Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Change the way I think.....oh God.

Good Morning! Yesterday, a former neighbor, Nellie, posted a comment on one of my Before pictures about “hiding behind a mask.” I’ve been thinking about those words since I read the comment yesterday afternoon and how true her perspective was/is and how I tried so hard to hide my shame, pain, sadness, etc. behind a smile. Unfortunately, I may have fooled some, but those emotions became increasingly more visible as I steadily gained weight; yet another attempt to hide and protect my heart.  I suppose I was successful in some aspects, because even those who were closest to me didn’t often see how much I struggled internally. It was much more obvious to many that I was struggling physically because it was hard to hide complete breathlessness from something as simple as trying to get out of a chair; the wrinkled brow, wince, and squinted eyes when physical pain would shoot through my body; and the total “I can’t cope with life anymore” that was often visible in my expressionless face.

There were/are some very special people in my life, individuals like Carol Tilley, Fr. Sauter, Gina Fox and Chuck Bowden, and others, however, that could often look beyond the very obvious physical distress and see the “Theresa” I was trying to hide; the Theresa that tried to proclaim, “I’m okay; I’m fine; I can do it by myself” even when it didn’t appear that way. On many occasions, I didn’t even have to say a word; I simply had to look at my friend in the eyes and we seemed to “understand” each other’s deepest thoughts. I’ve been blessed to have many people like that in my life…way more than I could ever mention here.  Not only could they “see” my pain; but they could see goodness and potential, even when I couldn’t see it in myself.  And they loved me….in spite of it all. What a gift to have people like that in life!  These individuals brought/bring out the very best in me….and have helped me so much in this journey. Fr. Sauter died before I began this journey, but our bond cannot be destroyed by death and I continue to feel his presence in my life on a daily basis.

I want to be that kind of person… who can look someone in the eyes….and “see….truly see” that which they are trying to hide...often behind excess weight, an addiction, or a bad attitude. In my job, I often have someone who comes into my office and I immediately ‘make a connection” because I recognize the fear (do you really think I could be successful in college…at my age….with my life?); the exhaustion (I’m taking classes, working two jobs; raising 3 kids alone); the hopelessness (I’ve failed math twice before; Do you REALLY think I’m smart enough, Theresa?); the I’m scared, alone, tired, completely overwhelmed and about to give up look in his/her eyes.  These are the very things that are not always visible, and yet we are surrounded by others who are fighting a battle that cannot easily be seen…..UNLESS….we take the time to try…..and we never really know how we can affect someone else…..just by taking the time to smile, to listen, to say a kind word, to express concern.

We’re surrounded by opportunities like this all day….the checkout lady who appears crabby….may very well be working two jobs because her husband walked out on her; the guy who cuts you off in traffic may be trying to get to the hospital because a loved one just took a turn for the worse and is dying; the kid who wants attention or is acting out in school may be feeling neglected, or picked on at school. Sickness… Rheumatoid arthritis, neuropathy, Fibromyalgia, heart disease….so many others…often has no physical symptoms visible to the eye and yet the person may be wracked with pain.  Fear, anxiety, depression is often hidden and causes shame. Internal struggles with issues like sexuality, worthlessness, emotional or verbal abuse, worry, doubt….so much more…is often carried so deeply within and can be the root of our over-eating or dependency on habits that are not good for us. We often try to cover this all up and make it go away by eating, drinking, smoking, spending, or coping an “I don’t give a hoot” attitude…..when really we are just longing for a new life.  At least that is part of my story.

I’ve shared frequently that my personal journey of change has more to do with the internal changes that have happened than the visible changes. It’s pretty obvious when I hold up the shorts I used to wear and I can fit my entire body in one leg that I have changed physically, but the changes that I am most grateful for are the ones that cannot be seen; the way I think; the way I see the world; the hopes that I have for the future; and mostly, my desire to help others.  These hopes do not include being a size 6; wearing a bikini; or running a marathon (although those are noble goals that I hope many of you can achieve). Rather, I want to SEE….truly SEE….that which others (like me) are trying so hard to hide.  I want to take the time to look at those individuals that God sends across my path and to recognize God’s presence in their eyes and allow them to make a difference in my life and vice-versa. I want to see goodness in potential in others….in spite of….just like those special people in my life did/do for me. But being that kind of person takes time….and energy….and compassion….and kindness.

 Losing the weight has made it easier for me to strive (it is a daily battle and I fail time and time again) to be that kind of person because it has made it much easier to cope with the distress of my own life. It has given me the energy, desire, and motivation to help others because I know first-hand what it’s like to be obese, disabled, alone and afraid….to be embarrassed and filled with shame at the way I looked.  BUT, by the grace of God, I also know what it’s like to be FREE….not only from the chains of weight; but of fear, despair, and sadness.  I know what it’s like to be hopeful rather than despondent; to be confident (well sort of….sometimes) rather than insecure; to be mobile rather than confined to a chair; to feel useful rather than used.  These are things that come with weight loss….but cannot be measured by a scale or with a tape measure.  These are the blessings or “side-effects,” if you will, that come with weight loss and will change your ENTIRE life much more than wearing a size 10 or 12.  AND YET…..these changes are unlikely to happen if you are trapped in the bondage of weight, addiction, depression, despair, or surrounded by people that tear you down rather than build you up. 

If you are struggling on your journey or in need of motivation, I encourage you to place your emphasis on internal change first. Take a couple of weeks and take the focus off of what you are eating and what the scale says, and ask God to help you SEE things differently….to help you HEAR what others are saying…to help you RECOGNIZE how blessed you are…..and help you THINK about things differently.  Take the time to look at people in the make connections….to do something kind for someone, maybe someone you know, perhaps a stranger. Pray to forgive those who have hurt you and be patient with those who aggravate you. Try to find at least 10 things each day that you are grateful for; make a list if you need to. Try to find SOMETHING positive to say about each person in your household, even when they are getting on your last nerve. Try to take 15 minutes for yourself to take a walk around the yard or look up at the stars. These are things that will help you on your journey; that will strengthen your resolve; that will empower you to reach your goals; that will make you a better person. Ironically, these are the very things that are more difficult than giving up ice-cream or cookies, at least for me.

I encourage you to try to imagine what your life could be like if you made some little changes; if you LIKED who you are and what you looked like; if you didn’t have to take a handful of medicine for things like high blood pressure, cholesterol, pain, or other conditions that are exacerbated by obesity, alcohol or nicotine; if you were filling your body with good nutritious food instead of junk; if you were able to walk to the end of the driveway or play on the floor with your grandchildren; if you were able to SMILE a true, genuine smile. Some of you have been trapped for so long that you don’t know what that would be like, or have forgotten.

What would that be like????  I’ll tell you….IT IS WONDERFUL!!!!!!! IT IS MARVELOUS!!!! IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE…..make you appreciate EVERY LITTLE THING IN LIFE…..BUT….it won’t be easy. It is NOT easy. In fact, it is the hardest thing you’ll ever do because you will have to do it for the rest of your life. There is no end to your journey on this earth and you will fail, struggle, and want to give up. It will totally change your life in ways you cannot imagine, but it will not be long-lasting…UNLESS…you ask God to change your heart, your thoughts, and your mind and transform you from the inside out. I assure you…even if you never lose another pound, your life will be much richer; you will be much happier; you will be more peaceful, and your life will change for the better as you change the way you think and become a person of gratitude. Try it… I think you’ll like it…and I promise you…I’m here walking the same road as you, sharing this journey!  Together….we can and we will…CHANGE OUR LIVES and in turn, it will change the lives of others!