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Amy Gray

I couldn’t resolve to exercise. Even through continual pleading prayers that God would make me go, make me want to exercise, motivate me or push me, it never worked. I hated the idea of exercise.

To this day, the words of my gymnastics coach continue to play like a tape in my head. He said, “You’re getting too fat to spot over the vault.” I was seven. For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with low self-esteem and a terrible body image. Maybe it was the words of that gym coach, or it was a product of my upbringing, or maybe I was just born with a negative self-image. Regardless, my weight has been a central focus of my life for over 25 years.

I grew up under the very watchful eyes of my parents. I knew I couldn’t “get away” with anything – especially when it came to my dad, so I never really tried. I was always a “good girl” who liked to please people and never disappoint others – and I’m still like that today!  I didn’t have much of a say in my life…from how to brush my hair or what to wear to how to act.  When I went away to college, I realized just how dependent I was on my parents for every decision I made – even down to the food I ate.   So, being six hours from home, no longer under my parents’ control and having the ability eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, threw me for a loop.  Has anyone ever seen a dorm cafeteria?  Things may have improved since I was there, but 18 years ago the all-you-can-eat buffet consisted of fettucine alfredo, burritos, cheeseburgers, French fries, greasy green beans and Taco Bell!  To a sheltered girl who was used to grape nuts and skim milk, this place was heaven on earth!!  Top it all off with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream every night for a midnight snack and I gained the “freshman 25” in less than 2 months!  And over the following four years, I successfully gained and lost the same 25 lbs. at least three times.

After graduating from college and moving back into my parents’ house – where, despite the 4 years of being on my own – I returned to the feelings I had as a child of being totally dependent, indebted to and controlled by my parents.  I was 22, getting my master’s degree and working part time when I discovered Phen-Fen. It worked wonders!! I never exercised for a moment…and rarely ate more than a few bites at a time…and I “miraculously” dropped 40 lbs. But, despite being a size 2, I still saw myself as fat, unattractive and not worth much in general. So what did I decide to do?…Get Married! After all, I would never find another man to love me and perhaps being a wife would make me worth something in the world.

Like many women, the pounds started to creep back on once I got married. I wanted to impress my new husband with my cooking (remember that “pleasing” part of my personality?).  I also worked a 60-80 hour work week and travelled a lot with my job in high-tech public relations.  So, eating out for most meals was a common occurrence. And that familiar cycle of losing and gaining began again.

In 2002, I had lost 40 lbs. through Weight Watchers and I was 10 lbs. shy of my goal weight…when I got pregnant unexpectedly. The first few months of pregnancy were easy on the scale but the weight piled on in the last trimester when I ate everything in sight. By the time I delivered my daughter Emma, I had gained 56 pounds and was at my highest weight ever – 226 pounds.

For the next 18 months, I struggled to take the baby weight off and, again, got within 10 lbs. of my pre-pregnancy weight.  At the same time we were trying for a second baby….and this time around things were not going as I had planned.  The future of my family was uncertain and dealing with secondary infertility was emotionally taxing. As the months and years went by, I became increasingly depressed.  To cope, I ate. I was in denial, thinking that I’d get pregnant and lose it all after I had another baby. And again, the scale continued to soar and soar and soar.

At this point in my life, I was active in my church as a leader of MOPS (Mother’s of Preschoolers).  I believed in God and I prayed to Him night after night for a baby.  And, with what I thought was His guidance, we decided against adopting and instead to put everything we had into one attempt at in-vitro fertilization. I spent 8 weeks on bedrest nurturing the 2 babies inside me. During this time, I read the Bible, prayed and had quiet time like I had never experienced before. I was so happy to be able to truly say that I was developing a RELATIONSHIP with God. But at 4 weeks, we learned that one of the sacs was empty. It was a blow to my heart, as I’d already envisioned being a mom of twins.  At 8 weeks, the news got even worse.  I lost my only remaining baby and was left with nothing.  “How could this be happening to me?  I did everything right.  I was obedient.  God TOLD ME TO DO THIS and now I have nothing??!!!  I sacrificed time with my daughter and spent 8 weeks in bed for no apparent reason?”  I fell into a very deep clinical depression. For 4 more weeks, I refused to get out of bed, accept visitors or return phone calls.  My husband didn’t understand or know how to handle me.  I was all alone because I felt that even God had abandoned me. I was at rock bottom.  Why would God do this to me?  I was faithful to the Lord and trusted in Him throughout my infertility experience. I was mad and resentful that He had let me down when I thought my faith was at its strongest. When I started to re-enter society, I was so mad at my body that I punished it with excessive amounts of food and drinks. I also continued a habit that I’d learned in childhood…to stuff my emotions….so I buried the pain in food. I was already heavy and my excessiveness made my problems even worse.  I was embarrassed about what I looked like and how I’d gone from a happy, energetic woman to a fat and miserable human being.  So, I chose my outings carefully and stayed inside – oftentimes to the point of not letting my 4 year old go outside to play with her friends in fear of running into a neighbor.

One of my oldest friends, who has seen me through every up and down imaginable, reminded me that Isaiah 61:3 tells us that: “To all those who grieve, and look to Him, He provides a crown of beauty instead of ashes, an oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair and they will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor”. Little did I know that the Lord was going to prove himself true to me just as He promised.

My girlfriend, who was a pastor at our church at the time, headed up a women’s Bible study and I had long been a part of her leadership team. But after my devastating loss, I no longer had the faith in God to attend the weekly study, let alone remain a leader.  I refused to do homework and didn’t want to contribute to our table. But, with some major convincing on my pastor friend’s part, I agreed to go, sit and “just listen”.  In Nov. 2007, a beautifully happy woman took the podium during announcements.  She talked about how a program called First Place for Health had changed her life…from her relationship with food to her relationship with God and everything in between  She believed in the program so much that she was bringing it to our church.  My friend recently shared with me that she remembers that day vividly…as Janet Ichinose spoke of the program, looking over at me and seeing the tears pouring down my face.  And she knew what was to come for me. For weeks, I thought about what Janet had shared.  I meditated on it without even knowing it. Just after the new year, my mom, sat me down and said “I am going to an orientation meeting to find out more about that weight loss program we heard about…I’d think you need to come with me”. For as long as I can remember, my mom suggested different “solutions” to my weight problems. Without realizing it, I’d internalize her very well-meaning efforts as “I must not be good enough since I’m fat” or “I guess I’ll only be a good person if I’m skinny.” So, part of me thought “oh, she’s being critical of my weight again” but the other part said, “you’ve been thinking of this program yourself for the past few weeks, she’s just the nudge to get you to step out in faith and go!”

So, on January 8, 2008, I went to First Place 4 Health with a half-hearted attitude. I thought, “I’ve tried everything else, what do I have to lose (except weight!) by giving this program a shot, too?”  At that point I weighed 226 lbs, the same as the day I had given birth 4 ½ years earlier.  On that night, it all started to make sense.  I had asked for God’s help and grace in other areas of my life – throughout my fertility issues, in my struggling marriage, with my uncertain career – but I had never thought to call out to Him to help solve my revolving weight problems.  It was an ongoing challenge in my life and it was the only area where I thought I was the one in – or out – of control.

The questions I had for the Lord following my miscarriage – remember, those ones about “why GOD did YOU do this to me?”…. they were beginning to be answered.  You see, God knew that all I wanted in the world was another baby.  THAT is what I was living for….not HIM.  So He HAD to bring me all the way to my knees.  Not crouched down slightly, but all the way to the floor where my only choice was complete surrender.   But once I committed to giving my entire self – my body, mind and soul – to the Lord, I was made whole and a transformation began…from the inside, out.

I started the First Place program strong. I diligently worked the food plan. I faithfully sat with the Lord in quiet time and sought His word through Bible study and scripture memory.  I shouted out in desperation when I was tempted and I encouraged others to do the same.

But I couldn’t resolve to exercise.  Even through continual pleading prayers that God would make me go…make me want to exercise…motivate me or push me.  It never worked.  I hated the idea of exercise.  At that point in my life, my famous last words were “I’d rather do laundry than exercise.”

One morning in April 2008 I woke up and went walking, and continued every morning after that. Soon that walking turned to jogging. And soon, I was running a mile, then 2 and 3 and so on.  I ran my first 5k just a few months later. Now I run regularly. It’s where the Lord speaks to me the most.  Where I turn to Him when I’m tired and can’t go anymore.  It’s where I feel that He is with me when I ask Him to put more air in my lungs and strength in my legs.  And He does.  To date, I’ve completed (2) 5Ks, (3) 10Ks, and am training for a ½ marathon and a mini-triathlon.

Throughout my life I always wondered why I couldn’t keep the weight off each time I lost it.  It felt so good to be “skinny” but for some reason I would self-destruct just shy of my goal weight, usually 10 lbs.  For as long as I remember, the scale was either going up or going down, never just “maintaining”.  My weight loss experience had always been a vicious cycle that started with great victory and always inevitably ended up in defeat.  That defeat defined who I was… I didn’t view myself as God’s temple…someone who was wholly and dearly loved…but as weak, dumb, unmotivated, a failure, lazy, selfish.  Through First Place, I’ve come to realize that regaining the weight wasn’t because I was ANY of those things….it was because I was never pushed to deal with the emotional and mental reasons behind my eating.  I realized that if I relied on my own strength, instead of God’s, to fight this battle, I would NEVER win.

Last July I got within 10 pounds of my goal weight. That last 10 lbs. had always been the place where I stopped working, become a failure and the scale would rocket back up.  But this time it’s different.  I’ve MAINTAINED that weight for one full year…and during an amazingly difficult time in my life.  It’s been 2 years of devastating financial and marital struggles, and an overarching feeling of uncertainty about what my future looks like. God has remained faithful to me through it and has showed me that, through Him, I can be confident in what maintenance looks and feels like, even during the worst of times!!

Do I still struggle? Yes! I get into funks where exercising feels like a chore. I am still looking to shed those last 10 pounds.  And I still have many issues to work through that will continue to cause self-destruction if not addressed. I have made a lot of progress, to date, but I know there is so much work left for the Lord to do in me! I feel like He’s just begun to peel back the onion.

People always ask me “how did you do it?” or tell me what a great job I’ve done losing the weight.  As much as it feels good to have people say those things, it’s very humbling because I KNOW – and I tell this to those who ask – it wasn’t me, it was God.  There’s no way I could have gone from being addicted to fast food and diet coke and loathing any sort of exercise to where I’m at now. I know wholeheartedly that I would never be at this place if it weren’t for God working through my dear friend Janet Ichinose and First Place 4 Health.  I’ve proven – over and over and over again – that I can lose weight.  But we know that First Place is not just about losing weight.  It’s about transforming your entire self – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  Not only have I been transformed physically, but my faith in God has grown exponentially and my emotional need for food has subsided. I rely on God now – not food – for the comfort, support, praise and direction I need to live a healthy, joyful, content life, even amidst personal strife….and in the process, I have lost just over 80 pounds!!!

Thank you for letting me share my journey with you…but know that I am only able to stand here and share my story with you, not because I am so great at dieting or so disciplined to exercise…but because of what God has don

Read more about Amy in the new release, Live Life, Right Here, Right Now! – http://www.firstplace4health.com/store/?cat=1&item=109