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By Annie F. Downs
ZondervanCopyright © 2012 Annie F. Downs
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAll of You
I remember the first time I hated my body. Really, truly, undeniably hated it. I was in high school, though I don't remember the exact year. Freshman year, probably.
I was standing in my bedroom, in front of my oval-shaped mirror, dressing for a dinner party at our home. It's funny, some of the details are burned on my mind, like where my parents were (downstairs) and what I found under my dresser (duct tape). Other details, such as why there was a dinner party or why I had duct tape in my room are totally absent from my brain. I don't even recall the circumstances surrounding the event; I just know I wanted to be skinny. I was so angry at the fact that I wasn't the size I should have been. I honestly don't even remember what size I was. Maybe a 14 or a 16? Somewhere in there, since those are the sizes that have been my constant companions (except for a few years in college when I believed my age should directly match my pant size).
I tried on a new outfit. Jeans, I know, and a sweater. The sweater, a beautiful example of fashion in the nineties, had stripes of bright colors. It looked like rolls of different-colored play dough stacked on top of each other. I thought it was fancy and fun and beautiful. (Though to see it today would surely cause us all to bust out in laughter. Fashion is ever changing and ever leaving us embarrassed of past choices.) But sadly, it did not fit. It pulled across my roly stomach in a way that separated the play dough. Hot tears burned my eyes as I saw my own reflection. Round face. Tight sweater. Tight jeans. I was disgusting and disgusted.
Then I saw, through the blur of tears, something silver at my feet. A roll of duct tape. An evil-inspired plan quickly came to mind. I could solve this. Not only would it make me thinner for the night, it would also induce such a deep amount of pain and anguish that I would learn a lesson: Stop being so fat, Annie. The pain would change me, I was certain.
So I took off my sweater and began to unroll the duct tape. Starting at my waist, just below the place where my jeans sat, I wrapped myself. As tightly as I could pull the tape, I circled my body over and over. I can still hear the tape pulling off the roll as it went around and around. Crying the entire time, angry as a wet hen, I wrapped and tugged and stuffed and pulled until there was nothing on my torso except a cast of muted silver. I looked in the mirror. I was deeply angry. Angry that this was my body. Angry that it had come to this. Angry that there was no rescue from this immense amount of ugly. At the time I also had a pretty strong dislike for the way my face looked. So not only was I mad to see my body, things didn't get any better when I looked at my crying, splotchy, puffy face.
I was so angry, in fact, that I clearly remember looking in the mirror and saying, "I absolutely hate you, body." And I meant it. I made every word intentional and every word true. I wanted to make sure the message got across. Inside Annie did not like Outside Annie. Not one bit.
Thanks to my fine taping skills, I couldn't breathe, or sit. I had done quite a job on myself. My ribs felt too tight. I hurt all over. Something had gone wrong on my back; the tape had overlapped and missed some spots, which caused intense pinching. Yep, I got the message loud and clear. FAT = PAIN.
I put the sweater back on. It fit now, but there was no recovering from that moment. I couldn't go downstairs to dinner. I was unable to breathe normally. Each breath caught in my rib cage and couldn't escape. I began to worry, truthfully, that I was injuring myself permanently. I may have hated myself, but I didn't want the shame of having to tell my parents that I was hurt and needed a trip to the hospital because of a "duct tape incident." That seemed horrible.
I stood in my room for about ten minutes, dressed and taped, just staring at myself. The angry, hate-filled thoughts that buzzed through my mind were unstoppable (or so I thought). In the end, I couldn't stand it. I had to take the tape off. I was worried I might pass out, and my ribs were screaming for relief. Prisoners who committed no crime—those were my ribs. The tape, as it pulled off my pasty skin, left red streaks and adhesive. It took days for my torso to fully recover.
It took years, literally, for my heart to recover. (Has it made a full recovery? I think so.)
Learning to Love
That single event threw me to the bottom of a well. A deep, dark, smelly, moldy well built of self-hatred. And I have spent the past fifteen years slowly climbing up the sides of this well. Never many steps at once; always one brick at a time. I spent my entire high school career, and many days of college, struggling with this same issue. Now, sitting on top of the well looking back down, I grieve over the years I spent living in the bottom of that muck. But I'm loving the view from up here.
The entire time I was struggling with self-hate, I loved God. I never quit loving God. I just quit loving His creation. I quit loving all that He had made. And that "all" included me.
When Jesus was asked what the most important commandments are, His answer was very interesting.
Look at Mark 12:2831:
One of the teachers of the law came and heard [the Sadducees] debating [with Jesus]. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"
"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these"(emphasis mine).
We're supposed to love other people the same way we love ourselves. But do you love yourself? Better phrased, do you love all of you? Because if you and I want to live a life that reflects Christ and glorifies Him, we have to accept every part of who we are. If you want to love other people correctly, you have to figure out some way to love yourself correctly. Completely. Today. Just as you are.
Like I mentioned, this has been a long, challenging, and pain-filled road for me. It took many years of God speaking to my heart through His Word, through people, and through songs and words of encouragement before I could see I was exactly the Annie I was supposed to be.
If you're like me, even a little bit, then the idea of loving all of you seems challenging at best. More like impossible, if you were to be really honest. I sat at a coffee shop while I was writing this chapter as my friend, in tears, looked across the table and said, "How do I love me, Annie?" And as I sat there, I realized that it isn't a one-sentence answer. And it isn't a one-moment solution. I want you to know that learning to love is a process, and it takes work, just like most everything else. But as I look back on my life, going from duct-tape Annie to top-of-the-well Annie, I think there are some definite choices I had to make in order to learn to love correctly. (And I have grown to love duct tape in all its appropriate uses. But that's a whole other topic.) These five choices helped me climb out of that slimy well of self-hatred—and I think they can help you too.
1. AcceptWhoYou AreToday
There is no amount of dieting I can do today to make me a size 2 by morning. No amount of plastic surgery done today can make me look like a supermodel by dinnertime. Who I am today is me, and God loves me deeply today. Today I have eaten okay, I went to the gym, I'm wearing sassy earrings, my hair is out of control, and I completed my to-do list. God really loves me today. Yesterday I skipped my cardio workout, had mozzarella sticks for dinner, wore flip-flops with cherries on them, and didn't spend any time reading the Bible. God really loved me yesterday, just the same as today.
I had a text conversation with a good friend today, really encouraging him to embrace where God has him. "You can do this, Jim," I texted. "Don't quit, buddy." I can love my friend well, where he is today, because I love myself today. And I can only love me because I know that God loves me—body, mind, and soul. Am I perfect? Absolutely ... not. Does my body need improvements? Probably. Does my mind need improvements? Probably. Does my heart need improvements? Probably.
But I'm choosing today to love the person God made me. To look in the mirror and say, "Downs, you're all right, old girl. God loves all of you today." And then choose to make the decision to love me.
2. Identify the Lies and Call Them That!
Just because I decide that I'm going to love me today does not mean that I don't hear other thoughts in my head: "She's so skinny." "You'll never look like that." "You are such a screwup." "Your hair is out of control." (Wait, that last one is true. I ran out of product.) But the others—they're lies. I have to take the thoughts that are in my head, hold them up to the truth of what God says about me, and then decide whether to keep them or trash them.
We'll focus a lot on this when we talk about our minds. But for now, just know that you do not have to believe everything you hear in your head. Satan, our enemy (for real, our enemy), does not want you to glorify God with your body. And the best way to make sure that doesn't happen is to fill your mind with lies. As we've already established, if you hate your body, you handicap your ability to honor God with it. You aren't going to use a tool of righteousness that you dislike. So if you've always hated your hands, chances are you aren't using them to the full glory of God. If you don't want them to be seen, are you willing to reach out?
I have to wonder. What lies do you believe in your head about your body? Can you even pick them out? Can you hear the difference in their slimy gristly voice and in the voice of a God who made you exactly as you are?
3. Believe the Truth
"But how can I identify the lies, Annie? By definition, they sometimes sound like truth ... but they aren't!" Oh, smart little grasshopper. You know all things.
My friend Jenna got a job at a bank in Nashville. She was so excited during her training when she was told that she would be learning how to identify counterfeit money. In her sassy business suit, Jenna went to work that day expecting to see and feel every different kind of counterfeit currency the FBI knew about. She loves that kind of stuff—like those shows on television dedicated to busting people doing something wrong. So Jenna had a definite bounce in her step that morning, ready to star on the next undercover show. Instead, when she arrived they sat her and the other new employees down in a room. They were each handed a stack of real money and asked to count it. Over and over. And then again. And over again. I don't know if this is totally accurate, but Jenna swears she counted the fifty one-dollar bills over one hundred times.
Frustrated, one of the other new workers asked their trainer, "Why are we doing this?"
The trainer responded, "Now you know the feel of real money. You have practiced so much with the real thing that you will easily notice the fakes."
And so is the case with identifying lies. The very best way to recognize them is to know the truth backward and forward.
Dr. Neil Anderson, in his book Victory over the Darkness (Regal Books, 1990), made the following list of who we are in Christ. It's a long list of scriptures. I like to use it as a reference, something I look back on whenever I need a reminder of what's true about me. And to make your life a little easier, I've summarized what each verse could be saying to you. Of course, you should also read the Bible itself to see what speaks to you. But for starters, I'd suggest using it in your quiet times with God. Pick a few of the verses and write them out in your journal. Then look at each verse as a promise God makes to you. Here are a few examples:
John 1:12 "Annie is God's child."
John 15:15 "Because I am a disciple, I am a friend of Jesus. I am!"
After you write down these statements, start reading them out loud to yourself. Learn and hear and write the truth. That way the lies will feel completely different.
Who I Am in Christ
I am accepted ...
John 1:12 I am God's child.
John 15:15 I'm the kind of girl that Jesus is friends with.
Romans 5:1 I am justified. Just as if I'd never sinned.
1 Corinthians 6:17 I am one with Christ through the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 6:19–20 I have been bought with a price and I belong to God.
1 Corinthians 12:27 I am part of Christ's body.
Ephesians 1:38 I am a child of God. Really. Adopted. In the family.
Colossians 1:13&n14 God has rescued me from darkness, redeemed me, and forgiven all my sins. Colossians 2:9–10 I am complete in Christ.
Hebrews 4:14–16 Because of Jesus, I have access to the throne of God.
I am secure ...
Romans 8:12 No condemnation for me—I'm free of it!
Romans 8:28 I can be sure that God is working everything together for good.
Romans 8:3139 I can't be separated from the love of God.
2 Corinthians 1:21– 22 I have been established, anointed, and sealed by God.
Philippians 1:6 God is going to complete every good work He starts in me.
Philippians 3:20 I am a citizen of heaven.
Colossians 3:14 I am hidden with Christ in God.
2 Timothy 1:7 I don't have to be afraid—I have a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.
1 John 5:18 The evil one cannot touch me—I am born of God.
I am significant ...
John 15:5 I'm a branch. Jesus is the vine. He gives me life.
John 15:16 I will bear good fruit.
1 Corinthians 3:16 I am God's temple.
2 Corinthians 5:17–21 I am a minister of reconciliation for God.
Ephesians 2:6 God raises me up, and I'm seated with Christ.
Ephesians 2:10 God made me on purpose.
Ephesians 3:12 Because of Jesus, I can be confident when I go to God.
Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ. He gives me the strength I need.
Work on What You Can
All this being said, loving yourself also means taking care of yourself. It took me too many years to figure out this truth. For most of my life, I didn't wear trendy clothes or cut my hair in cute styles. I told people it was because I'd rather be comfortable. And to some extent, that was true. But the truest answer is that I didn't feel like I deserved to be cute. To be attractive.
But if you really love yourself, you display that on the outside. Not that you have to spend tons of money on expensive jeans or buy top-end jewelry, but it is important to be on the outside who you know you are on the inside. Let the world see that you are learning to love well, starting with how you treat yourself. Because I know that God loves me unconditionally, I've learned how to love myself and who He made me. And by working on that every day, it gets easier and easier.
Excerpted from Perfectly Unique by Annie F. Downs Copyright © 2012 by Annie F. Downs. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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