More than a Conqueror – Jo Ann Bankert’s Testimony

Jo Ann Bankert

Tears involuntarily trickled down my cheeks as my kindly oncologist stunned me by gently saying, “You may have three to six months to live if you don’t follow up your surgery with chemotherapy and radiation.”

The regular mammogram in 2003 had been clear. I was shocked now, only a year later, to learn that the most recent mammogram revealed not only a lump, but cancer engorging nearly a dozen lymph nodes on its way to a major organ as well. It was impossible to comprehend, but I knew I needed to follow surgery with chemotherapy and radiation.  How’d I not know those lumps were there?  How’d I get so close to the end with no warning?  Thank God for that routine exam!

Chemotherapy was rough, so rough, that ten years later, I still deal with some of its side effects daily.  But, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and follow-up maintenance infusions for a time were successful, praise our good Lord!

One of chemotherapy’s side effects that I never thought I’d experience was loss of appetite.  I never imagined food would lose it’s appeal for me.

I remember the first time I ever sneaked food.  At five years of age, I pondered my mother’s delicious fudge.  Determining that I would have some now, I quietly climbed up on the counter in the darkened kitchen,  found my mother’s chocolate in the cupboard and bit into it–eeeww! It was the unsweetened baking chocolate my mother melted before adding sugar.  I was foiled that time, but eating secretly had begun.

In our large family, we all learned to eat quick and to get all we could before somebody else beat us to it, though I’d seldom be glad about all I ate afterward.  My mother made us Clean Plate Badges, too, to fuel us on to finish.  As a teenager, I had a large appetite, once betting my brother I could eat more of our favorite after-school snack than he could.  Nine peanut butter and jelly sandwiches later, I didn’t win, but laughingly told my brother his prize was to eat my last sandwich and drink what little was left of the 1-gallon container of iced tea we’d nearly finished together.

I was  “solid”—being active and athletic, my eating exploits didn’t show up as obvious overweight, but behind those “solid” looks, I was extremely sensitive about my appearance, the bingeing that got me there, and the upset stomach I experienced a few times every week. Nevertheless, I continued to use nearly every excuse to eat more.  Food was so dependable, always there for me as I rode the emotional roller coaster that came with life.

Some thirty five years later, after chemotherapy, I was in the unlikely place of landing at the bottom of my weight range for my height.  My oncologist warned me not to lose any more weight.  No problem…. As soon as my appetite returned I took to food like never before to comfort me after the crushing ordeal I’d just experienced.  I soon gained 30 pounds blowing the top off of my weight range and landing closer to my typical weight.  Chemotherapy had weakened my heart, however, and at a check-up with my cardiologist, I was warned to stop gaining weight.  I read that very week in “Prevention” magazine every time we gain a pound of fat, our body makes a mile of blood vessels to take care of that fat. I more fully understood the strain the extra weight put on my already challenged heart.

I decided to study five Christian weight loss plans and found Thin Within to be the most grace-based program of them all.  I was so skilled at breaking rules, I knew I needed grace and lots of it.  I asked my longtime friend, Pam, if she would join me in going through Thin Within: A Grace-Oriented Approach to Lasting Weight Loss with its 30 daily readings.  What a gold mine of information this book is!  Since that first reading, I’ve been through Thin Within’s 30-day book five times and continue to find new things to incorporate into my life.

My family was very supportive.  It was hard and yet freeing to learn to graciously say no to others as well as myself when I was done, to leave food on my plate, or to refuse offers of even whole body pleasers when I’d reached satisfaction.  I worked as hard as I could to know how much could make me satisfied before putting it on my plate, but since fullness is an inside job, I learned to release guilt if I had to waste some food on my plate rather than put it on my waist.  Using my fist as a guide for how much food to serve myself as Thin Within suggests enabled me to always have a ready measure to guide me into an appropriate serving size.

The flesh machinery food logs,  hunger graph, and the observation and corrections chart are Thin Within tools that have helped me at different times over the last seven years since beginning the Thin Within program.  I still remember the first time I really felt hungry, something I’d tried to avoid most of my life, and how happy I was that I survived!  Being satisfied was harder, but with prayer and gracious accountability, I was able to find satisfaction in eating only what I needed.  When I used the food log, up popped food all over the place that I hadn’t realized I’d been eating!  Consciously eating helped me to turn that pattern around.  Observing and correcting helped me stop criticizing myself and get back on track faster and more effectively.

I put into practice the beginning of 1 Corinthians 6:12, “Everything is permissible for me” – but not everything is beneficial,” and reveled in being able to eat what I liked without guilt, stopping when I was just satisfied.  Keeping my eyes on Christ, the pounds were released, like the guilt—not ever to return.  Within a year, I had slowly but surely gotten down to the weight I sensed God was drawing me to be when I had been trying so unsuccessfully with diet and discipline to get there for more than 40 years.  I felt so much better.  I had addressed a lot of the issues that caused me to comfort-eat, company-eat, celebrate-eat, lonely-eat, overwhelm-eat, frustration-eat, eat-just-to-eat, and on and on.

Pam is a family counselor and when she was asked about a weight loss program for our church, Chapelgate, in Marriottsville, Maryland, she asked me if I would join her in leading Thin Within there.  We began our Thin Within group, naming it True Identity since the truth of who we are in Christ is vital to any real power in our lives.  I’ve told the group a few times each year to keep coming back, keep coming back to God and to remembering who they really are whenever they stumble and we all do.  The “Who Am I?” sheet compiled by Neil T. Anderson on the Thin Within web site is of instrumental value in True Identity and in my life.  “Eight different times in (Romans 6) we are told that we are dead to sin, no longer enslaved to sin, or that we’ve been set free from sin.  This is our identity, the truth of who we are in Christ” (Workbook 1 page B-35).

We began our group with this first Thin Within workbook and the testimonial DVD that included inspiring testimonies from people who shared real struggles, but gave us hope for internal *and* external victories on the way to arriving at their God-given weight. True Identity at Chapelgate has been through all the Thin Within workbooks and all Judy Halliday’s TW books.  What a thrill it was for our group when Ms. Halliday agreed to let me call her, put her on a speaker system, and have a live question and answer conversation with us to start off our program that fall.  It meant so much to the group to hear Ms. Halliday’s sweet, smart, encouraging, assuring, humble, transparent, peaceful and wise spirit so evident in her writing.

This is my sixth year leading our True Identity through Thin Within materials.  About 60 women have been through True Identity at Chapelgate, many of whom have told us they’ve lost around 25 pounds, but we don’t have weigh-ins and don’t plan to do so.  I’m excited with a new slant in this treasure of a program because for the first time this year we began meeting for dinner once a month then going through a chapter of Hunger Within.  By eating together, we get to put into action with each other what we learn.  The True Identity participants have inspired me so much over the years with their eager and humble dedication to get closer to God though applying Thin Within’s Biblical principles.

True Identity follows the Thin Within guidelines that if following a doctor’s food plan recommendation for medical reasons is necessary, it may still be possible to utilize Thin Within’s principles effectively.  One of my fondest True Identity memories is of a woman who could not lose weight due to a prescription her physician could not change, but she learned peace about it by seeing herself through Christ’s eyes.

I refer to a physician recommended food plan as “medical fasting” and joined this group myself in July.  At that time I was concerned about occasional chest pains and dizziness despite being cleared by my doctors.  With my doctor-approved heart healthy food plan, I began to practice the second part of I Corinthians 6:12, “Everything is permissible for me” – but I will not be mastered by anything.”

To refuse to be mastered by foods I’d greatly enjoyed nearly all my life, I asked a dozen friends, including some in True Identity, to pray for me so I could make the radical transformation I needed in order to be able to cook and eat this new way for me.  Their prayers were answered and I feel better now than I’ve felt my whole adult life.

By God’s grace I see more clearly what God has done in His strength through my weakness as well as through the prayers and gracious accountability of His people.  When I focused on Christ and health by being a steward over the body with which He’s gifted me, I moved forward sometimes quickly but always at least slowly and surely.  When I focused on how I looked or on the anxiety about how I ate, I yo-yoed my way through food and weight for many years.

Because they weren’t directly a part of True Identity, I hadn’t mentioned personal trainer and national motivational speaker, Candace Grasso, who has a lot of easy-to-follow videos on You Tube, or my hard-working, fun-loving friends of 50 years, Ann and Regina.  Candace inspired us when she talked to True Identity last January.

Getting good cardio and resistance training from a consultation with Candace not only decreased my appetite, but increased my strength and fitness.  Ann, Regina, and I called ourselves Wonder Women (we’re always wondering what we’re doing!) and kept in touch weekly for six months to check each other’s progress in the new-to-us habit of more regular exercise.  I’d suggested paying ourselves to exercise like I’d had fun doing to help me learn to eat 0 to 5 following the Thin Within tip in the first TW workbook on page C-40 “to put a coin in a jar for each 0 to 5 eating occasion.  When the jar is full, give yourself a non-food reward, such as a night out at the movies or sports event, a massage, a pedicure, or even a soak in the tub with some special bath salts.”

The coin jar worked again!  I now sport some small, feminine muscles to help me lift my grandchildren and give me energy.  Long gone is the “solid” build, the upset stomachs, the bingeing, but am I there yet?  Never will I be there before Jesus completes us all in Heaven (Hebrews 11:39, 40; Philippians 3:13-14).  It’s grace we all need here, and we need grace all over the place on a continual basis.

Have you noticed all the people packed into my story?  I haven’t mentioned them all by far, but I personally learned the body of Christ can not be separated and thrive.  I am deeply grateful for God’s community of saints, but most of all, for Him.  I could not have done this without Him or them.

God has been straightening my paths and removing the roller coaster rides in my soul, all the while coming closer on those less crooked paths.  I’m so thankful I can’t get away from God no matter how crooked those paths may be at any time (Psalm 139:7-12)!  Even though I have been five pounds below my God-given weight for four months, which is the same as being five pounds over—something to watch—eating with peace in my heart is most important.  That was easy to do this morning as I ate by the light of our Christmas tree in the pre-dawn hours, slowly enjoying my blueberry muffin and banana.  I began thinking about the Englishman known only to us as Boniface, who in the 7th century taught the Thuringian Germans about the union of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost using the triangular shape of the fir tree with its point facing Heaven.  All this made me peacefully bask in Thin Within’s core verse, Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

The battle to keep that stillness to know Him in my heart will begin again the moment I arise, with some slipping, some stumbling, some down and out failures with this vessel of me full of flaws; but, oh, what a battle worth fighting as I keep coming back, keep coming back to Christ to reach for His hope that comes from out of this world.

Jo Ann 2– Jo Ann Bankert – Jo Ann lives in Central Maryland with her beloved husband, Neuman, and both are so grateful when they get to see their children, children-in-law, and grandchildren.

How About You?

Do you have experiences from your upbringing that provide cause for relating to food in an unhealthy way? Are you involved with people in your life who can, like with Jo Ann, provide accountability and prayer support? Is God leading you, perhaps, to move on to a point of not being mastered by anything except Christ alone?  Can you, Like Jo Ann, prevail upon the strength the Lord will supply, even in your weakness?

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7 Responses to More than a Conqueror – Jo Ann Bankert’s Testimony

  1. Karen K. December 16, 2013 at 11:54 am #

    What a blessing to read your testimony, JoAnne. May God continue to heal you and strengthen you toward good health.
    I, too, am at a place where I need to take a serious look at what “masters” me. That’s one reason I am joining the TW study in January. It will be my focus, along with gaining some encouragement in the “exercise arena.” (Not a fan!) The idea of putting a quarter in a jar each time I do exercise just may work. Thanks for the tip!!
    And — I was greatly blessed by the picture I had of you in my mind — sitting in an easy chair by your Christmas tree. slowly enjoying a blueberry muffin and a banana. I want to do that tomorrow morning. How peaceful.
    Thank you, JoAnne. You blessed me today. May God bless you in return. Karen

  2. Heidi Bylsma December 16, 2013 at 6:22 pm #

    Karen, you are a gift. Such a precious encourager. 🙂

  3. adrianesims December 16, 2013 at 7:19 pm #

    I needed this!

  4. Christina December 16, 2013 at 7:58 pm #

    I really enjoyed reading this testimony this morning. Thank you, JoAnn!

  5. Carrie (South Africa) December 16, 2013 at 9:02 pm #

    I also enjoyed reading this Jo Ann! What beautiful imagery of you sitting in the light of your Christmas tree.

  6. Molly Wells December 17, 2013 at 6:08 pm #

    Great testimony, Jo Ann!

  7. Lee Risavi December 19, 2013 at 6:34 am #

    What a blessing to read this blog. Although I’ve been part of JoAnn’s group for a few years, I don’t know that I ever put together all the great blessings that God has given her. JoAnn, you are such an encouragement to all of us and a testimony of what God can accomplish in the life of one who walks in His will.

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