Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Brace Yourself, It's a Long One

Today’s post is in a very different tenor than most and is completely devoid of pictures and full of words, a lot them. {Just giving you fair warning.} I’m going to try to do away with some of the blog informalities I am so fond of--all the brackets and dot, dot, dots--and share a story with you. How I share my own spirituality is this venue is often guarded or sporadic. When I was in college, I lived with a friend who was ardent and unabashed in her proclamation of her faith, and we had the verses painted on sheets and tacked to the side of the house to prove it. While her passion was commendable, I always felt like she discouraged more than she won. This, right or wrong, most undoubtedly shapes how I share my faith, especially with strangers. Nonetheless, I really felt the Lord prompting that it was time to share this story.

* * * * * * * *

If you were to meet me in person, you would probably think that I am small, or more aptly, thin. I am not waifish, but I am not heavy either. We have taken to reading Frog and Toad stories to Aidan before bed. There is one particularly story where Toad is dreaming that Frog is changing sizes. When Toad wakes up, he asks Frog, “Are you your own right size?” To which Frog answers, “Yes, I think so.” That is how I would describe it. I am “my own right size.” It’s funny, though, because some people have made assumptions that I don’t know what it might be like to struggle with weight or self-image when this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

When I was only 13 years old, I started to hear thoughts in my mind and embrace them as my own, never taking inventory if they were true or worth thinking. After all, I was only 13. Mostly these thoughts were negative about myself and my size, that I was essentially too big. At the time, I really was small, so I don’t see how I could have thought that, but still I did. So, as soon as I was in high school, I was always worried about my weight. I was always trying some fad diet: low fat diet, grapefruit diet, Hollywood diet, Atkins diet, cabbage soup diet. {Can’t help but cringe at that last one.} I remember from very early on thinking depreciating thoughts about myself any time I was getting dressed or caught a glimpse of my shape. I remember trying very hard to eat only 500 calories a day the weeks before my sixteenth birthday. But all those diets were unsuccessful, and I gained weight gradually after each year. When I went to college I was a fairly normal size, maybe having a little bit of childish roundness to me still. But with college came the freshman fifteen and then some, and the voices and the dieting got much worse. I was either on some ridiculous, impractical diet or I was eating with reckless abandonment. I was desperate for a solution, scouring magazines for answers and exercising religiously--all to no avail. That’s when I started to adopt some very unhealthy habbits. I don’t want to go into specifics because they are humiliating and probably obvious; I had no control and was very frustrated. Even though my college years were a wonderful experience, every moment was still woven with that black thread of discontent from this part of myself that I just could not live in harmony with. One church service, I was feeling physically sick, burdened over this issue. Then, I heard God speak, both gentle and firm: I have so much more for you than this.

That’s when it occurred to me that I was leaving God completely out of it. Even though I was a very spiritual person, prayed and read my Bible consistently, I kept this issue separate. I don’t think it was intentional; I suppose I just figured that God didn’t really care about something so trivial, or worse that He would be disappointed that my heart was so invested in something so shallow. But the truth is that God is passionate about what captivates every human heart: mine, yours. So, I decided to let Him in, make Him a part of my thoughts, let Him fix it, though I had no idea how.

That’s when I decided that I wanted to be free of the slavery of impossible diets and bad habits and stepped out into the wilderness, metaphorically. I was trying to live in balance, eat when I was hungry and be happy, not listen to the destructive thoughts. But, what can I say, I was double-minded. Sometimes I was successful at that, but most often, I failed. I remember, after one particular failure, hearing an evening chapel service on God as a healer. I remember thinking, Healing? Did I need to be healed? I hadn’t even walked to the front before tears were streaming down my face, and I was mumbling all the while, it’s nothing, it’s nothing, it’s nothing. They listed to me and prayed for my struggle, and at the time I was surprised not to find judgment but compassion. Some of them told me much later that they continued to pray for me for months to follow. I wish I could say that in that instant I was better—healed. Instead it was almost 2 years of struggle. It was at its very worst the summer I taught English in China. I had vowed to myself that I would lose a significant amount of weight on the trip, even though that wasn’t really God’s way of doing things. Despite my aspirations, I wasn’t losing any weight, and as the trip came close to its end, I was increasingly desperate. I loathed myself for every single bite I took, then would sneak away to eat when no one was looking, hating myself. I was consumed and humiliated. I was reaching my very end, unable to handle the turmoil, the depreciating thoughts screaming at me in my head. I needed to escape them, even for a day. So I fasted, a spiritual fast, not to lose weight. I was worried that the kids in the program would notice my absence at meal time, but miraculously no one did. That night, after all the campers were asleep, I went upstairs and played praise songs on my guitar until almost 3 in the morning. {See, I’ve always been a night owl.} Finally, I went downstairs to sleep, but I was so restless. I heard these words, over and over again: You will always be like this. You will always struggle. This is the thorn in your side, my strength made perfect in weakness. I remember so acutely the horror of a lifetime of this; it was such a torturous thought that it wasn’t until around 5 in the morning that I finally fell asleep.

When I fell asleep, I had a dream. I was outside in a white stone building, much like those I had seen in Jerusalem. I had a broom in my hand, eyes down, sweeping away dried leaves. Suddenly He was coming, and all I saw was His feet, and I kneeled down to touch them.

I wish I could say that I woke up feeling better, but honestly, I still felt awful. The struggle was just as vehement as ever through the end of my stay there. A few weeks later, I left China, back home to Chicago, then back to college. But when I was back at school, I noticed that I was having a lot of good days. Just as in any struggle, there are good days and bad days. I was having a lot of good ones. In fact, all good ones. The realization came gradually that my mind wasn’t running round and round with those disparaging thoughts any more. I was living in harmony with food and with myself. Gradually, the weight started to come off too, though it wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t until a year later that I made the connection that when Satan attacked Jesus, he did it was Scripture. And I remembered the dream I had since forgotten and realized that God had healed me. Completely. Permanently. How? I don't know. God did it. I have no idea. Ann Lamott said it best when she said, “I know where I was and I know where I am now. And you just don’t get from here to there by any other way.” I never had the strength to just pull myself up, will myself into a better place. But I had enough strength to trust God and give it to Him. Now, here I am, 10 years and 2 pregnancies later, and all that turmoil has never resurfaced. I am smaller now than I ever was in college, smaller even than my freshman year of high school. I think, all-told, it was a difference of between 40 and 50 pounds. But I cannot stress enough, this is not a weight-loss story. This is a story of trusting God with a struggle, bringing it to Him, and believing He had good things for me.

The reason I took the time to type out this whole story today was because… well, I always think it’s good to encourage one another in faith, but also I share this because I got the strong impression that my story might help someone reading, someone I don’t really know. So, I am taking a risk and sharing a lot of myself and praying for this person, too.

If you made it all the way to the end, thank you for listening, so to speak. Oh, and I guess I couldn’t escape a little bit of my blog informalities after all…. ;)

“It is my joy to share with you, not just the good news, but my very life as well.” 1 Thess 2:8

Blessings.

22 comments:

Hana said...

It's amazing what HE can do if you'll just let Him! Thanks for sharing your encouraging story Jessica!

Jewllori by Lori said...

What an amazing testimony to God's faithfulness and His deep love for everyone of us. Truly truly, He is deeply interested in EVERY detail of our lives, even that I am learning day by day!

Thanks Jessica for sharing your heart and for being obedient to God to post this :)

Ariana said...

WOW, thank you for sharing. HE truly is amazing.

Lori said...

That brought me back -
I wish some seasons in life would have lasted longer than they did. I'll always treasure our Holland Days :) Thanks for reminding me of your journey and our faithful God!

Sunni said...

Hi Jess! I have probably read every one of your blogs and am finally leaving a comment! Or more like a short story! : )

The first time I met you was at the airport when you and Ryan were flying from Chicago to Houston, and I had a "secret" crush on Ryan (I put it in quotes because I felt like it was SOOOO obvious by my every movement).

Anyway, I remember feeling nervous because you're his sister and because I thought you were so beautiful, it was a little intimidating. I can't remember how many months pregnant you were, but you looked great- and I thought that you just seemed like a strong kind of person. First impressions are lasting- I still think of you as strong and beautiful...

Thanks for your honesty in sharing; guess I just felt like telling you that now to reciprocate! : )

Your SIL : )

Jenny Plumb said...

A very lovely blog. I am glad that you have posted your "stone of remembrance" to share with all how God is faithful and very, very BIG. It definately gave me food for thought...

Elisha Trask said...

I felt like this post was for me. Probably for many, but it felt like a personal conversation. This is something I have always struggled with. Growing up my father was very WEIGHT concious for me. To the point it had become obsessive. With my first two kids my weight melted off. This third one it didn't. I am still struggling so much. I have tried to include the lord, but am now realizing that it wasn't as much as I should have been. Funny though, because my husband told me yesterday the same thing.
Well Thank you. You are a very inspiring women and I thank you for yoru willingness to share. XOXO
Elisha

Anonymous said...

Jessica:
What courage you have to share your heart so openly and the Lord is honored by the telling. He is Great and Holy and Good and He has so much more in your life than you can even think to ask for. But the best part is just to be His, to live out your days with Him and to be in His presence. It is not the bounty of the Master's table but the Master Himself that is the real blessing. He has shown you that and He is using you to encourage others. I am so proud of you and the way He has made you is so very beautiful, it fills my heart with joy. Press on, beloved and press into the deep riches of Jesus. All our prayers over all the years, for you, are being answered in the awesome beauty of who He has made you to be.
Love,
Dad

Anonymous said...

Your testimony shows what true love what God can do. Even now that we live in a hot and unbearable area . I pray that God will touch our lives. I an not very good with words ( unless it is about wine) Thank you Jess for sharing.

The POSHpreneur said...

THANK YOU for sharing!

sarasophia said...

It almost sounds shallow to say I have been there too but, I spent most of my teenage years battling an eating disorder.
Its amazing what God can bring you through...and I know there is a purpose and plan in the future for me to be able to encourage someone with my own story.

Thanks for sharing yours.

Hopefully we will all be able to one day speak with confidence,
"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."—Psalms 139:14

<3 sarasophia

Anonymous said...

Jessica,
Thank you for sharing your story. Being transparent can help so many people. I hope to see you today at MOPS.
Amy A.

Tamara said...

Jessica,
We have passed each other many times in the classroom at KOK or in the halls of CTK but I, usually, I'm running like a mad woman and rarely take the time to speak. Shame on me. I am Seth's mom. He and Aiden have been in the same class for the past two years. I am on staff at CTK as the Middle School Ministry person, so, extra shame on me for not stopping to talk to people.
Anyway, about three, maybe four years ago God placed a huge burden on my heart for young women/teen girls. A passion that I have been struggling with for the entire time it has been on my heart. I'm not sure where God is leading (are we ever?) but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is to reach young women with stories similar to yours. And mine.
I have struggled with body image for many years. I was a healthy size 5/7 throughout high school and college. I was a runner and I did aerobics. At 5'1" I had a solid, muscular, strong, healthy body. After my mom's suicide in 1997 I sought solice in food. The majority of my "happy" places with my mom involved food and I longed to reconnect. I wanted to feel something other than the loss and pain. I soon felt an extra 40-50 pounds.
I have lost and found that 50 pounds at least four times in the past twelve years and am now, for the first time, struggling with turning my whole body, heart, soul, and mind over to God...something I thought I had done a long time ago. It is very hard but I am being blessed in the process.
One of Marin Luther's mentors told him that we teach best what we struggle with the most. I believe that is why God has put this passion/burden on my heart and I think that it is no coincidence that I came across your blog today. Thank you for your honesty and sharing of your heart. And don't be surprised if I not only introduce myself the next time I see you but also if I hug your neck.

my name is heather. said...

Wow. I found one of the most interesting things you said to be the lies that entered your head around the age of 13. I too remember specifically at that age absorbing a lot of lies as if they were my own ideas. Only after years of turmoil and shame have I known total freedom in the letting go.... not having to control it all, and not being ashamed of my mistakes!
I am blessed by your heart and feel a connection in having also experienced the beauty that can come from ashes... what a breath of fresh air!!

Jessica Haley said...

Hmmm, what can I say, I had no intentions of making such a personal post and then dropping off the face of blog land for so long. It's a very difficult time in my life. Forgive me, but I am just not ready to share the details "publicly". I wish I could say that the struggle in the post above was resolved and I happily walked off into the sunset--the end. But the truth is that "in this world we will have trouble." Jenny is exactly right, this story is one of my "stones of rememberance" {Joshua 4:19-24} It is a story of God's faithfulness in my life. It is a story I tell myself to remind me that God can be faithful in this struggle, too. There are actually many other additional and amazing details that I left out. One of them was that I knew that God raised up people to pray for me in that difficult time. In fact, I was at a 7-11 convenience store in China on a payphone talking to a friend when she abruptly burst into tears and said,"It's hard for you... I know. Some how I just feel it, and God's been telling me I need to pray for you." It was so reassuring to know that God cared about me so much that He stired the hearts of others to pray.

Similarly, Elisha and Tamara, I have been praying for you. I honestly marvel at your bravery for being so honest--I did not expect that. If you want to discuss this issue in greater detail over email or in Tamara's case in person, I would gladly do so! I was thinking about what helped me the most and in fact what is helping me likewise right now. I think the most important this is to not keep it a secret. I think being honest and vulnerable, sharing our true heart with others, puts us in a position to receive help. It primes us for healing. When we keep things private, at least for me, I have had this odd tendency to tell myself that it is "not a big deal," that I can handle it on my own. Or, if I were to share it with others, they would laugh or judge. In fact, I have found that I am consistently nurtured by unexpected compassion when I am transparent with other believers. We also need the accountability to allow God to manifest change.

Thank you for listening to my story. I hope you all are well this week, and that I will find the time to make a new post soon.

blessings,
jessica

Jen from Windy Ridge said...

A beautiful testimony to God's faithfulness Jessica.

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

Wishing you God's peace...
Jen

Anonymous said...

Hi Jessica, I miss reading your blog and seeing your wonderful creations. Hope all is well:)
-Ariana

sarasophia said...

Haven't seen a post from you in awhile and am hoping your life hasn't suddenly gone haywire--as mine is apt to do--I am keeping you and your family in my prayers.

Hoping you are taking time for yourself sweetie....

<3 sarasophia

Jenna Tunes said...

Thank you.

Megan said...

I believe in the mysteries of faith and Gods plan for every person. I believe that for some reason you were chosen to experience this so you would have the compassion and understanding for others struggling. I believe that once in your life you are given the chance to fully realize God and am so happy that you grabbed that chance and shared it with us. I was at a time in my life and weight loss journey having just had my third daughter that this was so inspirational to me that I have rediscovered my Faith and my self. my true self, not my mom self, my wife self, my daughter or friend self, I am finally taking some time for me and loving myself, my every strech mark and baby weight roll, because they have made me the woman, the mother, I am and I wouldn't give that up for anything.

Dina said...

I love this! Much of your story echoes my own through those same HS and college years. I am so free now that I desire to better prepare my own daughters in knowing that they are perfect as they are, perfect in the body that their Creator has gifted to them. I love the verse you shared at the end...though people may love to debate the truth of Scripture, no one can deny your experience and the hope the Jesus' followers have. Loving your site!!

Stephanie said...

Jessica..

Thank you so much for following the leading of our sweet precious Lord :) I am meeting with a very precious girl and she is struggling with this exact issue! I have been praying that God would give me a story of some sort where He worked in it to heal...and here I am randomly at your faith section on your blog through facebook! God is so good! Thank you for your transparency! So cool...going to pass it along...
every blessing in Jesus <3
Stephanie

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