This is the testimony I gave to my church congregation last year. It was scary.
God said “”My power is made perfect in your weakness.” I’m speaking today because I think that a surefire way to unleash the perfect power of God is to put aside our pride, fear, and shame and do the hard, uncomfortable work of getting naked with ourselves and each other. When God created Eden, His dream for humanity, the people he put there were naked and felt no shame. And they were happy and whole and perfectly connected with each other and God, and God declared this good. Then Satan convinced them that they were not good enough, and Adam and Eve became ashamed of their nakedness, and they covered up and they hid. And this covering and hiding separated them from each other and from God. And now we live in a fallen world and we repeat Adam and Eve’s pattern of covering and hiding everyday in countless ways. And just like in Eden, this covering and hiding causes us to become more and more alienated from God, each other, and the people we were created us to be.
I believe that intertwined through each person’s life story is a message from God to His world. Just as God uses the stories of his people in the Bible to relay messages about his character and his dreams for us, he also uses our life stories today. And here’s what I have come to believe that my message is: “You are forgiven. So get naked and feel no shame. Get back to the way I created you.”
So this is me, naked:
The first time I remember hating myself was in second grade. I remember feeling left out and ugly and alone. I decided that the reason I was lonely was because I was fat. I believed that if I got skinny, my life would get better and people would like me more, but I couldn’t lose weight because the way I numbed myself from my sadness was with food. One night I saw a movie on TV about a woman with bulimia, and I knew I’d found the solution to all of my problems. That evening, at the age of nine, I made myself throw up for the first time. I spent the next two decades with my head in a toilet. Much of my childhood and adolescence are a blur because my bulimia took over my entire life and became my comfort and my identity. For twenty years, I threw up 5-10 times per day. I was finally hospitalized my senior year in high school. They didn’t have many eating disorder hospitals back then so I was placed in a mental hospital instead. I don’t remember much about that time except for fear, embarrassment and throwing up into cups and hiding them around my room. I do remember leaving the hospital worse off than when I’d arrived and thinking that there was officially no hope for me, and that I’d probably die of my bulimia, but I don’t remember caring much. I went back to school and on the outside maintained all of the appropriate roles. I was an athlete and a student government officer. I was also mean. I spent a lot of time making sure that anyone who looked on the outside like I felt on the inside (lonely, unattractive, lost) stayed far away from me. I hurt a lot of people because of my own deep insecurity. That pain I caused to others so much like me is one of my deepest regrets.
After high school I went off to college and found an even more powerful way to numb myself-alcohol. I got drunk the first night at college and every single night (and sometimes day) until I graduated six years later. Most nights I blacked out completely. When I drank I got mean and wild and ended up in fights and in jail three separate times. Like most addicts, I trashed most of my relationships with my family and friends. I hurt people, stole from people, and lied constantly. At this point I had completely lost my relationships with my parents and sister. We had once been an incredibly close family, but my alcoholism had tormented them so much that they had to distance themselves from me physically and emotionally.
My junior year I discovered drugs. Since I was still severely bulimic, I spent my nights drinking and drugging and then when I sobered up each morning and started thinking clearly enough to get depressed about my life, I would start eating and throwing up till I could drink again. I never went to class and never bought a book. I remember one night learning that I had a final the next day in a class that I’d never been to and a friend gave me the book to try to cram. I crawled into bed and tried to read but my hands were shaking so badly from all the booze that I couldn’t even hold the book. That night I remember considering again that I was completely hopeless and that maybe the only way out was to kill myself. I never actually tried, though…I think I decided to let the food, booze, and drugs take care of that for me.
I somehow graduated from college after six years and moved in with friends to keep partying. I met my husband Craig in 2001, we started dating, and six months later we found out we were pregnant. We decided to end the pregnancy, and my drinking got even worse after that. I started to black out on weeknights, just drinking in my living room.
A few months after the abortion, I woke up one morning feeling sick, which of course was not unusual for me, but the sick feeling stayed all day. I took a pregnancy test and it was positive again. I remember staring at my bloodshot eyes in the mirror and thinking how weird it was that it was Mother’s Day that day. Then I remember falling to the floor of the bathroom and bawling and telling God that I couldn’t survive on my own any longer, and that He was going to have to take it from there. And the next thing I remember is feeling strong and peaceful. And those were two feelings that I hadn’t experienced since kindergarten. I also remember coming to believe, that day, that God wanted me to have this baby and that although being a mother looked like an impossibility for me since I was completely non functional, that He was going to take care of everything if I stayed out of the way.And I also remember knowing on the bathroom floor that I would never drink again, and that I would start using food to grow my baby instead of to kill myself. And then I stood up and walked out of the bathroom holding God’s hand.
God worked some miracles for Craig and me over the next few months… and we needed them. His powerhelped me get sober and quit binging and purging. He worked in Craig so powerfully that He somehow convinced an otherwise sane and wonderful man to marry ME. Or maybe it was my dad who did the convincing. Either way, in my vows to Craig in his parent’s backyard I said to him: “You are my living proof that God knows me and loves me,” which is the truest thing I know. Chase was born and I became a mother, and a pretty good one, and that was a miracle in itself. The most significant miracle of our lives though, was that over the next three years God used our son to lead us to His son.
When Chase was 2, Craig and I decided that if we were going to raise him right and ask him to follow us, we needed something bigger than ourselves to follow. We had no clue where to start, but one day we got a postcard saying there was a church down the street that let people eat and drink coffee through the whole service. Of course the eating and drinking part was what got me in the door. We showed up one Sunday morning and the ladies in the nursery welcomed Chase with such love and the coffee was good and the music made me cry, and the people were real and accepting and we were hooked, and a few months later, we decided we wanted to be baptized. We approached the minister after service and told him excitedly that we were ready for baptism. He asked us why, which I thought was weird. So I said something about how great the nursery was and the coffee and donuts and music and I remember him looking at us with kindness and amusement and saying “That’s great guys, and I need to mention that we believe that baptism should also have something to do with your desire to follow Jesus.” He asked us to think about that and get back in touch with him. After he walked away I looked at Craig and said “What did he say?” and Craig said, “I don’t know…something about Jesus.” So we decided we better learn about this Jesus so they’d let us stay.
And that’s when I took a Bible home and started reading. And I learned that I was forgiven and loved and accepted and that was really, really great news to me. And as I continued to read this book that was becoming my lifeblood and refuge…I met Paul. Paul was this guy that lived right after Jesus’s time and was leading a pretty heinous life. He had made it his mission to go around killing as many Christians as possible. And one day Jesus appeared to Paul on a dirt road and told him that he was forgiven for what he had been doing so far with his life, but he needed to turn things around because God had chosen him to do some serious work on Earth for his kingdom. And Paul immediately responded by giving his life to Jesus and ended up writing most of the New Testament. So here was this murderer that God chose as His representative to write history. And I kept thinking …why would He choose Paul among all of the respectable people walking around? And when I figured out why God chose Paul, it changed my life: God chose Paul because He knew I’d be sitting in my living room one night and I’d turn to Corinthians and read that I was forgiven, and I’d think that this forgiveness was a nice idea for most people, but certainly couldn’t be for me, not with the mistakes I’d made. And God knew I’d come to this scripture in a letter Paul wrote to his friend Timothy:
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life.. Amen.”
And He knew that I’d consider the possibility that maybe I was like Paul. Maybe God wanted to save me and use me not DESPITE the fact that I’m a serious sinner but BECAUSE I’m a serious sinner. For that very reason. Just maybe it’s true that it’s not important how bad my sins are, all that matters is how good Jesus is. And maybe none of the pain in my past was to be wasted. As a matter of fact, maybe it made me uniquely qualified for a special place in God’s kingdom. Maybe the fire that started burning inside of me in my living room that night, and burns even stronger as I stand here before you today, is God’s passionate desire to use me and my story to share His love and hope with people who mistakenly believe themselves unlovable and hopeless. Maybe God loved me back to life for a serious purpose. Maybe I am Paul. And this was my amazing Grace moment, and this revelation and commission from God changed my life and my world.
Craig and I went back to our minister and told him that we finally got the whole Jesus deal and we knew it wasn’t about the coffee and we had decided we were really ready to get baptized. One Sunday Craig, Chase, and I went to a church and nervously sat down in a circle with some other people while the minister talked to us about what was about to happen. The whole time, Chase, who was three, was humming this song over and over again and I was jabbing him with my pen because I was worried he was bothering the other people. After the minister had been talking for some time, he stopped and turned to me and Craig with teary eyes and said “Do you guys know what song your son is humming?”We didn’t. He said, “It’s a children’s song called “The wise man built his house upon the Rock.” We looked at Chase and he said “Yep, I learned it at church.” I will never forget that moment as long as I live.
A few minutes later, as Chase looked on, Craig and I were baptized and promised God and each other that we’d spend the rest of our lives building our house upon the Rock. As we drove home we marveled that it was Mother’s day, three years to the date that I turned to God on my bathroom floor.
Since our baptism, nothing has changed and everything has changed.
When I say that nothing has changed, I mean that my struggles and pain haven’t vanished. I still fight feelings of inadequacy and isolation. I live knowing that for the rest of my life I’ll be one binge or beer away from throwing everything away, and even though I know that, I’m still tempted. I don’t walk around singing God’s praises all day. I get irritated with my kids a lot and my husband told me recently that the scripture that made him feel most understood by God was “It is better to live on a roof than with a quarrelsome wife.” I drive too fast and rudely, and I’m judgmental and prideful and ungrateful and jealous and chronically impatient. I still struggle with body image, and I think I may have transferred some of my addictive behaviors to exercising and shopping. A lot of the time I still feel like that lonely second grader, sitting in a corner, wondering if people like me. Also,most of the time I believe that God has forgiven me for my past, but sometimes guilt and shame about the abortion, or about someone else I hurt, creeps in, and that’s when I breathe deeply and pray “God, I believe you forgive me, help me with my unbelief.” And by His grace He does. And so while nothing has changed, this grace of God’s has changed everything.
Everything has changed because God has put some things into place for me that allow me to live my life to the fullest in the midst of my pain and struggles. Instead of holding on desperately until the storm stops, which it never does, He has given me something to hold on to during the storms. He has restored my relationships with Him and with my family and friends. The Bible says that God “places the lonely in families.” He has given me a husband and children of my own to love and be loved by and he has given me my parents and my best friend, my sister, back. His power has helped me stay sober and learn to eat healthfully, one day at a time. He has also given me the Bible, my all time favorite addiction, where I can find all kinds of messed up people like me and read about the amazing things God did with their lives. And in the Bible I’ve learned that Christianity is not about all of my pain disappearing because I’m following Jesus, it’s just that now I have a friend who loves me and understands my pain perfectly, and who reminds me every day that my pain isn’t pointless, it has a purpose.
“To keep me from becoming conceited…there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it from me. But He said to me: “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in your weakness, Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties, For when I am weak, then I am strong.”