Friday, October 26, 2018

Nope, It Definitely Wasn't My Stomach.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you just KNOW God's presence is real? I think sometimes we miss His presence daily. We are so busy. We have so much going on. We are so distracted. There have been times when I've left five minutes late, only to approach an accident that had clearly happened in that five minutes. I have tried to be intentional about noticing God in moments like these. He is there and His protection over us is so real and evident.

Today, my lovely friend Heather shared her birthday with me. It had been WAY too long since we had seen each other so we were so excited to go on a hike and catch up in Corvallis (because Corvallis is amazing). We knew it had to potential to be rainy, so we intentionally picked a hike with gravel and even paved paths. It was also just outside of a neighborhood and gave us an opportunity to get some good exercise safely.

We get to the trailhead, park and use the amazingly clean port-a-potty before getting Heather's dog Brody's leash on and getting started. It was beautiful and very fally. After about a quarter of a mile, Brody started acting a little funny. He stopped, looked toward the edge of the trail and then looked to the other side of the trail. He didn't really know where to look, but I noticed a dear standing completely still, staring at us. Brody's harness jingled a little and the deer continued to stare, motionless. It was truly a deer in the headlights look. Looking at the picture now, it seems a little eerie, knowing the rest of the story.

We hear a growl and I look over at Heather.
"What was that?" I ask her, trying not to show her I'm a little nervous about what I think it may be.
"That wasn't your stomach?" Evidently when I asked her what it was, I had a funny little smile on my face - I smile and laugh when I'm nervous and I was pretty sure I knew what I heard.
"Nope, it definitely wasn't my stomach."

We just kind of looked at each other and knew we needed to get safely back to the car. Neither of us carry a weapon and I had forgotten my pepper spray. I kept looking back to make sure we weren't being stalked by whatever kind of cat we heard (likely a cougar). We made it back to the car and immediately erupted in nervous laughter.

God's presence was definitely with us today. I'm thankful for Brody's alertness and warning. We talked about how, if we hadn't heard the growl, we could have been trapped on the trail on the way back, and recognized the overwhelming protection of our Father.

I encourage you to find those moments of protection. Times where you feel "lucky" to have "just missed" something that could have been tragic. Acknowledge God's love and presence. He is good. All the time. Even when we are not.

Also, if you're ever in Corvallis and in need of a pit stop, the port-a-potty at Bald Hill is a great choice.

As always, love fiercely and love boldly.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

It's okay to not be okay. It's not okay to be a bully.

I don't remember the context. But I clearly remember the words spoken to me and even where I was standing in middle school. “Maybe you should try Slim Fast.” It wasn’t helpful, but said with malice. It's been fifteen years and I've never told that story. Not even to my best friend. I don’t think I’ve ever even told my journal. Even now, I hesitate to tell it. As the years have gone on, I haven't thought about how powerful those words were in shaping my already fragile self image. But there are times, usually when I'm already struggling with feelings of self-doubt, when those words come back to me. They make me question how people really see me, and if it's how they have always seen me. Thankfully I now know my worth and my health are not measured by a number on a scale. My health is measured by the lifestyle I live - the choices I make daily to eat food that will fuel my body and allow it to function properly, daily exercise and yoga, slowly changing out my cleaning products for oil based natural products. My worth is based on the fact that I am a child of God, and honestly just because I am a human.

Fast forward twelve years. I’m in a relationship with someone who says he wants to marry me. Five months into our relationship, he tells me he cheated on me twice. He also tells me that he was only sharing the info because he was very drunk at the time. He asked me to yell at him and get mad but to never bring it up again. I didn’t. I didn’t yell. I didn’t get mad. I was devastated but I kept going, kept loving him and worked on forgiving him. All I asked was that he would stop drinking. He didn’t. He told me that if he couldn’t have alcohol and porn, he would cheat again. The last nine months of that relationship were about as fun as that moment. Some of this I’ve shared, but some I’ve kept to myself. I couldn’t cry without getting yelled at. I couldn’t even talk to or hang out with my friends without being questioned. I wasn’t allowed to think for myself or have opinions that were even slightly different than his. I was constantly being controlled from 2,000 miles away. I knew it was wrong. I knew I was hardening. But I stayed. I stayed because he told me how much he loved God. I stayed because I wanted to help him be better. I stayed because I wanted to prove that maybe the old adage of “Once a cheater, always a cheater” could be changed. I stayed because I had this inner battle that went back to that day in middle school. I believed if I didn’t stay, no one else would ever love me. My view of my self-worth was changed in that moment, and I allowed it to get worse through the daily emotional abuse I faced. It took a conversation with my dad for me to leave. My dad knew nothing about this bully. He didn’t know how many nights I cried myself to sleep because I had been hung up on, yelled at or just had it communicated with me that I was not worth much. But my dad saw a problem. He saw I was planning to stay with the guy who lived with his mom (who he hated), had a child in another state, but no job. He realized I would need to move there, with no job or support system. He was (rightfully) concerned for me and the ability to succeed with so little. I actually think my brother would have stopped me if I hadn’t broken up with him when I did. I could tell that he could see right through him and that he could see through me and my projected happiness. I also know I had a little fairy friend working with him planning motorcycle roadtrips to beat him up if needed, but that’s beside the point.

I wish I could say the abuse stopped when we broke up. But for the next few months, I would get texts from him, telling me how he was going to kill himself because I broke up with him. He would tell me how I made him so depressed and how if he died, it would be my fault. I would encourage him to get help, to talk to his friends and that he was not handling his emotions in a healthy way. Then I would get cussed out, yelled at some more and be left alone for a few more weeks. Even in our breakup, I was being emotionally abused. I was being bullied.

Bullying has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve seen those close to me being bullied, I’ve seen the effects of bullying and I’ve witnessed it on national television. I think we need to remember exactly what bullying is. Let’s look at a couple definitions:

Bully (noun): a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker

Victim (noun): one that is acted on and usually adversely affected by a force or agent; one that is subjected to oppression, hardship, or mistreatment

Simply, bullying is using superior strength or power to intimidate or hurt people who are seemingly inferior. Bullies have the ability to find their victim’s perceived weakness - whether it is an image issue, a physical weakness, an emotional weakness or a psychological/intellectual weakness. They are the things the person is most self-conscious about. An “A” student might be bullied for a failed test. A star quarterback may be bullied for a fumble that cost the team the game. A kid bouncing around foster homes may be bullied because he has holes in his shoes and bags under his eyes. A man may be bullied because he kneels for the flag in a peaceful protest of police brutality among the African American community. Sexual assault victims may be bullied for not speaking up right away, causing other women to be afraid or ashamed to come forward with their own sexual assault stories. I could go on. You get the point. It's not okay to be a bully.

So what do we do about this? What do we do when bullies are able to see the parts we are most self conscious about? What do we do when bullying is not something that ends in high school, but is evident in the highest parts of our government? I can tell you one thing. Posters don’t work. You know the ones. The ones where there are paragraphs of small print explaining how bad bullying is (it is) and how you’re supposed to go to teachers, coaches, your boss, the authorities or whoever is in charge and tell them. They are well-meaning but they don’t work. They get ignored. Sometimes the authority figure does nothing about the bullying because there is no proof. Sometimes the authority figure is the one doing the bullying so there is no one else to tell.

I don’t have an answer. But I know the conversation needs to begin way earlier than it does. It needs to begin in elementary school. It needs to continue in middle school and high school. It needs to extend into the home. It needs to extend into the workplace. Because we have a major problem. In the past month, I know of four kids who have died by suicide in the Salem area. Four. High school and under. One of the kids was twelve. She was the friend of one of my girls in the youth group. This particular girl (the one in my group) told me she was doing fine after the suicide because God must have let her die since her family is stronger now. I don’t know where this lie came from but I can tell you that God never wants suicide. Never. I’ll say it again. God NEVER wants suicide. It’s not His desire. It’s not His plan. He hates it. He can use suicide to bring people to Him, but He never wants someone to choose to end their own life.

Death by suicide is preventable. Depression is treatable. It’s not weird. It doesn’t make you crazy. It’s more common than most people think. Depression may be caused by an imbalance of hormones, genetic factors, biological factors, psychological factors or the environment. The biggest thing is that it can be treated through medicine and/or therapy. It can also be regulated through being intentional about self care. Self care is essential. Exercise, realistic and attainable goal setting, spending time with loved ones, taking your time when making big decisions, learning to be patient with yourself, etc. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be afraid of the feelings you have. It’s vital to reach out. It’s also vital to know your friends well enough to notice when things are off. When things seem like they might not be ok. Because sometimes, while self care is essential, self care is unattainable. It seems selfish and impossible because life is hard and depression sucks. Check in with your friends and seek them out even more when things get off. Seek them out to do the things they like and just spend time with them. You might not be able to heal them of their depression, but I can tell you that being supported and loved helps a lot in those times.

There is a stigma surrounding suicide and mental health. A stigma I talk about a lot. A stigma that needs to not exist. Mental health needs to be a normal conversation. Suicide prevention needs to be a normal conversation. Bringing it to light allows others to share their stories, feel less alone and may just save a life.

In January, Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski died by suicide. It was a shock to everyone who knew him. He seemed happy. He always had a smile on his face. He always brought a smile to everyone else’s face. Out of his death, the Hilinski’s Hope Foundation was created. Hilinski’s Hope works to destigmatize mental health and bring mental health to light alongside the other illnesses and injuries student athletes face. I had the honor of meeting Tyler’s mother and aunt last week at the Beaver game and I am so thankful for the work they are doing. I’m thankful for the Dam Worth It campaign at Oregon State, which has the same mission of working with student athletes to encourage them to seek the help they need and destigmatize mental health. It's focusing on reminding people that they are "Dam worth it" simply because they are. They were recently awarded a grant from the Pac-12 and will begin to travel to other Pac-12 schools with the hopes of bringing this kind of a program to all the schools in the conference.

I’m sorry this is so scatter-brained and long. I’ve been trying to write this for days, weeks even. Last month was suicide prevention month, Today was Salem’s Out of the Darkness walk in honor of those who died by suicide, survivors of suicide and those left behind. I wasn’t able to attend this year but it’s a powerful event and it’s been on my mind all day. I finally had to just sit down and write. Even if my thoughts are all over the place.

I’m broken for all the hurting and even more thankful for a God who hears. I’m thankful for the boldness of the students in our youth group. We went on a retreat this weekend and three kids put their faith in Christ. We thought. Two days after the retreat, another kid sent our pastor a message telling him he had just been too scared to say anything there, but he also put his faith in Christ. Wednesday night another kid trusted Christ. We also heard stories about two of our new brothers in Christ sharing the message of salvation with their friends. One led a friend to Christ and the other talked to seven kids about Him. When we asked him how many he thought believed the message, he nonchalantly answered five. These kids inspire me to be better. So many kids are hurting but I’m reminded that God is still working in their lives. He’s still changing lives. He’s still bringing people into the eternal truth of His love. He’s not going to leave us or forsake us. These are the truths I cling to. I pray you cling to them as well.

If you are one of the hurting, please reach out. To me, to a friend, to anyone. Sometimes it seems harder to talk to those you love, so know there is always someone available to talk. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

As always, love fiercely and love boldly.

Friday, September 7, 2018

"Yep. That's What You Think It Is"

Today I started a study in Proverbs. I'm reading through it with the practice of lectio divina or divine reading. I was inspired by this podcast I've been listening to (insert shameless plug here): Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. Basically, the practice includes reading and figuring out what is literally happening, drawing parallels to the world or life, reflecting on what the text calls us to do and ending in prayer - specifically prayer based on the text. I wanted to write more about the reflection of my faith or even on the passage from today. I actually also wanted to write about the Kaepernick/Nike deal. But, today the focus is not going to be on either of those. Today's focus is going to be on practical, every-day wisdom.

I've been driving for Uber for the last couple months. I love talking to people and it's a super fun way to make a little extra money while getting to know places in Salem I have never been.

I love picking up the people who have had a little (or a lot) too much to drink. It always makes for good entertainment at the least but sometimes even just good conversation. I had one guy who tried to buy my sunglasses off of me and a girl who pretended to puke in my car.

When I started, I decided I would try the deliveries. But let me tell you. I'm over it. And thankfully with the new Uber driver app I can turn off the delivery calls. For the most part the deliveries aren't awful. It's just typically fast food, which makes my car smell disgusting.

One night, I was only one minute away from the food pick-up so I decided to just take it. It was a taco stand and the tacos weren't ready. I was chatting with the guy running the stand when a couple drunk girls showed up (it was a food truck so I was just standing outside the truck waiting). She wanted a drink and picked a bottled coke. She proceeds to reach into the back of her shirt, searching for her money (or so I thought). Next thing I know, she pulls out a MACHETE and places it on the counter of the taco truck. Now, I'm not most educated on weapons but I googled it and was able to see that yes, indeed it was a machete.

Her friend, obviously seeing the shock on my face, said to me “Yep, that's what you think it is.” LIKE IT WAS NORMAL TO CARRY A MACHETE AROUND. Guys. Correct me if I'm wrong but I think it's not normal.

I will say, I was thankful she pulled her machete out before she started making racial slurs to both the man at the stand and a guy from the bar she was talking to her friend about. I normally would have spoken up about her blatant rudeness. However, I think the pepper spray in my car would not have been a suitable match for the machete. Thankfully, she found almost enough money for her soda and grabbed her machete to leave, but not before giving my bum a coach pat.

I honestly was so shocked it took me a little while to actually realize what had happened. I was also a little puzzled (I'm still actually puzzled) because she proudly announced she was not wearing a bra as she was pulling the machete out. Like….not only WHY...but WHERE?! Debriefing with my dad the next day, I could only laugh and remind myself why I don't go to Lancaster at night. Or really any time. This was one of those stories I didn't tell my mom. She already doesn't love the fact that I drive Uber so I withheld this story from her. (Sorry Mom.)

Until next time, love fiercely and love boldy.

And please leave your machete at home.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Harry Potter And The Story That Shaped Me

Currently on Facebook, people are posting about seven books for seven days, highlighting the books that shaped them in some way, without any explanation. In honor of that, my list is as follows:

The Bible, God
The Harry Potter series, JK Rowling
Love Does, Bob Goff
Small Great Things, Jodi Picoult
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, CS Lewis

Let's be real for a minute. I had a REALLY hard time picking the last three. I felt like I was dishonoring other books by only picking these seven. A Child Called “It”, Night, The Great Gatsby, The Scarlet Letter, Horton Hears A Who, and all those Alice in Bibleland books. I love reading. I love getting engaged in a book and its characters. I love escaping to another world. Sometimes I think I might get too engaged. I was NOT ok for days after reading My Sister’s Keeper. There was a commercial that had something to do with bone marrow and I would sob as soon as it came on, and when I went to see the movie, I remember walking out and just being so MAD because they completely changed the ending.

But today isn't about My Sister's Keeper. And it's not about my list.
It is, however, about seven of the books that shaped me. Seven of the most important books in my life. Seven books encompassing one story. I was seven when the first book was published. My mom would read each of the books to me after they came out. It was one of my favorite things. Since then, I can't even tell you how many times I have read through the series, but I think this may be the first summer in a long time I haven't. Silly grad school.

The magic of Harry Potter isn't found in an 11-inch stick with the feather of a phoenix at its core. It's not found in an invisibility cloak or a time turner. It's not found in Veritaserum or Amortentia. It's not found in Thestrals, giant spiders or even House Elves.

The magic of Harry Potter is found in friendship. Friendship is a common theme throughout the entire series. Harry, Ron and Hermione show us the value of friendship. They show us that sometimes, friends get angry, sad and lonely. They show us the value of loyalty in friendship, especially through trials. How friends stand up for each other and true friendship is not easily broken. How the best friends share with each other in joy, sadness and everything in between. The trio taught us the value in being open to others and allowing room for other friendships. Stepping aside from just those three, Neville taught us the importance of standing up for what you believe in, even when it means standing up to your friend and getting petrified. Moony, Padfoot and Prongs taught us that friends will do anything to be together (I know, I know, technically Wormtail also illegally made himself an animagus but that is beside the point. I can't get over his betrayal - which is, unfortunately, also sometimes part of friendship). Also, side note. I am NOT endorsing any illegal or malicious activity to be with your friends. Silly and maybe a little mischievous at times, sure! But never illegal or malicious. Hedwig and Dobby taught us the power of loyalty in friendship. That's all I can say about them because I'm still completely broken, after all this time.

The magic of Harry Potter is found in overcoming prejudice. I was actually inspired to write this blog post because of this, and how it is displayed in the fourth book. If you know me much at all, you know I'm a huge fan. I'm a huge fan of inclusion, diversity and loving everyone no matter what. I'm a big fan of treating everyone as a child of God. No matter what their beliefs, no matter where they come from, no matter what their ability is and no matter what they have done. While most of this attitude I have toward people is rooted in the Bible and my faith, I cannot dismiss the lessons I learned from Harry Potter about the importance of unity in diversity. In the Goblet of Fire, Dumbledore says, “You place too much importance, and you always have done, on the so-called purity of blood! You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be!" Sometimes it's hard to see past a person's outward appearance or where they came from to see who they truly are. We are too focused on the fact that they are a giant and that giants have a history of being vicious to notice that, while he is a giant, he wouldn't hurt a fly. He may, however, try and nurse a fly back to life. We are too focused on the fact that she is muggle born to notice her strengths. Dumbledore always tried to see the best in people. He always took those least likely to be noticed and appreciated and allowed them to thrive to their full potential.

The magic of Harry Potter is found in overcoming barriers to succeed. Although it was always a given that love would win over hate throughout the series, it never came easy. 1. The OG escape room: Fluffy, Devil's Snare, keys, a life-sized version of wizard's chess, potions and facing Voldemort for the first time. 2. Ginny stolen and a giant snake, plus murdering Tom Riddle’s diary. 3. Sirius. Helping Sirius escape. Stupid Wormtail. 4. The graveyard and Cedric. 5. The ministry. Sirius. I'm still not ok. 6. Finally fighting horcruxes. Dumbledore. 7. Every. Single. Scene. So many barriers. So much death. So much sadness. All to fight for good. All to see love win. The barriers aren't always an extreme battle or death. More often the barriers are fear and insecurity - the fear of judgment, of being alone or failure and the insecurities surrounding the thought of “I'm not good enough, not strong enough, not powerful enough, not enough.” We all face these barriers in our own lives, every day. Harry Potter shows us that we don't have to be afraid to take risks to succeed. As Christians we can apply this and be like Peter in the Bible and step out of the boat in order to walk on water, because we have faith that Jesus is standing there with us.

The magic of Harry Potter is found in learning. “When in doubt, go to the library.” Hermione is a girl after my own heart. With a fire for learning, she seeks out knowledge and loves books. Without Hermione and her endless knowledge, many of the battles would have been unsuccessful. Book knowledge is not the only type of learning we see. We see the desire to learn the truth. We see the that learning the truth can bring pain, because sometimes the truth distorts the positive way a role model is seen. It can bring pain in knowing you finally have a place to call home, but it’s gone before you can even blink. Knowledge of the truth can bring joy when you find out people loved you. They loved you enough to die for you and you just never knew it. I hope to never stop learning - in my faith, in my knowledge and about myself.

The magic of Harry Potter is found in family. It teaches us that family is not always blood. Family is simply the people who will never leave. Sirius wasn’t family to Harry by blood, but they sure loved each other like they were. Mrs. Weasley embraced Harry as her son and Hermione as her daughter, before they even married into the family. She loved them as if they were her own, took care of them as if they were her own and fought beside them as if they were her own. Harry Potter taught us that family fights for each other, sticks together and takes risks for one another. It shows us how family can hurt us, and friends can become family.

The magic of Harry Potter is found in individuality. Oh Luna. She is one of my favorite characters in the entire series because she doesn’t let anyone tell her who she should be. She is faced with criticism every day, and even known as Loony Luna. She never lets it get to her. She remains loyal and unique. She fights for truth, justice and love without wavering who she is. I desire to be like Luna in this. I have found myself so many times wanting to change who I am to please other people. I have found myself holding back and resisting being who I really am out of fear of judgment and persecution. I desire to be me. Entirely me. God made me this way, with intense emotion, compassion and passion. I desire to embrace that and just be me. I can be weird and I can be awkward but I’m me. Harry potter taught me to embrace the uniqueness in other people and look for their strengths. Dumbledore’s Army was full of people from different strengths, backgrounds and personalities. Each one individual and unique, but each one essential to the purpose and mission.

The magic of Harry Potter ultimately, is found in love. It is found in the realization that the power of love exceeds anything the imagination could come up with. It is found in self love and acceptance. It is found in sacrificial love, loving through the hurt and everlasting love. It is found in the knowledge that ultimately, love conquers evil and nothing can stop it.

Happee birthdae Harry, and happy birthday to JK Rowling, the woman who made the magic alive for me.

As always, love fiercely and love boldly.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Crushed It

May was Mental Health Awareness month. And for all of May, I had planned to write this blog. For those of you who know me, mental health and mental health awareness is very important to me. I'm a big advocate of complete wellness, and this year my focus for myself is on taking care of my health holistically - spiritual, physical and mental.

I've been involved in the program to obtain my Master's in Social Work with a focus on trauma for about nine months and in that time I have learned even more about mental health care and advocating for mental health. Yesterday we learned that Kate Spade died in an apparent suicide. This news (as with anytime I hear of a suicide) was heartbreaking to me and reminded me once again that I need to be an advocate for mental health. So, before I get into what I've been trying to blog about all month, don't be afraid to seek help. It's ok to not be ok. But talk to someone about it. And if you are struggling with depressive thoughts and aren't ready to talk to someone you know, please reach out and call the Suicide Prevention Hotline 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255

One of the biggest takeaways in my program so far is something I think our world needs quite a bit more of: empathy and emotional intelligence. Let me just clear something up and let you know that empathy is not the same thing as sympathy. Sympathy is defined as the feeling of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune. Empathy takes it a step deeper. Instead of just feeling sorry for someone when they are in a bad place, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. I taught about this in Fusion a month or so ago. Empathy allows a person to sit in their emotion and truly feel it. If you've seen the movie Inside Out, Joy and Sadness give the perfect example of empathy here 👇🏼

Inside Out

This is one of the most powerful scenes of the movie. Bing Bong realizes that losing the rocket means Riley is on the way to forgetting him completely. He watches it go and is immediately hit with the emotion of all the fun they had. Joy tries so hard here to distract Bing Bong and get him to move on. She offers her sympathy and condolences (“It’s gonna be ok”) but immediately tries to cheer him up. In her offering of sympathy, she doesn't really allow him to feel the emotion he is being flooded with. Then Sadness comes in. She recognizes and acknowledges the emotion Bing Bong is feeling. She even summarizes and repeats what he is saying about his emotion while allowing him to elaborate (classic psychology move). Joy is frustrated with this, but she sees the effect it has on Bing Bong and his ability to move forward. This is probably my favorite example of empathy and of emotional intelligence. The feelings and emotions Bing Bong is experiencing are recognized and validated. While she does say she’s sorry, Sadness doesn't come across in a way that she is feeling sorry for him. She lets him feel and sit in his emotion in a way that allows him to move forward.

So what is emotional intelligence? It's this new, hot way of saying that a person has the ability to understand and manage their own emotions as well as the emotions of others. This article lays out 13 signs of high emotional intelligence. They are good enough to share, but also good enough to read more about and the article explains them well!
1. You think about feelings.
2. You pause
3. You strive to control your thoughts (this one is hard for me)
4. You benefit from criticism
5. You show authenticity
6. You demonstrate empathy
7. You praise others
8. You give helpful feedback
9. You apologize
10. You forgive and forget (forgetting doesn't mean that the action is lost to your memory, it just means that the action doesn't cause you to think of the offending party any differently)
11. You keep your commitments
12. You help others
13. You protect yourself from emotional sabotage
Y'all know I love every single one of these. I'd encourage you to do some research on emotional intelligence to see where you are at. There are tests but the good ones are expensive so do a self evaluation. How are you doing? How can you improve?

It's fitting that the theme for this year's Mental Health Awareness month is Fitness #4mind4body because I decided to participate in my first ever round of Whole30. I completed my round yesterday and it totally changed my relationship with food. For those of you who think you don't have a relationship with food, check out the previous paragraph. Do some self evaluation. Check your emotional intelligence. Because you're lying to yourself.

For me, the Whole30 was truly life changing. It forced me to evaluate what I was eating, why I was eating and if I really needed to be eating. I think I was successful with the program because I allowed myself to make it work for me. While the template doesn't allow snacks, I allowed some compliant snacks. I am awake so many hours and active quite a bit throughout the day so I needed a little extra. Even though I made it my own I was still completely compliant and I am happy with the results I've seen! I am down 15 pounds, I have gained muscle and I have lost about 13 pounds of body fat (since January). #crushedit Today is my first day of reintroduction and so far I've still stuck to Whole30 compliant except for the 1 gram of sugar that is in the kimchi I accidentally bought (wrong brand, oops). I love eating this way. For me, this way of eating has been much more beneficial for me than before when I did Take Shape For Life. For those of you who have followed my journey or have known me for a while know that I had great success with TSFL. I even coached for a while. And I think what I learned during that time really helped me in making my Whole30 successful. That being said, it is so much more freeing to me to be able to cook all my meals, and to cook them in a healthy way. In fact, I love eating this way so much I have decided to transition into a “mostly Paleo” way of life. While Whole30 is good for 30 days, it's not realistic forever. However after doing some research, Paleo seems like a good option for me. It allows me to eat amazing food but also offers more freedom (I mean have you had Paleo ice cream?). My “mostly” part of this new way of life is going to be my food freedom talked about in the Whole30. Because, if I am having a run day or something, I would like to be able to have some carbs to keep me full and energized throughout. If everyone is going to get ice cream, I have the freedom to have a bowl and not feel guilty. I plan to do another round of Whole30 at some point. I love a good challenge, especially when it forces me to cook creatively.

One more thing, I promise. As I mentioned,this year is dedicated to my health. I've taken this month to reevaluate my physical health and reset my nutrition. I started counseling last fall just to work on my mental health. Though I've had times so far this year in my spiritual health where I have felt distant from God, I have also been overwhelmed by knowing He is here. He is with me. He is constant in my life. In fact, He ties all of these things together. He gives me the greatest example of empathy to look to. And even though at times I've been distant from Him, He has been growing me. He has been reminding me that Satan is going to try anything to get me distant from God. His schemes are clever and crafty. He butts in right where it hurts and tries to get at our most vulnerable states. My heart hurts sometimes because he is so crafty that he maneuvers his way into my self talk and feeds me these thoughts about myself and those around me. I've seen with certainty that I can't allow those lies to define who I am and how I think or act. My strength comes from Christ. John 10:10 talks about how Satan comes to kill, steal and to destroy but Jesus came so that we can have abundant life through Him. My prayer is that every day I would trust in Him and His plans and have the strength to say boldly “NOT TODAY SATAN!”. My prayer is that you would have the strength to say the same.

As always, love fiercely and love boldly.

Friday, February 16, 2018

When "Thoughts and Prayers" Aren't Enough

“My thoughts and prayers are with the victims.”
“I’m praying for you.”
“You’re in my prayers.”
“My heart goes out to the families of the victims.”

In times of tragedy, whether personal, community or greater, we always hear the same responses. Every. Single. Time.

I’m guilty. I’ve said them. I’ve said them because I truly believe there is power in prayer. I truly believe that God can and will continue to work through prayer. I have seen it in my own life and I have seen it in the lives of the ones I love. And maybe it’s just me, but there have been times where I have told someone I was going to be praying for them, had really good intentions to, and then just got busy with my own stuff. I forgot. I pushed it aside. So my good intentions, my “thoughts and prayers” were just something I could say to make myself feel better. Instead of sending my thoughts and prayers, recently I’ve tried to become more intentional when people I love are experiencing tragedy. “I’m praying for you” becomes “How can I pray for you right now, right here?” and “What can I do?” Sometimes the answer is that there is nothing I can do. But most of the time, just being there, sitting and walking through grief with someone means so much more than hearing the words “I’m praying for you.”

The intention is to stay present. The goal is to act. I’m grieved by another senseless tragedy. My heart is broken past the point of anger. I’m tired of all of this. I’m tired of saying “enough is enough” with these mass shootings. I’m tired of all of it. The last few days I’ve been thinking about what it means to stay present and act. And honestly, I can’t come up with a solution.

One side says it’s a gun problem.

The other side says it’s a mental health problem.

Neither side can get along with the other because neither side will fully listen. In my first class of grad school, we learned about finding common ground and listening to understand. The goal of common ground isn’t to necessarily change the other person’s opinion or even to find a solution, but to fully listen to what they are saying without arguing. Each side gets a chance to share their opinion and repeat back to the other person what they hear. In doing this, communication can happen in a way that honors and values opinions other than our own. Maybe we need to practice some common ground techniques with each other to jump into action. We need to hear each side to understand where everyone is coming from.

I don’t know what the solution is. And honestly, it’s driving me crazy that I can’t figure it out. I can’t figure out what needs to happen. But I know something needs to happen.
I don’t think we can fully blame this problem on guns or mental health. I don’t know if I would ever personally own a gun, but I respect the right to bear arms. However, this right to bear arms needs to be reformed and have greater restrictions. Not all gun owners are murderers. In fact, most of them probably aren’t. But realistically, would stricter gun laws put an end to the frequency of these mass shootings? Just like drugs, even if something is illegal and harder to get, the wrong people will always find a way to obtain it if they really want it.

At the same time, completely focusing on mental health increases the already too frequent stigma surrounding mental health and mental illness. This is an area dear to my heart, as I fight to abolish this stigma. So, every time something like this happens, mental health gets brought up again and I cringe. It’s a never-ending cycle. Yes, we do have a mental health crisis, and yes, I would say that every person who commits a mass shooting is experiencing some form of mental illness. However, not everyone who experiences mental illness is a mass murderer.

In my opinion, it’s a heart problem, a gun problem and a mental health problem. Still, I don’t have a solution. But I want to keep this conversation active. I want to talk about this. I want to help prevent another school shooting where 14 high school students and 3 staff members die because we are arguing about guns and mental health. It’s time to get over ourselves and listen to one another to understand. It goes beyond this argument and into life as we care for and love one another. Disagreement is inevitable. So when we disagree, it’s time we tell ourselves to stop and listen. Not to change our mind. Not to change the other person’s mind. But to understand one another and to love one another by validating their opinion.

Last night, I babysat two of my favorite littles. I put them to bed and went back upstairs to clean up our mess. I sat down to watch the Olympics and I could hear the four year old talking to herself. I had told her I would come check on her like I always tell her. And if I’m honest, sometimes it doesn’t happen. She either falls asleep before I get down there or her parents come home. After a minute or two of her talking, and talking to me through the monitor I decided I would go back down and cuddle her. It’s what she needed. It was different than normal but I recognized a need and I decided to be present and intentional. I decided to stay present and act. And the whole time I was talking to her, singing to her and cuddling her, I was thinking about what I can do to make sure she is safe at school. I still don’t have the answer, but I want to have the conversation. I want to take action to prevent this from happening again.

I encourage you to read the names of the victims. Even better (but harder) I encourage you to read their stories. I hope it motivates you to stay present, be intentional and act. We can’t forget them. We can’t push it aside and move on. We can’t only keep them in our thoughts and prayers. Pray for God to guide you in action for change. Stay present. Be intentional. Act.

Aaron Feis, 37
Alyssa Alhadeff, 14
Scott Beigel, 35
Martin Duque Anguiano, 14
Nicholas Dworet, 17
Jaime Guttenberg, 14
Christopher Hixon, 49
Luke Hoyer, 15
Cara Loughran, 14
Gina Montalto, 14
Joaquin Oliver, 17
Alaina Petty, 14
Meadow Pollack, 18
Helena Ramsay, 17
Alexander Schachter, 14
Carmen Schentrup, 16
Peter Wang, 15

My prayer (and I’m really praying it right now) is that you are inspired and encouraged to act. And if, like me, you don’t know where to start, I pray you would join the conversation. I pray you would listen to understand those who think differently than you. And I pray you will never forget to be present in the lives of your hurting friends and family. Stay present. Be intentional. Act.

As always, love fiercely and love boldly.

Monday, July 17, 2017

We All Have Those Days

It's taken me almost two weeks to write a post I've been planning for a month. Maybe it's because of the vulnerability of it. Maybe it's because I've been busy. Maybe it's because in the midst of going back to school, stepping down from a position and starting a new one, and just the craziness that family and life brings, I haven't put enough effort into my writing. Whatever it is, it's an excuse. I hate excuses. So I'm leaving the excuses behind, getting over my fear of being vulnerable and writing.

"December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy." 1941 was 49 years before I was born, but if we think about it, we all have those days which will live in infamy in our lives.

July 5th is a day which will live in infamy for me.

Let's go back in time to Thursday, July 4th, 2002. I was riding up to my grandparents' house for our normal festivities. My mom was driving, and my brother and dad were either already up there or coming up later. I don't even remember if my sister's were there, but I think some of my cousins were at least. As we were driving, my mom told me that Mama Rose had been diagnosed with lung cancer. She said that on Friday she was going to be going to the doctor for some tests and a treatment plan. I was scared, but honestly not too phased. I knew people died from cancer. But I also knew people are healed from cancer. We got there, played in the water, watched the fireworks over the lake, and started a campfire for smores. My grandma was extra tired that night, so she headed to bed earlier than the rest of us. You can probably see where this is going. My grandpa is not the quietest of men. Bless his heart, he tries. But when you can't hear well, it's hard to be quiet. I woke up at around 3AM to him running up the stairs to my mom and I (my dad and brother had to be back in Hoquiam for something so they weren't there) and frantic, loud whispers. "Connie, Mom is bleeding. You need to call 911." My mom did CPR on my grandma while on the phone with 911, and I went out to meet the paramedics at the end of the driveway, which seemed to take an eternity. Despite all efforts, my Mama Rose died on the morning of July 5, 2002.

Let's fast-forward 14 years. I am 26 years old, in a relationship, and planning to get married. I go to bed on the night of July 4th thinking that I'm worthless. Thinking that nothing I can do is good enough, yet knowing what needs to be done. On the morning of July 5th, I broke up with my boyfriend. I broke up with him because things weren't working. I couldn't have an opinion if it was different than his, I couldn't speak my mind, and I couldn't talk things out instead of just getting argued with, yelled at and hung up on. If you've ever felt like this, you know how hard it is to get out of it. You think that you'll never find anybody because you're not good enough for anybody else. You feel inferior. I will give him credit for not being intentional about this. He always told me he was a better friend than he was a boyfriend. And I believe him. He was looking for Perfection and I couldn't give him that. No one can. To say the least, I felt a lot of things that day. I felt like I didn't know what I was going to do, I felt scared, I felt relieved, and I was searching for light and searching for hope. And then I found it. Just when I was getting ready to leave everything that I loved for this man that I loved, I gave him up because I knew it was right. So I found this job, and I applied for it. Weeks went by, and I got a letter that said they had hired somebody else. I given it to God, but felt in my heart that I was the right person for that job. So it's hard. But it was just God telling me that it wasn't the time. He was telling me that I wasn't ready. I couldn't mentally and physically succeed at that job while still grieving the loss of a relationship.

July 5th, 2002 and July 5th, 2016 are both days that will live in infamy for me. Both of these days represent sadness. Both of these days represent loss. Both of these days I met with grieving and pain. But both of these days also bring me hope. They bring me joy. And they give me a story that will inspire and encourage others.

A lot of people remember the day that they were saved. The exact day. I don't know if I just don't pay enough attention, or if I'm a bad Christian. But, I don't remember a day. I remember events that led up to my salvation. And the day my grandma died is one of them. I have been going to church my entire life. I grew up in what I like to call a Christian-inspired home. We went to church on Easter and Christmas. We had a prayer that we said at dinner time, we had our Bibles, and we had those Alice Bible story books. And I think my brother had some of the boy version of the Bible story books. But we didn't live it all the time. When my brother got into high school, he started to go to youth group and young life. That's where I met Jeremy and April. I love them, and I could not wait to be in high school so that they could be my leaders. But my brother going to youth group and Young Life didn't inspire me to go to church. I would go to church with my friend Sonja, because her dad was the pastor. I would go to church when I went to visit my Grandma Barb. But I did not claim my faith as my own, and I didn't live my faith out. I didn't serve Jesus, and I loved him but I didn't show it. When my grandma died, I realized how short life is. How precious life is. How life can be taken in the blink of an eye, and we are never really prepared. In seventh grade, less than a year after my grandma died, my best friend's mom passed away of cancer. I had spent so much time at her house, that she was like another mom to me. And I loved her like one. As I thought about my grandma's death and my best friend's mom's death, life hit me hard. I realized that with the briefness of life on Earth, I can't live for myself. I needed something to live for. And I can't tell you how many times I had accepted the message when Jan preached it to me, or when Pastor Kent preached it to me, but it was now my own. I needed to start living for Jesus.

God always uses pain for good. After the flood, He gave a rainbow. After the crucifixion, He gave us The Resurrected Christ who promises us Eternal Life. After Mama Rose and Lisa passed away, He brought me into that Eternal Life. After my relationship ended, he gave me more hope, wisdom and direction. It has taken a while. It has been messy, and I was in a bad place for a while. But I wouldn't admit it to most people. I was too proud. Pride is a tricky thing. It's easy to have, and it's not easy to give up.

A year after the death of this relationship, on July 5th, 2017, I felt a flood of emotion. I remembered my grandma, and I remembered where I had hoped to be by that time. I got home from Charlie's, after not staying for fireworks, and started the process of going to bed. I also evaluated my heart. Where was I? How was I doing? It's important to evaluate your heart every now and then. Really, I should evaluate my heart everyday. I should, but I don't always. That night, as I began my evaluation, I realized what God had done in a year. I'm a completely different person. I have more confidence. More confidence in myself, more confidence in my ability, and we're confidence in my worth. I know I am worthy. Jesus died for me. He didn't have to, but He loved me enough to die for me. He thinks that I am worth something. He thinks that I am worth dying for. I have stuck up for myself this year. I have professed my ideas and my beliefs. I have made amazing friends, and also chosen to let some friends go. I realize that the people who really care will make an effort. And, that it's better to have fewer good friends than many acquaintances. I have made decisions for me. This is always hard for me. It goes back to that confidence and worth. But I know that I need to do things that are good for me. It's not out of selfishness, but it's out of self-love. Because I cannot be loved if I don't love myself. And let me tell you, I've learned to love myself better this year. I've learned to care for myself better this year. Just because I've learned it doesn't mean that I've always done it though. But I'm still growing there. I hired a personal trainer, I started to pursue my dream of planning weddings, I began to explore the place that I love the most and spend time with Jesus hiking. I decided to go back to school. I bought a new car. I made a hard decision to leave the kids and families that I love at the childcare to be with Charlie all summer, and make people's dream weddings a reality at my newest position.

Y'all, this last year has been a mess. It's been a Beautiful Mess. They were things that were hard. There were things that were really hard. And there are still things going on in my family and my life that make me want Jesus to come back so badly. But if I've learned anything this year, I know that Jesus created me to be an overcomer. He created me to learn through trials. He created to lean on him. He created me to show me how my story intertwines with His. And he is going to use that story to encourage and inspire others and bring people into His Glory. If I look back at my life, I wouldn't be where I'm at right now without July 5th, 2002 and 2016. I wouldn't have the faith I have. I wouldn't have the strength and confidence I have. So in the Beautiful Mess of hard stuff, I'm thankful for my God who sustains, protects and loves me.

Here's my encouragement to you:

1. Take a risk and do something that makes you happy.
2. Lean in to Jesus. Every. Single. Day.
3. Be you. Be proud of who you are. Don't be ashamed of who God made you to be. Don't be ashamed of your quirks. God gave them all to you. Embrace yourself.
4. "Spur one another on toward love and good deeds." Hebrews 10:24 is my daily reminder to be encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ, and to shine for Jesus through my life.
5. "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Eleanor Roosevelt nails this one. Seriously. If you are in a friendship or a relationship where you feel inferior, it is not normal. Love yourself enough to recognize that something needs to change. Love the other person enough to tell them how they make you feel. Talk to someone. I'm always here for you.
6. As always, love fiercely and love boldly.