The following article first appeared in the July 15, 2012, issue of Pentecostal Evangel and is a true testimony of the power of the Lord Jesus Christ to bring healing to the deepest wounds of our hearts. No matter how painful your past, God can restore your joy and bring hope to your life once again.
I’m extremely humbled and thankful to have been given the opportunity to write this story. It is my prayer (and Syd’s as well) that the Lord receives all glory, honor, and praise from what you are about to read. May you be strengthened and encouraged to trust God with every part of your heart so you, too, can know the sweet taste of freedom.
Syd’s Story: The Sweet Taste of Freedom
by Kristen Feola
When Associate Pastor Syd Osenbaugh stood to address her congregation at Nashville (Ill.) Assembly of God, she knew her message would be difficult to deliver. The subject matter was extremely sensitive, not one you’d expect to hear in a typical Sunday morning sermon.
She began with the story of a 9-year-old girl whose closest playmates were three brothers. Since their mothers were friends, the children were together often, sometimes every day during the summer. At first, the girl enjoyed spending time with the boys, but soon she became uncomfortable with the games they wanted to play.
The touching began innocently enough — a casual brush across her arm or a slight bump against her body. At first, the girl didn’t think anything of it. After all, the boys were her friends. She trusted them. Over time, though, their physical contact grew more intense. Even though the girl knew what was happening was wrong, she felt powerless to stop it. When she protested, they insisted no one would like her if she didn’t participate. She dreaded the days when her mom took her to the boys’ house. Several times she even lied about needing to finish homework just so she wouldn’t have to go.
One day, when the children were left alone while their mothers went out, the “games” escalated into a horrific experience. All three boys raped her. As she cried, they laughed at her tears, saying she must be a lesbian if she didn’t like what they were doing.
Once the girl got home, she took a series of showers, trying desperately to scrub away the disgust. All the water in the world couldn’t have washed away the devastation she felt in her body and soul.
When Pastor Syd came to this point in her message, she looked up from her notes. Despite the nervous churning in her stomach, she took a deep breath and said with surprising strength, “What you have just heard is my story. I was that scared little girl.”
Syd was a slender child who loved to dance. However, after the abuse began, her appearance gradually changed as she turned to food for comfort. Food became her escape, her hiding place. Syd also purposely gained weight to make herself unattractive.
“I thought if I was ugly enough, boys would stop hurting me,” she says.
No one else knew about the ongoing molestation, not even her parents. By the time Syd was 14 years old, her secret shame became almost unbearable.
“I just wanted it to be all over,” she says. “I stood in my backyard one night, crying my heart out. I looked up at the sky and wondered if God was really up there, and if He was, why didn’t He stop what was happening to me?”
Although Syd was familiar with John 3:16, and she knew God loved the whole world, she didn’t believe His affection extended to someone like her. After all, she saw herself as damaged and dirty. Broken and beyond repair. Hopeless and all used up. Instead of resting in the arms of the Lord, she raced to the refrigerator, thinking if she ate enough, her shame would eventually go away.
“I always knew I had a problem with food, but I blamed it on hormone imbalance,” Syd jokes. Humor was a mask she wore over the years to deflect attention from her increasing size. “I thought if people were laughing with me, they wouldn’t laugh at me,” she says.
Syd pretended her weight didn’t bother her, but it did, especially when the number on the scale hovered near 400 pounds.
“My pain was buried inside mounds of flesh. I was trapped inside a 385-pound prison,” she says.
Sharing her story with her church family proved to be the catalyst that propelled Syd to take action. Even though she was terrified to revisit the traumatic memories of her childhood, she knew it was time to trust the Lord for help. Her life depended on it.
At first, Syd held onto her past tightly, like a closed fist. As the Lord gently tried to loosen her firm grip, Syd pulled back in panic. “No, God. It hurts too much!” she cried.
God waited patiently for her to gain strength and courage to proceed. As the Lord spoke to Syd through His Word, she began to believe His promises and receive His unconditional love. Finally, she surrendered everything to the Lord.
“Holding onto that dark past was worse than the pain and fear of letting it go,” she says. Finally, Syd was free from the burdens she’d carried and buried for more than 40 years.
One experience was instrumental in Syd’s healing process. “I had a vision that settled the ‘why’ issue for me once and for all. I was a little girl again, and I saw the boys who were such a painful part of those years. Jesus was there, too. He was watching with tears in His eyes. His arms were outstretched, wanting to pick up the pieces and heal my hurts.”
Syd knew God never wanted her to suffer. Those boys had made evil choices, making her an unwilling participant in their sin. Once she understood this concept of free will, she was able to forgive her perpetrators.
“Nothing in my circumstances was different,” she says. “The facts of those ugly years of my life were unchanged. However, the difference was in me. I made a choice to release that offense, and with that release was a freedom I had never known before.”
Walking in Victory
Syd’s first step toward breaking her food addiction was to establish a plan. She knew long-term success wouldn’t be possible without a system of accountability.
“I gave myself an allowance of $100 per week for food,” she says, “and each penny represented one calorie. When I reached my daily limit, which was around $15, or 1,500 calories, I wouldn’t eat anymore,” she explains.
Instead of being overwhelmed by the amount she needed to lose, Syd was energized by the challenge of meeting her short-term goals each week.
After faithfully adhering to her program for the past four years, Syd Osenbaugh is a new woman — a 145-pound woman. She gives all glory to the Lord.
“I couldn’t have done it on my own,” she insists. “I often quoted Philippians 4:13 — ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ (NKJV). God helped me every step of the way.”
One way the Lord has redeemed Syd’s past is by providing her with opportunities to help other victims of sexual abuse. She considers it a privilege to point women to the only One who can heal their broken hearts and restore their joy.
“It always astounds me to see the number of girls who come up to me after I’ve shared my experiences to say, ‘That’s my story too.’ Even though I’m a member of a club that no one wants to belong to, I’m thankful the Lord has used my painful past to help set others free. And believe me, freedom tastes better than any food I’ve ever enjoyed.”