Fitness · Health · Poetry

Pursuit of Beauty

The other day, I posted a poem and some of you may have gotten it already in an email. But the formatting was wrong and so I quickly took it down, meaning to repost it later that day. The weekend sort of got away on me, so finally now, mid-week, I’m posting it again. I wrote the poem after witnessing multiple friends/acquaintances go through diets that resembled eating disorders.

It broke my heart.

What breaks my heart even more is that while there is some pressure on men to look fit, there is far more pressure on women. It’s hard to even find a group of friends these days where the woman will actually eat something other than a salad, or a lettuce wrapped vegan burger, while her husband munches on a triple sized meal complete with appetizers and dessert.

I’ve struggled with it myself; the pressure that my worth is dependant on my waist size. I get tons of smiles and comments when I lose weight. I get judgmental looks when I order the full burger with a side of fries. And so, I wrote this poem a few years back, challenging our thinking about health and weight. What is true beauty?

 

Pursuit of Beauty

By: Heather Dawn

 

She pushes her plate aside, eyes resigned

He feasts like a king, never bothers to mind

He’s never been pushed, never been told

For fat or slim; they still like him

She wakes up before them and paints up her face

Her workout begins, her pulse starts to race

Long past her goal, a new goal is found

Just a little bit more, just another pound

Her face once full of warmth and life, now is cold and hollow

The cheeks once flushed grow ever pale, the eyes once bright grow weary and dull

She forces a smile, flashing perfect white teeth,

that hurt from the treatments if she touches a sweet

All the beauty that masks the beast raging inside

Fixing only what fades, while neglecting her inmost cry

They like her less, even less than before,

Maybe once she’s shed just a little bit more…

Dear Child, fading slowly, you were fine as you were

They tell you otherwise, but what do they know?

They too are lost in a struggle they’ve always known

Their size is the measure for the worth of their soul.

Look up, Beautiful One and seek out the truth,

Outward beauty is common, it’s not hard to find

Breathtaking it is, but it withers like grass

The rare beauty you long for is not found in a store

It can’t be ‘put on’ or bought, it’s worth much much more

It’s in a gentle free heart, so patient and fair

A face full of grace, hands eager to share

It’s in a voice so sweet, full of life bringing words

Or arms strong and tough, but willing to serve

It’s in love that pours out, expecting none in return,

It’s a harsh word held back, and gentleness learned,

It’s in scars that speak volumes of making it through,

In wrinkles that earned the respect they are due,

It’s in the bright stretching lines on a new mother’s skin,

It’s in the way a little child mischievously grins.

True beauty is what the world seems to pass by.

True beauty is what the world try’s hard to hide.

But the rarer it grows, the brighter it shines.

Dear Child, you must choose what you want to pursue.

Will it be true beauty within, or will the outside of you win?

 

Depression · Faith · Freedom · Health · Running

I Met Depression… and I Won

A few years ago I was diagnosed with depression.

There are many reasons for falling into depression: Trama. Rejection. Bullying. Death or loss. Harmful world views. Stress. A life-altering event. Hormones. Lack of nutrition or sleep… and the list goes on.

Healing for each soul is a very individual path. So as I share my story of hope, that is all I want you to take from it.

There is hope.

Today I am alive. Joyful. Healed. Whole. And maybe what healed me can help you. But maybe you need to take a different path. That’s OK too.

I’m sharing to bring hope, not to say I have the answers.

In February 2014, I had my fifth child… a son. It was very, very difficult for me to face this addition to my family. Though I loved him more than words can describe, I was exhausted with the other children. I felt that caring for another baby was beyond my abilities and I was burning out quickly.

I remember a comedian once explaining how having a large family felt. He said: “Imagine you are drowning and then, someone hands you a baby.”

We laugh because it’s so true. It’s too true.

I was drowning. Everything I had ever found joy and meaning in, felt distant and out of reach. I didn’t find any pleasure in doing the very things I once loved. Life was dark, and though I saw splashes of color, it didn’t bring peace to my heart.

Fast forward a very painful four years: Spring 2018. I had gone through church hardships, loss of friendships, moving, and building a house. I had let go of my old friendships at the church that had rejected me and my family because of my depression. I was in the process of allowing myself to move on from the deep hurt that comes from being completely misjudged and misunderstood, forgiving them as best I could.

Our family had joined a new church (an act in itself which was hard), made new friends and our “baby” wasn’t so difficult to care for anymore. But I was STILL burdened under this load that was crushing me. I had pushed the pain so far down, that it was coming out in my health. My bones ached constantly! The smallest chore would leave me absolutely immobile for the rest of the day. I needed daily naps.

And deep down, I still blamed myself because I had been unable to make things right. I went over the details in my mind again and again, the burden of my rejected attempts of reconciliation lay heavy on my shoulders. Could I have done more? Should I have done anything differently?

Finally, after one incident where I went outside to clean up some garbage and I found myself sleeping for four hours that afternoon from exhaustion, I decided to see a doctor. After many questions and blood tests, he told me that I was depressed.

However, then he told me something I never expected to hear from a doctor: “There are many ways to go about this, but I recommend that you try gentle exercise before taking any antidepressants.” Immediately, I protested that I had tried to exercise but that it was just too painful. I was too weak.

“I said gentle exercise,” He chuckled, “I’m not telling you to train for a marathon. Just get out of the house, in the fresh air, and walk for 20-30 minutes at whatever pace you desire! And don’t do errands or make it into a chore. Make sure it’s time just for you.”

So in May 2018 I started to walk.

One of the hardest things I’ve done is put on those running shoes. I was so afraid that I would fail at walking. But the words echoed in my head: Gentle walk. Gentle Exercise. Over and over again those simple words challenged my way of thinking and gave me courage to at least try. For me, exercise wasn’t something that could be gentle. It was a way of pushing my body to the extreme. To be the best. To compete with myself and others.

I had never thought of it as something that I could actually enjoy.

I still remember that first walk. The warm air, the slow pace, the music on my phone. The sun shone down on my face. I heard birds chirping around me. I stopped to notice the buds on the trees that were forming. As I walked, suddenly I felt a peace inside that I hadn’t noticed for a very long time. That was it… I was hooked! Not that going out was easy, but I now believed that it could help me. Each day my pace was just a little bit faster and I was able to go just a little bit farther because I finally felt no pressure and my body was getting stronger!

At the same time our pastor started teaching a series on bible memory and the importance it has when we are faced with trials or temptations. During the message, I felt God speaking gently to me: “This is it Heather! This is what you need to get you through.”

I went straight home and downloaded a verse memory app called “Verses.”

I started with memorizing Psalm 34. While I walked, I quoted my verses. When my tears wouldn’t stop, I quoted them over and over. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous person may have many troubles but the Lord delivers him from them all.” When I remembered the rejection of my friends, I spoke these words out loud. Little by little, I added to them. Psalm 139, Oh God… they may think I’m a horrible person, but “Lord, you have searched me and you know me… you are familiar with all my ways!” Then I added Psalm 103. “Praise the Lord my soul. All my inmost being praise his holy name. Praise the Lord my soul, and forget not ALL his benefits. Who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases. Who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion. Who satisfies your desires with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle. The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed…”

As my body and spirit grew stronger, I began to run for short distances. I would run for a bit, then walk in between, all the while praying and reciting my verses. By Fall 2018 I could run 5K (I had never in my life ran a full mile before this) and God had given me the ability to memorize over 15 full Psalms. I knew 10% of the book of Psalms and could bring it with me everywhere! It was in my heart as well as my head.

My greatest fear was losing my ability to run over the winter. I was terrified that I would sink back into my depression. My husband knew this and bought me a treadmill. Not only did I keep up running and memorizing all winter, but by Spring 2019 I had a follow up appointment with my doctor and he told me that I was in full recovery!

I realize that this story may sound too good to be true to many people.

A few years of depression? And now you think you have all the answers??

No. No I don’t.

Remember: This was what worked for me… and let me tell you, if you think my answer is to mental health is: Just go quote some scripture or just go exercise, you have horribly misunderstood this testimony!!

Getting out every day to walk and run, had just as big of an effect on me as the scriptures I was memorizing. Exercise was just as spiritual as God’s word. Because you know what? I believe “Gentle Exercise” WAS God’s personal word to me. And obeying God’s treatment plan for me was hard work! Some days I wanted to stay in my room and mope, eating chocolates and watching Netflix. Or take a long nap. But I forced myself every single day to go out. Some days in the rain. Some days in the heatwaves. Sometimes I hated it. The next day was even harder to go out. Sometimes I was far too busy! It was near impossible at times! The truth is, the road to healing is never easy.

Don’t kid yourself: Healing doesn’t ever come without a cost.

Whether the cost of time, the cost of perseverance, the cost of faith, the cost of money, the cost of disappointments and trying again, the cost of failure and rebuilding hope… there’s always a cost. The question is, are you willing to try?

Or have we become a generation that wants all the answers and victories handed to us on a silver platter?

It’s hard for me to wrap posts like this up in a simple paragraph, because there’s so much to leave you with. Yet one thought keeps running itself over and over in my mind again: Are we willing pay the price?

Fast forward to this fall. If I miss two weeks of exercise, I find myself slipping. Anxiety and depression grow. This path, for me, may just be a lifelong treatment. But isn’t it worth it? For my health? For my joy? For my family? For those around me who can relate to the everyday struggle?

The answer I have to choose daily is: Yes. Yes… it’s worth it. 

Faith

Collecting My Thoughts

Sometimes writers run out of things to say.

Other times writers have lots to say but don’t quite know how to describe their thoughts… so they wait for the right words.

And then there are times when there are so many things to say that everything blurs into one big mess of thoughts… which is where I’m finding myself lately.

I have so much to write about, but over-posting often results in readers skimming through without taking the time to reflect. I want my readers to be able to actually stop and read the words!! I don’t want so much quantity in my writing that the entire point is missed! So my aim recently has been to pack more meaning into fewer words, keeping my posts at under 600 words. It’s actually been quite a good challenge for me!

Today though, I want to share my thoughts, in an unorganized sort of way. I know well-esteemed speakers suggest to focus on one thought and go deeper into it. This way, the human mind – which cannot grasp many ideas at once, can take one piece away from what you’re saying. Today I’m going to go out and do the opposite. If it’s hard for you to follow, go ahead and just take one thought to hold onto as I ramble through them. Slowly reading each thought, then stopping to consider it before moving on to the next is key.

Things on my mind recently:

1) Speaking less really does help people to listen more.

2) There’s so many people trying to be heard, maybe the best thing I can do for this generation is to stop and listen.

3) Why do people blame our technology for the busy and distracted lives we lead? The issue is and will always be the human heart.

4) Our world is beginning to hate children. This annoyance for the gems of our world is even creeping into the church. This deeply concerns me.

5) Everyone talks faith, but I can count on one hand those who are living it out.

6) In the west everyone seems to be depressed or anxious… I hear these words so often I’m sick of them. There are thousands of options to treat the symptoms, but everyone is too afraid to go and actually address the root.

7) I witness millions of miracles daily. I’m typing on one of them right now. I turn a switch and light floods the room. Amazing! Yet I don’t even notice any of it until it’s gone.

8) Friends are either honest or kind. But rare indeed are those who are both.

9) Requiring good behaviour doesn’t shape a child’s heart the right way. Only wisdom and gentle love does.

10) One joyful person is contagious, spreading lighthearted life to everyone they meet. But in the same way, a bitter person spreads their poison like a contagious disease.

11) Those consumed with talk of politics or the church are among the most unhappy people.

12) Daily time with God is more essential than food or sleep. No one seems to believe me. I’ve been told that daily devotions and prayer is an “unrealistic expectation.”

Yet I’ve done it for years because the fullness of good life advice and practical truth are found in God’s word… not in well written books or sermons. Which brings me to my last thought:

13) When God speaks, it sticks! I forget most of the sermons and books I’ve read over the years. But I’ve never forgotten a personal word from God.

Faith

Keeping my Family Together

These were my thoughts today as I reflected on the influence I have on my family:

The most sobering and shocking revelation that I’ve found in my home is that I am the heartbeat of it. When I isolate myself, when I’m upset or allow myself to become mean and uncontrolled, the rest of my family is sure to follow.

When I am in a room, the kids gather around, drinking in the conversation, the laughter, the stories I share.

When I leave, they scatter.

Therefore, it is of utmost importance that I stay present.

My joy lights up the room. My sadness darkens it. It is as if I am able to control the very atmosphere of my home with my responses to those around me.

This may just be the greatest blessing or the greatest curse a parent can discover.

Authenticity · Self Worth

An Invisible Child

I grew up feeling invisible; always longing to be noticed. The truth was, I was good at almost everything I did. But I was never the best. Being good was just “normal.” Boring even. Being the best, that was valuable.

“Well who cares?” You may say, “There’s only one winner after all.” True enough.

For some, who are noticed all too often, it’s even seen as a curse. Or an annoyance. I remember a boy in my class who won literally every track and field event. The other kids watched in envy as he carried around the stack of red, first place ribbons. And he couldn’t have cared less about them. I remember him ripping those precious ribbons into tiny pieces of thread, as I watched with pain in my heart, wishing he would’ve dropped one accidentally so that I could have just one.

Just once.

And then there were those dreaded award ceremonies. There was never such a tight feeling in the pit of my stomach as at award ceremonies.

Breath in. Breath out. Hold that breath. Maybe this year…

“This award is for the child who has the highest mark in mathematics.”

Oh! I’m good at that. Maybe this time… Oh. Her again. 

“For the best female athlete…” Nope.

“For the most outgoing person…” Nope.

“For the most outstanding musician…” Nope.

“For the model student…” AAANND Nope. 

And we watch as Mr and Miss Popular/Smarty Pants go up again and again for three, four, five awards. Yet year after year the message comes ringing out loud and clear:

I am invisible.

Worthless.

My best is not enough.

I am not enough.

The hurt only compacted when the popularity lists came out in the yearbook: Best Eyes. Nope. Best Hair. Nope. Best Voice. Nope. Best Butt. Nope. Best Personality. Nope. 

Best Dressed. Oh, good heavens. Double Nope. With a capital N. Bolded and Underlined please.

Those lists, were actually a joke, as the same girl every guy had a crush on would be written down in every single category. As if she was the perfect woman.

Oh, there was that one year I won “Best Nose”. It was the big class joke because my nose was crooked. Everyone thought that one was hilarious.

Except me. 

But I laughed anyway to hide the pain inside.

The reality is, most of us grow up and we have already told ourselves a long time ago: “I will never be anything important. That girl will do great things. Not me.” And we carry this burden on our shoulders for most of our lives, believing we are nobody’s. That we are the sum of our talents which is obviously nothing at all.

But then I became a mother and my perception changed forever.

Because people, I thought my children were the best, because they are the best. But no one else saw it! Except for one child. One child wins the awards. One child seems to have all the talents. One child seems “most likely to succeed”. How interesting then, that this child’s value to me is the same as the four others. When I think about each single child I feel such love and pride for them that I think I may burst. Not because of what they can or can’t do, but because they are unique. They are one of a kind. Were one of them to die, they could never be replaced. There would be no one who could fill their exact shoes. Not because they win all the awards, but because they are who they are.

That is value.

Oh, if each of us would only see ourselves through the eyes of a Mother. There is so much value in each person. Incredible value. For being the one and only you, who no one else can be!

You are irreplaceable. 

I am irreplaceable. It took a long time to heal enough to say those words aloud. But, I finally believe them and I will continue to believe them, regardless of what awards I do or do not win. We are more than our abilities. We are more than our skin. We are more than our best features.

And thank heavens, I’m more than my “Best Nose”.

 

Authenticity · Faith · Vulnerability

Exterior Walls

We put up exteriors daily. As if we don’t care about what people think.

As if I don’t care.

As if I don’t notice the likes, the comments or the lack-there-of. As if I’m stronger than those who need to be told every day that they are valuable in someway. As if I don’t need to hear the words of people confirming me and the things I do.

Deep down we just want to be understood, desperately, pathetically.

Humanly.

Listen, as much as you fight it and act like you are above such longings, if you’re human, those feelings are there.

There’s nothing wrong with you.

To the world, you may look confident. Or you may look hopeless. You may look like someone who has it all together or you’re falling apart at every turn. You may even give a phony smile, and say some cliche things. Or you may spew every careless thought that comes from your mouth in hopes of being real and bold.

But whoever you are… you hate it. Because deep down, we all know that that’s not what it’s about, is it?

As if one kind of wrong is better than the other.

Thank God, you are worth more than than your feelings tell you.

Can I just say something here?

Maybe we are all more alike than we want to admit. Maybe I’m just like that too-faced, self-righteous, rich snob we all avoid. That hypocrite in the church pews. That political maniac who rants day and night on social media, believing that those who are on the other side are the enemy. Or the “tolerant” crowd who are tolerant of everyone… except for those who are intolerant.

Maybe, that drunk homeless man, who reeks of alcohol, sitting on the side of the road asking “food” money, is just like me inside.

In fact, I’m convinced of it.

Pride tells me I’m better than all of the above, but there’s one thing that tells me I’m not.

The Cross.

Because on that cross, Jesus gave his life as much for the hypocrite, as for the drunkard, as for the bitter-old-soul who can’t forgive.

Think you’re better? Then maybe the cross isn’t for you.

…Or maybe, it’s especially for you. Because, friends, the ground at the bottom of the cross is equal. And not one of us deserved it.

Pregnancy

Fourteen Years Ago

Fourteen years ago I was seventeen. I held a secret in my heart that only I knew.

Fourteen years ago I walked to the clinic all by myself and saw the doctor who gave me a test.

Positive. I had already known.

“Was this a good thing?” She asked. I slowly shook my head.

“Do you need help?” I did need help. Lots of it. But one long look in her eyes and I knew that I didn’t want the kind of help she was offering.

“I’ll be fine.” I said.

Fourteen years ago, I lowered my head as a guy in my classroom at school mocked teenage pregnancy… little did he know I was with child.

Fourteen years ago, I sat at a thanksgiving meal feeling oddly… thankful. Thankful for the little life that I was soon to be told would “ruin” mine.

Fourteen years ago I fought for the right to keep my own child.

“You’re too young.”

“You’ll throw away your future.”

“Just give it to a family who will actually want a baby.”

I did. I wanted you.

Fourteen years ago, I held my hand over my belly and sang a first lullaby of many. I danced with you. I ran with you. I spoke to you. I chose life. I chose you.

Fourteen years ago, I changed forever.

Because of you.

Now you’re thirteen, a charming young man. Funny. Selfless. Gentle. Nurturing. Wise beyond your years. And all I can think of is how thankful I am for the life I’ve gotten to raise, to know, and love. For the amazing journey you’ve brought me on that all began –

Fourteen years ago.