Monday, April 21, 2014

Saying No and Letting Go

I feel like I have spent most of my adult life running on a treadmill going just slightly too fast for comfort. I can keep up most of the time, but if anything happens to knock me out of my rhythm, then I get overwhelmed pretty quickly. I usually get into these situations by volunteering to take on extra tasks above and beyond what I'm already doing for my family, and I get pulled in so many different directions that I don't know which way is up. Not only is this harmful to me because of the physical stress and lack of sleep that generally result, but it's also harmful  to my spiritual and emotional well-being for other reasons. When I'm running at 90 mph all day every day, it feels impossible to stop for a few minutes of quiet reflection and spiritual nourishment. When I lose that time, I lose a lot.

One of the best ways to remedy this is to keep my life from getting to that point. And that means I need to be able to say no to others AND to myself without guilt. Which, of course, is easier said than done.

Keep That Hand Down (For Now)

I like to volunteer for stuff. If a general request is put out to a group and I think I could do that task and do it well, my first instinct is to say, "Yes! Yes, I will do that!" In order to overcome this particular tendency, I give myself the 24-hour rule. Often these requests are sent out via email, so it's pretty easy to wait a day or so before I contact the person in charge to see if they still need someone to volunteer. Not only does this allow everyone in the group to see the email and have the opportunity to step up, but it also gives me a day to ruminate on whether this is something that I should really take on.

As I have been doing this, an interesting thing has happened. Nothing has fallen apart. No one has come up to me and asked me why I'm not doing more for the group. Most of the time the slot has already been filled by the time I get back to the person who asked. The person who stepped in for the task even (gasp!) gets it done right. Perhaps they didn't do it exactly the way I would have, but that's okay. The important part is that I just saved myself and my family hours (and sometimes days) of stress, anxiety, and take-out meals because I'm too busy to relax or to cook. And those rare times when no one else has volunteered after a day or so? Well, then I can rest assured that I am really helping because I'm needed, and not because I was the first one to read the email.

Handling Direct Question (and Answer)

Occasionally I am asked directly whether I can do something. In fact, tonight I was asked by a friend whether I could to a favor for them. I found myself going through my schedule in my head to see if I could squeeze it in between several other things happening the same evening. After a few minutes of this I realized just how absurd I was being, and I was able to stop and evaluate the task from a neutral place. It was not something I could do without inflicting a lot of stress on my family, and I felt no moral obligation to get involved. As I called my friend back to let her know I would be unable to help, it dawned on me just how far I have grown in this area. (Hence this blog post.)

It is harder for me to say no when asked directly. I often assume that if someone is asking than it means that they really need me. Being needed is very enticing to my ego and self-esteem. I love to be needed. In these situations, I have to consider several key things:

  1. Is it going to conflict with something else I am already obligated to do? And yes, this includes juggling multiple things on the same day. If the timing has to be "just so" to make sure you can do everything, there's a conflict.
  2. Do I have a moral obligation to help? I am morally obligated to care for myself, my husband, and my children under the age of 18. That doesn't mean that I do everything my family asks (that isn't good, either), but I do need to give extra weight and consideration to their requests. I also feel morally obligated to do what I have already said I would do for outside groups, whether it be church or community responsibilities. They are counting on me, and it's not fair to them to be unreliable. It's a matter of personal integrity for me.
  3. Who is asking? There are some close friends and family that I always want to be available for, whatever they ask. It's partly because I love them, and partly because if there's a crisis I want to be there for them. Conversely, there are other people in my life who ask me for favors all the time. I have come to realize that I am simply a phone number on a list of people they can call to get some help. I am still glad to help if it's convenient; otherwise the answer is going to be no.
  4. Do I want to do it? In between the close friends and impartial acquaintances are the people (like tonight) that are simply a friend asks for a favor every now and again. I may not be the first person they ask, but there is probably someone else they can ask after me if I can't do it. They are the kind of person I might ask for a casual favor as well. If they can, great; if they can't, that's okay. I have other options. In these cases, I consider whether the task can be done without causing me or my family extra stress. Do I mind? Would it be distasteful? Is it causing me anxiety to imagine myself doing this thing? If one or two or those things have to be answered with a YES, then I should probably decline with a NO.

The Art of "Unvolunteering"

Despite my best efforts, I still occasionally find myself with a lot already on my plate. In some instances, such as when I'm organizing an event, this is just the way it goes when we get close to the Big Day. When that happens I just try to hang in there and lower my expectations for the house and cooking. (Yes, grilled cheese and cereal are totally acceptable dinner options. Yes, the clean laundry can hang out in my bedroom. And no one is eating off the kitchen floor anyway, so why can't it stay dirty?) Other times it happens because of a personal crisis for a loved one. This does not include the project my teenager is cramming in the night before it's due - that's their problem, not mine. This does include sick kids and lice outbreaks.

When I find myself in a position where I realize that I need to let something go, I always look first at the big stuff I'm involved in that doesn't directly benefit me or my family. For example, a couple of years ago I was asked to organize my homeschool group's spelling bee. I originally accepted with the understanding that I would have a co-chair and we would split the work evenly. Unfortunately, the other mom moved early in the school year and I was left with the task on my own. Several months before it took place, my youngest son started becoming a huge challenge for me to handle. I often felt overwhelmed with his behavior, and was at a loss for how to manage it. It was so bad that I even stopped going a lot of places because the anxiety it caused me to leave the house with him was too great. 

The spelling bee started weighing heavily on my mind. My children were not participating at all, so I wasn't helping them by organizing it. The size of the task had changed since I first agreed to do it. And lastly (though I wouldn't have called it such at the time), I was having a personal crisis with my son's emerging behavior. I decided I could let this go, so I contacted our group's leader and told her I was going to have to back out. I gave her three months' notice. I even announced to the group that I couldn't do it, and offered to pass on my information to anyone who wanted to take it on. I let them know that if no one else stepped up, then it wasn't going to happen. And guess what? A mom whose kids wanted to participate did step up and organize it. 

This situation was kind of a big one (organizing an event), but the same principles can be applied to other circumstances. The key is to act early. Another time I agreed to teach a first aid class to a group of cub scouts. Within a day or so of saying yes, I realized that for various reasons it was not something I was comfortable doing. I contacted the den leader right away to let him know so he could make other arrangements.

In both of these circumstances, there was no disaster when I "unvolunteered" in a timely manner. I didn't leave it till the last minute. I didn't give indirect hints and hope that someone else would step up and relieve me of duty. I just told the person I committed to that I was going to have to back out. It was okay. What needed to happen... well, it happened anyway. Last year my sister-in-law told me a great phrase to use when I need to turn down or back out of something:

For various reasons, I am not going to be able to do ________.

I love that sentence!! I don't have to explain myself to anyone. They don't get to pry into my personal life or pass judgment on me because they don't think my reasons are valid. Mostly I love it because I don't need to be able to put into words why it's too much for me. Sometimes I just need to follow my instincts for now, and the reasons will be clear later.

Am I perfect at all of this? No, no I'm not. But I'm a lot better than I was.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

He Heals Me

Image found here.

I'd wager that at some point in everyone's life, there will come a time when there is emotional pain almost too great to bear. Sometimes, especially if we are young when it occurs, we can't handle the pain and shut down emotionally until we are ready to deal with it.

That's what happened to me.

I don't really want to go into details here about my personal history and traumatic experiences, but suffice it to say that I have gone through most of my life living in shades of gray. I'm pleasant and kind and loyal, but I'm not a risk-taker. I try to pick the safest path for me to follow, because I really don't want to get hurt again. I have a hard time trusting others, and even myself.

About 18 months ago, I joined a local support group. I became more self-aware than I had been in years, and it soon became obvious that I would need some personal counseling to work through some of the emotions that were bubbling right beneath the surface. I didn't even know what my issues were, just that I had them.

The scary thing about counseling is that in order for it to be effective, you have to be willing to be honest with yourself and your counselor. And you know that hurt that you buried all those years ago because you weren't ready to deal with it? It comes back. The only way to heal from the pain is... experience it, understand it, release it.

When I started this blog it was with the intent of focusing on those things that nourish in three areas: physical, emotional, and spiritual. Tomorrow is Easter. Tonight as I reflect on the Savior and my personal growth, my I find I am overflowing with love and gratitude. You see, as things would come up in counseling, there were times that I would feel like my heart was breaking - literally. There were times when I did not know whether I could come back from some very dark and painful places.

But through it all, I never felt alone.


"Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." - Isaiah 53:4

"I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you."- John 14:18

"Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved." - Jeremiah 17:14

Not only has He comforted me and helped me heal while I was in counseling, he continues to do so. Life isn't always (or ever?) going to be a bed of roses, and I need Him still.

I will always need Him.

"Here is Hope" by Rob Gardner

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


At the risk of coming across as a terrible hypocrite in my last post, I have decided to post my "weight loss tracker" from My Fitness Pal at the bottom of this blog. Although weight loss is not my ultimate goal, it IS happening and it IS important to my ultimate goals of being able to get around easier and play with my family. It's worth smiling about. Having that information posted here will also add an extra layer of motivation for me to "stick with it" on those hard weeks and months. I really want to see that number line move further to the right.

Also, there are people in my life who will want to know "the number" since it is a legitimate way to measure progress. If you are one of them, you can visit my blog and check it out.

The Before-After Trap

My first week of making healthy choices for my body generated a 5-lb weight loss. I was excited to see the scale finally going down instead of up, and considered whether I should post a "before" picture on the blog for all the world (okay, the 2 or 3 of you who actually read this) to see and compare to my slimmer body in a year or two from now.

And then I realized that this whole way of thinking is a trap for me.

That's right. You heard me. A trap.

In order to explain this concept, I need to back up a little. I have noticed that there are several people in my life who judge what I know about healthy living according to how much excess weight I am currently carrying. If I mention anything to them about making changes to be more fit, I can count on listening to a few minutes of well-meant advice on how to get started. I will hear phrases like:

"Just start moving a little every day, like taking a walk every night."
"If you only eat carbs for breakfast you will be hungry all day long."
"Veggies, veggies, veggies!"
"Don't lift weights, you need to focus on getting cardio."

While I appreciate the good intentions behind these comments, the people saying them obviously consider me to be ignorant on some basic principles. After all, if I knew them, then why would I let myself be so obese? I'm sure they don't know that I have already lost over 100 pounds once in my life. I know how my body responds to most food and exercise. In addition, my bachelors degree was in Exercise Science. While I didn't learn much about practical nutrition application (i.e. how to eat healthy at a reasonable caloric level), I learned a whole heck of a lot about how general exercise principles and the proper and safe ways to work out.

I had mentioned this observation to a friend of mine who would also like to make changes to become more fit, and she summed it up perfectly with this statement:

"What I look like does not reflect what I know."

Amen, sister!! So, what does all this have to do with the trap of having a before/after picture for weight loss? What makes these pictures so dangerous for me?

A before picture implies that I cannot be obese and healthy. This just isn't true. Every day that I eat consciously and conscientiously, I am healthy. Every day I exercise and drink water, I am healthy. Every day I care for my emotional and spiritual needs, I am healthy. When I feel healthy, I act healthy. When I feel obese, I binge on junk.

A before picture suggests that I am not beautiful right now. It implies that I am not sexy or desirable to my husband. Yet I feel attractive and desired. I feel loved by my husband. I feel beautiful in many ways, and not just physically. My heart is open and giving. I can love and be loved, without feeling insecure.

A before picture is thought to motivate people to make positive changes. Since when has negative motivation ever generated sustainable, healthy improvements? Not once for me.

An after picture says that getting to a specific size or shape is the ultimate goal. In my reality, weight loss is a side effect of eating right and exercising. Lifestyle change is the true goal. In some ways, I have already achieved it. Now I just need to maintain it.

An after picture implies there is an end to being conscientious about how I treat my physical body. That's why so often people will gain back about 10-15 pounds after losing a significant amount of weight. They get to that number/size and then they relax, because it's "over". However, if my goal is maintaining my good habits, then I am never done, am I? There is no "after".

I recently saw this on Facebook and LOVED IT. Don't you??

I cannot take a picture of my soul. Perhaps that is why I am writing this blog. It helps me to create an image of my heart with words. It's a positive image that I can look to for inspiration and resolve when I hit the highs and lows that are bound to come. For today, however, it is just enough to know that I am already a success.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

And This Is What She Said

It feels so good to be doing something about my health again. I feel powerful when I finish the day having met my goals. Have I been perfect every day? Nope. Friday the girls were having a movie night and I ended up getting an extra snack for myself, but I chose to do it. I didn't hide it, I didn't sneak it, and I'm owning the fact that I did it. I ate less than I would have otherwise, and even gave some of it away. And guess what? I don't feel guilty. I don't feel ashamed. I am committed to these changes, so I know it's not going to be a regular thing. 

One of the reasons I knew I was ready to start making fitness goals again is because I have been able to eliminate most of the unfounded shame in my life that came from my not living up to personal expectations. Without having first rid myself of that baggage, I would never have been able to do this without making it an obsession. Although what I am eating and drinking is on my mind a lot right now, it's simply receiving a healthy amount of attention while I relearn how to care for this wonderful body that God has given me. I'm not obsessing. I'm not beating myself up. I'm not agonizing or suffering or depriving. I'm nourishing. And wasn't that the point in the first place?

I feel so powerful when I restrain myself from overeating. Here are a few things I have done differently this week that have helped me to feel more healthy:
  • I made a batch of cookies tonight. I ate two. 230 calories. And I stayed within my calorie goal for today. I'm seriously not even longing for another. (At least not tonight.)
  • I have given up all soda. Even diet. It's not about the calories, it's about my health.
  • I was in a position Friday where Maddox and I hadn't eaten lunch, it was after 1pm, and I was headed to the grocery store. Maddox asked for french fries, so I ended stopping at Braums because it was on our way. What did I order? A California cheeseburger. No fries, no soda, no mayo. Just the burger and a water. And if I hadn't gotten the movie candy that night I would have been in my calorie limit for the day.
  • Smaller portions at family meals. I know exactly how much I'm going to eat before I start eating, and I don't get seconds.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was going to meet with a friend, Renee. She told me what to do helped me set some goals for this week. Here's a list of what I'm doing and the pros and cons I am experiencing of each:

1800 Calories / day

Pros: This is a great way to get me into healthier eating habits without eroding my self-confidence. Considering I have been eating and drinking whatever I have wanted without thought for nutrition or calories, I have probably been consuming 2500 to 3000 calories per day if not more. 1800 calories may seem like a lot to a dieter, but let's face it here - I'm not dieting! I have noticed that I am also more aware of the nutrition I am getting from my food. If I have a high-calorie breakfast or snack in the morning, I'd better stick to a salad or protein shake for lunch if I want to be able to eat a reasonable dinner with the family. In addition, I want to be able to see a significant number of fruits and vegetables on my food list for the day. I hadn't realized how much I've been skipping those in lieu of junk food or soda. When I have to record everything I eat, I really need to evaluate whether I really want that junk food that so easily comes to hand.

Cons: I do have to track my calories, which is kind of a pain. However, it is much, much easier with apps like My Fitness Pal that will let me in scan bar codes for nutrition information.

Increased water intake (1/2 my weight in oz.)

Pros: Drinking this amount of water does three things for me. First, it helps flush the junk out of my body as I lose weight. Two, I have been chronically dehydrated for months and this is remedying that situation, and improving my carpal tunnel symptoms in the process. Third, when I am drinking this much water it makes it easier for me to kick my soda habit.

Cons: You can probably guess without me saying it, but I have to urinate all day long. Fortunately, it's not getting me up at night. It's also starting to slow down now that my body is getting used to this amount of water again. I just remind myself that it's flushing out toxins so it's worth it.

Exercise 20 min/day at least 5 days/week

Pros: I have started taking evening walks with the kids. I love the spring, love being outside, and love the time I have with them. I also enjoy taking pictures of things I see on my walks. It really helps me appreciate the beauty around me. One day so far it has rained and I haven't been able to go outside. I ended up exercising in my house while watching the kids, and Connor started exercising with me. It's a wonderful sensation to feel my body move and start to get strong again. I'm taking it easy still since I am so out of shape, but it's coming along.

Cons: I got nothin'... there's no down side to this one! Instead, you can just enjoy some of the pictures I've taken this past week.