The struggle to love unconditionally

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Love as the media shows it is not true love. It’s the love where you are happy and showered with all the feels, until it gets hard. Then it’s time to break up and move on to the next. This illusion of plenty of fish in the sea, and maybe the lie of that perfect person for us keeps us unsatisfied until we end up alone and grumpy wondering where we went wrong.

Most of my life, I have struggled to learn and apply unconditional love in all of my relationships. I’m talking family, friends and most importantly romantic relationships. And the biggest struggle I face is unconditionally loving people who can’t love me back.

Both historically (my exes) and currently, there are and have been people in my life that I have and still love wholeheartedly who don’t have the capacity love me back. I won’t drop names, but there is someone in my life right now where I have to sit and meditate, take several deep breaths, before composing myself to respond to him in the most loving way I can.

But he already rejected me months ago, and even without that I know he doesn’t have the ability to love me back. At least, not the way I love him. And I’m not going to lie, there are nights where I just feel like crying. But each day gets better, because God gives me the strength to continue loving him the way Jesus loves me. And I pray that one day, he too will know and understand that type of love. The one where there are no limits. Without conditions. The way love is supposed to be.

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Radiating love and kindness

So today I’m supposed to write about someone who has helped me and influenced my life. It’s hard to think about anyone else other than my mother. Both of my parents have influenced me and helped me so much. My father is a close second, but today I feel like reminiscing about my mom.

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My mom was one of those people who could talk to anyone. She always had a story to share but also an ear to listen to those with their own stories. Where-ever she went, she had a smile on her face and a kindness unmatched. But she was even better with those she loved and cared for. Not only was she there for her immediate family, my brother and I, but also her siblings, parents, uncles, aunts and in-laws. She was that person who would give the shirt off her back to help out someone in need.

Countless times she would help out her brother who was struggling financially. Even going so far as giving him a car. When her mom was sick, she was there for her as much as possible. Trying to make her as comfortable as possible. And later on, same thing for her dad. She was always there for my brother and me growing up, even at our lowest of our lows and highest of our highs. She was the glue that kept our family together. What did that look like? Daily dinners where all four of us sat down and enjoyed a wonderful home-cooked meal. But more than that, she kept her extended families in touch. With her willingness and love for talking, she would keep up frequent communication with her family members. We would see our cousins, aunts and uncles more than just the holidays. And family was always a big part of our lives growing up.

But more than that, she was my best friend. Of course, she was also my parent so she laid the ground rules and enforced them when needed. But growing up, she was always there to lend me her time, love and encouragement. And even when I messed up, she still loved me. She was one of those people who demonstrated unconditional love to me. And I’m very blessed, since most people don’t get to experience this type of love first-hand. I grew up with faith and religion, and was taught about the love that Jesus and God has for me. But to experience it in person, from my own parent, was magical. And I am oh so glad for it.

Body image and self love

It feels like I’ve always had body image issues. Looking back, I can’t seem to remember a moment where I loved the way I looked. I would try my best to be content with my body, but I would always find something I’d like to change.

When I was a baby, I didn’t have a neck. My uncle called me Jabba the Hut since I was all baby fat. I didn’t ever crawl, because I was way too happy being immobile. Once I started walking, I lost the baby fat and thinned out. In high school, I was pretty active and stayed relatively thin but still felt chubby. I didn’t see myself as sexy and focused way too much on my extra-small boobs.

Freshman year in college I’d skip meals because I felt chubby. The other three years of college, I gained about 25 to 30 pounds that I instantly hated and tried to combat best I could. My boyfriend encouraged me by working out with me, but at the end of the day I felt fat and didn’t know what exercises to do other than run and some strength machines. Through the years, I’ve gone up and down in my weight. I started my fitness journey 7 years ago when I weighed in at my heaviest. I still hated my body, but decided to finally do something about it. So I joined a local Kung Fu school and started practicing traditional martial arts.

Even over the last 7 years, I still felt chubby and fat. In the beginning, my diet was crap as I was trying to workout 3-4 times a week. About a year into my fitness journey was when I decided to watch a few food documentaries. These altered my world and my diet. I was vegan for almost two years, and that was when I noticed the real change occurring in my body. I finally liked my body weight, and almost liked how I looked. My endurance was increasing but I felt like I needed more of a challenge. So I started running in addition to the martial arts training.

When I started running, I mostly hated it. But my friend Sarah kept me accountable and we ran many races together over the years. Even as a runner and martial artist, I still struggled with my body image. Especially after I fell off the vegan wagon and started to be more open with my diet. And, you know, got married and comfortable. When I turned 30 only a year and a half ago, I felt embarrassed when looking at photos of myself. That chubby tummy and love handles were too much! I knew I needed more strength training and a better diet, but kinda let myself go. It was when my ex left that I reassessed everything in my life, but chose to focus on self love and body image.

I turned to fitness and working out to help me get through one of the hardest situations in my life. I upped the frequency and intensity of working out. I made a conscious decision to focus on my health and everything else would work itself out. I felt called to run the Chicago marathon last year, and I chose to focus more on strength training both while running and after the race. Even after running the marathon, I still felt chubby. But I sat down and created a fitness goal for myself in order to help me work towards the body I want rather than the one I had.

And guess what? I didn’t reach my goal. My goal was to get to 18% body fat by last week. I’m currently hovering just above 19% body fat, but I started at 25% four months ago. Despite not meeting my goal, I can finally say I love my body. Just the way it is. I know I’m still a work in progress, and I still have fitness goals I’m working on. But I realized it isn’t about the numbers. It’s not about how much I weigh nor how much body fat I have (as long as I’m not obese). It’s about how I look and feel. Hard work pays off, but most of the work I’ve needed has been mental. 90% mental, 10% physical.

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Late night thoughts

I have a theory. Or maybe a few of them. All relating to people and their behaviors. This is probably one of the latest blog posts I’ve ever done, but I wanted to write this week and didn’t have time until now.

scale-403585_1920There’s an article I read recently about this amazing couple that lost all this weight together. Like nearly 400 pounds between the two of them over the last two years. I can’t even make this up, it’s like two completely different couples. This story got me thinking about relationships and how they can literally build you up and push you forward, or knock you down and hold you back. This is an extreme case of the former. It’s like together they pushed each other to be healthier and to take back their lives.

Ideal relationships

This is the ideal relationship. We all want someone who will love us no matter what, but will also push us to be better than who we were yesterday. Settling is for dirt; people are meant to grow and evolve throughout their entire life. If we end up settling, we may miss an opportunity because we may not even get to that level to open that door. In my previous relationship, I thought I was with someone who was supportive no matter what. It wasn’t until I wanted to go back to school did I realize that he was holding me back from my goals and dreams.

Unhealthy relationships

Then you have the relationships that knock you down. “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!” (The Room). You know, the ones where your partner tells you you’re fat or you’re boring. And somehow, despite all the weight you lose, you’re never good enough. In a way, they can push you to do better, but you’re only trying to do better because the person who’s supposed to be on your team is tearing you down. And you want to prove them wrong. Pretty sure this is unbelievably unhealthy. And if you’re in this type of relationship, the one where your significant other is extremely selfish, please do yourself a favor and leave it. You can do so much better.

Are you in a healthy, ideal relationship? Is your guy or gal willing to support you and push you forward all while loving you no matter what?

Porn and how it destroys lives

What you do think of when you hear the word porn?

girl-in-white-dress-2571411_1920Don’t be shy, we’ve all seen it one way or another. And even if we don’t actively watch it, we’re aware of what it is. Do you call it art? Visual stimulation? A movie? Whatever it is to you, I’m going to talk about how it destroys people’s lives today. Yes, this may seem harsh, but it destroyed mine and I’m here to tell you how.

I was married to a person who I thought only had eyes for me. That is, until I found out he watched porn regularly. I didn’t find out because he told me or I caught him. No, that would’ve been too easy. And, to be honest, the idea of him watching porn didn’t bother me until it destroyed our relationship and the life we were trying to build together.

I watched the way he saw our sexual relationship transform from reality to fantasy over time. It wasn’t like I woke up one day and he had completely different sexual expectations, but gradually he kept bringing up the same oddball requests. As any normal human being would do, I would consider fulfilling his desires, and even try best I could, but I kept falling short. I just wasn’t into what it was he was looking for.

The problem wasn’t so much that I couldn’t deliver what it was my husband wanted, instead it was that what he wanted wasn’t realistic. Instead, it was what the magical world of pornography portrays as sex. And I’m here to tell you, porn is not sex. Porn is fantasy. Porn creates an unrealistic expectation of sex. And it destroys lives.

I also had sexual desires that weren’t always fulfilled by my husband. I would tell him certain things that I would like him to do, things he had done once before but stopped doing once we were married. And while I found myself frustrated, I never sought the answer anywhere else. I just utilized the tools at my disposal (i.e. myself) and made do with what my husband was willing to partake in.

face-848537_1920I tried my best to keep things interesting in the bedroom, in hopes that we could keep our passions alive. But over time, this felt very one-sided. And it became increasingly common for him to become frustrated with me and my inability to fulfill his unrealistic expectations. I started despising the porn, and started praying for change.

And change happened. God answered my prayers in the form of my husband seeking the answers to his desires in other people. At the time, all I could see was my life, our life, being completely destroyed though. This marriage we tried to build together came crumbling down. All thanks to pornography and the belief that what is meant to be fake was mistakenly taken as real. God freed me from this world of distortion that I was trapped in. And every day I thank Him for it.

How do you see porn? Do you think it affects people as much as I do?

 

Marvelous Halloween Weekend

Halloween at church

yTBhfbDThis past Sunday was a blast! Captain America, Black Widow, Antman, and Dr. Strange all made an appearance at my church (Free Church)! And almost every kid was dressed up either as their favorite superhero or their favorite character. Historically, church and holidays like Halloween have been kept separated. Many traditional churches don’t even acknowledge Halloween, or they say it’s evil and try to encourage their members to not participate in the holiday.

While I grew up attending very traditional Catholic churches and schools, my parents always let me dress up as who (or what) I wanted to be (other than when I was a toddler and they dressed me as a strawberry). I actually trick or treated through high school, well beyond the normal age limit for trick or treating. But I never saw the holiday as an evil tradition. If anything, it was one of my favorite days of the year since I got to dress up as someone else and I got to collect candy.

I think it’s cool and important to recognize and celebrate Halloween inside and out of church. One way to think about it, we are celebrating the eve of All Saints Day, which is a day to recognize the saints.

Marvelous Superheroes

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Not only does Free Church recognize Halloween, it also celebrates it by bringing in the good guys and gals. The Avengers are some of the best superheroes out there! They make great role-models as they fight crime and protect the good guys. Children and adults alike can look up to these superheroes, very similar in many ways to looking up to Jesus and His teachings. I see the similarities between Jesus and superheroes and can honestly say that I admire and look up to both. This is one reason why I love to dress up as a superhero.

Another reason is that feeling when a kid recognizes the superhero you are and wants to be just like you. I love seeing people smile and feel safe around me (or Black Widow). In general, I love to dress up though as any character that I can pull off. (I.E. Wonder Woman or Han Solo)

Who’s your favorite superhero? Do you like to dress up? Who are you being for Halloween?

See more pictures from this event HERE

Have a happy, safe and ghoulish Halloween!

Relationships and compromise

Because without compromise no relationship would ever work out, today we are going to talk about how much of yourself you truly have to give up to make that “perfect” or (in reality) not so perfect relationship actually work. This is a perk of my always-thinking (read: overthinking) mind and also has been inspired by other people in my life who have opened up to me in regards to their relationships.

Self Love

A lot of us, as humans, are selfish. At the end of the day, we only have ourselves to rely on and love. And self-love is very important! Actually, if you don’t love yourself you won’t be able to properly love someone else. It is nearly impossible. So the very first thing you must learn to do is love and respect yourself. Without that, the relationship will consume you. You know, that “perfect” relationship with the “perfect” guy or girl. It will chew you up and spit you back out. It will destroy you, if you let it. But defend yourself with the proper mindset and it will help you grow and become a better version of yourself.

But on the other side of the same token, if you’re too selfish and focused on yourself that relationship will shrivel up and die. And you’ll be left with just yourself again, wondering what went wrong since you seemed to be doing fine the entire time.

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You have to find the right balance between yourself and your significant other. You have to compromise the right amount, and spend the right amount of time together (growing together) but also still have time for yourself and your hobbies/passions. And sometimes those passions and hobbies will overlap, but you still have to have your own interests so you don’t feel overwhelmed by the other person. As humans, it is important that we feel a few things as listed below.

  • Unique. We want to feel special, like there is no one else like us.
  • Loved. We want to feel wanted by others, their love validates us that we are lovable.
  • Strong/Independent. We don’t want to feel weak or that we have to depend on someone else to live our lives the way we want to.

But what about me?

With all this in mind, there will be sacrifices and compromises that we will have to make to be with someone. While the idea of there being “the one” perfect person for us is nice, it isn’t true. Instead of hoping/waiting for the perfect person to fit ever so perfectly into your life, you should create a list or two to help narrow down your choices (plenty of fish) so that you can find someone to work towards having a healthy relationship with. The lists that I created that have helped me are the two below:

  1. A list of ten deal-breakers. If the guy I’m dating doesn’t meet all ten, I move on.
  2. A list of red flags. Everyone has luggage, no one is perfect, but after going through my marriage, my husband cheating/living a double life, and my divorce I learned which red flags I won’t accept. If these pop up, bye felicia.

Are you in a healthy relationship? One that helps you be a better person? If not, perhaps you should make these lists and re-assess that relationship and what you’re looking for in a significant other. Feel free to comment below your deal breakers or any red flags that make you leave. And let me know if you’d be interested in my lists I’ve created for my next relationship.

Orange you glad I met ya?

Writings from the other side

I’ve been dealing with a few thoughts lately that have been coming at me from the other side. Bear with me.

“No offense Jen, but I’d never marry someone who’s divorced.”

How I remain unoffended is another story for another time, but what about being divorced makes someone undesirable? Why is it an instant red flag situation? And if this is true, why did I marry a divorced person? Where were you 4 years ago as I was tying the knot with the devil himself?

I guess if I had that mindset, then I would’ve never gotten married in the first place and I would have less baggage. A less red red flag. Or maybe I’d have more. Who knows. A part of me thinks the marriage kept me out of trouble though. And it taught me a lot.

It taught me that just because I know how to love unconditionally and trust someone doesn’t mean everyone knows this. Also, while I saw a glimmer of hope and felt loved by my ex, it was fleeting as once things got hard, he ran away. But only partially. I learned that some people can literally live on lies, and create two separate lives based on these lies. A part of me wonders if there’s an app for that: keep track of all your lies app.

I also learned how to love myself. By being discarded, I found myself and finally see how much I truly am worth. I found not only my legs, but my entire body, mind, and soul all came in sync with each other. Enough to not just run my first marathon, but also to start a whole new life that I never thought I’d have. Finally, I am happy to be on my own. I am getting comfortable in my independence and freedom in this new world.

But there’s that nagging voice inside my head. What about my future husband, if there is one? Another marriage? I mean, if I can find a guy willing to roll the dice on me (since I’m so unwanted). Please note the tone of sarcasm in this last sentence. But for real, if and when I do decide to potentially marry again, what does this mean for me? And for the man I decide to take a chance on?

There will be demons that I will have to fight. I’m actually already fighting them now, way before even considering marrying again.

Am I good enough? Will I be good enough for someone to marry? Will someone love me the way I deserve to be loved? Unconditionally and until death? The way marriage is supposed to be. Will I be able to trust someone enough to take the plunge again, after everything I’ve been through? They say better to have loved and lost than to never have loved. I find comfort in that and I agree with it. Which is really hard to say because I was really hurt, for a very long time. Longer than I’d like to admit. Some days I still hurt a little over it, but everyday is getting better as I find my strength and courage to push forward and move on, one step at a time.

One thing I have learned is that until I am completely over what happened to me, and completely happy with myself, I won’t be ready to even entertain the idea of marriage. I know this time is the time that I need to focus on myself and my relationship with the Lord. My strength and courage come from Him. He has opened so many doors in my life it’s overwhelming. He has answered all of my prayers, and has given me more than I could ever even imagine asking for. One year ago he freed me from the hell I was living in, and he answered my prayer by having my friend invite me to her church, which is now my church. And that was just the beginning.

IMG_20170923_104230I’m not perfect. I will likely always have doubts and those voices in my head that I must battle. But I know what I deserve, and I strive to be the best person I can be. I know my ability to love, deeply and unconditionally. And I feel that same love from Jesus, so at the end of the day even if I end up being alone (and with 30 cats) I will be just as happy as I would be with someone. I don’t find my worth or happiness in others (if I did then that comment above would affect me way more). Instead, I find my happiness within me and my joy in God. He brings me everything I need and even the things I don’t realize I need. He goes above and beyond to show His love to me. And it’s indescribable.

So to my future husband, if you exist, if you’re reading this then you can see that I’m a work in progress. But aren’t we all? All I ask from you is patience and love. If you choose to love me, I will choose to love you. Everyday. For the rest of our lives.

But until then, I’m going to enjoy the shit out of life with my fur babies, my friends, and my family. I’m going to run marathons, or maybe just half-marathons (they’re much easier!). I’m going to lift weights and practice yoga. I’m going to not only attend but also provide help at my church. I’m going to spend time in God’s word and grow with Him. I’m going to enjoy my alone time as much as my time with others. And I’m going to heal myself. I choose myself everyday, which may seem selfish, but I know it’s necessary during this season in my life.

All I can say is I’m worth it. We’re worth it. And with God anything is possible. Always and forever.

With love.

Jen

What faith means to me

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Some common questions I get from friends, family, and acquaintances:

  • Why are you not more angry over what happened to you?
  • How is it that you’re happy despite everything you’ve been through?
  • How is it you continue to believe in God even after He took away everything you wanted?
  • How do you find your strength and courage?

I’m here to tell you that this journey I’ve been on, the one I call faith, has not been the easiest one. It has had it’s ups and downs, and I fully expect it to for the rest of my life. A quick look at my history within the Christian realm:

I was raised Catholic. For three elementary school years, I attended two different Catholic schools. The three years were miserable, with the third taking the cake. My mom listened and showed me grace by placing me in the local public school starting in 4th grade. But no fear as I continued CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) through middle school. Basically, continuing education for Catholics. After I graduated high school and went away to college, I decided to officially stop pretending to be Catholic and leave religion for the old ladies with rosaries.

During my first semester in college, I dated a guy who wanted me to “know Jesus” so I dumped him. #byefelicia. By the second semester, I was lost, alone, and sad. Someone invited me to a bible study, and I went mostly to just make friends. Through the small group, I started making some amazing friends. And I discovered Campus Crusade for Christ. While I was a part of the small group, I didn’t really get into Cru until my sophomore year. Through this small group and the amazing things I did with Cru, I accepted Jesus as my savior and chose to have a relationship with Him. The rest is history. But like I said, it hasn’t been an easy journey. At times, I’ve fallen away from my faith, but I’ve always had my belief in God to fall back on. A crutch, if you will. Even when I disobey, I still feel His love.

But I never needed it as much as I’ve needed it over the past two years. Through the death of a parent, a divorce, a life-changing move and now marathon training, I’ve never felt closer to God. And that’s where I am now.

This past week, we celebrated our 5th birthday at my church (Free Church) and this amazing pastor Brett Jones visited us and had an amazing message. And it’s too good to keep inside. So this is my version of it. Welcome to my mind. Make yourself comfortable, today we go deep.

(Genesis 22:1-14)

It’s important for us to know that not every test comes from Satan. The life of a Christian should be expanded and grown upon. For example, one way to know if someone is ready to be passed from one grade to the next is to test them. God doesn’t test you to break you. He tests you to prove you. The difference between temptation and test: Satan tempts you. God tests you. One is to destroy you, the other is to promote you.

A sure way to wreck your life is to think you can take everybody with you. God calls you for your assignment and you alone must go. Some people need to stay with the donkey (Genesis 22:5). Don’t try to take them where they don’t have grace to go. Abraham knew that something was going to happen on that mountain that the young men he was with couldn’t handle. There are some places that only you and your sacrifice can go.

Most of the time there isn’t a crowd when God proves himself to you. God will allow you to prove yourself and He will rewrite the story after your proving ground. If you’ll give God your stuff, He’ll give you His stuff. This story in the Bible introduces one of the greatest themes of the Bible: substitution. Abraham and Isaac met God on a hill outside of Jerusalem. Abraham saw a lamb (substitution), Jesus was the lamb.

Jesus was crucified on the same hill where God tested Abraham, just thousands of years apart. As Abraham climbed that hill, his thoughts centered around the death of his only son. As God climbed that hill, his thoughts centered around how amazing Abraham was and his amazing will to pass the test He was placing on him. His faith led him to where God wanted him. God tied up a lamb to replace Isaac as the sacrifice. And Abraham had no idea this all was in store for him, he just took a step in faith.

Are you living in faith or fear? Do you check everything before taking every step? Do you over-analyze everything going on? God sees the whole picture. He is the author of our story, and He has the ability to rewrite it. Even if you feel like you’re destined to live without God, anything is possible. Even if you feel too evil, or too far from Jesus, He still loves and chooses you. If you’re interested in learning more about what I believe in, reach out to me. This is just a tiny snippet of my story, and my story is still being written.

Lots of love,

Jen

Psychology of Behavior

Today I’m starting a new series. I’ve always been fascinated by psychology and behavior of people. If you’re interested in participating in this series, please email me at jenlbrice (at) gmail.com. I’m looking to interview people and may potentially post up a survey to see how others see certain behaviors/situations in relation to this topic. Please note I am in no way certified in psychology or behavior. I’ve only taken a few classes in psychology and behavior through my undergraduate and graduate studies (MS in Biology). Instead, I am going to write about my viewpoints and opinions in regards to different every-day situations that people find themselves in and how they behave throughout them. I will be seeking feedback as I go, and will take requests. Are you interested in any particular situation? Do you need advice? I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to help, but I can and am willing to give you my thoughts towards whatever it is you’re going through.

While I’m not certified in psychology, I have been working with people in many ways since high school. I have a robust resume, both in the career and relationship realms. That being said, I do not know everything and I am willing to admit that. Also, every situation is different. The way people see things is different, because we are all a little bit different from each other.

Today we are going to dive right in on this topic that’s been on my mind lately. In regards to being cheated on, sometimes we blame ourselves. We ask what did I do to deserve this? Could I have done something different to avoid this? Was I not loving enough? Am I not lovable? But the truth is that it isn’t your fault. It’s the person who cheated on you. Think of it this way: they couldn’t handle you so they sought love elsewhere. But they can’t handle ANYONE. Love isn’t easy. Ever. With anyone. Love is a choice. And to love unconditionally is not natural. We actually rarely see monogamy in nature.

So why bother? Because when two people choose to love each other no matter what, a beautiful thing happens. The rare thing is beautiful. Like my grandparents who were married for over 50 years (and my grandma still loves my grandpa, rest his soul). When you find the right person, love won’t be “easy” but it will feel right. Like how God loves us, that is also not an easy love. We killed his only son, yet he still chooses us! He still chooses to love us. No matter what. No matter our sins, no matter our past. He wants us to seek Him and to love Him. It’s through this example of love we are to love one another. Definitely not easy but more than worth it. For the love of God can carry us up mountains, through valleys and everything in-between.

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It’s truly amazing to think about. If God can love us like this, we can love each other like this. I strive daily to show my love and joy for others. I want to share God’s love with other people.

So this is pretty deep, but the recent events in America have been tugging on my heart to talk about love. Love is real, love is hard, but it is the only way we will move forward. Love your neighbor, love your brother, and together we have a bright future.

Have you been cheated on? How do you view love? Do you think it’s supposed to be easy? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

I promise the next topic won’t be as deep. 🙂