Jackie VanArsdale: 2012

I started attending Daybreak while I was a student at Messiah College.  Though I've grown up in the church, I’ve always felt like church was the last place I would let anyone see me fall apart.  In my mind, it was similar to a country club, where you greeted everyone with a smile and maintained a perfect image.  However, I found a different kind of church here, a place where people genuinely seemed to care what was behind the surface.  Many times, people have reached out to me and I've seen God in them-God with flesh.  Meeting God in this way has changed my life. 

Honestly, I find it a little ironic that I'm sharing my testimony on a day when the theme is vulnerability.  I feel like this is still a huge area of struggle for me.  And yet, God doesn't usually do things in ways that make sense to me, and he tells me to boast in my weaknesses, so here I go.

I've struggled with vulnerability for as long as I can remember.  As a child and young teenager, there were a lot of things that hurt me very deeply.  But I had a nickname, "Happy Jackie."  I thought that if I were sad or angry, others would feel awkward in my presence and not want to spend time with me.  So I learned to bury all my negative feelings- anger, sadness, disappointment, fear, anything that might not be pleasant to see.

Shutting out all these emotions started eating away at me from the inside.  In my efforts to maintain the image of "perfect Happy Jackie", I developed an eating disorder at the age of 14.  Satan used this eating disorder to feed me lies about myself and my worth.  Over time, anything that threatened to upset, anger, or frighten me morphed automatically into messages such as " You are such a pig.  You don't deserve these good things.  You take up way too much space in this world-get out of everyone's way."  With these records playing constantly in my mind, I began to believe them.  They drowned out God's whispers of love and truth and ordered me to destroy the body He had given me.  Within a few months, my body shrunk to a grossly unhealthy size. 

Through several miracles, I received some treatment and the deadly downward spiral of the eating disorder stalled.  I reached a healthy weight, but I never truly gave up the eating disorder.  I still used it as a way of handling all my negative feelings.  So from the outside, I looked normal and happy, got good grades in school, was active, and involved in church.  No one knew that the same thoughts were constantly flagellating my mind. 

This continued into my first few years at Messiah.  For me, Messiah was an incredibly healing place, where I felt valued not for what I achieved, but for who I was as God’s daughter.  The genuineness of my professors and friends slowly started to melt away some of the layers of my mask.  But things got worse before they got better.  Taking down the barriers I had built up exposed the deep wounds that had led to my eating disorder.  Faced with the emotions those wounds brought back, I dealt with them in the only way I knew- with the eating disorder.  Eventually, I entered a treatment program for eating disorders.  There was something incredibly freeing about sitting down next to others in the group sessions and not needing to pretend I was fine-they already knew my deep secret, and I knew theirs.   It was a safe place where the other patients taught me how to tell bits and pieces of my own story and how to reach out in honesty.  The only thing that was missing was God.  I knew my recovery would never be complete without His rescue.  I longed to have the same honesty and mutual brokenness that I had with my treatment group, but with Christians who could also share in my Hope. 

I returned to Messiah, praying that God would provide healing.  Then at Daybreak one Sunday, I heard about a group called True Reflections that would be starting for women recovering from eating disorders.  God’s timing is always impeccable!  We were a small group, and together we truly wrestled with God-admitting to him that we wanted to believe His promises, but we could not on our own strength.  I remember sharing one night that I was afraid to ask God to heal me of my eating disorder, because I knew that He was powerful enough to do it, and I wasn't sure I was ready to give up that control or trust Him.  Instead of the shame I thought I deserved for this confession, the other girls agreed and I felt that I was no longer alone.

Often in True Reflections, I feel like a bobble head doll, because as someone else speaks, I realize that they are speaking exactly what is on my heart, but I have not yet been able to put into words.  Our leaders never forced us to give our fears over to God-instead they listened with total compassion and responded with God's love.  And as I wrestled with God and His truths, my heart slowly started to change.  I began to actually BELIEVE the truths-to let them penetrate from my mind into my heart.  I can't tell you how amazing it feels to believe for the first time in so many years that God truly did make me as a good creation and not a mistake, that He might actually choose to love me. 

I still struggle to take off my own mask-to stop being "fine" and let others bring me before God's thrown.  I don’t like others to see my weaknesses.  I’d rather be seen as strong, fun, and a safe place where others can fall apart.  It's easy to define myself as "healed", especially now that I help to lead True Reflections.  But somehow, God keeps bringing me back to the same lessons.  I need to surrender all my pride, and take the risk of exposing my own deep wounds.  I still struggle with many of the things that wounded me in my past.  They continue to crop up in new ways-Satan is relentless in his onslaught.  He tells me that I cannot possibly be a fit leader if I still struggle with my own issues.  He tells me to hide them and keep them secret.  But I’ve learned that Satan wants to separate us from others so He can destroy us.  It is God’s voice that calls me to be honest and ask close friends to pray for me.  Whenever I respond in obedience, I feel richly blessed.  I know that I feel blessed in the same way when someone else shares with me and I can lift them up to our Father.  God frequently reminds me that I do not have to say or do exactly the right thing to bring comfort to others.  He calls me only to be faithful-to share what He has done for me.  I'm also called to acknowledge my weakness and my desperate need for Him. 

A few weeks ago, I was reading the Daily Office, and I came across a poem.  I used its structure to write my own verses, and I'd love to end by sharing them with you. 

"I asked God to rescue me from the onslaught of demons in my mind;

I was given grace to endure one more moment. 

I asked God for comfort and safety;

I was given desperation so that I might call on the Name of the One Who Saves.

I asked God for wisdom, that I might know how to fix myself;

I was given vulnerability that I might learn to let others see my brokenness.

I asked God for strength, so that others might trust me with their stories;

He is giving me instead compassion, that I might sit with others in the depths of both our sadness and pray alongside my friends as another soul desperately in need of Whom we seek.

In my weakness, He is strong."


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