This is the semester that wasn’t supposed to happen. It was my worst nightmare, a fate that loomed over me until the harsh December day when the doctor told me to pack up my things and head home. Then it became all too real. And let me tell ya: Humbling doesn’t begin to describe the what it’s like to take a medical leave of absence from college in order to get treatment for a mental illness. Humiliating is more like it.
But I put college on hold and began investing 30+ hours a week in intensive treatment. Rather, I was forced to put college on hold. I kinda blew through all my other options. Ah, the grace of God: more abundant than even the most monumental screw-ups.
I’ve shared my story before. That’s not what this post is about. This is about the aftermath. The fact is: I knew I’d made the right choice to take the semester off. But that didn’t erase the shame I had regarding that decision. Because of my medical leave, I’d no longer graduate with my peers in May of 2017. I’d be a December grad (cue the dreary music).
A winter graduation isn’t a big deal, but I quickly grew irritated with the dialogue surrounding it:
Person: Are you excited to graduate in May?!
Me: I’m actually graduating in December, so I still have a semester left.
Person: Oh! That’s totally fine, I remember ________ (fill in name) took longer than 4yrs to graduate…..
Me: Actually, I took a medical leave of absence my sophomore year. So, yeah….
Most people let the conversation awkwardly die there, but a few will ask why I took the semester off and that is hard for me to share- especially with strangers. I love to tell of what God has done in my life, yes. But… I’m also ashamed that I’ve taken a different path than I intended.
And that’s hard.
But it dawns on me that if I had somehow finished my sophomore year, everything would be different. I would have, for a while, avoided the fracture of my own facade. I would’ve kept clinging to my social and athletic status as the markers of my worth. Oh how sweet it is that I fell and began to see the grace of God. As the Psalmist David once sang to the Lord: “Better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere (Psalm 84:10).”
I’d rather be in the presence and freedom of the Lord– no matter how embarrassing or difficult the route– than cruising down the highway in my own broken direction. Where I wanted to keep suffering, God wanted to heal. That medical leave was the first step in my healing.
So the moral of the story is this: God works amazing things when it seems like the world is falling apart. I am, right now, healthy and pursuing 100% freedom. I’ve never experienced life to the extent that I am right now, and I will never forget the grace God showed when He pulled me out of school and began my healing. That’s our God!
If you’re in a hard place right now: Cling to the promises of the Lord. He will never leave you and He is always working for your eternal good and His glory. And friends, never forget to recognize the Lord’s goodness when it smacks you in the face! It might be months or years down the road, but you will reach a place where your heart is overflowing with gratitude for the same trials that gutted all you were. In the meantime: Journal, write and pray. Keep record of it all, so you can reflect back and see God’s love for you through these stages in life.
I want to end with this:
January 17, 2015
I thought I’d be back at school by now, back at Butler and thriving at the start of my fourth semester in college. But that’s not at all what has happened and I’ve made the difficult decision to take the semester off so I can focus on my recovery and truly get free from anorexia. I never anticipated this becoming my journey. Yet, I know that God can bring healing from all circumstances and to all people—even me.
It’s tough because today is Stephanie’s birthday and I feel like I was the worst roommate ever….part of me wonders how (and why) she put up with me for as long as she did.
That’s not why I’m writing tonight though. Lord, I am really struggling this evening. I am having such a hard time letting go… I want to obey you but I am so torn by the lies and temptations of the devil… A part of me still desires the skin and bones that anorexia provided. The control. But I know that in order to be the confident and free Hannah, the one who can live life and run with Your joy, I have to let go of that control. I am going to be hurt, taken advantage of and probably abandoned. But You, Oh God, will never leave or forsake me… I need not be afraid of what others can do to me because You are my rock. Help me to see myself as beautiful, but even when I can’t yet see that: Let me fix my eyes on You and trust that You are in this and I will never regret choosing You.”
God always redeems.