“The greatest gift you can give to this culture is to be the woman you are as God created you,” said Sarah Denny, campus minister at Christ the King Catholic Parish at LSU in Baton Rouge and a speaker Sept. 25 at the “Growing Up Gracefully” mother/daughter program at St. Francis of Assisi Uptown.
The power and responsibilities of being a woman, having healthy relationships and how a woman’s body works were addressed in a Catholic context with moms and their daughters in eighth through 12th grades.
“I have to first know who I am before I know what I am called to do,” said Denny, who enjoys sharing her gift of the meaning of being a woman and sexual ethics as a speaker for the Woman’s New Life Center, event co-sponsors with Hope Woman’s Clinic.
Denny assured attendees that every woman is a daughter of God and is not only loved by God but also is given an individual mission.
“A woman brings life into the world because of who she is with her gifts given by God,” Denny said.
“If you pay attention to your body, it is trying to share in your mission,” Denny said. She asked them to be open as Dr. Susan Caldwell spoke about the gift of the female body and its natural biology.
Becoming body familiar
Even though some might have been uncomfortable hearing about how the female body works with their parent or daughter present, Dr. Susan Caldwell, CFCMC, medical director at Hope Woman’s Clinic, devoted time to explaining how the female body prepares for motherhood. She familiarized them with ways to chart their monthly cycles to reveal their health.
“There’s a beautiful rhythm and pattern to this thing called a period every month,” she said. “Where there is no mucus, there is no life. It’s something to appreciate. … It’s miraculous for a baby to be born because of all the things that had to happen.”
She gave a reassuring statistic to the younger girls – more than half of teenage girls have an irregular cycle their first year.
“After about three years, most people have regular cycles, but it could take up to seven years,” she said, recommending that they track their cycles.
Caldwell said today’s world offers a toxic climate of sexuality, one that makes it difficult, even for her as a doctor, to talk to her own children. It’s hard to combat what’s considered “the norms” for acceptable behavior and relationships on social media. One result of current behavior is that teens have 50 percent of all sexually transmitted diseases, but only comprise one third of the population.
Spoken from the heart
Michelle Duplantier, who is Catholic, gave a personal testimony about her struggles with how she initially perceived faith to restrict the way she wanted to express her love to her boyfriend. It wasn’t until she met young men and attended a retreat that reaffirmed her dignity as a woman that she “realized how the church’s teaching on relationships and marriage is God’s view.”
She told them to be open to faith, ask questions and allow God to do his work within them. She encouraged them to set boundaries in relationships and to truly discern a relationship before committing to marriage. Duplantier revealed the difficult time she went through before canceling her wedding a month before it was scheduled. She said it was the first time she understood joy and suffering at the same time. She kept God in her relationship and knows she made the right decision.
“God wants to use you in a beautiful way,” she said.
Denny told the girls and had them repeat, “the quickest way to despair is to compare” yourself and your life to others. “They have different gifts,” she said. “God wanted you to exist the way you are … When you look in the mirror, ask God to help you see yourself as he sees you. As you are, you are enough.”
Denny challenged the girls to set their bar high when dating, especially now when the stories of their lives are just beginning.
“If a guy doesn’t respect your standards or your ‘no,’ then that relationship isn’t good enough for you,” she said, encouraging them to look for someone who loves them and doesn’t try to manipulate their feelings into doing something they don’t want to do.
Denny wanted the young girls to know that their futures are secure in God.
“Their bodies, sexuality, dreams, etc., are holy and set apart and a supreme gift,” she said. “No matter the vocation each ultimately says ‘yes’ to, her life now is God’s invitation for her happiness and holiness. There is no more important time than the present moment, and this time is a preparation for all He has for them in the future.”
Moms thankful for talk
The moms and daughters split up into two separate groups – the moms staying with Caldwell, and the girls going with Denny and Duplantier for further discussion.
One mom said she found the talk offered common ground to talk to her daughter about her monthly cycle. Another mom hoped to learn age-appropriate language from Caldwell when talking to her 4-year-old about the maturity of her teenager.
“Only tell her what she needs to know and what you are comfortable sharing,” Caldwell advised.
Millie Gaines was glad she brought her daughters Olivia, 16, and Adelaide, 15, to the talk. She hoped it would offer solid information to help them make good decisions, especially in the “new normal” for teens rampant on Instagram, in texts and on websites. She also hoped to open more conversations on the subject with her daughters.
“It’s a tough topic to talk about,” Gaines said. “Although they are taught the anatomy and the medical side in school, the emotional side isn’t really taught. I needed to be schooled as well. … This is very needed. … It’s helpful. It’s a platform for us to grow on.”
Caldwell told the moms something they already know – they can’t control everything, so it’s better to teach them the truth about sexuality. Each mother/daughter group left with a bag full of goodies, including the book, “Beyond the Talk” by Christopher West, and a bookmark that had the “True Love Test” on it.
For details on the next discussion, call 831-3117.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.