Just Breathe

The quote of the day during spin class at the gym this morning was, “Breathe in confidence..Breathe out doubt.” After the instructor shared it, I began breathing in and out, deeply, as I repeated those words over and over with each stroke of the pedals, yearning to pull myself back to that place.

Oh, how I love being in a place of confidence, filled with joy and assurance going throughout my day, overflowing to a place of being able to encourage and help others… but that has not been the place I have been in, and stayed in, for such a long time. It’s been a long, tough year–a long weight loss journey, along with many ups and downs in health dilemmas with my parents, the death of a close friend, along with a huge job transition time for my husband. With so many prayers that may have seemed to go unanswered so far, sometimes I’ve actually had to stop and remind myself to… just breathe.

I’m so tired of letting the waves of doubt come in. As they hit me over and over again, I find myself drowning in fear….and I hate being in a place of fear. So as the spin instructor reminded me to “breathe in confidence….and breathe out doubt” this morning, I had to go right back to that place and pray, once again, for God to show me how.

So, if I have been at that confident, joy filled place before, how did I get there? How do I get back there? How do I breathe that in? The definition of confidence is, “the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust.” So, where do I place my firm trust? Whether it is success in the battle with weight loss, dealing with the health issues or even the death of others, or battling doubt and fear, my confidence has come from holding onto, and trusting God’s promises. Therefore, when my confidence is gone and doubt and fear is overtaking me, I have to grab onto those promises once again and get back to a place of complete trust.

A close friend once shared, “make sure during those great mountain top times in your life, the times when everything is going great…that you are making time to read God’s word and take in His wisdom and promises, because when the valleys come (and they will come, because you can’t have mountains without valleys), you will have what you need to get through.” I’m so thankful that she shared this years ago, because I have placed, and continue to place, those promises in my heart and mind, so that I can breathe them in once again….”Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7) “I can do All things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13),  “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised. (Hebrews 10;35-36) ” “He works All things together for good, for those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).   He hears, He sees, He counts every tear that falls down your cheeks (Psalm 56:8), He answers, He loves us, He has amazing plans for our lives. This is what I have to breathe in and remember.

When I feel myself drowning, I also shout out an SOS to friends and family who can help. Don’t stay isolated. Reach out and ask for help, shout for help. Staying alone is the worse thing you can do. Others will give you a new perspective, they will do what they can to help, offer support, give you a shoulder to cry on, remind you of the promises you have forgotten, or have not yet heard..and many times God will use someone who has been through the same thing to encourage you and give you hope through their story. Breathing in their testimony with give you hope and renew your faith.

So I breathe in—remembering that He has provided everything I have needed up until this very day, and trust that he will do so, again, tomorrow and the next day….I look back at all of the amazing “God-incidences” (not coincidences) which have happened in my life, and trust that He is working on all of the things I am worried about. I breathe out— letting go of the doubt. Asking him to calm those waves of doubt overtaking me—trading fear for faith. Choosing to trust. Trust….even the word itself, begins and ends with the cross t rus t….”Remember, Wendy, He is ALL that He says He is, and can do ALL that He says He can do. Wipe your tears, let the anxiety go– You can be confident once again… from overwhelmed to overjoyed…….Just breathe.”





The Sports Bra Challenge… Abundantly MORE Than I Could Have Ever Asked Or Imagined…

(Video I submitted for the Sports Bra Challenge Reveal)

The Sports Bra Challenge….Abundantly MORE than I could have ever asked for or imagined….
really hereWhen I watched my “reveal” video that I made for the SBC, after the weekend was over and Roseanne and Bethany had left, I realized how profound my last words were. when I spoke them, it was about a week before the event would take place. I ended the video saying that, I was looking forward to this event, as it started out as a dream I had about 2 years ago, and with this incredible journey I have been on, I was praying that it would be “abundantly more than I could ever ask or imagine…not only for me, but for every person there.”  And as I type this entry…let me start by saying, it absolutely was!  It was beyond my wildest dreams…

The weekend was approaching, Roseanne and Bethany were making all of their plans to come to NY and experience this with me. I was so excited that they were coming. We were just 3 women, out of the hundreds who would be there, who were bringing our individual stories… our issues, our “baggage”, our celebrations, our expectations…our lives….our minds, bodies, spirits….just as we were, at this time, to a place to be together with hundreds of others, to celebrate where we were in our lives that day.

I had dreamed of this day for 2 years, since Olivia and Hannah had announced that they were going, after winning The Biggest Loser..2 years ago, 81 pounds ago, I exercised in my house (alone) to an exercise video, shades down, doors locked, in a sports bra, just to feel a part of that day that was happening in NYC, now I was going to check off a dream that I listed on my “dream/wish list” 2 years ago…..Roseanne was celebrating already being over 111 pounds down, since I met her at Unleash The Champion, Bethany was choosing to mark this moment as an empowering experience and time of transformation as she was going to turn 30 this week. This was going to be a time of proclaiming that this next, new decade was going to be one of health and fitness.

Friday finally arrived, and this extraordinary weekend was about to begin. I got the 2 bedrooms all set for their arrival…beautiful flowers by their bedsides, a “Soul Cycle” bag filled with some of my favorite things to share with them, a binder with some pictures of their journeys, filled with some inspiring sayings and things I had learned. I just wanted these 2 extraordinary women to feel cherished and loved…and to just let them know how honored I was that The Lord put them in my life.

bethanny gifts roseanne gifts

With everything set at home, I took the train into NYC to pick up Roseanne. Then we were going to go to the airport to get Bethany…then we were all going to experience a “first” together….spray tans!!! (the thought of exposing this stomach that hasn’t seen the light of day since I was 18 years old…well, a tan makes everything look better!)

I reached NYC, and within minutes, I found Roseanne, standing with her luggage, and I just hugged her! I couldn’t believe she was really here! She looked amazing! Once we were situated on the train, we started to catch up, take pictures and begin walking through the weekend that we had anticipated for so long!

Roseanne trainBethany’s plane was delayed a bit, so we went ahead to our spray tan appointments, and Warren picked Bethany up from the airport. We shared part of our stories with the people at the spray tan place, and they were just sooo excited for us. Geo, the woman doing the spraying, made us feel so comfortable, and when we came out, we took pictures with her to keep documenting the journey! She told us that she would totally fit Bethany in any time that night,if she saw our tans and decided she still wanted one. Well, when we got home and walked in and hugged Bethany, she really wanted to have it done also, so we jumped in the car and went back. I’m so glad she decided to get it done, it was great to go back and have fun seeing her experience it also. Again, a fun round of pictures, and we went back to have dinner at home.
tanningMy family was so excited to meet Roseanne and Bethany, especially my parents, as they had heard so much about them. We visited well into the night, and finally went to bed after midnight. If not for exhaustion setting in, I think we could have stayed up all night talking.

First thing Saturday morning, we drove to my WW meeting. Another group that was looking so forward to meeting these women whom I had been sharing about fore a long time in my group. We got there early, weighed in and met all the staff, including Elyse, who had been waiting to meet them, especially the “woman that I passed my “believe” bell to”. We took some great pictures all together, before the meeting started. Then Lorraine arrived, and those long awaited hugs took place! (As I watched Lorraine and Bethany hug, I was taken back to the day on the ranch, in September, sitting at the lunch tables after reading Lorraine’s daily letter to me….After I read it to everyone at the table, and explained that she had written one for every day I was away…Bethany asked, “promise me, that if I ever come to NY, you will introduce me to Lorraine?,(and I said, “I absolutely promise.)….and here they were, 7 months later,hugging each other, on Long Island.. at our WW meeting…ONLY GOD!
wwAs everyone started to come in, they met them…Elyse lead another extraordinary meeting, and at one point, when everyone heard that  Roseanne was over 111 pounds down, they gave her a standing ovation! What a beautiful moment. It was just so special to share this meeting with 2 special friends I had met on a ranch in Tennessee last September, and to look to my right, and see Lorraine sitting in between both of them, it was pretty surreal.

From the meeting, we went out for a great breakfast all together, overlooking the Long Island sound. Grace, (my daughter) and Hannah (Lorraine’s daughter), joined us, as they were so excited to be with these women also. It was a great “girly” time of visiting and sharing. The rest of the day was filled with a bit of touring the area, we did a little shopping and “cruising the Miracle Mile”, as Billy Joel’s song made it famous…from sneaker shopping to Sephora… we even took Bethany to Lululemmon to buy her first pair of work out pants there.

breakfast lululemon We took a ride over to see the gardens of The Swan Club, then picked up some great steaks and food for a barbecue. More great visiting into past midnight, and we decided we really needed to get to bed, the big day was tomorrow!

I went to bed praying again that the following day would be all that it was suppose to be. We were all excited, but also very nervous, as we had no idea what to expect. That evening, Lorraine decided to go with us, to be “the photographer” and visit and be a part of all of it, because we read on the website that being in a sports bra was optional, so everyone didn’t have to do it, if you just wanted to be there and experience it. Well, God knew all along that she was suppose to be there, and experience it all with us. There was a point during the day, that she just said how thankful she was that she came, as there was no way I ever could have put into words what happened this day.

Roseanne, Bethany and I all walked up to the station to meet Lorraine and catch the train. Thank God Lorraine came with her car. As we came into the station, there was caution tape everywhere and signs that said they were working on the tracks, so buses were running every hour to take you 2 towns away to get on there. If we did this, we were really going to be late. We met Lorraine, jumped in her car, and out ran the train to a station that was 3 towns away, and we made it in time to jump on that train. It was panic mode for a bit! Thank God, if we had to, Lorraine knew how to drive into the city. (something I have never done myself).
caught trainTaking a breath after finally getting on the train…we were on our way! We were excited to get there and also meet up with Susan and Murn (2 more friends from the ranch), as well as finally meet Jenny Gaither (head of the SEAK foundation and Sports Bra Challenge), as well as say hi to Hannah and Olivia, although we knew that they would really be busy that day.

We came up out of the subway at Union Square, and when we came around the corner, we could see the tents and the set up of hundreds of bikes. My stomach was filled with excitement, as well as nerves. It was the most beautiful day, sunny skies, trees starting to bloom a bit… Excitement in the air.

bikesPG We stepped up to the first tent, and we were given our wrist bands. We were told that our bike numbers were written on them. When we walked through the entry way, We saw Hannah and Olivia doing some announcements on the stage. We checked out the different areas, and then visited for a bit with Olivia and Hannah. It was so great to see them, they looked absolutely beautiful. A few of us were interviewed by a woman there, and then while we were hanging out, we finally met Jenny Gaither. It was so great to meet her after talking to her through so many emails. She is one of those people who just brings such a joy and energy onto the scene, along with an encouraging heart and abundant spirit. She is so genuine with everyone she is with.
interview ldy 2 interview lady

She was in charge of this entire day, down to every detail, and yet no matter who she was with, who was coming up to her, including us, she gave her full time, her huge smile and full interest. Every single person mattered to her, and in such a unique way, full of energy, a smile that never faded….she made everyone feel so special, and that it really mattered that they (we) were there.

Jennie Gaither We took pictures with her, and then she lead us over to the “reveal tent”, where we took some more fun pictures, and shared a little of our reveal. All of the camera men, some of the other Soul Cycle instructors, and Jenny Gaither all took turns taking pictures with us. They truly made us feel like superstars!
Ro's reveal reveal tent

It was also incredible to already be in such a safe environment, where people in all shapes and sizes were walking around in sports bras, celebrating their bodies as they are now….and in the midst of hundreds of people, mostly women, not once feeling judged in any way. That was pretty astounding! What an experience.

fun shot wen loie trio

While we were visiting and talking, and meeting up with our other friends, Murn and Susan, Lorraine was taking lots of pictures, and she made her way over to see where our bikes were, to take a few photos of where we would be spinning. Suddenly, I heard my name being shouted from a distance, and when I looked toward the stage, Lorraine was pointing to a bike in the front row, right in front of the stage, and she was shouting, “you’re in the front row!”….a wave of fear and excitement came over me, as I grabbed Roseanne to go and see our bikes. We walked all the way to the front, and saw A9 and A10…OUR bikes….front row center. Oh my goodness! We took a few photos, and then went back to a table to hang out and visit and take some more fun pictures at the SEAK photo booth.
fun wen loie front row my bike

The first Soul Cycle group was called, and we watched them for a while, and we were inspired by everyone riding, and excited to see Hannah and Olivia right up front riding side by side with lots of excitement and joy. The music was so great, and watching everyone ride, in their sports bras…completely uninhibited, was really spectacular.

As the first ride came to an end, I could see Roseanne getting really nervous, and my stomach was full of nerves. My hands were sweating, we started to get into a bit of a panic mode, I started to just pray for strength and courage, and with that, I assured Roseanne that we would be fine. This is what we came to do. It wasn’t a race, it was an experience, and we were not going to miss this amazing experience, and all that it was meant to be for us. She had never done a Soul Cycle ride, so I assured her that I would be right there, and I could hop off the bike at a moment’s notice and help her with absolutely anything she may need. I told her to just put up 2 fingers to let me know she needed help, and I would jump right off.

When our group was called, we brought our stuff up the the front, put our spin shoes on, and there were people to help us adjust our bikes to the right settings. Susan and Olivia also helped Roseanne get all set and locked in, and encouraged her before getting on their own bikes. We started to pedal and warm up as everyone got on their bikes. I reminded Roseanne that I was right there and would help her however she needed, and to remember…it’s not a race, it’s an experience.
ready to go ro set

I started to pedal and to pray, and as I started just thanking God for allowing me to walk through this next dream on my journey, I saw Ayana and Jennie get on their lead bikes in front of us…Roseanne was to my right, and then I realized Hannah was getting on the bike next to me on my left, and Olivia was on the bike next to her!  “Really Lord!!??? I am in the front row of the Sports Bra Challenge….being lead by Jennie and Ayana….with Roseanne next to me on my right….and Hannah and Olivia on my left???!!! Not to mention all of the cameras taking video and pictures right in front of us…because we are next to Hannah and Olivia???”….and then I just felt Him say, “take it all in, don’t miss what I am doing for you and through you. Trust me.”

jenny ayana group ride

The music kicked in, Jennie and Ayana lead and inspired and rocked it out with everyone there. We were stripped down into our sports bras…and we were riding with over 300 people in the middle of Union Square, surrounded by loads of people cheering us on, taking pictures. The atmosphere and energy is something I can’t even put into words, along with going through it, as we all celebrated how far we had come, where we were now…without one bit of judgement amongst every single person there…..just pure celebration! It was unimaginable! It was such a gift!

riding riding fast

The hour of spinning was really hard, at times when I thought I wasn’t sure I could hang in there, I saw Roseanne pouring out her heart and soul, and she inspired me to keep up and do the same. We spun harder and faster…we put the resistance up higher and higher, we pedaled and did push ups on the handle bars..over and over again…then we took out weights and did some weight training (while our legs never stopped moving)….It was really hard, really intense….and we kept up and did it.

hands up 2 hands up riding strong

When the last song came on, there was a point that my eyes were closed as I was praying for the strength to keep pushing and going…and then all of a sudden, The Lord started to flash my entire journey across my mind, as the words of the song washed over me singing, “anything can happen”…. my mind flashed from watching Olivia and Hannah on The Biggest Loser, to Olivia meeting with me and helping me…to being on the Dr. Oz show and making it from 1.2 million people to the final 20….to the finale of the Dr. Oz show…to going to Unleash the Champion, working out with Carter Hays, some contestants/winners of The BIggest Loser…meeting Roseanne, Bethany, Susan and Murn on that ranch (who were now here with me today)….

And as my whole journey flashed in pieces before me, as my eyes were closed taking it all in, as I kept spinning and pushing…an overwhelming sense of gratitude, joy, love and pure amazement in what I was experiencing at that moment…trying to take it all in….the beauty of the blue sky and weather, spinning this past hour while looking right into the eyes of Jennie and Ayana as they lead and encouraged us and just rocked it out…realizing that I was walking in this dream that I wrote down in a notebook 2 years ago…Roseanne was on my right, 111 pounds down since I put my “believe” bell around her neck after she climbed the mountain at a boot camp we met at last Sept….Hannah and Olivia, winners of the Biggest Loser, who went from superstars onTV to be called our friends… were on my left….we were all together, spinning in the front row, amongst hundreds of people celebrating….

With all of that going though my mind, a huge wave of emotion and tears felt like it was coming up from my toes, through my entire body and then out…my face became distorted, and I just began to cry uncontrollably. It was just overwhelming and beautiful at the same time. I remember just thinking and saying, “Oh Lord, what is this??  You actually placed us in this place, for such a time as this! I NEVER could have imagined this.” It was so mighty, I could barely comprehend it and take it in, but I just kept thanking Him for all that He had done and was doing.

At one point. I was crying so hard, and when I opened my eyes as I was facing the ground, there was a huge camera below me taping my emotional breakdown.  I tried to get it together, but the tears just kept flowing until the end.
break down  When the ride was over, I threw my arms around Roseanne. I was soooo proud of her. She kept up, stayed so strong and pushed through every tough moment…and she made it to the end victoriously! There were so many times during that ride, I just thought, she is one of THE most courageous and bravest women I know! And to experience this day riding next to her, was the most amazing gift ever! She is a superstar!

sbc finaleAs we gathered our things, the photographer who was filming during the last song asked if he could interview me and find out why I was so emotional during the last song. I got myself together and met him back by the tents, and Roseanne and Bethany and I were able to share a bit of our stories with him. It was very emotional for all of us.

I remember just stopping and looking all around to take it all in one last time. People were celebrating, cheering others on, congratulating one another…we were surrounded by hundreds of people just celebrating their bodies, taking part in this amazing foundation to support all of the efforts to support women in building the confidence they need to feel empowered and beautiful in their own skin.

This experience…this day, truly was ABUNDANTLY MORE than I ever could have asked for or imagined. And the amazing thing to me, as I continue this journey, is realizing, and being grateful for the fact that, although it was 2 years ago, 81 pounds ago…when I shut all the shade, locked the doors, and did the challenge in my own home privately, while I prayed to be able to one day experience it in person…God was already working on it, and orchestrating everything, down to every incredible detail of this day…and was just waiting and smiling as we walked through this entire day, in utter joy and amazement…completely awestruck as we finally met everyone there, who made us feel so special…and rode on our bikes, A9 and A10, right in the front row…with Hannah and Olivia on my left and Roseanne on my right, Sue and Murn riding behind us..Lorraine and Bethany photographing us and cheering us on…being lead and encouraged by Ayana and Jenny…surrounded by the energy, joy, courage and excitement of hundreds of people, with not one person judging another. When I think about his day, all I can do is keep praising God for His abundance! Prayers unleash the power for dreams to come true! Keep dreaming big dreams…and pray without ceasing..and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is able to do ABUNDANTLY more than you can ever ask or imagine!

whole group it really happened

The Incredible Week at “Unleash The Champion” With Some of “The Biggest Losers”… This Is What Dreams Are Made Of!… Day 5 (Thursday)- The Story Continues…

Thursday was another spectacular day on the ranch. Lots of major breakthroughs, life testimonies from Mary Nell, Hannah Curlee, and Carter himself. Today, more women got the courage to go to boot camp for their first time, and even do their first hike to the top of the mountain. There is nothing like being alongside someone experiencing an amazing moment of breaking through what they thought they couldn’t do, and moving to believing that they can do anything, and knowing now that they were made for so much more! This has been a week of those kinds of moments, for me, and for so many others here. And on this Thursday, we experienced many more, side by side…

I heard the alarm go off a little after 3am in our pitch dark room. As soon as I opened my eyes, anxiety set in, as this was the day that Sara and I decided we would wear sleeveless, fitted tank tops for our first time ever, working out. We couldn’t back out now, as she had tweeted it out to everyone on the ranch the day before. I got up, went to the bathroom down the hall, and put on my work out outfit. My stomach was full of butterflies, and I was shaking as I took a picture in the mirror.
tank 1tank 2

I walked back to the room where everyone was getting dressed, and Sara was in her tank top already. She looked amazing. We were both so nervous, but really decided it was time to start celebrating being 70 pounds down. We all discussed how real our feelings and insecurities are when we are overweight. We all shared how we live our lives dressed in black, because it is “thinning”. My actual goal this week was to have the courage just to wear some color, and it was Thursday, and I hadn’t even done that yet. I had been wearing my old oversized shirts, navy or black each day. I packed a few new shirts I had bought for the trip that actually fit. They were a bright teal and a purple, but I hadn’t worn them yet. I remember Darcy saying in the room that morning, “I actually remember buying my first pair of GRAY pants, as if that was a big step moving from black.” These issues are a part of so many of our lives, and it was helpful to just hear other women be honest about having the same issues as I had.

So, Sara and I had our tank tops on…mine was hot pink, and I put my teal t-shirt on top, at least I was wearing a bright color today. (even if I didn’t get the courage to take the t-shirt off). Cars were loaded up and we were driving to the gym a little after 4am. We had another incredible visit in the car, just sharing in complete honesty and vulnerability, growing deeper in our relationships.

We arrived at the gym, walked in from the complete darkness outside into the brightly lit turf…which felt even brighter as we went to take off our t-shirts. We took a few pictures before starting our warm up, then we joined everyone walking around the turf. So many people were coming up to Sara and I, just encouraging us and telling us how great we looked. We were both so “wowed”, and we chose to just take in every compliment. It was amazing.
w&S tanksW&S tanks 2JPG In the back of my mind, the issues kept trying to creep up. I was already worrying about Carter yelling out that it was time to raise our hands while walking….then jog…then raise our hands while jogging. I started to worry about my shirt going up, and how consumed I would be about pulling it down..I was praying for the Lord to just let me release it all and enjoy the moment. And he did. We did all those things, and it was fine. And not only fine, but freeing! I felt so free and fit jogging around that turf. It was a safe and encouraging place to do it.  Sara and I kept catching each other’s eye and smiling, as we both were going through this together, and it was incredible. And, as I looked around and continued to pray for everyone to continue to have breakthroughs, and “Hannah back bend moments” of their own, today I saw women jogging for their first time. Today I noticed women who came to the turf for their first time, and I was so excited for them.

The work out today was going to be different from the previous days, as we didn’t see any equipment on the field. Today was known as “body weight Wednesday”, and some of Carter’s regular attendees warned us that it is always one of the hardest work outs of the week. Everything we did would just be done using our bodies. The told us, “don’t think that just because you don’t see equipment on the field, doesn’t mean it’s not going to be a tough workout. It’s usually the hardest workout of the week.” (and it was…)

The morning was filled with loads of very tough intervals. We started out bringing up our heart rates alternating from jumping jacks to burpees, back to jumping jacks (over and over again). Then we went from jogging– to bear crawls forward and backwards (brutal, so hard), then lunges forward and backward. Our next timed intervals went from jogging, to groucho walks, to skipping. During this time, and amazing breakthrough happened for Sara. Sara was told at one point in her life, that she could not skip, so her entire life she believed that she could not skip– so she never did. Today, Carter said skip….and Sara just did it! Isn’t it amazing what the power of someone’s words can have over you? In this case someone said,”you can’t”, and Sara lived her whole life never even trying to skip. And today Carter just told us all to do it, and she just did it! It was a great moment for her, you could see the amazement in her eyes and her smile….I’ll never forget it… I’m so glad she shared it with us.

In our next set of intervals, I had another “Hannah backbend moment” of my own. We had to be in plank position,(its a push up position but with our elbows on the turf instead of your hands). Then we had to go from plank to push up, one arm pushing us up at a time, then back down the plank and then start push up with other arm, and keep alternating. I have never been able to do these before, but it was Thursday, and I knew by now that Carter expected us to bring our absolute best to that field, and to push ourselves beyond what we think is our limit. So I was determined to try to do this whole interval the way he asked for it.

Plank with alternating arms, then hold a plank, then sideward mountain climbers. We had to do it over and over and over again. I pushed so hard to be able to do this, tears were streaming down my face, I was dying in pain, and started to groan a bit out loud. Bethany was on the turf next to me, it was her first day there, and she was pushing herself so hard also. Right when I thought I couldn’t handle it anymore, Carter shouted, “Don’t be that person who quits!”, and I prayed and pushed and cried while going through it, pushing through and seeing what my body would do, even though I didn’t think I could…it was another huge breakthrough for me. I reminded myself that I had the amazing opportunity of GETTING to be on this turf with everyone, and I also knew after today, we only had one day left to experience what our bodies could be pushed to do here. I fully trusted Carter, that he knew what we could do, and I just followed his voice and instructions, not wanting to be that person who quits.

At the end of that emotional set…it wasn’t over yet. We finished with squats and side switch squats, over and over again. Very hard. Then FINALLY, we were told to make a large circle, and we had a time of stretching, and was taught great stretching techniques for neck and back pain. There was a point during the neck stretches where we were told to move our head side to side stretching far, in the motions of slowly saying “no” with your head. I remember as we did it a few times, in my spirit I just prayed as my head motioned “no”, for the Lord to NEVER let me go back, only forward, only stronger. “Don’t let me forget all this Lord, don’t let me ever go back to where I was.”

We ended with our huddle and shout, and then we took some time to take a few pictures with Carter, celebrating our first workout in tank tops. Everyone was so proud of us…what a special, safe, wonderful place to have this experience.
carter and tanks  Before heading out of the gym, I was so proud of Bethany for sending out an SOS before leaving.  She was afraid to do one of the moves during the hour, and stopped and asked Carter if he could show her how to do it, so that she could try before leaving the gym, and before losing the opportunity to see if she was able to do it. We took pictures as she broke through what she didn’t think she could do! I was so proud of her. She found the courage to come to the turf today, and the courage to break through an exercise she didn’t think she could do. Yay Bethany!

On to the best feeling of walking OUT of the gym…after an amazing workout completed, experiencing new heights of abilities, greater faith and belief! Proud of the turf burn on our hands!  Our car, of course, made it’s way to Starbucks. (ah ahh…yes, we could hear the angels sing as we took our first sip). Another amazing ride back, sharing all that happened for each of us on that turf, along with more life stories.

turf burn

When we got into the car, there was a tweet from Courtney, letting us all know that she and Marci, Olivia, Hannah and Murn had all made the tough decision to sleep in this morning. In a few of the talks, we were all told how important it is to get enough sleep, and not let your body get run down, and as we read her tweet in the car, we all discussed how much we really respected all of them for showing us, first hand, how to make the tough decision and do what was best. We knew how much they wanted to work out, but they were all giving so much of themselves, staying up late to give talks, meet with individuals…take care of all of us, and they were really tired. It was so great for us to see them live what they were teaching us.

On the ride back, we shared how tough this season of life is for some of us, starting to take care of our aging and ailing parents. As they get older, so much of their vibrancy for life has a lot to do with how fit and how healthy they have been or they are, and now we start to feel so responsible for their problems, as we take care of them. All we want is for them to enjoy and love the life that they are living, especially after all they have done for us our entire lives. But for many of us, our parents took care of everyone else, and put themselves last. We all brought that to our own realities now, in that fact that we all really wanted to continue in a lifestyle of health and fitness, so that we didn’t put our children in that same place one day of feeling responsible for us. We want to enjoy life with them and their children (our grandchildren) one day..going on trips, visiting, and not having to have them push us in a wheel chair or leave us behind, because we are too sick to enjoy life with them, because we never took care of ourselves. It kills me to see my mom taking so many medications…prednisone, heart medication, insulin, water pills, breathing in a nebulizer 4 times a day, sleeping with oxygen attached to her sleep apnea machine… and watch my dad barely walk or even speak much since his stroke last year. The effects of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke has limited what they are able to do and minimizes the way they are living day to day. They were 2 people who were the most vibrant, amazing special people, who helped everyone around them and brought so much joy to everyone else, along with being the best parents in the world– who did everything with us and our friends. It was another “aha moment” for all of us sharing on that car ride back.

When we all got back to the ranch, Jim took our “room mate picture” in the living room, and Sara and I decided we would stay in our tank tops all day, and not cover up until we had to in the evening when it got colder. We were both working very hard on stepping out of our comfort zones, it was both scary and very freeing.
roommatedJPGWe all ended up in the kitchen where everyone was sitting around the big dining room table talking and sharing. Our conversations in there were so amazing, time  flew by a bit. Then Carter came in to make a few announcements about the plans of the day ahead.
kitchen  At that point, I guess it was the Holy Spirit’s prompting, but I asked if Carter had ever had a weight problem. When he said no, I then asked if he ever had any problem that would have lead him to having all this incredible wisdom in helping so many people who have had weight problems. There hadn’t been one moment this whole week, that I didn’t have my notebook open when he was sharing at any given time, even if it were just hanging out while eating. The deep, Godly wisdom and knowledge he has, along with him being utterly compelled to share it all, is beyond what my words could ever convey.  Well, as he proceeded to answer my question….that lead to the most amazing time of his sharing his own personal testimony, filled with very personal struggles, burdens, shame, fears…dreams, goals, lessons, victories. He shared his life and his heart, and it was one of the most amazing gifts of that week. He is a living testimony to his own words, “God is a redeemer and restorer, every single day, every single moment. He gave you dreams to make you reach for what He created you for. And the way you thank God–is by using your gifts, asking, “Lord show me what to do.”
carter share We all left that kitchen with Carter’s handprint on our hearts. We all came to this Faith to Fitness–Unleash the Champion retreat with our own life stories of brokenness and weaknesses, issues, struggles, fears, shame….along with our hopes and dreams. And one of the most beautiful parts of this week, is to have the opportunity to learn from each other’s stories. We are all in this together, and we all have tough, yet beautiful stories, even the “famous” Biggest Losers…even our “famous” coach, Carter. We are all works in progress. We were all created for one purpose…to glorify God– To give a correct estimate of who He is and what He can do. And that is our life’s purpose… To show what He has done to restore, renew, and make us into who He created us to be. And as we share… really share,  heart to heart..that is how we see first hand what He is able to do in the lives of those who love Him and ask for Him to do His work in them.

Taking our long walk over to breakfast, I think we were all just inspired by Carter’s sharing from the heart, to do the same. I walked with Bethany, and we had a great time of sharing, and toward the bottom of the hill, we were picked up by Heather in her car, and by the time we parked for breakfast, we all had a great time of sharing, as well as a good cry. More handprints left on each other’s hearts.
Moment by moment, it could be seen that the Lord continued to orchestrate absolutely everything going on on this ranch. Today wasn’t necessarily going along with the original written schedule, but it was already evident that God had a better schedule in mind. Tables were again clearly arranged by Him. Today I was eating with a different group of women, and I realized as I sat down that I hadn’t read Lorraine’s daily letter yet. I reached into my binder to find the one marked, “Thursday”, and explained to some of the women there, who didn’t know about her letters, what I was about to read and share with them. They were really excited to hear the one for today. Again, Lorraine’s words were exactly meant for this moment…

The front of the notecard said, “Live, Laugh, Love”. Then when I opened it, the words she wrote were, “Check out the cover again. I pray that you are making/building amazing relationships. I pray that after you work out or reflect, that you do get to know everyone and their stories. I pray that you can laugh together and play some of the games people brought. I pray that your conversations become so deep that they can break through the wall that has been in front of you this summer. God can move mountains. He is mighty to save, therefore he can move your wall. Just wait until you get on that scale Saturday. But no matter what the #, He has so much more in store! Love ya! Lorraine”

Again, it was the perfect letter to read at our table. As I wrote before, Lorraine really wanted to be on this week, but had to work. What she didn’t know while preparing all of these notes/letters, was that through the words she shared with me and the people around me each time I read a letter.. a part of her was here, and she was connecting with some of these women in a special way already. Some of the women at our table shared that they didn’t have a best friend like Lorraine, and actually made me promise that if they ever came to NY, they could meet her. It was another moment, as Lorraine had prayed for in her letter, where we all went deeper in our conversations during that lunch time, and realized how lonely many women are, as we all really long for wonderful friendships with amazing girlfriends– Friends who you could really depend on, and live life with.. Through good times and bad. I couldn’t wait to get the chance to call her later, and tell her how much she touched these women today.

After breakfast, we went back up to the upper room for our morning talk. This time, Dr. Binkley, (who was suppose to give his talk the day before), was there to educate us in so many areas including hormone balance, the thyroid, soy, stress, insulin, cortisol, hormone replacements, gluten, etc. It was another talk packed with information and knowledge that would empower us in our journeys, and enable us to make great decisions in the future, based on the facts and scientific research he shared with us.

Our heads were filled with lots of new information, my notebook filled with notes so that I wouldn’t forget what we learned. It was definitely time for another delicious lunch made by Chris and his staff. We all savored every bite, and continued to share our lives with the people at our tables. When we were finished, it was on to our afternoon hikes, and just like each day before, we were joined by more courageous women who decided this was the day to believe that they could make it to the top.

After completing the moderate hike, we went over and gathered together for the tough hike. Today there were few more women who decided to conquer this mountain for their first time, and those of us who had done it before all spread out to make sure that everyone got to the top no matter how long it took. We would rest when they needed to rest, and stay by their side the entire time.

Courtney and Marci were with us, and they continued to encourage every person there in such a special way. This is a mother daughter team who has the most incredible relationship with one another. They have gone through their own journeys side by side, seeking the Lord’s strength in their weaknesses, and they pass on living testimonies filled with passion, courage, truth…and a such a strong love that you can feel the moment they look you in the eyes. They are using their lives to inspire and pass on and share all that they have learned, in pure honesty, with unconditional love. It is hard to put into words what it is like to know these women. You meet them, and within minutes, you just feel that you can ask them absolutely anything, and they will do whatever they can to help you believe and reach your goals and dreams. They really are extraordinary

Courtney and Wendy We all started at the bottom taking a few pictures to mark this day, and then we started up the path. Within moments, it became a very special hike as groups of women gathered around each “first timer” to encourage them and help them believe that they could to this. I was walking with a group surrounding an incredible woman named, Roseanne. This was a very tough climb for her, and at one point, Bethanny walked into the woods and broke two branches to make walking sticks for her. They were perfect, and such a brilliant idea. We went step by step with Roseanne, stopping when she needed to stop.
roseanne and courtney At one point, when we could see the top from far away, Heather hiked down to offer her hiking poles to Roseanne. (My hands just had to stop typing for a second, to take a deep breath and hold back the tears as I write this. These are moments I can’t share without crying, just trying to pass on all that took place that afternoon….)

Heather, if you recall, is the incredible woman who shared with all of us at the top of the mountain the first day, that she was battling MS, and had dreamed of getting to the top of that mountain…and promised that she would climb it every day that week. And now here she was, she had already reached the top (for her 4th time that week), and she had climbed back down part way to offer her poles to Roseanne.

Roseanne thanked her, but decided in that moment that she would finish the climb with the poles that Bethanny had made for her. With that, we continued climbing the last steep part, with the top in our sights. Everyone got behind Roseanne as she took her last few steps to the top. I ran up front to record the moment with my camera, as it was such a powerful moment for her, as well as the other women whose first climb it was.
rosanne at topWhen everyone reached the top, Jim lead us as we all broke out singing “How Great is Our God” and “How Great Thou Art”. It was absolutely beautiful, singing and praising God for all He was doing. Everyone was singing, reaching out and putting their arms around one another… and tears were just streaming down the faces of everyone there, as we celebrated more victories for the group of women who took a big step of faith today, as they took one step at a time, believing they they could reach the top with everyone. And to have Marci and Courtney there to encourage, celebrate and cry with us, was a beautiful part of the experience no one will ever forget. They know the struggle, the burden, and what it is like to fight this battle day by day. And there is nothing like having someone there for you who knows exactly how you feel. Pure, sweet, kind, true…empathy.
Jim singJPGsingingEveryone at topfirst climbersClimbing down, we continued to take care of everyone, as the rocky, steep path was difficult to maneuver in getting down also. But climbing down, there were smiles and eyes filled with such joy on the faces of the “first timers” and everyone helping them. We were all so proud of them.

When we finally reached the bottom, we all knew that our next session was taking place back at the big white tent. We took our seats, got everyone water, and prepared for our next talk by Carter. I was sitting right next to Roseanne, and as I sat there just praying and thanking God for allowing me to be a part of such an amazing climb, praising Him for Roseanne and all that she had just accomplished…I was holding my bell necklace that was hanging around my neck, in my hand, just holding it and thanking God for bringing me to this place and continuing to strengthen my faith and believe that I can do ALL things through Him who strengthens me. And in that moment, the Lord whispered in my heart,”Wendy, you need to share the story of this bell with her, and then I want you to give it to her. You believe and know now…you don’t need it anymore…she does.” I turned and shared the story of my bell with her, and I remember so vividly, with tears in my eyes, as I was sooooo blessed at that moment to be living right in the midst of God’s prompting…I took the necklace off of my neck… over my head.. and placed it over her head and around her neck. I didn’t realize some other people were paying attention at that time, but as I placed it around her neck I actually heard some people gasping and crying in the moment. Some of them had read my story and knew how much the bell meant to me, and I actually heard someone whisper, “she’s giving her bell away”. The moment still leaves me with chills and tears in my eyes. It was a very special, divine, “God moment” that I will never forget for the rest of my life. (In fact, as I write these words today, March 7,2013, Roseanne still has the bell, and this week she hit 102 pounds lost since the ranch!)

We had another fantastic talk lead by Carter, where he taught us all about strength and power, along with dealing with pain. More great knowledge that filled my notebook. We had a chance to learn about rollers and try them out, along with great stretching techniques. One of my favorite things about learning all of this hands on stuff, is that we are learning it in such a special environment where we all feel so safe and comfortable to really try things and learn things, and have full confidence in the expertise of Carter and the people he has brought in that we won’t hurt ourselves trying whatever he asks us to try, and there is no need to feel self conscious in any way. What a gift!
stretching This brought us up to dinner, another delicious meal, filled with beautiful conversations, and great laughter. We were all looking forward to the evening talks, as tonight we would hear from Carter, Murn and Hannah. Then, we would also have some time to ask anything we wanted from the entire “panel”–Carter, Murn, Hannah, Olivia, Marci and Courtney.

As we hiked up to the “upper room”, Sara and I celebrated that we were still in our tank tops, walking around still a bit uncomfortable at times, but celebrating how free we felt not wearing our big t-shirts and oversized sweatshirts. Throughout the day, the other women and men were so kind in encouraging us to celebrate how far we had come.

When we got to the top, we had a few minutes, and I just had to call Lorraine and tell her how her letters touched more women today at lunch. I remember standing outside the upper room, looking around the woods, up at the sky, noticing all the beauty, trying to take in all that had already happened that day, as I dialed the phone, hoping that she would pick up. When I heard her voice, it was awesome! And what was even more perfect, was that before I even began to speak, she just said how much she needed that phone call at that exact moment, as she was having a rough day. I LOVE God’s timing!!

We had a little time to connect and share, I got to tell her how she is such a part of this week, even without being here– That women here already know her name and look forward to meeting her one day. And we got to just take in and thank God that we have such a amazing friendship, and that our daughters are best friends, and today we were not taking that for granted, as we were reminded that not everyone has a best friend in their lives. And I have prayed many times since returning home that the Lord would provide amazing friendships, sisters in Christ who would walk side by side through this life together for all the women there who didn’t yet have that.

I continued to share with her all  “God incidences” that were happening down to the second… I also shared with her that Hannah had told me that the letter that I sent her while she was on The Biggest Loser, was really special to her, and that she had read it numerous times going into the finale. What an incredible blessing to find that out, as I had forgotten all about it.  When I wrote to her and Olivia during the show, I never even imagined at that point that I would ever even meet her. It was just placed on my heart to write the letter. And now here I was, over a year or 2 later, on a retreat in Tennessee, on a hike with Hannah this morning, finding out how much a letter I wrote to her, meant to her. Only God!

I had to hang up with Lorraine, but running into the building, I remember just smiling and thanking God, again, for His timing in calling Lorraine and being able to have a special short visit with her on the phone. We took our regular seats, and another spectacular evening began…

It was another beautiful evening where we saw first hand how God brought together, weaving through lives, bringing people and plans together over time, placing dreams and passions within each person..to create this weekend for us. Mary Nell (Murn), was one of the key people involved, and it was her turn to start off the evening. It is always fun to hear Carter introduce each person, giving us his “take” on them, and sharing from his heart what they mean to him.

As he introduced Murn, he shared with us how he first met her at one of his boot camps a year and a half ago. He describes her as, “the Everready bunny on steroids. She is so intense, so passionate about performance, and she puts everything into what she is doing. But, her passion is just as much for other people as the passion is for what she is doing. She is awesome because she gives out as much from her heart as she does with her sweat and her tears. The driving passion of the effort is the driving passion of her heart. You get sucked into her energy–which leads you to get sucked into her heart…and the heart keeps you, and the energy takes you!” Wow!, with an introduction like that, I bet you wish you could spend time with this remarkable woman. And I can tell you first hand, every word is true!
murn 1JPGmurn 2I couldn’t wait to hear her speak, as she had already shared so much with me, and taught me so much on the hikes, around the ranch, at the lodge…She is only around 5 feet tall, but when you are in her presence, she brings with her such joy, strength, faith, belief, energy, love…that literally makes her close to 6 feet tall! She’s amazing!

When Murn took the platform and began to speak, she shared with us, what a true surreal moment this was for her to be speaking in front of us at this retreat, on this evening. Her life journey brought her to a place where the Lord began to show her that she would one day be in a place of helping others get fit and healthy, after battling fitness and weight herself. She always watched the Biggest Loser, and while watching season 11, she felt that she was destined to know Hannah one day. Little did she know, that the Lord would bring her to Carter’s turf, and she would find herself at a bootcamp literally doing a plank, side by side with Hannah, as Carter was training Hannah for the finale. It was at that moment, doing the plank, that she saw first hand how hard Hannah had worked and transformed her life, and it was also at this defining moment that Murn felt a fire inside of her to do this. She became friends with Hannah and Carter during this time, and each of their dreams came together and they started imagining what could be….She shared with us that when they put this retreat all together, booking the property, etc., they weren’t even sure anyone would really show up. And yet, there we all were, over 45 of us, sitting in front of her, on this retreat, which was sold out in around 72 hours after it being announced…and she was now part of a team of people who were changing our lives…. sharing her testimony and sitting on a panel later that evening with Marci, Courtney, Hannah, Olivia and Carter. How does that happen??? Only God!!

When Murn finished sharing with us, Carter then introduced Hannah. You could tell by the way they shared about one another, that the Lord has done extraordinary things through their friendship in both of their lives. In his introduction, Carter said that one of the most powerful qualities of Hannah is courage. He continued, “Courage is a state of mind, knowing God’s will is the will for your life. That’s where your confidence comes from. Hannah displays it through her honor, her laughter. Her laughter is from the heart.”  Then, as he looked at Hannah, inviting her to take the platform he said, “Thank you for your courage–your laughter, your smile, your tenacity of love has changed all of our lives, so thank you.” She hadn’t even started her talk yet, and our eyes were already tearing up just from her introduction!
carter:Hannah   Hannah took the stage, and just as every person before her this past week, she shared straight from the heart–the really tough and really great moments and times of her life. We learned how the Lord brought her life into the lives of Carter and everyone else there, through one divine appointment after another, along with her journey on the Biggest Loser, and how she endured the process and came to a place of victory. She went from a time of being 299 pounds in her life to standing on the stage at the finale, in a size 2 dress, weighing 128 pounds.
Hannah talkJust as Carter pointed out, Hannah is courageous, has a smile along with laughter that is just so endearing. She is honest, sweet, smart, loyal, kind….has an incredible tenacity of love, she is so generous, and has such an excitement and passion to pass on all that she has learned on her journey to everyone who wants to learn from her. She, along with Murn, Olivia, Marci and Courtney, all of them, are willing to open up and share from the depths of their souls…their hurts, disappointments, insecurities, anxieties, weaknesses, etc.

That night, Hannah taught us all so much. She pointed out, again, that we are all great at giving and taking care of everyone else first. Many times, being overweight, we hide in the back or choose not to do things, and just keep going on each day and not reaching for what is ours… not asking for help, not letting anyone know how sad or depressed or helpless or frustrated or horrible we feel. Not sharing any of our dreams with anyone.

One of the biggest lessons she taught me that night was. “You have to send out your SOS’s”. You have to ask for help from everyone and anyone who can help you. Asking for help is one of the bravest things you can do. She asked us, “what do you need from your parents, what do you need from your spouse, what do you need from your friends?” Most of the time, the people around you don’t even know you are unhappy, and if you just start asking for help, people want to help you. She even shared that when she got home from the show, she ask the guy at the local deli if he could have fresh turkey on hand for her…he was happy to do it, and he has it waiting for her now, every week. She asked the local grocery store if they could order her gg crisps, so now they carry them. She shared, “It takes an army, you need help, tell people.

Hannah talk 2She also pointed out that, “All you have is you, everyone else is taken. You have to be your best you.” That has been one of the greatest lessons for me this week. I just have to bring my best. My best is enough. Not the person in front of me or behind me or on either side of me. I just need to bring my best everywhere I go…whether it is the gym, on the turf, at a meeting, with my friends, with my family…wherever I am….bring and do my best.The only person I have to try to out-do is me…outbest my best.

As I listened to her, I started making a list in my notebook of things that I knew I had to start asking for, and because of her, I am getting so much more help in areas that I never would have thought to ask. And just like Hannah said, EVERYONE has been so happy to help me and support me in this journey. As Hannah reminded us…why not me!! Why can’t you want more?…Strive to be a better mother, better wife, better friend, better daughter…better me. She looked at all of us and said,  “Strive to be a better you, because every one else is taken! All you have is you. Every step you take has a purpose…where are your steps taking you? Everything you do has a purpose and effect on others, effects you may never know about. I had no idea that Murn had a huge moment the day she was doing a plank next to me.”

Hannah explained that once she started to get this, she broke it down into “steps and checks”. She got up and decided what she was going to do, asked for help from others, and did it. “Got up early (check), walked 5 miles (check), had a healthy breakfast (check), wrote down my food (check), etc. Etc… she spent her time on The Biggest Loser in steps and checks, and continues to do that today.

I know that I get so overwhelmed with all that has to be done to get to a goal, or even what has to be done in my day, each day. I have to go back to one step at a time, making one great choice at a time. I’ve also learned to stop and make a list of all the things I think I need to do in a day or in a week, and I place my hand over that list and ask God to prioritize it and help me finish it– and in the end, to give me more hours in my day, as it never seems like enough. And when I remember to do that, He astounds me every time! (I just need to learn to do this all the time!)

Hannah’s story continued, and she shared with us what she learned from Carter when she started working out with him as he trained her all the way to the finale. It was all the things he was teaching us this week. “Motivation comes from you, and you have all the tools you need. Work hard and trust your body. You were not made or designed by man, YOU are fearfully and wonderfully made by God. God has a better plan, how’s your plan working for you?” I’ve definitely learned to trust God in this process, as I have never been able to lose weight in my own strength and keep it off before. The number one difference I have shared with others about why it has become a lifestyle and something different this time, rather than any other time I have lost weight before, is because I am doing it with His strength and power, not on my own. That’s why if you bring your best to Him, and ask Him for His strength, it’s enough. Your best, not anyone else’s, just yours.

Hannah then asked us, “what do you want to do with the rest of your life? Do you want more? Do you want to fill your cup every day? Yes! We are great givers, we give and give and give–we NEED to learn to take. How are you successful?–It doesn’t just happen, every single day I’m sowing my seeds–to bear fruit and fill me. He promises us so much, you need to have diligence, faith, belief…and when you can’t believe alone, allow others to believe in you. Get a support team, do it together. Show up and let God do the rest…you never know who God will put in your army, all you have to do is ask. Help is everywhere. Are you asking, are people hearing you?”

To this day, when I think of Hannah, the first thing I think of is sending out my SOS’s, and believing, Why not me?…  Like her, I was great at helping everyone else first, leaving myself for last, but in this journey I have learned, “after me, you come first….after me.”  I try to make my good choices, one at a time, and check them off.

When I didn’t get to the place of winning the entire Dr. Oz challenge, I was devastated. I remember calling Olivia, because I truly believed that I was suppose to win the entire thing. I remember her sharing with me that Hannah fought and believed that she was going to win also, but Olivia won. Then she reminded me that just because I didn’t win, didn’t mean my journey was over, this was just a part of it. Hannah didn’t come in first, she came in second…but look what she is doing with her life, and how she is moving forward and inspiring others. I needed to be reminded that God was in control, and ask Him what I was suppose to do next, trusting that He was in control, and He was in charge of my journey…and that it would be above and beyond what I could ever ask or imagine!

On her Biggest Loser journey, Hannah found her faith all over again. She shared, “the great thing about God is, He made you, carved us out of His own image. He knows every hair on your head, every tear that falls on the ground, every desire in your heart. Why can’t I give Him some credit? This is a masterpiece. God has a better plan..How’s your’s working out for you?”

She ended the night stating, “I got on that stage and left it all there–my best! The confetti fell, my sister and I, we did it together–picked up our cross every day and did it. Every day has a purpose… every step counts… it’s your life. Who are you going to call, skype, ask for help?? There’s only one you.”

Because I got to hear her journey, I have been asking for help, believing in myself, and asking God to show me His plan, because mine wasn’t working. His plans are so much better than mine. I head to the gym and constantly try to outbest my best. I keep adding to my personal army of people who are helping me do this, and I have been amazed at the people God has placed in my life. Hannah said, “your story means just as much as mine–it’s just in a different box–everyone has one–who ya gonna tell?” And  one of my greatest joys has been to inspire others through what the Lord has done through my life…sharing His story.

Well, we could barely take our breath and wipe all the tears…and I could barely finish writing as fast as I could, not to forget anything learned from Hannah, when we got ready to hear from Carter, himself. I made sure I had a lot of room in my notebook, as I knew I would be writing as fast as I could to capture all that the Lord was going to share through this wise, God fearing, God loving, gifted and talented man.

Carter continued the evening sharing his own life testimony. Some of us had had the amazing gift of hearing him share this afternoon at the lodge, but now it was time for him to share with everyone there. Just as we had heard through the testimonies of Hannah and Murn, the Lord had an incredible story to share with all of us, through the life of Carter, also.

He started by stating, “God has a story to tell through all of us.” Then he went on to share his story of how the Lord planted a dream in his spirit, and revealed it over a lifetime. The Lord took a shy and scared child, who was in a very dark place…and let him know deep in his spirit, early on, that he was created to serve people. Then, through relationships, experiences, circumstances, that only God could weave and orchestrate, Carter was brought to a place of where he knew for sure that, “God is a redeemer and restorer every single day…every single moment.”

He reminded us that we all have holes to be filled, and that God is the only one that can fill those holes. He reminded us that by His stripes, we are healed. He took it all on that cross, every pain we have had, every insecurity we have had, every______ you have had….it was taken upon Him and FINISHED on that cross. And it is a daily choice for us to know that and live in it. We all fall and forget this, taking it into our own hands, but Carter reminded us that we can get better at this, as we see ourselves coming back to this promises quicker and quicker, after we fall.

He continued to share with us, “Jesus became ALL the pain, hurt, disappointment,….I had. I see His face, I see Him say, “you have lives to touch. I’ll take it, Carter–you have to go and let me touch lives using you.” God knows what He needs me to do. I am to obey Him and let Him do the work. I get tired if I don’t let Him do it. My job, my work, my passion, my destiny is all one thing–a blessing. You retire from your job, not your work. Your work is what you do until you die..it is your calling.”

There is nothing like seeing someone, or being someone who walks fully in their calling. Carter is walking in his calling. He loves seeing other people really get it. He lives to be a part of helping people “get it and then do it”.  He has come to the place of using all of His gifts and talents to do the Lords work, the work He created him to do. There is no better place to be.

He reminded us, “God wants you to give Him EVERYTHING–the big and the little things. He wants it all. And when you do, you will be the most free you have ever been in your life.  The way you thank God, is by using your gifts. Ask, “Lord, show me what to do.” You can never have a dream and build it alone. God weaves and orchestrates it all through your life. He didn’t give you dreams to hurt you and to get you frustrated. He gave you dreams to lift you to where He created you to be, and He gave you challenges to make you reach for the dreams to make them happen, not to beat you down, but to use them to build you up.”

As I sat there thinking of all the dreams I have, the challenges I have faced, and am facing…thinking about how much further I still have to go in the area of weight loss, starting to think, “someday I will be there, and be at goal weight, and feel fit and beautiful”,….Carter reminded us of who we are right now. “You are the apple of His eye right now. He could not be more proud of you right now. You are everything to Him. He couldn’t love you more or be prouder of you than this very second–He’s your greatest cheerleader!”

That is something that I have had to work on believing. No matter what your weakness is, you believe that everything will be better when you get to whatever goal you have. With weight loss, you live in the…”when I get to goal weight, then I will feel, fit, pretty, confident, worthy….I will do things I was afraid or embarrassed to do…when I get to goal weight.” And in not realizing that we are loved and adored by God, our family, our husbands, our friends, our children…right now, right as we are…really loved now…we are missing out on so very much. I know that I continually regret all that I missed doing, because of my weight.

The night ended with the entire “panel” of front…Carter, Murn, Olivia, Hannah, Marci and Courtney. It was a time for us to ask questions, and have our last time to hear from all of them, as tomorrow was our last day, and we would all be heading home around lunch time. I just didn’t want this night to end.

panel We asked lots of questions, and they all answered so honestly. We heard more great stories and breakthroughs from their lives on the show, and then Courtney said something very profound. She said, “breakthroughs happen in every day life to everyone, ours just happened to be on a show. You have already started….all of you–you are on day 5!” She was right. We had already had so many breakthroughs since we had been here, and we didn’t even need to think about starting when we got home from here. We already started all together, and we were on day 5!. Then she said, “we’re all in this together for life now–under Him.” (as she pointed heavenward)

Courtney was 100% correct. We had begun something mighty, together, here. For many people in that room, this week they had found their “enough”, their breakthrough moment, their moment to believe they could finally do this. It was time to really commit to seeing what the Lord could do for each one of us, realizing that He had incredible plans for us. Carter even pointed out, “there are over 40 people in the room now. The love, and everything–what’s the chance of this happening here? The “Faith to Fitness” group bonded 2 months before this retreat even took place….on Facebook! How does this week happen??—Only God…for such a time as this—THERE IS NO RANDOM!” Everyone took in that powerful statement at that moment.

Panel 2JPGWe ended the night asking how we could pray for each person on the panel, and they shared their requests with us. Along with personal prayer requests, they all just asked to pray that the Lord would be glorified through their lives, that they would do what He wanted them to do, that they would be used in mighty ways for His kingdom, however that may look… and that no matter what, others would see His light as they served.

I had no idea, when I arrived at that ranch the first day, that these people would become such a special part of my life. I knew they would be “up front” sharing their stories, but I had no idea, that they would humble themselves and just choose to literally come alongside of all of us working out, eating, sharing, climbing mountains, taking walks, crying with us….living and doing life with us for a week, day in and day out, sharing so honestly from their hearts, some of their hardest struggles and insecurities, in order to teach us, encourage us, lift us up– believing in us so that we could come to a place of believing in ourselves….becoming our friends, becoming a part of our army…our family in Christ. What a gift. What a blessing to be a part of this group of people brought together this week, for such a time as this. WOW!

Our night in the upper room ended very late, and we all had to hike back to the lodges in order to get some sleep before waking up early for our last boot camp. I started out the door with a group of women, and I forgot something that I had to run back for, and with that asked them to wait for me a minute, as it was pitch dark out, and very scary to walk that long walk alone. When I came running back to the group waiting for me, we started walking down the steep hill in the dark, and as we walked, one of the girls said to me, “Wendy, we were just talking, and we were saying that, if this past week  was on TV like the Biggest Loser, you would have been our Marci.”

As she finished saying the name, Marci…chills overtook my body, and in the black of night, tears just streamed down my face as we walked, and I just looked up in the sky, with all of the stars shining so brightly, as it was so dark…asking God, in my soul, “what is this Lord?….Marci? They can even put my name with Marci’s? (The feeling still overwhelms me, as I type this, the tears are streaming again.) These young girls had seen the love and some of the characteristics of Marci in me. Oh my goodness.. I could barely breathe, as I just really admire Marci so much. She is just one of the most extraordinary women (and mothers),  I have ever met.

While continuing the long walk back, in and amongst the talking, I was still just crying tears of joy and amazement in the dark, going over all the mighty things the Lord had been doing in my life this past week. And I was still trying to take this last compliment in. I was also, already praying that somehow I could share this moment with Marci before leaving the ranch. Tomorrow was going to go fast, as we only had a half day left, before having to say goodbye to everyone. But I knew that I had placed this request in His hands, and that He was the author and perfecter of time and space. And I promised myself, that if I didn’t get to tell her in person, I would find a way to write to her.

When we got back to our rooms, we all had to pack, as well as get our work out stuff ready for our last boot camp. Word had been passed around the ranch that it would be really special if absolutely everyone showed up to boot camp, as it would really bless Carter to see everyone there, so it was going to be full and exciting being all together, working out side by side one last time.

After packing, I grabbed my notebook, and spent a while writing as much as I could before heading to bed. It was a long, extraordinary day..and I didn’t want to forget one moment. Tomorrow we be the last day, little did I know going to bed at this point— the amazing final day the Lord would orchestrate! Above and beyond what I could have ever asked or imagined…..

January 2, 2013- Now this is an amazing way to start the New Year!…Taking my first Soul Cycle Class with Olivia Ward as the instructor!!!

Got up this morning, extremely nervous for this new “first”, but also fully aware that I put this on my “Dream List” over a year ago…and was excited to walk through another dream and have it become a reality.
About a year ago, after Olivia had won “The Biggest Loser”, she had started spinning at Soul Cycle. She would tweet about it and share about how much she loved it, and tell everyone what a great work out it was. At that point, I was just starting out in my weight loss journey, but in my list of “dreams and goals” in my binder, I wrote on my list, next to a box to one day check off, “Take a spin class with Olivia and Hannah”. Well, Hannah wasn’t in the Soul Cycle class I took today, but when I wrote those words, never did I dream that Olivia would actually be leading the class, and I don’t think at that time, it was anything Olivia had pictured herself doing either.
A few days ago, Olivia put out a tweet that she would be leading her first ride at Soul Cycle. I thought about the possibility of going, as I really wanted to support her in her new journey, and I knew that it was also an item on my “dream list”.  I asked a few friends, and they said they would love to go with me. (unfortunately one of them got sick the day before).
So Lisa, (my friend who took me to my first trip to Lululemmon when I celebrated my 5 mile Turkey Trot done on Thanksgiving), and I ventured out this morning, taking the train to NYC, then a subway down to Soul Cycle. The closer we got, the more nervous we became. But I just kept holding on to all that I had accomplished and remembered in one of her talks, Olivia once said, “you can do anything for 45 minutes, you just have to hang in there.”
We finally arrived at Soul Cycle, and when we walked in, Olivia and her husband, Ben were at the counter. It was great to see them. We got our lockers, shoes, water…I think Lisa and I went to the bathroom at least 3 more times with nerves, before heading in to set up our bikes. Thankful to be in the back row, we had a really wonderful woman help us set up the bikes. The room began to fill up with others who spin all the time, and when Olivia asked who was there for their first time….it was only Lisa and I raising our hands.
Filled with energy and joy, Olivia counted down to the start of the class, then introduced us to our bikes which she referred to as our “dance partners”, and she started the music and proceeded to lead us in an exciting, exhilarating, very tough first ride.
She was really spectacular at transitioning us from one thing to the next, but it was the hardest spin class I have ever encountered….it was spinning, mixed with push ups and head banging and lifting weights….all while your legs never stopped going, at times faster and faster. There were many times that I just took in the moment, as well as thought about how far I had come to this point. I remembered the first spin class I had ever taken, where I wasn’t able to even stand up on the bike and continue riding. I truly had come a long way, and I needed to remember that and celebrate it.
Today, on this day,  I was actually at Soul Cycle…on a bike behind Ben (Olivia’s husband), being lead by Olivia…this being her first “community ride” as a leader..in a room filled with really athletic spinners. It was another surreal moment in time….another dream that had become a reality.
Lisa and I kept up,we sweat like crazy, and celebrated when the ride was over. It really was amazing, and Olivia truly was spectacular as an instructor! Her energy was contagious, she encouraged everyone to bring their best, as she gave her very best to all of us. Everyone in that room was so happy for her.
We took a few pictures with her before we left. I got to share with both her and Ben how I had put this on my list about a year ago. It was another fantastic day on this incredible journey that I am on. It was also a great way to really get back on target after the little downfall at Christmas.
At the end of the class, Olivia reminded us all to put ourselves first in this coming year. She shared how 2 ½ years ago she woke up and decide it was time to “choose me”, and urged us all to do the same in this new year.
So, I enter 2013, excited to continue to dream big dreams and meet more goals, and live with a great expectation of what the Lord is going to do in me and through me in the coming year. Happy New Year!  (ps, as I wrote this, Soul Cycle responded to a tweet that I sent out…..I wrote, “starting 2013 right, just took my @soulcyle class with @BL11Olivia, she was absolutely spectacular! Amazing class!” and they responded…@wendybelieveit Can’t wait to keep rocking out with you through 2013!”)

The Incredible Week at “Unleash The Champion” With Some of “The Biggest Losers”… This Is What Dreams Are Made Of!… Day 4- The Story Continues…

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

It was Wednesday on the ranch, and the sound of the alarm came way too early! This morning, my room mates and I had to be down in the lobby extra early to meet Hannah and Murn, who so graciously agreed to start doing our RMR’s (resting metabolism rates), earlier than planned, so that we wouldn’t miss the boot camp on the turf. There is a special machine that is used to figure out your RMR, but it must be measured first thing in the morning, before you do absolutely anything, including brushing your teeth. We needed to start at 3:45am, in order to have all 5 of us finish in time to get to the turf for boot camp.
wendy rmr I went down and met Hannah and Murn at 3:45, what a blessing it was that they offered to get up extra early in order for us to get our measurements and still be able to get to bootcamp. Even at 3:45 in the morning, they are the sweetest girls in the world! We all took turns, and we got our readings from the machine, and then we jumped in the car to catch up with everyone who had already left for bootcamp. Of course there isn’t much traffic on these roads at 4:30 in the morning, so we were only a few minutes late getting on the turf.

As we walked into the gym, we noticed everyone at different stations doing various exercises. Courtney and Olivia were there working out hard and encouraging everyone around them.(Hannah and Murn were doing RMR’s back at the ranch, and Marci had a speaking engagement she had to be at.)  There looked like 9 different stations we were going to go through multiple times, as Carter lead us through moving from one to the other.

The first station had a huge tire and sledgehammers. At this station, we had to beat the tire as hard as we could, slinging the sledgehammers. It was one of those cool work outs you see on “The Biggest Loser”, and it was really great to be able to try it. From there, we lined up side by side on one of the lines on the turf, and we each had a heavy medicine ball in our hands. We had to squat down slam it on the ground and catch it, over and over again until the time was called… The next line was jumping jacks… then a line where we had horizontal tubes that we had to touch the ground with and then lift to our chest and then lift over our heads and then back down (over and over)… then jumping jacks again…then burpees…then jumping jacks…then sprints from one line down to another and back (over and over again until Carter called time).

When we got through the entire circuit, we went through it again. The energy in the room was powerful. Everyone was working so hard, working to their absolute optimum potential!

After that circuit, we got into lines and did various things while running back and forth down the turf. At one point, we had to get a group together and half of us had to use the sledgehammers to pull a huge tire down the turf while running backwards, as the other part of our team bent over and pushed it running forwards. My room mates, Darcy, Beth, Whitney and Sara wanted us to do this all together as a team, and they asked Olivia if she would do it with us. It was really hard, but it was so much fun, and to have Olivia right by our sides, pulling it out with us was a great moment for everyone. Again, the gym was filled the the sounds of everyone yelling and cheering and encouraging…pushing each other to reach your highest potential. It is the most exhilarating feeling to be a part of that energy and experience!

sledgehammer run sledge run

After all of the pushing/pulling/running, we then all spread out on the turf, and Carter brought us through some abdominal and back work. Lots of killer strengthening/toning exercises.  We finally got to the time of stretching (which I love, because it means it’s over soon.) After stretching, we all came to the middle of the turf to have our “ending huddle” to put our hands in together and shout, “START SWEAT FINISH!”, and celebrate our workout. We went over to gather our things, and then had some fun taking some pictures with each other, along with Carter, Olivia and Courtney. We truly were amazed every day that they all chose to work out along side of us….and their kind words, words of encouragement, and moments they cheered us on…the belief they had in us…we all continue to hold onto forever.
wendycarterbell wendy oliv bell

group olivia

group courtney_n

Olivia group 2_n We all headed out of the gym, into the darkness to our cars…the sun hadn’t risen yet, Our car was headed straight for Starbucks! A wonderful treat we looked forward to after each morning boot camp. The people working there were so nice, and just laughed as we arrived each morning and took fun pictures there.

IMG_5883Today, before the morning hike, we had to get back and put on a minimum amount of clothing in order to get measured by Carter to determine our percentage of body fat. I don’t think any of us were looking forward to this. The thought of getting on a scale, putting on a very fitted tank top and the most fitted pants that I brought, and have Carter take a gadget that pinched and measured the fat at all of those wonderful “trouble areas”… was not something I was looking forward to. But, I also knew that I wanted to take advantage of everything he was teaching us about ourselves, and if we wanted to have the truth of all of our numbers, then we had to choose to have this done. (everything for this week was optional, so the choice was up to us.)

So, I went up to my room to figure out what to wear. I had packed 2 fitted tank tops, which I planned on wearing under my t-shirts, and I chose to put my hot pink one on. I actually put this one on, with my new exercise pants and had my daughter take a picture of me in it before I left for the ranch, for me to use as one of my pictures in this journey.

When my daughter took the picture, she said that she loved my new tank top, and asked of I was going to work out in it at the ranch. Right away I said, “No, I bought it to wear under my shirts. Someday I’ll be able to wear something like this.” She just looked at me and said, “Mom, it looks really good, you should wear it when you get there.” And as she took a few pictures, I just said, “Not yet, Grace, but someday I will. It’s definitely one of my dreams to be able to wear a sleeveless top and feel comfortable.”

So now, here I was, in my room at the ranch, getting ready to be measured, layering on all the clothes that I would have to take off when it was my turn to go. I went downstairs to get on line and get it over with, hoping it wouldn’t be too busy. There was only one person getting done, so I was next. I noticed right away how discreet Carter was, and was being put at ease a bit as I watched. So much nonsense, so many stupid “issues” were going on in my head…. And I was next.

The set up for all of this measuring was in  the corner of the hallway that lead from the main entrance of the lodge, to the kitchen/dining area. There were women in various areas of the lodge, some just getting up for the day, some getting ready for breakfast, others hanging out talking or checking their emails or having a cup of coffee. Carter was doing all the measuring, and someone was sitting at the table next to him. Her back was to me, as she was looking at a laptop computer, typing in all of the information that Carter gave to her as he measured. In my uncomfortable, nervous state, I didn’t even look to see who she was. I took off my oversized t-shirt that I had been wearing, and walked over to be measured in my tank top. Carter began to measure different parts of my body and said them aloud to the woman typing them in, and then when he said my name, she turned around, looked up at me and just said, “are you kidding me? Look at you! Oh my gosh! Who knew that was under there!” It was my room mate, Darcy, who had already pointed out to me yesterday, that my shirts and clothes were too big, and asked if I had brought clothes that fit better. Her matter of fact honesty took me by surprise, but I know that it was something that I had to hear. Because of her statements and honesty the day before,  this morning I worked out in a new shirt that was smaller, which I bought for the trip, but now I was standing there In a very fitted tank top, feeling extremely uncomfortable and very vulnerable.

Now, with her stopping and making this bold statement in the middle of being measured by Carter…a few of the other women had looked up and come over and started to join her in pointing out how great they thought I looked, asking why I wasn’t wearing the tank top to work out in. It was a very uncomfortable moment, but one which became a turning point for me on the ranch.

 carter measurestank home

     With that, Sara, my other room mate, who at this point had lost the same amount of weight as I had, 70 pounds…came over to me and said, “how about tomorrow, we both work out together in tank tops for our first time ever? I’ll do it if you’ll do it with me?” By the time I said ok, she tweeted it out to everyone on the ranch that we were going to do it…no turning back now! It was a very scary and exciting decision.

The other amazing moment which occurred this morning was when Carter took all the measurements and figured out all of my information, including percentage of body fat. Upon calculation… my percentage of body weight was in the “healthy” range. After years of numbers being in unhealthy and obese ranges, this was really incredible for me. Even though I wasn’t at my goal weight, yet, my body fat percentage was already in a healthy range. That was the greatest news ever.

Standing there, I asked Carter, “how long does it now take, as we lose weight, to see ourselves as we truly are? Is it normal to still perceive ourselves as bigger than we are?” It’s amazing that the perceptions are off at both spectrums…when I was gaining the weight, I had no idea how heavy I was, until I saw a picture of myself taken at times, and I would think, Is that really how I look? I really didn’t think I looked that heavy, until I was faced with a picture. And now heading down in weight, others will make a comment about looking thinner or fit or I will see a picture now that really surprises me in a good way, and I will think…is that how I really look? Because in my mind, I still see myself heavier, and of course continue focusing on all of my “flaws”.


    Carter, along with most of the contestants from “The Biggest Loser”, agreed that our perceptions are still so far off at times. And, unfortunately, we continue to always see the flaws, instead of celebrating how far we have come. Well, Sara and I had agreed that tomorrow we would celebrate how far we had come by wearing tank tops to work out in on the turf in the morning. But for now, the t shirt went back on….and so did the sweatshirt as we had to head out for our morning hike. The group was a bit smaller today, but we had a great hike, met some more women, and took some more great pictures together. This took us right into a wonderful breakfast, and then a hike up to the upper room for another great talk.

Wed. morning hike

     This is where another crazy “God incidence” took place. Carter was up front answering questions, waiting for the speaker to arrive. All of a sudden his phone rang in his pocket, and he stopped to answer it as he stood on the stage in front of us. As we all listened in on the conversation, we joined him in just laughing, as we could clearly tell from the conversation, that the speaker we were waiting for to speak at this mornings’ seminar thought he was suppose to speak tomorrow. So, Carter ended the phone call by saying, “don’t worry, I’ll call you later, I’m at the place now about to fill in for you.”

Well, although Carter didn’t realize it at this exact time, God did…. God knew that we had all gotten our measurements taken this morning, and we had lots of questions about the results, including the fact that we all thought we would have really been down a lot on the scale by now (Wed.). Instead, most of us were the same or even a pound or two up! How could this be after all the working out we had done since we got there?

The timing of this talk worked out absolutely perfectly. It was the schedule God planned…we all needed to hear from Carter and understand, and have all of our questions answered regarding RMR’s, percent body fat, calorie burns, how to lose weight the right way, etc.  It was the greatest talk that I have ever heard in my life, explaining everything in a way that I truly understood… And I finally really got it! I remembered thinking…I wish that all of this could be explained in the junior high school and High School health classes for all students to really understand nutrition, healthy weight loss, healthy weight and body mass, etc. I understood for the first time in my entire life, why I can’t be 130 pounds, and why, knowing what I know now…I no longer WANT to be 130 pounds for my body measurements. It was SO freeing, as well as empowering to understand all of this information!

The teaching was filled with incredible information and knowledge, and it was also a time for all of us to ask questions about anything we didn’t understand. Carter started out by addressing a question about fasting, which lead to educating us on intermittent fasting and spiritual fasting. From there, he talked about mindful vs. mindless eating in America,  and how so much has changed. For instance, years ago, everyone would eat around a dinner table, even if you had a snack, you ate it at the dinner table..kids finished their meals and were busting to just go back outside a play. You thought about what you were eating and drinking and you stopped and enjoyed it and took the time to have it. Today, we do so much “on the go”, we don’t even taste half of what we throw in our mouths. We don’t even mindfully decide if we are truly hungry or full or satisfied.

Someone asked, “what about having a cheat day?” And I loved his response.” What does the word “cheat” mean to you?” He went around the room, asking for responses. After hearing all of the negative terms associated with the word “cheat”, he went onto say, “I believe in eating days. If you learn how to eat, you don’t need a cheat day. If we could eat normally all week and work in what we would love to have within that week, then you don’t need to cheat.” Then Vinny shared something that Dr. H had asked them when they were on “The Biggest Loser”. He said, “what if you were addicted to cocaine? Would you let me be allowed to have it on a Sunday?” Wow, I never thought about it that way. Vinny then said, “rather than a whole day of cheating, add a few calories for just one day and choose what you would love to enjoy within that day, and enjoy it. Just think, if you are having a huge pizza once a week, every week, then you are not working to break that habit. Everything we do has a cost physically, emotionally and spiritually.”

Then Carter added, “ “Cheat”, what does it say going out of your mouth. It goes against your mind–fighting that you’re not doing the right thing. If you are enjoying food everyday, you don’t need a cheat day.” As I was trying to take this all in and understand it, as I usually give myself a cheat day once a week, and wanted to choose to do the right thing, Carter put it all in perspective as he pointed out something we were living that very week. First he asked, “How many of you have had the joy ripped out of your life, because you don’t enjoy eating anymore?” Most of us raised our hands as we thought about how we eat when we diet. Then he said, “Look at this week that you have been here.  Have you missed anything? Have you been hungry?” It was a HUGE “AHA” MOMENT for me!

We had been exercising like crazy, going from meal to meal, looking so forward to whatever we were going to eat…knowing it was going to be delicious, filling, satisfying..wonderful! We were never starving, and we raved about everything we ate. We were completely satisfied after every meal, and I hadn’t craved anything. We had dessert with every lunch and dinner, and our entire day was 1500 calories. We were eating great food. We were mindfully sitting all together, stopping, enjoying, savoring every bite, and loving every experience. It didn’t feel like “dieting”…This is how it was meant to be!!

Carter went onto talk about real, pure food… What God intended us to eat. When we asked questions about labels and what to look for, and what certain things meant in the ingredients, what should be organic, what doesn’t have to be organic…He went right back to the Bible. He said, “Jesus said there is no bad food, but he was talking about pure food, not the processed food we have now.”

When I explained to him how hard the labels on all the health foods are also to read, he asked me, “Wendy, what’s in strawberries?” I answered, “strawberries.” “What’s in steak?” ‘Beef.” “What’s in Chicken?”…and he waited until he saw me finally understand. It may sound so simple, but that was another lightbulb moment. He explained that if we shop the outside of a grocery store, and buy things that are exactly what they are, we won’t have to read and figure out a label. And the more we eat those pure, good, God given foods, the healthier we will all be. Wow! That was a revelation that I think about every time I go grocery shopping. My time is now very minimal with reading labels, because there isn’t a lot of processed foods coming in anymore. Pure and simple. Steak is steak. Pineapple is pineapple. Yum!

Another great piece of knowledge that I use when planning my day, he left us with after someone asked, “how do we know how much to eat at each part of the day?” His answer was, “Eat for WHAT you are going to do in the next 3 hours!! You fuel yourself for what’s coming. Brilliant! Another reason why you don’t load up on eating before you go to bed. This has really helped me decide when to eat my bigger meals throughout the day.

So much was covered in this brilliant talk, much of which I have incorporated into my every day living. Carter taught me, “You are your greatest science experiment. Grab a journal, write down how things affect you when you try them, note what does great things for your body, and the things that don’t. Use a system where you investigate, then educate yourself, then activate what you have learned, and then do it!  Investigate first–learn what you want to know, read, look, but don’t draw conclusions yet. Educate-select, educate, focus, start trying things. Activate- Select some of the best strategies and make a plan. Make it an “I am” not an “I will”(if you say I will, and focus on tomorrow, it will never happen, you are just smiling at the “thought” of tomorrow, but still not doing anything) For instance, “I am in the process of losing 40 pounds by (date).” Then, Do it-Start right away with doing everything to make this goal happen. At this point he asked,  Do you know how many great plans never get done, just because of saying “I will” and never doing it? You must do it.

I realized when Carter shared all of this, how many times I said, “I’ll start tomorrow, I’ll start Monday, I’ll start the first of the month, I’ll start the first of the year”. One of the biggest changes I have made, is that when I slip up, I say, ‘I AM just one meal away from getting back on track.” And I do it the next meal. I get right back on track.When you go through these steps of progress and conquer something, you start all over again with the next goal. Investigate..educate…activate…do it….  Investigate…educate….activate…do it.  And as you build one thing at a time into your life, all of it adds up to create this new amazing lifestyle! I have finally come to realize that it truly is a lifestyle, not a diet….a lifestyle.

You set these goals, and add each piece of wisdom and  knowledge, and it becomes a part of you. One thing at a time. There is an awesome feeling when you get to say “I did it”. And then you learn and choose to do it again and again again, each time setting new goals and dreams. Even when you finally get to that point in time where your time of weight loss is over, because you reached goal….now you have to maintain. After you get to the point of real maintenance, you add another new goal or dream to accomplish. It never ends. You keep setting up a new finish line after you cross one.

And, although it may be hard to do, Carter reminded us, “don’t get so focused on all the “stuff”, that you miss this huge gift called LIFE. YOU were created for such a time as this…not later..not “when I get thin”….NOW! And as you learn all of the knowledge regarding food, nutrition, exercise….whatever wisdom and knowledge you learn…. and it becomes a part of you, tell it to others, share and teach it.  If you take it in and don’t share it, it doesn’t become a real part of you. You have to be givers and receivers. We are all really good at giving, but we all need to learn to receive also. The food/nutrition is just going to make you better than you already are. It’s going to enhance who you are! You are an amazing, beautiful, awesome child of God. Know that and live knowing that, even now.

We each took out the packet we had with all of our numbers we had gotten from the RMR machine, being weighed and measured by Carter, etc., and the next hour or so was spent learning about what all of those numbers meant, why it was so important to understand these numbers, and how to move forward with the information we were now empowered with. From percent body fat…to percent body mass…to RMR….everything was explained in a way that for the first time in my life, I understood. We all faced the numbers with eyes wide open, along with an understanding of what they meant, and a hope of where we could bring them to and how to do that. Knowledge is truly power. Our numbers and measurements can be really tough to face, but once we face them, we start the process of improving every one of them.

After this amazing morning seminar, we went down to the big tent for another teaching about core training. Carter pretty much taught us that you don’t need anything but a chair to create the hardest workout ever. He had our legs burning, our core burning, just by standing, sitting, hovering.. Using all different counts standing and sitting in a chair. It was so hard, and what he showed us all, was that there is no excuse not to find a way to exercise. All we had was a chair, and our butts were being kicked.

The great core exercise session was finished,  and it was followed by a  delicious lunch with a dessert that everyone flipped over. It tasted like chocolate mousse on a crispy cracker with whipped cream on top. We were all savoring every bite, raving about it, trying to figure out how to make it. Chris came out to see if we liked dessert, as well as to ask us to guess what was in it. He also had 2 extra ones, and asked if anyone would like them.

Well, I was sitting next to this woman….who at that moment jumped up, and practically vaulted over the table, while yelling out loudly that she absolutely wanted the extra one!! We all burst into laughing hysterically as she charged over to Chris to grab it.  It was the funniest moment ever! Chris shared with all of us that it was made with avocado and cocoa powder, and the whipped cream was whipped coconut milk. It was so delicious, we all still talk about it to this day (right Annie?!!)

After lunch, it was time for the moderate and then harder hike. I was excited to see who would be going, and especially who would be trying it for their first time, as I knew that whomever it was, I would stay with them and help them get to the top. I just asked the Lord to show me who I was suppose to walk with today. I didn’t want to miss one moment He planned for me during this week, as He had been doing mighty things.

As the group started up the first incline, I noticed a man who seemed as though it was his first time on this hike. I knew him from other things we had all done together, but he hadn’t done this hike yet. I told him that I had done it already, and that I would stay with him the whole time, and that we would stop any time he wanted to stop along the way. We started up with the group, some people went up ahead, some stayed back with us. We all talked and visited. As the hills got a bit steeper and longer, we stopped and took some “breathers” along the way. I asked him about his kids, family, job, etc., as I knew that visiting and talking would make it so much easier to accomplish the climb, and it alleviates a lot of the anxiety and fear of the unknown. We talked about our families and life… and before we knew it, we were at the top of the moderate hike. We stopped to celebrate and take it all in, and then made our way down to the end. We stopped to take a few pictures with the group at the bottom by a beautiful stream.

When we finished with the first hike, some people left,  and some of us were heading over to take the harder hike. As people were making their decisions, the gentleman I was with was so proud of finishing the hike, he wanted to do the hard hike now. I asked him if he was sure he wanted to do them back to back for his first time, and when he said “yes”, I told him that I would stay with him the entire time, no matter how long it took.

We went over to the group, and there were a few more new hikers today who had the courage and faith to conquer this mountain. I love that every single day, no matter how many people showed up, everyone would wait at the top until the last person arrived, so that we could celebrate every single victory! We started out the hike in a group, and as the climb continued, we all rested at different places. We continued to talk and visit and share…and everyone continued to encourage one another to keep going and persevere, taking one step at a time to get to the top. We were all in this together.

Again, it was just such a blessing to be able to share in everyone’s victory as they reached the top, especially with today’s first timers. And today, it was really special for me to share both “first” hikes, done back to back, with Jim.

When everyone got to the top, Murn shared a song on her phone called “That Wasn’t Me”. We all listened, the words were so meaningful, it was beautiful. Then on the way down, Jim told me that I needed to hear another amazing song, and he set it up on his phone for me to listen to on the way down. It was a song called, “The Real Me”, by Natalie Grant. I had never heard of it, I held it close to my ear as I hiked down, and within moments, the song just hit my heart, as it just put into words how all of us here had felt at one point or another in our lives. As I listened, tears just flooded down my cheeks as Natalie Grant sang…

Foolish heart, looks like we’re here again.
Same old game of plastic smile,
Don’t let anybody in.
Hiding my heartache,
Will this glass house break?
How much will it take before I’m empty?
Do I let it show?
Does anybody know?

But You see the real me.
Hiding in my skin, broken from within.
Unveil me completely.
I’m loosening my grasp,
There’s no need to mask my frailty
Cause You see the real me.

Painted on, life is behind a mask,
Self-inflicted circus clown.
I’m tired of the song and dance,
Living a charade, always on parade.
What a mess I’ve made of my existence.
But You love me even now
And still I see somehow…


Wonderful, beautiful is what you see
When You look at me.
You’re turning the tattered fabric of my life
Into a perfect tapestry.
Oh, I just wanna be me,
I wanna be me.


And you love me just as i am.
Wonderful, beautiful is what you see
When you look at me.

I told Jim when it was over, it would be the perfect song to use and put together a video with all of the pictures taken during this week… As we are all just trying so hard, to be able to come to a place where we each will finally look on the outside as beautiful as we are on the inside.

As if listening to that song, as well as the song that Murn played at the top… and taking these two hikes wasn’t emotional enough, and clearly divine appointments… a moment I will remember the rest of my life topped off this incredible day…. as we came to the bottom of the hill, and we were about to head over to the tent for our next activity, Jim slowed down and turned to me and said, “I just have to tell you something before this hike ends.”…and he hesitated a minute as I looked at him, and he slowed down walking, and overcome with emotion he said 7 words, that to this day, pierce my heart every time I think about that moment….he just looked at me and said,… “Thank you for being Jesus to me.”

He explained how much it meant to him that I had taken the time to walk and talk and encourage him to do something he wasn’t sure he could do. He had just done BOTH hikes, back to back, and it was just an extraordinary moment to realize what he had done. I was sooo proud of him, so honored to have been a part of his first climb to the tops of both mountains. And I was so overcome by his words, “Thank you for being Jesus to me.” Wow. What an amazing gift, to be used by the Lord to touch someone’s life .

As we continued to walk over to the tent, I was so overcome with emotion, and that moment took me back to where I was just days before coming to the ranch, where friends would ask me, “what can I pray for you while you are away”, and amongst many of my requests, one of them was actually…”please pray that I can keep up, that I am not last.” I had such fears coming here, not knowing what to expect, or how hard everything would be. I honestly didn’t know if I could handle it. And since the very first day of being here, and promising each other as room mates, that we would go and try everything….once I got through the entire first day, and realized that I could do this, I decided that I would choose, EVERY single day to be last, in order to help whomever the Lord lead me to help…not to miss one persons “first” each day. It became the most incredible moments of the week for me, each and every time. Every single one was the greatest gift ever, memories that I cherish to this day, moments that I continue to share with others in order to inspire them.

So, left completely in awe, again, of God’s incredible timing, and the mighty things he prepares and orchestrates for us, we walked over to the tent, where Carter was ready to equip us with more knowledge. It was an afternoon seminar learning all about increasing flexibility/pliability. We learned how to use rollers, as well as exercises to improve strength, proper stretching, etc. All very hands on activities, so that we could do everything in our own homes.

The day was coming to an end, and we gathered for another delicious dinner. One very lucky woman won dinner out with Murn, Marci, Courtney, Olivia and Hannah. She was so excited, and we were all so excited for her. What a special treat.

After dinner, we had some free time to gather together and process all that had happened so far. Some people had seen some of the leaders for Life Coaching sessions, and all over the ranch, breakthroughs were happening, lives were changing, real transformations were occurring. It was amazing to see what could happen in an hour of Life Coaching with these women and Carter.

On this Wednesday night, there were bonfires in a few places where people were gathering to talk or just process all that we had gone through so far. Some women were actually taking tough stuff and burning it for good in those flames. It was a very powerful night of letting go, and letting God transform lives. It was beautiful.

Time started to feel as though it was going too fast now. It was Wednesday night, so we only had a day and a half left on this ranch, and only one more night. The relationships we were making here were really special, and to share this experience together, was something that was already bonding us in a special way forever.

As I went to bed, after writing about the whole day in my notebook, I just thanked and praised the Lord, again, for another extraordinary day filled with miraculous moments that continued to leave each of us in awe. And I prayed for Him to just continue the amazing work that he was beginning here in each one of us.

Our bags were packed for the gym, our clothes were laid out, tomorrow Sara and I promised to work out in tank tops for our first time ever…headed to bed praying that I would have the courage to keep that promise. Looking forward to the gift of tomorrow, filled with more mighty moments and miracles!

December 24, 2012- The Best Christmas Gift This Year…80 pounds lost!

Christmas and New Year’s Day is now over, all my visitors have gone home, and it is time to get back to writing my book and posting on my blog. 2013 is going to be an amazing year. A year that I will actually reach my weight loss goal, along with walking through more dreams and accomplishing things I never thought I could.

So, grab a cup of coffee or tea, and let me continue to share this incredible journey with you….It will take a few posts to catch you all up. I’ll start with sharing what happened around the holidays, then I will take you back to the experience I had at Unleash the Champion to finish sharing the spectacular events that happened there. This journey continues to be something that incredible movies are made of…and I am just busting to share it all with you…..Enjoy!

amys blazer

December 24, 2012- The Best Christmas Gift This Year…80 pounds lost!
It’s Christmas Eve day, and I am starting it this year unlike any other year…..80 pounds down for Christmas….and in the gym! It was pretty amazing to get up with my husband and say, “who goes to the gym and works out on the morning of Christmas eve? We do!…We are now one of THOSE people!”

I actually couldn’t wait to get there to see everyone, and to just hug the owner and thank him again for supporting me, believing in me and helping me get my life back. The work out was really tough– weights and cardio, doing a lot of it on a step. Eliza worked us out hard, and early on I was dripping with sweat. As I saw it fall onto the step and floor, I just thought about one of the speakers at Unleash the Champion saying, “sweat is just your fat crying”….and so looking down, I just smiled and loved the fact that I was starting this Christmas Eve out, making my fat cry!

It’s amazing how much stays with you in your heart and head as you continue to stay on this journey and really want to fight and make it a lifestyle. I have my “believe” bell back on, which I placed around my neck one year ago today…and today I am also blessed to know that wherever my friend, Roseanne, is today, she has my original bell on her neck, and I know she is doing amazing things throughout this Christmas, believing that she can do all things through Christ who strengthens her. She is transforming her life and inspiring so many others, also.

In the past few days, so many facebook messages and emails have gone back and forth between all of us from the “Unleash the Champion” family. I posted that I reached my Christmas goal and lost 80 pounds for Christmas. Only God could have allowed me to pull out a 3.4 pound loss this week, in and amongst all that I have had to do. I prayed all week for Him to help me with this miracle, as I knew that the only way that I could have done it in my own strength and ability would be to work out at least 2 times a day. I was going to try all week, but life got in the way, and it didn’t happen.

When I got on the scale, the woman’s face was in shock, she reached for the calculator, said,”Oh my gosh, Wendy, what did you do?”… and then she looked back and forth at the numbers, checking her math, and then said that I did it! I lost 80 pounds exactly!  The loss of 3.4 pounds brought me to exactly 80 pounds! It was all God! I jumped up and down, and I spinned around a few times. All the people coming in the building could hear me shouting with joy, “I lost 80 pounds for Christmas!”. It was the greatest gift ever!!!! I couldn’t wait to tell everyone at home, but sharing it at Weight Watchers was just as spectacular, as they were all pulling for me, they knew that I was working so hard to try to make this Christmas goal, and they were all so proud of my accomplishment. Other members got on the scale and also had losses, and we just “high fived” each other and celebrated the fact that we actually lost weight the week before Christmas…. With Christmas parties and all!

It was a fabulous meeting….great ideas, more inspiration to keep us all on target. And when I left, and pulled out of the parking lot, I turned on the radio as I stopped for the light and my favorite line from “All things Possible” was playing at that EXACT moment!!…
I know mountains can move
I’ve seen what You can do
In my weakness
So my heart will believe
If I wait I will see
My God doing, what only He can do

It was an amazing miracle and gift this Christmas. It’s something I prayed so hard for as I worked out, and He provided.

So I go into this Christmas Eve blessed beyond words, for the journey I have been on, the friends I have met, the “God incidences” I have walked through and continue to walk through. I am in awe of the treasures that have been unveiled this past year, and I am beyond excited to see where this new year will lead me and my family in our journeys.
It was the toughest, most exciting year to experience. A year of truly finding out that the Lord really is ALL that He says He is and can do ALL that He says He can do. Nothing takes Him by surprise, and He never lets go of us! We will walk through trials beyond what we think we can handle, but He walks through them with us, and He provides.
Praising Him this Christmas for all that He has done and will continue to do…in His amazing timing, with His unfailing love. And praying that everyone will experience Him in their lives the way I have experienced Him this past year. I am in awe and left breathless every time I share what He has done. What a gift! One that I pray every person will unwrap in their own lives this year! Merry Christmas!

The Incredible Week at “Unleash The Champion” With Some Of The “Biggest Losers”… This Is What Dreams Are Made Of!… Day 2 – The Story Continues…

Monday, September 24, 2012-
The first morning of bootcamp came very quickly. I heard the alarm go off a little after  3am. I hopped out of bed pretty quickly, as I hadn’t slept very well. I kept waking up a few times during the night, worrying and panicking about this first day, then going in and out of crazy dreams of actually thinking I was on “The Biggest Loser”. It was a very restless night, mainly due to all of the “unknowns” of this first day and the week ahead.

We put on a few lights in our room, as it was pitch dark outside, and started taking turns using the bathroom and getting ready. At one point, I was in the small hallway bathroom, dressed and ready, and I was literally holding onto the sink, looking in the mirror…my hands were shaking, my body was shaking with nerves and I was in a panic trying to take a breath, wondering, what if I can’t keep up at the boot camp? What if I can’t do what Carter asks us to do? What if I am last? What if I just can’t do it?….I took a few breaths and just prayed that the Lord would be with me…I held onto my verse that I had been holding onto during all of my challenges at the gym and with the Dr. Oz challenge in the last year, “I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me.”  In that moment, I just asked Him for the strength. I prayed, “I know that you tell me to be anxious about nothing, but in prayer and thanksgiving, give it all over to you….so I am asking you to take these nerves away, calm my spirit, and let me know that you are with me in a mighty way. Thank you for this amazing opportunity to be here. I know that I am suppose to be here, so help me to be able to do all that I need to do, and then please give me your peace that passes ALL understanding. I need your peace, Lord. I can’t go to the gym shaking and fearful like this.”

I also remembered asking the Lord this particular morning, something I had begun to ask for before leaving for this trip.. When others asked me about the trip and what they could pray for me, I said to them, “remember the episode on The Biggest Loser where Hannah was with Jillian and experienced her “back bend moment?” (it was a very powerful moment on the show, where she was brought to a place where she was able to do something she never even dreamed of being able to ever do, which resulted in a huge breakthrough for Hannah in her journey)… please pray for me and for every other person on that ranch this week, that we would each experience a moment like that at least once during the time we are there… And, I continued to pray for this throughout the week.

My room mates were ready, our bags were packed, water bottles filled, and we went downstairs to wait until the van pulled up. When it did, we got into Beth’s car and lined up behind the van. We all pulled out of the ranch, onto the dark country road which lead us to the gym. We were told it would be about 45 minutes, which sounded like a long time, but we had another great visit and time of sharing in our car, and before we knew it, we were pulling into the big parking lot in front of the gym.

We entered the gym around 5am, and although it was still very dark outside, the gym was brightly lit up. We walked around the corner, and there was Carter Hays.. standing on the turf. This part of the gym looked like a huge indoor football field, and lined up along the beginning of the field, were metal sleds with weights on them. As we entered and put our bags along the edge, Carter told us to warm up by walking around the outside of the field, making a huge oval as we walked. Everyone started to file in and walk, including all of his regular clients who got to be with him every day. They were all so kind and so encouraging as they worked out side by side with us each day that week.

A few minutes into walking, we were told to raise our hands straight up and continue walking. A few minutes after that, we were told told to start jogging if we could, and then jog with our hands in the air. Already, Carter was explaining all of the modifications for each person there, only asking us, each individually, to bring our best to the field, and to push ourselves to only do what we were able to do, not the person next to us.

At this point, I noticed Olivia run by…then Marci….then Courtney….then Hannah. You could see everyone starting to notice them jogging around the field with us, and although it might sound crazy, we had no idea that they would all be working out alongside of us. We were all really excited to see them, and really inspired to be working out with them. I remember feeling like I was in a dream, jogging around, listening to Carter shout out instructions, looking around at all of these people on this turf, and also seeing Olivia, Hannah, Courtney and Marci spread out within the group. Their smiles, their comments, their words of encouragement…their presence, literally each of them letting us know that they were fully in this with us, was an experience beyond what my words could ever convey.

After jogging for a bit, we were told to line up on the different lines of the turf. As I stepped up to the one in front of me, which happened to be the first line in front of Carter, I looked to my left, and on my same line was both Courtney and Olivia. Again, I was literally in dream mode…and this was what dreams were made of….after months of waiting and anticipating…there we all were, working out with Carter Hays, Hannah’s trainer… on his turf….the actual gym and turf that we had all only seen in pictures and on the internet. And we were all here at our first bootcamp…with Hannah, Olivia, Courtney and Marci…all working out by our sides. Unbelievable!

And then the workout began….we did walking lunges, high knee walks, high knee jogs, and yes the hardest one of all…bear crawls (crawling on the turf using your hands and feet, no knees down)…alternating one exercise to the other, going forward to the next line and then moving backward to the line before. I hung in there and did my absolute best, pushed myself hard, as I had Courtney doing it all right next to me, and Olivia a few people down from me. They were both in my peripheral vision, they were working to their max, which made me work as hard as I could. After doing a lot of different reps, in certain amounts of time,  we were eventually brought down to the beginning of the field and formed lines behind the metal sleds, which had various weights on them. The sled we were pushing today was 150 pounds. Everyone cheered as we took turns pushing… first pushing it 10 yards and switching to the next person, all while jogging down the field behind the person pushing..and back again, as it was pushed, then we were pushing 20 yards each, then half the field, and eventually we worked up to pushing it the entire field. The energy in that gym, the people cheering one another on, the feeling of pushing that sled and having everyone behind you, believing you could accomplish it…, was the greatest feeling ever! And again, to have our “idols” doing this with us, hearing them cheer us on and believe that we could do it… was absolutely amazing!

We continued to work hard, up until the end of the hour, we cooled down and stretched a bit, and then Carter had us all come in together, place our hands in the center of the circle we had all huddled into… and all yell the famous words that Mary Nell came up with for this week…”Start. Sweat. Finish!”, as we all raised our hands up to celebrate as we shouted. What an incredible first work out. We all got just a taste of what Carter does when he trains athletes, clients, famous people, regular people…and it was incredible. I was so relieved and proud to have been able to do what he asked us to do, and to do it with all of the amazing people on that turf was beyond words.

As we left the gym, we walked back out into darkness. The sun had not even begun to rise yet. We lined up behind the van, waiting for all of the cars to get into line. I remember getting out of the car to take a picture of everyone lined up, because we were leaving the gym after a complete work out, and the sky was still black.

We had a great time talking on the way back. Again, the time just flew by. We were talking about how great God is in His planning, and Beth said, “I just picture God sitting around with the angels, our loved ones, and Jesus in heaven, as he has been planning, since time even began, special moments… down to the second for us, and at times like this I picture him  just pointing at us and saying, look at them just smiling and laughing and enjoying this moment that I created for them.” It was such a great visual that we referred to many times that week as we stopped and enjoyed those moments.

One of them actually happened in the next few minutes of our drive back. As we were almost back on the ranch, we pulled over to the side of the road to see the mist rising in the fields, the horses grazing, and the sun just starting to rise. It was breathtaking, and we know that the Lord was just pointing, smiling and listening to us take it all in and enjoy it.

We pulled up to the lodge, placed our bags, notebooks and all that we would need for the day in the van, which would eventually be driven down to the area where we would be for the day (which was a bit of a hike away). At that point, the next work out was a long walk through the woods. This would be the moderate one, and the steeper one would be later on.

The people who wanted to go on the hike started to gather in front of the lodge. Then, appearing on the porch…Carter, Hannah, Mary Nell, Olivia, Courtney and Marci. We took some fun pictures while we were waiting, and then Mary Nell lead us on a hike. Again, we were all just so touched that they were all doing everything with us, right by our sides.

I started up front, walking and talking with Mary Nell, also known as “Murn”.It was so great to meet her and begin to hear her about her story and journey. The Lord brought her together with Carter and Hannah in a way that only He could do. Carter met Murn about a year and a half ago at one of his bootcamps. She had showed up, because her boss was working out with Carter, and told Murn that Hannah had been coming to work out with them. Murn loved “The Biggest Loser”, especially this season. She felt that deep down somehow she had a special connection with these women, and she really felt she ‘knew’ the people on this season, especially Hannah. When she heard she was working out with Carter, she showed up at the gym, but that day Hannah wasn’t there. She showed up a few days later, and that is when she met her. Although she had seen what she had been through on TV, she didn’t realize fully, until she was working out side by side with her, what she had actually accomplished. She shared with us, that It was when she was literally doing a plank next to Hannah, she looked and thought, “Wow! Look what she has done!” She said that being next to her at that moment was a privilege, and now being able to call her a friend is beyond anything that she could have ever imagined. She said it was in that moment that she felt a fire in her that she had never felt before, and knew then and there that this was what she was meant to do. She and Carter and Hannah began to talk about the possibilities of creating this Faith to Fitness…Unleash the Champion retreat, and together they began moving forward and walking in faith.

As we started hiking, my first question to Murn was, “can I ask you how you chose who went into which room?” I told her that our room seemed so completely hand picked by God, that the women in our room were just really meant to be together through our stories, struggles, journeys… I just wanted to know how they did it. She said that they all got together, and through prayer and just trusting that the Lord would provide, they just went  through the lists and “randomly” assigned the rooms. Ok then…..again…. All I could say was, Only God!

As we were walking through the woods, Murn told me how they found “Deer Run”, the ranch we were at, and how they knew right away that this was the place. The owners of the ranch are also Christians and continued to follow the Lord’s leading years ago, in building their land and ranch in order to be used to glorify the Lord. As Carter said during one of the talks later that week, “there’s something that happens here at Deer Run. You can feel it, you can’t deny it, it’s something very special.”  One of our nights all together, when he thanked the owners, Dave and Liz, he said, “Deer Run has brought a lot of laughter,  you put the hills exactly where they needed to be, it’s easy to design this retreat here…but the spirit of love that permeates everything around here, from a tree to whatever…it’s inherent In the hands that built it, and God works through the hands of the people who build.” I can tell you that after being so blessed to have been there for a week, it is a special place that has touched my heart and created memories and moments I will cherish forever!

Monday was our first morning being at the ranch, and through talking on that first hike with  Murn and Hannah, just sharing as we walked through the woods…along with learning from Candice the day before, that she prayed over each of us by name as we signed up…it was so beautiful to see how the Lord used each person, this ranch, each vision, each dream, every single prayer, each journey…..all to bring us to this place and time. Again, it was just a glimpse of what was to come from this week.

We hiked, took great pictures along the way. We waited and encouraged those people who had never hiked before. And when we got to the last section before walking down the last hill to breakfast, we took a picture to celebrate everyone completing this first hike together. All this…and it was only breakfast time!

Our chef, Chris and his team made us a delicious breakfast. He, and they, are one of the greatest treasures here. He and his team worked for hours/days, maybe even months before this week, to research and create the most delicious, nutritious, low calorie beautiful meals for the entire week while we were there. We consumed about 1500 calories a day, and that included dessert at lunch and dinner! Many times he would have us eat something before letting us know what it really was. And usually, we were absolutely astounded. We had a dessert one day that was so chocolatey and delicious, and it was actually avocado and cocoa powder! And many desserts were topped with whipped cream…yum! (made with coconut milk).

After breakfast each day, we would climb up a steep hill, which starts out with a bunch of steps and then goes into a steep, winding path that leads to a building called the “upper room”. That is where all of the speakers gave their talks, so it was a big climb that we had to make up and down, at least twice a day.

Today, we were heading up there to hear “Big Vinnie” speak (also a former contestant on The Biggest Loser). Vinnie shared his life journey with us.. we laughed, we cried, and we learned so much, as he poured out his heart right before us. He was born a fighter and a survivor, which he needed to be as he experienced so many hard things throughout his life, trying to grow up and make sense of things..violence, abuse, divorce, broken families, a traumatic childhood, being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at 27 years old, reaching a weight of  well over 400 pounds.

He spent the morning sharing with us all that he learned from, and during these devastating events, and how his journey lead him to being a contestant on “The Biggest Loser”, and how he eventually met Carter, Hannah, Olivia, Courtney, Marci and Murn. He shared how an amazing God could take someone with a very “poisoned mentality” of thinking he could do everything by himself, to a place where he finally realized that he never used any of his gifts for God, and wanted more than anything to do that first. He was honest in saying that the things that are difficult never stop being a challenge, but what matters is that you are trying to change.

He took us through some of the hardest, most devastating times in his life, and showed us what forgiveness and restoration looks like. The Lord continued to place people in his life to draw him back to Him. And now, His testimony gives hope to everyone who hears it.

At one point, he asked us to close our eyes and envision the one thing that we wanted more than anything else in this world. Then he said, “find your reason why. Until you find your reason why, you won’t ever do it. Your reason why has to be bigger than every single reason or excuse that you’re not going to do it every day. Focus on these things every time you want to quit or say no. Ask God to give you this. Every single day there are new choices. Take this life.. one choice, one decision, one day at a time. Don’t think, I have to lose 100 pounds, that’s too overwhelming. Make small choices each day to get there.”

He then challenged us to take a notebook and write down one thing you can change every day of the week, and then choose to do it. “The next thing you know, you will have changed 365 things in one year. It’s an every day thing you can do to make little changes that will lead to big changes.” He pointed out that we watch other people do amazing things all the time, and then stated… “why can’t that be you? The only difference between you and them is that they chose to do something.” He challenged us to lead by example, and people would eventually join you…”surround yourself with people who will help you and continue to be teachers in your life, those who will help you do great things. You have to put yourself first  in order to be able to really love others.” And I loved this one…”no matter how slow you are going, you’re lapping everybody whose sitting on the couch!”.  “You can go out and change it all, you can do anything. It can be you!”

He learned an invaluable lesson from Carter early on, “don’t compare yourself to the other people, just be the best YOU that you can be. The only person you don’t need to get beaten by is yourself.”

When he finished with all of his inspiring words, Carter ended by saying, “you’ve all got a story. The beauty of life is that you are creating and living out your story. That never ends. The book of “Acts” never ends..and you get to have a chapter. What’s your story?…”

( ok…are you still with me?….guess what…all this, and it’s not even lunch time yet!)

We had a great time visiting and taking pictures with Vinnie. We all felt so close to him after hearing his story. He is such a beautiful young man, inside and out. What a gift it was to meet him and hear his story.

It was time to head back down the hill and experience a zumba class. I was really excited, as zumba has become one of my favorite classes of the week at my gym, but I was even more excited to be with most of the people who were experiencing this as one of their “firsts”. Even at my gym, many people don’t come in and try it for fear of the unknown, and not believing that they can do it. I remember walking in my first time with Meg, and trying it. It was a little confusing, but it was so much fun, and the instructor helped us and modified it, so that we could do our best for our first time. I knew that Carter was going to have the best people brought in all week to teach us so many different ways to exercise, so I was excited to go to this zumba class.

We made our way down to the big white tent. You could hear and see some hesitation, but even Vinnie came down to try it with all of us, and I think his enthusiasm really made so many others want to give it a try. The woman leading was so much fun! She broke it down and did lots of repetition so that everyone could get a feel of what zumba was. The fun and laughter was contagious, and in the end, there were people talking about taking a class when they got home. We all had the greatest time.

After zumba, it was finally time for lunch. Chris created another amazing lunch and dessert, and it was fun to meet more people at the table I was sitting at. One of the greatest things that happened right away, was that everyone really mixed up where they sat, so that we were always meeting new people. There wasn’t any “clickiness”, and no matter what table you walked up to, you were welcome to sit and felt included right away. And again, it was so beautiful how Carter, Murn, Olivia, Hannah, Courtney, Marci, Vinnie….all spread out and just sat and shared with everyone they were eating with.

The weather was so beautiful all week, most of the time, we were eating outside at the tables, which was really nice. Each day after lunch, there were two hikes. The first one was considered “moderate”, and the second one was steeper and harder. This was our first day, so we were still walking through all of the “unknowns’’. Remember though, we decided as a room, that we were going to try it all, so we were fully going to go on both hikes.
The first hike was considered “moderate”. There was a pretty large group of us who decided to go, and Murn usually lead the hikes. It was another great opportunity to visit and share stories as we walked. After we completed the first hike, we were all at the bottom of the hill and it was explained that the next one would be the tougher one. Those who decided to go gathered, and we continued back into the woods, this time looking up at a steeper hill. It wasn’t as long as the first climb, but was definitely steeper.

We took some pictures along the way. We also stopped at various points to wait for others who were coming along. One of the wonderful things everyone decided to do was that we would all wait, especially at the very top, until the last person made it, so that we could all celebrate together. And many of those celebrations involved cheers, smiles, incredible testimonies, and tears of joy!

One of those incredible moments happened on this first steep hike. We were all at the top, watching each person come over and reach the top, cheering each group on. Then we saw Hannah walking beside the last woman to come over the top. Her name was Heather, and this is a moment that I still remember so vividly and can’t hold back the tears, even as I type this story…Heather is a beautiful woman, who always has the brightest smile, who looks very athletic to me, and was hiking up the hill with two ski poles in her hands, and as she and Hannah arrived at the top and the cheering ended, Hannah told Heather that she had to share her story with all of us. Heather then proceeded to tell us that she was diagnosed with MS, she had been working with Carter on his turf for a long time, and she was dreaming of being able to climb this mountain. When she finished sharing her story, we were all crying and all sooo proud of her, and she then said, “I’m going to climb this every single day this week!” And I vowed in my heart, at that moment, that I wasn’t going to miss one of those days of being able to hike with Heather and all of these amazing women and men on this mountain. What an inspiration she was to all of us at that moment, and every single day following. I’m so blessed to know and love her. She continues to inspire me today.

After our hikes, we were brought back to the main tent to go through a series of movement assessments. We broke into groups, and within those groups, we took turns squatting, first on both legs, then we had to do single leg squats  as we were watched and assessed through a form which Carter and the others assessing us had. We were viewed from every angle, so that our weaknesses could be noted, in order to then focus on those weaknesses and learn appropriate exercises to strengthen them. It was just another wonderful tool to know our strengths and weaknesses individually, and then be empowered with the information to work on those areas.

If I had done this exercise a year ago, I know that my form would have read much differently than it did now. I have gone to so many classes where I have had to do so many squats, and my legs have really been strengthened during this past year through all of the exercising. The people in my group actually said, “wow, you’re great at squatting”, which made me feel good, and then as I was doing the single leg squats, Carter was filling out my assessment sheet, and there was a point that he said, “you have really strong leg muscles.” (another proud moment that I will hold onto, as it reminded me, again, of how far I have come. I have a long way to go, but this moment I could celebrate what I had accomplished so far.) Our notes were made, and I was looking forward to the next day when we would learn how to strengthen our weaknesses. All of this information that Carter and his team were passing onto us was just invaluable. What a gift.

After assessments, it was time for dinner. On this evening I sat at a table with some more wonderful people to meet, and Courtney also sat at our table. We shared more great stories, laughter, and continued to share from our hearts. I am just in awe of how the Lord continues to place people at certain tables at specific times, it’s just beautiful!

Another delicious dinner cooked by Chris. This night, I think it was Salmon. I never eat fish. I hate fish. I am NOT a seafood girl. But…I know I was really hungry, and I knew that I would try anything Chris was making. Believe it or not, I really liked it, it was delicious. Who knew? I wish that I had thought to take a picture of each meal. Some women did. I will try to get their pictures, just for you to see how beautiful and delicious our meals were. And again, what a gift, as women, moms…to be waited on and not think what we are cooking for breakfast, lunch and dinner. (and dessert!)

Bellies were satisfied, and yes, it was time to climb the big, steep hill heading up to the upper room, again.  So, we grabbed our bags, etc. and made the climb. A nice little work out after eating. We were all excited to head up there, as our speakers for the evening were Marci and Courtney. It was also going to feel nice to sit down and relax for a while. Remember, it’s our first full day…we have been up since 3am….went to boot camp, then on a morning hike, then Vinnie shared, went to zumba, lunch, a moderate hike, a harder hike, movement assessments, dinner…and here we are.

Carter got up to introduce Marci. I have learned early on to grab my pen when Carter is about to speak. The wisdom that the Lord pours out of this man is something I don’t want to miss or forget. He started with a quote that I read in his book, “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.” He then said, “ Marci will share-You’ll hear it, you’ll see it, and now it’s also time to take and integrate it. When you do, YOU will understand and it will go inside. Inspiration is a gift to take in. YOU are the next story. You will inspire others. You can tell passion (who you are),by the way someone wears it.” He set the stage beautifully for this passionate woman, mom, wife, friend…Marci…to share her heart and story with all of us.

Her story also encompassed much of Courtney’s story, as it was her daughter, Courtney, who brought her to “The Biggest Loser” show. As Marci began to speak, she shared that she had three major fears when she entered the Biggest Loser ranch…mice, heights, and public speaking. She really started to worry about the public speaking and all that she may have to do, but then came to a wonderful place where she realized, “I don’t have obligations….I have privileges.” Which was a beautiful, freeing revelation for her. She went on to share that Courtney taught her everything on the ranch, along with Hannah and Olivia.

Her story began by sharing a bit about her family, and a little background about Courtney. As a mom, she brought tears to my eyes in the first few minutes as she stated, “You see, I could die tomorrow, because my kids know why God put us on this earth–to serve other people–that’s why we’re here! I thought I would have to teach my kids about life, and the truth is, when I look in their eyes, just like when I look in your eyes, I find out what life’s all about. It’s about love–it just comes down to love. We have to take care of one another. The journey doesn’t end. We need each other. I’ve been nothing but filled since I’ve been here.” I was already inspired and in tears, and she had only been speaking for a few minutes…

She proceeded to share how the Lord clearly orchestrated the timing and all the events that lead up to her and Courtney being chosen for the show. Courtney had been rejected 2 times after trying out for the show, she even went out to California to try out for Extreme Makeover, and although they loved her, they could only choose 8 people and she was choice number 9.

Courtney is another woman filled with wisdom, and one of her great sayings that I hold onto since meeting her is something she taught her mom at a huge turning point on the ranch, and with all of us at this retreat… “It’s going to take a while to change your body–but it only takes a split second to change your mind.”

Around this time, it was her 21st birthday, and she was so crushed that she didn’t make the show. She said on her 21st birthday she took that split second and decided to make a change. She told us that it really is about changing your mind.  She was 435 pounds when she started. She shared that it had to be small changes, so that she could make it a lifestyle. She gave up soda, then fast food at first, and just doing that, she was down 25 pounds. Then she did a 30 day “jumpstart” and was down 50 pounds. She began to walk, and eventually had the courage to walk into a gym and try a sitting elliptical machine. She continued to make one small change at a time and doing that, Courtney actually ended up losing 112 pounds before getting on the ranch.

Meanwhile, the producers were watching how well she was doing on her facebook page, and they ended up seeking her out. She knew at this point that she didn’t need a show to lose the weight, she had lost 112 pounds on her own, but after being called 6 times in 5 days, she decided to pursue it, and since it was couples…she needed her mom, Marci, to go with her. (I’m so thankful for their obedient hearts, as I believe the Lord needed to place them on that show to use their lives and testimonies to inspire the world….including me!)

Well, the Lord continued to orchestrate everything in a mighty way…as Marci states, “God had a plan–it was His time and His plan–we had to give up the control.” And in His amazing timing, Marci and Courtney got to choose Bob and Jillian as their trainers, along with Hannah and Olivia…and the Lord brought them all together… for such a time as this.

Through their journeys, they saw the hand of God in every moment and experience…before, during and after life on the ranch. Courtney lost another 110 pounds and ended up losing 230 pounds in 18 months, Marci was on high blood pressure medication, and has not had to take medication since stepping foot on that ranch, their season of The Biggest Loser was like none other (and continues to be the one that is most watched even now through you tube) due to the love and support, faith and prayer that they all shared, and they continue to share their testimonies and pass on their wisdom and gifts of inspiration and all that they have learned with everyone they meet….including us this week.

On this night, we not only heard all of the amazing ‘‘behind the scenes” stories, which are now woven into what we saw on TV, but we learned so much from this beautiful mother/daughter relationship…The power and depth of a mother’s love, the sovereignty, grace and mercy of God, and wonderful words of wisdom, along with great knowledge which they passed on from their weight loss and fitness journeys.

At one point, Marci said, “this is about hope–when you really want to change and make it happen, you have to have hope and believe it can happen. Proclaim it. Tell people and commit to it.” They both impressed on all of us that, “you have to ask for help, we’re all in this together, you have to find friends and family to help you, and as you do, you will realize that this is your family.” Courtney even asked us that night, “Do you realize how close you have all gotten in just a day?..You’re making bonds you won’t break. I already feel like we are a family.”

I sat there in amazement at how close I had already gotten with so many people here, and it truly was less than 24 hours that we had all been together. We had the same common bond found in the struggles we have been facing throughout each of our lives, and we were here to battle this together. The more we opened up and shared, the less alone we felt. And to have Marci and Courtney, two of our “TV superstars”, share the honest truth of their lives this first night…hearts and lives wide open…in order to help each one of us, made us realize that we were all part of a new, very special family.

Marci shared that she learned to do some of her best communicating on the ranch, and knew that it would be really important to communicate all that she needed when she got home. She taught us that you can’t put people above you, which is an important lesson that I have learned this past year. I love how my Weight Watcher’s leader taught it to me, “after me, you come first.” Still one of the toughest, but most important lessons I have learned. Then Marci told us, “you must have a plan and a strategy. You need good time management skills.” This includes planning for eating, working out, scheduling your day. “Your heart needs to be open to share your knowledge. You have to find your powerful “why”.” She explained that we all know what we are suppose to do, but many times we just can’t find our “why”. (Just like Vinnie said, “find your reason why. Until you find your reason why, you won’t ever do it. Your reason why has to be bigger than every single reason or excuse that you’re not going to do it every day.”)-are you seeing a pattern here?

Courtney also reminded us to be proud of, and cherish, the little things…like fitting into a restaurant booth, using the regular seatbelt on an airplane, being able to now do something you could never do before.  She explained, “those things are always going to be a part of me, but it doesn’t define me, and I won’t go back.” She went on to say, “weight is a number on a scale. You can love yourself at any weight, if you have your faith. You have to believe you are a beautiful person now, because you are. You’re perfect with your imperfections.” (I love that!) Courtney is one of the most self confident people I have ever met. Even Marci told us, as her mom, Courtney has always been a very vibrant person, no matter what he weight or situation has been.

Anyone who refers to Courtney speaks of her amazing spirit, her strong faith, her determination, her strength, her endurance, her love. She said to all of us, at the end of the night, “I have to celebrate where I’ve come from and always figure out what I’m fighting for—everyday. It’s all part of God’s plan. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t gone through what I’ve gone through. We all have something. We all have a story, our own story. I’ve come a long way.”

Anyone who describes Marci speaks of her gifts as a mom, caretaker, her strong faith and determination, her incredible wisdom,her strong love. She set such an amazing example and tone on the BL ranch, and touched lives in such a mighty way, that the day she was voted off the ranch, some of the others cried for hours! She is a person that you meet and feel like you have known her forever, and you want to just spend as much time with her as you can and take in all that she has to share.

At the end of her testimony that night, Marci reminded us to “be still and know that I’m the Lord”–she said, “I can’t be anything to anyone else unless I listen to him.” She also pointed out that, “on a healthy lifestyle, there are no finish lines.” Then, she wrapped it up by saying, “ I want you to remember 2 things….If you do everything in love, in His name—You are guaranteed success….and, if you do that , you really are taking care of you—and that’s not selfish, it’s selfless…as long as you want to do it in His name.

Our first spectacular night at the upper room had come to an end, and we all had to get to bed in order to get up a little after 3am for our next morning of boot camp. When we got back to our room, we placed all we needed out for the morning, then all of my room mates went to sleep, as I stayed up, sitting next to my lamp, trying to write as much as I could down from this day, so that I would remember it. I got to bed way after midnight, but slept a bit better, as the many of the “unknowns” from the night before.. we had all gotten through today.

As I try to even share half of the notes I wrote down during these talks, and during this first full day,  it is so hard to choose what what to write. I just keep stopping and holding my hands up, praying and asking for the Lord to just choose the words and use my hands to type what He wants me to put out there. I also continue to be overwhelmed with gratitude for the amazing blessing of having been able to be here at this place, “for such a time as this.” with all of these extraordinary people who have become a special family to me.

So, this is the end of the first full day, Monday. I can’t wait to share the rest of the week with you…..