Geranium seeds

Seeds of wellness for body, mind and spirit

I am getting detoxed!!!

Coffee and dessert were daily staples of my diet before this detox program.

I’m doing it!! A two-week detox diet. I started it this past Monday, so this is day 7. Halfway through, baby!

No, not the unhealthy cleanses that celebrities allegedly go on to lose weight before a major event, like drinking only cayenne pepper with lemon juice for a week or something of the kind. The program I am following is not low on calories and is nutritionally sound, so I’m not starving myself. But it does require a lot of planning and creativity to get good meals in while eliminating so many food groups for a while!

So why detox? First, we eat too many processed foods with too many additives such as preservatives. We eat meat infused with antibiotics and produce coated with pesticides. A brief detox diet gives our liver a rest so we can flush all that stuff. Second (and this is the main reason I wanted to do this), it’s a great way of finding out whether you have any food sensitivities. So many people report they feel better if they are off gluten, or dairy, or sugar, and I wanted to know if I would be one of them. It’s hard to know just how one kind of food affects me when I have it everyday along with other kinds of foods I also have on a daily basis. I was never really able to figure out if my diet contributes to my occasional migraines for this very reason. Finally (and this goes with the second reason), going cold turkey on those beloved foods for a while can be a great way to get rid of food addictions (such as caffeine and sugar, my own deadly sins).

I have wanted to do something like this for quite some time but it just never seemed like the right time. I think I first was interested in this when I was pregnant, so I couldn’t do it then, and then I was nursing, and then I was busy. Right now seemed like as good time as any. I found a good program at womentowomen.com, which breaks it down into 3 levels (from least restrictive to most restrictive). I decided to go the most restrictive rout and work my way backwards, slowly adding foods back in.

Here’s how it’s been so far, to the best of my memory:
Day 1
My rice “milk”-fruit smoothie (in lieu of my morning cup of coffee) was surprisingly tasty! That was also the only good thing of the day. I tried to eat the same kinds of food I usually eat, only adapted to the plan. That didn’t work. For instance, I usually pack a chicken sandwich for work so this day I packed tapioca bread with chicken and a little green olive tapenade (no gluten, no condiments). It was disgusting. Also, my caffeine withdrawal headache was a killer. I remembered walking through Kroger midway through the day and thinking, “I can’t wait until I can eat all these foods again!” and realizing how funny that was since I was only half-day through this diet. I was also very tired at the end of the day and my head still hurt so I didn’t eat much for dinner. Promised to do better the following days.
Day 2
Decided to let go of trying to make my usual foods “fit” the plan and just go for different kinds of meals. That worked much better. Head still hurt, and still felt pretty tired in the afternoon.
Day 3
Noticed my skin looked clearer. Another day of caffeeine headaches. Still feeling tired.
Day 4
Headache is finally going away, yay! Felt a little less tired. Satisfied sweet cravings with caramelized onions (yummy). Realized I am eating a lot more fruits and veggies on this plan. Love the clean feeling I get after drinking my fruit-and-spinach smoothie. Also noticed that I’ve been sleeping much better (I haven’t had to employ any of the techniques I mentioned in this previous post.)
Day 5
Felt fantastic! No headaches, and plenty of energy. Had the best day at work (very productive and felt like I was doing meaningful work). I am astounded at the fact that I can have this much energy without having any caffeine or sugar pick-me-ups!
Day 6
Still plenty of energy – enough to start the day with a run with friends. This is Saturday so I did take a nap in the afternoon. Started adding foods in, such as high-glycemic fruits.
Day 7
I still feel pretty well and I’m proud of myself for not having sugar for one entire week! I started thinking that I could actually be happy without sugar if it weren’t for all the temptation everywhere. I am also kind of shocked that I’ve not missed my coffee as much as I thought I would. I do plan to go back to coffee after the program is over, but now I’m thinking I may not want to have it every day. I have to say, I think I miss wheat most of all… but even that hasn’t been a big craving. I plan to add dairy and nuts back in the next few days, and will probably add wheat and sugar last. Then I should have a good idea of which foods actually make me tired… I am afraid it might be wheat AND sugar together. Sigh…

So now that I am halfway through this, I can say with some confidence that I recommend it. I have more energy (and natural energy, not the caffeine-sugar-laden energy) and am thinking more clearly. I also suspect that, when I eat sugar again, it will taste so much sweeter to me that I won’t be having as much of it as I used to. Tonight I added tomatoes and had spaghetti for dinner (with ground turkey and rice pasta) — and it did taste sweeter than it did a week ago!

I also wonder if my feeling better has not so much to do with eliminating foods as it does with eating more fruits and vegetables. So I plan to stay invested in eating my share of these once the detox is up. It will be hard to eat as much of them when I am back to eating chips/cookies/cheese, etc, so I will have to be deliberate about this…

Does anyone want to join me in this crazy detox? I tell you, it’s worth it…

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The power to bless, Part II (the difficult part)

As promised, here is part II of our discussion on blessing… even if it is a week late! (Sorry! We’ve had a crazy house the last couple of weeks!)

On my previous post, I talked about the natural and easy ways I have incorporated the act of blessing into my life (such as blessing my child and the people I serve at work). I say these are easy and natural because these blessings usually flow from a loving place. It’s easy to give my blessing to my child since I love him to pieces (and he is so cute and sweet!).

Lately I have been working on extending my blessings to others when I don’t necessarily feel like it. It takes some work on getting myself to that loving place before I can offer a genuine blessing. Being deliberate about this has made me more compassionate, and I trust that the people I am blessing are also benefitting from this practice.

I have been particularly focusing on when I am feeling judgmental about other people. If I am careful about paying attention to my thoughts, I realize that quite a few of them are judgmental! That is sobering, and it’s not who I want to be. The bottom line is, when I am thinking a judgmental thought, I am feeling better-than someone. That’s not OK. It takes a little bit of leg work for me to get from a place of judgement to a place of blessing, but this is how I’ve been tackling it:

When I first catch myself judging someone, I stop in my tracks by reciting the biblical verse in mind, “Judge not so that you will not be judged (Matthew 7:1).” Then (because I still need help getting to that loving place), I think of any statement that might contradict or challenge my initial judging statement. So, for instance, if I have thought, “This person is lazy!” I think of something that might render that false, such as “This person may be depressed,” or “This person works very hard on such and such.” Then I usually feel compassionate enough to bless this person in my mind.

This reminds me of that wonderful tradition (I think it’s Jewish – or maybe Sufi?) to ask yourself these questions about the words you are about to speak to/about someone: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

The second place where I have been laboring on blessing is when I am feeling envious of someone. This usually happens when someone close to me accomplishes something extraordinary, or something I’ve been wanting to accomplish myself. It can be something big like writing a book and having it published, or even something like having 100 people come to their zumba class when I’ve only had 25 (yes, friends, if this is you, I was envious). The bottom line is, when I am jealous, I am feeling less-than someone. That’s not OK either.

Fortunately I don’t have to do quite the same amount of legwork to get to a loving place in this situation, since what I am envious about is usually cause for celebration (and inspiration). When I find myself there (at envy) I recognize it for what it is, and ask God to help me celebrate their gifts. Then I usually feel free to send them a genuine blessing from my heart.

Now, the most difficult time for me to offer my blessing is when I am feeling hurt or damaged by someone. I am talking about those people who have really done terrible or unjust things to us or to our loved ones. This is the one time when I feel like offering a curse, rather than a blessing. We all have suffered injustices or abuse, and the worst or more hurtful ones usually come from someone in our immediate or extended family. That can leave us with ambiguous feelings toward people who are closest to us.

This is the one that requires the most work, and I have found that the work is ongoing. I used to think that when Jesus said to forgive seventy times seven, he meant to forgive an individual of 490 different things. Now I think he may have meant to forgive that person 490 times for one thing. At least that is how it works with me sometimes. I do not mean letting that person commit the same evil to you 490 times. I am talking about letting go of the curse, the urge to seek revenge, and the bitterness. And blessing the person — not the sin. After all, blessing is the invoking of God’s grace over someone.

It takes a lot to be able to say, “I bless you” to someone who has hurt us deeply (even if only in our mind). I know it because I still have trouble blessing a couple of individuals. Thankfully it is a work in progress and our efforts have blessings in themselves. Dr. Joan Borysenko (who wrote a book titled Seventy Times Seven — I’ve not read the book but it’s on my reading list) has studied forgiveness and its impact on health. She found that even making the effort to forgive someone is guaranteed to enhance the immune system. Isn’t that amazing? If I cannot get to a place where I can genuinely forgive or bless someone, I then ask God to help me get there. And if I am sooo angry that I don’t want to get there, then I ask God to help me be open to the work of forgiveness. I suppose that, if you do not even want to be open to it, you can go back even further and ask God to help you have the motivation for openness. Baby steps, my friends!

The bottom line is, when we’re feeling hurt/damaged, we’re also feeling victimized. Forgiving someone and extending our blessing also frees us from the identity of “the victim” toward a more empowering identity. Sometimes, when I am bothered by a memory of a time when I was victimized, I tell myself, “I am no longer in that place and am no longer a victim.”

By the way, in all these cases I am usually blessing people in my mind, which I believe does make a difference spiritually (or even energetically, if you will) and sometimes may be the most appropriate thing.  But in many cases, it doesn’t hurt to make the blessing more concrete by sending a note of thanks or encouragement or even forgiveness to the people you’ve blessed. I need more work on this follow-through part.

In keeping with the last post, here’s another video for you…  I love the accoustic version of LeAnn Rimes’ “What I cannot change” song and sometimes use it for the cooldown during my zumba class. I couldn’t find an official video with the accoustic version but here’s a beautiful video from The Harper Studio, promoting Rimes’ book with the same title:

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The power to bless, Part I (the easy part)

Blessings have become somewhat diluted in our culture. There’s the well-meaning “Bless you” when we sneeze, or “Have a blessed day!” when folks say goodbye. Here in the south, we also say “Bless his heart!” when someone does something touching or we feel sorry for them. And then there’s also the dismissive “God bless!” that’s become popular when someone does something with which we disagree — as if saying, “Do what you will. I could care less.”

The kind of blessing I want to talk about today goes a little deeper than that. It’s the kind of deliberate validation of another person that says, “May God’s favor be upon you,” or the deliberate setting of our intentions for extending grace unto another. I know, that sounds murky… I’m having a hard time articulating a definition for blessing. I trust you know what I mean. Let me know if you’ve got a good definition!

The Bible is full of examples of blessings. Sometimes we read about people praying for or requesting God’s blessing. Sometimes they are conferring blessings themselves — sometimes even blessing God. There are even exhortations to bless: “Bless, and do not curse” (Romans 12:14).  It turns out we do have the power to bless. Hopefully all of us have experienced what it’s like to give and receive a blessing, even if we don’t always use the language of blessing. Lately I have been more conscious about offering my blessing and it has really made a difference to me. Today, I will focus on the most natural ways I have incorporated blessings into my life (the easy stuff). Next week, I’ll discuss how I’ve been working on offering my blessing when it’s challenging or not-so-natural to do so (the hard stuff).

The sweetest and easiest way I have integrated blessing into my life is making sure that I bless my child every day. The most common times for me to bless Lucas are at bedtime (right before I place him in his crib) and when I drop him off at daycare. That way, I am blessing him at the start and end of each day, or blessing each day and night. I love the feeling of holding Lucas in my arms and whispering a blessing into his ears.

By the way, some families in Brazil have a neat tradition of having children request blessings from their parents when they are about to leave the house. We didn’t practice this in my family and I don’t know if it’s still practiced, but I remember seeing friends and cousins practice this within their families. It would go like this:

Child (as they’re leaving): “The blessing, Mom.”
Mother: “God bless you, son.”

Another easy way for me to tap into my power to bless is through my work as a chaplain. I often pray for God’s blessing upon the patients I see, frequently invoking blessing upon their bodies, upon the hands of the caregivers, and the instruments used in their care. I started doing this while doing a rotation in a children’s hospital during my chaplaincy training. When praying with children, I thought they needed something concrete to relate to. So, I started asking God to bless the IVs, medicines, needles and whatever else was being used to provide them medical care. Being specific in my prayers for blessing felt so meaningful to me that I carried it over to my ministry to adults. Now I always include an element of blessing in my prayers and I can always find something specific to bless.

In addition to requesting God’s blessing on my patients, I often offer my own blessing to them as well and sometimes encourage them to bless themselves. For example, the other day a patient expressed sadness about the fact that his legs are giving out on him and it is becoming increasingly difficult for him to walk. He described his legs as “weak” and “failing” him. When I offered prayer, I started by leading us into a blessing of his legs. Instead of weak and failing, I called them blessed and recounted all the ways in which his legs have served him well — how they have supported his weight for so many years and have taken him where he wanted to go, and how he has made good use of them in specific ways. And we blessed them in the state they are now to receive what they need.

I hope this gives you some ideas for blessing those around you. I would love to hear how you use blessing in your daily life. One thing I have noticed about blessing those I love is that the act of blessing always seems to involve an element of gratitude. When I bless Lucas at the end of the day, I can’t help but feel grateful for having him in my life. And the blessing of my patient’s legs was really a form of thanksgiving for what his legs have represented to him.

The more we learn about gratitude, the more it seems like it really is the key to happiness. It also does wonders for your health (check out some of the news articles on this compiled by the University of California. You’ll be amazed!). There is a myriad of ways of practicing gratitude, and extending our blessing can be one of them. And what a sweet way to count our blessings — by blessing them back!

With gratitude and blessings in mind, here’s a nice video from gratefulness.org. Watch this every morning and you’re sure to have a good day!

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Dear “Private Practice”: I didn’t like your tone. (A hospice chaplain rant)

Watching “Private Practice” is one of my guilty pleasures. The TV show chronicles the lives and medical practices of a group of doctors. Aside from all the relationship drama in the show, I like how the doctors collaborate about their patients and enhance each other’s views about complex medical issues. Their joint clinic is named “Oceanside Wellness Center” and seems to aim at providing holistic care to their patients.

Recently a character from the show (“Erica”) was found to have an inoperable brain tumor and a life expectancy of 6-9 months. This was especially devastating due to the fact that she has a young son (“Mason”) who has only recently developed a relationship with his father (“Cooper”, one of the doctors at Oceanside). For the past three episodes, Erica and Cooper have been disagreeing on whether Erica should take on chemotherapy treatments. A neurosurgeon told Erica that cure is not possible and chemo might extend for life for a couple of months. Cooper believes that by undergoing treatments Erica will have more time with her son and possibly even find a cure for her illness (should a new drug develop in the very near future). However, Erica decides after consulting with the neurosurgeon that she would rather spend every healthy moment with her son and letting the illness take its course rather than spending her time in treatments. She reconsiders her decision, however, when her symptoms start getting out of control and she is no longer capable of hiding her disease.

So far, so good. What disturbed me were the ways in which stereotypes about end of life care and issues were reinforced in the storyline (even if hospice care was never mentioned). When Charlotte is comforting her husband Cooper, she tells him that Erica needs him to help her understand “why she should fight the disease” by undergoing treatments. She also says that having treatments is “the hard way” of dealing with the illness (meaning the brave way). So when Cooper has a heart-to-heart conversation with Erica about this, he tells her that she needs to “fight” because “maybe we’ll get lucky” and “maybe it will show Mason how much you care.” Once again, you see, “fighting” cancer/terminal illness is equated with undergoing aggressive medical treatments and is also equated with being noble and courageous. Deciding not to pursue curative treatments is equated with “giving up” and “not caring”, and maybe even being cowardly.

These associations are wrong in so many levels that I cannot address them adequately on this blog. But I’ll try to address some of it. First, please understand that I am not saying “Erica” is wrong to pursue chemotherapy or that anyone who makes that choice in the face of terminal illness is wrong to do so. She is a young woman who is otherwise healthy, and has a young son. Who can fault her for wanting to live as long as possible? God knows I would. The problems I have with the show are:

1) They made it seem like it was a clear-cut decision between living longer with chemo treatments (even if life might be “rough”), or living shorter without treatments. The reality is that chemo or radiation do not always extend life. Conversely, good end of life care with hospice or a palliative care team can often prolong life expectancy.

Surprised? It’s true. Those of us who work in hospice care often see our patients improve survival rates once they receive hospice/palliative care. There are many reasons for this, including close monitoring and management of symptoms, and the spiritual and emotional support patients receive in such programs. Palliative care and hospice are designed to provide comfort care, and thus increase patients’ quality of life. When quality of life increases, patients are more resilient and often live longer than predicted. Here is reference to one of several studies on this.

2) The idea that one should always choose curative treatments, no matter what the cost, and no matter how remote/elusive the cure is (if they truly care about life or about their loved ones).

Have we considered that there are more important things than finding a cure? Things such as living with dignity, spending meaningful time with loved ones, leaving a leguacy, finding emotional and spiritual healing, and yes – even preparing for death.

Look, I get it. We don’t want to miss out on the chance that things could be restored back to “normal” if we only did this treatment or that. I mentioned on a previous post that my dad has ALS, which is a fatal disease. Every now and then my step mother tells me she is looking for an experimental treatment and is willing to sell anything and move anywhere if my dad has the smallest chance of finding a cure. I know he would go, too. And I, too, imagine sometimes what it would be like if he did find a cure through a stem cells treatment in Israel or Korea.

I also imagine what it would be like for my dad to relocate to another country and spend all of his remaining time subjecting himself to arduous treatments. Right now he enjoys good quality of life: a comfortable home, good care, and meaningful conversations with family and friends who drop by often. He is spending whatever energy he has on doing things he enjoys with the people he loves. What if all his energy were spent on “fighting”? What toll would it have on his body and soul, on his dignity? What if it costs him and his wife all of their savings and possessions? Call me crazy, but, to me, that is too big a gamble.  (Here is an article that illustrates this well. I would quote some of it here if this post weren’t already humongously long).

It could also be said that one may “fight” terminal illness by utlizing other resources such as complimentary medicine. But truthfully… I’m not sure about this notion that fighting is the thing to do.  It seems to me there is a lot of energy involved in constantly saying NO!! to everything around us by trying to reverse things at all cost. Being in that fight mode may also entail bitterness for how things are, and even more bitterness if things are not reversed as expected. To me, there may be something very courageous and healing about saying YES, this is my life, and I am embracing it rather than fighting against it.

3) And finally… it bothers me that, in a holistic medical practice, there was no mention or discussion of hospice or even palliative care. Not even a palliative care consultation? Guess the Oceanside doctors didn’t read the recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that early palliative care (in conjunction with cancer treatments) prolongs life and reduces suffering.

Cicely Saunders, the physician who founded modern hospice, once said, “We are the medicine.” We have become so enamoured with the drugs, machines and apparatus that modern medicine has given us, that we sometimes forget they are but tools in the hands of healers. They are not the whole medicine. We are.

To the writers of “Private Practice”: if you add an awesome chaplain to your mix of characters, all will be forgiven. 🙂

Photo by Wikipedia.

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