With the Fruit of Her Hands

This Easter could potentially have passed by without any family getting together, without any “special” aspect to the day. I couldn’t have that. Easter is too important. It’s one of the days in a year that I believe always deserves new memory-making. And circumstances put me in a position where I could be passive and let it pass as an ordinary day, or I could do something about it. So I thought, WWP31WD?

 

image via homeschoolinmama.com

image via homeschoolinmama.com

What would the Proverbs 31 woman do?

It took less than a second for the answer to come. She would cook, and the people would come.

So I seized the opportunity to host my second holiday. Although, the first one barely counts. Last Christmas Eve, I had a total of seven people at the house, myself included, which is about five people more than I have ever cooked for at one time. I was a little nervous, but took an easy route in two big pots of chili on the stove- one beef and turkey, the other venison. I mixed up a Mexican style salad, and my boyfriend’s mom made everyone a grilled cheese. It was a perfect meal for a chilly night and all I really had to do was make sure the chili didn’t burn. Even in light of my limited responsibilities I forgot about one basic necessity- drinks. When everyone arrived I mumbled and stumbled through the few options we had in the fridge, mentally smacking myself on the head for my lack of foresight.

Oh well, it turned out great. The house was beautifully decorated for Christmas, the fire in the fireplace warm and inviting, and I couldn’t have asked for better company. The night ended with a sense of everything right in the world.

But this time around, this Easter, it was time to step up my game a bit. I didn’t want to rely on another one pot wonder. Not that there is anything wrong with a good pot of chili, but this time there would only be four people eating, so it was the perfect opportunity to see if I could create another decent, edible holiday meal, but something different this time.

I only really started cooking, and when I say cooking, I mean not just something you pull out of a box, transfer to a baking dish and then stick in the oven for 20 minutes, in the past two years, more or less. At first, even a simple box taco kit gave me its share of trouble, including tortillas so burnt that the house smelled for over a week and a raccoon literally walked up to the tortillas thrown out the back door, smelled them, and walked away leaving them untouched.

So this was a big deal for me. This process of learning how to host and cook for multiple people, it’s exciting yet a little nerve-wracking. I’ve come to enjoy cooking for others and it’s a way to show love, to show others we care. I just sent up a little prayer that I wouldn’t have to order a pizza by the time company arrived.

And, while there are a couple things that can be improved upon, everything was not only edible, but seemingly enjoyable. I even remembered the drinks! ….though, not the ice, but progress is progress, right?

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Picture0421141140_1 (1)  There was ham, crock pot cheesy potatoes, green beans, bacon wrapped asparagus, dinner rolls, mini caprese salads, deviled eggs, fresh fruit, cheesecake topped strawberries, and a colorful cake.

Nothing burned, no smoke alarms went off, no one died of sudden food poisoning, everyone had a good time and left with full bellies.

Success, I say!

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Here are a few things I learned through the process. These may be common sense, or even altogether unneccesary, for the more practiced hosts and hostesses, but for those with little practice and just starting out, like myself, these may come in handy and help reduce stress and worry when cooking time arrives:

  1. Plan ahead. Plan out your meal at least a week ahead of time, including any side dishes, any dessert, all of it. Gather all your recipes in one place with easy access, whether printed out from the computer or written down on a sheet of paper. Ensure to account for adequate serving sizes to feed your guests. Overestimate if need be, better to have leftovers than not enough.
  2. Create a grocery list and bring it, and a pen or marker, with you to the grocery store so that you can mark off each item as you put it in your cart. This way you will not forget anything.
  3. Shop at least a couple days ahead of time for groceries. Especially around the holidays, store shelves may be emptied of staple items during a busy day full of last minute shoppers, and you don’t want to be left scrambling to find one particular item at the last minute.
  4. Make whatever you can the day before. If you can make a cake the day before, or cut fruit, do what you can that can be wrapped and put in the fridge until the next day.
  5. Plan out your timing. Write down on how much time each dish needs to cook and if it needs to be put in the oven, on the stove, or in the crock pot. Try to arrange to spread things out among different cooking sources, so not everything needs to be put in the oven, or everything needs to be put on the stove. Then plan ahead of time what you needs to be put where and in what order. Know what time you need to start. If something needs to be put in the crock pot at 10 a.m. to be ready or dinner, start getting things out at 9:45.
  6. Always allow a little extra time. I learned that even if a recipe calls for 20 minutes cook time, I sometimes underestimated prep time-whether it’s peeling or slicing or mixing. Also, with some recipes, even after the called for 20 minutes of cook time, I’d find it isn’t done and needs 10 more minutes. Give yourself leeway so you’re not left rushing at the last minute. Rushing causes mistakes and under-cooked food.

 

These are the six things I did as a completely amateur cook and host to prepare and serve a holiday meal. Along the way I learned a few things to make things better for next time, but these tips allowed me to avoid stress, and as a result, according to my boyfriend, I seemed to pull it off “flawlessly.”

 

Have any of your own ideas on cooking for others with little experience, or stories to share of your own amateur kitchen endeavors? Comment below!

 

 

Categories: Spirituality and Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beckoned to the Cross: An Easter Story

As a kid, I looked forward to Easter due to the inevitable colorful basket full of chocolate  treats and other goodies, the messy fun of decorating eggs, and even the pretty little dress and bonnet I got to wear to church. Though church was the afterthought. I could hardly sit still through the service in anticipation of the delicious brunch sure to follow, topped off with the sugar rush from the dessert I was very rarely allowed to have. I planned to take full advantage of that small window of decadent opportunity. As the priest spoke of an empty tomb and a risen Lord, I was visualizing all the places at the park I could think of where they might be hiding the Easter eggs, pre-planning my searching strategy.

My dad would grimace at the $10 spent at the mall for a Polaroid with a faux celebrity rabbit, that would almost certainly have been better spent elsewhere. I would wait in line with my mom, slightly intimidated, yet in awe, to meet the talking two-legged bunny twice my size who delivers those baskets full of goodies, because that scenario didn’t strike me as the least bit odd.

image via robbwolf.com

image via robbwolf.com

Fast forward 20 plus years, and Easter still wouldn’t be complete without a chocolate bunny, let’s be real, but…now it’s personal. I always knew Jesus died on the cross for my sins on Good Friday and rose on Easter Sunday, but one Saturday morning in January of 2008 that knowledge crossed the bridge from my brain to my heart.

I was in rehab, a small residential group home for young women with eating disorders, and it was one year to the day of experiencing rape. One year filled with multiple overdoses and suicidal behavior, and darkness and brokenness and self-hate and self-destruction. I was the first awake that morning, and as I walked through the living room I flipped on the light switch, then headed to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. In the middle of the living room a voice suddenly spoke, “You don’t have to keep punishing yourself. I’ve already paid that price for you.”

I froze. I immediately knew it was Jesus. And I could hardly believe what had just happened. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. “Out loud? Uh, you think maybe it was just in your head?”

I don’t know. My ears processed the voice as “out loud” but if someone else was in the room would they have heard it as well? Would Jesus even have chosen that moment if someone else could have overheard and verified my story, or would it only have been at a moment when I was alone? Could it be out loud but in my head at the same time? If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it still make a sound? …and the temporarily dead Harry Potter looks up at the permanently deceased Dumbledore, in all his gray-bearded-wisdom, “Professor? Is this real, or is it just happening inside my head?” He replies, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on Earth should that mean that it is not real?”

image via Harry Potter wiki

image via Harry Potter wiki

Wise man, that Dumbledore. Confused yet? Yeah, that’s how I feel when trying to explain what happened that day. To many, it sounds like it doesn’t make any sense or can’t possibly be real. But I heard what I heard, and doubting that fact isn’t going to get me anywhere.

I picture Jesus with long hair, though less gray than Dumbledore’s, on the hill of Calvary with outstretched, nail-pierced hands, beckoning me, the defeated cross visible behind him. I always knew I was offered forgiveness and redemption and freedom, but I couldn’t own it, I couldn’t accept it. It wasn’t until that moment that I understood what my inability and refusal to accept forgiveness really said- that I didn’t accept Jesus’ death. That I was taking what He did on the cross, the whipping He endured for me, and throwing it away. If I didn’t accept my freedom, then all He did was for nothing. It was moot. Wasted.

When I was younger I was told that every time I sinned it was like shoving another thorn through Jesus’ head. So I saw the blood soaked cross as a source of shame, as proof of my sin, rather than deliverance from it. Over the years, I chained myself to the cross, inviting the suffering I knew I deserved, without realizing the shackles weren’t even there. They had already been broken, the blood debt paid. I was always free, I just didn’t know it yet. It’s as if I finally looked up from the floor of the self-made jail cell and realized the door was actually open.

That’s Easter.

The debt is paid. The tomb is empty. He is risen.

The stations of the cross that I learned about in school, that we went through in church, are really components of a love story- the story of restoration and redemption…should we choose to accept.

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Only Love Thaws a Frozen Heart

frozen_french_poster_2847     So I finally watched Disney’s Frozen, the movie that has taken the world by storm as of late, the highest grossing animated movie of all time worldwide, and one of the top ten of all time period. I loved it, but that’s not really unexpected because I admittedly am a 27 year old woman who still watches the Disney channel on a semi-regular basis, and no, I don’t have kids.

I loved the message of this movie. It is one that resonated deep within as one I know to be true because it is a story of my own life. It’s a story I’ve lived. I must say, Disney, I concur.

When asked how I recovered from an eating disorder, sometimes I fumble with my response. 3.5  years of hospitalizations, inpatient, outpatient, and individual weekly, sometimes bi-weekly therapy, or a culmination of all of the above? The heart to hearts with my therapist/surrogate best friend-mom-older sister-teacher, the picking apart of each and every semi-traumatic moment of my childhood, the educational aspects, the cognitive changes, the life skills learned…none of it feels like the right answer. Something is always missing.

Because in the end, it was love.

Yet, when you tell someone you were loved back to health, you tend to elicit odd looks and skeptical responses. When you say Jesus healed your heart and put back together your fractured soul, people aren’t quite sure what to make of that, other than maybe you overdosed one too many times and left your brain a bit addled. People want something “concrete” to hold on to, some tangible method or a “how-to” list.

I can craft a “how-to” on formulating a meal plan for a person in recovery based on if they need to gain, maintain, or lose weight. I can draft a step-by-step on utilizing cognitive behavioral therapy in order to change your thoughts or dialectical behavioral therapy to combat the general inability to deal with life, and I can even pick apart all the ways the scale does not necessarily give you an accurate representation of your weight. But these things change behaviors, and even thoughts, but it takes one step further to reach the heart.

I didn’t fully recover until I had a change of heart. That is why even after the eating disorder behaviors mostly acquiesced due to the all, but not limited to, aforementioned treatment, I continued to self-destruct through the underlying borderline personality disorder. And I continued to hide under the covers in a mental fog due to the chronic depression.

When I say I recovered, it’s more like there is another step past recovery. Recovering from something means you were at one point not recovered, or rather, afflicted and struggling. And every time you say the word “recovered” you are still attached to what got you there in the first place. So yes, I feel there is another step. Where you’re healed past the point of “recovery.” You are no longer just recovered. You are free.

Free as in freedom as in it’s as if it never happened and your memories feel like they more appropriately belong to a character in a movie you once watched a long time ago and barely remember rather than a younger version of yourself. How did this happen? How do you go from having a frozen heart to being thawed and plumb cozy?

Frozen-Quote

 

Only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart.

I propose, the ultimate and most sacrificial act of true love ever known to the world- the cross. Jesus died on the cross to thaw my frozen heart. The nails that pierced His flesh, were driven straight through my chains until they snapped. And this love is so true that it’s the all-consuming, life-altering, redemptive kind that once you are aware of, every part of you gravitates toward it naturally like growing flowers leaning into the direction of the sun.

Healing was a process. It started with the love I found in the hospital for the first time, a level of compassion and tenderness so foreign and strange as people saw me beneath the outer layers that hadn’t been peeled back in years and I felt safe enough to remove the “Keep Out” sign from my heart and dust the cobwebs from around the door. Then I learned to express love for animals and accept the unconditional love they offered. I learned how to care for something, how to support another living thing, as I slowly learned how to care for myself. It continued with my parents and learning each other’s different love languages and how to better express them to each other, the discovery of the love that was there all along without me ever having understood it before. And ultimately, when I was ready and in a position to recognize it, the transforming love of my Creator. Once I finally felt the full power of this grace-filled love there was no turning back. Ultimately, it was the love displayed at Calvary on that old wooden cross.

It was Jesus. It was always Jesus.

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From the start it was the Holy Spirit loving me from the inside of those placed in my life, those trying to fight for my very existence. It was His creation and His heart that shone in the eyes of my first horse that gave me one of the first reasons I had found for choosing to live. It’s His hand in my family that led us to find not only mutual ground, but a relationship grown from our love for each other so full it overflows. And it’s the Holy Spirit within me, that loved me from the inside out, that delivered me from my deepest darkest brokenness to one who has found her light.

It was Him, always Him.

Only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart.

 

(And now, not because it fits with the theme of this post, but purely because I am utterly obsessed with it- the primary song from Frozen, “Let it Go.” Idina Menzel’s voice is pure genius, by the way.)

 

 

—–EDIT 5/22/14: This post was published in the May 2014 issue of The Kingdom Life Now, an online Christian women’s magazine! http://thekingdomlifenow.com/love-thaws-frozen-heart/

Categories: Mental Health and Recovery, Spirituality and Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Season For Everything, Even the “Funks”

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Anyone ever feel like they get in a funk? Like there are seasons of life that seem unmotivated, uninspired, unproductive? I certainly get to feeling like this, and it seems to be a theme I’ve heard from more than one or two friends recently as well. During these times, I think I’m not getting enough done, not making enough progress, not learning quickly enough, not even close to where I “should” be at my age. First of all, I should stop “should-ing” on myself. Second, maybe I need to be a bit more gentle with myself. Instead of focusing on all the things I’m not doing, all the things that aren’t good enough in my life, there are others where maybe I’m not giving myself enough credit. It can be easy to forget how far I’ve come and all that God has done in my life and blessed me with.

I think of the Proverbs 31 woman, who exemplifies the exact “ideal” of who I want to be and yet I feel so infinitely far from her. She is elusive and evasive and I just can’t figure it out. In Matthew 26:41 we hear how “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Was Jesus thinking of me as he spoke those words to his disciples?

Seriously, sometimes it feels that way. I want to start my days earlier in the morning but I constantly fail to make myself get out of bed. I want to put much more work into my writing, and yet I can’t seem to sit down and get words on paper, or rather, the screen. I want to see my horses a lot more than I do but when my schedule permits I’m finding myself lacking the motivation to get in the car and drive to the barn. My to-do list seems to be a mile long, and grows faster than I can check things off. This has to be enough to make anyone feel like a failure.

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That’s when I must shift gears, change my focus, and start counting my blessings. Start giving myself a pat on the back for the things I AM doing, however few, however small, rather than tearing myself down for all the things I am not. We all know people respond better to praise than condemnation, so why do we at times not apply that same rule to ourselves?

This is when I must step back and remember that I am working two jobs, ones that can be stressful especially for an introvert, that are located approx. 40 mins from my house. I’ve started exercising daily for the first time in years, and possibly the first time in my life that I’m doing it because I just want to be healthy and strong and have more energy, rather than being forced to- either by a coach or an incessant demon in my head commanding me to burn as many calories as possible and constantly strive to lose weight. I’ve paid off a ton of financial debt in the past 2 and 1/2 years. I’ve started an herb garden and am actually excited at discovering new recipes incorporating fresh herbs that I can pick outside the back door before dinner. I’m excited at becoming a better cook, period. And every single day I’m getting closer, closer to the person God created me to be. Even in the seasons where it feels as if I’m standing still. This “funk” makes me think of quicksand, isn’t it the case that the more you fight it the faster you sink? I picture Harry and Hermione in the Sorcerer’s Stone, when they dropped through the trap door as Fluffy woke up, into that Devil’s Snare. The more you fight it the more it encompasses you, but if you just hold still and relax, it will loosen its grip and release you.

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Maybe the key to getting out of this “funk” is to embrace it and be thankful for it. Maybe it’s a gift.

I spent nearly a decade of my life in a civil war. A constant battle in my own mind. One where I fought my emotions and my own body and God and anyone and everyone who loved me. Maybe resting is a gift. As I fill my days with work and dogs and horses, when I see them, and new recipes and planting a garden and sometimes just sitting outside to enjoy the birds chirping and leaves rustling in the breeze, maybe God won’t be disappointed if I am not a published author or a millionaire or saving the world by the end of the week. Maybe I shouldn’t be disappointed either.

Maybe the simple joys I am allowed to cherish in daily life is a gift, a season of peace after a season of war. A season to rest, to nourish. These things I’m enjoying while I’m “not working hard enough” such as experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen or laying on my horse’s back to watch the colors change in the sky as the sun approaches the evening horizon- are acts of finding joy in simply being alive, finding joy in nourishing my body and my soul in ways lost on me for years.

We are told in Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

There is a season for everything, and there are seasons in my own life. Ones where I believe God is ultimately at work whether I recognize all that He is doing or not. I may want to see quick results, but I must trust He is preparing me, and when the time is right I’ll see a path open before me. I worry about wasting time, feeling as if life is passing by way too quickly, but maybe I’m not and it’s not. Maybe wasting time and resting are not the same thing. Maybe sometimes a marathon is better than a sprint. After all, even the greatest men in the Bible, legends of Christianity, didn’t accomplish their life’s purpose overnight. It took Abram 27 years, Joseph 22, David 13 to become king and 7 more before he was king over the whole nation, 14 for Paul, and 40 for Moses.

Even God took 6 whole days to create the universe. He’s God. He could have snapped his Almighty fingers and before the echo of the sound of this snap reached the nearest star, it could have been completed. But he took his time. He enjoyed the process. One day at a time, for six days. And then on the seventh day, he rested. God doesn’t need rest. He doesn’t get tired. He doesn’t need to sleep. And yet, he rested anyway.

Maybe these “funks” where we are aren’t doing enough or being enough, maybe sometimes they are just a myth. A product of comparison to others around us and a result of the scorecard of the world keeping track of our speed and successes.

Just maybe.

And maybe the Proverbs 31 woman rested sometimes too. Maybe periods of rest are what allowed her to do all that she did the rest of the time. Maybe there is hope for me yet.

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In the meantime, here are 5 tips to overcoming a “funk”:

  1. Focus on what you CAN control– Pray the Serenity Prayer. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Then repeat.
  2. Take one day, one hour at a time– Practice presence and stay in the moment. Focus on what’s in front of you. Focus on the taste of your food when you eat and the crunch it makes in your mouth. Think about how the breeze feels against your face, or how the ground feels under your feet. Don’t worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will take care of itself.
  3. Be thankful– Find things to be thankful for, continuously. Thank God for everything you can think of that is good in your life, even if it’s just the air in your lungs and the clothes on your back, find something, and then find more.
  4. Opposite to Emotion– This is a DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) skill that is one of my favorites. If you’re feeling down, sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is the exact opposite of what you feel. Feel like sitting on the couch all day? Do the opposite. Go outside and walk around in the sun. Feel like hiding under the blankets and pressing “ignore” on your phone calls? Answer them and then say “yes” when your friend asks you to meet for coffee.
  5. Exercise– Get your heart rate up and some sweat going, even if you need to use number 4 to get there. Physical activity gets good endorphins going and will make you feel better, it’s a proven fact.

 

Bonus Tip:

5 1/2. Smile– Yes really, even if you are miserable inside, the physical act of smiling has been proven to make people feel better. Yeah I know, it sounds weird. Just try it.

Categories: Spirituality and Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Vicki’s Miracles: A Legacy of Two

376337_10101058253149020_1972035097_n     When I lived in Savannah, my horses spent two out of the three years in Claxton with Beth Dillard at Lucky 5 Ranch. Even though it was an hour drive from where I lived, once I met Beth, I couldn’t imagine boarding them anywhere else. Beth is one of the most loving and genuine horse people I’ve ever known. She’d care to the extent most others wouldn’t, such as hosing off horses by hand on a hot Southern summer day just to cool them off, as they’d wait in line for their turn. Although, eventually, a sprinkler system became more efficient and relieved her tiring arm. At Lucky 5, they love their horses as family, all of the same herd. In her care, I never doubted that mine would be well cared for and watched over, as well as doted on. I never had to worry.

Their mare, Vicki, was always “her own person,” and having come from a tough past before Beth and Don found her, she was very selective over which humans she gave a second glance. Beth and her family brought Vicki into their lives and hearts and eventually Vicki allowed them into hers as well. She was a special mare. You knew if she let you so much as touch her, it was a rarity. If/When she finally did, her eyes shone an acceptance and understanding that you’ve finally gained a status as equal. Her trust was not freely given, only earned. It was a gift- the greatest she could give. Until now.

Vicki was in foal and I was sad when I moved to Florida last summer that I wouldn’t get to be there when the baby was born. Beth’s excitement was contagious even months ago, and I was eager to see baby pictures and hear news after Beth’s Facebook update that labor had begun. But a surprise was in store, and Vicki had twins! Twins in horses are incredibly rare. One in 10,000 have twins, with only 9% of those cases leaving just one surviving twin. Horses aren’t built to have them. It’s incredibly hard on the mare’s body and the twins share the nutrients and space meant to strengthen one. Many times all 3 involved don’t make it past the first night. This night though, only Vicki’s life was claimed. She now officially left behind the greatest gift she could give- her legacy.

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When learning of Vicki’s fate I couldn’t stop the immediate tears. I couldn’t help but think, “Why her? Why Beth? Why does heartbreak happen to the best people?” I knew how much Vicki was loved, and for her to be taken in what was supposed to be such a purely joyous time, I couldn’t imagine what it must feel like for the human members of her herd. I could feel my own heart break for them.

But as events unfolded, it has become more clear that there must be a bigger plan, that in the midst of hardship, hope was even greater. I realized, that as Vicki was laid to rest, God must have been right there in that stall with them, and he must have cried with them, hearing their prayers with open ears and a knowing nod.

People always ask, “Where is God, in the midst of suffering?” I propose: right there in the middle of it. I know God doesn’t cause the bad things in life, though he allows them to happen. I know he cares about what we care about and our hearts are of utmost importance to him. And while he didn’t cause this, he did allow it, because he knew he could use it, and had something in store bigger than all of us.

These two precious girls are a living miracle. Fighting and surviving against all odds. And sometimes, in our little human daily lives, we need to see a miracle.

I think things like this happen as a way to unite us all. To give people something to hope for, to fight for, to allow community to come together and people the blessing of being a blessing to others. A chance to make friends out of strangers and remind us what we are all capable of when we become hands and feet and unite to meet a need. It reminds us that compassion and love aren’t dead. It gives us an opportunity to lift up one family and as a result become part of a bigger family that crosses lines drawn by blood and DNA. A family as we will someday be in heaven, brothers and sisters. In the midst of mortgages and politics and dirty laundry-pausing to raise up a chorus of prayer asking a Father to have grace and mercy on these two little beings. It’s a pause, that brings us back to the simple things- simple, yet perhaps the most important at the foundation of our humanity. The fight for life, the power of hope, and the strength to never give up. The importance of giving of yourself to make life better for another living thing, and finding in that, an inevitable and enriching reward.

Even after a few days into their journey, I think of Vicki on her last night and get choked up. I feel as if I could close my eyes and be transported to the living room couch with Kleenex in hand and a Lifetime movie on screen. That’s kind of what this is like, a Lifetime movie- strangers giving unconditionally and love conquering pain. A script proving that good still reigns in this world. A script I can only imagine having been tossed in the trash, then salvaged and given a new climax and a new ending (we are all still praying for that new ending) by the hand of a Father, the one who writes the best stories of all, usually unexpected and always forged from some kind of heartache.

The twins aren’t out of the woods yet. It’s only day 4, and the first two weeks are critical. They are doing well right now but it can change at any time. If you can help financially, even $5 helps, I promise you. Even $5 gives God something to multiply, and adds up quick. This helps toward mounting vet bills and special feed for the mare and foals as well as additional milk replacement they need every hour. If you want to donate, they set up a gofundme.com account here: http://www.gofundme.com/75li5c

To any who want to follow the twins’ journey, here is their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Claxtons-Quarter-Horse-Twins/540756846022796?ref=br_tf

To see their story on local news, go here: http://buff.ly/1jFSR17

And most of all, anyone who reads this, please send up a prayer for strength and growth for the babies, for peace, comfort, and joy for Beth and her family, and for helping hands to continue to show up and meet each need. 

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My Body, My Instrument

This was a guest post I wrote for a long-time friend, former teammate and fitness coach, Rachel Ngom, posted on her website on February 13, 2014. I wanted to share it with all of you as well!

“Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Do not be afraid of it, or what other peo­ple think of it. It is the great­est instru­ment you will ever own.”

–Baz Luhrmann

Jana and Rachel- 2005

Jana and Rachel- 2005

I met Rachel a decade ago (whew, time flies!) on a court of blood, sweat and tears. Ok, maybe not the blood so much, but lots of sweat, and occasional tears, plus the scent of dreams in the making. Method of choice: volleyball. We became friends at a point that was pivotal for Rachel in her pursuit of health and wellness and I was able to watch her grow and learn how to take good care of her body.

It was a pivotal time for me as well, but I was on a completely different path where my health was concerned. Rachel was one of the first people I told that I was struggling with an eating disorder. She was the first to know outside of a couple close friends from school. Despite my urging for her to keep quiet, her decision to speak up and get adults involved led to the treatment journey that eventually gave me my life back. She fought for my health back then, and now she’s still fighting for health, this time with all of you.

Today, so many messages we hear tell us we need to lose weight AT ALL COSTS. We hurt our bodies and minds in the pursuit of thin and lose the point along the way. Sometimes we even lose ourselves. The point isn’t thin, the point is health and a full life.

Rachel always emphasizes, “You must eat, even to lose weight!” And I’m  here to reinforce that today, especially with National Eating Disorders Awareness Week approaching February 23rd to March 1st. I didn’t eat enough for years, and I NEVER got skinny. I maintained a normal weight throughout a decade of fighting anorexia and bulimia. But on the inside, it was a different story. In my quest for thin at all costs, my internal body screamed for help. At times my kidneys showed beginning signs of failure, my cells started breaking down and releasing CO2 into my body, poisoning me from the inside as if I were sitting in a closed garage with the car engine running. Heart palpitations became normal and a random blood test showed my blood sugar level so low, I should’ve been in a coma or dead. Somehow my amazing body remained resilient and kept me alive so I can be here today to warn you of where that path leads.

For the body, depending on gender and weight, we need a minimum of 1200 calories per day just to have enough fuel to sit and do nothing! When we eat too little, our metabolism slows down to hang on to every bit of fuel it can. If you aren’t eating enough, your body doesn’t know there are fast food establishments on every corner and a fridge stocked full of food. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing it voluntarily, your body will go into starvation mode. This is the nature of self-preservation.

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What happens if you don’t eat enough?

  • -increased depression

  • -increased anxiety

  • -increased irritability

  • -social withdrawal

  • -problems with memory (not enough fat in the diet)

  • -decreased libido

  • -decreased concentration

  • -decreased judgment

  • -increased food preoccupation

  • -increased binging

  • -muscle loss (muscle cells break down to feed protein to the body)

The human body is truly amazing in how it heals itself and fights for self-preservation. After years of not adequately feeding myself, my body took over and fought for itself. I started sleep-eating. I would sleepwalk and eat in my sleep, with no memory of doing so. My evidence was missing food, empty containers on the counter in the morning, and sometimes remnants smeared over my face, pillow and/or clothes. Of course I’d want to compensate the following day for all the calories I ate during the night, so I’d undereat more, and the next night the cycle would start all over again. This went on for many months, sometimes several nights in a row. It drove my roommates crazy as their food disappeared and I was terrified of keeping food in the house. I was disgusted with myself and felt completely out of control. My quest for control over food and my body rendered me powerless.

In the midst of an eating disorder, I didn’t care what smoke signals my body sent me. I still thought nothing truly bad would ever happen, and even if it did, once I got “thin enough” I’d be able to stop. That’s not true at all, I wouldn’t have been able to stop. And life doesn’t magically get better because you reached your goal weight. If there are underlying mental issues, no “magic number” will cure them.

Once I healed enough in my heart and mind to be able to see things rationally I learned to see my body in a whole new light. My body is a machine. It is an instrument. It is an instrument, rather than an ornament. It’s amazing and it’s a gift and I only get one. Just like a car needs fuel and an instrument needs tuning, my body will perform when I take care of it. The more fine tuned, the more beautiful the music.

My body allows me to run, jump, play with my dogs, ride my horses, hug my parents, kiss my boyfriend, sing horribly to myself in the car, taste delicious food, remember my best friend’s birthday, and laugh. I laugh a LOT now.

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In 24 hours my heart beats 103,689 times, my blood travels 168,000 miles, I breathe 23,040 times, move 750 major muscles, and exercise 7,000,000 brain cells.

How amazing. How stunning. How beautiful.

As you read this, may you remember: your body is the greatest instrument you will ever own. There is only one you, in all of history. You have talents and purpose all your own. You are not just some body, you are somebody. You are not a number, and you have a heart and mind and no scale can measure their size. Take care of your instrument. Treat it kindly. Exercise. Eat well. But don’t deprive it. It’s not a slave to be chained and controlled, it is a partner and friend to be loved and listened to. You deserve to be loved and listened to.

How do you see your body? Do you think of it as an instrument to be tuned, a partner to be loved? Or do you see it as clay to be molded and conquered?

Today I have been fully recovered from anorexia and bulimia for over 4 years. I love myself and I love my life! I never thought I’d find such freedom and joy regarding my body or life in general as I experience today.

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Original Post:  http://www.fitwithrachel.com/body-instrument-guest-post-jana-wojcik

Categories: Mental Health and Recovery | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Loving Memory of both the Sinner and the Saint

   I believe lessons present themselves everywhere, all around us. In life, in other people’s lives, and in death. Maybe especially in death.

When someone in a family meets an untimely demise, often it’s the youngest and best of all of us. I wonder why we don’t gain more perspective in the midst of this. I feel like a whole new outlook on life should be automatically revealed to us. How can it not be?

I wonder how old sibling rivalries and hurt feelings survive a death in the family, how they aren’t magically resolved as the physical remains of one of their own is laid to rest below the ground. As we look down into the void of fresh dirt how do we not gain a glimpse into a bigger picture where possessions, money or disagreements no longer separate us and instead we find the compassion that unites us all?

I don’t suggest we have to be best friends with every relative, or every person we ever meet, but at the very least we can wish each other well and engage in positive communication. We can speak life to each other and break down walls, rather than look from the cracks in the bricks and hide behind the armed guards we have stationed at every door, guns loaded.

Then I remember we are all human. And try as we might sometimes we just won’t see each other’s side of things, sometimes we just will never agree.

But why then, if we are all imperfectly human, do we treat the deceased as if they somehow found the secret for escaping their humanity? We don’t ever want to paint the dead in what anyone could consider a negative light once they are gone as if it would be an insult to their memory.

Isn’t the opposite true?

Isn’t the insult to NOT acknowledge the hardship, the humanity?

Darkness perpetuates darkness. Secrets are followed by more secrets. Silence creates bondage. But one little light can break through them all.

Recently I saw a video of four average women who were given a celebrity style photo shoot and photoshopped into cover models. One girl said something along the lines that when you take away the imperfections, there’s nothing really of you left.

I lost an uncle last week. My dad lost a brother. I haven’t seen or spoken with my uncle in years and I couldn’t make it personally to the funeral. Living across the country, working two jobs, and limited finances sets limits on last minute travel. But I’ve thought a lot about him this week, about all of this, about all the unanswered questions and how they affect us all.

My uncle was an alcoholic. It’s unclear how heavily that affected his death, as he slipped and fell…having some problems falling lately.. but I would find it hard to believe it wasn’t a domino effect leading up to the instability of his footing. He also was a heavy smoker. But any talk of this and how it affected his health was shushed by some this week. Why? Everyone smokes. Okay not everyone, but you get my point. A lot of people drink too. So why is it so taboo? Because it claimed control over him? Because he crossed over that line from pleasure to addiction? Because he was losing?

The ones doing the shushing this week meant well. I don’t doubt that. They just wanted everyone to remain in very positive thoughts and make it easier on my cousins grieving their father, and embrace only good memories during this time. I understand.

But ultimately, I think that points to a deeper, more fundamental problem in our society- how we must fragment a person and section out their flaws in order to keep smiles all around.

This isn’t anything new… I had a great-uncle whom I never met, died before I was born. He was an alcoholic and found himself in the hospital. On the fifth floor he opened the window and was found dead on the sidewalk below. It’s unclear whether he intentionally jumped or was just smoking a cigarette into the night air and fell accidentally. My dad still doesn’t know what happened because no one wanted to talk about it. If suicide was even a possibility, we sweep it under the rug. We don’t want to believe that could be true or let anyone else believe it.

Recently I read a blog on Philip Seymour Hoffman and addiction. One point said  that fighting addiction once it takes you is like learning how to fight a mountain lion with your hands tied behind your back. If you haven’t faced this battle it doesn’t mean you are superior to those that have, it doesn’t make you better or stronger. We all have different battles, different temptations, different weaknesses. And those that have never faced this may find it easy to be condescending to those that have, without having ever walked a mile in their shoes.

I was an anorexic, bulimic, and borderline. I recovered. My uncle was an alcoholic and smoker. He still struggled.

Let me rephrase, I HAD an eating disorder and borderline personality disorder. My uncle HAD an addiction to alcohol and cigarettes. These things do not define us. We are so much more. I’m also a daughter, a friend, an animal lover, a hard worker. My uncle was also a dad, a grandpa, he loved fishing and golfing.

Why do we not see this? That these things do not define us? We still speak in hushed voices and sweep certain topics under the rug and don’t talk about it, while the next generation sits in the corner with wide watching, absorbing eyes learning that suffering is better off done in silence.

At times in the past when my uncle was in rehab, he didn’t want anyone to know where he was, not even some of his own siblings. I wonder if he could do it all over again if he’d choose differently. On Super Bowl Sunday he had fallen and was in the hospital. The few that knew were told not to tell anyone else. My dad never knew. My dad would’ve gone and seen him, it would have been the last time he’d see his youngest brother before he died.

But unfortunately these are things we discover when it’s too late, when we’ve run out of “tomorrows” or “laters.” I wonder what could have been done differently, if anything could have been done? I wonder why it wasn’t enough, why my uncle couldn’t save himself? Because as I’ve learned through personal experience, no one else can save you. Others can assist of course, but rescue must come from within oneself to beat any addiction. It’s the only way. Why some do this and so many are unable to, I guess that is no easy answer…

I’m reminded, in the midst of dirty dishes and bills and long work days, it’s easy to get tunnel vision. It’s easy to let friends become acquaintances and family become strangers. Maybe we get our priorities a little screwed up. Maybe giving a smile is worth the extra effort, maybe helping an elderly neighbor with groceries is worth the inconvenience, and maybe buying a few extra Christmas cards is worth the investment. We can always find people to send them out to. In our busy lives, people get crowded out and contacts narrowed down, but we’re narrowing down things that can’t be eliminated- God’s people.

When people die, we worry about protecting their memory in the minds of the living. But underneath that veil, knowing the good, the bad, and the worse… what I remember is being a little kid at my uncle’s house playing with my cousins in the pool. He was happy and joyful and entertaining. Yeah, he wasn’t perfect and sometimes he screwed up or did things that frustrated his family. Yeah, addiction plagued him every day of his life, and he was fighting a war every day of his life that most couldn’t imagine. But the grinning host, happy among his family? That’s how I remember him.

That’s who he was. He was more. More than addiction, more than loss, more than defeat. And I imagine he is finally home now, free with his Father, and grinning from ear to ear.

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Why I Don’t Really Care About Valentine’s Day

  “For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart. It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul.” -Judy Garland

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I know, I know, blasphemy, right?

February 14th is the day loved ones are supposed to exchange gifts and men are supposed to take women out to an expensive dinner and buy them something pretty. I’ve actually heard a woman say, “All I know is I better get jewelry this year.”

Now, before you start questioning my femininity, as a woman I am a mushy, hopeless romantic who loves love. Even more so than a lot of other women I know. I’m pretty much on the extreme end of it.

I still sent my parents a Valentine’s Day card (albeit I waited until the last minute so they won’t actually get it until the holiday is over). I still wrote my boyfriend a sappy note and have a sweet edible surprise waiting for him on the kitchen counter when he gets home from work, by which time I’ll already be off to work for the rest of the night to go serve food to other lovebirds. It’s okay that we don’t get to spend any time together today because we have the other 364 days a year to make up for it. I’m happy to ensure a lovely night for others that do get to be together.

But there is something about Valentine’s Day that always seems strange to me. It’s a day to “tell her how much she means to you,” and “tell her how special she is.” Shouldn’t we be telling each other that everyday? I don’t want my loved ones to rely on a consumer-driven Hallmark holiday to remind them to tell me these things.

I don’t want fancy jewelry, I want his heart. Not just one day a year but every day. It seems if I know I have it every day, then the significance of this one day a year in February fades away.

Today I woke up to red roses on the counter with a sweet handwritten note and I literally cried. I told you, I’m a mushy sap. And it was so beautiful and really touched my heart.

But maybe even more so because I wasn’t expecting anything. My heart is already full so the extra gesture just created overflow and I’m on cloud 9, with the excess finding its relief through my tear ducts. I love my flowers, I love my note, and the message he wrote on my Facebook wall proclaiming his love for the world to see.

But I haven’t forgotten the whole point, the heart of the matter. And that’s his.

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7 Simple Rules for a Happier Life

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1. Live Deliberately.

Choose to wake up each morning and pursue the day. Live for, not against. Focus on the good things, the blessings, the things you love.

2. Forgive.

Let go of resentment. Don’t judge other people because they sin differently than you. Humans will disappoint other humans. Release them from the pain they caused you, and you will find the one you are really freeing is yourself.

3. Don’t Worry.

No one has ever been able to add one single minute to their lives by worrying. Actually, the opposite is true, as stress can have very negative effects on the body and shorten your lifespan. Worry won’t accomplish anything, push it out of your mind and focus your thoughts on what you CAN do, not what you CAN’T.

4. Focus your Energy.

Focus on productivity and creativity. Focus on the things of value you can bring into this world and into the lives of others. Empower yourself and those around you. Choose to always see the good. If you can do this, you won’t feel like you are constantly fighting the negative things and winding up drained.

5. Accept Responsibility.

Don’t preoccupy yourself with pointing fingers and placing blame elsewhere. There will always be obstacles. Do the best that you can with what you have. Strive to be better today than you were yesterday. That’s all anyone can ever ask of you.

6. Don’t Complain.

We often don’t realize the power of the words we speak. Sometimes things don’t go our way and situations aren’t ideal, but speaking them out loud gives more power to the situation and makes matters worse. Speak life with your words or don’t speak at all. If you don’t have something nice to say, keep it to yourself.

7. Be Grateful.

Count your blessings each day and take time to appreciate the people you do have in your life and the things you’ve accomplished and acquired. Even things that seem more like a curse than a blessing, say, “Thank you” for them anyway. There will always be someone out there that wishes they had it as good as you, that would trade places with you if they could. Once we start counting our blessings and being grateful for what we have, we begin to see treasure everywhere.

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The Realization that will Help you Forgive Anyone Who Ever Hurt You

“It’s the hardest thing to give away
And the last thing on your mind today
It always goes to those that don’t deserve

Even when the jury and the judge
Say you gotta right to hold a grudge
It’s the whisper in your ear saying ‘Set It Free’ “

-Matthew West, Forgiveness

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When Jesus was hanging on the cross, why did he say, “Father, forgive them, they are blind fools they know not what they do.”

How could they not know what they are doing? They consciously chose to be there, to make the long walk up to the Calvary hill, to drive the nails through His flesh. How could they not know?

Maybe what Jesus meant was they didn’t know He was the Son of God, and if they knew, or rather, believed that he really was the Savior, things would have ended differently.

I don’t think that’s all Jesus meant. I think it goes much deeper. He’s not just asking God to forgive the men who hung Him on the cross, He’s asking God to forgive every human and every sin and every hurt ever inflicted.

In most cases it’s not that we don’t know the difference between right and wrong, at least if we really sat down and thought about it. It’s that we are completely incapable of going through our lives without sinning, without doing wrong, without hurting people.

If we could, we’d never need a Savior to begin with.

We are all of us, fallen, sinful, broken people.

Fallen, sinful, broken people in need of Jesus.

Why is this the realization that will help you forgive anyone who ever hurt you?

I propose this because through this lens, you look at your overly critical mother, your absent father, your sibling betrayal, your thief of a friend, your teacher who embarrassed you, your boss who blamed you, that stranger who sexually assaulted you, that trusted mentor who stopped standing up for you…

And on the other side of that lens, what is left? The cross. And our desperate need for it.

Forgiving someone is not saying IT’S OKAY or IT DIDN’T MATTER. It’s saying IT DID MATTER but with the acknowledgement that humans disappoint other humans. It’s saying we cannot hold our fellow humans to the standards only Jesus can meet. It’s simply understanding that the person who hurt us needs Jesus, and He responded and died on the cross for them. He was whipped and beaten not just for our sin, but for theirs too. And once we start looking at them through Jesus’ eyes, forgiveness becomes inevitable. The anger begins to fade and a level of compassion begins to form.

We don’t forgive, because the person deserves it, we forgive, to release them to the cross. We set them free, and in turn become free ourselves. 

That person who hurt you? It wasn’t okay. But God is still at work in them, He’s not done yet. And more importantly he’s not done with you yet either.  Jesus is filling empty seats and holding open doors and mending broken hearts.

Who do you need to forgive? Do you think looking through the eyes of heaven rather than the eyes of the world can help you achieve this?

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This song “Just Another Birthday” by Casting Crowns, is heartbreaking yet beautiful. It’s an example of pointing to the cross in the midst of brokenness and emptiness and allowing Him to fill the holes left in our hearts be fellow humans.

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