Jesus is Better Looking Than My Eating Disorder: Part 1
Testimony: a first person account of God’s life-changing work; a vulnerable outpouring of one’s soul via written word or verbal narration for the encouragement of others and the glorification of the author, director and main character of said narrative, who is Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Here is mine.
Since 2011, I’ve claimed ‘fine.’ I’ve said I was happy, healthy and without debilitating problem. I am confessing to you now, that was always a lie. To those who were the recipient of my falsified melody: please forgive me. The truth is, my body, mind, emotions and spirit were actually waging war against an eating disorder — and losing. It began as innocent ‘health awareness’ my freshman year of college but quickly evolved into a towering, ravenous, snarling monster neatly ‘hidden’ behind my ‘fine’ facade. By January 2012, I was losing ground and come January 2013, I was a hollow 92 pounds, malnourished and at risk of fatality. A shell of a human.
Eat too much. Don't eat at all. Don't eat at all more. Binge. Purge. Exercise. Don't eat. Binge. Throw up. Binge. Exercise. Don't eat that. Can't eat that. Fearful of eating that. Don't eat at all. Exercise more and more.
It wasn't pretty.
It took my incredibly devout, brave and strong best friend at the time, Christy, to speak God’s hard truth in my life:
I was not fine and I needed help.
By the grace of God, the support of my loving parents and what few friends I’d managed to keep, I invested ten long, difficult but fruitful weeks of 2013 in a program at the Eating Disorder Center of Denver where I got much of the psychological help I required. And after graduating from my program and I reclaimed my ‘fine’ identity.
Sure, I was a heck of a lot better than before the program (praise Jesus) but I was far from the ‘fine’ I claimed. My body was recovered and my psyche had the tools it needed to survive...but no where near thrive. In my heart, I knew I had a long way to go and my spirit suspected a guy named Jesus had something to do with me getting there. I’d always known about Him but I barely knew Him. It was this suspicion (or rather, His divine pursuit) that landed me sitting at a brand-new church by myself on September 8th, 2013.
I’ll never forget that day when Jesus spoke directly to my soul. He revealed His truth to me. “I know you, Leah. And I know you’re not fine.” I wept and wept, sitting face-to-face with the intimacy I longed for. On that day I decided I wanted Jesus for myself and yet, the war raged on because I refused to lift my eyes. My eating disorder was my first conscious thought of the day and my last of the night. If I had to give it a number…upwards 150 to 200 disordered thoughts a day. The haunted turntable of my thoughts never rested. Even with the memory of Jesus’ voice echoing in my soul, I kept my eyes focused on my anorexia, bulimia and compulsive exercise, trying to find a ‘quick fix’. I was so fed up with being broken and pretending I wasn’t. And although I now knew I loved Jesus, I still wanted freedom for myself more than I wanted Him. I wanted Him so that I could be free — not just Him for His sake. And so I pressed on searching for a ‘solution’ all the while, never looking at He who is the solution.
Maybe if I just do this different, try hard enough, adopt that, change this behavior, find balance…on and on and like a dog nipping at her own tail, the attempts and failures circled. It was exhausting and I remained chained to the very thing I wanted to be rid of.
I wish I could tell you since leaving for the Race in August my thoughts subsided...
but I refuse to lie again.
No, even in the midst of serving Jesus, the litany of thoughts rambled on. And I empowered them as I chased control through the only thing I could still control out on the field: compulsive exercise. Every single morning, I’d be up before my teammates working out and then spending time with Jesus. Should something interfere, I chose exercise over Him every time. I paid homage to my idol — aka control — and turned my back on my Father. When I got around to spending time with God, He’d gently confront me just like He’s done for years (YEARS!), asking me if I was willing to choose Him first. And I continually said, “You know I want to!” but the moment I’d think about loosening the grip, I’d immediately get anxious and re-choose my control. “I’ll just do this first and then be free to be with you.” I’d try to negotiate. I’ll do both — love God and love my idols. I tried to do exactly what the Bible says were unable to do: serve two Gods.
I ran the first four months of my Race like this, while still on the hunt for my ‘quick fix.’ Then on December 12th, I found myself on our 30 hour bus ride to our ministry site in the Philippines where I read the entirety of Seth Barnes’ Kingdom Journeys and yet again, God gently but pointedly confronted me.
"A kingdom journey is most effective when we abandon what we think we cannot abandon.”
Do you hear that?! It’s the thing you think, "I quite literally CANNOT, WILL NOT let go of" is the EXACT thing you MUST lay down in order to make HIM number one. If the thing that immediately popped in your head isn’t Jesus, THAT is the thing that’s sitting in HIS rightful place and must be reordered so He may reign. Needless to say, that quote knocked me flat on my behind. Tears. Blubbering tears on the middle of a public bus, crying over my crossroads. Choose Jesus or choose control again. And so I prayed. I prayed a lot — for the strength and courage to do the thing He set before me: abandon my number one.
“How long?” I asked. “30 days.” He replied.
I’ve given up exercise twice before in my life but only did it because a human told me to. I completed it because I am good at ‘following the rules’ and performing ‘correctly’. I didn’t do it with my heart and therefore still kept all of the chains that came with the slavery. But this time...for the first time, I submitted to Him and only Him with my whole heart.
During those 30 days, I was challenged with ALL the emotions that would typically send me running (literally) BUT I spent more time feeling, reading, studying the Word and praying than I ever had before. Yeah, it was tough but the intimacy I shared with God Himself was deeper than I’d ever experienced and therefore, absolutely worth it. What’s funny is when I first accepted the World Race, the Philippines was big part of my story of acceptance (read my first blog, Why Race?). I thought it was because God was going to miracles there or show up in a huge way durning ministry. Turns out it was just the month He planned to break me down so He could bind me up.
Friends, before you hear the rest of the story — the beautiful resolve that displays God’s redemption — an edifying remark: your story doesn’t have to involve exercise or food but rather anything you prioritize before God. It could be safety, security, money, another human — literally anything that prevents you from fully investing and relying on God.
That is disorder — your loves, out of order.
And even right now, if Jesus is putting “that thing” on your heart, don’t ignore Him! A simple, “I hear you…what do you want me to do?” will immediately usher you closer to His heart and He will absolutely tell you what you must do to put Him first. If you’re anything like me, your flesh reaction will immediately yank the “HELL NO!” alarm. Nothing in you, besides your soul, will want to do it…and that’s how you know it’s right.