Friday, November 27, 2009

Turkey Reflections

The day after Thanksgiving. Back to the healthy eating and exercise routine. While reflecting on the Thanksgiving meal, I decided not to gripe about what and how much I ate, but instead to think about the food as a metaphor for the relationships I crave, particularly at this time of year. Time for this foodie to see the turkey and trimmings in a new way.

The turkey. This is the meat of the traditional Thanksgiving meal. It’s a wonderful food, full of protein, providing me with the strength and nourishment to fuel my muscles for strength and good health. It’s the star of the show on this holiday, and I find it interesting that of all the foods we usually prepare, it’s the simplest. Rinse off, sprinkle a little oil, salt and pepper, and roast. The turkey reminds me of the strongest relationships in my life. My husband, close friends, family. Certain of the people in my life are the ones who are the true fuel for my strength and good health. I know that if I don’t spend the time I need with these protein sources, I get drained more easily and life’s circumstances affect me more than it should. These meaty relationships are simple, but require time.

The stuffing. It’s the flavorful, fun, fill-in stuff. With all its varieties, the stuffing can enhance the turkey with its spiciness. However, the stuffing can also absorb the juices from my primary protein source if I simply stuff too much. Like the big bowl of bread chunks that seems bottomless, I find it interesting that I can stuff way too much into a little space. Volunteerism, guilt, busy-ness, useless traditions. All these and more can provide way too much filling for my good health. It can be tasty and fun, and might fuel me for the short run, but it doesn’t give the long-lasting energy I need to sustain myself.

The cranberry sauce. This sweet enhancement to the Thanksgiving meal is exactly what makes everything else taste a little better. I love to have a bit of sauce with the turkey, with the stuffing, with whatever else ends up on my plate. It’s like my sweet relationships that lack the obligatory side effects of time and attention. They include old high school friends, new friends, temporary acquaintances—all of who add just what I need to enjoy the meat of my life a bit more.

Green. Bean. Casserole. This is an attempt at healthy living gone bad. I’m okay with the green, and even with the green bean, but when it becomes casserole, it becomes a dish I avoid. The healthiness has been masked in creaminess and crunchiness, like the healthy relationships in my life that seem simple but get masked in obligation and need redefining or skipping altogether. There have been seasons in my own life when I held onto a relationship just a bit too long that it became this unsavory side dish, and I have had to make this decision to either change it or skip it to maintain my own health.

The salad, asparagus, or brussel sprouts. There is usually one side dish that retains its simple, healthy state on the Thanksgiving table. The crunchiness and deep green colors of these foods can provide the vitamins and fiber that help us to enjoy the rest of the meal in moderation. I find it interesting that I usually skip eating these foods on Thanksgiving, even if they are on the table. There’s no room left for healthiness on a day devoted to indulgence. There’s a problem, however, when the sense of abundance makes me skip the simplicity of this day which is all about giving thanks. I want to remember not to skip giving thanks on this day, or any day, even if I skip the green stuff.

The pies. The pies epitomize indulgence and sweetness in all its forms: apple, pumpkin, lemon, cherry. The aspect of the pies I appreciate most is the sweetness of the family traditions tied to them. The passing on of the recipes and techniques for pie baking is in itself enough for dessert. I love the traditions and heritage passed on from generation to generation through these desserts. It’s a great finishing touch to a day devoted to thankfulness. This sweet gratitude is the treat for all of our days, not just the holiday season.

I’m full now, how about you? Be blessed this holiday season with the relationships you crave.

Monday, November 16, 2009

When 10 Equals 100

I came across a new realization on my weight loss journey last week: 10 equals 100! No, it’s not a new math method. It’s a new mindset.

As many of you know, I have lost over 100 pounds during the last five years, primarily as a result of my faith and prayer life. Praise God! Yet I still tackle the infamous ‘last ten pounds’ which I need to lose to reach my goal weight. It amazes me that it’s such a common theme; you know, you share with your girlfriend “I have these last ten pounds to lose!” What does she say? “I know what you mean…these last ten are the HARDEST!”

Why do these last pounds get such a bad rap? What’s the difference between them and the first ten? Hey, a pound is a pound, right? I’m not a nutritionist but I can acknowledge that there is some truth to the fact that losing these pounds is a different struggle. I think we’ve taken this concept too far, though. Why the last-pounds struggle? Here are a few reasons I can identify:
1. My body as a thinner person requires less calories than it did as a much heavier person; as a result, I am eating too much if I use some of my old eating habits; therefore I need to eat less.
2. I have more muscle mass than before, and so I can eat more if my metabolism is higher due to the muscle. Sometimes I might take that liberty too far and steep back into the old habits; as a result, I eat too much again.
3. My weight loss efforts are getting tiresome; after a long time of following this eating program, my body is too familiar with the routine and in its higher level of fitness, and requires that I change something either in my eating or exercise or both to wake up my metabolism.
4. I’m just tired of it all and so I simply eat out of boredom.
5. It’s possible I’m afraid of success and that I have identified myself as a person who needed to lose weight for so long that I’m not ready to give her up.
There’s no way to have long-time success in a healthy weight and lifestyle without some knowledge of the reasons behind the food science. That’s not my focus, though. I’m here to deal with the spiritual perspective.

I am thrilled to have finally become conscious of the fact that over the last ten months, I have been working from an attitude of “Hey, God. Thanks a lot for your help with those first hundred pounds. I’m down to the last ten…(gulp, here’s the problem)…I CAN TAKE IT FROM HERE!” The self-sufficiency fails to serve me once again. What am I thinking? Why do I assume that since these last pounds seem like a smaller goal, and therefore I can attain this one on my own? I persist with food tracking, exercising, reading new recipes and cooking…only to find myself in that state of permanent plateau once again. And boy am I excited to recognize my problem. Why? Because my God, the same God who held my hand through those hundred pounds, is still here. He’s with me, holding my hand, for these last ten pounds. I just forgot. I need to treat these last ten pounds the same way as those first hundred: a goal that can be accomplished only with God’s help.

There was an amazing new Scripture I discovered the next day after realizing this erroneous attitude on my part. It’s Galatians 3:3 in the NIV version: “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” Okay, so God needed to knock me upside the head with that familiar clunk of a V8 moment, but I think I get the message. Ten pounds, beware. You will be gone.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Serving Bread

As I walked to the back of the Open Door Ministry, the first thing I saw was the table with boxes and boxes of all types of bread and rolls, bagged in portions to be distributed. Of course I’d notice the bread. It’s one of my own personal drugs of addiction. The bread was next to the rows of grocery store bags containing the non-perishable food items. They were all lined up, soldiers ready to take on their mission. What really is the mission, I wonder?

I can see how easy it is to step into this type of serving situation with a bit of a superior attitude, although unintended and completely innocent. I’m one of several people who signed up in a time slot for this place which was a food pantry and clothing provider for those qualified to be in need. When I sign up to help people, I realize it sounds like it’s about me helping them. I’m one of those who has the resources, the health, the strength, the ability, and the desire to help others. What I have discovered, though, is that in the helping process, I am the one who’s receiving the work on my own heart. It’s not necessary to have the spiritual gift of mercy, or giving, or even compassion, to choose to sign up and be a part of a serving project. What is helpful on a personal level, however, is to tap into prayer for God to help me help others.

This time, I prayed about the serving project. I prayed I would help out in ways that were needed. I prayed I would see and hear what God would want me to see and hear. And so I did.

I saw the woman walk into the pantry for her first time. She was greeted by the staff with love and care. “Come on in!”, they’d say. “Sit down and let’s talk about what’s up.” So many of us simply need someone to sit down and listen to us. But many of us need a bit more; some tangible help. Not the smoothed-over “I’ll pray for you” comment, but a real listening ear and a chance for someone else to tap into our own life’s challenges to maybe take our hand and help us through the valley. In this place, there isn’t just the listening ear. There’s also the chance for hands-on help. It’s about finding the real need and meeting it. I could benefit from that focus when talking with my friends, my family, neighbors and acquaintances. Getting past the surface-level conversations and into real places of mission requires that I risk the next step that might require action on my part.

Then there was the couple who were browsing through the clothes racks, looking for something that would be useful and practical to put into their “free” bag of clothes. They had to guess at sizes since there wasn’t the opportunity to try things on, but they could take whatever they wanted. The larger-sized man stood next to me; I asked if I could help him find something in particular. “There’s not much in bigger sizes, is there?” I could have cried. My own food addiction had me in that familiar place so many times. I would be in a store and want to find something that fits and is helpful for my self-esteem, but larger sizes are elusive. It takes a lot more effort to find something that doesn’t look like a sack of potatoes when I’m overweight. His comment fueled me to take the time to take apart the slacks off the rack and look through several of them, one by one, to find the tiny size tag in the bottom right leg of the pants to read the numbers. We found one pair of slacks a little bit bigger, and it was like I found a treasure when I handed it to him.

Then there was the scary person. You know, the kind that make us say “Uh-oh, I don’t know if I could talk to her”. The miniskirt, fishnets and bleached hair seemed to offset the need to find sweaters and long-sleeved tops for her bag. I wondered what her story was. I asked if I could help her find something. She was looking for the blankets; they were usually in the back but must have been moved. She was obviously familiar with this place of handouts. How long does this go on, I wonder? How many times do these people come here. Is it possible to lack the motivation to move on?

Finally, the heart-wrenching interaction. It was unintended; I was finishing up the back rack of clothes to be sorted, not necessarily talking with anyone at the time, and next to me, on the chairs, were two small children. They were sitting quietly, one of them holding a bag of bread, waiting for the adults to finish their conversation and paperwork. The older child, a girl with bright eyes and dark hair to contrast her fair skin, looked up at me with a smile and simply stated “HI!” “Hi, there”, I replied. “This is my baby brother!”, she said, “and we got some bread to take home today.” I smiled, realizing the irony of the bread. “I bet you’re doing a great job helping to take care of him,” I responded. “Yes, I am!” A few seconds later, the adults finished. “Come on, it’s time to go!”, the girl said to her brother. “We can have some of this yummy bread when we get there!” She skipped out, taking my heart with her.

People are all the same, in some way, shape or form. She loved that bread as much as I do. She and her little brother could have older sisters and brothers that sit in the public school classroom next to my own children. We interact with people in need without realizing it. We don’t know other people’s stories, but we do know our own God, who makes us precious and unique. When we serve, let’s simply be our unique selves so that we can be like Jesus to people who need us. We end up receiving even more love and compassion ourselves. We simply can’t out-give God.