Wednesday, May 30, 2012


One of my favorite things about living in Chicagoland is by far Lake Michigan. I'm blessed to live close enough that a stroll to the beach is an easy thing to do. Swim season has begun and I've enjoyed my time in the sun and sand, soaking up these last couple of months of beautiful Chicago before I move to Pennsylvania in the fall.

I know poetry isn't everyone's cup of tea, but sometimes I enjoy scribbling out lines of poetry rather than prose and I did just that when I returned from the beach the other day. I thought I would share it here.

my body moves
with the tides
and the waves
even while I arch
my arms over my head,
propelling forward
direction -
against the current.

I look out
at the never ending water,
the vastness,
and yet
there is another
where perhaps
another woman
looks my way

I bend, stretch, dive.
Lean back and let my body
with my face
to the sun.

I am
a million miles
above the surface
of the earth.
a kick down
is all it takes
to find myself
to the sandy floor.

The heavy weight
of the water
that supported me,
allowed me to move
now gives me resistance
as I walk to the shore.

The sun shines,
the breeze blows,
the sand beneath
my towel is the perfect
contoured bed,
to my every curve.

Gulls call
waves crash.
My body absorbs
the rays, converting the light
to nutrients.

I praise the God of Creation.

The water
for beauty and play and more.

The sun
for warmth and nutrients and light.

My body
for it's strength and grace and function.

I feel the ebbs and flows
of the Spirit
as tides pull
and waves crash over my head.
Feel the vastness
of the questions,
and the connections
of the distant shores.

Give thanks
for days
of sun and water.
For the gift
of relaxing on the sand.
For reminders
that the Holy Spirit
is ever present,
speaking in still small voices
and whispers of creation.

Friday, May 25, 2012

By Association: Zeruiah


It took me a few days to settle on Zeruiah as the woman for the week.

My research differs on the placing exactly, but it's safe to say she is one of the top ten most mentioned women in the Bible. Surprised? I was too.

This made me excited to take a closer look at her until I realized that despite the high number of times her name appears in the Bible (and it is all the same Zeruiah), we have no record of any of her words or actions. We know her only by association to her family.

She was the daughter (perhaps step-daughter) of Jesse, the sister of King David, and the mother of Abishai, Joab, and Asahel.

I wasn't quite sure how I was supposed to go about looking at a woman who I know nothing about except who her family is. But, her name wouldn't leave my mind, so I dug in and started wrestling with the names and stories and timelines of the Hebrew Scriptures.

We'll take a look at what we can infer about her childhood and her motherhood and make some guesses. I feel my lack of theological education deeply here today. Questions like: Just how big of a deal is it that her sons are defined by being hers? Or, is that more about connecting them to their uncle David? Just how often are children referred to in relation to their mothers and only their mother in scripture. Off the top of my head, I can't think of another. If anyone has the knowledge to expand upon these or offer additional insight, please do share!

We'll start with exploring the life of Zeruiah as a daughter and a sister and then move on to her life as a mother.

Daughter and Sister

in 2 Samuel 17:25 we read about Zeruiah's brother-in-law " . . . who had married Abigal, the daughter of Nahash, sister of Zeruiah, Joab's mother."

in 1 Chronicles 2:13-16 we read, "Jesse fathered . . .David. . . And their sisters were Zeruiah and Abigail."

There are a few theories about the appearance of different parental names here (Jesse and Nahash)

1. Nahash is a woman - Jesse's wife. My instinct says this is not the case since it's uncommon for children to be listed as descendants of their mothers rather than their father.

2. "Nahash" is a typo/error in 2 Samuel 17:25. The name "Nahash" appears just a couple lines below as the father of Shobi, one of the men who brought food and water to David and his men.

3. Jesse married Nahash's widow. So, Nahash is the biological father of Abigail and Zeruiah and Jesse is their step-father. Making the girls the half-sisters of David and the other sons of Jesse.

I lean towards options 2 or 3, but don't have any solid reason to think so. The fact that 1 Chron says Jesse "fathered" the boys and then lists the girls as "their sisters" makes me lean towards 3 a bit more. Option 2 seems plausible to me as well though.

Regardless, Zeruiah was a part of the family of Jesse in some way. She has a connection to King David as his sister.

Let's refresh our memory a bit on the childhood of King David. We'll use it later to make some inferences about Zeruiah's life since all we have to know her by is context and association.

David was our shepherd boy. He slew lions, bears, and giants alike with stones

He was a musician - he played a harp for King Saul to soothe him. A king that later pursued David and tried to kill him.

He was anointed King by a prophet at a young age.

David may have been the baby of the family, but he was clearly blessed and gifted.


Over and over we see the names of her sons coupled with her name. It was important to identify these men as belonging to their mother. In a nation dominated by patriarchal heritage we see the mother's name over and over again. To my knowledge, we don't know their father's name at all. Let's take a look at who her sons are and then make some inferences about what that could say about Zeruiah. There is more to these men, I'm just highlighting some parts I found interesting.

All of Zeruiah's sons were part of David's men. Working for him and fighting for him.

Abishai - the eldest: A leader of "David's Mighty Men." These were the thirty chiefs "who gave him strong support in his kingdom, together with all Israel, to make him king, according to the word of the Lord" (1 Chron 11:10). Abishai, "was the chief of the thirty. And he wielded his spear against 300 men and killed them and won a name . . . He was the most renowned of the thirty and became their commander" (1 Chron 11:20-21)

Joab - the middle son: The head commander of David's army. One of his battles was the fight against the Syrians and he put is brother Abishai in charge of the forces against the Ammonites, suggesting that Joab had a higher military ranking than his older brother. Later we see "Joab was commander of the kings army." (2 Chron 27:34) Joab defeated both the Syrians and then Rabbah (1 Chron 19-20).

When David was "incited by Satan" to count the number of people in Israel - he ordered Joab to do the counting. Joab argued back, disagreeing with this course of action, but ultimately followed through with his uncle King's request, leaving out the counts of the tribes of Levi and Benjamin because the "kings command was abhorrent to Joab." (2 Chron 21:1-6). And, it turns out Joab was right. God struck Israel with a devastating famine and David confessed his sin. (perhaps it was a sin of pride in the size of the nation? I'm not sure). (Side Note: Goodness gracious is David's story full of interesting. I think I'm going to read the Chronicles more. So glossing over things here.)

Asahel -- the youngest: Asahel is described as being "fleet of feet" (2 Sam 2). He was killed in the battle of Gibon and is known as one of David's Mighty Men (1 Chron 11:26)

I encourage you to read the full story in 2 Samuel 2-3, but a very brief summary of the the death of Asahel and his brother Joab's reaction is this:

David's men met with Abner, commander of Saul's army, at the pool of Gibeon. Ish-bosheth, son of Saul, was set up as king of Israel - with the exception of Judah which David was king over. The two armies under the commands of Joab and Abner created a plan to see which army was stronger. It didn't work, 12 men on each side were killed. In the aftermath, Asahel pursued Abner. Abner, perhaps out of either fear or respect for Joab, begged Asahel to stop following him but Asahel continued. Abner killed Asahel. Later, as David was struggling to unite the nation in the midst of a civil war (and doing a good job for we are told his armies were growing stronger and Saul's were growing weaker) he meets with Abner. Joab hears of this meeting and is outraged, certain that Abner is trying to trick David. Joab finds Abner, takes him to the gates of the city, and kills him. David is outraged and grieved. He makes it clear that the death of Abner was not his wish nor his order. He curses the house of Joab (and Abishai gets thrown in there as well) and orders Judah to grieve for Abner. David names Zeruiah while he is condemning Joab's acts, "These men, the sons of Zeruiah, are more severe than I. The Lord repay the evil-doer according to his wickedness!" (2 Sam 3:39)

These men were strong. They were fiercely loyal to their brothers, to their King, and to their God - sometimes to the point of recklessness and sometimes in conflict to each of those loyalties.

Inferences about the life and character of Zeruiah

I wonder if she felt tenderly towards her youngest brother. I can imagine him being the type of boy you are drawn to. Did she adore her young brother who played a harp and tended sheep while the other brothers were away at war? Did she feel proud when he was able to so valiantly defend his flock? Did she know of David's anointing that day? If so, what were her thoughts? Joy, fear, both?

I can't help but think that she must have spoke positively about David to her sons. Three men don't grow up to be so passionate in protecting their uncle king if they grew up listening to the bitter or jealous words from their mother. Perhaps it could've been easy to be envious of young David or to question the authenticity of the prophet Samuel's anointing a shepherd king. I feel like Zeruiah must have believed. Zeruiah must have understood the truth of the destiny of David and she must have taught that to her boys.

To go one step further - Zeruiah must have believed strongly in God and who He said He was. Her sons defended David, but they didn't shy away from questioning his actions when they thought it contradicted God's will. Zeruiah's boys were strong of body and of mind. They had passions and struggled to balance them in a world that demanded big decisions.

Her sons would be among the men who ministered to and took care of David as he ran for his life. They would fight for him, protect him, and stand up to him when they thought he was erring. They would make foolish mistakes and act out of misguided loyalty.

She raised three men to honor their uncle and anointed King, to be sensitve to the leading of God, and to protect each other.

None of these things answer my questions about why she is mentioned by name so often and yet we are left with none of her words or actions. Surely countless women of God raised the men we see in the Bible - teaching them from their earliest days to love God and King and family - and yet their names are not repeated over and over again in connection to their sons. Why Zeruiah? I don't know.

Despite the fact that it seems Zeruiah was an exceptional mother, we have no Biblical record of her sons explicitly "rising to call her blessed" (Prov 31), but I will. Blessed Zeruiah, your name peppers the stories of King David. Over and over I've read it in years past and never gave it pause. Thank you for raising men, imperfect and human as they were, whose stories give us lessons and history. Your name was not a mark of shame upon them. It was not a cause for concern that they were identified as your sons rather than of their father. You were given honor. While I wish I knew more about you and who you were, I'm thankful that I now know your name and know that whatever it is you did was powerful and it mattered to the entire nation of Israel and, consequently, the world.

Friday, May 18, 2012


I went and saw the movie What to Expect When You're Expecting earlier this afternoon. It wasn't really that great of a movie (a bit of "stupid humour" which I detest). However, it also had significant amounts of fat hate/stereotyping going on. One moment in particular had an impact on me. This post contains a small amount of plot details, but I wouldn't call them spoilers.

One of the women in the movie is a fitness coach and runs a "biggest looser" style TV show. The first clip we see of the show is fat contestants sliding, head first, down a slip-n-slide. Their arms back, their bodies in the positions of large seals, or whales. The others in the theatre audience laughed. I almost got up and left. I wish I had. It would've been just as easy to show the clip with them having fun. Sliding down in different positions, with smiles on their mouths and laughter in their voice. That is not what the director chose, however.

While the TV show in the movie is fictional, It is very clearly based on the show The Biggest Loser. I've paused on that show a few times while flipping channels, but the dehumanizing of the "contestants" literally makes my stomach churn. Not to mention my knowledge of how unhealthy and uneffective it is. I always gave people who loved the show the benefit of the doubt though: they watched it because they too hoped for weight loss and here were people "achieving it." Or, they watched it and cheered on the contestants, giving them credit for fighting a battle.

And maybe it was because the movie was fictional, but the people in the theatre watching the movie - they laughed.

As bodies that looked like mine particiated in what would've been a fun summer activity, slipping and sliding and speeding down the side of a hill, my fellow movie-goers laughed at how funny it was to see the fat rolls pressed against the wet shirts of the contestants. How funny it was that they resembled large blubbery mammals making their journey back to sea.

I know it's a movie. I know it's a comedy. I know the audience was supposed to laugh and that those people would most likely not have pointed and laughed had they seen the same thing in person. But, that's kind of the point too. While we may have facades of politness, the things we find funny and worthy of our judgment when we think we've been given permission to be superior is noteworthy.

I also know that everyone gets picked on in comedies. There were other groups of people picked on in this movie as well. However, it still bothers me because the fact remains that my body is still fair game to be publicly judged, mocked, and ridiculed As I listened to the laughter, there was a voice in my head that said, "That's why. That's why I never participated in sports, learned to skate, admitted I liked a boy, went skiing on the youth trips, initiated friendships, cannonballed into the pool with my friends, or joined a dance class at the gym."

The only reason I didn't get up and leave the theatre is because I didn't want the laughs to turn directly to me: "Fat lady can't handle a joke." It's been a long time since I felt ashamed of my body to that degree. It was not a welcome remembrance.

I want to scream at the world:

Do you not get it??? Do you not get that shame does nothing but shame? Shame does not motivate. Shame does not empower. Shame does not validate. Shame does not encourage. Shame does not think about the future. Shame does not rise above. Shame does not have courage. Shame does not make you healthy. Shame does not make you take a stand. Shame does not seek the spotlight. Shame does not want to be noticed. Shame hides. Shame curls into itself and tries to dissapear.

Shame will shame itself, compounding one on top of the other, feeding the lies until all that is left is the feeling that the shame you feel is the truth about who you are.

Do you hear me, Children's Health Care of Atlanta?

Do you hear me, American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons?

Those aren't even fashion mags trying to sell you beauty products. Those aren't weight loss companies trying to get twenty dollars out of you for the promise of losing twenty pounds. And while they, and the entertainment industry, are complicit in the human cost of our shame-driven "war on obesity," they are not the only ones. The groups linked above are medical organizations. People who should know better. People who should consult with advisors for a holistic approach to health and know just how little, and how much, shame does.

I'll continue to fight back the only way I know how: lessening my shame. Venturing out with sleeves a little shorter than I'm comfortable with. I will swim in the summer and then lay in the sand as I let the sun dry my bare flabby arms. I will one day join that dance class and let all jiggle as it will. I will take up space and I will be visible and if I ever go slipping-n-sliding down a hill I will spread my arms wide and laugh with abandon at the joy of the moment.

Athaliah and Jehosheba: Two women among the Kings of Judah

Athalia and Jehosheba

This first entry in this series involves two women whose stories are intertwined. This is the story of Athaliah - a Queen of Judah who reigned for seven years after the assassination of her son Ahaziah. And Jehosheba (aka Jehoshabeath) who rescued her infant nephew, Joash (aka Jehoash), from his murderous grandmother, Athaliah. Joash later becomes King of Judah, restoring the Davidic line.

Their story, and that of their contemporary relatives, is found in both 2 Kings 8-12 and 2 Chronicles 21-24.

I created a basic family tree above (to the best of my ability) in hopes that it will help you keep the people organized. While it seems clear that Jehosheba was the sister of Ahaziah - I couldn't find anywhere that gave the name of her mother. (I'm assuming that they shared a father, but that she wasn't Athaliah's daughter since it never refers to them as such)

Here is a brief synopsis of their story:

Athalia was the daughter of Ahab. The family was known for it's worship of Baal. Her husband, Jehoram, ruled Judah for eight years and worshipped Baal as well. One of his first acts as King seemed to be to kill all of his brothers - we're not talking about positive family values going on around here. His reign ended when, as predicted by the prophet Elijah in punishment for his sin, he contracted a disease of the bowels which caused them to fall out. It says he died in great agony. 2 Chronicles tells us that he departed with "no one's regret." (21:20)

Then, Jehoram and Athalia's son, Ahaziah, ruled Judah. He was assassinated after only a year, and that's when Athalia decided to rule rather than passing the reign down to a son of Ahaziah. She had the entire royal family murdered in order to secure her place on the throne.

However, here was another woman though that showed bravery. Her name was Jehosheba. As Athalia began her murderous rampage Jehosheba "the sister of Ahaziah, took Joash the son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the kings sons who were being put death." She hid him and his nurse away in a room and he remained with her and her husband, the priest Jehoiada, hidden in the house of the Lord for six years.

Eventually Jehoiada would organize an overthrow of Athalia. One day, Athalia heard noise of the guards and of the people and she went to investigate. There in the house of the Lord she found the young crowned King Joash. There were captains and trumpeters standing near the king. The people were rejoicing. It was too much for Athalia who had thought she had destroyed all of the successors of her son Ahaziah. Her rule had come to an end so she tore her clothes and cried, "Treason! Treason!" and then Jehoiada had her put to death outside of the house of the Lord.

This child-King earns the coveted words proclaiming that he "did right in the eyes of the Lord" - however it limited to the days of Jehoiada. Once Jehoiada died, Joash began to listen to the opinions of others rather than the Lord. God sent a prophet to call him back, but Joash had the prophet killed - the prophet was the son of Jehoiada.

There's much more to the story of Jehoram, Ahaziah, and Joash - but I want to focus on Athalia and Jehosheba.

When I was first glancing at the story of Athaliah, I thought, "A queen of Judah? I didn't know they had a queen who ruled! How cool!" And then read a bit more and realized she is solidly in the column of those who did not honor God in their rule. Part of me is shocked that a woman could be so cruel as to murder her entire family in order to falsely secure the throne for herself. But she is not the only person in the Bible who murders for the sake of power and authority. It is an intoxicating goal that has destroyed many. She has the title of the first and only Queen of Judah - but it not a title of honor.

And then I got to Jehosheba, and I cheered for her. I wanted her bravery to save the world, to matter. And it did, but it didn't make everything perfect. While Jehoiada was around, Joash listened to him. However, as soon as Jehoiada died it seems Joash fell into the ways of his grandmother's family: honoring power and authority rather than honoring God. Even so, Jehosheba still did something great. She saved an heir to the throne and raised him in the Lord. She couldn't control the future or how his reign would ultimately unfold, but that was not her job nor a power she seemed to seek. She did what was right at the time and that is a good and honorable thing. In the much greater scheme of things: this woman, Jehosheba, saved the Davidic line, the next heir in the tribe of Judah. Many generations later, it will be into that line that Jesus will be born. In that generation, her actions didn't seem to change the world or set the Kings of Judah on an unshakeable path of righteousness, but its effects down the line were irreplaceable.

My story-loving, detail-oriented brain longs to fill in the gaps. What was Athalia like as a child? When she learned she would be married to the King of Judah was she then beginning her plot for how to claim the authority for herself? Or, did that idea spark when she heard of her son's death? Did she pause at all before ordering the deaths of her grandchildren? And Jehosheba. She was raised in this environment. What is the love story of her and her God-honoring husband? Did Jehosheba act as quickly to save her nephew as Athalia acted in order to murder him? Did she tremble as she walked through the halls of the palace or were her movements confident and sure? How is it that Jehosheba and Jehoaida raised one young man (Joash) who would turn from the ways of the Lord and another who would die proclaiming it?

These are not answers we're given in the recorded story. If someone ever fictionalized the story of this family, I would certainly want to read it.

As I've been thinking on these two women for the past week I've been trying to come up with some lesson or application or great revelation. Something strong to write as I close out this first entry in the series. All I keep hearing in my head is, "Just tell their story."

I said that I wanted this just to be about shining some light on the many women of varying character and personalities in the Bible and not about engaging in some doctrine battle on women's "place" in the context of church. I'm hoping that as I continue God will teach me something, but for now I just want to "see" these women. To know who they are. For the time being I have no great revelation, no gem of truth from their lives to guide me on my path. I simply know now something I didn't ten days ago: they existed. They lived and breathed and made decisions that altered the course of a nation, of a world. God saw fit to have their stories included not once, but twice, into the collection of writings we now call The Bible. It is good for me to see them, whether they come with clarifying truth about my life or not.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Women, female personification, and feminine imagery in the Bible: a series

Over the past year or so I have been thinking about women, myself in particular, in relation to the church. When I was younger it was simple: I would love God and then eventually I would love my husband and my children and those would be my primary ministries. However, as I have continued to age as a single, childless person I started questioning what my role was within the church (both the church as a institution and as the larger body of believers). I imagine even women who do have a husband and/or children often end up with similar questions as well. The debate about women's role within the Christian contest is old and vast. I'd like to undertake this study not trying to answer those questions (as much as I can seperate myself from my culture and context). Rather, this is time and space for me to focus on where we see girls, women, and female imagery and personification in the Bible. I pray that I will be sensitive to the voice of God whatever it has to teach me at this time in my life and that it will be beneficial to others who read -both men and women.

Even with my attempts to not make this a series with the point of defining the role of women, I recognize that I am here writing this because of a variety of thoughts in my head and circumstances in my life. My contemplations on finding myself a single woman without the predictability of transitioning into the "plan" of a wife or mother, the thoughts from many others questioning the dominant cultural beliefs about women in the church, my own journey into a theological education as I prepare to begin seminary in the fall, and personal studies that are focusing on women of the Bible have all lead me to a desire to really study both the women and the feminine imagery in Scripture. Eve, Wisdom, Mary, the Church, the prostitute in Revelation. If there is a "she" or a "her" I want to take the time to examine it. I won't write about every instance. This is, obviously, a long and extensive undertaking. I'm hoping it will inspire me to write a bit more consistently here. (We'll see what happens when I'm in the midst of grad school and internships in the fall!) Look for these posts showing up here on a regular basis on Fridays! I've got my first entry in progress and am excited about it. Please feel free to suggest passages and stories you'd love to read about.

I look forward to being here a bit more!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Church, Culture, and Body Image

Rachel at Eat with Joy recently blogged with the question of what is missing from the Church in response to the photo-shopped culture and unattainable beauty ideals that surround us. I had recently drafted a post on my struggle with body image in relation to my Chistianity and that question prompted me to polish it off and post it here.

My venture into the world of a positive body-image, healthy habits, Health at Every Size, and the advocacy for body diversity began around 2006. It started off with my love of clothes, fashion, and creativity. (I'm not entirely sure where that came from as when I was a child and teenager a t-shirt and jeans were good for me. I once remember a friend imploring me wear something, anything, other than a solid colored t-shirt.) I found an online "fat fashion" community and it was my gateway drug to advocacy, oppression-awareness, questioning the dominant narrative, and being intentionally subversive to the dominant culture. I was definitely in the minority (at least of the vocal people) as a Christian in this community and I started questioning my own theology-based assumptions about size, health, and worth.

I marveled at the ways in which our culture of beauty, sex-appeal, and the "role of woman" as a baby-maker had influenced us even within the church. I listened closely to what was said in church about bodies and size and health and began to examine what I heard. I reflected on my formative years as a child and in the youth group.

I recalled various studies and lessons aimed at girls in which I was taught that I was to be pure and patient. The general impression was that we were daughters of the King and as such should act as a princess and wait on a gallant, daring, and warrior prince to arrive. In general, I can see this perspective and embraced and perpetuated it myself for years.

It is seen as positive, helpful, and empowering to call girls "princesses" and to implore them to live up to that standard. For, after all, don't all little girls want to be beautiful princesses who live happily ever after? I think the problem comes from the fact that we were told "be a daughter of King Jesus!" and there was rarely a caution to remind us that a daughter of King Jesus is not the same thing as Cinderella, or Belle, or Princess Di. The princesses of storybooks are largely passive, weak, and waiting. They earn praise (or envy) for their beauty and rarely for their character, strength, and use of their skills and gifts.

And then there is the question of beauty. By calling a girl a "princess" we insist that we are calling all girls "beautiful" and that that is a good thing, for don't all girls want to be beautiful? But, by doing that we reinforce the standards of this world that beauty is something of superior value to other things. And by the secular standards, very few of us are beautiful. No matter how many church retreats tells us we are, the images glaring at us from the covers of magazines and our television screens tells us we are not. Sometimes we get the instruction or comfort to be "beautiful on the inside." Any good teacher will make sure to emphasize inward beauty, but the world around us is a much stronger voice in insisting that it is otuward beauty that gains attention and priase most often. The church needs to stop using the "beautiful princess" story in how they teach girls to be women of God, there is too much cultural baggage tied to that image - especially considering we are never commanded to be outwardly beautiful, or a princess.

Various leaders and teachers in the church, on a few occasions, commented on efforts towards exercise and weight loss. It was always part of "honoring the temple" to be losing weight. The intentions and goals were pure and honorable I'm sure, but what I internalized as a fat child sitting in that pew and completely trusting that spiritual leader was that my fat body was wrong. That the body I lived in was not glorifying to God. That I needed to change me in order to serve God.

As a teenager I agreed with the theme of being a "princess" who waited patiently on God, learning to be pure, and hoping for my "prince." I would have absolutely told you it was all about inner beauty. I would have said something about how inward beauty is greater and God would make sure it shone brighter than my outward appearance. And yet, I cried and begged and pleaded for God to allow me to be thin. My motives were pure and honorable. I honestly thought that if I were thin, then more people would bother to notice me, and if people noticed me, then I could tell more people at Jesus. I asked to be thin so that I might serve God. I believed that my fatness was a stumbling block. I believed that for me to open my mouth about God was to take a risk that someone would associate my fat (and therefore less than, ugly, and unworthy self) with Christ. I didn't want that. I started and stopped a variety of exercise and diet routines. Nothing stuck. Nothing worked. I remained fat.

I whole-heartedly believed that if I ever got married I would marry a man who loved my personality so much that he accepted my body. I never expected anyone to be attracted to me. I was told that non-Christian men just wanted sex (and I couldn't see any non-Christian man being attracted to my fat, so I just crossed that off the list of possibilities) and that Christian men wanted a "beautiful, pure, lovely princess to rescue." I figured I could at least try for innocent and pure. I embraced "princesses" as well as I could. (My first online username was something to the effect of a princess of God.) I was going to be pure and princessy enough to make up for the fat. I literally believed that my fat was so off-putting that any man who would even attempt to pursue me had to be so godly that he saw through my fat and saw God in me. I figured I'd end up with some super insightful and sensitive Christian who would "love the God in me" so much that he'd overlook the fat. There was no way some guy that wasn't a good guy would get that far. The fat would stop him. I believed this so much that I skipped out on the "preparing for marriage in the future" studies they did at church for teenagers. I wasn't going to have many options, and the one that did come along was going to be the right one for the aforementioned reasons. I don't recall ever voicing these thoughts beyond telling my friends I only planned to ever date just one guy. He'd be the right one. I'd know it. And, while my issues was weight, I've heard from others that had various similar stories that they were sure there was that one thing about them that was going dissuade the wrong men but be the strong enough inner-beauty that would attract the right man. In my perspective, that is perhaps the most dangerous part of this Christian sub-culture treatment of women and girls.

I say that because, do you know what all of that set me up for?

Not the potential for healthy relationship, that's for sure.

In college I met someone who was interested in me and we dated for a few years. I was elated! I fell quickly in love. It was rocky from about three months in.While I make no claims of relationship perfection, I tried endlessly to be pure and kind and gentle enough. To be all of the princess qualities that I could. I would not be the nagging woman that would lead a man to the corner of the rooftop. I would allow him his strength, I would praise him when he rescued me, I would defer to his opinions and his leadership. It was how I was taught to behave as a woman. It was what I was told would land me my prince. I had waited patiently, and at 20 someone said they loved me and that I was beautiful.

In a conversation we had a after breaking up - as I struggled to understand what I had done wrong, why I had not been enough - he told me about his new girlfriend. "She's stronger than you, and I need that kind of personality to balance me." What I heard was, "you're weak." Without going in details, I realize the relationship crumbling wasn't my fault. I may have had a doormat of a personality while we dated (and I don't today largely because of it) but I fully recognize that the fact that I sought gentleness and love does not excuse his misdeeds. I don't claim to have been perfect in the relationship, but I no longer own the "you were weak" as the reason for its end.

I'd like to think that if today a similar man tried to enter my life I'd be able to spot his faulty ways and depart immediately. At the time I was an innocent, gullible, and oh-so-hopeful "lady-in-waiting". (The title of a popular book during my adolescence which focused on "becoming God's best while waiting on Mr. Right.") I heard "princess" at church and got my cues for what that meant from the dominant culture.

The timing of my emergence from this toxic relationship coincided with my discovery of Health at Every Size and it's accompanying movements. I learned about the oppressed and the voice of the marginalized, I became a different person. Once, a couple years into this transition I talked with my ex and he told me I was different. That who I was that day was a better match for him than who I was before. That I was stronger. That I spoke my mind. That I knew what I wanted, and he liked that. Part of me felt the old flutterings of pleasure at his approval and recognition. The other part, mercifully the larger part, wanted to tell him I could care less what he thought about my new self. My well-bred instincts to be polite won out and I responded with something like, "Yeah. I have changed."

I have not shaken body-image issues completely. There are times when I still compare myself to the photo-shopped images I see all around me. Some days I have to constantly remind myself that I am making nutrition and activity choices in order to be healthy, not to achieve a body shape or size ideal. In a few months I will stand up with a friend as she marries the man of her dreams. The dress is sleeveless and knee length. I found myself googling "upper arm toning exercises" and "self tanning lotions" before I even realized what I was doing. Something about being on display before a crowd of people and having pictures made that will be in someone's treasured scrapbooks for years to come made me image obsessed. I'm still processing all of that and trying to find that line between "feeling good and healthy and confident" and "buying into what the world tells you is good and healthy and confident." But, in general, HAES is my instinct and I see the fat-bias, discrimination, and hatred in the media, culture, and even the church without even trying to see it. I can't not see it now.

I'd love to see the church embrace the "Health At Every Size" model and to banish "weight loss Bible studies" where women crowd church classrooms and their devotion to God that week is measured on a scale. (Search for them on amazon if you want, I can't bear to link them.) I'd love for youth group leaders to cover the breadth and depth of the female characters rather than highlighting Rebekah being "very attractive in appearance" and using it as a reminder to "care for our temple" as if that was the deciding factor that brought her into the family of Abraham. David was also described as attractive (and dancing around naked in his attractive body), but it's not the first thing I think of when talking about him.

I'd love to see the church be a leader in ending weight/size-based discrimination. Learn how to make fat people comfortable in your church (think about the size and strength of your sanctuary seating). Do not judge their health, lifestyle, or activity level simply with a look. Have classes that deconstruct the marketing ploys of our culture. Put fat people on the stage to sing and talk and dance and act. Omit the sermon illustrations about being a certain weight. Learn to talk about health and nutrition and the life-giving benefit of exercise without insisting that we judge the effectiveness of these things simply with weight. Stick your hands in the air during worship if you feel like it, regardless of if your upper arm flab is gonna wave or not. Put on a swimsuit at the youth group pool outing and swim and have fun. Be modest, but don't shrink into the shade of a tree with a towel draped around you for fear of what others may think.

I've had the privilege to work with teenage girls the past few years. I've been blessed to overhear some of their conversations in which it seems they "get it" about body image and fat-shaming in regards to other people. But, sadly, when they direct their comments to their own bodies I often hear the standard negative comments. Their positivity about others gives me hope though - perhaps this generation will learn to love itself through loving others.