If someone were to tell me when I was 19 years old that in my late 30s I would not only be a Group Fitness Instructor, but one that is part of a ministry, I would have laughed so hard that I would have had tears streaming down my face. I would have thought you were completely crazy and didn’t know me at all. Because this was me at 19 years old.
Like most college students, that time of my life was a confusing and wild time. Even though I grew up in the church and accepted Christ into my teenage heart one summer at a youth conference, I was not committed to a life of following Christ when I arrived as a freshman on campus. To be quite honest, walking with Christ was the farthest thing from my mind. I am reminded of the Casting Crowns song that says “She was running a hundred miles an hour in the wrong direction.” That was me. I didn’t want anyone or anything telling me what to do or how to live my life. I wanted to do what I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted. I was a binge drinker. I was a chain smoker. I also ate fast food for almost every meal and the most exercise I ever got was walking to class. I gained 60 pounds in just over a year.
I had a doctor give me a wake up call after my mom had some lab work done for me when I came home for a visit. She was concerned about the extreme weight gain on my petite 5’2 frame. She had no idea what I was really doing or how I was living, and I did not enlighten her! My labs showed I had a slight thyroid imbalance, but not enough to cause large amounts of pounds to accumulate. The doctor basically told me “This imbalance may have caused a five pound weight gain or so, but the rest of that is from you. You have to get control of your nutrition and start exercising.” I don’t know why but I actually listened to her. I took my low dose of medication but also started a food and exercise journal. I did research. I got moving. I stopped having Chick-Fil-A every day. In a little over a year I lost the weight.
I wish I could say that when I lost the weight I found my faith again. But that did not happen. In fact, the weight loss provided me with new situations to walk farther away. At this point in my life, I had both feet walking in the world and I wasn’t anywhere close to walking with God. Everything you do not want your daughter to do in college, I did it. I made a whole lot of bad decisions. I thought I was “having fun”… but all my late nights turned into empty mornings where I felt miserable and incomplete. But I’d just shake off those feelings and repeat the cycle all over again, trying to fill that God-sized void with things that just didn’t fit. God kept placing people in my path to try and pull me back to Him, but I wouldn’t have any of it.
Eventually, I matured a bit, graduated with honors, and got a teaching job. I started dating a wonderful man in the military. We moved in together after only dating 6 months, and you can imagine how difficult this was. My faith was still far from my heart and mind. We did get married after a year and a half…and thankfully despite a rocky beginning , we are now on our 13th year of marriage.
In the beginning of our marriage, God placed many Christian women in my path to steer me back to Him. While we were stationed in North Carolina, I did my very first bible study with a few other wives and starting slowly putting one foot back in my faith walk. I tried to do daily devotionals, read my bible study book and pray more. But I always let the world get in the way of any more growth than that. This continued at our next base after I had our first child. More bible studies. More wonderful Christian women. More prayer. One full foot was now in my spiritual walk. But everything worldly still held that other foot firmly in place. Walking unbalanced can only happen for so long before something has to change.
When we moved to a small town in the Missouri in 2009, I had no idea this was the place where God would finally grab ahold of me and my life would change completely.
I felt like I wasn’t “good enough” to be a “good Christian” like other women I met. I had sinned so much in so many ways that I felt I’d never be enough for God. I’d never know everything I “should” know. God used two groups of women to speak truth into me: a Wednesday morning bible study and a Friday morning moms group. They showed me and taught me that being a Christ follower doesn’t mean being “perfect”. It means admitting you aren’t perfect and the only way you can get salvation is through the one who was…Jesus. You get to heaven by faith not works . All sins are washed away with the blood of Christ. It’s not about rules or regulations but about relationship with Him. I don’t know why it took me so long to fully grasp this but I finally began to understand! God convicted me slowly over the 5 years we lived there. I learned more about His word. I was convicted of changes I needed to make in how I was living. He gently turned my eyes off of the world and I finally let my eyes turn up to Him. I got baptized in June 2013 when my second son was almost a year old. I had finally gotten both feet in my spiritual walk. I wanted to completely walk with Him for the first time and let everyone know I had made that choice!
Through all of those years, one thing remained constant. I really had a passion for fitness. For a long time it was just about what I could accomplish physically, but a couple years ago I realized that it’s a biblical command to honor our bodies.
I was introduced to Body & Soul Fitness because a mentor mom at my new moms group overheard a conversation I was having about becoming re-certified as a Group Fitness Instructor. I had worked in a gym teaching fitness classes before my first son was born and quit when I became pregnant to be a stay at home mom. Now that he was in grade school and my youngest was in preschool, I was ready to go back. We had just moved to Virginia and I didn’t know many people.. When she told me there was a fitness class at our church that was looking to have a substitute instructor, I was really excited. I felt led to serve in women’s ministry in some way and wasn’t sure in what area He wanted me to serve. I took one Body & Soul class and knew this ministry was where God wanted me to be!
I obtained my certificiation a few months after that first class and attended my very first workshop as a Body & Soul Instructor! I jumped right into team teaching with my sister in Christ, Robin, who is an amazing mentor to me. Being able to encourage women not just in their physical journey but their spiritual one as well is a huge privilege and blessing. My favorite part of class is leading a devotion at the end and praying over my students. Just writing these words is making me teary-eyed.
To remember myself as I was so many years ago…and even NOT so many years ago…I am still amazed at God’s grace and redemption. There was a time I couldn’t even pray for myself, let alone for a class full of women. God can use the broken. He can mend our scars. He can fill our voids. He has a plan for all of us. We just have to look for Him, let Him in, and give Him all of our mess. He will do the rest.
Dani Combs is a Fit360 Instructor for Body & Soul Fitness. She team teaches with Robin Flournoy in Woodbridge, Virginia at First Baptist Church of Woodbridge. She is a proud military wife and a stay at home mom of two active boys, ages 10 and 5.