Well, the cat's out of the bag -- I am officially less than 8 weeks out from my first bodybuilding competition! I know that it's a foreign sport to some people (including the 8 month-ago version of myself), so I wanted to write this blog post to answer some of the questions I commonly get about it and my experience, including how I was introduced to the sport and why I decided to do the competition.
Honestly, the sport was introduced to me by accident. This time last year I started training at Elite Fitness in Huntersville, North Carolina, which was recently ranked as one of the Top Ten Gyms of the Carolinas by Carolina Bodybuilding Magazine. I trained on my own for a while, dipping my toe into the gym's community, training for my then-upcoming half-marathon, and exchanging incidental glances and conversation with other members as we worked out. A few days after ringing in the new year, and after about a month's hiatus from the gym, I found myself easing back into weightlifting with an undemanding leg day when I was approached by a veteran gym member.
"I want you to be really honest with yourself and with me," he began.
"Do you feel like you actually trained or did that feel like a warmup?"
Now, before you decide to hate the acerbic protagonist of the story, you should have some context. It's not like he was a total stranger -- I had been introduced to him on my first day at the gym when the person giving me a tour pointed out his picture from a prior bodybuilding competition that was hanging on the wall. He'd also helped me a few other times by spotting me and correcting my form on different lifts. It was always clear that he knew what he was doing and, since I'd been out of the lifting environment since high school, I figured he would be more knowledgeable than I. So it's not like we'd never had any interaction before, and I could tell he was very intentional in his decision to call me out. My respect of him allowed me to answer,
"I guess, if I'm being honest, it did feel more like a warmup."
He nodded in reassuring agreement and invited me to go finish training legs with him. After a few sets of banded single-leg presses, I snuck off to the bathroom and threw up. This was a level of intensity in a workout that I hadn't had in a long time -- and one that I missed dearly. Cleaning myself up, I returned to the machine where I found him waiting patiently.
"Well, you did it. You made me sick. Let's finish this," I said.
I finished out his leg workout and bid him farewell with a question:
"What are you training tomorrow?"
And that's how it started -- I wound up with a bodybuilder as my training partner. After a few weeks, he made a seemingly off-handed comment to the gym's owner about getting me on stage. It wasn't long before I realized he was serious and I started toying with the idea myself.
I spent a couple months allowing the idea of doing a bodybuilding competition to roll around in my mind. I didn't want to make any commitments — I had a half marathon to get through, first (and the last semester of senior year, job applications, graduation, etc.). When I finally decided to pull the trigger, it was neither spontaneous nor unintentional. In fact, there were several reasons why I wanted to give it a go:
Okay, so when is it?
I will be competing in the Women's Figure Division (check out this article for an explanation of the differences in women's divisions) in the NPC Mid-Atlantic Classic on October 23, 2021.
As of today, I'm less than 8 weeks out and only getting more and more excited for the show! I've had the greatest support system in my training partner, my gym and my family. I already know that I would not have been able to get this far if any one of those factors were missing. I'm so incredibly thankful for the village that has helped raise me as a competitor. My greatest goal is to bring the absolute best version of myself that I can to the stage in October.
I hope this answered any questions you had! Feel free to ask those that I may have left unanswered. You can keep up with my progress through my Instagram, where I share progress updates and daily insights.
I struggle with binge eating.
And I have my whole life.
All through my childhood, high school and early college, I was active enough that I never really saw the effects of binging, so it was never on my radar. Honestly, it’s shown up in different degrees and intensities throughout my life. The September of 2019 is when it hit the hardest: I was struggling with depression, anxiety and isolation. At first, I was running miles and miles every day to release the disruptive emotions I was experiencing, to cope, to survive. After I sustained a foot injury, I turned to binge eating as my primary coping mechanism and that’s how I coped for a long time (like….well over a year).
My experience with binge eating is marked by lots of things: sneaking food, overeating ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ things (anything can be unhealthy in great amounts), saying “I’ll do better tomorrow” every day and giving myself excuses to eat more “this last time,” and shame — crippling, paralyzing shame. The shame triggered more disappointment and uncomfortable emotions, which triggered continued binging. It’s a vicious, brutal cycle, as anyone who struggles with this knows.
Today someone asked me, “As a Christian, how did you deal with the temptation of food and the struggle of binging?”
In that moment I was reminded of the desperate prayers I prayed in February of 2020 asking God to help me change my relationship with food. “God, please help change my perception of food. Help me see it as fuel for my body rather than as something in which I can overindulge.” I remember also feeling a nudge from the Spirit, “And God, help me grow to love myself the way that I am right now, that I would not be more worthy of love if I were in better shape or if I had a better relationship with food. Help me train to strengthen the body you gave me rather than for the hopes of ‘looking better.’ I am loved by you and I am worth being loved right now, just as I am.”
In our conversation today, I realized that the answer to my first prayer didn’t show up until after the Lord answered my second prayer, the one I prayed almost nonchalantly, the one I cared about less, the one He cared about the most. He addressed the heart problem: He addressed the fact that I wasn’t loving myself or my body well. Only after I started surrendering my self-loathing to the Lord did answer to the first prayer come along later.
Thankfully, God cares far more about my heart than anything. In the past, it didn’t matter how athletic I was: it was never good enough and I was never good enough. Now, my heart has undergone (and is still experiencing) a transformation that has resulted in a better understanding of my self-worth. The opportunity to pursue bodybuilding arose after I was at a place of greater contentment with and love of my body, with the way I was. I can genuinely say that I wanted to grow stronger and that any physical changes were a byproduct of the strength I was gaining.
I share this to encourage anyone who may be struggling with something similar: the Lord deeply cares about your heart and about your ability to love yourself. Even in the moments when it doesn’t feel like prayers are being answered, He’s working and moving. He’s loving you better than you could ever love yourself.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need to talk about anything you may be struggling with.
If you're an NF fan then there is no doubt that today has been quite an exciting day for you. For those of you that don't know, the rapper just dropped his newest song CLOUDS, which is the first track from his upcoming mixtape that will be released on March 26th (YAY). I discovered NF when I was in a pretty low and dark place in my life. To listen and hear music from someone who got it, who understood, was a saving grace. NF's music is real -- real music til the day we die, ain't that the slogan, Nathan?
If you know, you know.
Anyways, Nathan's music is real. He's not only an amazing lyricist but also an amazing communicator of real, deep feelings. He puts words, music and identity to feelings that previously just bubbled and stirred in my spirit unattended and untouched. NF's music is a huge release for me emotionally. I know this isn't just the case for me but for his hundreds of thousands of fans around the world. He's real. He's relatable. I discovered this more and more as I listened to The Search, his fourth studio album, all the way through for the first time. It was actually the first album of his that I listened to. When the punctuating strings faded out at the end of "Let Me Go," I was surprisingly greeted by a conversational Nate in "-Interlude-". This is what he says in the 50-second vent about how he felt during the Perception period:
My most considered, like, "successful" moment of my life was the worst
The most depressed I've ever been
Literally feeling like I'd probably be happier if I was just dead
I got a number one on Billboard, my song is massive right now
Like, I may never have a song this big again
My tour, I think every date sold out except one date
So I literally had everything that I had always dreamed of happening (Yeah)
And I felt...I didn't feel happy at all
And so I think what happened was I spiraled really bad
'Cause I was like, "I'm here, and if this is it
There's gotta be more for me
'Cause if this is it, like, it's not gonna work"
That fifty seconds stopped me dead in my tracks because that's EXACTLY what I was experiencing at the time -- minus, of course, having a number one on Billboard and my song being massive. The most depressed I've ever been was at a time in which, outwardly, I was experiencing the most "success" I've ever had. And I literally had spoken those words in my mind: "If I'm here, and if this is it…what's the point?" I had everything I'd ever dreamed of and longed for happening: I'd been accepted to the Early Entry Master's Program at UNC Charlotte, I was executing my own research, I was regularly handling venomous snakes, I had spent a month in one of the wildest places on earth and I was a dolphin training intern at the Georgia Aquarium. If you've known me for any amount of time, you'd know just how much and how long I had longed for those things up until that point.
While there were a lot of contributing factors to my depression at the time, I think the greatest underlying problem was that I had everything I'd ever wanted and none of it was deeply satisfying in the ways that I had expected them to be. Everything that I had put my hope in satisfied me in an incredibly superficial way. In a way, I felt betrayed by God and by those things. One of the worst parts of the experience, however, was that I didn't even realize that I'd put my hope in those things. It was something so deeply rooted in me that I wasn't even aware that it was happening, this idolization of different things that I thought would satisfy me (I would often repeat to myself years before I even thought about going to Botswana, Just wait until I get to Africa -- then everything will be alright). I'm so grateful to serve a God who knows us, though, who knows me and who knows that I'll believe something until it's proven wrong. Who knows that until I experienced the degree of superficial satisfaction that being in Botswana would bring, I wouldn't actually believe it.
I was doing everything I ever wanted to do and my soul was still crying out for something deeper. This realization of dissatisfaction threw me into a spiral of depression. It was during this period of depression that the Lord stripped me of every idol that I had, tearing down each and every one of them at the same time: the hope of my relationship, my career, my future. All of it. I questioned whether or not my faith was even worth it. I questioned whether or not life was even worth it. Boy, was that a deeply painful season.
Then I heard a 50 second vent session from a rapper that somebody randomly recommended to me and I realized that I wasn't alone in how I felt. It didn't take away the depression or the pain. To have my feelings expressed, identified and named by someone else hit in a way that I didn't expect: somebody understood me.
Somebody else had experienced the shattering disappointment of their dreams not satisfying them. Somebody else had experienced the fear and distress and sorrow that accompany that sort of realization. Somebody else had experienced the heartbreak of being disillusioned for so long and then being jolted awake to a reality they never imagined. Someone else experienced a state of utter despondency from which rescue efforts felt futile.
NF helped me acknowledge my feelings and see God through it all. I wouldn't trade that season for anything, as painful and emotionally exhausting as it was. God tore down every idol I had in my life at that time and showed me that He is the ONLY thing worth hoping in. He is the only satisfying thing. Everything I loved and craved about my dreams, I later discovered, are actually attributes of God. I was unknowingly longing for God in all of that (I'll write another post about this later).
In God I experienced the satisfaction of my soul. I felt like I understood Psalm 42:7: "Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me." I now know that God is the only thing worth pouring every ounce of my passion into, as He is the only deeply satisfying thing.
I write this as both an encouragement and a precaution to anyone who may find themselves longing for the future, telling yourself once you get to a certain place or job position or in that relationship that they'll be satisfied. That's a lie from the enemy. The satisfaction will not be deep, nor will it be lasting. So take it from both NF and myself that it's not worth it to put your hope in anything other than God. If you do find yourself in that place, I'd really encourage you to spend some time with God. Ask Him to show you the ways that you're putting hope in the future or in achievements. I trust that He'll bring those up. Then pray a prayer of confession and repentance. It could go something like, "God, I'm sorry for the ways I've knowingly and/or unknowingly put my hope in anything other than You. Please help me want to want to put my hope in you. Satisfy the parts of me that are longing for things other than You. Satisfy my soul -- overflow my cup."
I trust that He'll do it. You may not feel a change right away, but it doesn’t mean that nothing is happening.
If you have any questions or want to talk more, don't hesitate to reach out to me on my "Connect" page or by DMing me on Instagram.
Also, go give CLOUDS a listen. :)
In a training this past Sunday, Brent reiterated the importance of setting time apart for God in every part of one's day. The mindset he offered was incredibly helpful in reminding me personally of one of the core reasons why I spend time with God:
"I want to be available to God and unavailable to the world so that I can recognize and hear His voice when it matters. Let me take this seriously, even if it means that for 15 minutes in the mornings I’m trying to not fall asleep. We want to get to a place where we have consistency in which God can intervene if necessary. We just want to be open. For x amount of time everyday for the first portion of the day, if You need to catch my attention or get a hold of me, that’s when I’ll notice."
My goal for this week has been to reengage with that simple practice. When I began to do that yesterday morning the Lord convicted me about how much time I've spent at the gym compared to how much time I've intentionally spent with Him this week. I felt His quiet voice say You're spending 2 hours at the gym every day and you can't set aside time to spend with me? It was accompanied by a warning about how quickly idols can take root in my own heart. Stop working out with your trainer, I felt like I heard. I was SO quick to say 'no' that it surprised me -- the Lord brought to my attention that THAT was the issue that He was concerned about: my adamant lack of willingness to give something up at His command.
I immediately knew I had a heart problem I needed to check.
It wasn't hard for me to diagnose the reason for my response, other than my humanness. I am SO happy right now with where I'm at in the gym -- I'm finally training at a high level again, I can genuinely say that I love my body and I'm making a lot of progress with my strength. I'm just really happy. The time I spend in the gym is truly an escape. The fact that my knee-jerk reaction to the Lord was a hard 'no' exposes the parts of me that still struggle to believe that God cares about my happiness and that He is a good Dad. On the contrary, deep down I fear that He'll take my happiness away and that, if I'm not in control of my happiness, it's not safe. Like any good father, though, once His child begins to have an unhealthy amount of a good thing, He'll take it away. It's all for the health and protection of the child, even if it doesn’t feel like that at the time.
The truth is, God wants to give us the best if we'd just get out of our own way and let Him. This is a truth that I constantly have to remind myself.
After spending more time in prayer and self-reflection, and after consulting a multitude of counselors, I decided that the warning came as a means of revealing what was in my heart, the potential for too much of this good thing to turn into an idol. In response, I plan to do a few things:
I love the Lord's intentionality, though. In the three weeks since I began being trained I have learned an incredible amount about my own mental strength and toughness. In a way, it has been revitalized. You learn a lot about pushing past your limits when you have someone standing over your shoulder telling you that you can finish out the third twenty-rep set before throwing more weight on the bar. I say this because it's applicable -- even when I don't think I can create a space for God, or even if I don't want to at the moment, I know I can do it, no matter how tired or uncomfortable I might be. I also know that I can be consistent if I really, truly put my mind to it. Granted, there's grace in all of this because God knows more than anybody how hard consistency has been for me in the past. However, what I've learned throughout the years, and what I will continue to learn, is that the Lord cares far more about trying and faithfulness than He does about the outcome. Did you fall asleep 8 minutes into your quiet time with Him? Yeah, but that was after trying everything you could to stay awake. Cool. Good sees and honors that.
Honestly, this blog post in itself is an attempt at me trying. I couldn't tell you how many times I've decided that "THIS TIME I'll start to be more consistent on my blog." It only takes a quick look at my archives to see how that has gone…
I'm very grateful that God is so incredibly patient, kind and merciful and that He cares a lot more about our attempts to be faithful than He cares about the outcomes. Is there any area of your life that you feel you have kept off-limits to God? Why do you think that is? What would it look like for you to respond in faithfulness? As always, feel free to share. If it's too personal for you to share here, don't hesitate send me a private message via the Connect Page or on my Instagram.
There is much to be learned from animals, and I often find myself humbled by the lessons they inadvertently teach me. Growing up with pets and living most of my life around animals, I've learned much about innocence, dependency, responsibility, love and friendship. Today I want to share several things that my dogs have taught me about God and my relationship with Him.
First, let's have an introduction.
Together these two make quite the duo and are one of my very favorite things in the world. They absolutely love peanut butter and have a knack for always knowing when my mom is cutting up chicken in the kitchen. They are fun to be around and, as I've discovered through the years, full of love and lessons about my relationship with God.
I. Where You go I'll go, where You stay I'll stay.
'Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.'
There are two specific interactions that happen between me and my dogs that remind me of the desire we should have to be close to the Lord:
Scooter: Whenever I leave the room for too long, Scooter goes on a house-wide search to find me, checking through every open door to discover where I might be. He is relentless in his search and doesn't give up until he finds me. He loves to be with me and can't stand to not be in the room together.
Walker: When it's time to go to sleep, Walker always curls up pressed against my stomach. Every single night. It absolutely melts my heart. If I move and create empty space between us, Walker will get up and move to wherever I have gone, once again nuzzling up against me in order to go to sleep.
These actions by my dogs convicted me: I should have the same — if not greater — desire to be near God as my dogs have to be near me. To be super honest, I don't currently have that desire, but Scooter and Walker have shown me what it looks like. There is absolutely no shame in praying, "God, help me want to want You more." On the contrary, it's actually one of my favorite prayers.
So what does it look like to have that sort of desire for closeness with the Lord?
As my pups have taught me, it's looking for God when you can't find Him or when you feel like He's not present (because He always is present — He'll never leave us). Ask Him to show you where He is in your current situation. Or it's going where He goes and moving when He moves for the sake of staying close to Him.
II. Trusting that God Will Do What He says He will Do.
Sometimes the three of us are hanging out downstairs and I have to grab something from upstairs. In light of the previous anecdotes, one might expect my dogs to follow me up the stairs and then back down again, which is exactly what they do unless I tell them to stay put and that I'll come back. Even then, I usually have to hurry on my errand because if I take too long they'll come searching for me. That means that I will have to do exactly what I said I would do — return — and they have to trust that I will.
I consider what Scooter might be thinking in those moments, and this is what I imagine:
She's leaving the room…but she put her hand up. I think that means that I need to stay here. But she's leaving but she also told me to stay here but I just want to be near her.
When I come back into the room, all of the seemingly contradicting things going on in Scooter's conflicted mind are suddenly true: I did leave the room, I did tell him to stay and I did come back. He gets to be near me once again. I did all that for his sake, to spare him the use of his arthritis-prone hips and to prevent unnecessary energy expenditure.
But he doesn't know that. If I could explain it to him I would. He just can't understand.
Maybe God is like that with us sometimes because, in the same way, I have to trust that the Lord is exactly who He says He is and doing exactly what He said He would do, even if it doesn’t make sense in the moment, even if it seems to contradict other things that He has said, even if I don't understand why. I also have to trust, though, that in an instant it will all come to fruition when He says so.
Maybe I’ll never understand why things happen the way they do, but that’s not the point. Once I come back into the room, Scooter is no longer conflicted or wondering why I left in the first place; he’s just excited that I’ve returned.
III. I am Loved Just because I Exist.
And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.' Matthew 3:17
I love my dogs so much just for being the way they are. Before they have done anything — before they've done something cute or silly or sweet — I love them. I feel like there are no words to adequately represent just how much I love them, and I know there is no way to communicate that to them (I've also heard this is what parenthood is like, ha). I can only do the best I can: talking to them, giving them food and toys, letting them sleep in my bed, showering them with affection and so on.
This is only a glimpse of how much our Father loves us: so much that we cannot fully understand, so much that He adorns us — His beloved children — with gifts, intimate moments and reminders of His love in an attempt to demonstrate the love He has for us. The other side of this, too, is that He loves us just for who we are, before we've done any faithful (or unfaithful) thing, before we've told anybody about Him, before we've read our Bible. He loves us exactly the way He created us. In Matthew 3:17 God said about Jesus, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." This was BEFORE Jesus's ministry had started, before he began preaching in temple courts and revealing the Kingdom of Heaven to the earth. This is SO important to internalize, too, because it will quite literally change the way we live, the outlook we have on God, the way we love others and the way we love ourselves. Ask God to show you what He loves about you. Ask God to help you remember that He loves you just for being.
God loved Jesus just as He was. I love my dogs just as they are. God loves us just as we are.
IV. Trusting that God is a Good Father.
Whenever I head towards the kitchen there's a pretty high chance that I'll hear the sound of paws following suit. Like many dogs, mine hang around the kitchen in hopes of a morsel of food falling to the ground that they can quickly consume. Or maybe, if they're lucky, they'll receive a bite of human food just for being around and being cute (like I said above…showering them with affection and treats and such).
When I grab chocolate, grapes, raisins or something else that could harm a dog, they still beg for a bite. They don't know that these foods are incredibly toxic to them and could potentially lead to death. They don't know that I love them too much to give them something that's bad from them. From their perspective, I'm just withholding something from them that they want. The reality is, though, that I'm being a good dog owner: I'm keeping them safe and healthy. I'm not allowing them to consume something that is harmful to them.
God does the same thing with us. Things that we desire may be withheld from us simply because they would not be good for us, and the Lord loves us too much to allow us to have something that's bad for us. It's one of the things that make Him such a good Father. Now, we have the freedom to go crazy and do whatever we want whenever we'd like, but it would be wholly counterproductive for us to do so and could potentially end up causing more damage than good. There are real, practical implications to our actions, after all.
Here's an example. At the start of my last week in Botswana I grew incredibly nervous and anxious. I knew that I would soon be on a flight home, and I knew that I was far from ready to say goodbye to the bush. I was greatly tempted to stay, to miss my flight and to not go home. What I would do after, I had no idea. Part of me was hoping that God would show up and tell me to stay (then I could blame that bad decision on Him instead of taking responsibility for it, yikes). I also knew, however, that the decision to stay would practically alter the trajectory of my life: it would mean flaking on an internship at the Georgia Aquarium, not fulfilling academic requirements for my full-ride at UNC Charlotte and driving a wedge of distrust between myself and those who were closest to me. All in all, it wouldn't have been great. Even though that's what I thought I wanted in the moment, lack of support from God actually helped keep me faithful and grounded.
If you ever find yourself in a place in which you don't understand why you're not receiving something from the Lord, try considering the possibility that it wouldn't be healthy for you. Go as far as asking the Lord to bring up ways that it wouldn't be healthy for you and for your growth in discipleship.
V. Treasuring Time with God.
If it's not evident by now, I love my dogs. Just as much as they love being around me, I love being around them. Even as I type, I'm warmed knowing that they are lying on the floor behind me. Though this is a very daily interaction, I don't treasure it any less. I actually look forward to the times that we all just sit in the same room just because we like being around each other. There are times, however, when I have more intimate moments with each of my dogs. Though he usually sprawls out on his side of the bed, Scooter occasionally snuggles as close as he can to me. In that moment I usually stop whatever I'm doing for the sake of soaking up and cherishing every moment with him.
Though these intimate encounters happen less frequently, they don't mean any more to me than the daily interactions I have with my dogs. I simply appreciate them differently. In the same way, we should stray from sitting around waiting for big life-changing encounters with the Lord and grow more in an appreciation of our everyday interactions with Him. Intimate encounters are necessary and good and essential to our growth in relationship with Him, but they don't happen all the time. We shouldn't try to expect them or force them or chase a feeling. The daily moments we spend with God are just as important and just as necessary and good and essential.
Daily moments with God take more intentionality on our part. It allows us to be more aware of His presence in every moment of every day. It helps us grow with Him. I'm trying to grow in this, myself. It's so easy for me to get caught up in school work, research projects, working out and so many other things that I miss opportunities to spend little moments with God. If you don't know what little moments with God look like for you, take some time to ask Him now. I just did, and I felt like something that could be helpful in increasing my awareness of His presence on a daily basis in the midst of everything I'm doing is to dedicate all that I do to Him with a quick prayer: "God, I dedicate this to you." Before school work, applications, research, writing, photography, work, whatever, I am going to try to start it with "God, I dedicate this to you."
I am so humbled by the things that my dogs have taught me about being a follower of Jesus and a child of God. They have made relevant topics that had yet to click with me. I'm in awe of God's desire to speak through us in so many different ways, including loved ones and our passions. This is also a reminder to not put God and the ways He speaks to us in a box. Writing this presented such conviction for me about ways that I've not been trusting the Lord fully and not treasuring daily time spent with Him and so many other things. I hope it has spoken to you in a similar way.
As always, feel free to share your thoughts and questions below. :)
1 Thess. 2:2
"...but with the help of our God we dared to tell His gospel in the face of strong opposition."