I have been struggling with body image ever since I was in middle school. It seems like a pretty common issue among young women. Back then, I thought none of the boys liked me because I was “too fat.” (I was nowhere near “fat,” but I came up with this lie about myself, thinking there must have been something wrong with me.) This lie has stuck with me even through college.
I like to think of myself as a pretty positive person, but when it comes to my body, I can be pretty critical. When I look down at my stomach or my calves, I don’t see a beautiful gift from God, or limbs that move at my command—I only see the negatives. I notice that when I look down, I often don’t see good. Rather, I saw fat, faults, and flaws that I regard as pathetic results of my carelessness. Why is it that I easily can point out the beauty in others, but when it comes to myself, I cannot help but pick out the faults?
And to make it all worse, I constantly compare myself to others. When I see someone tall and slender, I suddenly feel short and fat. When I see someone with skinny legs, arms, and abs, I suddenly feel lazy. And the list goes on. Why am I like this? Why can’t I just rejoice in the beauty of others without forgetting my own?
But really— each body is so amazing. Not only is every body unique in so many ways (fingerprints, hair texture, eye color, etc.), but every body is truly a miracle made in the image and likeness of God. Every body has so much potential. When you see a baby, you can see how the baby’s legs are likely going to grow and how the human body is made to get stronger, to stretch, and to transform.
I think if we saw the full potential of our bodies, we could start to see the full potential of our whole selves—our souls, how we spend our time, and our relationships.
Bodies heal themselves, they fight for our health, they can get tan, they give you endorphins, they can sit for hours. Bodies can leap, run, lay, swim, crawl, dance, twist, bend, sit, kick, squat—the possibilities are limitless. Bodies can even be art (i.e. through dance, sports, or makeup), and bodies can even express a language.
I think it really sad how easy it is to misuse our own bodies— whether that be using them to do evil, or doing nothing with them. Either way involves not trying to achieve their full potential to do good.
So many times we neglect our bodies. We find ourselves spending hours idly sitting on our butts, comparing ourselves to people on Instagram. It is so easy to take our bodies for granted. Think about all the people who would love to spend a day with a completely healthy body with all of its parts moving fluently— the elderly who cannot walk any more, the amputees who would love to just walk normally again, etc.
Your body is a gift, so next time you look at your leg and only see fat or some other insecurity, think for a moment about who else in the world would long for functioning legs, or to be young again, or to have the great capacity for healing and cherishing that beautiful instrument.
A few years ago, I was sitting at my teacher’s desk while my students took their religion test. I was going back and forth between grading papers and checking my email when suddenly I saw one, then ten, then twenty friend requests come in to my Facebook inbox from men that I didn’t know. I checked my page to see what was going on and if I was getting spammed. When I checked my inbox there were messages… gross ones.
I didn’t know what I did to bring all of this creepiness into my life. I ignored the messages and just deleted them thinking it was some kind of awful mistake that all of these people were messaging me. The next day I received even more friend requests and then finally a message that made my heart stop. Someone was kind enough to send me screenshots from a couple of popular sites… it was a picture of my face photoshopped onto a naked woman’s body with all my contact information listed. I couldn’t believe it.
I was struck with absolute horror and my stomach turned in disgust that someone would do this to me. I had never taken a naked picture in my life! I felt so shameful knowing that all of these men in my friend requests were looking at a picture of someone who they thought was me. People were lusting after this picture of someone they probably imagined was a consenting adult. I was horrified at the thought that one of my students, my boss, my friends, would come across this and how much damage that would produce- even though it was fake.
I felt like it was real. The person who sent me the screenshot to me said they were so sorry someone had shared my pictures… but they weren’t even mine. Somewhere in the world, however, there was someone who did take that picture of herself. My heart broke at the thought that she was also being exploited through this. I felt for my poor sister in Christ.
For weeks I would report these pictures and they would be taken down only to pop back up a couple of days later with more raunchy captions. I felt like I wasn’t safe when I would think about the ill-intentioned people who might be on these sites seeing the place I worked next to the naked picture of “me”. I would have nightmares about them showing up at my work and following me through the parking lot. Out of fear for my safety, I told the priest who was my boss at the time about what I was going through. Thanks be to God, he took me under his wing and immediately reached out to the police in our school district to report everything that happened. He told them to keep an eye on me and make sure I was okay- and told me to call him if I ever felt unsafe.
That same day I went to my hometown police station with my dad and received so much kindness and concern from them as well. I got several calls from the lieutenant who took down my story over the following days to ensure that all was well and to give an update of the status of things. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t do this earlier. It was partly out of shame. I was so embarrassed at the thought that they might not believe my story. For fear of being misunderstood or disbelieved, I suffered in silence.
The whole time this was happening, my only consolation was that I knew it wasn’t me. Even if everyone else didn’t know that, at least I did. However, something else was weighing on my mind at the time… I thought of everyone in the world who this actually happens to. Revenge porn is a real thing and I know people who have actually had their real nudes circulated online by an ex or a spiteful friend. To this day, I pray for those men and women. The human body was never made for this.
To all of the women and men who have been lied to and made to believe that sending nudes is a normal thing- I am sorry. To all of the women and men who have been exploited because of nudes they have sent- my heart breaks for you. To all of the people who are reading this and are tempted to judge those who ask for and those who send nudes- don’t. None of us are perfect but all of us can be better.
For anyone who might be feeling pressured to send nudes, I would just like to encourage you and tell you that it isn’t worth it. I promise you that anyone who’s love or attention might be hinging on the requirement that you show them something so personal and sacred as your naked body is not the kind of “love” or attention that you deserve. While that may sound arbitrary, believe me, I know. I have had pressure to do the same thing from people I’ve dated and people who weren’t even looking for a relationship with me. Looking back, I am so thankful that I didn’t give them what they were looking for.
If you’ve sent nudes before and you feel like you can’t turn back now- that’s a lie from Hell. We know from Saint Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians that “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17). It is never too late to start over when you have Christ. Start today. Let Him make you new. That isn’t you anymore.
Late in January of my freshman year at Franciscan University, I was attending the women’s 2016 Beloved Conference, when I was confronted with a truth that was very troubling to me—how little I personally knew God. He seemed out of reach and far away, despite how much more I knew about him than I had a few months back. Where was the awe the others around me seemed to exude? As sensitive as I was (and still am), I felt quite numb about anything having to do with my faith. However, as I was very soon to discover, God, as He is so prone to, was using this numbness to reach me.
Perhaps you identify with where I was at the time— just going through the motions of attending Church every Sunday, praying for those in your life who are suffering, sharing what you believe when asked, trying to gain merits by “living the life of a good person”, depending on accolades and others’ praise to validate that you are a good person, while feeling guilty that you feel nothing other than guilt through it all— why is your sense of wonder missing?After all, you are doing everything commanded of you.
After climbing up flights of stairs to “catch up” with the devout people in your life, you are dismayed when you see the radiant light in their eyes. It’s as if they are gazing at a view from the summit of a mountain, yet as you kneel with them, all you can see is a cross, or words on a page, or a piece of bread. Yes, you know the significance of what you are gazing upon, but you wish you could consider it with the zeal that they seem to possess. What is holding you back?
Those five years ago, I was troubled much of the same concerns mentioned above. But God was soon to show me what my hindrances were. These involved the way I spent my time. What I celebrated in life. More than anything however, they were found in how I was treating my wounds.
Sure, we live in a world that despises weakness. We hear so often that flaws should not be seen. Pain should not be felt. We fight these things as much as possible, for our own benefit and for the sake of everyone else. No human person wants to cope with or see how we are hurting, so why would God?
And yet, no matter where we are, He calls out to each of us in Revelations 3:20, saying:
The truth is that even while He feels out of reach and far away, He continues to knock on the door to your heart. He has still been seeking you, speaking to you, but perhaps the world has become too loud for Him to be heard. Yet, these hurts, this emptiness, are communicating the words to which you have become deaf.
As P!nk says in “Glitter In The Air”, “Have you ever invited a stranger to come inside?”
What is interesting to me is the definition of stranger:
I always assumed that “stranger” always automatically meant that the unfamiliarity was mutual between both persons. However, its true meaning only emphasizes the idea that while God may feel like a stranger to you, He still knows you. Perhaps you feel like you merely are to God what some star-struck fan is to his or her favorite celebrity—no more than a part of a large crowd of unnamed supporters pleading for Him to notice you. Well, He has noticed you. In fact, He has witnessed every part of you—every fear, every hope, every thought, every worry, every flaw, every doubt, every wound— gazing upon you with a love no deed could augment or undermine.
He continues to wait at the door, hoping that you will let Him in, so He can finally share this love with you. However, the choice is entirely up to you. He cannot enter unless you willingly open up, for this is a door that only has a handle from the inside.
About six months later during my time at Franciscan, I noticed a definitive characteristic shared between every single one of the people that Jesus healed— they were not selectively chosen to be healed, but rather they all sought Him. They were all healed because they asked Him for healing, thus taking the first step of letting Him in.
Closeness to God correlates with the extent that He is welcomed throughout each moment of your life. It correlates with the extent that you accept the love He offers you, especially when you feel most unlovable. He wants to be the one to console you when you are feeling your most lonely, your most empty, your most broken. So it is important to consider: where are you in those moments? How do you soothe the pain?
That night, following the 2016 Beloved Conference, I was well aware that the way I spent my time reflected how disordered my priorities were. After a long day of classes, I would goof off and do whatever I wanted first, and then I would cram with my studies with whatever time I had left. I was reminded of this issue when I was talking to my roommate about how I was feeling troubled about God’s seeming distance, and she called me out:
“Why don’t you spend some of all that time you watch YouTube videos praying instead?”
That is when it became clear, I was allowing no time in my schedule for prayer. And I responded with, “You know, Mary, you’re right,” as she reached for a book on her shelf.
Then she handed this tiny book called My Daily Breadto me, and said, “This is a book from my parents. They always told me that whatever page you flip to is God’s personal message for you. I think this would be a good time for you to try that.”
So without much thought, I opened the book to a random page, and to my astonishment, it said:
The grace of devotion is not just a holy feeling, nor is it a religious mood… If I make a firm and persevering effort to abandon my foolish love for unnecessary distractions… I will have a steady loyalty to Christ, and I will no longer depend on feelings and moods, but will follow God’s Will intelligently and faithfully even when I do not feel like doing so.
My Daily Bread, Book Two, Chapter 13
I nearly fell over. What relevance!
Then over the course of the next week, I began to reflect on my “unnecessary distractions.” And I began to notice how I was feeling at those moments when I was tempted to waste my time… Hurt. Bored. Confused. Insecure. Alone. My habitual response to unpleasant feelings had become to distract myself from them. To find an escape. So as a coping mechanism, I would binge watch YouTube or start brainstorming ways to prove myself to the people in my life. Temporarily, it would work. I would forget the hurts for a while. Yet, I still held onto them.
Meanwhile, my relationship with God was not progressing because I was not letting Him in to heal me.
Are you doing the same thing? That could be why God feels so far away. The more you indulge in the distractions of this world, the more you weaken your relationship with God and your ability to see and hear him. It is not a matter of Him ignoring you until you live life His way. Rather, I have found that He has always been talking to me, but until I made an effort to focus solely on Him and limit the distractions that interfere, I was deaf to His voice.
So do not be afraid of Him! Do as is said in Scripture:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.
1 Peter 5:7
Spend some of your time every day talking with Him, in the understanding that you are embraced just as you are right where you are, and you will begin to know Him. Ask Him to help you see the circumstances of each day as He does, and you will be amazed about all of the ways He is working in your life! You will begin to, too, have that radiant light you see in others’ eyes as they gaze upon Him in faith.
When hearing the word “trauma” the first thing that comes up in my mind are terrible accidents, extreme injuries or emotional hurt due to horrific things that I have heard happened to people. I never thought that I would be in a situation where I would have to go to seek out help due to a traumatic experience. But this did happen, and I had to seek out help. And help came.
Let me take you back to March 1st, 2018. It was a Thursday, 3pm. I was working in Minnesota as a missionary for NET ministries. I am originally from the Netherlands in Europe, and I moved to the US in 2016, as I felt the call to be a missionary. My family was still back in the Netherlands, which made that it was 9pm for them when I got the call. On the other side of the phone, I heard my sister in complete panic telling me that my mom just had had two seizures within a timeframe of about half an hour. A bit later, I received the diagnosis that no one wants to hear: Brain tumor.
There and then, I thought that I was going to loose my mother very soon. I cried on my roommate’s lap, cried in the chapel, cried at home. Being on the other side of the world, I tried to support my siblings and my dad as best as I could over the many video connections. In the days that followed, I prayed, I cried, I prayed more, took some walks, and cried again.
I had planned on continue serving with NET ministries the following year. But after receiving the message of my mom, I changed my plans and decided I would go home to support my family. I did not want to leave, as I felt very called to continue to serve as a missionary, but now I had come into a situation where my family also needed me. I prayed about the decision and had some conversations with my supervisors. I told God that if He wanted me to stay another year, He needed to be very clear. A few hours later, just before I had to let my final decision be known, my dad called me and encouraged me to stay to continue to serve as a missionary.
So I did stay in America and continued my work as a missionary. After this traumatic experience, I went to seek out professional help. I found a counselor who was Catholic, and she asked me often about my own personal prayer life. This held me accountable to dedicate some time every single day for personal prayer, during which I pray and simply sit with God. I started to see that the Lord was inviting me to let Him heal the wounds that this traumatic experience had left. He invited me to reflect on every wound, on every part of the experience, and to entrust these to Him.
Reflecting back, I can now see that God had placed me in a loving Catholic community so they could be a huge support during that difficult time. I can now see more clearly that God is leading me along the path of His great plan for me, even though this plan is sometimes difficult for me to see. I learned to rely on God in a deeper way, trusting that He will never ever leave my side.
God truly comforted my heart by inviting me to lean into His love, by providing the loving community for me and giving me clarity on what to do next. He cared for me by providing me with a great professional counselor. He healed my heart through His invitation to lay down my burdens into His hands.
And my mom, she received surgery and is currently stable and doing very well! All glory to God!
If you have gone through a hard experience, a mental health professional, such a counselor or a therapist, might be able to help you. Besides that, I want to invite you to turn to God in prayer and to ask Him to show you His unconditional and abundant love for you. Ask Him to heal you. He is right here with you, by your side and He will never let you down if you just let Him. Ask someone can to pray over you for healing. Be open to be healed. God wants to restore you, He is waiting for you. Now it is your turn to run to Him.
Not tonight. Things have to get better right? This can’t be the end of my story.
When I was 14, I learned what it meant to experience despair. I walked into a church, sat in one of the front most pews, went through all the motions of the mass, feeling nothing. I felt cut off from everyone around me, even the Lord, who was right in front of me. What I didn’t know then, and what I do now, is that would begin my long journey with mental health. For the next five years, I would spend hours each night questioning if tonight was the night I take my own life.
Depression is not something you stumble into by accident. It isn’t randomly found flipping through a magazine or surfing the internet. Depression slowly creeps into your life. It seeps in by the way we wish we could have more followers on Instagram, or how we wish we could have the best clothes, or have the best voice in car rides singing along to whatever Spotify playlist you have on that day.
Depression and its friends, anxiety and suicidal ideation, are much like a tsunami. When a tsunami happens, it isn’t a giant wave all at oncethat engulfs the coastal cities. It starts with water reaching farther inland in rather unnoticeable lengths and volume, until you’re at the edge of the beach and can put your feet in the water. You try to retreat back into the city, but there it comes, pushing its way through any barriers. It doesn’t mind your persistence– it will greet you in the end. But still, you retreat back, and still, the water rises up to your knees, and then you see the larger than life wave in front of you. Then, it devours you.
My life was overwhelmed by depression. I learned to fake a smile, act like everything was okay, and to keep my heart far away from anyone, even the Lord, behind the walls depression had built. Meanwhile, anxiety taught me to fear ever being noticed, to have a stutter when I was speaking to other people, and to never want to meet anyone new, for what if they saw me as worthless as I saw myself?
After depression and anxiety took their hold on me, that’s when thoughts of suicide entered into my mind. Without fail, every night, I would wrestle with myself to not take my own life.
In the midst of all this darkness, when I was a junior in high school, some might say at the peak of my depression, I went on a retreat in a last ditch effort. It was to be the last chance the Lord had to bring me back to him. His last chance to show me I was his beloved son. Man, did he deliver.
The theme for the retreat was “Mask Off.” We talked the first night about how we all wear these masks and this weekend we were encouraged to take them off. In obedience to my promise to the Lord, I took mine off. The next day, February 4th 2017, would change my life forever. So many beautiful things happened that day: I made the best confession of my life, truly basked in creation for a whole hour by myself, was reminded of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for me, and then, in the most pure crescendo of love, went to adoration.
I went into adoration not knowing what to expect. I knew what was supposed to happen, but I didn’t know what the Father had in store for me that night. As Christ was placed on the altar, sitting inside the monstrance, I began to sob. For the first time since I had been a young boy, I felt his love and His grace flow into my heart. I felt Him hold me, as I sobbed in his arms like a small child, begging Him to help me understand why He loved me so much when I couldn’t even love myself. He simply replied in my heart “I just do.” It was the most pure, unconditional love I believe any human to ever exist could have experienced.
Unfortunately, I didn’t just magically have depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation lifted off of my shoulders in one day, but for the first time, I knew I had someone carrying that cross with me.
The next two years were not easier, if anything they were filled with more confusion and anger at the Lord for not making it so easy as he had in the North Georgia mountains. Nevertheless, on the night before I entered the 20th year of my life, I declared to my 400 instagram followers that my 19th year of life was filled with more good days than bad, and by a large margin.
When we hear “mental health,” many thoughts—both positive and negative—may arise, but maybe we should start thinking, how can I help? The best advice I can offer is to love. Love everyone like Christ loves them. I cannot tell you how many times my life was saved by a friend, most of the time a stranger even, loving me with a smile or a hello. A smile can save a life.
If you are someone who is like me, who has or is currently struggling with mental health problems like depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, etc., please know the Father loves you. He doesn’t care how unworthy of his love you feel. Believe me, I tried to convince him so many times that I wasn’t worthy, yet He still loves me today.
If you are struggling, reach out. Don’t believe you can do this on your own. You can’t. You need the support you will get from your friends and family. Look up local therapists in your area, seek out a priest you trust, or seek out a trusted teacher or youth minister. I was able to climb out of my dark pit that I had been trapped in for so long because I asked for help. Please, do the same. You will be amazed at what will happen when you do.