To understand where I'm going with all of this, I need to take you back (in 2 paragraphs or so) to where I've been.
I came into this country in 1999, in time for 8th grade, at the age of 13. Puberty being as rough as it is in a normal world, I started the school year in a public school in Homestead, FL with one pair of shorts, one pair of olive green, skinny, high-water pants. I also had 3 shirts, that were pink, yellow, and purple. My hair was done by one of my aunts before I left Venezuela. And we couldn't really afford clothes shopping until at least... a month and a half after the school year started. My mom is still in Venezuela, I'm living with my dad and my sister this school year. I didn't NEED anyone to tell me I looked ridiculous. I KNEW I looked ridiculous - I'm not a moron! It wasn't till December that I had made some friends. 8th Grade was the worst year of my life. But at least I came into 9th grade personally feeling a bit better about how I was dressed - having more options - and my hair grew out too. My mom came in the country to help, and I started high school more optimistic then the prior school year.
I quickly learned I was no where near pretty. My friends were pretty. Guys talked to me so that I could hook them up. All the guys chased my friend Brissette. By the time they noticed me, I was like, "Thanks. I'm glad to be your LAST resort. But I'm not interested." My best friend (and still is, to this day) shared this unspoken X rule that we would "x-out" as an option any guy who talked to or dated the other one first. Not being a Christian, not having a godly basis for my self esteem, everything I learned about how I fared as a woman came from the reactions of my peers. And everything I concluded was that I simply wasn't enough; not skinny enough, not pretty enough, not talented enough, not interesting enough.
Then I met Andy. It's pivotal I mention him because it's how I came to Christ. Andy was interested in hooking up with a girl that lived on my apartment complex block. She, at 16, was a model for John Casablanca and drove a that-year mustang convertible. She was as close to "perfection" as you can get from someone you actually SEE in person and not an edited photo in a magazine. And yet as Andy and I became friends he started also showing an interest in me. I had no competition to my neighbor at all but seeing as she wasn't my best friend, Brissette (and thus our "X" rule didn't apply) I was willing to consider this. Andy and this girl seemed to have a very "mature" relationship and by the grace of God upon an unbeliever I won the contest (so to speak) by NOT giving in any of myself at all; I was sick and tired of being someone's second choice. And I didn't take any of his "hits on", I didn't accept any of his compliments as long as she was in the picture. Then she wasn't. Then months passed by and I saw that his friends would elbow him if I walked past, that they made the most mundane moments feel awkward with their grinning and their side comments... And I saw Andy get nervous around me. This guy was from New York and had A LOT of game and all of the sudden he was shy to talk to ME? Alright! He was my first official boyfriend and my worst official boyfriend because my desire to kind of feel like I had some attractive or at least redemptive quality in me (and I'm not talking exclusively physical or superficial) completely blinded me from the kind of hassle I should've seen coming if he sold drugs and smoked pot. **Slap Maria on the forehead now. Please. ** I was a straight-A honor student, I never in my life did drugs or smoked, and his lifestyle was not a part of our relationship, but there is POWER in association. The drama led me to pursue the Lord and I gave my heart fully to Christ on February 27th, 2001. Then I also let Andy out of my life because I knew I was heaven-bound and he wasn't, and and I was tired of being dragged down with him when I was never even participating. I still pray to this day that he finds Christ if he hasn't already.
I fully got caught up in the love of the Lord, I was 100% heart, mind, body and soul all for him. I had a lot of re-education to do, specially when it came to me as a woman. When Pastor Tim told me that I shouldn't be in a relationship with Andy if we were so unequally yoked, I did not hesitate to end it because I had found my True Love and it was filling the void in my heart better than all the world ever did. And then at youth group one of the guys starts trying to woo me, and he asks me out, and I liked him.... and we dated for 2 weeks, and he dumped me, and I couldn't understand for the life of me why. I assumed in the Christian world that there are no players (how naive) and that guys would be MORE attracted to me if I was godly and kept myself as pure as possible, but it seems in this case I was wrong, and it left me a little confused. This is where Pastor Tim (and it's really sad that it was a man stepping in to counsel me and not a godly woman) slowly but surely got me to realize that Christian young women do not base their self worth like the world does; it's not about how many guys like you (or in my case, don't), or how popular you are, or how what kind of guys you can hook up with - but rather what God thinks of you. Then he encouraged me in 2 specific ways: #1) Make sure that if you ever decide to date or court someone again, that this guy treats you the way Jesus would Himself, because no one loves you more than God does. #2) Aim for a guy that you would actually spend the rest of your life with! You don't have to date just for the sake of. You can wait until God shows you that he is the one He created for you and you for him.
So in the world and by its standards I was failing as a woman, but it didn't matter any more because now I had a new measuring stick... It should've been God and His Word, but in reality I was using the church to tell me whether or not I was succeeding as a woman - specially a woman of God, which is what I most desired in the world to be. I think here I failed worse than before I was saved. Guys were no longer a self-esteem factor in my life but it seemed to be that everyone else thought it was my primary motivator. I remember once, among many incidents, that Zoe (Hispanic Pastor's daughter) was putting on a production: The Auction of a Soul. She asked me to play the part of the "World", trying to lure this soul into selling itself for selfish pleasures and ambitions. I had to promise sex, parties, and rock and roll to the best of my acting abilities. Zoe pushed me even further if I wasn't like, Paris Hilton on crack x 10. I was really hamming it up. On production night, I showed up wearing black leather pants, a dark purple leathery tube top, with a black leather jacket over it. Black high heel boots. No skin was showing other than my neck as I was covered in leather from head to toe, and the only skin-tight part of my outfit was around my knees. Zoe then plasters my face with ALOT of make up in shades of purple and blue. My hair is messy and wet. No one from he church had actually seen me because I was across the way getting ready. When the skit started, I was among the first to come in, so I stood outside the sanctuary, peeping through the window for my cue. This is when one of the associate pastors comes up to me and says, "I hope you are not planning on going inside with that outfit. You better go home and change, and wash up, because that's not the way you dress for church. In fact, I should call your parents." (My thoughts, all sarcasm: "Really? Then I should return the hooker outfit I bought at South Beach to wear next week.") Ouch. This was just one of the many ways, through the rest of my teenage-hood, that all the godly people in the church showed me what they REALLY thought of me. I shyly responded, "Actually, Zoe asked me to dress like this. It's a costume. I'm in the skit."
My heart is now being educated that I'm failing as a GODLY young woman, because no matter how involved I was in missions, youth, drama, worship, teen bible quiz, sunday school, etc., They didn't see my passion for God but rather assumed that I was just trying to find guys to date (I guess?) or draw attention to myself. I was failing as a GODLY woman because no matter how hard I tried I never seemed to be GODLY enough for the body of Christ to see me as a member and a true believer. Paul was a light at the end of this tunnel because he followed Tim's advice 1 & 2 - he was a constant reminder of how much God loved me and how He valued my service. He noticed me first from the day I walked into that church (next to Brissette! Who would've thought?) and only had eyes for me since. I knew I was going to marry Paul, and as soon as I hit adulthood I did - battling through drama, errors, criticism, etc. I'm not going to get into the good, the bad, and the ugly, but all my bridesmaids know the long and difficult path from when I got saved and met my True Love, to when I wore the white dress and married my Earthly love.
Unfortunately, I walked into the marriage very scarred. My self-image was practically down to the floor - and not just because of people's reactions to me and the "dating arena" or lack there of. I had also learned that no matter what passion or gift I could pursue, it was never good enough! I loved to sing, but there's always someone else who can sing better so I shouldn't even try. I loved to act, but that was just because I was "crying out for attention" and it wasn't very godly. I loved to write, but no one sits through all I write at one time. And I loved to dance - but godly women don't dance! In fact, my love for dancing was only all the more evident proof that I was still consumed with worldy lusts inside my heart and that Christ had not completely taken over my soul. It's not like I had ever taken Ballet lessons or danced to classical music anyways...
Fast forward 4 years or so to me being at our church camp here in Anchorage. My passion for life had changed altogether and Paul specifically noted it. I was explaining to my friend how I didn't even feel like a woman; just a living organism that takes care of the kids and does whatever she needs to do. A busy woman, because godly women are busy and don't become idle. If I had a job, I went to work, came home, did what I had to do, waited for church on Sundays, and that's that. Now that I'm a stay at home mom, I just watch my kids and make sure they live to see another day. That's it to me. Even if someone said, "Here's a magic wand, where I can place you where ever you want and you can do whatever you want for the rest of your life!" I wouldn't get anywhere. I didn't WANT anything! My rationale was that it's better for me to give God as least as possible and pursue as least as possible because I fail so bad at anything I put my heart into that God's kingdom was better off without me. I'm not even 100% sure I'm doing a good job with my kids, and it's the only thing I do for God now! All I could remember is that in the world, I was "not enough" and in the church I was "too much" and my heart was dry and hollow.
I was walking to the nurses' station to check on Anakin who had thrown up 3 times over a 1/2 mile radius... after cleaning all that up... And I guess I always walk looking down at the floor now. I was carrying the full weight of failure on my shoulder: Failure as a Christian teenager, failure as a military wife, failure as a new mom who struggled with post-partum depression and cervical cancer after Anakin. Failure to make it on our own in Oklahoma City. Failure as a business owner. Failure in college because I never finished, now I don't even know if I'll ever attend. Failure in Florida as a youth minister. Failure as a modern woman for being pregnant with baby number 3 (I kid you not, my mom didn't even congratulate me. She looked at her plate with a full expression of disappointment and asked me if I was ever going to get my tubes tied. I felt like such a failure just for being pregnant again that I didn't even bother to get any prenatal care until just 2 weeks ago.) As I was walking up these wooden steps outside I noticed a bright, white square on the floor to the side. The sun was reflecting on a book with a bright cover, which belonged to someone on the ministry team (I assume). As I squint and bend down to look at it better, the cover says, "Captivating" by John and Stasi Eldredge. I loved John Eldredge's Wild at Heart. I text Paul that I want to read this book next and I move on. Since then I came home, Anakin is better, it's been almost a month... I'm not walking around depressed all the time because I do have a reason to smile and even to laugh; if my kids do something funny, if I'm having a good time at church or with friends.
But I did have a very difficult week and Paul, my romantic hero, went to Mardel's in Oklahoma City and bought this book, along with another one, and shipped it to me priority. I never doubted me and him were meant to spend the rest of our lives together! And as I was reading the first chapter tonight, it hit me with the following quote: (which is actually not directly from the book because I left it downstairs, so it's my paraphrase)
What we see of godly women today and the example that they have for us is that they are... tired. And we're all walking around with failure and shame just because we are women - because we're "too much" of this or "not enough" of that. We all walk under the iconic shadow of the Proverbs 31 women feeling shame and guilt at how, no matter how hard we try, we fall short. Does the Proverbs 31 women enjoy sex? Does she ever rest and take a day off? And in all this we lose sight of the fact that being a woman is a unique reflection of who God is just the way being a man is. And we don't reflect the image of God that He created in us by our dos and don'ts, but by our hearts.
This is where I knew God, my True Love, had sent this book to me. I've only read the introduction and the first chapter. But I wanted to blog about this journey, and see if anyone else is interested in seeing this take place in my life. My goal with this blog is to share what I learn and how I feel about this book, Captivating, as I read it. To see if maybe there's a change in how I feel, maybe I can recover some of my old passions or find new ones... Maybe there can be more to me than what there is right now.