Hope Speaks: Chrystol’s Unplanned Journey

Courage is contagious. That’s all there is to it. Welcome to Hope Speaks, where once monthly I’m featuring those who also fight hard battles, find hope right there in those seemingly impossible places and then take the brave step to share their story.

Introducing Chrystol, one of the most authentic people I know. This part of her journey reminds me a little of that saying God laughs when we make plans. But instead, I believe God shows up  when we make plans, sometimes bringing us to an entirely different and more scary-beautiful life than we ever expected.

Here is her courageous story.

~Jen

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I’m going to start this post with a statement of truth about who I am. I am Chrystol; I despise making mistakes and have a fear of failure. Planning, goal setting and control tend to be my chosen methods to achieve success. As a teenager and young adult, I didn’t allow myself to relax, be at peace or get too comfortable. There was always a new goal to achieve, a new level to rise to, partially because I was a military brat and moved every few years. I learned that the only thing consistent in life is change, but I had no idea what I was in for as I entered a transition period of my life.

Almost two years after I got married, my husband and I found out I was pregnant…SURPRISE! Well, it wasn’t necessarily PLANNED like everything else in my life, and it took me a few weeks to wrap my mind around the fact this life-changing event occurred without planning. My plan was to be at my new job for a few years before this. I wanted to make the DECISION to have a child, not just have it happen, and I didn’t feel ready. I cried and cried and cried some more. After I cried, I went back to what I knew to do, research and plan. I read all I could about pregnancy and tried to plan out the next nine months. When we went to our first obstetrics appointment for an ultrasound, there was another surprise. TWINS! Interestingly, I handled the news that I was pregnant with twins much better than the news that I was pregnant. I decided I was going to be the best mother EVER! My pregnancy was really special and required much planning (my favorite). The moment I gave birth to my daughters, my life changed forever. And that was only the beginning.

Although the first few months of twin parenthood were a blur, things went pretty smoothly until one of my daughters suffered a severe injury. I know you’re probably thinking, “What happened? What changed?” but this is about my reaction and the effects on my family. I wish things happened differently, and I couldn’t help blaming myself for not trusting my own instincts.

It was completely unexpected and felt like my whole world crumbled around me. How could something happen to MY baby? I had spent so much of life devoting time, energy and love to other people’s children and MY child would be forever changed. I was taught whatever you sow, you will reap, so why did this happen? I have planted good seeds for years and this is what I get in return? It made NO SENSE AT ALL, and it felt like a sick joke. For the first month or so, I prayed I’d wake up, realizing it was all a nightmare. Nope. It was real. I woke up every single day, looked at my daughter and saw the reality. I tried to bargain with God. Eventually, all of the hope I had for her future and mine was gone. All of the faith I had in God was gone, too. It’s amazing how your outlook on life can shift with just one event.

I kept remembering when I gazed into my daughter’s big brown eyes, saying, “I won’t let anything bad happen to you.” And I failed her…miserably, reminding myself of that every day. No one knew how low I really was, and I suffered from depression for about a year after the incident. There were days I simply didn’t want to wake up and face my life as a failure to my family, but I believed I’d be even more of a failure if I let them know my sadness. I tried my best to give the appearance of good mental health. At the same time, I decided that I could not allow myself to be happy until I knew for certain that my daughter would be happy, despite her physical scar. How could I smile, knowing one day people might point and stare? How could I forgive myself without being sure she would forgive me? How could I simply move on when I felt so much anger and disappointment in myself? I wasn’t only mad at myself; I was so mad at God. How could He allow this? I was taught, “God won’t put more on you than you can handle” and “all things work together for good.” Well, I couldn’t handle what happened and I didn’t see any good coming from it! I was so angry! I was sad. I was disappointed. I was confused. I was lost. I was alone. My heart was broken, and I was hopeless. I didn’t think anyone knew, but that kind of despair cannot stay hidden for long.

All of those feelings came to surface at my daughters’ first birthday party. I tried my best to appear to be in a celebratory mood, but the truth was I felt like a boiling pot of water that was too full. It took one word from the wrong person, and I bubbled over. I had never lost my temper like that! I really don’t remember everything I said and did, but I am sure I’ve never reacted in that way before. When I ran to the bathroom to compose myself, I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the woman looking back. I came out and gazed into the shocked eyes of those around me, knowing they had witnessed how broken I was. I hated I had allowed them to see my pain. I also knew I could no longer live with the weight of the emotions I was trying to hide but I had no idea what to do with them.

The next weekend, my husband and I attended a new members’ class at our church. We were asked if there was anything keeping us from a closer relationship with God and were told to write it down on a card. I struggled with whether or not to tell the truth or just give a good church answer. I heard, “Just write it, Chrystol.” And I did. “I’m angry at myself and at God….” When the leader of the group asked if anyone wanted to share, before I knew it, my hand shot in the air. That was the first time I openly shared my true, raw feelings. I couldn’t believe I was telling a room full of strangers how I felt, but I’m so glad I did. Those strangers gathered around me, praying for me. I wept as they literally surrounded me with love and petitioned God to heal my heart and mind. I will not lie and say everything was perfect after that prayer because it wasn’t. But after that experience, I had hope that my life would be happy again and that my daughter would be just fine.

In the months and years following that moment at church, God has shown me that the life I’d hoped for is still possible. My daughter is thriving. She embraces her imperfection, and is so confident. I am doing things I never thought I would, taking risks I would not have taken. I am getting closer to fulfilling my purpose. I now know that dark moments, setbacks, and failures don’t need to be avoided. They don’t have to break us. There’s beauty in the struggle. I accept what was, embrace what is and have hope for what will be. Don’t get me wrong, I still love a good plan. But now I also embrace a God plan.

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Read more about Chrystol here on her blog, Chronicles of Womanhood.

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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.

Hope Speaks: Suzy’s Cancer To Healing Strong Journey

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 JOURNEYSuzy's Healing Strong Story

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.