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?


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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Book review: ‘Altar Ego’ by Craig Groeschel

As books tend to do, Altar Ego: Becoming Who God Says You Are by Craig Groeschel came at just the right time for me. When I received an email from the publisher describing the book, I had begun a time of seeking: God, what do you have in store for me? How are you looking to mold and shape me so that I can carry out Your mission? What is my part in Your plan to make Your name great among the nations?

In part, the publisher’s blurb said: “Discover how to trade in your broken ego and unleash your altar ego to become a living sacrifice. Once we know our true identity and are growing in our Christ-like character, then we can behave accordingly, with bold behavior, bold prayers, bold words, and bold obedience.”

My ego (pride, holier-than-thou attitude, judgmental spirit) tends to get in the way of a lot of things, but fortunately God has been working on it through the years. (He has a big job!) So this book was one more step toward my being molded in His image.

The book has three parts:

  • Part 1: Sacrificing Your False Self for Your Sacred Identity in Christ.
  • Part 2: Sacrificing Cultural Relativity for Eternal Values.
  • Part 3: Sacrificing Self-Justification for Passionate Obedience.

Part 1, while completely relevant, seemed like yet one more recitation of things I already knew: “You are God’s masterpiece,” “You are God’s ambassador,” etc. I appreciated the lessons but didn’t get as much out of it as I did the two other parts.

Even Part 2 was more or less a rehash of a lesson on proper living (things my ego tells me I already have a handle on!). So, again, relevant but not as compelling as Part 3.

I highlighted many passages in all three parts of the book, so it would be unfair to say that only the last section spoke to me.

But finally, in Part 3, the author gets to the meat I’m interested in chewing on: “Bold Behavior,” “Bold prayers,” “Bold words,” “Bold obedience.”

And, while I’ve heard over and over that we are to be bold for Christ (if you don’t believe me, read the Book of Acts – 28 chapters of boldness), it’s a lesson I can hear every day and not get enough of.

By nature, I’m an introvert, and I used to be excruciatingly, painfully, embarrassingly shy. I would beg God silently to send people to me – rather than me to them – to be my friends, to pay attention to me (even though I hated being in the spotlight!). I had a screwed-up idea of how human interaction is supposed to work, especially for one who claims Christ as Lord and Savior, someone who’s supposed to share the Good News with everyone.

At some point, I realized that I had to stop feeling sorry for myself and do some work. I started allowing God to put me in situations where I was uncomfortable, where I would be forced to put myself out there, meeting people, talking to them, actually interacting. In other words, being vulnerable. To be honest, I still don’t like it, but I’ve gotten used to it and now seek out situations where my human-interaction muscle can stretch and grow stronger, little by little. It’s a circle: As I step out, my faith grows. As my faith grows, I’m more willing to step out.

So the section of Altar Ego on boldness really hit home with me. Like I said, nothing too new – although said in a new way with illustrations unique to the author – but a challenge to continue building on the foundation God has laid for my life.

My life is not my own. I want to lay it on God’s altar, and I must – every day, every hour, every minute. Only He knows the perfect plan for my life, and yours. Let’s allow Him to lay it out for us, and then grab His hand as He leads us on the great adventure.

Let us be bold.

“ ‘And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness” (Acts 3:29-31, NLT).

This review is part of my agreement with Thomas Nelson through its BookSneeze project. It allows me to get free books in exchange for my honest review, whether I like the books or not. To learn more, click here.

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Sole mates

My house is cluttered right now, and I don’t even care!

That’s what running does to my brain.

The floor around my chair is littered with running shoes and smelly socks (not to mention smelly dogs). I actually am enjoying this fact right at this very moment.

Why? A couple of reasons:

  1. Insanity runs in our household (it runs outside our house, too, har har).
  2. I still have the “runner’s high” from this morning’s wog in the park.

Every Saturday that we go out there with our “girls” (the remnant from last year’s Women Can Run clinic) is a good day, but today in particular was a very good day.

I started off with a buddy, but, even though my knee started feeling funky very early on, I persisted and ended up doing about half of the course solo because I passed up my buddy and was having too good a time to slow down and let her catch up. It’s not that I’m fast – it’s just that this was her first time out on the Penguin course with us (the Penguin 10k/5k is next weekend, so I guess she figured it was time to hit the trail and get familiar with the course. We won’t mention the fact that she’s 75 years old, because that really doesn’t seem to slow her down. This awesome lady does Zumba, boot camp and any other crazy thing you can imagine!).

So, even though my knee hurt in the beginning and I imagined myself walking most of the route, I kept jogging and eventually forgot about my knee problem. And since the race is jut seven days away, I really didn’t want to walk any. So I kept up a good pace and outran my buddy by about 3 minutes. Today, running solo helped me clear my head a bit.

Running is good for the sole.

When I run/walk/jog/wog, especially solo, I can clear out some of the clutter in my brain, so much so that when I get home to a cluttered dining room it doesn’t bother me so much.

So I like running solo.

But I also like running with buddies.

(Does this make me seem schizophrenic? Haven’t we already determined that I have sanity issues?)

Bruce and I are usually giddy after a jog, but today we seemed sillier than normal (I don’t think too many people noticed). And after we got finished at the athletic store, he was even worse!

You see, he got new shoes. And he was like a little boy. (We didn’t realize just how worn his old shoes had gotten until he got a brand-new pair.) I don’t think I’ve ever seen him as excited about a pair of shoes as he was this morning. I’d like to bottle that smile and take it to work with me every day.

Running is good for the sole, and it’s good for the soul.

Happy feet

Because I ran the 5k route this morning and the other 5k-ers drove away soon after but I still had to wait for the 10k-ers to finish, I debated about how to pass the time. I decided to put my coat back on (shed during the run), sit on the hood of my car and pray while I watched the mighty White River rush by. (Our Saturday morning parking spot is by the dam.)

Nature brings out the praise in me.

A mighty rushing river reminds me of God’s power, His strength and His ability to control the universe. This morning I thought of how He stopped an ocean so His children could pass – and all the other things He did for those ingrates.

He is the God of the ages.

Just as He saw the Israelites through a myriad of problems (most due to their own stubborn rebellion), He sees me through my problems today (most of which are … drum roll, please … due to my own stubborn rebellion).

I’m taking a class called Perspectives, and the readings immediately began reshaping the way I think of God – and the way I pray. (I’ll save the specifics for a later post, but I’m dying to tell you about this class.) But I’m getting off topic …

Jogging has brought Bruce and me closer together in a way I hadn’t imagined it would. We enjoy being silly together most of the time, and running just jacks that up to a whole ’nother level. I’ll spare you the details. (You’re welcome.)

And wogging has brought us lots of new friends. Since I got involved in the Women Can Run/Walk clinic last year – and dragged Bruce along one day when we needed an extra coach – we have had more lady friends than we can shake a baton at!

Now, Bruce is the mother hen to several ladies who caught the running bug and didn’t want to stop when the clinic ended. He is now Coach Bruce, and it has lit him up in wonderful new ways.

We’re getting ready to launch the 2012 clinic (next week!), and both of us will be volunteers this year (my goal last year during the clinic was to become a volunteer this year, and that time is finally here!).

If you are a woman who wants to add a little workout to her schedule but feels intimidated at the thought of “running” with a bunch of super-running-chicks, please put that thought right out of your head. The women’s running clinic is composed of females of all ages, shapes, sizes, colors, political and religious philosophies, incomes (the clinic is free), shoe types, aches, pains, diseases, life stages, fitness levels and speeds. No matter who or what you are, fast or slow, you will fit right in with the rest of us.

I’m not a super-running-chick. I’m just a gal who can’t say no … to the idea of being healthier (mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually and in all others ways that running, fellowship and camaraderie can affect a person) … and to the idea that maybe, just maybe, I can be an inspiration to someone else.

Running and walking are good, clean fun. (Most of the time.) We would love to see you at the Batesville clinic this year. The sessions are from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 8-9 a.m. Saturdays. You can register online or show up between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, at White River Medical Center, Women’s Center, Conference Room B. I will be there until about 6:20, when I have to leave for class.

To register online (or to find a Women Run Arkansas clinic near your hometown), click here.

We also have a Facebook page. If you’d like to get in on the fun before the clinic starts, click here.

Come on out and meet your new sole mates.

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Glimpses of light

Some days I want to reach my weight-loss goal now.

Some days are easier than others in “sticking with the program.” One of my stated goals in this journey, however, was to encourage others to make positive changes in their lives, too.

God gives me glimpses of light in small slivers sometimes. Today He gave me this glimpse, one I have seen in other areas of my life but hadn’t associated with my physical-fitness journey until now: If I lost all the weight I needed to lose as fast as I wanted to lose it, I wouldn’t learn nearly as much as He wants to teach me along the way. (And how physically unhealthy would that be? We’re not even gonna go there.)

I’m trying to get a healthy-workplace team established at the bank where I work, partly because I need a community of fellow sojourners to help me stay motivated, and partly because I want to be an encourager to others. This, too, will take time, and I’m okay with that.

At the rate I’m losing weight – about a pound a week – I will reach the 160-pound mark (goal weight, not pounds lost) on Feb. 10, 2012. Lots could happen along the way. I could get injured (oh, yeah, I already did!), I could get sick, I could lose my focus and veer off the path (for the umpteenth time). Heck, I could even change my goals. All sorts of things could happen to sidetrack me. No one knows the future, so I’m trying not to take that February date too seriously. I’m trying to learn as I go, gaining insight as I lose inches.

A few years ago, when my previous church set a God-sized goal to pay off $1.2 million of facility debt in 15 months, one of the members of a small-group study I was leading expressed skepticism (or, dare I say, cynicism). Among other things, he thought the church was setting its sights too high and asking its members to sacrifice too much. I urged him to consider what God was going to teach us in those 15 months. It was an exciting, encouraging time for our congregation, and so many wonderful stories came out of it. The last Sunday morning of December (15 months after we started), a relatively small last-minute donation (just after the church service ended) helped push us past our goal. Needless to say, we had a huge celebration.

God did teach us a lot that year. He taught many of us ways we could sacrifice, big and small, that didn’t necessarily cost us a penny: Maybe we raised money by doing something good in the community. Maybe we taught our kids that the family’s weekly movie night could mean watching a DVD and popping our own corn instead of piling into the car and spending big bucks at the theater. Maybe it meant not spending 4 bucks on a cup of coffee at a retail store every morning (and perhaps realizing we needed to give up the habit, anyway), then keeping tabs on what we were saving and dropping it into the offering plate come Sunday morning. Or maybe it did mean shelling out money – but the emphasis was on giving, not spending. And maybe some of us hadn’t been giving anything to God but started doing so during this emphasis on living beyond ourselves. Many of us learned the true meaning of sacrifice and obedience that year.

And if we had not experienced that 15 months as a community – the body of Christ – we wouldn’t have learned nearly as much about God, about ourselves and about our capacity for giving, and trusting. And we wouldn’t have the stories we members and former members still tell about that time in the life of our church.

So this journey I’m on – the one revolving around getting a healthier body – it’s not just about me. If you’ve been reading my posts these past two months, you know it often seems as though it’s all about me, but it isn’t. God gave us each other and told us to help one another along in the journey of life. It’s not just about me.

The Father  gives me glimpses of light when I keep the eyes of my heart open. Sometimes He has to pry them open, and sometimes I open them just enough to see what He’s teaching me.

Today my eyes opened just a slit, and I think I got what He was trying to tell me.

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The slow train to sanity – or is it a runaway train?

Friends, you don’t know how hard it is for me to be sitting here writing this rather than strapping on my seatbelt and pointing the car back toward North Little Rock. It’s 7:45 a.m. as I sit down to write this, and if I left now I could be there by 9:15 (Saturday’s Insane Statement No. 1).

If you’ve read Thursday night’s post (which hit the Internet just before midnight, another sign of my weakened mental condition), you know that I have been battling an “insanity pod” – trying to bring some measure of balance back to my life (if I ever possessed any such thing) – by eliminating things from my schedule, even those things that make me seem even more insane for skipping.

You see, Beth Moore is speaking at Verizon Arena in NLR this weekend, and I had bought my ticket several weeks ago, as soon as I heard about the event.

Beth Moore is, in my opinion, the best women’s Bible study teacher – dare I say women’s teacher, period – of our generation. (Oprah might think she herself is the best teacher of women, but Oprah would be wrong; she may mention “Jesus” every once in a while, but it’s not the same Jesus that Beth Moore talks about.)

I had been looking forward to seeing Beth (yeah, we’re on a first-name basis) live for so long it was killing me. My church here in Batesville had hosted one of her Living Proof Live global simulcasts last summer, and it was amazing (of course). We ladies talked that day of wishing we could attend a live Beth Moore event (several in the gathering that day already had). So when I heard the announcement about this weekend’s event, I wasted no time in registering.

In case you’re unfamiliar with her, in women’s Christian circles the name “Beth Moore” is like the name “Billy Graham” is to the world at large. Most church women you meet, young or old, are gonna know her name and have attended at least one of her Bible studies. Men don’t necessarily “get” her, but women love her.

I became familiar with Beth perhaps 10 years ago when “my other Fellowship” – Fellowship Bible Church of North Little Rock – did one of her studies, Living Free. With the first study, I was hooked. Fellowship North has since hosted many Beth Moore Bible studies, and I could name you my favorites, but I’ll save that for a later conversation.

I believe Beth is so popular for many reasons, but here are the main ones:

  • Her depth of insight into human nature and human character, partly because of where God has brought her from personally.
  • Her depth of study of the Scriptures, including the history of biblical terminology and concepts.
  • Her willingness to share the ugliness of her past with those she teaches. By the same token, she is willing to share the ugliness of her present with us. While there is a temptation to paint her as a saint, she would be the first to tell you she isn’t. She is a sinner saved by grace, just like the rest of us who have called on the name of Jesus for salvation. And we all have ugliness that makes us need Jesus on a minute-by-minute basis. (If you don’t think you do, you’re in denial and we should talk.)
  • She makes the Bible come alive. Her sanguine personality is a big part of that, but I think the more profound reasons are 1) the digging she does into the historical texts, through exhaustive research and study; 2) the fact that she has struggled with so many of the same issues we all struggle with, and then some; and 3) she loves Jesus from the depths of her soul.

It’s that last part that resonates with so many. Beth Moore loves Jesus. If you doubt it, just listen to her for 60 seconds and you’ll likely hear her say it, in so many words. It oozes out her pores.

So I am sitting here on Saturday morning wishing I were back at Verizon Arena, listening to awesome praise music and drinking in Part 2 of her message.

I was there last night for Part 1, knowing I was coming home afterward instead of spending the night with the rest of our group. It killed me to leave, but I was so tired by that point (mentally and physically) it was the only rational thing to do. Or so I thought.

Here is where I confess, and what brings me to tears: My decision not to stay to the end of the conference was based on human logic, not prayerful consideration.

What’s ironic is that human logic is what brought me to this place of imbalance in the first place. Not giving God the time of day, most days, is where my train began running off the tracks.

But let me back up a few days:

Wednesday night I was writing a Suzy & Spice blog post and getting ready to edit the church’s Connect+Scripture blog post before finishing our tax return so I could know how much money we needed to borrow to pay the IRS (our bill is big this year, for a variety of reasons, hence the delay in filing). My mother knocked on the door; she had just gotten out of church and thought she’d swing by to see us.

I didn’t even have time to talk to her. I sort of talked to her, but I was doing “computer things” the whole time she was here. She didn’t stay long, and I felt so guilty. I apologized then, and again the next day, and again yesterday. I also told her to read Thursday’s blog post, which I wrote as a result of this encounter. Or I should say the encounter was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

For it was then that I realized, for sure, that something had to give. And the fact that my mother was the one I had “given up” did not make me happy. When something has to give, your family should not even be on the list.

Mom  and the rest of my family have been the ones to suffer from my imbalanced life for a long time.

My rational self is the one that says things like “I have to go to school because of A, B and C” (those reasons are for another post) or “When we sell the North Little Rock house, X, Y and Z will change and I will have more time” or “I committed to this, and I can’t quit.”

My tendency to overcommit is what will end up killing me someday, if my family doesn’t murder me first.

So in Thursday’s post I talked about the insanity of imbalance. I mentioned needing to take things off my calendar, even things that were seemingly important. (I was thinking specifically of the Beth Moore event.)

My human logic said, “Girl, you’re going to die, or alienate your family, or get fired from your job if you don’t start whittling down your to-do list.”

So the calendar items started dropping like flies, even the one event I had waited so long for. I almost skipped it entirely, but I knew I had to go at least for part of the weekend.

There is another (also stress-related) reason I decided to experience only half of the weekend, and telling you would reveal an unflattering part of me that I’m not ready to share this morning – partly because it’s a long story; you need background info before you judge me too harshly 🙂 and this post is too long already!

A huge irony of this story is that Beth Moore talked about excellence last night – how we need to order our schedules and commitments wisely because “we cannot do a thousand things to the glory of God.” That sentence almost made me weep. It also prompted Kristi to reach across another friend, grab my arm and ask, “Did she consult with you before she wrote this?” (or words to that effect).

Beth’s challenge to us last night was to figure out what God has called us to do (“adopt a succinct life goal”), acquire the appropriate tools to fulfill it (Bible commentaries and concordances, for instance), “endure the hard for the sake of the good” (I’ll expand on that later) and embrace community. (Kristi has been instructed to take good notes for me today so I can hear the rest of the message.)

In the next few days, I’ll share more of what I learned last night, but here’s the challenge I want to leave you to ponder with me, for as long as it takes to discover the answer:

“What would it take to be excellent at what God has called you to do?”

Please share your thoughts by posting a comment.

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Biggest loser, or a winning idea?

I had a shock today when I received this group e-mail from my co-worker who is leading our 12-week Biggest Loser competition:

Happy Hump Day! This Friday will be week 9 of our biggest loser. Suzy is in the lead with 4.26% weight loss. Go, Suzy! We still have three weeks to go. Sisters, a lot can be done in three weeks, so don’t give up! I look forward to seeing you Friday morning. Final weigh-in is Friday, May 6.

It was a pleasant surprise to discover that I was in the lead, but it made me sad for all 10 of us. Why? (You probably think it’s because I’m insane.)

It’s because I know how much I have struggled on the roller coaster these past several weeks (years, really, but we’re talking about contest weeks here). And if I – who yo-yoed up and down, up and down for two months – am in the lead, it means everyone else has been struggling to stick with the program, too. On the other hand, there are people who are bigger than I, and because the contest is based on percentage (not pounds) lost, I may be leading only percentagewise and not poundwise. But still.

Our little group of losers has a weekly weigh-in but is not really a support group with meetings or any other type of interaction. I think that is why I have struggled; there is no accountability factor except the scale. I think it’s why others have struggled, too. Friday I ran into another participant when we happened to go downstairs at the same time to weigh in (there is no set time to weigh, as long as it’s on Friday). She admitted struggling, too, and I have to believe she and I are not the only ones.

I didn’t even know who the other participants were until recently. There’s nothing formal about the plan except for the weigh-ins, which are recorded by the leader and not really reported to the group (except for the first week, and today).

Nothing against our leader; she’s doing a great job under our time constraints. We’re all busy, we’re doing this on our employer’s time, and there’s not a lot you can coordinate under those circumstances. It takes up about 5 minutes of my time (going from the third floor to the first, weighing, then turning around and going back upstairs) and maybe a half hour a week for the leader (I’m just guessing). But I, for one, would be willing to stay 30 minutes late for a weekly meeting to interact with the other participants and get support and encouragement. I just know that the personal contact is what works for me.

Left to my own devices, I will go nuts, veer off course and be right back where I started, if not worse off. Now that I have gone public with my struggle, revealed my weight and committed to blogging daily about my journey to fitness (click here to read my “Going public” post), I have the blog (and you, my support panel of readers) to keep me on track, but the rest of the group will have the same routines to go back to after the contest unless something changes.

A few months ago I tentatively suggested we ask our CEO if we could have a Weight Watchers chapter at work after hours. I approached a marketing person because I know her better than I know the HR people and she has been at the bank since the beginning. She told me it was really a human-resources matter and that she would pass along my suggestion. I didn’t follow up because then the Biggest Loser contest was starting.

Emboldened by a recent round-table luncheon hosted by our CEO and COO (it was called a “thank-you lunch,” but our leaders invited feedback and questions), I’m thinking of skipping the Weight Watchers idea sent through channels and going directly to the CEO with an even bigger proposal. I’d like to see some type of initiative in our workplace that challenges employees to give up unhealthy habits. Lots of companies offer incentives to its employees for losing weight, quitting smoking and other positive lifestyle changes. Money motivates people, and even if it doesn’t motivate all of us to make permanent changes, it will do so for some. And if I could see one person quit smoking or lose unhealthy poundage – maybe even head off diabetes or heart disease – it would be worth it to me (and, I hope, to my employer, who is so generously involved in community service it astounds me sometimes).

Once I get up the nerve, I’m going to approach Mr. CEO with a deal: If he’ll put some cash behind the initiative, I’ll do the research and find out what has worked for other companies, coupled with statistics on how these programs improve lives and cut employer costs, then I’ll present the options.

Our company gives a lot of money and effort to this community and, I have to say, to its employees, so I think my idea will be received graciously even if the answer is no.

And if he doesn’t bite, I’ll know I tried and I won’t hold a grudge. And then I’ll bring it up again next year. 🙂

Please post a comment and give me your ideas for a program that could work for my company of 200 employees.

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False gods

Friends, tonight I had to fill in for one of the writers of my church’s blog, Connect+Scripture. I have to leave the house before daylight in the morning to go to an out-of-town conference, so I can’t stay up and write a separate post for this space.

Therefore, if you’re staying up late, you get a free preview of the C+S post, which will publish at midnight. I hope it speaks to you and challenges you:

[verse]1 Kings 12-15[/verse] – Commentary by Suzy Oakley

Have you ever looked around your little corner of the world, or watched five minutes of the network news, and said to yourself, “How could it get any worse?” How could this world we live in sink any lower into the depths of depravity, self-centeredness and greed?

I think we’ve been saying that for millennia. Each generation is worse than the last, and we think it can’t possibly get any worse than it is now.

Well, my friend, it can. There may be “nothing new under the sun”  (Ecclesiastes 1:9), but there are variations on a theme.

In the days of the Old Testament kings, the theme was false gods. In fact, throughout the history of God’s chosen people, putting other gods before Him was the theme that echoed through the ages.

Can you hear it?

Israel’s worship of false gods was the root of everything that was wrong with the world. Any time we try to be our own boss, to fill a void in our lives that only God can fill, to think we know best, we are worshiping a false god. We may not have the same exact idols the children of Israel had, but anything we put ahead of our Creator is an idol.

We have traded golden calves for golden arches.

I’m speaking for myself here. My personal god is food. This is true for millions of Americans, whether they are fat, skinny or something in between. Some of us eat too much; some of us eat too little. Either way, food has become a god, a way to comfort ourselves, be “in control” or in some other way make ourselves feel better. Food has become an obsession, a god. And any god with a little “g” is a false god.

If you have visited my personal blog in the past week, you know that I have finally “gone public” about my struggles with weight and food. I wanted to throw light on the issue so that it won’t be an ugly, secret sin any longer. A week ago today, I announced my weight (the exact number on the scale) and a commitment to deal with my false god in public, in an effort to help myself and others deal with our heavy burdens (and by “help myself” I mean only by God’s leading – I have to do my share of the hard work, but He is holding my hand).

Tossing out my “golden calf” (and its stinky, insect-infested brothers and sisters) isn’t going to be easy, and I’ve enlisted help. I have hope and joy and a sense of release for finally letting it all hang out, so to speak. I want to stomp that idol to smithereens. But I can do it only by putting God where that big fat cow has been sitting for so long.

I wish I could say that food is my only false god. I also worship at the altar of busyness, bossiness and caring too much what others think of me. (Don’t worry; I’m stopping here. I won’t throw the whole list at you!)

Perhaps your god is money, laziness, workaholism, worry, gossip, the need to be liked. Anything that keeps you from putting the One True God on His rightful throne at the center of your heart is a god with a little “g.”

Let’s keep God on His throne, where He belongs.

What are some gods you would like to work on obliterating?

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Indulge Fridays

On this Indulge Friday (the day I weigh in at work and then spend the rest of the day not worrying about what I eat), here is the bulk of an e-mail I sent in reply to my sweet friend who wants to hold my hand during my journey to health and fitness. Names have been changed to protect the innocent, and sections have been edited to protect me from others who might take offense at the reason I stopped sharing my breakfast! (I hope he’s not reading this):

“You’re so sweet to want to help [me]. It really is about a journey, and if we can’t help each other we might as well not be on the planet sucking up other people’s oxygen.

“One way for you to help is to keep asking me how I’m doing (hold my feet to the fire). I think I’m going to start blogging what I eat so I won’t be tempted to overdo, even on my Indulge Fridays. For instance, when the Biggest Loser weigh-ins [at work] started in March, I started going by McDonald’s on Fridays because I didn’t want to eat breakfast at home before weighing in. It started with two Sausage and Egg McMuffins (or whatever was 2 for $2.50 at the time – a marketing tool that makes people fat!). When I would do that before, I would give one McMuffin to ‘Joe,’ but eventually I stopped … sharing.

“I stopped sharing but didn’t stop ordering the 2 for $2.50, so I started eating both items, and about three weeks ago I started throwing half of the second one away. Today, I ate one and a half McMuffins and was full until lunchtime (not just satisfied, but full). This leads me to think my body is already adjusting to less food.

“I’ve tried a lot of the healthy foods and methods you use, but lately I have veered off the path toward convenience, and convenience will get you every time. This week I’ve been bringing a turkey sandwich from home, and that has helped me not overdo with fast foods or at restaurants.

“[As you observed,] I do think I’m more serious about it than most people – finally. I toyed with the idea of ‘going public’ for over a year. That’s when I had Bruce take my ‘before’ picture, but I have been too chicken to post it. I was at the same weight then as I was a month ago, but I look bigger in the pic because I was wearing stretch pants and a tank top. I can hide the weight pretty well most of the time.

“Anyway, maybe we can continue this conversation over the weekend. Feel free to post comments on my blog (even ones that challenge me to do better). One thing I’ve learned over the years is that I need good mentors to hold me accountable, and I’m now able to be open about my shortcomings (at least most of them).”

My friend had gingerly told me she wanted to help, but she had been rebuffed in the past (by someone else who originally said she wanted her help), and she was afraid to step on my toes. But, hey, I think my toes need stepping on – at least for a while – don’t you? Just be sure to wear your ballerina shoes and not your army boots.

My big victory today was that I broke through the 200-pound barrier for the first time in so long I can’t remember: I weighed in at 197.6!

(I guess I should have mentioned that exciting news at the beginning. As we would say in the journalism biz, I “buried the lead.”)

Thank you, my nameless friend, for boldly offering yourself as my fitness mentor. And thank you, my other friends, for reading along and being bold enough to take steps toward your own mental, physical and spiritual fitness.

Please post a comment letting me know what challenges you face in your journey to healthy living.

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Going public

It’s time.

As a woman in labor says to her husband while grabbing her overnight bag and the car keys: It’s time.

It’s time for me to get serious about healthy eating, healthy living, this extra 50 pounds of baggage – and go public with my struggle. Public because it’s the only way I will stick with it. (Well, it’s not the only way [more on that later], but it’s a hugely important way, and the one I’ve chosen.)

Many factors have converged to bring me to this point, but tonight was decision time. After more than a year of wishy-washy, excuse-filled thinking, it was time to paint or get off the ladder (my former pastor’s variation on a more colorful and well-known phrase).

As with many of my so-called good decisions, this one came while I was jacked up on too much oxygen – toward the end of a 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) run in a beautiful neighborhood – blue skies, green trees, a slight breeze, low humidity, bicycling kids and dads, jogging moms. A perfect evening.

It was the perfect end to a not-so-perfect day at work – a day of being out of control with my eating. Today was April-birthday-celebration-day at work. Can I tell you all the things I ate without making you sick? It makes me sick (emotionally, mentally, spiritually) to think about it, so maybe I won’t. I will let you imagine. Because, if you are reading this is as a person (especially a woman) who has struggled with food issues for any length of time, you don’t have to know the specifics of my particular brand of food insanity; you have your own specifics and can fill in the blanks using your own food-drug of choice.

I am typically not a binge eater, but I do tend to overdo, and today I pushed the limits of common sense. I ate a lot of junk – so much, in fact, that even though I was no longer full by the time the Women Run Arkansas clinic started at 5:30, I felt heavy. Not body-heavy, but heart-heavy.

I didn’t want to run. For this reason, I knew I had to.

One thing about the running clinic: I always feel better when I’ve pushed myself, made myself persevere. I never want to go; I always am glad I did. It’s kind of like when you’re tired and don’t want to get up and go to church. You’re in a bad mood, don’t want to do it, but you know you’ll receive a blessing if you just go. And you do. And you do.

Tonight, as always, I got to the designated running spot and walked around the parking lot while the other ladies chatted. I don’t like to do the stretches without warming my muscles first. I started off feeling like an elephant (“I can’t do this tonight. Why am I here?”) but slowly began to feel more capable, confident. By the time the group stretching began, I was ready (I had also found a bathroom in the nearby gym – an unexpected, happy bonus: I could pee one last time before jogging! [More on that later, filed under “A Million Excuses”]).

I’m sure they told us the following fact after our last Saturday morning workout, but with the wind blowing, the music blaring and the stretch leader’s head turned in the other direction, I do not always hear all the details: We were going to run a 5k tonight. In a hilly neighborhood. (Saturday workouts are on the high school track. The flat-as-a-pancake high school track.)

Tonight we ran the route of the upcoming 1040 Tax Fun Run/Walk. Sure, we’d been running nearly 3 miles in our thrice-weekly workouts for quite some time, gradually building our endurance with longer jog/shorter walk times, but tonight we took a big leap. Instead of an alternating run-2-minutes/walk-3-minutes workout, we skipped ahead to  a run-3/walk-1 pace. What? Are you trying to kill us? (Really, they’re not. Quite the contrary – they’re trying to save us from ourselves.)

But it was run-3, walk-1, and I was game. I have been building endurance, even though with my respiratory issues (Excuse No. 697) Bruce thinks I may never get the lung capacity I long for. My physical endurance, while not ideal, nevertheless has been improving.

When I finished my 5K (in 41 minutes, 15 seconds!), I walked back to find some other joggers and walkers, mainly because Bruce was with them. (He has been volunteering as a coach at the clinic for a couple of weeks, since the day we both needed the car and he stayed to see if they needed help instead of simply dropping me off.)

Strangely enough, after my run, I felt good. I am sure I won’t be saying this once the humidity pods descend on our city, but tonight it was all good. Especially when I crossed the finish line.

I felt so great, in fact, that I doubled back to jog in with the group behind me, encouraging the ladies as they neared the finish line. And when we reached it, I doubled back again to pick up the next group. “Go, ladies. You’re almost there! You can do it! Finish line just ahead!”

It made me feel good to encourage them. They may not have wanted or needed my two cents’ worth of encouragement, but I felt good giving it to them.

That’s when the crazy idea hit me (remember, my brain was all endorphined up):

“Next year I am going to be in good enough shape to be a leader of one of the running groups.” (We have several groups, starting with Walkers, then Beginner A runners, Beginner B runners, Intermediate …)

“That is my goal, my New Year’s resolution (nevermind this is April). I am going to get serious about this unhealthy, out-of-shape body and be a serious runner! And then I’m going to help others!”

If you have ever made a New Year’s resolution, or gone on a diet, or committed to anything important in the throes of an oxygen high, you know how risky and tricky the next few weeks are going to be. I’m not stupid – I know I will have many obstacles, not the least of which will be the enemy’s attempts to short-circuit my resolve. The evil one will throw in my face every single excuse I’ve ever come up with for quitting.

So let me list a few of them here, just to get them out of the way. I’m sure I’ll think of more later, but here are a few of the Million Excuses:

  • My feet hurt. (I have bone spurs in the bottoms of both of my heels. I’ve seen them in X-rays.)
  • My knee hurts. (I did something to it quite a while back, and it gives me grief sometimes.)
  • I have a heart condition. (But my cardiologist told me 18 months ago that I needed to lose a few pounds.)
  • I have developed a problem with urinary leakage upon exertion. (Don’t make me explain. If you’re a middle-age woman or have been pregnant, you probably know what I’m talking about. Explain it to the other girls.)
  • I don’t have the right apparel. (Solved the most important one recently when I figured out How to buy a sports bra. This was a tongue-in-cheek post; some people didn’t get that – but he was a guy.)
  • I don’t have time. (Haven’t we all used that one? If you don’t have time to take care of your body [and your spirit], you’re too busy!)
  • I’m not very fast. (Solved that one, too, when I read No Need for Speed: A Beginner’s Guide to the Joy of Running.)
  • I have respiratory issues. (So what? See previous item.)
  • It’s too cold/hot/humid. (Since I began running again in November, I have run in below-freezing temperatures and lived to tell about it. In the past, I have run in high temperatures and not died of heat stroke. As for the humidity – well, I’m still talking to myself about that one.)

Those are some of the excuses I’ve used for not exercising. The ones for not eating right are fewer but more ridiculous:

  • My oven is 40 years old and burns everything. (So make a sandwich.)
  • I can’t afford to eat healthy. (But you can afford a cardiologist’s bill?)
  • I don’t have time to cook healthful foods. (Salads do take a relatively long time to prepare, and cutting up the vegetables too many days in advance causes them to spoil faster. But good alternatives exist. Figure them out, and stop whining.)
  • Fresh produce spoils so fast. (So go to the store more often. Or send hubby.)
  • But this tastes so good. (So eat a little of it, savor it, and put your fork away.)
  • The Weight Watchers calculator is out of stock, and I can’t count my points without it! (Good news – I finally got the calculator.)

The excuses pile up like stacks of old newspapers. And the excuses are a lot easier to recycle.

The bottom line is that, left to my own devices, “wisdom” and appetites, I will die young. And I don’t want to leave Bruce and the dogs to fend for themselves. I love them too much for that.

That is why I’m going public:

This morning, my scale said 199. That means my actual weight is 201 (I cannot calibrate my scale to the correct setting, so I trust the one at work, where we are doing a Biggest Loser competition and I’ve been losing the same 2 pounds for about three weeks now).

My weight issue is largely an accountability problem. (At its core it’s a spiritual battle, but that is a post for another day.) And because I need accountability to my friends, my family, and even total strangers, I am choosing to go public.

I’m not going to post my “before picture” tonight because I have to find it first and it’s already two hours past my bedtime, but I am committing to writing something every single day in this space. I do have a busy schedule (job, school, family, volunteer work), but I will at least post a brief thought. Not sure yet how often I will post my weight (at the moment, I’m weighing myself every morning), but I’ll figure out the specifics as I go.

In reading this, you have found out some ugly things about me that you may not have known. I invite you to take this journey with me, whether you have pounds to shed or some other type of heavy weight that is keeping you down. I am doing this not only to help myself but to help others, Lord willing.

This journey will require prayer, commitment, obedience and a lot of listening to God’s voice (the only way this will really and truly work). I am finally ready. Are you?

It’s time to go public. I hope you’ll join me on the journey.

Share your struggles, words of wisdom or a bit of encouragement with me by posting a comment.

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The good Earth

The Certified Arkansas Farmers Market (Sixth & Main streets in North Little Rock’s Argenta neighboorhood) opened yesterday for the 2009 season. I really hated to miss it, but Bruce and I went to Batesville for the annual Scottish festival at Lyon College (more on that later). But I’m so excited that it’s finally open! Saturday, April 25, is Basket-A-Month pickup day, so I can’t wait for the fresh eggs, milk, cheese, pasta, STRAWBERRIES and other goodies that will be in the basket. Maybe I’ll make strawberry cake or muffins next weekend!

Come on down Saturday for fresh, Arkansas-grown produce, dairy, beefalo, honey, homemade pasta and much more. Support your local farmer. Maybe you’ll see us there. Bruce and I will be volunteering during the basket pickup.

After that, walk down to Riverfront Park for the Arkansas Earth Day Festival. The festival is on the North Little Rock side of the river between the Main Street and Broadway bridges. Maybe you’ll see me there. I’ll be volunteering at the Basket-A-Month booth.

The festival is on the 25th, although Earth Day is Wednesday, April 22. Poke around the official Earth Day site and find out little ways you can make a difference. Support your local planet.

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