S5 Episode 10:

I recently had a friend tell me that he was fascinated by me. A little shocked I asked him “how so?” He went on to explain that he was fascinated by me because even though I have been through trauma it doesn’t seem to phase me.

That in itself was a compliment to my strength and resilience. It took a lot of hard work and many tears to come to the place that I am at today. This road has been long and the nights were even longer. There was a time where I was put together in the streets and a hot crying mess in the sheets.

For years I walked the path of purposefully busy. I thought if I kept myself extremely busy I would some how forget the pain and leave the past behind me. That tactic didn’t work. During the day I’d be busy, but at night it was just me, myself and I. Well Cullen too. I had to learn how to be alone with my own thoughts and love the woman standing in the mirror. Those lessons were the hardest lessons to learn. During that journey I also had to learn how to ask for help. Mostly I had to trust that my friends & family actually did want to help and that they didn’t see me as a burden.

Being a burden is the last thing I wanted to be. I became hyper-independent. I didn’t need to ask for help because the only person I needed to rely on was myself. I scaled cabinets to get things down from above my head, learned how to fix simple things around my apartment and mostly I became my own best company. Hyper-independence works until it doesn’t. It serves a purpose until it doesn’t. My hyper-independence gave way to an unhealthy work ethic. In the early years after my divorce I was no stranger to 70+ hour work weeks. I lived to work. My career became my everything, it’s what I hung my hat on and connected to my worth. I found peace in the daily grind and became content in being purposefully busy.

I didn’t need to waste my time going on dates or meeting friends for coffee. Those activities took away from work. My friends looked on as my spark and zest for life faded. The AJ they once knew was not the AJ that was standing in front of them. This new version was hyper-independent and didn’t care if she missed the sunset. She was content with being purposefully busy and needed nothing more.

On the days where old memories crept in she threw herself into her work even more. Work always kept the scaries away. Keeping purposefully busy always kept the scaries away. Purposefully busy worked until it didn’t. On her birthday in October 2014 she found herself crying in the shower. All the events and emotions of the past 5 years came bubbling to the surface and she didn’t know how to deal. She didn’t know how to shove them back into the pocket they sprung out of. Emotions are messy and AJ she didn’t have time for that.

But this was different. In my heart I knew I couldn’t keep living like I was living. I was tired of the storms. I was tired of pretending that everything was alright even though I was dying inside. Step one was getting over my fear of asking for help. For the longest time I believed that only the weak waved their white flags and asked for help. Boy was I wrong, it takes the strongest of the strong to make the call for reinforcements. Asking for help was the first step of my journey to healing.

For the next five years on Tuesday nights I bared my soul in Ms. Emily’s office. We unpacked my bags one by one and she talked me through the triggers. She gave me the tools that I needed to deprogram myself. She gave me the support that I needed to realize that it’s ok to say “no.” And that I don’t have to do everything and be everything for everyone. But mostly she taught me that I too deserve to live a life. Work/Life balance was a struggle in the early days, little by little and started to build something that I could be proud of.

She reminded me that my abusive marriage was only a chapter and not my entire story. She allowed me to grieve the loss of my sons and Charlie too. Ms. Emily allowed me to grieve the me before trauma took hold on my life. One blood clot changed everything and everything went down hill from there. She reminded me that I was not jinxed or cursed, it’s just bad things happen to good people without an explanation or reason. It just happens.

But what matters most is what we do with it. There are people who wear the victim card on their sleeves and it serves them well. It gets the attention and sometimes validation. But then there are those like myself who wants to be seen for anything but being a victim. I was handed a victim card once, I threw it in the trash. I didn’t have time to dwell or relieve the past, I wanted to move forward, I wanted to thrive. I wanted to be a light for others to follow. That person who holds your hand and says “it may not seem like it right now, but it’s going to be ok,” for she has seen the battle field.

Hyper-independence and purposefully busy were my bandaids. If I kept myself purposefully busy then I didn’t have to put in the work towards healing. If I remained fiercely independent then I wouldn’t have to worry about being a burden or someone letting me down. Taking the first step off that wheel was the scariest step I’ve ever taken. Putting in the work and really looking at everything I’ve been through was the hardest yet most rewarding assignment of my life.

Therapy grew me in more ways than I could ever begin to explain. My faith served me well, she carried me on the darkest days and showed me the way so that I could heal. Therapy saved me. Now I know there are folks who go to therapy just to go to therapy. Therapy isn’t going to work, unless you yourself want to do the work. As women we spend so much time healing the hearts of others that we forget how to heal our own. We forget that being purposefully busy is a coping mechanism and not a life that’s worth living.

S5 Episode 9:

For we walk by faith, not by sight – 2 CORINTHIANS 5:7

Do you ever find yourself in a situation that has you questioning your faith? You know a situation where you can feel the Holy Spirit bubbling in you, but you ignore the call and you stay silent because you do not want to ruffle feathers. Or maybe it’s because you know full well that you are out numbered….

Instead in that moment we give into fear and we drop the armor that God has laid upon us. Our amazing God equipped us for moments just like this. That bubbling you felt was the Holy Spirit preparing you to speak the truth. That was God urging you to speak because he laid those words upon your heart and even though you were out numbered in the flesh… he had your back. He was sharpening your sword and handing it to you, for he knew this battle was coming and he chose you to send.

I had one of those moments last night. A moment where I felt the bubbling and as I glanced around the room I knew I was out numbered. That the women I was sitting with fully didn’t understand the words they had just laid. Encouraging us to tell women “if you are sinning you cannot grow closer to God. That if you are sinning, Jesus, he doesn’t want to be around you and he won’t work in your life…..”

Yeah let those words sink in deep….. like really deep. The last time I checked Jesus sought out the broken, the sinners, the weak, the misfits, the prodigals, the thieves, and he washed the feet of prostitutes….. the broken were his people. The pages of history tell me that the broken are who you use. That the first will go last and the last will get the crowns. Jesus didn’t seek out the perfect….. he sought out the broken. He sat with the low end of society, he broke bread with them and he stood by them. Jesus does not turn his back on the sinner, that is in fact when he is near.

How do I know this? Well friend the Bible tells me so. Story after story. Promise after promise. Tells me that Jesus does not abandon us and that he is always near. That he never turns his back to those that need him most. It’s the broken that he uses for his glory. Those sinners are the testimonies that will move mountains and bring the unfaithful to their knees.

That will bring the unfaithful to their knees… In that moment they realize that someone else has walked this way before. That someone else clawed their way out of the darkness and that if Jesus loves them, then he can love me too. Perfection is an unattainable goal, living on the straight and narrow isn’t living, it’s merely existing. Because friend God made you for more, he made you for a big vibrant life that’s full of trials and triumphs. We don’t always get it right, but what’s important is that we dust ourselves off and we learn from our mistakes. We may not understand it in the here and now, but one day we will understand it. So we must continue to walk by faith, for his hand is crafting our every step.

I will be the first to tell you that I am not perfect. I am a sinner and not a saint. I’ll probably sin a little bit more and raise a little cain before they lay my body down. Am I bothered by this? No, no I am not. For I know my name is written in his book and that my crown is waiting for me. An angel knelt down and whispered the first go last and the last get the crowns…. I cannot wait to be in the company of misfits, prodigals, undesirables, and sinners. For those are the ones who truly lived, for those are the ones who got the message. The message that Jesus loves knows no bounds and that his forgiveness has no limits.

For those are the ones who walked blindly into the night. Because God his promise holds true, the dawn will always break the darkest of nights. His love will seep into the coldest of hearts, and those very hearts will become a beacon. Beacon of hope, to remind us to walk by faith and not fear. Because if we walk by faith we cannot fail. For God he knows our hearts, he laid this very path knowing full well what was in store for you and all you have to do is walk it.

Walk it until you no longer can. There will be times where the journey is hard. You will be tested and retested until you feel like you are going to break. There will be days where nothing goes right and those nights will seem even longer. Those are the moments, where you dust yourself off, tighten your laces and whisper “I am the storm” into the night. Those very moments are your lessons, God is teaching you to walk by faith, not by sight. God is teaching you to walk blindly and boldly on the path he laid for you. This very path is yours and yours alone, comparison has no place here. No one else can walk this path the way you can and no one else’s can feel the path like you can. When the path gets to hard listen to your heart, give into that bubbling feeling and walk forward with boldness.

Now that bubbling you feel is a little thing called faith and once you give into faith you will walk boldly into the unknown. When you truly step on to the path without a thought you are letting him be your sight and he will never steer you wrong. So walk by faith and not sight for he knows your destination and it’s ok if you miss a turn or two, he will always get you back on track. You were always meant to miss those turns, for the lessons you learned during the reroute led you back to the path you were always meant to be on.

Yes the exact path that you were always meant to be on. You see God never wanted you to be perfect, if you are perfect and free of sin, then there is no room for him to grow in you. Each and everyone of us is a work of art crafted by his hand and only he knows what our final portrait will be. We can live a life to the letter or we can live a life worth dying for. A life that is filled with vibrant stories, a life that is bigger than our testimony, and a life that is truly walked by faith and not sight. A vibrantly loud beautifully faith led life. Now that life, is the life I want to live.

S5 Episode 8:

I got married young and my marriage wasn’t like it is in the story books. My Prince Charming, wasn’t charming. Well I take that back, he was only charming when it served him, this was usually only around our family and friends. Day in and day out I took care of our home, raised his son as my own and finagled three dogs to the dog park. Compliments were a rarity and if he glanced at me it was with displeasure.

I had switched my birth control from the ortho evera patch to the Nuva Ring. The new hormones caused me to gain weight at a rapid rate. He let me know day in and day out that he was not attracted to me. He’d tell me “if you get over 200 pounds I’ll have to consider a divorce…..” I tried dieting, it didn’t work. running which use to be my escape became a chore. No matter how many miles I ran the weight didn’t come off, it stuck to me like glue. I became self conscious and started wearing clothing that hid my body. If my husband was repulsed by me, everyone else had to be too.

He’d tell me things like “you know you’d be really hot if you lost weight.” Or my personal favorite “if you lost weight I’d find you attractive again and that might make me want to sleep with you again.” Sex became a weapon in our marriage. He used it against me and forced me into situations I never wanted to be a part of. I’d disassociate during those times, I’d go numb and go through the motions just to get it over with. He’d tell me “if you ruin this for me, I’ll divorce you. If you ruin this for me, it means you don’t love me.” He knew I had a fear of failure and he played on its every whim. Divorce equaled failure in my eyes and I didn’t want to be another married to young statistic.

The months turned into years as I grew into a shadow of my former self. I no longer recognized the woman in the mirror. Her bright eyes had turned dull, her skin lost its peachy tone and her curls were brittle. Stress was taking a toll on this once vibrant soul. I felt trapped in my own skin, a skin I wanted so desperately to get out of. Because maybe if I looked different, he’d love me more. I was existing on slim fast shakes and chicken breast, hoping if I lost just enough he’d notice and then he’d love me more.

On October 22, 2009 our lives changed forever. I found myself in the emergency room struggling for every breath. A blood clot caused by the Nuva Ring landed in my lungs, to top it off a piece broke of and caused a stroke. Recovery was tough and the weight I had kept at bay slowly crept in. Scott didn’t have any sympathy for me, he only had frustration because he was paying for a gym membership that I no longer used. With time I realized my running days were over, that chore which was my escape was no longer a tool for me to use. I was in a body that my husband didn’t love.

Now some would tell you that I was a slim size 14. I didn’t see it though, I gravitated towards 2x clothing when I only needed a large. I did what I could to hide the body that I had. The woman I saw in the mirror didn’t match the woman standing in my bathroom. Where others saw strength, I saw flaws. Flaws that could not be tamed, flaws that needed to be hidden so no one else would speak the words. The words that Scott spoke to me “you’d be prettier if you lost some weight.”

I remember the first time someone told me I was beautiful. It was after I left Scott, I was going to happy hour at the Green Mill in Uptown with Sherri. We had just parked and we were walking to the restaurant and a gentlemen said “ma’am!” I paused and turned thinking the worst. “I just wanted to let you know that you are beautiful!” I started to cry, that was the first time in years that anyone had told me I was beautiful. I remember that moment to this day and it was a pivotal moment. You see that day I chose to wear some tight jeans and a strapless top, it was summer and it was warm. I felt uncomfortable in my skin, yet Sherri convinced me that I looked good, so I wore it. Silly thing is, I still have that outfit tucked away in a box. The clothes no longer fit, but the memory will fit me forever.

Charlie was a saint. He would always tell me “Mannie you look so strong. You look so healthy, along with dang girl! your ass looks great in that!” Through his gentleness he taught me how to love the skin I was in. Another pivotal moment is when Charlie asked me to a fancy cocktail party. I had gone to Saks to try on dresses and nothing no matter the size fit right. I ended up crying in the dress room. Charlie softly knocked on the door and asked me what was wrong. Through my tears I told him nothing fit. He hugged me and put his arm around me as we looked in the mirror.

He kissed the top of my head and rubbed my back as he gently said “Mannie, do you not realize that you are our ancestors wildest dream? Girl, look at your curves and do you know how many women would kill for those high cheek bones? You are beautiful and no man can ever take that from you.” With tears in our eyes we proceeded to go through the pile of dresses on the bench. With his help I found the perfect one and I felt like a million bucks that night. Not because of the dress, but because I had found a man who saw my worth before I ever did. I found a man who taught me how to love myself first.

Years later when I was sitting in therapy with Ms. Emily I realized that what I was feeling had a name. Body Dysmorphia, body dysmorphia is an unpleasant gift that the ex-husband had left me with. It’s a gift that I struggle with on the daily. It’s a gift that I’ve learned to treat with kindness. It’s a gift that Charlie and now Jay has learned to dance softly around. One wrong word or glance can send me into a spiral. A spiral that leads to all of my clothes in a pile on the closet floor.

Clothes have been hard lately. I have a closet full of clothes that no longer fit me. Dresses that are to loose in the bust, pants that barely stay up and shits that were once to tight are now swimming on me. I’ve lost weight. 36 pounds to be exact and I do not see what others see. When I look in the mirror I see my now deflated breasts and my insecurity is on full display. My right breast is a cup size smaller that my left. When I was bigger, it was easier to hide, but now I don’t have room for error. Wrap dresses have become my best friend and bras, well they are a struggle. My ass isn’t as plump as it once was, though Jay tells me it’s still incredible. My back fat is pretty much non-existent now too. I can see these changes in the mirror, yet I do not attach the woman in the mirror to myself.

I don’t see what others see. In my mind I am still 258 pounds, I don’t see the 222 pound me. It’s a struggle that I’ve carried silently, only those closest to me know about my body dysmorphia. Someone once told me “why struggle alone, when you can struggle in perfect company.” So that is what this is, my search for company. I made a vulnerable Facebook explaining my body dysmorphia. That post showed me that dozens of the women and men in my life are struggling too. That body image is hard. Weight loss is a journey and not all of us process our results the same. Some of us throw ourselves at the gym or exchange our cravings for a protein shake and then there are those of us who stare into the mirror looking for a glimpse of what the world sees.

Maybe with a little time and a little coaching I will one day realize that the thinner woman in the mirror is me. But until that day comes just know I am struggling with insecurities right along side you and we will take it one day at a time.

S5 Episode 7:

How many of you mindlessly scroll through social media….. yeah me too! As you are scrolling through the back to school and vacation photos you come across a quote that resonates with you. It’s words leap to life as you read them and you pause to let out an audible gasp. And if you are me that gasp is followed by “shit, that just hit me in all the feels!!!”

Yesterday was a day like that. I read the first sentence of the quote multiple times to ensure I comprehended its meaning. Comprehension was achieved and I saved the quote to my phone. A lot of quotes live on my phone, they serve as reminders that others have journeyed on this road before me and they came out wiser than before.

Now I know you are wondering “AJ what the heck is this profound sentence that you found? I want to know!” Well friend the sentence was this……

“You will be in your own skin longer than you will be anywhere else”

You will be in your own skin longer than you will be anywhere else. Those words, those simple words spoke a truth to my soul. A truth that everyone needs to hear. We get so fixated on our homes and are constantly comparing our décor to Karen’s down the lane. We become obsessed with HGTV, the DIY network, and magazine layouts that we forget that our house/apartment/condo/trailer, or wherever you choose to call home is not our true dwelling.

Our body is our dwelling. Your body is your unique home. A house can be copied and replicated a million times over. Yes the decor will be differ in each one but the bones are still the same. Now your body, your bones are unique to you. No one else can have your body, that is unless you are a multiple. In which if you are a multiple God may have made you identical, yet your souls are uniquely yours and yours alone. No two souls are a like, no two minds are a like and no two hearts will beat the same. Our body is our unique one and only home.

The quote goes on to say:

“Make it more than a battleground of insecurities, more than a perpetual game of capture the self love flag. Make it a place where you let deserving lovers rest, a place of deep belly laughs and cleansing cries. Make a home there in your skin. And let it’s inherent mystery bewilder onlookers. Be amazed with yourself.”

Those words are profound and they spoke to me in away no words have ever spoken before. Those words resonated with my insecure self. I know what you are thinking…. “You? You AJ are insecure?” Its true I just like you struggle with insecurity on the daily. I once let a man define my worth and in his eyes I was nothing. His voice like the darkness creeps in and his words knock the confidence I built to the ground. The last thing he said to me when I left was “you will never make it on your own and you’ll never find love, no one will love someone like you.” Those very words became my fuel and the battle had just begun.

Learning to love myself as I am was the hardest lesson I ever had to learn. Learning to live on my own, with my own thoughts and feeling was the second hardest lesson. If I couldn’t be alone with the person I was, then how could I be alone with someone else. I attached my self worth to being wanted, this lead to a hoe phase. That’s all right you can clutch your pearls and no need to adjust the volume… I did say “hoe phase….” I had to learn that my body is mine and mine alone. That being wanted for my wit is more important than….. ya know…… we’re gonna keep this PG-13 today. I had to learn that not everyone is worthy of coming home.

“Make it a place where you let deserving lovers rest…” Your body is your sacred space and only you get to decided who rests against the softness of your curves. No one and I mean no one, I don’t care if it’s a man or a woman, but no one should tell you what to do with your body. No one should force you to do things that you do not want to do. It was in Ms. Emily’s tiny office that I came to terms with the fact that my ex-husband had sexually abused me…. Until that moment I never thought of it as abuse. It was a shame that I carried with me. A dark secret that I tried to scrub away as I cried under the stream of the scolding hot shower. During my hoe phase I thought if I slept with enough men I could delete the memories. The memories didn’t get deleted, they lurked in the background and would chose inopportune times to rear their head.

Cleansing cries? I am no stranger to cleansing cries. The first time I cried in therapy Ms. Emily took my hand sat next to me and said nothing…. And that was the best thing anyone had done for me. She didn’t try to make it better by telling me her therapist wisdom. She let me sit in my tears, she let me have this cleansing moment that allowed me to drop the shame and healed my soul. Spousal abuse comes in many forms and sadly I know three of those forms. Mental, emotional, and sexual abuse will always be apart of my story. And my story is more than those three things, they are just a chapter and not the book.

“Make a home there in your skin.” Home is what I built one therapy session at a time. In those walls I gained the skills to cope with the past and the tools to maintain work/life balance. On Tuesdays at 5PM I got even when the ex husbands words lost their power. I was able to look in the mirror. Full length, just me and my fully naked self. I studied myself with care and as I turned in the mirror I thought “damn you are one badass bitch…” Badass is right. I had taken back my body from the man who had taken so much from me and built a home in my own skin. A home that he would never be allowed to rest against again.

If 27 year old AJ could see me now she’d be in awe of how far we’ve come. She’d love the fact that we conquered self doubt and learned how to love ourself first and others second. She’d be happy to know that yes we did find love not once but twice and that adventures were plenty. But mostly she’d be proud to know that we learned how to be happy on our own skin. Because their is no better place to make a home than in our own skin.

S5 Episode 6:

When we wake we have one choice to make, do we spend the day living or merely existing?

Some of us will spend our entire lives seeking the approval of others. If we are not seeking approvals we are constantly comparing ourselves to everyone else on this planet. We do it without a thought, it’s mechanical. But…. But what if we could change that? What if we could reprogram the machine and remind ourselves that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Remind ourselves that we are unique and every inch of our being was created by his hand. That God looked at this earth and said “yup this world needs one of you too.” So he made you, he made you in his image.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.”

Proverbs 31:25 NLT

He clothed you with strength and dignity. He dropped the seeds of boldness, empathy, and compassion into your beating heart. For he built you for strength because he knew the battles you would face. He gave you all of the gifts you would ever need. And those gifts are unique to you and no one else can use those gifts like you can.

When I look in the mirror where others see flaws I see strength. Where society sees flaws, God sees a beautifully crafted testimony. For he knows each scar and he knows the battles I’ve faced. He knows that this body of mine has seen some shit and that she has carried me on my darkest days. A body that I am proud of. Each scar is more than a healed over wound, it is a story of a life well fought for. Each laugh line and newly formed wrinkle is a reminder that I have been granted the gift of growing older. Each laugh line and wrinkle is a reminder that God found me worthy of a second chance at life. This life I have been living is on borrowed time and I do not take a second of it for granted for I know what could have been.

You see if you read the text books and look at the statistics I should be dead. Only one out of five people will survive a pulmonary embolism. The odds they were stacked high against me, but my body she held on to the tiniest shred of strength and stayed in the fight. For she knew a miracle was coming and that I would be the one out of five who walked away to live another day. For she laughs without fear of the future because she knows the battle has just begun. And now our life that we are living is a testimony to the four who had to die so that I could be the one who stayed. That notion sits heavy on my heart for I know they would gladly take my seat. I’ve asked God multiple times “why he saw me as worthy and what made me different from the rest. Why did you save me and not them.” He has yet to answer those questions and I doubt he ever will. He’s good at keeping secrets.

Now I believe in honesty and I will tell you that I have fallen into the trap of just existing. I was going through the motions and pretending to be happy. Work became my escape from my non-existent life and Cullen, my sweet little dog was my saving grace. That little beast gave me a reason to leave the office at 9PM, yes I left at 7AM and didn’t return till 9PM, like I said I was existing. Cullen didn’t care how late I worked, he always greeted me with zoomies and grunts. We’d go for a long walk through our neighborhood and then we’d come home, I cut up his fresh pet and put his plate on the floor. I’d sit next to him watching the news while eating whatever leftovers I had. Rinse and Repeat, I lived this same day over and over…..

All of my friends were in relationships, they were having babies and career moves all while I was letting the fear of failure paralyze me. I rarely dated, I thought “what’s the point you either divorce or they die on you?” I became comfortable in my career, the routine became my solace. After weekend brunch I’d head into the office to work just a couple hours. Those two hours turned into me walking out at 8PM on a Saturday. I was existing and this all worked until it didn’t.

On my 32nd birthday I found myself 3 bottles in and crying uncontrollably in the shower. I sat there for hours, the ice cold water barely phased me as I watched it swirl down the drain. I thought, maybe I could go down the drain too? I was tired of pretending to be all right, I was tired of pretending to be happy and I wanted a life and not an existence.

The next morning I called a therapist. I called the therapy center that Cullen and I walked by multiple times a day. The receptionist listened to me and sweetly replied “it’s going to be ok babe, we will get you someone ok.” I was nervous, mainly I was nervous because I had admitted to myself that I needed help and I felt like a failure. I didn’t want the therapist to think I was nuts. I almost didn’t go to that first appointment, the paperwork was daunting and the questions felt like an invasion.

Yet there was Ms. Emily, the moment I met her I felt a connection. It was like she could see straight into my soul. I started crying and asked “am I crazy?” And she said “crazy people don’t know to ask if they are crazy. You my dear are not crazy, you’ve been through more trauma than most people will ever experience in their lifetime. We will teach you work/life balance. We will teach you how to have a life ok?” I said ok and I proceeded to see her once a week for the next four and a half years. Ms. Emily was the voice that I needed, she was my safe place, and she was the first person to tell me “you can have bad days too.”

In her tiny office I unpacked my baggage and bared my soul. I talked about the hurt and the anger. It was in this space I realized that my ex-husband had abused me and this is where she diagnosed me with PTSD due to medical trauma. I learned to identify my triggers and she gave me the tools to calm myself down. No one should live in flight mode, flight mode means you are not living, you are only existing. Ms. Emily gave me the tools that allowed me to live a life again. Just not a plain Jane life, but the vibrant life that I was always meant to live.

God doesn’t want you to exist, he didn’t make you to just exist. He made you to live. Yes, he made you to live a vibrant life. So if you were like me and you are just going through the motions, stop and ask yourself “am I living a life that I will remember?”

If your answer to the fore mentioned question was, “no.” You my friend are not alone, millions of people around you are also just going through the motions too. Existing is a trauma response, it is something we learn to do in order to protect ourselves. Existing is our armor and as long as we are living in that state nothing can hurt us. Existing allows us to put our thoughts and feelings in our back pockets. If we keep ourselves busy then we do not have time to remember the bad things. I call this being purposefully busy. As long as I kept myself busy and wore the armor of existence the memories, they stayed away. We are not meant to live this way. Take it from someone whose been there, that response it can be unlearned. In therapy I learned that it’s ok to ask for help. Asking for help does not mean we are weak or that we are failing. Asking for help is a sign of strength.

None of us are meant to do this alone. All of us deserve to have a space where we can put our burdens down and bare our soul without being judged or shamed. No one is perfect we all have our own baggage in one form or another. And comparison has no place here, just like our gifts, our baggage is unique to us. No one else can experience what you have experienced, they may be able to relate but they will never understand what it was like to live through that trial. And that’s ok, sometimes all we need is a hug and to be told “this is a safe space, I’m here for you. I will not pry and only share what you are comfortable sharing.” Those very words are what shifted me from the state of existing to living the life that was always meant tor me.

S5 Episode 5:

“[God] comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” ‬‬‬‬2 Corinthians‬ 1:4‬ (NIV)‬‬‬‬‬‬

2009 – mid 2013 was the hardest season I have ever had to walk through. It was a season that no one should ever have to experience. Yet in that season I learned exactly who I was meant to be.

Let’s start in October 2009, I was just your average newly married 26 year old woman working the daily grind not giving my birth control a second thought. I mean hey it was doing it’s job, I no longer had periods from hell nor did we fall pregnant. So yes the Nuva Ring by all means did its job. Little did I know that this simple plastic ring would almost take my life. No need to check your hearing, you heard that right, the Nuva Ring almost killed me.

I’ll spare you all the details and take you to the end result. I almost died five days before my 27th birthday due to a massive pulmonary embolism with infarction and a stroke caused by the 3rd generation progesterone contained in the Nuva Ring. My left lung and heart are permanently damaged my friends would tell you “her laugh is bigger than her lung capacity.”

This moment was a double edged sword, on one hand I was grateful that God spared me, he worked a miracle, all of the odds were stacked against me, yet I survived. And the “how” is something only God can explain, in which he has yet to tell me. On the other hand I was bitter and angry, my life had changed within the blink of an eye. My days became filled with INR checks, blood thinners and more medications I cared to count. Running, something that I did to relieve the stress of every day life was no longer an option. I was lucky if I could get through the grocery store without needing a rest. That moment was definitive, it clearly marked a period of before, a period of once was and now a period of after.

The after is where it gets messy. I was angry, so angry I could feel it in my bones. I turned away from God. How could he let this happen to me, what did I do to deserve this trial? Little did I know he was preparing me, preparing me for what was to come. In April 2010 I found out I was pregnant, this for sure was our calm after the storm. A silver lining against the darkness. Yet God, he said “I am going to make you even stronger…….”

I heard the words no woman wants to hear, “I’m sorry but there is no heart beat.” I screamed, I cried and asked God “why!?” He has yet to answer that question. To make matters worse my husband refused to fly home from Las Vegas, I had to go through the process of loss with my best friend by my side. God he sent her because he know my own husband wasn’t man enough to stand by his grieving wife’s side. He wasn’t strong enough to face the loss of his son.

On top of the grief and anger, the years of mental, emotional, and sexual abuse started to take its toll on me. I no longer recognized the woman in the mirror. The woman I saw looking back at me was a fraction of her former self. Again I asked God “why,” and again he did not answer. The day I started to think thoughts I never thought myself capable of thinking, was the day I realized I needed to get out.

Leaving was the first step. At 27 I become a divorcee with a mountain of baggage. Bags that I myself didn’t want to unpack. I thought who is going to love a woman who is broken beyond repair, who’s bags take up the room and who’s heart is void of all joy? Why did God put me through this? Why did he bring me to a place of darkness? I felt abandoned by God? My anger threw up a wall and I pushed anyone who tried to help me away. I didn’t need advice, I needed answers. Answers as to why I had to go through so much in such a short time.

Those answers have yet to come. The years to follow were not smooth sailing. When I thought I found safe harbor, God he took my boat and smashed it against the rocks. The moment I found the person I was meant to be with, God decided it wasn’t time. My fiancé Charlie died of his injuries sustained in a car crash on February 16, 2012. At 29 I had to pick up the pieces of my shattered heart and once again try to live. I was bitter, anger seeped in and I lost hope. Even though my world stopped, life it kept on moving forward. Moving forward at a pace that I could barely grasp on to.

Outside of my apartment walls I was this vibrant put together woman. Within the walls I was a different story. I was a broken tear filled woman who was angry at God. Even though I prayed, I felt God ignored my voice. I lost faith and darkness took hold. I felt stuck, my life wasn’t anything like I imagined it would be. I spent so much time living on the straight and narrow I forgot to ask “was this path meant for me?”

In 2013 I was let go from a job I hated, budget cuts they said. I thought seriously? God seriously, haven’t you given me enough, now this. What I didn’t realize was God had given me an out and I didn’t stay Unemployed long. I remember this moment like it was yesterday. I was invited to attend a lobbying event in DC, my room at the Omni hotel cost more per night than my rent. Thankfully I wasn’t paying for the room. As I sat out on my balcony eating noodles and company taking in the cherry blossoms and my view of the Washington monument I felt a boldness stir within me. A boldness like I’ve never felt before. Somewhere between the view and the pasta I let go of everything I was holding in. I sobbed into my Perrie sparkling water as I soaked in the sun. A warmth that I hadn’t felt in a long time and in that moment I looked up and said “ok God, you win! Why not me, what do you have for me? What is next?”

What is next? In the weeks that followed that boldness that I felt continued to grow in me. Instead of waking up with tear stained eyes and fear in my heart, I woke up overflowing with faith. A faith that I could not explain, a faith that knows no bounds and limits. A faith that took over every step I made. Things in my life started falling into place.

My heart softened when I found joy in the mundane. When I stopped making mountains out of ant hills, I found peace. When I started coming from a place of gratitude, I found humility. I stood in front of the mirror and no longer saw myself as just broken, I was beautifully broken in a way that only God could craft. God he knows exactly how my life is going to go. You see every little detail is planned by his hand. Every moment I get to walk through is part of his plan. God, he broke me, because he knew I needed to grow. God put me through it because he knew I would get through it.

That’s right, God brought me to it because he made me for that exact trial. In the moment I didn’t realize what God was doing in me. I didn’t realize that he was planting the seeds of empathy, compassion, and wisdom. He instilled the annoying gift of “always finding the bright side” within me. No matter the situation or challenge, I can always find a tiny shred of good. And that good is what carries me on the hard days. The reminder that the light will find a way in and that the darkness will always be greeted by the sunrise. Those certainties are something I hang my hat on, it is the foundation for the gift he instilled in me.

The gift of faith. God knew that this world needed a soul with the overflowing gift of faith. He knew the world needed a woman who against all odds stood strong against the darkness and held on to the tiniest shred of hope. When the world says “it’s not possible.” She looks up with a faithful heart and says “watch me.” To her impossible means one thing, “I’m possible.” In the darkest of hours she always keeps the faith for she knows the sunrise is just around the corner. She is the one you lean on, the one you seek out in desperation, she is the one who takes your hand and weeps right along side you. For she has seen the battlefield and she will not let you tread alone. She says “take my faith until your tank is full and when you no longer need it pass it on.”

Somewhere between standing tall and finding the life that was always meant for me, I realized something. Something so deep that I fell to my knees. God he wasn’t keeping a secret from me, the answer was right in front of me all along…. God needed to break me because I needed the cracks in order for the gift of faith to shine through. Each crack is a line in my story, a story that God had planned out for me before my feet even hit this earth. Our lives are beautifully designed in his image. We cannot have the flowers without the storms. We cannot have the crops without the rain. We cannot have the victory without the battle. Storms only last a little while and once those clouds fade the light shines through and warms the coldest of hearts and peaks through the cracks of the beautifully broken.

Healthy Looks Good On You

Oh the difference 7 months can make. In January 2022 I was at my heaviest, chalk it up to IVF, stress, and everything in between. February I met some ice and ended up needing knee surgery. I knew something had to change, but recovery was slow going, yet I kept at it.

I became reacquainted with my Fitbit, cut out milk and as much gluten as I could from my diet. Once you get past the brown hue of oat milk, you’ll find out it’s not to shabby. Takeout has been replaced with meal prepping and wouldn’t you know the weight started coming off.

I now look forward to a 3 to 5 mile walk in the morning/evening. Once you got your miles in for the day, add in some paddle boarding for good measure, ya know cause you gotta work on those tan lines friends. Or maybe it’s just me who needs to work on the tan lines, lol

I am back down to my pre-IVF weight and unless I end up magically pregnant I do not want to see those 30 extra pounds again. Clothes that once were to tight are now in the donation bin because they are too big. Bras? Don’t get me started on my bras, lol. The girls shrank right along with the back fat and my rear, lol.

40 is just around the corner and I want to enter the next decade of my life as healthy as I possibly can be.

S5 Episode 4:

The pages of history

They tell me it’s true

That it’s never the perfect

It’s always the ones with the scars that You use

It’s the rebels and the prodigals

It’s the humble and the weak

All the misfit heroes You chose

Tell me there’s hope for sinners like me

-Matthew West

So many of us get stuck on the idea of perfection that we miss the little things. The little things that make us who we are. None of us are perfect and perfection is something we will never attain in this life. For if we are perfect and we have no room to grow, then God has no room to grow in us. As long as we have pieces out of place we will have a space for God to work in our lives.

You may be thinking “whoa AJ, I didn’t come here for this….” My friend you did, you need someone to tell you that it’s ok to not be perfect. You my friend have bought into the lie that is social media. No one’s home or children or they themselves are instagram ready 24/7 365. What you view on the daily isn’t real. What you view on the daily was created to sell you a lie that you need to be perfect in order to live your best life.

Life happens outside of social media. Life happens when we least expected. And yes there will be bad days, but one day you will see those days, those moments as blessings. For the bad days they make the good days worth it. Keep in mind friend God knows you, yes he knows you inside and out. He knows that he can bring you to it because you are going to get through it. It may not seem like that in the moment, but once you are on the other side you’ll look back in awe.

History tells me that God does not choose the perfect. He seeks out the misfits, the prodigals and the weak. He seeks out the ones who have room for him to grow in them. He looks for the ones with the scars, the ones with the broken crown, and the ones who have a story to tell. That story is powerful, that story is your journey and no one can tell it like you.

I am broken. I have scars a plenty. Bruises they fade but the memories they stay. I have been broken more times than I can count. I know what it’s like to carry life. I have heard the most sorrow of words, “I’m sorry but there is no heart beat.” To have my womb carry life while it silently turned into a tomb. I carried my sons, my sons who were to beautiful for this earth. For some reason God placed that on my path not once, but three times. God, he chooses the strongest women to be the mother to angels. For they know what it’s like to live fully with a broken heart. For they know what awaits them on the other side.

I used to ask God “why me? Haven’t you given me enough trials?” Now I instead ask “why NOT me? What’s next?” When my perspective shifted my life, it began to fall in place. When I started to look at things through the lens of humility my heart softened. When I stopped sweating the small stuff and making mountains out of mole hills, I found peace. When I stopped comparing myself to others, I found joy. This is my journey and my faith and there isn’t another journey like it. God created this time line for me and me only.

He can break me at his will, bring me to my knees all while rearranging me for what’s next. I no longer strive to be perfect, perfection means I have no room to grown and if I have no room to grow how is God going to grow me. Perfection means you are six feet under ground and kneeling at the throne. Perfection means you are ready for your seat in heaven. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to stay a little longer, I’d like to keep on living and growing just as God intended for me.

S5 Episode 3:

Twenty years ago my dad and I had the hard end of life conversation as I signed the forms making me his power of attorney. In the years that followed we’d checkin to make sure we were still on the same page. If the time ever came Pete didn’t want to be on life support, he wanted me to say “you lived a good fight, it’s now time to rest.” I stored this information in the deepest corner of my mind in hopes that I’d never need to use it. I always thought he’d die peacefully by the camp fire at our cabin. I never in a million years imaged that I’d have to make the call, let alone on his 70th birthday.

The hardest part was having the desire to pickup the phone and call Pete to discuss the options. I can’t count the times I picked up my phone to call him. I could call, but he wasn’t going to answer, he was on a vent fighting for his life. I had to make this decision alone. He had prepared me to make this decision alone. At 39 I had to make the choice of quality over quantity.

Sleep was hard to come by in the early days. Food? Yeah that was the last thing on my mind and Jay did his best to make sure I showered. Work became a distraction and in the hours that followed I just aimlessly drove around. I did whatever I could to fill the space. I alternated between ugly crying and well I’m not going to lie more ugly crying. Friends checked in often and prayers were prayed.

When my faith thinned God sent me warriors who stood in the gap and continued to pray when my heart could not. I was angry at God. We did everything right, we kept Pete in a bubble, wore our masks, got vaccinated, yet Covid it still came home. I was angry that my best friend was dying, he didn’t deserve to go out like this. I was so angry at God. God he saw my anger and he pulled me in a little closer. God he saw my tears and he dried them. When I could no longer utter a prayer God sent warriors to stand in the gap. To stand in the gap so that I could focus on one thing and one thing only, fighting for Pete.

On those solo drives through the countryside I cranked up the worship music. Even though I didn’t feel like talking to God, I could let the music do it for me. On those drives I often ended up at the cabin. I’d sit in the snow all bundled up in my winter gear and talked to Pete until my face was froze. The cabin you see is his heaven on earth, it’s his happy place. It was at this place that I realized something. This cabin just wasn’t a cabin, it was a “father’s love letter to his daughter.” Pete bought the cabin so that I’d have a place where I could roam free and let my imagination run wild. A place where I could run through fields of wildflowers while I chased down frogs for hours. A place that would quiet my mind and wash the worries of the world away. This land and these old logs are his legacy, a legacy of one man’s love for his daughter.

When my dad came off the vent and he was able to mouth words, the first thing he asked for was me. He would ask the doctor & nurses over and over “AJ.” At times because of the Covid fog he thought I was in the room with him. And when his nurse told him I wasn’t, it would break his heart. So his doctor made the call to let me come visit early, because the real thing is the best thing. On December 22, I got to hold my best friends hand and he didn’t let go. He kept looking at me and touching my arm to make sure I was real. His nurse Sarah said to me “I can tell you two are bonded, you are the reason he’s fighting to live. There’s nothing stronger than a father/daughter bond, that’s real love.” She was right. I was going to keep on fighting right along side of him so long as he still had fight in him.

On Christmas Day when he was in dialysis I went to the chapel and wept on my knees. For I got something that could never be put in a box. I got something that could never be wrapped. I got something that cannot be bought, I got the best gift ever, I got to witness a miracle. I got my father back.

And in that moment as I wept I thought about Teresa who in the early days said to me “let me stand in the gap. I will continue to pray while your heart is breaking. Lean on me and I will be your strength.” So many people stood in the gap and continued to pray when my heart could not. So many people got to witness this miracle. We got to witness a man go from his death bed to his resurrection bed. We got to witness the power of a daughter’s love for her father. We got to witness the power of prayer. For when we believe, for when we truly believe the seeds are planted and the miracles bloom.

Carpe

Hey friends do you sweat? Ya know sweat so much that your boobs surely show it through your tank top sweat? Hate dresses because of chub rub? Or for the guys, hate shorts because of the inescapable chub rub? Do your feet drench your shoes? Does your face surely show it too?

Have no fear friends!! I’ve got a solution for you! Yes I said a solution. I hands down love Carpe. Carpe understands that people sweat and that sweating can make us a little uncomfortable and vulnerable. So Carpe crated a product line that kicks sweat right in it’s sweaty little butt. Have you ever seen sweat quiver in fear? I have, every time I open the top of a Carpe product it starts running for the hills!

Now I know what you are thinking, “AJ what are your favorite Carpe Products?” Friends always tell friends about their favorite sweat fighting products. Click the link below to find out!

AJs Favorite Carpe Products

Remember, you are beautiful just as you are, wear that damn swimsuit, and have the best fucking summer of your life!!!

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