Distortion to Health and Wholeness

“Behold, I will bring it health and healing: I will heal them and reveal to them the abundance of peace and truth.” Jeremiah 33:6

After recording what I ate at my daughter’s wedding shower, including the cupcake, this message popped up on my screen from the food tracking program I had just joined. “Life is hard. Go easy on yourself. Slip-ups can feel like the end of the world. They’re not. Take a breath, listen to a 5-Min Coaching session.” What was meant to be a word of encouragement frustrated me. Although it wasn’t their intention, I felt shamed for making a conscious decision to enjoy my daughter’s shower by making sensible choices. I had one cupcake, and a Panini sandwich. I was aware that this would put me over the suggested calorie intake. But an application only sees what you record, not your thought process.

Once again, I am having to address a small weight gain. The weight gain was enough to make my clothes uncomfortable and for me to notice the difference. It was a tough winter, and I found myself creeping back into old habits, using food as a comfort. I knew I needed to address it and my old methods of tracking didn’t seem to be enough. I needed another form of accountability, so I joined a weight loss program I had used before, hoping a different system would inspire me to be more faithful.

This latest program has me asking some deeper questions: what is healthy eating? and how do we change our habits to eat healthy? As I am counting according to this new program’s system, I am finding myself frustrated. It does personalize it to your lifestyle, so currently eggs, avocados, quinoa, and chickpeas are not counted. But nuts, which are a good source of protein and fat, are penalized. Just ¼ cup of sea salt assorted nuts cost me almost 1/3 of my suggested daily intake of food. I find myself “cheating” by not being as diligent according to the program’s rules. And why do I see this as cheating?

I found this picture a few years ago, and I feel that my position and expression indicate some of the trauma that I was experiencing. It is about this time that I started gaining weight, moving towards obesity.

Like most sensible weight loss programs, they use some scientific research for their program, and are trying to help you become more self-aware of what you are putting in your mouth. Over the course of the winter, I had forgotten that my beloved pistachio lattes with oat milks are a huge percentage of my suggested daily intake of food. The program is doing its job, reminding me that I need to be more conscious of what I eat. But it doesn’t answer the deeper questions.

I noticed something with my almost 2-year-old grandson. He loves to eat, and mealtimes are one of his favorite parts of the day. It is not enough for him to be sitting at the table by himself, he likes to be with his family and interact with them at the table. He also likes a variety of things: fruits, eggs, vegetables, and whole grains. But when he is done, he is done! He tells his parents “aught” which is his way of saying “all done”. He eats enough to fuel himself up and then is done with mealtime and ready to move.

Do I know when I am done? Do I eat a variety of things, and turn down things I don’t enjoy? Do I focus on the company or on my food? What has interrupted my God-given internal sense of knowing when enough is enough? And how often, when I am done with a meal, do I feel like taking a nap instead of moving? And is it possible to get back to that same place where my grandson resides?

All weight-loss programs are businesses at their core. They are businesses with the goal of helping people get to a healthier version of themselves with the additional goal of making a profit. I don’t believe they are trying to take advantage of people and I believe that the programs can help you get started on your journey to being healthy. But I don’t think any single program is the answer.

I just started reading “It Was Me All Along”, a memoir by Andie Mitchell. It is about a woman who decided to lose weight and find happiness in her twenties. I am in the early chapters but one thing she said resonated with me so far. She said, “That whenever I start to feel even one inkling of boredom, doubt, anxiety, or anger, food would soothe me.” Food has habitually covered all my emotions over the course fifty years. I may have started out with a healthy relationship with food, but my pictures from two years old and beyond mirror the distortion I had with food along with the distorted life I was living. Trying to address that distortion and have a healthy relationship with food was a journey I started four years ago. But habits are hardwired and take lots of consistent and deliberate actions to change. And sometimes I just get tired, angry, and anxious, and use pistachio lattes to soothe the difficult emotions.

And sometimes I get it right, like I did at my daughter’s shower in April, and external sources, even if it’s an automated response, shame me into thinking I did it wrong. This post has taken me since April to write. I thought maybe I would come up with a solution to share, or an epiphany of thoughts. Instead, I am still in the same place I was earlier, still trying to grapple with the answers to the questions I asked earlier.

Maybe I am not in the exact same place. I am no longer mindlessly using pistachio lattes to soothe me. I could joke and say I have switched to iced lattes since it is summer. And although that is my drink of choice right now, I am consciously choosing when to have that drink and when to set it aside. And as far as that weight loss program, at the end of July, I will cancel my contract and continue with the program that seems sensible to me.

Finally, I recently showed my niece and nephew a picture of me when I was at my heaviest, neither of them recognized me. I also don’t recognize the young girl in the photo in this post. It is so easy for me to look at the scale or clothes that don’t fit as well as they used to and become discouraged. But numbers and sizes don’t show the transformation that God has been doing in me both internally and in my journey to healthier living. What has been distorted in the past, God is making whole, where I can enjoy a cupcake without shame, eat for nourishment, and move towards freedom.

50: Back and Ahead

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 3:18

Confetti shot out as I walked through the front door, while my friends and family shouted out “Happy Birthday!!” I turned fifty with flowers in every room, and glittery streamers, disco balls, and balloons hanging all over my house. My husband, daughter, and friends planned an incredible brunch with a pancake charcuterie board, while new friends and old friends celebrated big. It was truly a magical day where I felt celebrated and loved.

Fifty years is a milestone. I see many of my former classmates celebrating it in different ways. Some have posted a countdown until retirement, others are taking big trips, and some are celebrating quietly. It’s a bit sobering to realize that I have lived half a century and probably over half my life. Looking back, it’s easy to see mistakes I have made and challenges I am still facing. At the same time, its also exciting to see what the future holds. In so many ways, I feel like I have this new lease on life, with all kinds of possibilities at my fingertips.

The past few years, I have looked back at some mistakes I have made in parenting, in my marriage, and in finances. I can’t go back and fix all the situations or change direction at the crossroads, but I can learn from those mistakes and work to do better in the future. I also have seen places where I haven’t shown as much grace as I should have in situations. This is another area where I can be intentional. In the last few years, I have been shown grace in some tough situations in my life. It has helped me to move beyond the guilt and shame, and into a place of humility and growth. I intend to show grace to others, so that they can move past their own guilt and shame.

I was too busy celebrating and we forgot to take pictures of me celebrating.

Last December, sitting at my uncle’s funeral, my sisters and I had the same realization. We were not only grieving the uncle we had lost, but we were also grieving the loss of a father we never had. Forty-eight years ago, as a two-year-old, I entered a season of trauma that lasted till I was sixteen. Although I have overcome much of the effects of the sexual abuse, I still face the impact and losses in some areas of my life. Some of that impact includes internal messages that shape how I see God, the world around me, and myself. It also shapes how I respond to others. I have been doing a lot of hard work to uncover those internal messages and rewrite the script with truth. My trauma was not my fault, but I don’t want to finish out the last quarter or more of my life still believing the scripts of that trauma.

Part of the trauma resulted in me using food to cover my shame from the abuse. I have worked hard to lose approximately 170 pounds. I feel the best I have ever in my adult life, wearing sizes I never thought were possible, and I have added years onto my life. Yet, I still have the results of carrying that amount of weight with saggy skin that clearly marks my years of obesity. I believe I could lose maybe twenty more pounds, but the rest can only be taken off by surgery to remove excess skin. Someday, I hope to have the surgery, but, for right now, I must learn to be content where I am, saggy skin and all.

It would be easy to keep looking back and focus on the what ifs. A dear person in my life, who has since passed away, stopped living her life after retirement. She enjoyed time with her family, but often spent days pondering that if she had done things differently, would her family have turned out stronger and healthier. She stopped learning, setting goals, and dreaming. I think healthy reflection is important, but I have no desire to stop learning, setting goals, and dreaming big, and these three factors will determine the future quality of my life.

For me, learning has always been important. I want to continue to explore my world not only through books and podcasts, but through having conversations with others and hearing their stories. My husband and I are looking to start a new blog in September with emphasis on interviewing small business owners and hearing the stories of where their passions come from. I also want to finish my book and maybe write more in the future. Writing can only happen through learning and reading.

As far as goals and dreams are concerned, there are places I want to travel, hikes I want to take, and experiences I want to live. I want to focus on creating memories with my ever-growing family. I want to bake a tasty sourdough bread, paint a picture of flowers, and try embroidery. I want to contribute to my faith community in ways that God is speaking to my heart. I want to work with my husband in ministering to others by creating a home that is welcoming and supportive of others in our community.

Finally, I feel the most confident I have ever felt in my life. This confidence is not rooted in my abilities, talents, or personality. There are better writers, more inspiring Mimi’s, and more driven women than I. Instead, this confidence is rooted in who I am in Christ. I believe that my God is good, is good to me, and has a plan for my life. My responsibility is to get closer to Him, hear His voice, and walk in the path He has laid out for me. I believe that He knows the desires of my heart and I am confident that, as I walk in His path, He will unfold plans that I can’t imagine.

For some, turning fifty can be depressing. For me, it feels like I am starting a new chapter in life. I can’t wait to see what the next several decades are like!

Rest, Play, and Summer

So I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.” Psalm 55:6

“Sometimes you have to be really busy in order to enjoy the relaxation of fishing” was my son’s answer to the question of what made fishing enjoyable. As a young boy, Ethan had tried fishing with his friends on a few occasions. Terry was more than willing to take his son fishing but had no love for the sport himself. Ethan never caught anything and quickly lost interest. But an overnight camping trip with his in-laws on Memorial Day changed his perspective. He enjoyed fishing and hopes to continue in the future.

The saying, “take time to stop and smell the roses”, as well as Ethan’s answer, speaks to a truth that we all deal with at times. Sometimes there are seasons of being busy where we don’t take time to relax. And then we pause for a minute during this busy season and find simple hobbies relaxing and refreshing. But all too often I find myself resorting to activities or habits that are not life-giving or restorative.

I recently received a message on my Goodreads app that I am behind schedule in my reading challenge. It was a little jarring to see that I had only read 12 books this year. This spring was jam packed with wedding preparations. By the time I got to bed, I claimed I had only enough energy to scroll a few minutes on my phone. Holding a book seemed difficult and cumbersome. Yet, some of what I was scrolling through was only raising my blood pressure, not relaxing me. I found myself getting caught up in the drama of the #churchtoo crisis. This is a legitimate issue to be concerned about and it should be addressed, but in a season where I was already exhausted, it was not bringing peace into my life. Looking back, a few pages of poetry or a chapter of a book would have been more life-giving.

The other observation I made during my busy season was that I didn’t spend enough time taking walks outside, even short ones. Spring passed by in a whirl. I hadn’t been to the park to see the trees fill out, or daffodils bloom in my neighborhood. Before I realized it, my peonies were already blooming, and weeds were popping up in my flower bed. Again, I was legitimately busy, but I am sure I could have found thirty minutes to get out for some fresh air. Maybe they wouldn’t have been the power-walks I normally take where I break a sweat, but they could have been short walks that restored.

Not everything I did during this busy season was negative. I did take some time to be with friends both on the phone and in person. I made a conscious decision to listen to my body and often chose sleep over exercise. I listened to story-telling podcasts like “The Storied Recipe” and “River Café Table 4” that inspired and encouraged me. And I chose to eat healthy food that nourished my body.

Photo credit to Shutterstock

Busy seasons are still just seasons, they should never become a way of life. But in those seasons, I need to pay attention to what is life-giving and what is not. A simple walk or reading a few pages in a book are better than scrolling on my phone. And when I make mistakes, like I did this past season, I need to be honest with myself and make some changes, so these life-draining habits do not become a way of life.

I recently listened to Annie F. Downs interview John Eldridge on her “That Sounds Fun” podcast concerning his new book “Resilient”. He discussed how summer is a good time to be purposeful in planning restorative activities. The days are longer, the weather is warmer, and life seems to slow down a bit in summer. He encouraged people to plan purposeful activities that encourage you to play and bring restoration.

My summer is just starting, and I have roughly ten weeks to take in the joys of summer. I plan on trying kayaking for the first time along with hiking some new trails. I also plan to read some great fiction, and visit some new farmer’s markets and towns in PA. I also want to take walks, soak in the sun, and experiment with new recipes using seasonal vegetables. I am going to be intentional in spending time with my husband, creating new rhythms in this season of life. And I am going to follow the advice of John Lubbock, English parliament member and philanthropists, “Rest is not idleness and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means waste of time.”

Joyful Recalls

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice.” Philippians 4:4

The end was in sight, I had one custard base left in the fridge to churn, and one more base to make. Eight gallons of vanilla bean ice cream, 2½ gallons of black raspberry ice cream, and 3½ gallons of dark chocolate peanut butter ice cream in the freezer, waiting to be transported to the wedding in less than two weeks. I was ahead of schedule, feeling accomplished, and pleased with my results.

Photo credit to Rachel Collins

A year ago, when my daughter was planning her wedding, she asked a favor. With her bright smile and a twinkle in her eyes, she asked me if I would be willing to make homemade ice cream for her wedding. I had recently been experimenting with homemade ice cream and had made a few flavors that seemed to be winners. It seemed such a simple favor and I knew how much both Maggie and Will would appreciate it. Additionally, the wedding venue had a silo with a bar, which would be the perfect place to serve the ice cream. I agreed to help Maggie break tradition, to serve ice cream instead of cake.

As my lilac bushes bloomed in early May, I started the ice cream process with two Cuisinart machines, four bowls and lots of egg yolks. It would take about seven hours to make one gallon of vanilla, which included the time to infuse the vanilla bean into the sweet milk. I would pop in my earbuds, listen to a lot of podcasts, and start making ice cream. Each gallon was a two-day process, one day to make the base, and another day to churn. I small-batched the ice cream to make sure the custard set well, and the whisking was manageable for my RA deformed hands.

The weeks flew by, and each gallon of ice cream was a labor of love. I couldn’t wait to celebrate with my daughter at the wedding of her dreams. I imagined a sunny day with a line of wedding guest outside of the silo, eating ice cream topped with whipped cream and a cherry. Each day I made ice cream, I felt like Ella from “Ella Enchanted”, surrounded by cartoon birds chirping cheerful sonnets, as I skipped around cracking eggs, measuring heavy cream, and weighing sugar. The whole process felt peaceful during a season of chaos.

With the end in sight, I decided to retire early one evening. I scrolled through Facebook and noticed that both a friend and my daughter-in-law posted information concerning a Jiff peanut butter recall and salmonella outbreak. I read the article and my heart sank, I used Jiff to make the last three gallons of ice cream. For a few moments, I pondered, “Could I pretend I didn’t see the article?”, but my conscience and concern about people’s health blared loudly in my head. I sat on the stairs and called down to Terry, asking him to check the lot numbers on the peanut butter. He looked at the numbers and looked again, the numbers fell in the range of the recall.

Exhausted, teary-eyed, and overwhelmed, I asked Terry to dump all the ice cream down the sink. I crawled into bed, pulled the covers over my head, and went to sleep. The next morning, I came downstairs to find the remnant of ice cream still melting in my sink. As I was cleaning the sink, I realized I had only one choice: choose joy.

There have been many less-than-ideal situations in my life: canceled vacations, unexpected sicknesses, and job losses just to name a few. All these situations cause additional heartache, conflict, or work in life. I can’t control them, but I can control how I respond to them. There was absolutely nothing I could have done to prevent the dumping of the ice cream; it was completely out of my hands. All I could do was control how I responded.

That day, I started the new batch of ice cream for the wedding. A few days later, my sweet daughter-in-law came and helped me finish, creating more memories. We perfected the process, and I honestly think the second batch was even better than the first!

There were a lot of things that didn’t go quite the way we planned the week of Maggie and Will’s wedding. On the morning of the wedding, another major problem erupted, maybe someday I’ll share those details. But after a rough morning of trying to come up with a new plan, I arrived at the venue to see my sweet daughter swinging on the swing with her bridesmaids. Maggie was choosing joy, and the day turned out beautifully. And, yes, there was a line of happy wedding guests at the silo waiting for ice cream.