Written by Guest Blogger Courtney Dunlap
“FLAT! FLAT! FLAT! FLAT! FLAT!”
Those words rung in my ears the first day of gym class at my new middle school.
Initially, I didn’t think the nasty insults were for me. My eyes scanned our outdoor gym area filled with a sea of unknown faces. To my horror, I discovered the teasing was coming from a boy I’d known since we were toddlers. What’s worse, when our eyes met, his face lit up with an eerie glee as he pointed in my direction.
For context, I was 12 years old, weighed 86 pounds, wore glasses and was freshly removed from an unforgiving elementary stint with braces. There was no mistake. His cruel taunts were in reference to my noticeably underdeveloped body.
Throughout my adolescent years, the destructive messages I internalized were everywhere. The lighter skinned, long-haired women frequently featured in music videos on BET’s 106 & Park told me that my short hair and darker skin were not as pretty. I seriously believed nothing about me would ever be desirable.
Every relationship I encountered was shaped by this warped reality. I was convinced I’d face rejection for the rest of my life because of how I looked. In an attempt to soothe my pain I tried to become someone I hoped others wanted.
I launched into undergrad with the main goal of continuing my shallow love quest.
Before I knew it, the sins of my pain caught up to me. At the end of freshmen year, I started dating a guy three years older than me. He was smart, funny and beyond attractive. Did I mention he was a professing believer? You would’ve thought I won the “Thirsty Girl Jackpot!"
The sad truth is, what I thought was my blessing would become my curse. Subtle suggestions soon became demands for how I should talk, think, and dress. I blushed at his cute jealousy until it turned into an ugly possessiveness. Small annoyances blew up into fearfully angry fights. He never laid a hand on me. THANK GOD! But there were days I was left utterly broken after our encounters.
Worst of all, I spent the entire relationship in an isolated silence. I no longer hung out with my circle of friends, and my family didn’t have a clue. This was because I falsely believed he was “too good a catch” to let go. Based on how he checked out on paper, I decided no one could know the truth.
Almost three years in, I breathed a tired prayer for relief. Then something unexpected happened. One week after talking about engagement rings, it was over.
I can assure you the summer of 2005 was one of the worst/best things to ever happen to me. That relationship of ruin is now a stone of remembrance pointing to when God delivered me!
Twelve years, one husband, three children, and a heart full of memories later I can say this. But back then, if you tried telling me that experience would lead to so much grace, forgiveness and healing, I probably would’ve punched you in the face!
Yes, that guy wronged me. There’s no getting around that. Abuse of any kind is never okay. But the God who graciously loves me wouldn’t let me off the hook for my own sin. The truth is, my heart harbored selfish pride before I met that guy and it surely was there when he left.
It was only in this state of sheer brokenness I was able to see it. Being consumed with desiring people’s love at all costs made it impossible for me to look outside myself. A telling sign I didn’t love God well was my inability to have a pure love for others.
As I think back on this very dark time in my life all I can feel is thankfulness.
I’m thankful God rescued me from Him. I’m thankful God rescued me from him. And I’m thankful God rescued me from me.
What I mean is, Jesus bore the Father’s wrath for my sins. Because I trust in his finished work on the cross, I no longer have to fear rejection by God. I am his daughter. He went a step further and mercifully chose to rescue me from that toxic relationship. But best of all, He allowed me to have my eyes opened to His beauty.
One day in early August 2005, I was able to get out of bed and not feel like my world was going to end. I was completely assured of the Father’s love for me.
You may be tempted to say, “Wow! That’s a really nice ending.” It’s true, I now know my worth only rests on who Jesus says I am. But if I’m really real with y’all, which I’ve tried to be all post long, there are some days I still look in the mirror and can hear a voice inside my head saying, “You look so ugly today.”
This sounds terrible, I know. How the heck am I still allowing empty thoughts of vanity to hang around?
I’m going to opt for the short and sweet answer.
It’s God’s grace!
“But what about instilling confidence, worth and strength into your two young daughters?”
It’s God’s grace!
“But you’re a Christian and a pastor’s wife and you spend your time pouring in to women from all walks of life!”
It’s God’s grace!
Let me tell you, it’s only by God’s grace I can even muster the courage to write this deeply personal blog post to total strangers.
What I’m about to say is probably one of the most popular church clichés ever mouthed by a Christian. But on an occasion such as this it’s only fitting to end this way.
If it hadn’t been for God’s grace, where would I be?
Thanks for reading!
Since trusting Christ at an early age, Courtney Dunlap's life has been set on a trajectory she would've never imagined. Life as a mother of three now looks a bit differently from the private counseling practice she once envisioned owning. Nevertheless, with joy, Courtney has thrown herself into her call of motherhood-discipleship. When she's not going over addition facts as a homeschool mom, she finds time to blog about her zeal for life, homeschooling and her aspirations to become a published children's author. Courtney and her husband Curtis, reside in North Philadelphia where she supports him in his role as the Student Ministries Pastor for Epiphany Fellowship Church.