When I applied for the retreat at Luminaries, it was more than just an application for a retreat. It was born out of desperation. Not so much for my waistline, but for my mental state and the health of my marriage.
Eric and I met under extraordinary circumstances. My answer would be that we met through work. His response to the question ‘how did you meet’ is a pause, a smile, and then says “it’s an interesting story”... Maybe next time he will tell it. I believe we were made for each other. I never believed I would get married or meet somebody. As a modern missionary, depressed and overweight office worker, extreme introvert and on again off again professional gamer, I had a pretty decent life. It was okay. I was okay with okay. In fact, one of the mantras that grabbed me one day in traffic, is that I don’t have to be happy. I do not have to be happy, to be happy.
At the time I weighed around 485 pounds. It was more, that I know for sure, but because the scale at home did not go higher than that, I will never know for sure how much I weighed. After my self-intervention, and a very stern and loving talk from my father, I started my weight loss journey in my early thirties (I'm forty, now). Never did I admit any kind of addiction other than the addiction to comfort. I hated the eight steps at the front door to our office. Despised it. Nothing stole my breath and energy and joy more like those eight steps in the morning. I could not climb them without wanting to pass out or getting a dry mouth. The sweats and heaving were the worst. Even the smokers standing outside would look at me with empathy. I was the first person in the office who would drag my laptop in a backpack on wheels behind me. People thought it was because I was cool and into gadgets. It simply was because my shoulders could not even carry that little extra weight without robbing me of every ounce of energy.
The author on her first snowshoe hike ever
The scale stood still for a long time, almost a month back then. Maybe two months. My clothes fitted looser, my mind became clearer. And then the scale started to move ever so slowly. I seeked professional help, dieticians, psychologists and an assortment of other helpers. I cried to the heavens for help. In the side wings I had a grandmother on her knees, a mother who interceded for me day and night, a father who never gave up on me, and an army of believers who pleaded my case behind close doors and in war rooms. It’s a funny thing, prayer. It lets you run around for a bit. Like a parent that gives a kid a head start in a race to the other end of the garden, and the kid who is very confident in running and winning. But then with a few strides you can see their shadow moving in over yours. You don’t know if you are yelling out of fear or excitement or joy or being competitive. Prayer is stronger, wiser and taller than you. Forgiving. It just simply catches up with you.
I was making progress in my journey and lost about 200 pounds when I met Eric. Half way. I lost one person, I still needed to lose the third person. I was full of hope, enjoyed life, went out on occasion and was in the process of removing toxic elements from my life. Bad boss, some friends. I was at a very good place mentally. New job. Eric got on a plane and visited me under great secrecy. It was very exciting. When he returned home, we decided I will next visit him in the USA under a visitor’s visa. One day he called me up and said that we have a bit of a problem. There seems to be a snag that should you enter the USA on a visitor’s visa, you might not be eligible for a fiancé visa later. So, he would like to discuss the possibility of applying for a fiancé visa rather than a visitor’s visa. Uhmm… What are you saying Eric? Confused Eric said it again. Slower, I asked what that means exactly. I could hear the frown in Eric’s voice. It took him about four days to realize he should ask me to marry him. I said yes.
Ann and her husband Eric on retreat
It took longer than a year for this incredible man to sort out the paperwork and investigations and living arrangements. In the meantime he bought me a birthday ticket to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Wellington, New Zealand. Because of the fiancé visa restrictions, I was not able to set foot in any USA-operated country at that time. Eric packed his bags and joined me in New Zealand for three months. We got to know each other even better. We discovered our mutual love for walks together. Better than that, our love for walking hand-in-hand. I sampled all their ice-creams, chocolates, and foods. I have travelled all over the world, but never in my life experienced the level of perfection they have achieved with coffee. It simply is incredible. I think I spent all my spending money on bus fairs and food markets. Yes, I lost a lot of weight, but by no honest yard stick had I learned how to actually eat healthy. It was a feast and party going in, and fireworks going out.
Wellington and the surrounding area is fantastic for exercise and my saving grace was that I walked. Everywhere. A lot. Every single day. Up hill and down hill and streets and parks and botanical gardens and museums. It was in this time that I realized that there is a mechanical short in my brain. Eric would just go about being himself, routine, normal, reading something on a board or pointing something out. Making dumb jokes and trying to be funny, getting to know my sense of humor. See what makes me laugh. I think by the fourth time I snapped and yelled at him, and he begged me in tears, asking what he could do to make things right, did I realize how unfair my irritations were. I have never met this part of me. I never could put a finger on it. Did I yell this much at home? Was I this short with my family all my life and they just accepted it because they loved me? I was standing tall in front of a God of grace, with empty hands, a lot of questions and a very good future. I was okay. I was still okay with not having being happy as my motivation. I was okay with my quality of life. But where was this crossed wire in my brain?
Eric flew back to the USA. Three months later I went back to my country. We were approved for fiancé status and started preparations for my move to live with Eric. I could sum it up as a complete burnout. I arrived in the USA and we had ninety days to get married, file our paperwork, and move on to the next status. I organized our wedding within two weeks, something went wrong and I had a week to cancel all plans and deposits, re-organize every single detail and needless to say, I have never experienced so much stress. We had to go from our wedding organized in Iowa, to finding everything new in Omaha, Nebraska. We got married. But, I couldn’t make friends, couldn’t find a church that I felt part of, had to set up house and find a place for myself in the life of a forty-one-year-old bachelor who has never shared his life with anybody. I felt like I lost my identity. Myself. My country. My parents, friends, support, cat, life lines. The yelling became worse. The frustration and lack of understanding. I remember saying to myself ‘I know people say marriage is hard, but surely it cannot feel this impossible, this hard’. Eric and I would look at each other after a fight and agree on one thing - this was not me. This was not the woman he met, and I did not feel like myself. I was as calm as a lake usually; my fuse was not this short. The word divorce came up. I had the fear of being over forty and trying for a baby - "at-risk pregnancy" is the automatic label. It was at the fertility clinic where the doctor was scribbling on her pad and said matter of factly that I need to lose thirty pounds before we can try to conceive and before she will consider helping with in-vitro fertilization.
Workout at the gym while on retreat
I remember sitting there in the doctor's office, Eric holding my hand, and making weight calculations in my head. It is always about the justification. I had a hard life, I can accept my weight. I am prone to severe depression, so my weight is my comfort. I am different yet accepted by a fair number of people, despite my weight. Sitting there in my justification, I realized that I was on a plateau of about 285 pounds for almost two or three years. I stood still. I was okay. I was… my own kind of happy. I lost my breath when I did a quick Google conversion. From pounds to kilograms. I had picked up almost twenty kilograms (45 pounds) in the six months I’d been in the USA! How? What? I’m eating less chocolate, ice cream and candy than I did in New Zealand. I’m eating the exact so-called healthy things I ate back home. I cook with the same sauces for Eric and me, I buy the same bread. Everything is the same. I eat cookies, in limit. I eat a bit of ice cream and put the rest back. I am doing the right thing. Where did the weight come from? I practice moderation. I’m hysterical. I’m yelling. The monster reared a head that I never met before. That I have never slayed. I was not trained for this.
Dear Amy, I would like to apply for a retreat at Luminaries. I sent the email. Go big or go home. I can admit that I am a challenging person. I like extremes. It challenges me. I asked if I can stay for the longest possible time that she allows (8 weeks). The cover motivation was that I need to lose thirty pounds so that we can try and get pregnant. The real truth was that I was looking for a place to live. To take time away from Eric. I needed to find myself again and stop tearing him apart. Allow him to grow and find himself amidst all the chaos as well. The miracle was when Amy mailed me back. Heartfelt. Excited. Warm. Yes, yes, calm down woman. I’m in crisis and I am not the easiest person at the moment. Don’t get so excited. I talked to Amy, in my head. I warned her, tried to justify myself. Yet the quick response, firm email and incredible organizational plan she came back with, ripped the flimsy carpet of possible excuses out from under me. I emailed the Tuesday, by Wednesday Amy said I need to be prepared to arrive on Sunday. We paid, packed, and I was off!
Eric and I arrived at a new beginning. The beautiful Luminaries building in the snowy month of March. I remember jumping up and down from excitement and could not contain myself. I knew that I knew that I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I made the right choice.