Latvia and My Body

Insecurity is something I’ve written about on my blog before but in case you’re new around here, insecurity is something I struggle with. My insecurity used to be something that I was insecure about (ah, the irony) but I’ve realized that this is a part of my testimony and something that has colored my life. My prayer is that someone can identify with this and that this post is encouraging.

My insecurity surrounds my body and dates back to my childhood. As a little girl who loved to eat but was also a dancer and swimmer, being in a leotard or swimsuit all the time wasn’t the best for my self-image. Then, in high school, I learned that if I ate less and ran more, the weight came off. That lead to over-exercising and under-eating, both dangerous habits to pick up. There have been times where my insecurity and shame have been so crippling that I literally can’t choose an outfit to wear for the day because I feel so crappy in all of them or where I cancel plans all together. If you’ve been a teenage girl, you probably know exactly what I’ve been through; you might even be going through it right now. But let me tell you something:

It’s not supposed to be this way.

This summer, I had an amazing opportunity to go to Latvia and tell kids about Jesus. Latvian culture is so different from American in many ways, but one stark difference I noticed was that self image/body image seems to be so much better over there. There aren’t mirrors everywhere. I feel like I can’t escape my reflection in the US but in Latvia, their mirrors are above their sinks and you just check your makeup in it. I saw very few full body length mirrors. Also, from what I saw, the people weren’t bombarded with images of models and those with exceptional bodies. From what I noticed with the Latvian girls I was working with, they ate what they wanted and had such healthy relationships with food. I didn’t see any of them body-shaming one another and they all looked healthy. It was beautiful craziness to my model-bombarded, calorie counting brain.

I found that with the more time I spent in Latvia, I was thinking about my body less. If I’m being honest, I think about my body pretty regularly. I can’t remember a day in the US where dissatisfactory thoughts didn’t run through my mind all throughout the day. But in Latvia, where I wasn’t constantly looking at my own body or someone else’s body through the media, I was thinking of myself less. This led to a dramatic decrease of the damaging thoughts I was thinking about myself! Honestly, I didn’t even notice what was happening; but gradually, I stopped checking my stomach every morning to see what it looked like that day. I stopped worrying about what those around me thought about my body and what that made them think of me. Instead, my focus was shifted to pouring into my small group and developing those relationships. My focus was shifted to Jesus. I stopped seeing my body as a source of shame and started to see it as a valuable tool for the Kingdom. This body that I’ve hated for so long has helped build churches in the Dominican Republic. My arms have embraced heartbroken friends, my shoulder has been one to cry on, I’ve held hands with the hurting. I’ve given piggy back rides to precious girls in Latvia and I’ve taught three-year-olds to swim. Most importantly, I’ve shared the Gospel. My body is a valuable tool for Christ!

Obviously, I couldn’t stay in Latvia forever (no matter how much I wanted to) but I wanted to keep the outward perspective I gained.  There are good days and bad days, but I’ve learned that storing scripture in my heart has been one of my greatest weapons in this battle with shame. A solid favorite of mine is Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

When I start to feel crappy about myself, I ask “is this true and honorable? is this lovely?etc”. Often, the answer is no, and that’s when I know that I simply don’t need to dwell on it (not today, satan). I encourage you to see your body as a tool for the Kingdom. Be healthy and treat your body as the temple for Christ that it is, but also remember that we are much more than our bodies. If you don’t like your arms, think about who you’ve embraced. If you don’t like your legs, think about the strength they propel you with in your Kingdom work. Think about what you can build and who you can share Jesus with. Turn your thoughts from what you hate about your body to what your body can do.

I want to end this blog post with a piece of Scripture that I actually just heard this morning. Psalm 34:4-5 says,

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
    and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
    and their faces shall never be ashamed.

Because it’s worth repeating, I’ll say it again. Those who look to him are radiant. Their faces shall never be ashamed. 

(p.s. thanks to Zach Ruiz for taking the cover photo for this blog post! That picture was taken in Riga, Latvia. And let me tell ya, Latvian strawberries and flower crowns are two of my favorite things.)

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