How I’ve Really Let Myself Go (and what I’m doing about it)

A few weeks ago, I joined one of my friends and her new running group for an easy three miles around downtown. It was dark and cold as we made our way carefully, guided only by the streetlights. I know running in the frigid darkness of a mid-January evening doesn’t sound appealing to most, but It felt so good to work up a sweat and mingle with new friends.

I came home feeling recharged and glad to have sacrificed some time on the couch for some movement with good company. Runners’ endorphins were doing their thing until I saw it: A picture of the run group posted on social media. I looked terrible. My big belly screamed for attention almost as loudly as the too-small vest I wore that begged for mercy.

Mortified. Do I really look like that?

Here’s “the picture” for inquiring minds.

My runner’s high dissipated in a cloud of shame. According to society’s standards, I have really let myself go. I weigh more than I ever have and I’m “less disciplined” than I’ve ever been. Those judgements and accusations started to emerge and bury my sense of self. I messaged my sisters and my friend and told them what was going on. I said that I was in a “shame swirl” from seeing an unflattering picture of myself. Their encouragement and validation brought me out of “the swirl” and back into reality.  As I got my bearings, I began to anchor myself to the truth about what’s really going on in my life instead of making a compartmentalized self-judgment, rooted in society’s unrelenting and superficial value system.

In my last post, I shared my resolution to take exceptional care of myself this year. As a part of that process, I’ve committed to relinquishing my hyper-focus on fitness. We live in a society that overvalues appearance and undervalues everything else. I have been complicit in society’s tyrannical lordship over our self-worth by micromanaging my body, giving food and exercise way too much space in my head and focus in my life. To complicate things, this has been a two-pronged issue for me. I have used food as a source of self-comfort and my body has reflected it. I have also manipulated my body through harsh means as an attempt to “conform” to society’s unrealistic standards. Neither are healthy. Enough self-discipline could never uproot my lifelong struggle with food. Achieving my “perfect body” would never become a self-sustaining source of identity and value.

I’m going deeper, and if I gain a few pant sizes in the process… whatever. I’m not here to shrink myself. I’m here to take up space.

In mid-2020, I had committed to yet another healthy eating plan. As I filled my cart with “approved” foods, my heart was filled with dread. I finished the shopping trip and brought the groceries into the house. I looked at my husband and tears started to flow, unrestrained. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” I said. He looked at me, concerned and confused. I clarified “I don’t want to spend time ‘fixing’ my body anymore. I don’t want to think about what I look like, how I’ll eat or how much weight I need to lose. I don’t have the energy to do this anymore. I want to be free.”

It was then that I decided that I would get free at whatever cost. If I had to “get fat” to get free, then so be it. According to how I looked in that unflattering picture and the way my jeans have been squeezing the living daylights out of me, I’d say I’m on my way (insert cry-laughing emoji here).

The Old Brittany would have seen that picture and dove into “fix it” mode, driven by self-hatred. I would have adopted a strict eating plan and a killer workout regimen STAT. I would shame myself into change to get out of this place of discomfort.

But Growing Brittany (pun-intended) is reacting quite differently. Growing Brittany is learning how to simply exist here—in this bigger but still awesome body—and maintain my peace. I’m learning how to stop giving my appearance so much power over my self-worth. Instead of launching myself into fixing my body, I’m asking myself some questions: Why did an unflattering picture illicit such a powerful reaction? Where have I agreed with society about what makes a body good?

I’m learning to be honest about where I’m at, focusing my energy on getting healed rather than being fixed. The truth is, I don’t like the way that I look right now and I’m uncomfortable. My bad eating habits have run roughshod as I pulled back my self-discipline to make room for freedom. My body reflects that I have been irresponsible with food and unmotivated with exercise. Rather than viewing this as a failure, I’m seeing it as a testament to the fact that I’ve focused my energy elsewhere. No, I haven’t been hellbent on “beating” my food addiction and I haven’t attempted to exercise myself out of a bad diet. I’ve simply begun to zero-in on what’s causing the overindulgence in the first place. Processing through some of those things will take time. This is no quick-fix and I’m no longer in a hurry.

I have so much more to offer the world than a desirable body. Why should I hinge even an ounce my joy, my zeal for living and my peace on something as superficial as how much I space I take up or how hot I look in my leather leggings? (Don’t get me wrong, I love a good pair of leather leggings, but I can love them in a bigger size, too.)  

Hyper-focus on my fitness was a big band aid covering my lack of wholeness. I’m ripping the band aid off. Numbing myself with food and making up for it through exercise was a hamster wheel that drained all my energy and never took me anywhere.

Just like our souls, bodies are made to change. I don’t want to look like this forever and my bad eating habits and lack of consistent movement won’t benefit my overall health in the long run. However, I also won’t just modify this behavior—once again—in favor of neglecting what’s driving it. I won’t change so I can feel better about who I am. I will learn to feel better about who I am regardless of what I look like.

We live in a very broken society that objectifies women in horrendous ways (just look at the thriving porn industry and the havoc it’s wreaking on individuals and families). From a young age we are led to believe that our bodies are the most important thing about ourselves. Often unhealthy and unrealistic body types are touted as “ideal” while others are less worthy. This is the sickness. Diet culture then offers us a smorgasbord of ways to “fix ourselves” so we can move a little closer to the standard (which ends up always being a moving target). This is the cure. Society creates the sickness and sells us the cure. We sacrifice our voice and lose our sense of self in the process.

I’m at a point in the journey where I must trade judgment for acceptance. I need to simply accept myself here. I need to cultivate my own sense of worthiness here. I need to maintain my peace here, without any aggressive attempts at change. Most importantly, I need to deeply receive the Unconditional Love that transforms everything here, before I’m ever truly transformed. I need to accept the truth that I am so much more than a body and my body is the least interesting thing about myself.

I bought this in the fall and it’s my absolute favorite blanket because of the quote.

When I see the unflattering picture I could think to myself– I have really let myself go. The truth is, I have let myself go. I have let myself go be so much more than a body. I have let myself go do everything God has called me to do even as I carry these 30 extra pounds. I have let myself go be free of a broken societal system that’s defined too much of me for far too long. I have let myself go in my identity as God’s daughter with a powerful plan and purpose beyond anything I will ever see in the mirror.

Rather than cling to the shame kicked up by seeing an unflattering picture, I’m hanging on to gratitude that I’m here. I’m in a place where I can see so clearly how I have been held captive to a lie. I’m in a place where I’m accepting myself and all my flaws, trusting God to complete the work He began in me in the timing He calls perfect. I’ll end with a quote from a blanket I bought a while back. It says “I love the person I have become because I fought to become her.” When others see that picture, they might notice my growing figure and my too-tight runners’ vest, but I choose to see a fighter whose kicking back against the lies that have held her bound. I choose to see someone who is bucking the societal system that objectifies and demeans women and blazing a trail for others to follow, right into the heart of God.

I choose to see me. And I am so much more than just a body.

New year, new me? How to Embrace a Better Approach to Change

It was New Years Day and my husband arranged for me to spend a night alone in a hotel room. There was no agenda, aside from a massage scheduled the next afternoon. His gesture and my one-and-only new year’s resolution paired like sharp cheddar cheese and a fine bottle of cabernet.

After years of failed attempts at lasting weight loss, better organization and more fruitful time management, I had enough of grasping for personal growth. Life had knocked me on my ass over and over again. If change was going to stick through the ups and downs of a tumultuous life, it needed to be rooted in something deeper. This night alone afforded me time to decompress and funnel my thoughts into a new strategy for the coming year. No more categorical attempts at change, spearheaded by superficial self-discipline. This year is going to be about inner healing and trusting that any desired changes would organically result from putting first things first.

Somewhere in between scarfing down my favorite sushi roll in silence and spending an obscene amount of time in the tub with a face mask and a glass of wine, I boiled down my new resolution to this: I’m going to take exceptionally good care of myself this year.

Me on New Years Day, half a glass a wine in, enjoying an uninterrupted hot bath and my very first charcoal peel-off face mask.

In the last two years, I’ve learned so much about emotional wholeness and my own personal brokenness. I’ve buried deep wounds in attempt to “forget about it and move on,” not realizing that the very pain I buried would drive me into self-sabotaging behaviors like overeating, physical and emotional burnout and anger outbursts. True healing demands pain be acknowledged so it can be let go of. Our pastor says “buried emotions never die.” The same holds true for pain. When we bury pain rather than process it, it doesn’t go away. It’s sharpness morphs into a dull ache that casts a shadow on every part of our life. Maybe I don’t need another run at cleaning up my diet and sticking to an exercise regimen in order to shed unwanted weight. Maybe instead of more self-discipline, I need a level of self-compassion that invites healing into the places of pain I tend to numb with crappy food choices and overindulgence.

In addition to acknowledging unresolved pain as the root of some of my self-sabotaging behavior, I’ve also come to realize the role of self-acceptance in living a life of wholeness. The desire for change shouldn’t come from the lie that the change we seek will somehow make us more worthy or lovable. Our society’s system is built on convincing us that we need to do more, try harder and be better. The shame this creates drives a wedge between us and the Love we were created for. Brene Brown did a study on people who were “wholehearted” versus those who were not and found that the fundamental difference between the two groups was worthiness. Those who believe they are worthy led a wholehearted life. Those who did not believe they were worthy led a life of sorrow. We were each created to be a son or daughter of a deeply loving Father. When we believe in His plan for redemption through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are restored to our identities as His. Created in His image and redeemed by Christ’s blood, we have an inherent value beyond the reach of this world. Losing thirty pounds won’t make us any more or less worthy. Getting our shit together at home and having perpetually spotless floors won’t make us more lovable. These are minor details in the grand scheme of life. When we focus our energy on these categorical attempts to change, will we have anything left for true, meaningful connection? Afterall, that’s what life is really about. We aren’t in some rat race to see who can “do it better” and look the best in the process. In many ways, micromanaging our bodies and manhandling our schedules into perfection are attempts at control. This strong desire for control on the outside comes from the “out of control” feelings we bury on the inside. We refuse to connect with and process through those hard feelings, so we control our outer world instead. It makes us feel better. It slaps a band aid on a flesh wound. The problem is, we aren’t created to be control freaks. We are here to cultivate connection. With God, ourselves and others. Self-acceptance is a key factor in forging those connections and self-acceptance is a fundamental piece of taking good care of ourselves.

Some people water down self-care, making it about the massages and the face masks, the girls’ nights and the pedicures. Others swing the pendulum the other direction, making self-care about following a meticulous diet or a strict budget or a killer exercise regimen.

I’m here to say its both none of and all of those things. At it’s foundation is self-acceptance and re-humanization.

At seven years old, I had faith that could move mountains. I “got saved” (as if it’s a one-time event) and called my three closest friends and made them say the Sinner’s Prayer over my parent’s corded phone. I wasn’t about to go to Heaven alone. I baptized my best friend in my Grandma’s swimming pool in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit the way Jesus told us to in Matthew. This was the same pool where I embarked on my many serious attempts to walk on water. My faith, although sometimes misguided, has always been strong. This is mostly a really great thing.

Check me out on elementary school picture day, rocking my “I follow in His footprints” T-shirt. Bold move.

As I continue to grow, though, I realize my strong level of faith has a weak point. I have little to no tolerance for my own humanity. I face hardship with an “I got this” attitude, never acknowledging the cost to my human soul. At it’s center, I believe my faith and trust is in God. However, I rarely acknowledge my neediness for a savior in the moment, skirting past my utter dependence on Him. It was as if I load up my knapsack with enough “faith” for the journey and hit the road. Truth be told, my strong faith covered for the fact I despised my neediness, rarely allowing myself to be vulnerable enough for God to affect my heart. Does that seem twisted? I’m still working it out. As I do, two scriptures come to mind: “His strength is made perfect in our weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9) and “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). I’m still very much in process with this but I know it’s requiring me to re-humanize myself, allowing my strong exterior to soften enough to really let the Lord in. Truth is, I don’t “got this” because “getting this” means going about life independently rather than hand-in-hand with our ever-present, unconditionally loving Father. Taking exceptionally good care of myself will require me to be gentle and embrace my own humanity. This is hard for me. Foreign, even. But what’s harder is going through life with the weight of the world on my shoulders, as if it all begins and ends with me. We aren’t meant to carry that load. It’s that very load that buries me, isolates me and keeps me trapped in pain.

This year is about cutting through all of that. It’s about dragging those festering wounds out into the light for proper healing. It’s about getting help—clinical, therapeutic help—processing through trauma and pain so it loses it’s grip on my life choices. It’s about embracing the hard and humiliating work of inner healing rather than embarking on another vain attempt at “personal growth” in it’s many superficial forms. It’s about inviting true sanctification, not behavior modification.

This year is about taking exceptionally good care of myself. And I have a hunch it might just require a few more hotel stays alone.

The Year of the &: Five ways to Overcome in 2020

It was the middle of the afternoon on a Thursday in October. I sat at a picnic table at a park 45 minutes from home, accompanied only by my favorite sushi roll, Starbucks drink, Bible and journal. It was my birthday and one of my best friends offered to keep the kids for the afternoon. With some time to myself, I decided I was going to celebrate big and embrace all the things I loved. Going for a run, sushi, soaking up the scriptures, expressing myself through writing and an expensive cup of coffee were firsts on the list. Enjoying the beauty of a sunny Fall day and the hard-for-me-to-come-by solitude was a close second and third.

My birthday drink with my picnic spot in the background. Skinny cinnamon dulce latte is my Starbucks drink of choice, for any inquiring minds.

As I sat there, reflecting on another year passed, a definitive thought emerged: This is the year of the &.

As I curiously pressed into that thought, I started to see the “&” with more clarity. It’s about going for a run & having the Saturday morning mimosas and pancakes afterwards. It’s about loving the bold parts of my personality & embracing the fact that boldness will probably be misunderstood. It’s about empathizing and deeply connecting with others & radically following Jesus without compromise. It’s about finding the balance between good disciplines & sweeping freedom. It’s about holding fast to my convictions & leaving space for others to have theirs. It’s about both accepting the limitations of my humanity & plugging into the Source of supernatural perfection.

As the weeks after unfolded, I could see how desperately we need a “year of the &” on a broader scale. Our nation just traversed the most polarizing election and campaigning period in recent history. Social media is set aflame with those on the hard left and the hard right slinging hatred for the other side. We are in the middle of a pandemic where fear, chaos and sickness is swirling and we are left asking ourselves when this will all end. Blame, accusation, shame and disrespect are commonplace with disconnection and loneliness as the results. Good-hearted Americans are seated at the middle of it all, stress-eating Little Debbies, wondering what’s next down the pipeline for this shit show that is 2020.

This unprecedented year has ripped us apart and we need an “&” to pull us together.

There are real issues that need solved. Issues that will require those on both sides of the aisle to show up to the table carrying their portion, their perspectives and offering their solutions. We can only do that when we know our differences in opinions won’t be used to demonize us and label us as morally less superior. We need to be able to have hard conversations while holding fast to respect and honor for one another. We need to talk through the real issues while maintaining our sense of dignity and assuring those who disagree that they get to keep theirs as well. While we can’t control how we are treated or how others respond to us, we have complete control over our own actions, reactions and responses. What will we bring into the atmosphere? Will we add to the hate and division by “making our point” and “standing our ground?” Or will we extend an “&” and approach life with curiosity, seeking to be a part of the solution, knowing we ALL have a valid role to play?

When I consider what’s become of this nation politically and socially, it seems like one big identity crisis. We have forgotten that we are born with inherent value, so we scratch and claw to get something that was already bestowed on us. We trash others who don’t look like us, act like us or think like us because their inconsistency threatens our sense of self. We base our self-worth on what we do, how we think, what we look like and—in-turn—judge others as worthy or not based on that criteria. We live in fear that we are defined by what others think of us, so we people-please rather than live authentically and true to ourselves.

What if we really believed that every human being was made in the image of God? What if we really believed that God’s desire is for every person to experience Him as a Loving Father, truly present and involved in our lives? What if we really believed that each person is loved for who they are and nothing that they do or don’t do can take away from the fact that they were created to be loved, period?

Spoiler alert: It’s all true.

God didn’t want robots, he wanted sons and daughters. And when we operate in our true identity as His son or daughter our self-respect and honor for others will make a way for the “&.” God wants to unify His family and divide them from the ways of the world—ways like hatred, slander, gossip, judgement and disconnection. It’s not our job to convict others—it’s our job to keep our own hearts pure from the darkness that encroaches when we slip into judgement rather than love.

How do we do that? Here are a few things I’ve learned this year that have helped me bring an “&” into a truly divisive time.

Listen to understand, not to respond. When in doubt, ask more questions.
In any situation, there’s your perspective, my perspective and the truth. We rarely get to the truth, because we are so hellbent on making others see our perspective. What if we were as intent on understanding others as we were in not being misunderstood? What if we approached conversations with true curiosity rather than already having our minds made up? It would be so much easier to get to the superior truth rather than settling for our own inferior and often divisive perspectives if we approached conversations with the goal of listening well.

Share your heart, regardless of how you think it will be interpreted.  
It is not our job to manage other people’s opinions of us, it’s our job to authentically share our hearts. That is the only way to have true connection and meaningful relationships. We manipulate others when we withhold our true thoughts and feelings out of self-protection. Not only that, we shortchange ourselves of the joy of being truly known and experiencing a depth of love only enjoyed by those brave enough to be authentic.

Embrace awkward conversations and fight for those you love.
Have you ever left a conversation feeling icky? Any number of things could bring that feeling on… Maybe you felt misunderstood. Maybe you used a poor choice of words to communicate your thoughts and you’re worried you hurt someone unintentionally. Maybe someone else said something with a passive aggressive undertone and you let it slide. Regardless of the specific situation, we have all had those conversations that plant a seed for disconnection in relationships. And we have all experienced the gulf that separates us when those little disconnections go unresolved. The sad thing is, so many times, that disconnection could have been avoided if we were brave enough to have an awkward conversation in the moment. It could be as simple as saying “I saw your face when I said blah, blah, blah… did you think I meant this? I wanted to clear it up because I care about how I make you feel.” Or “What did you mean when you said this? It felt passive aggressive to me. I know you well enough to know that probably wasn’t what you meant, but it did hurt my feelings and I value our relationship enough to want to talk through it.” Is that too cringey for you? It’s either that, or the perpetual feeling of isolation and disconnection in relationships. For me, I’ll embrace the cringe and choose to be awkward.

Understand that there are different perspectives and different ways of looking at things. Resist the urge to define others by their outlook in life.
Jesus says it better than me. “Do not judge, or you will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you,”  Matthew 7:1,2. We all have our reasons why we think of things a certain way. We all have different experiences that have shaped our perspective. None of us are qualified to know the intent of another’s heart, and if we don’t want our intent questioned or judged, we’d be wise to not do the same to others.

Recognize your triggers and don’t let them speak for you.
Triggers. They’re unfortunate, but we all have them. Too often, we let our triggers do the talking. Abi Stumvoll is a brilliant life consultant, author, speaker and podcaster who says “Emotions are like kids. You can’t stuff them in the trunk, but you also can’t let them drive the car.” When we are baited into an emotional response, we need to listen to what our emotions are telling us. We don’t—however—have to respond based on those emotions. Another important thing to mention is that many times, our triggers tell us a story that is so far from the truth. That’s why we need to be willing to be vulnerable, honest and have awkward—but real—conversations. If not, we are just going through life triggered by others’ triggers and nothing gets resolved. That’s how disconnection and division happens.

Has the year 2020 felt divisive for you and your circles? Do you think we need a year of the &? I’d love to hear from you! Please comment below.  

How to Let Pain Make you Stronger

I hunched over my kitchen table with tears streaming from my eyes, feeling defeated and hopeless. I was pregnant with our fourth child and our oldest was only five. At the time, our almost-two-year old was—in the kindest terms—completely insufferable. How was I possibly going to bring another baby into this chaos? Not only was the house a perpetual disaster, I was physically exhausted and mentally tapped out. I hadn’t slept through the night in five years (no exaggeration) and wondered how I’d survive another day; and another; and another with even less sleep and more demands.

My husband was travelling a lot at the time and was booked for 26 business trips that year. That meant he was gone every other week, leaving me home alone to carry what felt like an unimaginable load. I had a supportive extended family nearby, but I didn’t know how to ask for help or how to articulate what I needed in that season. Rage boiled under the surface of my unmet and unexpressed needs and I felt like a failure at everything that mattered to me. Shame was my constant companion and self-condemnation always had a critique for me.

I can feel the overwhelming weight of anxiety and helplessness as I recall those days five years ago. Our youngest is now a delightful four-year-old and that tantrum-throwing two-year-old is now a compassionate, vibrant and deeply enjoyable first grader. Not only did I survive those days in the trenches of early motherhood, I miss them. “The days are long but the years are short,” they say—and they’re right. Those years flew by in a flash but the invaluable life lessons they’ve taught me are imprinted on my heart forever.

Me and my Brinley Grace. She has taught me so much about love, growth and faith. I didn’t know how I’d survive her toddler years, now I don’t know how I ever survived without her.

This day I described sticks out like a vivid colored portrait in a sea of black and white polaroids. It was a day where God spoke to me in my mess. Recently, I’ve found myself pushed to the edge of hopelessness again by those same overwhelming feelings, which bullied their way into a new set of circumstances. In the last two months, I became a business owner and a facilitator of a new program helping young virtual learners navigate their remote schooling. My now school-aged children were given the option to return to traditional school full-time with masks and social distancing or choose to learn virtually. With a desire for an option somewhere in the middle, I came up with a virtual learning assistance program to give kids (mine and others) who chose the remote learning option a chance to socialize in smaller groups while accomplishing their work online.

Our kids on the first day of the Sunshine Haven, our virtual learning assistance program.

At the risk of sounding extremely ungrateful and negative, I’ll boil it down like this for the sake of articulating my point: I basically became a working mom who doesn’t get a break from her kids. I get the added pressure of more responsibility without the benefit of riding in the car alone, listening to early 2000s hip hop and drinking my coffee while it’s hot. This new role has stirred up some insecurities I didn’t realize were there. As I was processing through those, I remembered this day five years ago when shame had me in a stranglehold and my loving Father broke it’s grip. I remembered how God spoke to me and the implications His sweet intervention has on my here and now. Maybe you’ll find hope and perspective in the vision He gave me and maybe together we can sort through shame and insecurity and find a healthy place to land when life sends us over the edge.

As tears streamed down my face on that day in early 2015, I tried to engage with God. I tried to read my bible but was constantly sidetracked by something the kids needed and the mountain of dirty dishes in my peripheral. I was too tired and too frazzled to string two thoughts together uninterrupted, so my outlet of journal writing didn’t seem like a viable option. If I’m being totally honest, spending time with God just felt like “another thing I had to do” and my to-do list was maxed the frick out. Deflated and in desperate need of something life-giving, I turned on one of my favorite worship music channels on the pandora app. As I listened, I didn’t even have the energy to lift my forehead off the table. Ironically, it was in that position where I heard my now-all-time favorite song for the very first time. Steffany Gretzinger’s haunting voice rang out through my iPhone speaker:

“So rock-a-bye baby
Come and rest
You’ve been tired lately
Lay your head down
Don’t you think, baby
I know best
I’ve been a Father for a long time”

WRECKED. Snot-flowing, shoulder-heaving-sobs, wrecked. (If you haven’t heard the song before, you really need to. It’s called Cecie’s Lullaby and it’s the message every person buried by their daily demands in life needs to internalize.)

As I let the lyrics wash over my parched soul, I got a vision. I saw myself bringing each of our kids into the world. It wasn’t a gory labor vision, it was just like they were manifesting in the earth. As each child was born, a new color burst out of my heart. It was like a ribbon flowing and moving from my heart, attaching to them. Their existence in the earth caused something new to emerge from me— something that matched who they were. It was a promise that as they became, I would evolve. I was their mother, chosen by God. He would use their life to impact me and cause growth in ways I would have never chosen.

I would have never chosen to learn patience through my daughter’s insane tantrums. I would have never chosen to learn unmatched perseverance through waking up 3,487 times a night for seven years straight. I would have never experienced the freedom and self-acceptance acknowledging and communicating my needs has brought me if I wasn’t brought to the end of myself. This was His plan and if I exchanged my shame and the ways I felt I didn’t measure up for His love, He was going to grow me internally in indescribable ways.

He has proven that to be true.

So today, as I face new challenges of growth and I’m tempted to dig my heals in and resist, I’m reminded to release control and let God bring something new and beautiful out of my heart. No matter how fluffy that sounds, it’s not sunshine and rainbows. Birth is gory and painful—there’s no way around that. Growth happens when we embrace the pain our purpose is trying to produce in us. Secondary pain is caused by the ways we try and avoid pain to begin with, but that’s another topic altogether.

For now, let me leave you with a few practical ways I’m pressing into growth rather than resisting the pain that produces it:

Focus on the good
If you’re looking for the bad, you’ll find it. If you’re looking for the good, you’ll find it. I really miss my slower days, less demanding schedule and time to myself. But you know what? I get more time with my kids and as a quality time person, that is important to me. Not only do I get more time with my kids, I have the opportunity to impact other kids. I get to use my time and our assets to help families navigate the changes that have occurred because of this pandemic. I love helping people and I especially love supporting families. I can focus on what I’ve lost in this time, or I can stir up gratitude for the amazing gifts I have been given instead.

Acknowledge hard feelings but don’t be defined by them
One thing I can’t stand about the positivity movement is the fact hard things we face in life aren’t validated. Hard shit is a part of the human experience and denial is an unhealthy way to cope with said shit. Those days as a young mom were both exceedingly amazing and crushingly difficult. Acknowledging that I was exhausted didn’t make me negative. Being exasperated by my toddler’s meltdowns didn’t mean I was ungrateful. It means that I’m human and the sucky stuff and the magical moments have the freedom to coexist in this imperfect planet. Acknowledging the sucky makes it possible to engage in the magical more fully.

Express your needs and meet them consistently
I used to despise the fact that I had needs. Whether we like it or not, having needs is a fundamental part of what it means to be human and we don’t do ourselves or anyone around us any favors with our commitment to self-reliance. Relationships are built through the expressing and meeting of needs. Vulnerability breeds true connection and in order to be vulnerable, we have to admit we have needs. One of my needs is time to myself and given my stage of life, this can be hard to come by. I’m starting to be intentional about getting babysitters, asking my husband to rearrange his schedule to allow for me to get some time alone, and skipping out on the kids’ activities if my mental health is in jeopardy. We have to prioritize our own needs or nobody will.

Pray like you mean it
Have you ever read the Psalms? It’s my favorite book of the bible because David processes through his poetry all of his real, human and erratic emotions. He doesn’t offer up to God a prettily packaged, acceptable and respectable litany. He comes to Him with the REAL stuff—the ugly, the juicy and the super messy. Before he’s cleaned up his act, he pours out his heart. He says of his enemies “Break their teeth in their heads!” and “Split open their pregnant women!” (Legit! Look it up) God is where he brings his rage, his confusion and his despair, and God calls him a man after his own heart. Did you get that? David pours out his heart and in turn is honored as a man after God’s. I’ve been challenged to lean deeply into the Lord as my life feels overwhelming. I can strategize, plan and prepare but nothing will match the peace that comes from an honest prayer sent up from the trenches of a messy life.

Today, I’m not hunched over there table crying because of physical exhaustion and sheer exasperation. My challenges now look a little different, but God’s promise remains: As I partner with Him in His purposes for my life, He has deposited everything I need to evolve accordingly. I can trust Him in His process of bringing growth out of tough times.

Can you relate to anything I’ve shared here? Do you feel like any of these tips would help you break free from shame in an overwhelming time? I’d love to hear from you. Please comment below!

Why Religion Sucks but You Don’t

There are few things that anger me more than religion.

If you’ve read my posts, you’ve probably sensed my faith is important to me. In fact, it’s everything to me. The faith I’m surrendered to has nothing to do with religion. I’m focused on becoming completely untangled from the stagnant, dead branches of religious systems, judgments and laws and becoming fully alive to the living God and all the worthwhile fruitfulness only a deeply connected and intimate relationship with Him can produce.

It’s been a journey of unhitching myself from the world’s system—the counterfeit—where pride and self-righteousness runs rampant and where burying and pretending is common practice.

The pursuit is simply Jesus—without all the added garbage the world, the deceived and my own flesh try to tack on to what it means to follow Him.

My hatred for religion is birthed out of my unyielding desire to truly know God and—in turn—know myself, because the identity of all humanity is rooted in Him. Religion has tripped us up, sidelined us and left us empty in our pursuits of living the abundant and authentic lives Jesus promised us (John 10:10). Where religion has defined us by our behavior, true faith has identified us as God’s children, redefining our behavior with pure, holy and lasting motivation that springs up from our beliefs, not our self-effort.

I was with a few friends a couple weeks ago and we were talking about all the craziness going on in the world. I was expressing how angry I am that the universal American Church has spent decades building safe little subcultures rather than storming the gates of Hell. I brought up the verse in Matthew where Jesus tells Peter “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). I was lamenting about the Church’s fear over being infected by the world and how that fear has left the Church largely ineffective in the world.

My bottom line was this: Why are we scared of facing sin (within ourselves and others) when we carry the very Anecdote for it? Why are we hiding from Hell instead of storming it’s gates and rescuing those held captive by it’s grips?

My friend Teri shared a revelation she had about the context of that verse which blew my mind. Before Jesus made the statement to Peter, Peter was the first to speak on Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, the Anointed, the Son of the living God. Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but my father in Heaven,” (Matt 16:17). Teri made the connection that the Church would be built on the Heavenly revelation from God about who Jesus is and who we truly are as His people. Peter didn’t call Jesus a prophet or a teacher or anything else that was socially acceptable or logically derived. He had a heavenly revelation about Jesus’ identity and spoke to that revelation. Following this exchange, Jesus renamed Simon and called him Peter, his new name reflecting his true identity as a rock on which the Church could be built.

“Upon this rock, I will build my church…” Upon the rock which consults with God about who a person is and responds to that higher truth. A rock where behavior, societal standards, religious judgments and interpretations have no power to define a person, only God does. A rock which places the revelation of who Jesus is at the very center where His words begin to rewrite our stories as beloved sons and daughters.    

Listen, the source of our identity affects everything. It’s impossible to behave in a way that is inconsistent with what we believe about ourselves. Our beliefs about ourselves—the real ones, the ones sitting deep within our gut—drive our lives. What are our beliefs producing in us? The true kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the spirit (Rom 14:17). In stark contrast, religion produces constant striving, fear and despair in ourselves. That’s why I freaking hate it so bad! I lived under the influence of religion for so long, constantly feeling like I fell short of the standard, constantly feeling like God was displeased with me, waiting for the other shoe to drop and life to fall apart since I was incapable of keeping it all together. I was disconnected from Unconditional Love because I believed I didn’t deserve it. I blamed myself for all that was going wrong in my life but lacked any power to initiate true change. Religion renders us powerless to true change where Unconditional Love has the power to radically transform us.  

The fruit of our lives doesn’t lie. Our fruit isn’t just what happens in our external world and our ability to pretend we have it altogether—that’s secondary and we can do a really good job of faking our way through that. True fruit starts deeper, “man looks at the outward, God looks at the heart,” (1 Sam 16:7). What happens in our internal world is much more telling and we’d be wise to assess what our internal world has to say. To put it simply, this isn’t about disciplining the hell out of ourselves, it’s about opening our hearts to a real, childlike relationship with the One who fashioned our very souls and calls us by a new name. When you plant a garden, you start with a seed. That seed roots itself in the ground and begins to sprout. We know what type of seed we planted because of the eventual fruit the seed produces. If we want a different fruit, we plant a different seed. We don’t just chop the fruit off and expect something different to grow. We need a full uprooting and a new re-planting. Many of us have planted the seeds of religion hoping to reap a harvest of righteousness, but all we got were weeds and chaff. Let’s start over and plant seeds of Love rooted in childlike faith in the goodness of our real and present Heavenly Father.

After all, sanctification is an act of Love, behavior modification is a response to religion. Only one will last.

Accepting and walking in our identities as sons and daughters of God begins with confession and repentance. We need to confess the darkness in our hearts rather than bury it to maintain a persona acceptable within our religious circles. Religion has created so much dysfunction by using judgment, fear of punishment and shame as “motivating factors.” The truth is Jesus took all our punishment on the cross so we could have the power to walk in freedom, unashamed of the lives His truth is producing in us. He showed us what this looked, and when our life doesn’t reflect His, we need to confess it and repent instead of using our own effort to change our behavior. Instead of trying harder in our own power, we should come boldly to the throne of grace and finding the mercy we need to cover our butts. It might look something like this: “God, this person gets on my damn nerves. I’m tired of pretending I love them when I really feel like ripping their face off. I know it’s wrong, and rather than stuff these feelings, I shine your loving light on this darkness at work within me. I agree with YOU about what makes a person righteous and right now, my heart is dark with hatred. Please expose the root and eradicate these feelings that don’t belong in the heart of your daughter!”

Where religion blocks the door, the Father swings it wide open.”

That’s where healing begins. God is present in the Truth. He never believed our persona anyways, He always saw right through it.

It’s time we did, too.

Religion has a form of godliness but denies it’s power (2 Tim 3:5). Maybe that’s why it angers me so badly. It promises hope and change but fails to deliver. It sets an impossible standard and chastises us harshly when we don’t measure up. Like the pharisees in Matthew 23, it “shut off the kingdom of heaven in front of people” by presenting a series of hoops it claims we must jump through to know God. On the other hand, when Jesus died on the cross, God tore the veil of separation between His holiness and our humanity from top to bottom. Where religion blocks the door, our Father swings it open. Jesus changed the world through walking in His true identity—full of God and draped with humanity. He invites us to do this same and fulfills His promise through humbled, honest and surrendered hearts; through people who know they’re broken but whose brokenness drives them into the arms of a good Dad who empowers us to clean up our messes and create the abundant life He made a way for.

I’m committed to cleaning up my messes and untangling my beliefs from the webs of religion. I’m committed to accepting the Truth about who God says I am and allowing Truth to define my choices. I’m channeling my anger towards religion into allowing Jesus to change my heart.

How has religion affected your life? How has your process of accepting your identity as a beloved child of God changed you? I would love to hear from you. Please comment below.

Finding the Skinny Truth in the Thick of all the Lies

I sat in the exam room of my primary care physician’s office, anxious to get the results of the bloodwork my dermatologist had ordered two weeks prior.

My doctor came in, frazzled and busy, asking what I was there for. I told him his office had called me to schedule an appointment to discuss my bloodwork. He looked at my chart and said everything was normal, but the protein level in my blood was on the higher end. Out of curiosity, he asked if I eat a lot of protein.

“Yeah, I guess. I eat a lot of chicken and eggs. Turkey every now and again,” I responded.

“What do you normally eat for breakfast?” He probed.

“Usually nothing,” I replied without explanation.

If you’re curious, I don’t eat breakfast because I loosely follow intermittent fasting guidelines. This means I normally eat during an 8-hour window. For me, that window is between 11am and 7pm and removes the option of a traditional, early morning breakfast. When I answered the doctor, I didn’t give my reasons as to why, I just simply told him I don’t eat breakfast.  

Without hesitation, he said “You really should eat breakfast, it will help you lose weight.” As he said it, I noticed him glance at my stomach. My cheeks flushed from being both humiliated and appalled.

I was never weighed when I got to the office, so he didn’t know for certain whether or not my weight was within a “healthy range.” Honestly, I don’t know whether it is either, since the BMI chart is a bunch of crap and I haven’t weighed myself in months. What I do know is that I ran five miles the morning of my appointment and I teach a killer cardio fitness class twice weekly. My decision to trade breakfast for brunch is a health-conscious effort to make good choices to honor my body and help it function properly, as I believe in the benefits of intermittent fasting.

A picture of me on Fourth of July this year. Enjoying picnic food and drinks without restriction, committed to living in true freedom.

I didn’t give that explanation either. My only response to his comment were the eye daggers I shot him and the scowl that formed on my masked face (thanks, COVID-19 guidelines).

“I bet you’d lose weight if you started eating breakfast,” he repeated.

“Okay,” I said curtly.

The rest of the appointment was a blur. As I drove home, tears welled in my eyes and rage burned within my gut. As I processed through the exchange I realized this: My doctor didn’t say what he said because he’s an insensitive asshole. He also didn’t say what he said because I’m necessarily fat or unhealthy. His unsolicited remarks were the result of a broken societal system which wrongly equates thinness with health and applauds weight loss at any cost. It’s a system that elevates appearance as the most important thing, as evidenced by widespread eating disorders, the sexual objectification of women and the trillions spent on diet and beauty products each year. It’s a system that says if you’re an average American woman, you obviously want to lose weight because there is a standard of beauty that 98 percent of women are physically incapable of reaching. So, since beauty is THE most important thing, strive, fix, micromanage and accost the hell out of your inadequate body, since it continues to fall inexplicably short.

There is no doubt the system is broken. It’s what needs fixed, not me. But rather than rage against something I cannot completely change, I looked inward to identify what it was about his comment that triggered such an emotional response.

I learned from my friend Teri Moser at Three Thirty Media that, scientifically, we all have three brains. The brain in our head is our thinker. The brain in our heart is our feeler. The brain in our gut is our believer. Our thinker, feeler and believer all need to come into agreement with truth in order for our lives to reflect that truth over time. If not, there will be a disconnection and our lives will instead reflect the short circuit. To put it simply, you can think something logically, even feel it emotionally, but if you don’t believe it deep-down, the benefits of that truth will have no effect over your life. What you believe deep down guides your decision-making. That’s why identifying the lies we believe and replacing them with truth is such a crucial part of inner healing.

The truth is, I can logically say that the societal system that churns out eating disorders, body dysmorphia, the sexual objectification and abuse of women and a hyper-focus on appearance rather than the internal treasures we each carry is absolutely wrong. I can feel the emotions of anger and injustice when I think about what this broken system has cost me and every woman I know. However, if I still believe I’m somehow more acceptable, likable and valued at a smaller size rather than a larger one, I will never be at peace with my fluffy, mom-of-four bod that likes Chick-fil-a and running in equal measure.

I will consistently judge myself as inadequate and that self-judgment will cause constant striving, disconnecting and a lack of peace.

I’m done paying that price. I want to know what it feels like to live in abundant self-acceptance regardless of how I look in the mirror or the numbers on the scale. I want acceptance rooted in my identity as an unconditionally loved daughter of a radically good God. I want to value my voice more than my looks and steward my influence better than my appearance.

Before I get to that place, I need to time travel a bit. Some of the beliefs I formed in my gut were a “survival” response to painful experiences I’ve had in my lifetime. I remember being in second grade and getting called fat. I remember becoming aware that other girls’ stomachs were flat and mine stuck out a bit. I remember realizing that all the women in movies who found love, fulfillment and happiness were thin and attractive. I remember having one of the largest skirt sizes on the cheerleading squad in high school and being so ashamed by that. I remember my joy for making the varsity squad as a freshman being eclipsed by the high school quarterback’s assessment that I was too chubby to be a varsity cheerleader. I remember being told by a bagger at my job as a cashier in high school that I would be “super hot” if I got rid of my love handles. I remember the embarrassment I felt when I was three months postpartum with our second child in less than two years and someone thought I was still pregnant.

Me as a freshman cheerleader in 2001. Clearly “too chubby” to be a cheerleader (please catch the sarcasm).

Pain. Embarrassment. Shame. Questioning.

In many ways, I let those painful moments define me by forming the belief that I could only accept myself if I was physically attractive. Furthermore, I would only be physically attractive if I was thin.

This has been the carrot on the stick. If I could just “get there,” life would be so much better. Obviously, it’s a lie. I have had an eating disorder and was stick thin. Guess what? My destructive thinking still remained.

This is an inside job. An internal problem that can’t be fixed with an external solution.

That being said, my current focus on my personal journey of wholeness is to untangle myself from self-judgement and fasten myself to the Truth. God is the Truth and only His judgment matters. I don’t want to “fix” myself by dieting, obsessive exercise and constant focus on the outward. I want truly transformed from the inside out by embracing Love and allowing Him to do His work in every area of my life.

If this resonates with you, I’ve got a few practical ways I’m leaning into this process that I’d like to share.

Buy new, fun clothes at a comfortable size.
In the past, if my clothes were fitting tightly, I would squeeze myself into them and let the pain remind me I needed to lose a couple pounds. Super loving, right? Wrong. This summer I bought several bigger pairs of shorts and a lot of comfortable, fun and fitted tops. I don’t want to hide my body and punish it for being bigger. I want to embrace it where it is and express my personal style at any size.

Stop weighing yourself.
The scale tells us very little about our overall health. When I ran a marathon in 2018 and qualified for the Boston Marathon, the BMI chart said I was “overweight” and borderline “obese.” FORREAL. Weight is not an indication of health. I read a book written by Lisa Bevere and she said she realized that her weight had become her idol. She felt good when she weighed less and felt bad when she weighed more. Weight is a shallow way to measure yourself. Ditch the scale.

Find a movement that brings you joy and do it often.  
I absolutely love to run and to dance. I used to manipulate my body through exercise. It became a twisted form of punishment. Now I only move in a way that feels good. I push myself when I have the urge and I listen to my body when I need to rest. There are so many ways to move your body and there is no one-size fits all approach. Find a movement you like and carve out frequent time in your schedule for it.

Eat food that tastes good and feels good.
Eat what you like and be mindful of how it makes you feel. Don’t eat past full or satisfied. Learn to listen to your body when it tells you it’s done and be respectful when something you eat makes it feel like trash.

Remember it’s hard work to break the cycle.
I recently listened to a podcast that said we should change our perspective from “trying harder” to “training.” We aren’t trying harder to break out of self-judgement and accept ourselves at any size, we are training ourselves to live in freedom. When you’re in training, you know that if you have a bad day, you get a fresh start tomorrow. We live in a societal system that thrives on judgement so untangling ourselves from that system will take some work. Give yourself grace in the process and love yourself along the way.

I’d like to end with a poem written by Caitlyn Siehl, shared in her book “What We Buried.” She writes:

When your little girl asks you is she’s pretty, your heart will drop
like a wine glass on the hardwood floor.
Part of you will want to say,
‘Of course you are, don’t ever question it.’

And the other part,
the part that is clawing at you,
will want to grab her by her shoulders,
look straight into the wells of her eyes
until they echo back to you and say,
‘You do not have to be pretty
if you don’t want to. It is not your job.’

Both will feel right. One will feel better.
She will only understand the first.

I want to be a woman who understands the second and leads my daughters to understand the same. After all, I don’t have to be pretty, it’s not my job.

And I don’t have to eat breakfast.

How has self-judgment of your appearance affected your life? Have you experienced the consequences of living in this broken societal system that elevates appearance over all else? I would love to hear from you! Please comment below.

How to Spark Change in a World that has Gone Crazy

I was up late several nights this week, scouring the internet for answers. Big Tech’s censorship of some social media accounts I follow provoked me to lift the rug up in effort to find out what’s been brushed underneath it. I quickly found myself knee-deep in “conspiracy theories” that were truly terrifying. I’m not gullible enough to believe every wild thing I read or watch online is true. I’m also not stupid enough to believe the mainstream media is operating freely, without hidden agendas and powerful forces pulling the strings.

We are in an unprecedented time in history where information is being manipulated, truth is being hidden and justice seems like a far-off pipedream.

Our daughter dressed up as Captain America– a superhero who represents justice, goodness and social responsibility.

Regardless of whether there was any merit to the specific speculations I waded through in the wee hours of the night, the unsettling reality is this: there are countless horrors and atrocities happening in the world around us. Human trafficking, child abuse of every kind, widespread racial injustice, the perversion of truth for personal, financial and political gain are just a few of the shocking realities we’re facing. These hard-to-swallow realities tempt us to bury our heads in the sand and pretend evil doesn’t exist. After all, it’s too big to carry, too uncomfortable to face and much too daunting to ever think about changing.  

My purpose in writing this isn’t to make you believe the world has gone to hell in a hand basket, so we should all be perpetually and heavily burdened by the pain of it all. I’m simply passing off my own conviction to you—the conviction to engage and connect when fear rages, discomfort keeps us silent and apathy lulls us to sleep. The truth is, we have more power to change the world than we’re aware of. The power to initiate change isn’t encapsulated within the powerful elite, the institutions we build or the religious processes we’re accustomed to. The power to initiate transformative change begins and ends with our connection and commitment to Unconditional Love.

Mother Theresa said “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” I saw a powerful graphic recently depicting this: Until you fix it in your heart and address it in your home, nothing in the world will change. We absolutely have the power to change the world because we get to choose whether we’ll allow change to enter our own hearts. We get to decide whether we will invite Unconditional Love in to have His way.

You’re probably wondering how a post that started with addressing the atrocious realities in the world veered off into what seems to be a froo-frooey conversation about Unconditional Love. Here are the facts: The dark and devastating things happening in the shadows of this world are a result of broken individuals with broken mindsets, mindlessly pushing evil agendas. Personal deceptions like greed, selfishness, perversion, bitterness, rage and hatred spread like the ink-cloud of an octopus within the sea. Societal decay is nothing more than collective individual decline.

If we aren’t active in pushing back against the evil cloud around us, our lives will be darkened by it. If we are blinded by our own dysfunction, we can’t see clearly enough to be a part of the solution.

When my marriage took a nosedive in 2018, God spoke to me a paraphrased version of the verse from Matthew 7:5. He said “Stop focusing on the speck in Michael’s eye instead of the log in yours.” Mind you, anyone from the outside would be able to look at our situation and see that I was the “good guy” and Michael was the “bad guy.” Michael did things that could easily have him pegged as the problem in the relationship. So why the heck was God telling me I was the one with the log in my eye? If you look up that verse, the rest of it says “then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” I was so busy focusing on the speck in Michael’s eye—his “wrongness,” his dysfunction, the garbage he was bringing into our marriage—that I was oblivious to my own, very real, contributions to our problems. I have no power over Michael’s stuff, only my own. I could never change or control him (trust me, I tried for years). But I could control myself. I could allow myself to be changed. I could repent for my own crap, allowing God to remove the log in my eye so that my vision would be clearer and I could be a part of the solution rather than continuing to point a finger at the “problem.”

I could invite Unconditional Love in to spark the real change I had no power to initiate alone.

The only way for me to have any type of authority in my marriage was to repent. To repent is to agree with God about what makes a person righteous. No matter how it looked on the outside, I wasn’t any more “righteous” than Michael because the source for righteousness is Jesus at work within our hearts. I couldn’t repent on behalf of Michael, but I could repent on behalf of me. I could agree that the judgement I was operating in towards Michael was wrong. So was the bitterness, the resentment, the unforgiveness and the anger. I could let go of my own need for revenge and leave room for God to have His way. Basically, I needed to deal with the darkness in my own heart so God’s light of love could shine bright, lighting up our marriage and exposing the roots of all the real problems.

Similarly, the only way for us to have authority in this big wide world is by conquering our own personal hell, applying the triumph and victory of Christ and allowing who He is and what He’s done to define us.

Most of us are so scared of the ugliness inside of us, we bury it, justify it or shove it into a closet. This is obvious by the way the church universally has operated. The church has created a safe little subculture rather than engaging in the culture around us. Fear has disarmed us, love beckons us to pick back up our weapons of Truth.

Instead of hiding, ignoring, stuffing or justifying when you’re faced with your own dysfunction, I beg you—engage it. Don’t run from it. Explore it and invite God to cut it off at the root and replace it with the truth. Inner healing leads to a healthy family. Heathy families lead to thriving communities. Thriving communities continue to ripple outward, affecting our entire planet.

Moral decline is subtle. Over time, evil conditions us to accept it’s atrocities, blinds us to injustice while feeding on our personal dysfunction. When we confront personal dysfunction, we send the ball rolling in the other direction. Just like moral decline is subtle, so is positive change.

It begins with you. It begins with me.

So, instead of allowing widespread evil to fill us with worry and anxiety over things we cannot change, let’s consider it an invitation for Unconditional Love to do its work within our own hearts. Let’s agree to allow God’s love to shape us into becoming all that He intended us to be. Remember, until we fix it in our hearts and address it in our homes, nothing will change within our world.

The world needs you. The world needs me.   

Did you connect with anything I’ve written here? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below.  

How We’re Duped by the Lure of Self-Sufficiency (and what we can do about it)

Under the stillness of the cold night sky, our normally busy household sat in silence as my family slept soundly. It was after one in the morning and I was swallowed up in my Kindle, devouring what would become my favorite novel, “Where the Crawdads Sing.” While Delia Owens masterful words spun a tapestry of mystery telling the fictional story of Kia’s coming-of-age, I got a download from the Lord that tore through the fabric of my own, very real story.  

You’ve despised and abandoned the part of yourself that needs people.

It was like a light came on in a room that had been full of darkness for ages. For as long as I could remember, a nagging frustration and anxiety swirled around my relationships. I lived most of my life feeling unloved, despite knowing better and having loving people around me. I was disconnected and unable to receive what I longed for most. Those words that dropped into my consciousness were like lightbulbs flickering on and my spiritual eyes had to adjust to this abrupt enlightenment. A few things started coming into focus as the words replayed across my heart, this time with more revelation. 

You’ve despised and abandoned the part of yourself that needs people… and that’s such a fundamental part of what it means to be human.

The words despised and abandoned had a tangible heaviness to them. They settled in my gut, forcing out a sob. I began to weep so loudly that I woke up Michael. I lacked the words to explain what Truth had just released in me, so I told him I was okay and to go back to sleep. As he groggily obliged, I began to unpack this revelation.

It has been a year and a half and I’m still unpacking it.

The words that struck such a deep chord of truth within me put me face-to-face with one of my most life-robbing tendencies: self-sufficiency. Furthermore, I realized that in my commitment to self-sufficiency, I’ve denied my soul one of it’s greatest needs: self-acceptance. If needing people is a fundamental part of what it means to be human—and it is—than despising and abandoning that part of myself meant I was living in a gross amount of unacceptance towards my own humanity.

No wonder my soul wasn’t at rest.

We live in a society that celebrates independence. We clap our hands for the people who seem to “have it all together.” We glorify those who pull themselves up by their bootstraps and—without help—manage to “get it done.” We don’t have time for needy friends and we most certainly don’t want to come off as one. There is no doubt society applauds the idea of needing “nothing from nobody,” encouraging us on in our pursuit of self-sufficiency.

But society’s value clashes with our Creator’s design and the discrepancy between the two has left us tired, lonely, disconnected and struggling.

To be clear, there is a healthy level of self-sufficiency we need to survive. We need the skills to be able to take care of ourselves and our family so our households run smoothly. This isn’t the self-sufficiency I’m describing. What I’m referring to is emotional independency. It’s building up walls and keeping people out to feel a false sense of emotional security. It’s safeguarding ourselves from rejection, pain and abandonment by never really letting people in on what’s happening inside our hearts. However, when we build walls instead of boundaries, we don’t just keep out the bad people and the painful emotions. We keep the good ones out, too. We disconnect from the people we love and ironically, we reject and abandon ourselves in effort to safely avoid those same situations from others.

To abandon ourselves is to deny our needs and desires. It means suppressing what we’re feeling instead of working through it. It means responding to pain with anger because that feels less scary than being honest about our hurt and disappointment. It means saying yes when we want to say no, and no when we want to say yes. It’s allowing outside pressures and perceived judgement to shape our choices, rather than our own convictions and moral compasses.  It looks like attempting to manage another person’s perception rather than bringing the truest, most honest and authentic version of ourselves into every situation. It looks like avoiding hard, awkward but real conversations rather than embracing them as essential to growth.

We were created with an innate need for connection. In fact, connection is such a crucial part of our existence it’s actually been proven as the anecdote for addiction. Mind blown. If we aren’t living connected, we are more vulnerable to attach ourselves to the things in life that promise satisfaction but fail to deliver. Healthy relationships are a key component to living a fulfilling life, and healthy relationships begin with self-acceptance.

A healthy relationship is a relationship where both parties are seen and known. It’s impossible to be seen and known when we’ve built walls around our hearts. That’s what self-sufficiency has been for me. A wall around my heart that says “if I don’t need you, you can’t hurt me.” Little did I know how badly I was hurting myself.

Whether we deny our needs or not, they’re still there. And unmet needs lead to dysfunction, no matter how far we suppress them.

I’m learning what it looks like to embrace my own humanity by expressing my needs unapologetically. Before I had some miles in on this particular journey, I got into a heated exchange with Michael. We both have highly demanding lives and instead of leaning into each other and facing our personal difficulties together, we were in the habit of blaming and resenting one another when things got stressful. During one of those outbursts I actually said out loud “I’M SORRY I’M A HUMAN BEING WHO HAS NEEDS!”

Dramatics aside, I was sorry. I’d much prefer to not have any needs I couldn’t meet myself. That’s a much safer place to be. But that’s not how I was made—that’s not how you were made—and that’s not how life works.

I’ve since learned how beautiful it is to have needs. How my neediness attracts God’s sufficiency and being sufficient in Him is so much more fulfilling than the empty pursuit of self-sufficiency. I’m learning how expressing needs within relationships has the power to build trust in a way no other practice can. Most importantly, I’m learning how to validate myself and my needs, even when I don’t feel validated by others.

I’d like to share with you a few practical ways I’m untangling my heart from the net of self-sufficiency and embracing the neediness that makes me human.

Stop comparing.
I can be in the bad habit of looking at other peoples’ lives (at least the parts they show on social media) and thinking I should be able to do as much as them. They look like they have it altogether, why can’t I? Well, for starters, they’re not me. They don’t have the same history, emotions, demands, values, schedule, physical make-up, etc. as I do. Just because they seem to have it all together doesn’t mean it should be easy for me to, too. It’s been said that comparison is the thief of joy. I’d push it further to say it’s the thief of that and so much more. Don’t look at someone else’s life and use it as an excuse to beat yourself up or invalidate your own needs.

Accept help with gratitude.
Did you enjoy my blog post last week? If so, you partially have my friend Lyndsy to thank. I woke up that morning heavy with the demands of the day. House chores, kid nonsense and a post burning on my heart with no time nor solitude in which to write. Out of nowhere, Lyndsy texted me and asked if she could borrow my kids for a few hours. My gut reaction was “no way!” She has four kids of her own, she didn’t need to add mine to the bunch! However, I needed her to take my kids in the worst way. I needed time alone to write and get my feet back underneath me. I knew her text was a life raft sent from God Himself and I took her up on that offer. Guess what? Her kids had a blast. My kids had a blast. And she and I spent part of the afternoon together, sipping a dalgona coffee and catching up. It was good for us all. I’m so glad to have a God who loves me and friends who listen to Him when He nudges their hearts. I’m so thankful that He is the provision of each of our needs when we’re humble enough to let Him—and those He uses—in.

My kids and my friend Lyndsy’s kids enjoying each other and the sunshine as I enjoyed my time alone to write.

View needs as a deeper invitation for love.
One of the most transformative things happening in my marriage right now is our view of needs and their affect on our relationship. No longer are our personal needs a declaration that the other person doesn’t measure up. No longer are we suppressing our needs and in-turn manipulating the other person to help us because we are too dysfunctional to have a mature conversation. Now, we face our needs and demands together. Rather than our needs dividing us against each other, they’re fostering honest communication and bringing us together as a team. Healthy relationships are built on trust and one of the best ways to build trust is to express a need and have that need met by the other party. Needs give us an opportunity to grow in love in a way nothing else can.  

See stress as a trigger that you’re over-extended.
Instead of sucking it up and keeping it moving when I’m stressed out and frustrated, I’m using stress as an invitation to take a step back and rest. I ask myself, what’s really going on in my heart? What do I need to maintain my peace? If that means saying no to some things, clearing our schedules and drawing boundaries, I commit to doing those things and I don’t feel bad about it. Again, my job isn’t to manage another person’s perception of me. If my “no” or my “boundary” causes someone to judge me as falling short in some way, that’s on them. I need to learn to live from my convictions and stress is a signal that my convictions have been speaking, but I might not be listening.

Stop judging.
Judgement sucks. Period. We don’t have God’s vantage point and we aren’t built to judge. Often, I judge myself and fall short of my own standards. This is when needs are suppressed and I “suck it up and move on.” Spoiler alert: You can only “suck it up and move on” for so long before you desperately crash and burn. When a need comes up, stop judging whether it’s legitimate or not. Stop saying “I’m fine” when you’re not and instead, invite that need to clue you in on what’s really going on in your heart. Practice validation rather than judgement and your sense of wholeness, peace and joy will increase as you grow.  

I’m beginning to embrace what I once despised and celebrate every messy and unpredictable part of what it means to be human. I’m finding that as I receive more and more of this grace for myself, I have a deep well to draw from and refresh others.

Did you see yourself within my story and my descriptions? Do you struggle with the lure of self-sufficiency? I’d love to hear from you. Please comment below.

Divide and Conquer: How to Identify and Overcome the Real Enemy in Conflict

I wanted to throw my phone against a wall and crumple in sadness from what I was seeing on our family group chat. Hidden and unresolved dissension between two family members had erupted into an explosion of flared tempers, accusations, judgements, justifications and misunderstandings. Some family members abandoned the conversation altogether as others picked sides or tried to grasp what the hell was going on.

I was in the latter group, though my somewhat-combative personality (holler at my fellow enneagram 8’s!) and close relationship to one of the people directly involved caused some to peg me as having picked a side.

In all fairness, I most likely would have, had I not recently fought to overcome some divisive issues within my own home in recent years. In the past, I would have judged who was right or who was wrong. I would have defended the person closest to me and vilified the one who was not. I would have crafted well-thought out arguments explaining our “rightness” and the other party’s “wrongness.” I would have jumped into “defense mode” and steadied my position as the self-proclaimed protector of all I felt were victimized.

But not this time. This time, I could see with clarity the strategy of the enemy and I determined I would NOT be a pawn in his games.

In any relationship there is a force—a real enemy—who is working to tear apart. To divide and conquer is his favorite strategy. He plays on our woundedness, our fears, our insecurity and the lies we believe to isolate us and create sides. He pits person against person, then sits back and watches us do his job of destroying one another and sometimes ourselves.

To be frank, I’m sick of his shit. I’m sick of families being ripped apart through divorce or mishandled conflict. I’m sick of people suffocating under the weight of shame, self-hatred and addiction. I’m sick of people aching for true, safe and covenant connection while indulging on the counterfeit version that only exists behind an electronic screen. I’m sick of loneliness drowning those desperate for true friendship but terrified of rejection. 

A fuzzy and unprofessional picture of two people who frequently disagree, yet love each other deeply: our two youngest children.

This recent family conflict deeply affected my heart because it came on the heels of these two non-comparable, large scale pictures of division: The murder of George Floyd and Rachel and Dave Hollis’ divorce announcement. George Floyd’s murder and the Hollis divorce are in no way similar, but rather illustrate two completely different ways the enemy tears people apart.

George Floyd’s publicized murder was the tipping point of public outrage over the wide-spread racial injustice endured by black Americans at the hands of corrupt people in a position of authority. This outrage manifested in protesting, rioting and looting. To be honest, I have a hard time writing about this topic because I know that—as a simple, rather-uncultured white girl— I don’t have an ounce of the understanding I need to process these events with any kind of authority. But as an American citizen, I have felt the tension of a nation divided. I have wept imagining the horrors black people have faced simply because of their skin color. I have been incensed with rage over those who refuse to lay down their pride and agree with the blatant truth screaming that—as a nation—we have got to do better. I can’t possibly understand; but I deeply ache to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem.

As for the Hollis divorce: If you are unfamiliar, Rachel Hollis is a New York Times best-selling author of the books Girl, Wash Your Face and Girl, Stop Apologizing. She and her husband Dave have four young kids and built their business from the ground up on the principles of personal growth, self-discipline and adopting a no-excuses approach to life. They had a daily morning show on social media and a widely successful marriage podcast. Millions of people have eaten, slept and breathed their advice on becoming better partners and living a successful life. While millions were practicing their “proven principles” to better their relationships, they were headed for divorce.

What. Is. Happeninggg?!?!

I read comment after comment on their social media posts from those who are angered, disenchanted and simply floored by their announcement and my heart echoes many of those same feelings. How can two highly-motivated people who have the practical keys of success on lock not make a marriage work? Why can’t they apply the same grit they applied to making millions into making a lifetime-covenant relationship stand the test of time?

I don’t mean to come off as judgy, but like so many others who cheered them on and supported their work, I’m heartbroken over their split. This situation just goes to show the enemy’s strategy to divide and conquer manifests in myriads of ways and can make even the best of relationships a causality of war.

When family drama erupted amid these national crises, it felt like my personal life was resonating with the enemy’s battle cry. In 2018, my marriage survived a brutal assault during which I was made privy to so many of the enemy’s schemes as well as my own weaknesses, making me susceptible to his relentless attempts. So, instead of throwing my phone across the room when the family group chat went haywire, I threw my hands up in worship. Instead of crumpling to the ground, I dropped to my knees in prayer. I committed to being a peacemaker and a speaker of Truth instead of a self-proclaimed protector who chose a side (as I had always done in the past). Satan wouldn’t work so hard to destroy relationships if healthy ones weren’t such a beautiful display of God’s love.

So, what does it look like to be a peacemaker and a Truth-bringer in times of conflict? Here are a few practical ways I’m learning to navigate conflict in a healthy way:

Be civil.
We are all human beings made in the image of God. It’s possible to disagree with someone without dishonoring them. To honor someone is to acknowledge the piece of God they carry and treat them accordingly, no matter how they behave. How you treat people says a lot about you and little about them.

Assume the best.
We all know what it’s like when we have been falsely accused. It’s painful and immediately puts us on the defensive. Instead of accusing, ask questions.

Have the tough conversations.
So much hurt could be avoided if we were willing to communicate through awkward conversations. If we were honest about our fears and our pain without putting up our defenses and protecting ourselves, it would be so much easier to see conflict through to a real resolution.

Speak the truth, even if it hurts.
I’ve been accused many times of being brutally honest. I’m learning to temper that and speak what I perceive to be true in a way that’s honoring and life-giving. However, withholding and “keeping the peace” is just as a destructive—if not more destructive—than brutal honesty. There is a proverb that says “The wicked flee when no one pursues but the righteous are as bold as lions.” If our intentions are pure, we should have no problem speaking our truth. It’s not our job to manage another person’s perception of us. It’s our job to be our authentic self and offer up that authenticity in times of conflict in relationship. Withholding and putting up walls in conflict plays right into the enemy’s plan to divide.  

Know the difference between keeping the peace and making peace.
A peacekeeper is not a peacemaker. A peacekeeper shoves shit under the rug to maintain a false sense of calm, ignoring real issues. A peacemaker is willing to approach divisive issues and conflict, knowing that true peace is a result of working through whatever has set itself up to tear us apart. A peacekeeper adds to division through buried feelings of bitterness and resentment. A peacemaker talks through heavy-emotional topics for relationships to be healthy, whole and reconciled.

Understand that relationships are messy.
People are messy, so relationships are even more so. True humility, mercy and forgiveness are essential for any relationship to thrive. We are all human beings with an abundance of weaknesses. We need grace from God and from those closest to us to truly grow and build thriving relationships where we feel seen, known and loved despite our flaws.

This is in no way an exhaustive list on how to dismantle division in relationships. These are just a few “tools of the trade” I’m committed to growing in personally in order to bring peace into divisive conflict.

Do you have anything to add? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below!

What it Really Means to have the Perfect Summer Body

It’s Memorial Day weekend and here in Ohio we’re thrilled to see cooler temperatures and dreary weather replaced by the warmth and sunshine of a new season. However, the brightness of summer’s coming arrival casts a familiar shadow affecting women everywhere. The shadow being the belief that the bodies we have fall short of the bodies we need to wear swimsuits and summer apparel confidently.

More devastating than those pressures themselves is the self-hatred they have the power to produce in us.

I’m callin’ bull shit on society’s efforts to tell us we don’t measure up to the unrealistic standard set for us as American women. More importantly, I’m sharing my very-present battle for freedom from a negative relationship with my body and the self-destructive habits it has perpetuated.

To give some context, I’ve gained and lost the same thirty pounds multiple times in the last few years and recently came to the revelation that my self-acceptance is contingent upon my weight.

I feel good about myself when I weigh less and I feel bad about myself when I weigh more.

When it’s broken down like that and I consider the fact that I let something as trivial as how much gravity it takes to keep me grounded affect whether or not I accept myself, it makes me feel really, really shallow. Not only that, it reveals a raw place of real brokenness that needs addressed.

We are three-part beings composed of body, soul and spirit and our bodies are the least compelling thing about ourselves. So why is so much time, energy and money wasted on obsessing over it and trying to “fix” it?

I’m a fitness instructor and an avid runner. I love to cook and eat healthy and I believe we have a responsibility to treat our bodies well. But this effort to micromanage our bodies through harsh dieting and abusive exercise in order to achieve a mostly-unrealistic standard is the opposite of caring for our bodies. In fact, it’s actually punishment fueled by hatred and fear. We hate our bodies so we starve them and over-exercise them in effort to force them to change. On the flip side, when we love our bodies, we eat well out of honor and working out becomes a fun and stress-free labor of love. Our thoughts aren’t consumed with what we are and aren’t “allowed” to eat and food is just food: We eat it when we’re hungry, enjoy food and use it appropriately as a part of how we celebrate life. In short, we consume it but it doesn’t consume us. We’re free.

Seeking to change our body from a place of self-hatred rather than self-love will inevitably lead to self-sabotage and disordered eating. Disordered eating is disordered eating, whether we’re eating too much or too little.

This is where my weight fluctuations have come into play. I have lived most of my adult life in either bondage to restriction or bondage to food. In bondage to restriction I was eating no sugar, or following some other strict regimen, counting calories and tracking my intake. In bondage to food I was abusing food as a source of self-comfort, eating well-past full out of boredom, stress or to numb my feelings. I was like an addict with junk food as my drug-of-choice. I’ve swung like a pendulum from the bondage of restriction to the bondage of food. Now I’m at a place where I’m desperate for freedom from both.

The journey to that place of freedom begins with true self-acceptance.

Me, my sisters and my niece rockin’ our swimwear, enjoying a Memorial Day picnic at my aunt’s house.

In the summer of 2018, I was on the low-end of my thirty-pound weight fluctuation. I was at my “best,” teaching a weight loss and fitness support group focused on inner-healing as an integral part of true transformation. I felt so good about myself; so confident. I rocked a bikini at the beach that year. A real bikini, not one of those high-waisted ones you can pull up and over all your insecurities. I truly accepted myself at that weight and I loved what I saw in the mirror. I was proud of her, confident about who she was and what she could accomplish.

Just then, several bombs dropped into my personal life that completely derailed me. I faced the unexpected death of a young family member, deep, gut-wrenching betrayal and—if that wasn’t enough—my Nanny (mom’s mom) was given 18 months to live as cancer began to suffocate her with it’s relentless grip. I was spiraling, trying to stay on my feet in the ring of life as I was hit with one blow after another.

As stress pressed in, the healthy habits I’d formed dipped out and I was left grasping for anything to numb the pain. I had a lifetime history of making food a safe friend and I began inviting her over nightly to help me hide the painful emotions I wasn’t quite ready to face.

It wasn’t long before nightly food binges paired with frequent glasses of wine left my pants digging into my waistline. From that point on, I went up and down in weight. I had a few stints with strict diets to get myself “under control” again only to run right back to my familiar, food-indulgent ways. I haven’t gotten true victory yet because I wasn’t fully aware of the deeper issue. I was trying to fix an internal problem with an external solution.

In my weight loss and fitness support group I taught that wounds lead to lies. Lies lead to false beliefs. False beliefs lead to negative actions which produce negative behavior. So often, we try to fix the behavior without addressing the wounds and lies at the root of those behaviors. Just like a bad weed, those behaviors will keep sprouting back up unless we completely uproot them where they’re germinating. We need to get healing to the wound, identify the lie and replace it with the truth.

What I’ve realized recently is there’s a wound in my heart that’s taught me I’m unacceptable unless I’m physically attractive. It’s also taught me I’m not physically attractive unless I’m under a certain weight. Society perpetuates these beliefs by affirming and validating those who are thin while treating those who are not as if they’re broken. What’s actually broken is a society obsessed with appearance. The fruit of such obsession is widespread eating disorders, narcissism and mental illness.

We are so much more than what we see in the mirror. As stated before, I think we all should respect our bodies, fuel them and move them well. But we need to put first things first. We can’t hate ourselves happy. We can’t shatter ourselves whole. True fitness begins on the inside and has very little to do with the weight on the scale or the image in the mirror. True fitness hinges on embracing ourselves where we’re at—accepting our bodies as a part of who we are; respecting them like we would respect a friend. Would you berate a friend like you’ve berated your body? Would you neglect your friend’s needs to manipulate her into changing? I’d hope not. However, that’s how so many of us have treated our bodies. That’s how I have treated my body.

Now, as I teeter on the high-end of that thirty-pound flux, uncomfortable with how I look and feel, I’m pressing into a question I felt God whisper over my heart a few months ago: will you accept yourself here?

God says I embrace you as you are. I embrace everything you are and everything you’re not. You don’t have to do more, try harder, or be better. Right here—in this moment—I embrace all that you are.

That is what acceptance looks like. It’s embracing ourselves despite the nagging thought we don’t measure up. Will I trade the acceptance of my Creator for society’s disproval? Will I trade my peace and sense of self for the self-judgement built by a broken society?

It’s a choice I have to make. It’s a choice you have to make.

I have two daughters and two sons and I want to give them something worth hanging on to when it comes to body image. I want them to see men and women of all shapes and sizes confidently wearing whatever makes them happy. I want them to see bodies as just bodies—not as a measuring stick for worthiness or a barometer for happiness. I want them to have a healthy relationship with their whole self, but I can’t impart what I don’t possess.

As I sit here feeling chunky, I’m also feeling grateful. I’m so grateful God has brought me back to this place where I’ve judged myself as unpleasing. It was easy to accept myself and feel confident when I was at a lower weight. Now that I’m not, it means my self-acceptance will have to be rooted in something deeper than the gravity it takes to keep me grounded and the image I see in the mirror.

Sometimes we go around the same mountain again so God can take the healing another layer deeper.

I’m repairing my relationship with my body, one choice at a time. I’m choosing acceptance over judgement; kindness over manipulation. I’m choosing to listen to what my body needs to thrive. I’m going to let her be free and celebrate without shaming and punishing her. I’m going to listen when she says she’s satisfied and I’m going to trust her when she needs to rest. Most of all, I’m going to stop shaming her for being something that she’s not and—instead—thank God for the miraculous gift she is.

Will you join me on this journey? Let’s root our self-acceptance in our spirits, where God’s unconditional love flows freely. Let’s not stop pursuing healing until we’ve struck a balance of true fitness and true freedom. Let’s give our children the gift of healthy self-love in a society motivated by fear and self-hatred.

And, in case you’re waiting for someone to give you permission, wear the damn bikini.