What you’ve all taught me

Almost five years ago I was approached by the youth pastor at our church and asked if I wanted to begin leading sixth grade girls. Because my son had been so greatly impacted by the youth program at our church, I immediately said yes. I also felt strongly that I had insight and guidance to give to young women. Our church operates in a special way and when you lead students, ideally you stay with them throughout middle and high school. That’s seven tentative years of commitment.

When sixth grade began, and we had our first youth group, I found myself feeling lost. I had only raised a boy and had minimal experience with pre-teen girls. I did not have a typical upbringing and realized very quickly that I was out of my element. I did not understand how to be genuinely silly. I was very self conscious. I had a hard time truly feeling connected. What had I done?!?

Youth group was loud. We played a lot of messy games. We sang and hugged and talked. I had never been to anything like this. It felt annoying at times. It didn’t make sense. Sometimes the games grossed me out. I wanted to be present and participate but I also wanted badly to run away and quit.

Growing up, I lived a life that was full of pain, abuse, horrific things that kids should not see or experience. I didn’t understand relationships, I had “friendships” out of convenience or obligation. I used people and took all I could from everyone I met. I did not know God, I had never been to any sort of formal church and had never been a part of any youth program. I had minimal freedom in my heart and lived a life full of fear, shame and disconnection. As an adult, I carried my insecurities and shame into my life. I protected myself from vulnerability. I avoided emotions and trusted no one.

I was not sure how to mesh my survival skills with my present day circumstances. I believed leading would be an easy weekly commitment: I could show up, hang out, go home and repeat until graduation day. It’s not that I didn’t care or want my experience to be fuller, I just didn’t know I was lacking and didn’t know how to be any other way.

Over the past four years, in a surprising but also not surprising twist, my girls (and many other students) have been the ones to shift my heart. I have seen them be kind, vulnerable and silly. I have watched them grow and share and love. I have heard of their heartache and my walls have softened. I have grown to love them so greatly and began to release my fears and become more childlike. In the space where I believed I was leading, they led me to places I didn’t know I needed to go.

And here I am, at the end of a weeklong summer camp with our church’s youth group realizing that what started out as serving and commitment has turned into a deep love and adoration. I love every one of my girls and every one of the students that are “not mine”. I love every leader and door holder and worship leader and speaker. My heart comes alive in their presence. My soul is filled up with the sound of their laughter, watching them all worship, hearing them speak truth over each other. Seeing them all fall in love with the creator of the universe. I am in awe.

Camp is for them but man, it feels pretty spot on for me. Late night wild dancing and laughter can seem childish to grown ups but sometimes, it just what the spirit needs. My week consisted of minimal sleep, surviving on red bull and coffee, losing my voice singing and riding on a bus a cumulative 37 hours with 72 high schoolers.

I loved every second of it.

They always say that serving isn’t just for the charity or group you’re volunteering with; that it does something for the person who gives of their time. I feel so strongly that I am getting a bargain here. I can’t imagine my life without these humans.

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Two weeks down

What am I even counting up or down to…

My second week in the Pacific Northwest was much better mainly because I was traveling and the reality of the move wasn’t directly in my face every second. I got to adventure with my husband and this time, we even got to bring Parker!

Yosemite was magical, amazing, beautiful, and even made me cry a bit (so shocking). The waterfalls were spilling over every peak and edge and the river was rushing in an intriguing and intimidating fashion. The lush greenery and hints of wildflowers created a canvas so perfect even Bob Ross couldn’t haven’t concocted it. I fell in love with her and sensed the magic that I envision John Muir himself was drawn to. Even though there was a lot of work to be done (mainly for Brent), it felt very relaxing, enjoyable and fun. We had a hiking guide with us every day and a few other friends/work companions which added to the experience. Somehow, everyone was perfectly matched for weirdness and friendship. We all got along as if we had known each other our whole lives. I was reminded of my doubts about moving and being afraid I wouldn’t make new friends and my uneasiness concerning feeling connected to others.

I learned a few things on that trip. I learned to appreciate my husband more, to see just how smart and amazing he is. I was able to watch him work, be himself, share his knowledge and engage with others. He is truly an impressive man. In my mind, I have always known he had talents and of course, he must know what he is doing because he continues to be elevated in this field. I have been on many trips with him and seen him take pictures, but somehow, this trip was different. The way he relates to people, the way he is himself, his honesty and authenticity, it draws people in. He is warm and inviting. He is hilarious and goofy. He is super smart about photography and art and fashion and social media and marketing (like way smarter than I thought). I don’t say that in a negative way, but I began to look up to him more and respect him much more than I had before. I think back to leaving Ohio and am reminded of my fear of allowing someone to take care of me.

At times when I feel afraid, I always reflect on Doubting Thomas in the Bible, how he didn’t believe Jesus was raised from the dead until he saw him in person and saw his wounds and touched him. How I have seen miracles and life change over and over again, yet I still find myself hesitant and doubting Gods goodness at times. How I walk into a space trusting His plan but with lingering doubts in my mind and heart. I moved across the country because I believe that is part of God’s plan for my life. I left my job and son and community and friends because I believe that there is something even bigger happening. I was scared. I still feel scared in moments. I did not have a lot of answers (and I still don’t have a lot of answers) but God continues to remind me that He is with me and He sees my every worry.

Everything I could consciously be concerned with has been taken care of and He even shows up with relief from things I didn’t know I was troubled with. Every moment I feel stressed about an outcome, He has given glimpses of hope. Every anxious feeling I sense is replaced with ease and laughter. When I worry that I will feel alone, He gives me comfort and when I am scared that I won’t be taken care of, He reminds me just how cared for I am.

Years ago, my husband had a literal dream and without elaborating too much, the dream detailed how God had a plan for him and it included freedom and him going outside to play with Jesus. I was reminded of this dream last night, as God has continued to open doors and offer up multiple opportunities for our future. Even since we have moved, God has increased our opportunities, He has answered more prayers and continues to shower us with blessings and kindness and joy.

I do not know if this goodness will cease at some point. Sometimes I think my husband and I endured so much pain and brokenness in the first 40 years of our lives, that we won’t have any more during these next 40 years. Or maybe we will just never experience pain and suffering in the same way because we have a hope and faith that shifts our way of experiencing heartache. Maybe we are storing up goodness for when that day arrives…

I am just along for the ride, praying my decisions align with Gods plan, praying I can glorify Him in every moment and being grateful for every season I have walked through.

They say change is good

I know it’s inevitable. Every day, every moment, something is shifting. As a massage therapist, one of my biggest things is, “there isn’t stagnation.” Our bodies are always progressing or digressing, our lives are always ebbing and flowing, the seasons, the minutes in a day, the sunlight, all constantly moving.

I’ve found it to be true, that even the smallest of changes can create really huge emotions. For instance, when someone tells you dinner plans changed, sometimes you’re super pissed, angry, betrayed, let down, sad, disappointed, you name it. Super small things can really feel hard sometimes even though we can logically see that it’s not such a big deal. I’ve definitely found myself in a puddle of angry tears over some pretty minuscule stuff before.

I guess it should come as no surprise that I’m in a huge season of mourning and loss all jumbled up with excitement and anticipation. After years of dreaming, it is official: we are moving across the country.

I never felt at peace about leaving Ohio until now. I always found reasons to stay. I wanted our debt to be gone. I didn’t want to have to rebuild my business. I couldn’t bear to leave my family or friends. I kept thinking a move would happen far in the future or possibly never at all. Deep down I wanted to stay in Ohio, with my comfort and dependable life forever while also yearning for mountains and adventures every moment.

Leaving people and a life feels so permanent but if I have learned anything in these past four years, it’s that nothing is permanent, don’t cling too tightly to any space or tangible thing. When we moved into our apartment a year ago, we settled in expecting to live there for 3-4 years. I couldn’t have imagined a move across the country, leaving my business behind, totally switching gears and being a stay at home dog mom.

I believe this is the right decision even though my heart wishes it wasn’t. I know that it is time to embark on a new adventure, one where my husband and I get to grow closer and expand our influence. I know this will be a good thing for our family and I trust that the outcome of this is even greater than anything I can fathom.

Stuck

I’m sitting in my car.

I don’t want to get out.

The heat is on high, just how it like it. I’m warm and cozy. I turned off the radio and the lack of distracting sounds is calming. All I hear is the whirl of the defroster and my brain.

But my brain isn’t comforting and cozy right now. It’s actually really sad and crazy and bipolar (not clinically but momentarily). This happens often. I finish work or an activity and I drive home quietly only to arrive in the parking space and feel compelled to stay, inside, safe. No one can ask me a question. I don’t have to entertain my dog (whom I adore). I don’t have to face bright lights or temperatures I dislike. I can’t focus on dishes in the sink or a dirty bathroom. I’m alone and at times, that’s all I want.

Sometimes I think I can just stay in the car and be productive. Technically, I can perform a lot of tasks from the safety of my Nissan and with the assistance of my cell phone. I can answer emails and listen to podcasts. I can read or write a blog post. I can daydream. I can just be.

And then reality hits. I can’t idle my car forever. I have to get out eventually. Even though I don’t like the wind and rain right now, I have to endure it. And solitude and silence is awfully desirable but I know the path that leads to and it’s not a good one.

These are the moments when I dream of running away. Moving or selling everything and just disappearing. Everything and almost everyone feels dispensable (even though I know that’s temporary and false).

Yesterday I witnessed a car accident and as the police were trying to back us up off the exit ramp, it was raining and I couldn’t see well. The office yelled at me and I immediately yelled back, “I DON’T KNOW WHAT I AM DOING!” Then I started to cry. When I just want to hide away from the world, I definitely don’t want to be reprimanded like a child. Even my warm car couldn’t protect me from that unexpected hurt.

It’s weird to think about all the things that we see and feel and process subconsciously. The things that effect us and make us yearn for a hiding place. I didn’t imagine my reaction being so extreme (and maybe it’s not really). And why did that make me feel like a kid? And why did I cry anyway?

I weighed myself this morning (usually not a big deal) but today I felt annoyed by the scale. The number really wasn’t different than it’s been for the last six months but for some reason it made me angry. Then I looked in the mirror and thought maybe I looked a little heavier. I don’t know. Why do I even care?

I’m sure certain parts of this stem from my period coming next week (sorry if that’s TMI). But I know that some of these thoughts and feelings are deep inside me all the time. And if I just hide in my car forever, I won’t ever get through them.

So I’m stepping out into the rain….. again.

Woah

You ever think you’re in one place mentally/emotionally and then realize, “woah, I’ve got some serious work to do!?” You’re walking around feeling all healed from some wounding or confident from some childhood abuse only to be confronted with a new level of depth and shifting that needs to happen.

Welp, that’s me right now.

I’ve mentioned it before so if you’ve been keeping up, you would know that I have a lot of past hurts related to self worth and body image. You may also know that I’m in a way better space with those issues now. In fact, I’m in the healthiest mindset I’ve ever been in concerning my appearance and weight and fitness level.

So why the heck do I find myself crying to my counselor, trying to work through some issues I thought were other people’s fault and I realize, “nope, it’s me!” I’ve been annoyed and judgmental only to see that my own insecurities and issues are the true source of my sadness.

Let me break this down more clearly cause I see I’m kinda speaking in code:

When I gave birth to my son, I was 320lbs. I ate everything I wanted with no discipline or regard for health. If I wanted a candy bar, I would eat 10. I ate fast food daily. I had no sense of fitness. I didn’t workout. I laid around and did basically nothing. I was in a relationship with someone who also did nothing. He played video games all hours of the day and night. He smoked pot and ate a diet of junk food and alcohol. Together, we were a really great pair of unhealthy people.

When our relationship ended, I began a path to wellness. Some of my motivations weren’t the greatest. Some of my methods weren’t the wisest but all in all, I was moving in a better physical direction.

Fast forward to January 2018. I was maxing out all my lifts at the gym. I was running and skating and rowing at paces I’d never seen before. I felt great. I was in the best physical shape I’d been in maybe ever. I had a good handle on my eating, tracking all my macros daily and being “good.”

My husband however, has less of an interest in working out and isn’t overly concerned with his eating habits. He’s honestly a fairly typical American. Some days he is more motivated and other times, not so much.

Lately, I’ve found myself annoyed a lot. I am constantly trying to not be mean or judgmental but my attempts fail. I know I want to be a kind and supportive wife but what ends up happening is just the opposite. My intentions are good but somehow, my actions are less than good. They are at times, downright awful. And I know I don’t like the way I’m feeling or behaving, yet I am unsure how to fix this situation. I keep thinking if he would just workout and eat differently, then I could feel differently.

Then comes the WOAH….

This is about me. This is because I see some parts of myself in him and it terrifies me. I want to believe that I’m so different and separated so far from that part of me that I become a mean girl. A conditionally loving wife. A borderline passive abusive human. I am all the people who made me feel less than growing up. I am the parts of my father that influenced my eating disorders. I am the words from my brother than caused years of pain and self hate. I am the very thing I have worked so hard to overcome. The change that’s missing is within my heart and it has to begin with grace and a deeper sense of love for myself.

Woah. Woah. Woah.

I spent a lot of yesterday crying. Full of shame. Sadness. Regret. How did this happen? Why would I treat this person whom I love so deeply in a way that doesn’t reflect adoration and unconditional love? And how was I somehow redeemed and accepting of some of the ugliest parts of my past, yet still hiding from this part?

Man, life is weird.

I know none of this current revelation negates my past growth. I do love and accept myself a million times more than I used to. I do not let the scale dictate my joy or value. And I do still believe that fitness and self care and health are important for myself and my husband. But my delivery and my heart in this matter are due for an overhaul. It feels somewhat paralyzing. How do I genuinely behave in a way that is supportive when I don’t have that within me right now? How can I be the person I aspire to be for him when I am struggling to be it for myself (and just now am recognizing it?)

Relationships are hard. Especially the one we have with ourselves. Growth is a never ending journey. Intimacy with ourselves is a continued process. What I love about this struggle though, is the surfacing of my thinking will only make me a better human and wife. This feels hard and sad and is unknown territory but I am walking into it confident of an extraordinary outcome. And I firmly believe that my marriage and life will only become stronger and become elevated higher as this plays out.

Praying for everyone who struggles with deeper layers of unconditional love. You are not alone. Keep peeling back the layers. Continue to tear down those walls. Keep becoming more and more intentional and dealing with the tough stuff. It’s always worth it and as you learn to love every tiny aspect of your being, you will surely be able to love everyone else better.

It’s been a while

I haven’t really posted in while. I’ve had a lot of things that have come up and wanted to share. I guess some thoughts in my mind about the value of my words kept me from writing anything.

Lately there have been two main themes that keep reoccurring in my life.

One: God ALWAYS fulfills his promises

Two: I can do ANYTHING with him and I can do NOTHING without him.

These two ideas have shown up consistently in Bible studies and devotionals and my reading and sermons. I think it’s extremely relevant to my whole life but it’s in the forefront of my mind for our life in the last year for sure. I think about all that my family has endured since November 25, 2017. I go back to all the big things that happened; the car driving through the house, my husband’s grandfather passing away, living at my husband’s grandma’s house and having the basement flood, moving our home, moving my business location and culminating with me breaking my ankle on March 5 of 2018.

And in all those large moments, God showed up, and made promises, and He fulfilled them all. But there’s all these small things that nobody knows about that He has also shown up for. My tire totally blew out while driving on the highway on our way home from Wyoming. We were going almost 70 miles an hour, hit a bump and within seconds, my tire was completely deflated. It was so hot and we don’t have AAA (well, we do now but didn’t back then). How is it that we were one exit from someone who could fix the tire and it cost less than $20. And not for one second was I worried or stressed.

I think about someone trying to get into the house when my son Matthew was home alone and how he was protected. How this crazy person who was apparently on drugs or drunk was banging on the door and threatening to break in yet Matthew stayed safe.

Honestly, every day is filled with frustration, disappointment, financial concern. And every day is an opportunity to freak out or remain calm. Every day is a chance to step aside and let God do what only He can do or try to take over and make a potential mess.

Most of my life has been spent in that really messy space. Let me restate that: most of my life has been spent in the dirtiest, lowest, most humiliating and disgusting spaces. My attempts to find love typically were full of abuse and unhealthy self sacrifice. My pursuit of joy resulted in years of drug use. My desires to fit in caused me to do and be a human who was deceitful and lost. I made tornado size messes and wondered where they came from. I was full an anxiety and fear and attempted to control every aspect of my surroundings while simultaneously being completely and utterly out of control.

Sometimes, it’s easy to believe that success comes from within. From some space of gumption. Some deep drive that we muster on our own. That our “luck” is not supernatural.

I remember laying in the emergency room with my broken ankle and God clearly told me that in this experience, my husband would be elevated to a stronger and more confident husband and leader of our household and photographer. If we take our life back three years prior, when my husband broke his ankle, I remember God clearly telling me that this was now the time for my husband to pursue his dreams. And I have seen all those things come true. Our life has changed in all the best ways because of these circumstances. We have become different people. Our marriage has strengthened. Our family has grown closer.

I have been reflecting on the confidence that God instilled in me about the outcome of those situations. How I was immediately able to speak truth over my healing and how I was able to see that be fulfilled. How our tangible lives have been blessed but also how our faith and hope has increased. We are not people who read bibles and attend church and pray but feel empty inside. We have become a family who walks in the truth of our destiny. We believe wholeheartedly in the goodness of our Heavenly Father because we know Him so intimately.

I watched a sermon last night from Elevation Church. It was titled “Everything Must Go.” It was about how stores have sales and get rid of things that are old and not profitable anymore so they can make room for new things that are better, more desirable and of course, profitable. It was equating that to life and how as we grow and change, the old things have to go and new things need space. I was looking back at all the things that haven’t been profitable in my life. How I created space and gave energy to things that had no real value or had value for a moment and then it was gone. I see clearly that my husband breaking his ankle and me breaking mine and the car driving to the house and all these things big and small, how they created space and shifted things towards a better place, A more emotionally profitable place, and more lifelong satisfying space. A space that has greater impact.

And this testimony has become a voice of truth in other peoples lives. I can take what God has shown me and speak that over someone else’s tough situation and because of my beliefs and my words, maybe someone will have a small amount of belief in their own situation. I believe God is using our family and these tragic experiences to show just how good He is. How His reassurance and love can create people full of grace and expectant for goodness even in the face of scary things. How our previously hardened hearts are soft and patient in the struggles. How we can walk into a space and regardless of what it looks like, we can know that what we see is not reality. Gods truth is the only reality we need and rely on.

And I believe that if that is true for us, it is surely available to everyone else. That our situation is not unique. We are not hand picked for this growth or love. I encourage anyone reading this believe, even in the smallest capacity, that there hard time is for good. That the struggle is only going to make them stronger get and is a valuable process or renewing and restoration. And if you do not believe in God, that’s ok, because He is still there, rooting for you and rearranging things to have the best outcome.

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭5:10‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Living for the first time

I’ve had a bit over a week to reflect on my time in Daytona Beach and I’ve come to one major conclusion: I needed this more than I realized.

In preparation for a week long camp with 86 high schoolers (actually 5500 high schoolers nationwide) I thought of all the things I was worried about. I felt nervous to have to share a space with teenagers. I was concerned how I would handle the lack of sleep. I had literally no interest in an 18 hour bus ride EACH WAY…

I made a list and gathered all my required snacks, packed my GoPro ready to capture all the amazing moments and got my mind ready for hearts to shift.

I soon came to see that my life was also going to change.

The first night was full of worship and a moving message from Loui Giglio. We quickly found our way out of our seats and onto the floor, jumping up and down, singing at the top of our lungs. Our eyes began to swell and tears started pouring down. I took a moment to look around, to breathe in the atmosphere. I saw a room full of teenagers who were falling deeply in love with Jesus. I felt a sense of overwhelming gratitude that God had put me in this place, honored me with this responsibility. As the evening ended, all my lack of sleep was overcome by excitement and joy.

I promptly awoke at 6am without an alarm set. In that moment, I wanted so badly to go back to sleep. I hadn’t slept but five hours and I was coming off of a painfully long bus ride. Little did I know that I had been awakened for a specific reason. I found my way quietly out of the room, down the elevator and onto the beach. I watched the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean and began to cry. In the silence of the morning, I was surrounded by students journaling and praying. There were groups of teenagers without their leaders or adults, who woke up early to praise God and pray over each other. Students gathered with bibles and journals and sat alone, feet in the sand, and just existed in His presence. I imagine that everyone on that beach shared the same emotions I was feeling; indebtedness, awe, delight. I found myself full of expectation for our future, hope for a generation many say are too entitled, selfish, unfocused, lazy etc.

And then came the evening session…. our group had found seats three rows back from the stage. The energy was electric, on fire, lit… all the words you can imagine to describe a volcano about to explode, a rocket about to lift off. The music was blaring, 5500 students were belting out all the emotion and heart ache and praise they could muster. Lights were flashing, we all were jumping up and down, hands raised, completely undone, no restraints, unaware of potential judgements, fully immersed in the moment.

And I looked up. I paused for a minute to breathe it all in and I realized that I was there just as much for myself as I was for my students. I was experiencing life change, freedom, bliss, youth. I wasn’t getting back something I lost. I wasn’t reliving something from my younger years.

I WAS LIVING THIS WAY FOR THE FIRST TIME.

This moment, the laughter, the abandonment, the friendships were all things I had never experienced, not in this way. I was enjoying parts of life and myself that I thought were long gone missed opportunities.

Everyone has them, things they didn’t get growing up. Maybe your parents got a divorce or they traveled too much. Possibly a father who was overly harsh or a mother who critiques everything. A school mate who bullied you or a horribly embarrassing, unforgettable moment that scarred you for life. All situations that can make a person question themselves or create marks on a soul.

Whatever it is, that thing can create a longing for resolution, a desire to feel complete, loved, valued. Some people work their whole life to prove worth to their parents. We enter into relationships hoping to heal some hurt from a past relationship. We can literally choose to live a past life forever.

I had long ago accepted that some of the missed emotions and experiences were just that: lost. I am an adult. If I feel like my parents didn’t love me enough, I wasn’t going to revert back to being five and somehow obtain that love. I have a child of my own and it’s my turn to be the parent. The freedom of my youth that I felt I was missing was never going to be mine. I had found freedom as an adult but I had forced myself to forget any longings from my childhood.

And then camp happened. And I saw the things I had never felt be given to me. Moments I didn’t know I could ever have were mine, and not just hints of them BUT COMPLETE FULLNESS! I was a 38 year old child, experiencing the freedom of youth and it was so sweet. And in the following days, that healing grew greater, the insecurity and old messages became faint and my load became lighter.

I don’t think I will ever love the long bus ride but man, I can’t wait for next year!