By Sue Bowles
In 1991, I asked a friend, “How do you go on living, when all you want to do is die?” That friend was Christian musician Billy Sprague. Billy’s fiancee’ had been killed in an automobile accident as she was on her way to surprise him at one of his concerts. After finding out, Billy became suicidal. We had reconnected on a ski discipleship trip Kanakuk had sponsored. That’s when I asked him the question about how he went on living.
We had initiated an intervention on Dad earlier that year, but I was the one in pain now. My heart was frozen, and I was dying inside. Drinking again, I was losing weight, and was very unhealthy. Something had to break, and I felt like it would be me. In the course of my ninety minute conversation with Billy, he shared his story with me. His last advice to me was, “That’s all I have to tell you, Sue. Step by step.”
Billy shared a story of a friend who had challenged him to watch his shoes as he walked through airports, telling himself, ‘One more step. I’m one step closer. I can do it.’ Billy had me watch my steps on the way to the slopes that last day, and my first thought was, “God, it’s a long journey, and I’m not going to make it.” That was twenty-nine years ago.
There have been a lot of depths along the way. I had to deal with the rape, for the first time in my life. Literally decades after it happened. I had to squarely face it, deal with all the silent questions and flaming hatred, feel the emotions, do the hard work of forgiving, and come out the other side of the healing mountain. For someone with an eating disorder, emotions are the enemy, so having to learn to identify emotions – and feel them – was gut-wrenching. That happened by the grace of God lived out through people who were His messengers of grace.
My counselor, Amanda, has been a bedrock. I met her through my former pastor. When his wife, Melery, died after a five year battle with stage four breast cancer, two of their daughters developed eating disorders. When my eating disorder started to flare two years after Melery’s death, Chuck got me in touch with Amanda, and the rest is history, as they say. I have been with her since. I have gone places with her I never knew I needed to go. When God says, “I will restore your life again,” He’s not kidding! Amanda kept me in the game and growing, and when I came across a retreat program, we both watched God work through it and propel me so far!
“You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.”
I love the verbiage in the verse, “You WILL restore my life. You will AGAIN bring me up. You WILL increase my honor, and comfort me ONCE AGAIN.” God likes repeat! It doesn’t say He’ll do it once and then leave us to ourselves. And sometimes, when we’ve heard the wrong message for too long, He will send folks who are “Jesus with skin on” to show us Himself. Such has been the people with Walking Stick Retreats (WSR) for me.
WSR is the living legacy of the late Christian musician Rich Mullins. The retreats came as a follow up to the themes of the 2014 movie, “Ragamuffin,” which was based on Rich’s life. The retreat family has become my ‘tribe’ my family, and the place where people ‘get me.’
The first couple of retreats in particular were so very pivotal. God used these people to show me the depth of His love. A staff member has since told me that the first retreat was like a ‘Hail Mary pass’ for me, hoping to see that God, and maybe His kids, could actually love me. There’s nothing magic about retreat, but it’s the atmosphere set by the people at retreat, which allows the Holy Spirit to do His thing. And do His thing He did!
The first retreat came the same year I was dealing with the effects of the rape. As the Facebook room opened and people shared their stories, I lurked for about four days before getting brave enough to share mine. After sharing it, I checked responses almost hourly all day to see how folks would respond. I expected people to say the same things about me I had been saying all along. And I was wrong. I was called brave. Folks’ hearts were broken for me and they said they wanted to hug me. Others said my courage gave them permission to share their story. That experience gave me hope that maybe, just maybe, I found a place where it was okay to not be okay. I share more detail about retreat in my book, “This Much I Know…The Space Between.”
So much happened at that retreat, and at every retreat since then. I have gone from considering myself ‘the holy exception’ to knowing and believing that I get to play too, that I have something worthwhile to share, and I have a responsibility to share my story, which is His story of grace, with others, to give them permission to be real, authentic, and to know and experience that it’s okay to not be okay.
So back to the last phrase of my life verse: “You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.”
It’s been six years since I took the steps to remove my masks, accept my story, grieve my story, own that I am valuable to God, and share my story at any opportunity. I continue to be amazed at how God truly does work it all together for the good of those who love Him. I see more and more, as I look in the rear view mirror, how the tapestry He was weaving in undergraduate and graduate schools have come together in a beautiful masterpiece.
I am an eyewitness to His majesty. “I want you here for a reason. Don’t ask why. Just trust me.” He has allowed my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees to come together in a way I never even considered. I am now Mom’s caregiver, a speaker, conference presenter, published author and blogger, international podcast guest, and a Certified Professional Life Coach. Most of all, I am a walking example of His hope and grace, and the power of being to others, “Jesus with skin on.”
BIO: Sue Bowles is an author, speaker, and Certified Professional Life Coach. She’s the owner of My Step Ahead, commited to breaking the stigma around mental health struggles, and volunteers with the international community Beatingeatingdisorders.com. She is also an international podcast guest and frequent conference presenter. Sue’s first book, “This Much I Know…The Space Between,” was released September, 2019, on Amazon and Kindle. Sue lives in central Ohio, is the caregiver for her mom, enjoys music, her vegetable garden, and is a part of the Walking Stick Retreat Community. Sue can be contacted at http://www.mystepahead.com or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.