Careful What you Listen to

Have you ever noticed how subtly negative thoughts weave their way into your thinking? So silently, those sneaky, snaky strings of words take up residence in our minds, challenging our hopes and trying to reverse every positive attitude we hold. Sometimes there’s an element of truth in what they say; sometimes they’re outright lies. Either way, we often allow them to settle into our thought patterns, unwittingly giving permission for them to influence our lives.

Sometimes we’ve lived with those poisonous little phrases for so long we don’t even realise they’re there, dictating so many of our choices – until someone points them out.

That’s what happened to me last Sunday. I was sitting in bed, propped up on soft pillows, musing over Jesus’ words in John 15, “Remain in Me and I will remain in you . . . apart from Me you can do nothing.”(1) How well I know it! The enormous changes our family is going through, with all its uncertainties, has each of us starkly aware of our need to stay connected to Jesus – like a tender branch gaining strength from the sturdy vine.

But that’s not the only transition happening in my world right now.

After more than eight years, I’m making final touches to my book manuscript, ready to submit it to publishers. Within a couple of years, the long-dreamed-of book could be in print, (God willing) bringing perspective and hope to people who struggle with anorexia – and their loved ones. Publishing a book raises your profile and brings new opportunities to speak with people. You’d think this would be a time of great excitement and anticipation. Instead, I’ve found myself becoming reflective, quiet and a little overwhelmed by the thought of all that attention.

Why, you ask. That’s where last weekend’s revelation comes in.

On that cosy Sunday morning, tucked up in bed, my attention was drawn to these words of Jesus: “If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.” (2)

I’ve read those words lots of times. They make perfect sense. If a branch remains connected to the vine – and it’s a strong, lush, nourishing vine – of course that branch will bear good fruit, much fruit. I’ve always agreed with that principle. But until that morning I’d never stopped to imagine what ‘much fruit’ might look like in a person’s life, particularly my own. I was okay with the thought of bearing some fruit; but much fruit? Wasn’t that a bit, well . . . much?

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Photo by Luiz M. Santos on Pexels.com

In the same passage in John I read that when people bear much fruit, they bring glory to the Father. (3) Not to themselves, but to the Father. Suddenly God had my attention. A sense of wonder washed over me as I filled a page of my journal with quickly flowing revelations. Out of His great love, the Master surgeon was uncovering an oppressive pattern of thinking that had bound me up since childhood: “You can shine; just don’t shine too brightly.”

In my earliest years I had boundless confidence. The doted-on ‘baby’ of three girls, I followed my whims and said or did whatever popped into my head. It didn’t take too long to discover it wasn’t such a popular thing to be so sure of oneself. Names like ‘show off’ were fired my way, quickly teaching me it was better to shrink back and be quiet than stand out from the crowd.

More recently God has been calling me out of that self-conscious place into the peace and rest that comes when I put my confidence in Him. Jeremiah 17:7-8 is a favourite passage. Again and again, in my quiet times and through others, God has told me to ‘Arise and shine.’ Fear and intimidation have roared, Don’t be a show off! No one wants to hear what you have to say. Many times I’ve chosen to push through the fear barrier and follow God’s lead any way. But always there’s been a sense of restraint – a feeling I shouldn’t let things go too far, shouldn’t shine too brightly.

Last Sunday I realised just how much those fearful thoughts were holding me back.

I read on. Jesus told His followers He had chosen them and appointed them for a special task – bearing fruit(4). That task has also been given to us who love Him today. It’s Jesus’ desire and purpose for us to bear fruit – and plenty of it. If I want to walk in His plan for my life, I need to be willing to do that.

It really doesn’t matter what others think of me – or even what I think.

In truth, it’s all about Him.

I did a lot of praying that morning – forgiving the people who put me down in the past, rejecting those fearful thought patterns and tuning in to what God had to say. Lately I’ve been sensing He wants to lead me further out of my comfort zone than I’ve ever been before. On that particular day He asked me to throw off any limits I’d put on my life. And I did. I don’t know exactly what that will mean, but I know I can be confident that whatever comes, I won’t face it alone. He will be my strength and sufficiency each step of the way.

These words of Jesus are true for all of us who love Him. He desires us to live abundantly fruitful lives as we fulfil the specific purposes He made us for.

I wonder what that looks like for you?

And what kind of thoughts might be holding you back?

Imagine how bright the light will be if each of us shines the way we were created to.

“. . . let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1b

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(1) John 15:4a,5b

(2) John 15:5b

(3) John 15:8

(4) John 15:16

 

Skinny Girl

I peered through my bedroom window. Morning sunlight shone through the gum trees in golden shafts.  Sheets billowed in the breeze as Mum wrestled them into position on the line. A tall mound of wet washing sat in the basket in front of her.

She’d be out there for a while.

Here was my opportunity.

Heart pounding and muscles tense, I crept down the hall, slowing my steps outside my parents’ bedroom. The bathroom scales were in there – waiting for me.

Tiptoeing into the room, I dragged them out and stepped on to the platform, my breath held tight.

What would they tell me this time?

Every day it was the same. Measure, eat, count calories, exercise, re-measure. This routine had ruled my life for months now.

I’d never meant for it to be this way. My strict diet and exercise plan was supposed to be a fleeting thing – a quick snatch at the slender days of my teens…when men said I was beautiful. It was supposed to transform me from the girl I loathed – unwanted and lonely – to someone attractive. Someone worthy of love.

Months before, my world had changed suddenly. The departure of a loved one had set me reeling, flailing about like a tiny boat tossed in stormy seas. This rigid plan provided an anchor point – a solid structure I could cling to. It was supposed to rescue me – to sculpt my outside and somehow fill up the holes at my core. Instead it became my obsession – my first thought in the morning, my last whisper at night and every heartbeat in between.

Little by little, I shrivelled under its demands. The faith and passion of earlier years ran dry as losing weight became my sole focus. All that mattered now was the numbers – the calories I ate, the distance I walked, the weight on the scales.

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When the numbers were good, relief came – though only for a little while. Happiness was a fleeting visitor. Whatever fragment I shaved off my frame, it was never enough. There was always further to go – more weight to lose, more flaws to fix.

I thought attaining my ideal size would give me confidence. But when I reached that point, my deepest fears were realised. I still felt the same – empty and unlovable.

My appearance wasn’t the problem.

I was.

I was the flawed one, ugly inside, smeared with failure and shame. No diet, however strict, could erase the grime of my past.

Still, I tried. Maybe if I pushed further, tried harder, then I’d feel better.

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My body began to protest but I ignored its cries. Fluttering heart, skin turning yellow, strength declining – what were they but whining complaints from one already rejected?

What would it matter – really – if my tormented life came to an end?

Friends and acquaintances frowned and tut-tutted, sending me scurrying like a cornered mouse. They didn’t understand – had no idea what I felt. Fearful and angry, I retreated into my own narrow world – a tunnel with room only for me.

The way ahead was dim and my eyes strained to see. Where was the light?

Didn’t tunnels always have light at the end?

Reality crashed down on me like a heavy weight. There was no light, no way out. I’d built this world around myself and now I was trapped inside it.

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Life became a sombre march, one foot plodding in front of the other. Every day was the same routine, a desperate cycle of striving that only took me deeper, lower.

Through the blackness, a clear voice beckoned. You need to give this up.

My Father God – the one I’d hidden from – was speaking to me.

His words were soft, yet urgent. Give it up. Turn around. Let go.

He was right, I knew. This tunnel led to death, as sure as the darkness.

But He was asking the impossible. I couldn’t let go. Not ever.

If I did, I’d drown.

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Friends were watching, talking, praying. Urged on from above, one group approached me. “You can’t stay in there. It’s dark. And dangerous.”

Angered by their comments and terrified of judgement, I withdrew further.

They followed me.

“We want to help you. Please. This isn’t who you are. Take our hand. We’ll walk with you out of this – for as long as it takes.”

Cracks rippled across my determined facade and a tiny light began to glimmer, drawing me towards it. These women stretched their arms wide, embracing me just as I was. Slowly, gently they helped me pull down the walls I’d built around myself. Professional help was arranged and paid for. When fear tried to overwhelm, they offered peace and held me steady. All the while they enveloped me in prayer.

Their kindness gave me courage to face my inner turmoil.

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Slowly, gently, I was led through the process of healing. The lies which had entangled my heart were removed, strand by strand, and replaced with life-giving truth.

My worth wasn’t in my size.

Nor was it in the attention of males.

I had worth simply because I’d been created. I didn’t need to fit an image or achieve great things to be loved. I already was loved, cherished by the One who’d formed me as a unique reflection of Himself. He was the source of my value.

Pure, heavenly light shone on my greatest wounds and deepest shame – exposing infection and offering forgiveness. God’s abundant love poured over me like a waterfall, washing me clean, filling up all my empty places. This love was pure and perfect, strong enough to set me free from my past and launch me into a future full of promise.

Where despair had dwelt expectancy began to bloom. I turned my back on the tunnel’s ruins as one year came to a close and a fresh new season unfurled. The path stretching out before me was bathed in warm sunlight.

I launched out, my hand firmly grasped by my Father.

With Him beside me, I knew everything would be alright.

And it was.

 

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” Psalm 40:2

“(Jesus said,) ‘Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’” John 8:32

 

A note to my readers:

Do you relate to my story? If you’re struggling as I did, please consider talking about it with a person you trust. Letting someone in was my first step towards recovery – so terrifying but so worth it.

You may find professional help is needed. Psychologists and counsellors have the experience to help you deal with the issues behind your struggle. Getting help is not a sign of failure. It’s a proactive step towards freedom and a better life.

Can I also encourage you to get to know God, your Maker? He is the One who knows you better than anyone. There’s not a moment of your life when He hasn’t loved you. All His plans for you, even through the hardest of times, are good. Below are a few verses you may like to read.

Matthew 11:28

Psalm 139:13-14a

Zephaniah 3:17

Jeremiah 29:11,13-14a

Isaiah 1:18

John 8:36

The process of healing can be both painful and exciting. Beyond it is a life too good to miss.

Invitations

“Please come and visit before you go to sleep.” Scrawled in old-style cursive on a torn-off strip of paper, the note lay in my cabin. On my bed.

Minutes ticked by as questions swirled around inside me. Should I go? What does he want? Surely he’s safe – isn’t he? What will he do if I don’t come?

The chill of the night seeped through my skin, setting me shivering, as my feet crunched slowly along the path to his abode. There, shrouded in darkness, strong arms wrapped around me. Warm lips pressed against my hair, my neck while words of affection were softly muttered.

“She was a black-eyed beauty, like you,” he said. “We were lovers,” he said. “I’ve missed her terribly all these years.” Long and slowly he spoke, weaving his tale of endless grief, while I sat silent, immobilised by confusion.

“You remind me so much of her.” He shifted in his seat. Horror surged through my muscles and carried me, breathless, back to my room. Alone.

He was fifty. Married. A father of four. I was fifteen.

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“Come for a walk with me.” His strong, tanned hand tugged gently on my fingers. “It’s okay. I promise I won’t hurt you. I just want to talk.”

Hours earlier, his voice had beckoned. “You are beautiful. You are elegant.” Silky smooth, his words caressed me, quietly seeking to wrap themselves around my soul.

Caution snatched at my ankles as I followed him into the arching shadows of a garden. The moon stretched its glowing fingers between the branches, urging me to dash back into the light.

I stood in the shelter of the trees, tossing carefully-chosen phrases across the void I’d placed between us. Conversation meandered like a slow-flowing river. Philosophy and religion – our similarities, our differences.

Clouds drifted in front of the moon. Voices quieted. He opened his soul and spoke of desire.

My heart raged in fury, urging me away, back into the light.

He was thirty-five. My long-time teacher. I was seventeen . Fresh out of school.

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“Come to me,” he whispered. I recognised this voice – had known it all my life. He was the one Who loved me, the preacher said. The one Who died for me.

When I was tiny, He kept me safe at night. As a teenager, He called me closer, stirring up longings to know Him more.

Then darkness had entered my soul, slowly building a wall between us.

Surely I was unfit for his presence. I was the fearful one, shrivelled up and tormented, straining endlessly to whitewash the blackness away.

Still the stains seeped through.

His eyes gazed at me with fiery intensity. “I know it all,” He said. “I love you still. I’m not like the others. My love for you is pure. Complete.”

His arms stretched wide across the span of my life, covering all of my history and every moment yet to spring to life. “I gave Myself for you.” His voice was soft. “Stop striving. Come and let Me heal you. Let go of your past, of those who’ve wounded you. Trust Me and I’ll wipe away your pain.”

I lifted my head and staggered to Him, desperate. Tears streamed as shame and longing flowed freely from within me. He gathered me tenderly into His arms and held me close to His beating heart. Weathered hands wiped away my tears.

“You are the delight of My heart,” He said. “I’ll never, ever let you go.” Grace flooded over me, washing me through, replacing despair with hope and peace.

I was twenty-one. Anorexic. He was the Good Shepherd. The restorer of my soul.

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“My darling, I love you.” His gentle hands reached out to hold mine. “Will you marry me?”

I stared into his eyes, glistening pools of blue, my heart overflowing. This was the man I knew so well– the devoted, creative, handsome one who had my admiration from the moment we met. Far beyond my reach, I thought. Yet there he sat, smiling through the darkness while waves crashed on the beach below us.

The diamond ring sparkled in the moonlight as he slipped it on my finger. He held me close, his tenderness awakening the sleeping parts of my soul.

“You are so beautiful, inside and out. Let’s walk together through the rest of our days. Everything I have is yours.” His voice was soft with emotion. “I long to know you completely – with every part of my being. But I’ll wait…until the day. Be sure of this – already you have my heart. ”

He was twenty-eight. A lavish gift from God. I was twenty-seven. Blessed beyond words.

Healed and finally free to love.

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Isaiah 61:1-3

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Related Scriptures

Jeremiah 31:3-4

1 John 3:16

Revelation 21:4

Isaiah 40:11

Zephaniah 3:17

Deuteronomy 31:6