Faith story: Olivia Vincent
Editor’s note: Olivia Vincent is a high school senior who recently shared her faith story at Sunday Night Live, St. Paul’s high school youth group. She talked about body image, her relationship with God, and important people in her life, including someone who taught her how to love and embrace herself.
My name is Olivia Vincent and I’m a senior at Bettendorf. My faith story begins when I was baptized at St. John’s Methodist, but along the way it transformed from looking forward to Sunday School to only praying when I wanted God to grant me a favor; like win a volleyball game or receive an A grade on a test.
During middle school, I remember telling my friends that I felt uncomfortable when in churches because I vaguely believed in a God, but the idea of Jesus being anything but normal, seemed unrealistic. While my faith was in tatters, my mental health began to simultaneously quickly decline. The first time I thought of myself as fat, I was jogging in fourth-grade gym class. During a conversation I can’t remember, I clearly recall when a boy in my class looked at me and said, “Well…you really aren’t THAT skinny.” I fully understand that that ten-year-old boy had no intention of scarring me, but those six words would repeat in the forefront of my mind for the next few years.
I had begun puberty at a younger age than my then friend group and realized that I was now bigger than the other girls I was surrounded by; a problem I had never struggled with prior. Even my older sister of five years, Christine, seemed to be smaller than I was. I would later find out that she was struggling with her own eating disorder, but at the time I was unaware and could only rationalize that no God that loved me would make me this fat. Sixth-grade girls and tumblr taught me how calorie restriction could finally make me feel thinner and I spent all of middle school in online group chats with strangers encouraging me not to eat and falling into a deep depression. It’s a kind of pain I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy to look into the mirror and wholeheartedly hate every part of yourself.
How could God love me when even I couldn’t love me? I relied solely on people in my grade thinking I was popular to feel any ounce of validation and I now recognize how mean I had become to achieve the popularity I craved. Reflecting, it’s crazy to me how well I had managed to cover up my own pain through becoming a stereotypical mean girl; I had long blonde hair, I was friends with the right people, I played volleyball and soccer, and I was anything but nice. Towards the end of eighth grade, I managed to realize that the person I had become was nothing of who I wanted to be and I left my old friend group of girls that fed on drama and insults.
During freshman year, I still silently suffered with my self worth and absent faith, but remember relying on the faith stories from senior girls at St. Paul for confirmation that there were people in my life that experienced something similar. Maddy Hornbuckle shared hers about how she found peace in a dark situation through telling God about her problems when the problems became unbearable. At this time, my faith was barely hanging on and this strategy didn’t seem like it would ever be useful to me. Though later that same week, I went to use what I thought was an empty notebook from my sister’s room, but a few pages in, I realized it was her eating disorder journal. With being the bigger sister as one of the core foundations of my own weight obsession, it was overwhelmingly hard to process that the person I admire most had her own demons with food; this was the first night I really prayed long and hard. After spending years building high walls, that night was the first time I felt peace from telling someone, even if the listener wasn’t of human form.
As we started to talk more about God’s grace at youth group, my relationship with God flourished on the idea that someone could know the the darkest parts of me and still think I was worthy of love. This was a pivotal revelation in my faith journey. The next person that I chose to really confide in was my English teacher, Ms. King. It’s important to me to talk about Ms. King in my faith story because while we don’t have a faith based relationship, she has single-handedly been the most impactful person in my life over the past four years. She has shaped the way I view myself. Ms. King is actually a member of St. Paul and unapologetically expresses her firm opinions about equality and justice to anyone who will listen. She walks without fear of judgment and while I’m sure she has her own insecurities, her profound confidence is easy to admire. She subconsciously has shown me the kind of woman that I hope to be and her constant validation and support has helped me transform my self loathing mindset. She has studied with me, cried with me, laughed with me, and gossiped with me. She has heard about every boy, every mean comment from a teacher, every fight with my parents and has truly become my confidant throughout high school. During the years I spent pushing everyone away, it was hard for me to realize how beneficial it could be to confide in someone.
I have spent years building my walls and it is still hard for me to show vulnerability and discuss the personal topics that weigh on my heart, but that also causes my trusting relationships to strengthen. Confiding in God has been freeing and praying now gives me the same feeling of weightlessness as confiding in Ms. King; both of which I practice every day. Both relationships know me, imperfections and all, and make me feel unconditionally loved. Developing a strong faith in God from the ground up has caused me to wholeheartedly believe God was there, in the valley and on the mountain, but I had failed to recognize how I was loved when I couldn’t love myself.
Psalm 34:18 says “God is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Both God and Ms. King have been near to my broken heart and have saved my crushed spirit. I saw a quote on Pinterest while procrastinating writing this faith story, desperately wanting to keep my walls high and my insecurities to myself, and it read; “Tell the story of the mountain you climbed. Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide.” While in my own valley, the advice from senior girls’ faith stories helped shape my survival guide…so this has been my mountain.