Let me start off by saying that if you haven't read my "About Me" page - then reading that may give you some insight before you dive into this post. But I'll humor you and offer a cliff notes version:
- I've struggled with my weight my entire life. I was obese as a child and have basically had to "diet" aka monitor what I eat since I was a child.
- I have attached a lot of self-worth to my body at times in my life and felt that I needed to look a certain way for other people.
I can remember being 11-12 and looking through Oxygen Magazine, doing the ab workouts and just wishing I could look like those girls. For years I dreamed of competing in a bodybuilding show and once I got to college, attempted several times unsuccessfully. Finally, my final semester of college (August 2013) I made the decision to hire a coach and do it. I went in blindly. I only had one friend that had competed before and she never really had any "food" issues as far as overeating or using food for comfort, things I had dealt with for years. I was competing trying to fix a problem - a food addiction - which did nothing but make the problem ultimately worse. Think you are addicted to food? Be deprived of everything you enjoy for a while and see how you are after that. DEPENDENT to the point of insanity upon food.
The first few weeks weren't too bad. I lost weight rather quickly off the bat, the cardio was bearable and the food wasn't terrible. I loved seeing my body change and I was getting a lot of attention from others as they noticed. Obviously as progress stalled, things got more intense and food became less. By the end of my prep I was eating a lot of fish and doing cardio twice a day every day. I had a wonderful, supportive coach, but she knew I wanted to get on stage and she knew what would be required.
I think the first time around I really didn't know just how sucky you can feel at times so some days it wasn't as bad and some days it was terrible. But I had blinders on and wouldn't stop until I reached my goal.
The final weeks were brutal. I was tired most of the time, I was emotional, hangry and always cold. Prep brain is a real thing and forming sentences and communicating with others is not always easy. I had scheduled class all day on Tuesday and Thursday so that I only had to go to campus those two days but man were they brutal days. I was up at 5am, training and doing one 40 minute cardio session, go to class all day and then do my second cardio session that evening.
The end of October, just two weeks out from show, my church back home was hosting a revival. It started on Sunday and each night the number of people got bigger and bigger. I was hearing about people standing against the walls and lives being changed each day to the point that they had extended it past its intended end on Wednesday night to Thursday night. Praise God it was extended. I had no intentions of going, but on Thursday I just felt like I needed to go. I was leaving to go back home that evening after class anyway, but I felt a sense of urgency that I don't know if I've felt since. I remember standing in the basement of the Journalism building outside of my web design class and calling Michael, my then boyfriend - now husband, and asking if he wanted to go. I got some mumbling but I remember saying "I'm leaving early and I'll be there so you can come if you want."
I skipped my last class and headed home. I still don't know why, if it was the prep emotions or just the Holy Spirit, but I cried all the way home that day. For 2 hours, I cried. I went straight to the church; I still remember exactly what I was wearing - old baggy sweatpants, a long sleeve shirt and a vest. None of it fit because none of your clothes fit on prep, unless you buy new ones that won't fit after prep. Everything just kind of hangs on you. Jon Reed, an evangelist was the speaker that night and the church was packed. I sat in a pew with my boyfriend and some of our friends in the middle of the sanctuary. The praise band sang some songs and then the speaker stood up.
I couldn't tell you what the message was on that night. I sat in that pew, holding on for dear life while God revealed a lot of things to me that I didn't want to hear. I had made a profession of faith and was baptized as a young child, was very active in my church and in the Women's Missionary Union through high school. I had a relationship with God, but he had been pushed out of my life during college. I was doing things MY way and on MY time and was only going to church when I was home and it was convenient. The spirit of conviction was there, but it was ignored. But on October 24, 2013, God had a legitimate come-to-Jesus meeting with me. I am thankful He did it in a church pew and not in a hospital bed or a ditch.
I had put so much value in my appearance. I was in the best "aesthetic" shape of my life (we won't go into my actual health at that time), but was at my lowest spiritual health. I was competing for selfish reasons, to feel good about a body that wasn't sustainable and get recognition from others for how "dedicated" I was. God made me take my body to the brink of exhaustion, in order to show me that it really wasn't all about me. That I was trying to do it on my own when in reality my successes and my blessings were things HE had given me, not anything that I had earned. I was only capable of doing what He allowed me to do, whether I gave Him the credit or not.
The pastor began the time of invitation and he went through the steps to salvation. I knew them by heart, but for the first time in my life I cried out, truly desperate and physically and spiritually starving. He then asked that if you prayed that prayer, that you look up at him, so I did, still clinging to the pew for dear life. Lastly, he asked that if you prayed that prayer, that you would stand up, unashamed and make your profession of faith. Nails still dug into the pew, God managed to push my butt up and I stood. To my surprise, Michael stood up beside me along with several of our other friends. We would later be baptized together, along with my dad - a day that I will forever cherish.
They called us down front and took us out to meet with the counselors. I remember asking my group to please just pray for me, that I had never been so exhausted in my life but I had to make it another week. They brought us back in the sanctuary and my sister sang "Not Guilty" by Mandisa, a song that I will always associate with that day.
I had felt like there were times in my life that I was doing God's will and I had a relationship with him, but whenever a pastor would say "Do you know without a shadow of a doubt where you would go if you died today?" - I always doubted. Since that day I've never questioned my salvation. I've been off-track and am still a sinner - always will be - but I know who holds my future and I know who orchestrates every single aspect of my life, good or bad.
The final week of my prep was a breeze after that. I spent my cardio worshipping God, praising Him for what He had done for me. Just over a week later, I stepped on stage and achieved my goal of competing.
I think God had tried to get my attention several times before, but it took really being that physically and spiritually broken to truly desire Him. His timing is perfect and I will never forget that, even when I am impatient or stubborn.
The days, months and years that would follow would test my faith more than it had ever been. I've always heard people speak about "seasons of refinement" and boy did God refine me right on up! Immediately after my show, I dealt with binge eating disorder, a common side effect of competing and being deprived. I would eat until I was physically stuffed and couldn't breathe, but would continue to eat because I was dependent upon food. I began to use laxatives to try to counteract the binging. I gained most of the weight I had lost during prep back in a matter of weeks. I would try to compete again several times unsuccessfully. I graduated college just a month after my show, so into the no-mans-land of post-college pre-work force I went. It took 6 months of frustration and failed attempts before I would finally have a "real job." Once we were engaged, we dealt with the frustration of finding a house, planning a wedding, and preparing for married life.
In 2015, one of my best friends lost her husband in a tragic accident and just 9 months later, we lost her in a similar accident. She was the friend that pushed me to compete initially, drove 3 hours after working night shift to surprise me at my first show and was my ally through the entire process. The next year of my life was spent being confused, being angry and being heartbroken. I questioned God more in that time than I probably ever have. But I always remember in Isaiah where the scripture says "My ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." We don't always understand and sometimes we think we know best, but we don't. It's not about us and many times God uses our most troubling times to teach us the biggest lessons.
It would take years and lots of prayers, before I would get to the place that I feel like I'm where God wants me to be. And that place could always change. I see girls that have perfect first competition experiences and they thrive and I wonder "Why couldn't that have been me?" But nothing that happens in our life is by chance. God created us for a purpose and with a plan in mind. We just have to let Him get in the drivers seat. Jesus died on a cross for my sins so that I could live for Him and with Him in eternity - not so that I could live for me and my selfish desires. We have to stop making it about us and make it about Him and His kingdom.
That experience and the years following have helped me grow so much as a person and as a Christian. I can get in my own head too much and let little things get the best of me, but God never fails to remind me that He is so much bigger than I am. He is so much bigger than any problem we will face in this lifetime. He is so much bigger than any physical ailment, any addiction or any eating disorder. He is bigger than our finances, bigger than our relationships and bigger than the mental battles we all face regardless of the extent. He is bigger than our heartbreaks, our society and even bigger than my quads. When life consumes us and we lose our focus, all we have to do is look to the cross and He will intervene on our behalf.
Life is going to throw some trials and some tribulations your way. You will falter and fail more than you'd like. The devil is going to come at you and Satan always seems to attack in spurts throwing one thing and then another and another at us. But even Satan and his demons tremble at the name of Jesus and when he throws his best ammunition at us, it is because he can see the armies of angels that surround us.
I hope that my story has an effect on you. If you are a Christian, I hope it gives you hope that you can overcome the struggle that you face. Our struggles are ever changing. While I no longer face disordered eating, I still have good and bad days when it comes to body image. My struggles have shifted from career uncertainty and being an adult period, to being a better adult, a better Christian, a better wife and maybe even one day a better mom (yep that's right - you heard it here first! Kids are no longer completely out of the picture! lol The "I Told You So's" can commence in the comments) And I so want to be a better coach - a better encourager and a better ally for those of you that are going through similar situations.
And if you are not a believer, I pray that you will feel the working of the Holy Spirit in your life and reach out to someone you know (or me!) so that they can counsel you in making the biggest decision of your life.