Spiritually I Was
Early in the morning, I sat in front of the mirror seeing every blemish and picking at them, pinching and pushing at every fat roll, even the nonexistent ones. I prayed, “God why didn’t you make me pretty and thin like my mom and my sister? Why do I have to be so huge and ugly? Why am I fat? Why do I have bushy hair? Why do you hate me, God?” My mom called me to breakfast, we had just come back from our morning run and I was getting ready for the day. As a 5th grader, I had just started homeschooling and had more than enough time to stare at myself in the mirror with absolute loathing. I was young, but the bondage had already begun, I was struggling with anorexia and self-hatred.
Growing up, in the mornings during breakfast, we would do our own personal devotional and prayer times. My prayers were always the same. “Why did you make me God? Why am I so worthless? Will I ever be pretty and thin?”
My early prayer life was full of those prayers. “When will I be thin enough? Why do you hate me, God? Why am I so fat? Please make me thin, please make me a different person, or make me die.” Some of you might say, at least you prayed. The problem was my prayers were nothing like what God wanted to hear. Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray in Matthew 6:9-13, he taught them to praise Him first; “hallowed be your name,” which means may your name be kept holy. The next words were “may your kingdom come and may your will be done.” The focus starts with God’s glory and His will. Then Jesus goes on to pray for personal needs, “give us our daily bread… forgive our sins…” I am not saying that if we don’t pray in this order that God doesn’t hear our prayers, but I will say that when our prayers are limited to our needs only and never glorify God we are damaging the relationship with Him.
It is like friendship, if every conversation you have with a friend is about you, and all your problems, and you never ask how they are, or you ignore their issues, you soon will not have a friendship with them at all. This is because in a relationship like this it is completely one-sided. It is the same with God. He hears your prayers, he will answer them but a one-sided relationship is far from a whole. There is no actual connection to Him, it is not a relationship at all.
The other side of the spiritual coin with addiction and one-sided relationships is loneliness. Truth be told, even if you don’t believe you have a “Problem” you still avoid people, or at least you try to hide things from people, including yourself and God. Therefore, it is hard to be around your close friends and it is hard to have open and honest conversations with your parents and your prayers are shadowed by the “problems” that lay just outside that place in your mind. You are worried they might notice something and you don’t want to have to keep up with a lie or remember to whom you told what lie. Also, if you admit to God that there is a problem then you have to face that problem. The lonelier you get the more you work to be perfect and the more you work the be perfect the more you feel like you must hide and you spiral into depression and isolation.
So, for me all throughout junior high and high school I struggled to feel as though I belonged. I was lonely and depressed. I thought I had a relationship with God because I prayed all the time and did devotions. I was sure I knew what God wanted and how to live my life. However, I slept little and I never felt as though I was adding up. I was tired all the time. Of course, since I was anorexic being tired all the time was just a symptom due to a lack of sleep and a lack of nutrition. Therefore, slipped into a dark depression. I remember the day the first thought of killing myself came into my mind. I remember praying God take my life, or I might have to myself. I didn’t think about the how I just thought everything would be better if I was gone. I prayed but all my prayers were self-centered and rarely did I seek God beyond my own personal desire to be better. The one thing in this seasons that helped was the fact that I was under my parent’s care. They watched over me, made sure I was “okay” and I squashed down all the dark thoughts and emotions that filled me.
Then one day I went from being a teenager and became a young adult. Suddenly that covering that held me somewhat together was gone. I was no longer a kid and I was leaving for college in another state, 654 miles away. None of my friends were going to the same school as me and I would alone. I had chosen Evangel University, a private Christian university. I felt as though there I would find myself. I would get out from under the shadow of darkness which trapped me.
However, upon leaving home it only got darker. No longer did anyone make sure I ate. I went to church but rarely participated. I still made no friends, because even in a new place where no one knew me I didn’t want to be called out. Also, since my parents were no longer there to be my safety net I sank deeper and deeper. At night I would sit on my bed and feel myself drowning in a dry pit. How does one drown in something dry? By the constant inhale of the sand. The sand of the lies I would tell. The sand of the things I would hide. The sand of the loneliness I felt. There I drowned in darkness. My prayers began to change. They went from: “why did you make me this way, take my life.” to: “Can you hear me? Am I still alive or is this hell?” In that darkness literal and figurative I began to hurt myself physically.
I had nightmares that were terrifying and overwhelming. I couldn’t walk into our Café or chapel on campus without having a panic attack, because of the crowds of people. Multiple times my suitemates would have to help me back to my dorm so I would stop hyperventilating and the darkness swallowed me once again. I was afraid to sleep that I was afraid to stay awake. I became a darker prisoner in my own mind. One who could not see outside of myself. I cried out to God again and again… “Hello, do you hear me?”
There in my dark pit, wondering if God even cared I felt helpless and alone. When our guard is down the enemy, Satan is more able to get a foothold. Being weak and tired physically is one way that makes us drop our guard and when you are bound by something like an eating disorder you are very weak and have little to no guard.
During this season I was still going to church but I usually walked out before the sermon began. My physical captivity to anorexia and self-hatred didn’t stop at the door to my physical body it evolved into my relationships, especially my relationship with God. My spiritual life was a few short words spoken in agony asking God to get me out. The tension in my mind and heart were so tight that I began to believe that it would kill me. It felt as though there was a rope that ran my head to my heart and when both were working sync all was okay, but when they were not in sync the rope would get tighter and tighter threatening to snap. In my heart, I knew that the only way to free myself from the bondage I was in was with God, but my head fought my heart vehemently constantly saying, “no, I am not good enough for God to love, I am not pretty enough for God to help me. As a matter of fact, God hates me. He created me as a cruel joke and only He can put me out of my misery.”
Every conflicting thought pulled that rope tighter and tighter. Then one day a friend confronted me. He asked me why I was starving myself and had I ever told anyone I was anorexic. I was dumbfounded and fully denied it, in my head I didn’t have a problem, however in my heart was a different story. I went back to my dark dorm room angry with my friend. Then spiraling into anger at myself and that rope got more taught. Days past with a constant argument in my head. I forced myself to eat something when he was around just so he wouldn’t say anything or think anything was wrong. I knew I couldn’t face another conversation with him.
A few nights later that rope snapped. I had been trying to study for a test and was unable to focus, as usual, my mind racing about what my friend had said, overwhelmed with the knowledge I was probably going to fail the upcoming test and trying to ignore the ache of hunger in my belly. My roommate came in upset with me and started to ask me why I had failed to do fulfill my part of our weekly cleaning. Suddenly I was in the full swing of a panic attack, crying, hyperventilating and unable to calm down. I laid down on the floor in my dorm room and decided I was done. I was going to die and go to hell, and I would finally have some peace. In the corners of my mind, I knew this was not true, I would not find peace in hell, but I could not at all see any way out. John 15:6 says “If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” I knew hell would separate me from God, and I would never have any peace, however, I just wanted it all to be over, I no longer cared what happened as long as it was all over.”
Note to readers: Do not lose heart, my spiritual testimony does not end here! Praise the Lord! There is still hope and joy to come. Next week Megan is going to continue her physical testimony. I will be sharing more of the spiritual perspective in two weeks.
In the Mean Time Go in God Knowing He is Enough for You!
Spiritually I Am
There I sat in mid-February of 2004, my life unraveling. (You can read my last blog post here to get caught up.)
The theoretical rope that ran between my head and my heart had finally snapped under the pressure of my conflicting thoughts and actions. In those moments as I completely melted down on my roommate I knew I could no longer hide the darkness I was suffocating under. My roommate, being very concerned called our Resident Assistant. When our RA came to our room I had locked myself in the bathroom and refused to talk to anyone. She threatened to call our Resident Director, as she was concerned about what I would do to myself in the state of mind in which she found me. I did not want our RD to be called because I knew the repercussions could result in my parents being contacted. So, I decided to speak with the RA.
As a result of our conversation, I agreed to call the counseling services that were on campus for students to utilize. I agreed to this because it was the only way she would agree to not call the RD. I, however, was terrified to call. I knew I couldn't actually go through with the promise myself. I needed help.
I was a student in crisis. I was a girl who had completely lost every last ounce of hope and yet there were people who cared. I had a roommate who cared, an RA who cared and a friend who cared. So that night I called my friend. I told him I had agreed to go to counseling but was afraid I would chicken out and not actually attend the session. He agreed to call and set up the appointment and go with me to my first session.
This was unorthodox and very odd but I knew that by myself I would not go through with the appointment so he went with me. For the next few weeks I went to counseling sessions and sat on a couch with knees pulled up to my chest and my head down. I didn't talk, respond, or even listen, I just sat there and cried. I knew that I had to go to the sessions or my parents would be called and I didn't want them involved. I knew if they were involved I would have to go home and I didn't want to go home. I was ashamed. I knew that I was away from God and had no real relationship with Him. I had accepted Him as my savior. I had called Him Lord of my life. However, for most of my young life, the relationship with Him had been one-sided. Me crying out, Him listening and answering, but I never heard His answers. I could only hear my own voice, my own pain and my own fear.
My friend had come with me each week faithfully, he had kept me from running and he had been the only one to talk in the first couple of sessions. In about the third counseling session as I sat with my head buried in my knees the counselor told my friend that he knew I was hurting, I was broken and he wanted to help me. However, he could not help me unless I wanted his help. The truth was I did want his help I just didn't know where to start. In that small university counselor's office, I decided to accept the help.
Over the next couple of months, I began to slowly open up about what was going on. I opened up about my fear and my doubts. I opened up about my pain and even slowly about my eating disorder. However, the more I opened up the more I seemed to struggle. Inside of that office, the spiritual light of God's freedom was blinding, however, when I would leave that office I would slip right back into darkness.
Matthew 6:22-23 says: "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!"
In that office I heard God loved me, I was worthy and I was loved. Outside that office, I still hated myself and lived in self-loathing. I continued outside of that counselor's office to live my-self destructive life of anorexia and began to even cut myself. In the darkness, I looked for freedom from pain and thought if I caused myself more pain I would feel better. When you are in darkness, you find that you believe that you are worthless that the only thing you deserve is pain and death. There is truth in that statement, without Christ we cannot live. Satan likes to tell us over and over that we are worthless, and that we deserve to die, in these things he tells half-truths and we will listen because we are broken and lost in darkness. The rest of the truth Satan does not tell us. Here is that truth, Christ died for sin so that we do not have to die. He took the pain for us so that we do not have to live through that experience. Satan even tried to tempt Jesus in Luke 4 with half-truths, but Jesus withstood Satan and the temptation by knowing God and His truth.
In the counselor's office, I saw the light of God's love, but I could only see inside myself and inside myself was great darkness. Half-truths filled my mind. Those half-truths and darkness can be overcome by a true relationship with Christ. Not a one-sided relationship like I had lived my young life, but a relationship full of surrender to Him.
Over the next 2 months, I would continue to walk in darkness. Yet my people began to see what I could no longer hide. Friends began to ask questions. My answers were lies. They would try to press, and I would laugh their concerns off, but the truth was I wanted them to know. I was so lost, but one thing I did know was I didn't want to be lost anymore. Suddenly the darkness was so suffocating that I didn't want to be there by myself. I had seen the light. All of my life I had seen the light, I had thought I was living in the light but I had been blinded by myself. Matthew 6:23 states that if your eyes are unhealthy that you even though you may live in the light your body can still be full of darkness. The problem was my eyes were broken, they had never looked outside of myself. They had only looked inside. They had only sought what I wanted and how I felt, they had not ever truly sought or understood what God wanted for my life.
However, John 1:4-5 says "The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it." I had been shown true light, by my counselor, by my friends who were praying and the light began to break through the darkness of my mind. I wanted freedom. I wanted light. I wanted to live.
On Sunday, April 11, 2004, I went to church with some friends of mine. On this Sunday I was determined to sit through service no matter what it took. It was Easter Sunday and I knew that I wanted everything to end one way or another. I knew that I couldn't survive in the darkness, in the dark pit in which I found myself drowning. I knew that I would either fully walk into the light or I would die in the darkness of my sin and pain. I was still much too thin, I was very weak and I also had open cuts on my body. I was nervous, I was terrified. I didn't know how to escape from the darkness I was in, but I knew that I wanted to be free.
As I sat in that service feeling sick to my stomach and wanting to run I experienced a miracle. The Pastor spoke of God's great love for us and His sacrifice for us through Jesus, but then he paused. He looked around the small church and said, "I feel as though there is someone in our congregation today that needs to be set free from sin and darkness. I would love to pray for you if you would like to come forward." At that moment I felt absolute terror, I did not want to go forward. I could not expose myself. The pastor went back to his message again, but a few minutes later he paused again and repeated his former words. I gripped the bottom of my chair and closed my eyes. My stomach swam and I wanted to run, but I knew I wanted freedom. I knew I could find freedom in the light but I was terrified. As the pastor's sermon was ending he gave an altar call, he repeated His words and told the congregation that Christ wanted to offer us freedom if we would accept the sacrifice that He had made for us. At that moment I realized that I could have that freedom, that I could walk in the light. That I could find a way out of the pit I was in; the pastor had just thrown me a rope and so I walked to the front of that tiny church of fewer than 50 people and made a confession and surrendered to Christ. I had already been saved by Christ's grace as a young child, but I had not surrendered to His will and allowed Him to complete our relationship. At that moment I let go of myself, I looked outside of myself and walked into that light which was being offered to me.
On that day my life changed. I walked into the light. There were still many struggles to come for me to find freedom from darkness, my past, and anorexia, but that day began the wonderful journey of freedom that I have been walking ever since.
So where am I today? I am walking in the light of God's incredible love and adoring relationship with Him. At the end of April of 2004, I met my loving Husband, Ted, who I would marry just a little over a year later. We have been greatly blessed and live a wonderful life. I am so overwhelmed by God's mercy and grace. See John 8:12 says: “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” When I surrendered my life to God and allowed His word to transform my life I could not any longer walk in darkness and therefore I do have the light of life.
Note to readers: I will wrap up my spiritual testimony (Part III) in two weeks. Please enjoy next week where Megan will share with you the rest of her testimony.
Now Go in God Knowing He is Enough for You!
With Love, Laura
Spiritually I Will Be
When I finished writing Spiritually I Was I told Megan it was probably the hardest thing I had ever written. It was true, and I have no problem telling the truth. It was raw and I don't mind being raw. It was personal but I am open to telling people the personal side of things. At first, I couldn't figure out why it was so hard to write, why I felt so overwhelmed and why it scared me so much. I know who I was. I also know that when I walked away from anorexia and the overwhelming pit of despair I was in, I decided I would not be silent about my reality even though it scared me. I didn't want anyone else to go through what I went through, also I didn't want to ever go back. So why was it so overwhelming to write those words?
It was too raw. Not for me, no but for you. If I let it all out too early you might walk away. If I said too much you could tune me out. If I told you the truth about what happens to you spiritually in bondage you might block me and stay where you are. You might not let God move you to the new you, to the enough life. It was too much to tell you who I was, not because you would judge me but because you might judge yourself. I felt the weight of what I was saying could overwhelm you. I felt that it could scare you off and you might never choose to allow God to be enough for you.
I am not afraid of what you think of me. To be honest some of you I know, but most of you I don't and won't ever know. However, I know you in the basest form, because I know your emotions. You who sat there and read what I wrote and suddenly felt nauseous, not because of me but because of what it made you realize about yourself. You who sat there and cried after you read what I wrote because suddenly it was like staring in a mirror and seeing who you truly were and what was holding you captive. I wasn't afraid of who you think I am, I was afraid of making you realize who you are.
The truth about myself isn't what scares me anymore. I know who I am. I am not enough, I am not a good enough mom, a good enough wife, a good enough friend, or a good enough daughter. At least not on my own. God is the good enough in my life. I fail, I make mistakes, I am far from perfect but God. God is perfect, He has never made a mistake, He has never failed, He is good enough for my life and for yours. So, I know who I am, I am a transformed, by His word and walk no longer in darkness but in the light.
What scares me is that I will not say the right words to help you move. I am afraid that I will say the wrong thing in a moment of my human weakness that will cause you more damage than good. I am afraid that I will be too honest with you and instead of walking into the light you will shrink back into the darkness and be lost forever. But... but God again, He reminds me, that is not my responsibility. It is not my responsibility to make you move. It is not my responsibility to prove to you that God is enough for you. What is my responsibility? To answer His call.
Last week Megan said God called all of us to something. Each of us has a call. In Matthew 4 Jesus called two sets of brothers to Him. All four of these men were fishermen, but he called them to be fishers of men. Later in Matthew 9, Jesus calls Matthew, a tax collector to also be his follower. We know some information about the writers of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each had a professional calling. Matthew I already mentioned, Mark though his profession is not spoken of, we known he was a follower of Christ and he started his ministry following and serving with Paul, Luke was a doctor, and John was a fisherman. These men had a calling or a profession and then Jesus called them.
My professional calling started as a teacher. From the age of five, I knew I was going to be a kindergarten teacher. I started working for a preschool when I was 15 and went on to teach and work in classrooms until I was 29. However, in 2005 I was in a late-night chapel and felt God call me to ministry. When I was very small I had felt God call me to the mission field, but always thought that the classroom would be my mission field and, in many ways, it was. However, that night the call was different and, at that moment, I got very angry with God.
I was finishing my degree in Education, I had less than a year left, including student teaching and then all I had worked for would come to pass. I was a terrible student, I am dyslexic and always struggled in school. I barely passed all of my classes and much of that was done through tears and a lot of extra credit. I had to take my certification test to teach four times before I passed it. So, I refused to give up what I had worked so hard to accomplish, simply because God was calling me. His call made me mad, but I knew He was calling me.
Over the next eight years I would teach and though I didn't ignore God's call completely, I didn't know understand His call and was resistant. I loved teaching, I also sang on the worship team, and I helped with our youth group at church. I loved leading girls, especially middle school girls in small groups and sharing the love and life that God had for them. I also taught and wrote curriculum about purity and God's purpose for sex. I was doing a lot, but I somehow knew that it was not enough. God was calling me to more.
However, God needed to do more in my life in order for me to do more. In 2008 I came to a realization that though I was doing much better, I wasn't starving myself anymore, but I still had a lot to work on. I was still punishing myself with food and had gained a whole lot of weight. I also was depressed and longed for more in my life. So, I decided to seek more counseling. I had gone through two years of counseling from 2004 to 2006, but after graduation from college, I had stopped going. I was better but I wasn't there yet. I decided to go to a counselor in our church. I don’t remember much about the counseling I went through over the next few months but I remember two conversations very clearly.
In one of our sessions, the counselor asked me to draw a picture of what I thought freedom was really like. I drew a picture of an endless road. She asked me why I had drawn a road. I told her when I had been able to run, I felt the freest. I felt like freedom was being able to run without stopping and never having to worry about anything else. She told me that I was wrong, this was not freedom. I was a little taken aback, this was supposed to be my vision of freedom, not hers. However, she told me that my view of freedom was limited. It was limited by my ability. Not my drawing ability, but my body's ability to run. I had physical limitations and though in my imagination I could run endlessly, the truth would outweigh my imagination. I was limiting freedom, I was limiting my ability to be free.
What I didn't understand was that true freedom was not something I could give myself. Freedom from bondage, freedom from all things that still held me could not be attained by me. They had to be done by God. To walk to freedom, I had to surrender my feelings, my thoughts and my pain to Him. I thought I had surrendered to Him, at least for the most part. However, there were still things that controlled me. My thoughts about my body. The fact that I hated how I looked and I still compared myself to others. Those things still held me. I had not yet surrendered them to Him.
In another session, the counselor asked me to tell her the rest of my testimony. I stared at her curiously. I had told her everything. I had told her about the eating disorder, the cutting, and the depression. She told me no, I still hadn't told her everything. She said there was something I was too ashamed to tell her. Something I was holding back and until I was able to talk about it I would not find freedom, the freedom I was looking for. Again, the freedom conversation. I wanted freedom but I was still allowing things to hold me back.
She was right, I could talk all about the physical side of my addiction and bondage, however, the thing I felt the most shame about was the fact that I had been separated from God. I was ashamed of the fact that I had allowed myself to be so consumed by my addiction that I was willing to die and go to hell, because I wanted it all to end and no longer cared about the consequences. I had been in such darkness that death was the only way I could see out. Darkness had consumed me and I had given myself over to that darkness. To me, that was far worse than any of the other things I could have done. I was still unsure that God had forgiven me for this and there I was a teacher in a Christian school, on the worship team at church and a small group leader in our youth group. How could I tell her those dark shameful things about my past? The physical side I could talk about because I was "over" it, but the spiritual stuff, it was too much, no one could overcome that and yet I wanted that freedom. I wanted to be completely free.
I remember wanting to throw up in her office as I started to tell her the truth. As I spoke something incredible happened, a smile crossed her face. This was completely opposite of what I had thought would happen. I had figured she would expel me from her office faster than my head could spin and report me straight to the lead pastor of our church. Instead, she smiled at me. She asked me if I realized what an amazing testimony I had? Did I know that God had delivered me from that darkness and I could walk out of bondage freely? Not because of me, but because of Jesus. I had been walking in the light but I had still allowed my past to blur my vision, Suddenly my vision got even clearer, it was like someone had just cleaned my glasses.
I had walked away from my addiction, I had walked into a relationship with Christ, but I still had thought I had to do more. Of course, I had to obey God, I needed to listen to His word, and obey it, but my goodness, my works could not save me, not from my past and not for my future. But God, He had already saved me. He was enough. I just had to choose to let him be completely enough for me. With this realization came again that calling and this time it was more overwhelming and more pressing. People needed to know that God was freedom for them. So, I became more vocal in our youth services. I did more to speak and lead women.
I also started listening to God's words, "your ways are not my way," he said in Isaiah 55:8. God had a plan for me and wanted me to do something for Him, but He wanted it done His way. Also, His timing was not my timing. "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day." 2 Peter 3:8. What I thought He meant for me to do now, He had a time for and would show me when and how. My own efforts to get things moving were exhausting and I was tired. I was trying to carry a burden I didn't understand "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28 helped me to understand that His desire was to carry that burden and help me to understand his purpose and calling.
I could go on and on about the verses and understanding I began to gain as I studied and surrendered, but I will only mention one more. This one is very poignant for me because it is the verse that Megan and I have decided to hold to in guiding our ministry and that is John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." Everything I tried and everything I did to push this ministry off the ground was fruitless. I even had people in mind who were going to help me run the ministry. I had great plans. But I had to realize one very important thing. This ministry is not mine, it is God's. Yes, He has allowed me to co-found it, but it is not mine. He has allowed me to use this as a platform to share my testimony but without Him, it would not be possible. Without Him, I would probably be dead and without Him, I would never succeed to be enough. So, what is my purpose? To answer His call.
God called me to be a voice. He called me to speak, to be raw. He called me, to be honest. He called me to be personal. He called me, to tell the truth. To tell the very ugly truth about addiction and what it does to our lives when we are drowning in darkness and separated from Him. I do have an amazing testimony to share with other people and therefore I cannot let my fear stop me from speaking the truth. The very scary and overwhelming truth.
So, I Will Be... I will be that honest, raw, and personal voice. I will be the voice that is willing to speak the truth even when it is ugly and scary. Why? Because God called me to be that voice.
So, now it is your turn. Take a step, a step toward whatever God is calling you to do. Baby steps are perfect steps. God is enough for you when you are not and he does not expect you to walk on your own.
So, take those baby steps going in the knowledge that God is Enough when you are not.