Creature

“She was never meant to be a common creature. —extaordinary takes time.”
— Curly Girl Design

So how did I heal my life? How can anyone who has been through something traumatic or life-changing heal their life? The short answer: It takes time. The truth is we are all affected by tragedy in some way and at some point will have to pick up the pieces of our lives and start again. Here is the extensive answer:

I once read that comedy and tragedy are the same thing, only it depends on which way you frame it. The most embarrassing life story I would never dare to tell anyone is now the example I am going to give to you, because naturally it is the best representation I could think of in which comedy mirrors tragedy. At this point I have nothing left to disclose, so to hell with it...

I was once zinc poisoned by my best friend in college. Totally by accident, of course. We had made a point to get dinner together and I asked for an IB profen before we headed out the door. Without looking, she accidentally handed me two Zinc tablets, which was equivalent to 200% of the daily value requirement. She was also sore from a grueling practice we had had and took two herself, which she amazingly was un-phased or affected by. Unfortunately, my circumstances were a little different. Immediately following dinner, I had severe stomach pains and extreme bowel movements, in an effort to make it back to my own private bathroom, the two of us rushed home. What happened next was a violent synchronization of explosive diarrhea and vomiting up an Indian-stuffed burrito I had just finished fifteen minutes earlier. The tragedy of this unforeseeable event besides the sheer embarrassment of it was that the Super Bowl was on that evening and my roommates and I were hosting a party that I ended up spending entirely on the toilet. The comedy in this awful experience is that you can all now laugh at my misery as my roommates and I all did the next day when we discovered the bottle from which the 'ib phrophen' had come from. 

So yes indeed, comedy and tragedy are in many ways the same thing. But what about the tragedies that you cannot find the hidden joke or joy behind or the very least laugh at yourself about? What about the tragedies that crumble you to your knees? 

I stumbled upon a crate of books I have collected over the years and had every intention to read but never did. It wasn't until I recently gave up watching TV that I found myself with lots of time on my hands and investigated in this dusty stack of books. I found one slimmer book (a manageable feat) named "Simple Truths: Clear and Simple Guidance on Big Issues in Life" by Kent Nerburn. As I started rifling through the chapters I remember wondering if I was indeed going to receive some simple truth and or answer to this very question. How do you handle tragedy? As I skipped directly to the chapter on tragedy, I did not find myself disappointed. Nerburn says this,

“The human being is a surprisingly resilient organism. We are impelled toward health not sickness. Your spirit, as surely as your body, will try to heal....So you should not fear tragedy and suffering. Like love, they make you more a part of the human family. From them can come your greatest creativity. They are the fire that burns you pure.” 
 

So how can we allow ourselves to burn pure from the flames of tragedy? We simply allow the fire to burn within us until the flames are extinguished and from the ashes we have been reborn. From ashes we came and to dust we shall return. And it is true. From suffering can come our greatest sense of creativity and renewal. For me it started off like this:

I was so miserably unhappy for many months and took the baggage from my trauma everywhere I went. I was visibly unwell. I had gained weight, dyed my hair darker, and the light had naturally dimmed in both my skin and eye color. I was visibly, verbally, and energetically a negative person to be around. I could hide it on my good days, but was often suffering in silence. This was not okay, and it was unnatural for me to be unable to express myself in positive ways. My family knew I wasn't the same person and my current relationship suffered immensely. They were all trying to reach out to indicate to me that they cared, but I was ignorant that they did not have the capability of helping me, because they were too close to it. By this, I mean that it wasn't within their area of expertise or knowledge to know exactly how to respond to the negatively and chaos that that going on inside my head. I created an intense and formidable wall between myself and others because I assumed the people who loved me the most were supposed to the ones to support and know how to help me. But that was a completely unfair and unapproachable way of thinking. 

It wasn't until I was able to talk to a licensed therapist that I was able process the emotional and cognitive trauma of what I had been through. And it wasn't until I started seeking energy healing and body work from a reiki master and licensed massage therapist, that I was able to process the physical trauma of what I had been through. The mind and the physical body are extremely intertwined and you cannot process a physical trauma without seeking expertise help in both areas. That is what our healthcare system has dramtically missed the mark on today. We must treat both the patient's mind and body. You cannot treat a patient that was in a severe car accident and not expect him or her to be in severe cognitive dysfunction or have lasting effects of depression or anxiety.

I used to believe it was shameful to discuss your mental health with other people. I also had too much pride to admit that I needed to see a therapist But once again, there is always inner work that needs to be done. While friends and family members may be trying to help, more often then not it can seem more stressful because we have schemas and cognitive attachment theories associated with our parents and the people closest to us. Attachement theories have dramatically warp 

Lily

What if we only had one spectacular day to shine our brilliant light onto others?
— m. elizabeth

Meet my dog Lily. I adopted her in Fall 2016 from a shelter. She is the most spectacular thing I have ever owned. I adopted her because I was desperately in need of a friend and while other relationships in my life seemed rocky and unpredictable, she kept me grounded. And she gave me purpose. The first night I brought her home after a few whimpering cries, I couldn't bring myself to leave her in her crate, so instead she fell asleep in my arms. I know; bad pet-parenting. But I couldn't help myself. It was clear that she was shaken up from the shelter and all the poking, prodding, and isolation of her suffocating metal crate. Her and her sister were found near a highway. She was the only dog that made direct eye contact with me and when I tired to put her down to look at the other dogs, she cried hysterically. "Please don't leave me here," said her sad little eyes. As we fell asleep I remember whispering, "I'm not sure who needs who more right now."

I named her Lily, after day lilies, which are my favorite flower. I have found that many of life's most valuable lessons can be reflected in the tendencies of nature, many of which we often pay little attention to or fail to appreciate the magnitude of its wonder. Day lilies are always in full bloom around my birthday and on special occasions a family member or friend would present me with wild ones if they knew of my admiration for them. Orange lilies are my favorite. One could often find them growing in the most unruly of places.  I was fascinated with their tenacious spirit and unexpected presence.  "Like a wildflowers; you must allow yourself to grow in all the places people never thought you would." -E.V

After being gifted them over the years, I finally caught on to one fascinating quality; each bloom is only open for a single day. Although each plant has numerous stalks or scapes that can produce hundreds of blooms throughout a season, if you had no previous knowledge of day lilies, it would provide the illusion that the blossoms remained open throughout the entire season. But after examining the few stems I would have in a vase over the course of a week, I realized that new buds open just before dawn and close at dust, only to shrivel up and fall to the ground. One flower. One day. Can you imagine all of the life-force it takes to push that tiny bud open, to then only be admired for a single day?

What if we had only one spectacular day to shine our brilliant light onto others? 

This is the metaphorical question that humbled me before the lilies. They were singing softly to me, "Appreciate today as a gift. It is the only day you will ever be given".  With time, I have learned that you can neither change the past nor predict or anticipate the future, but today is the only moment we can influence or change. It is called the present because it is a precious present indeed. Oh how wise nature is.

Animals are of no exception to this profound knowledge. I began to see congruncy between the lilies and my dog. She had this profound love for everything and everyone around her, and time could not be measured. She lives her life moment-to-moment, in which every second is an opportunity to express her affections and love for me. Can you imagine living moment-moment, abandoning all of our fears, regrets, and all the wrong doings people have left us with and just embrace one another with love? Do you think my dog carries the trauma of being dumped on the side of the highway with her everywhere she goes, or she just lives in the now and embraces me with a wagging tail and happy heart?

If you have owned a dog or grew up with one, think about the way they lived their life. Was your dog ever concerned about playing fetch too hard for the fear of achy joints? Did they seem worried about growing old, trying to start a family, or where their next meal was going to come from? Do you think your dog repeatedly replayed the moment that Rottweiler growled at them at the park, and begrudgingly refused to go back the following Saturday? Trust me, I sincerely doubt your dog regrets that poop they left on your brand new carpet three months ago or has any recollection of doing it in the first place. Sure they may have appeared remorseful, but only because you were upset about it. If our dog (literally) doesn't give a crap about these moments they have no control over, why do we carry around this kind of mental baggage that is constantly interfering with our sense of presence? To live in the present is to surrender yourself over to the moment; to engage fully in the here-and-now.

I have included an excerpt below from Eckhart Tolle's book, A New Earth, which highlights how the beauty of flowers can initiate the flowering of our human consciousness. 

"Earth, 114 million years ago, one morning just after sunrise: The first flower ever to appear on the planet opens up to receive the rays of the sun.

Prior to this momentous event that heralds an evolutionary transformation in the life of plants, the planet had already been covered in vegetation for millions of years. The first flower probably did not survive for long, and flowers must have remained rare and isolated phenomena, since conditions were most likely not yet favorable for a widespread flowering to occur. One day, however, a critical threshold was reached, and suddenly there would have been an explosion of color and scent all over the planet – if a perceiving consciousness had been there to witness it.

An awakening power.

Much later, those delicate and fragrant beings we call flowers would come to play an essential part in the evolution of consciousness of another species. Humans would increasingly be drawn to and fascinated by them. As the consciousness of human beings developed, flowers were most likely the first thing they came to value which had no utilitarian purpose for them, that is to say, was not linked in some way to survival. They provided inspiration to countless artists, poets, and mystics. Jesus tells us to contemplate the flowers and learn from them how to live. The Buddha is said to have given a ‘silent sermon’ once during which he held up a flower and gazed at it. After a while, one of those present, a monk called Mahakasyapa, began to smile. He is said to have been the only one who had understood the sermon. According to legend, that smile (that is to say, realization) was handed down by twenty-eight successive masters and much later became the origin of Zen.

Seeing beauty in a flower could awaken humans, however briefly, to the beauty that is an essential part of their own innermost being, their true nature. The first recognition of beauty was one of the most significant events in the evolution of human consciousness. The feelings of joy and love are intrinsically connected to that recognition. Without fully realizing it, flowers would become for us an expression in form of that which is most high, most sacred, and ultimately formless within ourselves. Flowers, more fleeting, more ethereal, and more delicate than the plants out of which they emerged, would become like messengers from another realm, like a bridge between the world of physical forms and the formless. They not only had a scent that was delicate and pleasing to humans, but also brought a fragrance from the realm of spirit. Using the word ‘enlightenment’ in a wider sense than the conventionally accepted one, we could look upon flowers as the enlightenment of plants."

I believe nature alone has the power to spark the kind of conscious awakening Eckhart mentions above. The kind of awakening I experienced when I became aware of the symbolism day lilies hold. The kind of awakening that opens up our minds and humbles us so eloquently before God. Are we so consumed by the busyness of life, we forget to slow down and show genuine appreciation for the ones we love? Should we allow the heartache of yesterday or the anxiety of tomorrow to impact the kind of life we are going to live today? Let us learn from the lilies of the world, and take refuge in the knowledge that right now is all we will ever have. 

-m.elizabeth

Which Faith is Thine?

This year I was given a daily devotional called Streams in the Desert by an incredible woman that helped me repair the broken wounds of my heart and exposed me to a world of Truths I did not think I was ever worthy of being a part of. At this time, I was in the midst of applying to schools, waiting to hear back from several contacts, and was very unsure about a lot of things in my life. Therapy was extremely hard, many life decisions were pending, and my heart was still broken from the unkept promises someone had left me with. I had been praying fiercely for God to reveal the answers to me, to expose the truth of His intentions, and grant me the peace and grace to continue walking in faith. The direction of my life was uncertain at best and I felt humbled before His Divine mercy. I asked him for unwavering faith, and the first night I opened my devotional this was the reading: 

Passive faith accepts the Word as true-But never moves.                                                      Active faith begins the work to do, And thereby proves.

Passive faith says, "I believe it! every word of God is true. Well I know He has not spoken what He cannot, will not, do. He has instructed me, 'Go forward!' but a closed-up way I see, When the waters are divided, soon in Canaan's land I'll be. Lo! I hear His voice commanding, 'Rise and walk: take up your bed'; And, 'Stretch to Me your withered hand!' which for so long has been dead. When I am a little stronger, then, I know I'll surely stand: When there comes a thrill of heading, I will use with ease my reclaimed hand. Yes, I know that 'God is able' and full willing all to do: I believe that every promise, sometime, will to me come true."

Active faith says, "I believe it! and the promise now I take, Knowing well, as I receive it, God each promise, real will make. So I step into the waters, finding there an open way; Onward press, the land possessing; nothing can my progress stay. Yes, I rise at His commanding, walking straight, and joyfully: This, my hand so sadly shriveled, as I reach, restored will be. What beyond His faithful promise, would I wish or do I need? Looking not for 'signs or wonders,' I'll no contradiction heed. Well I know that 'God is able,' and full willing all to do: I believe that every promise, at this moment can come true."

Passive faith but praises in the light, When sun does shine.                                                    Active Faith will praise in darkest night-Which faith is thine?     

                                                                                               --selected

What I took away from this reading is that we are all presented opportunities in life to grow in our faith, especially through times of uncertainty and adversity. We are called through our suffering and weakness to be renewed, strengthened and dependent on Him. God wants us to believe wholeheartedly in what He has promised us in this very moment, despite our struggles, and continue on as if his promise has just been delivered to our doorstep. We may not have immediate answers to the intricacies and struggles of our daily lives, but if choose to believe the He has already given us the answer, God promises to deliver us from evil. We become purified and are sustained by His unfailing love. Instead of waiting for things to be perfect in order to pursue a Holy life, we are called to do so anyways, especially in our brokenness.

This reminded me of the scripture passage from 2 Corinthians 12:9, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

It is in our brokenness that God desires closeness with us. For many years I relied too heavily on the affirmations of other people in order to know that I was sufficient, and that I was pursuing the right path in life. When I realized we are all broken and imperfect in some ways, I discovered God alone is capable of healing our hearts. Many of us turn away from God when we are broken because we are either angry with Him or feel insufficient to come before Him and ask for help. He is the Father and creator of all things and we often forget that He alone knows completely of our individual suffering and wants to help heal us by seeking closeness and dependence on Him. Jesus's life is the ultimate paradox. In suffering and sacrifice there is strength, beauty, healing, and renewal. We are here to help one another navigate through the turbulence of life, and when we push each other away, it's more often then not a mere reflection of our own pride, selfishness, and insecurities. 

People often ask "Why do good things happen to good people?" or exclaim "I don't believe in a God that would allow something like this to happen." It is easier to harder our hearts and turn away from God, then to examine the truth the lies within. The truth is that we all have free will. This is both a blessing God has bestowed upon us and an enormous responsibility. Because free will exists in the world, so does sin. And with sin comes evil. Evil that creates wars and death, induces fear, and silences Truth. Sin only exists because we all have a choice to either live a life of integrity and love or use our words and actions to cause pain and suffering in our own lives and the lives of others. God does not take away life or create situations that inflicts suffering. Suffering and pain is the result of our own sin. And God wants us to turn away from sin and return back to Him. The word 'sin' in literal translation means to 'miss the mark'. What areas of your life are you falling short or missing the mark in? Do you really think you can go at it alone?

We must not forget to act in love. And we must not be 'fair weather fans' to our faith. As the devotional reading says, "Passive faith but praises in the light, When sun does shine. Active Faith will praise in darkest night-Which faith is thine?"

It is easy to be gracious when things in our lives are beautiful and turning out in our favor, but what about giving thanks on our worst days? How can we navigate the darkness when our troubles seem to suffocate our opportunity to spark a flame? This can be an extreme challenge initially, but I believe being grateful in all circumstances, no matter what the circumstances are, is when true transformation in our faith can occur. When we are able to give praise to God and try to find good in even the most bitter of circumstances, the Holy Spirit has an unbelievable ability to unleash us and make us feel whole once again.

I believe God attempts to communicate with us every day, only more often then not, we aren't listening. I found it extremely difficult to hear God's voice when I was too consumed by my own grief. I pitied myself and the circumstances life had dealt me and was enraged with the people that had hurt me or could not understand what I was going through. I felt further away from God, because although I was asking him for help, I wasn't acting actively in my faith, but remained rather unconvinced He would save me.

How dangerous it is to live in a world that that we are convinced is inherently deceitful and self-serving. When I began questioning this thinking, I realized that the people who had caused me the most pain had also experienced extreme pain of their own. It was not a reflection of something I had done to them, but rather a reflection of their own insecurities, grief, and sin. I came to the realization that unless we mend well the garden of our own souls, we are unable to give love and light back to others. 

I remember driving to my church one day after two very precious relationships in my life had crumbled before me. It was early afternoon, I left work mid-day, and took refuge in the only place I could think would give me solitude and peace. The church was empty and I keeled in a pew in the back and cried. It was an out-pour of my vulnerability. After listing my grievances, I eventually cupped my hands in front of me, as if I was holding something very precious. I slowly raised my hands upward and said, "Here. I am giving this up to you God because I don't know what else to do with it. You are the only one I can trust. I am giving this back you." It was in that moment that the Holy Spirit unleashed my soul. It was a moment that changed me forever. I asked for God's help to mend my own soul and relieve me of the things I did not understand or have the answers to. I begged him for mercy. I turned to Him in my brokenness and despair instead of blaming others or trying to fix it on my own.  I had to come to this place of brokenness to fully understand in suffering there is renewal and hope

I opened up to scripture that day for the first time in while, and these were two the readings that spoke to me:

'Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.'-Philippians 4:8

'The light shines brightly in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.' -John 1:5

Only the individuals I was praying for would know of the impact and power this scripture had over me. God was ensuring me he would take care of it and that I wasn't alone. And I wouldn't have been open or receptive to His voice, had I not been humbled in my weakness. 

As I began to change my thought patterns, I stopped criticizing myself and others and chose to pray about it instead. When someone hurt me, instead of wishing they would come to understand the consequences of their actions, I prayed for good things in their life and forgave them anyways. At first it was really hard. I mean when has it ever been easy to pray for someone who really hurt you? Instead of thinking, 'I hate that person,' I replaced my thinking with, "Maybe that person is having a really bad day and maybe they were in need of compassion too'. It sounds like a really naive way of thinking, but it was amazing how I was able to start approaching situations and freeing myself of the people and situations that didn't make me feel good. It created new space for love. I was friendly to even those who unhappy or somewhat rude to me. I had a customer yell at me over the phone one day at work, and when I responded in a way that was completely calm, rational, and empathetic, this person's demeanor changed instantaneously. They immediately apologized and explained that their oldest daughter was really sick and in the hospital and their reaction had nothing to do with me. How freeing it was to stop taking everything so personally. 

The things I did not understand, I gave back to God, and more often then not, He began revealing answers to me that I wasn't expecting. I even learned how to forgive myself and be gentle in my own thoughts. 

We are all called before Him. We cannot begin to understand His mysterious wonders and goodness. It may not always be the answers we are looking for, or the 'signs or wonders'  we wrongly seek. Instead, He continues to bless us with affirmations that He loves us and wants us to turn to him.

I finally realized that the world wasn't against me, that we are born inherently good and sometimes we just get stuck. The truth is that life is good. And God knows each of us more intimately than other person ever could. Life may not always be perfect, but as we begin to seek the light in our own lives and the good in the lives of others, God's love reflects brightly back at us.

Every day, every thought, is a choice. Let us choose to be active in our faith and praise God for providing us with countless opportunities to hear His calling.

-m.elizabeth

Breaking Free

Sometimes life requires us to do some crazy faith required things. The only way through it is to move boldly and courageously.
— -m. elizabeth

If you haven't yet read my story, 'Undying Hope' on the Breaking Free Blog, I would start there. At the end of last year, I hit rock bottom. I knew there had to be more to life then then the way I was experiencing it. It humbled me before God and I discovered that in my own weakness and vulnerability emerged strength. It was with undying hope that I decided it was time to recreate the narrative of my life and become more of the person I was intended to be.

My life transformed the moment I came to one undeniable truth. Everything in life is only temporary. Nothing good or bad lasts forever. We do not truly own or possess anything. We are spiritual beings in physical bodies, and when we die, nothing else but the love we left behind remains. Even the people we love eventually return to the earth. So the real question I asked myself is what are we doing with the time we have left?

In January of this year, a friend of mine told me about this story she heard on the radio. It was about a young woman in her early twenties that had just been dumped by her boyfriend. He not-so-politely informed her that she had three days to move out. She was left with basically nothing. He even took the dog. She explained that despite the fact that her entire life had just been turned upside down it was actually a blessing in disguise because it made her aware of all of the things she still wanted to do in life but had never done. She promised to make a commitment to herself to say yes to all of the dreams she had once put on hold for others. I didn't know what else to call this concept or idea, so I started calling it a 'Yes Year'. 

This story breathed new life into my being. What were my dreams anyways? And why had I been putting them on hold? What was preventing me from pursuing happiness in every single situation and experience?

I met my best friend to discuss these things. I was tired of feeling sorry for myself. Tired of feeling trapped in some ways by my current life circumstances. Tired of focusing on what I didn't have and not being fully present. So we created a pledge that agreed we would say yes to all of the opportunities and challenges life handed us in 2017. We set a timer for two minutes and ferociously jotted down all the things in life we had always wanted to do. Our lists began with silly things like 'shave my head' or 'dye hair platinum blonde' but it quickly escalated to the dreams we have always had, like 'run a marathon', 'qualify for Boston', 'start a blog', 'find a meaningful career', and 'travel the world.'

Next, we set another two minute timer and created a list of all the reasons people had convinced us why we shouldn't do these things or why these dreams weren't possible. This list was twice as long as our first one and we had to set an extra three minute timer just to write all these things down.

It was astounding to me that we were able to so easily identify what our dreams were, yet when we had to think about all the reasons people had convinced us not to do them, it took more then double the time. No wonder hopes and dreams get crushed so easily in our world today. We spend so much time making each other feel smaller so we don't feel insecure about ourselves, naturally our dreams are silenced over time. How many of us have remained status quo, ordinary, and complacent in some areas of our lives because we have allowed other ordinary people to convince us that our dreams didn't matter? That there is no chance they would actually work out? In the words of Maryanne Williamson, "There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insure around you." And in the words of Steve Jobs, "Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it and you can influence it. Once you learn that, you'll never be the same again."

After creating these lists, I had an exchange with one of my co-workers that only propelled me further into this idea of redefining my dreams. She was showing me pictures of her cousin climbing a mountain (causal), and after a few enthusiastic minutes of us conversing and vicariously living through his experiences, she sheepishly sunk back into her chair and said, "Yeah, I wish that was my life." It felt as if someone has thrown a brick at my face. What I wanted to say to her was, "Wait a second. That can be your life if that's what you want to do! That life can be my life too! The choice is entirely up to you." And that's when I knew I had to quit my job. I knew there were so many things I still wanted to learn and see and do. Regardless of how amazing the people I worked for were, or the fact that they had just offered me a raise, didn't seem to matter anymore. I wanted to wake up every damn day and feel like my purpose was being fulfilled and my soul was on fire. The only person holding me back was myself. 

I paced back and forth in my office after everyone had already left. I thought about my list. I kept looking at the window as if the answer was waiting for me on the windowsill. I can do this. I have the ability to change my life.  

That evening I met my parents for dinner and practically burst into tears the moment I opened my mouth. I had to quit my job. I didn't know what I wanted to do but I knew I wanted to go back to school. I also wanted to travel. I had enough saved to spend part of the summer in Europe. I wanted to become a Christian-based yoga instructor as well, because that was something I had always wanted to do. I told them I didn't want to wake up at the age of forty and regret not doing all the things I actually wanted to do with my time. I didn't know what, where, or how any of these things were going to work out, but in my heart I knew it was rightThe gentle voice within was finally speaking truths and making known all of the dreams I had once silenced. 

For a moment, I forgot all the hell I had put my parents through the past six months and was paralyzed with fear they were going to tell me all the reasons why these ideas were superfluous. But then I remembered my mother's face in the hospital and the letter my father had written me with a list of the things we still needed to do together to convince me why life was still worth living. I remember the tears in his eyes when he handed it to me and told me that he still needed more time. These people sitting across from me loved me more then anyone in this world could possibly understand. They didn't give a crap about what I wanted to do in life. They just wanted to see me in love with my life again. They both smiled and we started laughing out loud at my outburst and my obvious fear of rejection. Of course they supported me. Sure it seemed a little crazy but I had been called crazy before. This was my chance to change the direction of my life and attempt to pursue my dreams. I told them it was going to be my 'Yes Year'. 

So that's how it began. But it was only the beginning. 

Months prior to this conversation, my mother, grandmother and I joined a 10 week program called ALPHA that discussed Christianity and what it meant to be a true Christian. It encouraged me to attend an adult retreat on the Holy Spirit. The retreat inspired me to volunteer and become a youth leader at my church that mentored teenagers every Sunday. I attended mass with them once a week and helped facilitate group discussions on morality and God and the church's teachings. 

I realized that teaching and mentoring was a true passion of mine, and that helping guide young adults was what I wanted to do with my life. I rigorously investigated how I could earn both my teaching licensure and master's degree simultaneously and narrowed it down to the only two schools in the state of Ohio that made that quest possible. I got in to both schools. 

I started lifting, eating healthier, and doing yoga again. I investigated ways I could get my 200+ hour yoga certification to teach classes, and I found a program that would allow me to do it in Barcelona, Spain. I planned my entire summer around it. I worked both a full time and part time job to help fund my trip.

I knew that during my time abroad, I also wanted to find a way to spread positive messaging. So I reached out to my favorite company in the entire world, Natural Life, and asked if they would sponsor me. I couldn't afford more then a few things from their website at the time, but they had so many beautiful things that drew attention to the light and love I wanted to put back into the world. I shared with them my story and they willingly and graciously agreed to help me spread my message. They send me a box full of beautiful treasures. I couldn't believe that anyone would actually care about my dreams and help fuel them; no strings attached. But people do care, and the majority of things you don't get in life are the things you never have the courage to ask for.  

My relationships began to flourish again. I grew closer to my parents and siblings, I reconnected with friends from high school, and my best friends from college were constantly in communication with me. They all knew what I had been through. And I was astounded by how supportive and caring each of them were in an effort to get me back on my feet. I cannot thank them enough for their continued love and support. They kept me grounded in stormy waters and helped me break free of the bonds that were holding me captive.  

I was able to identify what kind of situations would make me uncomfortable and I learned how to say no to the people and situations that no longer made me happy. I was better able to express myself in healthy ways to others. I practiced self-care and filtered my life in extreme and purposeful ways. I removed myself from social media for six months and stopped watching cable TV all together. I was selective with the kinds of movies I watched and I switched from pop culture music to Christian radio. I gave up alcohol for lent and no longer have a strong  I was inspired by the documentary 'The Minimalist' and decided to cut my closet in half. I sold my clothes and gave the rest away to goodwill. It was absolutely freeing to remove myself from the earthly things that once ruled my life. Who knew that having less could mean so much more.

In three months, I lost over 10 lbs and my body transformed into a healthy state of being. I fell in love with running again and signed up for the Cleveland Marathon. I had to run sub 8:00 minute miles to qualify for Boston 2018 and check it off of my 'Yes Year' list. I even went so far as to print my goal time on my race bib. My family and friends made posters and signs and cheered me on to victory. 

I had 'sell my own artwork' on my list as well so I let my creativity rage and bought supplies to make my own soy candles with essential oil blends. I thought maybe I could sell them online. Why not create my own website?

I bought a domain on SquareSpace and started writing instead. I used it as an outlet to free myself of restrictive conversations and express everything that I never had the chance to fully explain to anyone. It expanded and transformed into the blog you are now reading. I decided not to sell my candles, but rather gave them away as gifts instead. I saved up for a camera and starting photographing people. It turned into this incredible source of healing and happiness. It brought new healing into my life. 'Healing Hands' became a personal mission and the highlight of my blog and artistic expression. 

I believe when you find your true purpose in life, the universe does everything it can to help you achieve those dreams. Yes, I did work extremely hard studying, researching, and cultivating all of the resources I could call upon to make my dreams happen. When I wasn't tying up loose ends at work, I dedicated every spare moment I had to working on publishing this blog, applying to schools, figuring out how I could get my teaching licensure and my Masters simultaneously, training for my marathon, saving and buying only the essentials I needed for my trip, and ferociously planning where I would stay and go. I also know that handing my life over to God and developing a relationship of trust and dependence was essential.    

 If you haven't ever read 'The Alchemist', I would put down whatever self-help book you are reading now (which I admit I have read many) and read that instead. It has been translated in 68 languages around the world and is an international best seller. We cannot deny the language of the Universe when we are spoken to. 

I believe we are all capable of achieving our dreams and making manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not in some of us. It is in all of us. We only need to listen.

So, what I am trying to say is that sometimes life requires us to do some crazy, faith required things. I wanted this page to reflect those blind leaps of faith and encourage you to allow your life to be unleashed. Leave expectations and the judgments of others behind and give yourself permission to believe with all your heart in the hopes and dreams you were once told were impossible. I promise you won't regret it. 

Undying Hope

“She had this way of always finding the good and believing in everything despite all that she had seen. And that is what I loved the most - the pure magic of her undying hope.”
— Becca Lee

This is not easy. No, in fact every part of me rejected the idea of publishing this. But this is why I started a blog in the first place. To be vulnerable. To express that vulnerability and brokenness is real. And to tell others that it's okay to step into your vulnerability and is most likely required of you, in order to transform your life. 

I have found that once you are able to be authentically real with yourself, that's when true healing begins. My intention is not to draw unnecessary attention to the details of my life. It is not to prove to myself or others that I triumphed over my 'sad story'. Because this is not a sad story. This is my hope story.

I want to expose the truth to those who are reading this and to tell you that life can be really difficult and that it is okay to not be okay sometimes. We were taught from a young age to conceal our emotions, appear strong in the face of adversity, and to not crumble under emotional distress. Although at our very core we are we much more alike than we perceive ourselves to be, we fight so valiantly to remain separate; to fight our battles alone. But there is truth that our interconnected-ness can found in our weaknesses. My hope story is about how something tragic brought me closer to my faith in God, closer to the people I love, and inspired me to change and renew my life. I have found that sometimes we need to allow ourselves to be completely vulnerable in order to transform into the person we were truly meant to be. This story is my personal expression of vulnerability. A story I buried deep within and never had any intention of drawing to the surface. But now it's time for me to let it go.

When I was 19 years old, I was raped by the person I had been in a relationship with for over five years.

I thought I could trust this person. I thought he would protect me, not hurt me, and yet when our relationship ended, our exchanges became unhealthy, destructive, and at times violent. I was publicly humiliated, emotionally abused, and physically assaulted on more then one account. There were no respectful boundaries established between the two of us and when I attempted to distance myself from him, I found myself trapped in a series of his insecurities and rage.

I had not consented. I verbally said no. 

It happened in my own home. I was stone cold sober. And just like that, my life was changed forever.

For over two years, I was in denial that the rape was real, because I refused to believe that something like that happened to me. Because these are the lies our culture had taught me and reinforced over the years:

Sexual assault happens with strangers. It occurs if you are promiscuous or put yourself in dangerous situations. If you are assaulted, it's your fault, because you wanted it, or because you allowed yourself to be in that kind of a relationship. If you report it, it’s because you feel guilty about what happened and you want revenge. And by 'you', I mean the hundreds of thousands of women and men whose lives have been affected by the devastating consequences of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. Let me give you some sobering statistics:

Sexual assault affects 1 in 4 women and 1 in 33 men in their lifetime. The false reporting of sexual assault crimes only happens 1-4% of the time, which is consistent with the false reporting rates for all other felonies. Out of every 1,000 cases: 99% of abusers walk free, only 6% of reports lead to arrest, and only .7% lead to a felony conviction. Perpetrators of sexual trauma are less likely to go to prison than other criminals and 90% of all cases are never reported to the police.

It is clear that the prevalence of sexual assault and intimate partner violence is unfathomably common. But the real question I was faced with was this: Why was it so difficult for survivors like me to step forward? Before I shared my story with anyone, I was a health educator on my college campus speaking out about these issues. I became president of the student health organization that was leading the national campaigns 'Step Up' and 'It's On Us'  for bystander intervention and sexual assault prevention. I wanted to help create awareness about this epidemic and help others feel safe and supported, even when I did not. No one was aware it had also happened to me. I sat through countless board and committee meetings with other students and faculty members to collaborate how the university could create better policies, programs, and awareness campaigns. It was obvious that whenever someone brought their personal experiences into the conversation, a daunting silence and awkwardness filled the room. Did it make a person less competent or credible if they had a personal testimony related to the issue?  Did we not know how to support survivors, or did we simply forget how to empress empathy towards one another? 

I quickly realized we weren’t just fighting a battle trying to prevent the issue, as survivors we were also fighting the shame, guilt and cultural stigmas that made people so uncomfortable and intolerant of survivors speaking out.

Even family members or friends were quick to shame and pass judgment on those I knew had come forward. 

So I buried the secret deep within. Away from exposure. Away from reality. Away from the truth. I learned how to live in self-denial and avoidance. I was a high-achiever and learned that if I could achieve my way through life, there was never a reason for me to be considered a failure in the eyes of others. In fact, I knew I could draw attention away from this tragedy in my life by dazzling others with my accolades. I was also a division I track athlete at the time, and I used running and competing as my form of therapy. I could physically push my body beyond limits and know that I was capable and strong. There were times that running was the only thing I fully felt like myself doing. But soon after my college running career ended, so did my identity as a strong and capable winner. Suddenly I felt like the greatest failure of all time. I didn't know how to adjust to life. Because life required a lot of things I didn’t want to do…like discontinuing the work I was involved in on campus that helped give meaning to what I had endured. My career as an athlete, something I had identified with my entire life, came to a screeching halt and so did the achievements, accolades, my sense of self-efficacy. The new life I had worked so hard to build in four years felt like it had been stripped from me. Graduating required moving away from the place I called home and back into the house the rape occurred in. It required parting ways with my sister, best friends, the guy I was convinced I was destined to marry, and my teammates, who were all my support system at the time. I didn’t feel comfortable or safe in my own hometown and was triggered all the time by intrusive memories, thoughts, and anxieties. I didn’t understand it then, but because I didn’t have a choice in many of these major life changes that were all occurring simultaneously, I could not manage the emotional and physiological stress it took on my body. 

I began experiencing PTSD symptoms, which included hyper arousal disturbances, exaggerated startle response, night terrors, and physiological reactivity to trauma cues that caused cognitive disturbances. According to the National Women’s Study, about 33 percent of rape victims develop PTSD at any point during their lifetime. I didn’t know it was possible for memories I had buried so deeply to resurface so vividly, let alone that PTSD symptoms could arise years after a trauma has occurred. I felt like something that wasn't there before had suddenly invaded my mind and body. Every day presented an onset of new triggers and emotional/physical reactions. Loud noises brought on panic attacks, stressful situations made me want to lie down and give up, and I couldn’t find the words to communicate to others what was happening to me.

For a month, I had to sleep with a light on in my room because I would wake up in terror and forget where I was. I became extremely paranoid and was fearful that my perpetrator was going to show up at my house unannounced like he had done many times before. If a car honked at me or I overheard a couple loudly arguing in a public space, I would tense up or shut down. I was overly-sensitive to criticism, unresponsive to suggestions or encouragement, and was verbally abusive back when I felt attacked. When I drank alcohol, the symptoms and my reactions only became worse. I felt re-victimized every time I tried exposing myself or others to the truth and was rejected for it. Everything around me was overstimulating and increased my irritability. Getting out of bed became a challenge and mundane tasks were difficult to focus on. I started a full time job in July of that year, and could not make it through an 8 hour work day without several trips to a single stall bathroom, where I would allow myself 2-3 minutes to completely fall apart. It was exhausting to hold myself together long enough for the sake of saving face in front of my co-workers, and the charade only continued when I got home.

The activities I once loved and found enjoyable turned grey. I stop running and exercising. I gained weight and paid little attention to what I was eating. When I would get into arguments with my significant other or a close family member, I would become filled with rage or I’d numb myself out completely. The world for several minutes would go fuzzy. There was an actual buzzing noise or ring I could hear inside my head. Suicidal thoughts became more concrete. I became terrified of myself and what I thought I was capable of. How had I become so immobilized and spiteful towards the world around me? Fear and emotional instability was crippling my life. 

That was my reality. It was not pretty. It was down-right atrocious. 

Until I reached out for help and allowed the pain to wash me clean.

It started with a three day trip to a psychiatric ward. Yes, I did in fact spend three days in one of these institutions. My parents picked me up from a Mustard Seed parking only a few miles away from my office after having a major anxiety attack. They found me curled up in the fetal position, shaking uncontrollably. I told them I could not go home, and I didn't want to be left alone.

I had taken several stabs at my wrist the week before with a pen while I was waiting for a cab.

The only reason I got home safely that night was because I had called my best friend to tell her I loved her. I told her I couldn't take the pain anymore. I just wanted it to be over... 

I recognize now that it's not because I didn't want to live. I just wanted the pain to stop. She was over four hours away and I knew she couldn’t reach me in time. But she told my sister while I was still on the phone with her, who came to my rescue. And together, the two of them saved my life. I can’t imagine receiving the phone call that both of them did that night, not knowing what it was going to result in. But they fought for me, when I wasn’t capable of fighting for myself.

These two are the real heroes of this story. Without them, there wouldn't be a hope story.

And they will never understand how grateful I am for the selfless love they both displayed so courageously to protect me. It was the kind of love that I had never experienced before. It was the kind of love that never fails.  

So during my hospitalization, with these two in mind, I survived. I wrote the word 'Excelsior' on a piece of paper and hung it up in my room in light of Silverlinings Playbook. It was my best friend’s favorite movie. I remembered the line, "This is what I learned at the hospital. You have to do everything you can, you have to work your hardest, and if you do, if you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining." I realized that I too, had the choice to quit, or find the silver linings in my life. My sister and mom came to visit me every day, twice a day, to make light-hearted jokes about the cold coffee and the woman who wouldn't stop shouting at the TV and telephone. I used humor and grace to keep me afloat in the midst of the chaos around me.  I had several exhausting interviews with different doctors and nurses, was required to attend a community group therapy session daily, and after catching a glimpse of my chart, also discovered I had a diagnosis. In small print were the words, 'Severely Depressed with PTSD'. Did those word really describe me??  My name was right there. I remember feeling both angry and relieved to have a reason to be sitting there. 

I was prescribed an anti-depressant, a sleeping aid, and a 'emergency use only' anti-depressant that was intended to slow my central nervous system down when I felt an onset of a panic attack. Although in some ways it was a completely humiliating and de-humanizing experience, it was also the first time anyone had acknowledged or could address the truth in what was happening to me psychologically and emotionally. My family members were forced to come to terms with the severity of the situation. Even I, myself, was forced to recognize that this wasn't going to go away by itself, and intentionally hurting myself wasn't going to do any good either. I had a lot of inner work to do. 

There is one thing about my time in the hospital that will always remain with me. Each day we were given an opportunity to craft, however, we weren't allowed to use scissors or glue, which was limiting in many ways. But I found a way to collage ripped pieces of paper I had taken from a magazine and glue it together with paint. I formed a heart out of flowers and surprisingly, it turned out quite beautiful. When I got home, I framed it to remind myself that I was capable of making beautiful things out of hopeless situations.

In my vulnerability and brokenness, I found this undeniable truth. In that truth, I found hope. And with hope, I began to heal. 

It didn't happen all at once. And it certainly didn't happen overnight. But slowly, I was able to find new resources that were able to better help support me and equip me with the tools I needed to face these difficult times. After three weeks, I gave up the prescription meds. They made me feel fuzzy and only masked the symptoms I was experiencing. I started seeing a therapist instead, and we worked together over a ten month period of time examining my attachment theories, generational attachments, and worked through my conscious thoughts and cognitive disturbances. I admitted to my therapist that after a few weeks of working together, I seriously considered not coming back. Therapy was hard work. It was difficult to release the deeply seeded attachments I had formed in early childhood and carried with me all my life. But I also recognized how necessary it was for me to continue showing up in order to step into a greater awareness of myself and how I related to the world. I didn't have to allow the actions of others to disturb my healing or the way I viewed myself.

I would highly recommend to anyone reading this, take the time to go to therapy. If it is important enough to you, you will be able to find the time and the resources to do so. You do not have to have some traumatic life experience as a prerequisite excuse to go. I learned that we all have inner work to do. You will discover and uncover things you never has any idea had such influence or hold over you. I had no idea that a car accident I had gotten into when I was sixteen still was affecting me today. But the body does an incredible job of holding onto trauma and not letting it go. It takes courage to step into that kind of vulnerability, but it is amazing how freeing it can be when you allow yourself to dive into the issues that may have been affecting you all your life. 

Eckhart Tolle once said, “That in you which recognizes madness as madness (even if it is your own) is sanity, is the rising awareness, is the end of insanity.” Through a deeper examination of our own lives and consciousness, we can begin to make sense of the world around us, let go of our pain and insecurities and all the things that do not make us flourish, and help others find their innate truth and peace within themselves too.

We are born with an innate Truth that tells us exactly who we are in the eyes of God. That truth tells us that we are worthy, we are loved, and we are capable of doing all things. But over time, people, places, and situations silence that gentle voice within. It tells us we need to seek something outside of ourselves to be happy. But that is not true. When I finally recognized that I only needed to seek approval from God alone and depend on Him for my needs instead of other people, it changed everything. It grounded the instability in me.

So therapy changed my life. And so did reiki. I came to reiki in need of healing. My mother had been receiving treatment for over a year from a strongly Christian based Reiki Master and recommended I go. I knew nothing about it at the time, other then the fact that it was energy work and had healed my mother's immune system completely. She had to wait six months to see a specialist and in that six months the inflammation in her cells decreased by changing nothing but diet and reiki treatment alone. Members from my church had warned me that it was a dangerous practice that dishonored God. But it has healed my mother's body and I knew it had to be something more. So I went and after six months of treatment I can also say that it healed my life in miraculous ways. 

For those of you that don’t know what reiki is, it is hands on energy work that can be done to release emotional and physical pain and energy held within the body. It is a scientific fact that we yield an energetic field that cannot be detected once we die. I learned that you cannot separate the spiritual mind from the physical body, and where there is emotional or physical pain trapped inside the body, the energetic field is affected too. In it's purest form, I believe reiki is the holy spirit moving through people. 

I praise God and Jesus Christ alone and intention absolutely does matter. To those who believe reiki is demonic, I want to ask if you have ever allowed someone lay their hands on your to pray. Reiki is no different. When Jesus rose from the dead he appeared to the Eleven and said to them, "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe; in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover." Mark 16:15-20

We were given the holy spirit as a gift from God as a result from Jesus's death and resurrection. I have witnessed healing miracles in my own life and in the lives of others seeking treatment, and it has only strengthened my belief in Christ and God, not driven me further away from Him. In fact, there were times that God’s presence was so unbelievably overwhelming to me, there was not a single bone in my body that could ever deny His existence. Reiki may have been an avenue or the ‘umbrella’ that helped me hear His voice, but it is God’s grace that ultimately led me to Him. It is through Christ’s sacrifice that I was able to harness and welcome the Holy Spirit into my life to transform my relationship with Him and with others.  

So reiki also changed my life. And so did every interaction and connection I made with other people about their own healing journeys. What I began to realize is that as humans, we were are all inner-connected through our pain and suffering. It's inevitable that we will encounter it at some point in our lives. We were intended to help each other through it, not avoid it all together. I started praying harder, and turning to God with all my requests, desires, fears, insecurities, and daily thoughts. During this time of trial and suffering is when my faith was unleashed and grew the most. I learned to trust and depend on Him and Him alone, and that was entirely freeing. 

In the spring, I joined a support group at the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center that met for 10 weeks. I had applied in the fall, but was wait listed for six months. This resource is free and incredible and isn't given the credit it deserves for the amount of work they do to serve others. I met some amazing beautiful women who had all overcome the similar tragedies and yet were so full of light and love. Together we formed a community and were able to provide healing and empathy for one another that the outside world could not understand. I left every time feeling lighter and happier. We worked together to create goals for ourselves over the course of the 10 weeks and I made it my goal to finish my hope story and publicly publish my blog. I knew that revealing to others the truth about my life was completely unknown and terrifying. But at the same time, I also knew I wouldn't have to pretend or tiptoe around my story anymore to make others feel more comfortable.

Although I have talked completely from personal experience, I know that this is a part of something greater than just me. My entire life I believe others have perceived me as having this 'picture-perfect-privileged life'. But the truth is that I chose to find the good and believe in everything despite what I had been seen. For many years I was suffering in great silence and heartache. Now I know that my story and voice does matter, and so does yours. 

I have revealed this part of myself to help combat the negative cultural stigmas surrounding mental health, sexual assault, intimate partner violence and all the shame, guilt, and fear associated with it. I want to help draw others who are combating the same battle, closer to a place of healing and understanding. You are not alone. You are not crazy. You are not incomplete. You are completely entitled to the pain and heartache you are experiencing, but it will not last forever. You are whole and worthy of love. 


There lies an inherent truth in every single one of us. We can drown those voices out by the noise of life, or we can take the time to listen. In my time of healing, I learned I had to withdraw from the world to withdraw from within that which was truly special and courageous in me. When I started paying attention, this is the truth I heard:

I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am both a masterpiece and a work of art simultaneously. I know the real value of my own self-worth. I can make beautiful things out of impossible situations. I have a heart that can survive unyielding storms. In my brokenness I have found strength. I am whole. I am enough. I am worthy of a loving, healthy relationship, and deserving of a plentiful prosperous marriage that contains unfailing love. I desire purity and unity with God and with my spouse. One person's actions were not my fault or responsibility, nor do they have to haunt me for the rest of my life. I am grateful for these trials, for they have served me well and strengthened my relationship with God. I do in fact forgive those that have wounded me deeply, because I know that they too were wounded by someone else. But the abuse ends with me. Every day I have a choice to believe in the lies of other’s untruths and injustices, or I can give myself permission to love and heal myself completely. I can reach outward to help heal the lives of others. I choose forgiveness. I choose love. I have an undying hope that love is real and came at the ultimate price on the cross. Through love, we are granted the permission to be free. I am no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God.

 

-m. elizabeth