Posts Tagged With: hope

A Gift Of Freedom Gold Can’t Buy

october15     October 15th is always a day that carries with it the light and dark of so many past Octobers. It’s a day that He makes all things new, a day of beginnings, of healing, of fulfilled promises, and of learning what it means to be held.

This is what it is to be loved and to know
That the promise was that when everything fell
We’d be held

-Natalie Grant “Held”

Ten years ago today I left the hospital after a two-week stay, and my Dad boarded a plane with me to Wickenburg, Arizona, where he dropped me off at an eating disorder treatment center in the middle of the desert. Even though this was just one of several places that came to be a temporary home during the roughly four years of my treatment, it was the most significant. I walked through those doors in fear, feeling as if I’d made a huge mistake in agreeing to go there, and begging my Dad not to leave without me. But during my almost 3 month stay, while I did not find an immediate cure, I did come to 3 new and very important things: hope for a life beyond my illness, a personal relationship with Jesus, and the choice to live. It had been years since I’d dreamed of living past my 20th birthday, and a life of freedom was completely incomprehensible.

I had left college two weeks before arriving in Arizona, when I finally realized that if I stayed any longer I was going to die. But being scared of dying, and choosing life are not mutually inclusive thoughts. I lingered somewhere in the middle where I could no longer handle the miserable existence I was creating for myself, but the highest my aspirations went was for an existence more manageable and just slightly less miserable.

I was devastated that my choice must include abandoning my Big Ten college volleyball team in the middle of the season and walking away from everything I had worked so hard for for years. Even though I told my coaches I’d be back in the Spring, I think I knew deep down that I had played my last game, that I was surrendering all my dreams. But I also knew that I couldn’t hope to play professionally overseas after college if I couldn’t even make it through college. And if I was really being honest with myself, playing wasn’t even fun anymore. After all, I was at that point a state and national champion, and a starter on my college team as a freshman, and I couldn’t even enjoy that because I was too busy berating myself for any imperfections. I couldn’t enjoy the sport I loved because I was too preoccupied in my own head in this other game that demanded all my attention and energy. It was devastating. And being in treatment, living amongst strangers who knew nothing of my athletic pursuits was the first time I had to actually find an identity in something other than being an athlete. I didn’t know who I was, or what my likes and dislikes were, or strengths and weaknesses outside of sports. As uncomfortable as shedding that persona was, it was time to find out who I really was, and who I was to my Creator.

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That time in the desert was the biggest turning point of the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life- recover. Every single day was like visiting the battlefield in my civil war of one. But when I got back on a plane to head home in January, I was unrecognizable from the person I was on October 15th.

This is where the healing begins,
This is where the healing starts
When you come to where you’re broken within
The light meets the dark

-Tenth Avenue North “Healing Begins”

That was where my healing began. That was where His light met my dark.

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October 15th is a day of beginnings. A day to cherish life and health and new chapters, and a day of promises fulfilled.

Four years ago today I met the man that is as much of a soulmate as one can be, if that kind of thing even exists. He fulfilled a promise made to me by God. You may think that sounds silly. How could God have promised such a thing to me? I’d argue that God made promises to those in the Bible who were also just ordinary human beings, and he made promises to humanity as a whole. He’s the same God today as He was then, so why wouldn’t he still be in the business of making and fulfilling promises? If you’re curious, you can visit the link above and discover what I am referring to, but if not you’ll just have to trust me.

Nonetheless, October 15th once again was a turning point in my life. It was the first day of the best 4 years of my life thus far. I am so blessed and grateful to have a partner in life that was seemingly appointed by heaven itself. Someone who anchors me, encourages me, challenges me to grow continuously, and loves me without condition.

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October 15, 2011 found me unrecognizable from the person I was on October 15, 2005. And while October 15, 2015 carries with it my resemblance to the person from 2011, I am once again not the same. This year finds me stronger, braver, and with a bit more wisdom after a few more years under my belt.

Looking back, I can see that all along, I was being held. There were times in the Arizona desert and throughout my treatment that I felt the miraculous presence of God, receiving immediate undeniable answer to prayer, in a way in which no mere “coincidence” could provide explanation. And there were other times of prayer throughout the years when my knees hit the ground and I felt largely unheard. But some of those times, I found in His time, not mine, that he did answer after all. He always answers. We just aren’t always patient enough to listen.

One day I asked God for a sign. As I was driving, I asked Him to give me the biggest hawk I’ve ever seen as I round the next curve on that 2 lane country road. To just place one right in the middle of the road as I come around the corner, as confirmation that I was on the right path. I didn’t get my hawk that day.

image source: ejphoto.com

image source: ejphoto.com

A year and a half later I went home after taking my College Algebra final exam, evidence of tears of joy still glistening on my cheeks as I secured an A in the one subject that challenges me, and the one class I didn’t dare believe I could get through without damaging my GPA. I immediately jumped out of the car, changed shoes, and jumped on one of my horses bareback, feeling a rush of peacefulness and pure joy wash over me. I took him into the woods, and rounded a curve just beyond the mouth of the trail. I had to hold in a gasp that almost escaped my lips before I could catch it, because a dozen or so feet in front of me, perched on a branch jutting out over my path was a red-shouldered hawk- by far the biggest I’ve ever seen in person. He turned and looked at me, his steel gaze piercing right through me, and held it for what seemed like an eternity. Time stood still. He stayed for probably no more than 20 seconds, but 20 seconds in a staring contest with a bird of prey, close enough to count his feathers, while sitting atop a large animal who doesn’t want to stand still is a really long time.

It was one of those moments in my life many would chalk up to coincidence, or not even think twice about. But for me, in that moment I just knew. I knew God was finally responding in a way that He knew I would recognize. It was just an acknowledgement of what I at times have begged Him for- confirmation that I’m doing okay, that I’m moving in the right direction, that He is still holding me.

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Why do I share all this? Why do I publicly reflect on the meaning of landmark Octobers and answered prayers? Why take you back a decade to a different lifetime that seems more like memories of a movie I watched about someone else’s life, than the one I actually lived myself?

Because I feel the responsibility that comes from having known darkness, yet finding redemption. The responsibility to be a voice and an example. If one person might see this and may find hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that things really can get better then I need to be here to say it.

Because there is hope. Because you’re not alone. Because after 7 years of being recovered, I can tell you that my absolute worst day, amplified, is still worlds away from my best day with anorexia and bulimia. Because even though sometimes choosing life is the hardest thing you will ever have to do, it is worth every single second.

Maybe you’re struggling with that choice. Maybe you’ve made it but don’t even know how to start picking up the pieces. Well know this: I found my life when I laid it down. Maybe you can too.

image source: spiritualgym.tumblr.com

image source: spiritualgym.tumblr.com

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Categories: Mental Health and Recovery, Spirituality and Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

A Letter to Biggest Loser Winner Rachel Frederickson

beyoutiful

Dear Rachel,

I didn’t even know who you are until yesterday, when your name blew up social media in response to the Biggest Loser finale. I don’t watch the show. I think the show stands for a lot of good, for the war on obesity in this country. But I also think the extreme approach, borderline torturous style of exercise, and inevitable shaming when a contestant is not working hard enough or losing quickly enough, isn’t the healthiest way to do it. I think it’s dangerous. I know the show has medical staff constantly present along the way, but I’m speaking of dangers mentally as well. And I’m sad that this show has been such a big source of entertainment for 15 years, because while on the surface it provides inspiration against the obesity problem and gives people at home the hope that they too can get their lives back, it points to a much larger problem- the American relationship to food, one of extremes. We have fast food establishments on every corner and eat ourselves to death. We have 24 million people in this country with eating disorders (the biggest killer of all mental illness), and 4 out of 5 women unhappy with their bodies. We have a booming diet industry with a revenue of $20 billion per year. We are killing ourselves with food, whether in one extreme or the other, while we sit on our butts on the couch and watch a TV show of other people going from one extreme to the other in a competition for $250,000.

I have been fully recovered from anorexia and bulimia for over 4 years. If I’ve learned anything from my decade long struggle and several years in and out of hospitals and rehab and therapy, it’s that our problem with food is just the visible symptom of a much larger issue, one of the heart. Eating well and exercising will make our bodies healthy, but not our minds. And I think there needs to be more TV shows addressing the underlying problem and changing the way we Americans think about food and our bodies.

That being said, obviously social media has exploded with the talk of you being anorexic, and with discussion picking apart every aspect of your journey and appearance. There are even pro-eating disorder sites with young teenagers praising you for your “sagging knees” and looking to you as their starvation thinspiration, saying they want to be just like you.

I don’t ever want to look at someone and assume they have an eating disorder. There is more to it than appearance. The vast majority of the time I spent sick I was at a normal weight. You can’t always look at someone and tell, and I so desperately want to give you the benefit of the doubt to slow the cracking of the break in my heart upon seeing your pictures and video of the finale. I think, maybe you really are just being healthy and trying to eat right and find a balance as you claim. And maybe you’ll gain some weight back now that the finale is over, now that you’ve secured the win for $250,000. Maybe you’ve been able to heal the mind that led you to become overweight to begin with over these past months.

I hope so.

But just in case….

I may not want to make assumptions on your mental state, but what I can say are the things concrete. I know the audience cheered, but then gasped, during your reveal. I know the looks on trainers Jillian Michaels’ and Bob Harper’s faces spoke more of horror and concern than celebration. I know your BMI is below what is considered healthy for your body. I know nutrition experts have noted physical signs of dehydration. I know people watching the finale had to look away, or shed a tear, while you were on stage. Many people say you just look sick, and that NBC should never have allowed this to happen.

If this is all due to your body desperately trying to adjust itself after such an extreme loss of weight in such a short time, then what I want to tell you will just serve as a positive reminder while you go through these changes.

But if there is more, if you have found yourself on a slippery slope, one where dieting leads to eating disorder as it does in so many cases. If you aren’t as free and happy and confident as you claim. If you feel like all your joy in life is now wrapped up in being thin, and that everything will be better if you’re skinny. If you find yourself obsessing over the weight and the reflection in the mirror. And if you think for a second, ever, that you need to lose more than you have already….. I want you to know:

“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

You are not a number. You are somebody, not some body. The number on the scale can never define you or the worth that is inherently yours. You are a soul and a heart and your body is only what gets you from point A to point B. Take care of it, it’s the only one you will ever get. It is a gift from God, a temple of the Holy Spirit, and the devil uses our bodies against us, makes us hate them. If we are constantly looking at ourselves, we aren’t much use out there in the world. If we shrink all our energy in, we can’t shine outward and make a difference for others. You now have a platform and with it an opportunity to be a positive influence to women and men of all ages and sizes, and with that comes great responsibility.

I’m sorry that we use your weight loss journey as our entertainment. I’m sorry that we’ve sold you the lie that if you just lose weight everything will be great, with the promise of a quarter of a million dollars and the fame that comes with being a winner of a reality show. I’m sorry that we fellow humans failed you, that something wasn’t done sooner. I’m sorry for the culture that we live in that tells you if you’re fat you should lose the weight at all costs, the same culture that celebrates thin as if it is a goddess that will teach us how not to need.

You said at the finale that you know now you can take control, and do anything you want. But control is where eating disorders thrive. It’s not about controlling your body, it’s about partnering with it. It’s about a loving relationship with your self and your own body, one where it can be honest and tell you when it’s hungry and what it needs and you can tenderly respond, helping it to grow healthy and strong. There is no master and slave, but instead a close friendship. When this relationship is working, you will have a glow on your cheeks and a light that shines from behind your eyes.

You are worth it. You are enough. You matter. Not because of your weight or what you look like, but because you, Rachel, are beautiful. You are made in the image of God, a Father who knew your name at the dawn of time, knows every hair on your head, and has all your days written in his book before a single one happens. You are loved, beyond what you can begin to fathom.

If you have slid down that dieting slope into eating disorder, there is no shame. There is no blame. There is only a need for each other, for fellow human beings that can lift you up again. You said, “You learned you can ask for help.” That’s still true. It was true at the beginning of the Biggest Loser and it’s still true now. Secrets keep you sick, but letting other people in is the first step to pulling yourself back up.

Rachel, if you are struggling, there is more help available. There is hope that you can truly find the balance you say you’re looking for, that you can truly find joy. I hope you find both. I hope you can embrace your worth because of who you are, not because of what you see in the mirror, and I hope you can look yourself in the eye in the mirror and tell yourself, “I love you.”

I think it’s obvious that a lot of people want to see you be happy, want to see you rise above the prison of food and weight, no matter the size of the bars. You can do it. I’m rooting for you. We all are.

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

I asked for a hawk, He gave me a turkey vulture

In my process of writing recently the question arose, “do I really want to write a memoir and expose myself bare to the world? Do I really want everyone to have access to some of these things from my past, some things in my life that I’m not proud of, mistakes, my lowest moments?”

I’ve thought of this at times before, and my response has always remained that it’s not about me it’s about God. That I can’t worry about what people will think of me, or what I have to offer through writing a book…. it’s more about what God can do through my story, what God has done in my life. It’s His story, not mine. He’s the author of my life, and I’ve prayed for him to be the real author of any book I write.

If I really believe the whole meaning of life is about our relationship with God, pointing to Him, and furthering His Kingdom, then I have an obligation to shout from the rooftops the level of redemption He has lifted me to and the depths from which He rescued me, despite the future haters or negative criticism I may receive. If I’m just honest about my journey, then anyone who discovers the intricacies and the details of the darkness, and thinks poorly of me for it, then it will be their regret, not mine. All I can do is pray that if I am able to get my memoir published, that He uses it for good, and forbids evil from twisting its purpose. If it sells 5 copies, and is a total fail, but one of those 5 is a life altered and given a renewed sense of hope, then it will all be worth it.

This is what I believe, and yet the other day I still asked God for confirmation. It’s been on my heart for 8 years to write a book, a dream that was always lingering in the background and never went away, one I always felt purpose in. And yet I asked again, “God, is this what I’m supposed to do? I just don’t want to regret, some day down the line, exposing private details about myself. I want to know for sure that You are supporting me here.”

I told God that despite my beliefs about this all along that maybe if He just gave me an undeniable sign, then I can dispel any sliver of questioning the unknown, and not have to wonder. I was in my car driving through wooded area headed to the interstate on my way to work. My mind slipped back a few years ago for a split second, where I thought about a moment in which God used a large bird of prey to send me a clear message. I never knew what it was, a hawk, a falcon, an osprey or eagle…. all I knew was that it was massive and symbolized hope and freedom to me, and in that moment, His presence.

“God, just give me a hawk. Let a big ole hawk fly right in front of my windshield and then I’ll know for sure.”

I should have known better. There’s a reason we can’t tell the future. God made us in a way where we must walk through life on faith rather than sight, and I should’ve known it wouldn’t be so easy to get an answer just because I asked nicely. Yet, I rounded the next curve, my little prayer barely having escaped my lips, and there was a gigantic bird eating roadkill on the edge of the road. I thought, there’s no way.

Living out in the woods, it’s not out of the ordinary to see a hawk or other bird of prey. My boyfriend sees them often in the morning headed to work as they sit on a power line overlooking a farmer’s field, watching for breakfast to show itself. But I have rarely seen a bird this big. Maybe I just haven’t been very observant and haven’t seen them when they were within view, or having grown up in Chicago, my eyes aren’t trained to identify them.

I thought, okay, I have to know what this thing is. It’s got to be a scavenger because it’s on the side of the road eating a carcass, but not knowing where to start, I googled “red headed hawk” and the very first picture that popped up was exactly the bird I saw. Except it wasn’t a hawk. It was a turkey vulture.

Now, if the Creator of the universe really wanted to answer my prayer and give me a hawk, he would have just done so. It’s not like, a turkey vulture was the best he could find on short notice. So me being the type of person that finds meaning in everything, this is what I came to…

A turkey vulture is actually bigger than a hawk. Metaphor: God will give me more than I can think to ask for or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20)

But, even though it’s bigger, it’s also gross. It’s a disgusting bird that eats dead rotting things on the side of the road. It’s part of the clean-up crew. And upon a closer look, it’s head is extremely ugly.

But until I looked more into what this bird was and found a close up picture of it on google, I didn’t see it as this gross ugly thing, rather upon watching it spread it’s wings at the approach of my car, it was sort of intimidating and breathtaking. My first thought was it had a fierce, wild sort of beauty.

Maybe that’s the point too, that’s how God sees brokenness. He looks at our broken parts, our ugliness, our disgusting habits, and yet He still sees beauty and strength.

He still sees something worthy. Something redeemable.

Maybe God was answering me after all. He knows I’d have much more fun finding metaphors and meaning for a turkey vulture, then if He had just given me the hawk to begin with.

Maybe it doesn’t matter what the world sees when they look at the turkey vulture, only what He sees. Just like with each of us.

Categories: Spirituality and Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

In honor of: Suicide Prevention Week

Image       July 2007 there was a young woman, 20 years old, sitting at a desk in her studio apartment, writing a goodbye letter in an attempt to explain to the world what she was going to do next, though she knew no one could understand. No one ever understood. She knew what people say about suicide, that it’s “selfish.” The problem was, in her situation, staying was selfish. She was a waste of time, space, energy, a waste of her parents’ money… their life savings wasted on eating disorder treatment that wasn’t working. Nothing was working. She was a burden on everyone she ever came into contact with. Even if they wouldn’t admit it, this would improve life for everyone. And as for this girl, life was so unbearable, the pain was unbearable. It consumed her and wouldn’t stop, she had to make the pain go away. 

She wasn’t thinking about the future because she couldn’t see one. Couldn’t see anything past the pain. She didn’t feel loved, because she had this understanding deep down that she was unloveable. Somewhere along the line, those lies had taken root inside and consumed her, and her self-worth was stolen.

76 pills of Xanax later, as she began to reach for more pills, one thought prevailed, pushing through the pain. Her horse. Chance, the love of her life. What would happen to Chance when she was gone? She quickly grabbed the pen to add to her letter, fighting the brick wall of unconsciousness closing in, but she didn’t know what to add, how to possibly ensure Chance is taken care of. Not even a full minute later, she was asleep.

depression

from scientificamerican.com

That girl was me. I am incredibly blessed to have woken up from that experience a couple days later with nothing wrong with me, at least not physically. It wasn’t my first overdose, and it wouldn’t be the last. But I think it was the only one where I really wanted to die, as opposed to wanting a “break” with a blanket of indifference toward life, not that that’s much better.

There is a huge stigma in our world surrounding mental illness, depression, suicide. It’s uncomfortable. We don’t really understand it and we don’t want to. To healthy people, these things are so foreign, and we have no desire to bridge the chasm between “healthy” and “sick.” Unless we know someone personally struggling, or we are struggling ourselves, this issue is out of sight and out of mind. Well today I’m calling out the elephant in the room, and suggesting that if we stop looking away, and instead turn to look at each other, that maybe less people will feel alone, feel like they don’t belong.

Unfortunately even with community, even with relationships, a lot of times those in pain can’t see the love they are offered, as if it’s on the other side of an impermeable glass wall, out of reach.  There is sickness there, for someone to be in so dark a place they are ready to take their own life. But being sick, doesn’t make them weak, or crazy, it’s just part of the human condition, part of a fallen world.

In this fallen world, like Donald MIller acknowledges in Blue Like Jazz, we are called to hold our palms against the cracks of this broken world to stop the bleeding.

Instead of avoiding pain, we need to face it. Instead of writing off the “crazy,” we must empathize with their humanity. Instead of indulging the tunnel vision of our own lives, we must take our blinders off and follow the footsteps we were created to walk out: to love and be loved, to live in community and relationships, and to offer hope and healing to the broken.

Jesus came for the brokenhearted, for the sick, for the hurting.

Approx. 38,000 people die each year from suicide, making it the 10th leading cause of death.

Someone dies from suicide approx. every 13 minutes. 

It is believed that there are 25 attempts for every successful suicide.

Every day there are over 5,400 attempts by teenagers.

I found my way out of the darkness, to the light. I found healing and redemption through developing a personal relationship with God and fought by speaking truth and His promises over my life. Even when I felt the weight of the cloud around me, and I didn’t believe a word I was saying, I spoke outloud:

I am fearfully and wonderfully made.   Psalm 139:14

He who is in me, is greater than he who is in the world.    1 John 4:4

I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

No weapon formed against me shall prosper.  Isaiah 54:17

She is more precious than rubies and pearls. Proverbs 3:15

I declared the armor of God over me; Ephesians 6:10-18:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

I felt that Satan’s hold on me and his demons whispering lies in my ear, were weakened by speaking God’s word out loud and by demanding them to leave in Jesus’ name.

Some tools for fighting the dark:

Well, for one, a lot of therapy, over a handful of hospitalizations, anti-depressants and other psychotropic medications….. but those things wouldn’t sustain me forever. Eventually I’d need to learn how to find the light on my own.

Opposite to Emotion is a DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) tool that suggests you do the exact opposite of what you are feeling. If I wanted to lay in bed and wallow in my misery all day, I had to force myself to get up and get dressed and find something to do. In order for this to work I had to find hobbies and things I enjoyed. For years I had no idea what I enjoyed, so this took some investigating, but I found I enjoyed doing art and crafts, and creating things. I enjoyed writing and reading. I enjoyed being with animals, my dogs and my horses, and riding. Even filling in the pages of a coloring book was a way to do something, anything other than sleep all day.

I found when I forced myself to go outside, let the sun and vitamin D soak in my skin, and get some fresh air, I would feel better. It may just be taking a walk by myself, walking my dogs, riding one of my horses, or just driving somewhere to get myself out of the house. I even moved halfway across the country to get away from the cold winters of the Midwest that triggered depression and wanting to stay inside curled under blankets all day.

A CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) idea is challenging your thoughts. Thoughts lead to feelings lead to actions, all are connected. If you can change one, you change them all. Changing my thoughts was hard, and didn’t come easy. But I learned to identify negative thoughts, and false lies about myself and my life, and stop them in their tracks, challenge them, change them. Changing a negative thought to a positive thought led to positive feelings which led to positive behaviors.

I learned that the act of smiling reduces stress and releases endorphins. So I started forcing myself to smile, even when I felt like hell on the inside. And guess what? Eventually I wasn’t just faking it, it became real.

I learned to make peace with my past and forgive. Forgive others, but mostly myself. I learned to let go and stop worrying so much and surrender to God and let him take the wheel in my life. I learned to accept that I’m human and make mistakes but it’s all part of life and can learn from them and move on rather than beating myself up and berating myself for them. I learned that if I would just get out of my own way, nothing could stop me. And most of all, I learned that I was a child of God. I was precious. I was worthy. I was not alone. I was loved.

Today, 6 years later, I am happy. I am free. And I look forward to my future with a joy that cannot be contained. I’m genuinely excited to find out what comes next. I am still human, and that means I still have moments, or days, where I feel down or sad, where I have doubts. But now, that’s just normal, and I am very aware of the enemy’s attacks and when Satan is trying to drag me down. I can feel that weight sort of cloud around me. But the difference is, it doesn’t latch on. It has no claim over me anymore. And I have people in my life who love me and anchor me if I feel overwhelmed. I still get overwhelmed, I don’t handle stress or confrontation well. But this is all part of learning, part of living, part of my journey.

You are not alone. You are loved. You are irreplaceable. You are worthy. You are enough. There is hope. There is always hope. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel.

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follow up on Meaning(less)

I realize how tired and dreary my last post sounded. I haven’t written much for several months now, …just a period here words wouldn’t come when I sat down to type. In general, it’s easier for someone to write from pain than anything else I think. But I want to add to what I had said…

Pain is universal. Sometimes illogically. It is necessary, for without pain there could not truly be joy. We all have a yearning deep inside that the world can’t fill, whether we are aware of it or not, placed there by our Creator as a reminder of who we are, what we were made for, and where our home truly is.

I am very vibrant emotionally and tend to feel things intensely. The beauty is, that it comes on both sides of the spectrum. Life isn’t easy, but it is a beautiful and worthwhile ride. I am grateful for this life, and I am grateful that this life isn’t all there is.

Our lives are immensely meaningful and utterly meaningless. Simultaneously. Let me explain…

Every person who ever lived on Earth is interconnected in a spiderweb spanning farther than we can imagine. Every action has a reaction. One decision creates ripples that affect multitudes of others. One smile can change a person’s entire day. One nasty comment or hurtful word can haunt someone their entire life. Our lives-everything we say and do-are immensely meaningful.

We come through life as a vapor in the wind, a grain of sand held next to eternity. Everything material in this world, all of what most of us go through life striving to attain, will fade. Status, titles, money, shoes, clothes, our earthly bodies… it will all fade to dust. It all is utterly meaningless.

Unless…

We walk through life motivated by faith, hope, and above all else, love. THAT is where meaning lies.

If we seek promotion based on making the best of talents God blessed us with …meaningful. If it is because we want to be better than everyone else …meaningless.  If we get plastic surgery or implants out of vanity, because we can’t accept our body or love ourselves for who we are …meaningless. If we exercise and eat healthfully, and want to look our best, because we want to take care of the one body God blessed us with, and treat it as the temple of the Holy Spirit that we are told it is …meaningful.

It is our choices, our intentions, our attitude in this life that matters.

Essentially it is all up to us…

meaningful or meaningless.

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I wrote the following post as a guest blog for Dr. Maria Rago and Greg Archer’s blog based on their book: Shut Up Skinny Bitches (shutupskinnybitches.wordpress.com). It was posted on their site on April 23rd, and I wanted to re-post and share with all of you!

shutupskinnybitches

By the time I was 18 years old, one of the many words mental health professionals described me as was “alexithymic.” According to Wikipedia, “Alexithymiais a term coined by psychotherapist Peter Sifneos in 1973 to describe a state of deficiency in understanding, processing, or describing emotions.”  It goes on to say, “The core issue is that alexithymics have poorly differentiated emotions limiting their ability to distinguish and describe them to others. This contributes to the sense of emotional detachment from themselves and difficulty connecting with others, making alexithymia negatively associated with life satisfaction even when depression and other confounding factors are controlled.” I also came across the well said phrase “emotional bankruptcy.”

BEFORE I LEARNED TO SHUT UP:

I had suffered with disordered eating at a very young age and then a full blown, out-of-control eating disorder for almost a decade. Looking back…

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“What’s yer hurry?”

God really does speak to us all the time, communicate, interact with us. The problem is many of us forgotten how to listen. Whether it’s our poor listening skills, or interference in the spiritual realm, or all the noise and busyness in our lives that make it hard to hear… many times he will use other things and people as vessels carrying the message he is trying to give. At that point we have to be open-minded enough to realize the message is his and fight the urge to make excuses or let doubt win.

Last night my friend Katlyn and I went to Tybee at 1 a.m. for the sole purpose of being able to lose ourselves on the beach surrounded by endless ocean and sky, so dark they seem to unite as one, covered by a blanket of stars and the smell of saltwater in the air… a place where I feel a little closer to heaven and am usually able to gain some perspective. We sat under the pier and prayed for a solid hour about everything that is drowning each of us right now, everything we’re struggling with, our confusion, our fears, our insecurities. We left our sand-filled sanctuary and headed back to the car and back to earth, and headed back down the main drag leaving the island. Katlyn was driving my car and isn’t used to how it feels and didn’t realize how fast she was going. Realizing she was 18 m.p.h. over, I called it to her attention and we slowed down. As Murphy’s Law goes, the only other headlights on the road belonged to a police officer who was far enough behind us in the dark that we couldn’t see it was a cop car…until the red and blue lights began the light show. We had slowed back down to 5 over, but he had been behind us the whole time.

Katlyn immediately froze and told me she didn’t have her license, she grabbed it quickly before we left not realizing it was actually her state i.d. not her driver’s license, and I didn’t have mine either. The officer walked up the window and I was expecting the routine, standard, “License and registration?” Considering it was now 2:30 in the morning I doubted this officer would be very nice or in any kind of good mood or care what we had to say. He came up with a questioning smile on his face and instead of “license and registration..,” three completely different words were spoken- “What’s yer hurry?” Katlyn immediately handed over her state i.d. and apologetically and full of resignation said she mistakenly grabbed this instead of her i.d., though she didn’t try to offer any excuses. He asked if I had mine. “No.” He asked where we were going. “Home.” Then he said “Just slow down,” turned and walked back to his car and drove off in the opposite direction.”

We breathed a huge sigh of relief, the awe and shock evident on our faces as we looked at each other, and I said, “well that was God.” What I meant was that God had helped us not get a ticket or Katlyn get hauled off to jail because the only reason we were even out there was to pray and spend time with him. But soon Katlyn said, “I think it’s more literal than just that.”

“What’s yer hurry?”

What’s your hurry, my daughters? I have not forsaken you. I am with you through both the ups and downs, whether you are at the top of the mountain or stuck in the pit of the valley. Just slow down. Look around and enjoy this life I have given you. You have come to me in prayer, and I will answer, as I always do…in time. Be patient. Have faith that I am at work and I will raise you up from these current stresses just as I have raised you up countless times before. What’s your hurry? Enjoy the ride.

Kind of gives you goosebumps, doesn’t it? For all I know that cop didn’t even exist… maybe he was some kind of angel delivering that message. Who really knows when it comes to the power of God. We mere humans certainly can’t wrap our brains around it.

Now, this morning my devotional spoke of the need for urgency, and through all this I am reminded of the importance of balance and where that comes into all this. This morning it said, “As we get older, our vision should improve. Not our vision of earth, but our vision of heaven. Those who have spent their life looking for heaven gain a skip in their step as the city comes into view. After Michelangelo died, someone found in his studio a…note to his apprentice… The great artist wrote: “Draw, Antonio, draw, and do not waste time.” Well-founded urgency, Michelangelo. Time slips. Days pass. Years fade. And life ends. And what we came to do must be done while there is time.” -Max Lucado

Some might be confused by a message one night for slowing down, and 7 hours later for urgency, but I take it as God reminding me of the intricate balance that is necessary to manage our time.

Slow down. Embrace the season of life you are in and understand that he is using the hills and valleys and ups and downs of life for our GOOD. This is how he molds us and shapes us. I stood at the edge of the water last night watching the ebb and flow of the water, my eyes unfocused on the waves. The tide was extremely low. The waves are persistent and relentless, firm but gentle, not overbearing, but always there, always at work, constantly shaping and re-shaping the coastline. That is what God does to our hearts, it’s a give and take. Sometimes the tide is low, sometimes high, but always shaping and molding.

Do not waste time. Our life is a blip of time in the span of eternity. We are like a gust of wind, here for a moment then gone again, come from ash and returned to ash. Live deliberately. Walk through life with urgency and purpose. Use every opportunity to point upward, to spread his word and his glory, to be his hands and feet and a vessel of his love to others. Live a life that leads and don’t take days off from doing so. Even in the slow seasons of life where you feel as if you’re walking through thick mud, walk through that mud for God’s kingdom.

So today, may you slow down as you refuse to waste time.

Savannah area peeps: Casting Crowns joined by Sanctus Real, The Afters and Lindsey McCaul will be in Savannah, October 15th!!!!! I’m so excited! Get tickets on hisradio.com or local Christian bookstores 🙂

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Surfing the waves of life

It really is quite a beautiful ride isn’t it…?

How often we get caught up in life and forget to see the bigger picture, lose perspective. I would think by now I’d know as well as anyone that attitude is everything, but even I go through days, weeks that I let my experiences and emotions win out over truth, knowledge, and faith.

Contrary to popular belief, happiness is not a result of circumstance. It is not left up to chance. It is a state of the heart that comes by choice. When we’re miserable, it’s hard to hear we’re choosing it. Really hard. I’ve known, intellectually, for years this simple fact, this fact that our attitude controls us. By our attitude, we either fall or fly. Yes, it’s simple. Simple, not easy.

If you have a passion, pursue it. If you have a dream, dare to believe. If you want something, reach out and take it. Marianne Williamson once said, “ Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Fear holds us back in life, a lot actually, doesn’t it? What if we can’t do it? What if we won’t measure up? What if we fail? What if we look stupid? What if we get made fun of? What if we’re misunderstood? My question is, “So what?”

In the movie Soul Surfer, teenage saltwater queen, Bethany Hamilton, doesn’t understand why after blowing it at regionals, her first competition after losing one of her arms to a shark attack, she gets letters from fans who are cheering for her and looking forward to her future competitions. She wonders, “Why?” Bethany’s movie mom, played by Helen Hunt, replies, “You tried.”

Isn’t that really what it’s all about? Isn’t that what we are called to do in this life? Try? Maybe it’s less about succeeding or failing and more about what we learn in the process, the experience we gain, the smarter we get, the stronger we become. As Americans we are so focused on the success, and I think we miss the whole point in between. It’s like having tunnel vision.

I’ve had so many ups and downs over the past few months in my life. It seems like there’s been days where I’m feeling so low and alone and I just don’t see a way out, and yet there’s other days, like tonight while watching this Soul Surfer movie that I just find myself in tears, not only because of the incredible story and example set by Bethany Hamilton, but by the sheer beauty of life. I feel like something is slowly awakening inside. The light shines brighter than ever before, Satan pushes back and I’m miserable for a few days, then the cross shortly wins out over the darkness, and again, and back and forth. But in the end, the cross will always win. Light will always win. Truth. Life.

A smile spreads across my face as I think of the world of possibilities ahead of me. It’s so incredible how there will always be more to learn, more to explore, more to do. And I don’t know anything more exciting than spending every day learning, exploring and doing. Whether it’s riding horses charting unknown trails, running through sprinklers with the dogs, getting a scuba diving license, standing in the small shelter given by a life guard stand on Tybee in the middle of a thunderstorm witnessing the unforgiving beauty and power of mother nature, dancing-especially when you know you look ridiculous, singing even though you can’t carry a tune, smiling at a stranger, seeing a kid make a new discovery about the world, just LIVING.

Life is too precious to waste a single second of it. No matter who you are and where you come from. God doesn’t care where you come from, He only cares where you’re going. Even, as Bethany demonstrates with brilliant grace, if you only have one arm.

http://www.sheilasmartphotography.com.au ; copyright: Sheila Smart

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I’ll be okay even on my weakest days

“Woke up late today, and I still feel the sting of the pain, but I, brushed my teeth anyway, got dressed through the mess and put a smile on my face…”

“I’m done hoping that we can work it out, I’m done with how it feels, spinnin’ my wheels, lettin’ you drag my heart around. I’m done thinkin’ you could ever change. I know my heart will never be the same, but I’m tellin’ myself I’ll be okay, even on my weakest days. I’m gettin’ a little bit stronger.” -Sara Evans, “A Little Bit Stronger”

It’s so weird how one can just up and move across the country, but not feel the weight of the loneliness until over a year later. I guess maybe there’s a high in the adventure, in the newness of it all. But eventually, just like everything else, that wears off. Or maybe it has nothing to do with being near or far from parents and old friends, maybe it’s just the weight of the world, life catching up.

We weren’t made for this world. We were made for more, for heaven. Is that really all this is? Does everyone have this pain inside, this hurt, the empty ache? ..and most humans just either don’t even know it or are really good at hiding it? Maybe the people that do realize this hole inside chase around filling it with drugs, alcohol, promiscuity…anything. That’s true, isn’t it?

I don’ t have the energy to run around trying to fill it anymore. Actually, been there done that. It didn’t work. I don’t want to spend my life careening back and forth to and from every temporary fix. Is the only alternative sitting in the pain? I mean, there’s gotta be more, right? Jesus came so we could have abundant life, in this lifetime too, right? Or is it just in this lifetime for some people? Other people?

Jesus came to give hope, so why do I feel like hope is so deadly…

Jesus came to give life, so why am I constantly yearning for the after-life…

Jesus came to heal, so why do I feel like I’m still cut open on the floor bleeding…

If love is the most important thing there is, why is it so absent…

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions. I’m not perfect. I don’t have it all together. Half the time I don’t know where I’m going in life, and none of the time do I know how to get there. You could call me a mess, but maybe I’m just one of those rare people being honest.  

Truth is we can let the pain, the emptiness, the loneliness rule our lives, or we can choose to live in spite of it. For me, it’s constantly forcing myself to be social and try to do things with other people, even though I may not know these people very well or at all. We need to be with other living, breathing human beings. We need community, companionship. For me it also means, if I don’t have that option, to know it’s okay to have fun on my own…to go see a movie by myself, or a comedy show, or a concert, or go out to eat by myself. It’s learning to be okay by myself.

And really…I’m not actually ever alone, am I? I have a Father who is available at all hours of the day. A Father who wants to talk, laugh, and experience life with me. Maybe I need to learn to enjoy His company more as well. Maybe He’s trying to teach me that in the midst of a broken world, there IS something I can count on, someONE I can count on… Yeah, just maybe…

“I’m done letting you drag my heart around…I know my heart will never be the same, but I’m tellin’ myself I’ll be okay, even on my weakest days.

I get a little bit stronger, I get a little bit stronger.”

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