Marylin's Story

Understanding My True Worth
Marylin (Lin) Alvarez, Nashville

A couple of months ago I was asked to share on who I was before God entered my life. I chuckled because I had written it 2 years ago when I first got baptized on August 14, 2005. But sadly I never printed it out and then my computer crashed and all my stories including this one were lost. I thought to myself, no big deal, the story will always be in my heart. The funny thing is that how I perceived things then and how I perceive things now are very different.

It’s like when you stand next to a tree, you see the bark, the limbs, even the ant crawling across it, but when you walk away from it and look back that is when you see the forest that the tree is in, the hills surrounding it, the valley it’s nestled in and even the stream twisting its way through.

I went over Labor Day weekend to a Singles Retreat in Atlanta. It was my first big retreat and I was excited to learn how to have a stronger relationship with God and meet new people. The opening night all the Singles came together for an evening of songs. As I was singing and clapping and praising God, I thought to myself that the girl I was three years ago would have poked her head into this conference room and said, “Oh no, it’s all the Jesus Freaks, run!”

My skin crawled at the sight of people like that. I would roll my eyes when students would come up to me and hand me flyers on the 101 ways I needed to be saved and how I was going to hell. I even told one person, when I was somewhat drunk, that I would rather be in hell with all the sinners then be with you boring people… because if heaven is filled with you guys I don’t want any part of it.

I was raised to go to church but I only went to church when forced by my mom and later only on the days that counted like Easter. Honestly, I never read the Bible and if there was some code of ethics I had to follow it would have been don’t kill and don’t cheat on your husband, don’t fall asleep in church, don’t look behind you and always do the sign of the cross before you enter the pew. The point of going to church was like extra bonus points to me–if I went then I’m really a good person today. In my mind, death and heaven were all part of the time line of life! The only way you didn’t make it to heaven was if you killed someone or did something else equally unforgivable.

I was your typical 20 something. I worked, I shopped, I partied, and I had boyfriends. There was a part of me that loved life, but it always had to be moving and exciting. If it was boring, then forget it! My motto was: life is too short for anything less than fun. But there was the other side of me.

This is the side that you kept behind closed doors, away from the laughter and fun because no one wants a party pooper. You see, beneath the excessive shopping was a girl trying to fill something that would never be full. The girl that tried to belong with all the girls in the magazines, wearing the expensive clothes, being on the latest diets, keeping up with sophistication. The girl at the end of a night of partying that would have drank one too many martinis or shots of whiskey just to numb herself from reality. The girl who gave her virginity to a guy she picked out in the college cafeteria because she had given up on hope and felt she was getting too old to be a virgin. I was 21.

The girl at the end of a long day, who would sit in the bathtub as the water filled up around her, contemplating with razor in hand on slitting her wrists. Because when I would close my eyes, I would feel myself in a deep pit, trying so hard to get out, but slipping on the rocks and mud. I felt so alone and when I tried to speak I felt no one understood me. And who wants to listen to a girl who has issues? Or even worse, be labeled by guys as damaged goods.

I read self-help books. I had a counselor, and I even had a best friend who let me rant and rave. They helped for a minute, but I would end right back where I started. So I did the next best thing, ignore it.

I never slowed down. I worked two jobs, kept partying, and had people love the outside of me because the inside was a mess. And men, I never opened my heart to them. In my mind they never deserved it; you keep them far enough so that they never hurt you. I did whatever it took to keep ahead of the pain. I tried so hard to never let it catch up to me, because when I did that is when I would crash and everything would tumble down.

When you’re a child, you don’t know rejection, pain, suffering, lying, and deceit. But as you get older you develop calluses all over your heart from people who taught these things to you. My pain stemmed from things I didn’t want to talk about. Like having a father that was an alcoholic and abusive. I was too little to remember my mother being beat, but I remember my stepmother being beat. I remember her begging as he held my little brother in his hand and stated to her, “If you leave me I will drop him!”

I remember hiding with my stepsister in the room waiting for the fighting or the yelling to stop or we would play with our dolls pretending it didn’t exist. I remember waiting, many times, for him as he promised me that he would come visit me. Or he would promise me this or that but he never did. He never came through. He never returned my letters to him. But with all that, he was my father, and I still loved him.

I remember making friends with my mother’s boyfriends and then one day they were gone and that was the end of it. Joe, Mike, Bryan weren’t in my life anymore. And my heart would tear because they were my friends. I remember the horrible acne I had in junior high school and all the boys making fun of me.

I learned at an early age that crying was weak. My mother never taught me that, but I taught myself that I had to be tough, strong, and never show anybody my vulnerable side. So little by little my heart calloused over, and I wanted to be everything but me.

If I wasn’t like the girls in the magazine or on television then why would anybody love me? So, I learned quickly that to get a boy’s attention and have them want me, I have to Get Their Attention. So I showed a little cleavage here and there, had the skirt just a little bit shorter. Well now, that’s not working, because so and so is doing the same, so now I have to show more cleavage and more thigh and before I know it I’m walking out the door with a skirt that’s barely covering my behind and a shirt that barely covers my breasts. And it’s normal to me because every other girl is the same way. Because everybody wants to be like the girls in the magazine, every guy wants the girl in the magazine, with the flawless skin, puckered lips and airbrushed breasts.

I was falling apart because the girl on the inside couldn’t keep up with the girl on the outside. If you peeled away all the layers you would see a little girl just trying to figure out why her dad could never love her. Little did I know at that time, there was a Dad who loved me, and was already looking for me, even though I was not looking for Him.

I remember when I first moved to Nashville, I noticed a church on every corner. I was thinking it was like a religion buffet; if you didn’t like what was being preached at that church then you can go right across the street to the other one and see what they have. My skin began to crawl again, “be on guard” is what I said to myself. When someone would approach me about God or the Bible, I would smile and say, “Wow that’s interesting!” and find the nearest exit out of that conversation.

But one day, a thought came to me, “Why was I angry at this God that I know nothing about, and if I was going to combat these religious people, I better know what I’m talking about. So I nonchalantly said to my mother who was already a Christian, “I think I want to study the bible.” I was just throwing it out there but I wasn’t really serious. When I got done speaking with my mother on the phone, two minutes later, my friend Bianca called me. She asked, “So you wanna study the bible!” I was like, “Yeah... sure... maybe.... I don’t know.” In my head studying the Bible meant a bunch of old ladies wearing buns in their hair and covered in clothes from head to toe trying to preach Jesus. But Bianca said, “No come over I’ll make you dinner, we’ll chat and then read some stuff from the Bible.” And in the study I remember when God grabbed my attention. It was:

“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” Isaiah 29:13

I said to myself “Wow that is how I felt every time I went to church–that it was rules I was following and rules that had no meaning, no point to me. When I was there I always was thinking of lunch or what I was going to do later that day or Monday.

I studied more and more and more. The Bible studies were raw and real and to the point. It made me feel uncomfortable, because I had to be vulnerable, the thing I hated. At one point I felt that I was going to stop the studies completely and go back. I didn’t want to commit my life to God because of my own pride. I didn’t want to be real, and I didn’t want to be vulnerable. Who wants to be that when all your life you’re taught that it’s weak to be that?

Right before I made that decision, I had gone to my first singles retreat. I was listening to Ward Herbert preach on how awesome God thinks I am and that’s when it clicked. I never felt anyone thought I was awesome and knowing that God viewed me that way was incredible. I realized I am worth more than the loveless hands that touched me.

All the years before, Satan was deceiving me. In my mind, the little voice would say, “There is no God. Those people follow rules. Do you want to be boring, stiff, and do you want to drink punch and soda, and go home early? The world has fun, parties, guys, power…everything you need to be happy.” These were all lies. But I could pretend. I remember this line from a movie called The Usual Suspects, “The greatest thing the devil ever did was convince the world he didn’t exist.” Because if he doesn’t exist then heaven and hell aren’t real and God is a myth made by man.

What I realized was that 2000 years ago a man named Jesus existed, taught men and women to follow God our father, and for that he was flogged, beaten, laughed at, spit on, and nailed to a cross to hang before everyone. He stood there vulnerable.

He died for my great grandfather, for Paul, for my mother, Betty up the street, and for me. And through all of it, he did not fight back, he did not curse them. He was silent, only asking God to forgive us for we do not know what we do.

Why? Because he loved us because he loved me so much! Who on earth would take their son and sacrifice him for me, and whose son would go willingly and then ask their father to forgive me for killing him? But he did. No man on earth had ever fought for me or respected me, but God did. Jesus did.

And because I felt respected and loved, I didn’t want to be the girl getting drunk to oblivion, giving bits of herself to roving eyes and hands that meet. I didn’t want to try to look like an airbrushed model, but to live as he saw me—the girl I was meant to be. I believe not because of fear or because someone said so. I believe in Jesus and God because it is the truth.

That is why I am a Christian and I will fight to be that person he sees me as. I will fight because he fought for me. It’s hard following Christ. The temptations never cease and the insecurities still come at me, but now I have God, which is where all of my security lies. The girl I was before only had herself, she only relied on herself, trusted only herself and that is a very scary, lonely world.

After knowing God, I know I am not alone and I never was. I am his creation, Psalm 139 says He knitted me together! He never wants to harm me, Jeremiah 29, but gives me hope and a future. I am more precious than rubies (Proverbs 31). I am worth more than the birds (Matthew 6), and I am the apple of God’s eye (Deut. 32). My body is a holy temple, sacred, special. I have more than 2000 years of literature from God to teach me the ways of himself and his love—no magazine can come even close.

So, as I was enjoying my Labor Day weekend with my friends and singing songs to praise God, I was so happy to be close to God and to have the opportunity to really know him. I remembered that girl three years ago and I know she finally found peace and security.

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