Guest blog: My battle with my body

What a true honor it is to introduce you to Mrs. Jillian Lybrand Dean, who I affectionately know as JillyBear.  Jillian came on staff in the student ministry in my church when I was in 9th grade and we have been inseparable ever since.  Whatever our souls are made of, they’re the same and it is such a sweet gift I cannot truly put words to.  Jillian and her husband James Dean live in the great state of Oklahoma where they do ministry and are raising Miss Eliza Kate who we affectionately call EKD 2.0.

As many of you know, my dad died recently of a heart attack.  While we so clearly see this was the Lord’s timing and plan, my family has talked about making many changes in our lifestyles to focusing on physical health, what I truly consider to be an act of worship.  I pray you hear Jillian’s heart of encouragement in how to truly care for our bodies and what it teaches us about caring for our spirits as well.

May you be half as transformed and inspired by Jillian as I am on a daily basis.


My battle against my body began when I was about 15. It may have begun sooner, but that’s when the recognition of weight, body types, and my poor understanding of nutrition began. I was running cross country, I could literally eat anything I wanted (and did) and somehow in the middle of my hungry hungry hippo days, I was a  size 0… If you want to stop reading right now, I would understand, but I would love to encourage you to stick it out. You can’t be the winning hippo and continue to see your feet. You see, my understanding of food was more of fairy tale than a reality. I just thought if I worked hard enough it should melt off, having no understanding of thyroids, metabolisms, digestion system, and most cruel of all… age!

Fast forward to college: My senior year, I worked out regularly, ate pretty well, or so I thought, but my health was the worst it had ever been, and I was in my early 20’s. I won’t go into all the details, but my weight would fluctuate non-stop creating more issues both physiologically and emotionally than ever before. My hair even began falling out. I wanted to sleep all day, had more stomach issues than I would care to remember (or say in mixed company), and my skin was showing signs of my poor health. Definitely not what I went to college for!

I knew I needed help. A family friend recommended a nutritionist and I eagerly went to see him, ready to dive in and see what was going on. He needed a hair sample, I felt like he plucked my last remaining hair, but I was desperate. The results came back and the lists of things and products I should avoid reminded me of something a politician would read during a filibuster. I was overwhelmed, alone, and fearful.

He explained a few things to me about my body: my adrenal gland was shot (I had never heard of said adrenal gland), and I should basically avoid everything that I love: breads, sugars, caffeine. You name it. I probably wasn’t supposed to eat it. So then I asked the question, well what can I eat? I know this sounds dramatic, but I will never forget the blue sticky note he wrote on. It was my food list. Really?!? A Post-It note. Didn’t he know I’m Southern and that sweet tea runs through my veins? He didn’t seem very sympathetic.

He said, “Jillian, I know this seems overwhelming, but right now this is equivalent to a flat tire, and if you don’t fix this now, in a few years you will be having far more issues.” I wish I could tell you I listened to everything and my life was changed… I wish I could, but I didn’t. At that point in my life, I was working extreme hours and truly tried my best, but saw no results. Eventually, I just gave up. Truly deflated.

God placed several people in my life who saw my struggle that encouraged me to revisit what I learned. So I did. I followed the blue sticky note for 30 days. It was just 30 days, right? I actually went 40 and decided that this was probably in my head and I would be fine…I grabbed a sub sandwich and boy did it taste good topped off with a Coke. Within minutes, I felt like I had the flu, my stomach felt like I had eaten a rock, and my muscles were actually aching. I was in bed for two days. I wish I was exaggerating.

Slowly but surely, I started a path to health by cutting gluten out of my diet completely (as well as making sure they weren’t in other products I used daily), sacrificing my still quite large intake of caffeine, and I started to do yoga for healing.

The road to health is a long journey. Each person’s is different and unique. For the longest time, my body wasn’t able to receive the proper nutrients because it was bogged down by allergens my body was trying to fight. Our Spiritual wellness is no different. We have to cleanse ourself of all the “junk” we’ve put in ourselves that was never originally designed to be a part of us… You know what I mean? That bad body image, fears of failure, or even our own thoughts and beliefs confusing us. We choose to ingest that. We choose to swallow it and allow it to become a part of our design. We allow it to fester and the infection bores so deep it is almost impossible to see life through a different lens.

It’s so easy to just throw on some Netflix when I’m folding laundry or doing something else around the house. I find favorite shows and get sucked into the season long wormhole, only to be bated into watching the first episode of the next season because the finale was on such a cliffhanger that I couldn’t go another day without knowing how it all turned out.. Unless it’s New Girl… and then you know Zoey will get through whatever problem with her charming smile and carefree attitude! I love her, judge sparingly please! But then as I’m brushing my teeth I think about how much time I spent following a fictional city girl, and how much time I missed getting to know the creator of the universe. I give Jesus my best Zoey smile and promise to do better, but it doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen when I don’t carve out time specifically for getting to know my Savior. That’s the challenge I give to you, and one that I have placed upon myself. If we want to clean up the foggy lens we have been looking through, we have to listen to someone who knows what a clear lens is. That’s the important thing about drawing from the Word of God, when I’m doing it, it’s the first voice I hear, and it drowns out my New Girl world.

It’s time consuming reading God’s word. It’s time consuming to have a healthy prayer life. The results aren’t quick and a lot of times it feels like we are stuck on that dreaded machine.. The treadmill.  We can feel like we are on a spiritual treadmill, because we expect to humbly rival Mother Theresa after a week of bible study. Sorry, not happening. You have to sweat it out. Put down that chic Bible Study for a day or so and just dwell in His word. Nothing wrong with a bible study, but sometimes those are like turning the treadmill on and then sitting in your lawn chair in the garage drinking sweet tea. You spent time with the machine on but didn’t get any real work done. Don’t let someone else’s work allow you to sit in the lawn chair. Pick up your bible and start the ugly face, “I don’t know if I can make it,” scripture run. Read it, let it marinate in your soul, paraphrase it in your words, ask yourself what your life would look like if you applied it to your life. When you’ve done what you can, pick up a commentary on the passage you just read, now open the bible study… See how much deeper it is when you start the work on your own. FYI. I learn the most when I think I understand scripture and then find out I didn’t have it in the right context… I remember instruction and it pushes me deeper in Jesus.

Pause an episode of Netflix and spend it in prayer for all the people that surround you. Better yet, pray or listen to the Bible App while you exercise. I know it sounds crazy but you can’t absorb anything truly until you have the understanding of the nutrients at hand and that play a part. Ingesting something doesn’t constitute results.This is even more true for our spiritual lives. The height of what you put in is the height of your results.
Matthew 6:22:
The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.

Spiritual wellness comes from allowing Jesus to tune you into Himself. See Him! When you see Him for the magnificent savior He is, you will find the rest of your life shifting into alignment. Trials will come, dark days, unfortunately are always on the horizon. Tuning into Jesus gives us the strength to lean into and the perspective that sees eternity in the days ahead instead of our momentary messes.

What are those warning signs that seem to creep up Spiritually? For me, I become less empathetic to His people. I get frustrated easily, and everything can sound insurmountable at the drop of a hat. I second guess my purpose and giftings He has entrusted me with seem to disappear when I’m depending on His words through a second source or even through my own foggy lens. These are the allergens to my spiritual health. They prohibit me from growth and wellness. I need the voice of my Creator. In order to do that… I have to detox , and insert those nutrients of His word so the real absorption begins and my lens becomes more clear.  And it isn’t always pretty at first.


Over the last three years of my journey I can tell you this: I feel better physically and that directly impacts my purpose. My spiritual health is a direct measure of my personal health. These go hand in hand for me. I know that my journey is not over, just as my spiritual journey is not. The more growth I see and experience, the more refinement must occur which in return requires more sweat equity. Our Creator designed us to find peace and grace knowing that today is preparation for the days ahead. My desire is to be full of light, in this and through this, I pray my lens would become more clear. I pray that you would see Jesus for all that He is.

When your biggest fears are all you see

I’ve grown up hating two things everyone around me seemed to love: roller coasters and thunderstorms.

Don’t get me wrong, Space Mountain at Disney World is my jam- I’ve ridden it at least 6 times in the past year.  I’m talking about the big, scary, slinging you around and upside down roller coasters.  Sometimes I would tell myself to muster up the courage to ride them.  I would stand in line with my brothers determined to be brave, but once I got close enough that I could see and hear what I was walking into, I would ever so conveniently need to go to the bathroom and “just wait this one out” with my mom.

roller coaster

And while we’re on the topic of brothers, be ever so grateful you weren’t one of mine during thunderstorms.  I mean it was sheer terror the moment I heard what could have potentially been thunder.  I’m not sure why I’m stuck on Disney today- maybe it’s time for a trip back- but when I was 6 years old my family went to Disney World.  We were in Magic Kingdom on a July evening and it was storming terribly.  I was naturally petrified and waiting for all of us to die there.  But we were eating in a restaurant and Chip and Dale came over so I was fine for a minute.  Then, my brothers convinced me the chairs were just someone moving chairs above us and the lightning was cameras flashing- P.S. this was the year 2000, long before iPhones so everyone had cameras with huge flashes.  Crafty as they were, I bought it and enjoyed our meal not scared at all, because the storm wasn’t real.

I think ultimately what I hate about these two things is that they place a threat on my sense of being safe.  If I am upside down moving at a rapid speed, I am in no way in control, in no way guaranteed my safety, and I don’t enjoy the thrill.  I just terrifies me.  And the storms, they just always made me feel so small and helpless and like some terrible thing was impending ever since a giant tree fell on my neighbor’s house growing up and tore down half of it because of a really bad storm.

I think we’re pretty naturally wired to try and be safe, that is unless you’re a big thrill seeker.  But for most of us, we want to know that we’ll live to see tomorrow and when we don’t believe it, all of the anxiety sets in.

I wrote recently about how the transitions of life are so hard and so scary.  (Read more)  But sometimes it isn’t simply transitions, but just situations or circumstances that threaten these sense of being safe and secure that we’ve created.  And what do we do there and how do we approach God when we know He can give us every good and perfect thing, yet we’re trembling and fearful, wondering if we will even live to see tomorrow?


But there is this cool pattern in scripture of God proving over and over again that He is faithful and that we can trust in Him, which should come at no surprise.

In Ezekiel, God is warning the people to turn from all of their ways of sinfulness and idolatry.  Continuously in this book, we see God’s fierce and zealous love as He talks about how all of the altars they have built to other gods, all of the security they have established in so many things apart from Him will be destroyed.  “And then they will know that I am YHWH their God, who delivered them from Israel.” 

Ezekiel 38 describes when the people are living so securely that they don’t even have walls on their houses, the Lord will come to “remind” them of His zeal and glory by destroying all they have built.  The passage then goes on to describe how the Temple should be constructed and I was reading this like what, I think you missed some key transitions here, Ezekiel?!  But what a pattern I soon discovered through Scripture that God utterly destroys what we are placing our security in apart from Him, and in those moments when we are trembling in fear, He invites us to come and worship Him.  And these are the most intimate moments of worship.

Like when He destroys the whole entire Earth as they knew it, their sense of community, everything that had been established, and invites Noah and his family to build and altar and worship the Lord.

And when He destroys sin and death on a rugged cross and an earthquake and breathless Savior have us at a loss for if we will even live to see tomorrow.  But when the stone rolls away from the tomb, we are invited to come and worship.

Psalm 33

13 The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees all the children of man;
14 from where he sits enthroned he looks out
    on all the inhabitants of the earth,
15 he who fashions the hearts of them all
    and observes all their deeds.
16 The king is not saved by his great army;
    a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
    and by its great might it cannot rescue.

18 Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
    on those who hope in his steadfast love,
19 that he may deliver their soul from death
    and keep them alive in famine.

20 Our soul waits for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
21 For our heart is glad in him,
    because we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
    even as we hope in you.

So in a season of seeing all of the senses of security and protection I have built, I am learning that having those torn down are not God telling me He doesn’t love me, but in the fear and in the trembling, He is inviting me to come and know and trust Him like never before.

I recently attend an IMPRINTED event, in which Erin Moniz ever so wisely said, “Fear and hope are a double sided coin.  Whatever you fear is what you place your hope in.”  And I had to swallow a big lump in my throat.  Because so often I place my hope in good things, but not necessarily the ultimate things and I fear because I know that I know that they will not be enough for me.  Only my Father can.

So I’m learning that fear is truly having my hope in the wrong things, the things that aren’t worthy of my hope of protection or hope of glory.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face.  And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.