Self Care: Taking Care of God’s Temple

As I work through some recovery issues around my weight loss, I’m forced to think about how I take care of my body or, really, how I don’t take care of it.  For the last week I’ve been doing a “cleanse” and I’m walking through it like a “fast” (which I’ve never done). It’s been amazing to see what God is doing in my life, and I’ll share more on that later.

As a new member in Celebrate Recovery I’ve connected with so many fellow believers who are working such an awesome program.  I’ve even found a sponsor and she’s challenged me to put the “fears” and “what if” away as I walk this journey…it’s scary…it’s vulnerable…but it feels so right.

My sponsor recommended I watch a few videos from Gateway Church. I’d never heard of this church, but I’ve been impressed with what I’ve learned so far.  She recommended that I listen to the sermon entitled,  Taking Care of the Temple.  WOW!  It was POWERFUL for me!!!  NOTE: There is also a “worksheet” to go along with this one– you’ll find it here:  Taking Care of the Temple (discussion guide).

This video helped me so much and I’d recommend it for anyone who has ever struggled with self-perception, for anyone who has ever looked at a body part and felt any sort of ‘dislike’, or for anyone who is going through any medical situation. Powerful stuff!

I’ve often had issues with ‘loving’ my body and realizing that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14) in Christ’s likeness. I know that in my head, but in my heart, it’s hard to ‘believe and own.  Through Christ, I’m being healed.

I discovered many of my “hangups” are from the hurts during childhood (living with an alcoholic father, living with foster families and in group homes).  Through this video I also learned  that if there is an area where I struggle and I have a way of thinking that is contrary to God’s way of thinking, I’ve left an open door for the enemy. The big lesson for me  is that my lack of self-confidence and lack of self-care is an open door for the enemy where he is able to create a stronghold in me. WOW!  I’m realizing that I’ve personally opened this door of weight struggles and allowed Satan to use them to keep me stuck in ‘victim land’.

This was powerfully moving for me and I am excited share it. I’m excited about this new way of thinking and I know it will help me grow stronger in my recovery and in trusting Christ for HIS power, strength and will!

If you want to, watch the video.  Then, will you please share your thoughts?  I’d love to hear about your experience, strength and hope.

Christ-Centered Recovery

It’s no secret that I struggle with my weight — and have all my life.  It’s no wonder with all the abandonment, abuse, and confidence issues in my life.   Even with all the healing I’ve had from therapy, I feel like I’ve reached a “stand off” and I’m stuck – I can’t seem to get to the root of why I don’t work harder to lose weight.  Many times through my therapy, it was suggested that I attend a 12-step program.  I tried it, but I always had a difficult time keeping my higher power “anonymous”.  It just didn’t feel legitimate to me if I couldn’t own Him.  After all, my faith in Christ was the main catalyst for my healing so far.

A year ago our church began a Celebrate Recovery ministry and I was curious.  I learned that it wasn’t just for addicts and alcoholics, but it was for anyone with any kind of hurt, habit or hangup.  Could this be the right avenue for me?  I hesitated.  I dragged my feet.  I wondered.  I always meant to make it to the meeting.

About a month ago, I decided to make the commitment.  I finally found “the something” I’ve been missing…a Christ-centered program based on the 12 steps.  This is a program where I’ll learn to work the steps and turn over my will to Christ.  I’ll get (and give) some true accountability, I’ll learn how to make amends and grow my personal relationship with Christ.  This last month has been one of vulnerability, realizations and connections, but I am now “unstuck” and God is moving in my life.

I’m sharing my story because I’m convinced I’m in the right place.  Right now, I’m sharing from a place of weakness, not from a place of victory.  I’ve been trying to do this work on my own without turning over my will to Christ…without accountability partners and without like-minded recovery friends.  As I’ve begun to work the program I realize I’m here for more than a food addiction.  I’m also working on control and anger issues as well as co-dependency and over-commitment.  I’m turning my will over to Christ and I’m excited about my journey.

Do you have experience with a recovery program?  I’d love to hear about it and learn from you.

Pain of Losing a Little Brother

It was 1986 and one week before my high school graduation.  I was in the midst of studying for my final exams when a police officer knocked on the door.   He began talking and I immediately went into a fog.  All I remember him saying was that my brother had been in a serious accident on I-95 and we needed to get to the hospital quickly.  I don’t remember much about how I got there or who I was with, but the next thing I know is we are standing in the emergency room hearing an officer re-tell a story.  He said something about the brakes failing, and it “looked like someone had tried to repair them but just put them back on without  repairing the brakes”.  He told us that whomever my brother bought the the car from probably knew the condition of the brakes  (my brother had bought the car a week prior to the accident for $80.00).  The officer continued to tell the story about  heavy traffic coming onto the highway and how my brother hit the brakes quickly and jerked the car sideways right into the path of an oncoming 10-wheel Mack truck carrying ice.  My brother was broadsided and thrown from the car.  He landed on the road where the truck then pushed the car over him.  He was in a coma and the prognosis wasn’t good.  That was May 27th, 1986.

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I remember that I needed to study and pass my exams to graduate high school.  I remember being on autopilot and doing what I needed to do in the midst of the distractions, tears and fear. Somehow, I passed the exams and returned to the hospital each day.  The second day, when I arrived to the ICU waiting room, I walked up on a conversation where the doctor was in the midst of telling my family that if “the next test showed another decrease in brain activity they’d need to pull the plug”.  I screamed, “NO! You can’t do that!”  I was so upset and flew into a panic…It was all so surreal. My mom turned to me and abruptly told me to get it together and I had no right to act that way because he was “her son”.  I don’t know why, but that conversation changed me forever.  For some reason at that moment, I felt like she was forbidding me to feel for him or that she was minimizing my feelings and grief.  How was I supposed to shut down my emotions and compassion for my brother who I’d been through so much with and dearly wanted to know better?

I have memories of my brother–but very few good ones.   You see, I didn’t lose my brother in 1986…I lost him many, many times prior to that.   Our lives began separating as early as I can remember.

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When he was six and I was eight I remember playing in our yard with trucks (imagining I was driving away forever).  My trip would always be cut short when one of us seemed to be called into the house for something we’d done wrong – he more than me. I remember “escaping” on the sidewalk as I’d make play noises while driving my little orange, metal pickup truck away from the pain going on inside the trailer.  I didn’t want to hear his screams , yet I didn’t want to “drive” too far away in case Jeff needed me when he came back outside to play–IF he was allowed to come back outside.  When he did, he always returned to me so angry and hyperventilating.  He would try to tell me how much he hated me, hated our step-father, hated this place and how he just wanted to leave.  I would sit there numb under our trailer and listen in silence trying not to take on his pain – oh how difficult this was.  I think this was the beginning of our loss — perhaps it’s how I started to protect myself from something bigger than me.  I couldn’t protect him from the monster inside the trailer that continued to mistreat both of us!

Not long afterward we went to live with a family from the church. (You can read more about our story here.)  We stayed together in the first home, but it was during the second home where he was sent to live with a different family.  I lost him again…although for a short while. I missed my little brother, and he was the only human connection I had from home.  About seven months later we went to live in a group children’s home where we spent the next four years of our life.  While in the home, we were separated and lived different lives. He lived on the boys side and I on the girls side.  We didn’t see each other except at meals (and sat at different tables) or on the bus on the way to school.  Thinking back on it now, I really don’t remember having any “sibling time”.  I think this was the true beginning of when I lost my brother.  I am saddened at the lack of memories I have with him during this time.  I mainly remember hearing about times when he was in trouble or causing mischief.

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His mischief caused him to leave the group home earlier than I did.  He left in February, and I “lost” him again. By the time I went home six months later, I felt like I didn’t know my brother at all.  Once we returned home, we began fighting and experiencing jealousy of each other. I can remember he would often scream at me at the top of his lungs, “I hate you, Patty!”.  I would scream right back at him just to get even.  I’m sure all this was the surmounting anger we’d both suppressed over the years as a result of the abuse, going into care and losing our parents , dealing with feelings of abandonment and having no real family/life skills to teach us how to treat each other.  We never got any closer…our relationship was permanently scarred.

I left home at 16 and left him behind — another loss.   Our relationship was scarred and I was saddened.  It hurt.  The “little mommy” inside me, the little girl that wanted to heal his pain was hated and I couldn’t help him. We never had a chance to heal that pain and that loss is still very real to me today.

On May 30, 1986, our family gathered around Jeff’s bed and told him goodbye. As the doctors feared, the percentage of brain activity had diminished so much that it was time to let him go. It was a moment I will never forget.  His body was lifeless, but it felt like he could just open his eyes and smile at us.  Since his chest was moving and the monitor showed a heart beat, he had to be alive.  He had to wake up so we could have more time to make up and be okay with each other.  I wanted my brother back.  It wasn’t meant to be…once they turned off the machines, it was a matter of minutes until there was silence — he stopped breathing immediately and his heart stopped a minute or so later.  The final loss…so final!  WOW!  What a moment — a moment ingrained in my memory.  My little brother slipped into eternity forever.  I know I’ll see him again on the other side and I can’t wait to give him a big hug and make up for lost time.  Oh how I’ve missed him.  I am so very thankful that the last time I saw him we had a sweet exchange.  Life is short…we never know if that moment will be the last impression we get with each other.

I’ve grieved and healed a lot since then and often wish my brother was here to share some of the good times with me. I’ve since learned that I’m not an only child and I have another older brother and four older sisters on my father’s side.  Although there are many miles between us, we try hard to keep in touch, but those relationships are a work in progress.  (Another blog post for a different day.)

Life is so much different now and there are so many blessings, but I often wish he was here to share in them.  I often hear siblings fighting and hear people talking about how much they can’t stand each other.  I just hope they don’t have to experience a loss as deep as this to know just how much they are missing.

My you rest in peace Jeffrey Lee Gunnels.  You are missed.

Have you ever lost a sibling?  Do you have an amazing sibling relationship?  Please feel free to share and celebrate here with us.

Life After Foster Care

I was 13 when I left the very conservative Christian children’s home where I was safely living for four and a half years. We lived by strict rules and I felt very naive as I entered ninth grade at a public high school.  For any rising ninth grader, it’s already nerve-wracking enough worrying about fitting in, finding friends and looking good, but for me, I was coming from a place where we didn’t wear pants, didn’t listen to popular music or watch the hip shows.   I had been secluded and was SO out of the “know”.  I KNEW I was different.  I was nervous in my own skin, I was insecure about my secret home-life  and wanted desperately to seem normal — to just start over with a fresh start.

During the last six years of my life, I’d been grounded with a great faith in Christ…although I think this is where I learned how “legalistic” religion can be at times.  When I returned home I was abruptly told my mother was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and I’d now be studying the faith, too.  YIKES!  Instantly, I  became more confused about religion, I questioned my faith, I questioned what I had learned for the six years.  All of it felt very weird to me, and I was bombarded with more “legal” rules of religion.  We weren’t allowed to celebrate holidays, no blood transfusions — thankfully I’ve never been faced with that!  I learned we couldn’t associate with the “worldly”, so I wasn’t allowed to “hang” with kids at school and as a result had no friends.   I was told I couldn’t go to college for fear of “falling away”.  They believe that Christ didn’t die on a cross–he died on a stake.  My favorite rule was that we weren’t allowed to celebrate birthdays because there are only three mentioned in the Bible and at all of the parties there was a murder.  I still don’t understand that one.  Anyway..I learned about these and many other of their “interpretations”.  Nonetheless, it never felt right to me.

From then on I didn’t trust anyone about religion, but one thing I did gather and still believe today about the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they believe Christ is the Messiah/our Savior, they believe he died and rose again, they believe there will be a second coming and a judgement day.  They do believe that some Christians will go to heaven.  Anyway, these are just some of the interpretations I learned between the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the the “average” Christian denomination.  Don’t we all have our quirks and crazy interpretations?  I know I don’t have all the answers.  In essence, I think they have the basic underlying truths of Christianity.  I only talk about that because it was an integral picture into what our home-life looked like.  My mom was studying and my step-father was not, which put another weird twist on it all. For the first few months, it all felt like things might be “normal” until…

It was New Years Eve of 1981 and the sexual abuse started over again, my brother was always “in trouble” and the abuse was abundant again. Here we go with the secrets again.  I tried to go to school and be “normal”.  At home, I was doing what I had to do what I had to do to be the “perfect” child and not rock the boat.  When I was 15, my parents said they didn’t have enough money to make ends meet.  My brother and I both were “homeschooled” – we really quit school and went to work full time to give our money to the family.  I didn’t like school only because I wasn’t allowed to associate with any of the kids and I felt out of place, so I *thought* this would be a good idea.  Afterall, I already felt “grown up” why not go out into the world and work to prove I’m responsible.

Not long after working on my own, at age 16, I finagled my way out of the house and moved out (another story for another day).  I felt it was an escape.  I didn’t get along with my mom because of the religion, my step-father was still abusing me and I knew if I could get out it may feel “fresh”.  Off I went, to rent a room from someone. My mentor got wind that I had moved out and immediately contacted me and helped me get back into school.  Soon, I found myself riding my bike to school, working full time, going to school full time and studying in my spare time.  I still didn’t feel normal.  I was estranged from my family after the “elders” of the witnesses came to my home and “disassociated” me from the Witnesses.  Now, my mom was forbidden to speak with me.  I was all alone, no family and no real friends.

Many children that age out of the foster care find themselves in this very same situation.  They are thrown into the big world right out of a foster home that no longer received funding for them. They are told they need to survive.  Many times, there are no benefits or assistance to help them transition, and if they do receive help, it’s temporary.  Any young adult going to college or the work world needs motivation, encouragement, love and empowerment from family and friends.  If anything, they need a home, family, or place to return for holiday, when life gets tough.

Here’s how one girl explains her story of emancipation: ”

The day I graduated from high school my foster mom told me, “You’ve been
emancipated. You can’t live here anymore.” My social worker showed up—I
was still in my little graduation dress and heels, my flowers, my cap on. My
social worker had never talked with me. [She just] told me, “I’ve called around
and found a shelter for you. You have a bed for four months.”
—Karen D., San Francisco

This is just one of many stories.  I was fortunate that I had God on my side – although I had turned my back on organized religion since I was so confused, he was ever-present and protecting me.  I was resilient.  I had the will to succeed in my heart.  I had had many great role models and examples of what a “normal home” *might* look like and I wanted it.  I had drive, I had passion.  I was “clingy” and shared my story frequently.  I think that helped others know what I was going through and willing to help me and invite me in on holidays.  I’ve made some special and compassionate friends over the years.  I was fortunate that I was blessed with a personality that has a “go-get-it” attitude attached.  I lived the saying, “Where there is a will, there is a way” and found ways to apply it at all cost.  I graduated at the top of my high school class, received scholarships to college and made my way.  No, it wasn’t easy…there were lots of troubles, dark lonely paths where I dabbled.  Somehow, I never lost sight of my goal and I finished.  Many of these foster kids haven’t been given the gift of great mentors, the gift of drive and tenacity or the ability to focus intently on a goal.  Those are the ones that need others to be intuitive and reach out to help them.  They need mentors.  They need us to come along side them and let them know there is good in this world.  They need someone to love unconditionally.

I hope as I share my story and the stories of others that you find a way to reach out in your local area and help someone in need.  I hope you can find a sweet spot where you can help the ‘least of these’.  They are God’s children; they are society’s children!

Until next time:
Matthew 25:40 …Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

My Foster Homes and Group Homes

I really don’t remember when “they” came to get me.  I really don’t remember the first time we slept there. So many memories are just “hiding” in my mind, but I imagine I was thinking something like, “Where were we going?  Why were we going to live somewhere else?  What would happen to my toys?”  It’s almost as if I just woke up one day and lived somewhere else.

First, I went to live with a family from the church.  They were nice enough, but I just knew we were outsiders–even with their kids and I knew we’d be moving on when they found a good family for us.  The next family for me was ‘scary’ – but I really don’t know why.  They were a couple without children.  I really didn’t like them and never really felt any love from or for them.  Looking back now, I think they wanted kids and taking us in was their hope for a family.  I just don’t think they knew how to be nurturing parents.  My brother was not a good “fit” for them, and they soon made sure he moved on.  He lived in about 9 homes in the next 7 months.  Somehow, I stayed put, and only saw him briefly at church when our paths would cross.  I saw the misery in his little eyes and I couldn’t do anything to protect him.  I missed my little brother–he was my only connection to home.  I lived with this family for about 7 months, and I settled into routine and did what I needed to do be invisible and not get in trouble.

The blessing that came out of living with this couple is that I met my life-time mentors (I’ll have to write a post about them one day…How God brought them to my life is amazing).   I met them because my foster mom took me to do ceramics, and she’d go with us.   She tells me now that she fell in love with me from the beginning.  I believe my foster mom was jealous of her because we clicked so well – she and I had a bond that I didn’t share with my foster mom.  I really enjoyed hanging out with them. They’d take us out on the boat and do special activities with us.  If I was a “bad girl” my foster mom would keep me from seeing them or from attending the outing where they’d be.  Later, I learned that they are the ones who discovered bruises on my legs from the beatings they were giving me.  It wasn’t long after that I was reunited with my brother when we went to live in a group children’s home.

We first flew to Tampa, Florida and lived at the Faith Children’s Home (now called the Hope Children’s Home) there for about eight months until we were moved to Tallahassee, Florida as the first group of children to open a new home called, The Lighthouse Children’s Home.  Living in a group home was different.  Going there was bittersweet for me. I left a family behind that I didn’t care for too much and I was on a new adventure.  I got to have 5 other roommates (there were 3 rooms — a little, middle and big girls room).  I was in the “middle girls” room first.  I was only allowed to keep three stuffed animals on my bed.  Mysteriously, my toys all disappeared one day while I was at school.  I think that’s when I started crying.  I cried.  I cried a lot.  I was spanked for crying both at school and at home — they “gave me something to cry about” (I hate that line and won’t use it on my kids).  I was a fragile, wounded little girl.  I learned that crying was bad.  People made fun of me and it hurt.  I still cry a lot, but now it’s okay with me, and I don’t care what people think…I’m sensitive and that’s how God made me.  I own it.  It’s cleansing.

Living in a children’s home taught me many things.  I learned to love unconditionally — everyone is different.  Everyone”s situation is unique yet equal.   I learned to have a strong faith in Christ and to pray about everything and for everything (I even prayed for my first curling iron).  I learned that God answers prayer.  Both of these children’s homes STILL exist PURELY on FAITH!  I think that’s amazing.  They are debt free and have been able to do the work they do for children because of their donors, prayer partners and supporters.  I learned to be thankful for the little things.  I learned to be gracious and appreciative when given a gift — even if it wasn’t what I wanted.

I learned how to “sing”…okay, not well, but I learned the basics.  We were privileged enough to travel from church to church, sing and give our testimonies.  I was not one of the “bright shiny stars” but I loved it.  I found my love for performing.  I believe this gave me the courage to be a speaker and leader.

Recently, I was able to attend a reunion at the Hope Children’s Home in Tampa, Florida.  What an amazing visit we had as we walked the very same halls where we grew up.  It was heart-warming to see God’s work there is going strong and He is ever-present in his blessings.  Of course, it was very sad to see how many kids are living there now…seems the numbers have doubled.

Click here and listen to these kids sing about His blessings.

Click here and listen to these kids sing about His blessings.

I was moved to tears that day as I was reminded just how blessed I was to have been taught how to find the blessings in all I had.  I was a frightened little girl who had been removed from my family.  I was scared!  I cried a lot, and I didn’t understand my situation.  I knew that I had a roof over my head and I had a new family, the “Family of God”.  I was blessed.  They taught us well and to this day, I carry that faith and appreciation for the little things.

Reunion 2012

Reunion 2012

Looking back, I even learned from the not so good things.  Because so many children came and went during my 4 1/2 years there, I learned to let go easily.  It was always so difficult to have my “friend” leave me.  To this day, goodbyes are heart-wrenching.  Long-term or deep relationships are difficult for me.  I have so many friends, yet, somehow I stay guarded even when I try hard not to…still working on it, though.  The absence of family has taught me to be independent and sole-supporting.  I’ve missed having ‘familial’ connections, but I’ve learned to find family in those special people that have open their hearts and home to me over the years.  I’ve had some amazing holidays and celebrations with some warm and inviting families, many of which I’ve been jealous of because I missed out on the ‘warmth” of that family love they shared with each other.  I know I shouldn’t be “jealous”, but I own it…it’s just one of those things that I think every foster child goes through when it’s missing from their lives.  We become “society’s children” and find our family elsewhere, which is a blessing God affords us.

Even though I didn’t grow up in the “traditional” family setting, I turned out pretty well.  I had some amazing people that came through my life.  I was taught young to look for the positive in people and in life’s happenings.  That’s not an easy trait, but it’s one that has gotten me far in life.

Now, I’m privileged to work with other children that are affected by the system or are traumatized at an early age.  I pray I can be the same “light” in their life that many were in mine.

Many Secrets of a Foster Child

My childhood was probably very similar to many of the children in foster care today.  I was a happy baby girl and had a very rambunctious little brother (Jeff), but around us there were many moments of strife, sadness and mental illness.  My parents were average hard-working people, but I remember …

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I can’t help but notice the big grin on my face, the lack of a car seat and my favorite Raggedy Ann doll on the seat beside me (that one stirs my inner child a bit). Can you guess what kind of car this was by the back seat and window?

… the many fights, the smell of beer on my father’s breath, the many beer cans on the tables when I awoke in the morning and I remember how life was when my mother left him.  I remember a couple of my mother’s different boyfriend’s and what they did to me as a toddler. Most of all, I remember the new step father that joined our family promising lots of happy memories.

But, he didn’t create happy memories for us – just the opposite…I remember his beatings and I have vivid memories of hearing him beat my brother and seeing the hand-print bruises on his tiny little face.  I remember the night he left our mobile home to take my 5 year old brother out to the middle of nowhere and leave him on the side of the road — just to punish and scare him–a 5 year old!!  By the grace of God, I’ve been able to work through those memories and keep them from haunting me every day.  Some children aren’t so lucky.

It wasn’t long after that we went to live with a new family.  I stayed with one family for about eight months, but they couldn’t handle my brother, Jeff.  He was probably classified as severely ADHD and emotionally handicapped (as they’d label today), so he bounced from home to home and probably lived in about nine different homes.  We became “Society’s Children” and were raised by other families, mentors or houseparents.  Our lives drastically changed.

On any given day, there are approximately 400,000 children in foster care in the US.  Many of these kids have similar stories of abuse, neglect, abandonment and fear — most importantly, they live with many painful secrets they never have the courage to share.  Many of these kids feel it’s their own fault and if they’d only been “good enough” things would be different.  Some walk around with hatred so strong they wish their parents were dead.  Some kids still, after all the trauma, wish mommy and daddy would bring them home.  Some kids just “function” and try to get through life, figure out how to survive and find their new “normal”.  As a result, it’s important to note that each of these 400,000 kids needs a mentor, needs a warm hug, and some gentle guidance.

I believe that it was because of the countless mentors, houseparents, good role models and great homes I’ve had in my life that have helped me “go down the right path”.  It’s because someone thought it was important to model and develop in me a faith in Christ at an early age.

Do you have a similar story?  Have you had a mentor that has greatly influenced your life?  Have you ever served as a mentor for others?

Until next time, please remember James 1:27

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