By Jessica Brodie
GREER—The Rev. Telley Lynnette Gadson has spent most of her life battling obesity and shame. As Gadson puts it, even when she was a little girl, she wasn’t a “little” girl.
“I was teased, taunted, laughed at,” Gadson said, from the boy in third grade who called her fat every single morning to the mean girls who’d walk by her Lowcountry house tossing out jeers. “I’d come home and cry and cry.”
Her mother would remind her she was wanted and prayed for, a beautiful creation beloved by God and by her family, but a childhood of weight issues turned into an adulthood soon marked by obesity and health issues—even as she followed God’s call into ordained ministry. Today, she is a United Methodist elder and a superintendent for South Carolina’s Hartsville District.
Still, the weight, as she says, weighed on her, creating obstacles and issues. One day about a decade ago, Gadson had enough and knew it was time for a major lifestyle overhaul. She began embracing healthy eating and exercise, and over time she has gone from a size 6X and needing a seat belt extender in the car and on an airplane to a 2X and no extender, with more strides to go.
Her transformation has inspired many, and this fall she has been a key part of a four-city health, wellness and education tour organized by Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century titled “Build a Better You: Old School Day-Party and Brunch.” Joined by Dr. Michael L. Bowie Jr., national executive director of SBC21, Rita Tolbert of United Healthcare and other health advocates, Gadson has been sharing her story so others can understand the importance of taking charge of their own health in order for God to use them as God needs.
“I stand before you to proclaim: Don’t wait to handle your weight,” Gadson told the crowd gathered Oct. 15 at Covenant UMC in Greer, South Carolina. “Today is the perfect day for a miracle. Your purpose comes from pain, and obstacles are the birthing suite of possibilities.”
Most of our weight issues come from our “wait,” issues, Gadson said to a chorus of amens and applause.
“We don’t want to wait on God, so we do stuff on own and develop weight in our lives. We spend money we don’t have to impress people we don’t even know. We marry the wrong person because we can’t wait on God! We rush,” Gadson said.
But there is truth and whole truth—God’s truth—in each one of us, she said. She realized many of her weight problems had to do with improper boundaries in her life, whether that’s the weight of past shame or something else.
“You can’t pour from an empty pitcher.”.
It hasn’t all been easy. Partway through the pandemic, she hit a wall of depression, anxiety and people-pleasing, and spent almost two months with daily migraines.
“Everything was becoming unglued. I spent so much energy trying to do everything just right, and my brain got sick,” Gadson said. “It took time to heal.”
She’s come back from the time of self-recovery even more empowered and enthusiastic about encouraging others to prioritize their health—and not only their physical health but their mental, emotional and spiritual health, as well.
“I stand before you today as an anointed vessel of God,” Gadson said to cheers. “We have got to stop the wait to handle the weight.”
She shared how her family experienced what she calls “the full spectrum of dysfunction.” While her mother was a missionary and her father the first Black mayor of Hollywood, South Carolina, they were all a jumble of mental illness, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, all levels of post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol and drug addiction and poor life choices.
“I had to lose the weight (of the past) to drop the pounds,” she said.
She closed her testimony by shared that, like God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, God gave her the “Ten Commitments.” These are as follows:
1. Level the playing field in your mind—we all broken.
2. Name the brokenness.
3. Pray, and pray a lot.
4. Stop blaming others for the foolishness you participate in.
5. Practice air traffic control—that is, who is in your air space, your life.
6. Never say what you believe you’ll “never” do.
7. Drink your water.
8. Treat yourself well.
9. Boundaries are so important.
10. Stop hurting and start your healing.
“Seek the help that you need,” Gadson said. “If I had a heart condition, I would go to the greatest cardiologist. If I had a lung condition I’d go to the top pulmonologist. But when it’s mental health, we don’t see the brain as an organ, and that’s where we are susceptible.”
For more on SBC21, visit https://sbc21.org/