Spending Time with My Neighbors

Being a student at MVNU has afforded me many life changing experiences, but what I lived this past week has to be my favorite of them all. For those who don’t know, MVNU students have to obtain what we call a “crossing cultures credit” in order to graduate. While most students will choose to take a trip, some students do take a class that qualifies for the credit. I decided to go on a trip with the school to Lower Lights Ministries in Franklinton, Columbus.

Before I get into the nitty gritty of it all, know that I had no idea what I was getting myself into and this trip radically changed my life. Pretty much every assumption I had about this trip was wrong and I couldn’t be more grateful. But also know, I’m going to talk a lot about addiction, drugs/alcohol, homelessness, poverty, prostitution, sex trafficking and so much more. If this may trigger you in anyway, please feel free to not read on. But, if those words scare you or make you uncomfortable, please give this a go. I pray it gives you just a glimpse of what I saw this week.

When we arrived in Franklinton I thought to myself, “this is the exact type of place my dad has always told me to stay away from.” But, I knew from the get-go that this is where God wanted me for the week and His will would be done.

We had a community meal at the church and at dinner I was able to talk to two different women. In this conversation I started to realize just how privileged of a life I get to live. When I told her I was a senior in college she asked, “well, what does that mean?” In a world where I say that I’m a senior on a daily basis, I never considered that there are adults who don’t understand that language. I’m not sure if she graduated high school, but the other woman at the table graduated high school, had a child and then had two more after that. From the sounds of it, they are all in foster care. I can’t imagine the pain there, but I just wanted to give her a hug and let her know that I loved her.

On Sunday I had the chance to go to a Celebrate Recovery based Sunday school class. As I sat in the class, God broke down walls in my own life. I went in with my brother, Jason, in mind. I went in thinking, “these people aren’t going to talk, they’re addicts, they don’t even know who Jesus is.” How wrong of me to think that. The people that met around the table on Sunday know Jesus. They know Him as friend. They know Him as Savior, Redeemer and giver of grace. Honestly, they know parts of Jesus that I’ll never know in the same way. I came in thinking I had something to offer these individuals and in all reality, I had nothing to give them. They had a heck of a lot to give to me, though.

Then came church. Now, I’ve always been a part of big churches. Churches with fancy lights, hired worship pastors, loud music, the list goes on. Lower Lights isn’t that. It’s a humble and quaint little building on a street corner in Columbus. The members of the congregation sing worship karaoke style with YouTube videos on the screen. At first, it was weird. It was uncomfortable. But then something happened, and I can’t explain it. All I know is, the people in that room meant the words they were singing. They sang of freedom in knowing what chains and captivity feel like. They sang of grace from a place of knowing that had nothing to offer Jesus but their lives. They sang of redemption in the rawest and purest way I’ve ever heard and witnessed. They sang of Jesus overcoming death having seen death in the most personal ways.

The people at church on Sunday have lived lives I will likely never live. They have seen things I will likely never see. They taught me more about the grace of God on one Sunday morning than I have learned in 10 years of following Jesus. Which is funny, because that’s the exact thing God has been leading me through lately. I’ve been asking the question of, “how do I actively live within the grace of God?” The people at Lower Lights showed me. You show up knowing full well that all you can offer Jesus is your life and you give Him all you’ve got. That’s it. That’s all we can do.

After this, we were able to eat lunch with the girls from Rachel’s House (those transitioning from prison to every day life) and the girls from the Recovery Houses. I wasn’t prepared for what was going to happen in my heart during this lunch and I’m still not sure I have digested it all. We got to hear stories from these women and how God has worked in their lives. We got to hear what they wished people knew about addicts and them battling through addiction. One thing in particular that someone said was, “know that telling us, ‘if you loved us you would stop’ is one of the worst things you can say.” My heart sunk in that moment because I know I’ve said that to my own brother. They went on to say that they really just wished they had known they were loved in the midst of their addictions. Personally, I don’t know the last time I told my brother I loved him. I haven’t talked to my brother in 8 years. They wanted us to know that they didn’t mean to become addicts. They didn’t just wake up one day and say, “I’m going to start doing drugs.” Yet another one of my thoughts of addicts just being torn to shreds. My heart broke because I knew that I had judged people just like them instead of taking the time to listen to them, love them and show them just how much Jesus had for them.

On Monday we heard a lot about poverty and then we did a $2 food challenge for lunch. We were put into groups of 4 people and we each were given $2 for lunch. We could only shop at a corner market within walking distance and all we had to cook it was a microwave, a Keurig and a coffee pot. While we could use this money individually, we decided to combine it together. With our $8, we came back with a dozen eggs, 4 packs of Ramen, 2 apples and a bell pepper. This really was our lunch that day. This gave us a good lesson both in how people living in poverty survive as far as food is concerned as well as living in a food desert. A food desert is an area that does not have fresh produce within a 1 mile distance. Most people who live in poverty also live in food deserts and do not have access to a car. All in all, this was an eye opening experience.

After this, we volunteered at Franklinton Farms doing various tasks. Emily and I picked up trash around the block for nearly 3 hours. This was an eye opening experience in that many of the items we picked up were dirty needles, as well as used condoms and rubber gloves. Truthfully, I came to the point that I was just thankful people were actually using condoms and gloves.

Monday night we had the chance to go over to the other Rachel’s House for dinner with the two women staying there as one of them was celebrating her 60th birthday. I’m still blown away by the fact that these two women invited 12 strangers over for dinner. Why? Because that’s just what community does. We managed to squeeze 15 people around the table for dinner and it is a dinner I won’t soon forget. Actually, I wish every dinner I ever ate could be just like that one.

Tuesday brought a world of challenges. We visited the Mount Carmel ER, the Lower Lights Health Clinic, the Van Buren Women and Family Shelter, heard about Bright Light Kids and visited the Center for Healthy Living. After this we took the COTA bus to dinner at Hot Chicken Takeover in downtown Clintonville.

If I’m being honest, this was the hardest day of the trip. Visiting the Family Shelter permanently burned an image in my head that I never wanted to see. As we walked through, all I could think was that this place looked like prison. Even so, the people staying here are “free.” They squeeze people in every nook and cranny that they can. They’ll throw mattresses on a cafeteria floor and give people chairs to sleep in for the night. They have a “hot room” that people put their things in to kill off any bedbugs that may be lingering. They have “family dorm rooms” for families to stay in that consist of two bunk beds and a crate smashed into a room smaller than my bathroom. And the reality is, while I would never wish this on my worst enemy, there are people on a daily basis thanking God for the chance to stay there. For hundreds of people every night, this is the blessing they’ve received from God that day. If nothing else happened through that tour, I’ll remember the smell that made me nauseous and will open my home the second anyone tells me that their only option is going to a shelter. If I can’t open my home, I’ll open my wallet and pay for a hotel. I’ll do anything in my power to keep people out of shelters because of what I witnessed that day.

The bus was actually a really fun experience and something I enjoyed, but I’m glad I don’t have to rely on it for transportation on a daily basis. Hot Chicken Takeover was phenomenal and I would highly recommend. They are also an Fair Chance Employer which I totally love.

On Wednesday we went to LifeCare Alliance and had the chance to work with their Meals on Wheels and Groceries 2 Go programs. I worked with two other girls on the trip in the Groceries 2 Go program which is for patients who are actively battling cancer. We worked with Betty, who was a volunteer there. She heard about it because her son is in the program. Getting to talk to her really changed my perspective on how good I have it (yet again). Her son was diagnosed with leukemia at 19 months old. He had a spleen and kidney infection and ended up breaking both of his legs due to the breakdown in bone density because of the medication he was on. Yet she looked at us and said, “we were so lucky.” I could’t imagine saying I was lucky to go through something like that but she followed it up with, “when Liam went into the hospital two other children went in as well. Liam is the only one still alive.” We all have pain and we all have trauma, but some of it is worse than others.

After this, we had lunch and were able to here from Micayla from GraceHaven. This is a home for girls who are exiting sex trafficking. Yet again, this was a painful talk to sit through and listen to. Hearing that parents traffic their 5 year old children, that the average age for sex trafficking in Ohio is 10-13 years old, to hear about survival sex, it all broke me. Survival sex hurt me most of all because I know of a girl who is in that very situation right now. She is having sex with a man who claims to love her just so she can have food to eat and a roof over her head. That man doesn’t love her… but she is convinced he does.

On Wednesday night we had another service at the church for Ash Wednesday which was very similar to what we experienced on Sunday. It was raw, it was real, and I knew Jesus was present in that place. After this, we attended their Celebrate Recovery meeting and got to celebrate with those celebrating milestones in their addiction recovery.

In other words, we did A LOT. I didn’t even mention it all. But in the midst of all that we did, God was stirring my heart. Just a few weeks ago I looked up the poverty line in Ohio. When I looked it up, I learned that I grew up well below the poverty line. I never knew that, I just knew money was tight growing up, but somehow my dad always made it work. Somehow I never wondered where the next meal came from.

I took the Adverse Childhood Experience quiz that was mentioned at one point in the week. We talked about how people always say, “I don’t have trauma” and I thought the same thing. Yet, I took this quiz and I scored a 6. The average at Lower Lights is a 6.8. I fit in there. But I don’t have trauma? I grew up in a single parent home because my mom died. I grew up below the poverty line. I grew up with a brother in prison. I grew up with a brother who was an addict. I grew up surrounded by alcoholics. My mom had a drug dealer before she died of disease (not addiction).

So I sat at Lower Lights all week thinking I was better than these people when really, I’m not at all. I very well could have been the addict. I shouldn’t have graduated high school. I should be a criminal. I likely should’ve fallen into sex trafficking. According to the statistics, I shouldn’t be graduating from college in two months… but I am.

Talk about experiencing the grace of God. It’s been around me my entire life, protecting me, keeping me safe and free from harm, but I totally missed it.

In the matter of 5 days God healed me from something I didn’t know was broken. God showed me that I am the least of these. He showed me that I’m no better than the folks in Franklinton or anywhere else on the globe. At the end of the day, I’m nothing. Without Christ, I am truly nothing. I’m not qualified, I’m not worthy, I’m just a broken and messy sinner.

But with Christ, I’m redeemed. I’m set free. I’m made new. And I’m so very privileged.

I still don’t know what to do with all of this but I know that it’s time I use my privilege for good. It’s time that I start telling the people on street corners that Jesus loves them just the same that He loves me. It’s time that I start giving often and abundantly. And it’s certainly time that I admit I’m not qualified and I’m not worthy.

I went to Franklinton thinking I would teach these people about the love of Christ and I left knowing they taught it to me. I know Jesus better because of the people of Franklinton.

Just Show Up

Here lately I have found myself saying, “I showed up.”

I show up each morning to spend time with Jesus. I show up to work to do whatever task that is asked of me. I show up to class in hopes of learning something new. I show up to the gym with the goal to get stronger. I show up to study with the plan to pass a test to come.

I think a lot of times in life we can forget how powerful “just showing up” is.

A little over a month ago I promised myself I would just show up for Jesus for 30 days. I was in a spiritually dry place. I felt as if I knew absolutely nothing other than the fact that Jesus loved me. It has been 34 days and now “just showing up” has become the most special and coveted part of my day. Instead of being able to check it off my list, that time is now a non-negotiable and my day is molded around it. Not to mention, while I am still in a spiritually dry season of life, I know a lot more than I did when I started. But most importantly, I know that Jesus loves me and I know that is enough.

I show up to work and while I am there for a job, I have built relationships. I have learned new things. I have made new connections. I can walk out feeling accomplished and as if I have purpose in this place. I do not simply show up so I can get a paycheck, I show up because it means something to me.

Showing up to class is hard. Some days I really just do not want to. But I do. Actually, I have been doing this for 17 of the 22 years of my life. Just showing up has turned into a passion for learning. A passion for biology. A passion for teaching. It has turned into a high school diploma and soon to be a college degree. And on the days that I really do “just show up” I still learn more than I would have by not going at all.

Many would argue that showing up to the gym is the hardest of all. Truthfully, even for someone who loves the gym as much as I do, showing up is the battle. Getting out of bed when it is cold outside and my bed is so warm is a daily struggle. But I show up. I do whatever my coach has programmed and I give it my all. Showing up has turned into weight loss, strength gain, loads of self-confidence and a community like no other. Showing up to the gym has saved my life in more ways than one.

You get the point.

Showing up is so hard some days. Some days, I just choose to not show up. But the days that I choose to, I am better because of it. I am happier because of it. I am stronger because of it. I am smarter because of it.

Show up. It is worth it.

Is Grace Enough?

As I have ventured into the world of Catholicism and the Catholic Church, the question of, “how does one reach salvation” has been a pretty hot topic. I came from a background that grace was enough. If I just had faith in the saving grace of Jesus, I would be saved. Some said it as, “just have a personal relationship with Jesus, that’s enough.”

Yet the Catholic Church often times will talk about it being a combination of faith and works, which the Bible definitely supports. Even so, the Catechism of the Catholic Church also says that one can fully come to know and love God outside of the Church.

So, who’s right? What is the actual truth?

If I am being truly honest, I do not know. Jesus says that baptism brings eternal life, as well as doing His Father’s will, as well as eating His flesh and blood, as well as confessing that Christ is Lord. None of those things says that I am saved by grace or by some personal relationship… not to discredit other books or writers of the Bible, but should I not trust the words of Jesus more than the words of Paul or James?

I have tried to do the things that Jesus mentions throughout scripture, though I fail often. I think this is where the grace component comes in. I’m going to fail. For every time I’ve gotten the commandments of the Bible right, I’ve probably messed up 100 times, or more. So, I do think I am saved by grace, through faith in Christ and what He did.

But I don’t think that negates the working component. My works certainly don’t save me, but I think they show God I’m trying. They show God I’m working out my salvation with fear and trembling.

Then we go to this, “just have a personal relationship with Jesus” thing. What does that really mean? How do we do that?

The common answer is to pray and read Scripture. Go to church, spend time with other believers, make it your “own.”

I do those things. I did them for years. Yet I did not know Jesus as fully as I did upon going to a Catholic Mass for the first time. Being in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist changed my life and radically transformed my idea of who Jesus is. That’s something I couldn’t have received any other way.

The common definition of a sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace. So, it’s a physical act that takes place to show/represent something that is happening internally. When someone goes to confession, the priest isn’t forgiving the sin. Jesus is, through the priest. Baptism doesn’t really clean our bodies, it represents the inward cleansing of our sins.

So, then I see Christ in the Eucharist. Catholics believe that the bread and wine become, fully and completely, the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. So, when they partake in communion, they are, quite literally, consuming Jesus.

One of my favorite priests (Fr. Mike Schmitz) explains that the only way to truly be intimate with someone is through our bodies. The only way to have a personal, intimate relationship with someone is through a bodily act (which is sex for husbands/wives). With Jesus, we consume Him. We can be intimately connected to Him through the Eucharist.

So, do I think there is saving grace found in the sacraments? Of course I do. In the Eucharist Christ is pleased to dwell *inside* of ME. Woah.

Now, slow down before you think I’m saying only those who have the sacraments of the Catholic Church are going to heaven. I don’t believe that, the Catholic Church doesn’t teach that, and I don’t think Jesus works that way. God’s grace is for *all* people who are willing to accept it. Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Anglican, Greek Orthodox, any. one.

I think as humans we want to put limits on God and what He can do and where His grace can go. Sometimes I think about how God’s grace probably isn’t for the murderer in prison or the prostitute on the street or the thief stealing someones money. But then I find myself reading about Jesus choosing a tax collector as a disciple, defending and saving the life of a prostitute, and meeting a five time divorced woman at a well. And I’m reminded that God’s grace extends far wider and deeper and longer than anything I could ever imagine.

I love the Catholic Church. I love Her sacraments that have been given by the Lord. I love that these things draw me closer and closer to the arms of Jesus. But I love that God works through anyone and any way to reach His children.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Galatians 3:28-29

What if this said, “there is neither Protestant nor Catholic, there is neither rich nor poor, there is neither powerful or weak, there is neither male nor female, there is neither educated nor illiterate, there is neither sick nor well, there is neither Caucasian nor African American, there is neither Indian nor Asian; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

What if we approached the church universal in this way? I don’t know much, I’m not a Bible scholar or a theologian. Heck, I don’t even have a college degree, yet. But I do know that Christ came for unity and our church is living in disunity.

I’m willing to stake my life on the fact that God has enough grace for all of us. Even in our messiness. Actually, especially in our messiness. Draw near to Him friends, and He will draw near to you.

Holiness is Hard

If you know me, you’d know that I’ve been in the process of joining the Catholic Church for almost a year now. I’ve been digging and exploring for over a year. When I finally started RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) in August 2019, I had already read a ton of books. I’d read the articles, watched the videos, listened to the big name speakers. I was ready to join at Easter of 2019 and I was told I would have to wait until Easter of 2020. I was willing to do just about anything to join early, but that just was not going to happen. Eventually, God gave me peace about joining at the Easter Vigil Mass as I was told was normal protocol.

When Advent hit just a few weeks ago, I was told that I would have to leave Mass for the Catechumen dismissal and I chose to fight it. I actually had been fighting it for a month already. So, now, January 2020, I have been fighting this for two months. I don’t want to leave Mass. I don’t want to walk away from Jesus in the Eucharist. I want to be there for HIM.

I have argued every point I can muster up with my RCIA director, I’ve talked to the priest, I’ve emailed the Diocese and contacted the Bishop. I even found another priest that said he would be willing to bring me into the Church at his parish.

Yet my heart is unsettled. In a large way, I’ve “won” because I found the loophole. But, I know that I’m being disobedient. I’m being stubborn. I’m not choosing humble submission. If I choose to stay in Mass and join at another parish, I’m missing out on the opportunity that God has given me to choose obedience. I would be missing out on this lesson that He is trying to teach me to lead me to sainthood.

Do I want to leave Mass? Absolutely not. I want to be there. There is no better thing than Christ in the Eucharist. But, I would argue there is an equal. The equal is the God of the universe speaking directly to my heart and giving me the opportunity to become more like Him.

I know that I’m stubborn. I know that I’m impatient. I know that I like to teach myself and I struggle to learn from others. I know that I want things my way and I’ll fight to get them that way. I know that I’m prideful and arrogant. I know that I hate submitting to authority and I am far from humble.

So, God is trying to get rid of that. And truthfully, there are some things that cannot be learned from a book or a video or an article. Some things are learned by a process and by an experience. This is one of those things.

I won’t become holy from reading a book or watching a video. I’ll become holy by choosing the cross over and over. I’ll become holy by going through this process, no matter how painful.

So, as painful and heartbreaking as it is, when I meet with my priest about this, if he tells me he still wants me to leave Mass, I will. I won’t run away and find the next priest that will let me in. I’ll submit and trust that God is doing a work in me and making me more like His Son.

He’s pruning me, shaping me and molding me to look just like HIM and that? Well, that’s an honor.

Unfamiliar Places

I know for certain there are people out there who love the unfamiliar. I know people who seek adrenaline and adventure, people who thrive in the unknown. I also know, all too well, that I am not one of these people. In most instances, I thrive in the mundane, day to day tasks of life. I enjoy having a schedule and set plans. If I could have the entire course of my life laid out on a calendar for me, I would. I am very much a person who enjoys planning and knowing what lies ahead. But, as the old familiar saying goes, “make plans and watch God laugh.”

If you have been following my blog, or my life at all, I knew I threw a curveball out recently. However, I would like to say that Jesus threw that curveball and I also had to adjust to it. The thought of exploring Catholicism had never crossed my mind, much less the desire to join the Catholic Church. Nonetheless, I find myself here. I find myself in this extremely unfamiliar place.

Many of my relationships are now unfamiliar. In most cases, I feel as if I have to walk on eggshells around this subject. Those who I used to agree with on theology are now people I disagree with. Those I used to go to church with are now looking at me as if I have jumped ship. I honestly have not a clue who is safe to talk to and who is going to tell me that the devil is leading me astray and that I will end up in hell for following Jesus to the Catholic Church. So, I no longer speak. I no longer share. Some of the deepest relationships I have ever had in my life are relationships that I no longer know how to maneuver on my end.

The building I find myself in on a Sunday morning is now quite different than what I have ever experienced. The music is unfamiliar. The people around me are new. The seats are different. The order in which a service takes place is new. Heck, it’s not called a service, it’s called Mass. The pastor is often called priest or Father and he wears robes that have significance that I am still unaware of. People bow at the front of the Church, then get on one knee before entering a pew, they use holy water to cross themselves before and after the Mass. This is just the beginning… and it’s all unfamiliar.

The place I now call home feels unfamiliar. I live on the campus of a Nazarene University. Everywhere I look people are speaking, teaching and believing Wesleyan holiness theology. I once felt so free to talk about Jesus, but now that I worship Him in the context of the Catholic Church, I am afraid to say anything. When I say the word Catholic, people often provide a look of confusion with a head tilt included.

What I am trying to say is, almost every situation in my life now feels unfamiliar. I no longer identify as a Protestant Nazarene, but I still am not in full communion with the Catholic Church. I am floating in the in-between unfamiliar place. I am in the unknown.

Even so, Jesus says that I can have hope because He has overcome the world. I can find new mercies every morning, and I have done just that. In this very unfamiliar and unknown place of transition to the highest degree, I have found the one and only Truth this world has. I have found Jesus. I have found a deeply profound love for my Jesus that I doubt I could have found any other way. On days where I feel lost, confused and completely alone, I get to turn to Jesus. On days where I feel secluded and as if no one understands me, I know Jesus understands. On days where I feel betrayed by those who I used to be closest to, I know Jesus has felt the same way. On days where I feel like I have no one to talk to, I can talk to Jesus. And for the many, many days where I have not known how to feel, what to say, where to be… the days that I have not known what feels like anything, I still know Jesus. I still know Jesus to be my friend.

In so many ways, I needed to be drawn into this unknown and unfamiliar place to be drawn to the One I know to be familiar. Anywhere I go, anyone I am with, quite anything I do these days, I find Jesus there. I find Him there because He’s the only familiar thing I know these days.

The longer I am in this place of the unfamiliar, the longer I want to be here. I have Jesus and in Jesus, I have all that I need.

The Eucharist

As I have explored Catholicism, there have been a vast number of teachings that I’ve had to study. I’ve decided to make a blog post for each of them so each teaching can be easily referenced. A couple notes- I have the full “conversion” story on this blog under the title of “What if Catholicism Makes Sense?” if you would like to read that. Secondly, I am not a theologian. I would encourage you to pray, read Scripture and seek out your local priest if you have questions about what I write.

So, the Eucharist. If you are not currently Catholic or well versed in Catholicism, the Eucharist is another way to say communion. Quite literally, it is an act of thanksgiving. However, the Eucharist is vastly different from partaking in communion within a Protestant church.

My background in the church comes mostly from the Nazarenes and, more recently, the Southern Baptists. Both faith traditions have what is referred to as an open table. In other words, any believer in Christ is allowed to partake of communion within these churches. You don’t have to be baptized, you don’t have to be a member, or recite some creed. Just believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, and you get to partake.

Within the Catholic Church, this is the opposite. If you are not Catholic, you cannot partake in the Eucharist. In the beginnings of my studying, I thought this was absurd. Why couldn’t I partake if I truly believed in my Jesus?

When the Eucharist was explained to me, I quickly realized that I wanted absolutely nothing to do with it. The Roman Catholic Church believes that Christ is fully present within the bread and the wine. It is not just his Spirit that is present (as Nazarenes believe), but when the elements are blessed, they quite literally become the body and blood of Jesus. Through partaking in the Eucharist, one is saying that they believe the bread and the wine are fully the body, blood, spirit, and divinity of Jesus Christ.

I thought to myself, and even said to my friend, “my God does not support cannibalism!”

As I sought to “prove” my stance on this topic, I found John 6. It says, “50 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” 52 The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” 53 Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.55 For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever. (NKJV)” 

He says “My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.”

I began to get scared, this sounded way too real to me. But the story continues… “60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” 61 When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. 65 And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.” 66 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. 67 Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” 68 But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.””

The disciples outrightly said that this was a hard saying to accept and understand. Then, Jesus asked if they were offended. Think about this, the disciples were Jewish. This meant that they lived a kosher lifestyle. They would NEVER think about eating flesh and blood together. They would become offended about it.

Then, let’s think a little more. If Jesus is saying that this is how they gain LIFE, wouldn’t He tell them it was symbolic when they walked away? When His followers went away to stop following Him, don’t you think He would have piped in and said, “no, guys!! It’s just. a symbol. I don’t mean you’re REALLY eating me. It’s just to represent me.”

I think He would’ve… but He didn’t. He actually offered the 12 a chance to leave, thankfully, Simon Peter knew. He knew that those were words of eternal life.

I could no longer see the elements as a representation (as most Protestants do). I saw them, quite literally, as Jesus. Moving forward, I knew that physically the elements were bread and wine, but substantially, they are Jesus.

So, the next time I went to partake in communion, I prayed over my bread dipped in grape juice (#nazarene). I said to my Lord, “Jesus, I believe that this is You. I trust that this isn’t a representation, but that this is actually Your body, Your blood.”

As I took, I knew that it wasn’t. I knew that it wasn’t because no one in that room believed with me. I knew that if I ever wanted the true body and blood of Jesus, I would have to have it in a Catholic Church.

Later on, I was listening to a video from Fr. Mike Schmitz on the Eucharist and he said 10 words that changed my life. “If you don’t want the Eucharist, you don’t want Jesus.” So simple, but so profound. I could no longer just believe in the teachings of the Catholic Church and continue to be Protestant. If I really believed Jesus to be who He claimed to be, then I had to have the Eucharist.

Now, let’s note this: if Jesus isn’t in the Eucharist, this is a BIG problem. If the Eucharist isn’t really Him, then those who partake of it and believe it to be Him will have to attest to worshipping a false god. When one partakes of the Eucharist, they are staking their life on it. They are proclaiming that they believe Jesus is who He says He is, that He is the bread and the wine. The Eucharist is an all or nothing thing.

I finally worked up the courage to go to Mass. I had made the decision to join the Church before ever stepping foot in a Mass. It was time to go.

I enjoyed it, I found it profoundly Biblical (which is the opposite of what I was taught as a  Protestant). It was saturated with Scripture.

The elements were presented and blessed. As people began to go up to partake in the Eucharist, my heart broke. I have never felt anguish in that way before. I wanted to walk up and have my Jesus. I KNEW He was there and I wanted Him. Instead, I sat back and prayed hard. I thanked Him over and over for His sacrifice. I thanked Him for His spiritual presence, though I couldn’t partake in His physical presence in the Mass. I can’t give words to express what happened to me in Mass that day. This was purely the leading and working of the Holy Spirit.

Later that week, God struck my heart. I recalled 10+ times that I was offered communion within the Protestant church and/or chapel that I didn’t partake in. I was just too lazy to go up and take. But this time, I wanted it SO badly and I couldn’t have it (without faking my faith tradition).

For the first time ever, I wasn’t just taking part because everyone else was. I wanted Jesus, Himself, and I sat back. I waited because I knew I wasn’t ready. Even as I write these words, my heart continues to break. I want the Eucharist so badly that it hurts. But, I trust that God knows my longing and it will make my first Eucharist so much more beautiful. I anticipate the day I can have my Jesus in His fullness.

What if Catholicism Makes Sense?

The Fall 2018 semester was one of the hardest I’ve experienced. There were pain and loss beyond words. In short, I struggled with family issues, mental health, a returned eating disorder, financial instability, health problems, knee surgery and I felt so alone. One by one, I watched God take things away from me. He took away relationships that I valued deeply. He took confidence in myself. He took money. He took my health. He took CrossFit.

He took as much as He needed to until I found myself at the foot of the cross. He took things away until I, like the prodigal son, came back to Him. That prayer was something like, “God, I can’t do this on my own anymore. Take away anything that is distracting me from who you are.”

This may seem like a minute prayer. But the truth is, I had been straying and so far from God for 3-4 years at this point. I was just going through the motions. I showed up to chapel, went to church, opened my Bible once in a while. But I didn’t have true, deep-seated faith. For many of these years, I debated leaving the church altogether. It didn’t seem important. It felt dry, worthless and hypocritical. So, for God to bring me back to the point of surrender is truly a testament to His grace. I had no part in this because, truthfully, I wanted no part.

My health became much worse. Family relationships were broken. Certain loved ones entered dark places. I sat there and just wondered, “God, what am I missing?”

I knew it plain as day, I had to leave CrossFit. I had to take a break. “But what will people think? What if I never go back? What if I gain all of my weight back?”

But, I knew, still. I had to stop. Just a few days after stopping, I saw my doctor and he said to me, “Olivia, I’m really sorry, you need to stop doing CrossFit for a while until we can figure out what is wrong with you. Continue lifting, but no aerobic activity.”

I was relieved. Yes, relieved. I wanted SO badly to leave. I wanted a break. I was exhausted. I was so tired at night that I actually couldn’t sleep anymore. I was stressed beyond measure. I felt like I had to measure up to people and to standards that I just couldn’t meet. This was my “out.” This was my chance for a break.

It wasn’t until I left that I realized just how exhausted I had become. I truly had nothing left to give to the world. I had no desire to get out of bed. No desire to go to class. No desire to do a single thing. But still, I felt God there. As soft as ever, He reminded me, “I’m your Father. Come to me and find rest.”

And I did just that.

Don’t be mistaken, throughout this past year, my faith has grown immensely. I’ve been reminded by so many people that all things work out for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purposes. That suffering, in the end, leads to hope. That nothing is wasted in the Kingdom of God. That this is part of the story of grace He is writing in my life.

Amidst these struggles, I’ve never felt closer to the Lord.

But this was just the beginning.

In this time, I was talking to a friend of mine that is Catholic. I know, Catholic. Our conversations on this topic started out in such a selfish way. I was convinced that I would convert him. I was certain that being Protestant was the best answer for him, I just had to show him the way. He asked me to read Trent Horn’s book, “Why We’re Catholic.” I decided I would give it a go. I went into it with the idea that I was just going to understand him better… but also be able to tear apart his claims about Catholicism.

This book took all of the main beliefs about Catholicism and explained the basis of where they come from. Truthfully, I laughed as I read through the entire book. I thought it was a huge joke and all anti-biblical. I would read parts of it to my roommate and just question, “how do people actually believe this stuff?”

After I finished reading this, I got together with my friend. We sat in my room for over three hours one night debating the topics of the book. We weren’t fighting, but it was certainly a heated debate. He had questions I couldn’t answer, I had questions he didn’t have answers to. We both wouldn’t budge. We couldn’t begin to fathom or even question if one of us might be wrong. A lot of our early conversations went like this. We never said, “I’m right, you’re wrong,” but I know I thought it a lot in the process.

He would send me videos and articles and convention talks. I would send him Bible verses and videos and articles. We went back and forth for so long. Then I made a jump.

I decided to reach out to the local Catholic Church and asked to meet with someone. I met with their RCIA coordinator and asked every question I could think of. The issue was I went into this conversation very close-minded and with a hard heart. I was convinced before the conversation started that anything this man said to me had to be false. So, honestly, I didn’t get much out of it.

After this conversation, I sat down with the list of questions that my friend and I had. Really, a list of common disagreements that we shared together. Things like sola scriptura, saved by faith alone, why most Protestants don’t believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Mary. The list was long, but I was convinced that I could find answers for him.

I started with sola scriptura- Bible alone. I sat down with my Bible and quickly realized that the Bible doesn’t teach Bible alone. What?? I thought the Bible was all I needed? The Bible, over and over, mentions the importance of tradition (2 Thes. 2:15, 1 Cor. 11:2). The importance of fellowship (Acts 2:42). The importance of the Church (1 Tim. 3:15). The importance of apostles teaching and tradition (Acts 2:42, 2 Tim. 2:2, 2 Thes. 2:15, 1 Thes. 2:13). The basis of my faith- Bible alone- wasn’t even in the Bible.

“Okay, I’ll move on,” I thought. The Bible definitely says that we are saved by faith alone. Except that it doesn’t. James 2 says, in black and white, that faith without deeds is dead. He reminds us that Abraham made his faith complete by following through with the action to sacrifice Isaac on the altar (before God intervened). Beyond this, the idea that we are saved by grace/faith alone just doesn’t make sense. To me, that would be saying, “we are all given the gift of grace. We all just have it.” This isn’t true. First of all, if we all were forced into the grace of God, we wouldn’t have free will. We wouldn’t get to CHOOSE God and that kind of defeats the purpose. So, if we aren’t forced into grace and we get a choice… that automatically means that we have to accept grace. We have a decision to make. By default, we have to choose to have faith in God. That is a work. That is a deed. That isn’t faith alone. So wait, are you saying we are saved by works?? NO! We are saved by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8). We have to choose faith, choose to trust in God, but know that we are going to fall short. We are always going to fail at being faithful to God, and that’s where grace saves us. Saved by grace, through faith, with faith being a choice.

Beyond this, how can one know his or her faith is living without deeds to prove it? My deeds and works are an outward expression of the inward change of heart I’ve had. Our deeds and works show where our heart truly is and show our faith is alive. It’s not that the works or deeds that we do save us, but they do express the liveliness of our faith.

So, Bible alone and faith alone aren’t biblical. Hm, I’m sure I can still convince my friend that the Protestant church is far superior to the Catholic Church.

I surely had to get him on the fact that the real presence of Christ is not in the bread and the wine when taking communion. I may not know much, but God certainly doesn’t condone eating other people. It was (and still is) a representation of the sacrifice that Christ made. Do me a favor, go read John 6. Jesus says that the bread and the wine (or grape juice #nazarene) is real food and drink. That it is His body and His blood for us. He doesn’t say it’s a representation (John 6:53-56). Then, a few verses later, the Bible speaks of the fact that after this, many of His followers STOPPED following (John 6:66). Dude, SAME. I would think the man was crazy (John 6:60). Like, You want me to eat Your body!?! Nope. Beyond this, in my Christian life, I have been asked many of times, “do you believe Jesus is who He says He is?” My answer has always been a profound yes. However, here I began to question. If Jesus really is who He says He is, then doesn’t that mean He MUST really be present in the bread and the wine? The answer is yes. If Jesus is who He claims to be, then He is also in the bread and the wine.

One other thought that crossed my mind while exploring the Real Presence was this- when Jesus spoke symbolically, He used parables. He spoke in parables to allow people to better understand what He was trying to teach. But here, Jesus wasn’t using a parable. He made it clear as could be. He said it, a disciple spoke up and said, “this is hard teaching to accept,” He said it again, and people stopped following. Jesus did not mean this to be symbolic, He meant it to be real.

Here, I was left distraught. The idea of the Real Presence alone made me begin to fear that I may actually need to consider joining the Catholic Church. But, I could never do that. So, I continued looking. My next question was, who has the final authority to interpret scripture? I remembered a specific Sunday school class where the two teachers couldn’t agree on whether we are “once saved always saved” or if we can lose our salvation. I went to my pastors and I was given two different answers. How could they both read the same Bible and come up with different answers? Not both of them could be correct, could they?

This is where I started to get on board with the ideas of early Church fathers and the Pope. Certainly, history had something to say about it. What did the people who walked with Jesus (or the apostles of Jesus’ apostles) have to say?

The Pope has always been an odd concept to me. One leader for the entire Church? Really? Seems like just a bunch of hierarchy and stuff that doesn’t really seem necessary to me. But, sure enough, this idea is in the Bible, too (Matt. 16:18-19). On this same topic, I question, “can there be two truths?” The answer to that is no. There cannot be two truths. For instance, Jesus is really present in the Eucharist or He isn’t. He can’t be there and not be there at the same time. So, here, I’m drawn to the fact that Jesus gave us a head of the Church (obviously he is the head, but one to act here on earth). There has to be a final authority because there has to be the final truth.

Alright, the Pope is biblical. There is absolutely, positively, no way that praying to the Saints could be in the Bible. Why would I pray to a Saint if I could just pray to Jesus? Well, sure enough, that’s in there too (Rev. 5:8, Rev 8:3-4). But why would I? Then, this was explained to me. Those in the Catholic Church turn to the Saints and ask them to intercede to Jesus for them. In other words, they view asking a Saint to pray for them just like I would go to a fellow believer here on earth to pray for me. But aren’t the Saints dead? It would be easy to think that… but the Saints, if true believers in Christ, are living in eternity. They are alive and, based on those verses in Revelation, they hold our prayers. As I pondered this idea more, it hit me. This is a beautiful relationship that we get to share with our brothers and sisters in Christ that have already entered into the heavenly gates. How wonderful is that?! Knowing that God desired for us to be in community and even more so, a family together, why wouldn’t we continue in a familial relationship with the Saints?

Okay, but purgatory isn’t possible. When we die, we either go to heaven or we go to hell. Except we don’t. There is an in-between state, really, there has to be. First of all, we have to attest to God for the lives we have lived here on earth (2 Cor. 5:10, Rev. 20:11-12). Beyond this, I think we as Christians can all agree that we sin until the very moment that we die. I also think we can all agree that we cannot enter heaven tainted by sin, right? So, something HAS to happen in-between for us to be finally purified. Beyond that, we read where Jesus told the criminal on the cross that he would be with Him in paradise (Luke 23:43). Now, I haven’t died and come back to life, so I have no idea what actually happens (none of us do), but with all of this considered, the idea of purgatory makes sense. The idea that there is an in-between between this life on earth and the new heaven and new earth that we will experience at the time of Jesus’ second coming is something that makes sense (and is biblically supported).

Alright, one more thing. Mary. “Catholics worship Mary,” I said it, I believed it, but it’s not true. Catholics have a reverence for Mary that most Protestants just don’t understand. But, when looking back in history, it makes more sense. Jesus was called King of the Jews (Luke 23:38). At this time in history, the mothers of kings were very highly regarded. So, it makes sense that Mary was highly regarded just in a historical context. Moving beyond that, she is the mother of Jesus. That, alone, I think gives some reason to have a reverence for her. I think any mom can look to Mary and relate to her, but even more so in the fact that she was raising the SAVIOR of the world. Okay, but what about this whole “Mary never sinned” thing? I’m there with you. Actually, it was that statement that started all of these conversations with my friend. But then I started looking. I found James 1:15, that says when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death. So, how could someone tainted by sin give birth to a sinless being? And I know, I jump to the “well then why couldn’t Mary die?” Well, Mary didn’t fulfill the prophecies that Jesus did. Mary wasn’t fully God and fully human. Mary, by God’s grace, never sinned. Jesus, through being God, never sinned. Those are two VERY different versions of not sinning.

Beyond all of this stuff on Mary, I came to one extremely close-to-home thought, if God gives us Himself as a Heavenly Father, why wouldn’t He also give us a Heavenly Mother? Doesn’t that just make sense that He would give us both? Especially with how highly regarded the family unit is to the Church? Plus, if the Church is the bride of Christ and Mary is the Mother of Jesus, couldn’t we view Mary as our Mother-in-Law of sorts?

One more thing with Mary. God, Himself, is family. He is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, which can be viewed as the love that ties the family together. Then, Mary, being the mother of Jesus, can be viewed as the Mother of the family. Now, God is perfect. Wouldn’t God have a perfect family? So if God is perfect, and Jesus is perfect, and the love of God is perfect, wouldn’t Mary also need to be perfect to complete the perfect family of God?

Maybe you’re still not on board, I get it. It has taken me a lot of time. But I come to this; there are many parts of the Gospel that I just can’t explain. Biblical truths that I fully support and agree with, but that I could never attempt to explain to you. The Trinity is a big one. I know that God is One, but Three. I know that God is fully God, fully Christ and fully the Holy Spirit. How can God be three beings, but one being? I. Have. No. Idea. But I believe it. So, in the same way, I don’t fully understand Mary, but I believe it. I’m along for the ride. I view it as a mystery of the Church and something God knew I wouldn’t understand, so He left it a mystery to save me the struggle of grasping the complexity.

As I finished answering the “list” of questions that were compiled, I was left stumped. At this point, I’ve been “in the church” for a little bit shy of nine years. My life has drastically transformed. I am not at all who I once was. So then my question became, “if God changed me outside of the Catholic Church, then why do I need to be Catholic? Can’t I just believe in what the Catholic Church teaches without ever transitioning?”

At this point, I attended a worship night that my university was putting on. I walked into the foyer of the chapel and there was a baptismal font. I was a little confused thinking, “that’s rather Catholic in nature.” As I walked into the chapel, I saw the elements of communion sitting at the altar. “Cool,” I thought. I was looking forward to taking communion in a different light. As I stood and worshipped that night, as I poured my heart out to the Lord, I was sad. Truly, I was mourning. I didn’t want to leave this type of worship. I didn’t want to give up the chance to raise my hands in the air and proclaim my Jesus.

As I took communion that night, I prayed and said, “Jesus, I believe this is You. Let me truly know and understand that when I take of the bread and cup, that I am taking of your literal body.” The sad reality is, I knew in my heart it wasn’t the same. I knew it wasn’t the same because it wasn’t in His Church. My heart broke a little more.

After this, they offered time for confession. “Really, three Catholic sacraments in one service? God, what are you trying to say?” The next thing I knew, I was at the altar in full surrender to the Lord. I began praying and just telling God that I was scared. That I was utterly terrified to make the transition to the Catholic Church because of what changes may come. At that moment, the song “You Make Me Brave” came on and I felt the arms of a friend on my shoulders.

God was calling me home. God was telling me that I had to go. He was confirming the prayers that I had said, the wrestling that I had done, the questions I had asked. Without a doubt in my mind, I knew God was telling me, “you can come home, child.”

I continued wrestling for weeks. I found myself with more Scott Hahn books than I could handle. I pulled up Catholic Answers on my computer non-stop. I read conversion story after conversion story. I watched every Fr. Mike Schmitz video I could find.

I made the decision to meet with a few different professors on campus. Surely, there was no way these professors would encourage me to follow what I felt like God was calling me to. They would have to tell me “no, this is wrong. This is what all of this really means.” One by one, I met with three separate professors. One by one they all ended up saying, “if the Spirit is leading you to the Catholic Church, you must follow that.”

Well, shoot. What should I do now?

I reached out to the local Church in town and asked to meet with a priest. Fr. Olvera reached out to me and we set up a time to meet. I invited my friend to join me because I knew that he would be interested (and because I was terrified, to be completely honest). As I met with Fr. Olvera, he gently answered every question I asked. He shared his story with my friend and me, and funny enough, it was quite similar to the story that we share. As my friend left, I chose to be more vulnerable with Fr. Olvera and share my genuine hesitations with him.

His response of care and grace is one that I cannot put into words. I have never, in my life, felt so cared for, heard, and understood. He reminded me that his true goal was not to convert me but to help me seek the Truth, that being Jesus. He gave me the truth that when living a life that is truly following Jesus, there will be trouble and persecution, but we GET to follow the Lord despite that. When I left that day, I knew something was going to change.

After meeting with Fr. Olvera, I talked to various pastors that I have had throughout the years. Maybe the professors didn’t tell me not to become Catholic, but surely they would. Except they didn’t. They challenged me, they pushed on some theology fronts, but ultimately, their words were similar. Follow Jesus to wherever He is taking you.

As I attended church on Easter Sunday, it felt off. It felt as if something was missing. I explained it to my friend as “remember when you lost to IWU in triple overtime this season? You held on for so long, fought so hard, and almost beat them… but you came up just a little short. That’s how I feel with the Protestant church, now. It’s so close, but it’s not complete.”

It wasn’t complete because it didn’t have the Eucharist. It didn’t have Jesus in the truest form that can be offered.

With all of this, I’m left to make a decision. We all are, really. And my decision comes down to one question, “Do I, Olivia, believe that Jesus is who He really claims to be?”

My answer to that question still stands as a profound yes. And with that, I have one more decision to make. Do I want Jesus? If I want Jesus, then I must want the Eucharist.

My answer is yes. I want the Eucharist because I want Jesus. I want to partake in the greatest treasure that is found upon this earth, as Christ in the Eucharist.

With this, I reached out to Fr. Olvera and shared with him the work that God has done in my life and expressed to him that I am ready. I filled out my RCIA paperwork and have begun the steps to join the Catholic Church.

After all of this, I took the step to attend Mass. I know, it sounds a little crazy that I made all of these conclusions/decisions without ever attending Mass. Initially, I had plans to go with my friend… but I didn’t. I went with a friend who isn’t Catholic. We sat in the back pew and kept to ourselves. We didn’t genuflect. We did sit and stand with the congregation, but we opted to not kneel. While my readings gave me a great amount of knowledge about why certain things took place in Mass, I had no idea when they were going to take place. With that, I followed a Mass for Kids book. No shame at all, and it helped me a lot.

When it came time for the Eucharist, my heart broke. My friend looked to me and said, “we don’t take communion if we aren’t Catholic, right?” I confirmed her question. As I watched row after row of people partake in the Eucharist, I wanted so badly to walk up with my row and received Jesus.

Something clicked with me later in the week. There have been so many times within different Protestant church settings that I have been offered the elements and not partaken. I know what those elements mean, but I’ve never found it overly important to take of it every time it is offered. But, in Mass, I knew it was different. For the first time ever, it wasn’t just something I was doing because everyone else was doing it. I wanted to partake in the Eucharist because I wanted Jesus. I felt my heart break because I couldn’t have Jesus within the Eucharist.

As I left Mass, my desires to join the Church were confirmed in the purest form. I long for the day that I get to partake in the Eucharist.

Thanks to God’s grace I have come to the realization that I am indeed ready to come home.

The last thing I would like to say is, I am still full of questions. I’m guessing I always will be. There are parts of Catholicism that are “hard” for me, but I’m trusting the leading Jesus has given me. I’m trusting the tug of the Holy Spirit on my heart. I’m trusting that God knows exactly where He wants me and I’m following Him to that place.

Finding Freedom

I have not a clue how to start this blog other than to start it.

Hi, yes, I’m Olivia. You probably know me, but maybe you don’t. If you don’t, here’s the basic idea. I lost a ton of weight (okay, 120 pounds) in a short period of time (like 1.5 years). I posted about it on Instagram a lot (@o.vollmar) and people liked it. I do CrossFit and they liked it. They wrote a couple posts about me and flew me out to California to do a podcast (look up Snatches Over Suicide).

All of that is awesome and cool and I’m super thankful and blah blah blah. All the things. BUT in that process, I lost me. I lost Olivia.

So, I’ve been finding Liv. It’s weird, I changed the name I preferred in the process but I feel like I finally get to shed Olivia and be someone knew. I like Liv better.

So how have I been finding Liv? I really don’t know but I know it’s been really hard. I’ve cried a lot. I’ve had nutrition coaches, counselors, my friends have heard every story and thought about five bajillion times. In this process I’ve learned a lot of things. The first of which (and most important) is that if I truly want to shed the past and find a happy and healthy future, I have to be vulnerable.

So, let’s get down to it. I lost most of my weight through struggling with disordered eating. I restricted calories, a lot. Like ate 600-800 calories a day. I also overexercised. I ran and did CrossFit 5-6 days/week for a months on end. I kept a lot of that in secret. I used laxatives on a daily basis for almost two years. I went through bottles at a time. I even got my doctor to give me a prescription for a stronger dose. I restricted the amount of water I would drink and I would drink more coffee to further dehydrate myself. I weighed myself at least five times a day… if not ten or more times.

It was bad.

I became one of the least pleasant people to be around. I was constantly tired, anxious and irritable. I hated life. I hated myself. I hated people. I had never been so dissatisfied and unhappy in my life. One day it finally clicked and I reached out for help. I told my Coach and I slowly found myself on the road to recovery.

How did the road to recovery look? I stopped counting macros, then started again, stopped again off and on. I binged hard (and developed binge eating disorder in the process). My friends said at one point that I should have to do x amount of a certain exercise to make up for any bad food that I eat. I finally told my sister. I shared on social media for the first time. I went to counseling twice… and I’m back in it currently. I had two separate nutrition coaches and am working with someone else right now (not specifically for nutrition, but that is definitely discussed). I took long breaks from CrossFit and from the gym altogether. I put 20 pounds back on and lost it again… twice.

Guys, so much more happened. It’s still happening. I tried EVERYTHING. And I still failed. I still fell back into old habits. Restricting, laxatives, bingeing, over exercising. It has been an endless cycle for so many years.

Then last semester happened. God broke me down. God allowed things to be taken away from my life. Relationships I admired. Grades that I thought I had to have. Financial security. And then it happened, CrossFit had to go. I was recovering from surgery and what I did for physical activity had to drastically change. That wrecked me.

I said to a friend, “how am I supposed to manage the stress of school without CrossFit?”

“Well Liv, Jesus would be a great place to start.”

It hit me. I knew what God was doing. He was removing the things most important to me until I would realize that HE is most important. I recovered and then I became sick. I was having so many unexplainable and terrible symptoms and it left me in bed for weeks on end. Truthfully, I’m still dealing with many of them. In that, I’ve realized God was the thing I was missing. I was trying it all on my own, without the Lord leading my healing process.

January rolled around and I started working with the person I’m working with now. The first time we spoke about what my goals were he said, “I don’t want you to weigh yourself for a month.”

“Okaaaaaay, sure.”

“Seriously, don’t weigh yourself for an entire month. Then, when that day rolls around, I want to talk to you before you weigh yourself.”

What did I just agree to? Could I fire him on day one? I thought he was crazy. But I did it. I went along with it. I wrote a post about that and you can read it if you’d like.

In that month, I learned more about myself than I ever have in my life. I learned that despite everything I always said, I cared more about the number on the scale than anything else. I valued it far beyond other things. I let one single number define my entire worth as a person. I was allowing that number to define me instead of allowing Jesus to define me.

So, I started turning to Jesus. I started looking at exactly what He says about me. I began reading books and limiting my time on social media. I focused on the Bible. And let me tell you, it has radically transformed my life. Within two weeks of this “experiment” I told my friend that I should wait to weigh myself until I see my doctor at the end of this month, and he agreed. We also agreed that I wouldn’t measure progress in the use of any numbers. I would only track my sleep and my workouts. I would stop counting macros and calories altogether. Another scary move, but one that has given me so much freedom.

As an assignment for therapy, I was watching a video and the video asked the simple question of what do you think about God? Well, you know what I wrote down? I literally wrote, “God will love me more if I’m skinnier.” I thought on that for a few days. I thought really hard, honestly. How could I believe such a thing about God, knowing full well that it isn’t true?

Then it happened, the thought crossed my mind and I finally acted. This past weekend I was reading a book and I shut the book, grabbed my scale and walked out to the dumpster. I threw it in and walked away.

Freedom. Tears. A genuine smile.

I found freedom that I had been looking for for so many years.

I walked away from that dumpster a new person. I felt like I did the day I was baptized. I know, weird, but true. I felt as if the chains had finally been broken and I could live in the freedom and truth of what Jesus had already done for me.

But here is the honest truth, I’m not healed. It’s not that fast. I made a HUGE step in throwing the scale away… but I’m still curious. I’m still afraid to step on the scale in a couple days when I see the doctor. I’m almost praying that the number is one that will make me happy. I still place value there and I truly don’t know when that thought process will break, or if it ever will.

But I do know this, Jesus is walking this walk and fighting this battle with me. He is for me, not against me. He is hurt by the fact that I allow this to define me. He hurts when I hurt. He doesn’t love me any less because of this. He doesn’t love me less because of my weight and He certainly won’t love me more if the number on the scale goes down. He wants to see me living in His freedom and I’m working on that.

I’m writing all of this to share that if you’re struggling, you aren’t alone. This battle does not have to be fought alone. Jesus is with you, I’m with you, and chances are, so are so many other people. Beyond that, this is healing. It’s healing to put all of my “secrets” out there and know that they don’t define me. It’s freeing to share the deepest parts of me and know that I’m loved not despite them, but because of them.

That’s right, I am loved because of my secrets. My secrets, well, they make me who I am. They make me different from you. And at the end of the day, good or bad, they are part of my story and part of who God made. When God created the world, He knew I would face these battles. He knew exactly what my struggles would be and He created me still. Jesus knew I would make these mistakes and I would put my worth in anything but Him and He said, “I love you. I’ll take the cross for you.”

What Happened When I Didn’t Weigh Myself for a Month

Like most females, I share quite the unhealthy relationship with the scale. That number… it changes my day. If I like the number, I jump for joy. If I don’t like the number, I struggle. I have to fight my thoughts of restricting calories. I have to fight to see myself as worthy. As beautiful. As strong, fit and athletic.

In short, I hate the scale.

I had a friend challenge me to not weigh myself for an entire month. He said it and it was as if someone was piercing my heart. But I knew. I knew I had to follow through. He asked me, “when was the last time you went an entire month without weighing yourself?”

“I don’t even know… years, at the least.”

So, I’m going to give you a run down of that month.

Day One: It was weird. I put my scale out of sight, to hopefully get it out of mind. I got out of bed, made my bed, went to the bathroom and literally walked to where my scale sits. My brain seriously has muscle memory to weigh myself each morning!!! I thought about it all day.

Day Two: Just as curious. I felt really thin and light today which makes me really curious and makes the urge to step on the scale even larger. But, I’m realizing the joy in not stepping on the scale. My heart couldn’t be let down by what that number said. Instead, I can just be happy and know that I feel good today.

Day Three: Hard. I ate a bunch of Mexican food and ice cream last night… perfect chance to weigh myself this morning and beat myself up with loads of negative self-talk. Thankful I fought the urge to pull my scale out of hiding and step on it.

Day Four: Harder than day three. Honestly, the urge to grab my scale is growing. I’ve noticed a lot of “eating disorder thoughts” returning. As I don’t know my weight, I want to restrict calories and over exercise. It’s weird because I believed those thoughts were driven by what I knew the number to be… not necessarily what I want the number to be.

Day Five: I’m curious. I had the biggest urge yet to step on the scale last night. I can feel my body changing for the better but I still want to know the number. In other words, I’ve finally come to the true fact that I allow that number to control many aspects of my life. Realizing that is harder than not stepping on the scale. (More on that later.)

Day Six: I thought about weighing myself this morning, but it didn’t feel necessary. Last night I asked myself the question of, “do my goals set me up to be more like the person of Jesus?” I was hit with the truth and reality that Jesus wants me to be healthy to serve the Kingdom and health isn’t measured by the number on the scale. My worth isn’t defined by that number. My abilities, my servant’s heart, my character… none of the things that make me, me, are defined by that number. Big day.

Day Seven: Last night I told my friend I wanted to throw my scale out. It infuriates me. I don’t want to weigh myself. Like, sure, I’m still curious. That wiring in my brain isn’t going to change in one short week. However, I now believe that the number means nothing. I knew it before, but now my heart is believing it.

Day Eight: Curiosity is dwindling. Don’t really care anymore.

Day Nine: I logged off of all of my social media and deleted it all off of my phone last night. I’m tired of trying to live up to my perceived expectations of society and I’m diving deep into who Jesus says I am and who Jesus says I should be.

Day 10: I see my body changing, which makes me want to weigh myself. It’s funny though, for the first time ever, I’m cool with just seeing the positive changes.

Day 11: I thought about it this morning, but then the thought left. I didn’t stare at my body in the mirror, either. I got up, went to the gym, ate breakfast with a friend (that while I tracked, I didn’t stress about), showered and went to work. I’m thinking this is what normal is supposed to look like.

Day 12: Thought about it. Didn’t care. Moved on with the rest of my day.

Day 13: The urge to step on the scale was pretty strong last night. Even so, the thought didn’t cross my mind this morning. Multiple people told me today that I looked “so small” and “tiny” and “skinny.” Whatever I’m doing is working, so I think I should stick with it.

Day 14: Pretty big desire this morning. I ate “more” than I thought I should last night and wanted to see the damage that was made. Glad I didn’t do it.

Day 15: I ate out last night and had a milkshake so I was expecting to feel bloated and awful this morning. Surprisingly enough, I felt super light. I was just happy with how I felt and didn’t feel like a number was necessary. Happy with that.

Day 16: No desire to weigh myself. I did measure my waist (because I’m ordering clothes from a website) and I was instantly disappointed. I felt great before that number and now I’m frustrated. That’s proof enough that I shouldn’t focus on those kinds of numbers.

Day 17: Still curious, but no desire to step on a scale. I feel like I’ll always be curious because it’s been such a huge part of my life for so long, but maybe I’m wrong. Praying that the desire to allow a number to define me will continue to dwindle as I rest in the promises of Jesus.

Day 18: Don’t care anymore. I genuinely love myself these days and that’s the biggest win I could ask for.

Day 19: My joy is no longer based on what the scale shows, which also means my joy is no longer circumstantial. My joy is rooted in Christ, and Christ alone. That wasn’t my goal going into this “experiment” but I’m so grateful for that outcome.

Day 20: The thought still crosses my mind every morning, but it’s no longer a concern. Yesterday someone told me that they could see noticeable changes in my body which was  interesting because I don’t see them currently.

Day 21: Three weeks. I have the random urge to weigh myself and it’s because I’m now fearful of what the scale will say when I step on. I know that number doesn’t define me, but what if it still makes me unhappy when I see it?

Day 22: Eh. Blah. Not sure how I feel about things today.

Day 23: Something I’ve learned is that when I eat unhealthy the night before, I’m bound to want to weigh myself the following morning. It’s interesting that I basically want to set myself up for feeling terrible about myself after I eat poorly. I know the scale will reflect water retention due to increased sodium and that the weight it portrays is a lie… yet I still want to see it. Poor logic on my part.

Day 24: Yesterday a doctor prescribed me with laxatives (IBS issues) and I didn’t fill the prescription. This is a win. I know when I have them in my possession I abuse them and I’m proud to have avoided the risk altogether. I feel good today and that’s enough to make me happy.

Day 25: I started counseling yesterday to work through all of my eating issues and to no surprise, I wanted to weigh myself pretty badly this morning. I’m offering myself loads of grace during this healing process and fully expecting it will become much worse before it gets any better.

Day 26: I liked how I looked in the mirror this morning. The thought crossed my mind, “I look the same as I did at my lowest.” Then, the question arose, “but would I still be this happy if there was a number attached?” The answer is likely, no.

Day 27: I want so badly to weigh myself, but at the same time, I don’t want to. Why? I know I’m not ready. I know, in my mind, I still give that number far too much power. I know that if I see a number I’m unhappy with it will upset me. I know that I need more time to break away from the scale.

Day 28: It’s officially been a month since I’ve stepped on the scale. I woke up way too late for class to care about even thinking of what that number might be.

What have I learned? I’ve learned that I’ve placed far too much value on that number for far too long. Health cannot simply be based just on that number. Health is much more than that. I am no where near breaking my relationship with the scale, and I’m fully aware of that. If I were to go step on it right now and the number where higher than I think it ought to be, it would upset me. However, in this month, I’ve decided it is finally time to seek help for all of these underlying issues. I’ve started counseling, I’ve shared my struggles and been truly vulnerable with so many people.

Aside from visits to the doctor, I’m not sure when I will step on a scale again. It’s just not worth sacrificing my mental health for what could potentially be instant gratification. I’m more than a number on a scale and you are, too. Don’t ever allow that number to define your whole personhood.

What Defines Who You Are?

I was reading the book Love Does by Bob Goff (I know, I’m way behind on this one), and he said something that struck me. He said, “He asks if we’ll give up that thing we’re so proud of, that thing we believe causes us to matter in the eyes of the world, and give it up to follow Him. He’s asking us, ‘will you take what you think defines you, leave it behind and let Me define who you are instead?'”

What would happen if I gave up everything that I thought defined who I was and let Jesus define me instead? Would I care about the scale or the macros I hit or the money in my bank account? Would I spend hours studying or would I spend time building relationships? Would I stare at my phone or would I serve with my time? Is it really my time? How would I do things differently if I simply learned to live in His definition of who Liv is? 

I would likely stop caring about the number on the scale, or in an app, or on my bank statement and think of His death instead. I would likely stop comparing myself to others and see that He said I was worth dying for. I likely wouldn’t be as concerned about the grades I earn and I would be taking up my cross to follow Him. I would likely be giving everything I have instead of checking my bank account daily. I would likely be resting instead of working. 

I don’t know much, but I do know this: Jesus says Liv is lovely. His beloved. He says that she is set apart, made for great things. He says that she is saved by grace, through faith, and not by works. He says she is a co-heir in Christ and heaven is her home. He says that no number, no title, no accomplishment can satisfy. He says that only He can satisfy the longing in her heart. He says that she is loved deeply, without hesitation, without regard, without regret. She is loved beyond all measure. Nothing she does will make Him love her anymore or any less. He said that amidst all of her struggles, sins, hardships and pain that she, yes, Liv, was worth dying for. The thing is though, He didn’t say it. He showed it. He died. Love didn’t say. Love didn’t write. Love did. Love showed up, carried that cross, took those insults and Love died.

So yes, I’m sure I’ll struggle with self-image for a long time. I’m sure that the second I log back into social media I’ll start comparing myself yet again. I’m sure that I won’t give as much as I think I should or serve as often as others… but I do know this, I’m going to start looking to Jesus more. I don’t want His death for me to be meaningless. Why should I continue to live in the bondage of sin and slavery to the world when Jesus already died so I could escape that?

The answer is simple. I shouldn’t. And neither should you.