I first met Chaela in the fall of 2011 when our then 3rd grade boys played their first year of junior football together. I liked Chaela right away. We were both boy moms and we were navigating this new football thing together.

I knew Chaela had a weight loss story – I have watched her and cheered for her on social media for years. She has become a huge advocate for learning to love yourself, being accountable to others, being a part of a community and believing we are all worth fighting for. Although I had no idea of the deeper emotions behind Chaela’s weight challenges, I did know she had a story worthy of sharing. We all do.

When I reached out to Chaela to ask her if she’d share some of her story here, she said her life was an open book and she was willing to share anything and everything because she was not ashamed of her story – it made her the woman she is today – “and if it helps someone else find peace and acceptance then it’s all worth it.”

As Chaela shared with me, her battle with self-worth began tragically when she was molested nightly from the ages of 4-8 by her mother’s first husband and then again at the ages of 11 and 12 by her parents’ drug dealer. The people who should have protected this young girl did not. Chaela sought love and protection elsewhere and ended up in an abusive relationship from the ages of 14-16 with a man who was 13 years older than her. She was lucky to get out from that relationship but fell into another emotionally abusive relationship.

Over the five years she was in this next relationship she was pregnant twice, losing a little girl at 20 weeks and twins at 16 weeks (Oh, Chaela – our lives were so meant to cross paths – I can so relate to the pain of these losses).  Add heartache to an already terrible relationship where he made her believe she was worthless. To get away from this man she began working a second job in the evenings at a friend’s family’s pizza parlor. The long days of work were worth avoiding being at home. Her already tumultuous relationship finally ended when he cheated on her.

Chaela then began to pick up the pieces of her life.  She quit her day job that she hated to manage one of the family friend’s pizza parlors. She had met a co-worker there named Kevin and they were friends for 2 years before they finally went on their first date. They have been inseparable ever since and next month they will celebrate their 20-year anniversary.

Although now in a healthy, stable relationship, Chaela went on to face some very challenging seasons ahead as they tried to start a family including uterine surgery, a late miscarriage and a tubal pregnancy before finally having her first son Ben – my son’s football teammate. She’d miscarry once more before welcoming her son Tyler several years later.

Chaela says, “God is good, so so good. All I ever wanted was to be a momma to love a child like I had not been loved. He heard my scared prayers as a four-year-old that I wouldn’t become a momma until I was married to the man He made for me.” She says, despite all that she went through, she knew in her heart that God had a good man that He created just for her.  Kevin, Ben and Tyler are absolutely Chaela’s heart – anyone who knows her can see her love for them poured out – and reciprocated. How wonderful to see God redeem a broken childhood family and give Chaela the family she always desired in her heart.

Although filled with a fulfilling family life, Chaela struggled significantly with her weight – she still struggled with self-worth and making herself a priority. When she went into the hospital to give birth to her second son 11 years ago she was at her all time highest weight of 407 pounds.

It was two years later, in 2011, actually in the same season that I met her, that she began her weight loss journey. Initially she didn’t do it for herself – she was simply joining her sister-in-law on her journey to be supportive. She said she would never have done it for herself back then.

By March she was down 40 pounds and finally had an “aha moment” that this was actually working and she could do it. Yet she believed losing 100 pounds was “far-fetched.”

Over the next eight years Chaela’s journey with her weight was a rocky one. At one point, down nearly 100 pounds, she and Kevin experienced the crisis of the suicide of a best friend. She turned back to food to deal with all the feelings. She gained 10 pounds back.

A move away from her friends and family the following year left her angry – angry that she had to leave her Weight Watchers community and leader who had been so pivotal on her journey. By the time she recommitted she had gained 20 more pounds. She was really low and down on herself, but she knew she needed the support and accountability she received at her meetings and she needed a community. She went reluctantly and it took her about 6 months to feel like it was her space, and that those were her people and her meeting. In her words, she began “gaining some self-worth” and she started trying and caring. It was a slow process but she was committed once again.

She battled depression in 2015 and although she had lost some weight, she felt stagnant but admits she really wasn’t “working the program” again until March of 2016 when something clicked again. It was slow some weeks, but she was moving forward and losing.

In July of 2016, Chaela’s mom died suddenly of end stage cirrhosis of the liver. “I promised myself I wasn’t going to eat my way through those emotions and that I was going to be the healthiest version of myself that I could be.” One of the things Chaela attributes her continued forward progress to, in light of those sad circumstances, was finding a wonderful soul sister in a girlfriend, Lise, who she met at her Weight Watchers meeting. Lise has helped her so much to push through and to keep believing in herself. Lise had also lost her mom and understood Chaela’s pain. She had also lost 120 pounds and could intimately relate to the details of Chaela’s journey. She also credits Instagram and her online WW community who inspire her, lift her up and just generally understand her. Similar to the tools I have discovered for my own health and fitness journey and the tools I use to coach others, Chaela is thankful to WW “because they have taught me so much more than just how to count calories or the value of food. They really are teaching us how to love our bodies, to change our mindset and how to believe in ourselves.”

Even with the changed perspective, Chaela has had to work extremely hard and often fight herself along the way. On her birthday last year, following a bump in the road where she continued to lose and gain the same 10 pounds, she looked at herself in the mirror and said “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! WHY AREN’T YOU LOVING YOURSELF?! You have lived 48 years, you have overcome nightly rape as a child and teen, you have lost and loved babies, you have the love of your life who loved you deeply and passionately at 407 pounds!! Get it the fuck together Chaela. It’s all on you to do it.” She apologized for the cuss words but said that was the actual conversation she had with the woman in the mirror. Since that day she has consistently lost another 51 pounds, for a total weight loss of 128 pounds!

At the end of sharing this part of her story with me, Chaela said “I am learning to love myself, forgive myself and live in this moment.”

When Chaela and I talked about her story I told her how sorry I was and asked her if she ever questioned God in those darkest hours. How a sovereign God could allow the hurt she suffered? Chaela told me, “I have never blamed God. It’s crazy but my parents weren’t believers but I have always prayed since I was very little and I have always sought God out. I use to sneak to church when I was 10. I even got baptized without my parents’ knowledge. I thank Him for my journey. It’s made me who I am.” Oh sweet friend, He never left you. He carried you through. I am so grateful you experienced His presence in your despair.

Shortly after receiving Chaela’s messages telling her story, I heard Lauren Daigle’s song “You Say” and sent it to her. These words:

I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough
Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up
Am I more than just a song of every high and every low
Remind me once again just who I am because I need to know

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
And you say I am held when I am falling short
And when I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours
And I believe
Oh I believe
What You say of me
I believe

Chaela replied “…that song is everything. The first time I heard it the inner abused child in me cried out. It is so powerful.” Please listen to more of this amazing song here: “YOU SAY”

At the end of sharing her story with me in multiple long IG messages she questioned, “Maybe I’m too much drama?” No, Chaela. You are perfect just the way you are. This is your story. You are an amazing woman who has overcome some really terrible life experiences – things that no one should ever have to endure. And yet you are still standing. And still fighting. And still showing up for you and your family every day. I am so proud of you and I’m honored to be your friend and to share your story. And I know it will help many people find peace and acceptance, just as you hoped.

Keep shining your light, my friend!