Today’s post is from Deanna. When I first met her, she was returning from a season on the mission field in Africa. In my mind, that made her extra, super committed to God. I quickly found a woman who absolutely loved Jesus, but was also just a regular person. Isn’t it great how getting to know someone will quickly break down the assumptions you have about them? It’s a privilege to introduce you to her today.
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
– Colossians 1:13-14 (ESV)
When I first heard the message of the love of God at the age of 14, it seemed like a fairy tale come true. Like Cinderella being whisked away by Prince Charming, I ran full-force into the arms of the Prince of Peace who wanted to sweep me up and take me to His kingdom to be with Him forever. It was many years, however, before I was able to fully accept my new identity as a princess, adopted by Almighty God.
I had a hard time seeing myself in that role. There were so many lies ingrained in my mind from the years before I heard the good news, and it was hard to believe that this ragamuffin of a girl could really be accepted by the Holy Creator of the universe as His daughter.
From the time I was a very little girl I felt like there was something wrong with me that made me fundamentally unlovable. I thought of myself as second rate, of lesser value than everyone else. Not surprisingly, these feelings can be traced back to messages I received from my parents. They weren’t cruel or intentionally hurtful, but their own wounds affected their interaction with me and the enemy took advantage of the opportunity to whisper lies that put down deep roots in my heart.
My dad’s childhood left him with deep emotional scars which left him extremely guarded and undemonstrative. Looking back as an adult I understand, but as a child it just felt like he didn’t love me the way other daddies loved their daughters. “Something must be wrong with you,” the enemy whispered in my ear. “You’re just not lovable like other girls.”
My mom had longed for a daughter, and she often told me what joy I brought her. Yet somehow those words couldn’t get past the messages I received from her about my body. From my infancy she worried that I would be overweight. Pictures of me as a child show a normal little girl, never the “skinny” type, but certainly not fat either. No one teased me or seemed to think there was anything wrong with my body except my mom. And I believed her. “You’ll never be thin like other girls,” she would say. “You’ll never be worth as much as everyone else,” I heard the enemy whisper in my ear.
When I was 13, someone I trusted and was very close to expressed an inappropriate sexual attraction to me and asked me to engage in activities that would gratify his desires. I refused, and thank the Lord he left me alone without doing more than just stroking my thigh, but even that left me feeling violated. What was wrong with me that he would assume I would participate in something so vile? “You’re just trash. That’s why he asked you. No wonder no other boy likes you that way.”
That incident became a turning point in my life. I learned to hide behind a façade. On the outside, I had it all together, but inside I was a mess, longing to be loved but feeling afraid and alone. I started turning to food to try to fill the ache inside me, but that left me feeling even more disgusted with myself.
I purged for the first time when I was 14. After that first time it was easy to do it. I didn’t turn to purging often, only when I was feeling especially stressed or depressed. No one knew anything about it. It was just one more secret to keep.
That same year I came to know the Lord. After going to church with friends, I was hooked almost immediately. This was what I had been hungering for all my life: a place where I was accepted, loved, and embraced without question. I threw myself into a passionate life of faith, all the while struggling with the old lies. “If they knew who you really were… You’re not really worthy of this love… They just don’t realize yet that you’re not like other girls.”
I felt like I had slipped into the kingdom on a technicality because God had promised salvation to all who believed. I couldn’t bear to let anyone find out who I really was, because it would break my heart to be abandoned by the Lord and the church family I had come to love.
God in His mercy was so tender with me. He didn’t rip off my mask and expose me, but neither did He let me stay in my misery, living a double life where those around me only saw as much as I thought they could handle while my deepest shame stayed festering in the darkness.
One night when I was about seventeen I found myself hunched over the toilet bowl once again, and suddenly a picture came into my mind. Jesus stood over me weeping. He felt my pain. He knew my shame. It broke His heart to see me hurting myself. That led me to confess my struggle for the first time, and over the next ten years I occasionally found myself working through the issues behind my purging, much like peeling away the layers of an onion.
After graduating from college, things got out of control. My life’s dream was to get married and raise a family, but that didn’t look like it would be happening anytime soon, so I tried to shift my focus. I’d long had a desire to go on the mission field and work with orphans in a third world country, but there didn’t seem to be any doors opening up there either. I started slipping into old habits in a desperate attempt to exercise a little control over my life.
I started obsessing over food. When I slipped and ate “too much” (say, more than 800 calories in a day), I’d get rid of it. Soon I found myself turning to purging more than I ever had before, and eventually I realized I was no longer in control of it anymore.
Then one Sunday morning after service, our pastor gave a call for prayer, saying there were several people struggling with bulimia and that the Lord wanted to free them. That wasn’t me, I rationalized. I didn’t meet the clinical definition of bulimia. Yet something tugged at me. I found myself going over to a couple who had known me since I was thirteen and whom I knew would love me no matter what I told them.
“I don’t have bulimia, but I think maybe I’m on my way to having it. I keep making myself throw up, and I don’t want to stop, but I want to want to stop.”
That was the beginning of the hardest year of my life. I had been a Christian for about ten years at this point, but the enemy had this foothold in my life and he was not going to let go easily. Things got worse, far worse, before they got better. In order to heal the deepest part of me, God had to strip away much that remained.
A year after that Sunday morning I found myself doing a summer internship in Kenya. One night I sat talking with my team leader trying to make sense of my struggle. I felt like a slave to my eating disorder, and it seemed like no matter what I did I could never break those chains. “If God wants me to be free, and I want to be free, then why am I not free?” I cried. He handed me a copy of The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning and told me he was requiring me to read it.
Reading that book was life-changing. My secret shame was brought out into the light and I survived the experience. After being a Christian for more than a decade, I felt like I finally understood the meaning of grace.
“To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.” (Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, p.22).
God hadn’t just grudgingly let me into the kingdom. He knew my weakness, my shame, my pain. It wasn’t too much for Him. He saw it all, and He loved me still. I recognized the enemy’s lies for what they were, and bulimia lost its power over me.
That was ten years ago. I’m no longer like Cinderella skulking around the castle in her old rags, afraid of never truly being a princess. Now I bask in the glory of His grace, delighting in the glorious riches of life in Christ. And I will never be a slave again.
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin… If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
– John 8:34, 36. (ESV)
Who is Deanna?
Deanna married the love of her life in 2006 and now spends her days discipling their four children. She blogs about homeschooling and life with little ones at histreasureseekers.com.
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