Geranium seeds

Seeds of wellness for body, mind and spirit

Welcome, Springtime!

Happy first day of Spring!

My last post discussed the gift of “heightened awareness.” I hope you make time to notice beauty and blessing around you today. Nicole Nordeman’s song, “Every Season,” is a good invitation for this.

Here’s a treat for you as we welcome spring. Enjoy! ( the video and the season)

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Lessons in healing spiritual pain: what really hurts?

Who we are is enough.

Once a month, I meet with a couple of minister friends to encourage one another in our ministries and to simply catch up. We also read and discuss books to have a starting point for our conversations and to hopefully learn some new things. Right now we are reading The American Book of Living and Dying: Lessons in Healing Spiritual Pain by Richard Groves and Henriette Anne Klauser (guess who picked that book? Yes, it was me – the first “hospice”- like book we’ve read so far. And yes, I do recommend it).

At our last meeting, one of my friends pointed out this quote from the book: “The sick live in a different ‘time zone’ where every little thing is magnified. Things do not take on more meaning; the meaning is always there, we just do not pay attention. Heightened awareness is part of the gift.” (p. 104)

A lot of people think that working in hospice care is a depressing thing. At least that’s what I hear from a lot of folks when I tell them I’m a hospice chaplain. And it probably would be depressing if it weren’t for my genuine belief that end of life — whether it be the end of a long life or the tragic shortening of life by disease — brings opportunities, even gifts.

Some of the opportunities at the end of life may include reconciliation, leaving a legacy, meaningful conversations with loved ones, and even growth or transformation. One important (perhaps the most important of all) is that of healing spiritual (meaning-related, existential, relatedness, etc) pain.

When a terminal disease strikes or the end of life is near, it is normal for people to hope and pray for a miracle. I had this same inclination when my father was diagnosed with ALS. I just wanted my father to be rid of this disease and healthy again. Even though I had reflected many times on the subject of divine healing or miracles, this time it was personal (or more personal than it had ever been). It shook my theology again.

I must have prayed a thousand different prayers for my dad. Some for endurance, some for healing, some for discernment, most or all of them for peace. When physical healing doesn’t happen, sometimes people find comfort in their belief that their loved one will be healed in heaven. Sometimes people tell me, “My [loved one] will be healed one way or another.” I think that, for many people, heaven/eternal life is considered the ultimate healing from disease and the end of suffering.

That is fine and good. Here is where I differ: the ultimate healing may not be from physical illness but from spiritual pain. And maybe, just maybe, a terminal illness (or end of life) is exactly what is needed for this healing to happen. I am not saying God sends disease to people or that people deserve disease in any way. But I do believe that some of the best or deepest healing can happen in the crux of disease.

When I started out as a chaplain, I worked with the assumption that disease causes spiritual pain. When people are no longer able to participate in roles and activities they once found meaningful, and when they are preparing to say goodbye to loved ones, they are sure to experience spiritual pain. Now that I’ve been in this work for a few years (and especially since my own experience with my dad), I have come to the realization that life threatening disease may only shed light on the spiritual pain that has been there all the time.

One time I read someone’s description of spiritual care as making the connection between what hurts with what really hurts. It’s that nagging pain we come back to every now and then, the one that keeps us up at night. The very one we try to mask with our achievements and roles, with our labels/titles and gadgets.

Now imagine everything you have clung to as a means of identity is taken from you: your work, your ability to do things, maybe even the ability to think. That is what disease does to people. If we attach our sense of self-worth to any of those things, we are at peril of losing any sense of meaning. And that is why disease (and any other crisis) can also be a great teacher. If we are quickly cured from the disease, we might simply go back to attaching our worth to our job or role as this or that. But if we are not cured, then we are forced to face our pain and to come to terms with who we are at our core. When everything is stripped away, all that remains is our soul.

We don’t have to wait until we meet a crisis to start befriending the pain. I’ll confess my own pain: it’s that of not doing enough to matter, not being enough to be remembered. In the end, I think we all want to know our lives have mattered.

What really hurts for you?

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Getting detoxed — the rest of the story!

I love sugar, but it doesn't love me back...

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about embarking on a 2-week detox diet. I was midway through the detox then and starting to see results (more energy, better sleep, more focus). I thought I would give you the rest of the story now that I’m a week post-detox!

I won’t bore you by chronicling each day of that second week. I’ll try to hit the highlights instead. Here goes:

I started the elimination diet by cutting out a whole bunch of foods — most prominently dairy, wheat, sugar, caffeine, condiments, chocolate, high glycemic fruits, and nuts. I basically got rid of the main staples of my regular diet and had to be creative about making edible and nutritious meals. I ended up eating a lot more fruits and vegetables than I usually eat. After about a week, I started slowly adding foods back to my diet.

Up until day 10 I felt really great — very energetic and with almost no cravings. On day 10, my resolve started to fade. I really wanted to eat bread that day and even considered adding gluten back a little early. A couple of my co-workers had ordered pizza and it was very tempting to walk past it without snagging a bite. But, I remembered that the doctor who wrote up this detox suggested adding the things we crave last. It took some pep talk, but I talked myself into waiting to add wheat and sugar last as originally planned.

I also felt somewhat tired in the afternoon that day but thought this was because Lucas woke up a lot during the previous night and I didn’t get much sleep (this is probably why I was also craving bread more than usual). I also wondered if the tiredness had to do with adding back dairy on day 9.

The following night I had a much more restful sleep. I actually dreamed I was eating my co-worker’s cheeze pizza. I woke up and sang the Debbie Gibson’s tune in my head, “Ahhh, only in my dreams… as real as it may seem… it was only in my dream,” lol.  I didn’t really feel tired during the rest of day, so I figured the dairy probably wasn’t to blame. No more cravings this day, so I was glad I held off on gluten and sugar.

On day 12, I drank a cup of coffee! I was pretty hesitant about adding back caffeine since I had survived the headaches while weaning myself and felt pretty good without it. But being as I am from Brazil, I couldn’t imagine not having coffee again. I grew up on this stuff. Parents actually give their young kids coffee (with milk, sort of like a latte) in Brazil. I love coffee and usually drink it for the taste, not for the caffeeine. I considered making a switch to decaf but wanted to see how I would fare with the “real” stuff. I was hyped after that first cup! But, thankfully, no crash. I do want to cut down on coffee so I am now planning on having a fruit smoothie every now and then instead of having coffee every morning (and afternoon sometimes).

I added back gluten on day 13 and didn’t notice any big reaction like sluggishness or bloating. I thought my stomach hurt a little after eating bread in the morning, but wondered if I was just being paranoid. If it did bother my stomach it was a very mild reaction and didn’t last long. So I am glad to report I will not be gluten free!

I had a hard time deciding whether to add sugar on day 14 or wait until after I had survived the full 2 weeks without it. A friend of mine had her bridal shower on what was day 14 of my detox, so I decided to cut myself some slack and enjoy the goodies at her shower to finish up the detox.

I thought that, after not having sugar for 2 weeks, I would not want as much of it. I was wrong. One little bite of sugar and I wanted MORE. My sweet tooth was just as active as before and I needed to exercise some moderation just as if I had never detoxed.

Of course, I was right about sugar being the reason for my afternoon slumps. After one or two days back on sugar and I was feeling tired again. It can also be the case that having “permission” to have sugar back displaces some of the fruits/veggies (mostly fruits) I might have eaten. It’s more tempting and easier to reach for some M&Ms than it is to eat an apple. And we know the consequences of each of those seemingly small decisions.

Being sugar-free (or even very restrictive on sugar) is not sustainable for me right now. (A shout out and hats off to one of my readers, Malia M., who doesn’t eat sugar 360 days out of the year — check out her blog here. Really, Malia, how do you do it??)  Being through this detox, however, and seeing how much better I felt without the white stuff, motivated me once again to reduce my sugar intake.

I looked everywhere in my house for a book I had bought and read a couple of years ago — Get the Sugar Out: 501 Simple Ways to Cut the Sugar Out of Any Diet by Ann Louise Gittleman. I couldn’t find it so I bought the Kindle version and have been reading it for extra motivation. A couple of days ago one of my friends posted a very helpful article on facebook that also strengthened my motivation. You must read it!! Here it is: article you must read.

Having said all that, I did have a couple of iced brownies today — we had a little party to watch UK beat Florida in the SEC tournament. I’m still up for sugar on special events. Moderation is the key!

Now, what to do with all those leftover brownies…

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How to make a lifestyle change (or the story of how I became a runner)

Todd and I at our first 5K together in 2009

I do not have a drastic weight loss story, nor have I overcome a challenging disability or disease. I am also not a very fast runner. In fact, I’m pretty average. And that is exactly why I want to share my story with you: because I think a lot of you can relate.

I grew up in a city. During my childhood years, we lived on the 18th floor of a residence building, right in the center of the city. So while my friends were climbing trees and running around their neighborhood in the suburbs, I was crossing busy streets and learning to use public transportation. As a child, I spent most of my play time indoors, with imaginative play and lots of dolls. Outside the house, our parents filled our time with arts and music: several music lessons and church activities around music, theater and concerts for leisure. I did take swimming lessons for a few years and walked everywhere in the city. That is how I kept physically active.

I am also one of those people who had a terrible experience in Phys. Ed. at school. First, I had this mean, awful PE teacher who humiliated me when I couldn’t make a good pass in volleyball (I don’t even know if that is the right terminology. That’s how badly I was turned off by sports). Then, I had lazy teachers who let me goof or do lazy sit ups during class when I said I wasn’t interested in sports. So, I never considered myself athletic. During summer camps, I read books while my girlfriends played soccer. And during college, I joined a gospel choir while my roommate joined the basketball team. I thought I just wasn’t made for sports.

One time my roommate convinced me to join her for a training run. I decided, after one or two laps around the track, that running wasn’t for me. And I didn’t run again for a long time.

During my second year at seminary, one of our beloved professors (John Claypool) died. The following year, a few students organized a 5K around campus in memory of him (it is now an annual race). I had heard about races of course, but I had only a very vague idea of what it entailed. I signed up for the 5K in order to honor our professor and also to support my friends who organized the race. I was nowhere near a runner then, so I alternated jogging with walking and finished the race in over 40 minutes (I don’t remember the final time). It confirmed to me, once again, that I was not a runner. But I was impressed with the event and the energy of the people there. I had no idea that races could be fun! 

Fast forward a couple of years. With college and seminary years behind me, I was working full-time and spending the evenings at home with my husband. After a long day at work and a long commute home (and with no kids yet), it was easy to stretch out on the couch for the evening and stay there. Todd and I got into a funk and were quickly becoming couch potatoes. One day we decided to change that. We laced up our shoes and went for a run around the block. That first run was humbling. I couldn’t run one mile without stopping, and I was slooow. And all of my energy went into running: nothing seemed natural. But I set a goal: to run for 10 minutes without stopping. So day after day, I went running. And I got better. Soon I could run up to 20 minutes at a time. And that is where my running stayed for a while.

Around this time I also started taking Bikram yoga lessons. If you’re unfamiliar with Bikram, it is an athletic kind of yoga where students perform the same sequence of 26 poses in a heated room. I was out of shape and not very flexible when I took my first Bikram lessons. There were poses I thought I might never be able to do well. But you know what, I got better at that too. Because we repeated the same poses in each class, I was able to see just how well I was progressing. As with running, the progress was concrete, and fast. In fact, I got to where I could do some of the Bikram poses really well. I started to think, maybe I can be athletic. Maybe I am athletic.

Fast forward another couple of years. Todd and I were invited by a friend to participate in a local 5K. It would be Todd’s first, and my first 5K actually running. We weren’t even sure we could run 3 miles since we usually stopped our runs at about 20 minutes. We signed up and went for a 3 mile run before the race, just to see if we could do it (we could). The race was a blast, and we even got medals! I actually got first place in my age group, although that was only because there weren’t many people in my age group. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that I was hooked.

Winning first place in my age group at my first real race. I was hooked.

After that, I joined a running club and started increasing the length of my runs. And then it happened: I started to see myself as a runner. I actually started to enjoy it. And because I am a runner, I now think about when I am going to run this week. And when I’m on vacation, I think about when and how I might get a run in. Because I’m a runner, you see.

People who have known me for a long time are shocked that I am a runner now. And people who have known me for a short time think I’ve always been a runner. Isn’t that funny? What I have learned is that, making a lifestyle change has everything to do with changing how you see yourself. It works the same with food, for example. Presented with the choice of eating healthy or unhealthy foods, I have a much better chance of choosing the healthy option if I see myself as a healthy eater than if I see myself as an unhealthy eater who should eat better. The decision becomes second nature to our identity.

To sum it up, my friends, here are my tips for making a lifestyle change from a former couch potato:

1) Stick with it

2) Get support

3) Most importantly, reassess how you see yourself. Stop saying you are a junk eater if you want to eat better. You are capable of change. I know because I have changed! So can you!

By the way – if you are encouraged to take up running, I recommend the couch to 5K plan from coolrunning.com. Go for it!

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