Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My recent lesson

Last Saturday, we at Casas went to Juarez to serve a Christmas meal to all the families whom we've built for in one colonia on the south side of town.  To be honest, earlier in the day, I didn't want to go.  I wanted to be selfish.  I wanted to stay in my house with Jason and just be lazy with him.  But, I work at Casas, and ministry is not a 9-5 job.  And frankly, it didn't matter what I wanted to do!  All the same, I wasn't looking forward to going.

Driving over there that day, I thought back to Christmas as a child.  I loved it!  I still do. I love the lights, the gifts, the songs, and the tree.  I love the food and the celebration.  I love that for a little while each year, people are encouraged to reach out.  I love that ultimately, we celebrate this season because the greatest gift any of us will ever receive was born!  My mom loved this too.  During Christmas time with her, we would make all sorts of holiday goodies and fill boxes with food items she'd collected, and we'd deliver them to the widows in our little town who my mom knew from her childhood.  She helped these ladies all year long, but she liked to make it extra special at Christmas time....who doesn't want this time of year to feel special?  I know it was my mom's spirit of giving that instilled a love of giving in me.  Truthfully, one of the top 3 greatest joys in my life is getting to give people in need something for free and letting them know Jesus loves them.  (In case you're wondering, the other 2 are:  knowing and experiencing real, unconditional love and....finding crazy low clearance deals!)

But what good is giving one meal to a family for one afternoon?  Is that REALLY helping them in the big picture?  Was there something better we could do?  I kept thinking this too as I was driving.  All the time at Christmas, people are in the giving spirit, and then forget about it for the other 11 months of the year.  Sometimes that irks me.  We should be pouring out all the time!  So, by serving this meal, are we falling into the same trap of just giving during one season?  It wasn't making me any more excited to be there.

We served chicken, rice, and menudo.  For those of you who don't know, menudo is a special Mexican soup that is made with hominy and tripe.  Yes...tripe.  That would be cow guts.  It doesn't look good....and it smells even worse.  If you're Mexican though, this is a very special meal.  In most restaurants, it's only served on Sunday and often on special occasions.  When the people started arriving, I was on menudo duty.

I ladled close to 500 bowls of this...enough to make my wrist ache.  At least I was used to the smell by this point! The people were pouring in at a very steady rate, and I realized that my internal criticism of whether or not we should be just serving one meal was overtaken by joy of getting to give something to someone in need.  I was so happy to see so many smiling faces that day.  I was humbled to know that all those people we served had received a home from Casas por Cristo.

When we got back that afternoon, I was ready to start putting together our annual bags of Christmas gifts for the families Jason and I have built for through the year.  I was ready to start baking treats to send to them, and to our neighbors on our street, and for my friends here at the office.  I simply love to give.  I'm not saying that because I want accolades but because it is just part of who I am.

Then earlier this week, I read someone's status on facebook asking "if we give and give and it a hand-up, or a hand-out?"  hhmmm.....I've been asked this often about working for Casas.  "Isn't it just a hand-out to give them a house?"  And I believe that it isn't.  Casas uses a house to ultimately share God's love.  The gift of Christ is completely free...we cannot earn it.  We just accept it, and in turn, we are changed by it.  We give the house to proclaim this message.  The house is free.  Accept it.  Hopefully it will help change the status of the families' lives, but more importantly, we want each family to know that God LOVES them enough to even give them a here, and one in Heaven.  What they do with the gift of the home...that isn't for us to control.  God gave us Christ, and He gives us the decision about what to do with that gift too.

Why am I writing this blog?  Because the nagging doubt I oftentimes get about just being used by people who want things from me has somehow been calmed over these last few days.  I realized that it does not matter if someone abuses a gift from me.  I am called to give.  We all are.  Christians especially are called to reach out to others with the same love that we ourselves have received from Christ.  Will one meal change someone's life?  Probably not.  It didn't stop Jesus from feeding thousands from a few loaves and some fish.  A hand-out or a hand-up?  I don't know.  I simply know that when I'm called to give in some capacity, I will.  It simply doesn't matter if I think I will be used just matters that I answer that call because God can use the gift any way He sees fit.  It doesn't hurt me to give....but how much would it hurt if later I find that by not giving, I denied God an opportunity to move.  I don't even know if I'm making any sense on here!

So, today at the gas station, when a man approached Jason and asked him for some help with his gas, my gut reaction was to think, "he's just using us."  But, as I did a double take and thought of my recent lesson, I smiled. And then I heard Jason tell him, "sure, no problem." 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I am a triathlete

Those words haven’t really sunk in yet.

4:30am rolled around faster than I would’ve liked this morning, especially after having trouble falling asleep- what with dwelling on all the thoughts of potential disasters that could happen during the race. I was packed and prepared, but when I woke up, there was a little knot in my stomach I didn’t have when I went to sleep. I got dressed, and looked at myself in the full-length mirror…dressed in my swimsuit and tri shorts (which I believe are only flattering on people who have less than 5% body fat). I turned sideways, and what’s left of my tummy was there for all the world to see. I turned forward and my thighs were bisected by the tight band of elastic from the shorts, giving the appearance of each thigh having 2 parts…a top and a bottom. The knot in my stomach got a little bigger thinking about many of my coworkers and friends seeing me like this. It was too late now. I’d worked really hard, and I still have weight to lose….but this was my outfit, and I was going to have to suck it up. So I did, but that knot decided to make his home right in the pit of my gut.

all set up.  make note of the huge pink bag
We arrived at the race with our bags and bikes and found a spot to get ourselves ready. I kept my travel outfit on; hiding what I believed was the disaster underneath. I found my friends who were competing too, and we chatted. The wait was long, and it gave my mind all kinds of time to think about all those pitfalls I’d dreamed up the night before. "What if I have a flat on my bike…I can’t change the flat….I will have trained for nothing! What if I have to go to the bathroom during the race? It’ll take forever…oh please, colon, just be my friend and do your job before the race begins! I have to wear the swim cap they gave us, which is latex….I’m allergic to latex. What if my head reacts while I’m in the pool?" What did all my thoughts get me? Just a bigger knot.

Time to line up, which meant it was time to get rid of that traveling outfit. Ugh. Here we go….all my friends getting to see all the parts of me I can’t stand. Thankfully they were kind enough to not say anything.

almost through with the swim
Waiting for my turn to swim was an exercise in balancing nerves with anticipation. In the end, the nerves won. The knot in my stomach was so big, I felt like I wanted to throw up. Someone told me that was the adrenaline. I think it was insecurity. And then, I was in the water. I was officially competing in the first athletic event of my life. The first lap and a half was the worst. I still felt like throwing up, while at the same time trying to push forward with everything I had. All the training in the swim? It didn’t matter. I lost all sense of form. All the strokes I’d practiced….I forgot them all as I focused on who was passing me, who I needed to pass, when the end was coming, and if I’d see Jason when I turned around. And then, I was done. It went by faster than I’d thought. And hey…no itchy head from the latex. I swam the entire time, which was my goal. Accomplishment #1 done.
Transitioning to the bike took a few minutes, and I caught my breath. My tank top went on, finally ending the humiliation of the swimsuit shenanigans. And we were off for 12.4 miles of biking, the first half of which, unfortunately, was into the wind. I supposed that was better than the last half. My quads were screaming for the first 2 miles. I’d never practiced the swim-to-bike, so I wasn’t prepared for how tired my legs would be. Suck it up, Janette, and keep peddling! Spectators screamed out encouragements, the most common of which was “you’re almost there!” The spectators were a bunch of liars. They were screaming this at mile 3. But I appreciated the encouragement, even if it was clouding the truth.

And then we were back. I only coasted 3 times when I lifted my tookus off the seat to relax it a little. Otherwise, my legs never stopped pedaling. Accomplishment #2 done. I dismounted the bike and thought for sure I’d left my leg muscles somewhere out on Socorro Road. In all my training, they’d never felt this heavy. Park the bike…oh wait….someone took my parking space. Guess they must’ve thought that giant pink vinyl bag next to the space was theirs. I still have a little resentment for racer #237 for this. Grab some energy gummies and a few big gulps of Gatorade, and then it was off for the run. 3.1 miles.

starting the jog and still annoyed at racer #237
For the first half mile, I could think of nothing but how on earth I could possibly keep my legs moving forward when they felt like they wanted to melt off my bones. Goal #3 was to finish the run in under 40 minutes, always keep my pace somewhere below 12:59 minute miles, and run the entire way…no walking! But at about the half mile mark, my leg muscles caught up with the rest of me, and I realized…I was tired. I was breathing harder than I ever had during training. Every time my left foot fell, I was either inhaling or exhaling. For the next 2 and a half miles I chanted with every left footfall: “I. Can. Do. All. Things. Through. Christ. Who. Gives. Me. Strength.”

“Head down. (I can) Don’t look up. (do all) Keep moving forward. (things through) Keep breathing! (Christ who) Don’t land on your heels. (gives me) Oh I’m tired! (strength)” For those 3 miles, this was the internal monologue on repeat in my head. I heard the lying spectators telling us we were half-way or at 2 miles (which was actually another half mile away…thanks for the false hope, buddy). I was aware of the little girl who threw the water in my face, who I’m sure thought I found it refreshing. Good thing for her my ability to speak was lost back in the transition area (where I believe I also left my sense of humor).

just about to the end!
And we were coming upon the end. I could see the finish line. Amy told me to give it all I had, which I was trying to do, but it felt like I wasn’t going anywhere. I looked at my GPS watch. It said I was doing a 9:54 minute mile at that point. I heard one of our friends shout something, and then it was so close…the end of the race. Somewhere deep inside, I found a little more to give. Maybe that knot in the pit of my stomach finally gave birth to the adrenaline the others had promised, and I sprinted. I don’t think I’ve ever run that fast in my life, ever. It wasn’t for long or for far, but it was literally all I had, and then we crossed. I doubled over to catch my breath, breathing like an asthmatic… in a field of ragweed… surrounded by thousands of kittens. A race volunteer tried to offer me water. I had no time for that as my lungs constricted tighter and tighter in defiance to my little “sprinting tomfoolery” there at the end. Amy hugged me. Friends were giving their congratulations. And then I saw Jason, coming towards me with icy cold diet Mt. Dew, just like I had requested. I hugged him as I gasped for air. More than anyone, I wanted him to be proud of me. And I had accomplished goal #3

1 hour. 47 minutes. 52 seconds. That was my time. I wanted to finish in under 2 hours….Goal #4 accomplished. It’s just a little surreal. I looked around, and still, after losing almost 150 pounds by nothing more than the shear determination of my own will….I was still one of the biggest women there…and my insecurity was trying to steal the joy of my victory. But, 150 pounds ago, I could barely walk. I mean it. I remember going on a walk those many pounds ago and getting winded walking up a hill that seems elementary to me now. A little over a year ago, I almost died when blood clots settled in my lungs, killing a portion of both of them. Today, the biggest ruckus my lungs could raise is that they were irritated that I sprinted. The former “Fat-Janette” lived a lifestyle worthy of an early grave. But today, crossing that finish line, I knew the only thing that’s gone to the grave is the battery of poor habits and emotional coping that once had me held hostage to a life of misery and trapped in my own body. To me, that last sprint to the finish represented me fleeing, forever, an old life content in my weakness. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

So, did my thighs still look like they had 4 sections when I crossed the finish line? Yep. Did the underside of my arms still jiggle? Uh-huh. Did I still have an obvious tummy under those spandex shorts? Very much so. Was I still one of the biggest competitors there? Yes. Did a different person cross the finish line than the one who entered the pool? She did. Will I live tied to my insecurities and the possible judgment of others anymore? No. And do you know why?

Because today, I am a triathlete.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Weighing In

I watched a show with my friend last night called “I eat 33,000 calories a day”. Wow. I was so intrigued, and we couldn’t wait to see what that looked like. The show highlighted 4 people. 3 of them were well over 600 pounds. One woman wasn’t though. She was very large, but she wasn’t that big. The thing that struck me most was that….she looks like what I once looked like at my heaviest.

She explained how food has so much control over her. She would eat when no one was around to watch her. She would eat before bed. She would always feel guilty afterwards, but she would push that guilt aside with some more food. She shared what a typical day’s worth of eating looked like. She thought she was eating around 3,000 calories/day. Actually, she was eating over 13,000.

What struck me was not only that her body was similar to what mine once was, but her eating habits…it was like looking back 3 years ago and seeing myself. I always struggled with eating in secret. I didn’t want people to know what I was doing to myself. I would eat SO many calories and always feel guilty. The diet would always start “tomorrow”, and I would do okay until 5pm, and then I’d give in and feel like I’d ruined everything. I always took something in to eat before I laid down to sleep.

But as I watched her, I realized how much has changed in me. I’m not the woman who hides when I eat anymore. I haven’t eaten before I went to bed in so long….I’d forgotten I even did that until I watched the show last night. Something changed in me 3 years ago. A switch flipped, and for some reason, the taste of a greasy pizza bought after I’d already eaten dinner didn’t matter as much as living a healthy and long life. A box of doughnuts wasn’t as appealing as putting on a shirt in a smaller size. The satisfaction from a pan of brownies didn’t come close to the satisfaction of fitting into the seat at the movie theater.

That doesn’t mean I don’t still love food. I do. I’m a foodie. I think it’s wonderful. Sometimes, my greatest delight would be to have an entire bag of Sour Patch Kids or 4 slices of pizza with some breadsticks on the side. That all still sounds wonderful, but somehow now….it’s different. I might indulge once in a while. Everyone, even the thinnest of people, go overboard occasionally. However, now when that happens, my mind doesn’t assume I’ve ruined everything. It just means that I enjoyed the moment, and the next moment is back to “normal”. Now, normal for me is eating a healthy diet full of whole foods, fruits, lean meats and eating for the sake of “fuel” 95% of the time. Now, exercise is part of every day of my life. Taking 3 mile walks and swimming every morning is just part of who I am.

I saw the me from 3 years ago on the TV last night. But, I’m a completely different person now, and I’m so thankful. This morning I weighed myself. I’ve lost 125 pounds. I lost the equivalent of an entire person. I lost pain in my knees and back. I lost the terror of going shopping for clothes or flying in an airplane. I lost the baggage of guilt and poor self-esteem. I lost that monkey on my back.

My journey isn’t over. I have another 55-65 pounds to lose (so I think..I’ve never been thin. I don’t know what I should weigh), but I can do it. I know I can, because I’ve come so far. It’s a good feeling.