Secrets of Sibling Success

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on May 27, 2017.  

I often get comments about how “cute” my relationship with my brother is. I’ve had a lot of friends tell me they envy the closeness I have with John. While I can’t imagine anything less than a best-friend relationship with him, I’ve come to realize that it’s actually pretty rare to have this kind of bond with a sibling (especially a brother/sister relationship). Our small advantage is that we’re the only two kids in our family. So, we only have each other. But I believe that siblings in bigger families can also develop close relationships! Now, speaking from my personal experience and observations, I would like to offer 5 insights on how to have a healthy sibling bond.

  1. Communicate:

The key to any relationship (and nobody will be able to convince me otherwise) is communication. Talking. Using words: Some of the reasons this is so beneficial is because it establishes trust over time; it shows interest in the other person; and it allows you to get to know them on a deeper level. Also, I find that constantly talking with someone lessens the chance that there will be secrets kept. Secrets separate us from knowing someone fully. Secrets (or simply keeping certain topics “off limits”) make fore a more shallow relationship.

John and I don’t really keep secrets from each other. Nothing is off the table for discussion at any time. Of course, we have had to establish enough trust in one-another to feel safe being vulnerable and sharing our deepest struggles and thoughts. This has worked out really well for us over time, and I think it’s the #1 strategy that’s gotten us to where we are now. No topic is too big or too small to discuss.

When we were younger, we talked about who we had crushes on. I remember telling my girl friends, “Yeah, I already told John that I like ____,” and my friends would respond: “What?! I could never tell my big brother that!” So, for as long as I can remember, John and I must have been good communicators.

Now, as adults, we talk about God, heartache, life transitions, stresses, mental health, physical health, funny things, stupid things, and things that the other person doesn’t even care to know. We check in on each other often. We call each other one the phone to share the smallest or biggest news. Whether I’m driving to school in the morning or it’s 11 p.m, I always answer the phone when he calls.

The more we talk, the more we value and appreciate each other. The more we talk, the more opportunities there are to say “I love you!” The more we talk, the more we enjoy and help each another.

2. Be available 

I think that it’s really important to show your sibling that you’ll support them and be available for them at any time.

Yesterday I was struck by how this looks for me and John. Our family was walking around the Disney store at Downtown Disney. He and I separated from everyone else, and he suddenly started sharing his heart and burdens with me. It wasn’t the typical environment to have a heart-to-heart talk, but for me and John, it works. I instantly shifted my focus from Disney merchandise to him and his needs. I made sure to look him in the eyes and show him I was listening.

fullsizeoutput_caShowing your availability to your sibling might look a lot of ways. Maybe it means stopping what you’re doing and chatting with them for 5 minutes if they ask for it. Maybe it means keeping your bedroom door open. These are things that John and I have done. When he lived at home, we would stop into each other’s rooms and say “Hey, how’s it going?” Sometimes it lead into an important talk, and sometimes it was just a simple acknowledgment. Now that we live in different states, it means prioritizing each other on the phone. I always aim to respond to his texts quickly. He tries to answer his phone calls from me, even if he’s walking to a class and only has 3 minutes. And we always end our talks with: ” Talk to you later,” or “We can talk more about this when I have more time.” This shows care and implies that the conversation can keep on going.

3. Be Kind 

Part of why I actually like my brother is because he makes an effort to treat me well. Now, listen…He and I have had our share of conflicts. Sometimes we really suck at being kind and intentional. Because we’re family, we tend to get the worst of each other. We don’t always filter our emotions, attitudes, or words around one-another. However, we’ve never been ones to be hateful or purposely hurtful to each other.

In the movies, siblings are often pictured as being aloof toward each other, fighting, yelling, and name-calling. I hate this…I even see it in real life occasionally, and it breaks my heart. I can remember being at other friends’ houses and feeling insanely uncomfortable seeing my friends fight with their siblings. God gifts us with brothers and sisters, and we have the potential to make them be our best friends! So, why do we treat them like enemies? You can be the exception. Treat your sibling well, and they will hopefully do the same.

    4. Spend Quality Time

Invest in your sibling by spending intentional time with them. It won’t always feel fun. Sometimes you might sit down to do something with them, and you’ll feel like “Umm, why am I choosing to spend time with this person?” But, other times it can turn into such an unexpected blessing. By spending time alone with them, you get to know what makes them happy. You get to know their real self. And you show them you care.

Sometimes John and I go out to lunch, and we have great talks. Other times, we feel like we have nothing to talk about, so we enjoy the food and just applaud ourselves for trying to make it a good date. Sometimes we run errands together and enjoy some music or talk in the car. We also try to do what the other person enjoys. For example, last summer I watched movies that John likes (that I don’t necessarily like), and then he’d tell me why he likes them. Other times, John would take me to Starbucks and go shopping with me. These actions can be so meaningful and allow great memories to be made.

5. Love

This seems like a no-brainer. But are you actively showing your sibling that you love them? Love is an action. Your brother or sister needs to undoubtedly know and feel that you genuinely love them. Otherwise, there’s no chance your relationship can be at its full potential. They won’t come to you, talk to you, or enjoy you it they don’t feel that you love them unconditionally. You have to put effort into them to get the same effort back.

John has also told me the words “I love you” so many times throughout my life, that I will never doubt it. The knowledge of his love for me is drilled into my brain. Even when he’s being lame and doesn’t show his love, I still know he loves me.

If you feel like your relationship with your sibling is a lost cause, it’s not too late. If you don’t communicate well with them now, you can change that. Just be genuine. Don’t fake it. Tell them honestly that you’d like to improve your relationship, and go from there. Or, start the change by simply changing the way you act around them. Be loving.

John, I love you. I’m proud of you. I’m blessed to be your sister and best friend. Thank you for leading the way for me, sharing your heart with me, and helping me through life. Here’s to many more years of memories, hugs, laughter, and occasional trials. 

  • May 27, 2017

To My Friends & Family (6 Personalized Notes To You)

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on May 20, 2017.  It was a cathartic post for me at the time and incredibly personal. A weight was lifted from my shoulders after this, and I felt like I could let go of my old self a bit. 

(Writing this is part of the positive process of moving on from my past.)

Grab a drink to sip and maybe some tissues if you get easily emotional. I feel that this is going to be one of the most important and personal posts I’ve written so far. I’m going to address several specific groups of people in my life and release some thoughts that have been burdening me lately. Please read the beginning few paragraphs and at least the numbered section below that relates to you.

This post is about my mental and physical health struggles and their affects on my relationships with people: With YOU, the reader. I choose to be open about them, because it helps me heal from them.

When I look back, I see that my disorders really began to take hold of me at age 15 – sometime during my freshman year of high school. They worsened during my sophomore year, but I was still somewhat healthy. They peaked at junior year, and I was dangerously ill. At senior year I realized that I wanted to heal, but I felt like it was impossible. I had such unhealthy thought patterns built up, and I was still engaging in disordered behaviors. Despite those barriers to recovering, I did start pursing health during senior year.

Now, I’m a freshman in college. Since this school year started, I’ve been rapidly changing. I’ve been seeing a new therapist, learning so much about my disorders, pressing into God like never before, and facing multiple challenges that come with recovering. I haven’t reached some kind of end-goal and received a prize that says, “congratulations, you’ve recovered!” Though my parents, nutritionist, and therapist have all affirmed my incredible progress, I’m still on the journey. And I will still struggle.

For the most part – in my mind – I feel like such a different person today (in a good way!) However, I know that you guys can’t fully understand the changes I’ve been through in my mind. For you, my friends and family, I’m sure it’s been difficult to understand me at times. Some days I’m doing really well, feeling great, and feeling secure. Other days I’m feeling crappy, struggling, or feeling insecure. My mood is easily swayed by my circumstances. If you’ve ever been confused or uncomfortable when interacting with me, I don’t blame you. I can be unpredictable…It’s frustrating to me, and I’m sure it’s odd for you. But please know that I’m still in the process of learning new things about myself, learning about God, growing, and “being transformed by the renewing of my mind” as Romans 12:2 says.

That is why I’m going to write these notes. To explain the changes you may have noticed.

  1. To My Friends From My Home School Co-op (ELT):

During my time at ELT, I was a mess. My insecurities began to take control of me the same year I started ELT. In fact, ELT was a huge reason my eating disorder came about. Why? First of all, when I joined ELT, I did not feel very pretty. I was overweight my freshman year, and I felt trapped in my body. I was also the new girl, and I had a hard time making friends quickly. I compared myself to every girl in the gym each week (like most high school girls do). I felt awkward, and I just wanted to fit in. The second reason I struggled was because of the stupid nutrition classes I took…I took 2 different nutrition class in the same term, and they fed me a lot of awful information. Because I was already insecure about my body, these classes made me want to “get healthy.” However, the classes were not professionally taught, and the approaches they suggested were not safe. I was vulnerable, and these classes made me want tocontrol my food and exercise. My teachers told me a lot of bull crap about “healthy” food, GMO’s, glass water bottles, and what not to eat. I began to feel ashamed of the ways I was eating and living, because my teachers were not sensitive to the dangerous messages they were giving. Lastly, during the first two years of ELT, I was struggling because of some relationship issues, and they made me feel very insecure. Maybe you recognize the pattern now…I was just a really insecure girl, trying to figure things out. All the while, I was beginning to seek control and validation through my body and outward image. My ability to have healthy relationships was probably damaged a bit because of my insecurities. So, my ELT friends, I’m sorry you had to know me at my very worst state. I was just struggling a lot in high school. I don’t want you to think that I was being a “faker” or anything like that. I don’t want you to think I was crazy. I was still a fairly normal girl, but I was not very confident in myself then. When I took a break from ELT because of my health, you all seemed concerned and tried to understand why I needed to leave. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you exactly why. Thank you for sticking with me through it all. You guys have been some of the most loyal friends I’ve ever had. Brenna, Cassie, Sam, Jonathan, Kezia, Bekah, Bryanna, Sarah, and anyone else (moms included!) who may be reading this: I hope this helps you understand me a bit better. As I’m now figuring out how to be secure in who I am, please keep talking to me about my journey! Keep getting to know me and notice the changes in me. You may encounter me on a great day, or you may encounter me on a rough day. Either way, I am not the same girl I was in ELT. I am on a great journey of healthy change. 

     2. To My Church Friends, Highlife Leaders, and Community Group:

Right now, I’m on a wonderful and hard journey towards whole health. I love Jesus a bunch. I’m pursuing God, and my relationship with him is very strong! But: At church, I often struggle. I struggle to figure out what kind of face I’m going to wear when I walk in the doors. I want to be joyful, inviting, and smile, because I’m at church. That’s how I should feel, right? But some days I don’t feel like that would be genuine. Some days are just difficult, because I’m still recovering from a mental disorder. Every week, I also know that I’m guaranteed to be asked “how are you?” The hard thing for me is that I don’t always know how to answer. Some days I’m honestly doing so great, and some days I’m feeling severely insecure or anxious. I know that church is a safe place to tell people the truth, however, I don’t always know how to explain the complexities of my mind…So during the socializing time, sometimes I just kind of “shut down” and come off as uninterested in people. I’m sorry about this. I’m trying to work it out.

On another note: I want my highlife friends to know that leaving Highlife was a hard but very important choice for me. I loved Jesus just as much then as I do now. I believe I would have been fine and well equipped to keep leading a small group; but leaving allowed me to have the time to go to therapy and to work harder on recovering from my disorder. I know I’ll dive back in to ministry one day, whether it’s highlife or not. When I do, I’ll be even better than before!

     3. To My Skit Theatre Friends: 

During my time at Skit theatre, I was awkward. Haha, it makes me cringe to think of how awkward I probably acted. In high school, I did not know who I was. I was quite “up and down,” and I was beginning to develop a mental disorder because of my insecurities. During Skit rehearsals I compared myself to other girls in the plays, and I felt insecure and jealous in the relationship aspects of Skit. During Anne of Green Gables and Go Dog Go/ JGP, my eating disorder was beginning. This took up a lot of my brain space. And sadly, during Narnia, I was at my absolute worst point. Not only was I having health problems totally unrelated to my disorder, but I was also depressed, anxious, and not eating a lot. That is why I didn’t do a play during my senior year. So, my Skit friends, I’m sorry you had to know me at my very worst state. I was just struggling. Thank you, though, for bringing me so much joy and laughter during that time. Thank you for caring about me and remaining my friend after Narnia. I love that Skit gave me some of the most amazing friends. Christian, Maddy, Katie, Kim, Jacob, Maddi, Drew, Elysa, and everyone else you all rock my world. Now that I’m in a healthier mindset, I hope you’ll not ignore what I’ve gone through, but take me where I’m at. Talk to me about my journey, and make new memories with me!

     4. To My Long Time Friends (from church, childhood, etc.)

Hey you guys. Maybe you were a large part of my story, or maybe we didn’t talk a lot during my struggles. Some of you are my biggest supporters; some of you have offered prayers; some of you have only kept up with me through social media. Whatever the nature of our relationship has been, I just want you to know that I’m still figuring out who I am and how to be totally secure. I really value our friendship and that you’ve stuck with me through all of my high’s and low’s! In the future, some days I’ll be feeling wonderful, and some days I’ll be feeling “meh.” I need you to do something for me, though. Please don’t ignore what I’ve gone through. Please don’t feel awkward talking about it or listening to me talk about it. Ask me questions, pray with me, tell me the truth about myself. I can’t fight alone, and I need friends to keep me grounded.

     5. To My New Friends:

Maybe we don’t know each other super well yet, but I want you to know that while I have a complicated past, I’ve been changed and transformed through the healing of Jesus Christ. I like talking about what God has done for me, and it’s one of the most important things to me. I’m passionate about Him, and He shapes how I live.

    6. To My Family (in Salem, Vancouver, California, and Illinois)

Last but not least……Guys. Each of you has played a different kind of role in my life and struggles. I guess I just want to thank you for your prayers and for not taking my struggles lightly. I’ve realized recently that I’m being “transformed by the renewing of my mind” (Romans 12:2). I’m really relying on God, and He’s still transforming me and changing the way I think today. I hope my life will forever be evidence to you of God’s goodness and power. The girl you see today has learned a lot about life, suffering, joy, healing, and faith. I can guarantee you I’m going to keep learning and being transformed. But I will have bad days. I will feel weak and need you to encourage me. Never assume I’m doing great, and never assume I’m not doing great. Ask me genuinely, and I’ll tell you. You’re the most valuable people to me. I love you. Thanks for loving me.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  – Romans 12:2

Our Minds & Medication (Personal Stories)

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on March 10, 2017. 

Luke 10:27: “love the Lord your God. . .with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Today I’m focussing on the idea of serving God and others with our whole mind. I wonder: How can we do this if we aren’t having positive thoughts? If we are depressed, anxious, and struggling to find peace, joy, or confidence?

Mental illness, clinical depression, anxiety, and other disorders and mental struggles are so common and running rampant among us. Because of this, for a lot of people, it can be very hard to think in a way that is pure and beneficial all the time.

This has been especially true for me in the past few weeks. After having gone an entire year without an anxiety attack, I was reminded (shortly after that one year mark) that my anxiety disorder is still very much a part of me. Sitting in church a few weeks ago, my mind was a mess. I was stressed with school, relationships, and worrying about literally like 6 other things, all at once. My mind spiraled so far out of control that I became restless. I got up from my seat, went out into the lobby, and broke into tears and short breathes. This panic attack reminded me of who I am, though. I am anxiety prone.

Following that experience, I started to realize that my anxiety and depression are becoming worse. For a while now, I haven’t been able to focus well, sleep good, or feel joy as easily. I feel like a little grey cloud is hovering over me, taking enjoyment and energy out of my life. It’s making me an irritable girl who snaps at her parents and can’t love her friends well. It’s making me feel tired and like I can’t even open my Bible. But that isn’t normal for me! After some prayer and advice, I decided to ask for an increased prescription of my medication. Some might argue that medication isn’t the way to solve the problem; but I think that there’s only so much self-care we can do for our minds until it’s okay to seek medicine.

How can I serve God with my mind if I don’t take care of my mind?

I’m not saying, “Hey everyone, go get some meds to solve your problems!” I’m reminding us all that it’s okay to think of them as a helpful option. More importantly, though, we should be aware of our mental state! We should try to realize when we aren’t thinking good thoughts; notice when we’re slipping into a darker place; and evaluate how our attitude might be impacting relationships.

Another instance that got me thinking about this is that my brother recently decided to get onto medication. (And he gave me permission to talk about it). He’s in a crazy season of life and has a lot of responsibilities: he’s a senior in college, an intern at a production studio, he has a girlfriend, he’s trying to figure out his future, and he’s currently directing a film at his school! He’s got a lot on his mind; and lately he’s been feeling the way I was describing my own self. I’m so glad that he decided to try medication to improve his mood and calm his anxious mind. He realized that in order to best serve all of the people around him and focus on God and his responsibilities, he needs to be in a better mental state. He evaluated where his mind was; and there is no shame in that.

So, I hope this encourages you to pay attention to your thoughts in each season of life. We are called to serve God and others with our whole minds, so it is important to be aware of them! For some of us, medication might be helpful. For others, simply being aware of the fact that we’re not thinking positive, healthy, or true thoughts can allow us to  fix them. Maybe for some, reading scripture more often will be enough to moderate our thinking patterns! Whatever you need to do, it’s always good to take care of your mind.

My Frenemies: The Mirror and the Scale

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on February 10, 2017. It’s one of my personal favorites!

I can’t count how many times I have looked at myself in the mirror and felt negatively about my reflection.

I can’t count how many times I have stepped onto the scale and felt my heart sink.

I can’t count how many times I stared at my thighs or the number on the scale, hoping and waiting for them to change.

So much anxiety, so many tears, and so much self-disgust have resulted from what I saw on a piece of glass and a metal, square thing.

The truth is, I have allowed the mirror and the numbers on the scale to determine the way I feel about myself for the majority of my life; But now I’m done with that!

I have recently discovered how to separate my emotions from these two objects, and they no longer hold the same power over me that they used to.

How have I done this? What has changed? Let me tell you. It’s pretty simple, actually.

fullsizerenderThe first step was covering my full length mirror! I took the challenge by someone I respect, and I successfully kept it covered it for about 10 weeks (I still used my bathroom mirror for my hair and makeup).  At first it was difficult, and I felt really weird when I’d hop out of bed every morning and not see myself on the wall. But I quickly realized that the mirror was something I sought comfort and validation from. In a strange way, the reflection I saw first thing in the morning was able to set the tone for my whole day. If I happened to feel good about my body, I’d go about my day with more ease. On the other hand, if I didn’t like what I saw, I would feel glum and distracted by  it most of the day. I would most likely wear clothes that were baggier and maybe even eat less.

Once I realized the behavioral tendencies and unhealthy emotional connection I had with my mirror, I was sad. These realizations, however, motivated me to disconnect myself from the mirror and keep it covered it up.

After a month or so, I noticed that I was much less insecure about my appearance; I cared less about my insecure areas; and I flinched less at my reflection when I looked in public mirrors. After another month, I felt almost zero body negativity. Eventually I was able to look at my full body and accept it in its daily state. I have also been able to appreciate all that my body does for me instead of fixating on how it looks.

Next came the scale.

I have always known I shouldn’t let the number bother me. I’ve always known that weighing myself obsessively was not healthy. Yet, in my eating disorder, I couldn’t stop.

Well, several weeks ago I was fed up with it. Because I’m in a much healthier state of mind than I used to be, I know that my over-all holistic “health” is not solely defined by pounds. Whether I’m gaining, losing, or stabilizing weight only tells me a small bit of information about how healthy I am. Realistically, I probably should only be having my doctor or dietician weigh me. They can use the information to help me make changes if needed.

So, in order to separate myself from my feelings attached to the scale, there was only one thing to do. After 5 years of having it in my bathroom, I put the scale away. And guess what: I don’t miss it! It was much easier to give up than I thought. I don’t miss the ritual of dread and anxiety that I used to engage in. I have decided to measure whether I’m “gaining weight” only by paying attention to how my clothes fit. I have allowed my dietician to weigh me instead.

Now that the mirror and scale hold less power over me, I feel so much better about myself! Sure, I have bad days. Sure, I don’t always love the way I look. But I’m much quicker to measure my self-worth by my internal characteristics and to thank my body for its hard work. The two things that used to make me cry – my weight and the “cushioning” on top of my bones – seem much less important now.

The reason I share this story with you is because I know that I am not the only one who allows the mirror and scale to dictate my feelings. I want to remind you of a couple things.

1. When you look at yourself in the mirror, your perception is largely influenced by “your mind’s eye. In other words, you might look at yourself and make a totally false judgement about your body, weight, or what other people must think about you, because you have your own unique standards and opinion of yourself. Even if you hyper-focus on one “flaw” or roll, or think to yourself “AHH, I’m gaining weight!” other people probably aren’t judging you as harshly. It’s all about our unique perceptions.

2. The mirror and scale are not the best measuring tools for us, and they tend to generate a lot of negativity. Why torture yourself?

3. If you truly want to track whether you are healthy, try determining that in other ways.

4. Just like any addiction or bad habit, the best way to let go of these two harmful things is to give them up. I promise that it’s not impossible.

5. You are beautiful and wonderful no matter what that number says and no matter how much “fat” you see on the mirror. You are one of God’s masterpieces. He made no mistakes with you.

6. Focus on the functionality of your body. If you appreciate what your body and mind do for you each day, you won’t be so easily disappointed next time you step on the scale or look in the mirror.

I hope this helps or encourages someone! Go out today, and use your body to change the world!

A Letter to Those With Mental Battles

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on January 27, 2017. 

This is for all who are fighting mental battles.

As an observant, self-proclaimed “people-reader,” it’s not hard for me to spot when someone is struggling. Lately I have been noticing how many people around me seem to be going through something difficult. My heart aches with you; and I want to help.

I can read your emotions, your Twitter posts, your subtle hints, your change of mood, etc… I know that there’s something secret going on in your life. Or something that you pretend is not a big deal by keeping it quiet. I know, because I have been there – in that lonesome place – feeling like nobody could possibly “get it.”

I know that you don’t want to open up to anyone about your troubles. You don’t want to be “a burden” on anyone. You’re also afraid of what might happen when you vulnerably admit what is going on in your mind.

You’re afraid of judgement and the stigmas attached to your problem. But listen to me:

You are not a burden. You are not a disease. You are worthy of human help. You are not alone. You are worthy of healing and attention. You can fight through this; and it’s okay if you need help. 

Maybe you have a disorder: anxiety, depression, eating disorder, bipolar, multiple personality disorder, body dysmorphia, etc. Maybe you have an addiction, suicidal thoughts, severe insecurity, or doubt in your faith in God. Maybe you’re living with the pain that comes with being a part of the less accepted LGBTQ community.

I don’t know where you are on the spectrum; but I don’t want to minimize the fact that WHATEVER you are dealing with has got to be hard…I have figured out that mental disorders, and just the mental battles that accompany our insecurities and troubles, are agonizing and isolating things.

The enemy will tell you lies and try to keep you from getting proper help. He will tempt you to just get comfortable with your issue, become friends with it, and deny healing or outside comfort.

But I need you to know that life is meant to be lived abundantly (John 10:10), and that God’s plan for you is not to suffer for the rest of your life on earth. I promise you there is something you can do to escape the torment in your mind. (In some cases, even if you can’t get rid of it altogether, you can at least do something to make life more bearable with it.) You may not be able to see it now, but beyond your life today is a much brighter time. You just have to take one step at a time. And normally, that first step is admitting to someone what you’re dealing with.

We’re privileged to have so many tools to help us: counselors, doctors, like-minded people, friends, prayer, wise spiritual leaders, books, medicine, endless information, and all kinds of other things to aid us in “recovery” (or whatever your healing process might look like). USE THEM. There is no shame in getting help! I can’t stress this enough.

Maybe you won’t be able to make fast progress. Maybe freedom will take years to achieve. Maybe you will face some of the fears that come when you’re vulnerable with someone. But it is worth is, because your life is valuable and full of potential!

Don’t keep suffering in your present state. Don’t let your problems hold you back from the quality of life that you’re worthy of. Don’t let the enemy tell you that you’re stuck. Instead, grab someone who loves you; tell them what you need; get outside of your head; and start fighting for your life.

You’ve got this!

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”. – John 10:10

More Than I Imagined

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on January 7, 2017. 

“Lord, I am so tired of being afraid of the future. I know that I’m not walking in the truth, and my anxiety is holding me back from experiencing full joy and pursuit of my dreams. . .Please, I just need you to bring me security and then some joy and a little excitement in my life. . .I don’t know…I just want to feel more at peace and secure. Please help me, God. Amen.”

A prayer written by me,  January 2016

I found the above prayer in my prayer journal. Evidently, I was having a hard time and feeling devoid of security, joy, and peace. The month previous was when I was so terrified for my health that I got onto anxiety medication.

The beginning of 2016 was simply the middle of a difficult transition, and I was feeling a lack of direction for my life. I pictured another 12 months just as hard as 2015.

But, little did I know, I was about to have the most transformational and rewarding year ever! 2016 ended up being the year that I learned the most about myself and became determined to fight harder than ever!

Now, let me be clear that without my faith in him, I would have only sunk deeper into the pits of fear, disordered eating, insecurity, selfishness, apathy, and isolation. I know this because my belief in God was my main motivator in any and all efforts to get better.

My motivation is the fact that I believe He created me for a purpose and has greater plans for my future. And those plans do not include bondage to self-destructive behaviors and thoughts.

Through my consistent asking of God for help and a perfectly orchestrated set of events, God did more than I could have ever imagined.

He nudged me; He made me feel strong moments of conviction that broke me down when I needed to make a change; And He used specific people to say the exact words I needed to hear. And I believe that he even lead me to the scriptures that I needed to read, when I asked him to. There are some events that I give God all the credit for, because the timing was just too perfect. There is no way I could have planned each little (or big) moment of impact so divinely. It was purely the Lord’s doing.

Because of this, I’ve really been loving this scripture in Ephesians that says:

“How long and wide and deep and high is the love of Christ. . .Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be all the glory. . .for ever and ever! Amen.” – 3:20-21

Seriously, I’m blown away at his work in my life!

I compiled a list of positive events and significant changes that all happened within 2016:

  • I started this blog!
  • I went 10 whole moths without any major panic attacks. (WOO!)
  • I visited Biola University, and realized that I actually DO want to go to college!
  • I got accepted to Biola!
  • I shared my testimony with my entire highschool youth group (scary, but worth it!)
  • My anxiety gradually decreased, and I learned how to handle it better.
  • I reached two major clinical health goals!
  • I turned 18, graduated high school, and started my summer job all in the same month!
  • I worked as a middle school leader and went to summer camp with the youth group.
  • I shared the gospel with 3 people and helped lead 2 to Christ. (YAY)
  • My relationship with exercise turned healthy.
  • I started college.
  • I went on real dates with real boys 😉  (I don’t think I could have healthily done this last year.)
  • I found direction for life, felt new passions, and felt joyful.
  • I got asked to be a bridesmaid! AND
  • I made a scary but life-changing decision for my overall health that has been TOTALLY worth it! (I’ll share more about this one later).

It doesn’t hurt that I also made it to Disneyland twice, saw a couple celebrities, and made some friends 🙂

These blessings came at a price though. I had to fight hard. I had to wait patiently, keep going to church, seek the Lord for strength, cry, endure a lot of discomfort, ask people for help, and always ask God for direction. But now I can see that it was all worth it. I can see now that he did hear my prayer in January; and he had good things in store.

Yes, fighting was worth it; and God ended up doing “immeasurably more than I asked or imagined.” And this is my hope for 2017! I’m expecting Him to continually show up and to be on my team. He has never left my side, and He’s not going to now.

God can move mountains in your life as well! He will bless you in incredible ways if you  have an active relationship with Him, ask Him for help, and have a willing heart. Then wait expectantly with faith.

Labels, Pressure, Danger, and…Pigs?

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on December 10, 2016. 

Let me tell you a short (fictional) story that I find to be very powerful. It’s called Eye of the Beholder, and It’s taken from an episode of The Twilight Zone.

There’s a woman: a patient in some sort of holding facility. She’s been lying in a bed for a long time, receiving injections into her face. We’re told that she’s been removed from society, and the purpose of the injections is to make her “less ugly.” You see, she can’t be with everyone else, because she’s so ugly, compared to “normal” people, that anyone who sees her runs away.

She begs her nurse to take her outside. She wants so badly to get out of there, but her nurses and doctor refuse; telling her she’s just too ugly. She tries to escape, but the doctor holds her back.

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She negotiates with him, and he agrees to take the bandages off and see if her face has changed yet. IF her face looks normal, he’ll allow her to join society; but if she hasn’t changed, she’ll be exiled to a place with people of “her kind.” Ugly people.

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We wait in anticipation as the nurses and doctor strip away each bandage, one by one…And when her face is revealed, we notice that she is not what OUR modern society would label as ugly.

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But as the doctor yells, “No change!” Ms. Tyler gasps. The nurses and doctor pin her back, and we finally see what the “normal” folk look like:

She escapes their grasp, and they chase her through the hospital. At one point, as she’s running away, a projector screen literally pops out right in front of her. A newscast is playing of what seems to be the ruler of this vile race of people.fullsizeoutput_704

He’s passionately yelling, “We know that there must be a single entity of people; a single norm; a single virtue; a single morality; a single frame of reference! We must cut out all that is different, like a cancerous cell! We must conform to the norm! We must destroy those who do not fit in!”…Conform to what is normal

In the end, Ms. Tyler can’t escape. A man of “her kind” takes her away to the place where ugly people live.

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The End. Yep, that’s it. It’s really sad, but it’s an eye opening perspective on how we humans have created beauty standards. It’s also painfully relevant and parallel to the way we are in 2016. Why do I say this?

Well, first of all, this fictional story proves that beauty and ugliness really are in the eye of the beholder. In other words, WE (individual societies/cultures/large groups of people) determine what “beauty” is. Beauty is not a tangible thing that we can actually define one way. It’s ever-changing, and it varies from person to person. But each large group of people, in this modern day, typically holds to our own definitions of what beautiful is.  I bet when you saw that woman with the curly light hair, glittery eyes, perfect completion, and nice eyebrows, you thought she was beautiful. And I’m guessing you didn’t think the same about the pig-like people. You probably think they’re unattractive (or dare I say, ugly?). In that fictional story, however, they labelled Ms. Tyler as ugly, because she didn’t fit their standard for outer appearance.

Now, it’s obvious that we don’t send people to hospitals, put them on bedrest, or exile them to an island when they’re “ugly.” (Praise God). BUT, there’s some sad reality in that we (people of the western culture/Americans) DO have our own extremes:

(Let me take a moment here to say that the reason I feel so strongly about this is because I recently wrote a research paper about media’s effects on people. It was very enlightening. I also recently watched 3 documentaries about America’s beauty standards.)

1.We do have our own idea of what the ideal body types are. For girls, there is a pressure to be “thin, curvy, or physically appealing,” says Professor Richard Perloff, an expert dedicated to the studies of the effects of mass media. Boys have the “muscular, tall, lean, and ripped” shape to try to obtain (Perloff, 364-366). Some of these ideas about the body ideal come from media: distorted images, ads for health products, manipulative messages, and our natural tendency to compare. Other times, people (or models) can make us feel insecure. Either way, these ideas can pressure us to look a certain way or conform.

2. We use labels. We are really doing ourselves a disservice by playing with labels like beautiful, ugly, skinny, healthy, and handsome. All of these terms are relative, and they can make people arrogant or insecure. ESPECIALLY CHILDREN. In a survey reported on by the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA),

“of American elementary school girls who read magazines, 69% say that the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape. . . 47% say the pictures make them want to lose weight” (Martin, qtd. in NEDA “Facts”1). And one expert researcher who partners with the NEDA says, “more than half of 6-12 year-oldsare concerned about becoming fat” (Smolak, qtd. in “Facts”1). Also, Perloff says that children as young as three are already ascribing positive characteristics to being thin (363)!

These facts always make me feel sick. Kids are too young to be so concerned with their appearance! They’re more vulnerable and susceptible to believing what the media throws at them, though. And when they see us body shaming ourselves or hear us using labels, they’re going to catch on. (Young moms, PLEASE do what you can to prevent this).

3. We have plastic surgery. I just want to mention this for a second, because it’s similar to the story. I personally think it’s sad that we have surgeries for the purpose of changing our faces. It’s dangerous (deaths have occurred); and it shows to what extreme some are willing to go to, in order to look “better.”

SO, what’s the major point I want you to take away from this post? If anything, I hope the story I re-told opened your eyes like it did for me. I hope it helps you understand that beauty is a made up term, defined and viewed differently by everyone’s own mind. It’s also very dangerous when we assume that “beautiful and ugly ” equal “good and bad,” and that we should try to change our appearance to be more physically acceptable. I hope you will join with me in being careful with labels, and do your best to teach the younger generations that media is distorted.

Thank you for reading this. Let’s embrace what’s on the inside. Let’s embrace the unique beauty that each of us has!

References:

Perloff, Richard.Social Media Effects on Young Women’s Body Image Concerns: Theoretical Perspectives and an Agenda for Research”. Sex Roles, vol. 71, no. 11, pp. 363-366.

The National Eating Disorders Association. “Get the Facts on Eating Disorders” National Eating Disorders association.org. 2012, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-facts-eating- disorders. Accessed 20 Nov. 2016.