Thursday, April 3, 2014

Never give up on anyone + my testimony

Be Kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle
I sat, knees tight together, and legs dangling off the edge of the small platform and hands folded in my lap, with an estimated four dozen pairs of eyes blankly staring at me. It was year 2011 and I was the last graduating teen to share that night, in a room full of high school students gathered at our church's youth group end-of-the-year gathering. It's a tradition that the Christian seniors would share briefly a bit of what God had done in their life; a testimony. Needless to say, it was a long evening, full of varying emotions from the speakers, and I could tell that the audience was more-or-less bored and tired. After all, I was the last of 10 Seniors, and my guess was that few thought little home-schooled Michaela had anything terribly profound to share. Indeed, compared to some of the stories shared that night, I hadn't anything horrendous to complain about. I was raised in a proper Christian family, had a good childhood, never did drugs, had sex, and never had trouble with authority. However, this was the night I would tell a large group of teens - many simply visiting for the event, which included snacks and hors d'oeuvres - and church leaders that I had nearly died several years earlier... from anorexia.
 I had a feeling that my closer friends knew part of the story, or at least suspected. It wasn't a secret what I had been through, but simply something I didn't like to talk about. I mean, when exactly is it a good time to casually bring up in general conversation that I used to starve myself.
 I took a deep breath, telepathed a prayer, and tried to start off on the right page.
 "Hi guys, I'm Michaela Johnson. I'm the one you see but never hear." A few giggles ensued, so I proceeded. I was determined to deliver. All apprehension left me. In fact, I felt a strange anticipation to get my past in the open, and hopefully encourage some people as well. For too long I had been ashamed and terrified of my past, but tonight marked the end of those sentiments.
 "Most testimonies are categorized as either the Dramatic Salvation type - aka God saves the druggie destined to die - or the Perfect Christian genre, the ideal, did-everything-right-since-birth people. I don't fit into either one of these categories fully."  I hoped to shatter a pre-held view on the "church testimony," or at least how I had always thought about it.
 "Most of you know that I was born into a loving Christian family and hardly missed a Sunday at church. Accepting Christ at 4 years old, I realize now that even the beginning of my walk with Christ is beyond anything I could boast about. The Spirit showed me my need for Jesus, and in faith I trusted in Him. My salvation wasn't something I could come about on my own - by my own discovery, experience, reflection, intellect, or reasoning. Since then God has been teaching me to lean fully on Him for every need.
 "When I was about 6, my older brother - 5 years my senior - started getting involved in the wrong crowd. He was my idol, and I looked up to him, so when he left home a year later due to drug-abuse, rebellion, and theft, I was crushed and confused."  A few eyebrows raised. Not many people knew I had an elder brother! The 5' 3" girl wasn't as transparent as she came across.
 "I don't know if that factored into what happened later, or if it was simply insecurity plus sinful nature, but at any rate, I learned to blame myself for everything, and really truly hated myself. I guess it didn't help that I'm a perfectionist and tend to take mistakes personally. The fatal flaw was that I developed a works-based religion for myself only. I knew that I was saved by grace alone through faith, and I
certainly didn't hold others to the same standard as I imposed upon myself, but I felt less of a Christian if I wasn't doing things right. Perfectly, in fact. The difference between head-knowledge and heart-felt is vast!"  I paused.  Even though it had been years (it felt like a lifetime) since I had struggled with the ordeal I was about the explain, it had only been a few weeks since I had been revealed this simple truth:
 "The thing is, in thinking that I had live out my salvation before being worthy to come to God, I was actually denying Jesus His full glory of saving me completely through His sacrifice alone. There's nothing I can do to deserve it. If I think that the chasm between me and God is not too great to bridge by myself, I make God out to be a liar, and trivialize the tremendous feat that He performed on the cross."
 Deep breath. This was the time. A few more moments.
 "I was afraid at first to give my testimony to you because there are so many misconceptions about the disorder I battled with after that. Some call it a choice, and to some extent it is, I know. Some view it as a means to get attention or get what one wants. I suppose some people might use it that way. I knew it as an addiction, a death trap, and Satan's lie. It's medical name is Anorexia. And all I knew was that I was in control of my body - which I hated - and it felt so incredibly good to not eat. My high was losing weight. And by the time I was scared to death for my life I had no choice but to feed the monster... and starve myself."
 Total silence. I swear my ears were ringing from the pause.
 "Some of you may have known me then, but I kept to myself, so it wasn't very noticeable when I left. My parents and doctor freaked out when I hit 90lb and sent me to a 'special hospital.'"
 My mind jolted back in memory to my arrival at that... place. I was assigned a room in the small subdivision of the hospital with another "eating disorder," as we were called. In reality, my room-mate simply had an untreated case of IBS, which causes extreme irritation and pain during digestion. She didn't want to be thin. It simply hurt too much to eat. I shared a room with her, and the rest of the division with about a dozen other people, ages 5-25, male and female, and struggling with various and diverse afflictions, including but not limited to self-harm, anger-management, substance abuse, ADHD, and those with visions of delusional realities, as well as other "eating disorders." In all honesty, that must have been the most frightening day of my life.
 "After one week of hell, the supervisors there told my parents that it was be in my best interest to put me on a feeding tube, since it was so laborious for me to actually eat, especially since my body went into hyper-metabolism. After a tube was inserted into my nose and down to my stomach, taped to my face, and hooked up to a machine, things started to change. My parents received the cold shoulder and half-truths were relayed on my progress. My food intake was doubled, despite their promise of a lighter load. I fell and broke my tailbone, yet no action was taken for comfort. I was allowed to leave the 'ward' once, to be shuttled to a clinic. After a scan, I was told that my spine was deteriorating rapidly. My parents knew that something was wrong, and they wanted me out of there. However, the paper they signed in order to allow my feeding tube inserted apparently stated that I was not to be released until their special doctors recommended it. Which, of course, could take months... or years. After saying that they were coming to pick me up, my parents were informed that if they were to do so their parental rights would be revoked and my sister and I would belong to the state."
 (To this day the irony is not lost on me that years after such a threat, our family adopted three young children through foster care!)
 "In this time I fell into a deeper depression than I had been before. I looked no one in the eye and spent most of my time drawing. Some of my best artwork was created during that time, though I cared not and most of it was destroyed. They were bleak days. However, I don't wish this to be a pity-sob-story. God felt infinitely distant, but He was at work. After all, this isn't my story, but His.
 "Two days after being roughly placed between a rock and a hard-place, my parents received a phone call. A phone call from a currently untraceable lawyer in California whom had 'heard about' our predicament (though no one had been told) and offered to take the hospital to court, since I was essentially being held for ransom, as the hospital fare was very expensive. But God is so good, and
Sovereign literally means Ruling over ALL.
rarely leaves his children merely grateful, but astounded at the impossible. This lawyer would not charge our family for his services; his offer was free."
 Was he an angel? We don't know, and speculation is all I have, so I left the possibility open to the small crowd in front of me to ponder. At any rate, he had weight in the real world, and the hospital dropped me like a hot potato!
 My next words were chosen carefully.
 "This may sound like the end of the story, but it was not. After two weeks in 'the house,' (so I call it after reading Frank Peretti's book The House) I lived through hell in my own home. There are still things that I was put through that I have yet to justify in my mind and heart. And I really don't have much memory of that time, and the recovery was blurry, but here I stand today, and I believe with all my being that I was divinely healed, and I thank God for my parents who never gave up on me."
 There, I had said it!
 "Perhaps now you think my story is over," I said jokingly, as I realized I had been talking on heavy materials for almost 10 minutes. "But I have one more update, and this one happened very recently! In fact, I had even thought that my struggle was over, except for the occasional flash-back, but God exposed to me my heart not three weeks ago! I had grown bitter and cynical, not allowing myself to feel any emotion too deeply. My heart had grown stale and un-penetrable. The rest of my life would've been spent in decline because of my fear of being hurt again and losing control, but that one night God spoke to me."
 I almost expected someone to roll their eyes at the classic "I heard God speak to my heart" story, but I was too excited to notice if anyone did.
 "He asked me - inaudibly - if I was willing to obey His command and lay all my burdens, sins, fears, and hurts upon His cross. It was if He said 'Michaela, you've promised me your present and your future. I know you wish to serve Me! But you cannot do so if your past is not also Mine. I died so that I could have your past! Give it to me!' All the pain flooded back into me like the damn over my heart had finally caved in under the pressure of the Spirit. Only this time, I let it flow. I didn't attempt to rebuild it. I let it fall upon the back of Christ as He carried the tree along the road to Calvary. I let it pierce His hands and feet like nails when He tacked the sin of the world onto His perfect body. I let it fill His lungs as He breathed His last and forgave unrepentant sinners. I let it kill Him, hanging on a Roman cross. I let it distill in His lonesome tomb as the devil laughed. But truly, He rose again, leaving behind the sin, the pain, and the past.
 "So I challenge each and every one of you, first of all, to give to Christ what He asks of you. Only then can you truly live, when all control is resting in the hands of a Sovereign God, and you feel vulnerable and open to the world, but are trusting in His protection."
 Secondly, I now challenge each of you reading this now. Look around you. Ask Jesus for a heart-view of the people whom you come into contact with every day. They're people made in the image of God. Just as much the image of God as the skeleton-sized freak I was at 14 years of age. Just as much in the image of God as the old homeless man reeking of beer and cigarettes. Just as much in the image of God as the down-syndrome baby in the womb of their mother. Just as much in the image of God as the hateful activist ranting against humanity. They are loved, the need help, they need God, they need you. So I implore you who value the Word of God, never give up on anyone; always fight for everyone!

Never give up on anyone; always fight for everyone!