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.
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
“Yes, Father, I still believe in your goodness, despite what I see with my eyes;
Yes, Father, I still believe you have a plan for my life, despite what I feel in my heart;
Yes, Father, I still believe my best days are ahead of me, despite what my enemies and friends and family and loved ones say to me;
Even if you ask me to live in mystery the rest of my life, I will wake up every day and say yes, Father, I still believe in you (page 154). “
When I was a teenager I went to a Christian camp, where the theme was Where is God When Bad Things Happen? He’s On His Throne. Although, I wanted that to be enough for me, I couldn’t believe it was that easy. And if it was, what did it really mean? To me, it sounded like God was aloof in his safe place, while all of us down here really lived our crazy stories and hurt in unimaginable ways. What kind of God was he anyway? I felt alone.
As an adult, I eventually picked up Second Guessing God: Hanging On When You Can’t See His Plan by Brian Jones. If, like me, you’ve cried and begged, angrily wondering where God is when devastating things continue to happen every second, practically every place in the world, take a look at this relate-able book. His prayer (above) is so honest, choosing to trust when he can’t make sense of all that’s around him; it’s refreshing to to have an example like this, since he leans toward God, when times are mysterious and scary. Written with humor and transparency, Brian is a Jesus follower, who actually admits he does not know all the answers and lays out his struggles with what he sees around him. No worries, I’ll share my copy with you but will expect it back at some point (it’s just that good!).
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 Hope Speaks.
Meet Suzy and her husband, Jeff, two of our greatest friends and biggest supporters for over a decade. Brian and I have shared friendship, countless meals, prayers, a trip to the lake, dog-sitting duties and lots and lots of laughs with these two. When I was so tired of being sick and tired, Suzy invited me over with some friends and talked us through alternative strategies for healing. From then on, I had hope. After all, she healed from cancer by doing eye-opening things at home I’d never even heard of, so I thought If she can heal from something like that, well, I can, too!
Such a beautiful spirit inside and out, loving, encouraging and incredibly brave, Suzy researched and focused to build up her immune system with wildly-different strategies and then shared her story with me when I needed it most. And now, this cancer thriver has founded a non-profit, HealingStrong, to spread the word and connect others to resources and patient to patient support groups: healing from cancer and other degenerative diseases IS possible.
Here is her courageous story.
SUZY’S HEALING STRONG JOURNEY
My healing strong journey began in 2009 when a diagnosis of cancer stopped me in my tracks. Heading to surgery for a different health issue, the diagnosis of cancer that same month took me by surprise. At that time, I trusted my medical care to multiple doctors and subsequently many prescription drugs for various health issues: insomnia, neck tremors, thyroid disease, fibroid tumors, and now this …
To continue reading Suzy’s post written first for HealingStrong click here.
Always, the unknown exists, bringing times of joy, heartbreak and everything in between. Life does that, over and over — laughter and fun, followed by tough stuff that sneaks in when we least expect it. Each time, we can sink as the waves crash down or learn to swim–asking for help and hope along the way.
Hope walks in all types of ways:a whisperearth-shaking like booming thundera hint of yellow light or red skya line in a song or a poema stranger’s wordsa prayera hug from a loved onea place you’d least expect (like on the bumper sticker stuck on the car that cut you off)the stories of others
While hope doesn’t air lift us from our troubles and place us on a lush island, free of sickness, war, poverty and daily challenges, it helps us to believe this uncomfortable-growing-stretching-sometimes-devastating space may not last forever. Maybe we’re not alone. Maybe there’s more to life than what we see at this moment. Maybe there’s something to learn.
Life happens in all its mystery, full of adventure, sadness and beauty. We find we’re a little more bruised up from life’s challenges, yet somehow wiser, stronger and braver than we knew we could be.
When we let go and search, begging, trusting God and even waiting for it to show up, hope walks right in the door.
Where else do you find hope?
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?
Even on this freezing morning, chirp, chirp, chirp was all I heard before pulling back the comforter and putting my feet on the floor. Those birds know spring is almost here, even though it doesn’t look (or certainly feel) like it. Masked by huge snowflakes, sleet and rain, new life is springing up behind the scenes. Still, those giddy birds have chirped every morning for the past week.
In an odd way, it reminds me of a time years ago, when Brian and I sat in a cozy room surrounded by friends, many of whom had children or openly shared their hopes for a baby. It was he who also spoke it aloud, but I just sat there with my mouth shut, wanting to store away that part of our journey. I’d been open about so many personal things, but for some reason this felt like too much. We want a baby, too.
Eventually, each of those couples surprised us with their creative version of happy pregnancy news, and we cheered. Many times, though, those joys came with a lurking heaviness. “Do you think God is playing some kind of joke on us?” I laughed bitterly at the irony. Each time we talked about going to a fertility specialist, something always seemed to get in the way, and so we just did our thing–sex on the right days, ovulation tests and temperature-taking. For two months, I tried Clomid, and it made me feel crazy-angry and annoyed at everything, with rashes and stomach issues, so sex was the last thing I wanted (and let’s just say Brian was a saint to stay instead of spending those nights at work or even in his truck in the driveway). Those days, I cried more than anything else. I blamed it on Clomid, but I’m sure the emotional release was exactly what I needed.
In the back of my mind, nothing seemed right.
Still, each month I got my hopes up, but either all the pregnancy tests and thermometers were broken or something was wrong with me (those days I felt like it was always me. He was fine, they said). Seriously though, when would it be our turn?
It was the when are you having kids questions that felt like too much from those who had no idea of our struggle (as if being a parent is the only way to live an adult life anyway). It was the well-meaning you can always adopt suggestion, as if we never knew that was an option. It was the baby showers that felt wildly different than in my 20’s (when most of my friends didn’t have babies). But in my 30’s, everyone it seems has kids along with multitudes of stories to tell about their water breaking, the birth, the best infant and toddler products–breast pumps, bottles, diapers, potty training and on and on. Having zero stories to tell can be tough, especially if you desperately want them. It was cruel irony that PMS and pregnancy signs can be practically the same. It was starting my period like a slap in the face before multiple baby showers, praying that I could be happy for the almost new mom and just be okay with me. I usually cried once I was back in the safety of my car.
I was furious at my body with all its rashes and stomach issues (continuing long after the devil Clomid days and proving there was more going on than I could see). “It’s so hard for a woman who can’t get pregnant,” I told Brian, who assured me I’d be surprised at how hard it was for men, too. All that trying for a baby began to feel like an expectation that unfulfilled, left us feeling like ashamed failures.
Yet…slowly, somehow our feelings and prayers for a child began to change. No longer was it
we want a baby,
we want a baby,
please give us a baby;
it was this– we want a baby if it’s right for us.
And over and over, I was reminded God created me a work of art, whether my body was able, ready or willing to have a baby. As that truth sunk deep into my soul, my face was red and splotchy with tears.
So after major downsizing and moving, Brian and I stood in the kitchen, lights low, as we dried the dinner dishes. We looked at one another, and I breathed a sigh of relief. This had nothing to do with dinner or dishes, it was more than that. It was peace, even though the water heater broke, the dead refrigerator was hauled away, and water leaked through the window while we were out of town. I’d realized an excitement, an odd stirring deep inside. I couldn’t explain it, but it was there just the same. Maybe the moving craziness had something to do with it? There was an awful lot going on then. After so much time, I just couldn’t believe it!
And I was scared, but I took a deep breath and said it, “What if we don’t try anymore? What if we just live and have adventures and be happy?”
And just like those birds, chirp, chirp, chirping on cold, rainy late February mornings, giddy about what’s to come…
I felt free. I felt worthy, unashamed and beautifully free.
Sometimes the happiest ending isn’t the one you keep longing for, but something you absolutely cannot see from where you are.–Shauna Niequist