Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Miracle of You

I gave a sermon on Sunday, May 15.  My pastor is writing a book and took a study week.  I think it was fun for him because he still came to church events and to church with his family on Sunday morning- he just didn't have to do the pastor stuff.  He got to just be part of the church family. 

I was very excited to give this message to my church family.  When my pastor approached me, I immediately knew my message and purpose.  This one has been building up and just needed the right outlet.  I've gotten great feedback from my church family- I know that this message really touched some people and I know that there is going to be change in some lives. 

You can watch/listen on the church's website.  You will need QuickTime (free download) and it will take a few minutes to load so be patient.  Click on it, go get a snack and a beverage, and come back to enjoy.

It's a sermon so it's long but, like last time, I'm going to share the typed up version.  Watching/listening is a better experience so I hope you will take the time to watch/listen. 


Senior Year.  This is what the world saw when they looked at me.  Inside me was a different story.  While they said, “pretty, compassionate, patient,” my truth was “ugly, shameful, dirty.”

10 years old.  They said, “Smart, so much potential, such pretty eyes.”  My truth was “shredded, worthless, pain.”

Elementary school.  They said, “So cute! Such a pretty smile!”  My truth was, “no one loves me, I don’t deserve to be loved, no one even likes me.”

I look back on those days and, honestly, I’m shocked that I was so cruel to myself. Where did that come from? For me, it started with abuse. I survived some pretty traumatic stuff. It also came from being abandoned by my birth father. And from me and my mom struggling with money and food and clothing. I was teased for hand me downs and K Mart sweaters. I was picked on for being the smallest in my class. In junior high, I was tormented by 2 bullies who picked on me for anything they could- what I wore, how I did my hair, how I answered questions in class, the shoes I wore. I had generic Reeboks, my history teacher gave me a dumb nickname that turned into teasing (Lucky Dog ads), I didn’t wear my hair like the other girls. I changed schools from junior high to high school (went from a public school to a small private school where everyone already knew each other). I didn’t fit in with the kids there. I struggled to make friends. I was lonely and hurting. All of this surface stuff was piling on top of these deep wounds that started early in my life.

We all discover pain pretty early in life, don’t we? It can be the illness of a parent, the death of a pet, a parent losing a job, being bullied. I knew a set of siblings who fought each other so much that they seriously wounded each other’s souls. A parent can be absent, neglectful, hateful. Look at the list I gave you of just some of my hurts and wounds and pain! We all have that list, don’t we? We look back on our childhoods and can find the pain that seeps into your soul. A child’s world can absolutely implode when parents divorce. A teenager can lose hope when they feel they’ve done nothing but disappoint the people they love. Our peers make sure to tell us that we aren’t cool enough, pretty enough, buff enough, hip enough, strong enough, tough enough.

We grow up and the pain doesn’t stop- the personal pain that damages the inside. Friends betray us, some are beaten, raped, molested. We experience death, illness. Life beats us up. We hear disappointment or embarrassment in the voice of a spouse, parent, boss, friend. We look in the mirror and decide we’re fat, old, bald, wrinkly. We get passed over for a promotion and our confidence fades. We get turned down for a date and we doubt our appeal.

But what about those who actually grow up with a normal life? Seems far fetched, maybe. But there are those who have a happy beginning. And even that happy beginning doesn’t guarantee that we come out unscathed. We are bombarded with images and ideas and “supposed to be’s.” From the dolls we play with to the TV shows we watch to the ads that are plastered everywhere you turn from the side of a bus to the billboards on the side of the road to the glossy photos in magazines.

How you are supposed to look and feel and dress and be is dictated to you from very early on. Our culture tells us what is wrong with us- so that the marketers can tell us exactly how to fix those problems they made up for us.

Your hair is gray, color it. Your hair is curly, straighten it. Your hair is straight, perm it. Your lashes aren’t full or curly enough so apply this magical medicine and use this mascara. Your nose is to big so surgically reduce it. Your teeth are too yellow so whiten them. Your chin- well, you just have too many so go for that face lift. Your shoulders aren’t broad enough so better get that weight that shakes. You aren’t manly enough until you drink this beer! Four pack abs? Not good enough! You need six pack abs! For every problem you are told you have, there is an advertiser waiting to tell you how bad it really is and exactly how they can fix it for you. (armpit challenge)

We take all of this pain and hurt and criticism and what do we do?

All too often, we self destruct. It might be in small ways, it might be in big ways.

I lived with That Voice in my head for a long time. Do you have That Voice? That Voice that reminds you of all that pain and hurt and shame? That Voice that repeats the negative messages that were pounded into you? That Voice that says you’re ugly, fat, weak, worthless, unlovable?

Unlovable. Worthless.

I can tell you that as a teenager and young woman, I worked very hard to present the image that my insides were normal. I overcompensated for how I saw my insides. I really hated myself. But I desperately wanted to fit in and be normal. I discovered that when I served others, people saw my acts and didn’t see me. I could hide my ugly behind what people saw as valuable. I started doing volunteer work, I helped with kids at church, I orchestrated food drives and collected items for soldiers and organized drives to collect luggage for foster kids. I volunteered hundreds of hours- a senior center, an inner city Montessori school, and a camp for kids with emotional disorders and for countless organizations. I hid behind service.

I’ve known others who are truly destructive in how they compensate for feeling so worthless. Addiction to drugs, numbing with alcohol, eating disorders, attempts to take their own life.

But the choices aren’t always so dramatic, so obvious. The compensation for that lack of self love isn’t always so evident.

Sometimes, we just end up hard to love. We push people who want to be close to us away from us. We refuse to accept that our spouse can love us, that our kids can be proud of us. Every time we start to feel happy and secure, That Voice comes creeping in to remind us of all the things that are so incurably wrong with us.

We look in the mirror and criticize what we see- sometimes in front of our kids without even realizing they hear us. And what impact does that have on them? Not only are they then learning about that harsh and unfair form of self criticism, they can easily flip it onto themselves as soon as someone tells them, “You look just like your mom!” or “You definitely have your dad’s eyes!”

We look in our checkbooks and feel worthless. We aren’t providing enough for our families. We can’t afford the things we think would make our families happy and proud. We see the pile of bills, the lack of funds and we turn that bitter disappointment in on ourselves- and we just might hear That Voice… telling us how stupid we are, how worthless.

We see someone that we consider ideal and wonder why we don’t have such a flat stomach or such strong arms or why we can’t do the things they do or have the things they have. That Voice is there to remind us of exactly why we don’t have and look and feel the way we want to feel. That Voice is a constant reminder of our failures, our fears, our hurts, our past, our pain.

Listening to That Voice, living with That Voice, no matter how hard you fight it, keeps you in a dark, empty, lonely place.

What are we supposed to do when we are in that place?

I started with the Instruction Manual for Life. The Bible.

Psalm 139:13-15  For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

I sound pretty awesome when I read that! “I am fearfully and wonderfully made!” Fearfully has nothing to do with our traditional definition of fear in this context. “Fearfully” also means with awe and reverence. I was created with awe, reverence, and wonder. You were created with awe, reverence, and wonder.

Genesis 1:27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Created mankind in His own image. Those are big words. If God was here in front of me, would I see myself in Him? And could I then say to Him the things I say to myself? Could I see myself in God and say to myself in Him… “you’re ugly?” “You’re worthless.” “You don’t deserve love.”

No. So why did I ever think it was ok to treat myself that way? To talk to myself with such cruel words and feelings? Yes, I was damaged- almost destroyed- by another person and by life circumstances.

I fought back and with the help of God’s love and strength, I found something truly amazing and miraculous.


Yup- me. I am God’s miracle. From the moment He formed me in my mother’s womb… I was a miracle. He created me in His image. He gave me these hands, these feet, these legs. He designed me as I am- with this nose, this stomach, these eyes. We are all so much the same but also so very different. We can’t fathom the ways we are the same- some can carry a baby in their womb, some can run 100 miles at a time, some can ride a bike across the country, some can form words that inspire millions and future generations. Some have disabilities that become abilities. Some have impediments but finds ways to grow. He created us, He gave us this incredible gift of living and loving.

1 Corinthians 12:12-26

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Every single part of us is special and designed in His perfect plan- even if we do not understand it.

I’m going to challenge you. My friends in the Face Out group that I co-lead will tell you that I like to issue challenges- weekly challenges to try a new food, a new workout, a new way to soothe the soul.

I want you to love yourself. I want you to love yourself because God loves you. I want you to love yourself right now, right here, just the way you are. I want you to love yourself- with all your imperfections, guilt, shame, pain, and with That Voice telling you all those lies. I want you to love yourself as you are- not as you wish you could be.

I want you to be gentle with yourself. I want you to comfort yourself.

I want That Voice in your head to be gone. I want a new voice- I want you to hear honesty and love instead of That Voice.

Step one.  In the week ahead, I want you to listen to that voice.  It’s hard.  You don’t want to hear it, I know.  But it’s there.  I want you to hear it.  I want you to know what That Voice is saying to you.

Step two.  Recognize the lies the voice is saying.  And they are lies.  Remember what we read in the Scriptures?  We are wonderfully made.  All parts of our bodies are connected and when one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  Hear those lies in your head and label them as lies.  FEEL that they are lies you have been convinced are truth.  It’s one thing to say the words, it’s another thing to feel it, to really believe it, to fully recognize that falsehood.

Step three. Replace the lies with truth. When you hear “You’re so disgusting,” stop yourself, look deep inside and tell yourself “I am wonderfully made!” When you hear “You should be ashamed of who you are,” look deep inside and tell yourself, “I am created in His image.” Take those dark, hurtful lies and replace them with God’s truth about His love for you.

And that is His greatest gift, isn’t it? His love for us is so pure, so incomprehensible, so all encompassing… it defies definition.

Grab hold of that love. Let it fill you, consume you. Allow it- because you deserve His love, because He created you to love, because He loves you as He created you. Bring down that wall, that block, whatever it is that is stopping you from seeing yourself as lovable, valuable, worthy.

There’s a Chris Tomlin song we sing called “I Will Follow.” When I first heard it, I thought of others as I sang. I thought about how I would love others and serve others and follow God for others. But one of the lyrics is “Who you love, I’ll love.”

Why doesn’t that start with me? Why doesn’t that start with you?

I have to tell you- I do love myself. Not in an egotistical way, not in a prideful way. I love myself because God loves me and gave me the gift of love. As a teen, I tried to hide from my ugly, hurt, and dark insides with those acts of service and hours of volunteer work. The acts were good but the motivation was all wrong. Once I figured out that God created me, that God loves me, that I am truly lovable and deserving of love, I continued my acts of service and hours of volunteer work. But this time, the motivation was different. Now, I’m not trying to hide who I truly am. Opportunities to serve others is a chance to show the love inside of me, a chance to show the love that God has given me…

He loves you. He created you. See that when you look in the mirror- see what He sees, what He created.

There’s a song I love by JJ Heller called What Love Really Means. (give description of song) I’d like to leave you with the words of the chorus.



Anne Eurose said...

Thank you for sharing, Liz :). Great message.

Katherine said...

I didn't read the entire thing, but what I read was phenomenal. What a great message.

C. Beth said...

Awesome message, Liz!! What a great way to share God's love! I love when you pointed out that we'd never dare to say the things to God that we say to ourselves.

CDScott said...

Well done. Thank you for sharing.

Unknown said...

I teach middle school in a very rural, very poor town. I started crying about halfway through reading this post and am still leaking at the eyes a bit from thinking about my students in terms of this. I know that I'll walk into school on Monday with a new resolve. Thank you!

Mrs4444 said...

What a wonderful leader you are, Liz. Thank you for sharing this. I haven't poked around the rest of your blog yet, but I hope you wrote about how it went. I'll bet you moved a lot of people. Nice job.