Consistent Christmas

Nostalgia. One of my favorite feelings. Sometimes pleasant, sometimes hard, but always magical. Always grateful. Always full of memories that move rhythmically to the beating of my heart. 

This Christmas season brought nostalgia along for the sleigh ride of thanksgiving. Memories as sharp as day, coming alive in the twinkling of the night. Christmas carols serenading the road of reminiscing, family laughter fueling the present moment. Joy nesting in the bellies of our souls, brought alive again by the power of advent. Anxious anticipation of the arrival of something majestic, something angelic, something transformative, something pure. The hype and busyness add to the build-up, yet the innocence of a child reminds us to be still. Such a wonder, such a mystery, yet such a familiar call back home. 

All of this excitement of something greater than ourselves often humbles us to retreat with those we cherish and extend beyond ourselves. It moves us to sit with those we grew up with, and speak with those we may not associate with. Something larger, something stronger, something intricately woven throughout this place we call earth seems to continue its process of knitting. For a moment, we set aside our Christmas list and surrender ourselves in awe. For a breath, we glance up at the star of royal beauty for an answering light beyond our understanding. 

Each Christmas is different in its own way. One year older, one year wiser, one year of life’s challenges requiring new adaptation. It’s hard to accept change sometimes, especially during the holidays. It’s hard to let go of old traditions and welcome the new. It’s difficult to surpass any old winter wounds to focus on the redemptive warmth. 

But Christmas is also consistent. Traditions hold a spot in our plans as our calendars fill up with festivities. Regardless of how you get there, Christmas always comes to you. Every year on December 25th, we can count on the consistency of Christmas. The presents may not pile up in the same way. You may have new faces around your holiday feast. Your work schedule may not allow for as much down time as you’d like. But we can all count on this day to catch us when we need it. We can look forward to this day just like any other. We can celebrate the gentle spirit that Christmas brings, and even allow ourselves flow with it. We can always count on the coming of Christ. 

The older I get, the more I crave the feeling of togetherness. Quality time, to me, is one of greatest gifts of all. I’ve always been aware of just how precious our time here is, and it’s always been troubling to me that I can’t spend as much time with everyone I care about as much as I’d like. Christmas allows for a time of togetherness. Maybe my hunger for quality time stems from a combination of upbringing and personality, growing up surrounded by cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles at every holiday gathering. Maybe it’s the nostalgic feeling tied to family time, or contagious enthusiasm from true friends. Or maybe part of me remembers how lonely it felt to shut others out during a cold snap of depression. A retreat down memory lane to the days of worry-free childhood put those wonder blues to bed. Perhaps it’s a little bit of all of these things that feed my need for togetherness. All of which have one common source: a little baby in a manger. 

I bet the crowd at Jesus’ birth felt the same way we do on Christmas. Quieted by something so beautiful, so transforming, so radically renewing. A feeling so calming, so comforting, so oddly reassuring. A place so grounded, so down-to-earth, so transparently vulnerable. A safe space; a worry-free space; a place to belong. Surrounded by people who they traveled the deserts with, and also people who they had never seen before. All together, all connected, all mesmerized by  by a force that drew them to that very place. Something majestic, something angelic, something transformative, something pure. Something foreign, yet something familiar; something nostalgic, yet something new. 

A presence so remarkable, a moment so indescribable. An invitation so welcoming, a promise so true. 

Love incarnate, love divine. 

A love so real that continues to shine. 

For there on that historic night, sparked a truth that feels just right. 

Peace for the moment, hope for the night. 

A love that binds us forever tight.

The REAL Icing on the Cake

Enough of the sugar-coating. I don’t care for it. 

I’ll pass on the fluffy cupcakes with frosting, gooey cookies with glaze, and warm chocolate iced donuts with sprinkles. 

You may think I’m crazy, but …

No coconut and cream coating, powdered sugar finishing touch, or triple chocolate fudge, please. 

No thanks …

I want to know what’s underneath (and I’m not just talking quality ingredients). Forget the sugar-coating, I want to taste the real stuff. 

And no, this isn’t just another a nutrition talk from your health coach 😉

I want to know more …

I’ll go for some raw egg. Perhaps some unsalted butter. Unsifted flower. Half-melted chocolate chips. Crisco from the can.

I’m craving simplicity. 

I want to taste transparency. 

I want to chew on unrefined adequacy.

I’m craving pungent. 

Riveting.

Relentless reckoning.

I want the REAL recipe. The first ingredients. The natural ingredients. The processed ingredients. ALL the ingredients. Healthy or not. Fresh or stale. Wherever you are right now. 

I want the exact amounts, the honest amounts, and all the mistakes you spilled into the bowl. 

I want the “too much of this” and “too little of that.” 

I want the beaten batter and all of its lumps. 

I’m not interested in the decorated finished product, covered in layers upon layers of sugary colored frosting. I’m interested in the layers underneath—the sources of the sequence, and the steps in the story.

I would much rather meet the creator of the cake. 

I’m craving RAW. I’m craving REAL. I’m craving TRUTH. 

I want to know YOU.

The world often makes us think our raw ingredients don’t matter. We think we can’t share these messy piles with the world. We have to mix things up first; we have to make things look presentable. We become deceived in believing that our lives aren’t exciting enough; our bodies aren’t pretty enough; our schedules aren’t full enough; our stories aren’t important enough. 

I’m here to tell you that “perfect cake” is crap.

Or maybe we think our ingredients aren’t pure enough. We think our contents aren’t organic enough, our prep isn’t smooth enough and our measurements aren’t precise enough to fit in with this world. We attempt to cover up our misguided steps, our faulty accidents, our stained aprons and cracked mixing bowls. 

Maybe if I add more salt here, or sugar there, no one will notice. 

Maybe if I just keep stirring, the batter will become smoother.

Maybe if we bake more goods, good reputation will follow.

Maybe if we pour a little quicker, and beat a little faster, our struggle will become numbed.

Temporary fixes are … well, merely temporary. There will be a day when someone bites down on the piece of the broken eggshell you failed to pick out of the mix. That person might even be you …

We all want to be noticed. We all want to be accepted. We want to be admired, loved, and respected. We want people to bite off a taste of our lives and come back for more. Only, the dish we often are serving to others isn’t real. It isn’t authentic. It isn’t richly bold and filled with flavor. It’s an underwhelming recycled recipe. A recipe that’s not our own.

I get it …trust me, I do. I used to live in the kitchen of forbidden foods. I used to mix to the beat of society’s KitchenAid. I used to chop in the monotonous rhythm of perfectionism’s lies. But at the time it seemed easy. I worked to blend in, rather than stand out. Except I realized that in my mind I did stand out. I wasn’t like other people. I swam in my shame. The eating disorder claimed each one of my meals. I thought my broken cookie crumbs were worthless, so I swept them into the sink. 

I get it … transparency can be tough. Vulnerability can be vicious. Details can be dreaded. Opening up can be overwhelming. Sometimes healing hurts. But truth can be transforming. 

It’s time we shared our original recipe, without fear of judgement. It’s time for us to cook and eat freely and adventurously. There is no reason to confine to the unrealistic ideologies and spotless kitchen floors. We’ve all had a mess that we’ve franticly mopped up before anyone noticed. It’s time to open the jar of individuality and write your name in the chocolate drizzle. 

I admire any person who can tell me their past, lick the spoon, and use it to make a delicious batch of brownies. Secret recipes only hold their suspense for so long …

Just think of what the dessert spread would look like if we all divulged and swapped recipe cards. Just think of the sweet stories we could savor …

Your story matters, whether you think of yourself as a master baker or not. 

Your contents are beautiful … and can create a delicious masterpiece. 

Let’s be raw. 

Let’s be riveting. 

Let’s be REAL.

5 Things I Learned From Working in the Fitness Industry

I have always held a passion for fitness, before even knowing what the term “fitness” was. 

P.E. was my favorite subject in grade school. Every chance I had to be outdoors, I took without question. I was the 8-year-old tomboy who you could find rollerblading in the streets and strategizing with my brother and neighborhood kids in an intense game of backyard football. I loved how being active made my body feel, and I loved the escape that sports gave me. The physical accomplishments and recreational outlets positively impacted my ability to stay focused on intellectual tasks and in school. And after dealing with my own struggles in my teens to effectively balance nutritional needs with my enthusiasm for exercise, it made sense that I would choose Exercise Science as my undergraduate major in college. It was a logical decision to immediately pursue a Health and Fitness Specialist (EP) certification upon graduation followed by a nosedive into a professional opportunity in the fitness industry. Everything seemed to be lining up appropriately. 

For over three consecutive years I worked as a wellness associate, group exercise instructor and personal trainer, and I have since continued my fitness enthusiast efforts as both a holistic health coach and high school running coach. Within that early time period there was a season when I lived, breathed, and bled everything fitness. I was immersed in the competitively evolving atmosphere and was eagerly soaking in every minute of it. I fully embraced the title of Personal Trainer and spent every ounce of my time reading and researching theories, scientific articles, periodization approaches, and ways to improve myself for my clients. I spent my time devising incentivized wellness challenges and grueling workouts, counting tedious repetitions and tracking results, hopping around the group exercise studio like a bunny rabbit on caffeine, and developing a love-hate relationships with burpees. 

I loved promoting fitness as part of a healthy lifestyle, and motivating others through physical activity. But one day this trainer hit burnout. I realized that there are so many more aspects to the wheel that would be forever turning. I recognized that in the world of fitness, there are many lessons to be learned. There will always be something that can be changed, adjusted, or critiqued. Rarely on the fitness planet do we hear the words “good enough.” 

In an age where we are constantly being shown how we can better ourselves, fitness is always a hot topic in the “self-improvement” category. But even from someone who favors this idea, I think it is also important to take some time to rest with ourselves rather than wrestle with ourselves. 

Fitness will always be a part of my lifestyle, because it’s just such a deep part of who I am. But I have now adopted a contemporary “holistic fitness” mindset… aiming to maintain a balance of a fit mind, body, and spirit. And so, from the reflections of a forever-fitness lover, I invite you to take a rest and read on. Below are five lessons I would like to take with me, and hope to pass along to anyone reading this today.

1. The Comparison Game Has No Winner

Everyone is uniquely and individually different for a reason—you aren’t meant to be exactly like that person you are admiring on social media. Sure, you can have similar results and maybe even similar stories, but even if you do the exact same workouts and eat the exact same things, you will ultimately witness what those changes do for you. One of the most common misconceptions about any fitness program is the idea that what is written in the books or advertised on the internet will work for everyone. While this kind of “cookie-cutter” approach is often misleading, it is important to understand why it does not work. The fact is that each and every person is different with regards to their individual make-up, hormones, genetics, ability to adapt to their environment, personalities, biological elements, etc, their needs and their circumstances. Therefore each person must be treated as a special project, as still highly capable. I was deceived by this trap soooo many times, thinking that my circumstances or training regimen must match up with what is portrayed by the text books or broadcasted by progress pictures. This teasing of inadequacy is very difficult to escape—Facebook and Instagram news feeds are flooded with other people’s prides and accomplishments. Our eyes and minds are filled with unrealistic photo-enhanced expectations often on a daily basis, oftentimes leading to crushed dreams. Constantly seeing how the world is so much farther ahead of where we are currently can make us feel as if we will never be able to keep up. I have learned that the combination of this pressure with the comparison factor really can be a thief of joy. Life is too short to live this way, piled with self-judgment and self-ridicule. So stop beating yourself up! You are you for a purpose, meant to play a role that only you can fulfill. Be happy for those who seem to have reached their goals, but work on finding and achieving your own. Find your “perfect fit.”

2. Thinner Isn’t Always Better 

“Strong is the new sexy…” 

“From skinny to strong …” 

Whatever the tag line reads, the bottom line is that strength should be valued over slim. This lesson is a difficult one, especially for anyone dealing with poor body image or feeling societal pressures to be a certain size or look a certain way. I for one used to be afraid of putting on too much muscle, which stemmed from my own struggles with an eating disorder as a a teenager. Surprisingly enough, my position working in the fitness industry surrounded by heavy barbells, creative competitions, and strong and admirable fitness-goers led me to believe even more in ability over aesthetics. I was inspired by others who cared more about what their bodies were capable of, than what size clothes they wore. It was during this time that I was humbled as an athlete: before I graduated college I could run 26 miles no problem but I couldn’t perform a proper squat. I received compliments on my “tiny” frame, but couldn’t even do a “real” push-up. Once I jumped into the world of personal training, I knew something needed to change. It was a daunting change, but an intriguing one. I knew it would take time, and I knew it would take heart. But I also knew it would strengthen me on the inside as much as the outside. And so began my determination to regain functional strength. Weight training became my new experiment and nutritional exploration became my new hobby. I was fueling for function and nourishing to glow. My desire to be a reliable trainer and a strong empowering woman motivated me to get over my past battles to stay slim. Accountability kicked in, and so did my new eyesight. My perspective changed along with my attitude. Muscles grew, and so did my confidence. Looking back on my early twenties, this was one of the best decisions I had made since college. You are capable of so much more than you realize. 

3. There Is Such a Thing As Too Much

More is not always better and harder is not always smarter, just like too much of a good thing can turn into a not-so-good thing. This applies to exercise as well. Sometimes our bodies need a break! As the Sports Recovery Annex would say “You are only as good in your training as in your ability to recover.”  (Awesome place to check out if you’re in the Jacksonville area, btw.) If you aren’t recovering from your workouts, there isn’t any sense in doing them. Your bodies adapt by recovering from a progressive load, just as muscles develop by repairing from a tearing stressor. This is how you become stronger. Too much stress causes a tie to break—if you keep pulling your knot tighter and tighter, ignoring the pain or fatigued sensation, you could find yourself strangled in too many injured loops to crawl out of. Pay attention to quality nutrition, fueling timely and enough, hydrating properly and adhering to self-care. One piece of the functional puzzle cannot be neglected. While you may hear the phrase “No one ever regrets a workout,” be prepared to deal with the consequences of pushing too hard for too long, or pushing too hard too soon. Overtraining is a real thing—I’ve seen it happen with my athletes, and I’ve experienced it myself. There is no benefit in pulling from an empty tank. I understand that as a fitness fanatic or avid athlete, stubbornness can often overpower sanity. But most importantly, it is vital to listen to your body. Use your fitness journey to develop a sense of self-awareness that allows you to tune in to your body and recognize its needs. Rest days are ok. Hard days are ok. Easy days are ok. Putting your health at risk to squeeze in a workout is not. When in doubt, “Train smarter not harder.”

4. The 3 P’s: Patience, Persistence, Perseverance

“Practice, practice, practice—for practice makes perfect,” may have been the famous mantra I received time and time again in my adolescent all-star days, but after some serious encounters with reality I have come to believe differently. While practice does lead to progress, sometimes stagnant progress leads to a never-ending cycle of dissatisfaction. While we push our limits and practice to our utmost potential, sometimes we find ourselves in a frustrated position where we are constantly reaching for more and more. This can create a feeling of inadequacy, especially if we have indeed put forth the hours and hours of dedicated hard work. I have found that “progress over perfection” is so much more rewarding. Be patient with yourself, your time, and your commitments. Do make the commitments, but know where and when to extend grace. Unfortunately, quick fixes do not exist.  Fitness is a journey, just like life. Goals require steps, and steps are meant to be taken one foot at a time. As much as we may want to, we cannot skip the basics. Reality is, you cannot get stronger without a stable foundation, regardless of your training background. Therefore, you cannot continue to progress without building upon existing platforms. Stability and mobility must precede agility and intensity. Strength must precede power, and with power comes performance. Muscles cannot grow if your stabilizers cannot support the larger mass, and even our greatest strengths can become crippled by our hidden weaknesses. So start slow, and maybe even small. But most of all, start smart. Just don’t get so caught up in becoming the “best,” that you forget to notice your current “being.” 

5. You Can Have Your Cake and Eat It Too (Seriously)

You heard me. Have your cake, eat it, and most of all, enjoy it. One “bad” day, nutritional “slip-up,” missed workout, relapse, slow interval, tired run, choppy swim, failed pull-up, fluctuating scale, or weak lift won’t ruin all of your fitness progress (unless you let it). The journey isn’t an “all or nothing” mentality…that kind of thinking is exactly what will lead to an eventual burnout. Holistic fitness is all about developing a long-term trust with yourself. Learn about your anatomy, your psychology, and your physiology. But don’t ignore the main goal of vitality. Don’t punish yourself with workouts or you won’t view movement as a privilege. Don’t restrict your food intake or you will most likely fall into a binge. Don’t guilt-trip yourself for skipping a day at the gym or you will constantly be at war with your own inner expectations. Fitness is a fabulously freeing lifestyle, but only when we work to integrate an interconnected strength with our minds, bodies, and emotions. Challenging ourselves can be invigorating. Recognizing our potential can be empowering. Accomplishing goals can be inspiring. And seeing yourself from a different perspective can be life-changing. So bask in your body’s ability to move, take time to enjoy your favorite foods, notice how you feel in response to your actions, and honor your willpower to savor today. You can change your lifestyle and still embrace who you are. You can embark on a new fitness journey and rediscover your strengths. You can still be disciplined and practice healthy balance. You can have your cake and eat it too. So hike the Appalachian, try a yoga/spin/pilates class, set the record for the world’s longest plank, build that booty, engage that core, swim in open water, complete a 5K, get coached for CrossFit, hit a new 1RM, train for a marathon…whatever you venture to do, go about it wisely. Try something new, get others to help, and just BE YOU.

 

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#WhatISTrue: 2018 Hungry for Hope Reflections

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This past weekend, I was blessed beyond measure with the opportunity to further my connections, my knowledge, my ambitions, and above all, my faith.

I traveled to Nashville, Tennessee for the 10th Hungry for Hope Conference hosted by the Christian nonprofit for eating disorder and body image healing, Finding Balance .

To put it lightly, the whole weekend was utterly surreal. At times, I have to keep reminding myself that it actually happened. It was like I was on my own little mountaintop in Franklin, surrounded by people who think and speak like me. It was inspiring. It was motivating. It was humbling…and I want to remember it fully. Not only do I simply want to remember this incredible experience, but I want to apply it. I want to use it, take it back home with me, and expand on it. The mission of Finding Balance is so vital—a center for Christ-Centered connection, community and healing. This summit is currently the only Christ-centered conference of its kind in the nation.

My reasons for attending this conference were multifold: 

I wanted to be a part of an event that combined my two top passions of faith and eating disorder recovery. 

I wanted to connect with other like-minded professionals and survivors.

I wanted to learn from strong faithful leaders in this field. 

I wanted to get a taste of this work and see if I really could picture myself working in the field. 

And of course I wanted to escape my busyness to find the Lord there, and receive clarity and peace from him.

It is safe to say that all of these things were manifested over the course of this weekend. 

The Lord was definitely present in that small little factory in Franklin. A few years ago, I never would have traveled all the way to another state to walk into a room full of strangers and purposely immerse myself in a subject area that was once so painfully personal. But that just goes to show how powerful God’s grace is and how capable His healing is. Never once was I triggered by listening to the difficult stories of other ED warriors or from receiving teachings about mental health treatment. Instead, I was overcome with empathy and compassion. I observed and listened from a redeemed soul as if I were already a licensed professional. I know deep down that this is indeed my mission field, and God has persistently strengthened me and brought me to a place mentally, emotionally and physically where I am ready: I am ready to serve on the other side and not just share my story, but continue it. 

I had a deep conversation with God during the worship concert Friday night led by Rita Springer. I began by asking God why I was there. There was of course an obvious excitement of having my niche of people all in one place and intriguing chance to learn more, but originally I was supposed to be on a mission trip in Nicaragua this weekend. That trip ended up being cancelled due to unpredictable civil unrest in the country, which is a tragic occurrence I am placing in the hands of the Lord. Yet even before this official cancellation, I faithfully made the decision to attend this conference after receiving a call from the Lord pulling me to an opportunity within the states. I knew God had opened up this door, but why? Why did He want me there aside from my own interests? And so, God proceeded to speak. 

God gave me several answers to my question, which was somewhat unexpected. He revealed the reasons one by one before inviting me into His Word:

I am here to be reminded of the truth.

I am here to receive His love.

I am here to be reminded of how He pursued me and how He saved me. I was reminded of how He shook me with his spirit in high school so I could carry Him with me to college—where He lit a spark inside of me to burst in flame for Him.

I am here because He planted a seed for a lifetime of growing.

“God, you found me…” I cried. “You found me amidst my confusion and darkness.”

“Of course I did,” He answered. “Now, what are you going to do with Me?”

At this moment, I honestly didn’t know how to respond to God’s question. That was the answer I hoped He would blatantly put before me. A little disappointed in my lack of spiritual discernment, I remembered a piece of advice that a keynote speaker had made that morning: “Steward the words of God,” she encouraged. In other words, go back to the truth.

Realizing I had this truthful blueprint right at my disposal, I reached into my backpack and pulled out my bible; my small travel bible I carried on-hand in college and that has been with me to Nicaragua and back. I decided to look up the verse printed on the Finding Balance bookmark that was waiting for me on the table that morning. Galatians 5:1 was the scripture, which I admittedly did not have memorized. 

Then the word of God spoke:

 

“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm…and no longer submit to the yoke of slavery…” (Gal 5:1)

 

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I underlined this powerful verse which began my reading quest through each underlined verse in my bible through the book of Ephesians.

“What am I going to do with You, Lord?” I stuttered. “What am I going to do in response to Your reckless pursuit for me? This…this is what I will do, Lord…

I will stand FIRM in freedom. 

I will no longer submit to the yoke of slavery. My eating disorder enslaved me God, but YOU have set me free. I will live freely for You, Lord.”

So why else am I here?

I am here to celebrate freedom.

I am here because I can feel God here.

I am here because I am Hungry for Hope. 

I hope for a life of freedom for others.

I hope for a future for me somewhere in this field.

I hope in a GOD who heals.

I hope in HIS divine plan.

I hope for healing for others.

I am here so that my empty cup would be filled with the fullness of God.

 

At this moment I glanced up at the worship lyrics projected on the screen:

“Make me your vessel,

Make me an offering,

Make me whatever You want me to be…”

 

I kept expressing that word “want” to God. I have been telling Him that I want to work in the field of eating disorders someday. I just have been scared that my wants may not be His wants. But in that moment, God reminded me that He lives inside of me. He reminded me that I am free, and therefore free to make decisions and go after what I want. I am no longer conformed to the yoke of slavery. Because of Christ, I am free to want. And with Him within me forever, I don’t need to be afraid of wanting the wrong things.

“Lord, please let my desires match your desires, because you live inside of me. I am yours, Lord, living in a new life of freedom. I am free now … free to be whatever YOU want me to be. I’m free to choose, free to want, and free to dream. I choose YOU, Lord, each and every day. I want to make you proud and I dream of an abundant life with you. Because of you, I will NEVER return to a yoke of slavery. Even if I pursue your work in this field, God, I need not fear of falling behind bars again. I know you will take my burden, Lord. I know the challenges come after the vision, but that You are greater. I know that wherever I go, Lord, I am YOURS.”

And so, I continue this walk as He shines the lamp for my feet. Slowly but surely lighting up my path. I may be hesitant about my next steps but God is always sure. 

With this light, I have highlighted several points which I hope to take away from this incredible weekend and use in my life back home. It is my honor to share these reflections with you. My prayer is that the Lord would open your hearts to what He wants you to see, hear, and feel.

 

Hungry for Hope 2018 Takeaways:

  • This event was real. My connections were real. My encounters with God were real. My visions about future goals were real. My emotions were real. God’s truths are real. 
  • I am free to live this life in joy, in peace, and with enthusiasm. I am free to chase after my dreams.
  • Identity in Christ is the foundation of our being. Rediscovering this identity is the first step in the healing process.
  • When we re-establish our attachment to God and thus to our true self, all the other pieces will begin to re-attach
  • God is the only One who has the true power to heal. But He can use us as his vessels for healing 
  • Science and wisdom of the biological, psychological and physiological functions come from the Creator of this universe (Heb 11:2)
  • God himself is in fact a relationship in perfect union (the Trinity). He created us in His image of having a mind, a body and a spirit. We cannot neglect any one part. God wants us to be intimately connected with Him.
  • Coming into alignment with God involves you seeing yourself as worthy enough to receive His healing 
  • Sometimes behavior change is not sufficient for lasting change. We must spend time with the One who made us and who can change our hearts, and therefore our minds and our behaviors following. 
  • “What we fear determines what we trust. What we trust we glorify, and what we glorify we herald.” -Kelly Needham
  • “Hoping in the Lord is not naive, but a lifesaver. Hoping in the Lord is not weak, but brave.” -Rachel Hockett
  • Proceed with God by looking back on the truth of His word and the unforced rhythms of grace
  • The Bible does not just call us to live out of scarcity. You must first accept the fullness of God. You must first love yourself. In order for you to “deny yourself” as scripture encourages, you must first find your true sense of self. You cannot lose something you do not have. 
  • Practice discerning “description vs. prescription” when reading God’s word
  • Jesus did not come to make you nice—He came to make you NEW” -Jimmy Needham
  • Sometimes the purpose of a season is all about simply building your faith and becoming closer to God

 

“Then you will know the TRUTH, and the truth will set you FREE” ~John 8:32

 

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen” ~Hebrews 11:1

Dream Big

I used to think that dreams were only for dreamers. People who spent their days daydreaming rather than doing. People who were overly optimistic and failed to be realistic. People who were always persistently positive and couldn’t see the hurdles. 

I used to think that I didn’t have time to dream. I needed to not waste a second and instead put in the work. I had to keep on pushing harder even when I was tired. I had to keep on pressing towards the goal. But my goal wasn’t my dream… there would be another goal after this one. My goals lined up without a finish line in sight. 

For a while, I didn’t think I deserved to dream. I had lost control of my life as I knew it and thought I’d never gain it back. What was the point? Besides, I didn’t have the energy. I was sick—at least that’s what the doctors told me. I was haunted—at least that’s what my enslaved brain told me. Dreams were for happy people. Dreams were for strong people. Dreams were for those who freely lived. Dreams weren’t for me.

I used to spend all my efforts pushing my limits. Aiming for nothing less than perfection. Beating myself up over small shortcomings. Shuttling almost all of my drive into manipulating my eating and exercise. Even with all the 

pounds lost and pounds gained, moods up and moods down, depression gone and returned, self-criticism accepted and rejected, I still refused to sit still. I couldn’t sacrifice all of my progress to stop and attempt to dream.

Just one more…I thought to myself. Just one more…then I will be satisfied. 

Or so I thought.

Lap after lap of falling on my face …

 Year after year of over-exerting myself …

I still didn’t feel fulfilled. Yes, I had reached all of the goals I had meticulously set for myself. I had far surpassed them, actually. But it still wasn’t enough. I still felt a hollow pain inside. 

Then one day, I had a dream. I dreamed I was speaking to a large audience about my struggles. I dreamed of a new arrival of strength. I envisioned myself confident, joyful, and strong. I saw myself as inspirational, grateful, and empowering. I saw my future from the inside out: mentally liberated and physically free. Professionally driven and relationally connected. Family-oriented and faithfully serving. I imagined myself alive and healthy, courageous and compassionate. 

I had a dream of being someone instead of just doing things. I had a dream of becoming and knowing who I was. I dreamed that I would feel and recognize a passion. I dreamed of a passion that would propel me forward. I dreamed of obtaining a forever foundation, and acquiring a true sense of my unshakable self. I had a dream of discovering who I was meant to be. 

By training myself to be present, I allowed myself to dream. By acknowledging my past, I opened up myself to the idea of a future. By facing mere brokenness, I recognized my hope. It was in this hope that I finally learned what it truly means to believe. And this believing would require faith. 

You see, it is in times when we feel lost when we are forced to find our way. There is hope in the air of even every gloomy day. Dreams aren’t just a random dance at nighttime. No… dreams are meant to wake us up. Dreams help us distinguish reality but aim for something greater. Dreams can never be won by an opponent, or snatched away by a contender. You can never fail at achieving your dreams, because your dreams are yours to choose. Uniquely crafted by your hopeful mind, your dreams belong to you.

Dreams have character. Dreams don’t simply get checked off, or conquered with a detailed program. Dreams are forever growing, but in the most rewarding way. They are yours to fathom, yours to keep, and yours to chase. Dreams take a small thought and turn it into a big opportunity. Dreams are meant to be pursued, not accomplished. They are meant to be motivators, not pressures. They are meant to bring value to your life, not destroy it.

So I decided to dream. I dreamed hard, and I dreamed big. I refused to let my eating disorder crush my dreams. And I’m still dreaming. 

I dream of a world where eating disorders are no longer stigmatized. I dream of opportunities to pay it forward, and to use my story to help other people. I dream of reaching others through speaking and writing. I dream of sharing my book with anyone who will listen. I dream of being an educational voice in the athletic department and a role model for student athletes. I dream of resounding mental health resources and of becoming a professional in the field someday. I dream of a pro-recovery movement, and impacting the lives of young women in an effort of prevention. And I dream of a fulfilled purpose here on this earth. My dream is to run after life that my Creator designed for me to experience, and to love as hard as I can. 

Dreams take risks. They take sacrifice. They take hard work. But they also require vision—a healing vision; a hopeful vision. I pray that the Lord would heal any blindness tonight. I pray that you could see your worth, recognize your value, and feel your purpose. For “He who began a great work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ.” No one knows when our days are over. But dreams keep singing even after the last sun sets. ❤ 

 

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“Christmas is [more than] a Feeling”

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The day after Christmas is always hard.

Hard to put an end to all the hype and happiness; hard to turn off the Christmas music for a whole other year; hard to hug distant relative goodbye; hard to wrap up all the holiday decor; hard to let go of the intimate gatherings and silence the belly-aching laughter. But as difficult as the bookend of Christmas is, it’s even harder to imagine a life without it.

I cannot fathom what it would be like any other way … growing up without family to visit, presents to open, a warm house to come home to, delicious dishes to devour, or a church to attend. Growing up, this was all I knew. I didn’t once take any of it for granted, but the older I now become, the more my eyes are opened to the beauty of nostalgia. The quicker the time passes, the more I wish it would just stay put. Though Christmas, even with its traditions, changes each year, there is a feeling that remains remarkably present. There is an emotion that returns each time I hear the familiar tunes playing in my head, or gaze into the lively flame in my hands at the candlelight worship service. There is one constant, one dependency, one reliable source of love each Christmas. The love of Christ in celebration of His birth, is a love that never fades.

I was the kid who believed in Santa Claus until the 6th grade. Up until that time, I had no reason to question; I had no reason to doubt. I simply knew how to trust. With this belief in a jolly old man I had never seen, I let myself become lured in by the magic of Christmas. I followed all the rules, behaved myself (especially around December), always left out the good cookies, and wrote old St. Nick letters and curious dialogue. My parents were awesome at playing the role of the mysterious gift-giver, and I was convinced that the tales were true.

Even with friends who did not believe, I didn’t want to follow suit. Even if Santa wasn’t real, I didn’t want to disbelieve in it all. To me, this idea robbed the joy of Christmas. I would rather believe in something that makes me hopeful, and participate in a tradition that makes me happy, rather than try and find reasons to prove all of it rubbish.

I often faced embarrassment for my gullibility, but I continued to hold my ground—until one Christmas eve I came across Santa’s handwriting on a notepad in my dad’s office. That night I heard nails being hammered into trees outside our house—definitely not reindeer hoofs—making it difficult to sleep.

The next morning my brother and I were prompted to follow a trail of yarn, leading us to the garage in the backyard, each piece of string wrapped around a nail hammered into a redbud tree. The minute I saw the string, I knew. Keeping quiet for my little brother, I held my heartbreak inside. That Christmas, I experienced the magic drift away. Yet I didn’t try and catch it. I let it go, watching it spin away into the wind, slouching in my own disappointment.

Since that Christmas morning, I have experienced something even greater than magic, which rises with each winter season. I have experienced the wondrous light of the Lord, which, unlike Santa’s sleigh, does not have to come and go. God’s light is present year round, but shines brighter on each Christmas morn. And with every Christmas eve I come to meet, I hear in my head the nails being plowed into the tree … though this time it’s the cross-shaped tree which held my Savior until his death for me.

Though it took a while, I can now replace my trust in something indescribable. I can deeply believe in something unshakable. I can choose to live for something I may never fully understand. But I can rest my head in a peaceful and thankful slumber, with a faithful assurance that the Giver of Joy does see me when I’m sleeping and knows when I’m awake. My new giver of joy loves me regardless of my gift-wrapping, decorating, or Christmas cooking. His love is what produces the feeling of Christmas. The familiar feeling that sprouts from being surrounded by love, no matter what happened during the calendar year. His love is what I believe in. His grace is always wrapped neatly under my tree. It is, with each passing season, the greatest gift there is.

 

” In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” ~1 John 4:9

Thank-FULL

So …

Progress. Definitely worth noting.

With this year’s Thanksgiving gathering rather pleasant, I must acknowledge the progress related to ED recovery. This progress almost slipped by unnoticed, if it hadn’t been for my current eating disorder mentees keeping their mentor in check. Reason being, my new recovered lifestyle of “freedom” has become nearly routine. Social eating situations have become much more frequent (gotta love the dating world for that), and my previous eating anxiety in anticipation of America’s national food holiday (surprisingly) was completely absent.

Instead, I keyed in on the annual road race that morning (in the bitter rain I may add), and most importantly, the family I would get to share in special fellowship with. The spark of adrenaline and familial relationships were what drove me that day. I was thankful for traditions, and their consistency whether rain or shine. Despite the disappointment in my running performance, I embraced the new physical strength of my stride.  This year, I was the first one in line to fill my plate with overflowing mounds of homemade dishes. I reminisced in cheerful childhood memories, laughing at old sayings and embarrassing stories with my cousins.

Welcoming new faces into our traditional gathering, our family expanded our soulful love that day. Fulfilled with the quality engagement and conversation, my mind never wandered to overeat. I felt calm. I felt at ease. On the one designated day of thanks, I was actually thankful. Thankful for family, thankful for friends, and thankful for peace. Finally, a Thanksgiving day spent as it should be—connected by care, and shared out of love. Food was merely the article of appreciation, not the focal point.

For nearly ten years of my life, however, this was not the case. I loved Thanksgiving like every other holiday, because of the excuse to draw family together. But at the same time, I dreaded this day because of my eating disorder. The remarks from others about exercising more and counting calories to prepare and makeup for over-indulging after their Thanksgiving meal set me on edge. I feared being forced to swallow strange foods and overeating. I was scared of gaining weight from one large dinner plate (actually two, which were custom in my family).

I was nervous about what others would say, about my eating habits or about their own. I would contemplate all week long how I would compensate for the caloric overload that day—adding extra miles, pushing through harder workouts, sneaking in bonus push-ups whenever I had a chance, and restricting food the minute the holiday was over.

Part of me knew that not everyone took these intentions to the extreme like I did. I knew that 90% of the people who complained about gaining weight from too much turkey wouldn’t even lace up their running shoes the next morning. Yet even still, I had to be the exception. I had to be the healthiest one. I had to uphold my fitness reputation and turn down the gluttonous pie. I wasn’t allowed to give in to the temptation of seconds or thirds…or if I did, I wasn’t allowed to enjoy it.

No matter what I told myself before going in to the stressful situation, I always seemed to lose. The eating disorder was having a marvelous time beating me back and forth between its rigid fists. I dreamed of a Thanksgiving where I too, could relax after lunch and watch football without my mind franticly coming up with ways to burn off each and every bite.

Some people might not consider a thankful Thanksgiving to be a big deal. After all, isn’t that what the day is supposed to be all about? Don’t get me wrong, I have always practiced gratitude on this typical holiday, and have always thanked God for the many blessings in my life. But when you have experienced a personal rescue from a bottomless pot of gravy, each following bite is even more grateful.

I guess you could say my list of thanks has grown even longer, adding a line for every meaningful year. Today, I am thankful not only for the internal healing from an enslaving mental illness. I’m thankful for the light that shines bright even through the rain. The light that peeled open my eyes so that I could see, once again, the love that was sitting at the table with me for every meal along the way. Today, I am thankful to feel, once again, the fullness of His joy, and the sureness of His peace. Smiling with my family, enjoying pieces of dessert, holding a fully satisfied belly, streaming thoughts of appreciation—all guilt-free.

“Irma-Survivor”

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This familiar date in U.S. history stirs up painful memories for everyone on American soil. The numbers echo inside our heads as the ultimate emergency coding. It was sixteen years ago this morning that our nation fell under attack by Islamic terrorists. Today, the entire state of Florida entered another battle as we were forced to surrender to treacherous winds and catastrophic waters. Yet even so, we fought back with a faithful vision of the aftermath from hurricane Irma—“the largest storm in history.” Both days, as gruesome as they played out to be, marked a new chance at resiliency.

 

The decision to stay put in our hometown and “hunker down” with the rest of the overly-loyal city was a decision that was not taken lightly. Our family went back and forth discussing possible alternatives for evacuation, but the route along crowded highways toward Atlanta appeared more daunting than the approaching storm. The media continued to shove petrifying video footage and warnings down our throats. With the gut-wrenching news from Houston’s recent hurricane, the bulk of Jacksonville civilians began to rush around in panic.

Gas stations had the life sucked out of them, grocery store aisles were immediately cleared, and not a single pack of water could be found anywhere within city linits. The chaos of anticipation as the monster creeped along the Caribbean was rising as quickly as the potential storm-surge.

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South Florida was hit head-on by Irma, as she continued to throw everyone for a spin. The original path was projected to head west, to then be bounced northeast by a front heading towards the middle of the state. The width of the storm was so wide it would eventually cover the entirety of Florida, and Jacksonville was right in the direct path of destruction. Still, numerous natives decided to sit and ride this bad girl out.

Suddenly, the scheming Irma changed her mind. Instead of aggressively veering east, she continued to crawl west. Cities near Tampa and Fort Myers were issued a state of evacuation. While our prayers for a change of direction were answered, the wishful winds blew in the opposite direction towards our innocent West-Florida neighbors. Irma was still creeping along strong.

As she made her way busting through neighborhoods upon landfall, the wind speed decreased and rate of travel diminished. Everyone in Jacksonville expected a mere category 1 or tropical storm to finally reach our territory. Sunday night was a rough one as Irma made her visit: winds howled and whistled through the waving trees. The rain smacked houses every which way, limbs falling all over the place. The forces were strong enough to split trees in half, and uproot them entirely. Trees fell on power lines blowing electric power transformers. Waking up to ghostly winds and explosive bangs did not make for a peaceful sleep.

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I’m sure everyone in Jax lost sleep that night. Probably even the entire week. With continuous praying for our brothers and sisters south of us and for our own families and friends, we had finally come to the moment of anxious dreading. The morning following our weather attack was no doubt an alarming one. But a thankful one nonetheless.

For those of us who rose out of bed that morning, hopefully we said a prayer gratefulness before we opened the curtains to the storm-stricken streets. Though alive and well, lots of homes and landmarks were not. The category 1 storm experience had blasted its way right on through… but the massive category 3 storm surge had only begun. The “River City” upheld its title that day, with gushing waters from the St. Johns streaming into the roads and yards in near proximity. Downtown was unrecognizable and undistinguishable from the river itself; the river that now resembled the ocean. Evacuation flood zones kept their reputation, with the shops of San Marco becoming comparable to the streets of Venice. First responders worked diligently with rescue missions, pulling people out of cars and water with boats and rafts. Local churches became Red Cross relief stations and JSO command centers. We had witnessed an impeccable natural disaster. Now it was time for the clean-up.

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Hand-in-hand, the city of Jacksonville fought back. Neighbors helped, families scrambled, and strangers shared amenities. Just like 9/11 in 2001, Americans jumped right out of the rubble and survivors began emerging from the dust. People flocked the streets, some forced to leave their flooded homes. Others remained trapped in condo’s and flood-crafted islands. Those with power breathed a sigh of relief. Those less fortunate busted out the flashlights and ripped open the snack stash.

 

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It is in times like these that we are forced to draw together. In times of devastation, all we can cling to is hope. We have perishable resources here on this planet, and man-made resources to help us bounce back into civilized society. But what is so easy to forget sometimes is the ultimate source of life that has always been and will always will be. God loves his people just as much as He loves the rest of His creation. I bet it hurt Him to watch all that He made huddle in fear and brace such a beating. But His mercy is greater than any form of destruction. His love is more powerful than any monstrous storm.

 

In this time of trial we had a chance at creating more than compatible community. Sharing food and water; opening up homes to family; clearing debris from front lawns; checking in on relatives; lending a working hand; bonding over candlelight; bearing the image of Christ.

We can, and will, get through this recovery together. We can, and will, walk out of these deep waters as stronger swimmers than when we began. We can, and will, grow closer to one another as a nation and as a city. We can, and will, with God’s help.

#irmasurvivor 
#FloridaStrong

Human Days

I remember what it felt like to have “bad” days.

It’s not that I don’t have them anymore, but something in my mind is different:

I guess I have finally accepted the fact that I’m human.

I remember what it felt like, just trying to get by. Pressing on throughout the day, trying to keep busy to distract myself from looking down with disgust or disappointment. Feeling sluggish, bloated, discouraged and disillusioned. Punishing myself with double extra-long workouts, or restricting food until I couldn’t stand it anymore.

Yes, there were indeed “bad” days. Poor body image days, hopeless days, weak days, and frustrating days. Anxious days, angry days, and annoying days. Regretful days, resentful days, and rebellious days.

But there were also good days. Motivating days, exciting days, strengthening days and empowering days. Thankful days, thoughtful days, and transforming days. Victorious days, vocational days, and vibrant days. Each and every day soon became my choice.

I could choose recovery, or I could choose relapse. Yes, sometimes the eating disorder seemed more powerful than my will. Sometimes it won over my voice of reason. But there was always an opportunity for a second chance. There was always that short moment of free will. A moment with a fate that spoke the difference between slavery and freedom; isolation and community; pressure and peace.

I know what it feels like to dislike yourself. But what I have realized over the years while in healthy eating disorder recovery is that when I may not have liked myself on the outside, I still secretly loved myself on the inside. While at my lowest, yes, there were times when I couldn’t recognize my own thoughts anymore. In those days I was incapable of making rational decisions on my own. There were times when I pondered the true meaning of life, because I could’t truly feel it.

But after years of slowly getting better, I began to feel again. I began to laugh again and love again. I even began to love myself again. I may not have been happy with how my body looked every day, but I was in love with the person I was becoming. I knew I wasn’t done becoming her yet. So I pledged to keep on going.

I now recognize that this girl will never be done growing. I know I may not ever have everything figured out. But the self-knowledge and self-contentment that I have acquired by allowing myself to heal makes all of that okay. I guess I have acknowledged that we all make mistakes. I guess I have finally realized that no one is perfect. I guess I’ve learned that life is not meant to be wasted while wishing the day away. I guess I have accepted the fact that I’m only human.

Each and every day is a gift from above. There is no room for shame.

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Entrepreneur Expression

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No need to dance around the subject, I’ll just go ahead and say it:

BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR IS EXHAUSTING.

I don’t know why I thought it would all of a sudden get easier. I mean, let’s be real, I truly have come a looonnng way in all of my personal and professional endeavors. But the human side of me is ready for some pieces to finally start fitting together. I thought I would be flying by now.

Reality is, these past six months have been one heck of a whirlwind …

In February I sought out to improve my own health through holistic functional medicine.
I then managed to survive 40 straight days vegan.
I concocted dozens of different smoothies, mush bowls, and veggie dishes on a daily basis. Nutritional background gratefully served in my favor.
Through a consistent effort, I dramatically improved my blood work profile and successfully balanced my hormones (with supervised guidance).

In my “spare time” I conducted loads of research, put together 24 chapters, and self-published an autobiography. (Not to mention the endless drafts and countless editing checks.)
I learned the ins and outs of digital formatting and online marketing. Somehow I’ve even kept up with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

I officially launched FitPeaceByPeace, LLC, accompanied by all the required filings, regulations, and processing fees.
I invested a chunk of my savings to get the ball rolling, dealt with tax information and opened a business bank account.
Hours and hours have been spent brainstorming, networking, writing programs and proposals.

Yet there is still seems to be no time to simply sit and twiddle my thumbs. (Even though I find myself doing this on a daily basis.)

The work is never done. There is always something I could be doing. But then I deliberately stopped to look at my situation– I don’t really wish for the work to be done.

You see, while I sit here and complain about all of the hard work, someone is still constantly at work. God is continuing the good work that He began in me. I don’t ever want to wish for His work to be over.

As I contemplate the next step, God is already waiting. While I spit out all the things that I have accomplished, He is still accomplishing a fine masterpiece in me. It’s not about all the things I do, the brands I make, or the stats I create. His work is all that matters. Who am I to rush the will of the Lord?

I am here, open, and willing. I dream of doing big things. But I want these things to be for God’s kingdom.

As I try so very hard to figure everything out, God already has my life figured out. He’s the boss with the plan. It’s my job to trust and to listen.

It is so easy to get caught up in trying to keep up in this world. But I think the lesson to remember is that this life is not a race. We each have a purpose while here for a short while, and only God knows when that purpose has been fulfilled.

Even still, this doesn’t mean that God cannot continue to use us. It doesn’t mean that once we complete a “task” given by the Lord that we are done with business here in this life. We are forever constantly growing, just like a business must constantly grow to survive. The growth and maturity and life lessons to be learned, are all a part of the process. And as an advocate of the phrase “just trust the process,” I need to remember that God isn’t done here yet. Therefore, my work isn’t done here either.

Sometimes, I think we try too hard. I think that we create this image for ourselves of what life is supposed to look like. But oftentimes, it still seems like we are running in the dark. Yes it is great to set goals. Yes, it is awesome to have time-management. But at the end of the day, if you worked whole-heartedly for the Lord, then all of your efforts that day were worthwhile, regardless of the outcome.

When we chase the Lord, our wildest dreams will fall into place. When our focus is in the right place, we won’t have to try so hard.

God notices our persistence. He sees our dedication. God feels our passion. Some days, with frustration and stumbling road blocks, all we want to do is make our Daddy proud. All we want is attention, affection, and commendable affirmation. But the truth is, we already have them. We have been enough all along…

So to all who have ever had their heart set on an impossible dream:

 

“The only thing impossible for God is to be impossible.”

 

 

 

Image source: conversations4change