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Finding My Identity

Standing strong is a central theme in my story. I was raised in an environment that taught me to be seen, but not heard. My father taught me the working-class standard, “Keep your mouth shut, keep your head down, do what you’re told, and don’t expect any handouts.” Before I knew Jesus, this was what standing strong meant. It was a code of conduct and a coping mechanism for me.

At 15, I left home to pursue my career in ballet. This amazing opportunity allowed me to run away without causing a fuss. Following my father’s advice brought a tremendous amount of success in my career. This mentality is somewhat of a joke in the dance world. We call each other “kitty” because if you look at the cartoon, “Hello Kitty,” she doesn’t have a mouth. If you don’t have a mouth, you can’t eat or speak – this is how we lived. On the outside, success; on the inside, chaos.

Dance was my god before I knew God. Every insecurity I had was in that environment. As a professional ballerina, you are never good enough. I lived under the pressure of that one bad review, being two pounds overweight, trying to determine if I was the desired clone needed for a particular role, or if I could fit a particular costume. Behind closed doors, I was blindly losing grip. To survive, I leaned into my “strength” of being seen but not heard. I learned to live for the three minutes of applause after a performance. Those three minutes were addicting; the applause validated my existence. My identity was completely displaced, and managing that naively spiraled me into mental and physical destruction.

I was given a second chance to run away without causing a stir. This is when the Lord really made His Presence known. Psalm 139 assures us that even if we dwell in the remotest part of the sea, His hand will lead us and His right hand will take hold of us. I ended up in a “remote part of the seas” in Bermuda, dancing on a cruise ship.

The Lord brought people into my life from a little Southern Baptist church on the island who were more interested in hearing from me than in what they saw. This group of people was the first to come against the concept of being seen, but not heard, which was rather disorienting. I was bewildered at first, but grew to be curious. I wanted what they had. These people literally loved me into the Kingdom. I experienced love in a way that I had never felt in my life. God used them to show me that He both sees and hears me. Psalm 34:15 (NIV) says, “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are attentive to their cry.”

This was the beginning of the great unraveling of what I thought it felt and looked like to stand strong. My insecurities were not miraculously cured when I became a Christian. The grace that these precious friends extended to me allowed me to discover that perhaps in Christ, I was already enough. It was God who made me creative, musical, and expressive. His hand was already upon me in those younger years of learning to silence my voice. His hand was upon me as I stepped into an intense career at a young age that brought success as well as destructive habits. His hand was upon me as He led me to a remote place where I found myself in His arms. It took the heavy investment of my pastor and his wife to help me wrestle familiar lies and habits to the ground. They were lovingly persistent. They made sure I wasn’t listening to the devil, but that I was filled with the mind of Christ. Over time, those insecurities began to lose their grip on my identity as I stood on the unconditional love of Jesus and in the light of who God is. Being in full health, being whole, and being secure was all new territory for me.

God reshaped what standing strong meant and looked like. These are the truths and tools He gave me in that season, and others that followed:

God is sovereign.

I stand on His supremacy and survive in His sufficiency.

His sufficiency is all I have and it is precious to me.

When I am tempted to return to the place of “keep your mouth shut, head down, and do what you’re told,” my survival is in knowing that I am His, and He is always enough.

When this is how I stand strong, God’s sufficiency and pleasure eclipse my suffering and grief.

Romans 12:12 (NIV) encourages us to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” In difficult times of change and challenge, what wins is the motivation and hope of what God has ahead. Because of the lifestyle I had lived and what I had done to my body, I was told I could not have children. This was tremendously humbling, especially as people began to ask if and when we planned to have children. I had to lean into God’s sufficiency, and believe I was seen and heard. The gift of standing strong came seven years later when I gave birth to our vibrant, beautiful daughter, Skye. Those years of clinging to the sufficiency of God made this victory and blessing even bigger!

I must position myself in a place of honesty. Honesty reminds me that in my human frailty and sin, I live under the grace and mercy of God who is quick to supply. I must be completely honest with who I know myself to be. When I am honest, nothing that dares to tempt, discourage or trigger me is a surprise. Be willing to honestly share your story with someone who has compassion and empathy for where you are.

I must go straight to the throne of God until I’ve received what I need. It’s important we understand that we all need something different. That might be prayer, a hug, love, the Word, time alone, a conversation, or something else. For me, when I go to the throne room, I often find God gives me fresh and fortifying creativity. When temptation arises, every distraction will attempt to cause delay, but don’t tarry – go right to the throne to receive what God has tailor-made for you. The Bible says in John 10:27 that the “sheep hear His voice.” God knows how to talk to you.

I must lean into His promises. Find scripture and promises of God that are specific to where you are at. Cling to the verses that touch your heart.

Prayer is vital because I am reminded that He can hear me. The constancy of prayer is really where my power and motivation lie. For me, prayer began as simply talking to the Lord and  talking back to situations or lies. Talking back is a form of prayer to stop the enemy’s strategy, silence his voice, and cling to the truth. I would say, “I’m not in a good place right now; I need to move in a different direction. This is a lie that I am believing but it is not true of who I am.” I talked back to the lie spoken over me that I couldn’t live without an eating disorder. I talked back to lies that were said of me and my family through gossip. Never be afraid to do that.

I surround myself with “standing stones” to remind me of God’s goodness. There were many times in the Old Testament when the people of God built an altar to serve as a marker of God’s goodness. There were benchmarks I had to get to as I overcame my eating disorder. I was very fortunate to be in a relationship with someone who celebrated every pound. At those benchmarks, I either received a small gift or I made something to remind me of God’s deliverance in that season. These items are my “standing stones” to remind me of God’s mercy and power. I keep them in sight, yet not obvious to others. When I see them, the remembrance triggers fresh celebration in my heart and mind of God’s great triumph in my life. And that calls forth the strength to keep standing in my present circumstance.

Life in Christ is a lifestyle. I often struggle with the walk, but I am grateful for the goal. Some of those “standing stones” remind me of times when my Sovereign God delivered me with immediacy. Those times were supernatural, and way beyond my control. God did this in areas He knew I could no longer handle. His supremacy is what accomplishes immediate deliverance, and His sufficiency is what takes me through daily life.

To the woman who is yearning to stand strong, and might even relate with aspects of my story, the first thing I would say to you is that I love you, but God loves you more. I see you and I hear you, and God does too. Whatever is holding you captive in that place of insecurity, whether you feel it permanently or periodically, it is time to look that in the eye and fight. It may not be easy for you, but you are loved, seen, and heard, and there is life on the other side. If God can save and heal me, He can save and heal anybody.

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Karen Festog
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