Sara Gabrielle Devenish, better known to her colleagues and friends as "Elle," was taken home by her Lord and Savior last Thursday in the early morning hours. She died peacefully in her sleep, just the way she had imagined she would.
For those of you who have read Elle's column, Dying to Meet Him, and have followed the story of her 18-year battle with anorexia, you saw how a young 30-year-old woman in the prime of her life was tasked with preparing her journey to heaven instead of starting a family or climbing a career ladder.
Elle started working for The Christian Post in early fall of 2011 and soon became a favorite among our group. Initially hired as a copyeditor, her talents as a reporter and writer soon became evident. Her ability to capture controversial and emotional topics, such as in Pornography In The Pew, Christianity and Cults, and in her in-depth reporting on Mormonism, gave readers a personal insight into worlds they may have never seen before.
Like most of my colleagues, her announcement that she had only months to live was shocking. Sure, I had noticed how thin she was when I had seen a few of her pictures on Facebook, but I had no idea she suffered from anorexia.
The fact was I had never known anyone who battled this awful condition. I guess I just didn't know what to look for.
After talking to her several times a week and reading her columns after she was sent home under hospice care, I asked my editor and then Elle if it would be okay to interview her. She was doing a great job of expressing her emotions in her writing, but I sensed there was more to her story – that there were demons she struggled with that she wasn't discussing. When I asked Elle, I found that true to her journalist heart, she wanted her full story told.
Elle was an only child and grew up in a suburban, middle-income neighborhood in Colorado. She described her childhood as some of the best years of her life – filled with the innocence of playing kick-the-can on long summer evenings when the western sun seemed as if it would never set, hanging out with friends in her neighborhood and just experiencing the innocence of youth.
Then came the difficult adolescent years we all somehow fumble through. For Elle they were overwhelming.
She was a self-described "bookworm," and on most days, a little on the "nerdy" side she jokingly remarked. Elle made straight A's, but one time, when she was distraught over getting her first B, her teacher only laughed, saying she was glad to know her star pupil was not perfect all the time.
Yet her voice and demeanor turned dark as she told of how as a 13-year-old she was teased for being chubby by kids who walked home with her after school.
Although she was raised in a loving, Christian home, Elle talked about the traumatic experience she endured after being sexually assaulted by an older boy in a Sunday school room during a youth group meeting when she was in the eighth grade. During the attack she recalled the Bible that was lying near her feet and how she prayed to Jesus to help her. Thankfully, the attack did not destroy her faith in God, but it did forever change her life.
For the next several years she was in and out of treatment centers as her parents spent most of their savings on hers, trying to find a cure for her eating disorder.
There were times when she went months without seeing her parents while at the centers. She had nurses who literally stood over her, making sure she – as well as the other girls there – cleaned their plates, didn't exercise excessively before or after eating to burn off their perceived fat, and didn't take the laxatives they tried to sneak into the hospital to purge the food they just ate.
At times Elle bounced back, gaining weight and looking healthy and vibrant. At one point she attended culinary school and achieved the first level designation as a sommelier, or wine expert. Most interesting is that many who suffer from eating disorders have a fascination – and even a love – for food.
Elle knew anorexia was her demon. She knew that anorexia was not just about trying to look skinny, but that it was a mental and an emotional disease that overwhelmed her at the most stressful times in her life. She learned it was about control and how she could use it as a tool in some areas while it was slipping out of her grips in others.
What she also knew was that Jesus was stronger than Satan and in the end, no matter how long she lived, she would spend eternity cradled in his presence.
Despite her condition, some of us thought she was getting better because her spirit and her voice became stronger. She was trying to eat a little more, but her digestive system was destroyed and continually rejected anything more than a few bites of Jell-O, dry cereal or a couple swallows of apple juice. Eventually that got to be too much, too.
Weeks before she died, her dad took her out for one last "date night" and thankfully she was able to eat a little and enjoy their time together. They celebrated with a glass of champagne, while Elle instructed her dad on the difference between the "small bubbles and the big bubbles." They both knew it would be their last night out.
Like all of my colleagues and the many people she encountered throughout her life, I'll miss my friend. I hope her story, like the others of young women who battle this horrible disease, will make a difference in someone else's life because of her faith and love for God and His eternal promises.
Toward the end of our interview, Elle talked about how when she gets to heaven the first thing she wants to do is crawl up in Jesus' lap and thank him for dying on the cross for her demons and her sins. I know He is more than willing to accommodate her and that tender moment has already happened.
I look forward to seeing my friend one day in her healthy and perfect heavenly body. I know she'll be there to greet me.