Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Yes, I am REAL...very real.

Good Morning, my friends!  The phone rang one day last week in the middle of the night; well, the middle of “my night” (somewhere around 11:30 p.m.). I go to bed early because I rise  around  3:00 a.m. each morning. The call woke me up, but not in time to answer it before it went to voicemail. The next morning I listened to the message. It was from a person from another state who had come across my story somewhere and called to find out if I am “real”. “Is this story really true,” she asked. She stated that she is in much the same place as I was a few years ago before beginning this journey, and I’m guessing, that she is doubting that her life could ever be any different.

When my life was spiraling out of control, I certainly questioned those weight-loss stories that just didn’t seem possible. Even with a faith in a God that tells me that “With Him, all things are possible,” I still had doubts that those incredible stories of life-change were really true, especially the ones that happened without surgery. If I were to be honest with myself, though, it’s probably more likely that I was choosing to doubt their validity, not because they seemed impossible, but rather because if I were to BELIEVE them; to BELIEVE that it was possible to change my life; then I would have no excuse not to do something like that for myself.  As difficult as life was in those “Old Theresa” days, it was still easier to go to a drive-thru and eat fast-food and go home to bed with a bag of potato chips and PRETEND that I didn’t care than it was to even consider the possibility that I might need to do something, ANYTHING, to change my situation. 

If I had received a call back then asking if I were “REAL,” the answer would, admittedly, have to be, “NO; I’m not real at all.”  Oh, my pain was real; my grief was real; my disability and illness was real; but the “REAL” Theresa was buried underneath layers and layers of excess weight. I buried my anger….at the priest who decided that after 15 years of service to my parish community that I was no longer the ‘right person” for his vision.  I buried the heartache of losing my grandfather, the patriarch of our family. I buried the disgust and fear of watching our family cabin burn to the ground before my eyes on a spring night at the hands of an arsonist, who went unpunished for the crime. I buried the sadness of losing my friend, Fr. Sauter, who had become my closest friend and confidante. Mostly, I buried the shame that I felt for allowing myself to get to that point.

All of THAT STUFF was going on deep in my spirit, but only on rare occasions did I ever allow anyone to see the REAL Theresa.  Instead, I did what I needed to do to put on a happy face; to say, “I’m fine” or “I can do it myself” when someone asked. I went to work…EVERY DAY…and was doing very well in my work. I was well-liked by my students and co-workers and enjoying success in my job.  I went to college…EVERY CLASS…was earning A’s in my classes, going to school full-time and working full-time.  Every weekend for nearly two years I injected myself with a potent medicine for the Rheumatoid Arthritis that made me sick, often causing vomiting and nausea for the entire weekend...but until my hair began to thin and fall out, no one really knew.  Sometime it would get so cold in my house in the winter that my curtains would freeze to the walls; I lived for a few weeks without running water when the well/pump broke; I was prescribed potent painkillers to barely take the edge off and function at a minimum level….and yet….I don’t think anyone really knew the reality of my life.  Why?  Because I didn’t let them. I wasn’t being REAL at all. I was pretending that everything was great; that I was in control; that I was ‘just fine.”  It was too much of a risk to be REAL; to be vulnerable; to allow someone to see my pain. It was also easier to comfort myself with food, to endure my sadness in silence, to bury my pain with cookies and junk food.   Nope… I wasn’t REAL back then; I was living a lie. I was denying my reality; my responsibility; my pain.

But, not anymore!  Today, I am as “REAL” as it comes and, as long as it doesn’t compromise another person or loved one, I’m pretty much an ‘open-book’ when it comes to sharing my story. Yes, my story is true. Yes, I lost a lot of weight the “old-fashioned” way. Yes, I’ve been in magazines, newspapers, TV and radio……BUT….In more ways than not, I am just like you! I get frustrated when things don’t go the way I want them and I struggle to accept that I cannot control the behavior of other people. Life would be so much easier if I could just make “so and so” say the right things; do the things I want; be the person I need….but I can’t! Life would be easier if all those in my life who irritated me would just ‘be nice”…but they’re not.  I am often tempted to just  come home, put on my pajamas, open a bag of potato chips, put a bag of M & M’s in the bag, and eat the entire thing to make me forget about the students who disappointed me that day or to avoid all the things I need to do….but I won’t. I say things I wish I hadn’t; I make choices that don’t turn out to be the best; I think things that I ought not to.  I worry that my car will break down and I won’t have the money to repair it; I wonder who will take care of me when I get old; I fear that I’ll disappoint those who tell me that “I’m their hero or inspiration”; I wear too much makeup; have too many clothes; and have more shoes than I need….and yet….God still blesses me!

I sometimes struggle to accept that God has blessed me with this miracle and wonder, Why me? BUT…unlike the old “Theresa” days, I deal with these emotions in a new way: I face them; I surrender them to God: I acknowledge them and accept them as part of my persona. I share them with others, and I trust that God will work all things out…in HIS way; in HIS time; and He will give me what I need to do all that He has asked me to do.  Above all, I am filled with gratitude…for all things, even the hard things….because I know that He is with me every step of this journey and will reveal Himself to me in the midst of each day. 

Often, I make unwise choices and get surprised….LIKE YESTERDAY….when I took a walk after work in what appeared to be a lovely autumn afternoon with a bit of sunshine. About a mile into the walk, the sky literally opened up and I get caught in the rain; not a gentle sprinkle, but a downpour! A mile from home; no umbrella; wearing a “new to me” suede coat; nowhere to get out of the rain on a wooded road; with rain coming down.  “Old Theresa” would have been horrified to be caught in the rain: What if someone saw me….my coat is getting wet….my hair….and so forth.  “New Theresa….REAL Theresa”; however, realized that I had two choices: sit down in the mud and J   So what…my hair was wet; my jacket got wet; my mascara was running down my face; and I was a mess!  Big deal… I went home, dried off, put on my pajamas, and relished in the lingering exhilaration of being able to walk; of being free; and the joy of dancing in the rain…all alone, on a dirt road!  Life gives us opportunities like this each day….do we rejoice in them or run from them?
pout….or dance her way home in the rain!  What do YOU think I did? 

YES, I am a work in progress. YES, I have a long way to go. YES, I am willing to be vulnerable, sometimes foolish and silly. YES, I get tired. I get crabby. I get hungry. I get disappointed. But above all things…. I am grateful that in spite of my imperfections…in spite of my weakness and temptations….in spite of my doubts, fears, and insecurities….I am still abundantly blessed. I am indeed very REAL and my story is very REAL. I am, without a doubt, a walking-talking miracle! 

I encourage you today to begin to embrace the REAL you.  Look at your life and begin to identify those areas in your life where you are “pretending’ to be someone you are not. Ask yourself the hard questions….Are you hiding your pain with food, alcohol, gambling, shopping, or some other addictive behavior?  Are you lying to yourself or others by saying, “But, I’m happy like this…I’m just fine”? Are you an emotional eater?  Are you trying to keep people out by your behavior?  Are you ready to make a change in your life but keep making excuses to keep you from getting started?  I’ve been there…. I lived there….but I don’t live THERE anymore.  You don’t have to either!

 Trust me…being REAL and knowing REAL joy…REAL peace…REAL gratitude….is so much better than those potato chips…and the feeling lingers on long after the taste of that junk food.  I am more like you than not, and I tell you sincerely, “That if I can do this, you can do it too!”