Monday, June 29, 2015

In Sickness And In Health

I, (name), take you (name), to be my (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.

I'm going to take a wild guess that you've heard this at least once in your lifetime. I'm sure we've all been to at least one wedding, right? Or at least seen one played out in a movie, or read about it in a book. I know I've heard these vows exchanged.

I've always loved this part of a wedding ceremony. The promise to be there for the one you love, for the rest of your life, no matter what comes your way. These words, these vows, are what has made me the kind of person who really, truly believes in the Holy Sacrament of Marriage, not just the ceremony itself.

And over the past year and 9 months, I have seen these words come to life through the words and actions of my parents.

My dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer on September 22nd, 2013. It shook our world up- within days, everything we knew changed. It meant my mom was now considered a caregiver. It meant doctor appointments and medications. It meant side effects and stress. It meant fear. Late last summer, we hit a pretty big bump in the road when my dad went through a month of steroid psychosis. Most of you know the story, but basically, it was Hell. It was the most difficult, fearful time of our lives. But my mom was there with him, every single day, holding his hand, asking the difficult questions. Sure, she broke down. How could she not? But she did not give up on him. And my dad, who was barely recognizable, would show signs of his love for her. One night, when he couldn't speak, he simply kissed her on the head, again and again. Another time, when I played their wedding song for him, he weeped. And, another time, when he snapped out of the state for just a few moments, he held her tight and apologized over and over. He knew the pain that she was feeling, even if he couldn't speak of it.

My dad has, thankfully, recovered from that psychosis. But things have never been the same. He had to retire early, he could not drive for several months, and he is on several different medications. My mom holds it together for both of them. She has his pills perfectly organized, she knows the name of every doctor he meets with, she sits with him at his appointments.

But perhaps most importantly, they are there for each other. Neither one may ever fully understand what the other is feeling, but they listen to each other. They support each other. They ask questions and they do their best to help each other. They look at for one another and put each other's best interests forward. They are a team, navigating through these choppy waters.

Some may say "Any married couple would do this!"...but I am really not so sure. You hear so often of couples giving up when disaster strikes- but my parents have held on to each other, to faith, and to love.

I feel so lucky to have them as my parents. I did a project once in college that involved describing your family tree in relationships. Basically, the point of the project was that, most likely, if one is surrounded by strong, committed relationships that value honesty, respect, and compassion, that person will also form that type of relationship. If this is the case, I have nothing to worry about. My parents have lived out their vows from the moment they spoke them out loud. They've modeled those values into our lives, and they have shown us, through action, what it means to be someone's partner, for better or for sickness, and in health.

And so, on their 36th wedding anniversary. I want to congratulate my parents, and also to wish them many, many more years together. This love story is one that will be shared for years and years to come.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Saying Goodbye

Last week, we found out that my Aunt Ellen lost her battle to cancer. I was heartbroken. Ellen was a true gem, the kind of person that lit up a room, a woman with a heart of gold and a gentle soul. I know that these are the kinds of things you say about someone who has passed away, but it's all true for Ellen. She was special, period.

I never got to say goodbye. I knew that she was not doing well, she had entered into hospice care just a few days before. My plan was to write her a letter and drop it at her doorstep, since I knew that she wasn't doing well and may not be up for a visit. But I didn't write it in time. She passed away before I could follow through.

And so I spent the next few days feeling both sad of her loss and guilty that I did not get to say what I wanted to say to her.

Last night, I had a horrible dream about it. The dream was that I was at her funeral, except...she was there. And she came to me and told me that she was still alive, and that I could say goodbye. But I couldn't- the words just wouldn't come out. All I could do was cry.

I woke up feeling extra down, like I had missed my chance again.

And so that is why I have come to this blog, to say goodbye to our dear Aunt Ellen. I know a public blog post is not the same as a private, heartfelt letter, but it is my hope that these words will somehow make it to Ellen's Heaven.

It's no surprise that as a little girl I was drawn to Ellen. That's the kind of person she was- people wanted to be around her. They wanted to hear her jokes, her hearty laugh, and to grasp a piece of her kindness and wisdom to hold onto for themselves. We grew close on one of our trips to Florida- she kept me laughing the whole time. I once had a sleepover at her house, and I just remember feeling so special and loved around her. She took a deep interest in me, even though we had no blood relation. My favorite thing about her (and her two sisters) is how head over heels they were with my brother. They adored him (for good reason!) and they loved to embarrass him with hugs and kisses. I always laughed when Ellen and her sisters would seek him out in a room full of people. I remember watching them at his wedding, they had the absolute time of their lives.

The last time I saw Ellen was almost a year ago, at my Uncle Mike's funeral. She walked into the room, immediately found me and told me she had a present for me. It was a pack of napkins with a cute design on them. She had apparently seen them and thought of me. It was a small gift, but it meant something. She was thinking of me.

At that same funeral, my sister and I kept looking for "The Kissing Aunts". We so desperately needed the comfort of Mary Ann, Peg, and our sweet Ellen. All three of them are incredibly special women, and we just needed to be around them, to feel their warmth and love.

I'm a lucky girl to be surrounded by so many strong women in my life. Growing up I had many role models. Ellen was one of them. I admired her confidence, humor, zest, and passion. If I could go back, I would change a few things. I would make a point to connect with Ellen more. I would ensure she knew how loved she was by me and by my entire family.

Ellen, I know that wherever you are, you brought the party with you. I know that you are sprinkling that sunshine and smile. You left quite an impact on many hearts back here on Earth, and so many of us are better, sillier, more loving people because we knew you. You really were a gem, and I feel lucky that I was able to know you. I adored you, and I always will.

Moving forward, I want to make a point to tell people how deeply I love and appreciate them. I know, again, that is something everyone says, but we don't always follow through. But I don't want to lose anyone else without them knowing how special they are. Everyone should hear about the impact they have made on others lives. I don't know how we can get better at this, but we must.

My challenge for you, my friends, is to tell three people in your life that you love them. Right now.

Thank you for reading about my sweet Ellen. May she rest in peace.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Weight Loss Wednesday

This week, I thought I would share some recipes/meals that I eat. I'll go through each meal, and list some snacks for you.

First, though, I wanted to share some non scale victories (since the scale is not my friend these days- went up last week, now back down, but stuck):

  • I did pull-ups yesterday. I used to be terrified of doing pull ups. Everytime we have to do them in Bootcamp, I skip them. Yesterday I looked at my trainer and nodded. She helped me get set up, and then I did them on my own. I didn't do very many, but I still did pull ups- for the first time in my life.
  • Lately in Group Exercise classes, when the instructor gives us a way to make it harder, I choose to do it that way. And I do it well.
  • I did the Stairmaster for the first time in months yesterday and made it 70 flights in 17 minutes.
  • I feel so much stronger. It feels like this came out of nowhere, but recently I feel so incredibly strong. I can't quite describe it- maybe it's because I have started doing kickboxing twice a week, but man, I feel like a BOSS.
  • I successfully made it through a 21 day challenge without bread, pastries, or chips! I did have a little chocolate, but really only in the form of protein/granola bars.
Alright! Time to share some meals!

Before I started my weight loss journey. I didn't really believe that breakfast was the most important part of the day. After all, I never ate breakfast, and I was fine, right? #Sarcasm. I wasn't really all that fine. Trust me, you need breakfast. A good, healthy breakfast. 

I usually make some sort of egg white scramble. 
-3 tablespoons of liquid egg white
-1 cup of raw baby spinach
-1 cup of another veggie (my favorite are mushrooms)
-A little shredded cheese

On occasion, I put this on a whole wheat tortilla, or I add a slice of turkey.

The downside is that this is really low in calories. Which may seem great, but I know that my breakfast should be a bit higher in calories. You could add a piece of fruit. 

I usually drink green tea--I have cut down on coffee as it makes me crave sugar.

If I don't have these ingredients on hand, I will make oatmeal. I usually just make regular, steel cut oats and add raspberries in it. There are lots of things you can add to oatmeal, including chia seeds or Greek yogurt. 

If you need to grab breakfast through a drive through, here are some options:
  • Smoothie from Beyond Juice or your local smoothie spot. Try to get one that has a lot of nutrients and little sugar.
  • Reduced Fat Turkey Bacon Sandwich, Spinach Feta Wrap, or Yogurt from Starbucks. I love Starbucks because I love their iced green tea (Venti, unsweetened, no water).
  • Yogurt Parfait, Power Almond Oatmeal, or Steel Cut Oatmeal from Panera. (Pro Tip: I have also ordered the Avocado, Egg White, and Spinach breakfast sandwich but asked for it in a bowl, without the bread. Panera is good at accommodating, so they shouldn't have a problem making that!)
  • For my Chicago friends, there is an awesome place called Protein Bar that I discovered while in Chicago on business. They have breakfast scrambles, oatmeal, and smoothies. The breakfast scramble I had was delicious and full of yummy veggies. 

Yes, you must, must, MUST eat snacks my friends ! I have 3-4 snacks a day. The key is to be sure that you are eating the recommended serving size. Ex: Trail mix is usually 1/4 of a cup, which is pretty tiny. Measure it out, put it in a ziploc bag so that you know you're eating 1/4 of a cup.
  • Apple
  • Grapes
  • Banana
  • Celery with Peanut Butter
  • Baby Carrots with hummus or peanut butter
  • Cucumber with hummus
  • Chopped peppers
  • Kind Bars (Peanut Butter and Jelly is my favorite flavor)
  • Snack Factory Pretzel Crisps
  • Kashi Bars 
  • Nature Valley Bars
  • Trail Mix 
  • Greek Yogurt
  • String Cheese
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Babybel Cheese
  • Skinnypop Popcorn 

Most of the time, I am bringing leftovers from dinner for my lunch. But there are times when I have to pack something else or grab something while I am out.

Usually, if it's not leftovers, I either make a wrap with a whole wheat tortilla, turkey, spinach, and hummus. I'll eat greek yogurt and some chopped veggies to go with it. Or, I'll make a big salad with spinach, lots of veggies, and a light dressing. Sometimes I do tuna with very light mayo on top of spinach (I eat a lot of spinach!)

With my job schedule, there are a lot of times I am out and about and have to grab lunch. My favorite thing to do is to make a big salad with lots of veggies from Whole Foods or other similar health food stores. .Here are some other healthy options if you are out and about:
  • Unwich from Jimmy Johns. I usually go for the Beach Club, without Mayo. Try to go for turkey or veggie- the other meats are full of sodium. Also, I try to always have snacks on hand so that I don't get chips. 
  • Mediterranean Salad, Chickpea Veggie Salad,  T-K-Y, or Mushroom Melt from Potbelly. 
  • Burrito Bowl with brown rice, black beans, salsa, veggies, and lettuce from Chipotle. 
  • LOTS of options at Panera. Panera is one of my favorite places to go- most of their food is healthy, AND delicious. They have their nutrition facts readily available, so just be aware. My favorite salads are the Asian Sesame Chicken Salad, the Greek Salad with Chicken and the new Mediterranean Chicken and Quinoa salad. 
Alright, here is where I will share some actual recipes. I try to cook dinner at home most of the time. I usually go for a protein, a veggie, and sometimes a starch. Here are some of my favorite recipes:

I have a LOT more recipes. These are just the ones I've made recently that I loved. Please feel free to ask me if you need a recipe, or if you need to know where to look to get some great recipes. I also have some good recipes for party appetizers/side dishes.

Also, if you have questions about what to order at certain restaurants, ask away. I've become quite savy at working menus!

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Monday, June 22, 2015

The Big Question.

This blog post has been something that I have been wanting to write for a while. I've chickened out each time- which sort of tells me that maybe I should just keep this to myself. But I'm also daring to be bold in 2015, so here I am.

I know that some people will not understand why I'm putting this out there, and that's okay. Not every blog post is for everyone,  I get that. But I also think that what I have to say may resonate with others, so I'm just gonna do it.

Okay, I'll quit babbling and just get to it.

At least once a week, someone asks me when Tom and I are going to get engaged, or why Tom hasn't proposed yet, or elbows me in the ribcage and whispers "your next!" when someone at work is talking about their wedding plans.

And I'm gonna be honest, it's pretty annoying. But tonight, in this blog post, I'll tell you why we aren't engaged.

We aren't ready.

That answer in itself should clarify y things, but I've found it doesn't. So let me expand:

Tom and I are both the type of people that take marriage really seriously. It's not about a wedding, a party, a ceremony, or a ring. It's about a lifetime commitment of love, support, and companionship. At 27 years old, I personally do not feel like I am ready to enter into lifelong commitment with someone. Even though I love Tom, and I feel confident about our future together, it doesn't mean I'm ready to get married. We want to develop our relationship, and we want to do that slowly. We've already been though a lot as a couple that has pushed our patience to the limit- and we've survived. But we're young. And before we say "I do", there is a lot we want to experience- as two people in a serious relationship.

On a personal note, I spent majority of my life hiding from who I was and hiding from the world. It's only within the last two years that I have learned to love myself, my body, and to be confident in who I am. I'm still getting to know ME. Tom has helped me get to this point, and I am forever grateful for that- but I would like to continue to get to know ME before it becomes us. Maybe that's selfish, but maybe I need to be selfish after years of self destruction.

In sum, we aren't ready. We have a lot to learn, about ourselves and about each other, before we feel we can get married.

I'm coming at this topic from a few different angles....First, as a person who is constantly asked about the future of her relationship. There's some frustration there. Secondly, as a person who is a people pleaser. I've been this way my whole life- I just want people to like me, and to agree with my choices. So maybe that puts the pressure on a little tighter. I know people want me to get married, so sometimes it makes me feel like I am doing something wrong. And third, as a person who used to say similar things to her friends. Not necessarily the marriage question, but I used to be pretty vocal about my friends relationships when I didn't really agree with their choices. But soon it became pretty clear that my opinion was not going to change much, and also that my role as a friend was to be there to listen, support, and comfort. Which can get tiring, and it hurts me when they are hurt, but unless they are physically or mentally in danger, I no longer tell them what I think. I've learned it's their life to live, and whether or not it is clear to me why they are doing certain things, I've got to just let them do it. Again, trust me, I still step in if I fear they are in danger, physically or mentally. Or, I take a step back. But you get my point... I hope.

So I've been in every position before, and I get that people, for the most part, just really want be to be happy, so that's why they ask. But personally, I'm really happy with the way things are right now, and I'd like to just enjoy it.

I feel as though society has a plotted timeline of how things should go, and when someone takes too long or misses a spot, people start to ask questions. And to that I say this: There is no timeline. Nothing in life is promised. What you do in your life may not be what works for me in my life. The wonderful thing about life is that we were all created to be unique- and so our lives, and the paths we take, are also unique.

This post is not to say that I think what Tom and I are doing is the way everyone should do it. Some people fall madly in love and get married within a year, and live incredibly happy lives. Some people never get married, and also live incredibly happy lives. My point is that everyone is on their own timeline, and that's totally okay.

By the way, although my post was specific to getting engaged/married, it could really apply to anyone who gets pressured to take the next steps in life, whether it's to get their drivers license, declare a major, get a job, have a baby, etc. There's pressure at every stage in life. To anyone who's feeling that sort of pressure, know that you are in control of your own destiny, not anyone else. Do what you think is right for you. If you make a mistake, own it and find the beauty in it. At least you tried. Dare to be who you want to be.

And also, just shake it off.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Thank You's

Yesterday I mentioned that I would spent a portion of today writing "thank you" messages to the people who have supported me throughout my weight loss/recovery. I have gone back and forth about whether or not to do that publicly- and how. There's too many people and things to fit into on Instagram collage, a Facebook post is pretty much like a blog, and 140 characters won't cut it on Twitter. So here I am, at my blog. Sharing my gratitude openly.

The Tools

There are certain tools that I have used to help me along the way.

First and foremost is the app/website MyFitnessPal. I don't see how anyone can lose weight without using something like Myfitnesspal. You track your calories, as well as your calories that you burned. The nice thing is that it does all the math for you. You simply put it how much weight you want to lose, and it tells you how many calories you should be eating/burning each day. It also breaks down your meals so you can see how much sugar, protein, etc you are consuming. I honestly would be lost without this app. I already know I am going to need it for my maintence phase as well. It will keep me on track.

Tip: Measure your food. When a recipe tells you to use 1 tablespoon of olive oil, use 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Don't guess. Also, you can input your own recipes into the app and it will tell you how many calories!

I cannot say enough good things about this app. I don't think I would have been successful had it not been for this handy tool. USE IT.

I get my recipes from two main sources: Skinnytaste and Pinterest. Skinnytaste is genius. The mastermind, Gina, creates delicious recipes. She takes classic dishes that everyone loves and makes them healthy. Hundreds of my meals have been from that website. She has everything from appetizers to deserts- go check it out for some recipes!

Pinterest is a whole world full of healthy recipes. I simply type in "skinny recipes" or "clean eating" and get tons of options. Then, on Sunday nights, I sit down and write down which ones I am going to use that week. It makes grocery shopping easier when you have a plan!

Those are the three main tools that I use and have been using since I started. Although I may never get to "personally" thank the creators of those sites, I hope that by sending some of you that way, it is a token of my gratitude.

The People

Here's where it gets a little bit more emotional.

My Family- My parents are the ones who encouraged me to take a serious step into changing my health for the better. I called them on June 8th, 2013, crying, hysterical, thinking I was dying because I couldn't catch my breath and I was so dizzy that I couldn't walk. I had self diagnosed myself with everything you could imagine. But they were the ones, who, honestly and gently, told me that this was probably about my weight. They knew my eating habits weren't good, they knew I wasn't doing much to exercise. My parents saw something in me that I didn't see- life. They knew that I had potential to be someone so much stronger and healthier- and that if I lost the weight and settled my issues with food, I would feel better. I listened. I suppose I just didn't want to feel so sick all the time anymore. I also knew how much my parents and my family loved me, and I wanted to be around for them.

My siblings and their spouses have also been supportive- asking me questions, complimenting me, telling other people about my story. I'm also certain that Ryan appreciates that I can run around with him without feeling tired :)

Tom- Tom has played a very key role in my weight loss ever since it started. Around the time that I was feeling so sick and worn down, he and I had begun talking again and were becoming good friends. He knew how I was feeling- and when I joined a gym that was just moments from his house, he joined too. That's what bonded us. We would workout together, encourage each other, cheer each other on. He has never once doubted me. He's never tried to tempt me or gotten me off track. He's wiped away tears when I've been frustrated, he's laughed when I show him my new kickboxing moves, and he supports me whenever I try something new. I don't know what it's like to watch your girlfriend drop 5 sizes, but he does. And he doesn't care what size I am, as long as I am happy and healthy. He's also been the taste tester for a good portion of my healthy meals and experiments :) Tom knows that health is a priority of mine, and he's been working with me to get better about paying attention to what he puts in his body. THAT is all I could ask for- for him to be healthy, so that the two of us can live this life together.

My Friends and my coworkers- There were two very important characters in the beginning of this whole thing: Martha and Paula. Both are good friends of my moms, but I adore them so much that I consider them my friends as well. Paula is what changed this for me, guys. Paula is an incredibly wise doctor who also takes health and wellness pretty seriously. When she saw how concerned my mom was about my health, she swooped in. She was the one who got me to sign up for a gym, to meet with a nutritionist. She's the one who I texted at all hours of the day with questions about what was happening in my body. I will remember the day I sat in her kitchen with my parents for as long as I live. She was the secret angel that we all needed to get this thing going. Martha- well Martha is just special. She has been there for pretty much every step, cheering me on. She also almost always has a hilarious comment to make. Like the time she was sitting behind me in church and whispered "I can't stop staring at your ass". That's Martha for you!

My other friends have been just as supportive. Even when I can never make plans because I have to go to the gym or when we're out and I have an obnoxious order because I can't have bread or fried foods. My friends who are far away have followed my journey on social media and have "liked" my posts. That little "like" means a lot, even if it seems like a silly thing to do.

I've been blessed to have some pretty fantastic coworkers. I started this journey when I was still working for hospice, and man oh man, did those women care about me. Peggy used to take my blood pressure every week so we could track how I was improving. They would hide trigger foods from me so that I wouldn't give in. They asked me about my workouts or my cooking- they genuinely cared. My current coworkers all pretty much have a passion for health, and that makes things easy. They support me and celebrate my milestones- they even decorated my cube when I hit 100 lbs.

My YMCA Family: I would not be as successful if I didn't have the amazing team at the YMCA. Sarah was the one to sit down with me and work on a plan when I switched to the gym, and she continues to be one of my biggest supporters. She's also my instructor for Bootcamp. She, and the other attendees of that class, have seen me since I couldn't run up a flight of stairs or even ATTEMPT to do a burpee. I used to need help/correction with every single move in that class. She's been a huge part of this journey for me. I also have another Sarah and Harley to thank for leading me to fall absolutely head over heels for Kickboxing. It has become a passion of mine. I can't tell you the sense of accomplishment I feel after a Kickboxing class. Harley is such an amazing person- and he really, truly believes in me, and pushed me. Sadly, he is no longer my kickboxing instructor, but Darrin has taken over and pushes me just as hard. I LOVE my YMCA. I really believe that finding a gym where you feel at home is key. And I feel at home with the Y. I thank them for their instruction, wisdom, and support.

To everyone I mentioned, and to every single person who reads this blog or follows my journey on Facebook or Instagram: Thank you. Although this is my body, and my mind, it is you that I share it with. It's you that encourages me, motivates me, and inspires me. Every time someone tells me that I look good or that I've inspired them, I have to resist the urge to tackle them with a bear hug. Those words mean the world.

115 lbs down, my friends. About 20 lbs to go. Ready to continue on this journey with me?

PS: I feel like I also need to thank Sara Barielles, Florence and the Machine, Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson, Fall Out Boy, One Republic, The Fray, Jessie J, and Bruno Mars for being some SERIOUS musical inspiration for me :)

Sunday, June 7, 2015

2 years.

Tomorrow is June 8th. You're probably wondering why I'm telling you that, because, most likely, you already know that. (If you didn't, you're welcome!)

But June 8th is an extremely important date in my life.

It started with this:

June 8th, 2013, is the day that I decided (with the help of my parents and a few close friends) to lose weight. That statement in itself is enough of a celebration. It's been two years on a weight loss journey, I am down a whopping 116 lbs because of it. I have dropped 5 sizes. I can move faster, lift heavier weights, and I have built endurance.

But, this is so much more than about the weight loss, you guys.

This is about 2 years of being in recovery.

If you've been reading this blog for two years or longer you know the struggle I've had in the past with food- and how I used to turn to it for everything. Anxiety, anger, loneliness, happiness, comfort. Whatever my emotion, I matched it by eating. Prior to June 8th, 2013, I was consuming over 2,000 calories a day. Most of my meals consisted of fast food, or packaged crud. I snacked on chips, candy, fries, ice cream, etc. I made special trips to the store just to purchase something that I could binge on later. All because I didn't know how else to deal with my emotions. All because I found comfort in food, and in my mind, the only way to "feel better", or to "celebrate", was with food. There were times I was so anxious before a party that I would eat a full meal before I left, only to continue eating at the party, and eating again afterwards as I picked apart everything I said, worrying that maybe I made someone mad or upset with me.

But now it's been 2 years. Two years since I have had a binge, two years of saying "no thank you" when offered trigger foods, two years CLEAN and FREE.

Why am I telling you this? Why am I being so open about an issue that I could choose to keep private?

Because I'm not ashamed. It's not something that is easy to talk about, nor is it fun, but it's a part of my history. And I am so proud of myself for choosing to put that path behind me, and to have been able to move past it.

When my dad was so sick, a few of my friends made comments that they firmly believe I wouldn't have been able to get through those months had I not been the healthy version of me that I was. I 100% agree. I'm sure I would have made it through, somehow...but it would have been 10 times harder. That's just one example. The simple fact that I was able to make it through those horrendous times WITHOUT food as my escape is a miracle and a sign of how strong and resilient I have become.

So June 8th is not just any ordinary day. And it's not simply the day I started losing weight. It's the day I began to recover. It's the day I chose to become a warrior against something that was holding me back. It's the day that I was set free.

June 8th, for me, is almost like a second birthday celebration, except without the facebook wishes and texts to prove it. It's a day for me to celebrate ME and my recovery. I took tomorrow off of work. Could seem dramatic, but I've got over 100 hours of PTO that I need to start using. And my workplace is all about celebrating birthday's. For me, June 8th is a reminder that because I've chosen this journey. I WILL get to have more birthday's.

How will I celebrate tomorrow? By treating myself well. I will probably do yoga, and go to my Monday night kickboxing class. I'll go to the grocery store and get my healthy groceries for the week. I'll do some writing. I'll send messages to the people who heard my cry for help back in 2014 and answered them by helping me get on the right track. But mostly, I'll just sit with my thoughts, and just be at peace. Peace....the one thing I've always wanted in my life. The one thing I never thought I would have. But now I do. Not constantly, of course, there are days when things aren't so great. But the difference is, I can always find my peace again. And I don't need food to do it.

I want to thank every single person who was supported me through this journey. There really are no words I can say that would properly express how I feel for all of my fantastic family and friends who have been there with me. I never expected to have this much love and support shown toward me- even if it's just a "like" on Facebook or Instagram. You are all beautiful people and I want you to know that you are capable of achieving whatever it is you set your mind to. Our souls are stronger than we give ourselves credit for, and just when we think "I can't", there is a little spark inside that ignites that replies "I will".

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Retreat Reflection

I promise a weight loss post is coming in the next few days. First, I wanted to share a bit about the retreat I attended this past weekend with other Mercy Associates and a few Sister's of Mercy.

Of all the things I do with Mercy, retreat is one that is most important to me. It is a weekend of reflection and sharing, of getting to know myself and others, and a gentle reminder of why I am an Associate. This retreat was no different. I walked out feeling energized, humbled, and inspired- AND with total confidence that God is working hard in my life, and that He has been all along.

The retreat was made up of a couple different themes. We discussed Theresa of Avila and Catherine McAuley. We spent time discussing spiritual maturity, and how, as we grow and change as humans, so does our spirituality and relationship with God. We talked about the threads of our life, and how they stay with us throughout our life.

Personally, I was deeply impacted by the reflection questions we were given. Time for personal reflection is pretty standard on retreats. But I will say, that typically, when I am given quiet time on a retreat, I spend it outside, staring at the trees or the birds. Sometimes I pray, but it's rare that I actually think about the reflection questions I was given. This time was very different. I not only thought about each question, but I had so much energy flowing through every fiber of my body when reflecting that I couldn't keep up with my thoughts. I dug so deep, and truly felt God's presence right with me as I reflected and prayed- and WROTE.

Although I sometimes feel that spirituality and our relationship with God is private, I feel compelled to share with you a few of the things I wrote/took away from retreat.

  • My experience with God in my life roots mostly from the love shared amongst my family. Perhaps that is my first concrete awareness of God: That God is love, and that my family loves me, and I love them. My childhood was filled with joyous, loving moments, and to this day my family remains my favorite people to be around. I feel blessed in this way, because I know that not everyone has this. But when I think of the presence of God in my childhood, I don't necessarily think of specific instances or "aha" moments. I just think of the love we shared as a family and the love that my parents have for us.
  • I believe that my greatest moments with God are when He brings someone knew into my life. This started young with Christine and Amy. They were meant to be my friends. He continued to bring people that I needed- and all of these people taught me how to love in their own ways: Mrs. MacLennan. Alicia. Sam. Melinda. The Backups. Dean. Dave. Katie. Nate. Sr Mary Jo. Peggy. Tom. Emily. I could go on and on.
  • God has ALWAYS been good to me, even when I am not good to myself. He protected me by surrounding me with an army. Perhaps THAT is my thread of life: love and relationships. Even if the people or faces change, the love is still there. 
  • I suppose I have seen myself as a light for others. Maybe not a large, overpowering spotlight- maybe more of a flashlight. I seek people out when they need someone, and I help lead them out of their darkness. 
  • When thinking of a symbol for myself, the first thing that comes to mind is a puzzle piece. I like to connect people- either to each other, or to new experiences. I believe we are all working together to survive this life, and I feel it's my duty to help get people where they need to go. 

During my time of reflection, I mostly thought of the times God has brought good to my life: either people or opportunities. But I also thought of the times He has been there when I was closed off from Him, When my dad was so sick, I don't remember ever actually praying. I cried a lot, I yelled, but I don't remember actually talking to God. Yet, somehow, I knew He was there. Again, maybe I knew He was there because our family was shown such love and kindness that I KNEW that was God. 

My point? God has been there for me in the good and the bad. He lives in me, and He lives in you. He brings us together for a purpose. This is what I believe, at least. And with that, I wrote this prayer:

Be still in the moments of joy, for that is God's work
Hold on in the moments of tragedy, for God will pull you through 
You are surrounded by God's love, through the faces and hands of others.
And just as you need them, they too, need you.
We are each pieces of God's puzzle, and we must connect both in the joy and in the tragedy.
We come together as one,
With God as our light.

In closing, I will leave you with the song "Flashlight" from Pitch Perfect 2. When I first heard it, I immediately linked it to Tom as a sweet love song. But now, after this retreat, I link it to God. This version is a cover of the song from Madison Lawrence. The song is originally by Jessie J.