Pushing in, Holding on, and Refusing to Give Up

Backstory:

Valentines Day 2012 I have weightloss surgery to help save my life and buy me time to change my health, while I continue therapy to understand why I use food in ways it was never intended.  I take on the full time job of what I describe as “dealing with my crap.”  I work hard, become an athlete, accomplish physical feats I never dreamed I was capable of.  All the while secretly hoping one day to try and get pregnant again before I got any older.  I would begin to learn I could stop running from the hard stuff and take it on, and battle through it.  I was fine, until things were not in my control.  I was fine as long as eating a certain way and working out a certain amount meant weightloss.  I was fine until I just couldn’t lose any more weight and it wasn’t making any sense, so my lowest weight never dipped below 208 pounds.  My heaviest was 311.  I began to learn about how my autoimmune issues played a much bigger role in weightloss but time was ticking.  So, I put my weightloss journey on hold and dove into the world of infertility again.  We would try to get pregnant, pour in all the hormones, I would gain weight (about 15 pounds), it wouldn’t work, I would spend a few months trying to lose the weight but a few pounds would stay on each time before we would try again, each time with more hormones.  Then we moved on to the mac-daddy of all infertility treatments, IVF.  It was our last try.  I was up to 228 pounds, a size 12, the day we began the IVF ride.  After inserting the approximately $10,000 worth of injectable fertility meds, the day of our embryo transfer, I was tipping the scale at 243 pounds.  Amazingly, we got pregnant with our precious baby girl, and I worked hard to eat well, exercise regularly, and only gained 11 pounds during my pregnancy.  So, the day I gave birth I weighed 254 pounds.  I had no idea at that time that the pain in my hip would not be normal postpartum pain, or that it would grow worse, or why.

After giving birth, I started exercising as soon as I could, determined to lose the weight as quickly as I could and restart my weight-loss journey again. Between the exercise and all the breastfeeding, I lost all the weight I had gained from the pregnancy and some of the IVF hormones in just a few short weeks.  However, the pain in my hip kept growing more intense with no relief.  So, when our daughter was 3 months old I decided it was time to figure out the problem because it was clear to me by now it wasn’t going away.

I started at the chiropractor who quickly determined something was wrong.  I did acupuncture.  I then went to physical therapy (PT), which gave no improvement after 6 weeks.  Then I went to see an orthopedic surgeon who quickly determined after doing an x-ray that I had a glut med tear and simply needed more PT.  After an additional 6 weeks, still no improvement, it was getting worse.  At this point, after a horrible battle to try and prove I was indeed in pain, which had been growing worse for over 6 months at this point, I started on pain meds.  I took 1-2 just at night so I could have a break and actually sleep.  The constant pain made me fell like I was loosing my mind.  I went back to the same orthopedic surgeon, who decided that now, I didn’t have a glut med tear, but instead it was bursitis, and a simple injection would fix me up in a jiffy.  That simple injection put me at risk for a serious stomach ulcer because I had had stomach surgery, but I did it anyway.  It did nothing to help.  The pain just continued to get worse, while the pain meds became less and less effective as they often do.  The PT suggested he believed it was a labral tear, which would require surgery.  So, I went to a different orthopedic surgeon, who decided to do MRI’s with contrast to see if it was a labral tear.  The results were inconclusive, and so with great attitude, he decided I should have another shot, this time in the joint, which would put my stomach in jeopardy again and in no way fix whatever the problem was.  I had had enough.

Jjagged bone growth

Jagged bone growth

I did my research, and found an amazing orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Stephanie Pun, at Stanford who I was hoping would be willing to see me; she was my last idea.  Amazingly, I got in.  She looked at the MRI’s I had had done, she did her own x-rays, and she ran a test that included injecting numbing meds in my joint to see if it brought relief.  It did.  The x-ray clearly showed a large bone spur and the injection left her to conclude that surgery would indeed be beneficial.

The normally 2-3 hr surgery took about 4.5 hours.  When she went in, she saw that not only did I have a labral tear, but part of it had ossified (turned to bone) because it had been going on for so long.  She had to shave 4 mm of jagged bone growth off my ilium, remove 2mm of ossified labrum, reattach the torn labrum and the labrum where my ilium was shaved down and shave 2 mm of bone off of my femur before she was done.

Pictures from surgery

Pictures from surgery

16 months after the pain began.  But onto the point of this post….

For over 13 months I have essentially been unable to exercise, due to the pain it caused.  It has been maddening.  I have been given pain meds and antidepressants to help deal with the pain, both of which cause weight gain.  And, I am sad to admit, I have not regulated my eating, to be healthy, because I just couldn’t manage to make it a priority on top of everything else.  Today, I got on the scale, and I officially weigh more then I did when I gave birth to my daughter, 262 pounds.

And so, with a heavy heart, I start over, again.  This time I have to relearn how to walk, and while I have about 3 months of painful PT to look forward to, I won’t be able to go back to the gym until 6 more months have passed.  During that time I have to hope and pray that this surgery will have indeed freed me from the pain (because there are no guarantees) and that I will be able to regain normal activities again one day.  This unknown, this journey is one of the hardest I have ever been on.

I am not good in the unknown.  I don’t do well with this level of hard.  Chronic pain and being immobile are truly horrid for me.  However, I will press in, I will move forward, and I will work hard to do all that I can.  So, starting today I am weaning off the crutches I have lived with for the last 2.5 weeks.  I am beginning the weaning off of all the medications that I hate being on to begin with.  And I am tackling my diet, the one thing I have some control over.  It is time to work hard to reduce the inflammation in my poor body, and hopefully start to feel much better.  Here is to never giving up, even when you want to, even when you are so weary you can’t see straight, even when you have no idea what the end outcome will be.

Be Still

be-still

It began as a whisper in my soul,

The day my water broke when I was 17 weeks pregnant with our twin girls,

The day the specialist strongly suggested I terminate the pregnancy because it could cost me my life,

The day I held our 21 week-old-gestation baby girl as she took her last breaths in my arms,

The day I watched as they tried to save our 24 week-old-gestation baby girl as she took her last breaths, as they worked to save my life,

The day I stood at the smallest pink casket conceivable and said good-bye to two of my daughters,

The day we decided to fight to adopt our first three girls,

The day our oldest decided to leave our house, mad, two days after she turned 18,

The day our second oldest decided to leave our house in pursuit of a boy,

The days of anger, heartache, and pain after pain as we tried to fix all the broken,

The day I learned I couldn’t,

The day I stood in court and wondered if we would win our battle to adopt our fourth little girl,

The day our oldest told us she was pregnant,

The day our second oldest told us she was pregnant,

The time after time when we have been treated with scorn, when all the anger from their journey gets poured out on us time and time again,

The day after one yells, “I DID NOT CHOOSE YOU.  I HATE YOU!”

The day when once again a child walks away,

The day after what feels like unending drama and unending pain,

The days I wonder what am I doing all this for?

The whisper has grown to a gentle, loud, rhythmic beat in my ears over the years; patiently, unendingly He reminds me…

“Be still, My soul.”

I had no idea it was the title to an old hymn, until just this year.

And then I read through the stanzas for the first time, and wept; I wept at God’s precious love and faithfulness to me; I wept because for the first time I felt like I was truly beginning to understand all that he was saying in just a few words.  I recently read this description of the hymn and it is SO very good: (emphasis mine)

“Life is noisy.  A hymn like “Be Still My Soul” gives me assurance that in the noise of life, my soul is held secure in the silence- silence that goes before and behind me.  In the noise of my emotions or daily work rhythms, the silence between the happenings is a constant.  The silence helps me find my place in the world, to see who I am,  and it makes space for my soul to listen to God.  Even in the most joyful tones of life, as in music, the space between the notes is just as important as the notes themselves.  Hebrew scholar Ellen Davis translates the first verse of Psalm 65 in this way:  “To you, O God, silence is praise.”  Silence is praise?  You mean I don’t have to say or prove anything?  I can just be here, be who I am, where I am, and let the silence envelop me?  Like Job’s declaration of God’s goodness in spite of his personal losses, Katharina echoes:  “Be still, my soul, your Jesus can repay, from his own fullness, all he takes away.”  These are challenging and comforting words, strung disruptively close together.  The challenging part is the reminder that we are not the ones in control.  If space is a kind of loss, the comfort of the stanza is this:  like music notes on a page, we ought to submit ourselves to receive both the notes themselves (like joy) and the space between the notes (like loss) before God.  He, in His fulness, is the Great composer of our souls, moving us in and out of seasons, giving and taking away.  Using both space and melody, He composes our lives into a symphony far more dynamic and beautiful than we ever could have written for ourselves.  Admittedly, we can’t always hear the music that is being written in us.  Sometimes, the people around us can hear the sound more easily than we can.  It’s then that we need our friends to sing it for us and sing it to us.  In a hymn such as “Be Still My Soul,” in both space and melody, we are instructed in the practice of silence and the symphony of grace.  We are encouraged to “be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.” (Psalm 37:7).  And we are invited to “begin the song of praise.” ~Sandra McCracken

And just in case you have never actually read the stanzas to this hymn,
written by Katharina A. von Schlegel back in 1752, here they are:

“Be Still, My Soul”

1. Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;

Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;

Leave to thy God to order and provide;

In every change He faithful will remain.

Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend

Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

2. Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake

To guide the future as He has the past.

Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;

All now mysterious shall be bright at last.

Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know

His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

3. Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart

And all is darkened in the vale of tears;

Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,

Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.

Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay

From His own fulness all He takes away.

4. Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on

When we shall be forever with the Lord,

When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,

Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.

Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,

All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

 

Love

IMG_9784

A few years ago I realized that it was time to make a few changes.  I had spent the majority of my life seeking to please others, hungry for their acceptance, their approval, but most of all hungry for their love.  I realized that somewhere along the line I had become the preverbial “people pleaser”, willing to forego even the basest forms of respect in order to keep people in my life.  I believed that if I just worked harder, did more, allowed more, that eventually things would change.  I firmly believed that it was indeed all my fault when things did not go well and I was treated poorly or hurt.  Somewhere along the line I accepted the lie that I simply was not worthy of being treated well, let alone to be loved well.

Eventually, I just broke.

I knew I wanted things to change, so I got some help.  I started to see a therapist, and I started the hard business of really learning about myself and what desperately needed to change.  It turns out there is a whole other world out there.  A world where people have boundaries.  A world where people say no, expect respect and walk away from those who emotionally use and abuse them.  There is a world where family doesn’t treat you like junk, and children honor their parents.  A world where people believe they are worthy of love.  I use to think that loving well meant that you just endured all things.  Now I realize true love means sometimes having to say, “I love you too much to let you treat me this way.”

I have been learning who I really want to be.  What sort of daughter, wife, mother and friend do I desire to be?

Simple.  I want to love, really love– wisely, passionately, deeply.  Thankfully, God is patiently teaching me what love really looks like.  My education began with understanding who I no longer desire to be–the victim.  I have been digging in deep, combing through the words from the author of love. One story has been on my mind for weeks now, it has challenged and broken me in the best possible ways.  It is found in Luke, it is the story of Jesus healing the paralyzed man:

“Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus.  When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.” Luke 5:18-19

The fact that Jesus ended up healing the man was not what struck me.  I found myself thinking about the men who carried the paralytic.  I tried to put myself there, watching this unfold.  Here is this man, body broken, laying on a mat.  Did he want to get well?  Let’s just assume the paralytic actually wanted a working body, if given the chance.  Why did the men decided to carry him?  I am sure they had busy lives, and there were many other things they could have done with their time.  Let’s not miss the fact that they actually carried him.  Have you ever carried another adult before?  I am just going to go with saying, in the least, they were committed, caring and strong. They cared enough for this man to literally carry him to Jesus so that he could receive healing.

Wow.

In my world, that is pretty impressive if we just stop the story there.  How many would go to such great lengths to help another?  However, when they arrived at the house where Jesus was they realized that they could not actually get to him because of the great crowd.  What do these guys do?  Do they give up and say, well, we tried? No!  They refuse to stop, they battle forward, determined to press on to the goal–Jesus.  They decide to carry him up the stairs to the roof.  They carried him up stairs! Carrying him at all would have been a workout, but to carry him up stairs is an even deeper commitment.  Then, they actually break through the roof of the house and lower him down to Jesus.  Can you just picture that scene?  Can you imagine how humbling and amazing it was to be the paralytic?  I am floored.

What a beautiful picture of love.  Who was blessed more that day, the paralytic or the friends who carried him to Jesus?

I am challenged.  I want to be that sort of friend.  I want to carry those who want to get well to Jesus.  I want to fight for them, press in with them until they get the victory that God desperately wants them to have.  I want to weep when they weep and rejoice when they rejoice.  I want them to know that they are important enough to fight for.  I am learning that I want to walk in that level of love.

No matter what I choose there is no escaping the hard that is present in relationships. So, instead of attempting to hide from the hard, I would rather pick the hard that leads to the fruit of abundant life.  For there is one thing I may have finally learned; true love leads to freedom, healing and beautiful growth–not bondage, brokenness and despair.

Far Past the Shoreline

Shoreline

“Disturb us Lord when we are too well pleased with ourselves.  When our dreams have come true because we’ve dreamed too little.  When we arrive safely because we’ve sailed too close to the shore.  Disturb us Lord when, in the abundance of the things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life.  Having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity.  And in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim.  Disturb us Lord to dare more boldly to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery, where losing sight of land we shall find the stars.  Lord, we ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes and to push us into the future in your strength, courage, hope, and love.  Disturb us, oh Lord.”

~ Sir Francis Drake

I just want to know I am right, and that I am not careening down a dead-end road that ends in a rather steep cliff.  I want the handwriting-on-the-walls-audible-voice-of-God-burning-bush-experience, complete with a carbon copy of all instructions via email for good measure.  I want certainty.  I want control.  I want to know exactly what I am getting into so that I can clearly and strategically decipher whether I have the ability to endure it.

I am lying to myself.  What I really want is to control the outcome, to avoid more pain and, therefore, opt out of any need to actually trust God.

Be still.  Trust.  Surrender.  Let go.

Yeah…those words feel like abrasive Brillo pads on my sensitive flesh.  And yet, if I will be still long enough, I can remember the numerous times of God’s faithfulness in my life–the mighty storms that revealed his greatness.  I can clearly see he is indeed trustworthy.  I understand that he alone will give me the strength to walk whatever lies before me.  It isn’t up to me, it isn’t about me, it has always been about him…and the story he is writing.

I can choose to trust him.  I can hold on to him desperately, moment by moment.  With my eyes clearly fixed on who he is, I am free to realize I have absolutely nothing to fear.  And so I climb into my rickety boat and venture out into wider seas, far past the illusion of comfort provided by the shoreline, and I wait.  I wait to see the stars.

Homeless in San Francisco

Homeless Woman

San Francisco.  Home of amazing sour dough bread, trolley cars, fresh seafood and one of the most diverse populations ever held in one city.  As I write this I am sitting in the fancy lobby of the Hilton in Union Square, where we have been staying for the last few days while my husband attends what I like to refer to as a “nerd conference,” featuring some of the latest and greatest in the computer programming world.  As you can imagine, my head began to ache just walking amongst the throng of this populace.  I came to relax, to turn my brain off for a bit, and to just enjoy being alone.  So, I ventured out into the big city of San Francisco all by myself.

I walked. I watched.  I even stepped out of my comfort zone and started conversations with others.  And I prayed.

And then I saw, really saw, possibly for the first time….the homeless.

I was undone.

How many times have I ignored the fact that they exist? Or judged them?  Or reminded myself it was just not my problem, what could I possibly do?

But as I walked the streets I was filled with so many thoughts I had never had before and it hit me:  these are our modern day lepers.  These are those who society has outcast, they are the forgotten, the unclean, the untouchable.

Yet, these are the very ones that Jesus would have hung out with, and even more shocking…he would have touched them!  And I am profoundly humbled to say that for the very first time I was struck by the fact that God profoundly loves them.  Deeply, passionately and completely loves them…just as much as he loves me.

They are someone’s daughter, son, father, mother, aunt, uncle or cousin.  They each have a story.  How did they get here? What happened in their story that landed them here, on the streets of San Francisco?  What mother or father looked at them as babies and thought, “One day, dear one, you are destined to be a homeless beggar.”  None.  And yet…there they are, in a situation they probably never saw coming.

And so I sit here and wonder.  I wonder if maybe Jesus had it right.  He made it simple: love.  Love!  A command, a verb, not a warm fuzzy feeling.  I do not know exactly what that love looks like in every situation.  However, I am wondering if our eyes are fixed on Jesus, and our focus is his love, then maybe it will change our actions…and maybe, just maybe, God will use it to change the lives of those whose paths we cross.

One thing I am certain of, even as I fall guilty of it, is that my judgement accomplishes nothing.  But God’s perfect love can change anything; and for some reason which I truly do not understand, he wants to use us.  He wants to demonstrate his love and power through us.  So, the question then becomes this: are we willing?

 

 

 

Hitting Walls, Quitting Weight Loss, and Detoxing

Protein shakes, counting calories, pushing myself at every corner to achieve a new physical milestone and then hitting a wall so fast, and so hard it sent me reeling.  It only took about 6 months to loose 96.2 lbs, thanks to having a sleeve gastrectomy, eating strictly  and exercising like a mad woman.  And then I hit a wall where nothing seemed to work to push even one more pound off, alueding not only the 100 lb mark, but totally missing the other 60 pounds I have left to shed.  It is about exercise and eating less calories, right?  Bull; it is just not that simple for everyone.  And the old Crystal, the fat i-d0-not-care-just-give-up Crystal gave me a smack down.

So, after an 8 month weight loss stall, I quit.  I started to become afraid of every angle of the eating/exercise continuum.  Nothing was going as planned…I could feel defeat rear it’s ugly head.  I was sick of it all!  I was by no means bingeing any more, but I also stopped paying much attention to calories/protein or exercise.  I just simply told myself, “I am just taking a break from it all.”  Yeah…

First, I gained back about 8 pounds.  No shock, but just added to the pain.  What was the point if all my effort seemed in vain anyway?  Next, the energy wained, and I was already battling having far too little.  Then the sleeplessness, anxiety, and sadness dug in.  Lastly, the headaches returned and the tummy problems returned fiercer then ever.  I had a headache every single day for a week and a half.

Then I remembered…

this was life in the pit.  This was the foretaste of what believing the lies led to: a prison.  I promised I would never go back to that and there I was like a pig sitting in their slop, wallowing in self-pity.  We choose our hard, and I was once again choosing the hard of life in the pit.  It had not changed, it was nauseatingly familiar….and so was the pain.

Oh, how glad I am to know that I serve a God who loves me so dearly and is so abounding with grace that he will never be ok with me choosing life in the pit.

In a time of quiet before God, I heard the question once again that God seared onto my heart months ago.  Do you want to get well?  

Honestly, I just wanted my own way at that point.  I wanted to see results.  I wanted to know that once again I was in control. I wanted to not be afraid of what it meant to loose even more weight.  I wanted it to no longer be hard or feel impossible.

And then it hit me.  Did I really just find another idol?  Nope God, move on over, you are not going to be on that throne…I am.  I want it my way, in my time, and I know what is best.  But I CAN NOT EVEN FIX THIS!  So, clearly, under the light of truth and all things good, I make a horrible god.  Oh, how easily I can loose sight of what is true.

The truth is that I am in the best shape of my life.  The truth is that I have come a very long way on this journey.  The truth is that there is NO way in HADES that I am staying in that stupid pit.  And the truth is, I was going to give it all back to God.  I was made for freedom!

Two days later, my husband said he wanted to do this crazy detox program called Whole 30.  I thought, clearly, I could use a detox in every sense of the word, so why don’t I join him?  That was 7 days ago for me.  No protein drinks, no counting calories, no more giving up.  My only “cheat” has been a bit of honey.  It has truly been incredible.  Because it turns out that the one autoimmune disorder I still have to deal with, PCOS, has caused about 80% of my “wall.”

It took just 24 hrs for the headaches to go away.  In about 36 hours my intestines were happier then they have ever been in my adult life. Not to mention I am having some of the best sleep I have experienced apart from anesthesia.  Oh, and the energy, the energy has been wonderful.  And the added side note?  I broke the “do not weigh yourself rule” out of morbid curiosity, and I have been shocked to find that I have lost almost 8 pounds in the last seven days.

I will admit that the first couple days the withdrawals were pretty crazy, and well, my mood may have been less then sweet.  But man has it been worth it.  With 23 official days left of my “detox”, I have already learned that there are simply some foods that freak my body out and make it sick.  I will have to grieve the loss of how life was, and move on.  I have also learned anew just how much junk is in the foods we consume on a regular basis, and so much of our diet is permanently changing.  The plus side?  The food is incredible!  Just look at this dessert I made tonight:

Paleo Strawberry Dessert

So, if you find yourself ready to quit, or maybe you have already quit and you need to hear it again:  Do not be defeated.  It is not too late.  Press on toward the beautiful, marvelous, precious gift of freedom….no matter what your mountain is.

Love and grace!

Time, Tears, and Trust

Sunset

Before this last year, the concept of doing things to “take care of myself” was totally foreign.  Honestly, it felt like if I did do things that I felt I needed, I was being selfish, especially when I became a mom.  But then I hit a hard rock bottom, and I was forced to listen—really listen—to reason on this issue.  I was not made to walk this journey on my own strength, and learning to care for my needs has equipped me to better serve others…especially my own family.

However, I am still a work in progress, and I can still be stubbornly resistent to taking what I have come to refer to as “me time”.  I struggle even more when my littles look at me with big eyes and plead to spend that time with them instead…usually as I am trying to walk out the door.  And when they bat their beautiful pearly eyes at me, I now kneel down at their level and tenderly whisper the following:

“Mommy needs to go have some time alone with Jesus.  If you do not allow me that time, then big, mean, scary mommy might emerge…the mommy that raises her voice and has visions of duct taping you to the wall while she locks herself in the bathroom for just one moment of quiet.  You see, it is only time with Jesus—and possibly a cup of tea—that helps me to be a sweet, loving and patient mommy.  Ok?”

(Disclaimer: never have I, nor would I, duct tape my children in any way…though they think it sounds like great fun.)

Maybe it is the desperation in my voice, the wild look in my eyes, or the realization that they don’t want a mean, scary mommy…but they usually nod and stomp away pouting their serious pout.  And that is when I leave, ushered out with pleas from my dear husband to indeed take all the time I need, who clearly learned that “me time” does indeed benefit us all.

And so, yesterday; tired, hair pulled into a messy pony tail, and with not one hint of make-up; I ventured out to one of my favorite local spots: upper Bidwell Park.  Jesus allows me to come to him just as I am…and that can be a dirty, messy, crazy sort of business.

I don’t know what it is about Bidwell Park that stirs me to silence, though I am leaning toward the idea that it offers me the illusion that I have indeed left suburbia and I am alone (at least partially) with my maker.  There are many things I have learned can bring me refreshment and renewal, but nothing—and I mean nothing —compares to my time alone with God.  Nothing.

And so I sat and poured out my every concern and heartache to the one who longs to carry it for me.  And I asked, as I often do, for him to speak, to give me something, anything. I want to hear his voice, the whispers of the holy spirit, clearly and distinctly.  And then I was still.  Totally still.  A concept that I used to be unable to bear, to be quiet, still and vulnerable before my Lord.

Silence.

Then the clouds broke and a bright beam of light fell down directly on me, warming me, and drawing tears to my eyes as the peace flowed in.  The sunbeam lasted less then a minute, but that peace, oh that dear sweet peace…it lingers on.  Truly, he does not give as this world gives.  His comfort so often comes through the gift of his peace.  His love manifests as he wraps me in the cloak of his peace, his presence and his love.

To be still, to receive his peace…it may be the greatest gift he gives second only to salvation.  And then I realized something I never have before…  Maybe no words are necessary, not when you are enveloped in his peace.

“My peace I leave with you…”

What an amazing gift.  The promise was not a life free of storms…but of a life where he provides the raft, one that he can keep in perfect peace in the midst of the storms. That is truly ”…not as the world gives.”

And, as I sat watching the sun set, the light dancing across the blades of grass and weeds, I was reminded of a beautiful old hymn:

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
And to take Him at his word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
And to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er!
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!”

And then, because I just had to know the rest of the words and could not remember them to safe my life, I did the super spiritual act of “googling” them. And I am not too proud to admit that as the tears warmed my chilled face I was deeply moved by the words of this stanza:

Yes, ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just from sin and self to cease;
Just from Jesus simply taking
Life and rest, and joy and peace.

Oh, dear me. Yes, just from sin and self to cease… To rest. To be still. To be swallowed up in the rest, joy and peace that only God can give. And my I further echo the words of this writer, nay my prayer: O for grace to trust him more!

Are you taking time for yourself? What are your favorite things to do that bring you refreshment and renewal?

The Job of Jesus has Been Filled…

The Job of Jesus has Been Filled

There was a time when, though I never thought “I knew it all”, I thought I did have a fairly clean grasp on what it meant to be a stellar parent…that was until I became one.  I remember being so righteously indignant over parents who dared to gripe about the hardships in parenting as we journeyed through infertility. After all, did they not realize what an amazing gift they had been given?  I remember promises I uttered to God, things like, “I will never take one poopy, sleep deprived, rebellious moment for granted if I become a mom…”  I just have to sit back now and wonder, was God smiling at my words or having a full on belly laugh?  Now, almost 8 years after God granted me mother status I can honestly say, while completely well intentioned, I had no idea just how hard parenting could really be.

I remember setting eyes on each of our girls for the very first time.  I was in love.  Head over heels, lay my life down, let me hold them and kiss them until the end of time, in love.  It did not matter a smidgen that 4 of our 6 girls did not come from my womb.  The love was an instantaneous, God breathed sort of moment…at least on our (the parents) end.  And so, one October day God gave us a beautiful, tiny baby girl that we later named Emily who was just 10.5 months old and weighed in at just l6 pounds.  Exactly one week later, we brought home two lovely, funny, and very resilient young ladies who would later be named Rachelle and Ariana, ages 13 and 14.  I was 25.  Just a couple months later, on our last try of infertility treatments, we found out we were pregnant with twins.  And several years later, I would have the honor of watching our youngest, Annastacia, come into this world and take her very first breath.  We were beyond excited about every single one of our kids.  Did we know it was going to be hard? Sure.  Did we have any true clue on just how difficult the journey would be?  No fricken idea!

We faced so much at that season of our lives, battles at every side.  A question kept pulsing in my mind, “Do I trust God?”  And then a nagging, gentle whisper, “will you let them go?”  In that year, we began to learn that we were not in control of this story.  In fact, we could control precious little.  And to be totally honest, I was scared.  I loved them all so deeply, I didn’t want to let go of even one, not even for a moment.

And that whisper again, “Will I trust God?”

At 17 weeks pregnant, my water broke.  My world started to spin.  I waited at the hospital for my labor to begin.  At just 17 weeks they were too little to survive.

The whisper, “Do you trust me?”

Every single cell in my body screamed out to God.  “NO!”  Through uncontrollable sobs, I whispered that I did NOT trust Him.  He could not allow this to happen.  This crazy, messy story was not MY plan.  It was not what I wanted.

I stayed pregnant until I was 21 weeks, and then I gave birth to a tiny baby girl we named Ashley Faith.  She lived for 15 minutes and died quietly in my arms.  My labor stopped and at 24 weeks I gave birth to another tiny baby girl we named Bethany Grace who also lived for 15 minutes.  I was crushed.

At their funeral I remember sitting, staring at the tiniest pink casket with wonder.  The horror and shock had subsided a bit and I was full of sorrow.  I had done all that I could do, but I could not save them.  I had to let them go.  And so, through tears I prayed, “God, I do not know how to trust you.  I don’t know how to do this hard.  Please help me to trust you.”  And then something powerful and amazing happened.  A song of praise filled my heart, the words and melody beating loudly through my chest and a peace that truly surpasses understanding filled me.

I had wanted so much to be able to save them, to protect them.  Instead, when I had done all that I could do, I had to let them go, and I chose to trust God to care for them.

I was beginning to learn what it would mean to truly trust God, not just give it lip service.

And then, I would fight God all over again when the next battle came.  Life went on, and at the time we had three other daughters to care for and walk with, now there are 4.  There were problems, there are problems.  Issues would be faced, and I would want to swoop in and save the day…until the day came that I realized I couldn’t.

And then, the painful, albeit freeing reality set in:  The job of Jesus has been filled, and I am not him.  I cannot save my children, in fact, that is not even my job.  My job is to love them well, teach them the truth, and then let them go.  I do not think there is anything harder then letting a child go.  Over and over again, in big and small ways, we face this issue as parents.  From letting go of the toddler as they take their first steps, to letting go of the teenager as they strike out on their own.  It is tough, at least it has been for me.  Many times I have found myself crying out the same plea, “He could not allow this to happen. This crazy, messy story was not MY plan.  It was not what I wanted.  I want to save them!”

And patiently, lovingly, God reminds me, (sometimes a few dozen times a day) that the job of Jesus has been filled.  I can rest in his grace.  I can let them all go…every single precious, beautiful, amazing child he has given me.  And when I think I can not endure another moment, I cannot bear up under one more trial… I run to the one who sustains me and I choose to trust Him.  There is freedom in letting go, and where there is freedom there is profound beauty.  

I have learned again and again….God’s grace is truly sufficient, and he is worthy of all my trust, especially in the hard.  I do not need to be in control because He is and He is able to carry me through every bit of hard I will ever face.

Paleo “Almond Joy” Pie

Almond Joy Pie Slice

I like sweet treats, and I cannot lie.  I have never been a hard candy or ice cream sort of girl, but I have always been one to enjoy a well crafted pie, or dark chocolate, or pretty much any baked goods.  And that used to be a symptom of my big problem–but that is for another post.  Suffice it to say that I used to let stuff like that be my “god”, my source of all comfort, the way I checked out.  No longer.  Lately, I have been working on learning how to enjoy the occasional treat…while allowing them their proper place.  Now if I am going to eat a treat I want it to be as awesome as possible and made with the best ingredients available…and, of course, have just a little. (Which translates into me baking and giving away most of it– which is an added benefit of this lifestyle change I am going through.)

So, if you like dark chocolate or almond joys then you will really enjoy this super rich pie.  I got the original inspiration from this awesome recipe.  I made a few changes, working to eliminate unnecessary sugar (i.e. in the crust) and add in some almonds that I thought sublime.  And then my husband says I took it too far, but I just could not help it…I added a few strawberries to one of the pies…and a small slice was simply wondrous.  Does anyone else find it totally ironic that a formerly morbidly obese lady is posting about dessert?  Yeah, me neither. ;)

Oh, and the best part?  All the ingredients are totally paleo friendly…so eating some dessert is healthier then ever!

First the coconut crust:

Coconut Crust

Coconut Crust:

3 c. unsweetened coconut flakes (I found this in bulk at a local grocery store)

1 tbsp. coconut sugar

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 c. butter (melted)

Mix all ingredients together, dry ingredients first and then the butter last.  Then press firmly into your favorite pie plate/tin.  Bake at 350 for 10 minutes covered with aluminum foil. Remove foil and cook for another 8 minutes.

Then the super yummy dark chocolate filling:

Almond Joy Pie

Almond Dark Chocolate Filling:

1/2 – 3/4 c. almonds coarsely chopped

1 1/4 c. cocoa powder

1/2 can of coconut cream (I purchased mine at Trader Joes)

1/2 c. coconut oil

1/2 c. honey

3/4 tsp. cinnamin

Heat in a double broiler (or use two pans with water between them being careful to not allow any water to spill in) until totally melted together and creamy.  It will appear oily at first but it will blend nicely when totally melted.  When all warm and melty and looking delicious it is time for it to join its coconut and almond friends.  Pour into pie crust, then add chopped almonds to top of pie and quickly press in.  You can also place the almonds on the bottom of the pie crust and then pour the filling directly on top of them.  Then place in frig and allow to cool and harden.

Then if you dare, you can add some strawberries too:

Strawberrie Almond Joy Pie

Strawberry Topping:

1 lb fresh or frozen strawberries

2 tbsp. coconut sugar or 1 tbsp honey

Heat and mush up the strawberries and sugar (I used a potato smasher because I am clearly a culinary wiz).  Heat until slightly bubbly and then pour on top of the chocolate.  Then let it chill until firm.   And really, who doesn’t like dark chocolate and strawberries??  Just look at this slice!

Slice of strawberry almond joy pie

A Naked Turkey and a Challenge

A wee bit less than 3 years ago we felt led to make the first of what would become a series of increasingly challenging steps…the first of which was a major downsize, but that is for a different post.

Challenges.

I used to think that there were certain things I could never tackle, handle or live through.  I used to live in a bubble of fear, motivated by convenience  and smothered by insecurity.  And while I sometimes teeter on those old pit ledges, I no longer live there.

If I could sum up this season of our life with just one question it would be this: Do we trust God?  The answer, regardless of what it may be for any of us, is a profound one, and one that shades every single area of our lives.  Do I trust him to handle every area? My deepest struggles? My children? My fragility? My money? And the list can go on and on.  It is a challenge.  I have grown so much, and know that I still have so very much more to learn and to change.

And so, the challenges have come—some harder then others—each ripe with the fruit that can only come through journeying through the hard instead of avoiding it.  This month will be no exception.  This month we are tackling ways to save money on the everyday household stuff.  So, I am exploring and challenging myself to find ways that we as a family can cut back.  Simply, how can we steward what we have been given in a better way, one that is reasonable and works for our family?  

The following are a few steps we are implementing to save money this month:

1.  Build a budget.  True confession:  we have always made a budget (my hubby is into that sort of fun), but only with rare exception have we ever hit the target.  This month, not only will we build that budget, but we are going to do a little happy dance when the month is over and we have hit our target.  (No, I will not post the videos of said dance.)  We need to know where we are heading if we ever want to get somewhere, and a budget is a great road map.  The goal of our budget:  give some, save some, and live on less then our income.

2.  Stop eating out.  That means no drinks, no fast food, no restaurants.  If we can’t buy the food at the grocery store then it will not be purchased at all.  (This one is by far the hardest for us as a family.  There are just some nights this mommy prefers to delegate to a local restaurant.  *deep sigh*  I may already be forming a twitch over this issue) *The one exception is date night. Nobody is messing with date night!

3.  Buy only clothes that are needed.  Notice I said needed, not wanted.  And I will add one more point to this.  If I can find it at the thrift store, then that is where I will buy it.  (Underwear is NOT included in the previous statement…I just can’t handle that.)

4.  Plan our menus weekly and/or monthly.  I am not one who can handle planning a month out, so I am starting with planning our  meals out for a week.  If I plan, we are more prone to stay on target monetarily, AND eat healthier, AND save money by shopping smarter instead of last minute.

5.  Save money on meals by shopping at sales.  Did you know that you can look up most grocery store sales ads directly online?  (Examples: Raley’s and Safeway.)  It took me all of 15 minutes to see what stores had what on sale, and who had the better sales.  Knowing what is on sale and where really helps save.  Buying local produce from farmers’ markets is also a great way to save.  Additionally, we try to plan meals around what is in season and/or on sale.  This week, grocery shopping took me 2 hours, and I went to 3 stores.

6.  Shop for the whole week.  Instead of going back and forth to stores numerous times, we sit down, make a list, and then plan out our shopping accordingly.  It saves time, gas, and a whole lot of energy.  (I may really suck at this. It seems I am always forgetting something and having to go back.  I guess it is time to start a running list.)  Additionally, if I actually take an inventory of all that we have already stock piled, I may stop buying it and can use up what we already have…like our 5 bottles of mustard.

7.  Use coupons.  Now, I know that there are some out there that take “couponing” to a whole new level.  I am not that person.  In fact, I think I have used coupons exactly once before this week.  However, if (as I learned this week) I can quickly and easily find coupons online for things I actually use and need, then I don’t mind saving a few bucks.  Coupons.com is one great resource I found this week that helped me find a few coupons.  *I see no point in buying something I would not typically buy even if there is a coupon for it.  So, I am sure to look for things that I will actually use, or I will buy a generic brand when possible.

8.  Buy larger cuts of meat.  Typically, larger cuts of meat are cheaper per pound.  Additionally, I can make several meals out of one piece, thereby giving me additional savings in both time and money.  For example:  this week I purchased an organic free range turkey on sale for less then $2 a lb.  The first meal is a baked turkey (I used apx. 1/4 of the meat to feed my family of 4).  Then, I stripped the turkey of most of its meat (NAKED turkey!), divided the meat in half, and put half in the freezer for later use (COLD naked turkey!).  I then threw the carcass in a stock pot (HOT naked turkey) along with a few veggies to make some seriously awesome homemade broth, which I froze.  I will use the left over meat to create an additional two meals.  So, a total of 3 meals, plus 2 gallons of stock, and tons of leftovers from just one awesome turkey purchase.  Total time to prep original meal: 20 minutes.

Chicken Broth

9.  Bake instead of buy.  Where I can, I carve out the time to make my own baked goods instead of buying their more expensive, heavily processed counterparts.  For example, this week I have returned to making our own bread.   It took me only about 20 minutes, and I really enjoyed the kneading, throwing, and possibly imagining certain faces in and the pounding of the dough.  The result was a loaf that was far less then $1, kids that thought I was awesome, and a moment of domestic bliss…until I realized that I try not to no longer eat bread.  Edie at LifeInGrace has an awesome Honey Wheat Bread recipe that is too good not to share.

Honey Wheat Bread

10.  Give myself grace.  As a mom, wife, and woman, this is probably what I struggle with the very most.  I am not going to be perfect at this. I am a work in progress, and that is ok.  I am moving forward, I am learning, and I need to stop being so hard on myself…and I have talked with enough women to know that I am not alone.  So, how does that help me save?  Well, I am less likely to do any emotional eating ($), spend time in a mental institution ($$$), have to continue therapy for an exorbitantly long time ($$), or pay for the therapy of my children ($$$).  But mostly, I will be better at giving grace, and that will save me from paying the extraordinarily high price of pride.

Ok, now it is your turn, dear beloved reader.  What are some of your money saving tips and tricks?  I wanna know!