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

I Have a Gut Feeling

I was 35 before learning up to 80% of our immunity is in our gut. So, if something is off in the digestive system, it makes sense that other problems follow.  After years of digestive issues–bloating and gas, especially, I found I had allergies to beef and chicken, as well as dairy. So I spent an entire summer juicing veggies and fruits and gave up meat for over a year. I felt much better for a while, but bloating and gas eventually returned, as well as itching, burning skin rashes that started on one arm or leg and moved weekly (it seemed) to others. I have always loved to eat, but all of this took the joy out of food for me. After being tested, over 32 food sensitivities were found, and each time I was re-tested, I went home and cried, since more and more foods were knocked off my list. I have found, though, once my gut healed, I have been able to eat all of those yummy things again, except gluten, which causes all kinds of problems.
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There are great articles out there about improving gut health (see links below), and I have learned what has helped me in one way or another. Here is some of it:

  • Healing the gut takes time and patience.
  • Rest! Continuous stress steals our health if we don’t take regular times to relax and enjoy life.
  • Be laser-focused and do your best; however, do not expect perfection. Once I read that each time you eat foods you are sensitive to, it’s like opening an old wound (ouch). Even knowing that, I would try a little bit of something on the off-limits list every now and then. Later, I looked  pregnant, had terrible heartburn, my stomach burned with intestinal spasms, and I beat myself up since I knew better. And that cycle did not help one bit.
  • Give yourself grace when (not if) you slip up. It gets old and frustrating, feeling like the only one who cannot eat anything “normal” at wedding receptions, parties, restaurants and celebrations at work.
  • Always take a snack you enjoy–then and afterwards–when you go anywhere. Nuts and Kind Bars (with no more than 5g of sugar) have been lifesavers.
  • Eat less carbs and sugar, which can throw off your gut balance. I was told to only eat 1/3 cup of berries a day while my gut was healing.
  • Eat more veggies–preferable organic and lightly steamed. Juicing helps, too, but more veggies/ less fruit!
  • Add healthy fats to your diet.  Avocado, coconut oil and olive oil are some of my favorites.
  • Drink ginger, chamomile and/ or peppermint tea about 30 minutes after meals to help with digestion and soothe the intestines.
  • Read about raw milk here. It has probiotics and immunoglobulins, which helps build up the immune system. THIS has made such a difference for me, especially since finding I have an immune deficiency.

Want to find out more? Click on these links from some experts:

 Have you had issues with your gut health? Since every body is different, what has worked for you?

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?

 

Calling It Quits

Rain water dripping over a window

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

On Openness and Seeing Jesus

There was once a little chestnut pony named Openness and a tall, dark horse they called horseSeeing Jesus. One hot day, while roosters crowed across the way and a black and white cat chased a dragonfly, a woman led the horse and the pony around sections of the dusty arena. Each section was marked by a scattered pile of colorful fabric scraps and symbolized something important: one for strengths, another for weaknesses and one for opportunities.

As the little pony and the tall horse walked, their behavior seemed to change from one place to another. “Ta-da,” she said, arms stretched out, as they looked on at all that lay there, her mound of strengths: compassion, warmth, ability to listen among others, and it seemed the pony and the horse were in agreement.

But as she led them to the heap of weaknesses, she noticed Seeing Jesus took a longer path, turning in a circle before making his way there. Openness stood still, breathing it all in: lack of time, insecurity and loneliness, to name a few, but Seeing Jesus only gazed past the pile and patiently waited to move onto the next. Rather than focusing on the shortcomings of the one who led her, the tall, dark horse stood, a strong presence.

The woman moved on to the scattered pile of opportunities (she usually called them problems) and again was slowed down as Seeing Jesus took a longer, winding path. Why is she doing this again? she mused, a little annoyed to tell the truth. And it was there, Openness, the little chestnut pony, shifted from patient to uncomfortable, hooves pawing the earth and head bobbing up and down. As Seeing Jesus stood by, Openness opened his mouth and bit the horse, agitated and ready to move. Still, the tall, dark horse was steady, waiting.

After a while, she led the little chestnut pony and the tall, dark horse to the center of the dusty arena in the midst of the colorful fabric piles. There, Openness nudged up against Seeing Jesus. Where there was agitation minutes before, the little pony and the tall dark horse stood side by side.

While the black and white cat lazily rolled in the dirt, and the roosters squawked past the old oak tree, she thought.

Oftentimes, when she felt out of her comfortable place and irritable, she was more than ready to move to the next thing. Staying with it was hard, she felt afraid, and she couldn’t see anything else, but all the while Jesus was right there, steady and waiting.

Where she spent much of her time mulling over her weaknesses, it would do her good to somehow acknowledge them, keep looking forward and maybe even consider them opportunities. It was just fine if she took the longer route, her own path, and reflected along the way. And with that pile of opportunities: the one who yelled at her in line yesterday, the bills, work, misunderstandings and unrealistic expectations of herself (it was a quite a heap), well, she smiled and thought,

Sometimes it seems impossible, but it takes time and openness to see Jesus.

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.

 

 

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