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

Why the New Blog Name?

This blog began as A Little More Than I Was.  Now it has grown into Hope Walks In, simply because I write about the messy adventures of life and finding hope in the dark spaces (If you haven’t read this month, click here. It’s the same blog with a new name, and this year I’m focusing on Hope and Healing: Little by Little). 

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 whisper
earth-shaking like booming thunder
a hint of yellow light or red sky
a line in a song or a poem
a stranger’s words
a prayer
a hug from a loved one
a 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?

 

 

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….

 

 

God, Humor and Organic Jasmine Rice?

Do you think God has a sense of humor?

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

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

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

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

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

Usually.

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

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

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

Really?!

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

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

I think so.

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

~Jen

 

 

 

 

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

Night Ravings

Life has turned upside down for me these days. I ran my 5K in January, and it seems it went downhill  medical tests prove there was more than I thought brewing in the background. You see, I went from being ecstatic that I finished (really, that is huge, since I had heel trouble and zero energy for a long time), but I felt as if I ran a marathon and couldn’t quite recover. Symptoms I viewed as separate oddities over a span of eight years or so (and have been treating for a while) have compounded and flared up since then in an autoimmune sort of way. I’ve been to two doctors this week without a diagnosis; I guess that’s why Brian calls me a medical mystery.

The thing is, I am tired of being mysterious.

So, a few nights ago Brian and I were reading in bed, and I felt a wild need to pray about this stuff. Sometimes, as we hold hands under the sheets, our prayers are calmly spoken, and other times require nothing less than a relentless pursuit of answers. I heard my voice match my desperate, frustrated, ALL CAPS words.

My night raving went a little like this:

OKAY GOD,

I AM TIRED OF THIS! EVERYTHING IS UP IN THE AIR, AND I’M TIRED OF HURTING! WHAT IS GOING ON?

THERE ARE THINGS WE WANT TO DO TO OUR HOUSE–UPGRADING THE KITCHEN AND BATHROOM, CUTTING DOWN TREES IN THE BACKYARD, OUR DRYER NEEDS TO BE REPLACED. WE’VE SPENT TONS OF MONEY TO FIGURE OUT WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME OVER THE PAST YEAR, AND THINGS HAVE GOTTEN WORSE! WE HAVE BILLS TO PAY, AND I WANT A VACATION! I WANT TO GO TO FRANCE. WE’RE TRYING TO SELL THIS HOUSE, BUT NOTHING IS HAPPENING!

WILL YOU HELP US?!?

I WANT AN ADVENTURE. I WANT SOMETHING FUN FOR A CHANGE. I WANT TO FEEL BETTER! I WANT TO BE HAPPY WITHOUT THE WEIGHT OF ALL OF THIS.

AND IF MY STRATEGY IS ALL WRONG, FINE. MAYBE I SHOULD STOP DICTATING TO YOU HOW ALL THIS NEEDS TO TURN OUT. I’LL TAKE any VACATION… TO FRANCE, NIGER (peeking through my eyelashes at Brian just to see his expression because that idea does not AT ALL appeal to him), COLORADO, ANYWHERE… EXCEPT IN THE SOUTH BECAUSE THAT WOULDN’T BE A VACATION. WE NEED SOME FUN! SERIOUSLY, JUST TELL US ALREADY! WHAT’S THE DEAL? WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME? AND HOW SHOULD WE SPEND OUR MONEY?

…(after a deep breath and more calmly) And thank you for Brian and the pups and our jobs and friends and family.

Amen.

And after all those words, I looked over at my Lovey, who had a touchingly sweet grin on his face. “That’s the best prayer I’ve ever heard you pray,” he said. 

–Jen

How do you feel about questioning God when things don’t make sense?

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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Content

Christmasornament

This has been the most peaceful Christmas yet. I can’t remember, ever, another holiday time when I felt as calm and joyful as I have felt today. We opened our present (yes, one) after a long, drawn-out breakfast of cereal and berries and Monkey Bread that I made and cannot eat. It’s been sunny and cold today, and I haven’t stepped outside. I didn’t wear my best clothes or think about what else I could be doing. I didn’t worry about who I wish I could talk to or be with just because it’s Christmas. This day has been full of the present–not the one I unwrapped or a list of met expectations. This day has been one of love and laughter of family. It has been pure joy, and that is peace. I am breathing the precious gift of contentment, and I want to stay.