I was born and grew up on a farm where I lived my early life with my parents, my brother and three grand-parents. My memories of early life are of being close to my grandparents, especially two of them. They were there for me and I loved being with them. My father, who was an alcoholic, was almost a stranger to me and I’m not sure I wanted to know him better. My mother seemed to fly into a rage for the least thing and I grew to dread her tirades. My brother and I argued constantly –why wouldn’t we? Arguments were the norm in our house. I’ve always considered I had a fairly privileged childhood though, and in many ways, I had. I was given the best of everything materially and my parents saw that all my physical needs were taken care of. Having my grand-parents around did meet some of my emotional needs, but I now realize how much I missed my parents’ affection.
From a very early age I began to use food for comfort and to associate food with love. My grandfather gave me money to buy candy (sweets) almost everyday when going to school. My grandmother, who used to pack my school lunch, sometimes gave me only cake and biscuits (cookies), knowing that was what I liked. I was overweight from a very early age, maybe about three or four years old. My mother baked a lot and the tins of cake and cookies were always well stocked and readily available.
By the time I started school I knew I was different from the other kids because I was fat. I hated not being good at games and running, but tried hard to gain popularity by being a nice person. I always worked hard at having friends and managed to get enough people to like me to help make me feel okay about myself. I also worked hard at school and got credit for doing well academically. From an early age I saw myself as a "nice" person who did well at school–being good at games and looking good was for other kids. A family joke was that I once came sec-and in a race, the punchline was that only two of us ran. I felt very embarrassed about my fat, though of course I never acknowledged that as a child. I just saw myself as being somehow defective. I compared myself to other children. I always felt I was a disappointment to my parents, who were slim and attractive and who surely deserved to have slim, attractive children.
At age eleven I went to a girls’ boarding school. I felt very attached to home at this stage and hated going away, but being a Protestant in small town Catholic Ireland, this was the norm. I quickly made some friends. I continued to live out my people-pleasing role of " I’ll be however you want me to be just so long as you like me in return." It wasn’t that I didn’t have opinions of my own, I was just often ready to compromise them if it made the difference between being accepted and popular or having to face rejection. Through my six years of boarding school I continued to achieve academically and have friends. Having friends was what gave me a sense of worth as a person. I also continued to overeat and to associate food with love and comfort. Whenever I felt sad or lonely, food, and especially anything sweet, was one way I managed to make myself feel better. I knew that the con-sequence of my overeating was that I was overweight, but however much I hated the consequences I continued to eat. I did try a few crash diets hoping for instant results, but quickly ended up in my old eating patterns again.
By my final year in school I had begun to ask some serious questions about life. I sensed that there had to be some deep reason for living but didn’t know what it was. I had gone to church all my life but saw nothing there to suggest that the answer might be in Christianity. I saw going to church as a boring ritual and church life as a snobbish social club. I seriously began to doubt God’s existence and became a thorn in the side of my religion teacher, as I expressed these views in class. I remember one teacher in school telling us she didn’t know if God existed either and yet that evening she was taking prayers. That helped confirm my view that Christianity was phony.
At age seventeen I went to University in Dublin, thinking that learning would surely be the key to the meaning of life. I soon made friends with a girl who said she was a Christian and went to the Christian Union in college. I decided to do her a favor and enlighten her about the fact that Christianity was old-fashioned and God merely a figment of our imagination. We had many lengthy discussions over many cups of coffee and gradually I began to acknowledge that although Liz couldn’t give me what I considered to be adequate answers to all my questions, she did talk about God like no one else I’d ever met before. I sensed that she really knew Jesus Christ personally and I began to long for that same relationship with Him. I remember one night being on my knees in tears and saying "God, I’ m not even sure whether you exist or not, but if you do, I want to know you." I began going to Bible study groups and reading the Bible myself, as well as talking to Christians. It was like a whole new world opened up to me. I had studied the Bible at school all my life but now it was like reading it for the first time. I came to believe God is real, that Jesus Christ had died for me and that I could know Him in a personal way rather than consider Him to be a remote figurehead. I had found my answer to the real meaning of life.
From that point on God has always been an important part of my life. Now I’ve come to see that that’s exactly how it was-God was part of my life. I wanted to live a good Christian life and I tried pretty hard to make it work. After University I spent a year doing voluntary work with a church in Belgium. Later I worked for the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh doing social work with alcoholics. I also spent some time working in a school for disturbed teenage girls. My desire was to help people. For the past thirteen years I’ve taught in a Secondary (High) school back in my hometown and guess what -I work a lot with students who have learning and behavioral problems. Somehow I’ve always been drawn to problem situations and my desire is to fix other people’s problems. I now see that this has been one way of avoiding looking at my own problems. I always wanted to give the impression that I was fine, had my life working well and was a "together" per-son, available to help other people sort out their problems. People seemed to like me that way. I always had lots of friends and that was one way I avoided getting in touch with the pain in my own life.
I also continued to overeat and gradually my weight went up to 210 lbs. Although I was trying to live the Christian life at this stage I do remember lying about my weight when asked. About three years ago I had a medical problem and the doctor advised me to lose weight. I somehow managed to do what I’d tried and failed to do for most of my life. I went on a diet and over a nine month period I lost 55 lbs. Then Christmas came and I thought I’d done so well I could afford to "treat" myself a bit. Unfortunately (well now I can say fortunately because the end result was good, but that’s for later) when Christmas was over and I decided it was time to eat healthily again, I couldn’t quite manage to do it. I’d eat well for a few days and then the craving for sweet things would get so strong I’d just eat lots and lots of them. These binges were followed by panic at the thought of getting fat again and that’s when my bulimia began. The next eighteen months were hell. My eating was really out of control. In spite of being bulimic I regained 30 lbs. Both the overeating and the bulimia left me feelings of self-hatred and disgust. I felt a failure and wondered how long God would go on forgiving me. Each time I’d promise Him I’d never do it again, but the next time the craving came, that awful, gnawing empty feeling inside me, I’d be just as powerless to resist. Yet in spite of all this agony I continued to maintain a facade of "I’m all right. I can cope." Nobody knew what was really going on with me.
During these years I had not stood still spiritually. At various stages I had looked and prayed for the next step God had for me. In spite of , or maybe because of, all that was going on in me I had times of desperately seeking "more of God," as I then understood it. I attended several different churches and home groups over the years, and had a charismatic experience of baptism in the Spirit and seeing the gifts of the Spirit in operation. Several times I did sense that I had got "closer to God" but when that sense left me my spiritual walk seemed dry and directionless. A verse I often read and latched on to was Jeremiah 29:13, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." I always felt that "all" was a key word in that verse.
The last house group I belonged to was in Dublin. I enjoyed being part of that group and went regularly. Yet over the years there seemed to be less and less spiritual direction and purpose and at times when we got together the conversation was pretty superficial. I began to long for something more. A friend had talked about a group in England and America for some time, but I’d never paid too much attention. Now I decided to find out what it was all about, since none of the other Christians I knew seemed to have any answers that satisfied me. I went to my first Zerubbabel Conference in England in April `92. I went asking God to show me if this teaching was truth or error. I did not want to be part of something that was unscriptural. During the week I did see how what was taught fitted in with scripture and added up to make sense of what the Bible taught about Christian living. I started believing what the Bible says about us being vessels, branches, temples, etc. merely expressing the life of the deity we contain. But, during the next year my eating got more out of control and I soon began to doubt all I’d seen. I thought that if I was merely a vessel with Christ living my life and yet I couldn’t solve my eating problem then it was not the total solution to life’s problems. This led me to doubting the whole message.
However, I did go to another conference in April `93. I went with basically the same questions I had had the year before. I wanted to know if this was the truth. I was not long there when I knew that what I was seeing was the truth of the gospel lived out in people’s lives. The teaching was all based on scripture and the emphasis was on lives that expressed Jesus Christ and nothing else. So-called "big" and "little" sins were being exposed for what they are and it was clear that this was a costly, high calling. I also saw the evidence of lives that worked and heard people talk openly about areas of their lives that had not worked in the past and where they now had victory. I knew in my spirit that the full gospel was being taught.
From that time on I began to believe that I was indeed a vessel, joined to Christ in my spirit form the time I was born again and that the life I now live is Jesus Christ expressing Himself through me. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not saying that I’ve achieved perfection! I still sin, in fact I’m more aware of sin now than before as I see just how high God’s standards are, but I now know I can never live up to God’s standards. I am powerless to live the Christian life and the good news is that I was never meant to be anything else. I no longer have to try to be a better person, but rather to acknowledge my powerlessness and let Christ do the living. I also began to grasp the reality of body, soul and spirit and to see that the real me is who I am in my spirit, that is, joined to Christ, and to become aware that thoughts and feelings are what go on in my soul and are not my true identity. It seemed strange at first to believe something that didn’t feel true. It is still not easy to do that but it has been a key thing in changing my life. I now know that just because I feel sad, hurt, angry etc., I do not have to live as if that was the real me. I can feel the feelings and yet live from the reality of who I am in Christ. I am truly learning what it is to walk by faith and not by sight.
The main area of my life where I’m learning to apply this truth is in my eating. Last summer I went to camp in Blowing Rock and stayed on for a couple extra weeks. During that time I got some help in looking at and dealing with my eating. I began to see that food was what I used to numb any painful feelings and that I’d done this from a very early age. I also saw how my view of myself was very negative, especially my view of my physical appearance. I remembered an incident that occurred when I was a student that basically summed up how I saw myself. I was looking for a summer job one year and my mother and I were reading job ads in the newspaper. She pointed to one for a photographic model and suggested I try it. I said, "Don’t be ridiculous mum, I’m not good-looking enough to do that." She replied, "But you could do the before and someone else could do the after." We had a good laugh about that and I thought it was kind of witty. What it took me over ttwenty years to see was that, that was how I saw myself and that was the view I lived from. It was just one way Satan had managed to rob me of the truth of who I really am in Christ–a whole, complete person, lacking nothing.
Over this past year God has truly transformed my life and I’ve been learning more and more of living from who I really am-a new person in Christ. On the one hand I’ve been getting in touch with my feelings much more-partly because I’m no longer using food to numb them out-and on the other hand I’m learning that I can feel really good or really bad and know I don’t have to live from believing that’s how I really am. Often the bad feelings (lonely, angry, ugly, etc.) are a springboard to faith and an opportunity to live from the truth. I’m also realizing how phony I often was in the past, mainly because it was the only way I knew how to survive. When I felt despair about my overeating, for instance, the way I coped was to block out the bad feelings, concentrate on what was good, and pretend to myself and everyone else that I was just fine. I’m very grateful to God to have found an answer to an eating problem that plagued me all my life. I have been attending an Overeaters Anonymous meeting and working the twelve steps. This has helped me to work through some of the emotional and spiritual issues underlying my eating problem. I have also been going to Weight Watchers and following their eating program. I have been able to do this only because I know and live from the truth-that it is "no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). What a relief that I do not have to become a person with greater will-power. I merely have to acknowledge my powerlessness and let Jesus Christ do the living. I feel like I’m really learning to live life, rather than drift from day to day vaguely hoping things would get better at some stage in the future. For the first time in years I’m truly excited about what God is doing and I’m seeing Him at work in the most mundane situations-which means they’re not really mundane anymore. Everyday brings some new awareness or challenge and although this walk of faith does not always feel easy, I love every minute of it.
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 10 No 5
- God’s Tight Corners
- Postscript to Yes I Am
- Editor’s Note
- Off With The Grave Clothes
- A New Creation
- Excerpt from The Intercession of Rees Howells
- Moments with Meryl
- To Think About
- The Letter to the Romans
- Questions & Answers
- Life Out of Death
- The Mailbox
- New Light on the Twelve Steps
- A Look at A Book
- Words to Live By