Unfading Beauty {Day 11}

Photo by Nancy Ray

This is an excerpt from the ebook I will be coming out with soon called "A God-Sized Love Story." This book is shares love letters I wrote to my husband growing up along with my story of learning to trust Christ with my future. As we study 1 Peter 3:1-4 today, I pray that you are encouraged to find your beauty in Christ alone.


 Chapter Six: Lies That Kill

February 11, 2008

Lord,

There is a lie I have let into my head. It is a lie about my body. I feel like I overeat and can never get rid of the fat on my body. I monitor what I eat and workout too much. It’s not a good place to be--only looking at the world’s view of beauty.

Forgive me for focusing on myself and “complaining against you.” Teach me that you created me and please help me understand I am doing all I can to keep in shape.

You’re my Rock, Lord.

Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution that was completely centered on yourself? Only to find that you did not even make it a week without breaking it? In January 2008, I made a resolution, and I was resolved not to relinquish control. In my own words, I decided to “eat healthy, work out more, and not eat dessert.” You are probably thinking, that is just living a healthy lifestyle! I completely disagree, though. It was a lifestyle that was rooted in a longing for satisfaction and control in the wrong places. Lies. Deceit. Action. Defeat. That’s exactly what happened to me my freshman year of college. Still not having dated anyone, I began to wonder if I was not pretty enough. This is a dangerous road to walk down as a female, and we have all treaded on this path at some point in our lives. I held the “comparison stick” up to each girl I walked past on campus, and in my eyes I never measured up. Without my parents around to tell me that I was beautiful, I began to listen to the lies the mirror whispered to me. My eyes and ears became so unhealthy.

The identity struggle began before I ever got to college. My senior year of high school I was on homecoming court. I went to a small Christian school and had been nominated each year to serve as a representative for my grade. Needless to say, I thought I had a pretty strong chance of winning queen. The night came for the announcement and I had gotten a new dress, my favorite of all my years of proms. When the big announcement came, I was not named win queen. To add to that, I did not have a date to my senior homecoming.  Lie number one began to take root in my heart, I’m not good enough. 

Having played volleyball and cheered throughout high school, I had no need to watch what I ate. My favorite meal in middle school consisted of chili cheese fries and sour punch straws (these things are still amazing!). I could down a bag of chili cheese fritos in an instant! (Apparently I really liked chili and cheese!) I was thin and never thought a thing about calories. One day, I had a conversation with my mom about girls with eating disorders. I vividly remember saying “I don’t know how girls could ever not want to eat. I would never do that!” Lie number two was etched onto my heart, I will never fall to that temptation.

Nancy Ray

As a graduation gift, I received a book about how not to gain the freshman fifteen. The dreaded fifteen extra pounds you apparently gain immediately when you get to college haunted me. I vowed to never let that happen, so I read the book thoroughly. Throughout this book were lists of foods to eat and foods not to eat. I memorized them and strictly applied them when I got to the University of Georgia. I remember reading your should not even use croutons on your salad! Croutons, for crying out loud! They are a staple to a good salad, and I avoided them. Since UGA is a very health conscious campus, calories and healthy-eating tips were listed all over the cafeterias. For someone like me who was struggling with body image, this was a disaster to my health rather than an aid. Lie number three was written in my mind, I am in control of myself. 

Instead of gaining the freshman fifteen, I lost the freshman twenty-five. I went from a size 8/10 entering college to a size 0/2 by the end of my first year. The entire time I was struggling with this deep-rooted sin, I was faithfully serving at my church, involved in a Christian sorority and seeking wholly after the Lord. The danger happened when I allowed the world to seep into my walk with Jesus. Satan masquerades himself as an angel of light. He is clever, full of deceit, a crafty liar, and he knows us well. He shoots venomous arrows at the areas in our life where we have let our guard down.

In order for you to truly understand the battle I was in, here is an excerpt from a journal where I recounted all I had been through after I realized my stronghold and had been seeking the Lord for freedom:

I began to workout almost everyday ~ to the point of exhaustion. I wouldn’t eat any sugar, and cut most fat out of my diet. The food label became my worst enemy. As I would workout in the school gym, I would constantly compare myself to other girls. I searched for truth in how my body looked. Television shows I watched would tell me to cut my portions in half. So that is what I would do. Thoughts of what I would eat the next day would consume me. At night, I would plan my meals for the next day to make sure that I was eating the right things. Not once in the dining hall did I ever get ice cream. Instead, I was invaded with food labels and cards that said not to eat certain things. 

I became increasingly obsessed with becoming skinnier. I wanted to make sure that my body was a temple of the Holy Spirit, therefore I wanted to take care of it physically. I would stay on the elliptical until I burned at least 500 calories. After I would stand up from sitting in class, I would almost faint because I was so exhausted and famished. When I would go to bed, I was physically unable to move because I had no energy. One night, I remember my stomach burned so badly because I was hungry, but I just said to myself that I would eat breakfast in the morning (which might consist of a small bowl of Raisin Bran cereal). The hunger pains seemed unbearable at times. In about one month I lost almost twenty-five pounds, going from my weight of 142 pounds to 118. I was so proud of myself, because I thought I was getting in shape and looking better.

One weekend, I went shopping with my mom because none of my clothes fit anymore. I tried on a size two pants and they fit. I was so happy that I had reached that size again from the 8 that I had worn when I first came to college. That night, as we drove home, my mom said that we were having Carrabas for supper, which used to be my favorite food. I broke down crying because I had no desire to eat anymore. Anytime I ate, I planned how much I would need to workout the next day to counteract the calories. I physically and spiritually ached. I so wanted to please God and felt that any food I put into my body wouldn’t honor Him. Lies, lies, and more lies straight from the pit of Hell. Thank goodness there will be another side to this story! I told you in the beginning I was writing one of redemption!”

And that is what this story is, one of redemption. One where Jesus bought you and me back from the sin that had our feet in shackles and our minds in prison. My prayer during this time resembled two verses breathed out by God in the Bible. I can just imagine the anguish David felt when he wrote Psalm 142:7, “Bring my soul out of prison, so that I may give thanks to Your name; the righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me.” Another treasure from His word was Psalm 23:3, “He restores my soul.” Did you hear that? He. Restores. Your. Soul. Mine was desperately wounded, sick and exhausted from running a race I was never intended to run. My eyes were unhealthy to the extent that I was able to look at my size two body in the mirror and think I was still too fat. Once I finally got a gap in between my legs, I felt like I looked more like a woman a guy would want to marry. Even more so, I was believing a deceitful lie from Satan that what I was doing was actually obeying Scripture!

Nancy Ray

Know this truth: Satan makes sin look like it will benefit you. Not all sin may even appear bad to you or others. While I was entangled in the mess of anorexia, I received compliments on how good I looked which fed the desire in me to be skinnier and continue to starve my body. He made me think that I was obeying 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, which says “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own, you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” No where in this verse does it mention looks or body size. It only mentions that our bodies are His temple where His Spirit resides. It is not ours to do whatever we want with, which is exactly what I was doing in starving it. 

Once I realized the emotional struggle I was in, and how damaged my body was, I was broken. That word might even be an understatement. I was absolutely devastated. I thought I had ruined my testimony, my witness for Jesus. There were so many girls I had been trying to minister to, when all the while they had probably noticed that my body was shrinking and I had my own problems. I felt I had completely lost all of my identity and now wore the scarlet letter on my chest. My sin was no longer easy to hide because my pants falling off of me were proof of my sin condition.

Have you ever felt like you were wearing a scarlet letter? That your sin was so great, you lost your identity in it and felt worthless? This is what Jesus died for. Remember that weight He bore on the cross? That was my eating disorder. And if you are part of the 10 million girls and women that struggle with some sort of eating disorder, He died for yours as well. No matter what stronghold you daily lay at the cross where Jesus died, think about the three days after Jesus handed His soul to death. He conquered it! Hebrews 2:14 tells us that “through death he (Jesus) might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” Victory in all things comes from the strength we receive at the foot of the cross. My testimony for Christ was not ruined with my eating disorder, rather it was strengthened as I saw Him physically, spiritually and emotionally redeem me from the pit of destruction. Through my stronghold, I was overwhelmed once more by the glorious truth of the gospel!

Without Christ, we cannot do a single thing. With Christ, we can do all things, including be free of an eating disorder, addiction, obsession or struggle (Philippians 4:13). I learned firsthand that my life led to destruction when Christ was not the center of it, so I did exactly what Deuteronomy 30:19 says, I chose life and not death so that I could live true life. I began to “eat” the Word of God as my nourishment. I stopped watching TV, flipping through magazines, even going to the gym, which was one of the hardest things I had to do. I made tons of Scripture memory cards and carried them with me everywhere I went. When a thought that was not of Christ entered my mind, I demolished the stronghold to make it obedient to Him, like 1 Corinthians 10:3-5 instructs us to do. When I had no where else to turn, and felt that I had been stripped of beauty and dignity, I rediscovered who I was at the cross of Jesus. After all, the mirror I had been a slave to was just a piece of glass. I chose to intently look into the mirror of His Word to find my answers. 

Nancy Ray

One of my conclusions from studying God’s Word was this; beauty is never without pain. Women pluck their eyebrows, get their legs waxed, go on awful crash diets; all for beauty that is fleeting. And what about those who take lies, like I did, to the next level? Those who become under-eaters, over-eaters, or over-indulgers in food, shopping, and image control just to reach the goal of a perfect mystique. Praise the Lord that He never gave us a list of physical qualifications we must fit. Instead, He gave us Proverbs 31 and 1 Peter 3:3-4 which give us qualities of the heart that He regards as precious in His sight. The truest beauty in life comes from a heart surrendered to Jesus, who took on all of our insecurities, and shortcomings to free us from the bondage of self. Without the pain Jesus endured and conquered, there would be no true beauty in the world.

Joni Earackson Tada, a quadriplegic and a devout follower of Jesus said this of her suffering, “Trouble is the text book that will teach you who you really are...God takes suffering to turn it on its head to defeat another form of evil~your sin and self-centeredness.” These powerful words came out of the mouth of a woman who knows true suffering, who cannot do a thing for herself without the assistance of someone, who lays in bed writhing in pain at night, yet chooses to sing hymns to her Savior instead of complaining about her condition. Learn from Joni that God uses our suffering and pain to produce a beauty beyond comparison, a beauty that reflects Jesus and not ourselves.

One day after I discovered I was in chains to anorexia, I took a shower and realized I was losing a lot of hair. A few days later, I noticed more hair on my pillow after a night of sleep. My sink was even clogged and when the repair man came to check on it, he found a clump of hair that had stopped up the pipe. The moment he left, I crumbled to the floor in a heap of tears. My body had gone through so much trauma that I was losing my hair. The thick hair my hair dresser had always complimented me on and I had taken pride in was now at my feet. I felt all of my pride and beauty were in dust and ashes. Yet even at my lowest point I realized I could not leave the Lord and He would not leave me. You would think that would have been the last straw in all of my struggles. I had been able to leave so many other things in life, but the one thing I could not leave was my faith in Christ. He was the only thing that was truth and held all things together even when they seemed to be falling apart. He was, and is, the Restorer of my soul.

Will you choose life with me? Will you make a new resolution to find your identity and beauty in Christ? Jonathan Edwards, a Christian preacher in the 1700s, declared a list of Resolutions we can learn from: “Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of time....Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it...Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live...Resolved never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were my last hour of my life.” What do you resolve to do today to make an impact for eternity and for the great love story God is writing that is about us, the church, His bride, and Jesus, our Husband-to-be?

(Photos by Nancy Ray Photography)

Gretchen