Not Just Another Sappy Love Song...

I know the last few blogs have been full of heavy stuff. An inside to the shame and guilt I've carried throughout out all these years. Today, I wanted to share the picture of love. Redeeming love. I've been working on this blog post for several weeks, and I guess it seems appropriate to finally come all together the day before Valentine's Day.

I have been struggling with my weight for, well, as long as I can remember. I pretty much internalized everything growing up, in regards to negative comments, joking, whatever, regarding my weight. And there was a lot of focus on it. From my parents, extended family and the school and church environment in which I was raised. There were a lot of people who didn't say anything negative about my weight, and attempted to be neutral and supportive, but from 8th grade on, I felt immense pressure (from my family especially), to lose weight. And the tag line always added on for losing the weight was that I was too pretty to be overweight. Often, even with innocent comments in regards to noticing something about my weight, I internalized things very negatively. I own that.

Add to that a very strict, religious environment where you grow up with the same people at church and at school, and where most outside extra-curricular activities are discouraged and well, you grow up in a fish bowl, a very unhealthy fish bowl.

If you had asked me in my 20's if God had a plan for my life and He was protecting me and guiding me, I would have likely said "No". However, I knew deep down that all the messed up stuff I grew up in had nothing to do with the true God. I don't know how I knew that, but even with seeing other people deeply hurt by the church I grew up in, something deep inside me said "this isn't God doing this stuff". Thankfully, God placed in my life, at that time, people who were pivotal in strengthening me and giving me a different perspective. But, I admit that I was hot mess. I was also young, still growing up. I was socially awkward and trying to find my way and I guess my 20's were about survival. And I am very thankful for the people who were my friends and continue to love me through my messes. And some of those include  a couple of the other kids who grew up in that religious fish bowl. So, there is always good. Always. In every situation.

Flash forward to turning 30 and having a decade of growing up, influential (God-placed) people in my life, and I am now in graduate school and living in Nashville. God had placed in my life great friends, a wonderful church,  but there was still the struggle, the self-hate, disgust at myself for gaining so much weight. Low self-esteem. Ugh. I remember so well.

I spent a lot of time stating I was OK and didn't need anybody while desperately crying out for love. I kept people out. I built walls. I can see clearly now it was all a front, and that's why I always, always stepped back into bondage. Even spiritual bondage. The stage was set. It was perfect. I was reaching for freedom, this strong person on the outside. But that hurting person on the inside was clinging to what I knew. What was comfortable. What I knew seemed so much better and easier. I wasn't ready to fully embrace love.

There was a breaking point right after I turned 30 and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I experienced spiritual freedom, healing and restoration and it was just me and God. I was ready to walk away from church and God altogether because I just wasn't going to do the walk anymore when I didn't feel anything. It made me question so much and because of that it led me to a deeper relationship with Christ.

All of this is leading to something. Something good. Now, I know this was part of God's plan. At the time, I didn't. Even though I had gained healing and self-confidence, I wasn't a total hot mess anymore, but I was still a mess.

We are all a mess, if we admit it. It's just better when we get to the point of admitting our shortcomings, admitting our need. This is where the healing begins.

During this time I lost a lot of weight. Because the weight loss program I was involved in was at church and tied to my spiritual freedom, I didn't realize that I was tying my self-esteem and acceptance into my  relationship to God. Which, on the outside, seems great, but what I didn't realize was that I was returning to the good/bad belief system instead of freedom in Christ.

 And as long as I was successful at losing the weight, then I must have been close to God AND successful, beautiful, fulfilled....blah, blah, blah. The principles of this study were good. But, for me, I tied it to my "obedience" and when I gained the weight back I thought God must be mad at me because I chose food over Him. Before I gained all the weight back, I finally felt beautiful.  I felt accepted. I felt loved. AND I WASN'T EVEN SKINNY! Damn it! I've never been "skinny", in all my attempts at weight loss. I admit I am a little bitter, because I have worked HARD and never tasted complete "success". But even still needing to lose the last 40 pounds, I felt so much better about myself. At the time I didn't fully recognize what great work I had done. I just kept thinking about how much more I needed to lose. I wasn't accepting any of it. And really, that's why the weight loss didn't stick.

 It would be YEARS before I realized how poisonous I had allowed this program to affect my relationship with God. I tied my self-esteem and worth into my success. And the religious program encouraged this. If you were seeing results it meant you were relying on God. If you died to self enough, then you would be free. I had no idea something founded in TRUTH could screw me up even more, but it did. I just didn't realize it until years later.

During this time I met this guy named Greg. And even though the lies were and are still in my head, Greg has repeatedly loved them out of hiding and brought them to light. The lies disappear with him. We dated for two years and were married in 2003. I was still a hot mess. And I am so thankful that even in our hot mess God can bless us abundantly more than we could ever imagine.

As much as I always wanted a relationship, if I had met Greg any earlier, it wouldn't have turned out the way that it did. And, if I had allowed the second best in, when I was struggling to find myself in my twenties, I might have settled for something much, much less. So yeah, God has a plan. It's a wonderful mystery and it keeps me believing how BIG God actually is. Because other's stories don't quite add up to the love story I have been given. It serves as a reminder, a humbling, constant reminder that God did have a plan and even through all the teenage angst and pain, I am loved. Which is what God has been trying to convince me of since day one.

                 Celebrating 11 years of marriage with this guy...

Before we were married I had gained all of my weight back. Greg still loved me. I questioned him. He just didn't see the fat. He saw me. And he has always just seen me. Always. He believes I am beautiful, nothing added or taken away like I like to do. Through the years there has been weight loss successes followed by the shameful regain.

 The thing is I was always loved and always had the ability to receive love. I just didn't. And even though the last 14 years with my husband (11, almost 12 years married) has shown me what true, unconditional love looks like, I continue to fight to believe it. The shame dies hard. But, I am finally winning the battle. By understanding that nobody loves me like Jesus and that He wants me to love me like He does. And Jesus blessed me with this great guy who loves me just. the. way. that. I. am. And Greg has continually been Jesus to me, showing me how He loves me. Over and over again.

Through every weight loss, gain, program, counseling, medical intervention, he has been there. Supporting me. Being my cheerleader, not my enabler. And never, not once, EVER has he thrown my weight regain in my face. He's never said, "should you be eating that?" He's never been angry at me because of my weight loss failures. He's just been there. Constantly loving me the best way a human can love another human being. And God has reminded me many times, "this is the picture I want you to see. This is a picture of HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU....when are you going to get it? How loudly do I have to broadcast it. How low do I have to whisper this truth?

To end this post, I am reminded of the very popular John Legend song. Here is the chorus:

'Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I'll give my all to you
You're my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I'm winning
Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you, oh...

It's absolutely amazing.  Greg loves all my curves and all my edges. Always has, and I hope always will. He gets extra points for always saying I'm not difficult to live with (yeah, right).

This is as sappy as I get, but I hope it has a much deeper message to you that resonates long past Valentine's Day. YOU ARE LOVED. Period.

Happy Valentine's Day, babe.

I love you, Greg Mayo!

Thank you for loving me!