I was that little girl who could listen to her record of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and then recite it word for word in an English accent like the man who read the story. I could listen to the whine of the vacuum cleaner and go reach up to the piano and find the exact note it was singing. I read every book I got my hands on, often multiple times over. I memorized my Bible verses for Sunday School and then quoted long passages for extra bonus stars on the chart. I didn't have a single fear of standing before large groups of people and performing anything.
Instead of gratitude for all the gifts God gave me, though, I looked at my outward appearance (sort-of like how Adam and Eve suddenly began to notice their nakedness, maybe?). My folks, trying hard to be helpful, put me through Weight Watchers starting in the third grade... but try as I might to defeat my body, it prevailed. I don't guess any of us really took into consideration that children's and adolescents' bodies are constantly changing, and that focusing on weight and appearance can be as much or even more damaging than the fat itself.
I began to slowly draw back into myself, allowing shame to replace my confidence. Sure, I was smart and talented... but I was fat. Therefore, I didn't deserve friends. I didn't deserve love. I didn't even deserve God's love – because obviously I wasn't good enough anymore. I was obviously sinning by being fat, and God wouldn't bless me or want a relationship with me until I could get that sin conquered.
Do you see the distortion and the outright lie in that? I had allowed Shame to crash over me on a daily basis for so long that I could no longer recognize the truth. My grades suffered. I even stopped playing the piano. I pinned all my hopes and self-worth onto a poor unsuspecting nice fellow in college and when it didn't work out, I tried to end it all. Shame very nearly destroyed me.
But God continued to pursue me, and even in my haze of doubt and fear He guided me where I needed to be. And then my husband Rick introduced me to a God who was very different from my clouded vision of Him. I began to understand that God held me close and loved me EVEN IN MY SIN... that pleasing Him had absolutely nothing to do with my imperfection and everything to do with me emptying myself of all of the things I was carrying so that He could carry it all. Even if I was never thin... even if I never again got a good grade... even if I never again played the piano or sang another note... HE STILL WANTED ME. HE STILL LOVED ME. In fact, He wanted me to give all those things to Him.
Suddenly my courage, my confidence returned like a flood – because now it wasn't based on how good I knew I was, or how capable I was to handle things. It was based on Who Lived Inside Me. HE is capable of anything. And if He asked me to adopt children with unknown and fearsome special needs, He would give me the grace to deal with them. If He asked me to travel to Haiti and smuggle electronic keyboards in and teach people in small villages how to play those pianos in their churches, He would provide the money and the means to do so. And if I lost my life in one of those villages, I wasn't afraid because I know who sent me on that journey.
I found real joy crashing over me like ocean waves... so much joy and gladness that I couldn't help but live joyfully every day without fear. If God wants to use me to meet someone's need, I can joyfully give whatever I have, fearlessly, because whatever I have already belongs to God anyway. I can't help but lose myself completely in worshiping a God like that!
I took what I had written and printed it out along with the chords to a song I'd chosen. When it came my turn to sing, I began by reading my confession, then I played a simple acoustic-style accompaniment while I sang it:
We went on with the rest of the service; the sermon was deeply meaningful and spoke to my heart. We had a prayer for our pastor, who's having cancer surgery tomorrow, and then we dismissed.
I gathered my purse and my Bible and headed for the back of the auditorium to meet my son, who runs the sound board every week. He met me in the foyer with an engulfing hug and began to sob into my shoulder.
It never occurred to me that I had never told him any of those things. He was absolutely stunned to find out that I had almost taken my own life, and the thought of my intense despair and pain horrified him. He expressed to me that the thought that I wouldn't have been able to be his mom made him deeply sad.
It has made for very meaningful conversation this afternoon. I talked frankly about how depression lies to you... and that you can't believe those lies or let them rattle around in your head for years like I did and not be permanently scarred in some way.
Even after that experience, I think that once I had children, I began to have a better understanding of God's love for me. If I, a human full of flaws, loved my children as intensely as I did, then how much more vast is God's love for me, his own child? Since my kids came along, my depression still ebbed and flowed as it tends to do, but knowing that I was loved and needed by my kids, my husband, my parents, my sister, my friends, etc... and then knowing that God actually delights over me in the same way I take delight in my own children... has kept me from believing the lies anymore.
I have so much to be joyful about.