We Are Better Together


By Lindsey Smallwood | Twitter: @lindseysmallw


[Trigger warning: Disordered eating]

I had just left the psych ward.

Dramatic, but true. Years of practicing a secret eating disorder had left me broken in body and spirit. Finally a health crisis prompted a friend to take me to the doctor. Now, after eight weeks in the hospital painting my feelings in art therapy and checking boxes on a nutrition chart, I was discharged with no place to go.

I wanted to return to the university where I was halfway through my junior year, but I’d missed too much of the semester to return to campus. Family counseling during my hospitalization had not gone well and I wasn’t ready to do the necessary making of amends to go home. Living with friends while trying to take care of my mental health seemed awkward.

Then I got an invitation from my 78-year-old grandmother. I was welcome to come and live with her; in fact, she said she’d be glad for the company. She’d never liked living alone.

Grateful for a place to land, I packed the contents of my dorm room and drove to Grams’ house in rural Colorado. She welcomed me like I was home for the holidays, with joy and delight at my arrival, rather than judgment about my appearance or questions concerning how I’d spent the last two months. From the minute I stepped through her door, there was a sense of abundant grace.

We settled into a rhythm as roommates, reading the paper over Grape Nuts each morning and watching Law & Order reruns after dinner. I sold jeans at a retail store in the mall while Grams worked puzzles with friends and tended to the house. Though I hadn’t been to any church in a long time, Grams and I attended Sunday services together, a starting place for my reconnection with God. This growing faith, along with the work I was doing in therapy, gave me hope that I would actually be able to heal.

Over meals prepared according to my medically prescribed nutritional plan, I began to tell Grams parts of my story, glimpses into the loneliness, self-loathing, and shame that had marked most of my adolescence. My revelations were met with sympathy and stories from her own life. Until then I’d always seen her as a sweet Jesus-loving old lady who made great blueberry muffins and loved to play cards. I’d never considered her as a woman with aches and dreams and longings. But as we talked each night over steamed vegetables and bland portions of protein, our real selves began to show and I discovered that not only did I love this tiny woman who had taken me in, I really liked her too.

About a month after I arrived, Grams needed unexpected foot surgery. Following the operation, she was unable to walk or drive her car for some time. I was happy to help run errands and take her to doctor’s appointments. I also ended up attending Bible study with her since that felt better than just chauffeuring her there. Sitting in that sweet circle of women, I began to open myself up to faith again, finding that the God I had known in childhood was still there, despite my long absence from His presence.

One evening, as I prepared dinner in the kitchen, Grams called from her chair in the living room where she had her broken foot elevated on the ottoman.

“You know,” she said. “I think God knew I would need you here while I was healing. I don’t know what I would do without you.”

Hot tears filled my eyes as I put down the paring knife. I walked to her chair.

“Grams,” I said, taking her hand. “I think God knew I would need you while I was healing. I don’t know what I would do without you.”

She smiled. “He gave us each other.”

Yes, He did.

My plan for my life had been binging in secret and purging in shame. God’s plan was stories shared over meals at a table set for two. For years I had chosen secrets and self-harm but in the face of Grams’ gracious love, I could tell the truth and begin to hope for the future. What had initially seemed like a place of last resort became an oasis of hope. Grams taught me how to love myself by holding my stories with tenderness. God loved me through her compassionate care.

That’s what He does. God takes ordinary old ladies and makes them instruments of His mercy. God takes confused bulimics on the mend and uses them to bring life to the lonely.

God gives us each other to walk everything out over meals and errands and television reruns.

Even when broken in body and spirit, we are better together.

Though enamored of hiding, we are better together.

If far from home in an unexpected place, we are better together.

Always, always, we are better together.


About Lindsey:

lindsey horizontalLindsey Smallwood writes in Boulder, Colorado where she lives with her family. A former pastor and teacher, she loves to communicate truth through stories. Read more by Lindsey at her blog or connect with her on Facebook.


Image credit: Merijn Supply