I am especially grateful to have Leigh Erdman joining me today at Hopefeathers. At the start of 2015, I wrote about my hope to find stories of real change. Change and healing walk hand in hand and Leigh’s story is a beautiful example of both. Leigh describes herself as “the wife of an amazing man and the mama of four great kids through birth and adoption. When she isn’t playing referee and chauffeur she enjoys reading, running, and deep conversation. She is a sinner saved by grace and is constantly amazed at God’s mercy and love in her life.” I am humbled and encouraged by her story and so grateful that she was willing to share so vulnerably with us today:
15 years ago I was hungry.
Sitting in the hard folding chair of the church, my legs ached and my heart raced. I could see the beat of my heart through my shirt, keeping uneven time with the piano. My hip bones stuck out of my skirt. My tiny arms struggled to hold the hymnal without shaking.
And then the pastor, with his sharp eye and warm smile, lifted the bread and broke it.
“This is my body, broken for you.” He lifted the cup.
“This is my blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins. Take, eat and drink in remembrance of me.”
I watched as the tray was passed. Tiny white crackers on a silver platter. His body passed from hand to hand. I took the cracker numbly, passed it down the row, and discreetly put it my pocket. It crumbled into a million little pieces.
I ran my first marathon during my senior year of high school, on a whim. The whim paid off; I won my age group, and found my passion. There was nothing I loved more than the feeling of lacing up my shoes and hitting the road. The road comforted my introverted heart – my time, my space, my speed. As the eldest child of a pastor, my life had a fishbowl essence- I felt the eyes of my church and our faith community on me constantly, and the compulsion to measure up was always pressing.
My passion soon became my obsession. I decided that because I had finally found something in which I excelled, I would pursue it with all my heart . Every morning, whether I felt like it or not, my shoes hit the road. Mile after mile after mile. As I continued to train I restricted my food intake in order to become as fast as possible. Food soon became something to fear and I looked for every opportunity to avoid eating. My body became smaller and smaller, and my passion became an addiction.
My sickness deepened during my first year at college. I ran from everything and from everyone who loved me. My studies became an afterthought, as did my relationships. I felt far, far away, like there was a glass wall between me and the world. No one came in, and I dared not go out. I knew that I had a problem, but I was terrified to admit that I had lost control. Running was my only comfort. My body wasted away.
I became convinced that Jesus had abandoned me. I spent every night in my tiny dorm room silently screaming out to Him to take this burden from me. Take my sickness or take my life, I was ok with either. The pain had become too much for me. I cried out and heard nothing in return. I convinced myself that God was disappointed in me and I was on my own. In a few more weeks I would quit school and move back home. I needed a safe place to try to make sense of where I had found myself.
During the year I was home I sought counseling and had strict rules put into place for my exercise and diet. My physical body slowly began to heal, but Jesus still seemed far away. Reading my bible was painful- instead of finding hope and freedom I felt guilty for all the ways I was letting Him down. Eventually I gave up and tried a new approach.
As an English major I have always treasured poetry and ancient texts, so I decided to wade my way through the Episcopal Liturgy and a book of spiritual verse. I looked at it as a kind of God-adjacent study. It felt safer to read about God than to read His own Word.
There, in those old verses, God met me. For the next year I read prayers penned hundreds of years ago that spoke directly to my soul. Prayers of struggle, of lamentation, of attrition, of despair. Poems of desperation and pain. I found myself unconsciously nodding along, tears flowing. I felt heard. I felt understood. I felt hope.
Looking back on that time is difficult for me. I don’t want to remember how I wondered if anyone would love me if they knew my struggle. I want to live in the present, enjoying the gifts of my husband and four precious children. I don’t want to remember how exhausted I felt all the time;. I want to embrace my healthy, energetic body. I don’t want to remember the pain, I want to forget. To ignore. To pretend that those years never existed. And yet I look in the Old Testament, at all the times the Lord commands the Israelites to remember His faithfulness. To remember His covenant with them. And I know forgetting is not an option.
15 years later, I sit in the wooden pew of our new church home. I open the hymnal with ease, my body strong and my heart resting. I begin to recite the same lines I read so many years ago.
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid.
I nod slowly, remembering the weight of my secret and the depth of His love.
We have not loved you with our whole heart.
I bow my head, remembering all the things I have loved more than Him.
And then, when the invitation is given, it’s all I can do to not run down the aisle, take the bread and the cup and gulp it all down in thanksgiving. The gifts of God for the people of God. The only food that truly satisfies.
Take, eat. In remembrance of me.
I remember my past, but I delight in His mercy. His hand reaching down to me at my most broken. His redemption of my life. And I take, I eat, I drink with joy.
(Thank you to Jenna Mace for the photograph.)