Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Embarrassing BUT a HUGE problem... YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Using Social media to help build the Kingdom of God and not as an OUTLET…

I have to admit that I am a little embarrassed to admit that I have participated in the very thing that affected me in regards to the world of social media. What exactly affected me? The same thing that affects millions, if not billions, all over the world. It’s what has changed nearly everything around us. When we take a step back and really think about how the world has changed so fast during the evolution of social media it’s quite shocking. What is good has taken the back seat at a faster rate and what was once thought of as immoral or destructive is now considered normal, healthy and good. It’s something that doesn’t just affect my generation… It’s affecting everyone.

 My journey with social media really didn’t start till after my husband Jared passed away in 2011. Hundreds of people reached out to me, in hopes to lift me, and to be updated on my life as I tried to pick up the pieces. Even though I was receiving so much love, I had to step away from it because even knowing about the good and normal lives of others while my life was so broken hurt me. I started to come back to it as my life started to pick back up again in 2012. However, it wasn’t until 2015 that I really started to dive in a little more. I got more friends, more followers, more interests and hobbies, more money to shop, more desires and finally started my own online business as a result from receiving many messages from friends and family wanting help in regards to their fitness goals. As many know, having an online business means you most likely have to use social media. Unfortunately my business was myself. My physique... me… During my transformation, I was so happy with the results as I spent so much time researching, planning, and trying new things to become even better. Obtaining Body composition, definition, while having a relatively normal eating regimen was unheard of and macro counting was becoming HUGE. I found great success in my business but even though Full on Macros was short lived, I already started to feel the pull and pressure of the world seeping into my life.
I say “short lived” because The August my business was up and running was when I nearly lost my life. I went from being on top of the world physically with a bright future as an online coach to nearly losing EVERYTHING. At the onset of being hit by clinical depression I thought my life was over and others looking in had the same worries. However during that trial I learned something that saved my life. It’s a tool I continue to use to get me through life which is reaching up to our Father in Heaven immediately at the onset of a trial and begging to see the good and find purpose. Just one day after a desperate plea to find the good during a time where life itself seemed unbearable, I was shown a type of good that came in a form I would have never expected... An opportunity to change and learn.

 I was actually enlightened as to what was holding me back from progressing as quickly and efficiently in this life. I became aware more than even before of that one outlet in life that I had jumped all the way into. My social media habits, may have had the potential to produce a lot of good (and it did) but it also had countless flaws. I had felt myself get warnings through my continuous participation with social media but I always tried to justify it feeling the good outweighed the bad. Now, it was becoming more and more clear that everything that was justified and disguised as “normal” was actually causing destructive habits and thoughts, that were incredibly distracting (oh my word I cannot put enough emphasis on that) time consuming, and a vessel for me to compare myself to others. I even found myself spending excessive amounts of time thinking and obsessing about projects and my countless hobbies which occupied way too much brain space, took me away from my kids and living in the moment, and also caused me to at times look past things I am so grateful for and instead wanting more and more. I also wondered why my life seemed so average compared to the seemingly never ending excitement and success of others in my friend bank... and what’s even worse, I learned about others who had been comparing themselves to me and my life as it was portrayed through pictures. Because of the skin smoothing filters, the photo enhancements, the clothing, the newest skin care that’s never ending, the constant snippets of the best part of people’s day or the perfectly planned disasters where one still looks awesome, celebrity drama, the newest and coolest thing to have, the birthday party decorating that’s out of this world, the amazing physics of women and men posted everywhere, the plumpest lips and prettiest eyelashes... I became a victim to joked about comment... “hahah gosh it’s just so addicting!!!!”

During the time I was becoming aware of how much I was participating and being affected, It felt as though I was snapping out of this trance! The pictures provided show examples of slipping. Experimenting... justifying... following the norm. Every single one of those pictures received many comments, likes and private messages but it wasn’t till August of 2017 when I had the most clear prompting that changed everything. This prompting caused, less likes, less interacting and less and less comments but the idea to not use social media for any other purpose than to help build the kingdom of God changed my life for the better.

Don’t get me wrong, It has been very hard to not share all the exciting news and funny day to day things, and I miss looking forward to the happy/clever replies as a result to my post as well as keeping up with all the accomplishments of others... BUT I am also free. I have more time to feed myself spiritually instead of mindlessly scroll or research things that don’t really matter. My efforts to search for opportunities to post something are GONE. The pressure of what is attractive and pretty to the world has diminished and I no longer compare myself to others constantly because I am LIVING IN MY OWN MOMENT and not comparing my moments to everyone else’s. I am not influenced by the things that pop up when I “scroll” that seem to have no impact but slowly creep in. I don’t spend time or feel pressure on how to improve my skin tone or how I look in pictures... my concerns about what the world would think have diminished (hence I’m talking about this to everyone ).

This October’s General Conference gave me the confidence and courage to share this experience because there were countless talks referring to the affects of Social Media on the individual.  Warnings were given, gray areas were pointed out and the emphasis on this topic was no longer causally referred to but bluntly addressed.

Elder Quinten L. Cook’s conference talk “The Eternal Everyday,” did not dance around or joke about the gray areas in which we can be victims. Quote, “In our quest for humility, the modern Internet creates challenges to avoiding pride. Two examples are the self-indulgent ‘look at me’ approach or attacking others by ranting on Social Media. One more example is the ‘humblebrag.’ It is defined as ‘an ostensibly modest or self-deprecating statement [or picture] whose actual purpose is to draw attention to something of which one is proud.’ The prophets have always warned about pride and emphasizing the vain things of the world.” End Quote

Elder Gary E. Stevens dedicated his entire talk “Spiritual Eclipse,” to this danger. He said, Quote, “Ironically, it is not only the negative that can cause spiritual eclipse in our lives. Often, admirable or positive endeavors to which we dedicate ourselves can be drawn so close that they blot out gospel light and bring darkness. Two additional risks related to Social Media are: idealized reality and debilitating comparisons. Many (if not most) of the pictures posted on Social Media tend to portray life at its very best—often unrealistically. We have all seen beautiful images of home decor, wonderful vacation spots, smiling selfies, elaborate food preparation, and seemingly unattainable body images. Comparing our own seemingly average existence with others’ well-edited, perfectly crafted lives as represented on social media may leave us with feelings of discouragement, envy, and even failure. In short, don’t let life’s distractions eclipse heaven’s light. ” End Quote

Sometimes things that seem innocent, helpful and harmless CAN turn into gray areas. When we venture into gray areas, we are leaving doors cracked open for Satan to enter. Gray areas don’t usually come to the forefront until the damage has already begun.  They are harder to identify and usually do not have bright red warning signs. Prayer can help us recognize the grey areas and warn us against participation before damage has been done. “Standing in holy places,” is not so black and white anymore. Satan entices us into the gray. “Distraction” is a vice that is used to waste our time and occupy our minds, robbing us from spiritual nourishment.

Let us head to the words of Elder Stevens when he said, “With so many inspired and appropriate use of technology, let us use it to teach, inspire and lift ourselves and to encourage others to become their finest---rather than to portray our idealized virtual selves. Let us also teach and demonstrate the righteous use of technology to the rising generation and warn against the associated hazards and destructive use of it.”

YOU GUYS!!!! Take a stand and fight the flaws—make corrections...Help make social media a safe place for others to feel lifted and loved not a place for others to compare themselves to YOU, and a place to be distracted from what truly matters. Comfort one another, share what you learned today, compliment someone you love in your life, talk about what makes you happy, post quotes that inspire you, and take this stand that is so worth taking. Expect fewer likes, less comments, “followers” to “un-follow” because what is good isn’t always popular, and what isn’t popular is sometimes the hardest thing to do.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Finding Hope DURING Trial

Part 1: Choices

Life is full of choices. Some choices are a catalyst for significant change, and others have minimal effect.  Some choices leave faithful legacies to the latest generation and some create unimaginable damage and destruction. This past year I have learned more about making choices, especially during trials. I have felt a need to share my experience, in hopes of sparking new insights in you as you navigate through your difficulties.

Let me set the stage—After my brother’s death in 2009, my husband’s death in 2011, and my deep Clinical Depression in 2016, it would have been very easy for me to choose to turn away from God and live in a world of “why me?” After all, my entire world was forever altered. How could God let these terrible things happen? There were many times when I just wanted to be “done.” Despite my sorrow and total brokenness, for some reason, I mustered strength beyond my own and chose instead, to turn to God and that has made all the difference.

Just because I chose to turn to God doesn’t mean the journey has been smooth.  On the contrary, it has been a very difficult and rocky ride. It was in the midst of my darkest hours this past year, when suffering with Clinical Depression, that the Lord taught me a life changing coping skill. The Lord not only gave me the strength to turn to Him when deep difficulty struck, but He taught me the following: “Actively seek the good in the midst of trial.” This entails taking action by searching for all the opportunities to learn in the midst of trial. I believe this is the key to surviving, growing, changing, and getting the most out of anything life throws our way.

It is much easier to see the lessons learned following the trial, but that often takes years. Instead, I learned not to wait, but to stand up, ask, seek, beg, and then obey in the midst of the dark days. By doing this, it is possible to experience the most purposeful and powerful kind of good, which creates powerful opportunities to learn, grow and conquer.

So how do we do this? How on earth could anyone possibly do this? It starts by making that most critical choice to turn to Him and refuse to let anything pull you in any direction other than UP. Without making that choice, you risk the almost inevitable result of being consumed by anger, bitterness, and resentment.  This only leads to dead ends. The miracles happen when we submit to His will, not turning away when our will does not match His. This also includes submitting to His way of helping. The help most often doesn’t come in the ways we think we need relief. Trust in Him. He loves us enough to let us learn.

Let me back up a minute and share how I received the insight of choosing to look for the good, in the midst of trials.  I will do this by zeroing in on my most recent challenge—Clinical Depression. My bout with this beast began in August of 2016 and it was unlike any pain or hardship I ever knew existed. I was not capable of seeing or imagining any good that could possibly come from what my family and I were going through. What was I to learn from lying helplessly in bed for weeks, immobile by emotional and physical pain? I wasn’t able to do anything!  I was literally brain dead for days on end.

I felt hell as I imagined hell feeling. The best way I have found to describe those depressive episodes is by visualizing and imagining the way Joseph Smith may have looked and felt as he fought for his life against Satan in the Sacred Grove.  The “knock out” effect of my medication was my only relief from this misery.  In one particularly intense moment, I looked up at my mom, and the insight came.  I said, “Mom, I have to find the good. I will not survive this unless I find the good and I cannot see it on my own. He has to show me.”  My kids, my husband, my mom, dad and brothers were all suffering because of me. I had to find the good.  At that moment I couldn’t even imagine what good I would find.

The next day as I continued battling for life itself, I began seeing “opportunities to learn” in the midst of my trial.  These particular lessons often had little to do with my Clinical Depression.  I learned the importance of keeping an opened mind, having no expectations, and looking for anything. As time slowly crept by, I miraculously was shown the good, which came in many different shapes and forms DURING (not months/years after) my trial.  This learning brought so much purpose to my suffering and the suffering of my family. Below is a short list of some of the good the Lord showed me as I received strength through Him to seek, and learn. I hope these examples can spark a light for those who are currently walking through the refiners fire or for those who may be at the onset of a difficult test.

-Awareness came of disguised habits that were curtailing my spiritual progress.  (This will be the topic of a forthcoming post, Part 2)

-The Lord blessed me to have meaningful, and life changing conversations with strangers and family members, that most likely would not have taken place, if not for my own suffering.

-Symptoms of my own illness were sometimes lifted, allowing me to comfort, understand, and validate others who were suffering from mental illness, loss, lack of faith, loneliness, etc.

-I gained a deeper level of compassion towards EVERYONE AROUND ME. The understanding that we cannot possibly know what each person is going through, hit me with power. For this reason, I was reminded, it is critical we are kind, forgiving, and careful with what we say and do.

-As my family worked and prayed together in order to help me, we drew closer together, instead of my illness weighing everyone down.
My Michael Blanket (all of his clothes)

-As time went on I gained enough strength to see my children and spent more time with them. I had gone 2 weeks without seeing them or talking to them. I would call my husband just so I could hear their voices in the background but even that was too painful. Knowing I could not be with them and having a fear that I wasn't going to make it brought a deep worry and sadness but I continued on into war zone and fought for faith. My worry and fears turned into a renewed devotion to living in the moment and not being distracted by things that don’t matter. 

I do not remember taking most of these pictures because I was on so much medication to keep me stable. For that reason they mean so much more to me. I can have snippets of me in the middle of the battle... candid reminders that anything is possible with Him.
This was one of the moments I had yearned for in my darkest hours... actually being able to pick up my daughter from the bus stop was no longer a mundane thing but was a gift.

After those two weeks, and during my 20 mins of slight relief, I was finally able to have a short visit with my twins. I was so grateful.

-Many times forces of strength beyond my own picked me up off the floor as I was crippled by despair. One particular experience took place after another one of my darkest moments when I literally had to fight for my life again. When I felt like I couldn't take anymore, the emergency medication started to kick in and I could finally breath and sit up. I had remembered watching my dad walk out of the room at the onset of this depressive episode with a worried and defeated look on his face. I knew he was feeling deep sorrow on my behalf and also felt so bad that he was going through all of this again only this time it was me and not Michael. I got up off the floor and went to find him so I could let him know that I was ok. I found my dad on his knees pleading with the Lord... That image broke my heart and yet it was so powerful to me at the same time. I walked into the room and helped him up off the floor. As we cried in each others arms, I was overcome with gratitude for the strength I was given so that I could pick my dad up off the floor and tell him how much I love him. I remember feeling in awe of how real everything that I had been taught all my life really was... I mean, how is it possible for me to be pleading for release from this life one minute, and the next standing up and holding my dad while feeling an overwhelming amount of gratitude in my heart... There is no other explanation than divine intervention and grace.

-During the time I was away from my kids and under 24/7 surveillance, I was given insight during my 20 mins of relief that I had each day to create meaningful, sacred pieces of art for my home. Every time I look at those pictures I am reminded of miracles, love, strength, and all that I have learned and all that my family has learned. I am reminded of the seemingly impossible that becomes possible and the way it feels to let go and trust. I was able to create visual representations of eternal purpose in our suffering DURING a time where my suffering was the deepest it had ever been.

-I had signed up my oldest daughter to start playing soccer long before my fall. When the season started, I was still fighting for my life not knowing what each day was going to bring. Many times, I thought I was not going to be able to attend her games as I laid on the floor paralyzed by the dark cloud yet, right before each game started I felt that burden lift from me just enough for me to get up and support her. I never missed a game. 

-My family was a witness of the Lord working through others, as countless reached out in efforts to help carry our burdens. Facebook messages, emails, text messages, treats, phone calls, fasting and prayer, and an entire filing system filled with family home evening lessons and activities just to name a few. 

-Numerous evidences were given that the Lord was by my side, even though at times I felt very much alone.  I realized that sometimes the Savior makes himself less evident so we can learn, and be refined.

-I was taught more deeply the importance of surrendering to His will and not sitting and stewing in the world of, “my will.” With that learning came liberation, strength and determination to get an A on this assignment from the Lord.

-An unwavering understanding grew of the Savior’s awareness of every single person on this planet.  I felt stronger than ever that His individual love for each person was more than anyone could possibly comprehend. 

-I cheered as other family members felt many of the above listed blessings.  For instance: As my husband tried to help alleviate my suffering, he became more compassionate towards others, broadening his scope of Christ-like love.

The list goes on and on…

I hope that anyone who reads this will choose to stand and be an active student in seeking for the good and searching for opportunities to learn in the midst of painful remodeling moments. It is then when we are being polished by the loving and merciful hands of our Savior, who meets and greets every soul who simply tries in however way they can. The inspiration, knowledge, and refining that took place at the onset of my choice to submit my will to His and seek out the good, gave my suffering purpose.

Alma 26:12 rings true more than ever… “Yea, I know I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in His strength I can do all things . . .”

Because of Him I am alive. Because of Him I can make hard yet life-changing choices. Because of Him I can learn and grow in the midst of unimaginable circumstances. Because of Him I know I can be together with my entire family forever. There are no words that could possibly describe my love for Him and my love for all of you, and that has made all the difference.

Friday, October 20, 2017

"I'm Ready for a Change"

A couple years ago I was invited to acompnay the sister missionaries as they went to teach a cute little family about the gospel of Jesus Christ. As I nervously accepted to tag along, I wondered what on earth I could possibly contribute to that particular lesson. I learned quickly that my "happen chance" invite was not for me to help the sister missionaries teach  Erin and Devin but for Erin and Devin to teach me. I was so lucky to join in on multiple lessons after the first and gained so much insight, felt rooms change through the presence of the spirit, and gained an incredible admiration for missionary work and the miracles that take place in the mission field. Erin and Devin were baptized and I was privileged to speak at their baptism trying so incredibly hard to control my emotions of admiration, love and excitement for this amazing family who was ready and willing.

A few months ago Erin gave a talk in sacrament meeting that moved and inspired everyone who heard... With her humble consent, I felt impressed to share her talk months ago and finally I am just now getting to it! I hope you enjoy her realness, honesty, and willingness to share... I just love her so much!!! Thank you Erin...

July 23rd 2017,

When Brother Plotkin called and asked me to share with everyone today, I had no idea how deeply this topic would resonate with me or how personal it would be. After lots of prayer, studying the scriptures, and reading past teachings I've come away with a deeper understanding of myself and of my relationship with Heavenly Father. 
I tend to have strong opinions, feel I'm always right, and can be quite stubborn. All things I'm sure my husband greatly appreciates. These are not always bad qualities though as it allows me to stand my ground, express myself, and fight for what I believe in.  They also come in handy when I'm barely awake and my children, who I'm positive have already passed the Law exam, are convinced that ice cream is an appropriate breakfast, when we all know ice cream is an after breakfast snack. At least for me. The downside is that it blocks my ability to have Faith in what Heavenly Father wants from me.  How can I build a testimony when I'm already full of ideas, often times wrong ideas? This is a difficult thing for me to admit out loud but I'm sure my husband is enjoying hearing it and will likely use it as fuel during our next debate. A term I use loosely as we are known to spend long and intense conversations arguing about the difference between a ditch and a hole or the proper way to make a reuben sandwich.
President Harold B. Lee said something that really stood out to me, it was "There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church.  It may contradict your political views.  It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life.  But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good and his names glory".  Reading that couldn't have come at a more important time in my life.  I had been struggling with wondering if I made a rash decision in being baptized.  There are so many wonderful things about the Church, but those tiny little nagging doubts that creep in when you don't keep up with your studies and prayers were starting to get to me.  And that talk, that passage, really made a difference on my outlook.  It's decades old, but is still relevant today.  It reminded me to put my faith back in Heavenly Father, what he wants is what matters.  Even if, at this time and moment it doesn't make sense, He truly knows best.  How could someone who was a Prophet over 40 years ago know my struggles now? It's because he spoke truth then and truth is constant. 

My Husband and I were baptized about 2 years ago.  I was raised in a really awesome religion, one that I hold very dear to my heart as it gave me such a strong basis of belief.  However, as I got older and had kids of my own I started to get dissatisfied and felt the urge to find something more.  I had a lot of LDS friends growing up and was curious about trying a church out.  I played around with the idea for a while and spent time praying for guidance and finally thought to mention it to Devin.  His response was "Erin, we aren't Mormon" in the same tone he uses when I ask if we can train pigs to be truffle hunters, or if I can learn how to be an Alaskan Bush Helicopter Pilot.  I let it drop, sort of, but remember I'm a bit stubborn and continued to pray for guidance.  I also looked into pilot school and places to buy pigs.  Luckily for Devin Heavenly Father was listening and shot down my more insane ideas. Pigs take too much work and get gigantic! Like huge.

President Gordon B. Hinkley said, "It is this element, weak and somewhat feeble at first, which moves every instigator in the direction of conversion. It pushes every convert toward security in the Faith." Heavenly Father told me that I wasn't meant to train pigs or learn to fly a helicopter, but what he did do was send Sister Kilgrow and Sister Malone to our door.  He answered my prayers and allowed us to learn in a setting that was comfortable for both of us. He was building the foundation of my testimony through Faith in Him.

In Alma Chapter 30 verse 41 He says "But, behold, I have all things as a testimony that these things are true; and ye also have all things as a testimony unto you that they are true; and will ye deny them?"  I have spent so much time in the last year denying my testimony, denying my truth because I lacked faith in Heavenly Father. He brought me here, he answered my prayers.  There couldn't have been a more obvious way for him to tell me that this Church was where he wanted me.  Faith builds your testimony.  Faith in what Heavenly Father wants and Faith in what he says. These are things to dwell on and to hold onto everyday.  Even when I'm doubting he still has ways to bring me back.
There came a point in the last 7 months where I was ready to walk away from everything. I was frustrated. I was negative. I was letting what I thought was injustice take me away from everything I had been building upon. I was losing Faith.
1 Corinthians 2:5 says "That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." I was not obeying or listening to His power. I was allowing my mind to be clouded by my worldly views instead of holding onto the scriptures. I had received a testimony and I was ignoring it. All the things I loved and believed in seemed dark and dreary.  I questioned if I was doing right by my children. I questioned if I was doing right by my personal views. I still had a firm grasp of why I started down this path but I wasn't sure if it really mattered. Then something funny happened.  Heavenly Father sent Elder Hintz and Elder Coombs to our door. It was a wake up call really.  He sent the Sisters to bring me to him the first round and now he sent the Elders to round me back up again when I was starting to wander. Their messages were relevant to my issues and divinely inspired. I didn't share with them why I wasn't attending Church, but they somehow knew regardless.  It was a reminder that even when I didn't want to hear Heavenly Father, he was still there. Waiting for me. He brought me back to my original testimony and validated it. 

President Thomas S. Monson said "Unless the roots of your testimony are firmly planted. It will be difficult for you to withstand the ridicule of those who challenge your faith.  When firmly planted your testimony of the gospel, of the savior, and of our Heavenly Father will influence all that you do throughout your life".  Sometimes our greatest challenger is ourselves. Coaxing those roots and nourishing them helps to keep our own negative thoughts at bay.  If we fill our minds with scripture and teachings we don't have room to questions ourselves.  I forgot to study. I figured since I had such a big answer to prayer and such a strong testimony it would be easy to keep going in the right direction. I was wrong. I lost Faith and went backwards instead.
According to "True to the Faith: A gospel reference" A testimony is a spiritual witness given by the Holy Ghost. The foundation of a testimony is the knowledge that Heavenly Father lives and loves us; that Jesus Christ lives, that He is the Son of God, and that he carried out the infinite atonement; that Joseph Smith is the prophet of God who was called to restore the gospel; that we are led by a living prophet today; and that The Church of Latter-Day Saints is the Saviors true Church on the earth. With this foundation, a testimony grows to include all principles of the gospel".
I testify that these things are true. I have faith in Heavenly Father. I have Faith in his living Prophets, both today and yesterday.  Their teachings have relevance, even decades and lifetimes later. Jesus Christ came and died so that we could live and bear his witness. If we hold onto these truths and live our lives by these truths then our testimony will grow strong in Him. We will be the example our Heavenly Father wants us to be.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Ruth and Naomi

 What’s my name?... Like right now?? No one really knows… but most people go with any combination of Tiffany, Bleak, Johansen, and/or Cantrell... MOSTLY everyone… except one person in this entire world who, in her heart would call me Ruth.

 Growing up I had learned the basics about Ruth and Naomi. Like most of us, I felt like more of the focus had been on Ruth rather than Naomi.

 I also have always “believed” in my religion, but really, I lived a life where fun was first priority and religion came later. That was until I met a “BOY” (yes, of course) who changed my life, and helped me dig deeper into what I had been taught to believe all my life. This “boy” became my best friend. Call me egotistical, but FINALLY there was someone I had a hard time keeping up with, and someone that I didn’t scare away. I will never forget the time he told me that he wanted to marry me because I reminded him so much of his mom. Man, was that romantic!

 So, of course we got married. It was never easy until the last six months of our life together… Looking back, I can now view the seemingly constant down pour of trials in our marriage as a crash course of learning important lessons most don’t learn until they are 80.

 Things got better when we had our little girl…

 We named her Reese.

 Just 18 months later, we were shocked by another miracle baby.

 We named her Jaclyn.

 On November 30th 2011, just before we were about to hold baby Jac in our arms, I saw my best friend in the middle of the night only this time he wasn’t asking me if I was ok, I was asking him.

No response.

 Till this day, we still don’t know why.

 On December 2nd 2011, I was standing in the kitchen when the words of the woman I had mentioned before, named Ruth, came strongly into my mind at the most random time. “…Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge, your people shall be my people, And your God, my God…”

 I walked slowly to the room where I had just spent an entire night on the floor weeping in disbelief, but there she was… my mother in-law, whom I now saw as my Naomi. I walked up to her and sat down next to her without knowing what to say. Somehow, I managed to open my mouth and say, “I will always be with you, and I will never leave your side.” She finally opened her eyes and looked right at me in disbelief. She hugged me and wept in my arms while muttering, “thank you thank you thank youuu…”

 Later, she mentioned she had felt strongly that she and I were like Ruth and Naomi. I knew it was true, but I didn’t know what exactly that would mean until later on.

 For the next 6 weeks, time stood still for Naomi and I, but was filled with an odd combination of unthinkable pain accompanied with unimaginable miracles and insight. Naomi and I were experiencing the unexplainable joy and relief as the Lord taught us continually, opened our eyes to see miracles, and gave us strength to testify for Him.

 January 12th 2012, Jac was born and there Naomi was, and there she stayed.

 Six weeks later, I was on my way to Oregon, and felt like I was betraying Naomi. But the Lord reassured me that it was right to leave. He also showed me that Naomi never left and that she was always going to be there.

 Someone new was placed right in front of me, and I, (Ruth), was afraid to tell Naomi, but I did anyway and Naomi trusted me and was happy for me. Again, there she was, always there, always in my heart.

 I married this “someone so new” and felt like I had betrayed her again. I will never forget that phone call and what Naomi had said to me, “I trust you Ruth. He is a good man.”

 Through the ups and the downs of being with someone new, Naomi never left me even though she was filled with pain and sorrow from losing her own son. She stayed right by me, pushing me, picking me up.

 I was starting to understand what our “Ruth and Naomi” story was going to look like and how it was going to work out without being able to be physically present with Naomi at all times. Back and forth Naomi flew and drove. Always there, and always by my side.

 Twins. Of course twins. While Naomi never left me and was always by my side, she had once seen my twins on the other side on a bitter-sweet day. Naomi loves those babies.

 As more and more trials came, more very painful growth occurred. Naomi selflessly drove and flew to help me fight each and every one of them for years- picking me up, pushing me, and never leaving my side.

 At the brink of my very own death, I knew Naomi would be there, I knew she understood, and I knew that she loved me and has always been my Naomi even years before we had this new perspective.

 My “Ruth and Naomi” story never focused on Ruth like it had in the past. I now know that on December 2nd 2011, when The words of Ruth entered my mind, they were never Ruth’s words, but that they had always been Naomi’s. “…Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge, your people shall be my people, And your God, my God…”

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Fight for your life, and simplify (This might answer a lot of questions)

I have been receiving personal messages, text messages and Instagram messages from many of you who have been wondering about my absence in the last few weeks. And, while I don’t have the stamina, energy or ability to respond to every tender message of concern, I wanted to share and reach all of you through this post. Please know I love you and have appreciated every thought and every prayer.

These last few weeks I have been faced with a whole new challenge that continues to be a moment by moment mental, emotional, and  physical pain that has been so excruciating I would even compare it to the pain I felt after the loss of my brother Michael in 2009 and the loss of my first husband, Jared, in 2011. But, this time the pain is not from the death of someone else but from the death I feel within me, called Clinical Depression.

In the past, I have spoken about a more common general depression that many have heard of or even experienced yourselves. But, Clinical Depression coupled with anxiety, is a whole different animal.  This debilitating, disease has nearly taken life from me. Thankfully, earthly and heavenly angels have intervened and have been helping to facilitate a step-by-step plan to a very difficult recovery.

I am sure most of you are saying “What the heck?? I would have never guessed!” Well, for the past 2 1/2 years I have been battling with the more common kind of depression. The one where you learn how to wear the, “I’m ok,” mask and push through hard days, enjoying the good ones as they come. I had many days (even weeks at a time) where I could enjoy life where my heart and my mind would connect. Then, for seemingly no reason, the dreaded dark cloud, would come and suck joy, excitement, interests, passion, drive, and positivity right out of me, leaving just enough so I could still carry on and function.

There were many days where my kids felt like burdens rather than gifts, and then there were days where I just couldn’t get enough of them. Sounds pretty common to you moms out there, RIGHT?  But for me, even during the days where I enjoyed them, I still didn’t feel like myself and I knew I was struggling when I would actually find it painful to smile as they shared with me something silly that happened. I felt like a horrible mother even though I knew this wasn’t the real me. I could never get away from the guilt even though my kids were happy and thriving.

For those 2 plus years I had been on an antidepressant prescribed by my general practitioner, and like I said, I could at least enjoy the so-called good days and just grit through the really rough ones.

In January of this year there was a period of 2 months when the general practitioner added another medication, which was a stimulant, and I actually started to feel the best I had felt since I had the twins. It was a magical 2 months. Every single day I thanked Heavenly Father because I was consistently feeling my heart and mind connecting. I was now supermom. I could do anything, handle all the fighting 4 little girls bring to the table, cook dinner, do laundry, put it away, and actually not hate it. I took showers more frequently, looked forward to planning activities with the kids… I mean MAGICAL SUPER AWESOME MOM. Multiple times a day I would beg that these wonderful days would continue.
But, for some reason those carefree days started to disappear and man was I scrambling to get them back. Both medications were increased; I got blessings and spent a great deal of time on my knees pleading with the heavens.

I soon had more bad days than good, but I didn’t want to give up, so I kept working with my general practitioner, and tried everything. Finally he took me off both medications and put me on another one in hopes it would help. Four weeks later, now into August, I crashed and entered into the deepest depths of a new kind of depression, Clinical Depression, which I now have labeled, Hell. I turned into a completely different person and literally broke. My body broke, my mind broke, my heart felt like it was breaking over and over again, and all I could do was scream in agony day after day and night after night, “Help me God. Help me…with small breaks of what felt like this shocking feeling between breakdowns.

My family came to the rescue. One set of grandparents took our older two girls, while another set of grandparents took the younger two.  Friends rescued our dog, Jake and my parents became my 24/7 caretakers while my sweet husband had to work. All I could do was try to remember to keep breathing.

Miracles became apparent as an opportunity opened up to be seen by an incredible psychiatrist at OHSU who does DNA testing to determine which medications are suited for each individual.  At first we were told he did not have an opening till the end of August.  That seemed like an eternity since each day was complete torture.  I know Heavenly Father intervened, because the doctor’s receptionist called back and said he had found a way to fit me in, in only 5 days.  Those were the longest days of my life but there was light at the end of the dark tunnel.  My dad said it perfectly when he said, “Wow I sure do love miracles!”

I won’t go into much more detail but now fast-forwarding to today, I am still working with this psychiatrist who through genetic testing, was able to determine that my body does NOT respond to SSRIs, which my general practitioner had switched me to prior to my massive plummet.  He also was able to determine the medications my body WAS in need of.

Although we have a lot more information now, and a plan to get me better and back to those magical days I once had, the battle still continues. It is rigorous and beyond challenging, but I am hopeful that it will all be ok in due time. Actually just yesterday I laughed really hard for the first time in weeks. For those of you who know me…. That’s a looooonnngggg time.

One night at the onset of one of my scariest painful depressive episodes my mom gave me some medication that the psychiatrist prescribed to help get through those very difficult times. And gosh, believe me when I say that you are just begging and pleading with your life for the meds to start working because every second is an all-encompassing pain. After the longest hour of agony, the medication finally kicked in and my mom and I could finally lie still in my bed and hold each other and cry tears of relief. I of course thanked her for not leaving my side. I expressed how sorry I was for the pain I knew she was feeling. She said she would never leave me over and over again and stayed right there by me. I told her I had to start trying to recognize the good that was coming from this type of suffering. She kind of laughed through her tears and said she didn’t think we’d see that for years, but I told her I really meant it.

After Jared died, I was in dire need to be aware of ANY GOOD that was coming from something so tragic, something that caused so many people so much pain. For me, being aware of something positive through the pain makes it worth it. When there appears to be no good while I am going through a trial (for me) that means I’m not looking hard enough because there is ALWAYS something good to be found.

The Lord performs all types of miracles amidst tragedy. The Lord brings new and life-changing perspective to individuals in the middle of strong storms. The Lord creates growth and strength from broken lives and broken hearts. The Lord causes the heavens to open and allows help from both sides of the veil. The Lord is how we survive and thrive during times where it seems impossible to live. I know that to be true. I have testified to that a million times and I will never stop. I could never deny it.

So naturally, just like with all the suffering (big and small) my family has endured, I wanted to start looking for the good because if we are going to walk through hell, there better be lots of reasons for it, opportunities to change and opportunities for growth.

I am sure as the years go by many good things will become apparent from this current trial but one good thing I have noticed so far is not actually something you would EVER think would come from a trial like this.

One night lying in bed, recovering from another painful episode, I started to randomly think of how nice and relieving it has been to withdraw from social media since I had been so sick. I had been so paralyzed and consumed by this Clinical Depression beast, the last thing I had energy for was social media, and I realized how good that felt!

I first reminisced about Facebook, recognizing what a blessing it had been to me over the years. I had been able to receive so much help and love from so many people through many trying times. I also thought about how I had used social media to share some of the personal things I had learned about life. These experiences had been wonderfully therapeutic and helpful.  SOOOOO, why on earth would I be feeling such relief from my recent inactivity?

I then began identifying specific negative influences that ever so subtly started coming into my life through social media that were not always there. These negative facets slooooowly crept in and have unfortunately worn on me. I won’t list all the things that started to influence me but will just share a few.

I first started to notice that instead of loving myself and feeling confident as a mother, I was starting to compare myself to the Facebook facade of seemingly perfect mothers with perfect lives and actually started wondering if I could ever measure up. I also noticed that I was spending more time caring while casually researching things that had to do with vanity. I knew that people were using all sorts of filters to enhance their skin, eyes, hair, teeth, and weight, but I still got caught up in comparisons.  Worldly things started becoming more and more important and I hated that! Such meaningless and unnecessary stress! I also spent too much time reading about things that didn’t coincide with what I would teach my kids as I got caught up in casually, “scrolling through my feed.” Thoughts like, “Oh gosh their life is so much better than mine,” or “I should be doing this or that,” or even worse, feeling like a hypocrite when someone would tell me my life seemed so perfect! Last but not least, all this preoccupation with social media was taking some of my attention from my children.  I wanted to enjoy my family more and live in the moment and enjoy each moment.

I seriously had some hesitation sharing this with all of you, because I know some of you are not affected by all of these things. But, I decided to share anyway because maybe, JUST MAYBE this might help someone else who is similarly struggling (and might not have even know it).

Bear with me a bit longer while I bring in one more piece to this very LONG post—
Recently, I have used Instagram to build my “Full On Macros” business. For those who do not know, this is an opportunity for online coaching toward a healthy balanced lifestyle using the method of flexible dieting and exercise.

My intention for using Instagram to build my business is to share my vision for “Full On Macros.” I want to focus on what exercise and healthy eating can do for you. I want to motivate and inspire. I want to help you believe in yourselves and to not give up. I want to help encourage you to not be so hard on yourselves. I want to provide healthy and balanced food ideas, etc.

What I want to avoid like the plague is: Contributing to any comparison issues that became discouraging to me on social media. Please know that my desires for my posts are solely for your motivation and growth as you work at becoming healthier and reaching your goals.  Your journey is personal.  My goal is to support you, not add to your stress.

Now let me bring all this together.  Thanks for hanging in there. Yikes..

SO for now, I am going to run with the relief I felt that night in my bed, and I am taking a break from Facebook and simplifying things in my life as much as I can! But, of course, I will be taking with me all the love, support, insight, and kindnesses so many of you have shown me through the years.

I will keep my Business (www.fullonmacros.com) account open on Instagram (tiffsfullonmacros) but will be changing a few things there as well, focusing more on sharing the successes of my ever so freaking amazing clients.

I know some of you have been able to reach me through Facebook when recent widows need support.  I am still very happy to provide that support, so please don’t ever stop reaching out to me. Email me at tiffanybleak@gmail.com

I also will be sharing experiences, and continue writing through my blog (which I have neglected a lot… oops)

I’ll be honest… even the very thought of trying to explain my moment to moment battle with Clinical Depression to an audience who may not understand, has been incredibly scary. Also, admitting to what I have noticed creeping into my life from social media is not very comfortable either, but I have found the harder it is to share something publically, the happier I am once I have done it, because something good ALWAYS comes from doing hard things. My heart also goes out to EVERY SINGLE PERSON who has ever walked or is currently walking through what I now call--Hell. There are new things that can be done to help you, like new studies that have saved my life. I pray for you and please know that, “I get it.” Please feel free to reach out to me for support. I know how alone you can feel.

Love you all so very much,

Tiffany Bleak Johansen Cantrell