“A bird is defined not by being grounded but by his ability to fly. Remember this, humans are defined not by their limitations, but by the intentions I have for them; not by what they seem to be, but by everything it means to be created in My image.”—-The Shack
TO BE FULLY KNOWN AND FULLY LOVED
Before this past year, the above statement to me was terrifying in every imaginable way. How could this oxymoron even exist? For people around me to fully know the dark and twisty corners of my heart, and yet to still fully love me seemed impossible. How could I, while risking judgement and seeming failure, strip down my walls and allow people in? Thankfully, and ironically through Godly community, my disbelief of this truth have been steadily crumbling.
It was almost exactly three years ago when I began the trek down from Greenville to Columbia. Suitcases and boxes filled with memories and the essentials for this next chapter, I was ready to give this city a go. Unsure still of all the specifics of how my life was going to unfold, I knew it was time for change and I was beyond ready……..or so I thought.
Moving to Columbia meant freedom. Freedom from a life and career I felt I was only pursuing for others; freedom from the chains of mundane familiarity and replacing them with a chance to begin again. Shockingly, the realities of Columbia met NONE of MY self-centered expectations. Honestly, if I had known the specifics beforehand I never would have taken the first step. Thankfully, God used conviction and my selfish desires to get me to Columbia, where He then graciously used this city, its people, and the Church to chase after my heart.
“The Lord will make a way for you where no foot has been before. That which, like a sea, threatens to drown you, shall be a highway for your escape.”
Freshman year, first semester of college, and I am sitting across from my roommate, Mary Catherine blubbering and crying uncontrollably. I had only known MC for probably two months at that point, but God used her caring nature and that exact conversation to begin the process of reviving me from a life I felt I was drowning in.
Because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. James 1:3
I don’t know if I can pin point the exact time, but somewhere around middle school my carefree-self became hyper attuned to people and their opinions. People pleaser in nature, I soaked up all the perceived expectations of those around me and made it my job to perfect them. I strove to be the perfect student, perfect athlete, perfect daughter…….you name it and I took that title and put it on the chart of must-have achievements. Unfortunately, all those perceived expectations began to slowly translate into an unhealthy obsession with my body image, among other things. It was subtle at first, but over time it grew into full blown eating disorders, depression, and social anxieties. For more than 10 years of my life, my obsession with controlling calories, my body image, and working to perfect myself took different forms, but the heart issue remained the same. If I change the way I look, others will like me better. If I look or act a certain way, people will be more pleased with me. No matter how much effort I put into my outward self, my heart never found true contentment or rest.
Over time, as the chains began to break from the bondage of body image, I thought I was finally becoming free from my insecurities; however, my anxieties just took other forms. Whether it was finding my worth in my performance, job/status, meeting societal standards, or in unhealthy relationships, I never found the approval I craved. After turning from one thing to the next, meeting expectations of others, eventually, went far past the point of exhausting and left me feeling hopeless, beyond repair.
Heart beating fast, hands trembling and head pounding uncontrollably………………….
There I was, undergoing a full-fledged panic attack; all the while staring at my best friend and asking if we could just turn the car around and go home. We sat, parked outside another friend’s house, where we had been invited to enjoy some quality time with some truly quality people. Why, when the circumstances were far from threatening, was my heart crippled by such anxiety?
God used that intensely overwhelming night a little over a year ago as the tipping point to push me to Recovery at Midtown Columbia, an eleven week class designed to help people “achieve freedom and healing from issues that seem unbeatable in their lives”. Two cycles of Recovery later and I can boldly say God has done a wondrous work in my life.
Like a swimmer being rescued from drowning, Recovery for me was the painful process of spitting up years of burning, toxic salt water (lies/false beliefs/misconceptions) in order to finally take in full, deep breaths of truth. Ridding habits created from years of approval idolatry, shame for choices made and expectations unmet and an unhealthy need for control has taken a lot of mental rewiring. Ironically, it has taken honesty, openness, and community pointing me to truth to make any of the strides towards true heart change; definitely not a feat I could do on my own. For someone who so claims capable independence, God has shown that only through true dependence in Him and interdependence with others can I find what my heart has been ultimately searching for. Each step of faith towards ultimate healing has been painful, but it has been remarkable to see Him orchestrate a new story and identity for me to claim: to be fully known and fully loved through the grace of God is freedom like none other.
God has provided hope amidst uncertainty, comfort throughout times of suffering, and has fully captured the dark and twisty parts of my heart, replacing them with a lightness, full of joy. It may seem strange to outsiders looking in, as if I am claiming to have found a magic wand that makes all my issues disappear; thankfully, this is far from the truth. My habits and hang-ups are being daily defeated through NO means of my own, nor those of fictional feats, for surely they would fail me once again.
Change, after years and countless efforts to rewire my thinking on my own is without a doubt due to GOD chasing after my heart, pursing me in the deepest depths, breaking down my unrelenting fortress of walls, and leaving true love in its place. Daily the chains to burdens past are falling; broken pieces are being put back together bit by bit, and through the cracks shine a beautiful picture of God’s power and unfailing love unveiled.
“The gift of going second”…….a saying that is quite familiar to anyone that has hung around Recovery for even a short bit. Sharing your story first often supplies the courage and freedom for others to be vulnerable in telling their own struggle. Personally, the generous ‘gifts’ from others have allowed me to find freedom from shame surrounding my own brokenness and ultimately find rest and healing in truth.
I don’t say all these things to declare that I am fixed or cured, but rather that this healing process has landed me on a new trajectory (path) in life. My natural bend or need for approval is still a daily struggle, but I now know that looking for that in any place here on earth is futile. Rewiring my thoughts will take time and daily efforts, but through community and constantly striving for truth, God has taken my broken past and replaced it with a beautiful new beginning. Choosing daily to release control and place my ultimate approval with a God that claims me, loves me, and finds me worthy beyond belief, is how I have realized that I ‘found my life, when I laid it down’.
Acting on conviction, my hope in sharing my story is that it will encourage and ‘gift’ steps of healing for others; to demonstrate God’s power to create beautiful things through broken people, situations, and pasts for a radically rewired future.