As a child, Southeast member Abby Pawley knew about Jesus, but never had a personal relationship with Him.

“Growing up, I felt like I was never good enough,” Pawley said. “Every time I would do something bad, I would pray for God to forgive me. After a while, I got to the point where I felt like I had done too many bad things for God to forgive me, so I stopped praying.”

Pawley said it was like pulling an electrical plug from an outlet. She cut off her relationship with God entirely.

Yet Pawley still struggled with the guilt of feeling like she wasn’t enough. To cope with her insecurity and inadequacy, Pawley turned to her diet.

At age 10, she started cutting back calories and developed anorexia. At 14, she developed bulimia.

“What I ate or didn’t eat was something I could control,” Pawley said. “It got so consuming, there were times when I would binge and purge up to 40 times a day.”

At age 15, she turned to alcohol.

“I was drinking to get drunk, and I would often black out,” Pawley said. “My parents tried to help. Their solution was to send me to treatment, but I didn’t want to get better.”

Pawley went to rehabilitation centers twice in high school. During her senior year, she left school to receive treatment in Arizona and had to finish high school at home.

“When I left Arizona, I thought I was cured, but as soon as I got home, I went back to the same friends who were always drinking and trying the latest drug,” Pawley said.

For the next several years, Pawley was in and out of treatment. At 22, she got a DUI and lied about the seriousness of her addiction to get her license back.

“I would lie and manipulate my way out of getting real help because I thought I could figure it out for myself,” Pawley said. “I didn’t think I was hurting anyone else.” 

But her addiction and eating disorder controlled her life.

“I would ‘hit bottom’ again and again, and each time, it got worse,” she said. “It was like I was in an abusive relationship and alcohol was my abuser. It got to the point that I didn’t know how to live a normal life without drinking or taking a drug. Waking up and not knowing where I was became a normal part of my life. I didn’t want to drink, but I didn’t know what else to do.”

It wasn’t until a car accident left her in the hospital that she realized how much she needed to change.

“I was in a blackout and hit a telephone pole,” Pawley said. “That was the first time I knew I needed to get help.”

After her accident, Pawley began to seek help. She joined Alcoholics Anonymous and received therapy for her eating disorders.

But her road to recovery wasn’t sure and smooth.

“Three years ago, I hit bottom for the last time,” said Pawley, 34. “I just knew there had to be another way. I was a mess, but God kept putting Christians in my life who told me that Jesus was the only way my life was going to change.”

Pawley listened, began going to church and came to faith in Christ.

“There’s no 12-step program that has transformed my life the way having a relationship with Jesus has,” she said. “It wasn’t the outside consequences of my addiction that brought me to my knees. It was that I recognized that I was so broken, and I needed a Savior.”

Pawley said that accepting Christ as her Lord and Savior gave her a sense of freedom she had never known before.

“Denying myself and following Jesus has been so freeing,” she said. “For most of my life, I hid behind my addictions in shame. But I don’t have to live in shame anymore. Now, when I call Jesus Lord, it doesn’t feel forced. He is my Lord, and I owe my life to Him.”

Pawley came to Southeast for the first time in December 2017.

“I remember pulling into the parking lot for the first time and thinking, ‘All of this is for church?’” she said. “It was intimidating at first.”

She met a couple on her way into the service and asked if she could sit with them. They welcomed her, and she’s been sitting with them ever since.

“Even in that brief conversation, I knew this was where God wanted me to be,” Pawley said.

Pawley remembers walking into the atrium of the Blankenbaker Campus and seeing Southeast’s mission statement, “Connecting people to Jesus and one another,” hanging on a banner.

“I thought to myself, ‘That’s what I want,’” she said.

Pawley began taking steps to develop her relationship with God. She joined Southeast’s support group for women with addictions and eating disorders, and in January, she signed up for Real Women Essentials, a group for women who are seeking to build the essentials of their faith.

“I’ve learned a lot about who God is and how much He has been doing for me, not just since becoming a Christian, but for my whole life,” she said.

For several months after she started attending Southeast, Pawley wanted to be baptized, but she didn’t know if she was ready.

On March 3 during the 9 a.m. worship service, she made that commitment and was baptized by Tiana Miller, Women’s Ministry associate.

“I didn’t want that day to end,” Pawley said. “I wanted to go all in with Jesus and show my church family that I am all in. I wanted to show others what the Holy Spirit is doing and fully commit my life to following Jesus.”

Since coming to faith in Christ, Pawley’s greatest desire is to share her faith with others.

“I pray every day to be bold and share my love for Jesus with other people,” Pawley said. “I just know that is what someone did with me, and it changed my life. I want to share with others that they may, too, experience the love of Jesus Christ and be saved.”