Thirty-five and Rocking: Three ways to thrive during hard times

It was an unusually hot fall afternoon and I sat in one of my new porch rockers, enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face. It was my 35th birthday and my husband surprised me with the rockers as a gift. They were the perfect spot to sit and reflect and as I did, the tears flowed freely and unrestrained. In addition to the rockers, my husband asked several important people in my life to send me cards and letters telling me how I’d impacted them. He didn’t know these letters would become such a soft but solid place to land in the middle of an uncertain time.

My new rockers and new place to reflect, read and write.

At the start of the year, I committed to facing head on the pain and sadness I often stuffed or denied. There’s truth to the saying “buried emotions never die” and the emotions I’d buried alive drove me to a place of numbness and rage. I want access to all parts of my heart, and that means flinging open the door on some barricaded closets and dealing with the skeletons lurking inside. With that in mind, I had recently tapped into a well of grief, pain and fear once covered by the hard layers of frustration, denial, rage and busyness.

Life helped this process along a month prior when some mild physical symptoms I was having came to a head. I had been dealing with frequent headaches, achiness in my temples, random numbness and tingling down my arms and legs and myriads of aches and pains. I had ignored the symptoms, not thinking much of them until I got a sizable lump on my neck. At that point, I consulted Dr. Google and then spiraled out. I never considered myself a fearful or anxious person until my consultation with a search engine had me planning my funeral. My mental and emotional health took a nosedive as fear pressed in.

I called my real doctor who ordered a myriad of tests. Through an x-ray, multiple rounds of blood work, a CT scan and an MRI, he ruled out lymphoma, multiple sclerosis and multiple myeloma. We still aren’t entirely sure what’s going on, but at this point my doctor is convinced it’s nothing serious. He referred me to a neurologist for further testing. In the meantime, I’ve acquired heart palpitations and digestive issues because of the worry that ran roughshod over my mind, intimately affecting my body. NO JOKE. I have since been diagnosed with IBS and anxiety—all from new symptoms that cropped up during this whole charade.

Emotional pain demands to be acknowledged and when it’s not, it will present as physical symptoms. We are whole beings, intimately connected, and we must take care of our spiritual, emotional and physical needs collectively or the imbalance will knock our lives off kilter.

And on the heels of my 35th birthday, mine certainly was. In the next several paragraphs I will walk you through this disorienting season, testify to how God showed up and talk about the practical tools I’m using to bring me back into balance.

INSIDE OUT AND CRASHING DOWN
A 35th birthday is a milestone birthday for a woman as a big hormonal shift happens around that time. Prior to my birthday and all the physical issues leading up to it, emotionally I have been working on letting go of some coping mechanisms I used to protect myself. This is scary because we lean on coping mechanisms because they worked for a season! They protected us, comforted us and helped us survive. As we grow and evolve, those same mechanisms that once worked to our benefit now only hinder us. Control and disassociation are two things I’m releasing as I grow. These two practices once helped me me feel safe but now only cause exhaustion, stress and disconnection in relationships. Control left me in charge and invulnerable to others. If I could control people through persuasion, caretaking or manipulation, then I wouldn’t have to risk the pain that could occur through genuine connection. Disassociation worked because when things felt overwhelming, I would simply disconnect and channel my attention elsewhere. I would close the door of my heart that was feeling the pain and simply move on to something else. Overtime, this left me emotionally numb and frustrated in relationships, aching for the fulfillment that occurs when we genuinely show up and stay present. Control and disassociation were such a part of the way I related to others that releasing them felt like losing a part of myself. Have you ever seen the movie Inside Out? In the movie, the main character’s personality centers come crashing down as she moves to a different town and makes the shift from little girl into teenager. I feel like this season of my life has sent my old, comfortable personality centers crumbling into the dust as I learn a new way to relate to myself, God and the world around me. At the end of the movie, the personality centers are reconstructed and more functional than ever as the main character grows, but the whole process was scary and took a bit of time. As I released control and fought to stay present, my fears about my health shined a light on how little trust I actually placed in God.

BRUISES FROM A FRIEND (OR A TRAMPOLINE) CAN BE TRUSTED
One morning as I awaited the results of my latest blood test which would confirm or deny that I had multiple myeloma, I found odd, purplish spots under my arm. I literally freaked out and called my friend. I sent her a picture to which she replied “Brit, that’s a bruise.” I frantically disagreed and said it was a weird place to bruise and wondered through tears if this was actually more evidence that something really bad was happening within my body. She maintained her belief that it was indeed a bruise and I continued to allow my anxiety to take me for a ride. At one point I knew I needed to get alone with God and find out why I was allowing these health questions to sap me of all my peace and joy. As I quieted my heart before God, I felt Him speak “You think you trust Me, but what you really trust is your own ability to get through hard things.” Ouch. The truth of that revelation punched me in the gut as I saw how clearly it connected to the work I’ve been doing in my 12-step style support group. I recently presented my “step one” to the group and was starting “step two.” Step one is admitting we are powerless to things and people outside of our own selves. Step two is coming to believe a Power greater than ourselves will restore us. What if, deep down, I believed that I was the “highest power” in my universe? What if something like a sickness threatened me and I had no recourse in and of myself? Ugh. It was a painful awareness of genuine lack of trust in God. As I repented, I remembered I recently did a flip on the trampoline and caught my arm on the trampoline net. There was good reason for the “purplish marks” under my arm and they were indeed a bruise, as my friend had suggested. When I called her back to tell her what I remembered doing to bruise my arm, she said I was about to have a bruise on the other one because she was going to punch me. Hahaha! I LOVE MY FRIENDS! Which brings me to the three practical things that brought my life back into balance when fear, growth and uncertainty knocked it off kilter. The first practical thing is leaning into community with honest disclosure and openness.

My friend Erin and I. She is my go-to person when I need a voice of reason or a bruise to the arm!

TIP 1: LEAN INTO COMMUNITY
Those letters my husband asked for my birthday meant so much to me because in more ways than one, the waves of life were tossing me around. Those letters reminded me of who I was. As the waves of life relentlessly crashed over me, my friends and family were yelling from the shore, “you’re not going to drown! Just stand up!” The first letter I received was from my best friend Rachel and it came a few days early, before I knew “the letter thing” was a “thing.” One night after I received it, I was laying in my bed long after everyone was asleep, thinking to myself “who am I?” I know who I think I am, who I pretend to be, but who am I really? I’m almost 35, my health may be in question and what have I actually accomplished? As shame vied for my attention during this judgmental self-assessment, the gentle whisper of God beckoned me: “Go read Rachel’s letter… that is who you are.”

Her letter recounted the time when I was seven and led her to accept Jesus and then sealed the deal by baptizing her in my Grandma’s swimming pool. She recounted all the ways we’ve grown through pain, upheld each other through struggle and found ways to laugh it out together during the ups and downs of life. She affirmed me for my commitment to my marriage despite many reasons to throw in the towel. She commended my love for my children and my fierce loyalty. That night when my identity was in question, I physically held her letter to my heart and let the truth of her words provide salve to heal the pain of self-judgement. If you’re going to grow through life, you’re going to need a community to lean into when shit gets hard. I’m so grateful for mine.

There are many other examples of people who have prayed, reached out, gave me words of truth and encouragement to hang on to as fear ravaged me. Without these people and their acts of faith, I would have really went crazy. Instead, I’m squeezing this experience for all it’s worth, ever-grateful for the community I have around me.

Me and my best friend of 30 years, Rachel.

TIP 2: LIVE IN DAY-TIGHT COMPARTMENTS
The second practical way I’m finding balance is by living in “day-tight compartments.” As I was walking through my health worries, my dad was one of those invaluable members of my community who called and texted to check in. During one of our conversations, he mentioned a book he read that changed his life since he, too, struggles with worry. The book is called How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie. When I was out running errands one day, I returned to find the book on our kitchen island. He had bought it for me, convinced its time-tested methods would help me through this struggle. He was right! The first chapter said to conquer worry by living in day-tight compartments. Use the day to accomplish what we’d like to accomplish, enjoy what we’d like to enjoy and do what we need to get done. Leave the rest for another day because the stress of worry has no power to change things nor prepare us for disaster. It only saps us of our strength to live and drains us of the joy in the moment. The simple idea of living in “day-tight compartments” has revolutionized the way I think about my problems.

TIP 3: EXCHANGE WORRY FOR WORSHIP
The third practical way I’m finding balance is through worship. Worship doesn’t have to be a song or dance, it’s simply a posture of our heart. It’s acknowledging where we end and where God begins; where our capability runs out and where His goodness and grace extends beyond. It’s experiencing the peace that results from the truth that we belong to Him and that place of belonging can dismantle anything we come up against. Worship changes our perspective and takes us out of the driver’s seat and into the place of rest where we don’t have to steer but can simply become. Now when I’m tempted to worry, I worship instead. Sometimes, it’s as simple as praying this short prayer I learned from Brennen Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel, “Abba, I belong to You.”

And through it all, the truth of that belonging is as real as my new porch rockers, the kind words written and spoken which upheld me through some hard times, and the hot, streaming tears of processing pain long buried. Growth isn’t always pretty and it certainly isn’t linear, but may the truth of our belonging settle our hearts enough to hear the voice of God in the midst of our questions and pick us up when we get knocked down.

What are some practical ways you’ve found balance during a difficult time? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below!

What Simone Biles taught me about my body

It was a warm Wednesday night and I was all alone in our living room, finishing off the bottle of wine my friend and I shared earlier in the evening. My husband was out of town and my kids were spending the night with my sister. The house was unusually quiet, giving birth to contemplative thoughts.  

I replayed the conversation I just had with my friend, marveling at the similarities we shared. We both struggled with eating disorders as young adults and our relationships with our bodies are fractured. Decades after starving, binging, purging, overexercising and obsessing, we’re both heavier than we’ve ever been but more emotionally whole. This year, we both made big decisions to address the mental and emotional struggles driving us. Neither of us are distracted by obsessing over our appearance anymore. We both want to look and feel better in time, but right now we are expending important energy elsewhere. We know our emotional wholeness will lead to overall health—not the other way around—and we’ve committed to being gentle and patient with ourselves in the process.

Just a fun picture of me in this body I’m finally learning to accept, love and honor.

As l recalled this conversation, I thought about Simone Biles and her monumental decision to remove herself from many of her Olympic events because she was mentally struggling. As the uncontested GOAT in her field, Biles found herself overwhelmed under the extreme pressure she faced in Tokyo. It was later revealed she was experiencing something called “the twisties,” a dangerous condition of disorientation where an athlete has no body control or awareness during twisting or flipping. This can result in devastating injury. Rather than “push through” and compete knowing she was slated as the world favorite and most decorated gymnast in history, she honored the limitations she was experiencing and withdrew from most of her events. She made the wise comment on her Instagram “mental health is physical health.” Too often we divorce the two and wonder why we lack the freedom, peace and balance that can only result from true wholeness.

As the two thoughts paralleled within my mind—the conversation I had earlier and the situation with Simone Biles—an interesting thought emerged. By focusing on my appearance or my performance, I am objectifying my body and using it to get something it was never designed to give me. My body can never give me the freedom and peace that comes with unconditional acceptance. My body is a poor cornerstone for any relationship and certainly plays a miniscule role in a fulfilling one. My body doesn’t define my worth or my value, nor does my performance or my accomplishments.

Biles facing off with the tremendous expectations put on her by a watching world and choosing to honor her mental and emotional state in the face of those expectations did something for me. It gave me permission to honor my whole self in the face of the societal pressure to perform, to put on, and to show up in the way the world wants me to show up rather than as my authentic self, with all my weaknesses and limitations. I’ll likely never know the high stakes Biles faced, but I do know what the pressure to sacrifice your emotional wellbeing for acceptance or approval feels like.

I used to look back at my high school self and cringe. So many bad decisions, horrible mistakes, boundaries broken, embarrassing memories and a painful amount of self-hatred. I used to chastise myself for knowing better and still hightailing it down some dark roads. I came from such a wonderful family—why did I end up on drugs, sleeping around and completely void of any self-worth? Why did I allow myself to be abused? How did I become such a negative person? After God completely changed my life in my early twenties, I remember having a real heart-to-heart with Him. I asked Him “How could you let me go down those roads? You know that if I would have had this encounter with you earlier on, I would have chosen a different path. My heart has always been yours.” I felt as if He answered, “I knew you were strong enough to come through it. These holes created in your heart during that short but painful time will become wells of compassion for others. Instead of self-righteousness, you’ll have a humility that can only come from having ‘been there.’” God never caused an ounce of my self-inflicted pain. In fact, He tried many times to save me from it. Upon reflection, I realize the same core issues that drove me to misuse drugs, alcohol, sex and unhealthy relationships are the same issues that rear their head in different ways today. Self-abandonment led me to starve my body to fit an ever-changing mold. Seeking the approval, love and attention I denied from myself caused me to jump in bed with others. No self-acceptance led me to create a façade of the “wild carefree girl” because I feared the rejection of my true self. Truth be told, I can do these very same things in more “acceptable” ways today. Because of that self-awareness, I no longer look at my high school self and cringe. Instead, I have so much compassion and understanding for a girl who just didn’t know better after all.

We are three-part beings. Our bodies and the accolades they have the power to produce are the least interesting things about ourselves. I’m grateful that Biles had the courage to stand up for herself and her body rather than use it—against her better judgement—to fulfill an obligation and possibly win another medal. The world can keep any “medal” I have to sacrifice my wellbeing for, no matter how big or small. I’m glad that with the world watching, Biles’ decision attested to that same truth.

I’m learning to honor my body, rather than use it. I’m learning to express my needs, rather than deny them. I’m learning to honor my boundaries and limitations, even as an expecting world watches. Happiness, inner peace and wholeness is an inside job with a lot of need-recognition and boundary-keeping in it’s description. I’m learning to do the work, how about you?

Can you relate to anything I wrote here? I’d love to hear from you. Please comment below.

When I Stopped Running: Facing Denial and Breaking Cycles

I was in second grade when I thought I was fat for the first time. At eight years old, the societal pressure and overemphasis on appearance had already began framing my opinions of myself. Now, at 34 years old, I’m starting to pick off the scab of denial to address the woundedness festering below. The truth I’m confronting is this: The widespread objectification and sexualization of women has shaped my life. I have overvalued my appearance and undervalued everything else. In doing so, I’ve reinforced the lies being subliminally shoved down our throats by a broken culture which equates our appearance with our self-worth. This has caused me great insecurity, embarrassment, shame, frustration, pain, loneliness, emptiness and shallowness in relationships. It has caused me to question myself, make choices that don’t align with my core values and has—in many ways—stolen my voice.

At the start of this year, I pledged to truly take care of myself. Part of the obsession with appearance is the desire to control everyone else’s perception. We want to “present” ourselves as pleasing and acceptable. We want to fit in and be desirable. In doing so, we abandon our true selves—the deep needs of our heart that beckons our own unconditional love and acceptance, regardless of whether we are deemed acceptable by others. We don’t truly take care of us when we are obsessing over how everyone else is perceiving us.

With all this in mind, I decided that this year I would abandon any aggressive attempts at weight loss in effort to embrace self-acceptance and wholeness from the inside out. Over the years, I formed some destructive habits. I ate compulsively to numb and bury pain. Some of the pain buried was a result of the perpetual feeling of unworthiness coming from a culture that conditioned me to believe I’m “never enough” and “too much” simultaneously. My small-breasted, freckle-skinned, athletically (but also squish-ily) built appearance could never be enough to fit the bill of the American ideal. Alternatively, my hunger for emotional depth, authentic connection, and desire to understand and be understood crosses a line with most people who are content to float on the surface where they feel safe because they’re never truly known, conflicts are never really addressed, and confrontation is avoided at all costs. I have felt the sting of rejection from being both too much and never enough and the pain this caused was much easier to stuff with food than process with intention.

To compensate for overeating, I exercised compulsively. I vacillated between vanity and gluttony, desperately wanting to be free from both. Vanity told me to shut up and be pretty to be happy. Gluttony comforted me when I knew I wasn’t pretty enough. I was out of control and I knew the answer couldn’t be found in the next fad diet, magic pill or exercise plan. I had gained and lost the same 30 pounds over and over again and I was weary of the process. To be free, I’d need to uproot the belief systems causing me pain and disconnection. I’d need to unpack why I allowed my feelings about my appearance and others’ opinions of me to govern my sense of self. Consciously, I know I am so much more than what I see in the mirror. I don’t value my friends or family because of their physical attractiveness. However, among women, there is so much conversation surrounding appearance; so much money spent to lose weight, smooth wrinkles and hide imperfections.

Recently, we went on a trip with most of our siblings and their spouses. In preparation for the trip, we all bought new swimsuits and the girls had a group text going, sending bathing suit pics back and forth. Some of us shared our apprehension about being in a swimsuit and our lack of appreciation for our bodies. As I recalled the conversation while we were on our trip, a thought floated to the surface of my mind as I looked at my sisters… I thought “When I look at you, I see someone that I love.” Truly. Those I love aren’t defined by their physicality. They’re defined by love. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t notice bodies or appearance at all. I do have eyeballs. However, attractiveness and worthiness are in no way correlated. Appearance neither springboards nor hinders my level of love towards others.   

Trina, me, Stacie and Sheena– Three of my four sisters who joined us on our trip to Vegas to celebrate my husband’s 40th birthday! (My husband is the 40-year-old who is photobombing the pic *eyeroll* lol)

Why do I rob myself of such a privilege? Why do I spend any energy lamenting over my body or obsessing over how to change it?

I have written much about this topic this past year. I think my conscious awareness of it had me thinking I was no longer affected by it’s dysfunction. However, it’s only been in recent weeks that I’ve seen the level of havoc my own objectification has caused me. It’s only been in recent weeks I’ve seen how over-sexualization has robbed me of the true connection and intimacy my heart so desperately seeks. My denial has been exposed and I’m discovering a new way to live.   

In short, I stopped running. Physically, I stopped running to burn the calories I overindulged in to numb my pain. Emotionally, I stopped running away from the truth that I was so damn shallow to allow what I see in the mirror or what others may (or may not) think of me to influence my emotional wellbeing. I stopped running away from the fact that the frustration raging and bubbling within because of this misalignment was causing dysfunction in my relationships. I stopped running from the truth that I was contributing to the widespread objectification of women by objectifying myself when I derive my self-worth or engage in self-hatred due to the appearance of my body. I stopped running from the fact that compulsive eating and compulsive exercise were destroying my health and no amount of self-discipline was going to get me out of the mess I was in.  

Yes, I have been aware and have addressed this topic many times, but I still needed real help to break the destructive cycles I was caught up in. And as I exchanged denial for acknowledgement, I was met with the resources I needed and a clear path forward. That is the power of confession and repentance. When we are willing to take off the blinders of delusion and minimization and call a spade a spade, God moves. I love the way Michele Harper so eloquently states it in her book The Beauty in Breaking:

“Speak these truths aloud, for it is only in silence that horror can persist. The courage to call a thing by its true name galvanizes the human spirit to address it. If that condition serves one’s desires, it will be embraced with a full heart. If it is destructive to one’s path, it will be deliberately dismantled over time.”

Denial prolongs our suffering and traps us in mediocrity. If we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always gotten. We have to want more and be willing to own up to our own ways of being that stand in the way of wholeness and healthy relationships; The coping and defense mechanisms that we don’t need any more, our inaccurate perceptions of ourselves and others, our emotional brokenness. These are all the things we can surrender through confession, trusting God to guide us and walk with us on our path to healing and wholeness. “Search me [thoroughly], O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” Psalm 139: 23, 24 (AMP)

In the last several months, I’ve engaged in therapy and support groups. Several books, podcasts and social media accounts have literally dropped in my lap as I’ve stepped out of the cave of denial and sought real, deep change. If you want to know more about my personal process, let’s go get lunch or coffee and I’d love to share. I won’t bore you with the details here because everyone’s journey is different, but hopefully this post is a spark that will fuel you along in yours. As for me, I’m no longer running around the same mountain, spending all my energy trying to shrink myself and bury my pain. Instead, I’m running with purpose towards a life categorized by radical self-acceptance that can only come from knowing who I am to God and facing off with my junk.

And finally, I’m making real progress.

Can you relate to anything I’ve shared here? I’d love to hear from you! Please comment below.

Semisonic, Ski Lifts and Spiritual Truths: How Being Chosen Changes Things

Michael and I celebrated our 12th anniversary on March 21 with an overnight trip to a ski resort called Peek’n Peak. I had never snow skied before, but picked it up fast and decided it was one of my new favorite things to do. What I picked up quickly skiing-wise, I lacked terribly when it came to getting onto the lift. Each time the lift seat swung around, I plopped down frantically like a grade-schooler trying desperately to win a game of musical chairs.

Michael and I after surviving the lift and loving the slopes.

As I pondered my ski-lift struggles during one ride to the top, my embarrassment was highjacked by the 90s music blaring from the ski resort’s speakers.

I know who I want to take me home…

Semisonic’s now-nostalgic hit song “Closing Time” bellowed. It was then that my human ponderings were invaded by a divine whisper. Skiing might now be on the list of “one of my favorite things,” but at the very top is hearing God’s voice in the middle something secular and ordinary. When He speaks something so simple yet so profound, and my frail humanity in all it’s brokenness is invited to the table with His divinity in all it’s fullness.

There is nothing quite like it. Maybe I cherish it so much because I once believed it was a privilege reserved only for the chaste and churched, people so unlike me. Now I know I was one of the ones He came for. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

During this particular moment on the ski lift hearing that familiar tune, I felt Him say “everyone wants to be chosen.” There is such an ache within us to be chosen— it’s woven into the core of who we are.

Do you remember elementary gym class when two captains picked teams and you’d pray you weren’t the last poor soul left standing? Or when a “cool kid” handed out party invitations and you desperately hoped to be included? How about when school dances came around and you’d dream of your crush asking you to be his date?

Can you recall the stinging pain of rejection that accompanies such memories? I can. If being chosen is a core desire, being rejected is a debilitating fear. Like Semisonic, we all know who we want to take us home. We want someone to choose us and give our hearts a safe place to land.

After God spoke that simple truth, I thought of all the songs, movies and art expressing this core desire. I thought about how much of ourselves we spend becoming a “desirable choice.”

What also became clear is how unnecessary all of this is toiling is. The mere fact of our existence tells us that we were already chosen. When I had our first two babies, I was riddled with anxiety. Anytime I left them with someone else, I would worry about them and have “worst-case scenarios” flashing through my mind. As I was praying about it one day, I heard the Lord say “Did you ever think you would have a blond-haired, blue-eyed son?” Considering my husband and I both have dark hair and eyes and so do our parents, the answer was no. However, our oldest child was as blonde as can be with beautiful blue eyes. I felt God continue “Zaiden was my idea. I will take care of him.”

A recent picture of Zaiden– my blond-haired blue-eyed “baby.”

This revelation broke me of so much fear and anxiety but it also highlighted something else: The fact that God chooses us. He chose our eyes and our hair. He chose to create US specifically so that He could care for us as an object of His affection.

So often, we fail to believe it and in turn fail to receive the fulfillment that comes from being chosen. Many times, we can’t connect with this truth because we haven’t chosen ourselves. We’ve abandoned ourselves to be more desirable to others, or to fit in with what society calls acceptable. The disconnection this creates blocks us from receiving what we need from the Lord– what He’s so eager to give us. We belong in Him. To strive and pretend and to “play the game” in order to belong somewhere else is futile and soul-crushing.

It’s time we go on the journey of taking ourselves home to our place in God’s heart where His acceptance of us becomes our acceptance of ourselves. This is where true peace, joy and love can thrive.

I know who I want to take me home. I want ME to take me home because home is where God’s love and acceptance defines all that I am. How about you?

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.