Mixed Emotions Birthday

Yesterday was Ella’s first birthday. It passed fairly quietly with no real attention drawn to it. I didn’t want people to say “happy birthday” because happy is entirely the wrong word, and I knew that any sympathy given would only make me sadder. And we are so, so tired of being sad.

So we spent some time decluttering the guest room that will become baby #2′s nursery, we watched a few episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I made plans with my family to work on some projects for the baby’s room, my husband played a video game while I wrote a thank-you note and played with my new fancy planner, I looked at Facebook, I looked at Pinterest, I cried a few times because I just couldn’t not, we watched a movie, my sister brought us lasagna, and eventually we went to bed.

I wonder if we should have done more, if we should have released some butterflies or lit a candle or done something meaningful. I wonder if we should have eaten cake or bought her a card or done something celebratory. I wonder if I should feel guilty for not doing any of those things. But I don’t feel guilty. I’m not ready to be meaningful or celebratory yet. It’s been a year (and a doozy of a year at that), and I’m stuck between emotions. I’m not as inconsolable as I was, and I even have a lot of joyful, happy moments, but I can’t yet bring myself to celebrate her too-short life. Maybe in the future we’ll have a family day or a remembrance day, but this year, I just needed to get through it.

And since I don’t believe in “shoulds” when it comes to things like this, I’m going to let my feelings be what they are and that’s that.

Maybe next year, we’ll get to do a cake smash and sing to a toddler. Maybe next year we’ll have a party and invite all our family and friends. Maybe next year I’ll make a big deal out of a first birthday and post pictures on Facebook. But all of that will be for my second daughter. I don’t know how Ella’s second birthday will go. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Innocence Lost

I know too much now.

Pregnancy used to be this mysterious, magical thing that happened to people, and in some ways, it still is. But I will never be able to think of it again in the same way. When people get pregnant on TV shows, all I can think is, “Nope. That’s wrong. That’s totally unrealistic.” And when people look at a positive pregnancy test and say, “We’re gonna have a baby,” I just cringe. I heard a story about a lady who had her nursery fully decorated and ready when she was only 7 weeks pregnant, and I said, “I REALLY hope she brings home a baby because she obviously does not know that losing it is a possibility.”

I know that reality all too well. I was talking to a friend yesterday about the experience of loss in general. A friend of hers was murdered two years ago, so she knows what it’s like to lose someone suddenly, unimaginably. I mentioned the Thestrals from Harry Potter – the horse-like creatures that could only be seen by those who had been touched by death – and I said I really appreciate J.K. Rowling for making those things up because they’re something I can totally understand. Once you’ve experienced a profound loss, you’re just different somehow. You may not see creatures that others can’t see, but you truly do have a different kind of sight.

I know what it’s like to hold a baby for the first and last time. I know the empty feeling that comes in the days and weeks afterward when you should still be carrying life, but you’re not. I know the fight you have when you need hope more than anything, but having it feels like a betrayal of your loss. I know the special combination of excitement and terror you feel from the moment the next pregnancy test is positive. I know how slowly the time seems to pass when every day counts.

I see pregnancy much differently now. I know what’s happening at every week and what the major milestones are. Someone (I can’t remember who, so if it was you, don’t be embarrassed) recently was surprised to learn that pregnant women think in terms of weeks. I said I was 24 weeks pregnant, and they were like, “How many months is that?” Maybe some women think in months. I don’t know. When you think in days, it’s hard to imagine thinking in months. I’m 25 weeks and 4 days today, and I have to think in days because my baby’s chances of survival literally improve with each passing day. If she were born today, she’d have a 2-3% advantage over yesterday. I don’t know if it’s healthy to think this way, but it seems to help me get through each day, so I do what I have to do. Like I said, I know too much.

I know how the cervix works. I’ll give you a demo if you bring me an empty toilet paper roll. If you give me an empty toilet paper roll and a pair of scissors, I’ll show you how cervical incompetence works. If you give me an empty toilet paper roll, a pair of scissors, and some yarn, I’ll show you what a cerclage is and what it does. But if you are pregnant now or hoping to get pregnant in the future, it might be better if you didn’t know because the fact of the matter is that it’s quite rare, and you probably won’t have to deal with it, so there’s no need for me to scare you.

I know WAY too much about remedies for constipation that are safe to use during pregnancy so that you don’t have to push at all to poop. For most pregnant women, this is great info to have in order to avoid hemorrhoids, but for those of us with cervical incompetence, it’s an absolute must. (This one is a little silly, maybe, unless you’ve dealt with it, in which case you know it’s no joke.)

I know what a sunshine baby is, what a rainbow baby is, and what a pot of gold baby is. I know about all the ways to put extra progesterone in your body and the reasons for doing it in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. I could go on, but I think I’ve made the point. I wish I didn’t have all this knowledge. I wish I could be one of those moms on the mommy boards complaining about how I wanted a boy, but it’s a girl (because I have nothing else to worry or complain about). I wish I could be thinking right now, “I only have 3 more months to get the nursery ready,” instead of, “If she came right now, she’d be in the hospital for a few months, so we’d have time to throw something together.” I wish I could be blissfully unaware of the survival rates of preemies born at various gestational ages. But I can’t do any of those things. I know too much now.

This whole post feels a bit self-indulgent or whiny or maybe even arrogant to me somehow, but I don’t mean it to be any of those things. I might be complaining a little, but I don’t feel like I’m better than anyone else because I’ve been through something terrible. This is just what it’s like. And the truth is I have much to be thankful for, but that’s another post. This one doesn’t have a tidy bow on top and likely never will. I hope it makes no sense to you at all. I hope you gave up reading halfway through or read the whole thing and thought I should suck it up.

But if you can relate to everything I’ve said here, you aren’t alone. And now you know that I know too.

Blank Page

Any writer will tell you that the scariest, most daunting part of the process is the beginning. The blank page just stares at you, daring you to speak, and speaking makes you vulnerable. I’m convinced this is one reason babies learn to speak the way they do. Before they can say or understand any words, they practice using their voices, and at that point, they’re so darn cute that all the feedback they get is positive. Adults have a much harder time finding and using their voices, unless of course they’re still really cute (like Taylor Swift, who can apparently move mountains with a tumblr post).

I am not Taylor Swift, so this is hard.

I was talking to a friend the other day about why I haven’t been writing while on bed rest. I mean, it’s the perfect time to do it, right? And I thought it was because I just didn’t know where to start, but the real reason is that it’s too scary. Blogging about pregnancy is one thing, but blogging about pregnancy after losing a pregnancy is a lot of processing that I’ve been scared to do. I’ve been on bed rest for almost 6 weeks now, and without really even realizing it, the goal of every day has just been to distract myself and let the time pass. If I stop too long to think about the pregnancy, all the dangers come rushing at me, and when I’m home alone, that is too much for me to handle emotionally. So I’ve watched a LOT of Netflix, and I’ve been eternally grateful for the friends and family who’ve come by for a visit.

But just today, I’m starting to sense a change. On Friday, I’ll be 24 weeks. For most women with normal pregnancies, this is not a particularly special milestone, but for women with a history of 2nd trimester loss, it’s HUGE. At 24 weeks, the baby could possibly survive outside the womb, and at 24 weeks, hospitals will do everything they can to keep a baby alive should she decide to make her debut. Some hospitals will do their darndest at 23 weeks, and a few might attempt to resuscitate a baby at 22, but most won’t do anything before 24 weeks because the baby’s chances of survival are just too low.

I’m in a Facebook group for women with cervical incompetence, and almost every day, someone is celebrating having reached viability. I cannot emphasize enough what a big deal it is, so every day that I inch closer to it is a day with more hope.

And hope is really what transforms a blank page from something dreadful to a something possibly beautiful.

We’ve found ourselves recently starting to use more definitive language when we talk about the baby. We say “when” now instead of “if.” We worry about whether we’ll be good parents. We marvel at the fact that the hospital is going to just let us take her home without any supervision whatsoever. We argue about how we should decorate the nursery. And you know what? I don’t mind worrying or arguing like that because it means we’re turning a corner, and it’s a really nice place to be.

Here we are.

Through most of my adolescent and adult life, I’ve had, here and there, what I thought were stressful situations, difficulties, pain, self-doubt, and general hardship. And while I will always believe that folks are entitled to their feelings, I can also look back on my 24-year-old self and say, “That? That’s nothing.” When I think of all the tears shed by teenage me over boys who didn’t like me, clothes that didn’t fit, friends who acted weird, and stupid decisions I’d made, I want to laugh. I don’t, though, because those were practice problems. They were warm-ups – the slow, clumsy progression of scooting to crawling to pulling up to toddling to walking to running with full muscle control – preparing me for the past year of my life. It’s been hard, to say the least.

I can only hope that this past year hasn’t been preparing me for something worse that’s about to come. Dear God, can we please have a break from this level of hard for a while? I hope so.

Hope has been more important than ever since late January, when we found out we were pregnant again. And yes, I say we are pregnant. I used to be opposed to it because obviously I’m the one carrying the baby, but Will is the one who carries me. He’s the one who works a full day, comes home tired, and still makes sure I’m fed, the kitchen is clean, the laundry is done, and the house isn’t a health hazard. My body is the one hosting our daughter, but we are definitely in this together.

We are pregnant. And it’s the most terrifying thing we’ve ever faced.

I’ve been wanting to start blogging again for a long time now, but I had no idea where to start. There are so many things swirling around in my head and my heart on the subject, and it’s just occurred to me that I could brainstorm them here and then just tackle one at a time, adding as I go.

  • hope
  • help
  • fear
  • bed rest
  • insufficiency
  • sufficiency
  • mindfulness
  • boredom
  • friends
  • strangers
  • pregnancy
  • waiting
  • finding
  • reading

We’ll start with those. Stay tuned.

Happy Hanukkah

I know the holidays are over and this is very late, but it’s something I’ve been pondering for a few weeks now, and I feel like I just really got a handle on it myself, so I’ll go ahead and say it. Better late than never, right?

Just a tiny back-story to start: I made Christmas CDs for all of my coworkers for Christmas, except for my Jewish boss, who got a Hanukkah mix. I didn’t have a lot of Hanukkah music, but I found some really good tunes, and I ended up having more fun making that mix than the Christmas one. I’ve also enjoyed listening to it more. I thought, at first, that it was because those songs weren’t so familiar and played out, but the more I listen to them, I think it’s something different.

People keep asking me how my Christmas was, and I keep saying that it was good, but lacking. I did Christmas things because that’s what I do at the end of December, but I’m not really sure I celebrated Christmas this year.

I feel like some Christians might get upset or concerned when I say things like this, but just hang with me. I really preferred Hanukkah to Christmas this year. That doesn’t mean that I’m converting to Judaism or that Jesus’s birth is insignificant to me. Hanukkah and Christmas are not mutually exclusive holidays. Just because they happen at the same time of year does not mean that they are in competition. They simply celebrate different things. They tell different stories, and this year, my own story lines up better with the Hanukkah story than the Christmas story.

Christmas, for me, this year, was just too big. It was too overwhelming, too much to receive at one time, too much to change. Christmas is about a world-changing event. The way we count our years revolves around it. It was the beginning of a new era. It was THE BIG ONE for all mankind. But my heart is still too tender for that. Overwhelming is overwhelming whether it’s good or bad, and I couldn’t open up to the overwhelming joy of Christmas because I’m overwhelmed enough. Or maybe I’m just not in a position to see the big picture right now because pain causes you to focus in on it so that you can take care of it one step at a time.

Either way, I felt like while Christmas was happening all around me, I was oblivious to it. Christmas might have been like the sun rising, but I was sitting in a blacked-out room. What I had in the room with me, though, were candles, and they were just what I needed. If I had opened the curtains, I would have been blinded. The candles were just the right amount of light.

The story of Hanukkah goes like this (the extremely condensed version, but correct me if I’m wrong in any way): The Greeks had taken over the Holy Land and made it illegal to study the Torah. The Maccabees were the leaders of a Jewish rebel army that fought to get their land and their religious rights and traditions back. They won despite being horribly outnumbered and outarmed (is that a word?). The Greeks de-purified all the ceremonial oil in the temple, but the Jews found ONE jar that had been overlooked. It was only enough for one day, but it miraculously lasted for 8 days, which gave the Jews enough time to purify more oil according to their laws.

As I listen to music about this, I relate to it in two ways:

  1. I have felt very ill-equipped to deal with my life over the past five months. As I look back on each week, I continue to see that things are easier than they were the week before, but I often still feel overwhelmed. Some days, the sadness is still very oppressive. But the Maccabees were overwhelmed and oppressed, and they fought back and WON, not by their own strength, but by that of the God who stood with them. That gives me hope.
  2. There are days when I don’t know how much more I can take, but somehow, hope remains. There are days when I feel that my hope should have dried up a week ago, but somehow, it’s still going. I don’t know how, but it’s there. I’ve found one little jar of hope untouched by sorrow, and it’s keeping me going against all odds.

So happy Hanukkah, everyone. Whether you’re Jewish or not, may you experience the light of hope that miraculously continues to shine until your supply is replenished.

When Advent Hurts

We went to a Christmas Eve service at my mother-in-law’s church the other night. Why they had a Christmas Eve service 10 days early, I do not know, but that is beside the point. The point is that I broke down crying while trying to sing “Joy to the World” because I just don’t feel all that joyful.

When we found out I was pregnant, before we got the official due date from the doctor, we estimated that we’d be expecting a baby on Christmas Eve. I loved the thought of expecting our own baby as we also anticipated the celebration of the birth of Christ. I thought about how special Advent would be this year, how much more meaningful. I looked forward to the lessons I would learn and the ways I would be able to identify with Mary. I was excited about experiencing Advent in a deeper way because of my own state of expecting.

But instead of singing Mary’s song of rejoicing, I find myself identifying more with the Psalmist: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” Instead of feeling like joy has come to the world, I feel like I’m still longing and pleading for it.

Maybe “Joy to the World” is just not my song this year. Maybe this year, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is the one for me. I’ve always liked it, but this year, I understand it more. Mourn, lonely, hell, gloomy, shadows, dark, death, misery – these are things I get. There are also things I want – Emmanuel (God with us), wisdom, knowledge, freedom, victory, cheer, strength, mercy, peace.

I guess in a very sad, unexpected way, I am experiencing Advent in a deeper way. It’s just not the way I wanted. So I listen to this version of it on repeat and try to think that maybe we all go through cycles of painful longing and joyful receiving all the time, and it’s just unfortunate that my own personal Advent isn’t lining up with the one on the church calendar.

Context Clues

I’m reading Number the Stars with my class right now. If you haven’t read it, you really should. It’s a great story and very well written. Plus it’s short and on about a 4th-grade reading level, so it might take you a weekend to get through. It’s about a Danish family that helps their Jewish friends escape before the Nazis can “relocate” them.

My students are really enjoying it, and I’m using it to help them start getting comfortable using context clues to guess the meanings of unfamiliar words. We’ve done a lot of work on how to use the context to figure out what part of speech a word is, and now I’m starting to get them thinking about what’s happening so they can take a stab at the meaning as well. They still need a lot of help with it, though, so when they ask the meaning of a word, I walk them through the process by asking questions. Who is in this sentence? Where are they? What are they doing? What is that like? Imagine you were in this situation. What would you be doing? How would you do it?

Today, one of the words in question was “weep,” and I almost demonstrated involuntarily.

The context was that a Jewish mother and father were trying to escape with their baby when the Nazis arrived to investigate an unusual gathering of folks late in the evening. Everyone got through that particular encounter just fine, but it was understandably frightening, so when the Nazis came in, the mother held her baby tightly and started to weep.

Many of my students are mothers with young children, so I asked them, “What would you do if you thought someone might take your baby away?” And that’s when I almost lost it myself. I turned to write a definition of “weep” on the board, and I took my time erasing what was in my way and writing my definition so they wouldn’t see my face as I pulled it together. When I turned back around, I had on a happy face, and they were none the wiser.

I’m doing better. I really am. I don’t cry every day anymore. I can get out of bed and go to work. I exercise most days and eat good-for-me foods, and I feel good about myself for making those decisions. I laugh and sing and dance. I have more hope now than I’ve had since the summer. But I have also gotten better at hiding my feelings from most of the people I see regularly. It’s not that I’m trying to be fake. It’s that even though I don’t want to be sad, I still am, but I don’t want people to feel like they’ve done or said something wrong. They haven’t. If I’m crying, it is in no way your fault. I’m just sad. That is my context at the moment.

I know this is kind of a downer of a post, but today (this whole week really) has been hard, and I felt like I’d hidden it enough and needed to share it.

All the Rules You Ever Wanted to Know about Using Apostrophes and Making Things Plural

Well friends, it’s that time of year again! You are about to receive a glorious mountain of love and friendship in the form of ye olde annual Christmas cards! I don’t get very many myself, but I love looking through all the ones my parents get. They keep them all in a big bowl, and every year when I’m at their house, I sift through them, finding familiar faces and enjoying updates from family friends.

I’m here today, though, to offer a little help to those of you planning on sending out cards this year. I want to talk to you about apostrophes, which are apparently terribly confusing these days. I understand. There are a lot of rules, and a lot of people use them incorrectly, which adds to the confusion. First, let’s talk about making names plural.

Making Nouns Plural

For the most part, the rules for making names plural are the same as the rules for making any old nouns plural. If you’re talking about a whole family full of people with the last name Smith, for example, those people are the Smiths. Here are all the rules.

You probably know that you add -s to most words to make them plural.

  • card – cards
  • tree – trees
  • light – lights
  • present – presents
  • Henderson – Hendersons

You will notice that not a single one of these words has an apostrophe in it at all. That’s because an apostrophe is NEVER necessary when making a word plural.

Now let’s look at some words that end in -s, -z, -x, -ch, and -sh. To make those plural, you add -es, and I’ll give you an example sentence with each because these are getting trickier.

  • Christmas – Christmases (When I was single, I only had one Christmas each year, but now that I’m married, I have two Christmases – one with my family and one with Will’s family.)
  • Jesus – Jesuses (They had mismatched manger scenes at incredibly low prices. I cleaned them out of Baby Jesuses, which I made into ornaments!)
  • box – boxes (I wrapped all the boxes, but I forgot to put tags on them.)
  • church – churches (Many churches have Christmas Eve services.)
  • bush – bushes (I put lights on all the bushes in my yard.)
  • waltz – waltzes (Sad songs and waltzes aren’t selling this year.)
  • Rogers – Rogerses (The Rogerses are moving to Baltimore!)
  • Hernandez – Hernandezes (The Hernandezes got a new car.)

Once again, no apostrophes. That’s because an apostrophe is NEVER necessary when making a word plural.

Ok ONE more plural rule, and then I’ll stop (though I could go on). When a noun ends in a consonant + y, you change the y to i, and then add -es. **Note: Family names ending in -y do not change according to this rule. If a family’s last name ends in -y, just add an -s to it. (Clearys, Grimsbys)**

  • family – families family’s
  • mommy – mommies mommy’s
  • puppy – puppies puppy’s

Say it with me. An apostrophe is NEVER necessary when making a word plural. Ever.

Using Apostrophes

So what the heck do we use apostrophes for? Well, two things:

  1. Making contractions – When you smush two words together so hard that some of the letters pop out and fly away, you put an apostrophe there to mourn their absence. RIP “i” from is in it’s, the contraction of it and is. *moment of silence* So long fair “o” from not in aren’t, the contraction of are and not. *bows head*
  2. Making possessives – There are a few rules about this, and it gets a little sticky, but I think you can do it. Let’s go!

Here are the rules for using apostrophes to make possessives:

  1. Singular noun + ‘s – If a noun is singular, just add an apostrophe and s to make it possessive.
    – Bob’s car (1 man, 1 car)
    – the dog’s toys (1 dog, many toys)
    – Raleigh’s unemployment rate (1 city, 1 rate of unemployment)
    – James’s house (1 man, 1 house)
    – the bus’s tires (1 bus, many tires)
  2. Plural noun ending in -s + ‘ – If a noun is plural and ends in -s, you only need to add an apostrophe to make it possessive. You do not need another s at the end.
    – the dogs’ toys (many dogs, many toys)
    – the Joneses’ house (a family of many people with the surname Jones, 1 house)
    – the cities’ unemployment rates (many cities, many rates of unemployment)
    – my friends’ apartments (many friends, many apartments)
    – the buses’ tires (many buses, many tires)
  3. Plural noun not ending in -s (men, women, children, teeth, geese, etc.) + ‘s – Some plural nouns are irregular. They do not end in -s like normal plural nouns. To make these nouns possessive, you must add an apostrophe AND an s.
    – men’s jackets (many men, many jackets)
    – geese’s wings (many geese, many wings)
    – the children’s toys (many children, many toys)
    – people’s opinions (many people, many opinions)

Sample Christmas Card

So here’s some text from a sample Christmas card with corrections made:

Merry Christmas from the Jones’s Joneses!

We have had a great year! Both boy’s boys’ baseball team’s teams went to the playoff’s playoffs, and Tyler’s team won! Skylar’s team lost in the last game, but Sklyar was chosen as one of the MVP’s MVPs!

This is for educational purposes only. I swear I’m not trying to be a douche.

There you go, friends! The more I write, the more pedantic I feel, but I promise I’m not trying to be condescending or judgmental. I just want your loved ones to appreciate your sweet holiday card sentiments without losing respect for you. I know you’re smart, and I don’t want you to shoot yourself in the foot with apostrophes gone wild. If you have any questions about this AT ALL, please ask. I am more than happy to help you out!

Happy Holiday’s Holidays!

Baked Apple Recipe

I had lunch with my friend Emily and her adorable daughter a couple of weeks ago, and when she asked what she could bring, I told her, “Something fruity for dessert.” I had no idea what mind-blowing healthy deliciousness she would bless me with. She could have just brought me an apple, and I would have been excited, but NO. She brought this:

Delicious, Clean Baked Apples and Oats

AND she was gracious enough to share the recipe with us! Thanks Em! Y’all. These were so delicious and shockingly healthy. They are gluten-free, sugar-free, and clean. I wouldn’t recommend eating them for every meal or anything, but who wants to eat the same thing for every meal anyway? To make a batch, you will need:

  • 6 apples
  • 6 heaping tablespoons rolled oats
  • 6 heaping tablespoons chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup dried fruit (This is optional, but if you happen to have dried cranberries or raisins or whatever else on hand, toss it in!)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • zest of an organic lemon or orange
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 6 tsp butter
  • 1 cup hot water

Wash apples and core them using a melon baller (there is a kind with a slightly serrated edge around the scooper, which works perfectly). Arrange them in a glass baking dish large enough to leave at least an inch in between them.

In a medium bowl, mix the rolled oats, walnuts, dried fruit (if using), cinnamon, salt, zest, nutmeg, and maple syrup. Blend all this goodness together in your bowl and stuff it into the cored apples. Then sprinkle the rest of the mixture in the bottom of the baking dish around the apples. The more stuffing you make, the more will be in the bottom of the pan, and it bakes up so tasty down there. Put a teaspoon pat of butter onto each apple on top of the stuffing (more or less if you want, and if anyone wants to experiment with using coconut oil instead, PLEASE let me know how that goes). Pour a cup of hot water into the bottom of the pan.

Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Then remove the foil, turn off the oven, and leave them in there for about 30 more minutes

Drizzle those bad boys with a little raw honey before serving. They are amazing on their own, but you could also serve them with plain or vanilla yogurt. If it’s an extra oatmeal-y batch, Emily says she’ll just dish up 2 or 3 of them with lots of the oatmeal part and there’s breakfast!

Feel free to play with this and let me know how it goes. If you want to make more of the oatmeal mixture, you can, but you may need to adjust the amount of water you add to the pan.

Enjoy!!

Discipline Is a Four-Letter Word

Actually, discipline has ten letters. Yes, I stopped writing to count them…twice. I’ll give you a moment to double check my math.

Good? Ok, so our topic today is maintaining self-discipline when it comes to food and exercise. I’m sure we’re all super-psyched to talk about that. How do you do it? How do you keep it up long-term? How do you resist the cravings and temptations? How do you drag yourself off the couch every day to exercise. I think the answer to all of these questions can be summed in in two words: Motivation and Grace.

Motivation

When you have a really good reason for doing what you’re doing, you want to do it. When you have several really good reasons, your motivation gets stronger. When you have a really good plan in place to be successful, when you feel like it’s really possible, and especially when you start seeing that it’s working, it’s like a motivation booster. And when you have at least one person cheering you on, recognizing the hard work you’re doing, and giving you “the look” when you say things like, “Just one brownie,” followed by, “I don’t feel like working out today,” that really helps to keep you on track.

So if you’ve been struggling to lose weight with yo-yo results or no results at all, I would suggest that you answer the following questions:

  1. Why do you want to do this?
  2. How are you going to do it? Is your plan one that you can stick with long-term? Are you willing to change your lifestyle?
  3. What are your goals for the next month? How much weight will you lose? How often will you be exercising regularly? What specific things will you change about your diet (cut out sugar, stop eating fast food, give up soda, eat X number of vegetable servings per day, etc.)?
  4. What roadblocks, disappointments, or problems can you realistically anticipate? How will you get past them?
  5. What are you scared of as you think about getting started with this life change?
  6. Who will kick your butt if you start slacking off? (*Hint: Tell this person [these people] your reasons for wanting to make changes, your fears about doing it, and your plan, and check in with him/her/them daily. Yes, daily.)

Grace

You’re going to have off days. You’re going to enjoy Thanksgiving with your family. You’re going to be in a situation where you have no control over the food or whether or not you get to work out. You’re going to get sick and have to be in bed for days. You’re going to eat a cookie because someone made it for you and you don’t want to be rude by refusing it. You’re not going to have time to exercise one day. You’re going to forget to take your lunch to work and have to either go out to eat or starve. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to drop the ball.

Mistakes here and there won’t ruin everything. Give yourself some grace and move forward.

When I was in college, I went through a cross-cultural training program in preparation for an overseas summer mission trip. In this program, we learned a silly song that has been extremely helpful to me in countless situations since. One part of the song said, “It’s not what you do first; it’s what you do next.” How do you respond to set-backs? How do you treat yourself when you make a mistake? What do you do after you fall off the wagon?

Each decision is a step in one direction or another, but taking one step in one direction does not mean that you have to take another. If you drink a soda in a moment of weakness, choose to stick with water tomorrow. If you decide to skip your workout one day, get back on your schedule tomorrow. Even if you’ve been making bad decisions for years, you don’t have to be stuck in that rut. You can choose to take one step at a time in another direction.

It’s hard at first, I’ll be honest. Really, really hard. But the more often you make healthy decisions, the easier they become to make. You can’t give up at one failure, though. You have to give yourself some grace and try again.

The lady on one of our exercise videos always says, “If you give up, the only person you’re giving up on is yourself.” And as much as we hate her for torturing us each day, she’s right, and I’m worth not giving up on. So are you.