Friday, February 22, 2013

“A Single Step”

Photo taken around seven years ago after a month of all raw fruits & veggies.
          Ever since I had a health scare last summer, I have been mulling over the idea of taking one step at a time. My uncle, mom, friends, and doctors all cautioned me to add and/or subtract a single action to my life rather than going to the extremes that I have tried in the past.
For instance, I could stop drinking anything with calories (for me that would be almond milk in coffee, 100% fruit juice, and sweet tea). Or perhaps I could eat a large salad every day or walk 30 minutes four times a week. Or maybe I could start writing down everything that I put in my mouth. The point is to choose something small and begin. As Lao-tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
But where does the journey really begin?
Over ten years ago when my mom mentioned the Daniel Diet and the internet first became popular, I took a step towards a healthier lifestyle diet while gobbling down information.   
I’ve studied the raw food diet for years, read numerous books, blogs, and websites, starting with Shazzie, The Garden Diet Family, Frederic Patenaude, and From SAD to RAW, and brainstormed plans or challenges with friends. Before raw foods became all the rave, I completed a 15-day master lemonade cleanse, a 40-day juice cleanse and 30 days with only raw fruits and vegetables. I’ve even been quoted in a raw food book.
What keeps taking me away from an all-raw diet?  It’s extreme and so difficult to maintain.
What keeps bringing me back?  It’s healthy and brings so much energy, clarity, and health.
Going back and forth does not work, so what is the answer?  Balance, yet I believe balance is different for each individual.  I haven’t completely discovered balance in my diet yet, but I am closer than I was when I took that first step.  When I do discover balance, it will not be something to copy.  Read about…yes.  Study…yes.  Learn from…yes.  Copy…no. 
For me, it’s all about health, not dieting.  Choice, not willpower.  Abundance, not lack or deprivation.  Blessings, not curses. 
The truth is I know what it is to be healthy, and I’ve taught that to my daughters.  I know what is best for me to eat. I have a strong foundation, not only from everything I have researched in the past twelve years but also from my childhood. I grew up on a 300-acre beef farm in south-central Missouri where we ate fresh meat, eggs, and milk from the farm and vegetables and fruit from the garden.
I remember shelling peas, snapping green beans, washing beets, eating carrots straight from the dirt, shucking corn on the cob, picking apples and strawberries.  I remember carrying buckets overflowing with potatoes, tomatoes, and cucumbers. I remember canning pickles, okra, and salsa for colder months. 
We dined on farm-fresh scrambled eggs with our diced tomatoes, onions, and jalapenos, stir-fried chicken and fresh veggies, or spaghetti made with our canned tomatoes and fresh ground beef.  We rarely ate out, rarely drank soda, rarely consumed junk food, and usually had home-baked breads and desserts.  Our drinking water came from an underground well, and we were an active and hardworking family. 
I had a strong foundation for what it meant to be healthy physically, for what it meant to eat well. However, I did not have a strong foundation emotionally and became an emotional overeater and eventually a yo-yo dieter. How I hate the diet mentality, and how glad I am that I am moving away from it and towards balance and health.
No matter what, never allow yourself to get caught up with the diet mentality, which is mired in extremes and unhealthy measures.  Unfortunately, in today’s society, we are raised on it, suckled on new fads, fear-based advertising, and misinformation.  What that leads to is desperation, from which there can be no true transformation or complete health.  I know because I lived it.  About six years ago, I wrote this:
          My whole life, I have felt a desperate need for instant salvation, for cleansing:  immediate weight loss, beauty, healing or change. I’ve relied on juice cleanses and fasts to miraculously fix everything and hated myself for not sticking with extreme diets. I’ve thought that if I were clean and good, then I might be worthy. The loss has eaten at me; I’ve coped by filling it with so much food the face in the mirror, my body, became a stranger. Only recently did I discover that the fat cocooned a lost self. The authentic child floated, drowning in an ocean of masked fins, trapped in a world of phoniness, lies and power struggles. The forsaken child became the forsaken woman. Who I am frozen inside an ice sculpture fashioned by everyone else.
Since then, I have learned and grown so much. Finally, finally, I am starting to see my past and my present clearly. I am starting to live balance and health in all areas of my life. What does it mean for me in terms of my daily food intake?  It means that I eat around 75% fruits and vegetables for each meal and add daily green smoothies and salads (and the other things I eat are gluten-free, dairy-free, mostly chemical-free, whole foods, organic when possible). It means that I eat mostly home-cooked meals and choose healthier options when eating out. It means that I cut out all sugar except dark chocolate and honey.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
And maybe there are multiple staircases. We can take a step up one and reach the top only to discover that we have another staircase to climb. The important thing is that we are taking action and climbing. 
Whatever the first step is for you…take it…begin today, right now.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Intimacy: I see you; you see me

     I have felt lonely and alone—like I have to do everything myself and carry the burden alone—both as a married woman and more recently as a single mom, and it’s taken me a long time to feel the love that is around me every day.
At a Focus Tuesday meeting in Kansas City one night, Dawna Grigsby said intimacy means that “I see you, and you see me.”  Her definition of intimacy made so much sense that I never forgot it. 
I felt comfortable with the first part and even enjoyed getting to know others, sharing ideas with them, going to deeper levels of heart and truth; however, I felt extremely uncomfortable with the second part where I was the one looked at.  I felt ruined and damaged, like film exposed to the sun, and I didn’t want anyone to see me.  I didn’t want to see myself.
I was unhappy and disconnected yet didn’t know why.  Now I understand that real intimacy is more than being open to other people; it starts with being open to self and God.  With seeing and knowing self and God. To be intimate with another, we must be intimate with ourselves and our Creator. As my relationship with God has strengthened, my relationships with others are improving.  As I begin to see and accept myself, I begin to connect more with other people.
Today is the day after Valentine’s Day, which is a day of love and friendship, and I am feeling more love and connection than I ever remember experiencing before.  For the first time in a very long time, I don’t feel lonely because I know that God is with me and loves me. As Chris Tomlin sings in “Whom Shall I Fear,” “I know who goes before me. I know who stands behind. The God of angel armies is always by my side. The One who reigns forever. He is a friend of mine. The God of angel armies is always by my side.” And I know that the members of my small group at church are also walking with me. I know that my girls are with me. In fact, I am surrounded by kind and loving people (including all of my online friends) and feel blessed.  I feel like George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life when he finally “wakes” up and sees how wonderful his life is and Harry says that George is the “richest” man in town because so many people care about him.
I am loved. I am loving. I am love.
Earlier this week, I bought dark chocolate and a beautiful bouquet of flowers to share with my girls for a Valentine’s Day treat.  Otherwise, I went through a normal day of work and errands, yet I felt content, connected.
“To love another person is to see the face of God.” Whenever I hear this line from the end of Les Miserables, I smile and cry because it is so beautiful and so true and because it shows me that I am blessed to love and be loved.
I remember a therapist I saw in Florida who, during our first session, started with the question, “How’s your heart?”  No one had ever asked me that precise question before, and it shocked me. At first I thought she was asking if I had physical heart problems because I’ve had anxiety attacks where I was scared of having a heart attack. Then, I realized she meant my heart, my soul…everything that makes me Rachel, and I didn’t know what to say. How often do we ask each other, ask ourselves, how is your heart today? Where is your heart right now? And how different would our lives, our families, our world be if we started with that?
KarenMcElmurry, my writing mentor during the last year of my MFA, writes about the dark heart with compassion, honesty, and courage, which is my hope for my writing and life…to lead with compassion, honesty, forgiveness, and love.
I taught the song “The Heart of the Matter” to my non-native speaking students yesterday in reading class, and the song is true. What is most important is forgiveness, which only happens with compassion and love: love of self, love of God, love of others. Dawna Grigsby once defined compassion as “love in action,” which makes sense because love begets compassion which begets forgiveness which begets love…a beautiful cycle of hope. So, the truth is that love is what is important; love is what matters; God is love.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Running on Empty, Running on Stuffed

Extremes are not healthy.
An empty fridge, down to canned soup for supper. Gas on empty, rummage for enough change to pump one gallon of gas. A pile of bills, waiting to be paid. Hungry children searching for something to pack for lunch. Vitamins that keep a single, working mother running…gone. One dollar and thirty-five cents left in the bank account. Pay day changed…moved to two weeks away.    
I lived that scenario last month and can tell you that it is not fun, which is obviously an understatement. While we were able to receive much needed help, I felt stressed and anxious. Depressed that we were in that situation. Embarrassed that we had to ask for help. Worried about how it would all work out.   
Extremes are not healthy.
          Seriously, having nothing (no money, no gas, no food, no toilet paper, no cat food) sucks. 
          Yet is it fair for me to say that we had “nothing,” for we had a roof over our heads, each other, our cats, two TVs, two old but working computers, an old but working vehicle, three cell phones, numerous movies, books, articles of clothing, etc. 
          And while living this “nothing” and running on empty, we were richly blessed.  How were we blessed?  Let me count the ways.
          First of all, we learned how kind and compassionate people are. For example, a friend baked a delicious and healthy meal for us one night, and we dined on ham, potatoes, pineapples, plums, and carrots for days. Another friend filled up my gas tank and then took me to the movies because she wanted to watch Les Miserables.
Second, we discovered that God takes care of us, sometimes in the most extraordinary ways. For instance, after the movie with my friend, we stopped at the bathroom where a stranger handed me a $50 gift card to The Melting Pot. I suggested that this woman use it herself, and she related that her granddaughter had already left town and she didn’t really like it and was happy that I would enjoy it. Later that week, T-mobile called me out of the blue to lower our monthly bill and during that phone conversation agreed to replace our old cell phones with new ones (so we have the same exact style but working phones!).
Third, we became creative with using what we have and not wasting so much. One thing I am extremely grateful for:  the girls have learned to eat and enjoy leftovers. They would eat them previously but would grumble or complain or whine or ask for something else or suggest eating out.  Now they are often eager to eat up what’s in the fridge before buying more or asking for more.
Fourth, we realized a greater appreciation for what we have.    
Fifth, we received a stronger ability to live in the now.  My mantra during that time was this:  Right now, I have enough for what we need.  It was true.  In each moment, what I had was all I needed. 
Finally, we gained perspective, and as a former therapist used to say, “Perspective is everything.”
Extremes are not healthy.
As soon as payday came, I rushed to the gas station and filled up the car before heading to Publix and Target for groceries and necessities. I filled up the fridge and cabinets, ordered Reliv vitamins, and paid bills. 
Words cannot express how good it felt to fill up the gas tank rather than only put in a few dollars and to fill it up with my own money rather than relying on a friend. How abundant it felt to open the fridge and see it bursting with healthy food and watch the girls pack Nutella and peanut butter sandwiches along with cheese sticks, yogurt, pretzels, and fruit. I felt abundant, blessed, relieved, and a sense of wellbeing swamped me.
Extremes are not healthy.
I love the feeling of wealth and security that comes with having more than enough, yet I realize that it’s dulled us (our country, our society) in some ways.  As a nation, we are overfed and undernourished.  We are spoiled and rotting.  We are overweight and slow.  We are running on stuffed.
It was so easy to fall back into old patterns until I had to throw away half a bag of spinach. While that’s only a dollar fifty worth of food, it reminded me of just over a week ago when that dollar fifty would have been so vital.  And I hate considering how much food we’ve thrown away over the years. How much have all of us wasted?  How much food, time, talent, energy, people? 
I remember a favorite Ray Bradbury quote of mine from Fahrenheit 451, “Well, after all, this is the age of the disposable tissue. Blow your nose on a person, wad them, flush them away, reach for another, blow, wad, flush. Everyone using everyone else's coattails.”
Being alive is a blessing, having the basics is a miracle, and having abundance, more than enough, and convenience to go with it…that is a wonder. 
The blessings we received while running on empty and the conclusions I’ve come to while running on stuffed all lead up to something I’ve been wanting and working towards for years…balance.  
Balance is the key.  I don’t want to run on empty, but I no longer want to run on stuffed either.  I am grateful for both experiences because knowing what they feel like inspires compassion, kindness, and understanding; however, I am ready for balance in my life, and I know balance comes from self-discipline. 
That means planning ahead and only getting what we truly need for the week (including a few treats) and then using what is in the house before buying more. That means learning to be okay with a fridge half full rather than overflowing. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t be spontaneous and meet a friend for lunch, for example, but it means that I am aware. If I make that choice, what are the consequences? What am I gaining and what is the cost? 
And this scenario applies to all areas of life. How am I balancing work with play? Writing my words with reading other people's words? Time with family, friends, and God? Sleep with everything on the mental To-Do List.  Screen time with time unplugged?  
Where do you find yourself on the spectrum between running on empty and running on stuffed? What choices have you been making? What choices will you make in the future?