Sunday, July 29, 2012

Chapters of Life

The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.
J.M. BARRIE, The Little Minister
            Today I heard someone talk about how our life is a story.  My life as I currently live it is not an accident.  It is not happen stance that I am right where I am at this very moment but is instead being penned by an author who not only can see back to before time even began but to infinity.  Think about that.  Your life, my life, is not chance.  When you think about your life from that perspective it really does change things.  If you go one step further and not just think about it from that perspective but LIVE it from that perspective it changes everything.
            Every story has chapters.  Whether it is one page or a hundred our life is made up of segments.  Some are so glorious and joyful that we wish we could stay and abide there forever.  They make us feel sustained and complete.  We feel like conquerors.  We are encircled with love and it seems like life could not be any richer or more beautifully written.  Then there are those chapters that even one word seems like too many.  Where the pain is so deep and so intense that we feel like we could break into a million pieces if someone merely breathed on us.  Those chapters where life feels like it is crushing us.  Like Atlas who was punished by having to hold the world on his shoulders, it feels like we are chained to a mountain of despair with the burden of every minute pressing further and further in our chest.  Just to breathe is an effort and we do not feel like they are ever going to end but would wish with our very last breath that we could have just one second of reprieve.  Then there are the moments in between.  The chapters where life is not extremely joyful or crushingly sad but instead are mundane, routine, or normal.  The days that roll from one day into two and then suddenly a month has gone by or even a year.  These chapters are made up of small decisions, small tasks, and seemingly small moments.  However, it is in these chapters that most of life is lived.  It is in these chapters that we see our story fleshed out and we see how to live life during both the times of joy and the times of despair.
            I by nature am a reflective person.  I am constantly analyzing and searching for that next thing.  The next thing that will enhance or improve my journey.  I look at my life, my choices, my decisions, my circumstances and search and search for what I could have done or what I should have done.  Like a computer search engine looking for the most relevant solution, my heart and mind are always searching for the key.  What is the key to my life?  To my future?  What is the next line being written into my story?  You see, if I know ahead of time what will be then maybe I will be ready for it.  Maybe I can prepare myself for what is to come.  Because like any storyteller the Master Storyteller knows that life cannot be lived completely in those moments of bliss.  Yes, He is the Prince of Peace and He intends us to live an abundant life but that is IN SPITE of our circumstances not INSTEAD of them. 
The last few weeks I have been reflecting back on the latest chapters of my life still searching for that missing element.  Change, turmoil, and stress always drive me to search.  In the beginning as I looked back on the last few months and all I saw was failure.  The current theme of my life story is health.  For two years, I have poured my time, energy, money, heart, soul, and body into fighting for my life.  That is not taking things to an extreme.  It is the honest truth.  I looked back and I saw weight gain not loss.  I saw pain showing back up after months of none.  I saw my life as stagnant and unmoving.  I saw unwanted change.  The story I saw written before my eyes was dim, dark, depressing.  It was a story of a woman who had lost hope and was searching to renew it.  That is the story I saw written.  However, it is not the true story.
What is the true story?  What was the Master writing not on the pages of a book but on my very heart?  None of what I saw was untrue.  I had gained weight.  I had started hurting again.  I was stagnant and unmoving.  I did have to change things against every fiber of my being.  The difference was that he saw none of that as dim, dark, or depressing.  This chapter of my life was one of developing strength and the beginnings of loosening the dependence I have on others.  You see in my gym there are phases to training.  Stamina is my favorite because in those actions of running, jumping, hopping, spinning, etc. I feel like an athlete and someone who can conquer the world.  There is speed which I have not done before because honestly, I have bigger fish to fry.  There is size which is not necessary and then there is strength.  Strength is boring.  Strength is painful.  Strength is an exercise in monotony.  It takes extreme effort and attention to detail to maximize its benefits.  It is a necessity to stamina.  It builds the muscles which burn the calories more effectively in stamina.  That is what this summer was to me.  The past few months in my story have been boring.  They have not changed from day to day.  They have been painful as I have had stress mount with each passing day about my future.  I have been wounded deeply by the continued delays of my dreams and deepest desires.  I have had to wake up every day and fight against the feelings of failure and the pain and shame that brings.  I have had to bring attention to the exact details of exercise, food consumption, job searches, and relationships.  None of it has been fun.  But it has been necessary.  A time is coming soon when my story will begin a new chapter and it will be one where I need stamina.  Where I need every muscle and life skill burning to make it through.  Where I will face untold challenges and partake in unforeseen joy.  It will be in those times that the challenges of the strength phase and story will come to light.  It will be then that I will see why my Master Storyteller chose for me to live through these pages of life.
All good stories and good characters have relationships.  Even Jesus the ultimate character of all time was surrounded by a family and his disciples.  Harry had Ron and Hermione walk side by side with him as he uncovered truth, love, and defeated evil.  Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy had countless supporters as Kings and Queens of Narnia.  Since Eve was created for Adam, we were always intended to walk in communion and fellowship with others.  What we were not intended to do is find our ultimate happiness in other people.  We were not written to depend on others to get through life but instead to support one another on the individual stories that have been woven together to form one overarching story.  We are all supporting cast members in the lives of others.  This has always been my weakness.  This is a weakness I am determined to break.  So during this chapter of life new characters were introduced to lessen the dependence on others on this journey.  Thankfully, they are not completely removed.  Thankfully, so far my Storyteller has chosen to leave them as great supporting cast members.  If I continue to walk in the ways He has written, then those bonds will become even greater instead of becoming stripped down by wear and tear.
My story is not over.  In reality, in light of eternity, it has only just begun.  When you read a story it is imperative that you know the beginning of the story.  Sometimes as you read chapter after chapter you forget where you started.  I do.  I forget where my story began.  I forget that it was only 21 months ago that I weighed 340 pounds.  I forget that I was so scared to join a gym that I cancelled my very first appointment I made with them.  I forget that I was a 27 year old fat (Sometimes that word sounds so harsh but sometimes it is the only one that can convey the truth) girl just trying to survive.  I had long quit trying to thrive and live out the story that my Master Storyteller was trying to write.  I was everything everyone wanted me to be and did not even know what I was or what I wanted.  The only thing that I knew that day was that I wanted to be different.  Over the 21 months that have passed I have not only shed a tremendous amount of weight but I have changed a lot emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  The person that I was written and created to be has begun to show through bit by bit.  Some of it is slower to develop than others but I see it.  I feel it.  Yes, it is scary.  I cannot see what the next page holds.  I cannot see when my dreams will be fulfilled.  Sometimes I do not like the person I see because that person has started writing her own story.  She has stolen the pen from the Master.  It is in those moments where I start to lose hope.  It is easy to see why.  The characters were not meant to write their own story.  They were meant to live the one written for them.  That is when I must hand the pen back to the Author and trust His loving pen stroke. 
Like the above quote states there are two stories.  The one we intended to write and the one that was actually written.  My question to you is this, which story are you walking in?  You can walk everyday in the story YOU intend to write.  You can walk everyday in the story YOU are writing.  You can get as much out of life as you can come up with.  You can accept the simple story that a finite being can write.  Or you can walk in the story that the Eternal Creator has been writing since the beginning of time.  You can walk in the story that was written expressly for you.  You can walk in the story that is lovingly written not only in the pages of time but the very heart that beats in your chest.  The story that is carved into the hands that stretched out wide on a cross and died so that your story would never end.  See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…” Isaiah 49:16

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Glory in Weakness

"Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me." 2 Corinthians 12:9 

Thank you Lord for reminding me that almost two years ago you decided to express your power by changing my physical body.  I am reminded that I was a fat little girl in a 27 year old body who was barely hanging on and desperate to be anyone but herself.  You took my ultimate weakness, the bondage in my life that has been passed on for generations in my family, the thorn in my side, and my most obvious sin and have begun a work in me that I most days cannot comprehend.  People compliment me, question me, and praise me and I don't know how to respond because I can't wrap my brain around 120 pounds.  I can’t wrap my brain around the physical changes in my body, the changes in my mind and intellect, and the changes in my soul and spirit.  How do you explain to people how you take someone who considered themselves nothing but a waste of space and turn me into a woman who is trying ( and failing a lot of the time) to live a life that honors you?  How do you explain the independence that is growing inside of a woman who lived her life as a child dependant on others for her happiness? 

Father, I look back and I see that you took my ultimate weakness, something that everyone in the world can see and are using it for you.  I don’t know what this is going to look like in the coming weeks, months, and years.  I know you are calling me to a platform of helping others with the same struggles and I want that desperately.  Help me to continue to be open and honest with those who are just seeking for a bit of hope.  Don’t let me forget how it felt to weigh 350 pounds and to walk into a gym terrified each and every day because of what I looked like.  Teach me how to express the changes you have made.  Teach me how to express the changes that no one can see because they are buried within me.  Unearth the hidden struggles that still lurk in the darkness of my mind and heart.  Don’t let any fear, shame, or regret keep me from the purpose you have for me.  Protect me from the ever swirling circumstances of my life and keep my eyes fixed on you.  

Father, this journey has not been about me.  It isn’t about a number on a scale but it is about people that can be shown your might and your glory.  In the end you are the only reason I succeed.  You are the only reason that I survive and move on one day at a time.  Lord, I am thankful for the past because of the heart that you built inside me.  I praise you that in this journey you have brought unexpected lessons.  That you have broken my heart for what breaks yours.  That you have given me glimpses of your love for humanity.  To see the world as broken and searching.  To not see myself as more than anyone else but that there is no one good.  Lord, my sin is so visible.  No one can mistake me for a perfect person.  But under your blood I am perfect.  I stand in your righteousness Lord and I pray that you always remind me that my sin is not comparable to anyone else.  We are all equally guilty in your eyes.  It is only your sacrifice that saves us.  Father, keep me near your cross.  Thank you for what you have done so far in my life and help me trust the penmanship of the future story of my life.  Help me to trust your love for me.  

“And so, dear brothers and sisters,  I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” Romans 12:1

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Wandering and Rest

Have you read that quote that says, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away?”  That may very well be true, but this weekend I am reminded about how life is made up of God moments.  These aren’t usually huge and grand moments.  They aren’t filled with flashing lights and screaming words.  After all, “It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.” (1 Kings 19:11b-12, emphasis mine)  Don’t think God can’t speak through wind, earthquakes, and fire but I find in my life He chooses to whisper.  That is how we can know when we are truly listening.  You don’t have to listen hard to experience Him in a fire or earthquake, but a whisper? 

I know that most people have been reading about my journey on here, Twitter, or Facebook because you want to know about my fitness journey.  My life is focused on one thing right now, and that is my health.  In December I hit a goal I had been looking towards (and doubting I would ever reach) when I lost 100 pounds.  Since then success has been something that has been hit and miss.  But today I don’t necessarily want to talk about that but instead I want to talk about what else has been happening.  Be forewarned, this could be lengthy.  J

So in December I was hired to be a temporary teacher at Lenoir City High School.  My mentor teacher had retired and I was blessed to be hired as his replacement.  You have to understand what a blessing this was.  I was going somewhere I felt somewhat comfortable, I had a couple of friends, and where I wasn’t going to be tied down by a state mandated deadline for end of the course testing.  I could go at my kids’ speed and not worry about getting through a certain amount of material.  To say I fell in love with my students would be an understatement.  Though I am not sure if they believe me when I say that I don’t dislike any of them (I tell them I dislike their choices), that is the truth.  I see what they can be and what they are and their sweet little hearts.  These kids have thrown me a surprise birthday party, given me class mascots to sit on my desk, give me hugs, spend time in my room when they don’t have to, and are generally are just good kids.  Unfortunately, I found out last week that I would not be returning here next year.  I knew that this was most likely going to be the case going into the job but I hadn’t fallen in love with students then.  Needless to say, I am crushed that I will lose these kids and this environment which in a world that is going further and further from Christ, still seeks Him.

I am actively looking for a teaching job for next year and have already interviewed at the school that I have always dreamed about teaching.  If you know me well, you know what school I am talking about.  I know (head knowledge) that God has plan for my life.  I know that where He wants me to work will be a place where I can bring Him glory.  After all, no matter what life brings our primary objective on this planet is to glorify His name.  That head knowledge is working on moving to my heart but more on that later.
With any kind of new job or life situation, you have stress.  It is a good stress because it is coming from a place of excitement and expectation but it is stressful none the less.  I don’t handle stress well.  I think we all know that.  If this had been the only stress in my life, maybe things would have been different.  But it wasn’t and we can’t go back in time.  There are a lot of things that you don’t think about when you are eating your life away.  For instance, do you know how much money it costs to replace your wardrobe every couple of months?  Do you know how much it costs to pay for a gym and a trainer so that you are actively working to change your life?  Do you know how much it costs to have adequate athletic gear to do the things you have fallen in love with?  Spin shoes, running shoes, gym shoes, shorts, T-shirts, compression shorts, etc?  Have you ever thought about that?  Money is always stressful but even so it still wasn’t the most stressful part of my life.

When you lose a lot of weight (I am up to 120 lbs) you aren’t just losing fat.  If you haven’t walked this journey, trust me when I say you can’t know what I am talking about.  You become a different person.  Yes, I still have the same heart that loves Jesus and wants to be married with kids more than anything else on this planet.  Yes, I am still a Wood.  However, things are stripped away from you.  No longer do you have your weight to blame or to hide behind.  You don’t have a built in excuse or a built in protection from the pain that will come.  Parts of you are changed.  The way you deal with positive good things change and the way you deal with the negative changes.  You walk unsteadily in a world you used to know but now you don’t quite know where you fit.  You don’t fit in where you used to.  Like I said, everything shifts.  Sometimes your family and friends get it and sometimes they don’t.  It can be a lonely journey.

In case you didn’t know I have suffered from depression since I was high school.  Yes, I have done counseling.  Yes, I have done medication.  Yes, I have been suicidal.  Yes, anything you think about depression I have been there.  It isn’t something I am ashamed of any more.  I used to be.  Too many Christians believe that depression is always a result of sin but that is NOT the case.  Yes, it can be but when we stick that on everyone we are doing so much damage to them.  So with the new job, the new me, the money issues, and just everyday life I began having a roller coaster life again with some good highs but with some nasty lows.  Roller coasters may be fun for a couple of minutes but when one day you are happy and content and the next day you are devastated, there is nothing fun about it.  I decided to go on an anti-depressant again just to try to balance out and gain some perspective.  A friend told me many years ago that sometimes you need a little help just to get to the place where you can deal with any issues that are causing the depression.  I completely agree.  But this time I didn’t realize what this seemingly simple decision would do to my life for the next 3 months.

That was February.  This is April.  Since I began taking that medicine, nothing in the circumstances of my life have changed.  However, I am in a much worse place.  You expect when you take something to help you, for it to help you.  In my case the two different drugs I have tried so far have instead driven me lower.  Yes, I am not swinging from high to low but instead I operate on a passionless, dead stare, just try to survive mentality.  And even worse, I do not sleep.  I am not talking that I am up constantly but instead I go to sleep and then wake up every couple of hours.  Every night.  And this isn’t a wake up groggy and go right back to sleep, this is a wake up and I am completely alert.  I have thoughts going on and song lyrics in my head as if they were playing while I was asleep.  This happens every night.  So compound the life circumstances, the depression, and the sleep problems and you have a very dysfunctional Hannah.  I don’t write this to complain.  I have done that enough.  I write this to tell you what God showed me this weekend in various moments.

Do you know what it means to rest?  In terms of physical rest I am definitely at a deficient place.  But what about in terms of your soul and spirit?  I don’t do well there either.  Check out this passage from my “Made to Crave” devotional referring to Matthew 11:28:
“Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 NLT
"The Greek word for this kind of rest is anapauo which means "of calm and patient expectation." in other words Jesus is saying, "If you come to me, I will take your exhaustion in this area and turn it into expectation.  In this place you feel hopeless, I can make you hopeful."...One of the assignments Jesus gives us is to take on his yoke and learn from him.  In other words, discipline and work are necessary.  This is my part of the equation.  But after the assignment comes reassurance.  God knows where your strength ends and that is the exact point where his strength begins.""
Did you catch that?  Resting means “of calm and patient expectation.”  Does that define you?  In this moment and in this time of my life it most definitely does not define me.  I am not calm.  I am a basket case about whether I will have a job next year, about whether I am ever going to start losing weight again, about whether I am ever going to get married, about how I can survive financially, about how long is it going to be before I can move out of my parent’s house, etc.  I am not calm.  I am not patient.  I am not waiting on the Lord.  I continue to live out of the impatience and anxiety of my own flesh.  This God who not only died for me but who holds my eternal salvation in His mighty hands is telling me to be calm and patient and rest.  But what do I do?  I wander.

This weekend was my weekend to volunteer with the Tech ministry at church.  I go to Faith Promise.  I struggled with the decision to call and say I couldn’t come.  I am so very tired and honestly the thought of hearing all the happy, peppy music and having to be fake around people just was exhausting.  I wanted to stay home where I could be sad and be left alone.   I have so much I needed to do this weekend anyway.  As hard as I fought to make myself stay home, my sense of responsibility wouldn’t let me skip out.  I went last night and found that as always, God was expecting me.  Did you know he wrote an entire sermon just for me?

I love Israel.  I don’t why and I don’t when it started but anything to do with the Jewish people just makes me happy and interested.  I know that I have always resonated with part of their story.  If you are familiar at all with the Old Testament you know that the Israelites were God’s chosen people.  He made a covenant with them and gave them a Promised Land.  This land was freaking amazing.  Take the most beautiful and productive land you can think of, magnify it by a million and you may start to get close to what the Promised Land was.  However, the Israelites were stupid.  They see God give them water from a rock, pour down manna and quail from Heaven, continuously renew their clothes, guide them as a cloud in the day and as fire at night, but none of that changed them.  They disbelieved God.  They said, sure you did all that but you can’t defeat these nations.  They are too big and we are too small.  You can’t do it.  So instead of entering this land that God had already promised them, they wandered around in a desert for 40 years until they had all died off.  40 years of wandering and 40 years of opportunities to trust and lean on God.  Instead, they doubted and complained.  They lived this constant cycle of seeing the goodness and miracles of the Lord, walking with Him, growing weary, turning away from God, suffering the consequences, turning back to God, seeing His goodness and miracles, and on and on it went.  Now before you get too upset with them, think about yourself.  How many times has God provided for you?  How many times has He come through?  Over and over again God proves himself to us.  Over and over again we forget and go back to living without Him.  This is definitely the picture of my life.

God has promised each one of His children that we can “have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)  Yet, I choose most days to survive.  To subsist.  To barely make it through the day with sanity intact (and that is debatable).  Why when I have bought with the precious blood of Christ do I continue to live chained in sin?  Why do I continue to wander through the desert when God has thrown open the doors to the Promised Land and invited me in?  The answer is simple:  I don’t trust God.  We are going to stay in the Wilderness until we choose to trust God.  Until we learn to lean on Him.  I for one have not learned this lesson.

Why when the answer is so simple am I still wandering?  Each one of us has to ask God this question but for me, part of my answer is fear.  In the sermon today Pastor Chris talked about Israelites.  He pointed out that faith concerning our future is scary.  That is the truth for me in this moment.  My future is scary.  I don’t know where I will be working, how I can survive financially without a teaching job, how I can be successful and grow still living at my parent’s, how I can continue to wait on my heart’s desire, and how I can continue on this health journey when it seems to have hit a brick wall.  All of this scares me.  I am scared about who I am and who I am becoming.  Am I honoring God with the changes in me or am I growing further from him?  Am I constantly seeking His will and His direction or have I gone back to the old me and completely depend on others and the world for direction?  It is scary.  HOWEVER, my God and my Savior is love and “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18)  My Father tells me that if I will only trust him that he will fight for me.  I love this verse in Exodus 14:14 “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today…The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”  The one who created the Universe, who literally breathed the stars into being will fight for me.  If I will let Him.  But what do I do, I choose to remain a slave wandering in the desert.

The Israelites had choices.  They could have trusted God and entered into the Land he had prepared for them.  They could have returned to Egypt.  After all, they knew what to expect there.  They were slaves and their life was horrible but at least they knew what they were walking into.  They instead chose to wander.  To fight and struggle with resting in God and to witness some amazing miracles but miss the One who was performing them.  What decision are you making today?  I know that I am in the wilderness.  I know that I am not trusting God in spite of His miracles and provisions.  I intend to remedy that.  Does that mean I will wake up in a great mood tomorrow regardless of sleep?  No it doesn’t.  But what it means is that I have been placed under the conviction and compassion of my merciful God and I choose this day to submit to His will and direction for my life.  Yes, the future is scary.  Yes, I don’t know what waits for me.  But I do know who walks beside me.  My Jesus who promises me, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) and that, “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.  They will soar high on wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

Father, let it be done as you have said.  I choose to rest in you and walk with you.  I choose to step and trust you to move.  I choose to place my faith and my future in your nail-scarred hands.  Keep me close.  Bring passion that is unparalleled in my existence.  Restore my hope.  Pour out your peace.  Father as the song says, “But You were the One who filled my cup.  And You were the One who let it spill.  So blessed be your Holy name if you never fill it up again.  If this is where my story ends, just give me one more breath to say, Hallelujah.”

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Change

I was talking to someone at the gym this week about my journey and they suggested I put up a before and current picture.  So I have decided to do so.  The before picture on the left is 2007 and the picture on the right is December of 2011.  I don't look even like that anymore.  I have shorter hair and have lost another 20 but it is the most recent photo I have currently. 

I hope to write on here again soon.  You all know, life gets really crazy and there is just no time.