Syd’s Story: The Sweet Taste of Freedom

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.”

Seeking Comfort

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.

Letting Go

“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.”

Syd – Before trusting God with the traumatic events of her childhood.
Syd – After letting go and letting God bring hope and healing to her heart.
Photos used with permission.

Comments

  1. Giavana Jones says:

    Praise be to God! It was only in the past 2 years that I realized that the healing virtue that is available to us through Jesus is not only for the ailments of the “flesh” but also of the heart/mind.

  2. That is really amazing!
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  3. This story brought tears to my eyes! It is so powerful to finally realize how much God does love us and how we are all so precious in his sight.

    • Wow, this has really touched my heart. I am facing food addiction for other hurts in my life. I’m in the last week of the Daniel Fast seeking truths to why it is and to overcome in Jesus’ name. I love to see the victory of others, it makes me so hopeful. Praise be to our God and Father.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story. Praise God for giving you victory and peace!

  5. This is so my story but without the victory. I struggle to fully commit to God even if I try my hardest. Its my hearts cry to know Jesus as my husband because we are his bride. But I can’t seem to keep it up. My fasting is day by day or meal by meal and I fail daily. It makes me feel miserable. And to top it all at age 42 I am still tormented by my abuser and I am powerless. I don’t understand why.

    • I don’t even know what to say. I can’t begin to understand the depth of your pain. BUT, I know God sees you. His love for you is unfailing. Only He can rescue you from this dark pit of despair and hopelessness. The only way to climb out is to grab His hand and cling to His Word. I encourage you to meditate on God’s promises to you, such as: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18) and “You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word” (Psalm 119:114). My heart breaks for your situation, but I believe God is able to bring joy where there is sadness and laughter where there is crying. He is Jehovah-Raphe, your Healer!

  6. When I read her story the pain was so real. I myself struggle with the pains of my past. Sometimes I feel like I have moved pass it but it pops up again. Please pray for me to push pass the pain and the struggles. Pray that I will be reminded each time those triggers appear that that situation does not define me because through it all God loves ALWAYS loves me.

    • Lord God, I pray you will continue your healing work in Ann. Help her to remember who she is in Christ when memories of the past flood her mind. Give her strength in those moments to believe what your Word says. Fill her heart with hope and joy as she considers your unfailing love for her! In Jesus’ name, AMEN!

  7. Tonetta says:

    I thank God for Syd’s breakthrough and healing. What I see in stories like this is a clear beginning source of the pain that led to overeating. I don’t have the same story but I do have the same issue with using food for comfort. It had to start from somewhere but I have no clue. I guess my question is what should my prayer be if I have nothing clear cut that I’m holding on to or need to release. Do food issues always have a painful origin. I know the thought of letting go of food for comfort starts to bring up a feeling of a panic attack. I don’t want to fail.

    • Hi, Tonetta. Your question is a good one. No, you don’t have to undergo a painful childhood experience to turn to food for comfort. In fact, most people have done it at one time or another in life. It’s just that some individuals KEEP medicating with food and develop an addiction. Basically, at the root of such a problem is a lack of trust in God. Many times it’s fear based. I would encourage you to ask the Lord to show you why you don’t trust Him and why you seek food rather than Him. Maybe it would help you to journal your fears. Write down everything that causes you to worry or feel afraid. Then confess each item to the Lord and release it to Him in prayer. When you’re finished, tear up that paper as a physical statement of your freedom in Christ! Personally, I did this about a week ago when I was feeling overwhelmed. It may seem like such a small exercise, but it can help you experience God’s peace. Here’s a verse that has helped me: “When I am afraid, I will trust in you” (Ps. 56:3).

  8. Thank you for your prompt response to my question. Like so many others that have posted, I am tired of going year after year with no victory in my life regarding my issues with food. I will definitely apply your advice. The holy spirit did show me where it began which was my mom feeling I needed to lose weight. Somewhere that translated to me that I wasn’t good enough. I constantly compared myself to other women as I got older. I always need outside validation from my husband that I’m OK. I wanted to share this so that maybe another mother may be more cautious or aware of how she deals with her daughters weight at an impressionable age. I believe my mom meant well but it damaged my self image. I don’t believe I was overweight as I look back over old pictures but her issue became my issue of how she thought I should look. She herself was always a small woman. I look forward to bringing this before the Lord and seeing the transformation He makes in me. Thank you for this site and God bless you for the work that you are doing.

  9. Danielle Oliver says:

    Wow!!! this was such a blessing to my spirit! Thank you for being so transparent. When I read the part about trying to become ugly so they wouldn’t hurt you it reminded me of my own story of abuse as a child. We often think no one knows what we are going through but those words were exactly what I would say before stuffing food in my mouth. Thank you for showing me that I can be free of this pain and God can love me more than my heartache.

    • Yes, the key word is FREEDOM. The Lord is the One who can break the emotional and spiritual chains that bind us. The story above is not my own; I shared Syd’s testimony. But, like Syd, I, too, have turned to other things for comfort, seeking satisfaction in the places only God can fill. May the Lord fill you with His power and peace as you trust in Him!