By Lindsay Holifield
It was in the dry, barren desert in Arizona. I was barely seventeen, but my emaciated body seemed much younger.
I was fifteen years old when the eating disorder began and I had already been in treatment twice before this time in Arizona. The shame I carried weighed me down so I could barely breathe and the depression haunted the hollows of my eyes.
We met on the first day I arrived; I was weak and bone-thin, a dead girl walking. They told me she would be my primary therapist during my stay, and I nodded numbly and followed the dark-haired woman into her office.
From the very first session we had, I knew I could trust her. I not wanting to talk, and she patiently waiting and trying to understand my story. Even being closed off I must have somehow conveyed the intense self-hatred I kept inside because I remember my weeping and her soft, gentle words about being loved, loved, loved.
I hated being vulnerable, but over the next eight weeks, I began to open up, to share the pain and the shame that was locked inside of me. While I would vehemently tell her again and again that "no, it's not possible, I am not loveable," she would patiently tell me, again and again, that was not true. She showed me what God's love looked like, when I had never experienced that before. I grew up afraid of God, fearing his wrath and trying to keep him happy. She spoke of a different God, one who did not see me as dirty.
My family came to visit halfway through my time in treatment, and we had a family therapy session that did not end well. I went back into my shell and wouldn't talk, and my family was upset and left. She sat with me for a while in silence, and I waited for the inevitable disappointment from her about my behavior.
I will never forget her putting her hand on my shoulder as I cried and saying, "That shame doesn't belong on you." She saw what was going on underneath and spoke to the deepest need I had.
Near the end of my stay, I wrote out a list of everything that I was ashamed of about myself. I wanted to leave at the foot of a wooden cross on the grounds of the treatment center before I left. She and I went there together in the rain and when we reached the cross, she asked me to read the list out loud. I only managed to get a few words out before I broke down and, sitting in front of the cross, she prayed over me, that I would know that God was safe and loving. It was a sacred moment that I will never forget.
I know now that God is safe and loving. I know this because a woman lived out what God's unrelenting love looks like. She spoke grace over a broken girl and changed her life.
For bringing more of God's kingdom to earth by speaking healing into the lives of numerous women, I want this woman - Melodee - to be recognized as what she is: an eshet chayil, a woman of valor.
Lindsay is a senior Studio Art major at the University of North Texas.
This post is part of our Women of Valor series. Eshet chayil—woman of valor— has long been a blessing of praise in the Jewish community. Husbands often sing the line from Proverbs 31 to their wives at Sabbath meals. Women cheer one another on through accomplishments in homemaking, career, education, parenting, and justice by shouting a hearty “eshet chayil!” after each milestone. Great women of the faith, like Sarah and Ruth and Deborah, are identified as women of valor. One of my goals after completing my year of biblical womanhood was to “take back” Proverbs 31 as a blessing, not a to-do list, by identifying and celebrating women of valor. To help me in this, you submitted nearly 100 essays to our Women of Valor essay contest. There were so many essays that made me laugh, cry, and think I’ve decided that, in addition to the eight winners we featured in August, I will select several more to feature as guest posts throughout the fall.
We have honored a single mom, a feisty professor, a midwife, a foster parent, an abuse survivor, a brave grandmother, a master seamstress, a young Ugandan woman who reached out to a sister in need, and many more.