Friday, April 17, 2015

An Affirmation A Day Keeps The Negative Thoughts At Bay...

Today we have an awesome blog post from 2006 Mercy Graduate Kirstin. Kirstin is a fitness, nutrition and personal growth enthusiast who blogs at The Balance Culture. Check her out for tips, encouragement, and coaching. 

So, I’m guessing that the super-cute title drew you in! So, let’s talk affirmations. Little history here-when I was at Mercy Ministries for an eating disorder (you can read about that here) one of the first things they had me do upon arrival was to go through a list of negative self thoughts (ex. “I am ugly”) and circle all the ones I identified with. There were like a couple hundred of them. This insecure girl circled what seemed like a bajillion of them.
DSC02270On the opposite side of the paper, there was a positive affirmation that countered the negative thought (ex. “I am beautifully and wonderfully made”). Then one of the staff members tore it down the middle and gave me the list of positive affirmations. Eventually, they typed them all up for me and in a more formal way wrote “Kirstin is… (positive affirmation).
From there I was told to read the list out loud every morning -um, excuse me-what? It was seriously one of the weirdest things I have done in my life and I have done a lot of weird ‘ish’. I remember the first morning barely mumbling each one, rolling my eyes incessantly, and thinking it was the most ridiculous waste of time.
But, something even weirder began to happen. About a couple weeks later, I remember looking into the mirror and thinking “huh, I don’t look so bad today”. This was a HUGE improvement because I had not had a thought close to that in yearsssss.
Slowly but surely the thoughts I had about myself began to change and I started to believe the words I read on the paper.
DSC02276How could this be? A bunch of sentences I read out loud every morning really carried that much weight and really had that much of an impact on my thought life?
Yes, yes a thousand times yes. Years later I began to study this idea of “renewing your mind” or “cognitive restructuring” as we call it in psychology. It is the idea that you can actually change your thought patterns and chemistry of your brain (almost like rewiring it) through repeating positive, self-esteem building phrases, sentences, ideas, Bible verses, whatever… on a daily basis.
I think of it this way, every time I have a thought and repeat that thought over and over it is like going down the same path in a grassy field time and time again. Over time the path is clearer and more defined and I am able to run through it much quicker. This is actually happening in our brains.
This is also what was happening with my negative thoughts and why it is such a slippery slope. I really believed I was ugly and swore by it (it was smooth sailing down that path) but, as I started to counter that thought with “I am beautifully and wonderfully made”, I stopped running down the ugly path so much and was going down the “beautiful thought” one. The beautiful one became more defined and the ugly one stopped getting used and the grass grew back.
So, now I never have that thought. I have my  “ugh, I feel bloated” pmsy moments but, it doesn’t go beyond that. I refuse to entertain those negative thoughts because it is so not worth going back there.
This “cognitive re20 copystructuring” spilled over into other areas of my life, giving me confidence, and with confidence came a plethora of awesome qualities.
So, my recommendation to you is to identify those continual negative thoughts! Write them down and find a positive thought to counter them (the bible is an awesome resource for this ;) ) and begin to read them out loud, everyday. I don’t care how foolish you feel. It is worth it if it can change your brain! People do some pretty crazy ‘ish’ to change. You can get away with this one and still feel sane ;) .

Friday, April 10, 2015

A Picture

2009 Mercy Graduate Ivy Fannin shares an amazing testimony to God's faithfulness and the ways He is continuing to challenge her view of herself. AHH! This is an amazing story!

When I look at this picture, I think a lot of things. I see a lot of things that others don’t seem to see. I see a fat kid who is jiggling in all of the wrong places. I see every flaw on this girl’s body. I see a girl defeated by the clock as she ran her first half marathon. I see arms that look more like wings, and a shirt riding up because her hips are so big. And despite this being the finish line of a 13.1 mile street run, with more than enough hills, taking her on a tour of the very place where she got a rocky start in life, I do not see a runner. Maybe that is simply because this is my picture, and we are our own worst enemies. Maybe it is because when I was in fourth grade, running through my neighborhood, a car of high school kids who didn’t know me jeered and said, “Fat kids can’t run.” Or maybe it is because I have an over idealized picture of who runners are, and I need to learn to accept that I am a runner, that I am an athlete. Those terms are not defined by size, or even by success, but by a heart who loves to achieve physically and compete and play any sport there is.

About a year prior to this picture, I turned 30. I am still single, and although outwardly successful with multiple degrees and a good job, my body was a reflection of my inside. I was not someone who deserved to be treated well. And it was not fair to expect more from myself when it came to my body and my mind. I had accepted that the path of my childhood determined who I was and would always be. I have always loved sports and played them. I worked out at a great fitness studio called ReFit where the instructors loved Jesus and out of that loved me well. But I was still fat. I know you are supposed to use a euphemism there, but frankly those are more offensive to me than just calling it what it was.

My weight was one of the many things I have battled for most of my life. And in college I found the way to beat it into submission. I would cut out food and use disordered eating to get my body where I wanted it. I would punish myself until I was happy with my weight. Then I would resume a more natural state. I succeeded. I will never be a small person, but I got to the size I wanted. Of course when I went back to “eating normally,” I seemed to just blow up.

While I was in the Mercy Ministries program, my relationship with food (among other things) was addressed, and I saw changes. I graduated from Mercy with a new hope, one I had never had before, and was ready to take on the world. Unfortunately the world was ready to take me on as well. I had a lot of ups and downs--I fell and got back up, just to fall again. While this was not just about my body, it was a good reflection of what was going on inside of me. I creeped steadily back towards the 300 lb. mark which scared me. I stepped back into dangerous territory, “Just to give my weight loss a boost.” FAIL!

Then in March of 2014, I anxiously anticipated my 30th birthday. It wasn’t so much the number that scared me. It was that I was stepping into that decade with no family. I had to choose to walk away from the family that I was born into because of their unwillingness to have a healthy relationship. And I had heard promise after promise from God that I would have a family of my own. But here I was turning 30 with no husband and no children and with words of doctors saying I probably wouldn’t be able to have babies anyway certainly not the longer I waited.

I will admit, I am a number person and after a week or so, of absolutely dreading my upcoming birthday, the night before my birthday, I heard a small voice in the pit of who I am. This decade can be different. The first decade of my life I was used and abused and treated like trash by others. My life was out of my control. The second and third decades, all I knew was to continue that. But this decade could be different. This decade I could start living life and living it to its fullest. When I turned 30, I decided I would do things differently.

Sure, I changed how I ate and worked on learning that food was not an enemy or a comforter, but fuel created to make me strong enough to do the work I have been called to do. I began to run short runs that were mostly walking. I changed some things that I was physically doing. But those are not things that I had not done before. Something had to change internally. I want to be clear that this was not an overnight phenomenon or instant change. I had to choose and choose again to say and know that I was worth it. That it was okay to be nice to myself. As I combined these thoughts and chose to believe them even when I didn’t really, I began to see more life in who I was. This manifested in my physical body. But this also manifested in my relationships.

A friend had asked me about training for a half marathon a few months later, and I quickly told her no. Sure I was running some, but I knew I was not a person who could run a half marathon nor could I keep up with her, as this would not be her first rodeo. Over time, however, I decided to try. Now I did not just decide to jump into that. In fact, my only concession months later was, “I will run with you one time and if I don’t die, I will consider it.” That was the beginning of November. I kept up with her, and she was patient with me. Through this process I learned I could do more than I ever thought was possible. Especially with her beside me. She pushed me by not saying anything but by being by my side.

As I trained, I had a new focus--health. And a half marathon. Thirteen-point-one miles that I was now committed to finishing. It took commitment to myself, to my partner, and to my goal. Sure, I continued to lose weight, but I found my obsession with the scale decreasing. I learned to use food as fuel, admittedly the hard way. You need calories for energy and especially when you are running a longer run. But none of this could have happened if I did not have a true shift of heart and mind about who I was and what I was worth.

Race day has come and gone. It was hard, to say the least--physically, the hardest thing I have ever done. I wanted to give up. But more than I wanted to give up, I wanted to finish. It wasn’t pretty, but I crossed the finish line…and I am far from finished. We are called to run this race, and I continue to do my best. I am not defined by my outward appearance, or by others, but by my heart and those plans God has laid out for me. I never dreamed one of those plans would be a half marathon, but I’m guessing that will not be my last! Our lives are a lot like a long endurance run, and even when we stop to rest or simply slow down our pace, if we follow the path God has for us, we can succeed more than we ever thought we could.

Friday, April 3, 2015

I thought this update from 2012 Graduate Leslie was a perfect fit for Good Friday. When hope seems lost, the Father always has a greater plan. We ALL deserve a life of bondage, the blood of Christ removes that guilt. Jesus not only died for us, but He left the tomb empty. So grateful for a Savior today, and everyday.

"If you told me four years ago that today I'd be engaged to the most amazing man, working at a God-centered church, and surrounded by supportive friends and family; I would've thought it too good to be true, my guilt would've told me I deserved nothing but a life of bondage. Today, God has blessed me with a life better than I could've ever imagined. Thank you, Mercy Ministries, for providing a place for girls to come and encounter the forgiveness and the love of the Father."

Friday, March 27, 2015

10 Reflections On Relationshps

This Freedom Friday post, 2010 Mercy Ministries Graduate Catharine shares a little bit about what God has been teaching her about relationships.
I’ve been thinking a lot on relationships. Since moving to a new city, it’s been an interesting journey being isolated in a new town. The Lord has created a very rich opportunity for me to reflect, rejoice and heal from the ups and downs of previous seasons.
As I’ve engaged in this process…Here’s what I’ve discovered: 
Preface: This is regarding platonic, peer friendships not people you’re: dating, married to, mentoring or reaching out to (although some of it may apply). Also, of course, there are exceptions to most/all of these, but these are areas I have noticed new revelations of freedom, breakthrough and ‘opportunities for growth’ based on how I have related to people or been related to by people in the past.

1) There are different types, intimacy levels, and seasons for friendships. Be honest with yourself on who is which type of friend in your life and learn how to just go with the flow.

2) Difficult circumstances test a relationships longevity. Is it a solid foundation or sinking sand? For me, living in a different town has dramatically sifted through my relationships and has surprised me quite a bit. The ones that have remained are people I can trust fully. Remember: fall outs or short seasons don’t negate the legitimacy of a friendship.

3) Your inner circle should be on the smaller side (both genders, mentors, family) and should consist of people you can be vulnerable with, accept you, love you and most importantly, ‘call out the gold in you’….even when you’re in an broken spot. If your inner circle is huge, I’d start asking Holy Spirit if you’re being truly deep, vulnerable and how you can begin to risk again.

4) Be intentional and vulnerable with the ‘right’ people and don’t chase the ones that don’t invest back. If you only give attention to the ‘wrong’ relationships… You’re going to lose the ‘right’ ones.

5) God should be the only one to tell you who you are. Any labels from others that don’t line up, toss ‘em. And if someone from your inner circle is the one putting labels on you, you need to talk to them and pray about whether they can be trusted with your heart.

6) Balance. Don’t be all serious, it isn’t healthy. And being all fun isn’t either. It’s both, not one or the other.

7) Space and boundaries are good things. Boundaries are important. Period. Maybe I’ll elaborate on another post. And I’m not saying only see each other once a month, but choosing to not do everything together is healthy and prevents burn out. Especially in the beginning of a friendship because you are still figuring each other out. Getting too close, too fast, then realizing you don’t have similar core values… Just hurts everyone involved.

8) Be more honest that you think you should. If something is concerning you (whether you’re unsure of their character, feel misunderstood, etc) and it’s causing relational distance. Bring it up, as soon as possible. Keep short accounts.

9) In the same token… Don’t over confront. Exercise your muscle to be unoffendable. Forgive quickly, without even talking to them. Confrontations are taxing on both parties, so be beyond sure that your heart is right. If you’re going in angry or bitter and expect to tell them all the things they’ve done wrong… You are the one that has some things to work out with Jesus before you talk to them. Remember: they aren’t responsible for your feelings, you are.

10) We are created for deep, intimate relationships with our fellow man. God created Eve because it was not good for Adam to be alone, Jesus had 12 disciples, Jesus established us in the Church.

Relationships aren’t about what you can get, but I’m learning how to recognize the life-giving vs. the life-stealing relationships in my life. As I realize the life-giving ones, I need to seek The Lord on how I can serve, honor and encourage them. And as I discover the life-stealing ones, I need to ask The Lord what role He wants me to play in that person’s life.