Sunday, December 06, 2015

My Testimony

I don't remember a time in my life when I did not know Jesus.  I have always felt like He was my best friend: an attached, invisible friend.  So, when I was doing well, He was right there, smiling proudly. When I was not doing the right things though, He was so sad and disappointed.  Every Sunday of my childhood, when the altar call came, it was all I could do to keep from going forward.  From Pass Me Not to Just As I Am, I was miserable.  Finally, at age eleven, I broke.  I answered the call.  I became a REAL believer and a few months later, I was baptized.  It was a wonderful feeling, until the guilt returned.  I was constantly disappointed with the fact that I simply could not be good.  I was becoming a young woman and I had a crude sense of humor.  I just could not make all the right decisions.  It was so daunting.  Each Sunday came with an extra dose of guilt as those invitation songs were a constant reminder of my inadequacies.

Eventually, my strong conviction that I would never be 'good enough' won out and I began to live a life of duplicity.  I still tried really hard to be a good person, but I didn't really hold back too much from 'having fun'.  I've listened to stories of people who never went to church until they were grown, heard the gospel, became a Christian and their whole world changed.  When compared to my life of sinful rebellion, as a CHRISTIAN, it makes me feel pretty awful.

Even today, I struggle with thinking that I can never measure up.  And honestly, I can't.  That is something I can only achieve through the blood of Christ.  Additionally, I can't just skate through life on grace, using it as a license to sin.  As a Christian, I am called to do better. I make choices for my life that align with the teachings of Christ.  I am to be set apart, not judgmental. What right do I, a sinner, have to judge another?  Relationship with God is what people need, not judgement. I aspire to loving and forgiving the most unlovable.  It is not an easy walk.  I get tripped up, sometimes on accident, sometimes on purpose-I allow my sinful nature to take the wheel.  Does this make me an insincere hypocrite?  No.  It makes me a normal human being.  The love of God is supernatural.  I cannot do it on my own.  Only when my eyes are fixed on Him can I walk on the water.  Only when my eyes are focused on HIM and his amazing powers of transformational love, am I attractional.  My goal is to attract people to Christ because of who HE is, and how that makes me a better person.  If it is all about me- I will only attract doubters who will see all of my flaws magnified.  The good news is Christ, not my perfection.  The good news is that through the filter of the blood of Christ, God sees me as pure...As I  WILL BE, eternally, not as I am now.

This brings me to my 'drug' of choice.  The drug responsible for most every sin in my life: GUILT.  It looms over me by day and night, in good times or bad.  It is more faithful than the famous geyser. For many years it pushed me far away from God's people.  In fact, I'm not sure I would have even defined myself as a believer-but I was.  Deep into the deepest pit of shame, I still belonged to God and He would not allow me to stay there.  It isn't actually guilt that was the sin, but then again, it was.

My guilt tells me many lies, but the biggest lie is that deep down, I am not really a Christian. The panic that says maybe the blood of Christ can't cover sins as blatant and destructive as mine. The next lie is that I am a bad person.  If people could see my heart and the fact that sometimes I am not sincere, they not only wouldn't like me, I would be exposed as the terrible person I am. Hypocrisy is a word never far from my lips as I try to do the next right thing without feeling like the biggest phony ever.  Like most lies from the enemy, they are convincing.  Which comes first, the guilt or the sin?  For me, they tend to travel together.  Like a drunk and his designated driver, they are partners in crime.

My guilt told me that I was so worthless, I had better settle for any attention I could get.  So when a well-respected man in the community sought me out for an inappropriate relationship, I was flattered.  I welcomed his advances and felt worth.  Forget the fact that I was only 12 years old, my guilt talked me into being a woman of worth-desired by an older man. I knew it was wrong, but it was irresistible. He groomed me, seduced me, told me how special I was.  When I was around 17, he 'encouraged' me to be his affair.   For a time, this relationship defined me as 'not good enough'/'too good' for normal relationships.  I was too old and mature to settle for guys my age, or maybe just too damaged.  Either way, I sought after men that were unavailable.  I believed in my own powers of persuasion.  This led to a whole series of relationships that left me broken and jaded.  I not only did not believe I deserved happiness, I wasn't sure it was even a real thing.  I relied on men, especially older men, to validate me.  As long as I could attract a man, I was worth something.  And yet, I had also made the decision that most men were like animals and weren't deserving of anything lasting.  It left me empty inside and created a cavernous desire to be loved.

When I met my husband, something shifted in me.  He was different.  He was someone I could love, that would love me back.  Our relationship grew to a conclusion I could never imagine.  Marriage? Could I, damaged and broken as I was, possibly get married?  Would it last?  I told him all of my deepest darkest secrets in an effort to send him running for the hills.  He told me his.  Neither of us ran.  Surely God was in this?  We have now been married 21 years and I have to say that, YES, God was definitely in it!  Two broken people began a life together.  Did that cure us?  No, we became even more broken.  I was so insecure and freaked out because of my past.  He was so insecure and freaked out because of his past AND my past.  And then two years later, we had two beautiful baby girls within a year of each other.  Four years later, another baby girl added. Broken on steroids.  Our marriage has not been easy. Wounded people wound people.  We both have some battle scars for the ways we wounded each other.  But we also have the victory that is our marriage.  The best marriage ever?   No, but a committed and loving relationship that we both strive to protect? YES!

As I peel back the layers of my soul like an onion, the next hurdle to overcome is what I call my 'insulation'.  I was a bit stocky growing up, not fat-but definitely thicker than a lot of the other kids-especially my sisters.  It is what made my 12 year old self appear more womanly than it should have.  I was curvalicious.  Being labeled fat soon had me believing that I was. I also lived with quite a bit of verbal abuse that always equated my weight as my worth. Thin equaled beautiful.  Fat was gross and a reason to be ridiculed. Believing that I was fat soon had me treating myself accordingly and has developed into a life-long obsession with food.  Food is my friend.  How does guilt play a role here?  Not feeling any self worth is a direct by-product of bad guilt.  I should point out that normal guilt is healthy-you commit a wrong, guilt ensues, you seek to right the wrong.  Sinful guilt is straight from the bowels of hell.  It convinces you that you will never be good, so why try? I firmly believe it is the root of all addictions:  I am already bad, it won't make me worse.  I have nothing else.  I like this and it makes me feel comforted. I love this comfort thing, I don't want to stop.  I can't stop.  I am addicted therefore I am bad.  I am bad therefore there is no hope.  There is no hope, why even try?  This thinking explains drug use, alcohol addiction, food addiction, co-dependent behavior, cutting, anorexia and even affairs.  In recovery, it is appropriately dubbed, stinking thinking.

So why am I addicted to food?  This fat on my body is an insulator.  It makes it safe to be around men and women.  A chubby girl who is bubbly and flirty isn't a threat to anyone.  Also, I'm funny.  Both of these things are insulators in life.  They are highly adaptable coping mechanisms to keep my inner self guarded.  The only people I let in are the ones who have proven worthy.  Does this mean I am fake?  Quite the contrary, after the jokes fade, I am so real and serious that it is also a bit of an insulator.  Truth and bluntness are my third layer of insulation.  It has been a struggle to keep my biting sarcasm at bay.  I am thankful for a loving church family and excellent Christian friends to teach me to be funny without being caustic.  The root of my humor has a dark side that will chew you up and spit you out...and the dark side also has cookies, so of course, that's always tempting.  So, after 21 years of marriage and a much closer walk with God, I value myself for all the right reasons now.  My husband is my spouse and my love, not my validation.  I am who God says I am. AND, God has been very faithful to me, He has changed who I am-reversed those tendencies to look to men to validate me.  But, the food thing? It lingers.

As my girls have grown older, our marriage has grown to be very strong.  So have our individual addictions.  We both still live with them and we manage them well.  We are works in progress.  We are trying desperately to live up to the example of Christ.  Sometimes, Christ shows through in us so beautifully through our broken places.  We celebrate those times.  Other times, our flesh is mighty. Our girls know the full extent of our lack of perfect...I don't sugar coat any of our struggles.  I also don't broadcast them to the world. (Anymore, Lol. Praise the Lord!)  We have never claimed to be perfect Christians, perfect parents or perfect people.  We are broken by life, healed by Christ and growing stronger in our faith every day.  I am humbled by HIS grace and mercy daily.  I live for the day I give up dancing with guilt and emerge victorious.  Sometimes, Ican feel VICTORY so strong, it is like a presence I can touch.  Writing this down makes it feel like I am ready to go into battle...just for today.  Just for today, I can admit that I have a problem that has become unmanageable.  One day at a time.