Sometimes when you’re searching for answers,
you just have to watch and wait.
Other times you have to dive right in,
even if you get dirty in the process.
It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.
We need each other.
I love how we can be drawn to those who are most unlike us from varying walks of life, job situations and backgrounds. We juggle the joys and weightiness of the day-to-day, while none of us has it altogether (as much as we’d like to). We speak truth to one another, extend grace when we mess up and cheer one another on when jumping or easing into a new adventure.
We fill our too-short time with catching-up stories and laughter but also our failures and worries, fears and struggles when there is too much real life. And just like that, the isolation we somehow settled into dissipates and renewed connections soften our hearts (harder only seconds before). Friendship filled with transparency builds bridges from one soul to the other, doesn’t it? There is just something about the closeness and comfort friends bring to the realities of life.
We need each other.
Courage is contagious. That’s all there is to it. Welcome to Hope Speaks, where once monthly I’m featuring those who also fight hard battles, find hope right there in those seemingly impossible places and then take the brave step to share their story.
Introducing Chrystol, one of the most authentic people I know. This part of her journey reminds me a little of that saying God laughs when we make plans. But instead, I believe God shows up when we make plans, sometimes bringing us to an entirely different and more scary-beautiful life than we ever expected.
Here is her courageous story.
I’m going to start this post with a statement of truth about who I am. I am Chrystol; I despise making mistakes and have a fear of failure. Planning, goal setting and control tend to be my chosen methods to achieve success. As a teenager and young adult, I didn’t allow myself to relax, be at peace or get too comfortable. There was always a new goal to achieve, a new level to rise to, partially because I was a military brat and moved every few years. I learned that the only thing consistent in life is change, but I had no idea what I was in for as I entered a transition period of my life.
Almost two years after I got married, my husband and I found out I was pregnant…SURPRISE! Well, it wasn’t necessarily PLANNED like everything else in my life, and it took me a few weeks to wrap my mind around the fact this life-changing event occurred without planning. My plan was to be at my new job for a few years before this. I wanted to make the DECISION to have a child, not just have it happen, and I didn’t feel ready. I cried and cried and cried some more. After I cried, I went back to what I knew to do, research and plan. I read all I could about pregnancy and tried to plan out the next nine months. When we went to our first obstetrics appointment for an ultrasound, there was another surprise. TWINS! Interestingly, I handled the news that I was pregnant with twins much better than the news that I was pregnant. I decided I was going to be the best mother EVER! My pregnancy was really special and required much planning (my favorite). The moment I gave birth to my daughters, my life changed forever. And that was only the beginning.
Although the first few months of twin parenthood were a blur, things went pretty smoothly until one of my daughters suffered a severe injury. I know you’re probably thinking, “What happened? What changed?” but this is about my reaction and the effects on my family. I wish things happened differently, and I couldn’t help blaming myself for not trusting my own instincts.
It was completely unexpected and felt like my whole world crumbled around me. How could something happen to MY baby? I had spent so much of life devoting time, energy and love to other people’s children and MY child would be forever changed. I was taught whatever you sow, you will reap, so why did this happen? I have planted good seeds for years and this is what I get in return? It made NO SENSE AT ALL, and it felt like a sick joke. For the first month or so, I prayed I’d wake up, realizing it was all a nightmare. Nope. It was real. I woke up every single day, looked at my daughter and saw the reality. I tried to bargain with God. Eventually, all of the hope I had for her future and mine was gone. All of the faith I had in God was gone, too. It’s amazing how your outlook on life can shift with just one event.
I kept remembering when I gazed into my daughter’s big brown eyes, saying, “I won’t let anything bad happen to you.” And I failed her…miserably, reminding myself of that every day. No one knew how low I really was, and I suffered from depression for about a year after the incident. There were days I simply didn’t want to wake up and face my life as a failure to my family, but I believed I’d be even more of a failure if I let them know my sadness. I tried my best to give the appearance of good mental health. At the same time, I decided that I could not allow myself to be happy until I knew for certain that my daughter would be happy, despite her physical scar. How could I smile, knowing one day people might point and stare? How could I forgive myself without being sure she would forgive me? How could I simply move on when I felt so much anger and disappointment in myself? I wasn’t only mad at myself; I was so mad at God. How could He allow this? I was taught, “God won’t put more on you than you can handle” and “all things work together for good.” Well, I couldn’t handle what happened and I didn’t see any good coming from it! I was so angry! I was sad. I was disappointed. I was confused. I was lost. I was alone. My heart was broken, and I was hopeless. I didn’t think anyone knew, but that kind of despair cannot stay hidden for long.
All of those feelings came to surface at my daughters’ first birthday party. I tried my best to appear to be in a celebratory mood, but the truth was I felt like a boiling pot of water that was too full. It took one word from the wrong person, and I bubbled over. I had never lost my temper like that! I really don’t remember everything I said and did, but I am sure I’ve never reacted in that way before. When I ran to the bathroom to compose myself, I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the woman looking back. I came out and gazed into the shocked eyes of those around me, knowing they had witnessed how broken I was. I hated I had allowed them to see my pain. I also knew I could no longer live with the weight of the emotions I was trying to hide but I had no idea what to do with them.
The next weekend, my husband and I attended a new members’ class at our church. We were asked if there was anything keeping us from a closer relationship with God and were told to write it down on a card. I struggled with whether or not to tell the truth or just give a good church answer. I heard, “Just write it, Chrystol.” And I did. “I’m angry at myself and at God….” When the leader of the group asked if anyone wanted to share, before I knew it, my hand shot in the air. That was the first time I openly shared my true, raw feelings. I couldn’t believe I was telling a room full of strangers how I felt, but I’m so glad I did. Those strangers gathered around me, praying for me. I wept as they literally surrounded me with love and petitioned God to heal my heart and mind. I will not lie and say everything was perfect after that prayer because it wasn’t. But after that experience, I had hope that my life would be happy again and that my daughter would be just fine.
In the months and years following that moment at church, God has shown me that the life I’d hoped for is still possible. My daughter is thriving. She embraces her imperfection, and is so confident. I am doing things I never thought I would, taking risks I would not have taken. I am getting closer to fulfilling my purpose. I now know that dark moments, setbacks, and failures don’t need to be avoided. They don’t have to break us. There’s beauty in the struggle. I accept what was, embrace what is and have hope for what will be. Don’t get me wrong, I still love a good plan. But now I also embrace a God plan.
What are you holding onto? You know, that nagging thing you or someone else said or did yesterday, ten years ago or even when you were a kid? You might not wake up thinking about it, but it crosses your mind at least once a week. You spend more time mulling over it than you’d like to admit. Yes, that thing that has its grip on you so tight it hurts all over again when you’ve had a stressful day or are feeling less than stellar.
I grew up thinking forgive required forget and said those difficult, confusing words,
I forgive you,
but soon felt like a failure when I thought about [insert the same old/ new issue here]. And now as an adult, playing certain offenses over in my mind like rewinding scenes in a movie brings back angry, hurt feelings. My body knows this and tells the world I am not fine by sending red, hot splotches up my neck and face. As a little girl, I learned to act as if all was okay, denying my true feelings and stuffing them deep down so no one could see (and I didn’t recognize them). So many years later after getting married, those long gone emotions gushed to the surface and exploded. I had to save my relationship and find a way to heal.
I am far from an expert on this, but I have learned some things after reading book after book. Some books didn’t help, some preached forgetting (and I tossed them as soon as I could), but some made the uncomfortable subject seem do-able.
5 things about forgiveness I wish I knew as a kid:
1. Forgiveness is a process. Saying “I forgive you” aloud (to the person or yourself) is just the beginning. It takes work. Writing it down, telling others about it, even speaking it aloud if you’re the only person around reaffirms your decision to begin the process to forgive.
2. Forgiveness is a continual peeling of something unnecessary that hold us down. It reminds me of a a snake, shedding its skin or a tree, leaving a peeled off pile of bark on the ground each year. We might have to forgive that same offense again (and another time or 10) when we feel all those old emotions.
3. Forgiveness does not excuse the offense, deny it or even necessarily forget it. Instead it’s freedom for the forgiver from that video stuck on rewind and a heavy load of anger and bitterness.
4. Sometimes forgiveness might involve telling that person who hurt you, but it can come in writing as well. I might be wrong, but I don’t believe it requires reconciliation. Oh, I have struggled with this (I’ll blame the silly forgetting idea). I had to learn boundaries are necessary and healthy.
5. For me, forgiveness requires talking to God and then laying all the mess out on the table. When I choose words I think he likes, I feel like I’m pretending. When I say it like I honestly feel it (Dear God, this sucks and I hate that this is so hard. I’m afraid of how I’ll feel and what this means. I’m not sure I can do it, etc), it’s altogether different. I feel heard, understood and finally out of hiding.
Forgiveness brings peace where there was ongoing turmoil. Rather than constant anger and stress that can bring on health issues and plain, old unhappiness, it opens the door to receive peace and joy. Who wouldn’t want that?
Want to read more about this? Check out Getting Rid of the Gorilla for true stories of people like you and me, who found freedom by dealing with that thing.
After spending hours at the coffee shop that Saturday, we hugged goodbye and went to our separate cars, reluctant to start the next errand on the to-do list. Minutes later, my friend knocked on my window saying her car battery was dead. We each located our jumper cables when one man and then another asked if we needed help. Oh, no, no thanks…we got this, and we started talking through our plan (with nervous laughter). The red cable connects to the red on the battery and black to black; just don’t touch the ends together. We can totally do this.
But when I lifted the hood, we had another problem. Apparently, a short, fat hose was left unattached by a mechanic who “fixed” my car a month ago. Resting on top of my battery, the hose looked as if it was an extra, but of course it wasn’t.
We had parked diagonally from one another, but no matter how I maneuvered my car, the jumper cables would not reach. Seriously wanting to handle this ourselves (what a story to tell our husbands later!), I began to realize we would not be able to get her car started unless we let someone help. We used the tools and the (limited) knowledge we had, but that was not enough. So, minutes later, when a third guy offered to help, we watched as he connected our two sets of jumper cables to make the distance between our vehicles. I stood back watching, grateful for this man who knew it was okay to do this…but I felt disappointed. This was not quite turning out to be the story of the time we saved the day with only one another and some jumper cables. Guy #3 even re-attached the “extra” hose, since unlike me, he knew its purpose and where it was supposed to go. As we thanked him profusely and he walked away, I realized we never even asked his name.
I don’t know about you, but I want to figure things out by myself and be independent. Still over and over, I realize I have to face my limitations, reach out, ask for help and then be humble enough to accept it when it’s offered.
So, I did. I have learned this is the air intake hose, and it’s back where it’s supposed to be (thank you, Guy #3).
There’s something about being up before the rest of my world awakes. Birds gather in the trees and flutter this way and that, seeming to chat about where to find the best morning snacks. I leave the warmth of my house with dogs in tow, and the chill of the winter air whips at my face. Still, I am warmed by all I experience around me, the things I’d miss in the busy-ness of the late afternoon. I notice intricate, frosty patterns on my windshield, soon to melt with the rising sun, while the usual roar of the interstate traffic is only a slight hum in the background. My dogs happily lick the moisture off the grass, leaving a winding trail of paw prints behind them. And I breathe in the chilly air, which seems fresh and alive with the newness of the day.
I love the quiet and stillness of the morning. Here, I get away from the weightiness of the day that ended hours before and will soon begin in a frenzy all over again. This is when I relax into the good that surrounds me. In this stillness, my thoughts are uncluttered and my mind moves towards God and his love for his creation.
I heard someone say God knows exactly what speaks to us and hands it to each of us in a way that we can understand. I’d never considered that before, but it makes sense when I think about what I believe about God. We are his works of art. He knows exactly the number of hairs on your head and mine (which is different before and after a shower and hair drying and all of that getting ready, so he’s really something). He is always ready for us to tell him about just everything. He has time for us to pour out our sometimes endless web of worries, fears, hurts and doubts but also listen as we gush about all the good. And he doesn’t just act like he’s listening.
So if it’s true–if he truly knows what gets to us, he speaks to one person through relationships and another through music or art. He speaks to others through written words, quotes, verses and a multitude of other ways at just the right time. It’s many of these things for me, but in these early morning moments, I feel his love in the stillness. And when the night breaks into day, and the sunrise is a mixture of purples and pinks mixed with blue, I choose to believe he’s saying to me and to all who marvel at the beauty of nature,
“This is just for you.”
Just For You was first published on Hope Walks In on 2.9.14.
Courage is contagious. That’s all there is to it.
That’s why once monthly, I’ll be featuring those who also fight hard battles, find hope right there in those seemingly impossible places and then take the scary-beautiful, brave step to share their story.
Introducing my next Hope Speaks author, Wendy. We have been friends for years and have shared multitudes of laughs, movies, Swedish Fish, dinners and even double dates with husbands in tow. More importantly, we have grown together, trading stories about life’s triumphs and challenges, while learning that true beauty is on the inside out.
Here is her courageous story.
Growing up in a house full of chaos and crisis, it was easy to be overlooked and unnoticed. The only way to really receive attention was to be the perfect daughter or total disaster (and that role was already taken). It would have required something deplorable and extreme to be comparable, but that just wasn’t me. So, I put everything I had into being the ideal daughter. To me, this meant being perfect at everything. Above all else, beauty!
My mother encouraged me to get into modeling. I was enrolled in pageants, model searches, etiquette and acting classes. Although I always felt fear of not measuring up, I was determined to put everything I had into being the best. Besides, all of these things gave me extra time with my mom, and I also liked the attention when she bragged about me. At 14 years old, I was told that I might make it farther in modeling if I was 10 pounds lighter. So, this is when the dieting began, and like everything else, I wanted to do it perfectly. I wanted to make everybody proud, and in a family that struggles with being overweight, I loved the idea of standing out. In less than one week, I didn’t just lose 10 pounds; I lost 20. When my father told me that he admired my willpower, it felt like everything I was trying to achieve was working! It was an amazing feeling to, not only, be noticed but to have my father’s admiration, as well. Soon, I started to believe the answer to everything I needed emotionally was tied to being thin. If diet and exercise was something to be admired, then I was only going to focus on being the best and working the hardest.
I kept modeling and at 17, was signed with a modeling agency in Milan, Italy. I spent about a year working there and in Munich, Germany. Most people think that it’s this glamorous job, where you get all made up, wear designer clothes and walk down a runway, surrounded by people praising you for your beauty. In reality, it’s very lonely. There is constant competition between girls, making it hard to form friendships on anything but a superficial level. You are constantly critiqued and criticized: she’s too short, too tall, her hips are too wide, shoulders too broad, she’s not thin enough. People talk about your appearance in front of you as if you aren’t even there. I might as well have been one of the articles of clothing I was modeling needing alterations, being worn thin, turned inside out, tossed aside and easily replaced.
Before long, the criticism replaced many, if not all, compliments I received. When I looked in the mirror, all I could see were the flaws left behind by those negative remarks. I had no control over my God-given bone structure, but I could control my weight. The more I lost, the more power I felt. No one could take that from me, and if being beautiful meant being thin, well, I could easily achieve that beauty with self-restraint, dedication, and determination. Soon, the starvation and obsessive exercise regiments were having the opposite effect than in the beginning. Instead of having control over at least one thing in my life, it gained control of me. Now, instead of standing out, I lost sight of who I was and who I wanted to be. I became tired, withdrawn and afraid of social situations where food would be involved. Everything in my life became overshadowed by my obsession to be thin, especially my friends, family, and faith. I wasn’t passionate about anything else.
I found very few reasons to smile or laugh, but it became easy to fake it, thanks to all the practice smiling for a camera and acting classes I’d attended. I’d closed off the real me and didn’t let anyone penetrate the wall I’d built. Believing being thin (having anorexia) was what made me who I was. I thought it made me stand out, and without it, I’d be completely lost and more invisible than ever before. I couldn’t let anyone get close to me for fear they might try to take this one thing away, and I’d no longer be beautiful. I had come to believe that all my self-worth came from my appearance, and without it I was worthless.
Then, there were hospitalizations, clinics, therapy and support groups. It took strong feelings of hopelessness to realize that God did not want this miserable life for me. It took one glance in the mirror at age 21, looking at my 5’10” and 100 pounds of bones to see that God had a purpose and a plan for my life, and this wasn’t it.
It is amazing that I went through so much and put my body through so much, yet I came out alive and strong! At one point, I suffered organ failure of the heart, liver, kidneys, and lungs. A doctor even told me I would, most likely, never be able to conceive. But I have learned that God has a plan to take the bad in life and turn it into his glory! Today I am blessed with amazing friends, a wonderful church family, a loving and supportive husband, four beautiful children, a life full of patience and grace, along with a very important message to share:
I am fearfully and wonderfully made!
This year on my 35th birthday during a moment of insecurity over aging, I decided to go through some pictures of a much younger me…before I had gray hairs, wrinkles, and became softer around the middle. I thought by looking at those pictures, I’d feel better about being a year older and all the changes that come along. Instead, I focused on how my life is so much fuller and richer now! If I look in the mirror hard enough, I can see growth and wisdom in the gray hairs I find (I still have a lot of hair to turn and lessons to learn). The wrinkles are reminders of laughter from they good times and of tears from the bad, which are necessary, in order to put the good ones in perspective. The softer tummy is proof of how blessed I’ve been with the gifts of love, laughter, innocence and beauty that exist in all my babies!
Some people say that beauty fades, but I think it just transforms into something much bigger, brighter and meaningful. My family is where I find the most beauty! My children don’t need me to be strong enough to lift their weight but instead their spirits. They also don’t need me to be stick-thin. They would much rather feel safe and secure wrapped in soft cuddles. When I look in the mirror, every change I see is a lesson learned, a prayer met, a friendship built, a victory won, a loss that didn’t destroy me but made me so much stronger and more compassionate.
It is my goal this year every time I feel insecure, to remind myself that appearance is just one small quality that defines beauty. When I think about what I want people to see, it is no longer a tall, long-legged, too-thin girl, who finds her value in her face and figure. Instead as I get older, the other more significant qualities — cherished and devoted wife, loving and courageous mother, loyal friend with a contagious laugh, strong spirit, bright smile and big heart — overshadow physical beauty, which has the least value of all!
Here are some of my favorite verses that encourage me when I need self- assurance:
*Wendy Korbel’s writing and photos are used with her permission.
Once a year, I hate Sports Illustrated. To be clear it’s not that I hate it as it is, I only groan when the SI Swimsuit Issue makes an appearance, landing in my mailbox addressed to my husband. Year #1, when I saw it, I rolled my eyes and left it in my car for a month, trying to decide what to do with the thing. Do I burn it, tear into shreds, recycle it, WHAT? I threw it in a filthy dumpster but then after a month, I felt like a child who trashed a failing grade and told Brian (who tried his best to understand…before bursting into laughter).
The following year, I got the mail after a particularly trying week and there it was– gorgeous woman-girl in a barely-there bikini all spread out with pages and pages of more just like her inside. Oh, and glorious day, it was a double issue, but feeling I’d matured a little in this area, I tossed it in my car and only waited a week this time. And then, I actually told my husband the magazine arrived. “Why do they keep sending me this?” he laughed. Oh, and I wondered the same thing (feeling ridiculous, as if I shouldn’t care). Truth was, it was the only decent magazine he could purchase with his leftover airline miles before expiration and most of the issues actually went straight to recycling anyway. Alas, I brought it inside with the other junk mail, leaving it on the counter for Brian. It stayed there all weekend. Then, “I’m throwing all this in the recycling bin,” I said, stealthily directing my eyes at him and wondering if he would object. He didn’t, so there it went. At times, I wondered if he went out to rescue it, but I didn’t act on it, and the recycling materials were carried away into oblivion days later.
Ah, the issues that come with learning to be comfortable in your own skin. Emotional stuff seems to rear its ugly head a little over time until there is no choice but to deal with it. Body issues come up for all kinds of reasons, but I looked at that magazine as something that highlighted what I was not and could never be. I am not 5’11” and 110 pounds. I am not tan with my Scots-Irish, freckly skin. I do not have long, flowing hair. My eyes tend to be squinty when I am the happiest. I am not as confident as those women appear to be, Photoshopped or not. Sexual abuse is part of my story, and I have wrestled with my body image as a result. Growing up, I wanted the acceptance and compliments of others, but at the same time, I did not want that kind of attention from men. I felt sick (and maybe a little jealous?) that women could be so free and confident to show off their body. Then, I felt nauseated that women knew this magazine was primarily used for men’s viewing pleasure and modeled for it anyway. I mean, where’s their self-respect? Or is that how they respect themselves? I’m not sure that will ever make sense to me.
Here’s the thing. When we have emotional hurts and push them aside over and over, well, they come up again and again in some way until we’ve done something about it. When we reach out, identify what it is and admit it, then we can start facing our fears of the worst and begin seeking help for it. AND as author Cec Murphey says,
“Our mind may be strong, but our body reacts later in response to stress, trauma and negativity.”
So, holding onto emotional hurts can actually wreak havoc on our body. Research actually shows a link between our life experiences and our emotional and physical health. The Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Study in the 1990’s shows a connection to later sickness if certain experiences had been a part of early childhood (abuse, neglect, family dysfunction). And who doesn’t have family dysfunction in some way or another as part of their story? Constant stress raises our cortisol levels and that can create gut issues. Since our gut is the core of our immune system, health problems can arise.
So what can we do? Give to ourselves what we believe has been lost or desired from others all along: mercy, grace, forgiveness, acceptance. If we can’t offer those to ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to? Read on your particular subject, say it out loud, reach out for the help of friends or a counselor. Pray. Know that it’s never as easy as deciding to change. When I sought a counselor for help, she told me something I have used all these years: healing is a slow, long, spiraling process. Sometimes our unhealthy responses spiral back around, seemingly out of the blue, but there has been change there, whether we see it or not.
For example–year #2, I was irritated the Swimsuit Issue addressed to my husband still bothered me, but I had less anxiety over it. And you know what? Brian just told me he even moved the magazine in the recycling bin to mess with me (he’s such a joker), but I didn’t even go back to check.
And THAT was progress.
“Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light that is in exact proportion to them will flood the room.” ~Simone Weil