It was a normal school day in fourth hour. Some classmates were joking around, holding their iPads like frisbees. As Lucy bent down to retrieve her backpack, she felt a jab and then saw the blood. An iPad had accidentally been launched from Owen’s* hand, hitting her forehead and cutting through three layers of skin. Almost all the way to her skull.
Have you been surprised by trauma before?
Has your heart been pierced all the way to the core? Deeper than you thought possible?
Lucy found herself in the nurse’s office, full of panic and spilling with tears. She answered some questions and waited for her mom to arrive while her wound hid behind a temporary bandage and ice pack.
Are you doing that, too?
Are you trying to heal your wound with a temporary cure? Trying to numb that pain?
Together, Lucy and her mom raced to the Emergency Room only to wait. Sorting through the internal questions… navigating the tension… wrestling with the “why” — they sat for two hours before being invited into healing. She was terrified, for she knew stitches would be the cure.
Lucy, a seamstress, was no novice to needles. She knew their strength, knew the beauty they could create by piecing something together. She had seen needles penetrate cloth with permanency. And this is what terrified her. She knew the puncture was necessary to create, and in her case, necessary to restore. Pain before wholeness.
“The doctor told me he would have to sew through my skin, layer by layer, and that I’d have a permanent scar on my forehead,” Lucy recalls. “I went home after the stitching and cried and cried. You know how physical beauty is so important in this society? I was so angry.”
You, too? Do you feel like your wounds have tainted your beauty?
Lucy went back to school the next day which proved to be a mistake. Rumors had already been spread that simply weren’t true: Owen had flung his iPad toward Lucy on purpose…she was suffering from a major concussion…her entire face had been cut open…she was being over-dramatic and nothing serious had happened.
Have people tried to sort through your story?
Have they resorted to lies when they couldn’t quite make sense of your struggle?
Lucy wasn’t prepared for all the questions, either. She wasn’t equipped to give explanations or interpret her feelings for everyone publicly. My goodness, she hadn’t even completely faced her reality in solitude yet. Some would ask to see her wound, ripping away any sense of normalcy for the self-conscious girl.
Despite all the attention, she felt so… alone. “People didn’t make eye contact,” Lucy remembers. “They’d either look away from me or just stare. There was no middle ground.”
To help themselves navigate the awkwardness, some would turn to jokes. They weren’t cruel, but they tried to make light of something very, very real. Lucy faked a lot of laughs to go along. “It was very uncomfortable,” she admits.
But the seamstress is also an artist. And she turned to paper and water and color for therapy.
In something as delicate as a flower, Lucy began to find strength. She discovered her voice and fell into gratitude. “So thankful for how I’ve grown closer to God through this. It could have been a lot worse, and I am eternally grateful to him.”
And as she began to accept her situation, she knew forgiveness and reconciliation were the next steps. Owen had pursued her immediately. He visited her that first day in the school nurse’s office, overflowing with apologies. His friend had come along, too. Trying to comfort her, he shared his own story of receiving stitches once and assured her she would survive.
“He calmed me down and brought me back to reality that day,” Lucy recalls. Freshmen in high school… empathizing… owning a mistake… asking for forgiveness.
While she was engaged in ongoing conversations with Owen and the school counselor, Lucy’s peers were trying to support her. But remember her initial anger? Well, these kids loved their friend and were furious, too. Some publicly declared their rage toward Owen. They wrote hate notes to him and left them in Lucy’s locker, hoping to make her feel better.
“I had made peace with Owen, though,” testifies Lucy. “We weren’t enemies when the accident happened. I had moved on from the wound, but my friends hadn’t moved on. They had good intentions, but their hate notes weren’t supporting me.”
Have you found yourself wanting to heal but needing to comfort your loved ones instead?
Have empathizing friends who meant well kept you from forgiving?
The counselor urged Lucy find her voice again and publicly urge her friends to get over her situation. She wanted to thank everyone for their support but remind them they could lift her up without tearing down Owen. She turned to the canvas again.
“We all make mistakes.”
“We all need grace, forgiveness, and a chance to start over.”
“Letting go of past hurt changes you.”
And it worked. People stopped sending hate notes, and she continued to forgive Owen. Her story impacted so many, and she recalls the certainty of knowing that many beyond herself were wrestling with God and engaging with Him because of her story. She drank from the cup of closure and was satisfied.
Friends, she’s only fourteen.
On that day in fourth hour, and in the weeks to come, Lucy’s people were reminded how faith and everyday reality do indeed intersect. How quickly we forget. Through the strength of the Healer and Master Artist, Lucy found the courage to forgive, and even reconcile. And an entire community was marked by her courage.
“If you’re reluctant to forgive,” challenges Lucy, “you have to really think about that person… and your relationship with that person. If you’re thinking about retaliating or choosing the “safety” of ignoring, ask yourself, ‘How could God get glory if I took a peaceful resolution?’ ”
So, my friends, what about your wounds?
Is God calling you to more than just surviving?
Is He calling you to restoration?
“He binds their wounds,
heals the sorrows of their hearts.” Psalm 147:3
*Some names have been changed
photo source | SugarBean Photography
As I write this, I’m sitting in a hotel room in New York City while my family is still asleep. I just noticed the last time I published a post on Repurposed was March 20 — almost three months ago. When I grow up, I’d like to blog for a living. But I do believe living a purposeful life sometimes involves pressing “pause” on dreams, rolling up your sleeves, and living the life in front of you.
We’ve been going hard for the past three months, and while I’d like to attribute my silence to our busy work/play/sports schedules, in reality my quiet season is due to something deeper than a crazy calendar. You see, we came up for breath the week of Spring Break, and I realized I hardly knew my kids anymore.
“The days are long, but the years are short,” my friend Jennifer cautions. Indeed. Where has the time gone? I felt like I was keeping up, soaking in every new stage of their childhood. I actually enjoy entering new stages, and I don’t grieve the passing of time. But somehow, this school year swept my son and daughter away and brought back a teen and almost-teen that hardly resemble the kids I’ve been raising the past several years.
It’s rather humbling. If you like control, this experience can really rock you. And if being the most amazing parent has been one of your goals, you have to wrestle with some deeply buried idols. You wake up in the midst of your kids’ middle school years and discover parenting is not about you at all.
Gone are the days when choosing your kids’ outfits tells the world what your sense of style is. Gone is the season when you plan a fun day of activity and everyone goes along with enthusiasm. (And the affirmation you give yourself vanishes, too.) Gone are the moments when you can predict what your child’s response will be. (This might be the hardest one to let go of, for when they surprise you with unforeseen preferences, you feel like you don’t know your kids as well as you used to. And that’s kind of scary. And sad.)
Back to the blogging silence… When you’re humbled and realize how little you know, you sort of don’t have much to say. We’ve all heard how listening is usually better than talking, and these new identities have given me reason to be quiet. I have way more listening to do because I’m getting to know my children again.
I recently attended my school’s Arts Extravaganza, and the choir sang the sweetest poem:
A wise old owl lived in an oak;
The more he saw the less he spoke;
The less he spoke the more he heard:
Why can’t we all be like that bird?
– Henry Hersey Richards
Um, yes. The more he saw the less he spoke; the less he spoke the more he heard. Their little voices sang this phrase over and over and this middle-aged mommy was quite convicted.
When you bring your kids through the elementary years, you talk a lot. At least I did. When I carry on this tradition with my middle schoolers, they don’t sit there like sponges anymore, waiting for my next insight. Instead, my words are met with stiffened backs and faces that silently say, “You’re not hearing me. You’re not even trying to listen.”
And they’re right.
“Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 esv
I used to read this verse through a me-centered lens, almost as a guarantee to cling to when the going gets rough. I wanted it to say: Train up your child in the way that will help her make respectable choices (spiritually and morally), and when she’s old, she’ll still be living that dream of yours for her life, making you look good.
But slowly, and sometimes reluctantly, I’m choosing to read it through another lens: Parent your child, accepting the way God designed him and helping him discover the story God has written for his life. And when he’s older, he’ll still be living a life of purpose, in sync with God’s plan from the beginning of time.
This refreshed interpretation, well, it’s a lot harder because I don’t get to work hard when I’m frustrated or irritated or down right angry. (Have you noticed we don’t sit idle when we’re angry?) It’s a difficult interpretation to swallow, for it calls me to trust and not do.
What would it look like if we listened more… not just to be polite or to avoid looking overbearing? What would it look like if we listened with the intention of learning and discovering and understanding?
Are you with me? As I parent a middle schooler and rising high schooler, I need to learn God’s story for my children’s lives. I must discover what they would have told me the past several months if I would’ve just stopped talking. And I absolutely have to understand what passions are there beyond those teenage faces staring back at me.
What about you? Who do you need to listen to more? What topics do you need to hold your tongue on for a while, with the intent of learning and discovering and understanding more? You might not be parenting teenagers, but I know you’re wrestling, too. It’s the world we live in — whether you’re trying to be intricately engaged with your local community, or you’re yearning to be a global citizen, or you’re somewhere in the middle.
Your active listening might need to take place in your workplace, or your yoga class, or as you research and write a book. For me, I’m simply going to start at home as I get reacquainted with my kids.
There’s heaps of awesomeness about raising teenagers, too, like snapping this selfie at the top of the Empire State Building at 10:44pm. 🙂
From the inner tension that comes with an eating disorder, we go to terminal illness. A life taken from us is deeply painful, and our guest today also watched her husband physically suffer for several months before saying goodbye.
I’m grateful for Susan’s honesty regarding questioning God, being angry, and finally surrendering. She ends her interview today with advice for those who know someone suffering from cancer. Join us as our Series on Suffering continues…
Christan: Susan, thanks for your willingness to wrap up our series on suffering. Tell us what your first husband was like.
Susan: I met Brian when I was 30 years old when I had just moved here from Los Angeles. We were both teachers, and we connected over writing and education and teaching kids how to write. We became instant best friends and were married eleven months later. From the first time I met him, I felt as though Brian and God had this “secret room” or something where they’d go and talk about life. He was so in tune with what God wanted for him, for us. That wasn’t my relationship with God. I struggled with being sure of what He wanted. Brian also preached grace everywhere. I think my understanding of grace deepened by knowing Brian.
Christan: How soon did you start your family?
Susan: Because we were a bit older when we got married, we wanted to start our family soon. Max was born two-and-a-half years into our marriage, and Briggs followed two years later. Much of our experience looked like the norm — falling in love, getting married, having children. I think, though, we were in a different place emotionally because of our age and life experiences before marriage. We had struggles, but our marriage was truly a partnership.
Christan: How soon did cancer enter your family?
Susan: Between July and December of 2004, Brian lost ten pounds… and this was with him eating a bowl of ice cream most nights. We really couldn’t understand where the ten pounds went. We assumed it was because of stress caused by a new baby and Brian’s new job. In December, he began coughing, and it lasted a couple months. I remember him walking up the stairs in March 2005 — he paused like an old man, out of breath, and said, “There’s really something wrong with me. I can’t even make it up the stairs without stopping to catch my breath.”
Christan: How old was he?
Susan: He was 34 with no health issues except allergies. It all happened very fast. After going to the doctor, they put him in the hospital and did several tests to rule things out. They discovered a massive dark spot in Brian’s pulmonary artery. It was right next to his heart, kind of right where everything happens. They didn’t know what the mass was so they immediately put him on blood thinners, thinking it could be a blood clot. Nothing changed. Then they moved him to a larger hospital followed by more blood thinners and more discussions with additional doctors. Some tests showed Brian was living on only ten percent of his lung capacity. Because he was so thin, he hadn’t dropped dead.
When he had surgery on a Monday, I was convinced all would be fine. But when the doctor came out of the surgery, he said, “Yeah, it was malignant.”
I didn’t sleep for 24-48 hours after surgery. Because I had babies at home, I couldn’t stay at the hospital all night. I remember picking up a magazine at home, trying to distract myself. I opened it, shut it, and thought, “This just doesn’t matter.” It was if the reality of the Gospel and heaven enveloped me. This life was suddenly not as tangible as I wanted to think it was. It was clear there was something so much deeper than what what staring at me in the magazine pages.
From March to November, we were on the cancer roller coaster. We danced back and forth from hope to reality. I tried my best to navigate the medical world while potty training a three year old and convincing the world we were okay. I remember pleading with God to fix this situation. From debilitating treatments to helping my husband walk around our house — through it all, I just didn’t get it. But soon after he died, I often reflected, “Might it really be a gift to have watched that type of suffering?”
Christan: How so?
Susan: For one, I began to understand the mortality of our bodies. When Brian died, he took nothing with him… not his books, his paintings, nor his writings. What he left was his impact on others.
About five days before Brian died, I had finally reached my limit and was mad at God… really, really upset.
“Why won’t you fix this, God?” I dove into Job and came to those verses when God says, “Where were you when I made the world?”
I felt as though He pulled me into that “secret room” He had with Brian and gently said, “That’s enough, Susan. You are not going to get what you want.” I think I knew at that point that Brian was going to die, but I also knew God was never, ever going to leave me.
After that conversation with God, I decided we were done with chemo, for it was so painful to watch someone go through that. I told Brian we were finished. His eyes got really big and then I noticed great relief. God was pressing on our hearts to prepare for his passing. I now think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane asking if there was another way to save the world. God the Father was telling the two of us in that moment, “No, this is the only way.” We couldn’t see past tomorrow, and it was terrifying. But I believe God wants all of our trust in what He’s designing. Even Jesus in his humanity struggled with that sort of anticipation, with surrender. Brian died a few days later.
The moment he passed, I remember thinking, “Wow, I just watched him go into Heaven” instead of being overwhelmed by the loss of his mortal body. I had watched his body die for months, and it was a great gift to understand that none of us are home here on earth. In the midst of daily life, it’s difficult to remember this world here is not eternal. I think the suffering taught me the reality of eternity and the reality of Heaven. If I hadn’t seen or felt death in this life, I’m not sure Heaven would be as real to me now. I think for us to live boldly, Heaven has to be real to us.
Christan: During those seven months of suffering, what did your other relationships look like?
Susan: I’m a doer. And Brian was really ill. I do have regrets… part of me wishes I had been around more. But for me to be fully with him, I had to have service elsewhere. During the last three months of Brian’s life, I was tutoring a student… that really helped me. It wasn’t a lot, but it did help.
In terms of our marriage, it was hard because he couldn’t give much to it. I like to think I’m so independent, but you need somebody. We sought counsel from friends. There were times that I needed help with daily things, but Brian was fighting for his life. We needed people who were right there with us, walking alongside us, helping us while we were literally falling apart.
Christan: Did you feel that cancer and losing Brian was a punishment from God?
Susan: Overall, I knew God was calling us to walk through what we did. Between surgery and radiation, I remember thinking, “This is what I get for marrying a Maynor.” (Brian had three brothers.) The Maynor boys live their lives so gracefully and faithfully, and Brian was all about making things more beautiful — rehabbing a broken house, serving in community, giving to those in need. He did whatever he could do to help others. I believed God was calling us to navigate cancer. But I also thought Brian would suffer, get healed, and then go help people with his story. I put it in a little box because that felt safe.
But in my darkest moments, at night especially, I remember battling through my thoughts. I reflected on sin patterns in my life, as well as actions I had done years ago in my youth. I faced irrational fears and choking guilt. I forced myself to disengage from that dark place because I knew that wasn’t how the Gospel works. But in my brokenness and fear, that’s the place I was in. And it is part of the story. God reminded me that what He did on the cross was enough. I had to get to that dark spot of suffering before I could really see.
Christan: Seven years later, do you ever go back to that spot?
Susan: Not really. I can see growth in my life. When God puts something in my life that I question, I try and embrace it and know that God is going to teach me something. I understand why He gives us hard things. In those moments, I feel like God breaks idols in my life and replaces them with Him.
Christan: How did you heal? You seem like you’re whole again.
Susan: Even though there’s healing, there are always scars. And those scars are good because they’re reminders of how the story is so much bigger than our story alone. They remind me of why the cross had to happen. If the cross didn’t happen, where would Brian be? Would I be walking around wondering where my husband is now? Would he just be dust? There’s so much of the resurrection story woven through my own story. If the emotional pain flairs, the resurrection is always a reminder of the greatness and redemption. Jesus had his scars. Scars are a reminder of my growth, my perseverance, my maturity in knowing God deeper because I really think that’s all this life is about… It’s all about getting to know God, walking with Him and giving Him my heart. It’s really not about whether or not we have a beautiful house or where our kids go to school. Even though that’s directly in front of us, suffering allows us to step back and remember this life is all about knowing Jesus more, about being more Christ-like in all that I do, and being part of His redemption story.
I think brokenness and suffering have to happen because we need to come to grips with our fragility. We have to. It’s too easy in this life — if we never suffer – to miss seeing and knowing God as He truly is. We see God’s greatest strength and power through when He Himself was the most broken—the cross.
It took a while to heal. It was about three years before I felt as though my feet were firmly on the ground again. When I looked back on my life prior to Brian’s death, I realized I no longer fit where I did before. God had changed me. The reality of knowing my former husband is whole again in Heaven changed the way I think about my life, my world, and the people with whom I engaged. I think there comes a point when there is no more oozing from the wound, but the scar is there. And it will always be there. The scar points to God, not Brian.
Christan: What advice would you give to those who know someone suffering from cancer?
Susan: I think the community of believers and the Church struggle with being authentic. We don’t want to step on toes, we want to be proper, we don’t want to invade privacy, we want to respect boundaries, we follow rules. But when a person or family is facing extreme crisis, the navigation is overwhelming and almost impossible alone. Looking back, in the midst of the diagnosis and all that followed, I felt as if I was in a cloud. When you’re in grief like that — denial, anger, fear – the cloud is present all the time. Because of that cloud, it’s important to help those suffering navigate through their circumstances.
Try to be intentional. And try to have no expectations. If God is pushing on your heart, just do it. Give, show up, serve that family — just do it. Don’t wait for someone to say it’s okay. We all struggle as humans with needing validation. Try to have zero expectations and don’t expect the person in crisis to give you anything back — even validating your service to them. We have to step past your own egos and self-interest and do what God asks us to do for them.
One family gifted our family with money so I didn’t have to go back to work right away. A group of Brian’s college friends hired a nanny for a year… they didn’t ask permission because the need was so glaring. Another friend came over to just be with me, so I wouldn’t have to be alone. Someone else anonymously mailed me a gift each month after the first anniversary of Brian’s passing. For twelve months, I received things like a Starbucks gift card, a book, a picture frame — they were all very intentional items. It blessed me so much, for I felt alone and scared. To this day, I don’t know who that gift giver was. So, even if it feels a bit scary, just do it. Trust God’s leading.
Christan: And what advice would you give someone who is watching his or her spouse suffer with cancer?
Susan: Every journey is personal. I wish I could tell people how things will unfold. My advice is to accept that you are not in control. You aren’t in control of the healing. You aren’t in control of anything. I learned that God is in control as I walked through suffering. Regardless of how much I yelled and fussed at Him, God was going to unfold His story the way He designed it to be… for Brian, for me, for our kids.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I didn’t want to be needy, but it became impossible to not ask for help. When things were intense, there were emotional chasms between Brian and I because I simply couldn’t reach Brian. He felt like a million miles away. We went to friends and asked them to pray with us and be with us. We were so scared — but not too scared to ask for help.
When it comes to cancer, always hope, always hope for healing. But in that hope, we must surrender to the truth that God is going to do what He’s going to do. And with surrendering comes the call to persevere, cling to hope, and believe we’re absolutely in the hand of God (even if it doesn’t feel like that). In retrospect, I know there was not a moment I wasn’t in God’s hand, even in the pain, even in the fear. I remember coming home from the hospital after Brian had passed and sitting on my bed with my door shut. “Now what?” I thought. “I’m alone with two babies. What am I going to do?” But I was never alone. God is always constant, and He’s true to His faithfulness. Seek that. Understand that.
Christan: What advice do you have for widows and widowers who also have children?
Susan: Again, everybody has his or her own journey. As a parent, I have to honor that with my children. I made an intentional decision to never put my children in a position where they had to be more than my children to me. Meaning, they aren’t my husband. They aren’t my mother or my brother. And they shouldn’t have to relate like more than my children to me. Their needs came before mine because they were three and one years old. They were so little when Brian passed, so their grief has come a little later in their lives when certain realities hit them. I’ve tried to pay attention. I’ve sought the help of a counselor for my kids. Children are unique individuals, and their walk through grief will look different than your own. I often hear that kids are resilient. That’s true, but they also feel. Communication is huge. When questions are asked, answer your children honestly and promote more dialogue. Children absorb everything, no matter how old they are.
Christan: Finally, how has God redeemed your suffering?
Susan: I believe redemption began right in the middle of it all. God has given me opportunities to directly embrace His work in ways I never imagined—as a mother, as an educator, as a visual storyteller—work that I couldn’t possibly do without the Lord’s strength and help. He’s given me work I may not have entertained if I had been married because of the scope and timing. I’ve been part of things that are so much bigger than me.
God’s also transformed me. I’m willing to be uncomfortable now. I almost pursue uncomfortable situations because I know I’m going to see God in them. Also, God’s given us a family far beyond our dreams. He’s brought someone into my life and given me a second partner in this life. He’s brought an earthly father for my children. Not having expectations has brought me to a point where I surrender to God’s timing. And in God’s timing, He brought the right man to make us a family of four.
Suffering has changed the way I walk through life. When you live without the boxes you used to put in place, when you live without having to control, you experience inexplicable fulfillment and peace and a life far more than we could ever imagine.
Accept we are not in control. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Always hope.
Yes, we gain so much through losing. We are changed creatures when we finally face and embrace the story God has written for us — the story that is often painfully bitter. We find freedom when we surrender. We find healing when we admit our wounds. We help others when we look back on our own helpless pain. It’s all so ironic.
Join me tomorrow as Susan shares an update on where she is in 2016.
If you’re just joining us, we are in the middle of a four-week Series on Suffering. We’ve heard from a dad of a disabled girl and a woman who miscarried and adopted a son who was later diagnosed with hemophilia. The original Series on Suffering was created back in 2012 and appeared on my first blog. I’m posting those interviews with these brave people this whole month, but I’m including an update — written by each of them — on how they’re doing in 2016.
Also back in 2012, I published a series on body image. Today’s story — Julie’s story — was actually part of that body image collection rather than the Series on Suffering. It fits well here, though, among the stories of suffering, and for some reason I felt strongly compelled to include it for you all at this moment in time. May God’s story of redemption reach even the most hopeless of situations… including those plagued by anorexia and bulimia.
Be sure to return to Repurposed tomorrow, for Julie has prepared an honest and vulnerable update on all that’s unfolded since her first interview.
Even if you’ve never wrestled with an eating disorder, many of Julie’s wounds might be mirrors to your own. We just respond to pain differently. Read on, my brave friends…
The Pain Is Born
I grew up in a family with both parents and was the middle of three daughters. Because my parents had high expectations for their children, we always felt the pressure to perform. Perform perfectly. I grew up thinking that to be loved I had to be perfect. I desperately wanted my mom and dad to love me and to be proud of me. Looking back, I now understand they did love me, but they didn’t show love the way I needed it — through words of affirmation or physical touch. They never gave hugs or said “I love you.”
My sisters felt the same pressure, but I never felt I measured up to them — especially my older sister. She’s quite intelligent and performed exceptionally well in school. Really, in all she did. I discovered in fourth grade that my younger sister was also especially gifted. While I was smart, I wasn’t as smart as them. And because my family put a lot of importance on intelligence, grades, and success, I felt like I was always the one behind. As a child, I decided that if I couldn’t be the smart one, I would be the “good” one. I followed all the rules and did everything my parents told me. And I was very successful at this — all the way through high school. I played the role of peacemaker in my family and tried to be perfect at being good.
But I was empty inside. I had no genuine relationships. All my worth hinged on the fact that I was “good.” In high school, I realized I had gained some weight and was slightly bigger than my older sister. I wasn’t okay with this, so I began to diet on-and-off. I even tried diet pills. I’d lose a little weight, stop dieting, and then gain a little back. For two years.
The Pain Becomes an Expression
I went to college and was so lonely. Loneliness was the most terrible feeling in the world. I joined a sorority but didn’t fit in. I didn’t make friends, and I was miserable. At this point, I started eating for comfort. I’d consume large amounts of food and then over-exercise to compensate. I really hated exercising. And for a while, I gave it up, which led to weight gain. Back home my mom was on a diet of her own (a really unhealthy diet and exercise program), and she lost lots of weight. I’d compare myself to her and to my sisters, and I felt huge.
I was still desperately lonely and actually thought, “If I had an eating disorder and got really sick, then my mom would come and rescue me. And I would know I was loved.”
My parents were fighting frequently, and I realized I had no one to talk to about this. My loneliness was so desperate that I started wondering if life was really worth living. I didn’t want to be alive anymore, but I really couldn’t act on that feeling. Food continued to be my comfort — almost a friend. Eating numbed my feelings of depression. I didn’t want to gain weight, so I started forcing myself to throw up. I figured that if I could vomit regularly and lose a little weight, then I’d be happy and eventually could stop.
That never happened.
The Expression Becomes Flagrant
My eating disorder became a full-fledged addiction. I could not give it up. I used it to numb my feelings. I didn’t feel pain, but I also didn’t feel joy.
I felt completely ugly, both inside and out. But even though I wasn’t “pretty” on the inside, I could control how I looked on the outside. My disorder enabled me eat whenever and whatever I wanted without gaining weight. I felt a sense of power and rebellion against my mom (and her diets) in this.
But in reality, the eating disorder had complete control over me.
Eventually my illness got so bad that I would binge and purge every single time I ate. It was during this time I met a new friend named Abbey. She pursued me and cared enough to actually confront me about my eating disorder. I talked with her, attended a Bible study she recommended, and attended church with her. And I became a believer in Christ.
This was a wonderful time of growth and love for the Lord, but I still was unable to give up my eating disorder. I was afraid to let anyone in and to actually experience true emotions.
I would try to stop binging and purging, but I’d always fail. I felt terribly guilty that I was a Christian yet could not stop this addiction. After a while, I allowed myself to believe I was always going to struggle with an eating disorder. Although I wasn’t binging and purging everything I ate, I was still throwing up every day. I wanted to control my weight, but it was also a way for me to control the pain I still felt.
This lifestyle went on for six years.
The Pain Impacts My Marriage
While dating Josh, I told him I had struggled with an eating disorder in the past. We dated long-distance, so he never really knew how bad things were, and I convinced myself that it really wasn’t that bad.
Our first year of marriage was a complete shock to both of us. I was good at first at hiding my bulimia, but Josh eventually came to know the truth. I fell into a deep depression again and struggled to want to keep living. After that first year, my depression was a bit more under control, and I realized how damaging my illness was to Josh and our marriage. I agreed to go to counseling.
My first counselor tried to help heal the eating disorder with behavioral tactics. If I didn’t throw up, then I could do a fun activity, etc. This was not helpful at all! I was completely consumed with thoughts of food and my weight. I truly thought I’d never be able to change.
The Pain Finds Healing
I found a new counselor who walked me through my past and helped me cry — helped me mourn — some of the things I felt as a child. She helped me feel emotions, and this gave me hope that life could be different. I didn’t want to keep hiding my binging and purging. I was spending a lot of time and money on my bulimia, and my thoughts were constantly on food and comparing myself to other women.
At this time, I also met a woman who was two years into recovery from an eating disorder. She gave me hope that, by God’s grace, it was possible to find healing and be free of the control my illness had over me.
I decided then to enroll in treatment for four weeks in Salt Lake City, UT. The first day was the absolute hardest. Much of my independence was taken away. And because I was actually at a healthy weight, I felt like the biggest woman in the room. After the initial shock, I adjusted to life at the treatment center. Recovery started slowly, but I eventually realized I didn’t want to be as skinny as some of the women there.
We were asked to say positive things about our bodies, and I always said I had a good home for a baby someday. The thought of being healthy enough to have children gave me hope for the future.
A lot of healing took place in Utah. We weren’t allowed to watch T.V. or read magazines, so I spent a lot of time reading Scripture, praying, journaling, and doing “homework” for my counselors. Because of the T.V. and magazine restriction, I wasn’t bombarded with air-brushed perfection on a regular basis. I finally started to gain a healthier view of how our bodies were created to look.
I learned to listen to my body. Am I hungry? Or am I sad? For what is my body hungry? I learned to take all restrictions away from food. If I was hungry for ice cream, then I ate ice cream. By breaking down all the unhealthy food rules I had built up, I learned my body actually knew how to balance food on it’s own. I learned to eat when I was hungry and stop when I was full. I learned it’s okay to have second helpings, and it’s okay to leave food on my plate.
I also learned that if I ate emotionally every once in a while, it was okay. It didn’t mean I had failed. I learned to live in the gray instead of being black and white, especially in regards to eating and food.
A huge breakthrough for me was learning that each of our bodies have a “set point.” That’s how we are created. When healthy, we’ll hover around this set point. That was so freeing for me. I had been trying to manipulate my body to a size it wasn’t meant to be, to a size that God didn’t intend for me.
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For you are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This message resonated with me on my road to healing. “Workmanship” can be translated as “work of art.” This means that I am God’s work of art. If this was true, who was I to try to change and manipulate the artist’s work, especially when the artist is the Creator of the Universe?! Who was I to judge what was beautiful and what was not, when God created each of us in His image, making us His work of art?! I felt beautiful knowing that I was created a certain, unique way that was beautiful to the Lord.
This was all very helpful, but I still struggled to feel “beautiful” on the inside. I was engulfed in shame and guilt about my eating disorder. I was also drowning in inferiority, knowing I couldn’t stand up to the world’s expectations of perfection. I didn’t feel smart. And now I didn’t feel “good.”
A counselor told me that those suffering from eating disorders usually let positive comments “bounce off” and only internalize the bad. I realized I had been doing this very behavior — listening and believing all the negative things and disregarding the positive. I sat down and listed all the things that currently made up my self-worth, most of which were negative.
I then listed all the things that should make up my self worth and ended up with “I am a child a God.” That was all. That is what makes me, and you, worthwhile — simply because we are God’s children, His beautiful workmanship. My worth is not derived from what I do or don’t do — it is simply found in the fact that I am a child of God, created by Him.
I also learned to listen to my thoughts and take them captive to the Lord. Without really realizing it, I was thinking awful things. If you eat that, you’ll be fat. You aren’t important and you will always have an eating disorder, so why are you even trying to get better? You will fail. You are a failure — the only way to feel better is to binge and purge. These thoughts were constantly bombarding me, and I was believing the lies. I learned to listen to my thoughts, recognize them, and combat them with the Truth. I memorized some Scripture and would recite it when I caught myself thinking these thoughts.
Recovery has not been a perfect road. There are ups and downs, successes and relapses. But, the relapses are less frequent and less severe as time goes on. It’s been six years since I went to treatment in Utah, and I’m currently in my best place of recovery yet. I realize this is a weak area in my life, and I’m sure I’m in a much better place (emotionally and mentally) because of God’s grace.
To family and friends of a woman with an eating disorder, tell her and show her you love her. Often. Tell her she is beautiful on the inside and out. Don’t make comments about weight and food, but do encourage her to get the help she needs. I needed a firm hand to lead me in that direction because I wouldn’t do it on my own. I needed to know I was hurting my husband, the very husband who was loving me unconditionally.
To those of you who are struggling with an eating disorder, you are precious and loved. You are a beautiful creation who is loved more than you realize by your Heavenly Father. There. Is. Hope. There really can be recovery. And while it’s hard, it’s completely worth it. My prayers are with you.
See you tomorrow, friends…