

I learned to be brutally honest with God.

I was angry and crushed. I didn’t know how I could trust a God who would allow such tragedy into my life. I yelled, kicked, and screamed. And, He patiently revealed more of Himself to me. Contrary to earthly logic, He lovingly healed me, deepened my faith, and bestowed upon me a confident hope that still bolsters me today!

Six years later, I’d be lying if I said I don’t have scars. And, if I pick at them, they still bleed. I still cry and doubt. Sometimes I have trouble trusting both God and my husband. But, what God has done inside all of us is so undeniably awesome that I am quickly redirected to praise.

Has God’s mercy met my mess? Emphatically, YES! In every moment, His mercy was present and in control. Furthermore, He has made (and continues to make) beauty out of ashes.

My parents will celebrate their 44th wedding anniversary this October. They are retired and live two streets away from us. We do life together now. Mom and I lead a women’s Bible study in her home. We share an eternal perspective.

In 2011, our family started a little girls’ Bible study in our living room. What began as a summer project has turned into a full-fledged, homegrown neighborhood ministry to 4th-8th grade girls. A fabulous team of mothers have joined us. They tirelessly, joyfully make Tween Time a reality. Three years in, we serve 100 girls, and we are growing! Our non-profit, Audrey’s Harvest, supports our ministry. Read more at www.tweentime.org.

Audrey's 1st wellMy brother and his family are awaiting the “green light” to travel to Uganda to finalize their adoption and bring home their 7-year-old son. Before they were even matched with a child, God burdened their hearts for the people of Uganda. For Christmas 2012, my sister-in-law raised money with family and friends to build two wells in Audrey’s name. Our entire family is now permanently connected to what God is doing halfway across the world.

And, at the ripe, old age of 39, God allowed us to experience the birth of our 4th child, Margaret Alice (Maggie) on August 16, 2014. She was born in the 7th year without Audrey, a detail not lost on us. The number 7 is continually used throughout Scripture to symbolize God’s perfection. This baby’s 20-week mark was Audrey’s birthday. And, the due date was our 16th wedding anniversary. We consider this God’s seal of victory over Audrey’s life and death and over our marriage.   I know without a shadow of a doubt that this child is a gracious gift of God’s mercy in the midst of our mess.

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In short, we have to keep breathing. We have a lot of work to do! God is not done with us yet. So, we press on.

Don’t ever forget, dear sister, that our God can do what no man can do! He can take your ugliest messes and make them beautiful. If you will only hang onto Him for dear life, He will rescue you, too. The outcome may look different, but you can be sure it will be victorious. Cling to His Word. Do not despair! Great treasure awaits those who hope in the One True God.

Now the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will personally restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered. 1 Peter 5:10

I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Psalm 27:13

 

 

When Mercy Meets Your Mess: Ashley’s “Move On” Story

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By: Ashley Simmons

My life as a Pastor’s Wife was pretty close to perfect. My husband loved me. My kids loved people and loved the ministry. I was surrounded by love. God called us to pastor a church in a coastal community that was a hot spot for vacationers. Paradise, if you will. There were times I felt life was too good to be true. I had never walked through a heartbreaking season. I just felt it was God’s favor and blessing. Because I had done my best to follow God, it wasn’t necessary to endure trial. I would look at others with compassion and thank God I didn’t have to walk through their trials. I would soon learn, this is not how our Savior works. The Bible says when you face trials of many kinds, stand firm. Not if, but when. Trials produces things a peachy life cannot.

As we pressed on feeling accomplished, something changed year seven. As the church grew and the pressures added, an empty feeling came over my husband. His passion for people seemed to be dampened and what was once natural became a struggle. Doubts entered that had never presented themselves before. The enemy began whispering in his ear. At some point he gave into it and believed it. Was he really called? Is this what God wanted for his life? Maybe he heard wrong. Maybe he was overcompensating to turn out differently than the person he was at 18. The first lie began with a doubt of calling. The door had been opened. His heart was injured and a foothold had been set in place. Next, the strategic lie could manifest physically and eventually go in for the kill.

As lies where swarming his mind, God was preparing me. I saw. I questioned. I was in immense inner turmoil. As I moved through the next months, an inner struggle began that I had never felt before. It was definitely a fight. It was an emotional fight but more than that a spiritual one. The enemy had waged war against my marriage and my church. As I sat praying one morning the word of warning came to me. “The enemy is going to try and destroy the church and will do it through your marriage.” I had no idea what would come next. Surely this was a bump in the road. All marriages have rough patches, right? After battling through several months of, “Is this the Holy Spirit or is this the enemy tormenting me”, the truth would be revealed. Those words had come out of my mouth every day for 5 months, “reveal Your truth”. And this He did.

One summer evening the truth would come out as I looked at a simple text.

My perfect, complete life would crumble before my very eyes. I would have to endure the gut punch that he had been unfaithful. She was my friend, ministry partner and mentor to my children. The amount of loss seems unbearable when I look back now. How does a person survive this heartache? How can you go on when betrayal is at every turn and those you held most dear have hurt you most? I would learn the answer to this.

As I watched our life blow away in the wind like ash, I did all I knew to do. I clung to Jesus. I hung on His every word. God is so faithful. Every morning I would run to my chair where I would open up God’s word. Whether it be a devotional book or the bible, I felt it always speaking such specific things to me. When you seek, you find. This is true. I would find answers to keep me stable even if it was only until the next day. It was in these moments that I would find instruction and comfort. Instruction like, “forgive and you will be forgiven”, “you have been shown compassion so that you can show others the same”. I was being given words of ammunition to fight through and win. The more time passed, the more healed we both became. Not only did I have to live with the betrayal, my husband would also have to live with it. “What was I thinking?” swirled through his mind constantly. Sin so easily entangles. He would have to live with the fact that we were people blessed by God. We had been entrusted with a church that was uncommon and he allowed the enemy to take it. It was a mess.

After the season of survival the facts set in. We lost almost everything. It was like losing your job, income, identity, respect and honor all in the same blow. What now? God’s call is irrevocable. If you are called by God, you are called. No situation changes that. Over the months and years ahead I would sit back and watch the goodness of God. Our lives had been made a mess. There was no way of fixing it. That’s what the rational mind may think. The husband I had seen as the most godly man I knew had been broken and was being rebuilt. What God restores is restored to a better state than before. The good always seemed to outweigh the bad. We had become more spiritually mature than ever before. My children had a front row seat to watch what God could do with mom and dad.

We began a ministry in late 2013 called For Love For Life. We longed to be dealers of hope for marriages. We saw God take something really, really messed up and make it beautiful. How could we keep this to ourselves? As we traveled and spoke every weekend, many couples came forward and shared a similar story. It amazed me that the enemies tactics do not really change. So many feel ashamed and alone, like they are the only ones who have walked this path. Some choose to keep their story private and move on but my husband and I decided that would be impossible. We would lay our lives out in hopes that others could see that with God, all things are possible.

God turned our ashes into beauty. On our hope tour with For Love For Life a pastor we deeply respected and loved asked us to come be a part of what God was doing. He knew our story but never spoke of it. It didn’t tarnish what he knew God could do through broken people who had been restored. There is no doubt, God set this up. Today we both serve on staff at a wonderful church on the outskirts of Memphis, TN called Life Fellowship. Our life is beautiful. Not only did God change circumstances but He changed hearts. That’s the most important thing anyway.

He cares more about our hearts than our happiness.

I’ve found that when our hearts are pure and longing for Him, fulfillment is on the way too. Our case was hopeless and too far gone. Good thing we serve a God with no limitations who gives life, hope and restoration!

What’s your mess? Mercy awaits. It’s time to move on.

 

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Guest Post: I Have a Mental Illness

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By: Pam Gibbs

This week, the world mourned the loss of the irrepressible genius actor, Robin Williams. Typically, the death of celebs leaves me a little sad because I know I will miss their gifts. With Williams’ death, however, I grieved. Not because I knew him personally, although his acting made all of us think we did.  I grew up loving Mork & Mindy, learned to seize the day, and saw the beauty of flawed humanity in his movies.

Mostly, though, I grieve Robin Williams’ death because I am like him.

I have a mental illness. It’s called depression.

I grieved for Robin Williams’ death because I understand his struggle. I know all too well the feeling of drowning in a sea of emotions whose pull drags you to the depths of despair and won’t let you breathe. I understand how easily your thoughts and feelings can become warped by a combination of brain chemicals and difficult circumstances, leaving you unsure of what is true and what is the myth told by your feelings.

I know I’m not alone. The CDC estimates that about 1 in 10 people report a depressive episode at least once in their lives. My symptoms started showing up in seminary. I’ve taken medication for it the majority of my adult life.  Like millions of others, I take the medication because my brain is just wired differently. It’s a brain disease, just like epilepsy or ADHD.

When you see me on a regular basis, you’re not likely to see any signs of depression. That’s because, like epilepsy, it doesn’t shout out its presence. For me, depression can be managed with medication, therapy, and self-care. However, like epilepsy, depression can be triggered by any number of factors, but for me it’s usually a combination of them—stress overload; loss; sleep deprivation; poor eating and exercise habits; working too much and playing too little; having no margin in my life for stillness and quiet; ignoring my needs and emotions.

Unlike epilepsy, when depression is triggered, it doesn’t wave a red flag and say “Hey! I’m here! Deal with it!” The slide into depression is insidiously deceptive. Slow. As imperceptive as a decline down a low-grade hill. If you are not vigilant to notice the signs, some of which are unique to each person, you can find yourself being pulled toward that black hole of despair, and it feels impossible to resist its gravitational pull.

Sometimes the fog of depression is too thick to be able to find our way out. And so we get help. We see a therapist (mine rocks, by the way, highly recommend her) to talk things through. We adjust the medication. We try to take care of our bodies by getting adequate rest and exercising.
At times, though, giving in to your feelings and thoughts—as misinformed as they may be—feels much easier and less exhausting than fighting back.

And on Monday, Robin Williams stopped fighting.

I’m taking a risk in writing this blog. It may not be received with grace, especially in the Christian community, I’m sad to say. I fear the backlash from fellow believers who wrongly assume that I don’t have enough faith or am not relying on Jesus enough (you’d be surprised at how many people think that). Unfortunately, depression goes largely misunderstood. It’s not just a matter of having a rough few days. It’s not a ploy for sympathy or an excuse to lie around the house. It’s not a lack of faith or a sign of sin. People who suffer from mental illness—from depression to anxiety disorders to anorexia—still love Jesus and find their hope in Him.

It’s hard for us to reach out to family and friends. We think you’ll judge us; we think you won’t understand (and you can’t completely unless you’ve been there); we worry that you’ll look at us funny and treat us as if we have ebola. And so we suffer in silence. Talking helps us but we can’t talk. It’s a nasty irony.

Why am I writing this blog? In all truthfulness, I’m not sure. I think maybe because I’m tired of hiding this part of me from my family, friends, and colleagues. I think partly because I am weary of the stigma attached to mental illness and want to destroy its stereotypes, even if just among the few people who will read this.

Mostly, though, I am telling my story because I seek to be authentic and real in my faith journey, and doing so requires that I be transparent about all of my struggles, not just the socially acceptable ones. You know, the fears and worries that are safe to share as prayer requests in church—a sick uncle, a job interview, traveling over the weekend. I want to challenge my fellow believers to stop playing church and start living like authentic Christians, and that means I must model it first.

I struggle with depression. And I love Jesus. The two are not mutually exclusive.

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Pam is a writer, speaker, and youth minister, but her favorite titles are mom and wife. When she is not hanging out with her daughter, Kaitlyn or watching football with her husband Jim, you’ll find her curled up with a good book and a stash of dark chocolate. And she would like you to know she and her husband are not really chefs in real life. The only recent family picture she could find was from Halloween, last year! You can find out more about Pam by clicking here.

 

Give-away to celebrate the release of Move On (and a really big dare)!

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“Sometimes I feel like I’m playing a part I’ve been cast into, but it’s not who I truly am.” I fidgeted nervously in my seat as I shared this confession with a Christian counselor several years ago. My voice trailed off at the end and I quickly discounted the statement. “I’m sure it’s just a phase I’m going through.”

But he wouldn’t let me evade the thought. “Let’s stay there for a minute. Tell me more about what makes you feel that way.”

I’d spent my entire life doing whatever it took not to “stay there.” It had taken all the courage I could muster to walk into his office, much less make the confession. Now I wanted to retract my statement and go back to talking about things that were in my safe zone. Silence ensued. Say something. Anything. I attempted to deflect his statement with another excuse in a long line of excuses: “It’s probably because my last child is about to leave the nest and I’m experiencing a bit of an identity crisis. No big deal.” He nodded his head. More silence followed. Dad-gummit, this guy is good.

I glanced at the clock, desperate to make a getaway from the unfamiliar realm of “stay there.” Thirty-five minutes left in the session. He smiled. “Go on.”

I could either spill my guts or play an expensive round of the quiet game. I took a deep breath and continued, “Sometimes I feel like a fraud in ministry. It’s not that I don’t believe every­thing I teach and write about. I do. It’s just that I’m reminded on a daily basis of how rarely I myself measure up to the truths I talk about.”

More silence followed. He knew I needed to say more and he patiently waited.

“I mean . . . I talk a lot about Jesus Christ being our ‘everything,’ but I spend my days trying to find satisfaction in a thousand different false gods. Honestly, I don’t know why anyone buys my books. If they knew the real me and saw my long list of mess-ups, they’d ask for a refund. Especially if they followed my children around for long enough and realized they’re far from perfect too.”

With every word I spoke, I felt a tiny surge of courage.

“And I’m so tired. I’ve been burned out for nearly a decade, but I can’t seem to slow down. I don’t know how to be still. It seems like the more I do for the Kingdom, the more distant I feel in my relationship with the Lord.” My eyes filled with tears as I followed with a burden I’d never spoken aloud before. “No matter how much I do, I never feel like I measure up. Not as a mother, a wife, a Christian. Behind the curtain of my life, I’m a mess.”

When I left the counselor’s office that day, I felt like a burden had been lifted. Breaking the silence felt good. Incredibly good. I had taken a necessary first step: admitting to the mess. My healing journey began when I finally granted myself permission not to be okay. Not to stay there forever, of course, but rather acknowledge that not being okay is a per­fectly normal part of the Christian journey. I walked into the counselor’s office suffering from a spiritual midlife crisis. I was worn out, confused, and just plain exhausted from years of trying to keep up the appearance of being a devoted fol­lower. Add to that the pressure to manage the appearances of my children. My façade was beginning to crumble. And that was a very, very good thing. Stepping into that counselor’s office for the first appointment marked the beginning of the end of the pretender game in my life.

As I began to plumb the depths of my soul in the months that followed that initial counseling session, I realized that somewhere along the way, grace had shifted from being the solid foundation of my faith to becoming a mere footnote in my belief system. The transition was not a sudden event, but rather a process that snowballed slowly over many years. The love and compassion I once granted to unbelievers (or, for that matter, stumbling Christians) was gradually replaced with finger pointing and judgment. Time spent reading God’s Word began to feel like something I had to do rather than something I wanted to do. My heart-to-heart conversations with God became less frequent and more distant. Sharing the Good News with others became a chore on my spiritual to-do list rather than a privilege.

Of course, falling short in these areas produced a never-ending cycle of guilt and con­demnation that only left me feeling more distant from God. In desperation, I began to pray and ask God to “restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Ps. 51:12). Bottom line, I wanted my joy back. But first I had to determine where along the way my joy had taken a hike and, more important, why.

If my hunch is correct, many of you can relate. Maybe your once-vibrant faith has, over time, devolved into a familiar mediocrity. Perhaps you go through the motions like a well-rehearsed dance number, never stopping to consider if God even choreographed the routine. On the outside your faith is clean, polished, and most of all, predictable. But deep down in your soul, you wonder if your walk with God was supposed to be more. More adventurous. More exciting. More risky. Before you even allow your heart to believe such a thought, you squelch the nagging thought, knowing it would require change and, most likely, a departure from your standard comfort zone. So you go through the routine another day. You wake up the next day and start all over again. Days turn to months, months into years, and years lapse into decades. Chances are, you’ll take that same routine to your grave. Unless something interrupts your tidy, well-groomed faith routine.

In the introduction of Move On, I shared how God used my son and daughter-in-law’s unexpected pregnancy as an interruption into my well-choreographed faith routine. It was a turning point for me and an opportunity for my family to take off our masks and talk about the mess. And trust me when I say this is only one of many interruptions over the years when mercy met me in my mess (including the ones I brought upon myself as a result of my own sinful choices!).

Have you ever experienced a similar interruption? What was your mess?

A rebellious teenager?

An unhappy marriage?

An addiction?

An unexpected diagnosis?

A stronghold of sin?

A mountain of debt?

A job loss?

A friend’s deep betrayal?

An unfulfilled dream?

An empty nest?

An ongoing struggle with depression?

Or maybe you’re smack-dab in the middle of a mess right now. Life is messy. Many of us are left reeling from our messes, knocked off kilter when life takes a turn from the scripts we’ve plotted out for our lives. Why are we so caught off guard by the fact that life is chaotic and unpredictable? Why can’t we accept that messes are inescapable in this life? We frantically rush to fix them, brush past them, or bury them deep. As a result, we deny the possibility that God intended the difficulties of life to become a small part of His bigger story. But we also deny others the privilege of walking alongside us in the messes of life.

As we kick-off the release of my new book Move On: When Mercy Meets Your Mess, I thought I’d pitch the question to you:

What is your mess?

Whether your mess is past tense or your current zip code, will you consider sharing it? Maybe just admitting the mess is a big enough challenge and you don’t feel comfortable posting your name. That is completely fine. Feel free to post it under “anonymous.” There is no judgement here. Also, email addresses are never posted with comments, so rest assured that your identity will be protected. Or maybe you want to share about a past mess when Mercy showed up in a big way and met you in the midst of that mess. This is your opportunity to allow God to use your mess as a part of His bigger story and encourage others who may be experiencing a similar mess in their lives right now. If you found yourself clinging to a particular Bible verse, feel free to share that as well.

As a thank you for your courage and bravery, we will draw four names among those commenting and each winner will receive two signed copies of Move On (one to keep and one to give away!). We will not announce those names on this post (to honor your privacy) and will contact you directly by email to get your mailing address if your comment is among the winners. Winners can pick between the Move On book or the Move On Bible study workbook.

Finally, and most importantly, I want you to know that I will commit to pray for the messes submitted that are in need of immediate prayer. I count it a privilege to do so and ask readers to join me in praying, as well.

So, are you ready to remove our masks and say goodbye to the pretender game? What’s holding you back from sharing your mess?

You can stay where you are or you can get honest and … move on.

Mirrors…and a moment of selfie-reflection

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Mirrors. It’s hard to imagine life without them. I was reminded recently that a time existed when a mirror was considered a luxury rather than a necessity. While retrieving a vintage book from an old antique china cabinet that belonged to my grandmother, I saw the tapestry coin purse in the picture above sitting on a shelf. It had been given to me years ago by an aunt (my father’s sister) and she mentioned at the time that it had belonged to her husband’s side of the family.

IMG_0815I’ve only recently begun to appreciate antiques and the tiny glimpse they offer us into decades long forgotten. Out of curiosity, I wondered how old the coin purse might be, so I retrieved it from the shelf for further examination. To my surprise, I found a type-written note inside that hinted to its age. The note began with a brief timeline of ownership: “This purse belonged to Bryd Siglar Carey, mother of…” and so on and so on through the family tree, right down to my aunt’s husband. I’m assuming my uncle typed the note as he was the last person listed in the handy timeline. He ended the note with “The purse is now (1977) about 90 years old.”

So, I had my answer. The purse dates back to the 1880′s-1890′s. Aside from the coolness factor of the name “Byrd,” (Birdie, for short, perhaps?), there were a couple of other treasures tucked inside her purse: A hand-stitched satin coin purse and a small, compact mirror. While a compact mirror would not be a noteworthy discovery in a woman’s purse today, I imagine it was somewhat of a novelty in the late 1800′s. It reminded me of some interesting historical trivia I stumbled upon in my research while writing 5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Daughter.

In one of the books I read, The Body Project, author, Joan Brumberg researched girls’ diaries and journals from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s to track the shift in attitudes regarding appearance. She found that “Before World War I, girls rarely mentioned their bodies in terms of strategies for self-improvement or struggles for personal identity.”

“When girls in the nineteenth century thought about ways to improve themselves, they almost always focused on their internal character and how it was reflected in outward behavior. In 1882, the personal agenda of an adolescent diarist read: ‘Resolved, not to talk about myself or feelings. To think before speaking. To work seriously. To be self restrained in conversation and actions. Not to let my thoughts wander. To be dignified. Interest myself more in others.’” (Joan Brumberg, The Body Project)

Brumberg notes that girls from the 19th century were discouraged from showing too much attention to appearance—to do so would be vanity. The book notes that “character was built on attention to self-control, service to others, and belief in God.” No doubt, girls from the 19th century were familiar with the wisdom of Proverbs 31:30 which counsels, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” No doubt, to become a woman who fears the Lord was the end goal of women in the 19th century.

In a nutshell, they prized virtue over vanity.

A century later, the word “virtue” is long forgotten and certainly not part of the average girl’s vocabulary. So when and how, exactly, did the shift from virtue to vanity occur? Believe it or not, the mirror is partly to blame. In The Body Project, Brumberg states,

“When the mirror became a staple of the American middle-class home at the end of the nineteenth century, attention to adolescent acne escalated, as did sales of products for the face. Until then, pimples were primarily a tactile experience, at least for the girl who had them. But that all changed in the late 1800s with the widespread adoption in middle-class homes of a bathroom sink with running water and a mirror hung above it.”

She further notes that “Mirrors play a critical role in the way American girls have assessed their own faces and figures.”

As mirrors became popularized, women were able to compare and contrast their features with the women they saw in movies and magazines, not to mention each other.

In the 1920’s, American women began to take an interest in cosmetics. From facial powders to rouge, lipstick, and even eyelash curlers, women flocked to the local drugstores to stock up on these beauty accoutrements. The “flapper movement” further boosted sales of cosmetics among women and especially, teenage girls. Brumberg notes that, “Sales of compacts (small handheld mirrors with a compartment for powder) soared because they allowed women to scrutinize and reconstruct the face almost anywhere, in a moment’s notice.”

Fast-forward to today where girls have little need for compact mirrors. And why would they? They are everywhere we look. It would be an interesting exercise to count the number of mirrors we come in contact with on a daily basis, or better yet, take an inventory of the number of times we glance in a mirror throughout the day (ouch!).

Rather than extract a mirror from their purse to “reconstruct the face almost anywhere, in a moment’s notice,” girls today pull smartphones out of their pockets and turn the camera phone on themselves to post a steady stream of “selfies” to their favorite social media platforms. (Unfortunately, many adult women have also caved into this “look at me!,” “like me!,” “tell me I’m pretty!” annoying trend. I’m referring to those who post selfies in excess, of course.) Additionally, many girls have come to rely on filters and apps like Facetune that with a few taps or swipes to their image, can erase blemishes, whiten teeth, and in a nutshell, create an unrealistic airbrushed version of themselves to a viewing public.

So, back to the mirror.

We’ve all heard the saying, “the mirror doesn’t lie.” And it’s true. (Though, I’m sure someone is hard at work right now to create mirrors to the mass market that will only reflect ideal, air-brushed versions of ourselves. When you see it on Shark Tank, remember, I called it first!) At some point during the day, our girls will encounter a mirror. Multiple times, for that matter. And what will they think when they see their true selves staring back at them? We know that 93% of girls and young women report feeling anxiety or stress about some aspect of their looks when getting ready in the morning,* so it’s safe to say, they won’t like what they see. Plenty of adult women grumble at their God-given reflections, so they’ve been taught well. (Ahem, guilty as charged.)

Whether your daughter has already built a foundation on the culture’s beauty lies or is just beginning to be exposed to the brainwashing, trust me, the battle is not lost. Where God is present, there is always hope. Only by speaking up and addressing the lies head on, will we equip our daughters to resist the onslaught. Our daughters need to know that God’s standard for beauty is the only standard that matters. Many of us are hesitant to address the topic with our daughters because we too, have bought the lies. We’re waiting for a day when we can approach the topic from a vantage point of victory and alas, that moment never seems to arrive.

But, what if… you decided to be honest with your daughter and admit to your own struggle? Better yet, what if you vowed to fight together?

Mirror Mirror LogoSince the time I began writing (a decade ago), I have been passionate about raising a generation of young women who see themselves through God’s eyes, rather than the eyes of the world. If you live anywhere near the Austin area, I will be speaking on this topic on Tuesday night, August 12th at our annual mother/daughter event, Mirror, Mirror. I know you’re crazy busy and caught up in the whirlwind of back-to-school mayhem, but this message is as necessary to her health and well-being as that doctor’s well check that’s probably on your to-do list.

What does your daughter see when she looks in the mirror? Mirror, Mirror is a great place to begin the conversation. Will you join us?

(If you are unable to make it, pray about facilitating a 5 Conversations Bible study at your church or in your home.)

 

*Source: The Dove Self-Esteem Fund/Seventeen Body Image Survey

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Meet our new intern, Becky!

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Vicki Courtney Ministries is so excited to introduce you to our summer intern, Becky Beggs! She will be helping Shawna and Casey out with our upcoming Mirror, Mirror event for mothers and daughters on August 12th in Austin as well as a few projects related to my upcoming new release, Move On (August 5th). While we were impressed with Becky’s strong writing and marketing skills, we were most impressed with her contagious joy for the Lord. We are blessed to have her on board! (Becky is in the middle with my daughter-in-law, Casey on the right and our junior intern, Walker.)

Here is a little bit about Becky:

Home town: Austin, Texas
College/year/major: Sophomore at the University of Texas, studying Business
Family background: Oldest of four siblings and two opinionated dogs
Faith background: At a very young age, I was deeply troubled by the idea of life after death. I had consistent nightmares about heaven and hell, and was terrified to think of my own eternal destination. One night, when I could take it no longer, I asked my mom to pray with me, and I asked Jesus to come into my heart. I may have been young, but the only thing that remains more vivid in my memory than the recurring nightmares is the unexplainable peace that washed over me as soon as I had finished praying. It’s been a learning process ever since, and I will always be a work in progress, but thankfully, I have a perfect and merciful Savior who walks with me.
Most defining moment in your life: Other than accepting God’s gift of redemption, the most defining moment of my life (so far!) occurred when I was recovering from a traumatic brain injury, and I found that when all else faded–accolades, friends, personality characteristics–my identity was, and is, securely found in Christ.
If you could tell tween, middle and high school girls one thing, what would it be? I’m not exactly sure how to get this across in writing as emphatically or eloquently as it stirs my heart, but I desperately wish that every girl–no matter her age or stage–would understand that life can be so much more, so much sweeter, so much more satisfying, when one places their trust in the Lord! I firmly believe that the commonly-accepted idea of a “full life”–a movie-like romance, lots of money, popularity in high school, the seemingly obligatory, debauchery-filled college experience, etc.–will never satisfy. True joy, fulfillment, and freedom are ours for the taking, presented as a gift by the One who gave us the desire for a meaningful existence.
Favorite Bible verse and why? This changes frequently, because I’m always finding a new one that I love, but my current favorite it Psalm 119:32: “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.”
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?  I love to run, explore, play outside, and learn about people!

Ever After summer give-away!

UPDATE: CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR WINNER, JENNIE!
Thanks to all our participants! Winner has been contacted by email.
      .
Looking for a good summer read or a low-key bible study to do on your own or with a small group? Ever After is a perfect choice!
EverAfterbooks

Most every woman dreams about having a family and a building a home. We grow up on a steady diet of fairytales and chick flicks that drive our dreams . . . and leave us with a sugarcoated version of reality. The truth is, marriage and motherhood are hard. And no matter how much we give or how hard we try, we may never feel like it’s enough. The Ever After book and bible study address the difficulties and blessings associated with marriage and motherhood and most importantly, remind us that Christ alone is the answer to the happily-ever-after we long for.

To kick off the summer, we are giving away an Ever After prize pack including the winner’s choice of either the Ever After book or the Ever After Bible study workbook along with a sweet treat, bubble bath, and of course, your very own Princess tiara to wear in the tub (once you lock your husband and children out of the bathroom, of course)! To enter the give-away, comment below and share with us what you love most about summer.

One entry per person, please. A winner will be drawn next Monday, June 16th. We will contact the winner via email and update this post with the winner’s name.

EverAfterGiveaway

Here’s what women are saying about Ever After:
Ever After, Life lessons Learned in My Castle of Chaos is an honest, insightful book by Vicki Courtney addressing common issues all women face such as “castle envy” and being “yes-aholics”. Vicki’s stories and helpful marriage and parenting tips are just what every girl who ever wanted to be a princess needs.” Sara Ella
“Awesome Book!!! Every mother and wife needs to read!! Very easy to
read!! It’s one of those you don’t want to put down!!” – Leslie
“Some of the chapters in this book include: Prince Charming Letdown, Quitting the Family Busyness, and Hold on Loosely. Courtney goes over almost any aspect that we will face in our marriage and meets it head on with practical advice and wisdom from the Bible. There are some real laugh-out-loud moments, too, which made the book a joy to read. This is a really easy book to read, it holds your attention, and has practical wisdom that we can apply to our marriage whether we’ve been married for 1 year or 50. I highly recommend this book!!” – Julie
Thanks for entering! Hope your summer is off to a great start.