Monday, July 16, 2018

A Year Transformed

One year later.

I told myself many times not to post this, for many reasons.  The before photo is not one I'm proud of but I'm proud of the girl who knew she was worthy enough to fight for one more time.  The after photo isn't where I wanted to be by this point but she's better and healthier than before which means the most!  

When I look at the girl on the left, there's so much that has changed.  She needs to tell her story... 

I remember that day vividly.  One more more try.  I felt frustrated, hopeless, tired but yet - determined not to give up.  Though I avoided the camera something told me to snap a starting pic.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words and every time I look, it speaks volumes.

The girl on the left lived in daily, chronic pain.  It hurt to walk, even just across the room, often feeling like stabbing knives when attempting.  Most days, that girl had to will herself out of bed, even though it also hurt to be in bed.  Often it was hard to breathe.  Sometimes she wondered if she would die because of her weight.  That girl would look in the mirror and wonder where she went.  She lived in anger for where she was and how she'd let her body down.

 But that girl told herself this time would be different.  This time was a life-change, not a temporary quick fix or diet.  This time she went into it prayerfully, knowing she wasn't strong enough on her own. This time...she wasn't focused on a number on the scale (though she had to be reminded often) but was instead determined to change her mindset.  This time the focus was on health.  And this time she solely concentrated on nutrition. 

In the past, I tried to do it all at once.  Inevitably, if I tried to include working out my knee would soon give out and set me back, which would send me spiraling and I would give up.  So what if I only worked on nutrition?  Would it really make a difference?

One year later, I can testify without a doubt, it has!  There may be progress seen visually in the side by side but what is felt most is the difference internally.  When you eat better, you feel better!  

People ask what I did/am doing.  The short and simple...JUST EAT REAL FOOD!  Shop the perimeter of the store -or better yet the farmers market.  Fresh is best.  However, for me, eliminating sugar and processed "foods" has been life-changing.  I am no longer tempted by junk because my body knows and recognizes it for what it is.  

Was it easy?  No.  There were pitfalls and setbacks.  It took time, dedication and yes, money.  But the investment to spend a little more buying healthy food was worth the savings in health care.  Over and again.  And cutting out fast food saved us money!  Sugar was a serious addiction I didn't even realize I had.  The cravings and withdrawals were real.  But after the hurdle and fog lifted - why ever go back?  I promise fruit will taste so sweet once your body learns what it should taste like again.  Everything tastes different (better) and food becomes fuel, not a pastime.  

About six months into my journey I was hit with another obstacle, being diagnosed with Alpha-Gal.  The daily habits that were working for me now had to be paused and adjusted.  Being seriously allergic to foods caused anxiety and I was forced to make even simpler choices.  Around that time I discovered juicing (celery) and began following the advice from Medical Medium.  Again, evidence of God helping me through.

This post is for the person who is at the end of their rope.  Who has almost given up and isn't sure there is any hope for them to feel better.  Who thinks health is just for the lucky few.  You are worth the effort!

PCOS, hypothyroidism, EBV, fibro, a broken knee, extreme food allergies and a tight food budget did not prevent me from making health a priority.  I had every obstacle (and excuse) to not succeed.  And by society's standards or the scale, I'm not a success.  I'm a continual work in progress and proud of where I am today.  Health is a journey you must take one step, one day at a time.

I'm so thankful that one year ago today, I bravely took that first step.  It was the first day of the best of my life.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Bittersweet Birthday

Most of the time we think of our son, Austin, as forever 14, since that was our last birthday with him, in 2008.  He passed just four months later.

Yet, as our youngest grows, we are forced to wonder what Austin would look like at the age he would now be.  And his birthday is always a day to reflect on who how things might be if he were still here.

I've never really known how to celebrate his birthday as he's no longer with us.  While we want to acknowledge the life we shared, it is hard to feel joyful when the loss is so present.  July 8 will always be bittersweet.

Family has only gathered on his birthday once, on what would've been his 16th.  All other years his day has been quietly observed by just the three of us.  Never knowing how one of us might feel, this has been somewhat simpler, though at times makes me sad.

The first birthday after we planted a tree in his memory and it has continued to grow, showering down cascades of beautiful red blooms - always the week of July 8.  Other years we have spent the day in nature, sent up balloons or paper lanterns, visited a ballpark, and painted rocks for kids to find.  Often, we will donate something in the amount of his age.  On his 21st, Noah paid for 21 snow cones at a local summer shack.  This year, we donated to a fundraiser for a family that suffered a recent tragedy.  Just small ways to keep his memory alive.

Every year we are sent sweet signs - hugs from above we call them, where we strongly feel his presence or something will remind of us him.  We feel it is Austin's way of saying hello and he loves us.  This year was no different.

His birthday fell on a Sunday so we went to church as normal, though I'm always worried about public outings on such a trigger-filled occasion.  Noah actually declined going, for what I thought to be the work week catching up to him at the time.  Tim and I, along with my mom, wore "Austin shirts" - matching Ts we had made after losing him and a way to raise funds for his scholarship fund.  And it didn't take five minutes for someone to make a snide remark, not realizing the symbolism to why we wore them.  So Tim sat steaming during worship, as tears fell for me.  ...Not quite the way I wanted to start the service.

But as we sat, the needed whispers came bringing peace to still us.

The pastor announced good news that between VBS and a mission trip, 14 kids had given their hearts to Jesus.  This was over the course of a couple weeks so the timing seemed quite perfect, given it was shared on Austin's birthday.  14...Tim and I smiled knowingly at each other and settled in to hear the message.

Sometimes sermons sting, especially when you are coping with loss.  I can recall one shortly after losing him that I actually walked out -because I couldn't hear the phrase, "mom prayed hard enough to bring her back" one more time.  But this day, it was just the wording we needed. 

The title was "God WILL give you more than you can handle."

There's enough I can say about the opposite of that (and something we've been told more times than I can count) it has spurred an upcoming post for Still Standing magazine.  Stay tuned... But for now, I'll just say it was soothing to have our pastor speak to the topic on this specific day.

As we traveled out of the way for lunch, we passed a favorite spot of mine I drive by when working.  It is on a stretch of road with no available turn offs so I can only enjoy it while whizzing by.  We both commented about how beautiful it was and wanting to take a picture on the way home.  Since Tim was driving on our way back, I needed him to pass it and turn around so that I was closest to the window for a good shot.  During the U-turn I noticed the mile marker - 23.  The biggest symbolic number we have for Austin, his old jersey and favorite digits. 

We shared memories of him on our drive and noticed how all the songs seemed to be his favorites, as if he were sending a playlist for us to enjoy.  Returning home, we opted to spend the remainder of the day at rest and it seemed "ok" for a day we tread lightly each year.  

And then I realized my baby didn't go to church because the day hit him hard.  Sometimes, as parents, you are so focused on your spouse/self and the feelings you might have, you forget about how others might be dealing with grief.  For Noah, the years have seemed to grow harder as he ages.  Perhaps it is because now is the stage where he and his brother could really run around together.  Now is the stage he could be an uncle and spend time with a family that will never get to be.  Now is the stage where a young man could use the advice and quality time with a big brother.  And that breaks my heart all over again.  If you are the praying type, I would ask that you send up some for my guy in this stage of his life.  

Birthdays after loss will never be ones I look forward to but the one thing I can celebrate is knowing where Austin is.  Because all those years ago, he gave Jesus his heart too.  So until eternity where I'll see him again, I'll spend time here finding the joy in every day.

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