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We’re all in this together

SheehanQuoteonerunner500

“The most important thing I learned [from running] is that there is only one runner in this race, and that is me.” – George Sheehan

Comparison can be deadly.

It’s to blame for all sorts of bad stuff.

Trust me, I know. In general, I’ve wasted time comparing myself to others’:

  • Abilities.
  • Personalities.
  • Talents.
  • Looks
  • Intelligence.
  • “Success” (as the world defines it).
  • Fill in the blank ________________.

We tend to assume we’d be happier if we had that person’s sunny personality, sense of style, talent, bank balance, great job, beautiful house, smart kids, well-trained pet … you know what I’m talking about.

Whatever is wrong in my life, I think it can be solved by changing some external aspect of it. (It’s probably why I get my hair highlighted every few months, why I have too many shoes, why my house-clutter bothers me so much.)

But running – and all the challenges and triumphs that come with it – has taught me a few things about comparison. So much of what is running for me involves other people. I not only run with people, I read books, magazines and websites about running, I listen to podcasts about running (resource list below), and – perhaps most importantly – I live with a runner whose passion for the sport rivals that of any elite runner I’ve ever watched, read about or listened to.

Comparing yourself to others (runners, writers, singers, entrepreneurs) can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you can draw inspiration from their triumphs and their ability to articulate what the activity has meant to them and what they’ve learned from it.

After my heart surgery last year, I ran across this quote from Olympic marathoner and all-around-awesome runner chick Shalane Flanagan, and I pinned it to the wall of my cubicle at work:

ShalaneQuoteHeadUpHeartStrong

“Keep your head up, keep your heart strong” – Shalane Flanagan

(Until then, I had it all wrong: I thought it was, “Keep your head down; keep looking for loose change!” :-) )

Comparison has its pluses, but, for the most part, it simply ties us up in knots. Try running a mile all twisted up and see how far you get! Or write a blog post (letter to the editor, business memo, whatever) and see if it moves anyone to positive action. More likely, your readers will be so distracted by how hard you were trying that they miss the message.

At the very least, comparison is unproductive. It keeps us from reaching our goals, from fulfilling our purpose.

And what are we really trying to accomplish with comparisons? If you’re like me, you want to move forward in life, to progress, to change, to grow, to become an all-around better person. I want to MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD.

I will continue to learn from others’ successes and failures so that I’ll be more likely to succeed, less likely to fail.

But my own individual success (and how I define it) depends largely on my uniqueness. On being the person the Creator of the universe made me. On depending on Him and trusting the plan He has for my life (using HIS criteria for success). He’s interested in my interests – He hasn’t written a cookie cutter Plan for Suzy that will crumble if I stir in my own ingredients, infuse it with my individuality or use my own tools to make it all come together.

He is the author of my success, my joy and my ultimate purpose. He gave me those tools, talents and interests.

“Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath” (Deuteronomy 8:18, Holy Bible, New Living Translation).

An antidote to the paralysis of comparison is gratitude. Listen here to Deena Kastor, former Arkansas Razorback, Olympian and holder of several world records, who says:

“When I’ve traveled and run with people around [the world], I just try to adopt their greatest strengths, and I have so many people to thank for that.”

She’s about to publish a book, and she said she could spend 300 pages just thanking people.

Here are a few things I’m grateful that God gave me:

  1. Strong legs (even though I’m a slow runner and have a bum knee that nudges me even slower sometimes).
  2. A strong heart, physically (especially now that I’ve had repairs done!).
  3. A strong heart, figuratively (He keeps me singing!).
  4. A fabulous running community in my small town.
  5. A great husband who loves to run and loves to share his vast knowledge of the sport – and whose (sometimes annoying) enthusiasm for running inevitably rubs off on people! He volunteers as a cross-country coach at the high school just because he stinkin’ loves to run and loves to teach others to love it. He also gets called upon often to help folks in the community who want to put on fundraising walks and runs, and he gives of his time generously (sometimes too generously, I think, but still). I am so blessed to have Bruce Oakley in my life.
  6. A cause to run for. I train with and raise money for Team Challenge of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, because I want to wipe the poo out of Bruce’s disease. Even though I hate the fundraising part (asking for money), I love the idea that I will be a part of the someday-cure. And they don’t care how fast I run. My teammates and I share the dream of curing Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and that’s what binds us together.
  7. A desire and a modicum of … dare we say … talent in writing. (Passion and persistence more than raw talent, I would say.) My desire is to influence others to become the people God created them to be – to fulfill their purpose on this earth and to find joy in the journey … just as I’m learning to do, step by sometimes-faltering step.
  8. Courage. I grew up extremely, backwardly shy. (My poor mom.) But through a lot of prayer and determination, I’ve come out of my shell, stopped thinking about myself so much, and consider myself “recovering” (still working on it but much progress has been made). I step out and reach out when I’m uncomfortable sometimes. Only when I draw strength from the Lord can I do that. And, every time I do it, I gain strength for the next time. (It’s not about me, after all.) Some folks who’ve known me for just a few years would never believe I was shy!
  9. An awesome family. They don’t always understand me, but they put up with me – and even love me. Go figure!
  10. The ability to persevere. Even though I’ll never win the Pulitzer for my writing, will never have my photographs published in National Geographic and more than likely (I mean, like, a 99.99 percent probability) will never win a first-place trophy in a running event, I keep at it. You see, I believe all those pithy quotes about how challenges make us stronger. (I’m living proof.) Like this one, which is not pithy but insightful:

“I think anything is possible, and running has certainly taught me, time and time again, that, even when we fall short of our goals, sometimes those lessons are the greatest for us to grow stronger on the other end. So I embrace challenges as if they were a gift to a stronger side of me. … Sometimes it takes a challenge or a hurdle in the way to make us refocus and figure out how to grow” – Deena Kastor.

I believe in the God of the universe, and I believe He has a supreme purpose for my life. My desire is to show all those in my sphere of influence that He has a purpose for their lives, too. And it’s a purpose that will give them joy and courage, if they grasp His hand along the journey.

“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint” – Isaiah 40:31, NLT.

The George Sheehan quote at the top of this post could be misinterpreted as “Every man for himself.” But what it really means is that comparison will keep you from finishing, or at least finishing well. And we all want to finish well, don’t we?

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me – the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing” – II Timothy 4:7-8, NLT.

The journey is easier in community. When we compare ourselves to others, we’re competing with them – and not in a good way. Community is best when we’re looking out for one another’s interests, when we see each other as partners, when we hold one another up. It’s one of my favorite things about the running community, one of my favorite things about my church family.

Life is hard, but it can be easier with friends. Running the race together is so much more fun.

McDougallQuoteRunningbewitheachother500

“The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other … but to be with each other.” – Christopher McDougall

“Hey, whadya say we both be independent together, huh?”

– Hermey the Dentist, in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”

__________________________________________________________

RESOURCES FOR RUNNING, AND FOR RUNNING THIS MARATHON CALLED LIFE:

  • Runner Academy and Everyday Runners podcasts (very inspirational, motivational and informative, whether you’re a novice or a long-time runner). Find both here.
  • Runner’s World magazine. Lots of good info, stories and columns. My favorite: Marc Parent’s “The Newbie Chronicles.” He makes me laugh. Enough said.
  • Motivational quotes from Runner’s World.
  • White River Roadrunners club. If you live in north-central Arkansas or even southern Missouri, check us out.
  • Women Run Arkansas. We have more than 50 Women Can Run/Walk clinics around Arkansas every spring. Only 10 weeks from couch to 5k! Coach Bruce and I have made some great friends through WRA.
  • The Holy Bible, via BibleGateway.

What motivates you? Post a comment and let us know.

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The more things change, the more I stay insane

A lot has changed in the past year.

And yet a lot has stayed the same.

One year ago today, I had heart surgery, so I’m celebrating the blessing of another year of life and health. (Maybe I’ll call this my heart birthday! Is there a name for the anniversary of someone’s heart surgery? :-) )

My life doesn’t look much different from the outside, but here are a few key changes that the world at large might not have noticed, unless the world we’re talking about is my husband, my mom and my dogs (and the Spice Dogs haven’t noticed much of it, unless it involved food, warm blankets or belly rubs):

  1. I got my mitral valve repaired. Awesome medical team (GP, PA, cardiologist, cardiothoracic surgeon, their staffs), relatively quick recovery (I was back at work in 3 weeks, although it took months and months to feel “normal” again) and a once-in-a-lifetime experience that turned me into a pampered diva (shooting a commercial for Baptist Health). I now have my own chauffeur (OK, Bruce already chauffeured me sometimes, but now he does it more often – and with attitude). The diva perqs pretty much begin and end there, though.
    Oakleys and silly runners 09-12-13

    Last pre-surgery run with the crazy people, 9/12/13.

  2. I got a wellness certification (we traveled to Colorado in April for the final 16 hours of training). I’m still pondering the best ways to work this new knowledge into my “life’s mission.” Motivational talks, one-on-one counseling, writing … those ideas are all part of the little bubble that hovers over my head at all times (and frequently keeps me from sleeping through the night).
  3. I started looking more seriously at ways to make my blog a little more … marketable. (In other words, I want more people to read it! Also, I want people to pay me to write for them.) I attended Arkansas Women Bloggers University last week (stay tuned for more posts about that awesome event!), and I learned a ton, networked a lot, made several new friends, ate too much and slept too little. But it was the most fun I’ve had all year! Bruce and I even got in an early-morning run with a couple of our new blogger friends, Jodi and Fawn – both super-nice people. In February, I paid a teenager to design the Suzy & Spice banner you see above. Didn’t he do an awesome job? (Hey, you can subscribe to Suzy & Spice by clicking here. It just means you’ll receive an email when I publish a new post. Don’t worry – we won’t spam you, sell your info or do any other creepy thing with your email address.)
    Stuff I learned about branding myself and my blog to get more writing gigs.

    Stuff I learned about branding myself and my blog to get more readers and writing gigs.

  4. I started incorporating “Awesome!” into my conversations a lot more. Don’t ask me why. I guess I thought it sounded … awesome. (There is no link for this.)
  5. I went up and down, back and forth, hot and cold (the latter, more figuratively than literally) with my running. After last year’s surgery, I got a little wimpy and had trouble motivating myself to lace up and hit the road. It was a lot easier when sunrise came earlier (that’s my favorite time to run), but I let the extreme cold and the oppressive humidity bench me too many times. I’m much slower than I was last year, and I was already pretty slow, although I was gaining a bit of speed with experience. Also, I’ve gained about 15 pounds since my surgery and am still trying to get a grip on that. I’m really angry with myself about the weight gain. But the first step (for me) is admitting it, and then going public with it (I weighed 173 this morning) and buckling down to do something about it. Because it makes me feel like a big fat hypocrite. But it also makes me human, and better able to relate to those I’m trying to help. (There’s a fine line, I know.) I guess you could say it keeps me humble.
    Bruzys_orange_shoes

    Photo courtesy of Hatch and Maas Photography

  6. I lost another dear family member (an uncle, less than three weeks ago) and got word yesterday that we may lose another uncle soon. He’s under hospice care, and only the good Lord knows when his time will come. This is in addition to our loss in 2013 of four cousins (on my side) – one of them the day before my surgery – and Bruce’s precious mother.
  7. I signed up for another half-marathon to raise money for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, through the Team Challenge endurance training and fundraising program. This will be my third year to raise money for Team Challenge, but only my second time to get to participate in the race. The first half-marathon was 2 years ago this month, and I had been fundraising for the second one last September, but my surgery trumped that event. Bruce and I had decided not to plan another Team Challenge race for me this year because the fundraising is just too hard; because last year was emotionally and financially draining for us; and because I was still recovering physically from the surgery … but then I got an email in May about the Walt Disney World Half Marathon in January 2015, and apparently I lost my ever-lovin’ mind. So, technically, I won’t be racing in 2014, but I am raising money again already. WHAT WAS I THINKING? (Oh, I know: I was thinking I STILL want to kick the poo out of Crohn’s disease. I guess that’s a good enough reason to kill myself doing something I hate: asking people for money.) If you’d like to help me reach my $4,500 goal before I take a nose-dive off the Cliffs of Insanity, please click here.
  8. Took my first yoga class in November. I’m talking live class, not read-a-book-and-try-to-figure-out-what-the-heck-they’re-talking-about, not watch-a-video-and-try-to-look-at-a-little-screen while figuring things out, but an honest-to-goodness class with a live – and very gentle and sweet – teacher. I’m telling you, yoga, while offering a calm respite from the cares of the world, is not for sissies. You feel great (awesome?) afterward, sometimes even during, but it’s a hurts-so-good kind of great. I learned some new words (and not all of them specifically yoga related, if you know what I mean), and I learned that I was really missing out all those years when I couldn’t find a class that a) I could afford and b) worked with my schedule. Fortunately, this new class and teacher meet both of those criteria. Just another stop on my wellness journey.
  9. Less than 3 weeks before my heart surgery, I had LASIK surgery. It didn’t give me perfect vision (my poor eyes are too far gone for that), but I no longer have to mess with contact lenses, solutions or reading glasses. I had already gotten used to mono-vision contacts (one lens corrects for distance and the other for close-up viewing). Post-LASIK, I have a bit of trouble on the road at night on occasion (a bit of glare from oncoming headlights), but that’s why a diva keeps a chauffeur on hand, right? The LASIK, too, falls under the category AWESOME.
  10. DrConley_Suzy_ChrisKane_Twitterpic091714

    Dr. Conley, yours truly and Chris Kane on “Good Morning, Arkansas” in February. (Yeah, I Tweeted Chris’ last name wrong.)

    I didn’t intend for this to be a “top 10 things I did last year” summary, but it looks like I’ve come up with 9 already, so let me think of a 10th. … OK, here we go: I gained confidence this year. I had prayed last year for a bigger “audience” (maybe like the Prayer of Jabez: “Lord, expand my territory”). He listened (doesn’t He always?) and gave me a wider reach. Two occasions in particular stretched my faith and built my confidence: In February I was invited to appear on Channel 7’s “Good Morning, Arkansas” with my cardiologist for Heart Month, and in August I was invited to speak one Sunday (for “no longer than 2 minutes”) at both services at my church. Both were topics dear to my heart: 1) literally, my heart, and 2) Perspectives class). So I jumped at the chance in each instance, and I survived both!

So, while a lot has happened inside, not a lot has changed outwardly. And, as always, this I know:

God is good, and He is faithful. I give Him all the praise and glory for the past 365 days, and I hope I live to serve Him for at least another 365.

Wouldn’t that be … awesome?

 

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Top 10 Tuesday – book characters at my lunch table

Today’s post is inspired by The Broke and the Bookish. Here’s my list of the “Top Ten Book Characters That Would Be Sitting at my Lunch Table,” listed in no particular order:

  1. Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. (Does that count as three?) Not only did I read as many of these mysteries as I could get my hands on when I was in grade school and junior high, I faithfully watched the corresponding TV shows in the late 1970s. Remember that? Pamela Sue Martin as Nancy Drew, and the dreamy Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy as Frank and Joe Hardy. A weekly must-see TV! Runner-up: Trixie Belden, another girl detective (remember her?).
  2. AnneOfGreenGablesCoverAs Tara mentioned in her Running ’N’ Reading post, Anne Shirley of the Anne of Green Gables series. That Anne (“spelt with an ‘e’ ”) sure could get herself into some messes, couldn’t she? (Remember the green hair?) Anne was certainly braver than I was at her age, but I grew into the stick-your-foot-into-your-mouth habit quite nicely, thank you. “But if you only knew how many things I want to say and don’t.” Love that girl! (I still wouldn’t walk the ridge pole of a house, though, no matter who dared me!)
  3. LittleWomenCoverJosephine March of Little Women and Jo’s Boys. Jo was a tomboy (jumping fences, whistling, running through the woods), but she loved her very feminine sisters fiercely. Her affection for young Beth was heartwarming, and Jo’s book “My Beth” was a big sister’s tender tribute after the family’s loss of the shy and timid “Bethy.” And could anyone forget when she cut off her beautiful long hair to pay for Marmee’s trip to visit the wounded Father away at war? Another girl who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, Jo demonstrated a courage to stand alone in a crowd.
  4. ToKillAMockingbirdAtticus and Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Yes, I loved Jem, too, but Atticus and his precocious daughter, Scout, really stole my heart (besides, Scout is the narrator). The entire family was colorblind, but the book is really told from 5-year-old Scout’s perspective, so we get more of her courage (again, speaking her mind, but in a more innocent way) and, of course, her observations shined light on the actions of her hero daddy. I love the scene (maybe just in the movie – not sure about the book) where she meets Boo Radley up close, says “Hey, Boo,” then walks over and takes his hand. (Am I getting that right?) I may invite Boo to lunch, too. He was a kind soul.
  5. Cynthia Kavanagh of the Mitford series. She always had a positive attitude. In fact, her husband, Father Tim (a bachelor until he was in his 60s), would often say to her, “Is there anything you don’t love?” I’d delight in having lunch (church potluck, perhaps?) with the entire small town of Mitford, N.C., including Tim’s big ol’ Scripture-loving dog, Barnabus. It’s been several years since the last book in this series came out … or so I thought. While fetching a link for this post, I discovered that a new book in the series became available TODAY! Woot! (Note to husband: My birthday is nearly three months away; you need not wait that long to shower me with the gift of another Mitford book.)
  6. Fahrenheit451CoverGuy Montag of Fahrenheit 451. Guy was a firefighter who used to seek out and burn books (it was his job), but then he decided to read one, and it changed him – as books tend to do. Once he realized that he’d rather read books than burn them, he became a fugitive. His actions took much courage. If you haven’t read this book, read it. It will make you think.
  7. PrideAndPrejudiceCoverLizzie Bennett of Pride and Prejudice. Is it OK for me to admit that I’ve never read the book but have seen at least two movie versions of Pride and Prejudice? (No one said I had to read the book to love the character!) Elizabeth Bennett has been a well-loved literary character for decades … and, gee whiz, I just realized she’s another well-spoken, albeit a quick-to-speak-slow-to-listen chick. I guess I like that type of girl! And, gee whiz, I guess I need to visit the library and get this book! Like, right now!
  8. EBWhiteBoxSetCharlotte of Charlotte’s Web. How many spiders do you know who would give their lives for a friend – even a pig friend? And Stuart of Stuart Little – a little guy with a big heart. Both of these are E.B. White characters, and if you haven’t read the books, do! The Trumpet of the Swan is good, too, but for the life of me I can’t remember much about it. I just remember that I liked it. It is part of the E.B. White boxed set that includes Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. (Just had to include a plug for the boxed set – even if my memory is terrible!)
  9. TheGivingTreeCoverThe apple tree in The Giving Tree. “Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.” If you haven’t read Shel Silverstein’s classic children’s book about the tree that sacrifices itself for a boy’s pleasure, please check it out. I don’t want to spoil the story, so that’s all I’m going to say about it, except this: It reminds me of Jesus’ sacrificial love for us.
  10. TheVelveteenRabbitCoverThe velveteen rabbit from The Velveteen Rabbit. Again, a story about an inanimate object (or is it?) that loves a boy, even when the boy grows too old to play with it. “ ‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’ ”

I guess I got a little mushy toward the end of my list, eh? :-)

Update 9/3/14, honorable mention: As I made my Top 10 list yesterday, I wanted to include one of my childhood favorites, A Dog for Susie, but I couldn’t remember the dog’s name. But as I ran this morning, I was listening to the last few chapters of an audiobook that I was supposed to finish for book group this week. Wouldn’t you know, in the last 2 minutes of the book, the main character’s husband brought home a great Dane, a rescue dog named Rufus.

“RUFUS!” I said to myself. “That’s the dog for Susie!” In fact, in the book, Susie had the same reaction when she finally came up with a name for her own “rescue dog” (a mutt she stumbled upon): “RUFUS!” So Rufus from A Dog for Susie gets an honorable mention, but if I had remembered his name sooner he would have been in the Top 10. :-)

What book characters would you love to have at your lunch table?

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Catching up

I really want to come up with a catchy title for my catch-all posts. My friends call theirs such things as “friday faves,” “In the Pipeline,” “Friday Five Link Up” and so on.

One of these days it’ll come to me; I’ll have my own catchy title. Meantime, here’s where my head is right now:

Four days until #AWBU – Arkansas Women Bloggers University. I am beside myself with anticipation! Not only will I get to see some of my friends from North Little Rock who blog (and many of them are leading workshops), I’ll meet a bunch of the chicks whose blogs I’ve been reading the past few months but have never met. Yippee!

This will be my first year at AWBU, which began three years ago. I had never heard of it until two years ago, and by then it was too late to register. Last year I had some type of conflict (can’t even remember what). But this year, no excuses – I’m going! The fun starts Friday and ends at noon Sunday. Today I finalized (well, sort of) my picks for the workshops I want to attend.

Most of the sessions have three workshops to choose from, except for a couple that have just two. I’ve made my picks for all but two sessions. And, darn it, wouldn’t you know that some of my friends are leading workshops and I won’t get to participate. There are A, B and C tracks, and I’ve picked mostly from the A track, which is more about the business side of blogging. Track B seems to be mostly about the writing process, and Track C is more techy (side note: spellcheck prefers “techier” here). I’m fairly confident in the B and C areas but so want to beef up the business side of my blog. I’ll tell you more about that in a later post (it’s not as mercenary as it sounds).

I can’t wait to come back next week and tell you how much I’ve learned and been inspired by!

The fall semester of Perspectives started last week, and I’m so excited to be an alumnus this time (no homework pressure) and part of the Coordinating Team (the group that has worked to bring the class back to Batesville this fall).

In my role on the team, I won’t be needed in class after tomorrow night, but do you think I would dare miss a night of it? The speakers are too dynamic, the topics too challenging for me to sit home and miss out. And, as a graduate of the course (2012), I won’t feel pressured to take notes – except that I’m sort of compulsive about that; I think I retain things better when I write them out. I think every follower of Jesus should take Perspectives, and I’d love to tell you more about it. Let me know if you’re interested in knowing more.

Today was a holiday, and I didn’t work (I didn’t run, either, but we’ll skip that part). After two decades in the daily-newspaper business, I never knew which holiday Bruce or I might have off in any given year, and even though I haven’t worked full time for a newspaper in 10 years (and 7 for him), we’re still not used to having holidays off.

So he and I took the Spice Dogs to Mom’s to watch the Cardinals and the Pirates, and I ended up watching four hours of Food Network! There was some type of Pioneer Woman mini-marathon, and I’m just now realizing (as I write this) that I watched eight straight episodes! Two years without TV at home (no Food Network for Suzy) means I gorge on it when I have the chance. It’s like going without your favorite food for a long time and then stuffing yourself when you finally get a bowl of it. Or something like that.

Then Mom wanted an ice cream cone, so we piled into the car and drove to Sonic. She and Bruce had ice cream and, although I really, really wanted a Sonic Blast, I got a cherry limeade.

AllGirlFillingStationBookCover

I’m almost finished with the September book for my reading group (The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg) … and today I realized I won’t be able to go to group tomorrow! (Why? See Perspectives above.) The library’s only hard copy of the book was checked out, so I got the audio version and have been listening to it on my long runs. I normally don’t use my ear buds when I run, but I wanted to kill two birds with one stone. This month’s book was a good story – another book that has forced me to read fiction this year since joining the reading group. I haven’t read much fiction in the past 20 years, so fortunately the last couple of books I’ve had to read are good ones. Flagg is a good writer (remember Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café?), and this story was compelling and really sucked me in.

However, I’m ever so glad that I got to pick the October book. I chose Night by Elie Wiesel. I read it about 20 years ago (about the time I started really getting into non-fiction), and I can’t wait to start reading it again.

Both books deal with World War II but in vastly different ways. Part of Flagg’s story is based on actual events (the WASP program of female flyers), but Wiesel’s story is 100 percent true. It’s his account of surviving a Nazi concentration camp when he was a boy. He is still alive today, by the way.

My favorite book, as I’ve said many times before, is The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. Corrie was a Christian; Wiesel is a Jew. Both books are first-person accounts, and I like pondering the different perspectives of the Holocaust. Can’t wait to find out what the other ladies think of Night.

I also got to pick the reading group’s first book of 2015, and it was written by my friend who recommended Night to me so many years ago. I’ll save the details on that for later. (Sorry – you’ll just have to stay tuned.)

 

He's why I run

He’s why I run.

I’m running again for Team Challenge, the endurance and training program of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. I want to cure Crohn’s disease, which my husband (in photo above) suffers from, so I have to raise a bunch of money this fall. In January I’ll get to run the Walt Disney World Half Marathon, and it’s a pretty big deal. So big, in fact, that our fundraising minimum is higher, the perqs are a little less and our fundraising deadlines are a little tighter than for a typical Team Challenge event. I’ve been struggling with doing long runs in the heat and humidity. We haven’t started the official training plan for Disney yet, but I started a RunKeeper half-marathon training plan in early May, so I think I must not feel compelled to stay true to the program with the team training coming up. I totally blew off the scheduled 9-mile run this weekend, and of course I’ll have a 10-mile run coming up in a few days.

Typically I do the long runs on Saturday mornings (at daybreak, before it gets really stinkin’ hot), and next weekend I’m going to be out of town (see #AWBU above). So I feel like a total slacker, and the only thing that has saved me is the cheap treadmill we bought at a yard sale a few months ago. I’ve done a couple of hourlong runs on it, and last night I even considered doing the 9-miler but just could not bring myself to do it.

I didn’t bring this up to make a pitch for donations, but I have so much yet to raise (nearly $3,000 of the $4,500 total – note: I’ve set my goal a bit higher than $4,500 just for good measure), so I will shamelessly give you the link to donate to Team Challenge.

Also, if you’re a runner or a walker and use any of these apps – fitbit, Nike+, Jawbone, RunKeeper or Moves – please join my mission at FitCause, which is a NO-COST way you can help me reach my fundraising goal (and cure Crohn’s disease). The challenge is to “run a marathon in a month” – or 26.2 miles by Sept. 11 – and you still have more than a week to do it! You don’t even have to run/walk 26.2 miles; any number of miles will help. Thank you for any amount (miles or money) you’re willing to donate! :-)

Tell me at least one neat thing you’ve done, read, planned or pondered lately.

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Of loss and hope

Me with Uncle John, circa 1967, Kerman, Calif. The boy on the left is our neighbor; the woman on the right is John's first wife.

Me with Uncle John, circa 1967, Kerman, Calif. The boy is our neighbor; the woman is John’s first wife.

I’ve been losing a lot of sleep lately.

As I write this late at night, having gotten out of bed after just a few minutes to look at old family photographs, I’m thinking of two people in particular:

  1. My Uncle John, who passed away not 20 minutes ago, finally surrendering to the cancer that was diagnosed just four months ago.
  2. My Grandma Tressie, who would have celebrated her 98th birthday today had ALS not taken her life much too soon.

Yesterday, one of my co-workers sent an All Employees email announcing her intent to partake in the “ice bucket challenge” phenomenon that has been sweeping the nation. (It seems to have started as a grass-roots effort to raise money for research and a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The challenge “went viral” and has raised millions of dollars in an incredibly short time.) Tammy is bravely and generously doing her part to support the cause. Before a day had passed, however, two others in my workplace had answered the challenge – our COO and CFO will feel the love, too. A couple of twisted employees :-) will earn the right (through their donations) to douse them with ice water, too!

But, even as these two diseases have leaped onto my radar in recent weeks, I’ve been raising money for my own cause: curing Crohn’s disease.

I don’t want my husband to die of it someday.

Indirectly, peripherally, it’s why I don’t sleep.

I don’t sleep because there are so many diseases to cure, so much suffering to alleviate. Can I do it? Can I fix the world’s problems, cure its diseases, carry clean drinking water to suffering African children, stop wars and riots and child abuse, end the maltreatment of unwanted pets that are dumped along the highway?

No. Not on my own.

Jesus said the poor will always be with us. (Deuteronomy 15:11, Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:6-9, John 12:7-8, New Living Translation.)

Does that mean I shouldn’t try?

No!

The Lord also said we’re to care for those less fortunate. (Proverbs 22:9 and dozens of other verses.)

And, lest I catch myself thinking that I, myself, am one of those less fortunate, I have to remind myself to count my blessings. I have to GIVE when opportunities arise. Despite a few minor health problems, I am BLESSED. Compared to many people, I have it easy. I have hope.

Will my few dollars make a difference in the world? Maybe not.

But just maybe they will.

How can I not give? How can I not try?

When Jesus admonished His disciples about the poor, He told them to “give generously … not grudgingly.”

He gave His one and only life. How can I not give of my abundance?

Will you consider giving?

This isn’t a pitch for my Crohn’s disease fundraising efforts. It’s a pitch to get you to see why Jesus said it’s more blessed to give than to receive. You don’t believe it until you do it. And when you do it, it feels right.

So come on.

Whether it’s for Crohn’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, heart disease, cancer or some other unpronounceable sickness someone is raising funds for, they all could use our help.

Stick your neck out, stand under a bucket of ice water, hammer some nails, do the chicken dance, donate your coin jar – whatever you need to do – just GIVE.

Give someone hope.

You’ll be glad you did.

  • Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s Team Challenge program.
  • Your favorite charity ______________.

And I couldn’t end this without making one final pitch:

My Uncle John and my Grandma Tressie both knew the Lord. We know they’re in the arms of Jesus and no longer suffering. If you don’t have the assurance of eternal salvation – if you’ve never given lordship of your life to Jesus, please come talk to me or find a pastor or a Christian friend who can help you find your way to salvation. It is the most important decision you’ll ever make, and it matters for eternity. Don’t  put it off. He gives HOPE.

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Top Ten Tuesday – classic books

A work in progress.

A work in progress.

I discovered a neat website this afternoon, just in time to participate in Top Ten Tuesday. Here are my Top 10 Favorite Classic Books:

  1. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. This nonfiction book, about a father and his two adult daughters sent to a concentration camp for hiding Jews in their home in Holland, haunts me. I’ve “loaned” out several copies and ended up telling the recipient, “Keep it or pass it along to someone else.” The book’s message – God is good, even (no, especially) in the midst of suffering – is one I want everyone to grab hold of, and one I continually need to remind myself of. My favorite quote: “There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.”
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This one seems to make a lot of people’s top-10 lists. And the movie (starring Gregory Peck as the quietly heroic Atticus Finch) is just as good as the book. It’s a moving portrayal of the effects of racism in the Depression-era Deep South.
  3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. My first “favorite book,” before it got bumped from the top spot by “To Kill a Mockingbird” a few years ago. I guess I’m a sucker for a family story, and the March family – Marmee, Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy and Father (who’s off fighting in the Civil War) – demonstrates what it’s like to be loyal, charitable and hopeful even in hard times. (I’ve also seen almost every movie version made. My favorite: the 1949 one with Janet Leigh as Meg, June Allyson as Jo, Elizabeth Taylor as Amy, Margaret O’Brien as Beth and Peter Lawford as Laurie.)
  4. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Lewis’ writing causes me to think. He had a way of describing things in ways beyond my imagination (probably why his Narnia books are so popular). A former atheist, he wrestled with faith and made it OK for me to admit that I wrestle, too.
  5. My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. My Uncle Bill gave me my first copy as a college graduation present 25 years ago, when I visited him in Arizona on my way to California for my first full-time newspaper job. This was the “classic” version (archaic language), and now I also have an “Updated Edition.” This is another book I’ve given as a gift many times. I like it like I like C.S. Lewis’ writings: Chambers has a way of making me think hard about my faith, what it means in my own life, and what it means in the world.
  6. The Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. He had a macabre writing style, but I’ve loved the tortured artist’s frightening tales since I was a kid. I think my dad was the one who turned me onto his stories and poetry.
  7. The Shining by Stephen King. This may not be a classic in the strictest sense, but I read it when I was in 10th grade (my first King novel), so to me it’s old enough to qualify. This book creeped me out! But it got me hooked on Stephen King novels, and I read them for the next decade. I believe I stopped with Misery in the late 1980s. I also got over my need for horror movies, although I still love a good mystery (Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew :-) ). REDRUM.
  8. A Dog for Susie by “Nordlie R”? OK, this one is a classic only in my own mind, but I really loved the book when I was a child. It speaks to Suzy the dog lover and Suzy the book lover. I got it at the used-book sale at school. In fact, I think it was free. (Even better!) I have it in one of our many bookcases, but I can’t find it at the moment or I’d grab it and tell you the correct name of the author.
  9. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I re-read this a couple of years ago. There’s a reason it’s a classic. I think I like it for some of the same reasons I love “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It reminds me of the dangers of small-mindedness. Read it to find out the meaning of the title.
  10. The Holy Bible. The best classic book of all time, of course, is God’s inspired word, one of His primary ways of communicating to the world. The version I’ve been reading for the past six or seven years is the New Living Translation. I’ve read through the entire Bible maybe three times, and this year I began a chronological reading plan for the first time. It’s helping me see parallels I hadn’t noticed before.

What are your favorite books, and why?

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Lazy Suzy

I’ve been a bit miffed at myself for letting other things get in the way of my blogging lately, so I decided I would “cheat” and share some links and things. In the spirit of (we won’t use the word copycat) Sarabeth’s “friday faves” and Alison’s “In the Pipeline,” I share with you links, photos, pieces of info and other tidbits that I’ve found interesting, encouraging, challenging, awesome or just plain ol’ fun:

Bruce & Suzy just after hiking 3 miles on the Meadowlark trail in Deer Creek Canyon Park outside LIttleton, Colo. (April 24, 2014).

Bruce & Suzy at the Meadowlark Trail in Deer Creek Canyon Park outside Littleton, Colo., April 24, 2014.

I finally got the Colorado pix off the camera and onto the computer. The above was taken the afternoon we arrived, after we hiked about 3 miles along a nice little trail outside Littleton. (We were in Littleton so I could wrap up the training for my wellness-coach certification. I have one piece yet to finish – see prayer request below.) Maybe someday I will make a post with some of the trail pictures! It was a beautiful hike.

Awesome: It looks like I will get to race and raise money again for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s Team Challenge program. I received an email two weeks ago saying that Team Challenge had secured a limited number of spots for TC alumni in the SOLD OUT Walt Disney World Half Marathon.

Because Bruce and I had opted not to travel to an out-of-state CCFA race this year (last year included trips to California before and after his mother died, plus my September heart surgery, which caused me to withdraw from the Nashville half-marathon), we decided to “rest” in 2014. Not only is travel stressful, but fundraising is one of my least-favorite things to do! But the race isn’t until Jan. 10, and it’s a big deal, so I decided to sign up. So, technically, I will be training for a half-marathon and raising money in 2014 but not traveling to the event until 2015. (Part of the package, if I meet my fundraising goal, is two 2-day passes to Disney World.)

I haven’t received confirmation yet, as the new team manager (who doesn’t know me) still has to confirm that I’m an alumnus, but I think it will all work out. Yes, I am still slow (actually, I’m slower since the surgery). No, I’m not going to let that sad fact stop me. There is always someone who crosses the finish line after I do. (Sorry.)

So pray for my fundraising skills to improve and my enthusiasm for this worthy cause to stay high. (I really hate asking people for money, folks. More than flossing my teeth, cleaning hair out of the shower drain or trying to fold fitted sheets. Way more.) Oh, and for those of you who are new to Suzy & Spice: I do this thing I hate (ask people for money) and this thing I love (run) because I want to cure Crohn’s disease, which my husband, Bruce, and my cousin Spencer suffer from.

Which reminds me of this humiliating fact: I still have not sent thank-you cards to those who donated to my 2013 half-marathon that never happened. (I am TERRIBLE!) I’m pledging to do that this week. I promise!

OK, well, that there was enough for an entire blog post, but still there’s more:

Inspirational: This story gives me, my bad knee and my recently repaired heart valve hope that I will be able to run forever: “91-year-old to run Sunday’s San Diego Marathon.” She didn’t start running until she was 76, and she has raised more than $90,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through its Team in Training program. She is being treated for cancer.

And here’s the follow-up: “10-year-old, 91-year-old break records in running.”

Fun: In September, I will attend my first Arkansas Women Bloggers retreat (in its fourth year, it’s now called Arkansas Women Bloggers University). I registered in March but have forgotten to tell you :-) ). I hadn’t heard about this event until 2012 but missed it that year because it was sold out by the time I found out about it, and I missed last year’s because of heart surgery, so I am looking forward to my first one: listening to great speakers, getting great ideas, connecting with other women who blog, and meeting face to face the bloggers I’ve only seen in pictures.

(And then there’s the food.)

Interesting: I like to read about nutrition and the science behind our eatings (yes, I just made up that word), cravings and behaviors. This article from the journal Nature is a bit science-y, but maybe you will be as fascinated as I was to read some theories about what makes us eat, what makes us not eat, and the consequences to our waistlines. Or perhaps I should say “what makes laboratory mice eat, not eat …” (Poor mice.) “Neuroscience: Dissecting appetite”

Challenging: Sallie Krawcheck on “Career Curveballs: Doing the Job When No One Thinks You Can.” The headline alone speaks volumes to me, but then the author backs it up with a story of thinking outside the box, being brave and moving forward despite obstacles.

Prayer request: I’ve been taking online courses to be a certified wellness coach, and I traveled to Colorado in April to finish my coursework. I passed my written exam (made an A!) and have one final step before I’m certified. This Tuesday evening I have a “coaching practicum” by telephone. It means another trainee and I have to practice-coach each other with our instructor listening in. I know I will be a good coach – I can do this! But this phone thing comes with a bit of pressure because we’ll be critiqued. Suzanna is one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet, so I don’t fear being ripped to shreds, but naturally being graded on a half-hour phone conversation will be a bit nerve-wracking. Prayers from my friends would be appreciated.

And if you ever considered becoming a certified wellness coach, talk to me or check out this link to the Catalyst Coaching Institute.

Interesting?  I’m working on writing a personal mission statement. I hope that doesn’t sound too corny, or trite. I actually think mission statements and vision statements and written goals help people crystallize their mission and accomplish more than they otherwise could. Of course bringing honor and glory to God is my main purpose, but I also want to be able to sum up why I do what I do in a way that doesn’t sound churchy or preachy or confusing or long-winded.

Here’s the seed I’m starting with: “I want to inspire people to move from ‘I could never…” to “Maybe I could…” to ‘I CAN!’ ” Still pondering …

Encouraging:  And because I love C.S. Lewis and receive a daily email containing an excerpt from one of his writings (books, letters, speeches), I leave you with this:

“If He does not support us, not one of us is safe from some gross sin. On the other hand, no possible degree of holiness or heroism which has ever been recorded of the greatest saints is beyond what He is determined to produce in every one of us in the end. The job will not be completed in this life: but He means to get us as far as possible before death.”

Happy reading!

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Book review: ‘The Well-Balanced World Changer’

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

– E.M. Forster, as quoted in ‘The Well-Balanced World Changer’

WorldChangerBookCoverChristianbookCROPPED

I finished a book last night that took me a few months to read – not because I’m a slow reader (although I am) or that my life is too busy (again, guilty) but because I needed to spend time reflecting on each and every chapter. And I went back and read some chapters a second time. As I said this morning on Facebook, the book is filled with encouragement, insight and wisdom – so much so that I not only read some chapters twice but I highlighted lots of passages. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

The book – The Well-Balanced World Changer: A Field Guide for Staying Sane while Doing Good by Sarah Cunningham (see links below) – is broken into 10 sections, with several short chapters in each. Every single chapter had something profound to say to me. The author was speaking my language.

To say that the book is strictly about “changing the world” is to do it an injustice. For me, it’s more about changing myself from within, of aligning myself with God’s purposes in the world. After all, to make a better world you have to start with yourself.

The author’s words of wisdom resonate on so many levels. She talks about relationships, motivations, disillusionment (a good thing!), compassion, commitment, vision, juggling stuff, setting priorities, being vulnerable, being confident, taking risks, making lemonade out of lemons (she tells a story about a professor applying to colleges who sent out his resume with a typo: War and Peach). About perseverance, putting criticism in perspective, figuring out what matters (“If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago.” – E. Joseph Cossman) – too many topics to name here.

Each section and each chapter starts with an inspirational or thought-provoking quote. The author found some really awesome quotes – with ideas I’ve been trying to incorporate as I work on gaining confidence in my writing (and other areas of life). Like this one:

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” – Bill Cosby

And this:

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” – Robin Williams

And these two:

“Here is a test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t.” – Richard Bach

“It’s always too early to quit.” – Norman Vincent Peale

Yes, yes, YES!

These are the section titles, followed by the opening quotes:

  1. Worth & Success. “The world has not seen what God will do through one man who is totally yielded to God” (D.L. Moody).
  2. Health & Balance. “Every great dream begins with a dreamer” (Harriet Tubman).
  3. Peace & Perseverance. “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world” (Robin Williams).
  4. Risk & Control.  “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world” (Archimedes).
  5. Alignment & Relationships. “You realize you can’t change the world but it shouldn’t stop you from trying” (Kevin Johnson).
  6. Plans & Priorities. “It is more rewarding to watch money change the world than watch it accumulate” (Gloria Steinem).
  7. Passion & Identity. “I wanted to change the world but I have found the only thing one can be sure of is changing oneself” (Aldous Huxley).
  8. Desires & Frustrations. “Anger is like gasoline. If you spray it around and somebody lights a match, you’ve got an inferno. But if we can put our anger inside an engine it can drive us forward” (Scilla Elworthy).
  9. Faith & Expectations. “Our generation does not want its epitaph to read, ‘We kept charity overhead low.’ We want it to read that we changed the world” (Dan Pallotta).
  10. Humility & Perspective. “A neighbor is a far better and cheaper alternative to government services” (Jennifer Pahlka).

Those section titles alone won’t make you want to rush out and buy the book – they’re a bit prosaic. But the chapters’ contents flesh out the ideas in such a way that you’ll want to keep reading once you start.

This book, plus a sermon my pastor preached in late January, prompted me to get off my duff and enroll in a certification program to become a wellness coach. That sermon sealed the deal for me. It was the day I realized that all my “research and prayer” about whether to do it had reached fruition. That I needed to “paint or get off the ladder,” as my former pastor would say. So I enrolled in the program the next day.

I take my last online course this Tuesday, and in three weeks Bruce and I will head to Colorado, where I’ll finish my training on-site. After that, a final exam and I’ll be one step closer to my version of changing the world.

As I told my co-worker last week, at 51 I’m in the second half of my life. I don’t want to waste any time on things that aren’t of eternal significance. The field is ripe for the harvest. Slowly but surely, I’m being transformed into what I hope is a useful servant in God’s kingdom work – His mission for us as Christ followers.

Good preaching by my pastor plus the excellent book The Well-Balanced World Changer are helping me be bold, have confidence in my dreams and in my almighty God, and work toward my life’s purpose.

If you are similarly called (and I believe we all are), read this book. I purchased the Amazon Kindle version for $8.09, but you can order hard copies starting at $6.84 at Amazon.com or an ebook for $7.99 at Christianbook.com.

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Gluten talk and beyond

“ ‘Eating is an agricultural act,’ as Wendell Berry famously said. It is also an ecological act, and a political act, too. Though much has been done to obscure this simple fact, how and what we eat determines to a great extent the use we make of the world – and what is to become of it.”

– Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Any time a bunch of women gets together who are passionate, interested or even just a bit curious about a topic I’m interested in, I get excited.

And just such a thing happened this morning.

During first service, a dozen or so women from my church met for an hour of gluten talk. At least that was the original topic when the class was announced, but by the time we had the meeting, it had become more of a “food group.” We talked about more than just gluten intolerance. Other food allergies and sensitivities were on the menu.

Those who led the group this morning (and, in case you’re interested, will again next Sunday – same time, same place) are:

  • Anita Swanson, who shared her story of wheat intolerance, breastfeeding, children with allergies and her journey to figuring out how to keep her family healthy. Anita is married to our pastor, Brent, and they have three precious little boys who are a big part of Anita’s “food story.”
  • Valerie Gunter, whose story is similar to Anita’s because of birthing babies, breastfeeding and having to figure out some food sensitivities and intolerances she didn’t realize she had – all because of her kiddos’ health problems. Valerie is married to Matt, a local veterinarian.
  • Sandee Steiner, local farmer, real estate mogul and mom. She and her husband, Max, host the church’s annual fall festival on their farm, where the kids get to run around until they’re silly, hang out with cows and other critters, have hayrides and generally get themselves giddy in the autumn sunshine (yeah, some of the adults do, too). Sandee, an engineer, is concerned with all the crap (sorry, Mom) that American cattle farmers and chicken producers feed to and inject into their animals. Sandee offers kefir starter to anyone who would like to make her own kefir (Anita made us delicious banana and blueberry smoothies with kefir, and the ladies also let us sample two other homemade, gluten-free foods). Sandee also offered to teach us how to make our own cottage cheese.

And then there’s me. No, I wasn’t a host of the meeting – I’m just a loudmouth who’s always interested in learning something and passing along the “insights” I’ve gained. Yeah, I can be obnoxious about it, especially if you’re not at all into what I’m talking about.

I’ve been on my own “journey to fitness” for the past three or four years, and it has taken me until recently to get serious about what goes into my mouth and that of my husband (a Crohn’s sufferer).

Sure, I’ve lost about 50 pounds (and gained a few back), but it hasn’t always been with the healthiest, wholest, least-processed foods you can buy. That, however, has been changing, ever so gradually.

I’ve been getting rid of processed sugars, artificial sweeteners, wheat and other grains in the past several weeks and increasing my consumption of “good fats” and eggs. But that’s a story I’ll tell you another day. Another story for a later day: I’m training to be a certified wellness coach (online classes, plus a trip to Colorado next month for on-site training). And … all this food and research talk has gotten me to thinking about becoming a registered dietician (I waver between the nutrition part of fitness and the physical-fitness part – I got certified as a running coach in August and definitely want to do some continuing education – maybe a second bachelor’s degree? – in some area of fitness).

But let’s talk about some of the resources discussed this morning. The ladies in charge handed us a packet of resources (including recipes, not included here), and the ladies listening wanted some of those put together online somewhere. One even requested a dedicated Facebook page for the group. Until they’re able to make that happen, I’ll collect the list of resources here, updating this particular post as I have time to add them (I’ll send updates to the church’s Facebook page). And if you’d like to suggest your own resources or tell your story, please click the comment link at the bottom of this post.

Also, I was taking notes furiously for a friend who couldn’t make the meeting because she was cheering on her daughter at the Little Rock Marathon (go, Mary!), so I didn’t get to look at all the books on the table. So, for now, I’m going to hit the high points with the promise to add to it later.

Disclaimer: Not everyone agrees with every word or claim made in each one of these resources. They are simply offered as a starting point for more information.

BOOKS

Wheat Belly and Wheat Belly Cookbook by cardiologist William Davis. I’m reading these books (with apologies to the county library, which sent me past-due notices on them last week. I promise I’ll return them tomorrow, because I’m pretty sure I’m going to buy my own copies). Some in the medical field have criticized Wheat Belly, calling Davis’ admonitions about wheat and carbs “scare tactics,” but I find it interesting that a lot of these critics DON’T EAT WHEAT. One reviewer, a psychiatrist, takes issue with his “sloppy” work in some of his medical stories and analogies. I understand her point, but at times she seems to be nitpicking.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. This one is on my to-be-read list. I read Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto a few years ago. He has good things to say. His catch phrase: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I suppose I need to move Omnivore up on my list.

The Virgin Diet by J.J. Virgin. Don’t let the word “diet” scare you away from some of the good things the author has to say – this, according to Valerie Gunter, who recommended the book. (She had to give it a catchy name, didn’t she?) Virgin guides the reader through an elimination diet to help determine whether there’s an intolerance to certain foods.

MOVIES AND VIDEOS

Food Inc., a documentary that takes “an unflattering look inside America’s corporate controlled food industry,” according to the Internet Movie Database. We didn’t have time to talk about this movie today – just a brief mention.

“Unblind My Mind,” a TEDxYouth Talk by Dr. Katherine Reid (16 minutes; also search for “unblind my mind” on YouTube). I mentioned the video at this morning’s meeting, and I had a request to post the link. Reid, a biochemist and mom of five, started researching food additives and eliminating particular foods from her autistic daughter’s diet. Within a few weeks, she noticed a marked improvement in the girl’s behavior. The culprits for Brooke: free glutamate (think MSG) – which goes by at least 50 names – and casein, a milk protein. In the video, Reid talks about the gluten/casein connection with excess glutamate. She started a nonprofit organization, Unblind My Mind, to more fully explore the topic of food’s effects on our health.

WEBSITES

Salad in a Jar. This is my own recommendation, although I didn’t have time to mention it at the meeting. On a Facebook group I’m a member of, I had complained about having to cut up one salad for work each evening (rather than a bunch of it days in advance) because of brown lettuce, and someone pointed me to Salad in a Jar. The site’s founder (who’s not selling anything) shows how to chop your salad greens ahead of time, vacuum seal them in mason jars and prolong the (refrigerator) shelf-life for several days. This not only saves time but money, as it helps cut down on food waste. (I bought a vacuum sealer, and I love it; if you’d like to borrow it, let me know.)

That’s it for now, folks. It’s past my bedtime, so I’m stopping. Later I’ll add info on some of the places, local and otherwise, where you can buy some of the natural, organic, gluten-free or other foods talked about this morning.

If you or a family member is experiencing health problems that can’t be explained, cured or eased with traditional remedies or modern medicine – or if you’re simply interested in exploring new ways to be healthy by changing your diet – talk to Anita, Valerie or Sandee at church, or post a comment here and I’ll put you in touch. I’ll also be happy to share what I’m learning as I research healthful eating and foods. And if you’d like to tell your story at Suzy & Spice, let me know – I’d love to have you as a guest writer. I’ve already recruited Anita to write a post!

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‘I could never do that’

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This is the first time I’ve been brave enough to publish my “before” picture. Bruce took it 4 years ago. Photo on right courtesy of Hatch and Maas Photography.

I’ve been given an opportunity that I’ve been praying for a lot lately: the chance to tell my story to a bigger audience. (My blog has, like, three readers: my mom, my husband and our dog Salsa; the other dog can’t read.)

My hope is that my story, told from my unique perspective, will influence change – in my family, my workplace, even my community. I’ve written for about three years in this space about my “journey to fitness,” hoping to encourage those who need hope, those who think changing your life is only for a certain type of person.

The trouble with that line of thinking is that I believe there’s always hope, that determination (and a lot of prayer) can get you to a better place – if you want it badly enough. If you’re willing to put in the hours, the sweat, the mental energy, the sticktoitiveness to see it through, you can do it even if you’re “nobody special.”

You see, I’m nobody special – I’m just a girl who believes in prayer and hard work.

The problem with a lot of us (with me for so many years) is that we give up too easily.

We look at this marathon as a sprint, and if we don’t see results right away – or if we take a couple of steps forward and end up a step or two backward – we think we will never get it right. We’ll never reach our goals. Or maybe we stop setting goals in the first place.

We let the naysayers fill our heads with nonsense, and we start believing it: It’s too hard, I tried that and it didn’t work. It will never happen – I’m giving up. I could never do that.

One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years is that I’m pretty stubborn. (It’s one of those good/bad things I inherited from my dad.) And, despite many attempts to change that ended in failure, I’m still standing. I’m still pushing. Still learning.

And I’m stronger than ever.

And because I’ve learned some lessons the hard way, I want to pass it on, maybe make someone else’s journey a little easier. Help someone know she’s not alone, that there is hope.

By the grace of God, heartfelt prayer, and much two-steps-forward, one-step-back-ing, I’ve lost about 50 pounds in the past three years. (According to my cardiologist, I need to lose a few more, but we’ll get to that.) It took maybe two of those years to lose the bulk of it (plus I’ve gained 7 back since heart surgery), and I’ve said here before that if it takes the rest of my life to get it all off, it’s worth it if I help someone else find hope and encouragement.

And my mantra – as a runner who will never be at the head of the pack no matter how much I want it – is, “Slow and steady wins the race.” (That may apply more to weight loss than it does to running footraces, but you get the point.)

Another thing I believe to my very core is that we learn – God grows our character the most – amid difficulty. We tend to forget about God during the easy times; we don’t rely on His wisdom and guidance when we’re cruising along through life thinking everything’s great because we’re great!

We learn the best lessons through challenges. And we lose weight and keep it off when we do it slowly and thoughtfully, when we learn why we turn to food when we shouldn’t. Sometimes I’ve had to learn the same lesson over and over, until I really got it. I’m still learning.

I’ve had what you might call challenges in the past three years, including heart surgery five months ago. But out of that particular challenge came a great opportunity:

I got to tell my story in a TV commercial that has been airing all across Arkansas since the Super Bowl, has aired during the Olympics, and will air for the next two years.

When I was asked to do it, someone mentioned that it would be scary to be interviewed on camera. My response: all the more reason to do it! It was so far outside my comfort zone, I knew it would be a new opportunity for growth – to depend on the Lord for my strength.

For a couple of years, I’ve been praying for opportunities to improve my very weak public-speaking skills. I didn’t know exactly why I was praying that, except that I wanted to be available – and not embarrass my family or die of fright – when those rare opportunities arose.

So maybe the interview segment of the TV commercial wasn’t my favorite part (the running part was much more fun and comfortable) but maybe my prayers made me just a little less fearful – bold, even – knowing that my desire was to bring glory to God through it all, and perhaps encourage someone along the way. Guys from the TV crew actually told me I inspired them. Go figure.

I started 2013 (a few weeks after I turned 50) with the goal of “getting to know God better,” deciding not to jump ahead of Him in figuring out the details of the next phase of my life.

I knew what I wanted to do – still want to do – and that may happen some day. My desire is to implement a healthy-workplace initiative at my place of employment. My CEO is open to that (we’ve talked), but I’m not sure he realizes all I have in mind! (I’ve learned to dream big.)

For starters, I recently registered (on my own, not through my job) to become a certified wellness coach. I’m taking online courses and will travel to Colorado in a couple of months for on-site training,

I’m not sure where this journey will take me, but I believe God put the desire in my heart and that He will bless it.

Meanwhile, Channel 7 in Little Rock (ABC affiliate) has invited me to appear on “Good Morning, Arkansas” on Feb. 17 as part of its coverage of Heart Month. My cardiologist, Dr. Conley, will be by my side if his schedule permits. I so hope he can, because he’s a big part of where I am right now.

I can tell you the exact date that I began my “journey to fitness” in earnest: April 5, 2011 – the birthday of our CEO. We had potluck that day, and I ate like a pig. By the end of the day, I was disgusted with myself, I wrote my “Going public” post, and things began to change.

It was embarrassing to admit on the Internet that I weighed 201 pounds (5 pounds less than my highest) and that I had been making a fool of myself with food. But if pigging out was what it took to make me wake up and smell the bacon, it was worth it.

I want to help others by telling my story. Some won’t like it, won’t agree with it, won’t see it. They’ll think I’m being egotistical. I can’t help what people think.

But should I let the Negative Nellies keep me from trying to help someone else?

I could never do that.

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