For years I had been the “good girl,” the “smart girl” and the “ugly girl.” People who called themselves my friends cheated off me in school and purposefully left me out of things like sleepovers and parties. I felt lonely, isolated. Boys ignored me. The lies I believed about myself were confirmed. “Nobody loves me” and “I’m worthless.”
Eager to fit in, I stopped being myself to act in a way I thought others would accept me. When I became free with my body, my dating career began. I got the attention I had longed for. The cost was lying to my parents and to myself and I flirted with anorexia.
Not surprisingly, my romantic relationships didn’t last, and I went from one bad one to the next. The anorexia and self doubt spiraled out of control. By college I had panic attacks. And although my heart was growing cold, there was this quiet voice of reason that wouldn’t depart.
I desperately needed to be liked. I was addicted to relationships. I would do anything to be accepted.
My mother intervened by bringing home a new boyfriend for me. Chris and I got engaged and decided to go to church. It was time to “straighten up.”
A pregnancy scare (I know now that it was impossible that I was pregnant) took us to Planned Parenthood without hesitation. I took the “morning after” pill. I didn’t actually end the life of any child, but it was the intention of my self-centered heart.
Our new church friends dictated what I sought next. They did church stuff, so I did church stuff. I got baptized, and became a youth leader. Something in my soul was reawakening to God, but I wasn’t quite there yet.
That would come a little over a year into our marriage, when Chris told me that he wanted to kill himself. We sat in the hospital lobby, and he couldn’t stop crying. I thought, “What the hell is this? I didn’t sign up for this.” I’m not proud that I considered divorce. I went to the bathroom and yelled, not caring who heard, “God, if you are real, then you had better show up!”
I don’t recommend that approach with God because, you know, He’s God. He did show up. Chris went to counseling and got on medication. I had no idea how we were going to pay the bills. God paid them. We got checks in the mail that didn’t make any sense. We never had to do without. Slowly, Chris started getting better, though he will always deal with clinical depression.
I was desperate to know – really know – this God who had cared for us in such a real way. I opened my Bible and devoured it.
Jesus could have condemned me saying, “Fool. You knew better. You knew you shouldn’t sleep around. You knew that those guys were no good. You knew you shouldn’t love anyone more than Me.” He could have pushed me away from Him forever, and been totally justified. Instead, He saw my little, tiny, weak step of faith toward Him and came running toward me. He embraced me. He showed me a better way.
Things started to stabilize for Chris and me. We bought a house and found a church home. Three years into our marriage I went back to school to get a theology degree because I just couldn’t get enough. I discovered that my spiritual gift was teaching and the joy of using that gift.
Then I was diagnosed in 2010 with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Some people withdrew from me. For a time I tried to hold on and put on a brave face.
Then I decided to kill myself.
The relationship addiction and the anxiety and the illness came together in a massive assault. Satan was working overtime on me. I slipped back into old patterns. I pushed myself to be the life of the party, to be everywhere anyone wanted me to be, even though it was physically painful. On September 19, 2011, I decided again to end the struggle.
I was just getting ready to leave when God sent Chris home early and stopped me. Nearly two years of therapy with a wonderful, Godly counselor helped me to start identifying and rejecting the lies, and instead accept and rest in God’s forgiveness. But the long, uphill road had just begun.
In 2014, a CT scan we thought would reveal a hernia, showed liver damage with spots of precancerous cells. I had a tumor pressing into my diaphragm and lungs. Every breath hurt.
On December 12 of that year, the surgeon removed a tumor a little larger than a golf ball. There is no cure for my liver, barring Divine intervention. My health has altered my lifestyle. Cirrhosis, cancer, and transplant are all very real possibilities.
I don’t for a second believe that God is punishing me by making me sick. He has been with me, caring for me, speaking truth and comfort to me through every challenge. He is sweet and kind and loving.
God has preserved me in poor decisions and sickness, but in the preservation He has stripped away every last piece of self-dependence. I once thought I was strong, now I know I am weak. I once thought I was wise, now I know just how little I know. I once thought I had no master, now I know independence is an illusion.
I am convinced that God has kept me alive through all the messiness of life in order to make me into a servant. Note that I said “kept me alive,” not “healed me completely.” That, I think, will come only in Heaven, for He knows how stupid I am and exactly what it takes for me to stay smooshed against His side. I need the frailty of my body and the near, painful memory of my rebellious past to remind me that my life, however long it might be, is not my own. My goal is not to gain position or power or money, as it once was. The reason I am here is to love Him.
That’s your purpose, too. No matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, God has orchestrated things to bring you to this place so you could hear the truth. So you could be confronted with your need for Him.
No matter your challenges, God loves you. He places His hand on your face and beckons you to look up at Him. He will run to you at the most minor movement of faith. He will scoop you up in His arms and tells the angels to party, because His baby has come home to Him.
Marie Gregg lives in the Inland Northwest of the United States with her husband and two fat, neurotic dogs. She loves studying Scripture, libraries and chocolate. She just released her first book, Distant Lights: Poems Along the Way, which chronicles her struggle with anxiety and depression. You can connect with her over at her blog, Along the Way, or on her Facebook page.