An Easter Blessing

From Henri Nouwen’s A Cry for Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee

easter lily

“It is in my stillest hour that you become the risen Lord to me.

Dear Lord, risen Lord, light of the world, to you be all praise and glory! This day, so full of your presence, your joy, your peace, is indeed your day.

I just returned from a walk through the dark woods. It was cool and windy, but everything spoke of you. Everything: the clouds, the trees, the wet grass, the valley with its distant lights, the sound of the wind. They all spoke of your resurrection; they all made me aware that everything is indeed good. In you all is created good, and by you all creation is renewed and brought to an even greater glory than it possessed at its beginning.

As I walked through the dark woods at the end of this day, full of intimate joy, I heard you call Mary Magdalene by her name and heard how you called from the shore of the lake to your friends to throw out their nets. I also saw you entering the closed room where your disciples were gathered in fear. I saw you appearing on the mountain and at the outskirts of the village. How intimate these events really are. They are like special favors to dear friends. They were not done to impress or overwhelm anyone, but simply to show that your love is stronger than death.

O Lord, I know now that it is in silence, in a quiet moment, in a forgotten corner that you will meet me, call me by name and speak to me a word of peace. It is in my stillest hour that you become the risen Lord to me.

Dear Lord, I am so grateful for all you have given me this past week. Stay with me in the days to come. Bless all who suffer in this world and bring peace to your people, whom you loved so much that you gave your life for them. Amen.”

- Henri Nouwen

Photo from Wikimedia Commons via CC

Fiscal Fitness

April is full of so many events and deadlines!  Tax Day!  End of the semester papers! Holy Week services!  And for some pastors, late April and May will hopefully include long overdue vacations and respite.

Spirited Life knows that finances are an incredible stressor for pastors. Factors contributing to this stress include out of pocket moving expenses, expenses for Ordination process and repaying student loans, just to name a few.  Whether pastors are single or married, caring for elderly parents and/or children, the call to ministry is likely to create moments where they feel emotionally AND financially depleted.  It’s not just on a Hand Putting Deposit Into Piggy Bankpersonal level either; as church members move or lose jobs, church offerings dwindle, but church expenses (and sometimes apportionments) remain the same.

Because April is Financial Awareness Month, we want to introduce you to the Society for Financial Awareness, otherwise known as SOFA. This California-based non-profit organization works throughout the country with a single mission: “to end financial illiteracy across America, one community at a time.”  The SOFA website is very user-friendly and includes short YouTube videos that further outline what they do and the services they provide.

While many of you have no doubt taken advantage of a variety of avenues to ensure your fiscal fitness, SOFA is equipped with financial professionals who work Pro Bono and conduct seminars nationwide on a variety of interesting topics that enhance financial awareness.  Seminar topics include “Getting fiscally fit,” “Financial blunders: Lessons we never learn,” and “Exploring your options for a quality retirement,” among many others.

SOFA seminars can be conducted with church members or with your peer group, etc. Click here to locate a speaker near your home or church so that you can get you started!

- Angela M. MacDonald

Image by Flickr user Ken Teegarden, via CC

Updates to the Nutrition Label

It’s hard to buy packaged foods at the store without glancing at the black and white box full of numbers and percentages. But do we really digest the info?

The nutrition label as we know it was introduced in the early 1990s, and it really hasn’t been updated since then, despite all the advances that have occurred in nutrition science and recommendations. However, a few weeks ago, the FDA released a proposal for a new label in the hope of making the food label more relevant, current, and useful to consumers.

“To help address obesity, one of the most important public health problems facing our country, the proposed label would drive attention to calories and serving sizes,” says Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods.  Here are some of the specific changes:

  • The calorie content will be larger and bolder.nutrition label
  • Serving sizes will be more realistic.  For example, a 20-ounce bottle of soda will be considered one serving (instead of two) since most people drink that amount in one sitting.
  • The new label will include added sugars.
  • While continuing to require “Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat,” and “Trans Fat” on the label, “Calories from Fat” would be removed because research shows the type of fat is more important than the amount.
  • Certain “Daily Values” for a variety of nutrients would be revised; these include sodium, dietary fiber and Vitamin D.

In helping unveil the new label, First Lady Michelle Obama said, “Our guiding principle here is very simple: that you as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf, and be able to tell whether it’s good for your family… So this is a big deal, and it’s going to make a big difference for families all across this country.”

The FDA will be taking public comments about the proposed changes to the label through the end of May before making a final decision. Food manufacturers will have two years to adjust the new label to accommodate any changes that are officially adopted.

-Katie Huffman

Image and information from FDA press release.

Second-hand Stress

In a ryoga-mojo-150x150ecent blog post, Jan Bruce, founder and CEO of meQuilibrium, introduced me to the idea of second-hand stress.  A distant cousin of second-hand smoke, which we’ve long known to be hazardous to our health, second-hand stress is a recognized condition that indicates you can actually “catch” stress from other people.  Who knew that stress was contagious?

Well, YOU probably knew — pastors are among the most empathetic people out there, a trait which allows you to connect with your parishioners, coworkers, friends, and family and support them in so many ways. However, Ms. Bruce suggests that “being attuned to others’ emotions means that you’re potentially leaving yourself wide open to their frantic, messy, grousing, all-around unpleasant feelings, too.”

Humans are biologically wired to mirror each others’ emotions. Stress management expert Joe Robinson says, “Even if we’re not physically imitating what we see, mirror neurons still fire off a simulated version of the activity in your head as if you actually did it. It’s all designed to help us learn, understand, empathize, and connect with what others are doing and feeling.”

Okay, so your kid slams the door on her way in after school, stressed studentthrows her book bag against the wall and starts pacing back and forth in your kitchen, all the while muttering (or yelling) about the injustices of middle school, teachers, fickle friends, and life in general. You, once a teenager yourself and now a caring mother/father, notice the hair on the back of your neck prickling, your heart rate speeding up, and your palms getting sweaty.  You’ve picked up a case of stress from your daughter!

meQ recommends building “an emotional buffer zone, [which] allows you the space to feel, acknowledge, and name your reactions as they are happening.” This will protect you from the harmful effects of your own stress response and help you channel your energy into a positive reaction.

Here are meQ’s 3 tips for buffering against this second-hand stress (some will work better than others in certain situations):

  1. Trap it, Map it, Zap it: Be aware of your body and emotions. Figure out where these emotions are coming from and what thoughts are behind them. Then, decide if these thoughts are based on reality, or are they just your own interpretation of the situation?
  2. Relaxation Techniques: “The more you practice simple relaxation techniques, the faster and more powerfully they come to your aid when you need them.” Check out these quick-fix relaxation techniques from meQ.
  3. Boundaries: Know what your boundaries are and make sure to stick to them. Are there topics you need to avoid with certain people? Are there times of day that should be off-limits for serious discussions with your spouse? Here are some other examples of personal boundaries.

To read the entire meQuilibrium post on second-hand stress, click here.  How do you protect yourself from it?

-Katie Huffman

First image courtesy of meQ; second image courtesy of Flickr user CollegeDegrees360 via CC.

Bracket Redemption

Lent Madness 2014

My interest in the NCAA basketball tournament has nosedived.  All of the ACC teams are eliminated — men and women — plus my brackets crashed and burned the first weekend. Thankfully, I have discovered a replacement pastime, which I hereby share with you.

Lent Madness was conceived by an Episcopal priest in Massachusetts. Lent Madness allows you to vote online for your favorites out of pairs of great Christian figures from history. The exercise is fun and educational: there are short profiles of each entrant, including many inspiring men and women with whom I was unfamiliar.

The competition continues through Easter. Even if, like me, you missed the beginning of the contest, you can still vote in the later rounds. Winners advance to the Saintly 16, the Elate 8, and the Faithful 4, in pursuit of ultimate glory, the Golden Halo.

Sadly for United Methodist fans, John Wesley and Charles Wesley faced off against each other in the opening round!  (Charles won, in a mild upset.)  Talk about your unfortunate seedings.  Complaints have been lodged with the Selection Committee.

nla.pic-an24433007-v-John James

Top image courtesy of Lent Madness.  Nuns Playing Basketball is from the National Library of Australia, shared via Flickr.

 

Walking Together

I had the opportunity recently to walk two different labyrinths. It had been a number of years since I’d walked one, and walking two nearly back to back was a refreshing and grounding experience.

We’ve written before on this blog about labyrinths as a form of contemplative Labyrinth_1_(from_Nordisk_familjebok) (1)prayer, and I’d encourage you to read that post for more information on labyrinths’ origins and modern use. I personally love labyrinths for the way they tie me to ancient spiritual practice. Labyrinths are found in Greek and Roman mythology, and came into wide use in Christian tradition in the Middle Ages, but they also have been discovered to have their place in ancient Nepalese, Indian, Native North and South American, and Australian cultures. The sense that this pattern and practice is meaningful across time and different religious traditions is very powerful for me — like all liturgy, it is a gift to participate in something that transcends my particular time and place. I also love that the path is laid out clearly before me, with no dead ends or choices to make (so UN-like life!) which allows me to sink into a deeper level of mediation and prayer. Avila

I experienced the first labyrinth during a women’s retreat at Avila, a retreat center in North Durham (for those of you who are local!). Walking the path under tall and sturdy pine trees with the wind in the branches and the sun on my back was so peaceful.

The second one was in Duke Chapel – a large 11-circuit labyrinth made of canvas spread on the slate floor just before the altar. The settings couldn’t have been more different: hushed darkness, candles, the only noise the swish of socks shuffling along the path.  And this time my eight-year-old daughter, Clara, was with me.

Walking the labyrinth with Clara is an experience I will cherish for a long time. On the way in, I led the two of us slowly, asking “What do I need?” She followed close behind. I had instructed her to open her heart to God, to pay attention to her breath. An 11-circuit labyrinth takes a long time when walking at a meditative pace. She didn’t seem to mind.

We made our way to the center and found a place to rest. She wanted to sit on my lap. I had told her beforehand that the center represented God’s womb. She understood right away that I meant a safe place, free from harm, surrounded by God’s love. I invited her to open her heart again and to ask God what she needs. We sat like that — me cradling her and us being held together in that prayerful space — for a long time. We started back out slowly, with her leading. On the way in I had given her a special stone to carry, and she passed it back to me as we started out. I held it, still warm from her little clasp, and prayed to see how and where I could best participate in God’s healing work in the world.

Walking out after her, I asked for wisdom from on high to follow her lead in life, to let her teach me how to she needs to be cared for. She walked a bit faster than me, and got ahead of me. I had the chance to look upon her and behold her. I prayed, “God, teach me to cherish her more and more each day. Make me worthy of her. Teach me to mother her with Your love and light. AMEN.”800px-Labyrinth_at_Chartres_Cathedral

I think the reason walking the labyrinth with Clara was so powerful is that it was something we could do together, something we could participate in as equals. When I think about passing my faith on to her, there is so much that is difficult for me to explain — so many of her questions leave me tongue-tied. And yet here was a form of prayer that was both simple and profound and that involved our bodies but not our intellects. No special training or instruction was required; she is sensitive and picked right up on the sacred tone of the moment. Afterward we quietly put our shoes back on and filed out in silence, blinking in the evening light. I held back from asking her questions about what it meant to her, though over the next few days she did offer some reflections, and mentioned a number of times that she really liked it and wanted to do it again. That evening as I was tucking her into bed, she shared that it was her favorite part of her day. All I could say was, “Mine too, sweetie, mine too.”

-Caren Swanson

First and third images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; second image courtesy of Avila Retreat Center

Creating Space For God

The following post was written by Rev. Dianne Lawhorn. 

I was participating recently in a Quiet Space Day at the Starrette Farm.  These days provide sacred space to encounter God through silence, solitude, and stillness. These Vignette pathdays help me to consider my needs for these disciplines. It makes me think about how Jesus sought out this kind of quiet space throughout his ministry. It is obvious that he saw it as something he needed.

Jesus needed quiet space in order to experience rest that would replenish him in mind, body, and spirit. He also needed it to reconnect with his father, to nurture this relationship, to be reminded of the work that was given him. He needed this quiet space because his job was difficult. Jesus had people pressing in on him with great needs. He had work that never really felt complete.

Pastors need time apart for similar reasons. We need rest that replenishes us in body, mind, and spirit. We need time to reconnect with God, to nurture this relationship. We need to be reminded of the work God has given us to do. We need this space because our job is difficult. We have people pressing in on us with many demands and work that never feels complete.

Silence and solitude gives us the opportunity to slow down, to be still, and to get quiet, so that we can hear the voice of God. We need a pause from the ever-constant demands that are placed upon us, to slow down long enough to show up for God, so that God can give us what we need to persevere through challenges. Just as it was for Jesus, it’s our connection with God that is our greatest resource for life and ministry.

This is why we need to create space in our lives for silence, solitude, and stillness. We need to protect this time from getting hijacked by the many demands placed upon us.  We need to rest our bodies, quiet our minds, and nurture our souls. Don’t we need this kind of spiritual rest? Wouldn’t it replenish our souls and allow us to re-enter life and ministry refreshed?

Often we deprive ourselves of this gift because we are afraid.  We are afraid that we won’t accomplish what is needed if we take a break. We’re afraid that we won’t be able to slow down long enough to enjoy the space. We’re afraid of having to face ourselves and our unpleasant feelings. Sometimes it’s easier to skip it- then our souls miss out on much needed peace. We miss out on the fruits of silence, solitude, and stillness. We miss out on allowing God to give us the strength we need to press on! Quiet space is something Jesus needed and something we need if only we have the courage and wisdom to create space in our lives for it.

Quiet Space Fridays are offered the Second Friday of every month at the Starrette Farm in Statesville, NC.  For more details, click here.

-Rev. Dianne Lawhorn, MDiv

Rev. Lawhorn is currently the Minister of Spiritual Formation for Diannethe Lydia Group, which is a resource for spiritual wholeness offering formational teaching, retreat leadership, and spiritual direction.

Caregiver Support

Last week, the Alzheimer’s Association announced new research that indicates Alzheimer’s disease affects more women than men. The reason is two-fold: more women suffer from the disease themselves, and more women serve as caregivers to loved ones with the disease. With more than 5 million Americans already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and new diagnoses predicted to triple by 2050, it is becoming increasingly important to raise awareness about the disease and to provide support to the families and caregivers of Holding Hands with Elderly PatientAlzheimer’s patients.

Regardless of your gender, or whether you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or you know someone who is, here are 10 tips for family caregivers (from Caregiver Action Network):

  • Seek support from other caregivers.  You are not alone!  Click here to find a support group near you.
  • Take care of your own health so that you can be strong enough to take care of your loved one.
  • Accept (and request) offers of help; suggest specific things people can do to help you.
  • Learn how to communicate effectively with doctors.
  • Take respite breaks often — care-giving is hard work!
  • Watch out for signs of depression and don’t delay in getting professional help when you need it.
  • Be open to new technologies that can help you care for your loved one.
  • Organize medical information so that it’s up to date and easy to find.
  • Make sure legal and financial documents are in order.
  • Give yourself credit for doing the best you can in one of the toughest jobs there is!

Many more resources for caregivers are available through the Alzheimer’s Association.

-Katie Huffman

Happy Spring!

blossoms It’s the first day of Spring, and the temperatures might finally match the date on the calendar! Percy Shelley describes the emergence of Spring so beautifully:

And Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.

What are your favorite signs of spring?

-Katie Huffman

Image by Flicrk user skyseeker

Taking a bite out of eating slowly

Many of our readers are familiar with the mindful eating program called Naturally Slim, which has been offered to all three groups of Spirited Life participants. Most of our participants tried Naturally Slim personally; still others may have found themselves at a conference event, hearing their peers talk about “orange water, 10-5-10, and sugar island,” a few of the concepts in Naturally Slim.

One of the Naturally Slim tenets that seems to be most sandwichchallenging for people is eating slowly. I know it is for me! In fact, I would be embarrassed to share with you the number of minutes I spent eating lunch today (fewer than 10 fingers would be needed). Think about your last meal; how long did it take you to finish?

There is growing research to support Naturally Slim’s recommendation to slow down at mealtimes. One recent study out of Iowa State University found that chewing each bite of food more times is likely to result in fewer calories consumed at a given meal. Another study showed that slower eating at lunch resulted in less snacking later in the day, and yet another suggests that slowing down can reduce your risk of diabetes. On the flip side, waiting to stop eating until you feel full and eating too fast can triple your risk of being overweight. A researcher at the University of Rhode Island described it this way: “If you are eating for 20 minutes at 100 calories a minute, that’s a lot. But if you are eating for 20 minutes at 20 calories a minute, that’s not a lot, and it gives your body time to realize it’s full.” There’s also evidence to show that eating too quickly can contribute to digestive problems, acid reflux, and complications after surgeries.

Convinced yet? Maybe you are, but it’s hard to slow down! Naturally Slim offers a free smartphone app with meal timer that chimes when it’s time to take a break in the middle of your meal.

And now there’s a new technology on the market to help you monitor and track your chewing hapiforkhabits. It’s called the HAPIfork, and its slogan is “Eat slowly. Lose weight. Feel great!” The fork measures how many bites it takes to eat your meal, how long the whole meal lasts, the fork servings per minute, and intervals between fork servings. This data can be uploaded via USB or Bluetooth to your smartphone or online account where you can track your numbers. Not only does the fork collect information, but it even lights up and vibrates when you eat too quickly!  Check out this short NYTimes video review; and this Newsweek review for the practical pros and cons of the HAPIfork.

-Katie Huffman

First image from OpenClipArt user rg1024 via CC and second image from Flickr user David Berkowitz via CC