Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Long December?

I know everyone in my generation can remember the song A Long December by the Counting Crows. My husband keeps singing it because this month has felt long, and we DO have hope that this year will be better than the last. Because in reality, our family has had a long September, October, November and December.

In September, I learned the day before my birthday that my pregnancy was not developing properly, and there was no little baby to be seen on my ultrasound. I prayed to God that He would just have to give me a miracle, because I know He promised me that there would be a new baby, because I had never asked Him for one before and the time had come for me to ask. He told me. I know it makes sense, at least  to Christians, when I say that. I kept asking for about 10 months before I finally tested positive. All the bloodwork was normal but my ultrasounds were not. I still kept demanding my miracle and believing the the Holy Spirit power that God has infused in us all who love Him would come through. I asked to be seen at a different office, on a different machine, but before that appointed day came, I found myself in the hospital, having a miscarriage, bleeding more than I ever knew was possible and having to have a procedure to stop the flow and the pain. I still believe my miracle will come. But it was very much heartbreaking to experience the loss of that dream, and to not have it come to pass in time for my mom to see it. I knew her time was short, and I wanted her to meet her next grandchild. But at the time of my loss, I didn't know just how short her time here with us was going to be. 

The month of October was painful for everyone. Mom had both dementia and ALS, and she couldn't understand anything that was happening to her. She couldn't remember things, or grasp what was taking place. She was getting gradually weaker, experiencing more pain, and more loss of understanding by the day. Then one late October Friday, she went down hill at an unbelievably fast rate. She was still smiling for company that day, but by that night was in a terribly painful state. She couldn't seem to get her breath and was displaying complete agony and there was not a thing anyone could do. We gave her medicine to calm her and something to take away the pain in her stomach but she could not swallow any longer at all. Since she had refused any type of feeding tubes, I knew it wouldn't be long. On Saturday, she could no longer stand up or raise her arms and I didn't think she would live through the night. She did, and for a few hours of that Sunday she was awake and did not seem agitated, although there was no ability to speak. She was aware of the presence of family and friends, people who had come to pray, sit by her, and fill the room with singing and the reading of the Word. Lucas was with her and she reached out to him and he touched her hand, smiled  and bounced on the bed like it was any other day. She feel asleep in the late hours of the evening and only woke up again once, seemingly panicked. We gave her more of the medicine and a sponge of water and I read scriptures to her and turned on some of her favorite songs. I asked her if she knew it was ok for her to go be with Jesus, and she nodded. I told her that she didn't have to worry about us, we would be ok. She fell asleep and never woke up again. He spirit left us around 3:00 Monday afternoon. 

November brought the sad aftermath of losing someone you love. Bad behavior from my autistic son who has no other way of communicating his feelings, sorting through belongings, deciding what to keep and what to give away, and lots and lots of tears from everyone. We are all so thankful that she is with Jesus now, that she has met my children whom I never did, and that she is free from the anguish and misery she felt. But it still leaves a hole in your heart when someone goes away and you know you won't see them again until your time comes, or Jesus comes back....whatever comes first. Despite all the pain I had just experienced, I found that the peace of God, which as scripture says, surpasses all understanding was on me. Instead of continuing to dwell on these past losses, I felt the strength rise up in me to honor my mother's life by living mine the best way I could. I felt driven to follow God's leading in my life and do as much good as possible within my circle of influence and with the gifts I have, When you are at peace, the enemy doesn't like that, and I believe a lot of challenges we face in the world come from his opposition. 

Ephesians 6:12King James Version (KJV)

12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

The devil only comes to steal and destroy our joy and our peace, So that leads me to our December. It started out with several unexpected expenses, not all of which are remedied yet. Then, let's just take a look at last week alone. On Thursday, our dryer stopped working. On Friday, Lucas flushed a bar of soap down our new toilet that was recently installed. On Saturday, he sliced the tip of his finger while spinning in a computer chair at home, and I found myself in that awful position of trying to determine what had just happened since I didn't see it, and my son is non-verbal for the most part. He wouldn't let me touch him to find out where the injury was, and where all the blood was coming from. Finally after getting him cleaned off in the bath tub, I saw his finger. Off the the ER for his first set of stitches! I was filled with praise that the doctor we got was a dad who has a son with autism, and that we did make it through the procedure without sedation, and it went MUCH better than we ever expected. I believe the prayers of our friends and the ones I sent up were answered in this aspect. Now he is still a bit sore there, so leaving on his bandages without much of a fight either, but I have come down with my first cold in a year and a half, at 5 days before Christmas, and my prayer is just that my poor injured little boy doesn't get sick as well. As you know life does not stop because you are having a hard time. You still have to do all the day to day things. Church events have been going on every weekend this month and my husband works there part time, so in addition to his full time job, he is away for all those things. They are all good things, very much worth doing, but I have to admit I am tired. It HAS been a long December, and all those other months too. 
Even as I write this, I know there are others who have much greater troubles and heartaches than mine. But I found a Word today that reminded me of why I am not falling completely apart. I am reminded of why my heart is still hopeful, still happy. (Mostly.) 

1 Peter 1:5-6English Standard Version (ESV)

 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,

There are many passages in scripture that remind us that if we belong to Christ, ALL our problems are temporary, and we will have glory to be gained if we suffer, just as Jesus did. Reading the pages of the Bible, you find that nobody ever had it easy. Everyone who ever accomplished great things for God had troubles, and lots of them. Some of the seasons of hardship must have seemed to go on forever. But God had plans for each of them, just as He does for you and me. I dare to say that if we keep focusing on what is good, and we keep on loving other people who need it, even when we are down, God's blessings will be so great we can't even imagine what it will look like. I hope that sharing my story has brought hope to you, knowing that we always have good reason for joy, no matter how hard this life may get. Jesus is alive forever, and will stay at our side always. If you are having a long December too, I pray that His supernatural peace will take over in your heart, and I do hope for you a new year that is better than the last. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Look Forward

I think that every time someone we love passes away, the first thing on our hearts is a bit of regret. "I wish we would have spent more time together while we could." "I should not have said that thing that time." In my case, with my mom, I have thought over these last few weeks of how it was a struggle not to lose patience with the symptoms of dementia or how I didn't ever seem to find the right words to comfort her when she couldn't understand why there was so much discomfort throughout her body. I never knew exactly what to say. But I know that guilt is a tool of satan. When we are Christians there is no place for guilt to live.
"Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1

So, instead of being fixated on what I wish I had done that I didn't, I am going to remember all the good moments we shared, even the ones in the end, when it was most difficult. And I will look forward. I will see what I can allow God to do through me this day, and I will take all the chances I get to do some small thing that may impact someone bigger than I think. Jesus allowed himself to be interrupted when someone had a need. My mom did too. And here are the things that I am going to do more of from now on because of the influence her life had on me.

1. I will pay more compliments, 
When my mom thought something nice about anyone, she told them. Towards the end, she would forget that she had already said it that day, so she said it again. I don't know how many times I heard from her that I was "such a good mommy." She constantly told me how perfect I was for my son, and that God gave him to me because there could be no other mom in the world who would have done a better job. She offered the same kind of encouragement to everyone. In a society that is more prone to complain, share bad experiences instead of good ones, and look at all that is wrong, I have decided to be the person who looks for what is right. And then, I won't keep it to myself. If I think a nice thought about anyone, why shouldn't they know? Social media makes it easy. I don't even have to work up the nerve to tell what I am thinking in person....it's as easy as sending a private message. So in my house, out in the community and from my computer or phone, I will pay more compliments. 

2. I will take more pictures. I already take a lot of them, but the one thing I thought when looking through family photos trying to find some to share of my mom was that there were not enough pictures of her.  I know that before the age of digital cameras, people just didn't take as many photos. But even after they became so widely used and we all had phones on our cameras, I think that my mom was the one taking the pictures at family events and I wish I would have thought to take one of her next. So from now on, whenever I am experiencing something I want to remember with people I love, I will take more pictures. 

3. I will make time for friends. My mom ALWAYS did. Memories I have growing up are of her friends coming over to have tea and talk. And if my mom had not seen someone in a while, she would schedule a time to go visit, or she would call to see how they were doing. Times have changed, and if you ask anyone how things are going, people always say "busy." Well yes, we have things that keep us busy, but I believe that if we are too busy to ever spend time with people we care about, then we are not within the will of God. In the end, only the time we spent loving Him and loving people is going to matter. So, if we are friends. you will probably be hearing from me. Let's get together soon, and when we do, we will take a picture! 

4. I will give God first place in my heart. My family and friends will be next, because I do believe according to scripture, God and people are all that truly matter. My mom must have known. She had more devotion books than I have ever seen in any room that I have ever been in, and I remember her spending her daily quiet time with God every morning. She closed the door and that time was only for reading and prayer, although she didn't ignore the kids if we needed something during that time. She met our needs and got right back into her Scripture. And I see that she applied what she knew. She didn't just read the Word, she lived it. And even though she thought she never did anything special, she was also happy with her life and content with everything as it was because she put God first. She was happy with less because her joy came from God and from giving of herself to improve someone else's circumstances whenever she could. 

These are the things I am going to do so that when my time comes, or someone else I love before me goes on, I won't have to feel that bit of regret. I won't leave kind words unsaid. My friends won't remain forgotten because I was busy. People I love will know that I love them. I do hold on to the last gem my mother gave me. In her final days, right before she became unable to speak, she was having trouble and in a lot of pain. It was a Saturday night. I told her I wished she felt better and I wished there was something I could do. I said I would take it away from her if I could. She patted my hand and said she was just glad I was her daughter. Those were her last words to me. So when the enemy wants to creep into my mind over the coming season and tell me I should have done better, I will remember what she said and know that she thought I did all right. There is no room for regret. No place for guilt. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite pastors, Steven Furtick. 

Change is what I am going for, every day. My prayer is that Jesus will keep changing me to look more like Him in my actions and the way I live. My goal is for anyone to catch sight of Him in me. Mom didn't know it, but a lot of people were exposed to His love through her. May it also be said of me when my days have ended. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Taking Life Back

It has been a long time since I have written a post about anything. Close to 3 months to be precise, because the last three months of my life have been a whirlwind of personal crisis and all the emotions that come along with that. It wasn't long before all this took place that I had found myself in a place of perfect peace in the Lord, thanks to the "happy habits" I had written about in a previous post. Seeking God above all other things and spending time with Him every morning when I woke up, along with a healthy eating and exercise routine, kept me feeling strong through my mom's illness and through waiting to conceive a child that I felt God had clearly spoken to my heart about. That was one of those things I was surprised about when it happened, because we thought adoption would be the only way we would add to our family since our son does have a genetic disorder. So since I knew God promised me that if we asked, we would receive what we hoped for in the depths of our hearts, a healthy sibling for Lucas who has no disability. We kept asking, and we kept trying, and then on day in early July I finally saw the positive pregnancy test I had longed for, and I just hoped and prayed that my mother would live long enough to meet her next grandchild. She loved the one she had more than life.

We felt so confident that this pregnancy was the completion of God's plan for our family, and my stomach was rapidly expanding just as it did with Lucas, when I could hardly keep the secret. So we excitedly announced to everyone we knew that we were expecting our second child. Without reliving all the painful details, this was not to be the child that God spoke to my heart about. Instead a miscarriage began one weekend in early September, just a few days after my birthday, and ended with such pain and heavy bleeding that I landed in the hospital and had to stay the night. All the while I was needed at home to help take care of my mother, whose health failed more rapidly by the day. She was diagnosed with both dementia and ALS and I was my dad's only help. I went home from the hospital wanting to hide from the whole world, cry my heart out, and just be left alone, and never speaking about what had just happened to me because it hurt too badly to say the words to my friends, no matter how much they wanted to love and support me. But I didn't have time to grieve the way I wished I could. My parents needed my help. 

Feeling like I needed an extra boost to keep putting one foot in front of the other in the incredible darkness I felt after my loss, I ran to the doctor to get back on anti-depressants, something I had only done once before even though depression has been a struggle of mine for many years. I usually manage it well because of God. It's only because of His strength and deliverance for me that I come out of it every time it comes for me, and again, the way I eat and exercise can also make a big difference. Well unfortunately, in times of high stress, I like to eat badly, even though I KNOW it won't help and will ultimately make me feel worse, stress eating remains a kind of disorder I have to determine to fight against every day. It's a thing that you feel like you can be free from, until the next terribly stressful time rolls around, and then you know that your drug of choice still has a hold on you. I felt compelled to eat what would bring me momentary joy. I ate pizza, chocolate, deep fried Chinese food, and more. I still read my Bible, ate my vegetables and still got my workout every day, but as you can imagine, I still gained weight. And then came the next blow. 
My mother's condition worsened and she became more and more frustrated, because she could not understand any of the things that were happening to her body. She had refused most things that would have helped her because she just couldn't comprehend why she needed them or force her self to do things she did not like as she would have done if she was of sound mind. Her disease took away her ability to swallow, and because she never wanted to live with a feeding tube. she rapidly lost weight. On a Friday in late October I knew that she was not going to have many days left, and then, upon witnessing her terrible misery and anguish, I prayed that she wouldn't and asked everyone else to pray the same with me. I didn't want to be without my mom, but I didn't want her to have to live the way she was. Nobody can imagine what it felt like, but by the way it looked, it was dreadfully painful. I helped my dad get her into bed on Saturday night and prayed she wouldn't even have to wake up. But I am glad that she did wake up that day. Although initially she was distressed, there came a more calm state over her. I stayed with my parents most of Sunday morning and called their church for her to go on their prayer chain, then I left for our church to request prayers for her there too. I left right after worship, rather than stay for the whole service, because I sensed my mom might not make it through the day. I stopped at the grocery store to by my family dinner and to grab some flowers for my mom in her favorite color, purple. I returned home to the sound of singing coming from my mom's bedroom, and discovered two of her friends from church were there, singing some of her most beloved songs. Then my brother and his wife arrived, and although mom had been sleeping, and not very responsive to anything, she woke up while they were there. My son Lucas came in to the room and climbed up on the bed too, and she reached out to him, and he high fived her and and he smiled at her. My mom was awake while her whole family was there and seemed not to be in any pain during those moments and for that, I am going to be forever thankful to God. Late in the afternoon, she seemed to go into a comatose state of being, and we thought she would pass in the night into her Heavenly home. But she woke up about 10 PM, very agitated, struggling for breath, and I helped my dad get her medicine to her that would help her feel less anxious. I asked if she knew that it was perfectly OK for her to go and be with Jesus and she slightly nodded her head to me. I read to her from her bedside Bible and played her some music, all the songs I could think of about Heaven, so that she would feel it was safe for her to go and not worry about leaving us behind. She lived through the night,but she was never awake again. Throughout the day, her breathing became more and more shallow, until it finally stopped. It was unreal to see her the way she was in the end, and to be one of the people trying to determine if my mother was actually dead. Even though we rejoiced that God heard our prayers and took her into His eternal safety and joy, we cried for her. We cried for a life that had ended and for the mom, wife, and grandmother we were all going to miss from now on, even though she had not been the same person for the last several months. 
With God always at my side, determined to be the voice in my mind that always overpowers the others, I have decided something. I will not let my past losses or my current sadness control my future. The best way to honor my mom is to live like she did before the diseases took away her normal. She gave of herself freely and enjoyed the simple things in life. Although it has only been about a month, I talked to my doctor today about stepping down from my prescription. I serve an all powerful God who has the ability to change my mindset without the help of pills. As I have said before, I fully support anyone who NEEDS to stay on prescriptions and there is absolutely no shame in it. Dealing with depression is going to be different for everyone. There may be other times in my life when I feel the need for medical help again too. But my personal choice is to treat everything as naturally as possible. 

You know what else helps depression? What is proven to help people feel better? Exercise and a healthy diet. Food does matter to all parts of the body, including the brain and the hormones which directly effect how good a person feels. Check out these images to understand why I feel like I can beat this condition with my food and I think others can too. 

As you probably guessed, many people, myself included, want to go for the not-so-healthy foods in times of sadness. We want instant gratification and comfort. But as you can see here, certain foods have positive and negative impacts on the brain and body, Another thing I wish to do in memory of my dear mom is to educate people about this as much as possible. I believe 100 percent that some of the foods she enjoyed a bit too much of later in life affected her brain function, and made her illness harder for her. Instead of being frozen by my sadness or fear of what might happen next, I am going to honor my mom's life by trusting God, giving my best to Him, and being proactive. I will not continue to wallow or rely on anything besides God and the ability He gave me to choose wisely in order to improve my life. I know His plans are good plans. I don't know why we have to wait to see His promises come to pass at times, and I don't know why this one about our family could not come to pass in time for my mom to see it. But I take comfort in the thought of her being with my two angel babies in Heaven. She got to meet the grandchildren that none of us have had the joy of seeing yet, and she got to do that in her complete state of glory in the presence of God. My joy is greater than my sorrow. 
Will you consider joining me for my next "Happy, Healthy Habits" group on Monday? Its a simple 5 day challenge group that takes place on Facebook, and it is completely free of charge. It's something I do to help others, while keeping myself accountable to the friends who join me too. I want to prove it to you AND myself that we can live happier because of what we eat, what we drink, and what we think. Let's try together. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Trading in my normal

I have been on Facebook for 7 years, and I admit that I have been addicted to Facebook for 7 years. At first it was just a thing I used to take a break from my day, and it has always been nice to see what family and old friends are up to. That is one thing I still like about it and always will....I have gotten in touch with people again whom I haven't seen in person in years and probably wouldn't have ever talked to again without social media. It's great to see how they are doing, see family photos and hear stories about their precious children. I  also think that hearing about Lucas and the progress he has made despite his disorders over the last 7 years has brought inspiration and happiness to others. People have told me that.

During the last few years, Facebook became even more precious to me, because it allowed me to become a part of the Beachbody world when my coach first invited me to her challenge groups run on Facebook. I had no idea when I first signed up to do a challenge with her that I would become a coach too. Being a part of this amazing team and running my own challenges where I get the joy of helping other people feel better just like I did when I changed my lifestyle has brought me such fulfillment. It gave me something to do that was outside of the world of Fragile X Syndrome and autism and just being a wife and mom. It allowed me to use my gifts to help people that I might have never had the means to help without both my company and social media. I transformed and got to help transform others. 

Another wonderful aspect of Facebook is that I have become real friends with people I have never met in person because we do Bible study together, or we belong to the same Facebook support group for people living with Fragile X and autism in their family. While I absolutely do not believe that online connecting can ever take the place of connecting with others face to face, I feel so blessed to know that I have other women and parents praying for me and my family, who truly care how things are, and who help me get a deeper understand of God's Word. Sometimes they give me a new perpsctive on what He might be doing in my life when I can't understand. These are the things that make me exceedingly grateful for the Internet and for Facebook. 

Could you tell there was a BUT coming around? Facebook has been a blessing to me in all of these ways BUT it can sometimes cause issues for us too. For one, it wastes time. Yes it's nice to catch up, but lately I have been scrolling into oblivion and then I realize it is not bringing me good feelings, but negative ones. I think it just has to do with the season of life I am in. I am in a season when aging parents quickly became parents who really need a lot more attention from me, because my mom is not well. And in other areas, I am doing the things I think God told me I should do, and I am praying big prayers and dreaming big dreams, but I feel like I am in that proverbial waiting room of life when it comes to all of those things I have been talking to God concerning. And that leads me to the other trap that social media can set for us....comparing and questioning. We may be truly happy for our friends who got the blessing we were praying for, but that doesn't mean it won't still cause pain to wonder when our time will come. Also, I avoid watching the news most of the time, because I have the kind of heart that breaks over the stories that are heard and there is little I can do about most of them. I have trouble with hearing about all the trouble in the world that I can't change, and it makes me sad to hear the awful stories of child abuse, shootings, and the like, which I somehow can't avoid when on Facebook because everyone shares them. And lets not even get into the arguments that take place there over politics. I am not condemning anyone for using their own profiles however they choose, They are free to post as they wish. But I feel like there is a lot of negativity that I just don't need right now while my mind and heart are not where they should be. During this season of life, when I need to be more present for my family and seek harder after God and His wisdom for my life,  I feel like I have to take time away from my normal. In a typical morning, I get up early, brush teeth, put the dog out and read from my First 5 app while the coffee brews. Then I mix the coffee my way and open my Bible, with my prayer journal ready. After my time with God, I either get into my workout first or post in my challenge groups, depending on how late in the morning it is. I need to get something up for my challengers before 6 AM so they can incorporate it into their own morning routines. I could use other sites to schedule these posts for me, but I like my challengers to have the feeling that I am actually right there with them. I also always post one of the Bible verses from my reading that spoke to me, because I have always done this since the beginning. People have also told me how much they appreciate them, and I want to share them because I realize that maybe that verse is the only one someone will see all day. But then, it's the part after posting where I start scrolling mindlessly and some of the content just tries to erase all of the good things I just took in. The enemy will use any tool available to get into your thoughts. So while I will ALWAYS be a coach and I will ALWAYS be available to my team, I know that Facebook is not the only way to be there for them. I need to step back from my normal and see what God can do in my life when I focus more of my day on Him and His truth. But I will still be right here for my fit fam or anyone new who wants to join the beautiful community we have. In fact, there is a free app from Beachbody that is really cool, and it is designed to run our challenge groups the same way we would on Facebook. For anyone who wants to take advantage of program sales this month and in August, I am going to open a challenge through the app. Just ask me for details! Also, because I want to unplug some of the time but not disconnect completely, I will stay on Pinterest and Instagram during the time I am off from Facebook and you are more than welcome to come follow me there. My handle for both is Jensusa1013. Of course you can also keep up with me right here, and I do hope to have great stories to share with you about how God is working in our lives between now and Labor Day. That is when I will come back to Facebook and will have some nice end of summer beach photos to share with you! I know that God can do great things in our hearts when we prioritize Him and people before other things and that is what I intend to do. I look forward to sharing what happens and wish all my Facebook friends a very happy finish to the summer. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Is That Really Important?

How many songs have been written about the passage of time? I can think of so many lyrics that tell us about the realization that hits us all eventually in life, hopefully sooner than later. The truth is time passes quickly and once an hour, a day a week has already passed, we never get it back. Time just keeps moving until there is no more. One of the best quotes I ever heard about the way we move through life just trying to move on to the next thing was from one of my favorite TV shows, The Office.

For me, the proof of time passing so quickly is in two people I love, and it brings me to tears at times. My parents have grown old as I was aging faster than I realized. But sometimes with age in this broken world comes disease that speeds along the process even more. In the last 5 years, I have seen my mom age more than 25 year in her brain and her body. I never know how much time we have left together these days, but I hope it's enough for her to find out more about all the good things God is going to unfold for Lucas and our family. And Lucas, my son. Oh how the birthdays have flown by! I remember the moment they laid him on my chest in the hospital and understanding the feeling people talked about of the great pain you just endured melting away. I remember being filled such overwhelming gratitude at the sight of him like it was yesterday. But this year my baby will be ten years old.

So these facts have got me thinking about how we all have things we do that might not be the best use of our time, and we all claim that we are too busy for so many things. Too busy to take care of our health. Too busy for our families and to spend any time with friends. Too busy to see that loved one who is sick. Too busy to take a vacation. Too busy for church or any volunteer work. Too busy to send a note or make a phone call that lets someone know you still care and you still think about them. 

This morning, I heard Joyce Meyer say that "What you spend your time and money on is what is important to you." She spoke about the importance of spending time with God every day and if we don't do that, we can never be prepared for the world around us and the challenges we face. But even though that time spent with God will benefit us, the more frightening thing is how easily we might choose to say we just don't have the time. I will not go a day without at least turning my attention the the Word and to prayer for a few minutes. I have learned how stupid it is of me to decline my opportunity to approach the Creator of the universe freely with whatever is on my mind. I want to thank Him daily for making that possible through Christ. It's a gift to spend time with God and that time will always be restored to use throughout the day. His strength gives us what we need for the work that is ours to do. 
I wrote in another post that my other non-negotiable daily activity is to workout at least 10 to 25 minutes. Most of the workouts I have are about 30 minutes long. That is another investment of my time that is repaid to me 100 times over. I am more capable of handling life because I do it. It's not a waste of precious time. It's the way to get the most out of the precious time you have. 
So with the rest of what we choose to do or not do in life, I think we need to ask the question, is that really important? Yes, we have to work, but do we have to work so much that we can't be there for our families? Do we have to do so many things that we can't just have some white space in our schedule to enjoy life with the people we love? Is there a way that we can spend just a little of our time that will impact someone else? That is what I think is most important. It's people who matter. Don't be too busy for that. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Another Fresh Start

I got the idea to start this blog when I was doing The Daniel Fast a few weeks ago. It was then that when I was praying for clarity about the ways God wanted me to use my gifts in life that He said the first thing I should do is share with other people how He helped me. If you know me or even have me as a social media "friend," you already know that I claim a great love of food....a love that was TOO great because I became a chronic stress eater. In my recent blog posts, I said that I had been able to step down off medications for depression, but sometime between the time I got on them and the time I stopped using them, I had managed to place 30 pounds of the 50 I had lost before back on my body.

During my last two years working as a fitness coach, I tried to rid myself of stress eating but every so often I would go back to it, and as we age, the fact is one weekend of terrible eating can undo a whole month of hard work to lose some weight. So I have always felt my tendency towards emotional eating has been the reason I never made my final goal. I felt the need to try the Daniel Fast again, and not wait for the time when it was convenient. That was partly because of the urgency I felt to hear from God about so many of my prayers, and partly because I wanted to see if I could finally flip the switch in my brain about my on again off again emotional eating. Because you know something? I have learned that when we are addicted to food, especially those that contain sugar or white flour or artificial preservatives, it is not all our fault! Do you know that sugar works just like a drug in the brain? It provokes the same response and leaves the brain looking for more and more sugar so it can get the same "high." That is where we are left when we continue to eat it. And for me, it wasn't just that anymore, because I felt that I had broken that sugar addiction during the Made to Crave Bible study I did with my challengers before Easter this year. After I resumed allowing myself a little of it, I found that most things just tasted too rich and I didn't want to eat it anymore. Yet, when emotions were taking over in me or I had a hard day, I made the same old excuses and ate chips that were only in the house for my son. Lots of them. Yikes! I guess he could get his chip obsession from me! 

When I first wrote about the fast, I was bubbling over with everything that God had done with me during that three weeks, and I never did share about the hardest moments, which shockingly didn't actually involve chips or chocolate. No there were only two different occasions during this fast when I felt like my heart really hurt. As I shared before, I also gave up coffee as part of that experience, something I never thought I would be able to do. I miraculously got through my mornings all right without it, but it was the times when it was late afternoon, when I normally would have a cup for the boost I would be looking for after the day's activities that there were three different occasions during this fast that someone offered me free coffee. Free coffee that was not made by me, in the afternoon when I wanted a cup anyway. You just don't know how hard that was to say no. The other thing I learned about myself during this fast is how much I adore pizza. There was the one day we got to attend a Pittsburgh Pirates game with some students in my son's class and that was when the reality of how much I love pizza first became real to me. 

I had just passed up on all kinds of great food that was offered to us in our box that we were blessed with as a gift to our kids that day, and only ate what went along with my fast plan, which is basically vegan eating with no junk food allowed. Then we decided to take Lucas for a walk around the ball park. Of all the delicious smells around that place, the one that hit me like a brick was the pizza cooking over the flames in one of those brick ovens. That was painful. (FYI I felt it again when I took Lucas swimming at the pool and saw a kid on the deck eating a big floppy New York style slice!) 

But overall, the fast was such an amazing expeience and I felt so good after eating that way for 3 weeks that I almost hated to see it end. Then I had the opportunities for further reflection when it was over. I ate some things over the last two weeks that I just didn't enjoy as much as I did before and one day (this past Friday) I really over did it. I knew I would be starting over today so I rationalized that it was all right, and at least I was honest enough to share that with my Facebook friends. I felt so sick that evening and the next day. I was relieved to make it to Monday for my fresh start, with a great group of new challengers, and best of all, my husband! I believe God can and will help us make this the time we both stick to the plan. It's only 3 more weeks, since we are doing the 21 Day Fix programs together. (Extreme for me.) But I have a feeling after my most recent experience with giving things up that it will yield such positive rewards that we will want to stick it out longer. Actually, knowing the food addiction that I do have and the way my brain will be able to let go of the habit if I leave those trigger foods alone, I have already determined that I will wait until our vacation at the end of August to have any treats. The only real difference in the Daniel Fast and the 21 Day Fix Extreme way of eating is that animal products are allowed. I decided to go vegan for the first three days, as kind of a detox period, and during that time I will also avoid TV and spend a little more time in the Word and reading positive material because a good soul detox every so often is the most important kind. Then I will follow the plan accordingly with just a little more emphasis on plant based food because it turns out I like that most anyway. Except maybe for that cheesy pizza! 
But the most important thing that happened during my fast was when the scripture I needed came to me at the times I needed it most. When the enemy got into my thoughts and spoke about how unfair it was that I was not eating any of the delicious free food at the ball park, or that I couldn't have a hot dog on Memorial Day weekend, I came back at him with the truth. There is one little piece of the following passage that God gave me to use in the battle against the desire to overindulge. 

Matthew 6:25-27

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the 
body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; 
they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and 
yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not 
much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you 
by worrying add a single hour to your life?"

I love these words from Jesus, about why we shouldn't worry about things in this life. But the part that stood out to me in a different way recently was how he asked, "Is not life more than food?" 
Well, yes, it certainly is. The day at the Pirates game was much more than free chicken wings, sandwiches, and beautiful layer cakes. It was more than even the afternoon coffee and the cheese pizza that had been cooked over the fire. It was family time, on a beautiful sunny day, where my son got to try something different. He was surrounded by staff from his school who genuinely love him and kids who were excited to see each other and experience the afternoon together. Holiday weekends and trips to the amusement park this summer are more than the food. They are about family togetherness, spending time with friends, and making memories. I won't remember what I ate years from now, but I will never forget the smiles of my child that were captured on camera to cherish for a lifetime, and I will always be able to look back and smile at how little it took to make him happy. Life is much more than food, And I am about to find out how much more I can get out of it by continuously eating the right things and none of the wrong ones. We would be happy to have others join us for just this three weeks! I can attest that when you work hard and allow God to be involved, a lot can happen in a short amount of time. (Not to mentione, these programs are effective!) Overcoming eating issues is hard, but from now on, I choose to remember the words of the One who makes all things possible. "Is not life more than food?" 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

3 Happy Habits

It's true that I had grown accustomed to dealing with depression off and on for most of my life. It's true that my "rock bottom" moment came when I was trying to survive debilitating anxiety about the future right before my special needs son entered kindergarten, and I accepted prescriptions from my doctor in order to overcome the horrible symptoms I was experiencing. It's true that even after I stepped down off the medication and tried other more natural methods of combatting depression, depression wasn't finished with me. What I should really say is that the devil wasn't finished with me, because as a dearly loved friend of mine says, depression is really just oppression from the enemy. But here is something else that is true, and it is the most important truth of all, and the reason I am writing to tell other people that depression can be overcome and left behind.

If you don't know, Jesus it the Light spoken about here, and I encourage you to read the first chapter of John and read this scripture in context. It's one of my favorite passages in the Bible. It's the amazing story about how God became flesh and lived among people so that He could overcome the darkness. There is still darkness in this world of all kinds, but it will never overcome the Light. Not ever. 
I'll tell you the last time I can remember feeling held back by depression was about two years ago, around the same time I started working as a fitness coach. I don't remember all of the circumstances that made me feel that way anymore, but I remember doing all the things I knew to beat it, even though I didn't feel like doing them. Because now I was part of a team and trying to serve as a rolemodel to help other people. I had done my Body Beast workout that morning and decided to go out for a run, because it was summer and the sun was out, and sun and fresh air and exercise are all good tools to fight depression. I had just downloaded an album from NeedtoBreathe, and had the music playing in my ears as my shoes hit the pavement. For the first time, I heard these lyrics....

Yeah in this wasteland where I'm livin'
There is a crack in the door filled with light
And it's all that I need to get by
Yeah in this wasteland where I'm livin'
There is a crack in the door filled with light
And it's all that I need to shine

Depression feels like a wasteland. It feels dark. But there was always Jesus, my crack in the door filled with light. For the last two years, God has been showing me how to not just "get by" when sadness tries to overtake me. He is showing me how to shine anyway, no matter what my circumstances are like. There will always be plenty of trouble for all of us. The Bible says that too. But it also says that we should watch our thoughts and think about what is good. This leads me to my new happy habits. There are three of them I have committed to do every day without fail, and they really do work! 

1. Open your Bible.
It's the only place where you will find the truth to cover over the lies that depression makes you believe. (A favorite quote from a favorite pastor of mine, Steven Furtick: "Don't believe everything you think.") It's the hope of all hope to know the love that God has for you and to know the end of the story. Today is not the end of the story, and the end of the story is that we win. If you can saturate your mind with that truth, you can make it through the day and have peace. Let the Word be your anchor, every day, before the demands of the day and the negativity of the world around you have the chance to reach your thoughts instead. Truth first. Hope first. God first. 

2. Pray. More specifically, pray prayers of thanks. 
It is hard to stay down when you are praising God for all that is right. I fully understand from my own experience that it can be too easy to feel like everything is wrong and you have nothing to be grateful for. That is what depression does. It makes you think you would be better off if you were anyone else. But a perspective shift will help you see that there are other people in the world who wish they could be you. And even though we ALL have a problem of some kind on any given day, there is always something to be thankful for too. I have commmitted to write down three of those things in my prayer journal every morning. Thank God for life, breath, a new day. Thank Him for the clean water you have, or a job, or a friend, husband, wife, son or daughter. Sometimes you will find it is easy to fill a whole page with the blessings you do have. 

3. Move your body
I know, I know. You don't want to do it in the depths of depression, Your body already might hurt. But when I committed to doing at least ten miutes a day 6 days a week, (you should allow your body one rest day.) I found that once I got going, I almost instantly felt better. It's something to channel the angry energy into that is healthy for you and it's scientifically proven to brighten your mood. Endorphins are great! Try whatever activity you like, even just walking. When you can walk outside, all the better. When I am especially stressed out, kick boxing is my favorite! The best work out is the one you will do. So choose a good video program, or get outside, or to the gym, or to the class that just started up in your community. Just schedule it in and don't miss it. 

There are other things I do that bring me joy and some of them are fast and easy. I will share those mood lifters in another post. But for me, these three things have been non-negotiable for a while now. And you know what? Even though I have STILL had hard circumstances in my life of all kinds, this past winter is the first one that I didn't feel the affects of SAD very much. It was so much of a difference that a friend even pointed out to me that she noticed it! I still don't like the winters here because I don't like to be cold, I like the sun, and the snow affecting my son's regular routine is the worst of all. He hates being off schedule and that makes life a little harder for everyone. But these three habits kept me happy anyway. I finally feel like I have arrived at a full understanding of the following much quoted scripture. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

A prelude to my Happy Habits

Don't I look so happy in this picture? Well I will let you in on a little secret. I wasn't. I was feeling a little less panicked on this day then I had been a couple of weeks earlier, because I was on prescription drugs. Let me back up a bit. I am well acquainted with depression. The first time it came for me was when I was in my early teens and we all know the kinds of changes that take place. I was a young girl who let every negative word that was ever said sink into my mind and heart, and all of the bad things that had ever been said about me were the words I believed about myself. I didn't like myself or anything about my life, because I didn't understand that today is not the end of the story, and some bad experiences do not make a bad life. A Christian counselor thankfully made me believe the truth that I was made by God on purpose and for a purpose, and for the first time I felt like I was worthy to be alive. I never thought about ending my life again, and over the years, I have typically been a happy person. Every so often, the darkness would find its way back. I was also given a gift I didn't expect when my son was born. After finding out that autism and Fragile X Syndrome would be a part of our story, I accepted my assignment and believed God would provide everything we needed to make Lucas a happy and contributing member of society. But sometimes, the challenges of the days felt like too much to withstand.
It seems the times of transition for Lucas were the worst of times for me. I was happy with the services we had when he was a toddler, and the birth to three therapists had been a great help to me. He was home with me and under my protection. Then the time came to send him to pre-school when he turned three. I can't even go into details for this post because it would take too long, but it was right about then that everything became a mess. I remember a period of about 3 days that I just couldn't stop crying. I cried during all my waking hours, and couldn't stop it even when I was in front of people. But God...He always pulled me out of times like that. I got better. But then I set all these goals that needed to happen before kindergarten for Lucas and not many of them did. My son still never spoke, even though he was 6 years old. He wasn't fully potty trained yet, although we had worked on it for 4 years. The devil made his way into my thoughts. I know now that's what was happening. I thought about how no matter what I poured out into making my son do better, it would never be good enough. He would never be where he needed to be and all of my work was for nothing. Then there was the fact that he was going to public school, and one thing I will mention, is that his first pre-school teacher was abusive to her other non-verbal students in the classroom. Not Lucas, because his TSS always went to school with him, and that is the one reason that I know my son was never mistreated by a person who had clearly chosen the wrong profession. But in these weeks leading up to kindergarten, I thought back to what might have happened if God had not made sure that someone we could trust was at his side. What if? What if the new kindergarten teacher didn't love her job either? What if teaching kids with autism wasn't her true calling and she also was irritated and angry at them? What if the aids were not people who wanted to be in that class room? What if someone hurt my baby? And he couldn't ever tell me about it! How would I find out when I didn't know anyone in his room this time like I did in pre-school? Then it took over...the debilitating fear and anxiety of sending my child to school, and the future ahead of us. The enemy had gotten me to temporarily think that just because he wasn't where I wanted him to be by kindergarten, he wouldn't have a good life. I could feel my breathing become out of control when I tried to lie down and sleep at night, like I wasn't actually ABLE to breathe. I will never forget what an anxiety attack feels like. I get so mad when I hear of it happening to other people because I hate to think they feel the way I did then and it just isn't fair, because there are ways out of it. So after so many nights of tears pouring out and the feeling that I couldn't sleep, or breathe or take the pain of worrying so dreadfully about my son any longer, I went to the doctor. I blamed hormones and told them I thought I might have some sort of health problem, but they did blood work and checked for everything under the sun and told me I was perfectly healthy, The doctor told me most likely the imbalance was in my brain, because I was experiencing depression, and he said most people going through a big challenge know that it is going to come to an end, but for me, with the challenges of raising my son, there was no end in sight. I cried again just because I heard someone pinpoint the way I felt. And I left the office with my prescriptions. I know that prescriptions are sometimes necessary and helpful, and they were to me for a short time, but I have been someone who believes in more natural approaches for years, and personally don't like to take pills for very long.  My doctor even knew this about me, and assured me that I could step down from these drugs when I felt ready. I determined in my mind that some day, with God's help, I would GET ready, because I just refused to be on a prescription for a lifetime. It's nothing against anyone who has that need. Please hear me on that. This is just my personal experience and my personal choice.
Looking back, these were the best and cutest pictures I ever got on the first day of school. The day my son became a kindergarten kid was the time he was most cooperative for photos!
The only twinge of sadness I feel now is that my baby still had the baby look in these pictures, and it has long since left him, because he will be in fourth grade this year, at a school that has been a big blessing in our lives. He made the switch half way through his first year in public school. I do sometimes shed a tear over how quickly the time goes, but I have learned the most important factor in being free from the fear. 
As it turns out, I am glad I have these beautiful pictures of that first day when I needed a prescription to help me put on a smile. They remind me of how far God has brought my son, and how far he has brought me too. It was within the year that I did step down from those drugs. I used them to get through the winter months, because I do have classic SAD. When spring rolled around, I started the process of coming off the prescriptions, and moving into other methods to help me deal with any sadness or anxiety that came along, God has taught me a lot in the last three years, and has used things that seem so simple to help me overcome depression. And as I said in my first post, I not only "get through" the difficulties because of God, but I have actually learned to enjoy life and be happy while I am waiting for the blessings I believe He will let us see with our eyes in His perfect timing. I want to share 3 of my "happy habits" with you this week. Come back Wednesday to learn what they are! 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Change of Heart

It only took 37 years for me to finally grasp the real truth. The truth was I had known the secret to being free from everything that ever held me back in life for years, but I didn't fully understand it or tap into what was already available to me. A week ago, I was reminded of something called The Daniel Fast that I had done before from an unlikely source. I was watching a documentary about following a plant based diet. The Daniel Fast is eating plant based for 21 days.

I was thinking about how tired I was of slipping backwards in my healthy eating plan, and having too much junk in my diet for too many days of the week. I was also thinking it seemed I was doing so much struggling and striving lately and not getting very far in so many areas of my life, and there were parts of that I desperately wanted to receive God's instruction on, but for a couple of weeks, God seemed silent to me. I decided that it was a good time for the fast, and in the beginning, I started it just as I had all the other times, thinking about it primarily as a healthy way of eating in order to honor God. But it "just so happened" I found a book about the fast which I had never read at the thrift store. So I bought it, and in it, I read all the things that should occur during a fast, and the main thing was fervent prayer and a spirit of giving up anything that might take the place of God in our life.

It is shockingly easy to have "idols" in our lives without realizing it. I came to understand through another life changing Bible study I did based on the book Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst that an idol can be anything we go to for our comfort instead of God, like food, for instance. I already was aware that I had done this, and in doing that study for the fourth time, I felt that I had finally been freed of my addiction to sugar. But the pull I felt towards things that were salty, cheesy and deep fried was still there. So in these moments of reading this book, God spoke to my heart loud and clear. He pointed out to me that I had stuck with the fast the other times that I did it, except I always allowed myself the exception of one thing. Coffee with cream, because, face it, without cream coffee is not good. (Sorry, black coffee friends.) And actually neither of these are supposed to be a part of the fast. I heard God say, "You are willing to give up everything except the one thing you love most." Ouch. 

Well if you know me, you know the thought of drinking no coffee for three weeks would be enough to make me cry, much more so than giving up any of the other foods that are not allowed. But for God, in order to get closer to Him and hear Him speak to me more clearly in my times of great challenge, would I be willing to prove that I loved him more than sweet, creamy coffee? Well when you think of it in those terms, there really is no question, is there? So I said goodbye to coffee, and also to my TV, because that is the other thing that seemed to call out to me at the end of a bad day. Let me tell you, in my mind there is nothing like a binge session on Netflix to turn off my brain and forget my troubles. But is it beneficial? And it is more effective than prayer or reading and listening good quality content would be if I filled that time with those things instead? Certainly not. So for these three weeks, I didn't just see it as a time to clean up my diet and pray a little more. I saw it as a time to immerse myself in Jesus every day, while cutting out all the negative material that has every opportunity to bombard us wherever we go. And something amazing happened! It was like the culmination of every meaningful Bible study I had done and sermon I had heard so far this year. Everything became crystal clear, and I knew that the secret to joy no matter what our circumstances in this life are is to truly seek God first, and seek Him just because He is God and not because of the blessings we want Him to provide. My three weeks was so hard some of the time, but for all of the time the experience was so amazing, to actually FEEL the joy and peace of God, which surpasses all understanding right in the middle of the mess going on in my life. I wasn't just relying on God to "get through" anymore. I was feeling happy when I didn't necessarily have circumstantial reasons to feel very happy. I almost hated to see my 3 weeks come to an end, but I left it with this truth finally being fully understood.....

I get it now. What is in your heart takes you over and spills out into your life. I may have had some things that were sad going on around me, but sadness was no longer filling my heart. Complaining was no longer filling my mind and heart. Discouragement was no longer filling my heart. Because God was present and He is always good, even when life isn't good, and the Bible tells us His plans for us will stand no matter what we see happening in the present. Isn't it amazing to think that the final say belongs to the One who placed the world in which we live in perfect order? He promises us that all things will work together for our good! Yes, there are still things I am praying for, believing for, and waiting for, but I will praise God and enjoy my life just as it is while I wait. Am I anxious that things won't work out or worried about how long God's timing will be? Not so much anymore. Because I know the secret. 
"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."
Matthew 6:33

So as I am waiting for the things I asked God for, I asked Him for my one next step. What should I do first? And what He said was to share what He had done for me. Tell people. Tell as many people as I could that I have overcome depression multiple times in my life only through His strength, and that finally in the year 2016 He helped me get it under my feet for good. Tell people that it's possible to be free of unhealthy addictions and ways of dealing with stress. Tell people that even when life looks dark and things seem irreparable, all is not lost. As long as we are alive, we have purpose, and where God has a purpose, there is always more hope. So here is the beginning of doing what I was told. I want to tell you more about it. I hope the little pieces of my story will help someone else. Even one. That is all it takes to make it worth it.