Past into Purpose Series, Post #9: This series is intended to introduce you to the women on the Your Life Still Counts Contributor Team whose inspiring stories of pain into purpose were selected for inclusion in the book. To read the full inspiring story of each contributor, click here to purchase your copy of Your Life Still Counts and be inspired to allow God to turn your past into your purpose too.
Meet Michelle Carlson
Michelle Carlson lives in Baytown, Texas, and after facing her demons, finding her strength in God, and heeding His call for her life, she is now the author of two books on healthy weight loss, Your Guide to Lasting Weight Loss and The Little Fit Book, where she writes about emotional, spiritual, and physical health, body image issues, and bringing human trafficking into the light. She travels the globe teaching self-defense to victims of sex trafficking and human exploitation. Visit Michelle’s blog at www.michellecfitness.com.
Michelle is also a health and fitness writer, nationally Certified Master Trainer, Certified Healthy Lifestyle Specialist, Certified Intuitive Eating Coach and Certified Nutrition Consultant, and is even featured in this month’s issue of Strong Fitness Magazine. Before any of that she was out of energy, lacking in hope, and obese, but she lost over 100 pounds. And per her own admission, made enough mistakes in the process for everybody to learn from.
My Interview with Michelle
Just as a preface to our interview, I want people to know how we intersected in life. I watched an inspiring video at the Proverbs 31 She Speaks Conference a couple years ago which included some video footage of you teaching women to defend themselves, and how God changed your life. I was so inspired that I came up to your information table afterwards and asked if you were interested in my project, and you said yes – thank goodness! But after learning about my project, what made you want to contribute your story to Your Life Still Counts?
Michelle: Admittedly, I was surprised when I was approached at She Speaks, and shocked when my story actually made it through editing! I had entered a phase of YES in my life where I told God that I would simply say YES to Him….no matter what.
I’m certainly thankful that you were in a season of YES when I felt God nudging my heart to come talk to you! So how has God opened doors for you to do ministry or touch other’s hearts since you stepped out in obedience to share your story?
Michelle: Because of my own experiences with depression, I have been able to speak with mothers who lost children to depression and provide the kind of comfort that ONLY the Holy Spirit can provide. I have been blessed with a small group of ladies at church who let their guard down because they know their “Bible teacher” isn’t perfect. I’ve also been able to work with youth, which is where my heart truly lies.
It’s just so awesome to see how God can take our challenges, turn them into victories, and then use us to help other people find healing in Christ. So has God blessed you in a special way for your obedience and for being a part of YLSC?
Michelle: My marriage is stronger than ever and our communication has evolved into something quite wonderful and comforting in this world.
So incredible to see how our relationships and life overall improves when we realize how much God loves us and wants to work in every aspect of our lives. So happy for you and your husband and kids! Do you have one example of how God has used your story recently to impact someone’s heart or life?
Michelle: At She Speaks I was approached by a mother who told me her 19 year old son had succeeded in taking his own life less than a year prior. She thanked me for being obedient in sharing my story as it gave her hope for the future of those plagued by depression. I was able to pray hope over her in the middle of the conference.
Wow, that’s incredible Michelle. I can’t imagine how blessed she was not just by the conference, but by crossing paths you and how you prayed comfort and peace over her. So many awesome things happen at She Speaks every year, and these small encounters with other women are one of the greatest things. Since that conference, have you felt called to do anything new, like a new project or ministry endeavor?
Michelle: I am working on setting up a seasonal (or more) night out for mother and daughter where we look at the hard topics of life through the Word. We tackle body image, depression, comparison, and all of the things that young girls have to deal with – from the way they see their bodies to the pressure to be a certain way.
That is a much needed ministry. Teen girls so need to know they are loved by God and not just what they look like on the outside or what they accomplish. That’s a wonderful calling on your life. Is that what you would say you are most passionate about right now?
Michelle: Yes. Shining a light for teenage girls is my passion. Maybe it’s just because I have one! I think women are too silent. We allow the things we hear to be our belief system and I think Satan has us right where he wants us because of that. Women compete with each other and don’t focus on the Prize that God has already set for us. We take our eyes off the goal in order to watch others and see if we “measure up.” If we could get teenage girls to understand the Truth of how God sees us, we can break this cycle.
So incredibly true. Do you have anything else special that you are working on right now for Christ? And has God given you the courage to start something new that is outside of your comfort zone?
Michelle: I’m writing a book of stories from the people I have met through missions. These are stories of hope seekers….those who work tirelessly to achieve that hope that they are promised. Oh goodness, yes! He has definitely pulled me out of my comfort zone. I do public speaking regularly. People ask if I like it and I always say YES. It’s not that I don’t get nervous, it’s that I am so under-equipped for this that my ONLY option is to rely 100% on the Holy Spirit. Each time I speak I feel a sense of ultimate freedom because I am not responsible for the outcome….I can simply let go and allow God to work through me.
That’s awesome about your book of stories. I can’t wait to see how God is going to use you in that new adventure! Stories change lives for sure. I pray that God changes hearts each time you step out in faith to speak publicly!
If you had to name one thing that you are most thankful to God for, what would it be?
Michelle: Life. I was never thankful for life before, and after what He has brought me through I don’t take a single breath for granted and I hope that I can bring glory to Him with each breath He allows me to take.
You are now a fitness expert and a great role model and instructor in fitness. How did that career come about and how does it relate to your experiences with depression that you share about?
Michelle: It actually just unfolded in a pretty weird way. I started walking to lose weight after a doctor at MD Anderson told me that my fate may be the same as my mothers if I didn’t change my lifestyle. While trying to earn money for my family I became a massage therapist and met a yoga teacher at a retreat. She suggested I teach yoga after I started taking her class. I received my yoga certification and began working at a new gym where I quickly got certified in ½ a dozen other things and got hooked on moving. My nutritionist certification didn’t come until a few years later.
Oh, how I remember my first brush with failure though. I was teaching the first yoga class at the brand spanking new gym and my boss tip toes across the floor and informs me that the kickboxing teacher can’t make it and I need to step in. I was scared to death! Here I was, weighing close to 200 pounds and all I had were flip flops and ZERO kickboxing experience (unless you count the Tae Bo DVD I once watched while eating pizza). After yoga the room filled to the brim. There were 62 people looking at me on that stage as I explained I was NOT the kickboxing instructor. I promised to do my best, but they turned and filed out. When I started class there were 12 and when I ended there were 6! I still keep in touch with a couple of them.
I decided to learn HOW to do the things I was afraid of right then and I just kept going. Eventually I became a personal trainer and nutritionist, then opened my own training business for both in-person and online training and nutrition counseling.
Wow. It’s so amazing how God takes us on different paths, and we don’t see what He’s up to until we really look back.
Last question is this. In the Your Life Still Counts bio description (above), you mentioned how you are also an advocate for sex trafficking. How did this come about in your life?
Michelle: About 4 years ago my husband and I felt called to have another baby. We had a 12 year old and a 10 year old and thought we were finished with having kids, but God said NO. I got pregnant with no problem, but it was a rough pregnancy. The doctor was blown away by how quickly the baby was growing and how healthy he/she was. Then, when I went in for my 16 week check up there was no heart beat. I didn’t sleep for days and slipped into something more than depression.
I was angry and bitter with God. I thought I had done everything He asked and was rewarded with a kick in the gut. I threw massive fits, stopped reading my Bible (I was a Bible study teacher!!!!! I also took a hiatus) and yelled at Him every chance I got. Then, one Sunday while mouthing the words in worship I heard that same still voice once more. He asked “Are you finished? Because I didn’t do that TO you, I did it FOR them.” I started bawling and realized that I had to be broken to truly listen and begin actually living my purpose.
A few weeks later the subject of human trafficking kept coming up. I thought to myself “MAN, somebody should do something”. God chose to use me in a way I NEVER would have expected. I signed up with a group of strangers to travel to Moldova. We each had to present a skill and I felt like I should teach them how to fight (a real passion of mine). I was arguing with God because this was a mission trip! I thought I would get kicked off of it for wanting to teach these girls to fight. But God knew better. He had a plan all along.
I humbly brought the gift I had, as a result of my recent focus on fitness, and He made my cup overflow. He helped me to understand that, yes, I lost one child, but My God gave me the gift of over 20 girls in Moldova and countless girls, boys and women in Ethiopia. He did not leave me ever. He blessed far more than I ever deserved and my only hope to just keep going.
How God has worked in your life in so many ways is a true testament to His sovereign power. Also proof that sometimes we are called to do many things, and just to listen to God’s leading. Thank you for sharing so vulnerably and transparently. So how might people pray for you at this time in your life?
Michelle: Depression can be a rough topic to get into churches. It is regarded in many places as some sort of “personal problem”. I would appreciate prayer for more and more doors to open so others can hear what God has done through a life riddled with deep depression. We do not fight against flesh and blood, therefore we need to get the word out that God will fight for His children. We ALL have a purpose! I want many others to realize this one fact.
What are you most excited about regarding how God has turned your past into your purpose?
Michelle: I am excited that God was gracious enough to break the cycle with me. I was raised by a woman who suffered from depression and she was raised by a woman who suffered as well. God ended the suffering with me in this line. My children are closer to God than I ever was at their age and His capacity to heal what was once incredibly broken astounds me every day.
Michelle has a powerful story in Chapter Six of Your Life Still Counts of how she struggled with depression to the point of almost taking her life. But God intervened in a miraculous way. If depression or suicidal thoughts are something you struggle with, I know you will be inspired and receive hope from her story. To get your copy of the book, click HERE for KINDLE or HERE for PAPERBACK. If you could use some inspiration in your weight loss / get fit journey, be sure to check out Michelle’s website for some great resources and motivation!