Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Matt Ham: An Unlikely Journey

Please welcome Matt Ham to the blog today. Matt and I crossed paths through a My 500 Words writing challenge put out by Jeff Goins at the beginning of this year. In addition to raising a family with his wife, Liz, Matt is a speaker and author of a soon-to-be-released book called Redefine Rich. I am honored to have Matt here today to share with you a bit about what living richly means to him.

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Sometimes there are moments in your life marked by an undeniable feeling, something that can’t be explained in natural occurrences or resolved by circumstance. For me, these moments of clarity bring about a humility that reminds me of the grand design which we are fortunate to participate in. The belief that we are part of a bigger story than we could ever imagine.

When I first encountered the story of Peyton Fontenot as told my her mother, Sarah, I knew it was such a moment…

About eight months prior, this insurance agent and father of three had embarked upon the most unlikely journey of writing a book. Interestingly enough, that moment held a similar feeling. It was an odd yet purposeful whisper, a suggestion to write a book about uncovering the true meaning of an elusive word: rich.

As I began poring over my own past and the stories of others, I began to see an uncommon theme beneath the surface of this common word.

For most, richness was defined by material well-being and financial prowess. However, when asked, most people would describe what made them rich in more heart-level terms, deeper, more complex descriptions not revealed by the cultural norms.

This paradigm puzzled me and sent me on a journey to unlock the mystery of true wealth, a new perspective on the Good Life.

I ran head-on into a buzz saw of adversity.

I found a common theme in the lives of all people: brokenness. For many, the exterior facade of wholeness was a disguise used to cover a shattered soul. The one common denominator in their lives was pain. However, the differentiator was not the pain itself, it was the response of the individual in the midst of their suffering.

It was about that time when I first read about Sarah and Ron’s story.

In that moment, the correlation between my findings and the kindred journey they had been walking was too coincidental for fate. It felt purposeful. I believed I was supposed to include their story in my book.

I wanted to reach out to them, but fear screamed at me so loudly.

“They’ll think you’re crazy. How could you possibly ask them? It’s too soon. That’s just rude.”

I’ve come to learn that fear loves to waste my time.

Hope doesn’t.

Hope never disappoints because it’s built on a foundation of faith that regardless of the outcome—there are plans greater than our own. Our course is marked and we will be guided, divinely.

Sarah and Ron were gracious to share their story and the remarkable life of their daughter, Peyton. This blessing has enriched the lives of many.

Since then, I have been fortunate to become a steward of these stories, an unlikely shepherd of sorts. Anytime that I begin to rationalize how they have culminated in this book is nothing short of a miracle.

But I do know, this journey has changed me. It has given me a new perspective on that common word that will forever give it uncommon purpose.

My hope is that it would do the same for you.

I would invite you to join us.

You may find that richness has been waiting for you.

It just took knowing your part in the story.
Matt on Twitter.
Matt on Facebook.
Matt's Blog.
Matt's Redefine Rich Podcast on iTunes and Stitcher Radio.

You can find out more about Matt's book, Redefine Rich, by clicking in the image below:




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Friday, October 3, 2014

Peyton Weight

Hello. My name is Sarah and it has been 50 days since I last blogged.

Wow!

The last post I shared was on August 14 - on the 13th anniversary of the loss of our son. You can read about that here.

To say I feel out of practice and out of the blogging loop would be an understatement. I have missed the community, but for reasons I can't fully explain, I have been living my life more or less in silence. At least here on my blog. I had written a post on depression in the wake of actor Robin Williams' death. I know many people did. I hadn't felt that strongly about writing a post in a long while because I have been dealing with depression - whether you could see it or not, it has been a battle and for a few weeks right around that time, I truly wasn't feeling like it was a battle I could overcome. Not easily, that's for sure.

Coincidentally, at the height of my struggles, I was re-introduced to the myfitnesspal app on my phone. Actually, today is day 49 of continuous tracking on this app. 

I was caught in a vicious cycle of grief, depression, and poor control over my physical health. Ron had been working out with a trainer for about a year and even he was feeling kind of stuck with regards to his weight loss journey. Right at that time, his trainer (also a pastor at our church) got him on myfitnesspal so that he could monitor his caloric intake and exercise. He also friended me on that app. I'd used it in the past, but not seriously. I had a handful of friends on it - mostly blog friends - but we were just friends. We weren't intentional about holding one another accountable. 

Things changed 49 days ago. We installed the app once again and became very intentional about using it each and every day. Honestly, this app was mentioned by another pastor in the weekend message the very next day (the message wasn't about fitness, but it was worked into the message in a good way). I still wonder how many people in our church signed up that day and what their progress is.

They say that 3 weeks of doing something will make a habit. I could not agree more! As I said, we're 49 days into this. It has become a part of life. I wake up and step on the scale. I log it. I know, I know. I should back off the scale because weight fluctuates so much, and it's the inches that matter. Trust me, I've heard it! I'm a little (no, a lot) OCD about checking my weight each morning, and so I do. I lose (and sometimes gain) weight in little increments each day. Sometimes it stays the same. In all this time, though, I've never had a really bad day. But I've had some pretty good ones!

When I sat down to think about my goals, the first one that sprang to mind was "I need to lose my 'Peyton weight'". That is Ron's first goal as well. What do I mean by that? We lost our daughter, Peyton, on May 4, 2013. One side effect of grief that many people (not all) face is weight gain. Of course Ron and I fell victim to that unfortunate side effect. I'll speak for myself in saying that during the intense initial season of grief, I didn't feel like eating, but then when I did, it was just mindless activity. I didn't care what I ate. I overate. Eating was a comfort thing - especially during half price shake season at Sonic. We gained a lot of weight. I hit my highest weight probably a couple months ago. I was going to to doctor that day and I weighed myself that morning because I truly felt like stepping on the scale in front of someone at the doctor's office was going to be highly embarrassing. And it was. It was the highest weight I'd ever been outside of being pregnant with severe pre-eclampsia. As if I needed something else to be depressed about! I had gained 18.6 pounds in the aftermath of losing Peyton. That's my "Peyton weight" - 18.6 pounds.

In the past 49 days, I have been very intentional about what has become not just a weight-loss journey but a fitness one as well. I have a small group of accountability partners on myfitnesspal - Ron, our pastor/trainer, and a few close friends who are also on a journey towards better health.  I have a set number of calories which I am allowed each day based on the data I plugged in. Trust me, in those early days, 1200 calories did not seem to be nearly enough. I kept at it. I began to work out in a group setting with a trainer as well. It is intense. It's unlike anything I've ever done before.  Want to know what it's like? This Subway "cropfit" commercial made me literally laugh out loud because it so reminded me of what we call "Robfit":



We work out at church most of the time - in one of the smaller venues within the building, or out in the back parking lot. We've worked out on the beach and have also gone into a crossfit facility to utilize their equipment. Did I ever in a million years think I'd be doing this? No. Did I ever think I could do this? No. Can I do it? Perhaps not gracefully and perhaps not with the skill of many of the other participants, but the answer is yes. Yes I can, with modifications for my ankle injury in some instances, but yes I can! So, 2-3 times Ron and I subject ourselves to some pretty intense workouts. The funny thing is that during the workout I'll reach this level of - well, I'm not sure what to call it..."hate" is such a strong word! But when it's over, I feel amazing. Sore. But generally amazing. And then I look forward to the next time and I actually really hate to miss a day. Me. I'm enjoying this. Huh. Who'd have thought that was possible?!

I'm coming back to you today, writing this post, because I want to share what I've been going through. My absence was not you, it was me. Dealing with depression is not fun nor is it easy. But while I've been absent here, I've been working on myself out there and I'm truly excited about the progress I'm making and the changes I'm seeing. 

On September 26, 2014 I reached my first goal. I lost those 18.6 pounds of "Peyton weight". I've actually lost 21.6 as of this morning. I've also lost a combined total of over 16 inches. But those first 18.6 pounds - there is a lot of significance in that goal. I don't think I can really describe it. Maybe it doesn't seem like a huge deal to some of you, but it really is a huge deal for me both mentally and physically.  The best part is that since I've incorporated the fitness element into this life change, I've not just lost 21.6 pounds and am back where I was a year and a half ago. I've gained some muscle and I feel like I look even better than I did the last time I was this weight!

My weight loss and fitness journey are just beginning. I've got a long way to go to reach my final goal, but reaching this first goal was pretty monumental.

Three weeks makes a habit. You can do it too!



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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Thirteen

Thirteen years.

Today marks thirteen years since our son Jeffrey was born still.  On August 14, 2001, our first child - a son - came into this world, already in the arms of our Father.

Married just over a year and three months, this event was (at the time) the single greatest tragedy to befall us, individually and as a couple.  Our lives changed on that day.

I was six months into my first pregnancy when I became quite ill.  I could look back with a wide range of feelings regarding that time of illness.  I had a doctor who was disinterested in me.  I knew something was wrong.  I knew it, but no one was taking my complaints seriously.  "Keep your feet up." was their response on multiple occasions.  It wasn't until I was in quite serious condition that they finally took me seriously.

I could look at that time frame and simply be angry at the medical establishment I was with.  But I don't know that the outcome would have been any different.  Maybe.  I have no way to know.

Thirteen years ago, we were not walking with the Lord.  We just weren't.  We occupied seats at church - sometimes.

While suffering through an illness that almost took me from this world, we lost our precious child.  


The emotions that followed in the time of grief that passed weren't good.  I was bitter, angry, enraged, hateful, and was coming undone.  I blamed God.  Oh, how I blamed Him.  I blamed Him for everything that had gone wrong in my life that ultimately led to this great loss.  The "Why me???" game was in full swing and it went into extra innings; far more than necessary.

Thirteen years have passed and I miss Jeffrey terribly.  I treasure the hours I held him - all 1 pound three quarters of an ounce of him - in my arms before it was time to let go.  I look back on the years of misery that I unfairly put myself (and others) through.

I can't change who I was then.  I didn't know God.  I didn't understand anything about relationship with Christ or walking with the Lord.  I probably would have scoffed at the idea of this being part of a plan.  In fact, I probably did.

I know now that I still don't understand why events transpired the way they did.  I don't understand why anyone has to lose a child at any stage of pregnancy or at any age thereafter.  It's not right.  It's not the natural order of things.  But I do know that God does, indeed, have a plan.
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)
If I knew then that God was for me and not against me.  If I knew then that God was with me no matter what circumstances I found myself in.  If I knew then...

I think in the grand scheme of things, the loss of Jeffrey, as difficult as it was, was the very beginning of our road towards Christ.  A long road to be sure.  A dirty, pothole-filled, gravelly, rocky, scary road at times.  I know I couldn't see how there was any "good" in what happened.

I read that marriages that have endured a stillbirth are 40% more likely to wind up in divorce.  We were married in 2000.  Between 2001 and 2013, we endured a stillbirth, a miscarriage, and 24/7 caregiving for a medically fragile/special needs child who passed away at the age of almost seven years old.  Between 2001 and 2013, I have nearly died from sudden life-threatening health conditions five times.

Romans 8:28 says it this way:
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."
I may still be trying to discern the purpose in all of this, but I know that our journey - beginning with this great loss - has brought us closer to God than we have ever been in our lives.  I know now that God is for me.  I know that He has been with me through every single trial I've endured.  I know that He is my strength and my comfort.

I don't know why things happen in life, but I know that God "comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." (2 Corinthians 1:4)

We've walked a difficult journey these thirteen years, but we've grown stronger.  Individually.  Together.  With Christ.

Yes, things happen that we cannot predict or control.  God knows our journey.  He knows our sorrows and our trials.  He knows us.  He is strength in our weakness and in our weakness we are made strong.
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  Therefore I boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." (2 Corinthians 12:9)



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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Depression: You Aren't Alone

I find it interesting the number of blog posts and news articles regarding depression have come across my feed this week. If you've never given depression a second thought, the sudden passing of beloved actor and comedian, Robin Williams, surely has caused you to consider it at least for a moment.

I'm not a doctor. I'm no expert. I am just a person. A person who has suffered with depression.

The passing of Robin Williams struck me, as it did many people around the world. How could one of the funniest men on the planet end his own life? 

Depression.  

It struck me because I just shared in my "Thankful Thursday" post how I have been struggling with depression and had just gone through a few weeks of anti-depressant medication withdrawal.  I just shared that post on August 7th. The post wasn't written to garner attention, nor did it. Four days later, on August 11th, we were shocked by the death of Robin Williams. We were shocked to learn that he'd allegedly died at his own hand.

Addiction and depression. Whatever Mr. Williams dealt with on this earth, it is not mine to discuss. That is between him, his loved ones, his friends, and anyone with whom he sought help. It is not for me to judge how he lived his life or how he ended it. It's not my place.

But what I can offer is this. Encouragement.

I've dealt with depression for years. Tomorrow - August 14th - is the 13th anniversary of the passing of my first child. My son, Jeffrey, who was stillborn. I have words to share on that tomorrow, but I struggled with many demons after that date back in 2001. I am not going to say that you need to get right with God because I don't know you and I don't know your relationship. I do know that for me, it is in the lenses of hindsight that I can see a vast difference between how I have handled that loss compared with the illness and death of my almost seven year old daughter in May of 2013. For me, I know that difference is my relationship with Christ.

Depression is real. Depression isn't simply being sad or unhappy. It's a controlling force that threatens every single day to consume all of your being. The extent and depths of my depression may be nothing compared with Mr. Williams' or even someone reading this right now. That doesn't make it any less real or any less a part of what I have been through these past several years.

I'm not a doctor, so I am not going to get into statistics and medical references, but I know that depression affects your brain chemistry. It's not a "choice". As much as I didn't choose to lose my son, I did not choose to wind up in the "depths of despair", a phrase Anne Shirley used in the book Anne of Green Gables to describe her feelings. She was being over-dramatic, but those words capture the feeling.

I was on anti-depressant medication until recently. For me, personally, I decided I wanted to try to resume a "normal" life without medication to treat my depression. I want to try a more natural approach through essential oils. I'm tired of being on chemicals to treat my depression. I felt like I was at a point where I could manage without meds. I quit cold-turkey - accidentally. Don't do that! Do it properly. I went through side effects that had me feeling worse - had me feeling more depressed than I had felt in ages, with horrible thoughts running through my head.  I'm on the other side of that now and, while I can't say I feel "amazing", I feel like - for now - I made the right decision.  That said, in the past few weeks, I've seen two doctors who both expressed concern, who both were ok with my decision, but who both encouraged me to seek their help if I felt like I couldn't function normally without the meds.

I am not suggesting to anyone that they quit cold-turkey. That is just to illustrate what's been going on with me. The sudden passing of Robin Williams came on the heels of this withdrawal phase for me. It was shocking and it made me remember things. His death made me cry. The feelings I had caused me to search high and low from the registry book from the funeral home that so many loved ones and friends had signed when Peyton passed away. In that moment, I needed to feel, in some way, the love of those people in a tangible way.

Depression is an every day journey that ebbs and flows. It can feel really bad for a season and it can also feel manageable for another. I am not out of my season of depression. It's just a little more manageable right now. I am surrounded by people who love me; this I know. I also know that I've got God with me through it all - even on the days when I will fail to recognize His existence in my life. 

And so I encourage you. If you are suffering through depression, please know that you are not going through it alone. I think more people than you realize are walking a similar journey and you don't even know. I think it's time to break the stigma of depression and let people know that it's ok to be depressed. You aren't alone. There is help for you. A family member or friend. Your pastor. Professional counseling. Medical intervention. In-patient resources. Out-patient resources. Even medications if you need it. Just don't go through it alone.



National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thankful Thursday #143



thank·ful

adjective \ˈthaŋk-fəl\
: glad that something has happened or not happened, that something or someone exists, etc.
: of, relating to, or expressing thanks
Source


Welcome to this week's edition of Thankful Thursday!

I am grateful for finishing this week on a good note.  We had our First Wednesday service at church last night and it was, as usual, amazing.  It's the best service of the month and one I look so forward to attending.  If you aren't a part of our church, First Wednesday is a once a month service on - wait for it - the first Wednesday of each month.  It's an extended time of worship with a message in there as well.  One of our former pastors was visiting and preached last night.  His family had left last summer to plant a church out in Colorado. His wife had been one of Peyton's nurses in the PICU step-down unit where she spent her last 40 days.  He, himself, came and prayed with our family at the visitation at the funeral home when Peyton passed away.  He gave an excellent message and it was really great to see how much he's grown as a pastor in the last year.  If you are someone who was there, don't you think he's grown?  You can definitely tell that God is at work through him!

This past week has been quite challenging.  Each and every day for the past week, I have faced some sort of "trigger" moment where my grief over Peyton resurfaced in a big way.  Her first anniversary since her passing was in May, so that wasn't it.  Her birthday fell in May, so that wasn't it either.  In fact, there really wasn't any significance to the time frame at all.  However, every single day something happened that really reminded me of our loss.  A funeral at church (I work in the church cafe and to be honest, I have never been in the church when a funeral was going on - except for Peyton's).  Same venue.  Same funeral home handling the service.  Some of the same undertakers even!  That was probably one of the biggest triggers, but you get the idea.  The church building has music playing over the speakers during the day.  I love listening to the music, but honestly when work is busy, I don't notice it as much.  A couple days ago, I was in a zone where I wasn't particularly noticing the music until I heard Kari Jobe singing "Healer".  When Peyton was in the hospital, towards the end I had a continuous loop of music going.  "Healer" was the second to last song that played before she passed away.  If you listen to the words, it was perfect since in her passing, Peyton was healed.  The song played as she slipped away from us and into the Father's arms.

Every day.  That is the type of week it was.  When I heard that song, I thought to myself, ok God, what are you trying to tell me??  I felt it was a message of some sort.  These reminders are all at once good yet painful at the same time.  I don't want to not remember these things but for whatever reason, I was bombarded by reminders.

A few weeks ago, I found myself "accidentally" coming off anti-depressant medication.  After many months of being on it, I had wanted to try to wean off of it.  I hate being on medication that maybe I don't need to be on.  I don't want all that stuff in my system if I don't truly need it.  I say "accidentally" though.  Did you know you're supposed to wean off this type of medication?  Did you know that "wean" doesn't mean "cold turkey"?  And did you know that if you accidentally quit cold turkey - meaning, you forget to call in your prescription and then you realize you've already been off a few days and decide it's probably not worth taking it at all (because you're really not a doctor and don't know that that's not smart) - there is a withdrawal period??

Who knew?!?!

So I found myself in the couple weeks prior to this past week with vertigo, restlessness, a low grade fever, and symptoms of depression that cause me to wonder if I should just go back on the meds and get the refill!  I even went to the doctor.  Neurological testing showed I didn't have a stroke or anything like that - I didn't know that was even something I should have considered!  The doctor wasn't sure so advised me to pay close attention to the symptoms and come back if it didn't improve.  I wound up back there anyway for an abscess that needed drained (I told you...it was not the best week this past week!!), but prior to that visit, I surfed the information highway only to find out that, hey, maybe all these symptoms (there were 7 or 8 independent symptoms) fit together under one "diagnosis".

Withdrawal.

Again.  Who knew?!?!

Depression is very real, people, and I'm not a doctor and I won't say anything other than that you should seek help if you are suffering from depression in some way.  It's also really dumb, in hindsight, not to refill a prescription and discuss weaning off these types of meds under a doctor's care.  After about two weeks or so now, I think I am finally through that "withdrawal" phase.  Now, I will not compare this type of withdrawal to something an addict would go through - it's not that type of withdrawal (I have not experienced that firsthand and have no idea what that must be like).  I just felt "off".  Really "off".  I discussed it with the doctor I saw for the abscess and it clicked that, yes, this was what was happening and that I should be over the worst of it soon.  I think I'm mostly over it now.

So...long story short (too late!) - I am beyond thankful that this is behind me.  As I come out the other side of this withdrawal period, I think that it's going to be ok.  For me, right now, I think being on meds isn't a long-term thing I need to consider, although there'd be nothing wrong with it if that was the case.  I'm thankful to have this out of my system and out of my daily regimen.

And I am thankful for a husband and for friends who get that what I'm going through isn't easy and stand by me through all my ups and downs.  There are plenty of good - even great - days ahead.  I look forward to each and every one!

What are you thankful for this week?





thankful thursday

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