Joy and Pain. Side by Side.

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“Choosing to nurture joy does not mean turning a blind eye to pain or difficulty or injustice. It means holding positive possibilities while looking deeply into pain. Deep truth about what is and recognizing joy can exist side by side.” ~Circle Forward

I read those words and I was reminded of the phrase finding joy in the mess. And then I was reminded of the times in my life when there wasn’t much to be joyful for, yet, somehow opportunities to choose a moment of pure joy would sneak in, despite the current state of messiness. A sudden eruption of pee-your pants laughter in the depths of unfathomable grief, a beautiful ray of sun appearing from the clouds when all hope seemed lost, a heartfelt hug from a dear friend in a moment of despair. Life-saving snippets of joy in the midst of struggle. Joy and pain. Side by side. How can we know one without the other? Kind of a mind blow, right? Always the paradox. Always the struggle. How can they co-exist? Yet . . . how can they not?

Choosing to find joy in the midst of difficulty is one of the most courageous acts a person can take–although we rarely give ourselves permission to do so. What if, in the midst of your struggles, no matter how big or small, you gave yourself permission to choose joy for just one day, or for one hour, or for even one minute or one second? It’s SO okay to take a break from your pain. Choosing to nurture joy does not dismiss or diminish our hurts, but instead creates space for hope to seep in. And with hope, all things are possible.

Let yourself choose joy and then nurture it. Let it live side by side with your sorrows. Let hope create the space.

Facing fears and finding me…

The past few days I have spent some time reflecting on my weight-loss/health/fitness journey. And while reflecting on this journey is something I tend to do regularly, I have been extra reflective as I get ready to write down my 2016 goals. Adding to that, a good friend recently asked me for some weight-loss tips the other day which really got me thinking. . .

This was the very first honest post I wrote about my weight and my struggles. I wrote it on January 23, 2012 and I remember this night vividly. We had just returned home from Iowa after sending our youngest off to Oman to study abroad. I had looked at the going away pictures. I remember consciously trying to stand in a way that would make me look not as large as I was when we were taking the pics. Those pics were my tipping point. My surrender. Later that night I sat down to write this after I ordered my scale. Again, thank God for Amazon one-click or I may have chickened out. I am also not sure where I found the courage to hit the publish button that night. . . but I did. Facing your fears and owning your story, is the most empowering and freeing thing I have ever done in my life. Happy New Year. May you find yourself and be free.

Hangin' by a Thread



Part of truly being yourself is owning your story. Today, I’m owning a pretty big part of mine…


I did something today that absolutely T-E-R-R-I-F-I-E-D me, something I have avoided- successfully or not, depending upon how you look at it- for years. My heart is still pounding a bit, but thanks to one-click shopping at Amazon.com I didn’t have time to stop and think before I tossed it into my virtual cart. Boom, it was done. No going back. I had to face this once and for all.

Anti-climactic, I know, but the big, scary thing I did was order a digital scale, something I haven’t owned for years. For many people, hopping on the scale is not a big deal, but, as a person that has battled an eating disorder for a good share of my 40 plus years, the thought of owning and stepping on a scale is…

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Four simple truths about gratitude

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I’m resisting the urge to write volumes on the subject.

Because I could.

It’s that powerful.

It’s that game-changing.

It’s that essential. . .

To all that’s good in life.

But, I promise to keep it short and sweet.

Because the truths speak for themselves. . .

Four simple truths about gratitude

  1. Gratitude is a choice. Living life with a grateful heart doesn’t always just happen–especially when life sucks. You may have to choose it-over and over and over again–even if it hurts, even if it doesn’t make sense. Because eventually, it will make sense. It will become part of your DNA. You’ll wonder how you could breathe without it.
  2. Gratitude is self-pity’s kryptonite. Try feeling sorry for yourself and being truly grateful at the same time. It simply cannot be done. I know this because I’ve tried. More than once. And I’ve failed. Every. Single. Time.
  3. A joyous life is absolutely impossible without gratitude. So is a peaceful one, or a content one, or a loving one, or a courageous one, or an abundant one. . . And you get the picture.
  4. Practicing gratitude will save your life. I know this because it’s saved mine.

So what is stopping you,

Despite where your life may be at this moment,

From living your best life?

The one that includes you with a grateful heart. . . and a joyous soul.

As somebody once said, “There is always, always, always something to be grateful for.”

And it’s true.

One thousand million percent true.

There IS always a reason to be grateful.

Besides, like I said. . .

Gratitude will save your life.

Now go ahead. . .

You go be grateful!

What are you waiting for?

Some thoughts on gratitude and service

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A Thankful Heart from Joy for the Journey

Some thoughts on gratitude

It was the fall of 2012, a couple months after the crash. For the past month or so, I had been reading a daily devotional that I had found on my mom’s bookshelf.  I had given it to her for her last birthday and I had been reading it faithfully since finding it. The passages had become a source of comfort for me and I looked forward to the brief moments of solace from my intense pain and grief that reading those words every morning brought to me. The devotions seemed to fit everything that was going on in my life at the moment, just like they had for my mom when she had started reading it.

Then, just like life can suddenly go from beautiful to broken in the blink of an eye, the devotions on those pages did the same. In an instant, I was frustrated and angry at the words I was reading. Why, you ask? Well, I can sum it up in one word. Gratitude.

The devotional had themes and that week’s theme was gratitude. Because, really, how dare a devotional that is meant to be healing and uplifting, share a message of gratitude? Right? Didn’t they know that grieving people would be reading this book? What do people smack dab in the grips of intense pain need to know about gratitude? I’d be lying if I said a few choice words didn’t fly out of my mouth.

Day in, day out. The message of gratitude seemed to drag on F-O-R-E-V-E-R. I argued with the devotional every morning. “Surely, this wasn’t meant for grievers” was the core of the one-sided argument I had become engaged in. “Really,” I would think. “Easy to be grateful when things are good. Surely, you can’t expect me (or any others that are hurting) to be grateful after experiencing profound loss.” And on and on it went inside my head. Finally, after a few days of the reading about gratitude, I had had enough.  I read the day’s passage and in a fit of desperation, I looked to the heavens (from my bathroom mind you) and screamed (yes, out loud)–“FINE! I FUCKING GET IT! I’LL BE GRATEFUL!” (Yeah, God has gotten to witness some stellar moments from me over the years. Gratefully, he is patient, kind, loving, and forgiving.) Another gut-wrenching moment of surrender had befallen me (one of many in my life) and I vowed–half-heartedly, of course–to give practicing gratitude a try. Long story short. . . it worked. Even in my deepest moments of hopelessness and despair, I began to find moments of comfort and peace when I viewed the world through a lens of gratitude and not my own pain. Go figure. Maybe God was on to something here.

Some thoughts on service

Some time later the devotional moved to a theme of service. Yeah, cue the first part of this story here. “Really,” I thought. “You want me to serve others when I’m grieving. Surely, you can’t be serious. I can barely take care of myself at the moment and you want me to help somebody else?” Again, on and on it went. Although slightly less dramatic this time around, I experienced another moment of surrender in my bathroom and vowed (yes, half-heartedly again) to find some way to serve others. I wasn’t capable of much, but I dug deep and did what I could–I said a prayer for somebody other than myself, sent words of encouragement to somebody in need, or donated money to causes I supported. Again (surprise, surprise). . . it worked. Viewing the world through a lens of service had given me small moments of reprieve from my grief, just like practicing gratitude had. Through each new moment of comfort and peace that I experienced, I began to gain some hope that healing would be possible. I remember thinking how good God was at this stuff.

A few more thoughts

I’d like to say that it was my grief-fogged brain that kept me from listening to those first few messages in that devotional,  but I don’t think that would be entirely truthful. Besides my own stubbornness in not always listening, I came to learn that much of the traditional literature out there surrounding loss and healing doesn’t always talk about gratitude and/or service as part of the arsenal of tools that we have at our disposal as we begin to move forward. After all, it seems paradoxical to practice gratitude and serve others when we are suffering from incredible pain ourselves. Or does it?

Since those darkest of days in the beginning of my grief journey, I have learned more about the power of gratitude and service than I ever thought imaginable. And. . . I’m still learning. I’d like to tell you that my grief journey is done but I really feel like in some ways it’s just beginning. The numbness of the first year slowly faded and life got very real for me in year two. VERY REAL. I still find myself feeling like I am going backwards some days even though I know in my heart that I am always slowly inching forward. It’s in those real times, those painful times, those times when I feel like I am heading down the rabbit hole of despair that I focus even more on being grateful,  for everything. I have found that as time has gone on, gratitude and service have become innate functions of my very being. I have been so transformed on the inside from these practices that I can’t imagine not viewing life through the beautiful lenses that I have been given–even on the worst of days.

Start simply and grow

If you are reading this and you are in the early stages of healing, it’s very important to note that you might not want to hop right in and tackle things new things right now. Those first few weeks after a loss are so extremely difficult. Just getting out of bed (or not) is hard enough, let alone trying to add anything else to your plate. In time, though, you will want more. You will want more than simply surviving, you will want to thrive. That’s when gratitude and service will eventually come in. Start simply where you are at and grow from there.

As we head into November you will see an explosion of all things gratitude–challenges, journal writing, Facebook memes etc. If you aren’t practicing gratitude regularly, now may be the perfect time to start. If you are already mindfully practicing gratitude (or trying to), think about how you can move your gratitude practice into one of service. If you are already practicing both, I challenge you to kick it up a notch or ten. The most important thing to remember is to do what you are capable of. Some days, it still takes all I can muster to get through the day. Other days, it would take kryptonite to bring me down. Remember, even on our best days, we can’t do everything all of the time. Learn your limits, use your gifts, and serve accordingly. . .  all the while giving thanks. Then, be prepared for your life to change. God is really good at this stuff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uganda 2014

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Some of the children of the Michelle and Julia Hoffman Memorial Children’s Home in Uganda. Thank you Sarah Elbing for this photo!

As I write this, I feel like I should be pinching myself.

I’m going to Uganda for the second time in one year?

What?

I know.

I feel like the luckiest girl alive at the moment.

I could never thank the people that have made this trip possible for me enough. I don’t have the words to describe how truly grateful I am. I don’t know if I ever will. All I do know is that this trip will be incredibly special. I can feel it already.

I failed miserably writing about my last trip. I am not exactly sure why. Yes, I can be terribly lazy about my writing, but that wasn’t what this was. It was something more. I have a feeling much of the experiences of my first trip will come out in the blogs of trip number two, which, by the way, I PROMISE to write!

So in the mean time. . .

Stay tuned.

It’s Uganda or bust!

Facing fears and finding me the fifth: Owning your story and believing your worth

(On January 5, 2014, I had the honor of speaking at the MACCRAY Community Health Challenge 3rd Annual Kick-off. Here’s  the blog-style version (part 1) of where I was coming from and where I have been on my weight-loss journey. To some of you that read my blog regularly, some of this will sound very familiar.)

To truly believe in yourself and all of your amazing awesomeness, you must first learn to accept yourself with your whole heart. This means forgiving yourself for past mistakes and honoring your own unique and beautiful story, no matter how difficult some of the past chapters may be to reread. Accept yourself, own your story, and believe that you are worthy of great things. ~MFB

As I write this, it’s been nearly two years since my first installment in this little blog within a blog. Little did I know what life had in store for me at the time of my first writing. When I started this journey just two short years ago, life was SO completely different. . .

I really hadn’t stopped to think about it until I started preparing for a little presentation I did last night for my community’s annual health challenge. Even though I talk in front of people on a regular basis, this one was rattling my nerves BIG TIME. After pondering why for quite some time, I finally concluded that even though I frequently bare my soul in writing on this blog, I had yet to publicly speak about my weight loss. Quite frankly, it is scary as H-E-L-L. It also dawned on me as I was looking back through my earlier blogs that when I began this journey, life was “as usual” in our family. The beginnings of this story had started for me pre-crash with my mom and sister-in-law cheering me along every single step of the way. They were my absolute biggest and most loving supporters. My sister-in-law was the first commenter on my first blog and one of the very last conversations I had with my mom (just a couple of days before she was killed) was about my weight loss. She had exclaimed (in a way only a mother could) that she forgot how small my shoulders really were (they aren’t, but the last few pounds that I had lost had come off that area of my body in a very noticeable fashion). She also had told me how proud she was of me and that I was inspiring her to “get on the stick” and lose some weight. Even though I am so very thankful for these beautiful memories, recalling them is still crazy painful. I hadn’t thought I’d be “going there” while preparing to talk so it threw me into a bit of a mental tizzy that I wasn’t expecting. Nonetheless, I had to do this–not because I had yes to speaking–but because I had to do it for me. I had to own my story, out loud, in front of real-life people, as opposed to the usual virtual audience– even though I was scared sh$$less.

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Own your story. You are amazing and worthy.

Over the last couple of weeks, I had been contemplating what I would talk about and how I would present what I knew in a manner that would be helpful to others. I am obviously not an expert on nutrition, weight-loss, or anything of the like. I am, however, an expert on myself and my own story. I know from experience the power that owning your story holds. I also know that no matter what our struggles are or where we are on our own journeys, we are NEVER, EVER alone. Because of this, I knew that what has worked for me would work for others in their own way, on their own journeys.

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You can stop the weight loss roller coaster once and for all. You have the power.

For the record, I truly have no idea how much weight I have actually lost. I stepped on the scale in January of 2012 for the first time in nearly a decade. At my official “weigh-in” I tipped the scales at 240. Yep, 40 pounds more than I thought and 30 pounds more than the worst-case scenario number I had in my head. Since that fateful day, I have lost roughly (depending upon the morning) 65 pounds. I am guesstimating though from looking through photos  that at my heaviest, I probably pushed 250 on the scales, which would make my total weight loss somewhere between 70-75 pounds. I was able to finally the stop weight-loss roller coaster at that moment, not because I had suddenly become a health and fitness guru, but because I had done the mental work beforehand. I had faced down the demons in my head and had decided that I was WORTHY of being happy and healthy, regardless of my past or present circumstances.  I had learned to accept myself for exactly who I was– nothing more, nothing less. I had zero excuses left (not that any were truly legit anyways) not to stop the not-so-thrilling ride that I had been on. Once I learned to accept and believe in myself, the journey became so much easier.

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Believe that you are so very worthy, because you are.

The most terrifying thing is to accept yourself completely.”  ~C.G. Jung

It’s hard though! Learning to accept ourselves and believing that we are worthy of happiness and healthiness can be so very difficult to do; but, acceptance of ourselves and belief in our own worthiness is essential to the journey. There isn’t a single thing that you cannot overcome– if you make the choice to do so. You cannot change your past, you can only integrate it into your present and own it. Make it part of your own beautiful story–the one where you truly believe you are worthy of great things. The one where you are in charge of writing your own ending. . .

(Next up: Part two: The rest of the essentials)