Jacqueline, 2016 Graduate

I accepted Jesus into my heart when I was a little girl. My mom was the strongest influence in my life when it came to teaching me about God and His love for me. I am the oldest of 3 girls and 1 brother, who passed away when I was 4 years old.

My mom says that I was very optimistic, happy, loving, and inquisitive.  I had a playful curiosity and the ability to analyze all my surroundings with wonder. I had dreams, and the world was my playground. But as the years went by, the light that was in my eyes went from a fire, to a flicker, to a dying ember, and then the light appeared to go out completely. Complete darkness and my body a prison. A cage. Being able to move physically, but internally crippled and silenced at the very core of my being.

I grew up with a lot of inconsistency and instability. The home I grew up in was often critical, harsh, and full of strife and fear. There were times of joy, but I often felt like I couldn’t be myself. A lot of things that were said in the home caused me to feel immense shame about who I was.  Public criticism and put downs between family members caused me to fear any type of correction. My parents fought a lot and it gave me a lot of anxiety.  My father struggled with alcoholism and at times was harsh in his words and actions. I was incredibly soft and very sensitive.  That combination was a disaster, and I grew to resent my soft heart. I often felt like I had no voice and that I was never heard.  I often felt responsible when my parents fought and thought their relationship would be better if I could just be better. Reactions to mistakes I made led me to believe that I couldn’t make mistakes, and I feared imperfection.

Being the oldest, I put a lot of pressure on myself to take care of my siblings. Seeing my parents despair was hard, and I did just about anything I could to gain their attention. Often throughout my life I was left with this inescapable feeling that I was unwanted, rejected, unacceptable, and unpleasing. I remember taking great pride in being a bigger sister and loved my sisters so incredibly much. I was determined to take care of them. I sometimes felt responsible to protect them from what was happening in the home, but I often felt like I failed and resented myself for that. I also worked hard at protecting myself, which sometimes affected my sisters negatively.  With each passing year, my insatiable desire to be accepted drove me, along with great fear that I would fail or look stupid. I began to notice I wasn’t being a good example anymore, and I couldn’t forgive myself for that. As I grew older, I made promises I couldn’t keep,  my word was no good, and all my priorities were on the wrong things.

A strong root of rejection latched onto my heart like a thick, strong vine that wouldn’t let go. Feelings of rejection started in my home, but continued into school and all my relationships. The more I tried to gain love, the more rejection I experienced. I threw away my own creativity, likes, dislikes, strengths, and talents. I decided at a young age that I’d do everything I could to be like all those other people who were lovable. The problem with this theory is that when someone did accept me, I still never felt loved. The person they accepted wasn’t me; it was someone I pretended to be.

In Grade 6, boys began to compare me to other girls and the shame inside me grew. I began to compare myself to others and became jealous and angry, while still trying to maintain a “good” reputation. Not only did I start to believe that beauty was some kind of competition, but I also began to believe that I was stupid when a teacher pulled me aside and told me I wasn’t as smart as my best friend. I couldn’t hold on to friendships because I compared myself to everyone I met. At a young age, I already never felt good enough and compared my looks to other girls, but it became harder to deal with at age 14.

In high school, it was very important to me that I remain pure. I was teased publicly for wanting good things and told that men only wanted women who’d do things with them. I desperately wanted to prove that I was worthy to a man. Slowly the pressures around me broke down my convictions. It started off as small decisions, which eventually led to bigger ones.  Each boyfriend after that had issues with pornography. I wasn’t able to understand that it wasn’t my fault. I believed in my heart that I would never be enough and saw all women as a threat. Out of immense fear, I started to put friends and family at arm’s length. Throughout these years, I had a lot of unstable moods, struggled with depression, and would lash out in anger.

I spent a lot of nights obsessing over how I could be better tomorrow and believed that everything in my life would be better if I could just be smarter, funnier, and prettier. But no matter how hard I tried, I could never attain what I was trying to achieve. Girls teased me in school for what I wore and publicly embarrassed me by pointing out my facial flaws. Sometimes people I trusted would laugh at my face. This caused my shame to grow. I was able to make it through, until one day a girl announced in front of the whole class that I should go home and kill myself, and that once I did, no one would notice or care. No one in the class defended me; no one said anything. I left the class and ran, only to realize I didn’t know where to go or who to turn to. From that point on, I thought about dying frequently and entertained ideas of suicide. I adopted the belief that my life didn’t matter.

After I graduated, I went to Bible school during the days and hung out with the opposite kind of crowd in the evenings. I sought the approval of both the church and people outside the church, but always felt I came up short. God was fighting for me, but my heart was still clinging on to proving my worth to people. God seemed distant to me, and I thought I had to earn His presence.

At the age of 21, I entered into a toxic relationship. I told him my story and about my past experiences with men who had issues with pornography. He was heartbroken, told me he was lucky to never get involved with it, and aimed to support me. As time went on, he began to pressure me physically and became manipulative and controlling. I later found out about his longstanding pornography addiction. He pretended to change and work on it, while hiding it when I wasn’t around. Then he would get angry with me. Things that he said and did devastated me, and I vowed I would never trust a man again. My heart hardened and I became manipulative, controlling, and treated myself more and more like an object.

Those next 5 years were full of ups and downs. I became severely depressed and more and more desperate. At age 23, there was a full-on war going on for my soul. I began to look in the mirror and become physically ill due to my appearance. I saw my reflection and all I wanted to do was vomit. I was ugly. Hideous. I felt shameful and disgusting. That began a four-year addiction of obsessing non-stop over my face. I would mirror check up to 8 hours a day, obsessing and wanting to hide from the world because of my appearance. It got so bad that I started missing work, and eventually I quit my job because I couldn’t perform normally anymore. Being in public and being seen were too hard. I began to isolate myself in the confines of my basement, spending my days hiding from the world, often not even allowing my own family members to see me. My isolation only solidified my rituals, and the obsessions grew worse. I found out I was struggling with a severe form of Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

I would search the internet for hours, sometimes throughout the night, to cure my ugliness. I felt tormented with no means of escape. I believed that if I could be beautiful, I could be loved. I could be worth knowing. However, the shame of my perceived ugliness caused me to say “no” to any form of love. So even when people reached out to me, I couldn’t accept it. I believed they were all lying. How could anyone love me? How could God love me?

As the condition progressed, so did my desperation to be beautiful. I made all the decisions I said I would never make. I hurt a lot of people, including myself.  I begged God to save me, and when He appeared to be nowhere, I would beg Him to take me out of this world. I felt I had no way of escaping this body and I wanted to die. But I wanted more and believed there was more, so I applied to Mercy Canada.

For the first time in my life, I’ve been able to cultivate a true and genuine relationship with God. I realized I can be honest with Him in the midst of my mess and imperfection. The enemy wanted to steal my identity because he knows that discovering my true identity in Jesus would ruin his plans to destroy my life. The truth is God made me beautiful, but not just the kind that’s here one day and gone the next. He created beauty within the depths of my soul; the very core of my being is painted with beauty of extravagant colours and radiance. I can be confident in this because God is beautiful and He made us in His image. Therefore, each and every one of us is beautiful. I’ve learned there’s no such thing as greater than or less than; there’s no such thing as smarter or stupid, more valuable or less valuable. There’s NO SUCH THING AS UGLY. The enemy and the world have lied to us for so long. Each and every one of us is precious in His sight, fully accepted and belonging to Him. We’re God’s most prized possessions.

I wish I could stand here today and tell you I don’t struggle with self-image, but the truth is I still have really hard days, sometimes hard weeks. And I’m still waiting to be set free from how I see myself on the outside. But now I’m learning that, despite my imperfections, I’m still loved. I rest in the fact that Christ’s love for us isn’t dependent on a quality in us that makes us lovable. I don’t isolate like I used to, and Mercy has given me tools to fight against the lies.

Through the love of the Mercy staff and other young women I was blessed to meet, God showed me that He is FOR us, not against us. Through my quiet times with God,  He showed me that He is undeniably, relentlessly, and inexplicably in love with us. He burns with passion and desire for His children. It’s not human love; it’s perfect love. I want you to know that there isn’t one part of you that He rejects. God wants all of you.  He is enthralled with you.

A verse that often encouraged me is Isaiah 61:3, which says, “He bestows on us a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair, and we will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendour.”

I thank God that He took all my shame and all my mistakes and nailed them on the cross. He took all my dirtiness and hid me in the safety of His love. The time I spent at Mercy wasn’t what I thought it’d be. For some reason I thought it’d be the type of thing where I’d come in ugly and get shipped out PERFECT! But the truth is, I came in full of lies and am leaving human. A human who is loved by God. A human who makes mistakes but is still loved anyways. A messy, loved, child of God.

Once I began the journey of learning God’s love for me, the more I realized this life isn’t about me.  It’s all about Him, the One who created me. The One who gave it all and took my place.  It’s about becoming more and more like Jesus and going out into the world to tell others about what He’s done for me. To tell the world that this love is for you too, nothing is impossible with God, and no sin is too great and no pain is too deep for God’s love.

So this is what I hear my father say to us: “Daughter, I am in love with you. Daughter, I love your playful curiosity, all your questions, and the wonder in your eyes for all my creation. Daughter, I love your feistiness and your gentle, soft heart. Daugher, it’s okay to not have all the answers; I will give you the words to speak. Daughter, you are far from dirty. I have made you white as snow. It’s okay to doubt. I’m not mad at you. Come to me as you are and NEVER EVER hide your face from me. My love for you will never let you go. You are never alone, and I will never leave you or forsake you. So put down your defenses and your walls, for I, the LORD your GOD, fight for you. You are mine, and I’m holding your heart.”

I want to close with a verse that meant a lot to me during my time at Mercy.  It’s found in Psalm 34:4-5: “I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He has delivered me from all my fears. And because I look to Him, I am radiant, and my face will never be covered with shame.”