People of Faith: Ruth McGinnis
- Janet Chismar Senior Editor, News & Culture
- 2003 9 Jan
Transcending a past clouded with sexual abuse, bulimia and struggles with perfectionism, Ruth McGinnis is now breathing freely. The accomplished violinist, wellness instructor and author candidly outlines her journey to wholeness in the book Breathing Freely and during a recent interview.
"The concept of breathing freely - the gift of breathing freely - means feeling comfortable inside your own skin," McGinnis explains. "For me, it means being able to connect with my bloodline, my history, my family - to be able to be present with all the things I had to recover from, including sexual abuse."
In her 30s, McGinnis embarked on a journey to reconnect with the girl she once was. "Along the path, I found emotional resolution, returned to my childhood faith, and charted a new course in my creative career, more in keeping with my true, God-designed gifts."
And gifted she is. A violinist/fiddler with a master's degree from the Julliard School of Music, McGinnis has performed and recorded over the years with folk/bluegrass legend John Hartford, Amy Grant, Chet Atkins, Michael W. Smith and Vince Gill. In January 2001, McGinnis released her first solo recording project, Songs for the Good Life. Last October, she completed production on a companion CD to her book Breathing Freely. This instrumental recording features an eclectic mix of Celtic, sacred, classical and Americana tunes.
A self-described "Renaissance Woman," McGinnis is just as talented with a pen as she is with the bow. Her first book, Living the Good Life, compiles tips to help women live healthier, more abundant lives. She dons her personal trainer hat as she guides readers through lessons on exercise, diet, rest, balance and spiritual connectedness.
In the first chapter, McGinnis reveals her battle with bulimia: "I became acquainted with this struggle my first year in college. Armed with the unrealistic dream of becoming a concert violinist, a dream I'd fostered since the age of 8, I walked into my freshman year with a long list of self-imposed expectations. I tried to adhere to my well-laid plans, which included carrying a double major in music and English, practicing three hours a day, improving my complexion, and attracting the perfect husband. But I began to bump into my human limitations.
"My tendency to eat for emotional comfort, something that started in high school, was catching up with me. ... By the end of my freshmen year, I'd gained nearly 30 pounds and was miserable with myself."
Inspired by the likes of Jane Fonda and other fitness pioneers of the 1970s, McGinnis began to run as a way to lose weight. "The day I put on a pair of running shoes marked the beginning of a lifelong love of being physically active," she writes. "It also made for another achievement to add to my list: physical perfection." What followed was a 10-year quest to be "model-thin." She experimented with all kinds of diets, fasting and other unhealthy extremes.
After graduating from Juilliard and deciding to explore other styles of fiddle playing such as country and bluegrass, McGinnis moved to Nashville in 1986 - and stumbled on a new career path. "I signed up for classes at a Nashville fitness studio, concerned as always about my exercise regimen. But, fortunately, this studio was years ahead of its time, touting a philosophy of wellness more than the pursuit of body parts of steel."
Thriving in this environment, McGinnis became interested in being certified as health and wellness instructor, and realized she needed to resolve her own unhealthy habits and body image issues. "So I embarked on a humbling and sometimes painful process of emotional and spiritual healing."
During the recovery process, she began to reconnect with God. Although McGinnis had grown up in a Christian home, she became estranged from her faith at age 14, when one of her best friends was killed in a tragic bicycle accident. "I simply couldn't reconcile the God I understood to be great and good with this tragic turn of events."
For many years, McGinnis didn't go to church on Sundays, didn't read the Bible. "I didn't have any of that built into the fabric of my life, which had been a constant when I was a child."
She adds, "I was struggling so hard with my demons and perfectionism and compulsive behaviors, I know that God was involved in that process, but at the time, I didn't feel like He was."
McGinnis describes that part of her life as "broken."
"I was trying to fix it by controlling my weight, with career achievements and through relationships with men," she explains. "I was trying to fix things in my heart and my spirit that human beings can't fix, but I was sure giving it a good college try."
According to McGinnis, it was during the recovery process that she gradually began to think of God. "In recovery, they refer to a principle called 'Let go and let God.' And for me, even though I was surrounded by a lot of different people with differing views of who God was, and how God speaks, because I had grown up with a Christian background, I thought about Jesus."
Another milestone on her journey back to faith was the death of her friend Dunkin Nelson. "I began to think about his memorial service, held at a church he'd never attended, officiated by a pastor who had never met him. Things like that pricked my conscience. It sparked an awareness that maybe investing in my spiritual life wasn't such a bad idea."
Also during that period of time, as she was starting to open up to the possibility of faith, McGinnis started playing with Christian artist Amy Grant. "One of the things that impressed me so much about her," says McGinnis, "is that she never asked what church I went to. She never put me under the Christian industry magnifying glass or asked, 'Are you really a Christian?'
"Just being in her presence and being with the people who were around her, faith was a big part of their lives, and it was making me think."
Finally, says McGinnis, "somewhere in the middle of all that, I think it might have been 1993, I had a professional situation blow up. It blew up because of me, because I was frantically trying to control everything about my life. As soon as it happened, I knew I had shot myself in the foot - I was far enough along in recovery to know that my control addiction was ruling my life.
"That day, I got on my knees and said, 'God, I don't know what you really want of me, but I cannot handle my life, so I am inviting you back in.'"
McGinnis doesn't want to call that her "definitive moment" of salvation. She instead describes her conversion as a series of moments. But after praying that day, she felt "a real sense of direction."
"I felt I needed to get back into going to church on Sunday, I needed to open the Bible, I needed to pray every day."
Now, says McGinnis, she continues with a "stumbling kind of walk."
She likes the way author John Eldridge talks about "waking up as a non-Christian but becoming a Christian by the end of each day." She loves how Eldridge grants people permission to be real: "... to understand that you wake up in the morning, and even though your best intention is to have a quiet time, and get your heart right with God, it sometimes doesn't happen. If by the end of the day, though, I can have a moment where I feel that I'm connecting to somebody greater than myself, that's significant."
McGinnis says she will always ask hard questions. "A young woman who I knew here in town just died of breast cancer. She barely turned 40. Why does that happen? Why would somebody go out to Home Depot and randomly shoot people? Why?
"I think of myself as sort of a struggling Christian and an accidental Christian," she adds, "but there is no question in my mind that I've been saved."
To learn more about how Ruth connected with her roots, check out the book Breathing Freely.