Life, Faith & Running
". . . let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."
(Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
(Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
I think we all have that one area of our life we are just not sure anyone else needs to know about. Not because we are hiding it, but because we aren’t confident it matters. There is a piece of me and my history that I don’t often write about. Some might think I avoid the subject and memories because I am unwilling to be vulnerable. Though my mind could be deceiving me, I am pretty sure that is not the case. What holds me back is a bit more complex: Multifaceted might be the right word.
I believe the reasons I don’t often talk about my struggle with image, food, and the scale stem from my observation that sometimes bringing it up may be a stumbling block for those who are struggling or have struggled with this. In addition, I know it is a common struggle; thus, I don’t want to write about it in a way that would lack empathy for or unintentionally pass judgment on those who are in the battle right now. In addition, I have experienced incredible leaps in overcoming and conquering this fight, so I am a little bit scared that sharing my story will open me up to relapse and defeat. Lastly, I know others have suffered far greater battles with image and eating disorders than I have, so I often feel like mine is story that is too small and inconsequential. However, I am going to push through those barriers and pray that this part of my story is meant to lead someone to help, healing or peace.
When I was a seventh grader, I had a coach who saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself. And I had teammates who cheered me on when I didn’t even know how to make sure my shoes stayed tied for an entire race. My running “career” started here, when I was young, enthusiastic and stick-skinny. Early successes lead me to love this sport. I loved the hard workouts. The runner’s high after a hard race. And the camaraderie I had with my teammates. I learned, accomplishing hard things was fun. Little did I know that running also would later become a pathway to my physical, emotional and spiritual health.
But I was going to have to face down some vices before I could land on a healthy balance. As my sophomore year approached, circumstances had me feeling like I was losing everything stable in my life. Adults I admired moved on to different roles, a friend moved away, and many relationships around me were filled with conflict, confusion and hurt. All of it seemed way beyond my control.
What wasn’t out of my control was my work-ethic, my wieght and my goals. I became fixated on the things that I could control so that I could drown-out the reality of the things I couldn’t. Thus, began my dance with the food restriction and running. A dance that lead to great running success, size zero jeans, and an ER visit.
I still think back on the day I landed in the ER instead of on the track qualifying for sections, and wonder what my life would have been like had the day gone as I had hoped. Had I not been caught in my self-made fight for control, my battle to secure a weight I thought I needed in order to be successful. Unexpectedly, in a moment of great physical and emotional pain, God changed me. And so, I call that day by the name, Grace. On Grace-day God stopped me in my self-made tracks, stripping from me success, but providing for me an opportunity to be molded differently.
On that day, while riding home from the hospital, broken and defeated, out of nowhere, God pressed this message into my heart, “You are more than you accomplish. You are more than you achieve. I love you too much to not let you see that.”
I cried that day, and many of the days that followed, mourning the loss of the one thing I thought I was in control of. But even in the midst of it all my heart remained soft toward God and I never once considered hanging up my running shoes. I attribute that to the message my heart was given on Grace-day. Time and time again, when I am experiencing setbacks, failure, or a want to let performance define me, I come back to that message to find strength and endurance.
But my battle didn’t simply end when Grace came in. It just took on a different form. Instead, I felt the need to prove to everyone that I didn’t have an eating disorder and thought the cure would be to eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. So the pendulum of my disordered eating swung from restriction to binging(most often in secret). Being less restrictive helped me to be more social and free, but did nothing to heal. I gained weight quickly, I began to deeply dislike how I looked and felt. Most discouraging, I felt like yet another area of my life was beyond my control. An area I had at one time had so much control over it would have been frightening for the average person to live inside my brain.
My out-of-control/prove-to-yourself-you-aren’t-an-eating-disorder-victim battle lasted a few years. I am fairly sure it went undetected by most. But I knew I didn’t have a healthy image of myself or a healthy relationship with food. Thankfully, I was able keep running: All the while wondering if I’d ever get my previously owned runner’s body back. I wanted that body back so badly, but I somehow had lost all ability to make it happen. Defeated is how I felt almost every day. But no one knew.
Then there was a turning point. I was brought love and truth that pulled me out of my pit. I don’t quite remember the details of how things unfolded, but a few months into dating the man I would later marry, I shared this part of my story with him. For the first time ever I defined in words, out loud, what was going on inside me.
His response, truth, straight from the Bible: “You are fearfully and wonderfully made...and, you don’t need to believe any of those lies. Instead, take them captive to obey Christ.” By grace and power this Truth set my life on a different path. I don’t know if it was his words (they were verses I had heard my whole life), the confidence he had in me, or the fact that I finally shared my struggle out loud that changed things. But it was like I woke up the next morning with a battle cry. A cry rooted in Truth.
We cannot keep lies from coming our way. We can not keep conflict and pain out of our lives. But we can avoid allowing lies and deception to control us or define us. There are parts of my story, and likely your story too, that are a testament to God’s grace and redemption. But because our lives aren’t perfect after we find grace and redemption, we can be tempted not to share what He has done for us, because it seems small or inconsequential. But what if it isn’t?That was nearly fifteen years ago. And for the most part, I feel like things have been in balance ever since. However, it would be false to say that I don’t have days when it is hard to be happy with my image. I still face days when I look at myself in the mirror and wonder how it is possible to run marathons and still carry around flab on my stomach. And there are days I look at other runners and assume they are faster because they most certainly must have a lower BMI than I do. I still get nervous that when I go in for a yearly check-up I will be told I need to lose weight (So I take every necessary step to wear the lightest clothing I can find in my closet. Please, don’t tell me I am the only one!).
But I can say, with confidence, that more often than not I am an overcomer in the area of negative thoughts and self-talk related to my less than perfect body. By God’s grace and power, I don’t very often find myself letting those thoughts of an ideal image for a runner, or an ideal weight for a middle-aged American woman control me. I also don’t often find that I lack self-control in the area of consumption or restriction. I actually find a balanced-diet to be enjoyable and attainable. A true testament to the conquering that is possible in Christ.
There will likely never be a season in which I won’t be tempted to believe lies: ones that seek to deceive me into believing I am not enough, others that deceive me into thinking that security can be found in my ability to be in control, or others that coax me into imaging that I would be happier if I was thinner. But when I start down those paths, I go back to my story, and the day I have named, Grace. As a result, I am quicker to remember I am equipped with the power to take those thought captive and make them obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). And every day I am able to overcome because that is my destiny and my inheritance.
We cannot keep lies from coming our way. We can not keep conflict and pain out of our lives. But we can avoid allowing lies and deception to control us or define us. There are parts of my story, and likely your story too, that are a testament to God’s grace and redemption. But because our lives aren’t perfect after we find grace and redemption, we can be tempted not to share what He has done for us, because it seems small or inconsequential. But what if it isn’t?
Her family and friends know her as, Jaci. She is the wife of a pastor, a mom of four, writing and communications education instructor, a visionary and an avid runner. As a firm believer in the power and effectiveness of the body of Christ united together to live out the Great Commission, she holds fast to this verse, "Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). Of equal importance to her are these words, "...let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1).
Posts in the Run for Your Life, series: