Grace in My Eating Disorder
This is the second article in our series, “Here I am. Send me!” We learn in Isaiah 6 that only after the prophet is totally convicted of his own sin and failures, met by God’s perfect love and might, can he go forth as a true servant. This is nothing new to us in ministry. We see daily how the Lord has used our past trials, our insufferable weakness, to allow His strength to shine forth in our work. In this series, we’ve asked a few courageous souls to tell us how their particular hardships have prepared them perfectly as servants of the Lord. Read the first article here.
I sat at the table staring out the window. I didn’t want to make eye contact, because I was afraid she already knew what my answer would be. Still, I could see her looking at me through love-filled eyes.
“Martha Kate, some day you are going to have to choose. You are going to have to pick your eating disorder, or choose to rely on Jesus. You are going to have to jump. Are you ready?” While I knew Jesus from a very early age, I didn’t fully understand that He could love me right where I was: that I didn’t need to be perfect or perform for Him.
I smiled at her, my painted on—“You are very sweet, but you just don’t get it”—smile.
I looked her in the eye and with a level of defiance stated, “Thanks but I’m just not ready yet.”
A month later, I sat in the office of my counselor. Tears streamed down her face. “Martha Kate, you need serious help. You need a professional treatment team. Your eating disorder is serious and it is killing you.” I began to cry. She let the words sink in and through my tear-soaked cheeks, I nodded. I don’t know what it was about her tone of voice on that particular day, or the tears that slowly streamed down her face, but I trusted her. For the first time, I really believed I had a problem. It hit me all at once. I knew that my behavior had crossed over into a scary place. I just had no idea how to fix it.
Sitting across from my counselor that day, I was terrified. But suddenly, the more terrifying realization was if I kept doing what I was doing, I would never be able to really live.
She looked at me again and grabbed my hand, “I will help you,” she said, “but I am scared that if we don’t start really fighting this…well I am scared of what will happen to you.”
I sobbed, for the first time ever, about my eating disorder.
I spent the next few days crying, talking to dear friends and to my family. I spent time thinking and praying and wondering what I would do. I knew the choice I had to make. Finally, it was real and I knew what I had to do. Shakily, I picked up the phone and called my sweet friend who, just one month ago, told me I had to choose. I called and told her I realized I needed help. I wanted to fight. I never said the exact words, but she knew, and looking back I knew too. I was ready to jump. I realized, for me, the only way I could truly recover from this disease was in the arms of the one who accepted me fully, exactly as I was.
It has been three years since I fell into the arms of Jesus’ grace. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about those conversations or the days leading up to my choice.
I was sick. I was addicted. And I was a mess.
Today, only one of those is true. I am still a mess, but I am no longer sick or addicted to food, or to the never ending thoughts of food and body image.
Sometimes I get scared to talk about my story of grace in it’s fullness, because ‘Jesus’ and ‘Grace’ are often trigger words in the culture of the world. These words make people take a second, skeptical look at what you’ve written. They make people fidget and look away. People either love you or hate you for writing about Jesus and your faith. But true grace is scandalous and unimaginable and nothing about it is safe and comfortable.
I’ve realized that this story I’m living out is not about me. It’s about a love and acceptance from a Father so magnificent that it’s hard to imagine.
My story is about the gospel.
When I decided to fight and accept the grace of Jesus, I had no idea the ride I was in for (and am still on). It is only by His grace that I have and had the strength to stand up to my eating disorder, and my desire to control. It was through Him, and the people He placed in my life, that I was constantly given the ability to embrace the beauty and freedom in what Jesus did for me on the cross.
Left up to just me, I couldn’t have overcome it. And the road can still be rocky at times because I am always a work in progress, as is my story of recovery and grace.
This coming November, I will celebrate four years of recovery. I will celebrate that realization that “It is okay that I am not okay. None of this matters in the eyes of my perfect Savior. He came because I am not okay.”
The most beautiful part is, embracing grace doesn’t mean that I am not still a mess. However, it envelops me in all of my messiness and allows me to move forward in my weakness and brokenness. This is so transformative.
Because Grace is bigger than my flaws. Grace is bigger than my mistakes. Grace is bigger than my guilt. And Grace is so much bigger than my shame. In fact, it washes all of those things away and says: “You are loved, you are fearfully and wonderfully made, and your worth is not in your outward appearance. I don’t love you because of what you have or haven’t done. I love you because I have chosen to love you.”
I never used to understand when people said Jesus wrecked their lives. But now I get it. He definitely wrecked mine and turned it upside down in the best way. He took everything I thought I knew about control and addiction and swept me into His all-knowing arms. He told me I was loved, when I felt unlovable: that I was beautiful in His image. He gave me scandalous, beautiful, amazing grace.
Today, I have the joy of working with college students. I have an opportunity to show others, specifically my students, the kind of love and grace that is shocking and unheard of – so amazing that it carried a sinner like me out of the darkest of depths. And it is because of Jesus’ grace, and the work of the gospel in my life, that I am even able to share it. As I continue to work with college women, and as they begin to allow me to walk alongside them in their brokenness, I cannot help but be thankful for the brokenness in my own life. It has profoundly shaped the way I do ministry to students, and how I do life in general.
We all have addictions. We all have idols. We all have things that we need stripped away. As those things are torn down, the desperate need for the gospel becomes evident.
Grace in my eating disorder recovery has taught me that I did nothing to earn the love of Jesus, and that nothing I do will stop him from loving me. As I do life alongside my students, I remind them of that. Jesus doesn’t love them less because of their addictions and struggles, He loves them in spite of those things. I continue to share my story of how the gospel set me free, and I pray that students see the work of Christ in my life through it. When we are open about the mess and the beauty of grace in our lives, that is when the gospel becomes real and alive to the people around us.