Freedom Stories are back, sweet sisters! After a summer of refreshing and refining on the focus of this space, I wanted to be intentional about sharing stories that align with our monthly themes. This month, as we’ve been learning about shame I knew we needed a testimony of someone set free from shame and self-condemnation. Immediately, Rebekah came to mind. This godly woman is a writer, podcaster, and all around encouraging person of faith. She frequently encourages me through her own story, which she shares some of here. I pray her words and God’s grace alive in her would encourage YOU today, friend!
This is Rebekah’s Freedom Story.
I grew up in the church, the granddaughter of the sound guy of the church we were attending, and even had my birth announced from the baptistry the Sunday I was born. I was saved at the age of 8 and actively involved in children’s choir, youth choir, church musicals at Christmas time, Bible drill, and mission trips.
But I didn’t truly know the gospel. Not like I do today.
When I was 14, my family and I became involved in a Christian ministry that, looking back, was extremely legalistic. I, as a bibliophile and someone who thirsted for theological knowledge, was ripe for the picking and quickly fell headlong into their very legalistic teachings on God’s supposed expectations for His daughters. I was also ripe for the picking in terms of the shame that is regularly heaped onto the shoulders of legalistic people everywhere.
In the two years leading up to this new season of my life, I had attended youth summer camp with our church’s youth group and experienced those proverbial mountain-top experiences. I returned from youth camp determined to be in my Bible every single day. But what happened both years was that I was good about that for maybe a week. Then I would miss one day of Bible reading, that one day would turn into two, and before I knew it I was right back where I started – only reading the Bible on Sundays at church.
I experienced so much shame as a result of this. Over and over, I would determine to do better, only to “slip up” yet again. I got to the point where I thought it was hopeless – I just could not stick to my commitment of having a daily quiet time, no matter what I did.
It was this shame that my legalistic season followed on the heels of. To add to that shame and self-condemnation were the lies of legalism which will tell you that unless you are dotting all your i’s and crossing all your t’s, then God will be displeased with you. I used to have this subconscious view of God as Him being up in heaven with His proverbial arms crossed, a scowl on His face, as He looked down on me in displeasure any time I fell. In all my efforts to be perfect, I was, in essence, actually drifting further and further away from God’s true heart as my wrong view of God led to my not wanting to be near Him.
The thing about legalism is that, with it, comes a terribly judgmental heart. You adhere to legalistic teachings and then begin to look down on yourself and everyone else who does not live up to them.
The result was that, in my feelings of shame and self-condemnation, I began to view others through that same lens, and put feelings of guilt and shame over onto them as well. It got so bad that I began to think that I could not even interact with, let alone befriend, people who were different than me. I didn’t have any friends who weren’t Christian, let alone friends who were of a differing political viewpoint or lifestyle than myself. What I did not understand is that God’s love is unconditional, and that that meant that my love for others could be, as well – regardless of what viewpoint they held to.
Loving someone does not at all mean you agree with or approve of every single last decision they make or thing they do. But, in all my feelings of shame, I just could not grasp that.
In my head I knew the “Romans road” gospel. I could have shared that presentation in my sleep, but I was not living and walking in light of its truths and implications. I was viewing the gospel as something that was merely good for my eternity, not so much for my here-and-now life.
But that, friends, is the reality of the gospel: it does have amazing implications for our eternal destination, but it is meant to make a difference in our everyday lives, too! It is meant to free us from shame, guilt, condemnation, and wrath. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, yes, but He never condemns us. We are sinners, yes, but Christ took our guilt upon Himself on the cross, and we have no business still carrying it around as a burden strapped to our backs.
I understand this now, but I didn’t then. The Lord had to take me on a journey to, bit by bit, and little by little, come to a full-orbed understanding of the implications of the gospel. And what He used to do that was Paul’s testimony in Romans 7:14-8:1.
I had been familiar with Romans 8:1 (Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus,) for some time. But I had never paid any attention before to the context of this verse, which led me to have the mistaken idea that perhaps the lack of condemnation was dependent upon me doing everything I was supposed to and nothing that I wasn’t. As soon as I backed up and first paid attention to Romans 7, however, this mistaken idea was totally shattered!
At the end of Romans 7, Paul is lamenting his ongoing struggle with sin. He is sharing with the believers in Rome that he knows what he should be doing, and he knows what he should not be doing. And yet, it is those very things he shouldn’t be doing which he is doing. And those things he should be doing? Yeah, he isn’t exactly doing those. And yet! There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.
Praise God, amen? This realization freed me up in more ways than I can even begin to count. I no longer walked in shame and condemnation, because I knew that any shame and condemnation I was feeling were coming from the enemy and were a slap to Christ’s face. I began to grow in my intimacy with God, because I no longer felt like cowering in a corner so that a vengeful God wouldn’t find me and scowl down at me. Instead, I was dancing in His grace, resting in His love, and relishing His mercy. I was at peace, knowing I was forevermore at peace with God.
Do I still sin? Of course I do! Does the Lord still discipline me for that? Yes, as any loving Father would! But I no longer despair when that happens. I no longer mourn in the same way, thinking I have disappointed God. Because you know what? It is absolutely impossible to disappoint Him! We sadden Him when we sin, yes, because He wants what is best for us and sin just doesn’t make the cut. But He isn’t disappointed. In order to be disappointed, He would have to have high expectations of us that we could disappoint. But He doesn’t! Psalm 103:14 says, “For he knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust.”
The freeing truth is that God is not shocked or disappointed when we sin. He knows full well the sin nature with which we all still struggle on a daily basis. And when it happens again, and we do something we know we shouldn’t (or don’t do something we know we should!), He is still there to love us, pick us back up, and help us walk the right path again.
Friend, I don’t know what part shame may have been playing in your story. But I have a feeling it is there somewhere. And to you, I would share Paul’s beautiful words in Galatians 5:1, “For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Embrace your freedom, friend! Christ died so that you could have it. Lay down the shame, guilt, and condemnation, and pick up Christ’s freedom, love, and grace instead. Be free, sister, as Christ already made you to be!
Rebekah Hargraves is a wife, mama of two littles, blogger, podcaster, and author whose passion is to edify, equip, and encourage women in their journey of Biblical womanhood, particularly with an emphasis on the gospel and its implications for everyday life. Rebekah‘s first book, “Lies Moms Believe (And How the Gospel Refutes Them)” released the fall of 2017, and the “Lies Moms Believe” Companion Bible Study came out March 30, 2018. You can find Rebekah on her website, Hargraves Home and Hearth, on Instagram, or on iTunes via The Home and Hearth podcast.
P.S. Want to read more Freedom Stories? Check out 35+ stories of other inspiring women like Rebekah here.
It is my honor and joy to share this story with you. This sister of mine is a real life friend here in Roanoke, and I have loved walking this journey with her. I have literally watched her freedom unfold over the past few years, but especially this past year. I have seen God work in her own life, but then also impact other women around us in community. Through her thoughtful conversations and wrestlings about how alcohol affects our lives when used in unhealthy ways, she has made room and grace for others who may wrestle with the same thing: “gray area drinking.” I love this sister’s heart and her story.
Here is Saralyn’s Freedom Story.
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Before we get into your story, I want to know some of the fun stuff about you, Saralyn! Tell me about where you’re from, what you love to do, and anything else that will give us a little slice into your life.
Thank you so much for even asking me to be a part of this Heather! It is a true honor and I LOVE how you are sharing stories to help others! I’m originally from a small town in West Georgia called Carrollton, but Virginia is my home. I am one of 6 children and I’m smack dab in the middle! I’m a believer, a wife to Stephen of almost 12 years, mother to Charlotte (6) and Carson (almost 3). Most days you’ll find me moving my body through some form of dance/cardio or Holy Yoga. Stephen and I love to go see live music and take hikes outside with our family. We also are involved at our church where I serve on the Women’s Ministry Team.
Galatians 5:1 is a key verse for our FREEDOM STORIES. It says “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Therefore, do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” What was the old yoke you were living under? What was that slavery like for you?
YES GIRL! This verse is special because it will ALWAYS remind me of you, Heather. I discovered this verse while we were in a summer bible study called Seamless (one that I will never forget). If you are looking for a good launching pad-type study into the Bible, please check it out! I now proudly display this verse in our home.
Growing up I was always a believer, but I was not a participant in my faith. It wasn’t until about 2 years ago when I discovered that there was a “relationship” opportunity for me and the Lord. Through joining our new church that we love and finding a Bible study, this is where that relationship started for me.
It’s important to mention that I come from a family that is cursed with unhealthy addiction. One of those is alcohol. Yes, I would party some in high school and I might have even thrown a party or two while my parents were out of town. I never took anything too far and no one ever got hurt. Fast forward into college, marriage and becoming a mother. I continued my partying ways and it began to taper off after the first years of our marriage and more so after the birth of our first child. There were still plenty of Sunday mornings where I would wake up hungover from the night before. Once Carson came into the picture, I developed extreme postpartum anxiety and depression. I tried to eat right and workout enough to make it go away. I saw a doctor and she helped me get the right medication. However, I often found myself reaching for a glass of wine when things got stressful or to just unwind after a long day. Looking back, I realize I would reach for a glass to manage my anxiety. Often that one glass would lead to another and next thing you know you are bathing the kids with a glass of wine. Then you are rushing to tuck them in bed so you can go have another glass.
As a working mom with two small children, it is stressful. Not to mention the expectations of having to portray a perfect life these days. Social media can really be a tough place for people.
What I dealt with is what I consider “Gray Area Drinking.” I didn’t consider myself addicted. No one ever got hurt. I didn’t lose my job. I just began to realize that it wasn’t serving me well.
What were some of the old narratives you absorbed?
That I need to drink to have fun…
To relax, manage stress, or just because I deserved it…
To be the life of the party…
As a marketing professional, I want to also touch on the areas of social media and how companies are normalizing drinking more than ever. There are countless meme’s, t-shirts, cups, even health and wellness businesses promoting the lifestyle of how mom’s “need” to drink to do our jobs. “Mommy Juice”, “Wine Not”, “Rose All Day” is everywhere! It’s hard because of how normalized and celebrated drinking alcohol has become.
I also believe it is important to mention that I struggle with body image issues. After having two children via c-section and breastfeeding, it is understandable. One thing I didn’t realize I was doing is that I would rarely give myself days off from working out. I would sometimes never let my body fully rest. See, I knew that I would more than likely be drinking that night. So, in order to “make room” for those calories from the wine, I would make myself workout. Not a healthy balance at all.
Over time, I’ve realized who my identity is in Christ. I used to walk into a room and I would mold to other people’s personalities to make them or the situation more comfortable or bearable. I realized that is actually sinful – to not lean in and embrace the person God has made you to be. I don’t have to do that anymore. God calls us to shine the light and gifts He gave us and to stand firm in that truth.
What was the turning point? Was there a rock bottom or a point that you realized that you couldn’t live like that any longer?
One night, after some early evening drinking and not eating until 9pm, I attempted to put my kids in the bath. They were tired and didn’t want to take a bath. I remember screaming at them and losing my cool. It’s a feeling that makes me sick every time I am asked to share about it, but I don’t shy away from sharing it because it’s my truth. This is where the love story began with me and Jesus.
That night I decided to ask the Lord for help. I could no longer do this anymore-be bound to this kind of pain. The next morning was February, 12, 2018 and this was two days before Lent. I decided to see how it would be to give up alcohol for 40 days. It was amazing what the Lord did with me in those 40 days! I have been alcohol free for over a year now and it has been the best decision of my life.
I no longer wanted to be that person, that kind of mother, to ever see those little eyes to look at me that way again. My children were 5 and 1.5 at the time and I thank God that they were so young when I decided to give up alcohol.
I am and will always be grateful for making the choice while I still had a choice to make.
What changed? (what actions did you take/truths did you discover/community did you connect with to help you find freedom)?
This is such a good question! LOVE IT! So, I knew another mom that loved Jesus and she had recently given up alcohol. She was an unexpected angel and she is still someone I communicate with all the time. In fact, I have been public about my journey and there has been an amazing dialogue with other sober curious mothers. We call ourselves, “Sober Sisters”. There is a group of us that are on the same text thread and get together on occasion. We share our ups and downs along the way. It’s been amazing!
There are also a few Instagram accounts I follow that have been helpful such as @tellbetterstoriesmedia, @drylifeclub, and @thesoberglow . One podcast that especially helped me is called Edit- Editing the drinking and our lives by Adian Donnlley and Jolene Park. It’s like they crawled into my head and put out to the world exactly what was going on with me! SO good!
Tell me about your life of freedom. What does it look like for you now?
WOW! People ask me all the time if this is a “forever” thing. I tell them that I do not want to get ahead of myself, but it’s a decision made knowing that I’m just a better person without it.
I believe that drinking is a wall between my relationship with God. I am able to receive His love and communicate better with Him. I now have a better understanding of what I was put on this Earth to do and my identity in Him.
There is also less drama in my life. Part of this process is removing things that might have brought me anxiety or stress. I have been able to take a deep breath and be more intentional in the relationships with my family and friends that lift me up most.
Do you still wrestle with those old struggles? What do you do on those days to fight for your freedom?
I am human so yes, I sometimes do. For some reason, vacation can be hard not to have a drink. It’s like the enemy knows that I am not in my normal routine and he wants nothing more but to throw me off.
In those moments I am honest with myself about them. I take it to the Lord, talk to my husband or my Sober Sisters about my feelings. Sometimes I may reach for some dark chocolate, kombucha or hot tea instead!
Are there any key scriptures, quotes, or books that have been helpful for you on your journey into freedom?
Be on guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong and do everything in love. 1 Corinthians 16: 13-14
Honestly, I just LOVE this one! It’s my favorite. I believe that all of those words, that posture of faith and strength has carried me through being a participant in my faith so far. And of course, Galatians 5:1 really does say it all, right?
And last, because I’m a big believer that gratitude lists help us remain present and fight our battles, tell me 3 things you’re grateful for right now.
Being able to hang out with my husband and kids. To be present with them – not rush bedtime, to feel my very best each morning when they wake up!
To treat my body as a temple and something that I use to honor God.
To use my story and my suffering, to possibly help someone else by leading them to a better relationship with Christ.
– – –Saralyn is a believer, wife, mom and loves all things beautiful! You may find her doing yoga, hiking outside, volunteering her time in Women’s Ministry through her church or involved projects with her clients through her marketing and creating branding business, Saralyn Hamilton Creatives. Follow along in her everyday life through Facebook, Instagram or on her blog!
Yesterday, I celebrated my 31st birthday. This week I’ve been reflecting a lot on my 30th year, and the amazing healing, hope, and freedom I now cherish. So this week… I’m sharing my own Freedom Story. A story about my 30th birthday and the significance of a tattoo. In many ways, this is part of my heart for this series.
I’m grateful to celebrate with you here.
Tattoo Parlors and a Birthday Present
This wasn’t an impulse decision. It was an intentional, prayerful choice.
For my 30th birthday, I decided it was time to seal my freedom as a reminder to myself. Last December, I planned a trip to Baltimore to visit my best friend Char. We researched tattoo parlors, and I asked Char to write out an important phrase in her beautiful calligraphy to incorporate into the special design that I dreamt of for nine years. We sat across from each other in the tattoo parlor, taking in the bright blue paint and looking at framed images on the walls. I was wearing my favorite scarf and filled to the brim with excitement. Char sat cradling her belly, at seven and a half months pregnant. I remember thinking we probably looked a little out of place, but I didn’t care. As the artist I chose took me back to the chair, I didn’t feel nervous. My cheeks hurt from smiling, and I felt an anchoring sense of peace.
This was a day I wanted to remember.
Italy and Peppermint Tea
When I was 21, I studied in Italy for four months. Our group stayed in Orvieto, an ancient town carved out of the top of a rock cliff in the region of Umbria. My favorite features of the town were its beautiful cathedral, the rolling hills and vineyards below our cliff, the lemon trees in the library courtyard, and the kind families I often saw at the market on Saturday mornings. Those four months signified self-exploration, my wrestling attempts towards independence, the savoring of the slower pace of Europe, and a marked turning point in my life.
We lived in an old monastery, no longer in use by monks but inhabited by Christian college students on one side and retired nuns on the other. Often, we looked out the windows to the gardens below to see the nuns waving up at us, “Ciao!”
One spring afternoon, I sat in the kitchen with our program director’s wife, Sharona. I loved spending time with Sharona and her young kids. They reminded me to laugh and slowed me down from my normal whirl of activity. That day, we opened the windows and had peppermint tea from a special ceramic jar on her window sill. There was a vast difference between the cozy tea, the smell of Italy after a rain, Sharona’s peaceful presence, and the tumbling anxiety I carried inside. She asked me to tell her my story. I took a deep breath and shared while I held my mug of tea close.
When I was finished, she looked me in the eyes and said something I will never forget.
“It seems like all your life you’ve been a bird. You’ve wanted to fly but you’ve had your wings held down and held down… I think you’re ready to fly.”
I’m not sure why, but the image of the bird unable to fly struck me deeply. I imagined one day I might fly, but I knew I wasn’t there yet.
The Bird Cage
When I think of freedom, I do picture a bird. Not a bird in a cage or with its wings pinned down, but a bird soaring against a bright blue sky or a gorgeous sunset. I picture joy.
For a good portion of my life though, I was more like the bird with pinned wings. I had debilitating anxiety, and I struggled with striving and people pleasing. I lived in fear of letting others down or hurting their feelings, and my highest aim was to make sure others were happy. The peace-keeper, the straight-A student, the good girl with a constant smile on her face.
I imagined sky-high expectations from others and feared I would never live up to those ideals. My extreme perfectionism led me into obsessive compulsive thinking and behaviors. I didn’t believe I was worthy of good things or healthy relationships, and often settled into relationships that reflected my poor self-esteem. I had terrible boundaries and said “yes” to everything and everyone, because “no” felt selfish.
The breaking point came at 25. I was a new mother, wrestling with life–not just the life of my little boy and providing for him, but my own life. I didn’t want to live the way I was living, but I couldn’t picture another way. I had so many questions about how I had gotten lost, how I had strayed this far off track. The birdcage was suffocating. I was losing my fight… part of me didn’t even care if I ever flew or got out. I lost much of my faith, and I realized I lost myself too.
Learning to Fly
Then, a light.
I went to a meeting- a support group. I was there to “help” someone else, but as I looked around the room and listened to stories of hope and healing, I recognized that I was in desperate need of help myself. The thing was, I couldn’t help myself anymore. No amount of reading from self-help books or journaling could pull me out of the pit or the darkness. I needed others. And I needed God.
Gently, lovingly, He patched my wings. He helped me shed the weights pinning me down. He focused my eyes on Him instead of worrying about everything going on around me. He started to heal me from the inside out.
I entered counseling and began to cull through wounds. The Lord taught me about forgiveness.
I found true, authentic community in my support group. No longer was fear of judgment the driving force for my behavior. My desire for change was finally greater than my people pleasing. I let my new friends open the door to the bird cage for me.
I came to understand who God really is. As I read more of the New Testament (particularly John, Matthew, 1, 2, and 3 John, and 1 and 2 Corinthians), I learned more about His grace.
I memorized Psalms and spoke His Truth to myself daily, instead of dwelling on my negative self-talk and criticism.
I learned what brought me joy: serving others without expectation. Running. Hiking. Baking. Painting. WRITING. Worshiping. Mothering my son. Connecting bravely with others who have hard stories but have found hope in Jesus.
I started to understand more of who God made me to be: He made me with a heart that loves deeply. He gave me creativity, depth, and zest for life. An empathetic and compassionate spirit. A quirky sense of humor. An ability to lead others with grace and gentleness.
Christ didn’t come to bring a nebulous, unattainable idea of freedom, but to give His children a true, deep, soul-level deliverance.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
“I am set free”
With pin pricks of ink, I heard the buzzing sound of the tattoo artist working on my rib cage.
My eyes stung and I breathed deep, relaxing into the table. As the artist carefully brought my vision to life, I prayed. I closed my eyes and thanked God for all of the work He has done in my life. I am set free FROM:
- OCD and trichotillomania
- Debilitating anxiety
- Toxic relationships
- Doubt about my faith; bitterness towards God
- Depression and suicidal thinking
- Extreme people pleasing
- Perfectionism and control
- Trying to live up to the expectations of others
Now, I live in freedom. God has brought me freedom to:
- Establish healthy boundaries.
- Forgive those who have hurt me.
- Take responsibility for my part, and let go of shame and self-condemnation.
- Carry JOY; this is not a fake smile to cover up my scars and my pain, but lasting, deep joy.
- Live in authentic community with others.
- Walk in the calling He has placed on my life to empower and encourage others who are hurting.
- Know His Word as truth. I know God is loving, merciful, steadfast. I believe He created me in His image, has His mighty hand on my life, and loves me fiercely.
As I prayed and thought about all of these areas in my life, the tattoo artist etched my best friend’s writing beneath an open bird cage on my side. It says:
On my left shoulder, there’s a silhouette of a flying bird. My freedom bird.
As Char and I left, I told her the significance of my time on the table, and the depth of my prayers and gratitude for how God has protected and guided me. She told me that while she watched me with my eyes closed, she prayed for me too. She thought about all of the amazing things God has done in my life. Who knew that getting a tattoo could be such a spiritual experience 🙂 I am immensely thankful for the work God has done in my life. Even on my dark days or difficult times, I know that the Lord is with me.
In Him, I am set free.
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What are some things God set you free FROM in your life? What are the ways you walk in freedom now?
One of my favorite things about the Freedom Stories series is getting to know the hearts of sisters in Christ from all over the country (and a few from Canada!). I’m recognizing that no two stories are the same, but something amazing happens when we open up vulnerably and share about how Christ transforms our lives. Even though Jana is from Kansas, we’ve never met in real life and our struggles look different, I’m so thankful that I connected with her through this project. I think you’ll love her transparency and the chance to cheer her on in what God is doing in her life.
Here is Jana’s Freedom Story.
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Jana! I’m so glad to have you here. Before we get into your story, I want to know some of the fun stuff! Tell me about where you’re from, what you love to do, and anything else that will give us a little slice into your life!
I’ve lived in Kansas my entire life, and I grew up a part-time farm girl. We lived in town, but spent Sunday afternoons and much of the summer on my grandparents farm. It’s where I learned to love being outdoors, food as God made it, spending time with family, and barnyard kittens.
I have book ADD. So many books I start! But I’ve actually finished 44 so far this year.
For 30 years, I was a graphic designer, and the last 10 or so, a web designer. I loved it, for most of that time. Now, I’m teaching a class about finding your food freedom, based on a workbook I’m writing week by week as we go. I love it — I found what I want to be when I grow up!
I love that! I’m so impressed by your 44 books and the career path you’ve found. So, Galatians 5:1 is a key verse for our FREEDOM STORIES. It says “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Therefore, do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” What was the old yoke you were living under? What was that slavery like for you?
That was the first verse I had students memorize in the class I’m teaching!
At first I thought my enslavement was to food, but I realized that, really, the yoke I was under was giving in to discouragement, and letting that keep me stuck. This particular discouragement was about being at an unhealthy weight, and looking at my past failures at any lasting success, thinking that the future could only hold more of the same. (But I experienced a similar hopelessness in other areas, too, unwilling to try things that seemed too hard or scary, like speaking in public, or sharing my writing where it might be criticized.)
The weight discouragement included not feeling like it was “me” I saw in the mirror, or in pictures of myself. It included struggling to keep up with family and friends on a very easy hike through Colorado fields — something I love to do! And behind all that was the fear that I might end up like my mom: with type 2 diabetes and, eventually, Alzheimer’s. (Having type 2 diabetes, which can be controlled by diet, greatly increases the risk of Alzheimer’s.)
What were some of the old narratives you absorbed when you were in that place?
It’s hopeless. You’ve always failed in the past, so you’ll just keep on failing. You’re too weak and lazy to change.
I can relate to so many of those, Jana. What was the turning point for you? Was there a rock bottom or a point that you realized that you couldn’t live like that any longer?
Looking at pictures of myself in my sister’s wedding, which took place on my 50th birthday. I thought, “I’m too young to look that old and tired.” Plus, I was wearing a maternity top — and I hadn’t been pregnant for 20 years.
So what happened next? What actions did you take? Did you connect with community or find new Truths that helped you find freedom?
It took another year and a half for me to make concrete steps. I think I instinctively knew I couldn’t do it on my own, and that I would probably need some kind of professional help, but I felt both ashamed to ask for help, and like I wasn’t worth the money it would cost to hire that kind of help.
The gift that propelled me to action was my daughter getting engaged. I thought, “I don’t want to look old and tired in another set of wedding pics!” — and I also felt like I could justify the expense of a personal trainer, if I called it “wedding expenses.” Understand: this wasn’t my husband saying we couldn’t spend money on that — it was all me and my not valuing my self care.
I found a personal trainer who specialized in treating middle-aged people who just wanted to get healthy. (What I did not need was someone pressuring me to run a marathon!) I remember the night I found his website, with people whose “before” pictures looked just like me. I cried from relief, released by the spark of hope I was feeling for the first time in ages.
It wasn’t the personal trainer who brought me food freedom, but the success I had there — the discovery that I could do things beyond what I imagined my limits to be, and finding joy in my newfound strength and energy. This propelled me to change in other ways, too.
During one particularly challenging session, my trainer taught me some lessons about weight training. “In order for your muscles to grow,” he explained, “you have to push them to the point of failure. But I’ll be right here to catch the weight when it falls.”
I immediately saw the spiritual parallel. Pushing myself to try things I know are beyond my own strength in other areas of life is exactly what grows my faith! If I only work within what I already know I can do, where is the room for growth, and dependence on God? And God is my “spotter:” He’s always there to pick up what I can’t carry.
I love that spiritual parallel and the analogy of God as our “spotter.” That’s so helpful! Will you tell me about your life of freedom? What does it look like for you now?
My weight loss eventually led me to find a way of eating that greatly diminished the cravings I battled, and increased my overall health and energy. Because I know this is what keeps me feeling great, I eat really healthy all the time — with small, thought-through splurges from time to time. I don’t feel deprived at all. I’m freed from foods that enslave me, and freed to enjoy lots of really delicious food, guilt-free.
I now know that it’s okay to be weak, as long as I bring it to God and ask for His strength. I no longer talk to myself in demeaning terms like “lazy” and “weak.” Well, almost never!
Also, now I get to teach other women about what I’ve learned! I love watching God use my words to help them see all the ways they don’t realize they’re stuck: how certain foods keep them addicted; how they talk to themselves in hopeless, demeaning ways; how much God loves them as they are, but how He desires to fill them and their lives with good, healthy, enjoyable food and experiences!
Do you still wrestle with those old struggles? What do you do on those days to fight for your freedom?
While I feel the food battle is 99% won, I still struggle with the exercise side of the equation. I had experienced a major overhaul in my attitude and habits regarding exercise that was unbroken from 2014 through 2016. Then, in 2017, I suffered a series of illnesses that forced me to quit all exercise for several months in order to allow my body to recover and heal. I’m still struggling with getting that rebooted. But the difference now is that I don’t consider giving up an option. I’m going to keep getting back up on that horse.
And writing this has made me realize that I may be trying to do too much on my own power, and probably need to start leaning on God more heavily here. So, yeah: I’m still fully human!
Haha! It’s good when we can see that in ourselves! Keeps us humble 😉 Are there any key scriptures, quotes, books or other resources that have been helpful for you on your journey into freedom?
A key scripture for me is Psalm 107:8 & 9 which says, “Give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love… for He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.” (NIV) I needed to replace my old idea that, if I gave up my comfort foods, I would be giving up comfort: I would be living a deprived life. What I learned is that God wants me to be comforted, but He wants to give me comfort Himself! And He has lots of ways to do that. It’s okay to enjoy food, when it has the proper place and boundaries.
I collect quotes, so it’s dangerous to ask me that! (I have a closet for them.) But a couple favorites are…
“Feelings of failure are based on the assumption that now is the only time that counts.” – I’ve lost the author’s name.
“That which is denied cannot be healed.” – Brennan Manning
Barb Raveling’s The Renewing of the Mind Project was instrumental in helping me change the way I thought about not just eating, but self-discipline and self-talk in general. She also has a book called I Deserve a Donut, focused specifically on food, but in both books, she provides the reader with a list of questions to journal about, and scripture to meditate on, on a variety of topics that keep us stuck in bad habits or prevent us from starting good ones.
Also key for me: not trying to be a lone ranger. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. But also: that helping others is a great way to keep my lessons fresh and important to me.
And last, because I’m a big believer that gratitude lists help us remain present and fight our battles, tell me 3 things you’re grateful for right now. 🙂
I’m thankful for my present health. (Nothing like being stuck on a couch for months to make you appreciate being able to walk through the neighborhood.)
I’m thankful that my mom’s battle with Alzheimer’s is over, and she’s healed and Home. (Three years now.)
I’m thankful for bacon! 🙂
– – –
Jana Snyder is a teacher, encourager, and food freedom guru.
She says, “I’m just a real person looking for real answers.” In 2007, seeking hope for her own health issues and that of family members, Jana began a deep dive into medical literature regarding food and health. What she learned revealed a connection between Alzheimer’s and diabetes, between diabetes and processed food, and between processed food and why food has such a hold over us. This knowledge lit a fire in her: a passion to help others find food freedom from the addictive foods that jeopardize their health, and steal away time with their loved ones.
She microblogs frequently in two places on Instagram: @jana.reallife and @jana.realfood. She also publishes easy, healthy recipes — as well as info about what to eat and why we eat — at ohthatstasty.com
She lives in Wichita KS with her husband of 35 years, and a big dog in a small package. She can be found teaching at her church; encouraging women online and over tea; and in her kitchen, doing dishes.
On Monday morning of this week I woke up from a dream that was extremely realistic and vivid. It’s a recurring dream I’ve had for years, but this was the most detailed and memorable yet. I can’t stop thinking about it.
I can almost smell the french fry grease, and feel the familiar stickiness under the rubber soles of my shoes. I am back at my first high school job, waiting tables at an ice cream shop. In the dream, I take a quick survey of the restaurant, and see that I have guests seated at tables 21, 22, 53, 54, and 55. None of them have been greeted yet, and I know that I have to jump in and start taking care of ALL OF THEM.
I reach into my apron to take out my notepad and start running around taking drink orders and apologizing for the delay. When I run back to the kitchen to pour sodas, I peek my head out and see even more guests seated at new tables. Oh no! Some are checking their watches, obviously perturbed for how long I am taking. One table is getting up to leave.
I rush around in bubbly waitress mode and try to collect orders, explain menu questions, deliver drinks, and navigate the new computer system (obviously it has been upgraded since high school). The computer screen is locked and I can’t remember my old passcode. I eventually get in, and EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT. I can’t find the kids menu, and all of the sundae names have changed in the last 15 years. More tables are expressing their frustration, and I run out and apologize, blaming the delay on the computers/the cooks (when in actuality I haven’t entered one meal into the computer because I can’t figure out the system). I feel panic rising up in my throat. New customers are waiting at the hostess stand and I am literally about to burst with anxiety. Finally, I turn around and see that there are about five other waitresses standing by the ice cream fountain. They aren’t being lazy, as I had assumed earlier in the subconscious of my dream. They just thought I had it all under control. I shout out an exasperated cry for help– “can anyone pick up a table for me?” Three waitresses quickly jump in and begin to help managing the chaos just as I wake up.
When I woke up I was immediately aware of the fact that this dream, this recurring dream of serving at the ice cream parlor in New Jersey, has much deeper meaning than I’ve ever realized before. There are two things God showed me when I woke up and prayed:
1) THAT DREAM is the definition of insanity…doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. It is not His will for us to live that chaotic, twirling, micro-managing, stressed out life anymore. He has called us to FREEDOM!
2) Freedom is found when we ask others for help. When we recognize that we don’t have to do it on our own anymore, there is relief. When we know that (thank goodness) we are actually not alone, there is comfort and guidance that others can provide. In hearing the story of another person, we get to say “me too” and break the tension of thinking we’re the only one wrestling with darkness.
I’ve shared over the past several months various areas that God has brought/is bringing freedom into my life. Through Christ and with the support of community, I have been set free from:
- depression and hopelessness
- some of my worst tendencies with OCD and anxiety
- abuse, trauma
- extreme people-pleasing and perfectionism
AND, with this freedom, I have also stepped into true joy that permeates my life, even on the hard days. I have been granted compassion for others who are in deep places of sorrow, trauma, divorce, and addiction. I have recognized my calling and purpose to lift up others who are hurting through my voice. I have found hope.
This is the heartbeat of my story, and the heartbeat of this space. I want you to know that:
1) There is freedom to be found in a life surrendered to Christ. He is able to break the chains that you cannot break for yourself.
2) You are not alone. I am a big believer that “vulnerability begets vulnerability” (a favorite Brene Brown quote), and I want to open up a space where you can hear other stories and perspectives than just my own.
Just like I can’t serve everyone in that restaurant by myself, I know that not all of the people who step into this space will resonate with my story. BUT I know that there is still hurt and there are still chains you might be carrying around–I want to help you find freedom.
So here’s the vision: This fall (starting today!!!), I hope you will join me in reading FREEDOM STORIES on the blog each Friday. I have asked some of my favorite writers and some new writing friends if they will join me in sharing where they have found freedom in their life through Christ and authentic community. You will hear from others who have been released from the chaos or burdens that once weighed them down, like substance abuse, false idols, really hard seasons in their marriages, parenting struggles, singleness, shame, disordered eating, and grief. This is a brave tribe of women who are willing to go first and be vulnerable in order to encourage others with their own stories. I’m so excited and hopeful to share these stories of freedom, and I pray that you will join in the hope we have found, too.