Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turkey Reflections

Thanksgiving. Tomorrow, we're 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 might eat, 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.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My First Spin Class

Spinning. Who would have thought that a simple exercise like riding a bike at a health club could be so complicated?

My heart was pounding and my forehead was sweating, and the cardio workout hadn’t even started yet. I was introduced to the vivacious and extremely fit instructor, Maria, as well as to my machine: not just any old bike, but a spinning bike. As such, there were several special fittings required: the seat height, the seat location, and the handle height. All three factors were customized so that the bend to my knee and the angle with which I sat on the ‘saddle’ (it’s not an old-fashioned bike seat anymore) were optimized for the most effective use of my leg muscles and glutes during the workout. I had been wanting to try this thing called spinning for years now, and Maria was friendly and made me feel welcome, so I relaxed a little while warming up.

Into the saddle I sat, wondering what the hype was all about. The lights were dimmed, Maria had her microphone in place, the music was started, and we were off.

I quickly learned the spin lingo; and quickly learned why this class is so much fun and yet so challenging—like my faith walk, which is a joy, but can also be challenging. Like my Father God, Maria was there with her spirit, her smile and her encouragement the entire way.

“In the saddle”: this means we are sitting down on the bike seat while pedaling as opposed to standing while pedaling. It reminds me of moving along in my faith walk where I need to put some energy into the movement but can still coast if necessary.

The “sprint”: this is when we are in the saddle but are encouraged to "spin" (pedal) faster. The music helped us with its increased tempo, and we would mentally beat anyone around us who might try to be faster than us. Like those challenges in life where things can get me down---self-doubt, fear, confusion—I can instead choose to take on the challenge by speeding ahead on the path of faith without looking to my right or left.

The “climb”: up out of the saddle we would go, and with increased tension on the gear making the pedals harder to turn, we’d stand and push our way up that mental and physical hill to get to the top. Maria’s constant comments, such as “You can do it!”, “You’re almost there!”, “I’m right there with you!”, all reminded me of the biblical encouragement I get on a regular basis, where I can always find something that relates to my life and reminds me that all my challenges are not new ones, and God helped people before me, and can help me too with those challenges.

“Take a break”: On occasion, Maria instructed us to slow down, get “in the saddle”, and get some water and towel off so we can refuel for the next cardio challenge in the workout. God often gives me a chance to refuel—a chat with a girlfriend, a special note in the mail, and smile from a stranger—these breaks happen just when I need them and in the way I need to keep on going.

“The road”: There were times when Maria would describe for us visually what the biking workout would look like as if we were on the road, for example: we’ll be coasting for a while, then riding faster up a slow incline, then climbing a hill to the top, then another small hill before we go downhill again---all these steps would remain in my mind while she orchestrated the bike movements to go along on the path described. There were other times, however, when she simply surprised us with the road’s challenges, and with her encouraging smile, Maria would remind us she was there with us and told us we could ‘do it’…whether it was to sprint faster or climb higher. I find it interesting that sometimes I have an idea of God’s plans for me, but most of the time I am surprised. What is helpful, though, is the reminder that God is right there with me even in the ‘surprises’ on my road trip, to help me get through those challenges. God shows who He is by example, and like Maria, knows what to expect in the challenges and as a result knows how to help me in those challenges.

My name: so many times during the workout, this previous stranger named Maria would become my caring guide as she said my name during the workout: “How’s it going back there, Lisa?” It was a shock to hear my name, but then again I can say I knew she was watching me whether she said so or not. God, too, is always watching over me, and sometimes mentions my name, but I am reassured to know He always loves and cares about me, personally. Even in the crowded room, I felt noticed.

Tip of the week:
Try spinning, if you haven't already! Next on my list: Zumba!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

One of THOSE Days

Did you ever have one of THOSE days? I did, recently.

It started with the morning routine; coffee, prayers, kids off to school, exercise, work. Some writing time, some organization time, some planning time. A good day so far. Then it happened. The day morphed into one of ‘those’ days—all within a two-hour period. I had to get the kids off the school buses, bring my daughter for a haircut, have my son ready for theater practice, get both kids fed, bring my daughter to a babysitting appointment, and be ready to pick up the kids from theater practice and babysitting at various times. It was a delicate balance of flexibility, timing and patience. I got through the bus stop and bringing my daughter for her haircut, but after the haircut appointment, I realized a flaw in the plan. I didn’t have time to feed my daughter before her next stop—babysitting. I called my son to put a pizza into the oven for himself and thought to myself: yikes, my teenage son is at home with the oven on. Can’t wait to get back there and make sure the house doesn’t blow up. Oh yes, time to feed my daughter. Easy solution: stop at the local Wawa on the way. She and I made the stop and even selected a healthy option for her to eat. Back to the car.

Now, where are those car keys? Not in my pocket; not in my purse. “They’re right there, Mommy!” my daughter said with a smile. Yup, the keys were safely in the ignition…of the locked car. I haven’t locked my keys in the car in years, and today was the time to indulge. I stopped and thought: “Okay, God, I guess you’re reminding me to slow down!”

Schedule planning went into overload; I had a wonderful neighbor who could bring my son to theater practice, my friend picked up my daughter for babysitting, and my hero of a mother-in-law drove to the parking lot with a spare key, in case it was the right one. No, the house didn’t blow up with the oven being on, and no, my mother-in-law didn’t have the correct car key, but she at least had her car for me to ride home with her to pick up my spare key. We then drove back to the parking lot and I was able to bring my car home, just in time to pick up my daughter, and then an hour later, my son.


I desperately needed this beautiful prayer, and now enjoy it every morning with my Bible time. It’s adapted from Wilfred A. Peterson and is called “Prayer for a Peaceful Heart.” It will not prevent “those” days from happening, but will keep my response to those days to be one of thankfulness and peace.
“Please Lord, slow me down, ease my pounding heart
Quiet my racing mind, steady my hurried steps
Amidst the confusion of my days
Grant me the calmness of your peace
Help me to know the truly restoring gift of sleep
Teach me the art of taking time off
To slow down to see the beauty in your creation
To chat with a friend
To read a few lines from a good book
Remind me each day that there is more to life than increasing in speed
It is living, each moment, with You and for You
Let me look upwards
Into the branches of a towering oak
And know that it grew slowly and well
Please Lord, slow me down
Teach me to be gentle and humble of heart
Fearing nothing of this world
As you are my Lord
Grant me rest for my soul
Now and eternally with you

On that day, in Wawa’s parking lot, I didn’t look upwards into the branches of a towering oak, but I do remember looking upwards at the power line running across the top of the parking lot. My daughter and I noticed the line of birds sitting up there and we agreed there must have been a bird party going on! It was a beautiful way to refocus and look upwards when otherwise I would have never noticed the birds at all.

Tip of the week:
Slow down! Noticing the beauty of nature and the gift of a shared smile are probably the healthiest suggestions we can follow for joy—even in the middle of ‘those’ days.