Lisa Ziegler's Story

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Mountaintops and valleys – the journey of life consist of both. We all experience them, and we can’t stay in either place forever.  The fact that I am where I am today in my relationship with Christ is only because of God’s unconditional love and the people He used to point me back to Him. My “old” life had a lot of junk and close to zero Jesus. I was chasing after my own desires and expectations which I knew I would never be able to meet. My priority was to get as close to my own idea of “perfection” as possible. Even in my “new” life, I still deal with some of the old problems, but today I have Jesus and am learning how to trust God’s plan. My story is not about where I went and what I did in life, but instead how God works miracles walking us through this journey of life. 

Ever since I can remember, being physically active has helped me feel more alive. From the moment I joined a track and field club in elementary school, I felt the need to make athletics the source of my strength to live life to the fullest. The track became my comfort and safe place, my identity for most of my life. Growing up Catholic in South Germany, I never felt the need to have a close relationship with God or to attend church. Even attending a Catholic middle and high school did not change my perspective. I believed there was a God and that my ability to run came from Him, but again, there was no relationship; I was just acquainted with Him. In 8th grade, I concentrated more on distance running and simultaneously became more concerned with being “healthy.” My interest slowly turned into an obsession with food restriction, compulsive exercise, and distorted body image, and the foundation of an eating disorder had developed. I thought that running was the only thing in my life that I had control over, and that gave me happiness that I could not get anywhere else. During my senior year in high school, I had established myself amongst Germany’s junior elite track and cross country runners, and trained and competed with the national team. There was no obstacle on or off the track that seemed too challenging. This success stimulated my work ethic, self-confidence, and led to my desire to be part of college athletics in the US. 

I was recruited by MSU and did not have to think twice to make the decision to join the team. I felt blessed for my family’s support to follow my goals and to be surrounded by people that shared my love for running. The incredible encouragement and support at Mississippi State, as well as the outstanding training environment, served as motivation to push me further. Not only was I exceeding my personal goals, but I was also helping my team, and my times made it into MSU’s record books. 

Following a successful first year, I finished out my sophomore cross country season with All-Region Honors; however, I suffered a foot injury. By the end of my sophomore indoor track season, I was forced to take time off from running to let the injury heal.  Since I wanted to make sure I did not lose any fitness while I was not running, I focused on swimming, biking, and food restriction. During the long months of both physical and emotional pain, exercise and food became my outlet for power and control in life. My obsessions started not only to consume me but also to affect other people around me, and it became more difficult to argue against other people’s concerns. I realized the potential threat to a continuing running career and future life and accepted the help of a counselor and nutritionist at the beginning of my junior year. However, simultaneously pain in my back and leg inhibited not only my physical ability to run but also my mental state. A scan after cross country season brought answers showing a herniation and degeneration of a disk which meant weeks of inactivity, several steroid injections, and eventually, surgery. 

What made me feel most alive had been suddenly taken away from me for an indefinite amount of time. My eating disorder became my best friend - I could control something. Soon after surgery, depression kicked in, and I was emotionally and physically burned out. Supported by the medical and coaching staff at MSU, I spent the summer and fall after my junior year at a treatment center in St. Louis, which offers a program for athletes with eating disorders. I left physically healthy and in a better place, but was not content with this “new” situation and focused on what I needed to do to succeed in recovery to get back to running. However, when I got cleared for exercise, the unexpected happened, and pain in my left hip upset my plans and excitement to start running again. 

After returning to MSU from St. Louis, another scan showed a damaged labrum muscle, and additionally bone overgrowth on my hip, that could be fixed with surgery. Months of recovery on crutches quickly turned into an emotional roller coaster. My eating disorder and depression returned with a vengeance.  This was not the life I thought I had been working towards all these years. Again, I gave in to controlling and restricting my food intake and self-destructive behaviors to help numb the emotional pain. Filled with hopelessness, my thoughts became my greatest enemy. I wasn’t good enough, and the fact that my own thoughts made it difficult to function in daily life fueled my frustration and desperation to a greater extent. 

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Katie Anthony invited me to church where I was surprised by how different First Baptist Starkville was from the church back home in Germany.

 

During this time is when Dr. Story connected me with Katie Anthony. Within minutes of our first conversation, Katie and I knew we had a lot in common, and I was overwhelmed by the kindness and compassion she and her family had towards me despite my flaws and failures. I started to feel a change happening deep inside me that restored a piece of hope. For the first time, I was pointed to Jesus. Today I can clearly see that it was God’s plan to put Katie and me together. She invited me to church where I was surprised by how different First Baptist Starkville was from the church back home in Germany. Even though I did not understand everything and did not know what it meant to love Jesus, I started thinking about God. I did not have a relationship with Him, and I also did not know the Word of God very well. Katie continued to encourage me to see beyond the suffering and circumstances of the present. Today I can look back and see God’s hand in everything. The first time I attended Ekklesia, a Bible study at First Baptist Church, the topic was suffering. Even though what I heard did not make perfect sense, the night made an impact on me. What surprised me the most was that we were discussing a subject I could closely relate to. My desire to know God better and understand what He had to say to me became stronger. With the combined efforts of me attempting to build a relationship with God and the help of Katie and others, I was able to finish the academic semester. 

After the last surgery, I had reached a point where I lost control over my thoughts and frustrations towards myself and the circumstances around me. The small piece of hope inside me helped me understand that I had to admit my struggles and reach out for help if I wanted to be happy again and continue running. My sports had always been the only thing that made me feel most alive, so I was willing to do whatever it took to get those feelings back. Even though I had found “new” hope, running still was my priority and my identity. I agreed to again go to a treatment facility near Nashville over the summer to deal with my struggles. During this time, my Bible, which Katie had given to me, was with me. However, I was so consumed with working my way out of treatment, what efforts I made to read and understand were overshadowed by my efforts to succeed in recovery to regain confidence and strength for my sports. What I did not realize then was that I was separating myself from God even further by trying to follow my will instead of putting trust in Him.

When I returned to Starkville for my final year of college, I had convinced myself and others that I was free from the darkness and had found happiness again. Certainly, I had made physical and psychological improvements, but today I know that I had not faced the root of my hurts, habits, and hang-ups. The love and support that came my way were through the people God placed in my life. Even though I had learned more and more about God’s unconditional love, I still was unable to relinquish control of my life to Him, chasing after my own desires. When I started running again after the hip surgery, I pushed myself hard to speed up the recovery and comeback process.  Only weeks later I was forced again to stop due to pain in my other hip. Three scans and a month of despair and frustration later, I found out my right hip showed the same injury that I had 8 months prior in my left hip. I knew this meant the end to my active college athletics time and a questionable future as a runner. I was devastated and disappointed with myself. It did not take long for the negative, dark thoughts to consume me again, and they came back quicker and stronger than ever before. Even though I tried to accept God’s love and the support from the people He had placed in my life, I felt undeserving of His grace and mercy, and certain that I did not fit in as a Christian. Katie and Dr. Story tried to convince me there was hope, but I felt powerless and was convinced there was no reason for me to be on this earth failing at everything I tried to do, and unwilling to follow professional advice.  I hit rock bottom within weeks of my third surgery when negativity and hopelessness reached its peak. Even though I wanted to get better, I couldn’t see how things could possibly get better.

One Sunday in October 2017, Katie and I were sitting Warehouse Church where I heard Veronica’s testimony and how God revealed His perfect plan in her life for the first time. Following the sermon, Katie insisted we stay for the Fall Study Session on Relentless Love where Paige Peeple’s shared her story about her struggles with addiction. When I heard Paige talk about Celebrate Recovery and her restoration process, I was amazed but also overwhelmed trying to process and make sense of what I had just heard. I left church a different person.  While I saw how God worked in the lives of other people, I was convinced that I would never be good enough to deserve God’s grace and mercy because of who I was and what I had done in the past. I had always tried to cover up the war that I was fighting inside me, but at this point, it became more and more difficult to do. There was nothing in me left to fight – I thought. Overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness, now fear also had replaced frustration. Being unable to hide the war inside me, I could not do anything other than admit that I wasn’t okay.  An admission to a hospital was not what I wanted, but it is exactly where God wanted me to be to restore my health. The circumstances and adversity that led up to this point, as well as the fear, were part of His perfect plan to bring me to a place of complete brokenness. I was powerless and ready to trust Him and it was not a coincidence that the Bible Katie gave me was one of the only belongings I had in there. Through hitting rock bottom, God led me to a place where I had nothing left but to turn to Him and realize how only He can offer me comfort and peace. For the first time, my heart was truly changed, and I could grasp God’s greatness and glory and His relentless love. I came to understand that it wasn’t through anything I can do, think, possess, or belong to that I could be set free of my past, but only through Him. I belong to God, and through Him, I could be given peace, His peace. 

“He has called me out of the darkness into His marvelous life.” 1 Peter 2:9.

God gently lifted me out of the darkness that was ruling my life so that I could start believing the truth, His truth. Through Celebrate Recovery I found exactly what I needed: an amazing ministry that loved me right where I was. I realized how much I needed a relationship with Jesus to become willing to allow God to restore me. Only a few months after I had been in the hospital, I came to fully understand that God’s grace is not determined by my personal knowledge and performance. I realized that I was broken and that God is in control. No matter how hard I tried to trust God’s plan, I was still trying to control my relationship with Him instead of asking Him to show me the steps I needed to take and live life one day at a time. In the moment I realized I was powerless, I finally gave up all authority to God and prayed to Him to save me.

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God did not take away my passion for running, but it is no longer my priority or identity. Though I still struggle with some of the changes He called me to make, through watching and talking to the people God had placed in my path, I came to understand that we all have struggles and temptations to fall back into. Accepting Jesus into my heart opened a new door for me to see beyond the hopelessness of the past and to make sense of what I hadn’t been able to make sense of before, "forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14.

Through consistent growth and support, allowing God’s peace to guard my heart and mind, and supported by a closer understanding of God’s unconditional love, I could focus on school again to finish my undergraduate degree in Economics this past May. Simultaneously, God graciously led me to new opportunities revealing His next step to me, which does not necessarily include much Economics, but going to graduate school to pursue a Master’s degree in Health Promotion and French. 

As a new believer I do not have a profound knowledge of my faith, but I feel blessed for all the opportunities that God is providing me with to grow in my relationship with Him and to glorify Him. My priority today is to enjoy the journey of life, grow in my relationship with God, and to glorify Him in everything I do to the greatest of my abilities. I am forever grateful to those at First Baptist Church who, themselves, stepped out in faith and acted. God has taken away my fear and expectations around the journey of life which is not always smooth sailing and sometimes gets bumpy, but we always have the option to rely on God and to pray to Him to direct us through those tough times. Getting to know God has taught me that there is always a greater reasoning behind suffering and that every part of my story has a purpose and comes from God. 

God had been pursuing me when I was on the mountaintops and in the deepest valleys of my life, but it took me offering up all the pieces of my broken life to Him before I understood what hope really is all about. Today, I can see more and more purpose in my story and am able to see that it was God’s plan to equip me with the experiences of my past to help point others to Him and to see glory in adversity.

 
Lisa Ziegler