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

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?

 

It Pays to Wait

We moved into a small, rental place after selling our house in August and a few issues popped up.

  1. fridge died the first week
  2. a front door hinge broke so the door would not close (after the new, too-large-for-the-space refrigerator was delivered and hauled away minutes later)
  3. branches fell on the house, leaving a hole in the roof (during heavy rain while we were out of town)
  4. electrical sockets stopped working
  5. the hot water heater went out

And so before long, we wondered if our landlord would stop answering our calls.

We had more than the basics, and we no longer had to fit a mortgage or repairs into our budget; that responsibility belonged to someone else, but even then I had a tough time feeling content. “God, I’m just letting you know, I hate this place,” I complained-prayed aloud when impatience stretched over me like an itchy sweater. Downsizing was the right thing for us, but my vision included moving in and having everything put away within the month…with none of these complications, of course.

We just had to wait and trust that our landlord would do what was best (waiting is hard). It took a while to relax into the goodness of that truth, the gift of someone else paying for all of it. Slowly, though, the right-sized fridge was delivered, followed by a hot water heater with all other repairs done in between. And just as slowly, boxes were unpacked and most of our belongings found a place.

Isn’t it the same when we pray, practically telling God how to solve our problem, whatever it may be? We’d rather be doing something instead of waiting around for Him to get to it (even though he’ll take care of it in the way He thinks is best, when it is best). But, I see over and over again, there is learning during the waiting — learning to trust, learning to be okay when everything around us is not. Many times, the outcome is wildly different than we imagined, and sometimes, it is also better.

So, a couple months after moving into our smaller, rental house I realized gratitude and peace settled around me like fragile bubbles blown from across the room…so quietly, I almost missed it. Even with the challenges, I’m really starting to like this place.

 

Making Space Takes Time

madewithOverFinishing another school year and relaxing into summer was my plan. Ongoing doctor’s appointments, updating the house, digging through files and closed up boxes, closets and rooms one by one was NOT part of my plan. It was hard work. It felt like it would take forever, and I didn’t like it. I felt stuck and slow like a weight was on my chest, making it hard to breathe. All I wanted was an escape route, especially since I needed rest. Thankfully, Brian was the leader in this, unstoppable until it was completed, gently reminding me we (still) had more work to do. Focused for weeks, this job was not a quick fix.

It takes time to weed out the old to make space.

And I was surprised at some of the old we found as we sat on the floor at the top of the stairs going through long closed up boxes: 90’s mix tapes, receipts from Christmas over a decade ago, elementary school yearbooks, bank checks from life in another state, and other things that once were important. But we laughed at pictures, sang along with those mix tapes (Wham’s Wake me up before you go-go/ ‘Cause I’m not planning on going solo) and were shocked at all we’d held onto for so long (I’m starting with the man in the mirror/ I’m asking him to change his ways–yep, GREAT mix tape).

In some ways it was quite the visit into the past; still, we quickly made decisions on what required holding onto and letting go. And I noticed I tossed our soon to be donations into the car with finality, as if I couldn’t wait to get them off my hands. And now, I can barely remember what we gave away!

All I’ve wanted was a vacation, to clear my mind and to escape the work of dealing with hard things after a long school year — renovating the house, mentally preparing for the possibility of moving, a list of autoimmune issues and advocating for myself to do what I need to do to heal (and that is unpopular at times).

I remembered we need SPACE to grow and breathe and thrive, just like flowers. Choked by all the weeds that take up our lives, we won’t grow into our fullness. But pulling those weeds takes time and persistence, since one pops up soon after all the others have been cleared away. There just might be something enjoyable in the process.

And you know what? After I gave into this day after day after day and kept at it, I am breathing more fully, and my mind is clearer. I am settling into the mystery and possibility of the days ahead. And now for that vacation….

 

 

Waiting For the Light

photo(9)There were violent storms in much of the southeastern U.S. this week. Forecasts here predicted hail, strong winds, possible tornadoes and heavy rain up to five inches. All of this happened (and more) in some states with terrible destruction. People’s lives are torn apart by wild weather, and just like that, everything is different.

But here, what everyone geared up for ended up being plain old rain mixed with a few thunderstorms for a couple nights. The days were tricky though, since it looked as if things were right on track for the dangers that were predicted. But in the early morning hours, the light broke through the dark clouds, and the sun finally returned.

Maybe we’re waiting on news about a loved one in the hospital, a job situation, a dream to finally come true, a diagnosis or something else. We worry about what it will be like afterward, even 24 hours from getting the answer, from the knowing. We hear others’ stories and see pictures of horrible destruction and sadness and expect this will also be our fate. We believe this, too, will be happening right where we are. After all, that’s what the experts say, and they know. That’s why they’re experts, right?

Brightly-colored weather maps show the exact minute when the storm will come. So we wait and watch, expecting the worst (which comes occasionally). At other times, the maps show calmer colors that once screamed alarm. Sometimes patterns and storm paths change unexpectedly, and experts can be wrong.

So, we can choose denial or accept the forecast. Sometimes it might be with fear, worry and anger. We can cry and think, Why me? We might even respond by crawling into our safe spot for a while and passively wishing for it all to pass.

All of this is okay…and then.

And then, with courage we can read and listen to the stories of those who have weathered the storms and emerged with scars but stronger somehow. We can learn and trust God in his all-knowingness and take a step forward. It’s never easy. It’s always painful, it seems, but we just might see the light eventually break through in ways we’d never expect.

 

 

Moving to the Edge

Our dog Glory loves riding in the car, but it hasn’t always been this way. When we adopted her, she trembled in the backseat until we got home, even though my friend talked to her gently the whole time. She’s had a lot happen to her; much of it we’ll never know. She came to us with scars on the inside and fears of all kinds. In those days, it was mostly about being abandoned.

Things are different now with two dogs, but there are times when those old fears return. When we went to the dog park, what should have been fun with other dogs seemed scary to Glory. After walking around the fence with us once, we took her off the leash, ready to let her run. Instead, she made her way to the front gate and just sat there. Eyes red and breathing deeply, she did not, would not move, no matter what we said. I guess she connects that kind of freedom with being left without her family. I want to tell her what I know about the dog park: This is fun. Dogs LIKE this place. You are safe, and we’re right here. And I feel sad because she doesn’t understand. Maybe she will one day if we keep trying.

I wonder if God sees us the same way. He leads us to a place that might ultimately bring us more peace than we’ve experienced, but all we know is we don’t like change. Yet, we try it out, tiptoe-ing down that bumpy path and turning back when it gets too hard to navigate the way. After all, we make a cozy bed in our comfortable place, put our feet up and prepare to stay for a long, long time. Things aren’t bad there, right? We become used to okay. I wonder if God feels sad about this because he knows things could be so much better for us.

When I am challenged to move to the edge of what I know, I am like Glory–heart pounding, deep breathing, trembling. My head believes even this has meaning, but all I really want is to burrow into my still-warm bed and hide my head under the weight of the comforter. I don’t know how I will handle feeling lost, and I worry I will be unsettled forever because somehow this is hauntingly familiar. I trust there is goodness on the other side; still I am scared. Why would anyone want to revisit this?

And then comes my reassurance:

Be strong and courageous, for I am with you. Do not fear, for I am with you wherever you go. –Joshua 1:9

It’s when I remember right smack in the middle of my wavering– God is here, too, and has never left–that I start to loosen my grip, one finger at a time. This is a long, slow, seemingly never-ending process because I move forward, push back, take a step, jump back, want to control. I cry and breathe and pray.

Then, I’m shocked because I realize I’m fighting against my own release.

And although my fear makes sense to me, pulling away from what I ultimately need does not. So, I bravely push back the covers and get out of bed. Once again, I’m taking one step at a time further and further into the unknown but closer and closer to the edge of freedom.

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Worth Celebrating

This is my birthday week (because one day is just not enough).

Celebrating 6th grade style (eyes closed, of course)

While I was sifting through birthday wishes on the main day, I ran across something I’d posted barely over 5 years ago on Facebook. I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten about some of these things!

I guess, sometimes, whatever is happening right now seems to take over the past. But then, going back a few years is a profound reminder of where you’ve been, and that is worth celebrating.

My updates, now that I’m older and wiser in some ways, are in bold.

25 Random Things About Me

January 24, 2009 at 6:39pm

1. I am a book junkie. I have a pile of books in my closet that are calling my name. Now, a new pile is on my bedside table. 

2. When I was 18, I won over a $100 from a radio station.

3. Among other interesting happenings during traveling, I have eaten cow tongue in Moscow, hiked…um, walked in the Swiss Alps, and have ridden a highly sought-after camel in Niger (well, it took a couple steps). I long for more travel experience, as I have been deeply touched by all I have seen and learned in the world. Ireland… check. Greece… check. Now where?

4. I hate slugs and slime of all kinds so much that I put sandwich bags on my hands when trimming fat from chicken. Brian once chased me around the house while waving chicken fat my way. Apparently, I have matured in this department. I made White Chicken Chili and cut the chicken fat with my bare hands. just. this. week.

5. An um…interesting neighbor once asked me if I wanted to see his prosthetic leg. I stumbled over my words, completely horrified that he might pull down his pants to show me, but the leg was in his trunk (equally bizarre).

6. I plan to write my story one day and have it published in some form or another. I’m on my way.

7. I like to peel skin after a sunburn–gross, I know, but I love it! I also like to remove loose chunks of hair off my dogs (I call them hair plugs :).

8. I struggle with forgiving the unthinkable on an almost daily basis. It’s a process that takes time and healing and courage. Wow. Read here. Now, I usually struggle with forgiving the everyday things.

9. I owned a Toyota Camry for one week–complete with license plate.

10. Repeated finger-tapping, lip-smacking, and gum-popping makes me cringe. Working with elementary school students year after year has not solved this problem.

11. One Easter, I asked for two bars of cream cheese for my Easter basket. Strange, I know.

12. I lived on Jennifer Drive for a couple years.

13. I love deep-down, belly-hurting laughs and hearing children giggle. Ah, exercise for the soul.

14. I have read and watched Anne of Green Gables as a child and teenager. I’m watching it again as an adult.

15. I have learned “All You Need is Love” is a farce. You also need persistence, trust, honesty, courage, patience, space, forgiveness and humor to make a marriage work. Oh, and admitting I am wrong is challenging, but I am learning.

16. I love to play board games and prefer to win. For some reason, my brother-in-law warned his fiancee’ about my competitive tendency (not sure what’s that about).

17. I have learned more about myself over the past 6 years than the previous twenty-something. I am stronger and braver and wiser than I ever thought possible. I am proof of the possibility of change and the power of resilience. Love, love, love that I wrote this five years ago and feel even stronger about it today. Life does that if you let it. 

18. I have a long list of funny names for my two dogs and my husband and can come up with more at any moment.

19. Music touches me to the core. Just listen to 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman.

20. I hated my name as a child because there were Jennifers everywhere. So, in 6th grade I changed my name to Jenny. I changed it back to Jennifer in the 7th grade, and only my best friends have called me Jenni (i not y) since later that same year. I have always had a strong aversion to strangers shortening my name in any way. I’ve made it easy these days. Just call me Jen.

21. I have learned that family is what I make it–the people I choose to surround myself with who love and support me. Thank God for my family, real and chosen.

22. I have volunteered with Kids on the Block (KOTB not NKOTB 🙂 as an educational puppeteer. My favorite puppet was Brenda, who taught kids about bullying and being persistent when asking for an adult’s help.

23. I feel warm and tingly when I think about my future as a school counselor. I have always loved helping kids find their own way. And still do.

24. If I ever need a Plan B, I could write peppy jingles or become a professional organizer. 

25. I am always learning more I wish I knew a long time ago

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I’m curious! What random things would show up your list?

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Pony Lessons

“Make an obstacle course for the pony.” These are the directions we were given. Nothing more. The last time I might have been near a pony was when I was little and too timid to touch it (or maybe I saw one on TV, who knows). Regardless, I felt like I was in way over my head.

I know this is a donkey picture, but it's mine and I like it.
I know this is a donkey picture, but it’s mine and I like it.

After picking through the pile of barrels, a bucket and PVC pipes of various sizes, we slowly began to work, arranging everything the best we knew how.

“Have the pony go through your course, using anything in the arena.” Um, just MOVE a PONY?

Puzzled, I wondered if these animals are at all like my dogs, who come barreling around the corner when I call them, ears flopping and tail wagging.

We mumbled and stumbled and urged and pushed and begged. “Come on, little pony, let’s go!” (this makes me laugh, since my horse-owning dad would shake his head).

Glancing over at the beginning of our carefully-placed course and resting his eyes there, the pony seemed curious, almost longing to try it. Still, he refused to move, even with our calm but urgent pleading (I was a nervous, sweaty mess). We tried walking away, hoping he would be interested enough to follow. Instead, he went back to his comfort, his owner.

And then! I got the leash bridle that was over on the fence, and we gently wrestled it on him.

Feeling more comfortable (I guess) with our control, the pony slowly began to move. Relieved, we wove him around the maze of barrels. This won’t take long! But then, we came to a place where he stopped, refusing to jump or even step over the PVC pipe we set between two short plastic tables.  Rubbing his velvety-soft nose, we told him he was doing a fine job.

But he wasn’t going anywhere.

After a long several minutes, we decided to lower the pipe to a more manageable height, and that did the trick. Ah-ha! Soon, he we would be finished! This was possible!

We moved toward the last obstacle, a plastic crate about the size of a cement block, placed lower to the ground than most of the others. He planted his feet and became a rigid pony statue. Was he tired? Unsure? Worried about something? I talked to him, encouraging him to keep going. “I know this sucks, but you’re almost finished!” I said. He stood still, while I thought about how far we had come and understood we still would not accomplish our goal until we got past this thing that was holding us back.

It’s been three days since this experience, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I am a lot like that pony.

Have you ever yearned to do something or live an adventure but then chose to go back to your comfortable place? Maybe it’s a goal or a dream that’s been carefully placed in your heart but money, situations, people or YOU get in your way? Maybe you’ve already gotten started and are so close to the finish but are stuck, wrestling with yourself or something that seems or is really big, wondering if quitting and turning back to that comfortable place is better.

The pony? Well, he eventually (finally!) took one step and then another one until we made it to the big finish.

img_2079.jpgSometimes, simply going forward is just the thing that moves us closer to where we want to be.

Surprises

I think this is the key. Ready for something profoundly laughable (because it is)?

Change never ends.

It doesn’t.

Without checking back every now and then and re-assessing and making necessary adjustments, life moves on and takes us for the ride or just leaves us in a mess. And sometimes, there are absolute surprises, like 30 food sensitivities that have caused all kinds of issues in my body…after I thought everything was under control.

I’ve needed some time, from blogging and tomatoes and pineapple and soy and…

Weeks ago, spring burst forth all around me. The sun breathed warmth, the blooms brought color, and pollen left its heavy yellow blanket over everything. As I looked at the wisteria trees in my backyard–the ones I wrote about with certain hate last year–I noticed even they were celebrating new life with their pale purple blooms. During the colder months, it’s been easy to forget about those vines that literally squeeze the life out of those around them if not drastically pruned each year (and yard work is our 194,350th favorite thing, so it not happening). But when I walked outside the other day to take a picture of those wisteria flowers, I was surprised to find they had already shriveled up and died. Now the vines look drab and lifeless, as they did leading up to the first few weeks of spring. But they are different just the same.

I love that seasons bring change. Some changes we can’t help but notice and others can only be viewed by searching eyes: a deep red cardinal in a mess of leafless brambles or hawks soaring above the tallest trees swaying in the wind. There’s just something about new growth on the trees against a backdrop of the deepest blue sky.

fatbird
Look closely. See that splash of red? It’s a Scarlet Tanager (Google is so handy) hanging out in my backyard.

I’m not sure how it all happened, but there is beauty here. Awake. Pleading to be discovered and soaked up by eyes just waiting to see it as it flashes past. In the midst of challenges, there is joy to be discovered each day–if we are open to it.

Life is good. As it goes on without skipping a beat, there is BEAUTY in the changes we live through, too. If we focus on the surprising challenges we think mess up our lives, we might miss those moments and see only sameness staring back. But there is no doubt even when we can’t see it, we are different.

Life is a journey, right?

And it continues.