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  • Writer's pictureKatie Kemp


The day I went and got my first tattoo, I had walked into a coffee shop bathroom and was greeted with a familiar but faint smell that’s slightly acidic. I assumed it was why the girl before me was taking a little longer than the “pee and go” trip to the lou. Granted, I have no idea if this girl had just forced herself to puke, but the smell reminded me of when I used to my freshman year of college. There was one bathroom I would frequent that year at Michigan Tech. I would go to an intense collegiate basketball practice, gorge myself at the cafe and find my way to the back bathroom, the one less traveled, to purge. It was cleaned by the janitor-a stringy haired home-school mom and church goer. I knew- she knew- what was happening as she was the one who cleaned up in there a few times a week. Her eyes were filled with light, she was gentle and kind and her kindness annoyed me. She had asked if I had known of someone who was sick or throwing up. I nervously brushed off her question and detoured the conversation by asking her about her kids. She saw through me though, even if I wasn’t ready to be seen, and she was extending compassion the best way she knew how. What a surprise that this scent triggered my mind to time travel and recall this memory of the Jesus loving janitor. Oddly, the timing added a layer to my birthday weekend that caught my heart just right, making me feel loved & seen. It was a reminder that I was never alone in my self destruction, even if I thought I could run from everyone, especially God. But He was there, in the light in her eyes, in her kindness and concern. A few years after the said encounter with the janitor, my body would finally crash and I would bravely and desperately ask for help. Bulimia was just a symptom of the self hatred and disease of bitterness that plagued me from the inside out. I was in so much pain and didn’t know how to process it. It was later in a quaint farmhouse where I went through counselling, comforted and caffeinated by the handmade mochas from my aunt, I found the courage to face the painful memories and places of unforgiveness. The thing is, I had no idea that my anger and hatred was keeping me in chains. I had no idea my bitterness had anything to do with the numbing habits and self destruction. I also had no idea the freedom I would feel through forgiveness- of myself, of others, from God. My first experience of a true release from this decaying disease caused me to feel alive. I remember driving home that day, I could describe to you even now in vivid details the bridges I drove over, the green Wisconsin valleys and hills I passed. And even though I had driven that road many times before, now that my heart was free, I had the capacity to see it all the more clearly. It was on this drive where I felt a promise well up in my being, “You will soar above this.” I was reminded of Isa 40:31 which says, “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on wings like eagles.” The promise matched the deep knowing I sensed about the eating disorder I battled. I knew I would not only be free from it one day, but learn to soar above. That was 15 years ago. The promise still rings loud and clear. I not only just stopped abusing my body, but learned to love it, care for it, nurture it, come home to it. It has carried three babies and an autoimmune disease. It’s battled fatigue and joy. It’s been part of many adventures with my husband and trips with my family. Some days I love it and some I am frustrated with it, but I will no longer disconnect from it. This beautiful dwelling of both spirit and flesh is fragile and strong and reminds me to take care of my pain. For my 35th birthday I decided to write on this body of mine- a permanent mark and reminder of this promise so many years ago. It’s a reminder that God sometimes shows up in curious janitors or mocha making aunts. It’s a reminder of what happens when I press into pain and find my hope in a Strength larger than my own. And from my experience, this is how we learn to soar. Be blessed. ~Katie


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