170 Pounds of Potatoes

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” John 6:35

I love to plan trips.  After picking a destination, I start researching like a mad travel agent.  I look in the obvious places, like a city’s tourism website, but I also connect with travel bloggers, reading their recommendations for a trip.  I create a Pinterest board for the destination, including hiking trails, coffee shops, museums, historical spots, bakeries, and bookstores.  Then, based on my research, I create an itinerary that results in mostly successes with the occasional disappointment.  For example, in 2012, our family spent a long weekend in Philadelphia, jam packed with my researched itinerary.  We walked the cobblestone streets of Rittenhouse Square, and explored the Rosenbach Library, where old manuscripts of favorite authors were displayed along with Herman Melville’s desk where he wrote Moby Dick.  Later that day we ate the creamiest avocado gelato at Capogorio, which was considered the world’s best ice cream according to National Geographic in 2011.  Unfortunately, Capogorio has since closed its doors.  On that same trip we spent a lot of money to explore The Franklin Institute, which ended up being a huge disappointment due to the signs stating “Closed for Maintenance” on many of the exhibits.

Two and a half years ago, I started on a journey that has forever changed my life.  I had no idea of my destination, or how I was going to get there.  I only knew that my life needed a change of direction.  I did some research on how to start, and what changes I needed to incorporate into my life.  I created a Pinterest board on healthier living and read some other women’s blogs, trying to gain some insight on what helped them be successful.  Unlike trips I had planned before, this time I did not calculate the cost because I knew this was a journey that I had to take no matter the cost.  I took baby steps, set reasonable goals, celebrated small wins, hit some obstacles and, sometimes, changed direction.  As time went on, I became more confident in my direction and determined to keep pressing forward.

It’s hard to remember what it was like being 170 lbs. heavier than I am, now.  The mental imagery of attaching seventeen ten-pound bags of potatoes to my body and dragging that extra weight around daily is mind-blowing.  I cannot imagine how slow I moved or how that extra weight hindered me.  On family trips I remember having to rest during some of the museums while the rest of my family continued to explore.  I remember taking a taxi in New York from one destination to another while Terry and my friends walked ahead.  I sometimes made my Rheumatoid Arthritis an excuse for these rest breaks and taxi rides, but looking back, I wonder, was it really my RA, or was it the extra pounds?  I avoided climbing the stairs in my home, often asking my kids to grab something I needed as they were coming down the stairs.  I tried not to inconvenience my family, fully realizing, now, that I did.

The weight I carried affected not just my activity level, but everything I did.  I was nervous about sitting on fragile-looking furniture.  I never sat in a porch swing because I was over the weight capacity.  I tried to sit towards the middle of picnic benches, afraid I would fall if someone else got up too quickly.  I did not swing with my kids because I was too wide for the swing, and the chains pressed painfully into my hips.  I was embarrassed that I had to ask for a seat belt extension when flying, afraid they might charge me for a second seat.  My wardrobe was minimal because trendy, attractive clothing was expensive and difficult to find in my size.  I tried to position myself in photos so that most of my body was blocked.  I never owned a belt or anything that was tailored.

One of the most horrifying experiences of my adult life was getting an MRI prior to my shoulder surgery.  The doctor, in a kind but matter-of-fact tone, warned me that I might not fit into the MRI machine at my local hospital and I may have to consider going to another location.  I smiled understandingly, but inside I was stressed.  I remember sliding onto the MRI table and being rolled into the machine, paranoid that I would get stuck, trying to not breathe at all, and praying they would be able to take the needed pictures.

Recently, my daughter took a picture of me for my new Facebook Public page.  When I posted the picture, two of my former teachers commented that they would not have recognized me in this photo.  I could not agree more because I don’t even recognize myself!  I catch a glimpse of myself as I pass a mirror and I am startled by the reflection.  I hang up clothes in my closet astounded that I fit into them.  When I am walking and I pass someone, I move far to the side, unaware that I take up much less space than before.

In addition to not recognizing myself, I am astounded at how full and complete my life is now!  Despite my morbid obesity, I want to acknowledge that I still had a good life before the weight loss.  I had an incredible marriage, wonderful children and great lifelong friends, who all loved me for who I was.  I had a relationship with God and was involved in meaningful ministry.  But despite this good life, those additional 170 lbs. had a strong hold on my life that kept me from fully being who God intended.

Today, I have the energy to sustain a full life of activity and ministry.  I have a greater appreciation for God’s creation because, through walking and hiking, I see more of the world God created.  I feel stronger and less physically dependent on those around me.  I regularly accomplish more in a day than I did previously.  Mentally, I am sharper, and my emotional levels are more stable.

The greatest change has less to do with the amount of physical space I inhabited, but more with the amount of shame and unworthiness I lost with each pound.  The shame of being overweight was not just the fear of being made fun of in public or of not fitting into the MRI machine, but of what the weight covered up.  It masked a woman who desperately wanted unconditional acceptance, so afraid that if people knew the real Sherry, they wouldn’t like her.  I was still the little girl trying to conceal the ugly secrets of childhood sexual abuse.  I was still the young girl hoping to be stylish when her fat clothes made her feel ostracized from her thin classmates.  I was still the wife afraid of exposing the flawed person underneath the layers of fat, terrified her husband would leave.  I was the mother trying to overcompensate with lots of activities and family fun so my children wouldn’t be embarrassed by their morbidly obese mom.  I was still the woman trying to please God by giving 100% to every new ministry that came my way, afraid that God would reject her if she gave anything less, or if she said “no” to anything.

Underneath the layers of fat, I discovered a vulnerable woman who has not only learned about herself in this journey but has learned about herself in relation to God.  When I no longer devoured bagels, French fries, and pasta to satisfy my hunger, I hungered for the word of God.  When I no longer craved Sonic limeades and Starbucks Frappuccinos, I thirsted after God’s righteousness.  When I didn’t fill empty, stressful and difficult moments by nibbling on a pan of Magic Cookie bars, I found fulfillment in the arms of God, resting in His strength.  When I stopped feeling ashamed by loading up on burritos, bacon, and ice cream, I had room to deal with my emotions in a healthier manner, pouring myself out to God. 

All this hunger, thirst, rest and lack of shame has brought me to the best place I have ever been in my life.  Although I am close to entering my fifties, I feel stronger in my spirit, body and mind than ever before.  This journey has enriched my life in so many ways.  Yes, I have a new wardrobe!  Yes, now I can hike!  Yes, now I can sit on a porch swing!  However, the biggest enrichment is not the before and after pictures, or what can be seen in my closet.  It is the complete comfort and rest I have in being fully known and fully loved by God.

Past, Present, and Future

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16

I have always seen my grandparents as old. Maybe it was the weathered skin from years of working on a farm, or the age spots from sun exposure. Maybe it was the thinning hair or the fact that they had a grandfather clock. But from the time I was a child, they seemed ancient. They both have since passed, but in doing the math, I am older, now, than my grandmother was when I was born, and only a year younger than my grandfather was. Does this make me old? It does, according to one cheeky young student in our church who guessed my age to be six years older than I am.

Age is an interesting paradox in our society. We seem to gravitate towards wood and metal furniture with the patina of age, giving a piece a curated, aged history. Yet, store beauty aisles are filled with serums and moisturizers promising to eliminate wrinkles, giving our skin the supple glow of youth. We honor the elders who are active contributors to our society but stop visiting those who are in the latter stages of dementia. Some of us seem to fight aging by hanging on to our youth, while others embrace it by closing our minds and hearts to the world around us, slowly waiting for death.

I wrestle in the middle space of wanting to stay active and still embrace aging. How do I keep my mind and body active while aging gracefully? How do I embrace my history, stay in the present, and look to the future when my life is probably half over? I found clarity in the lives of three remarkable people who lived into their eighties and beyond. All three have died, recently, and it’s in their later years that I have found inspiration.

David McCullough signing my book!

In early August, I sadly sent out a text to my family reporting that historian and author David McCullough died. This “National Treasure” as some have labeled him, had written thirteen books, inspiring generations about the American spirit through its innovation, leadership, and courage. I have read all his books, some of which have won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. I even attended one of his book signings and heard him speak about the Wright brothers. McCullough purposefully chose subjects and persons that contributed positively to society. Once he started doing research on Picasso but found his life reprehensible and couldn’t continue in good conscience. Remarkably, McCullough completed six books since he was sixty-eight years old. These were done by engaging in hours of research, typing drafts on his old Royal typewriter, and editing with the help of his wife. History was his passion because he believed it “is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.” In knowing my history, I have a better understanding of who I am and why I respond the way I do. This allows me to move forward with clarity and purpose, unhindered by messages of the past.

Photo Credit Allessia Pierdomenico via Shutterstock

My second remarkable person, Queen Elizabeth II, died last week. The beloved queen lived to be ninety-six years old, making her the longest reigning monarch ever. Some would say that Elizabeth was born into privilege, but she recognized that with this privilege came a lot of responsibility. She faithfully carried out her duties with grace and purpose, exemplified by her meeting with the new prime minister two days before her death. She clearly understood her place in history, but it was in the daily living where Queen Elizabeth II shone. She traveled to many different countries on behalf of her subjects, adapted to the new world in which she lived, and chose to live an honorable life. Yes, she wore beautiful jewels and resided in incredible palaces. But she understood that her life was to serve her country and leave it a better place. She once said, “I cannot lead you into battle. I do not give you laws or administer justice, but I can do something else—I can give my heart and my devotion…” I may not have crowns to wear, but like Queen Elizabeth II, I can choose to serve those around me with my whole heart and devotion. I can choose to be represent well the God I serve by sincerely modeling the life and teachings of Jesus.

This portrait of Herbert Kohler was painted by George Weymouth. Terry and I saw it at the Brandywine Art Museum in Pennsylvania a few years ago.

The last person, Herbert Kohler, might only be recognizable to you if you look at the label of your bathroom fixtures. For me, “Herbie” Kohler was a local celebrity in Sheboygan County where I grew up. He died almost two weeks at age eighty-three. Kohler became the president of his father’s bathroom fixture company at young age. He immediately set out to grow his company by focusing on design, rebranding Kohler to be synonymous with high-end bathroom fixtures. This love for design carried over in remodeling the immigrant housing unit in Kohler into a luxury hotel, the American Club. He then developed two world-class golf courses making Sheboygan County one of the top golfing destinations in the world, hosting several major golf tournaments. A writer at the Chicago Tribune commented that only Herb Kohler could turn “rural farmland into a golf mecca and a toilet into a work of art.” His vision was revolutionary and met with a lot of opposition. But Kohler continued to press forward, making his dreams come true. His vision has added economic value to the place I grew up, but more importantly, Kohler has been generous to the community, including supporting the arts, scholarships and helping the needy. He looked to building the future of his company and community by enriching their lives. His example of vision casting is important. It’s not enough for me to know my history and live well today. I need to be helping future generations by enriching their lives through my contributions.

Maybe you’re not a historian, an anglophile, or care about golf in Sheboygan County, but I believe that if you study these three lives, it can inspire you to end your life well. Some might say they were their most productive in the latter half of their lives, continuing to find ways to be contribute to their communities right until the very end. For me, aging is not something I can stop and with that fact, it’s very possible that my grandson and soon-to-arrive granddaughter will always see me as old. But I find comfort in 2 Corinthians 4:16 where Paul says, “So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” I will never win a Pulitzer Prize, be crowned queen, or have my name on a scholarship. Instead, I am woman who is seeking God to learn from my past, to serve well today, and to help build a place where my grandchildren will thrive and grow. The only way I know how to do this well, is to daily come to Jesus and allow His spirit to renew me. This daily renewal will help me age gracefully!

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!

15-20 and Not Counting

“For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he wills with good things.” Psalms 107:9

Recently, someone asked me if I was still on my weight loss journey.  I was a little taken aback by the question, freezing for moment and unsure of how to respond.  Questions raced through my mind.  Did this person see me at my lowest and know that I keep hovering a few pounds more on the scale?  Do I say that I still hope to lose 15-20 pounds more but have been in a stand still for the last eight months?  Does the fact that I cannot give an increase in the number of pounds lost mean I am failure?  I mumbled something about staying healthy and just being at a plateau, ending the conversation with a feeling of defeat.

Our society likes winners.  We cheer for others when we see their victories, whether it is a job promotion, wedding, birth of a child, or weight loss.  These big moments are celebrated with pomp and circumstance, glitter and balloons, and blogs posted about 170 pounds of potatoes.  On the flip side, we support people during major losses: health crises, funerals, and divorces.  Where we fall short is encouraging others when they are doing the everyday ordinary hard things: raising toddlers, sticking it out through marriage difficulties, or exercising on a regular basis.  Even more disconcerting is how we view ourselves as we go through the nitty gritty of life.  We feel like failures when we lose patience with our children, respond badly to our spouse, judge our friends, or eat a pint of ice cream in one sitting.  These may be just isolated moments in our lives, but often we let these moments of negative internal messages define our self-worth.

 I had the privilege to watch my sister run two marathons.  Marathons are amazing events with runners of all different ages, sizes, and backgrounds. Unlike other athletic events, the majority of those who run are not in it to place first.  Instead, most are either trying to run their personal best or just being able to cross the finish line.  It is fascinating to hear some of their stories about how they almost gave up, usually between miles 15 and 22.  There are usually two scenarios that spur them on.  Sometimes, they hit a spot in the course where there are a lot of spectators cheering them on.  This encouragement gives them the boost they need to continue.  Other times, the runner him or herself will have a moment where a memory of something flashes in their mind, and this gives them the momentum to continue.  Whether it is external or internal encouragement, this boost helps them cross the finish line.

When relating my healthy living journey to a marathon, I want to be clear that a certain number on the scale does not equal crossing the finish line.  I have had an unhealthy relationship with food for over forty years.  In no way do I think that losing a significant amount of weight is going to solve this problem.  Rather, it might take the rest of my life of creating healthy habits and consistent pursuit of the Lord to develop a truly healthy relationship with food.

 At the same time, I want to acknowledge that I feel like I am at mile twenty and need an internal boost to continue.  I have decided to reread Full: Food, Jesus, And the Battle for Satisfaction and reexamine my relationship with food.  Readers, you are welcome to join with me and be a part of the discussion in my book club.  Click here to join.  This is an opportunity for us as a community to gain some external encouragement in finding our full satisfaction in God.  This is not just a book for those of us who struggle with food, but any area in our life that we find to be out of balance.  Once you join the Facebook group, weekly, I will be covering some of the chapters, sharing some of my thoughts, and listening to others.  I want to be clear this is not a diet plan, or how to lose twenty pounds in two months, or a list of foods you need to avoid.  Instead, it will help you uncover your current relationship with food and draw you into a deeper relationship with the Lord.

 Marathons are hard!  Often people take a lot of time to professionally train for a marathon, only to run one single race in their lifetime.  I am in this better health marathon for the rest of my life.  I need to continue to find ways to educate myself about healthy living.  I also need to be honest with myself about my food relationship.  I hope you join me as I continue this journey.