An Appetite for Life

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An Appetite for Life

“Mandy looks like she’s dying,” someone whispered in the next pew.

I snapped back from confused thoughts. Glancing at my daughter I sighed and bowed my head. The service was over, but we remained seated as people filed out of church. We had an appointment with our pastor. Perhaps the most important one of our lives. I felt my heart breaking. Mandy’s thick, brown hair was stringy, brittle, shedding like cat’s fur. Her once vibrant eyes were dull, surrounded by translucent yellow skin. How had I failed her?

At thirteen, Amanda enjoyed school, church functions, and life with her Christian friends. But, she had changed since summer camp. Healthy dieting seemed a good idea at first. Mandy set a rigorous diet routine leaving little time for extracurricular activities or socializing. She grew more isolated as time went by. She laughed it off, saying she saw people at school and church enough and needed to focus on her goals. By spring, Mandy’s weight dropped from 148 pounds to 98 pounds. She seemed happier, more confident.

Mandy’s habits changed, too. Withdrawing to her room she pulled the shades and wore earbuds to shut the world out from intruding on her thoughts. She thrived at night. It was perfect for homework and more importantly, recording her day’s caloric intake. She challenged her food requirements daily. Gaining an ounce sent Mandy into depression. She invented countless ways to control her diet.

I would return from work and Mandy would declare she had already eaten dinner. One night, I found her in the kitchen slicing bread into tiny squares. She declared herself full after taking an hour to devour them. She might have an apple for lunch. Then I discovered her discarding slices because the apple was too large. She often complained about an upset stomach. Later, I learned she was taking laxatives daily. Her throat bore scars from forced vomiting. Mandy’s appetite for thinness was insatiable.

“I’m glad you agreed to talk with the pastor.”

“There’s nothing wrong with me,” Mandy argued as she scraped dry skin off her arm with cracked nails Once they were clean and shiny. “I’m just skinny.”

“We’ve been through this. When the school called saying they couldn’t be responsible for your health, it was the last straw.”

“They’re jealous they can’t control their weight like me,” Mandy said proudly. Hearing the pastor return Mandy stood to face him.

“Sit down, Amanda,” the pastor said. “Relax—after all, what’s more comfortable than God’s house?

“Amanda, you’re anorexic.” The pastor held his hand up, pleading to be heard. “Let me explain what anorexia nervosa is before you deny it.” Lips drawn tight in suspicion, Mandy sat down. “Anorexia is self-induced starvation. It includes binge and purge cycles of eating. One million people suffer anorexia in America today, so you’re not alone. Ninety percent are women. Cure it is possible, but one case in ten is fatal.”

The pastor’s bluntness stunned me.

“Anorexia is slow suicide. One-third of anorexics recover to live a normal life.  Fighting it requires everyone’s cooperation,” the pastor concluded.

“I don’t understand all the fuss?” Mandy said. “I’m just thin.”

“Mandy! You’re in the process of choosing life or death.” The pastor hammered at Mandy’s stubborn shell. “We’re not talking about dress sizes.”

“You don’t understand.” Mandy’s face reddened.” I’m in control. Other girls want to be thin, but I am thin.”

“Admitting there’s a problem is the first step. You think controlling weight to this extreme makes you stronger,” the pastor questioned. “Do you think God would approve of how you’re treating the body He gave you?”

“Maybe not,” Mandy admitted. “But if I can’t control my weight what can I control?”

“Anorexia isn’t about self-control. You lack confidence in your decisions. True beauty comes from within, not designer jeans. That’s where the Lord looks.” The pastor squeezed Mandy’s hand.

“Mandy! Don’t you know how dreadful you look?” I sobbed. “When you’re sleeping, all I see is skin and bones. It tears me apart. I don’t know what to do!”

“Starving is Mandy’s attempt to have control in her life. Anorexia is a problem of the whole individual, not just an eating disorder.” The pastor turned to Amanda, “What do you think about your life?”

“Nobody listens to me. I don’t blame them. I’m not pretty or smart. Kids called me fatty. At least I can control that.” Mandy’s shoulders trembled as she began to cry.

“There’s desperation and anger in your eyes, Mandy. You’re flaunting your body, saying, ‘See! Look! I win!’ You’re only destroying yourself. Everyone struggles between flesh and spirit. God distinguishes between the corruption in our hearts and the convictions of our conscience. Trust God. Accept His gift of life given to you.’ Be yourself. That’s what God wants. You worry about others accepting you so much you’ve forgotten to accept yourself as God accepts you.

“Anorexia is a suicidal crutch substituting starvation for faith and love,” the pastor said. “Help us to help you.”

“I want to get better,” Mandy said. “Sometimes I feel mom and dad want more than I can give.” Mandy’s voice quivered with anguish.

“Mandy, you’re entering the lion’s den,” the pastor said. “Be strong like Daniel. Trust in Christ’s love. Accept yourself as unique as God made you.”

“Mandy, I want you to grow into a strong, loving individual. Forgive me if your father or I have asked too much of you. We want to help you. With the pastor’s support and God’s guidance, we’ll beat this together.”

“The cure is long, hard work,” the pastor added. “There will be frustrations, relapses, temptations. No step will be as difficult as today’s. Admitting your problem is the beginning. God’s love, wisdom, and strength will protect you. With God for you, what can stand against you?”

Relief flooded my heart. I knew like Daniel, we aren’t alone in this deadly struggle. Mandy’s eyes shined with hope. Our faith in God would prevail. Mandy’s appetite for life had been renewed.

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B.C. Bond is a retired educator, editor, and writer living in upstate New York. He has published articles for a variety of publications such as The Lutheran Digest, Purpose, Bible Advocate, Message Magazine, and other religious publications during the past 35 years.