I met God in a mental hospital

I am the only preacher’s kid in the psych ward.

Eleven years old, and my parents have admitted me into a mental hospital and I am curled up on the bed in my green gown counting my ribs, feeling the wind in my chest, my stomach growling like the night Mum snuck into my bed to hold me, because I wouldn’t let her during the day, and that’s when she’d stifled a scream because her daughter was all bone.

Someone is muttering down the hall, and I curl tighter, staring at the blank wall.

No one likes a fat preacher’s kid.

I’d stopped eating at nine years old.

It wouldn’t be the first time my parents would stick me in a hospital and tell me to eat. The next time I’d be 13 and dying. Sixty pounds and dying. This time I am eighty pounds and still too much alive.

But religion feels dead, stuck up there on a cross in the church where my Dad preaches, Sunday after Sunday, me sitting there in my thick leotards planning quietly what to eat for the next week, and then Dad shakes people’s hands for hours and everyone wears that same Cheshire cat smile which peels off the moment the cars peel out of the parking lot.

But sometimes I can still see Him.

And lying there on those white sheets staring at the white walls of the psychiatric ward I can still smell him.


He smells like the rain on the red roads of Africa.


I’d met God as a little girl in the Congo and Nigeria, standing behind a wire fence staring at my neighbors with the night skin and the real kind of smiles, the kind which leap like exclamation marks.

And these people sang while they hung up their bright colored fabrics on the line and they washed their dishes in buckets of soapy water out in the sun, the same kind of buckets my brother and I would bathe in, watching the lizards scurry under the house.

There was dancing, there were women’s hips swaying even as they cooked their supper over a fire and there were no steeples or cars peeling out of parking lots.

There was just a red dirt road and a lot of hard working people.

I lie there on that white bed missing Him.

My Mum comes to the door with a brown paper bag, pulls out a mug which says “I Love you Beary, Beary Much,” and hands it to me.

I look at her, this woman who’s stuck me in a psych ward and then left to spend the day with the family at a theme park, and I scream, “I don’t want your presents!”

She shakes her head. “It’s not from me—it’s from your brother,” and I hear him shuffling outside the door.

I walk to the door in my green gown and he is standing there with his hands in his pockets, my little brother. Girls and boys wandering the halls, all with mental illnesses like me, and I look at this boy who’d sat in the bucket in the hot African sun with me, and I say, “I’m so sorry Keith. I love it, I’m so sorry.”

He looks down.

His hands in his pockets and I meet God there in the mental hospital.

I find God in my brother and his bear mug.

He walks away.

I walk back to bed.

Crawl back into the sheets.

The mug in my hands, and me, counting my ribs.

A Note from Emily

atlastgirlcoverMy memoir, Atlas Girl, is releasing this month, and I am excited to give away five copies today to Art of Simple readers!

Just leave a comment below to win.

I’m also giving away a FREE e-book to anyone who orders a copy of Atlas Girl. Just order here, and send a receipt to atlasgirlbookreceipt@gmail.com, and you’ll receive A House That God Built: 7 Essentials to Writing Inspirational Memoir — an absolutely FREE e-book co-authored by myself and editor/memoir teacher Mick Silva.

All proceeds from Atlas Girl will go towards my non-profit, The Lulu Tree. The Lulu Tree is dedicated to preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers. It is a grassroots organization bringing healing and hope to women and children in the slums of Uganda.

This giveaway will end Friday night, July 18, 2014, and the winners will be announced shortly thereafter. I hope you win!

Join the Conversation

A summer of stories

My daughter loves writing stories in her down time—she’s been done with her latest school year for a little over a week, and she’s already written several chapters of The Secret of the Blue Whale (right now, Julian has discovered a secret underwater village—more to come). She’s a bit like me in this way, even (read more…)

Join the Conversation

Finding spiritual whitespace

Don’t know if you’ve noticed around the Internet lately, but bloggers are clamoring for a bit of quiet. Everywhere I turn, I read that another blogging friend is taking a break from the loud cacophony of the competing voices on social media, vying for two seconds of our attention. I love this. I take a (read more…)

Join the Conversation

7 tips to help you read more (& love it)

It’s 3:00 p.m. The kids are quiet(-ish), exiled to their rooms for daily rest time. I have a million things to do. And yet on a good day—when I ignore my email, get off Twitter, and hide my to-do list—you’ll find me pinned to the sofa (or even better, out on the patio) with a (read more…)

Join the Conversation
tate reading

A summer reading list for tweens

When I first started this blog, I wrote my list of favorite picture books for young children because my oldest was three. But I blinked, and just like that, she’s now nine and a half. My, how time flies. I love age nine, but it’s totally pulled the rug out from under me—I feel like (read more…)

Join the Conversation