by Jennifer Minor, Heartbeat Editor/Writer
I didn’t really think a lot about my body growing up—unless it was to lament that I wasn’t as pretty as someone else, but that’s another story. Later, I came to see that most people thought about their bodies in one of two ways: as something like a cage for the soul full of temptation or as nothing more than a tool to make them feel good.
When I did start thinking this way, as a good Catholic girl, I went with the first. Yes, my body is a “Temple of the Holy Spirit,” but it’s also a stumbling block on the way to Heaven, right? Yes, it’s “fearfully and wonderfully made,” but that’s more about ME than just my body.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I was first introduced to Pope St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.” Discovering that changed everything.
The basic concept is simple. John Paul II spent about five of his years as Pope sharing his reflections on the creation story in Genesis, which just goes to show you there’s always more to scripture. These short reflections that he shared were eventually gathered together under the title Theology of the Body—and widely ignored for about 20 years.
Fortunately for me, “Theology of the Body” is currently all the rage in the Catholic Church, so I got introduced to the concept about eight years ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
In the reading that I’ve done, the talks that I’ve attended, and the homilies I’ve heard on the subject, I’ve been reminded of many things that are often simply overlooked by Christians with “body as cage for the soul” mentality.
The “resurrection of the body” is an explicitly stated belief in the Apostle’s Creed. Jesus, after His resurrection, still has a body and can eat and drink, but it isn’t bound by space or time in the same way we are now, and his followers don’t recognize Him immediately in it. It’s been glorified.
Our bodies matter! And more than that, our bodies are a symbol of our whole selves. My body is a reflection of myself, and I am made in the image and likeness of God.
Knowing this, how could I continue to act as if my body didn’t matter? Or worse, as if it was merely a cage or stumbling block to living a holy life?
No. The way I express myself with my body means so much more than that. The way I dress can tell the people around me how much I respect myself. The way I care for my body—exercising, eating well, getting stronger—is as important as the way I care for my spiritual life—regular prayer, time with God, and practicing silence.
And of course, this means that my body can’t be nothing more than a tool to make me feel good. It’s no mere object for pleasure; if I make it that for any reason, I’m doing myself and everyone involved a great disservice.
I’m grateful to be a woman, and I know that my body is made to be able to bring life into the world. That is an incredible thing!
It’s extremely empowering to know that your body is built to create and sustain life.
But when I look around me, I see that my peers don’t see themselves that way. Their fertility to them is an obstacle, a prohibition against some kind of free expression of their sexuality. But then again, was my perspective so different when I saw my body as only a cage and a temptation?
Falling into thinking of ourselves as only body or only spirit doesn’t work.
I’m living best, and acknowledging the best in others when I remember that human beings are body AND soul. Both have eternal significance, and for me, “Theology of the Body” helped me discover that essential truth, and change the way I think about—and treat—my body.
For more information on the Theology of the Body, check out Fr. Joel’s recorded workshop from the 2018 Heartbeat International Annual Conference How “Theology of the Body” Helps Us Today. You may also be interested in Pia de Solenni’s keynote from the same Conference.
There is an extraordinary amount of wisdom packed into Proverbs 4:23, which not only directs our lives but our ministry. It says to “above all else, guard your heart,” or watch over it with all diligence, “for everything you do flows from it.” When we think of pro-life ministry, we often think of helping a mother and her baby when the mother is in a situation where she is considering having an abortion. But we know there is a story behind what led to that point. Heartbeat’s vision is to make abortion unwanted today and unthinkable for the future.
Training people to guard their hearts will make this possible. But how?
1. Building Good Relationships
Doing anything that’s wrong starts with evil desires. James described how they lead one to give in to temptation and to sin, which brings about death. One way of avoiding this wrong path involves promoting transparency and trust in relationships, opening up ourselves to others and giving of ourselves. We are designed to be people in relationship who love God – who first loved us – and who love our neighbor as ourself. Whether we have fears, anxieties, sins, or sorrows, they can be overcome through sharing them with God and other wise people. Paul the apostle said that in bringing everything before God, His peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and James said that healing comes through confessing our sins to one another and praying for one another.
Promoting healthy relationships, where we enjoy God and cherish one another, leaves no room for destructive desires. Without such relationships, we end up, as Catholic theologian Blaise Pascal said, trying in vain to fill our emptiness with everything around us, seeking in those things help that they do not provide; they cannot satisfy us, “because the infinite abyss can be filled by an infinite and immutable object...God himself.” Developing relationships with grace and truth, though, gives us moral strength that drives out desires that lead to sins against our own children or others. Consider, then, how you might do this more in your own life, as well as how to encourage others in it.
2. Developing the Mind
A second key way to guard our hearts, or our whole being, is to develop the mind, using both God’s general and special revelation. The ideas we believe in, when we live them out, have consequences. That is why it’s so important to work on identifying and getting rid of false beliefs that we have, learn more true beliefs, and strengthen the true beliefs we have.
In Paul’s terms, we must be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we can know and live according to God’s good commands. Peter said to be on your guard so that we are not carried away by error, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We must know, for example, that every human being has inestimable moral value, and therefore we should not use someone either mentally or physically as merely a means to our own pleasure. Furthermore, the great good of sexual intimacy is rightly enjoyed only within the context and safety of a lifelong, exclusive commitment to one’s husband or wife. Being equipped to show why these ideas are true is also a critical part of serving others, especially when so many conflicting views influence our culture.
3. Nourishing the Imagination
Finally, we guard our hearts by nourishing our imagination in God-honoring ways. Speaking to his son, Solomon said not to lust after an immoral woman’s beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes. On the one hand, we need to stop taking in images that tempt us toward lust and sin, whether it is movies, television, indecent websites, or immodesty – many things are designed to catch our attention, but we need to not take the bait (or be the bait), even if it is unintentional.
On the other hand, we need to nourish our imagination with good images. For example, consider the beauty of God’s character and His creation, whether it’s getting outside and enjoying a sunset, having pictures of scenic things combined with Bible verses to meditate on, or if you’re married, enjoying your spouse. Watch wholesome movies with good messages. Listen to uplifting music. As Paul exhorted us, focus on whatever is true, noble, and right; whatever is pure, lovely, and admirable; and anything that is excellent or praiseworthy.
Building good relationships, developing our minds, and nourishing our imaginations must be prioritized in our own lives, but we must also teach them to our children and encourage others with these ideas. All of this is part of life-affirming ministry by preventing any inclination toward abortion from even having a foothold.
If this article was helpful, check out the webinar recording, available in our online store, Guarding Hearts.
by Crystal Kupper, Citizen Magazine
When Valerie Huber tells people what she does for a living, she knows the risk of ridicule she could be facing. “Our critics like to pigeonhole this as a religious issue,” she tells Citizen, “but the truth is that this has value for every student regardless of faith or moral framework—or lack thereof.”
“This” is abstinence education, or, as Huber refers to it, sexual risk avoidance (SRA) for young people. The first term often conjures caricatures of middle-aged teachers lecturing on the evils of sex, but that’s an image that Ascend—formerly known as the National Abstinence Education Association, or NAEA—is working to reframe.
As president and CEO of Ascend, a professional association that supports, educates, represents and equips those with a hand in the SRA conversation, Huber has a message for America: This ain’t your grandma’s sex ed.
“Sexual risk avoidance is actually a term taken from public health,” she says. “I bristle at the terminology ‘abstinence only,’ because our programs are so holistic. They contextualize a whole battery of different topics that surround a young person’s decision whether to have sex or not. Rather than someone telling a young person, ‘Do this, don’t do that,’ it’s casting a vision for a young person’s future.”
Huber, meanwhile, envisions a future where Ascend is seen for its focus on SRA as a public health issue, using what she says is an “approach that sits so clearly within a public health model for optimal health.”
A 56-year-old mother of four, and a Christian since age 17, Huber’s impetus to get involved in public health policy began when her oldest son was in middle school. His health class, in her view, was sending mixed messages about sex and healthy relationships, and ultimately normalizing the age-old myth that “everyone is doing it.”
“I didn’t want to be a parent that complained about a problem,” she says. “I wanted to be a parent that helped with the solution.”
To that end, Huber encouraged the school to introduce a more age-appropriate curriculum in her son’s classroom. The effort was eventually successful. One thought kept returning, however: What about kids in other schools in their Ohio county? What sorts of messages were they hearing in their health and sexual education classes?
So in 1999, Huber founded and directed REACH, a character-building and risk-avoidance educational organization. The program, which Huber ran until 2004, served an average of 25,000 middle- and high school students in southwestern Ohio each year, emphasizing the fact that waiting to be sexually active has major benefits.
From there, Huber made the move to managing the Ohio Department of Health’s Abstinence Education Program. The job, created through a Title V federal-state partnership aimed at improving the health and well-being of women and children, offered the chance to oversee and grant awards to community abstinence programs serving more than 100,000 students statewide every year.
“I kind of started a career that I didn’t necessarily anticipate,” Huber admits. “When I had that first meeting with my son’s health teacher and principal,
I had no interest in having a career in sex education. It never entered my mind; I was only concerned about the well-being of my own child. But I count it as a real honor to today be in that particular place—to have an impact that can really change the trajectory of a young person’s life.”
The two positions culminated in a spot for Huber on the National Abstinence Leadership Council. In late 2006, after meeting to discuss the trends and needs in the field, the Council voted to form the NAEA. Huber assumed the position of NAEA president when the 501(c)4 organization officially formed in 2007. Its board members represented more than a century’s worth of experience in the fields of public health policy and abstinence education.
“Really,” she says, “the organization was a topic expert from the very start.”
Yet NAEA board members noticed an odd quirk about that topic almost immediately: Even though emerging research was proving that teens benefit physically, mentally and socially when they avoid premarital sex, the narrative surrounding the abstinence approach was attacked from the beginning.
For example, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States—founded in 1964 by Planned Parenthood’s medical director at the time, and which maintains strong ties to the abortion-selling group—called abstinence education a “failed approach” in an official February 2016 press release and blamed the movement’s backers for “wasting” nearly $2 billion in related federal support over the last three decades. Advocates for Youth, a reproductive and sexual health organization that often joins forces with Planned Parenthood, says on its web site that abstinence-only programs “ignore youth’s basic human right and the fundamental public health principle of accurate, balanced sex education.”
Huber and the NAEA board knew that they had to, as Huber says, “correct misinformation, and give an accurate portrayal of what SRA is actually about, in terms of making sure the policies are going to help young people thrive.”
What are those policies, exactly?
First off, Huber wants the nation to know which policies SRA programs are not advocating. For starters, SRA is not a message exclusive to the church; instead, it finds its footing on “a public health standpoint,” as Huber says.
“When we’re talking about any potential risk behavior, the messaging and the skills around that should be designed to help that individual avoid all the risks,” she explains. “We’ve done that for smoking, but we don’t do it for teen sex. When we talk about the merits of sexual risk avoidance, that erases all those caricatures that our critics have tried to attach to our approach.”
That caricature certainly was a powerful image for Irva Antoine, a 27-year-old health educator in North Plainfield, N.J. As a teenager, she viewed any lesson that discouraged sexual activity before marriage as nothing more than a “Christian message.”
When Antoine graduated high school, however, she had a firsthand perspective on promiscuity’s universal consequences.
“I entered college with six other friends. We were all virgins,” Antoine tells Citizen. “By our sophomore year, only two of us (still) were. I saw the drama that revolved around casual sexual relationships. I also saw the pain and hurt it caused my closest friend.”
It’s a story Huber has heard hundreds of times through her work.
“In terms of health outcomes, what would you rather your child do? Avoid risk?” she asks. “Or do you want to say, ‘Go ahead, engage in everything, and let’s hope you just reduce that risk a bit’ ? ”
Something that often surprises well-intentioned people: SRA talks very specifically about avoiding those risks, including discussions on sexually transmitted infections and contraception. The difference between SRA and “comprehensive” sex education lessons, Huber says, is context.
“We don’t distribute or demonstrate [contraceptive methods]; we educate about it,” she says. “You may be told that ‘sex plus condoms equals safety,’ but it’s not true. We don’t want to over- or underestimate any of the facts.”
At the dawn of 2016, the NAEA changed its name to Ascend, but a key characteristic remained: its reliance on sound, scientific research to back up SRA’s efficacy. So Huber and the Ascend team regularly gather and analyze raw data on teen pregnancy, sexual activity and the like and post the conclusions on the organization’s web site, as well as compile related research-based studies and articles.
The research matches up with Ascend’s stated goal of “providing research expertise to evaluate raw data, interpret research trends, and correlate findings to healthy youth behavior.” Published studies like “Teen Relationship History Linked to Future Romantic Patterns” and “Age of First Sexual Experience Affects Future Relationships” help health and sexual education teachers—as well as parents and youth leaders—quickly navigate the science to find real-life statistics related to SRA.
Peggy Cowan, the founder and president of the New Jersey Physicians Advisory Group (NJPAG), a nonprofit research organization addressing teen pregnancy, STIs and single-parent adolescent families in the Garden State, says the research truly distinguishes Ascend from other teen-focused organizations.
“They’re a phone call away. Ascend really is the premiere organization with information that’s current and targeted on how we can help kids maneuver through the minefield of early sexual decisions,” she tells Citizen. “Sexual risk avoidance is not marginalized anymore—because it is now seen for the true health message it is, just like avoiding drugs, alcohol and violence.”
Besides research, Ascend also certifies SRA specialists—training that Antoine, Cowan and hundreds of others have completed. NJPAG utilizes that training each fall in seven-day conferences held across New Jersey.
J.T., a health teacher in Hudson County, N.J., who completed an Ascend-based educator workshop, told Cowan the message is vital. “Attending this conference taught me more information about keeping students safe than any course I took in four years of college,” he said. “The information debunked many things I was taught that sound true, but are not.”
Beyond educating parents, teachers and youth leaders, Huber frequently works in the political arena, both nationally and locally. As Cowan says, Ascend “not only deals with issues in Washington, but also has tentacles into every state and supports those people who are looking to build credible support within their state.”That’s a job the current administration has made complicated. This February, President Obama proposed cutting funding for abstinence programs in the 2017 federal budget by $10 million, while increasing funding for a program that emphasizes birth control and safe sex by $4 million. His reason? According to the official budget, “the [SRA] program is not focused on funding evidence-based models.”
Huber disputes that claim, pointing out that the number of teens who have never had sex has actually increased 15 percent in the last two decades, while funding for abstinence education has been at its highest. Still, Huber is unafraid of the future for the simple reason that SRA education has made great gains in the last decade, even with Obama in office.
“Despite the fact that almost eight years of Obama’s administration, with unprecedented hostility against sexual risk-avoidance education, and despite the fact that every budget he sends to Congress calls for the elimination of our funding, we have seen this field continue to improve,” she says. “That’s because when people understand what our programs actually do, they’re supportive. The more we are able to have that conversation, the more young people are served.”
At any rate, Huber plans to meet with the next president to discuss the future of SRA in America, as she has with Obama’s staff. She doesn’t think we’ll be “in any worse state than we are right now,” no matter who wins this November.
In the meantime, celebrities who have publicly announced their commitment to save sex for their future spouses have been making headlines nationwide. Men like NFL quarterback Russell Wilson and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow have kept the SRA conversation in the spotlight. Huber appreciates the support, but continues to depend on the science more than the spotlight.
“Take it back to public health message: We know more today than yesterday on the dangers of smoking,” she says. “Just because someone begins smoking doesn’t mean that suddenly the value of not smoking diminishes. It just means that this is a risk behavior that has an allure.”
Though many church-goers believe in SRA, they sometimes doubt its effectiveness outside Christian homes. Antoine has something to say about that: “I wish that everyone could understand that the Ascend message is not a ‘Christian message.’ It’s a life-saving message. You can live to the fullest if you focus on your goals and enjoy that great sexual life within that loving, committed relationship, preferably in a marriage.”
That sort of talk gives Huber reason to hope for the future of America’s young people and SRA’s “pretty good trend line” that she’s “hopeful will continue.”
“We have to remind ourselves that if we care about the future of our nation and youth, we always have to side on what is in their best interest. SRA education is the only sex ed approach that does that, and does it well,” she says.
“The sexual risk avoidance approach and terminology just opens up the conversation so much differently than in the past.”
To learn more about Ascend, visit weascend.org.
The New Jersey Physicians Advisory Groups website can be found at njphysicians.org.
From the August 2016 issue of Focus on the FamilyCitizen magazine. © 2016 Crystal Kupper. Used by permission.
by Jennifer Minor, Editor/Writer
In the follow-up to the Heartbeat International Annual Conference, one of my favorite things is the chance to listen to workshop recordings I might be interested in (Did you know you can order recordings of these workshops here?).
This year, Stephanie Libertore’s "Discover the Key to Authentic Intimacy" jumped out at me.
And I’m glad it did.
As Libertore says, “We have a need to know, a need to be known, and a need for love and acceptance—that’s our need for intimacy. We want intimacy.”
Being a young woman pretty close to the target audience of the pregnancy help movement, I’m always fascinated by how we approach the topic of intimacy. My experience has been so colored by movies, music, television, and the "cool" culture that I couldn’t begin to say what might be an expression of intimacy other than sex.
Though I know intimacy involves much more than one physical expression, Libertore gets it right when she says most young people equate "intimacy" with sex as a one for one.
“If sex is not the indicator of true intimacy, then what is?” she asks.
It’s a great question. If it’s really true that we long for intimacy, to know and be known—and we do—then how can we fulfill that need?
One comfort is the reminder that God wants this kind of intimacy with us. Libertore speaks straight to my heart (with scholarship in etymology) when she points out the Hebrew word yada, most often translated "to know".
Now yes, the first use of the word yada is in Genesis with Adam and Eve where Adam “knew” Eve and she conceived and bore a son. But yada is used for so much more. Yada is about perception, understanding, seeing, experiencing, and willingness. It’s the way God wants to know us and wants us to know Him.
Intimacy, as Libertore points out, is best expressed in the phonetic rendering: "into me see."
“I think the key to genuine intimacy is vulnerability,” Libertore says.
Being vulnerable does allow us to know and be known, and if shared with someone who loves us, to be accepted for exactly who we are. It’s the way the psalmist speaks of God in Psalm 139. “O LORD, You have searched me and known me... Search me, O god, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts.” Psalm 139:1, 23
The same word, yada, being used for both of these instances, tells us something about God, intimacy, and sex. It is the great reminder that sexual intercourse should be a reflection of the kind of intimacy God wants with us.
But sadly, as Libertore points out, young people often fall instead for what she dubs a "virtual intimacy"—an incomplete parody of the genuine article.
This is why so many make the same mistakes over and over again, hoping the same poor decision will lead to a better result next time around. The problem is, between the emotional and physical bonding forged through sexual intercourse, it becomes more and more difficult to form healthy relationships with the opposite sex.
No wonder the Bible tells us over 100 times to avoid sexual immorality. Maybe this is why some women come to our pregnancy centers over and over again for the same meeting.
What’s the key to unlocking the right conversation—one that might finally open the door to seeing sex as something holy, with a purpose, and only to be shared between husband and wife?
I’ll let Libertore give you the specific keys, but it all starts with understanding where a young woman is coming from. (Here’s a clue: she doesn’t think of sex as holy. She might think it’s dirty, overrated, a tool, or harmless fun, but she doesn’t think it’s a reflection of the type of intimacy God wants with us.)
It’s our job to show her that and help her to unlock authentic intimacy.
Click here to order recordings of this workshop, or any of the 2016 Heartbeat International Annual Conference keynotes or workshops at egami.com.
by Ducia Hamm LAS, Associate Director of Affiliate Services
Who of us has not heard these comments when addressing the subject of delaying sex until marriage with teens and adults alike...“You just don’t want me to have any fun!” “Everyone is doing it!” “We love each other so what does it matter if we’re married?”
Hooked is a must read for pregnancy help ministry staff, parents, those mentoring teens or young adults – truly for anyone interested in how our bodies were created by God to biologically form lasting, meaningful connections with each other.
Packed full of eye-opening, useful information, Hooked lays out, in easy to understand language, the recent research in the field of neuroscience confirming the adage that our brains are the largest and most important sex/relationship organ humans have.
Because of new state-of-the-art technology, some startling discoveries have been made. We have known for a while the bonding effects that oxytocin has in a woman’s brain when it is released during sex but did you know that men release vasopressin which has a very similar bonding effect in a man’s brain?
Scientists are now able to measure when and how much of specific chemicals are released and the corresponding changes the human brain experiences when we engage in sexual activity.
One of the most important discoveries talked about in Hooked is crucial information needed for a culture so accepting of casual sex, “...there is evidence that when [the] sex/bonding/breaking-up cycle is repeated a few or many times – even when the bonding was short-lived – damage is done to the important, built-in ability to develop significant and meaningful connection to other human beings.” (Pg. 55)
As I read Hooked, Psalms 139:13-14 kept coming to mind – “For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well.”
We are indeed “remarkably and wonderfully made!” It is always exciting to see science corroborate what the Bible has always said – that sex is meant to be enjoyed to the fullest within the context of marriage between one man and one woman.
**One of the authors, Freda McKissic Bush, MD is a member of the Heartbeat International Medical Advisory Council, frequent presenter at the Heartbeat Annual Conference, Medical Director for Center for Pregnancy Choices in Mississippi and CEO of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health among many other activities and accomplishments.
by Jeffrey Dean
Every young adult is in a battle. Did you know that? If this “battle” talk sounds like a bit of a stretch to you, let me tell you about Rhys.
A few summers ago I spoke at a camp. After an evening session, one of the guy counselors—Rhys—asked if we could talk. Rhys was heading into his sophomore year at a well-known Christian college. There was a sadness in his eyes that I couldn’t fathom. He had a lot of nightmares, he said, and a lot of guilt.
During his senior year of high school, Rhys and his girlfriend, Emily, were fairly typical Christian kids. They were both active in youth group, had pledged to abstain from sex until marriage, and were known in their circles of friends as “good kids.” But on the night of their senior prom, everything went crazy.
At a post-prom party, Rhys admitted, “One thing led to another and we pretty much did it all that night. Fooling around, drinking... you name it.”
Tragically, Emily had too much to drink, went into a coma, and never came out of it. A week later, Emily died.
This is an extreme story, yes, but it happened. As I speak to high school and college-age students around the country, I hear stories you wouldn’t believe. Welcome to the world of this generation. It’s a fight—and every young adult today is engaged in it.
This fight is about a tsunami of information, communication, anything-goes ethics, and the inevitable moral experimentation that results. The world of today’s young generation moves at a pace you and I would never have dreamed of when we were teens. Almost weekly, teens write to me about addictions to types of drugs that weren’t around just five years ago. By the time they graduate from high school, most seniors tell me, they have consumed alcohol and been offered drugs. Most college students I meet say that marijuana is easily accessible, and that there is almost always someone who is willing to have sex with them. It doesn’t matter whether they attend public schools or Christian schools; students know where drugs are used, kept, and sold. Many tell me they know a friend or classmate who has abused prescription drugs, or who is addicted to porn.
Here’s a fact: Rhys and Emily could have been anyone’s teens. They are from a generation bombarded by lies, hungry for help, and desperate for truth. Every young adult won’t face exactly what Rhys and Emily faced, but war is the daily reality for all.
You may be asking, “How does this information directly affect me and my work in my pregnancy center?” My experience in ministering to this young generation has proven over and again that the struggles of most students aren’t one-dimensional. A teen dealing with the challenge of a pregnancy, or contemplating having an abortion, is often additionally struggling with a variety of issues such as a low self-worth, an eating disorder, drug usage, cutting, pornography, and, not to mention, a lack of spiritual depth and discipline.
I am also of the belief that as Christians, we should never halt the pursuit of knowledge. Keeping up with what’s up for this generation only better equips us to be ever ready to meet them where they are, as they are, and offer them the hope and true remedy found only in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Every young adult has to navigate the confusing waters of today’s culture. Additionally, the struggles this generation face share a common underpinning: Satan hates these kids. More specifically, he’s their number-one enemy! His task is, as Jesus warned in John 10:10 (NIV), “to steal, kill, and destroy”, and he wants to lure them away from the truth and lead them toward destruction.
It’s our job to grab our weapons, jump into the battlefield, and be ready to give it all we’ve got. This generation needs us. We must be willing to fight and help them win!
Don't miss Jeffrey Dean's workshop at the 2016 Heartbeat International Annual Conference, The Top 10 for This Gen.
Jeffrey Dean is an ordained pastor, evangelist, and author committed to pro-life and pro-marriage family ministry. He has partnered nationally with over 100 Pregnancy Help Organizations offering a wide range of ministry services such as consulting, fundraising, parent and counselor training, evangelism, and discipleship outreach.
by Hannah Sapp, Heartbeat International
With its slogan “because you’re worth it,” L’Oréal has caught on to a crucial aspect of personhood. Self-worth that shapes how we treat ourselves and others, and a majority of the young girls and women that seek pregnancy help don’t have the understanding that they are “worth it.”
Everyone wants to know they are worth it. The issue is whether or not we are using the right basis to determine our self-worth.
Yes, we know that our identity is found in Christ, and that He calls us adopted daughters and sons, but how can we convey that to a client with a negative pregnancy test? She is usually already disengaged, feeling the relief that, “It’s over. I’m safe this time.”
We have the opportunity to show each woman a snippet of her true value, as both an image-bearer of God and one for whom Christ died. As we labor to show each woman her value, it’s essential that we help her understand how this affects her relationships both with the opposite sex, and with everyone involved in her life.
At the 2015 Heartbeat International Annual Conference, Joneen Mackenzie, President of The Center for Relationship Education, brought a fresh perspective to sexual integrity and self-worth.
In her workshop, “Building Skills for Life and Love,” Joneen shared that caring for young people in a holistic manner includes not only focusing on sexuality, but also, teaches them how to deal with issues of the heart. She presents a view that goes beyond “mere abstinence,” and teaches concepts like life mapping and learning to live and love well—all because, “you’re worth it.”
Using hands-on examples, Joneen’s workshop teaches students to understand and find healthy ways to express their self-worth in relationships.
Helping clients learn to identify their own feelings is key to building healthy relationships, Joneen says. Most teens can identify their feelings simplistically (happy, sad, mad, glad), but few can recognize more complex feelings. Giving them a list of feelings to choose from can help them become more emotionally intelligent.
The more a client can understand her own feelings, the more empowered she is to change unhealthy relationships and address the patterns that cause them. It’s also equally important to help a client understand that feelings themselves aren’t right or wrong, but potential indicators of the deeper realities and beliefs connected to self-worth.
The process of helping a client understand her worth also includes helping her see her value through simple personality tests that point out strengths, challenges, values, needs, and motivators. One fun, engaging test is the Five Minute Personality Test, which Joneen recommends as springboard to help a client grasp that she is a uniquely designed individual who is worthy of self-respect.
Joneen’s contribution to the sexual integrity conversation is compelling and safe, as valuable tools to building a healthy life in all aspects. When a client feels loved and respected, she may return for more guidance, open up, and trust you to speak into her life.
These hands-on models help to build relationships, relationships, relationships!
Women seem to be willing to choose to mother, but not to get married. What would cause a woman to be more comfortable being a single mother than finding the support of a husband first and then becoming a mother? How can her desire to mother overcome her desire for a stable father for her children?
At the 2014 Heartbeat International conference Lindy Dimeo, a center director in Virginia, presented a workshop called "Why Women Choose Babies over Marriage." Dimeo used information found in Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood before Marriage written by Maria Kefalas and Kathryn Edin to inform the way low-income women think about the issues of motherhood and marriage. Based on a survey of women with low socioeconomic status taken in Philadelphia, Edin and Kefalas propose that poor women will usually put mothering before marriage.
While the reasons that impoverished women choose to mother and not to marry may vary in different regions of the country and world, there are shared characteristics that can be helpful to understanding the motivations and thoughts of clients who desire to mother alone.
Crucial for understanding this trend of motherhood disconnected from marriage is acknowledging an inherited cultural notion that marriage is unsuccessful. More and more women are choosing single parenting because they see so few strong, lasting marriages today. They see the low or non-existent success of marriage, and they are not finding partners (or even potential partners) who would make good candidates for long term relationships or fatherhood.
For some women, fatherhood is a test of trust to decide if he has the potential to be a good husband. Some think "if he is a good father, then I can marry him." Dimeo discusses her experiences with a client in this very situation who expressed that if she chose to mother, she would experience unconditional love, because a man may not always be by her side, but her child would never leave her.
Wow. Can you imagine how much pressure that child will feel, to have their own mother rely on them for unconditional love? Yet, this is a common mentality. Women who view motherhood as a source of unconditional love and purpose are also searching for the same fulfillment as women who are bouncing from relationship to relationship looking for their heroic prince to love them.
These women are looking to satisfy the God-given desire for relationship and love.
Your conversation with a client is the perfect opportunity to pour into her the truth of her identity in Christ and share that He can fulfill better than anyone that desire for unconditional love. Dimeo mentions a demonstration using a set of three cups to tell a woman of her value as given in Christ.
The first cup is Styrofoam. It is disposed after only one use. This cup represents a woman who has had a one night stand or a friend with benefits.
The second cup is an everyday mug which one might use for a time, but after repeated use, disregard for another newer mug. The mug represents serial monogamous relationships.
The third cup is a valuable china teacup–a family heirloom. This teacup is priceless. Someone would put this teacup on display for all to see and would only use it for the most special of occasions, washing it thoroughly with much care after each use. The beautiful teacup is irreplaceable.
It is difficult for women to see the benefits of marriage when there is such a disconnect between the love God intended for marriage and what is found in the greater culture. Since magazine quizzes engage teens and young women, a couple of helpful tools to get them thinking beyond present circumstances and personal gain in having a child can be utilized from the appendix of the Sexual Integrity Program:
Each of the materials may act as a guide for a woman who doesn't see the fruit of marriage to understand those fruits by acknowledging facts derived from research about marital relationships and parenting. Using these tools helps to free the peer counselor from the temptation to use opinions to convince a client of the value of marriage for herself and her baby.
Lindy also mentions one final point important for every counselor to take into every conversation: Your job is not to just talk to her about sex– it is to care for her future. You have the opportunity to find out what the heart issue is that motivates her bad decision making. Usually, those bad decisions are tied to a desire for love, they are just misdirected decisions. Above expressing concern for her future, you have the ability to help care for her heart. You can point her to her identity in Christ and her value as His child: loved and adored.
Our Lady’s Inn, in St. Louis, Missouri, continues to plant the seeds of sexual wholeness as a core part of the center’s ministry.
Says Gloria Lee, Executive Director of Our Lady’s Inn, “Our nurse, Helen, does Heartbeat’s Sexual Integrity™ program with all of our women. One of them had been taught that you don’t have sex with someone unless you are going to get something in exchange, such as rent money, food, diapers, etc. This client came to the realization that what she was doing was basically prostitution in viewing sex in this way. She felt terrible about it but kept saying to herself, ‘This is what I was taught.’”
The client vowed, “I am not going to use birth control because I don’t want to be tempted to just have sex for the wrong reasons,” when she returned home from the hospital following the recent birth of her baby.
Gloria asks that we pray for Our Lady’s Inn’s ministry, “That we can continue to plant seeds that will come to fruition in the lives of all the women who come to Our Lady’s Inn.”
Most of our clients come to us to confirm that they are pregnant. At least that is what they say they want. But for those of us who have been involved in this ministry for any length of time, we know that pregnancy test is only a symptom of a much greater issue.
If our clients only knew what made good relationships or what to look for in the opposite sex!
Nowadays, our clients often just settle for anyone who comes along. Knowing that this is a growing problem in our society, and feeling that we in the pregnancy center have a great opportunity to educate clients on healthy relationships, we have revised one of the tools of The Sexual Integrity™ Program to help you educate.
“Ingredients for Successful Relationships” is a three-step questionnaire that clients (male or female) fill out to examine their present relationships. Those who are not currently in a relationship can fill out just step two of this questionnaire.
This tool is an excellent way to begin a conversation about healthy relationships and help our clients navigate towards good ones.
Download a pdf of this valuable tool: “Ingredients for Successful Relationships”
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