September 2nd, 2012
David shares an important message in the 6 verses of Psalm 13. I’d like to begin by sharing the first 4 of those verses:
“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’ and my foes will rejoice when I fall…”
A little over a year and a half ago I was engaging in behaviors that were becoming life threatening. On top of my eating disorder (which involved my battle with food, low-self-worth, and negative body image) was my struggle with prescription medication, alcohol, laxative and diuretic abuse. I also struggled with anxiety and severe depression. (I share this piece to shed light on what had broken the life I had & left me in a pit of despair. I do not share it to shine a light on it though. While it all consumed nearly 10 years of my life, this testimony is about shining a light on the One who restored the life within me.) Recovery was an idea that seemed too far-fetched for me to even consider. I didn’t know a life aside from the 24/7 battle of trying to hide all the behaviors and self-destruction I was doing to myself. I was hopeless, ashamed, angry, and I felt completely unworthy of living another day of my life. Multiple times I overdosed – I remember those nights of being curled in a ball of physical pain and agony because my body was seeking to protect me. I just wanted to numb the emotional pain though –a pain that I wouldn’t acknowledge until the very day I didn’t have a choice anymore. The day I finally felt the true, raw pain was February 24, 2011 -the day I was at the doctor for another overdose. Being confined to an exam room, with only an IV bag to accompany me, allowed for some truth to finally seep through the masks I’d been wearing for so many years. I cried – I cried for the first time in months. I felt the pain that I would never allow myself to acknowledge before – always trying to hide it with self-inflicted pain to revert my attention away from thoughts and feelings.
The summer before this I heard the first Christian song that I actually listened to… “Better Than a Halleluiah” by Amy Grant. “We pour out our miseries/God just hears a melody/Beautiful, the mess we are/The honest cries of breaking hearts/Are better than a Hallelujah.” Although I had been raised in a very Christian home and knew some basics about God, I had no relationship with God at that point in my life and I didn’t understand the words to this song… why would God want to hear our miseries… how does He hear a melody in all things? I think this is the moment my questions about faith started evolving. I saw the difference in people around me who had God in their lives. I wanted something different for my life… I just didn’t know what to do or how to do it. Fast forward to January (the month before my incident at the doctor’s office) and I was flipping through radio stations only to land on K-Love and I heard about the 30-day challenge to listen only to Christian music. I was desperate and willing to try anything – even if it was as small as changing the music I was listening to. In the next few months, K-Love was the only music I listened to anywhere.
On February 24th I realized that death was not what I really wanted. As much as I had desired it, actually facing it became quite scary. Prior to this day every time I blew out a birthday candle, saw a shooting star, picked up a penny that was heads up, made a wish on a fallen eyelash or on 11:11… anytime I had the opportunity to make a wish on something I made the exact same wish – simply put, I wished for death. This was something that was a daily occurrence in my life. My relationship with God was not growing because the only thing I spoke to Him about was death and if He would just let that happen for me, then I would know that He was really up there and that He cared about me. I felt like it was the least He could do for ‘allowing’ me to face sexual abuse, for ‘making’ me deal with the struggles of our family during my childhood, for never answering prayers I spoke as a child… didn’t He owe me something? How could He let all this stuff happen to me and then ignore the one request I had? Death… that seemed well within His power if He could do anything!
That desire for death began to diminish and in listening to K-Love my desire to find a church began to grow. I grew up in a faith that I felt drew the lines of right and wrong; where if you ‘followed the rules’ of the church you were surely going to make it to heaven. But it felt impossible to meet all those standards and expectations. I already ‘knew’ I was going to hell. I still remember that one weekly visit with the priest where he talked about our sins being like black x’s on our hearts. As a child had a continuous vision of my heart with a million black x’s on it – because every time I did something wrong or anything that was sinful, I envisioned a black x being marked on me forever. I didn’t believe I was ever going to be able to be loved by God. I certainly didn’t understand Jesus’ purpose in dying and being resurrected. I had no concept of forgiveness – and that we are forgiven because of what Jesus did for us. In October 2011 I finally entered Sheridan Lutheran Church. I have never experienced the peace and comfort I felt during that first service. I started attending every week and each time the message spoke so clearly to me – as if God were saying, ‘I have everything you need. Come to me. Hear me. Trust me. Believe me! I love you for you.’ In the moments I was struggling the most it seemed the message was aimed directly at me – it was challenging to sit through it. And sometimes I didn’t. I ran away in fear a few times. Knowing that there is absolutely nothing in my life that I can hide from God, (no addiction, behavior, or action) was terrifying to me. I continued to feel that unworthiness at times – I felt that everything I had done and everything that had happened to me in life made me undeserving of the love of God.
Having reached a state of fairly good recovery with my eating disorder, I was encouraged to come to Celebrate Recovery to share my testimony. That was months ago and here I am now… only hoping that I am truly at a point that I can share something meaningful with you all. I came to CR, met some amazing individuals, and made an effort to keep coming back. I was intrigued by the 12-step program and quickly realized that although I had unknowingly worked through many of the steps, I still had a lot to do and re-do. I walked through these doors thinking I had really done something – I (thought I) had made it to the other side of addiction, the eating disorder life, all my pitfalls… boy was I in for a rude awakening! I’m sure you can relate to the momentary high of really breaking down some doors and feeling like you’ve made it to the top of the mountain of recovery.
God was at work more than ever in my life. And it’s been a very humbling experience to have to admit to struggling from time to time. To acknowledge that those feelings come back and I have to fight through the desire to engage in behaviors that are far from the recovery road. This past Spring I joined a Bible study at my church and made the ‘mistake’ of promising the leader that I would not quit – no matter how hard it got, I was determined to not let anything step in the way of me working through the book of James. The first chapter of James talks about trials and perseverance. James says, “Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds. For you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be made mature and complete. If any of you lacks wisdom you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you should believe and not doubt. For the man who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not expect to receive anything from the Lord, for he is double-minded and unstable in all he does.” I still had my doubts. I saw the greatness of God at work around me and in me, but still questioned my worth to Him. This was a moment that I wanted to run from that study. I didn’t want to face more obstacles or trials – I’d already faced too much . That darn promise to Kathy led me through some of the greatest struggles and showed me that the only thing that’s going to carry me through those moments is clinging to Him. As much as I didn’t want to open my Bible, or go to Bible study, and sometimes even come to CR – as much as I wanted to run, I didn’t. I kept coming back. CR has been a place of transparency – I didn’t have to hide anything from you all. You met me right where I was and, knowing first-hand the struggles that accompany the recovery journey, you shared with me God’s grace and forgiveness. For the first time in my life I was persevering through the trials that I was facing! It was a huge aha moment when I realized that God had only just planted a seed in me when He led me to changing the music I was listening to and then by bringing me to the church that has become a family of faith for me. I had no idea that overcoming my eating disorder and addictions would primarily revolve around forming a relationship with God. Clinging to God in the moments that I wanted to run and being able to turn to mentors and friends of faith has changed my life.
As I’ve continued to study the Word and recently participated in another Bible study I reached the point of facing something that was still holding me back from fully giving all of myself to Jesus Christ. Forgiveness. I couldn’t understand that I was not to blame for the trauma of my past, that I could be forgiven for the way I dealt with my pain, that I could simply be loved for who I was. I have longed to be able to forgive myself and my perpetrators. I don’t think the journey towards forgiveness really got serious until I came to understand that when I feel completely hopeless in God’s power to heal and forgive me I am actually being prideful. I had the opportunity this summer to go home to work on my family’s farm and to be surrounded by the absolute beauty of God’s creation. It was the hours and hours I spent in the field, listening to Christian music, and absorbing God’s message and creation that has broken yet another seal on my life. I’ve listened to Matthew West’s new song ‘Forgiveness’ many times this past month. “Forgiveness… It falls in the face of all your pride, it moves away the man inside. It’s always angers own worst enemy. Even when the jury and the judge say you have a right to hold a grudge, there’s the whisper in your ear saying set it free… forgiveness.”
I could never understand what it meant for God to hear a melody out of our miseries. How could He hear a melody out of all of that? I know that no matter what the circumstance, no matter what I tell God – no matter how good or bad I feel about it, I think God hears a melody through all of those things because He hears it all equally. I know that throughout my days, whenever I see God in my life, whether that’s something in nature, whether it’s something in my relationships, a message I hear in church, or a song I hear on the radio – it is the best part of my day because I know that He is right there with me. It’s not something that happens 24 hours a day which makes those moments so special to me. God’s arms are always, always open to us, He is jealous for us! We don’t have to go searching for God, He’s right there – but we do have to seek Him. I wonder if, when I run to Him, He feels the same way I do when my 2-1/2 year old niece runs to me with her precious smile and hug – my heart is filled with love, pure joy and happiness, and a sense of peace. He gets to feel my presence when I run to Him and no matter what I say, no matter what I do, no matter what I take to Him, He never holds me different, He never loves me different, He never sees me different. That’s the beauty of this one-on-one relationship with Him. I don’t share it with anyone else. It’s a love story all in and of itself because it’s His and mine. There’s no greater love than the love we receive from Jesus. I don’t know that I really had a very clear understanding of that until just recently. It doesn’t matter what I’ve been through, where my life’s been, and the roads I’ve journeyed on. He doesn’t see me any different. Although I don’t always fully comprehend it, it’s a gift that I’ve finally allowed myself to accept. Dara Maclean says it so well in her song ‘Yours Forever’… “Thank you for finding me when You did, You changed my life, now I believe that love is all, that I’ll ever need. I promise my heart and all that I am, I’m Yours forever my love.” I’ve come to know what I have when I’m in His presence and I don’t ever want to give it up. He knows exactly what He has when I’m in His presence. I trust, now more than ever, that He wouldn’t have created me if He didn’t create something good within me. And He sees that (even when I can’t).
Each of us has the opportunity to be free because of the price Christ paid for us. When we forgive, we offer freedom to ourselves. Freedom to let go of anger, hate, guilt, and shame… I’ve opened my heart to God in an entirely different way these past couple of months as I’ve embarked on a new journey of forgiveness and letting go. I’m learning to let go of my own pride and accept that God has the power and the will to forgive me and cherish me as His holy child. He has paved my way and brought about healing through my journeys back home, a place that was once filled with so much pain. I’m beginning to understand what it means to have a relationship with God through the good and the bad- and I seek to share it all with Him. My life is filled with gratitude! I thank God for never answering my cry for death, for never leaving me or forsaking me, but most of all for being completely ready to take my hand as I became ready to trust and love Him. He is a powerful God! One who has brought healing from all the misery I held within me and I’m so grateful that He continues to work in me! People ask me what changed in my life. They say this transition in my life seemed so sudden. How did I finally decide to take the recovery road and why does it look so easy from the outside? Well, it hasn’t been an easy journey, but the answer is simple. Today marks 18 months of living a life in recovery. I can stand here today and feel confident that I have reached a point of true and lasting recovery ‘simply’ because I opened my heart to the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. He is my Savior. Without Him my life had lost its purpose… with Him though, I have redemption and a renewed hope that I am on this earth with a purpose to walk the path He has planned for me and to share His good Word.
It use to seem ironic to me that David spent 4 verses on the questions to God. This past it made perfect sense for me. Don’t we all often times spend too much time asking God the questions. I’d like to close with David’s last 2, very simple verses which contains an answer of sorts. As Psalm 13 ends… “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.”
(For a video version of this testimony, please visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=erbgDfG-cw4)