On Modesty and Freedom


I am not an expert on modesty.  In fact, I just got my first one-piece bathing suit this year (because they're so darn cute now!).  It's not that I've been overtly immodest, but more that I hadn't really thought about it much.  And if I did think about it, it was in the context of -- I'm in my 30's, I have three children, I don't have a super model body -- sooo I guess I can't wear that adorable crop top.  

Lately though, modesty has been coming up in my thoughts and in my prayer time, especially in relation to my continual quest for viewing food and my body the way the Lord views it.  I asked Him, how did your Mother view her body?

Although I’m not sure that I got a clear answer, I did hear something that made me realize that I was thinking about this all wrong.

Rather than focus on how lean is lean enough or how short can my shorts be before they’re immodest, I need to be first living with a deep knowledge that I am a loved daughter of God. This may seem too simple and possibly even cliché.  I wish there was a better way to share just how impactful this realization was for me.  

Confession: deep down, sometimes, I want to be lean to prove that I’m not my chubby high school self.  Deep down, sometimes, I want to wear a tight fitting dress because not only does my husband compliment me, but he tells me others were looking too. It’s painful to write that. I didn’t even realize that about myself until very recently through much prayer.  It’s as if I am trying to prove that I am lovable.  And that is hard, exhausting work.   

This quote from Henri Nouwen explains more about how living as one who is loved, changes us:

“The change of which I speak is the change from living life as a painful test to prove that you deserve to be loved, to living it as an unceasing yes to the truth of that belovedness. Put simply, life is a God-given opportunity to become who we are, to affirm our own true spiritual nature, claim our truth, appropriate and integrate the reality of our being, but most of all, to say yes to the one who calls us the beloved."

As an extension, freedom from food and body image issues comes from understanding our identity as loved daughters of God and ceasing to try to prove that we are lovable. I don’t have to worry so much about what my body looks like if I’m not worrying about fitting into a bikini this weekend.  I don’t have to desire to show off my body because I don’t need to show off my hard work in the gym -- because I don’t need to prove that I can have a fit body -- because I am already loved and approved by God. It’s freedom!

And if we think about it, it’s never enough, anyways.  The attention is never enough. The leanness is never enough. It’s challenging to think about because we do want to keep improving ourselves.  We don’t want to be complacent or settle, but in the end, it’s all lacking. How do we push ourselves with working out and eating healthy, but, at the same time, not desire to show off to others how much better we look in our tight clothes? (It’s ok to feel happy about fitting into clothes better and it’s good to feel beautiful – the issue I’m talking about is the showing off that comes from a desire to prove that we are lovable). Maybe it’s just me, y’all!

Ok, back to modesty.  When my clothes are more modest, then I am no longer trying to show off my body. At that point, eating and working out are no longer about proving myself, but, rather, can be about a whole host of other wonderful reasons.  With less of a focus on our body parts, we are free to put working out and eating healthy in their proper place, perhaps as one item on the to-do list rather than the full focus and concern of every day.  




The Promise is in the Work

Physically, this has been my strongest pregnancy.  But every veteran mother knows no matter how well or prepared you feel, pregnancy brings with it the anxiety of the unknown and the anticipation of discomfort.  I don't care if you get an epidural of have a C-section or your husband plays bongos while you sit amidst wild flowers... however you labor, it is just that - labor.  Work.  The stuff of the cross.

Don't get me wrong...I'm forever grateful for the knowledge of how my body handles birth, but it comes at the cost of knowing that there is a crazy, intense experience coming my way and there ain't.no.way.out.  

And generally speaking, I've had pretty fantastic births.  Though an unfavorable induction, Baby #1 was born after four hours of drug-free, Pitocin-induced contractions followed by 15 minutes of pushing.  I blame Pitocin on my accidental, less-than-an-hour home birth of Baby #2 because Pitocin contractions are a FAR CRY from the real ones, let me tell you, I kid you not. Baby #3 was a bit slower, but three hours of active labor and a wee bit of pushing wasn't bad.  Baby #4 was pretty special- after laboring peacefully from 7:30-10:30, I asked to have my water broken and had her about one minute and a push later. 

Which brings me to baby #5's birth...aka the mental game.  I had kept anxiety at bay with prayer, but I felt like I did in my soccer preseason conditioning days- dragging my feet to the line, mentally imploring my coach to reconsider the ten 120 yard dashes he was making us do.  I'm sure there are people out there who get excited to labor...but I just wasn't one of them.  You'd think I'd be grateful for my past births, but I was just stuck on the crazy vulnerability that is pushing.  I prayed that God would give me the mental fortitude for labor because I sure as heck didn't have it throughout my pregnancy.  Was I scared of deadlifting 200 pounds pregnant? Nope! How about birthing seven? Yes!   

But, there I was, a couple days overdue and finally ready to get the show on the road.  My lovely midwife (more on this lady later) let me come in for a gentle induction- pumping, stripping of membranes, and walking.  I came in at 1 cm and, after three rounds of it, left at 2 with no lasting contractions.  Afterwards, my husband and I decided to make a day of it and went out for tacos, which marks it as a win in my book.

induction day.jpg

The next day was St. Bernadette's feast day, and even though it had been ten years since I visited Lourdes, I thought that my little friend would help me out with intercession.  I was able to go to daily Mass by myself, spent some QT schooltime with my two bigs, visited a sick mama, and got a mani and alone time with my mom.  It was a peaceful day, and with freshly painted nails while sipping on a baby glass of wine with my mom and her twin, I kept noticing little contractions, about every 8-10 minutes apart.  Nothing major, but enough to make me wiggle and breathe in my seat.

My better-than-Paul-Hollywood husband had just pulled homemade pastry-ed chicken pot pie from the oven, and as everyone was settling down to eat, I excused myself to go lay down.  This is where things got analytical.  I've heard so many stories of going in too early, and having had fast births, I was hesitant to go in too late.  So I drank a bunch of water, laid down, and tried to time the contractions over din of the general chaos of wrangling four children to the dinner table.  It was one of those evenings where excitement was in the air, and it was all I could do to concentrate on timing contractions and relaxing over the pounding of the piano and scraping of plates.

Into my third contraction (now coming five minutes apart but not too strong), my four year old peeked her head around the corner and asked me, "You having contraptions, mama?"  She climbed into bed with me and pushed on my belly, and, despite her cuteness, I knew it was time to go.  I wasn't in crazy labor, but enough to know that I'd be happier and more peaceful at the midwife center.  Plus, my midwife texted me to get my butt over, so I did. :)

Sidenote about my midwife, Ashley: This woman is also a dear, dear friend: she's an across-the-street-neighbor, parenting confidant, exchanger of baby items, fellow quilter and deadlifter (though much, much better), fellow nurse and general kickass woman who has four girls of her own.  We've shared many a heart to heart about midwifery and how to raise strong women.  We've played countless board games.  We've watched our children climb trees together over a shared adult beverage.  We've danced to 90s jams with our husbands into the wee hours of the morning.  So when she told me if I wanted, she could be there to catch my baby, I said YES! 

So it was this midwife who was helping my overly analytical brain to get to the midwife center.  I told my husband it was time to go, and you would think it as Christmas morning because my kiddos were OVERJOYED and crazy excited that I was finally in labor (me too!). We gathered our things and the kids gathered around me and prayed over me.  Cue tears.

As we rode along to the midwife center, I had contractions every 6-8 minutes or so, and they weren't that bad...just very different- all in my lower back.  It was at this time that I realized I had been waiting for the 'real' contractions to start, but it actually had really started- it just was all back labor.  Not being accustomed to this, I was a little nervous- back labor was supposed to be much, much harder than 'regular(?)' labor, and I was none to happy about that.  Focusing on the positive, I  stopped at St. Stanislaw’s for a quick prayer, and made it to the birthing center around 7:30 and was checked to be 6 cm.


I was anxious as soon as we got to the midwife center- shaky and teeth chattery kind of anxious- as I anticipated the work. I was also worried about the baby- something about her heart rate was troubling me, and the nurses kept coming in to listen to her for longer than usual. "Why do we women do this to ourselves?" I couldn't help wondering.  It wasn’t until after we doused the room in holy water, changed into my gown, started praying the rosary, and being encouraged and talked down by my midwife that I was able to concentrate. 

Specifically, my midwife gently told me that she was there to watch for symptoms of distress- I was there to labor.  I felt a tug at my heart, asking, "Do you trust her?" and at that moment I gave all my worries over- I trusted her (and the Lord's work in her) whole-heartedly.  I stopped analyzing every contraction. I stopped looking at the clock.  I stopped wondering how it was all going to go down and if I had what it took to do it all again.   And that's when peace came.  It's a beautiful thing to be given permission to labor.

My labor this time was all in my back, so it was a (very) different way of experiencing contractions. Bracing myself for each one, the contractions also required counterpressure from all parties involved (i.e. my husband).  They weren’t terrible, just not as easy to relax through. My favorite part of the whole labor was sinking into a huge tub.   While my husband and I sang praise songs, the contractions melted away, and I felt such a surge of peace while listening to my husband's voice.  All the praise hands.

Soon though, I knew it was time to get out of the tub. Game time.  My husband started to play his Buena Vista Social Club mix (read no further until Guajira en F is playing from your device).  I was checked at 8 cm and had my midwife break my water. I labored in bed for a little bit with no feelings to push.  I told the nurse and midwife that they could leave (and turn off the heating lamp)- this baby wasn't coming anytime soon, but they amiably refused.   I knew I had to stand up and let gravity do it's work.  I had flashbacks of my coach telling me to line up for sprints...and, feeling that dread, but also knowing/hoping for the baby at the end of the tunnel, I got up, bounced for a bit on the birthing ball, and was back in bed to push about 45 minutes after my water was broken.   I pushed with one contraction, but didn’t put my all into it. In between contractions, Ashley checked me to be 10 cm and I vowed to all (in so many words) that this baby would.be.out.of.me.and.now.  The second contraction rolled around, and badda bing, badda boom, I was an unofficial Marmee with four daughters!


Relief, always sweet relief first, kisses (soaked in relief) with my husband next, and then all the love for my super juicy, warm babe with a head of hair.  She cried beautifully and snuggled right up, knowing exactly that my arms were where she was meant to be.

Now, two months after the whole affair, I can look back with such gratitude for a peaceful, praiseful birth with the man I love and delivery by a dear friend who knows the grit of mothering four daughters.  I'm reminded daily of why women 'do this to themselves' as I nurse my babe, as my daughters fawn over her, as my son whispers "you're my favorite," as my husband makes her eyes dance, and as my elderly neighbor lights up over her smile.  I am a fickle woman: I want labor, then hope it ends. I want my kids to grow up and time to slow down. But the Lord reminds me gently that there is no love without the Cross.  There's no promise of a baby without the promise of work.

from dusting to deadlifting

adventures in pregnant weightlifting

I've received questions lately regarding how my workouts have changed throughout my trimesters, and, to be honest, I am hesitant to write for two reasons:

1. We pregnant women can be delicate.  Yes, we obtain a certain fortitude as we cultivate life, but, let's face it: we are also surging with hormones, begrudging newly acquired veins, and comparing our pregnant bodies to other pregnant bodies (whether they be our own or not).  

2. All pregnancies/pregnant seasons vary.  My first pregnancy consisted of prenatal yoga videos.  I worked a 12 hour shift on the due date of my second pregnancy (and probably contributed to my patient's hypertension as a result!).  Braxton Hicks contractions haunted me throughout my third pregnancy, and my answer to my midwife's question of mode of exercise was, "dusting."  Returning from a 7 mile run, halfway through my marathon training, I discovered that I was, in fact, pregnant with my fourth babe after my husband noticed a misread test in the garbage. I ran until 24 weeks, when my hips threatened separation if I didn't stop.  This fifth babe is getting the most movement from me as I've been able to continue heavy weight lifting 3-4 days.  Case in point: all pregnancies are different! 

So, please, my dear friends, tread carefully through these suggestions.  

first trimester

in which one tries not to vomit


1. Fighting Nausea: I was neither bedridden nor hugging the toilet in those early weeks, so I found that extra naps along the way allowed me to keep up with weight lifting 4 days a week.  I continued with a back, shoulder, glute, and leg focused days. Pushing myself to get to the gym helped keep the nausea at bay.

2. Avoid pressure: I switched from heavy hip thrusts (>200 lbs.) and low reps to single leg dumbbell hip thrusts to decrease any and all pressure on my lower abdomen. (Side note: I cannot say ENOUGH how amazing hip thrusts have been throughout my pregnancy- giving extra strength to tendons and pelvic joints that would otherwise reduce me to tears when getting out of bed in the morning.)

3.  No New PRs: I continued heavy squats and deadlifts (with a rep range of 6-8), with the mindset that I was not making any new personal records.  Any upper body press was up for improvement, though!

4.  Sprint: I threw in as much sprinting intervals as I could, whether on the treadmill or eating my husband's dust on our street during naptime, knowing that I wouldn't be running "fast" for a year or so...:)

second trimester

in which one realizes her core is errrrrything

1. Say Goodbye to Pushups, Planks, and Pull-ups: Renewed energy levels and a little bump make the second trimester a fun one, but this was the time where I began to drop exercises due to coning: an unattractive, alien-like effect of the abdominal walls attempting to engage over an increasing girth.  As a woman who has struggled with diastasis recti, I am OVERLY cautious with exercises involving abdominal pressure. 

2. Form over Weight: Dropping the weight in my heavy squats and deadlifts, I focused on form, which was more mentally difficult due to my pride than anything.  Pregnancy is so good for the soul, y'all. :)

3. Relaxin Take Over: I dropped lunges, split squats, single leg deadlifts, and single leg hip thrusts from the mix, as any exercise involving weight on one leg was uncomfortable on my pelvic joints.  

third trimester

in which the very act of dressing for the gym is a workout in itself
third trimester.jpeg

1. No-Shame-Shorter Workouts: My workouts dropped from over an hour to 45 minutes as I began to do lighter weight, higher reps exercises back to back with a tiny bit of cardio.  (For instance, instead of 3 sets of heavy barbell squats, I used a dumbbell and did 3 sets of goblet squats right into 10-15 squat jumps).  Strength is not my forte in the third trimester, but getting my heart rate up makes such a difference in my mood and general energy levels.

2. Savor the Pull: Even when I don't feel like it, I try to make it to the gym, knowing that I won't be there for a while, and I won't be deadlifting as much at 9 months postpartum as I am 9 months pregnant!  

3. Reserve Energy: My body can't handle three days in a row of workouts, so I schedule accordingly or skip a workout.  

As always, I must state that prior to exercising your pretty pregnant self, please speak with your health care provider.  I would not advise starting hot yoga or deadlifting 200 pounds or signing up for your first triathlon, but at the same time, you know your body best.  There is a difference between pushing yourself and straining yourself in a workout.  

The female body continues to amaze me, and I love what weight lifting has done for me mentally, physically, and spiritually this pregnancy.  




I'm a ewe


Pregnant with my third child, I began to fear going through childbirth again.  I had my second child naturally and although it was a quick, beautiful birth and the memory of pain had faded, I knew, logically, that it was the worst pain I had ever experienced.  

A friend gave me a book on pain-free childbirth (really?!!), but I thought, God can do that and surely He loves me enough to do that, so why not pray for it.  But the fear continued.

Over the endless months to come, our sweet Lord used every song, sermon, meeting and bible passage to remind me that He is my Shepherd.  That became the theme of my pregnancy as I meditated on just how much He would care for me.  He lead me to one verse that gave me more comfort than any other:

He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. Isaiah 40:11

I thought, "That's me! I'm with young! He will gently lead me!"  My husband grew up taking care of cattle on his family ranch, so I knew that when a heifer was giving birth, a rancher left all the other cattle to take care of that one.  They even had a special barn with heat lamps, a good wind break and clean, soft hay just for her.  I pictured Jesus leaving all you other sheep ;) to put His full and total attention on me while I gave birth.  I can't tell you how much comfort that gave me.

Fast forward to five days post due date and I realize that the miserable wait is over, it's time.  We're in the car driving over one of Pittsburgh's striking steel bridges, every contraction takes my breath away with the intensity and pain.  At the same time, I'm so flooded in peace, so awash in His love and so sure of His presence.  Incredibly, I feel my body go through one intense contraction with absolutely no pain -- seriously, none!  I don't even know how to describe the sensation.  I knew instantly that it was a gift from my Shepherd.  

The rest of the birth was not so different from the previous.  It was quick and beautiful, but extremely painful.  Less than 45 minutes after pulling up to the hospital, I screamed euphorically as I discovered that we had our first baby girl.  Before the adrenaline wore off, I loudly proclaimed "Thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus!"  

Later as my husband and I snuggled our angel baby girl, we marveled at that one pain free contraction and laughed out loud after reading another translation of Isaiah 40:11 - "a shepherd... leading the ewes with care" - and discovered: I'm a ewe.


Trust fall

January 1, I joined the world and auto-generated my word for the year: fall.  Taken aback at first, I shoved it off as random.  It's several weeks later and I still mull over that word.  Our wild and thoughtful Creator has His hands in everything.  There is no random, which is when I realized: He's telling me to fall.  He has already been teaching me how little I trust Him.

Case in point: here I am biding my time until He makes me sell my house and give away all of our money, allows my child to be deathly ill and kills my husband.  Full disclosure here -- that is what I so terribly think about our God: the one who calls me Beloved, the one who can count all the hairs on my head, the one who formed me in my mother's womb, the one who has a plan for me, the one who died for me because He just wants to be with me, the one who calls me daughter.  In my heart, He whispers, 'You know me better than this.  Remember how gentle I am'.  

"Jesus, I trust in you," I whisper.

I have recently been praying for help to surrender to Him all of the wonderful people and things in my life.  I am finding that as I release what I cling to, He gently gives them back to me while nudging me in one small area of obedience.  As if to say, 'you have offered me your whole life, but today, I just want these ten minutes and these couple dollars for this specific purpose'. 

I felt dry in Mass.  After over a year of crying tears of joy every time I received Jesus in the Eucharist, I was sad to feel so empty.  I prayed again to trust Him and to surrender everything to Him.  When He asked for ten minutes and a couple of dollars of obedience on the way home from Mass, I wanted to say no, to go home and make dinner for my family, but my husband convinced me to obey.  Afterwards, the joy, the tears, and the passion for Christ engulfed me.  To think that He would let me be His hands and His smile today! The lesson is real: He loves us so much.  He does not want to make our worst fears come true.  Yes, we will suffer in this life, but He is so gentle.  If only I can give my little 'yes' every time He asks, how abundant life will be.

Where to begin... where did we begin?

Oh hey there! We all have to start somewhere and with this very first blog post, we thought we'd begin with our beginning.  We have so many things to tell you, and if you were in one of our living rooms, we'd be asking you all about your whole life story, talking your ear off about our own ups and downs with fitness and getting all philosophic about whether it's ok, as Christ followers, to want to look good. All of this over the din of seven children running around.

We'll get to all of those topics and more, soon enough, but today, as we approach our one year anniversary as a real, itty bitty baby business, we want to reflect on what we did not do and what God did do to create SoulStrength Sisters.  

Some Background:  Jenny and I had been early morning running partners turned weight-lifting partners for some time, and we loved what lifting was doing for our bodies and our confidence.  Moreover, as we navigated the testosterone-filled weight room (which decreases in intimidation over time, ladies, I swear!) we began to explore more and more the connections of our bodies and souls without being a slave to food or the scale or the weight room or the mirror. 

Around this time, I was asked to become a fitness coach of a well-known organization.  While it wasn't a good fit for several (hundred) reasons, it did perk my interest and tug at my heart.  Maybe I did have what it takes to encourage women in weight lifting - and just maybe - it's what I needed to stay grounded in the crazy fitness world.  But I knew I couldn't do it alone, nor did I want to!  It was then that I asked Jenny to join me, and SoulStrength began.


It didn't happen overnight, or in a few weeks.  Jenny and I knew our first obligation was our vocation as wives and mothers, and we also weren't concerned that we weren't necessarily the 'hustling' type.  If we were truly placing our hearts and bodies and families in God's hands, we knew we could trust Him with our little seedling of a business.  Through lots of prayer, mulling it over, Ignatian discernment, and over-analyzing during backyard HIIT workouts, playdates, and double dates, we decided to just start.  

At first, we envisioned an early morning bootcamp biz...but those doors quickly closed, and we were left with the thing we really loved: lifting weights and cultivating community.  We have LOVED the flexibility remote coaching has given us and the community that's sprung up with it.  We never could have imagined where God would bring us this past year and who we would get to meet, uplift and befriend along the way.  We can't wait to see the beautiful way He'll lead us next.

Until next time, (because who really starts blogging ten years too late?!  Apparently:)

Emily and Jenny