I have spent most of my life berating myself for my mistakes and attempting to change my past with “should have,” “would have”, “could have” phrases. “I should have stayed home”, “I could have called my mom”, etc.
But no matter how many times I took myself through what could have been it didn’t change the fact that it was. It happened. I was broken and there was nothing I could do about it. She had found her dad’s Playboys and decided to come downstairs during my sleepover with her younger sister to show us how to get boys to like us. I was eight. She was cool, and older, and, I thought, wiser. I didn’t have a choice and I didn’t have a voice. And then it was over.
But I was forever changed. I returned home as a shell of the child I once was. I felt sick constantly. At the time, I couldn’t identify the feeling I now know so well as “shame”. And there was something else, something deep in me that desired to look like those pictures, something deep in me that knew if I didn’t look like those pictures I would never be loved, I would never find a husband, I would be alone. I was eight.
The years that followed weren’t so bad. I was able to lock my secret deep down in the chambers of my innermost being. It was dark there, and no one would be able to see the secret that was hidden in the corner. But as I grew, the secret grew. I didn’t realize it was growing. It didn’t take much to feed the mold, small things that added up: thoughts, questions, visuals, dialogue in TV shows, and lyrics. I would look at myself in the mirror and wonder when I would look like those women. I would watch TV shows like “Friends” (still love that show though…) that mentioned porn and strippers as a norm, and even the women would laugh and encourage the men. I would long for the days that my body would finally be able to show someone that I was worthy of love. But, that never happened. At first I thought I just needed to be older, but in 8th grade when everyone else started “blossoming” and I didn’t, I started to worry that something was wrong with me. I started to live in fear that I wasn’t capable of looking like one of those women, which meant I would never be loved by anyone other than my mom and dad.
Eventually, I did “blossom” but it wasn’t enough. I still didn’t look like those women at all. And by this point, there were so many more images of women I had to try to be. And it seemed like every day I was hearing about another boy or man watching porn. Boys would talk about it in school like it was no big deal. Movies had boys and men hiding porn magazines and tapes, or not hiding it and proudly discussing it. And every time I was a witness to this I was reminded that I didn’t look like that and therefore I am not worthy of love or attention.
I spent the rest of my high school and college years dieting, exercising, tanning, toning, waxing, dying, primping, you name it. I strived desperately to be thin, leggy, busty, hairless, and tan. If you know me, then you know I am curvy, compact, definitely not busty, and pasty beyond all reason with a spattering of freckles. According to everything I had learned about being a woman, I was not worthy of love. So, I lived my life as someone who felt unworthy of love. If anybody…ANYBODY…showed me attention, I would jump at it. I would cling to them as if my life depended on it. It didn’t matter how horribly they treated me. It didn’t matter if they used porn on a daily basis because I wouldn’t put out, because hey, I was just happy that someone wanted to be around me, it made sense that they didn’t love me, because I wasn’t worthy of that, and men needed sex. The world taught me that too, men needed sex and if you didn’t give it to them they were allowed to get it somewhere else and as the woman you couldn’t complain, because hey, you weren’t putting out so his porn use was your own fault.
But then, I started to think, maybe if I “put out” then these boys wouldn’t need the porn anymore. Maybe I would be enough. But I never was. And then I was even more broken and even more worthless. I was used, abused, and taken advantage of. Of course, I never let them see that. I didn’t want the very little affection I was receiving to disappear altogether, but it was only a matter of time before they discovered what I really was…
My body had become such a disappointment to me. No matter what I did it was never worthy of love. And I knew it. I never questioned it, it was never a thought, it just was. I was eight when I learned what made a woman worthy. For eighteen years I believed that lie. For eighteen years I never questioned it. For eighteen years I lived my life trying to prove my worth, earn my love, and then punishing my body when it let me down.
Even as a woman happily married, I felt unworthy. I couldn’t believe that a man like Dean would even bother spending time with me. But even though Dean truly loved me, I could not accept it for what it really was because I knew I was unworthy of it. For the first 4 years of my marriage and the five years of dating before that, I truly believed it was only a matter of weeks before Dean came to his senses and realized I was ugly and unworthy, and that I would never look like one of those women. I thought he was just waiting for the day that I would finally transform into one of those women and he would parade me around as his trophy; something he was immensely proud of; something he wanted all the world to know that he loved, then we would live happily ever after. But I knew that day would never come and when he finally realized that too, he would leave me.
But for some reason he stayed. He never left, and that crazy man kept telling me I was beautiful. And then I would look in the mirror and be convinced that he was lying to me. I would accuse him of lying to me and say, “You’re just trying to make me feel better.” Oh man, I was a mess. (Was? Nah, I am STILL a mess.)
Then, two years ago, God started poking around in my deep innermost place. Two years ago I started attending Celebrate Recovery. It was during a step study that I confessed what happened when I was eight. I still believed I was guilty. I still believed it was my fault. I should have said, “No”. I should have gone home. I should have told my mom. I could have avoided this whole thing. I thought because I wasn’t touched that what happened to me wasn’t considered abuse. I knew that victims of abuse were not guilty of the abuse, but I truly believed I could have avoided the situation and therefore I was guilty. A dear woman came up to me afterwards and said, “What happened to you, that was sexual abuse and you are not guilty.” I responded with, “but I should have known, I should have been able to avoid it.” Her response, “if someone shot a gun and the bullet hit you, would you be responsible for your injuries? No, because you did not shoot the gun. Would you be guilty because you couldn’t avoid the bullet? No. You are not guilty.”
That moment changed my life. I didn’t realize the impact of that moment at the time. But now looking back I realize that that was the moment when God started to unearth the lie I was living.
Over the next couple years God continued to work on me. He brought his light into those deep, dark, innermost places. Through it all He kept saying, “I love you, you are beautiful, you are enough.”
I had made a lot of progress in recognizing the areas that I was not guilty, and the areas for which I was not responsible, but last May I was still very much set on becoming a skinnier, bustier, more beautiful version of me. That lie was so deeply engrained in me, “I’m not enough just the way I am.” I still stumble and start to believe that lie again.
In May 2015, I went on a prayer retreat with some women from my church. I sat alone in a field and watched the sun set. I cried out to God and asked him why I still didn’t feel enough, why I still felt ugly and fat and worthless. I told God I was done feeling worthless and I asked him to restore what I lost so long ago.
And then, He was there, I felt his presence. He touched every part of my face: my eyebrows, my eyelids, my cheeks, my nose, my lips, my chin, and he said, “I have made you Radiant.” It took me months to truly understand what He meant when he called me that. But in that moment I knew he wasn’t just saying I was radiant, he made me Radiant. My new name was Radiant. And then He said, “Why are you living as if you are not?” I walked back to my room that night with an excitement in my chest but without an answer to His question. God had given me a gift, and although I wasn’t exactly sure what it was yet, I was excited to find out.
The next morning I opened my bible to read some psalms and I turned to Psalm 34. There it was, verse 5, it jumped out at me and handed me a promise from my savior, “those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” I read that verse over and over and realized, “woah, He touched my face when He told me He made me radiant.” HE made me radiant. I don’t make me radiant. HE does. When I look to HIM, HE makes me radiant so my face need never be covered in shame.
I still felt like there was more to this. So when I got home I started researching the word “radiant”. I wanted to know what God meant when He said “radiant”, not what I meant. It turns out the Hebrew word used in Psalm 34 is nahar. Nahar in the context of Psalm 34 means to beam, to shine, to be radiant, a figurative of joy. Nahar is a verb, not an adjective in this context! God has created me to actively shine, beam, and radiate his love, joy, and health! Radiant is not what I am, it is how he has created me to be.
I love the image Psalm 34 gives, “those who look to him are radiant”. All I have to do is look to Christ. When I look to Him, I radiate his love, I just do. I’m like a mirror reflecting the light of God; turn me away from the light and I can no longer reflect it, but turn me toward the light and the light multiplies as it bounces off my surface!
I also love that Psalm 34 goes further to say, “their faces are NEVER covered in shame.” I have spent most of my life in secret shame. Ashamed of the body God gave me, because it didn’t look how I thought it should or do what I wanted it to. I have lived in shame that my body could not reproduce. I have been ashamed of my inability to control or manage my weight, due to my circumstances. And God asked me why I wasn’t living as if I was radiant? In Principle 6 (“Evaluate all my relationships; offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me and make amends for harm I’ve done to others except when to do so would harm them or others. ‘Happy are the merciful’ ‘Happy are the peacemakers’”) of Celebrate Recovery I was asked the question, “What do I blame God for?”
I sobbed through the entire question, putting words to what I had been too scared to even admit to myself:
“I blame God for my infertility.”
“I blame God for my hormonal imbalances.”
“I blame God for the weight I just can’t seem to lose.”
“I blame God for not healing my injuries.”
“I blame God for my anxiety disorder.”
“I blame God for forgetting me and remembering everyone else.”
Some of it seems silly, but as I read it aloud to my step study group I realized I was blaming God for all the things that I had no control over. I have tried everything in my power to fix all of these problems and I couldn’t fix them, so I figured that it must be God’s fault. God can control everything, so if He isn’t helping me He must be hurting me, and therefore I can’t take God at His word. But that didn’t feel right. No, that logic didn’t coincide with my experiences with Him. God has been with me in it all, I have felt His presence right there in those dark moments. He has proved Himself faithful with the Hawk, with the dream, with my mom’s vision, with Dean’s love, with provision for our adoption, with my little fawn and brave boy, and when He renamed me.
In every instance He split the sea so I could walk right through it. In every instance He provided daily bread. In every instance He told me when to shout to the LORD in faith and He has declared me a victor. THIS WALL OF SELF HATE WILL FALL!!!!
Lord, I believe you! I believe what you have said! I am Radiant because you created me to be!
So…naturally, I wanted my new name tattooed on my body and I wanted it to be in the long lost language of God: Hebrew. But I was unsure of how the word nahar was written in Psalm 34 and I didn’t want to unknowingly end up with the word “buttcrack” on my back in Hebrew.
Sorry, this story is just a little longer, but it’s worth it, I promise!
I began searching for Hebrew names that meant “radiant”. Nothing seemed to fit, but at long last, I found a name that I liked: Ziva (ZEE-va). I started to read its full name meaning:
Pronounced ZEE-va, the name Ziva is of Hebrew origin, derived from the name Ziv meaning brightness, brilliance, or light of God. Ziv is a Hebrew language word and name meaning light or glow. It is also an alternative name of the Hebrew month of Iyar found in the later works of the Hebrew Bible.
Well, guess what? On May 15th God renamed me and May 15th is in the month of Iyar.