Just For You

photo(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 skywords, 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.

Hope Speaks: Wendy’s True Beauty

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.

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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.

Wendy002_0027-1I 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 Wendy001_0043bbecame 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 495_50967726224_2604_nchildren, 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!

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Here are some of my favorite verses that encourage me when I need self- assurance:

  • I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”- Psalm 139:14
  • “Even perfection has its limits, but your commands have no limit.”-Psalm 119:96
  • “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”-Romans 12:2
  • “He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” Ephesians 4:16
  • “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.”-1 Peter 3:3-4

*Wendy Korbel’s writing and photos are used with her permission.

The Mailbox, Health and the Revealing Swimsuit Issue

mailboxesOnce 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

We All Are Beautiful

snowglimpseThis is for…

those of us who are learning to be ourselves

those of us who have love to share, but the parent/ spouse/ girlfriend/ boyfriend/ baby won’t come even though we are ready

those of us who are spent from sharing all our love with everyone else and need time to just be

those of us who are dealing with the ongoing stuff of abuse or addictions and want to feel okay

those of us whose past is not something to be proud of

those of us who don’t know what is nextsnowylove

those of us whose mind or body is challenged with brokenness

those of us searching for our place in this world

those of us who want to heal from what’s holding us back

those of us who have a secret (that would change everything) but are terrified to speak it out loud

those of us who work hard and receive no thanks

those of us who don’t work hard enough and need to keep trying

those of us who make mistakes

those of us who are braver than we think

those of us who keep on wading through the hard stuff

those of us who are learning to love every inch of who we are

This is for all of us who are living.

In the chaos of brambles and thorns, we are ever breathing and growing.

This is for all of us, for we are beautiful.

snowyvines
You are loved. Happy Valentine’s Day!

We All Are Beautiful was first posted by Hope Walks In on 2.14.14.

On Finding Hope and Healing

As many of you know, I was tested for numerous autoimmune issues including Lyme Disease last year. It was a mystery, but in the summer I was diagnosed with Sjogrens Syndrome and Hypogammglobulinanemia (immune deficiency). It took a lot of time, ruling out other diseases with blood work results from various doctors and integrative health practitioners through the years. During that time and even before then, friends and acquaintances had their own health struggles and also found answers that led to their own healing. Then, they went a step further and selflessly took the time to tell me their story. And there, I found hope.

Over and over, we all hear of people devastated by disease and cancer, but over and over, I am hearing of those who are thriving by intentionally making major life changes…and not using medication. Nothing makes it more real than when your own body proves it has the potential to heal itself with the right nutrients from whole food and supplements to boost the immune system, as well as detoxify the body. Every body is different, so the challenge lies in finding direction through prayer, reducing stress and resting.

When we share our stories, challenges and victories, it’s powerful, like unlocking a hidden door for ourselves AND others. Since so many spoke to me through conferences, books, blogs, over the phone and during long dinners, it made an impact in such a way that I had hope. Hope that healing would indeed come. And it has in many amazing ways.

So, how can I not do the same?!

2015 is a year of intention for me, and here is my plan for this space starting next month: Finding Hope and Healing…Little by Little

Healing is usually slow, after all, whether from sickness, disease, past hurts and other emotional issues. The common thread? Healing also must be intentional!

Week 1 — an inspirational, hope-filled post (much like my usual writing, including stories of the pups, the joys and pains of marriage, infertility, sexual abuse, my health journey, and finding God in the struggle, etc.)

Week 2 — a post about useful healing books, quotes, music, art, and/ or recipes

Week 3 — physical and emotional healing tips I’m learning along the way

Week 4 — re-posting of interesting topics from other writers

Thanks for reading! 🙂

Oh, and I’m (obviously) working on a new look and even considering a new title for my blog. Any ideas?

 

Where Are the Birds?

cottoncloudsWhere are the birds? I wondered as I drove. It was as if they went further south for the winter, except it was almost summer. I couldn’t remember seeing them for a long time. Strange, especially since I looked for them, high above the stretch of interstate I traveled practically everyday.

As I drove, I noticed the trees had grown green and full, almost overnight. When did that happen? The sky was blue, and the clouds were fluffy like expensive cotton balls, flung in all directions.

It seemed the days had been dark and grey for months.

I felt like I’d been in the sticky mud and murky water of a swampland for quite a while, not getting anywhere fast and in fact, lost. I didn’t know which direction to go because there was no arrow pointing the way, only silence although I’d been begging for something more. Asking and praying and wondering and searching, crying and hurting and desperate (and Googling because that’s easy, instant and sometimes helpful).

The birds always seemed to soar through the air with powerful wings, weightless and graceful as they circled the trees and played above the interstate, heavy with cars. As a kid, I had heard about God taking care of all of us, even the tiny sparrows. And if he takes care of them, he cares even more about us and holds us with his great big hands. I guess seeing the birds reminded me of that.

But if God was holding me in the palm of his hand, it sure didn’t feel like it. I felt left and lonely, afraid and anxious. No! What if that’s not enough for me? What if I need more than that? Why are YOU taking so long? I don’t know what else to do. I cried angry tears and felt a little guilty for talking to God like that.

But I also felt a little relieved.

Heard.

Maybe even understood.

And then I saw a single bird swooping around the deep blue sky with cotton ball clouds, and my face felt hot as it hit me. It wasn’t the absence of beauty but the heaviness of life that had been my focus.

The birds hadn’t left; I’d stopped looking. My mind was too full of the what-ifs, whys and hows to even notice what was around me, yet the beautiful scenery had been there all along. Just like God, who holds me in the palm of his hand when I’m angry about being lost in the swampland, waist-deep in the mud, with no arrow pointing the way.

 

Happy WOMEN’s Day!

As I walked into our favorite breakfast restaurant this morning, I was wished a happy Mother’s Day and given a rose by an employee. “Thanks, but I’m not a mom,” I said, and the girl let me know the flowers were only for mothers. So, on the way out the door, my sweet Brian handed me the prettiest lavender rose. He got it from the same girl (who was just doing as she was instructed). “I need one for my wife,” he told her.

photo(10)SO, happy WOMEN’S Day to all women, not only in the U.S. (where we have this joy and pain-filled Mothers Day) but everywhere. This includes those who are single and those who have partners. Those who have given birth and those who don’t want to, those who adopt or foster and those who don’t want to, those who work with children and those who don’t want to, those who love pets and those who don’t want to, those who are trying all they can to have children and those who don’t want to.

This includes those who are fighting for their voice and their freedom.

This includes those who have lost special women in their lives, and EVERY woman…for simply being who you are.

My heart is with each of you, with us.

You are loved (and don’t let Mothers Day make you think you aren’t)!

God, Humor and Organic Jasmine Rice?

Do you think God has a sense of humor?

Sometimes I pray over and over and over again about something. And then, the 17th time right in the middle of a lot of explaining, the answer pops into my mind–mid-sentence. Just like that. I imagine God hanging out in the same room with a smile on his face, thinking, “You know, Jen, you told me these things three months ago, again last week, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, so stop…before you use all those words before 6:00 A.M. Here’s your answer.”

If this happens, which isn’t often by the way, I stop talking and can’t help but smile and say in a surprised voice (because this is always shocking to me), “Okay. Um…thanks.” And I stop and ponder the what-just-happened-here of this, and then I keep the rest of my words for later use, since it’s early still in the day.

These rare times remind me of many conversations Brian and I have had or heard about the huge number of words women tend to use versus men on the same topic. Maybe God is a man being of few words?

Listen. I am not saying he doesn’t want to hear us or respond. Instead, I believe he hopes we’ll continue pursuing and expecting answers from him. Sometimes, it feels like he’s playing hide and seek with us, quiet and far, far away.

It’s this– the waiting is usually long and hard and many times, wildly frustrating.

Usually.

And maybe God isn’t always so serious. Maybe he gets a kick out of being different than we expect and surprising us with his beautiful whimsy.

For example, things around here have been heavy and emotional. There’s just a lot going on these days. So, I prayed I could release and receive. You know, release control of everything I keep doing that gets in the way of peace and then, in turn, receive the good that comes from letting go and trusting that he’s got it all.

And then, I dropped my phone into the toilet, and well…let’s just say it was a shitty time (a time of…release?).

Really?!

All I could do was laugh and stare uncomfortably. I had no choice, I guess. So, I fished it out, decided to wash it with soap and water, and wiped it down with peroxide before putting it into a bag of organic jasmine rice for the next 36-48 hours. And you know what? I’ve giggled about this forced disconnection…releasing what’s been competing for my attention and receiving the gift of time (away from my phone), peace and quiet.

Does God have a sense of humor? Oh, yes.

I think so.

photo(7)Happy Easter, everyone! We are loved more than we can imagine.

~Jen

 

 

 

 

Something Special Along Our Usual Path

“Are you going to be here soon?” I said into the phone, hoping he’d be home to walk the dogs with me. I crave this uninterrupted time with Brian. Like most marriages, we’ve had spaces when it seemed we’d rather be alone than together, but this is not one of those times. In the middle of what seems like a million unsettled things in our lives, being with Brian is home.

And so, he arrived just as the pups and I were ready to walk out the door. It was one of those beautiful spring days when being outside was heavenly, so the warmth of the sun on our faces and bare arms was welcome. We started out on our usual path, which seems to bore Glory (it’s like walking a turtle on a leash). Walking Journey is just the opposite. Getting distracted by everything he sees, he kind-of skips along, wanting to see everything now. And that’s another good reason for the four of us to walk as a pack, I like to say. There’s safety in numbers, right?

Talking about something serious like the negative effects of childhood bullying on adults,  we had one of those meaningful I. love. you. moments that seem to come out of nowhere. So with dogs in tow, right there on the side of the road, I flung my arms around him and hugged him. almostkissingAt that very moment, a black SUV slowed down right next to us. The driver stuck her head out the window, smiled at us and said,

“I love your love.”

Then, a couple days ago she passed us, calling us her favorite couple, and I wondered. All this time, all these years we’ve walked our usual way, and I’ve hardly thought twice about what others think when they see us. Apparently, she has noticed us with our slow-as-can-be turtle and perpetual puppy. What is it she sees? The way we hold hands? Our smiles and laughter? I’m guessing, she hasn’t witnessed our disagreements on many of those walks or maybe she has. I’ll probably never know specifics unless I go to her door and ask her (and well, that might be uncomfortable).

Really, it doesn’t matter. What matters is this began a conversation, a speaking out loud of our gratefulness for one another.

Everything else might be unsettled still, but, it’s right here in the middle of this complicated life that four powerful words nudged us to more fully appreciate the joy of being together, being part of a pack.

And that’s home for me.

B&meThanks for reading!
~Jen

 

If God Sent Me a Letter

Last week, I wrote about some hard questions for God. If he answered me in a letter, I’m sure it would be much more beautiful than my attempt. Here’s what I imagine and what speaks to my heart.

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Dear Jen,

The time will come for answers, but it’s not here just yet. I can tell you there are big things up ahead for you. I’ve known you before you were YOU, and I know there have been so many times in your life that have been complicated and mysterious. I’ve seen you search and search for answers, but there are some things you aren’t ready to know.

I’ve seen you cry, shoulders heaving, and I cry heavy tears with you. I’ve also seen all the things that make you giggle and fill you with joy–the silly songs you make up when you’re alone, the dark chocolate you leave in the freezer, the way your eyes light up every time you see a beautiful sunset or the way blue sky and mountains seem to take your breath away. I smile when I see you smile, and guess what? The corners of my eyes crinkle up just like yours.

I know you are tired. Don’t wish your days away. Each one is filled with my goodness just waiting for you. It’s okay to rest your mind and let me do my work. I’ll let you know if I need your help. Rest.

I know you look back at carefree times and wish them back. Know the hardest days are not pointless. You are learning to trust me, and I know that is not easy. But, I am the Creator of the Universe. Don’t you think I can handle what hurts and scares and puzzles you most? I created YOU; why would you worry I’d leave you in the middle of it, alone? All I ask is that you trust me. I have your back whether you see it or understand it or even feel it.

Just believe it.

This tough stuff right now, it won’t be like this forever. Just as the seasons change and winter is giving way to spring, the times of your life change, too. Keep moving forward. You’ll see up ahead, just around the corner is a new season for you, too.

When you are afraid, I am here. When you have nothing left to give, I am your strength. You have been through hard things before and will make it through again, this time and the next and the next. There is joy right here, every day, just waiting for you. Look for it. Marvel in it.

I love you. I am so proud of who you are. You are enough.

Love,

God

If God sent YOU a letter right now, what do you think it would say? ~Jen