#WarfareWeek: The Fight to Love Yourself

Today, I am delighted to welcome the lovely Emerald Barnes to share her fight with learning to love herself. Every day, she is out teaching others to love themselves, too, not only through her books (Entertaining Angels, Before We Say I Do, and the soon-to-be-released Delivered by Angels), which deal with important teen topics such as self-esteem and forgiveness, but also through promoting #loveyourself and #youarenotalone on social media. I am so honored this fierce warrior chose to spend this week with me!

Ladies and gentleman, without further ado, please join me in welcoming the one and only Emerald Barnes!

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For years, I hated my body. I hated my looks, and I didn’t feel worthy of much of anything, especially God’s love. I was beat down and broken, and I didn’t even realize that I was being held back from my full potential. I honestly thought it was “normal” to feel this way, but in time, I have come to realize that was just the devil blinding me from the true love of God and from being who God has called me to be. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t learned from my experience, and now, I’m using it to show others how they too can overcome their hatred of themselves.

Warfare is nothing to joke about, and it’s even worse when you don’t even realize the battle that you’re fighting. I had no clue that I fought a battle on a daily basis to love myself. I didn’t realize that that was a tool used by the devil to hold me back and to make me seek validation from people instead of God. I was so dumb looking back it, but it just goes to prove how smart the devil is.

I’d fought small battles before: fear, doubt, mild depression. Those were so small in comparison to the battle the devil was using against me to beat me down into his submission when I should have been under submission to God.

Submission to God

As long as I can remember, I’ve been overweight. I’ve been the fat girl, the “DUFF”— Designated Ugly Fat Friend—, the “friend” to the guys I’ve had crushes on. I was the girl in the hallway everyone else made fun of. The bullying from them was nothing compared the bigger plan the devil had in place for me.

All of these years of the devil using people to beat me up, spreading lies in my ear as I looked in the mirror, wore me down. I used food as a means to replace my emotions. I literally ate my emotions. I didn’t live a healthy lifestyle, and so I gained more weight.

I yo-yo dieted my entire high school and college existence, thinking that if I lost weight I’d feel better. Thinking that if I lost weight, men would find me more attractive. I longed for a relationship where people would love me for who I was, the fat girl longing for love.

I dated guys who weren’t good for me. I had convinced myself that they loved me, but instead, I was foolishly being used. They didn’t love me, and I didn’t love them. I was just in love with the idea of being in love because I had spent so many years longing for that, even writing romances and daydreaming of finding that perfect guy. (I also daydreamed of being skinny—and that is when I would find my “true love”.)

I lived completely in a fantasy world, longing for something that I didn’t have, and wondering if God would ever send me someone who loved me like I had hoped they would.

It never happened, and I fell into this strange, almost depression like mood, and I would literally cry, begging God to change my body and send me someone who would love me. I never expected the answer that I would receive.

I’ve told this story many times because it’s the moment that I realized that I had been under an attack of satan for most of my life. It’s the moment that God showed me just how much I was truly loved, and it wasn’t by any earthly man. It was the Man who died on the cross for me.

I was driving home from my cousin’s house one night when MercyMe’s Beautiful came on on the radio (K-LOVE), and at this time in my life, I rarely ever listened to Christian music. (I had gotten to the point where I thought hearing it in church was enough. I was wrong, of course.) I almost stopped in the middle of the road as God’s presence filled the car, wrapping me in His love. I knew then and there that God was telling Me that that song was about me. That I was beautiful because He created me, loved me.

From that day on, I began to look at myself differently. I began to try and see myself the way that God sees me. The devil’s lies were still strong within me, but God showed me that I was in a battle, and He had just given me the means to fight back. Love. Love for Him, love for myself, love for others. Love was the answer.

Weapons

I had never thought that my hatred of my body was something of the devil until God had me write Entertaining Angels. As the idea came to me, I saw that I had been fighting the devil and his minions the whole time as I struggled to love myself and see my own beauty.

If I had never heard God tell me that I was beautiful, I don’t think that I would have grown as much as I have and be a witness to others. The devil knew that God was going to do something big with my life, and he had been tormenting me, breaking me down slowly over the years trying to stop me. He almost did because I was ready to give up on all kinds of love at this point, but God—oh but God—saved me.

Loving myself is still a struggle at times. I want to look like this or look like that, but I see with each battle how much God loves me. And I know without a shadow of a doubt the devil will not win. The love of God is what keeps me going, and I know that He loves me, despite my size. Despite the way I see myself, He loves me. And He loves you too.

War isn’t easy, but God has prepared us for such a battle. I know it won’t be easy. It never is, but we’re winners. Because God loves us, there isn’t any demon on earth that can stop us. Put on the armor of God today and lift up your sword because whatever battle you’re going through, you’re victorious!

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What did I tell y’all? I just love Emerald’s testimony. If you’d like to hear more from her, please connect with her on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter. Emerald is also opening up her blog during April for others to share their stories of depression, self-harm, and suicide attempts to show people who struggle with these things they are not alone. If you have a story, please sign up here: http://www.signupgenius.com/go/10c044faaa923a4fc1-youarenotalone. I know she would love to have your perspective.

 

#GetOutofTheField: Self-Destruction

Self-destruction comes in all shapes and sizes: suicidal thoughts and plots, self-mutilation, eating disorders, destroying things you love and have worked hard for, and many, many more.

According to Center for Disease Control, “Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US for all ages” and “there is one suicide for every estimated 25 suicide attempts” (SAVE).

A Healthy Place reports a staggering 1 in 5 females and 1 in 7 males engage in self-harm of some sort; that these habits begin young, are often present in abuse survivors, and that they are often picked up from peers.

The statistics for eating disorders are also overwhelming: “Up to 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder) in the U.S.” (ANAD).

 

 

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You wouldn’t know it to look at her, but that girl in the middle in the photo above wants to die. She’s wanted to die since she was eight or nine years old, so that makes it … five or six years at the time the picture was taken. Or at least, that’s what she thinks she wants.

A few months ago, she started taking medicine to get to sleep and away from the angry and sad thoughts that are in her head because there is nowhere else for them to go. It isn’t the kind of medicine a doctor prescribes, mostly night-time cold and flu medicine from the top shelf of the kitchen cabinet downstairs. In this picture, that girl in the middle? She hates her life. Exactly a week after this picture was taken, she wakes up from a combination of night-time meds and as she gets out of bed, her vision blurs and blood pulses in her ears. She falls to the ground, and in that moment, she actually thinks she’s going to die.

And in that moment, she realizes she wants to live, and she wants to live on her own terms.

So things began to change for the middle girl in the picture above.

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The girl in the picture above is at her emptiest. At nineteen years old, she’s lived life on her terms. She has pushed through some days like a robot, and curled up in bed through others. She has eaten, and not eaten. She has looked to feminism, liberalism, money and capitalism to make her life meaningful. She has boxed parts of her life up and thrown them away because she can’t stand the pain of looking at them anymore. (Literally and figuratively). Her biggest, most important plan for her life has recently been upset because she’s an emotional and financial disaster.

Even though she grew up in a Christian home, and knew all of the “right” things to do and say, she didn’t believe in a God – at least, not one who was interested in her life. She can’t wait to not go to church anymore, because those people aren’t interested in her either.

Even though life on her terms has not played out at all the way she had planned, she has no intention of changing anything.

Then one night, she’s about to do something she won’t be able to undo, and she feels like she should pick up her Bible instead. It flops open to Isaiah 43, where God says, “Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name; you are Mine … you are precious and honored in My sight, and I love you.”

And in that moment, she couldn’t get around it. She wasn’t made for life on her own terms. She was made to be known and loved.

So things began to change for the girl in the picture above.

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The girl in the picture above is fat. She knows it because everyone else has let her know it. She gets called Thunder Thighs and Fatty Bolger (a creative insult from The Hobbit) and is told frequently that if she keeps it up (eating, that is), she’ll be turning sideways to get through doors soon, just like someone else everybody knows. (The joke’s on them, because she doesn’t carry weight on her hips anyway.) As she gets older, she’s deeply ashamed of her flabby body and just how much she likes food. Finally, someone close to her confronts her about her weight while she’s eating … loudly and in public. After that, she doesn’t like to eat with people around. It makes her anxious about what people will think.

Suddenly, she starts to lose weight – a lot of it – not because of her terrible eating decisions, but because she’s sick. People don’t know or care that she’s sick, though; they just know she’s looking great. And she knows it, too. She actually likes the way she looks, so she ignores all of the signs that she needs to see a doctor.

But her hair is thinning, and her parents send her to the doctor anyway, and the doctor confirms what she already knows.  She’s lost weight because she’s sick, because she’s been putting things into her body for years, and her body has been trying to tell her for years that it can’t take it anymore. The doctor tells her she’s been slowly destroying herself.

And in that moment, she realizes she doesn’t want to destroy herself – not slowly or otherwise.  She wants to be who she was created to be – a knower and lover of God and others.

And so again, things began to change for the girl in the picture above.

It breaks her heart to know a loved one doesn’t consider life worth living, because Jesus came to bring that loved one life – abundant life (John 10:10). It breaks her heart to see a loved one’s arms and legs lined with cuts from trying to ease the pain, when the Messiah’s stripes are what heals us (Isaiah 53:5). It breaks her heart to see orange laxative pills on a loved one’s bathroom counter, because that person looks in the mirror and isn’t happy about what he or she sees, when God says, “Hey! I love you. I claim you. As you are.”

Self-destruction. Twenty years in, she still can’t tell you why she’s done some of the things she’s done. She can’t tell you why she still struggles with some of these things. After all, there’s enough pain in this life without inflicting it on yourself.

During the times when she’s most tempted to go back to these old habits, the only thing she can cling to is the fact that God loves her, and life is his plan for her, not destruction.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, an eating disorder, or self-harm, please seek the help of a professional, licensed counselor as soon as possible. If you need immediate help, please contact a crisis center. Your life and health are SO important to God, to me, and to this world!

Write What You Know

I have been so afraid the past twenty-four hours about what might pop up in my various social media feeds, especially on Facebook.  I have been afraid of seeing my friends and family affirm attitudes that display ignorance and judgment about a complex disease.  (My disease, in case you were wondering, gifted to me from both sides of my family, and perhaps some suffocating life circumstances as well).

Sure enough, I’ve heard about the ignorance and judgment coming from people who have clearly never wrestled with depression. How do I know these people don’t struggle with depression?  Because they’re sitting there at their keyboards, spewing ideas at the world at a breakneck speed of 70 WPM, without any consideration of the people who will be reading them.  They’ve shown up with bells on to tell those of us who do wrestle with this disease how we should handle it.  Unfortunately, they’ve broken the cardinal rule of writing (and really, relating to people): write (or talk about) what you know.

I was going to write about this anyhow, before I heard anything about Robin Williams.  You see, last week, I read a book and there really wasn’t anything wrong with the writing/story itself, but it dealt with depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts.  These are issues in which I have personal experience, and I was disturbed to see them represented and resolved the way they were – vastly oversimplified.  The whole book gave me the impression that the author had done her research on these things, but had no experience in them.

This isn’t to say a writer must always write versions of themselves and their life stories.  (That’s just narcissistic).  There are just certain things one can’t write or speak about, because they don’t know them.  If you want to write or speak about something you don’t know from experience (say historical fiction), you must at least do so with empathy, that gift to see through the eyes of others.  Don’t attempt it through your own eyes: that only comes across as insincere and serves to drive people away.

This is what I have had to remind myself, both last week and today: some people just don’t know.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop them from writing or speaking, because not only do they not know, they don’t know that they don’t know.  (Confused yet?)

I’m currently writing my own book about what I know – not just about depression, but about abuse, anger, dark nights of the soul, sexuality, and a host of other things that I have lived – so I’m not going to hash out what I know here.  Besides, you can read wise and healthy perspectives by Ann Voskamp, Nish Weiseth, and Megan Tietz, and whether depression is something you know from experience or not, I highly recommend you do.

I just want to admonish people everywhere: write and talk about what you know.  If you don’t know about it, please just sit down and be quiet.