ELK RAPIDS — It began in elementary school, as it does most of the time. Little Olivia Lein practiced her moves at the dance studio. She was a little pudgier than some of the other girls. That made some of the dance moves more difficult, especially the splits.
“I would get teased because I didn’t look like the other girls and I couldn’t get to that point where they did,” says Olivia, now 22.
Later in high school, she asked a boy to be her dance partner. The boy wanted to start dating Olivia, but Olivia wasn’t so interested. Even her dance teacher warned her to keep it platonic while they were dancing together. The boy remained persistent and she finally gave in.
“About three months into the relationship, he started backing off and broke it off with me. He started calling me every bad name in the book which you could call a woman. That broke back memories of when I was bullied as a kid.”
This led to Olivia becoming depressed. Her food intake went way down, sometimes eating only a banana a day. As she noticed the weight loss, she felt proud she could finally control something. And the results in her appearance made her feel better. So, to raise her spirits even higher she continued to eat less and began exercising excessively.
In her excessiveness, Olivia caused damage to her heart. She was diagnosed with pericardial effusion, a layer of fluid around her heart.
Olivia was sent down to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital for treatment. Her time there went well. She was away from school for about a month that time.
After returning to school for about another month, medical tests revealed a dangerous drop in sodium. Her parents received a warning call to get her to the doctor right away. Although she was in the middle of a school play, her parents rushed her to Munson Hospital in Traverse City.
Further testing revealed her blood sugar was at 30. Her heartbeat is in the 20s and she was only breathing three times a minute.
While lying in a hospital bed, Olivia saw a bright light and wondered if her time was now up.
“I remember God saying, ‘Olivia, this is fair warning for you. Shape up or you will see the light some time soon.’”
Olivia’s parent were from Lutheran and Presbyterian backgrounds. So, faith had played a role in her life so far. But this experience was new.
Since she had been refusing any food, hospital workers put a PICC line and feeding tube in her arm to keep her alive.
Later she was moved to University of Michigan Hospital. While recovering there, she and her mom would take walks around the Nichols Arboretum. While there she came across a railroad bridge with the word, “Pray,” spray-painted on the side. Again, Olivia had a feeling God was reaching out to her somehow and she had a feeling of peace.
Before the end of summer, Olivia was in a better place and back home. She had gone up to a healthy weight and was thinking in more healthy ways.
“Eating disorders are pretty much there forever,” says Olivia. “But you can choose not to act on those behaviors.”
In December again, her body dysmorphia came back. She saw her body as being heavier than it really was.
This time she was taken to Timberline Knowles Treatment Center in Lemont, Illinois, a Christian facility. They had a three phase program to help in the healing process. While living there, Olivia was allowed to attend a nearby church.
While attending church, she met a woman named Barb. After each service, Barb would pray with the girls from Timberline Knowles for healing. She also gave them the popular “Jesus Calling” devotional book, which helps readers find peace in the presence of God.
This marked a turning point for Olivia as she spent more time with God.
After this, Olivia tried out and won the title of Miss Am Vets (American Veterans), which gave her a sense of purpose. Unfortunately, when she surrendered her title at the end of her reign, depression set in again. She felt she had lost her purpose.
Last October, Olivia ended up at the Renfrew Center For Eating Disorders in Cocoanut Creek, Florida, another center with Christian therapists. Here she met another girl, Mary Katelyn, who came from a faith background also. Mary decided they should do devotionals together every morning, considering she too had a “Jesus Calling” devotional.
“It was like every devotional was exactly what I needed to hear for that day. It’s funny how God works like that.
“Mary Kaitlyn has kept in touch with me everyday. She prays with me. We Face-time. We encourage each other.”
Regular devotionals and fellowship with others who struggle has led to a new chapter in her life. Olivia feels she now has a longer term mission, to reach out to others who are struggling in the same way she has. She has already helped out four other girls in her community. Now, she is writing a memoir about her experiences. Olivia kept a diary of her experiences throughout her struggle and is using it as a basis for her upcoming book.
Olivia says she has learned to appreciate this journey God has put her on. The people she has met and the way her faith has increased have impacted her life greatly.
“God is amazing. Even though you may not feel His presence sometimes, He is always there. He will never give up on you. He will never fail you. You just have to trust in Him.”