October 15th is always a day that carries with it the light and dark of so many past Octobers. It’s a day that He makes all things new, a day of beginnings, of healing, of fulfilled promises, and of learning what it means to be held.
This is what it is to be loved and to know
That the promise was that when everything fell
We’d be held
-Natalie Grant “Held”
Ten years ago today I left the hospital after a two-week stay, and my Dad boarded a plane with me to Wickenburg, Arizona, where he dropped me off at an eating disorder treatment center in the middle of the desert. Even though this was just one of several places that came to be a temporary home during the roughly four years of my treatment, it was the most significant. I walked through those doors in fear, feeling as if I’d made a huge mistake in agreeing to go there, and begging my Dad not to leave without me. But during my almost 3 month stay, while I did not find an immediate cure, I did come to 3 new and very important things: hope for a life beyond my illness, a personal relationship with Jesus, and the choice to live. It had been years since I’d dreamed of living past my 20th birthday, and a life of freedom was completely incomprehensible.
I had left college two weeks before arriving in Arizona, when I finally realized that if I stayed any longer I was going to die. But being scared of dying, and choosing life are not mutually inclusive thoughts. I lingered somewhere in the middle where I could no longer handle the miserable existence I was creating for myself, but the highest my aspirations went was for an existence more manageable and just slightly less miserable.
I was devastated that my choice must include abandoning my Big Ten college volleyball team in the middle of the season and walking away from everything I had worked so hard for for years. Even though I told my coaches I’d be back in the Spring, I think I knew deep down that I had played my last game, that I was surrendering all my dreams. But I also knew that I couldn’t hope to play professionally overseas after college if I couldn’t even make it through college. And if I was really being honest with myself, playing wasn’t even fun anymore. After all, I was at that point a state and national champion, and a starter on my college team as a freshman, and I couldn’t even enjoy that because I was too busy berating myself for any imperfections. I couldn’t enjoy the sport I loved because I was too preoccupied in my own head in this other game that demanded all my attention and energy. It was devastating. And being in treatment, living amongst strangers who knew nothing of my athletic pursuits was the first time I had to actually find an identity in something other than being an athlete. I didn’t know who I was, or what my likes and dislikes were, or strengths and weaknesses outside of sports. As uncomfortable as shedding that persona was, it was time to find out who I really was, and who I was to my Creator.
That time in the desert was the biggest turning point of the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life- recover. Every single day was like visiting the battlefield in my civil war of one. But when I got back on a plane to head home in January, I was unrecognizable from the person I was on October 15th.
This is where the healing begins,
This is where the healing starts
When you come to where you’re broken within
The light meets the dark
-Tenth Avenue North “Healing Begins”
That was where my healing began. That was where His light met my dark.
October 15th is a day of beginnings. A day to cherish life and health and new chapters, and a day of promises fulfilled.
Four years ago today I met the man that is as much of a soulmate as one can be, if that kind of thing even exists. He fulfilled a promise made to me by God. You may think that sounds silly. How could God have promised such a thing to me? I’d argue that God made promises to those in the Bible who were also just ordinary human beings, and he made promises to humanity as a whole. He’s the same God today as He was then, so why wouldn’t he still be in the business of making and fulfilling promises? If you’re curious, you can visit the link above and discover what I am referring to, but if not you’ll just have to trust me.
Nonetheless, October 15th once again was a turning point in my life. It was the first day of the best 4 years of my life thus far. I am so blessed and grateful to have a partner in life that was seemingly appointed by heaven itself. Someone who anchors me, encourages me, challenges me to grow continuously, and loves me without condition.
October 15, 2011 found me unrecognizable from the person I was on October 15, 2005. And while October 15, 2015 carries with it my resemblance to the person from 2011, I am once again not the same. This year finds me stronger, braver, and with a bit more wisdom after a few more years under my belt.
Looking back, I can see that all along, I was being held. There were times in the Arizona desert and throughout my treatment that I felt the miraculous presence of God, receiving immediate undeniable answer to prayer, in a way in which no mere “coincidence” could provide explanation. And there were other times of prayer throughout the years when my knees hit the ground and I felt largely unheard. But some of those times, I found in His time, not mine, that he did answer after all. He always answers. We just aren’t always patient enough to listen.
One day I asked God for a sign. As I was driving, I asked Him to give me the biggest hawk I’ve ever seen as I round the next curve on that 2 lane country road. To just place one right in the middle of the road as I come around the corner, as confirmation that I was on the right path. I didn’t get my hawk that day.
A year and a half later I went home after taking my College Algebra final exam, evidence of tears of joy still glistening on my cheeks as I secured an A in the one subject that challenges me, and the one class I didn’t dare believe I could get through without damaging my GPA. I immediately jumped out of the car, changed shoes, and jumped on one of my horses bareback, feeling a rush of peacefulness and pure joy wash over me. I took him into the woods, and rounded a curve just beyond the mouth of the trail. I had to hold in a gasp that almost escaped my lips before I could catch it, because a dozen or so feet in front of me, perched on a branch jutting out over my path was a red-shouldered hawk- by far the biggest I’ve ever seen in person. He turned and looked at me, his steel gaze piercing right through me, and held it for what seemed like an eternity. Time stood still. He stayed for probably no more than 20 seconds, but 20 seconds in a staring contest with a bird of prey, close enough to count his feathers, while sitting atop a large animal who doesn’t want to stand still is a really long time.
It was one of those moments in my life many would chalk up to coincidence, or not even think twice about. But for me, in that moment I just knew. I knew God was finally responding in a way that He knew I would recognize. It was just an acknowledgement of what I at times have begged Him for- confirmation that I’m doing okay, that I’m moving in the right direction, that He is still holding me.
Why do I share all this? Why do I publicly reflect on the meaning of landmark Octobers and answered prayers? Why take you back a decade to a different lifetime that seems more like memories of a movie I watched about someone else’s life, than the one I actually lived myself?
Because I feel the responsibility that comes from having known darkness, yet finding redemption. The responsibility to be a voice and an example. If one person might see this and may find hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that things really can get better then I need to be here to say it.
Because there is hope. Because you’re not alone. Because after 7 years of being recovered, I can tell you that my absolute worst day, amplified, is still worlds away from my best day with anorexia and bulimia. Because even though sometimes choosing life is the hardest thing you will ever have to do, it is worth every single second.
Maybe you’re struggling with that choice. Maybe you’ve made it but don’t even know how to start picking up the pieces. Well know this: I found my life when I laid it down. Maybe you can too.