About Kelli Sittser

Kelli Sittser is a Wellness Advocate with Spirited Life hailing from the Pacific Northwest. Thanks to her education and experience, she is learning to understand well-being as a lifelong journey with God and is grateful for the opportunity to share this journey with others. She loves good conversation over hot tea, watching her garden bloom, and camping in the mountains.

Receiving the Gift


snowy sunriseOn December 1, 1943, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison to his young fiancée:

“I think we’re going to have an exceptionally good Christmas. The very fact that outward circumstance precludes our making provision for it will show whether we can be content with what is truly essential. I used to be very fond of thinking up and buying presents, but now that we have nothing to give, the gift God gave us in the birth of Christ will seem all the more glorious … The poorer our quarters, the more clearly we perceive that our hearts should be Christ’s home on earth.”  – as recorded in Bonhoeffer’s God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

It is striking how Bonhoeffer reminds us what Advent is for. He allows the Holy Spirit to prepare his heart for the birth of Christ. His posture is one of receiving and welcoming. How blessed it is to receive, maybe even more so, than to give. “I think we’re going to have an exceptionally good Christmas,” Bonhoeffer writes. In spite of his own unjust imprisonment, the losses of good friends to war, separation from those he loved, and dealing with evil all around him, Bonhoeffer believed it would not just be an endurable Christmas, but an exceptional one.

In a 1978 Christmas Eve homily, Arch Bishop Oscar Romero preached a similar message:

“No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor.  The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God — for them there will be no Christmas.  Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God.”

May you have an exceptional Christmas!

-Kelli Sittser

Photo by Flickr user Rachel Kramer, via CC

Homegrown: NC Women’s Preaching Festival


In an article on sustaining pastoral excellence, the Rev. Sally Brower, a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, writes:

“For women clergy, sustaining pastoral excellence is not only about spiritual practices and leadership skills. It is also about retaining gifted women pastors for whom ministry is all too often an ordeal of grace under fire.”

As a young female member of my church, my heart warms at the sound of a feminine voice resounding from our pulpit. Hearing the gospel articulated by a woman has a refreshing sense of strength and courage.

Women are not new to ministry — witness Mary, the Mother of our Lord, and her cousin Elizabeth. However, women are relatively new to the world of formal preaching and inclusion in denominational leadership roles, and this still-recent cultural shift can create unique challenges for female pastors.

img_2104 A pregnant minister once told me that the number one question she is asked is, “Are you going to keep preaching?” “Yes, Lord willing,” she frequently replies. It is not a harmful question or an unexpected one, but I don’t believe that male pastors get asked the same question when their wives give birth or when they adopt a child.

On top of the biases that color others’ view of women in ministry are the questions that female pastors often ask themselves (ones that are equally reflective of our cultural expectations): How will I pay for childcare on a pastor’s salary? Make time to cook dinner and clean my house when I’m on call 24/7? Make visits to the hospital with a nursing baby? How do I come across as nurturing but not too soft? How can I be feminine without being hyper-emotional? How can I, as a woman, be unique — but not too different from men?

Do you find yourself longing to be in the company of other female ministers? Worshiping with one another is a way of sustaining one’s ministry and diving into these questions.

Join us at Homegrown: North Carolina’s Women’s Preaching Festival this fall, October 10 and 11 in Durham, N.C. to receive the word from and worship with other female clergy and explore all that women have to offer the church.

–Kelli Sittser

Free Financial Planning for UMC Clergy


check bookThe topic of managing personal finances can be daunting, and even depressing, for many pastors, particularly those who are just trying to stay afloat. On the United Methodist Communications website, there are some good tips on how to assess your church’s financial health, but what about your own?

I have some good news: the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Pension and Health Benefits is offering free financial planning services to all active participants, surviving spouses of clergy, and retired clergy with an account balance.

The General Board has partnered with Ernst and Young Financial Planning to offer support in the areas of:

  • making investment decisions
  • planning for retirement
  • managing debt
  • understanding your taxes

When I read about this offer on the General Board’s website, I admit that I was a little skeptical. Free financial planning in a time when everything costs you something?

However, I mentioned this resource to a pastor who had named financial health as an area she would like to work on as she plans for retirement. She came back with a glowing report:“The financial planner has been so helpful. I sent in my financial documents, and his encouragement and professionalism has really put my mind at ease about the future,” she said. The pastor also said that “taking action has given me something to work toward, one small step at a time.

piggy bankYou can call Ernst & Young directly at 1-800-360-2539, Monday through Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., Central time.

Their brochure contains additional information.

To log onto the program website, visit the Ernst and Young Planning Center, using the login info below:

  • company code: gbophb
  • company program: gbophb

I encourage you to take advantage of this free opportunity to alleviate some financial stress and take care of yourself.


–Kelli Sittser

Fun Run


This past weekend I was invited to do a community race with a friend. As the weekend drew nearer, I was feeling pretty nervous about it. What if I didn’t finish? What if I was last? What if I didn’t get the time I wanted to? I had wanted to run a race for so long but had never found the courage to try it. So when the invitation came along, I knew I had no excuse. I said yes. I did it.

Surprisingly, I had so much fun! I didn’t care about my time. I didn’t wear a watch. I just moved my body as fast or as slow as I wanted to. I even smiled, flashing grins to bystanders. People were cheering for me. I had such a wonderful time.

My older friend, who had invited me to race, said one of her favorite parts about racing is that it it brings back memories. Sometimes during a race she remembers her childhood and what it felt like to swim, bike, and run as a little girl.

Exercise doesn’t have to be boring.  Remember when running felt more like this…


…and didn’t leave you feeling like this?


Somewhere along the way, most of us lose the sense of joy that comes from moving our bodies. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Here’s some inspiration if you want to re-insert a little fun into your exercise routine:

Let us know what YOU do to keep movement fun!

Kelli Sittser

(Top image by flickr user Pensiero, lower image by Anna Loverus, both via Creative Commons)

Monday Giveaway #3: Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit


“We first make our habits, then our habits make us.”– John Dryden

habitIn The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg does not give away a secret formula for changing our deeply ingrained habits. Instead, he offers something equally intriguing — a framework for understanding them. He insists that if habits can be changed, we must first understand how they work. To that end, he delivers chapters that are with scientific research and compelling stories, building on a different aspect of why habits exist and how they function in our personal lives, our business, and our larger culture.

Duhigg describes the brain’s habit-forming process as being a three-step loop.


First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain which habit to use. Then there is the routine, the acting out of the habit itself. This routine doesn’t have to be physical; it could be mental or emotional as well. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.

So do you want the good news or the bad news? Let’s rip the band-aid off first.

Unless we figure out how our bad habits work, we can’t undo them. Our brains can’t tell the difference between a good habit and a bad habit. They’re just habits. So if our habit is to eat a chocolate chip cookie every day at 3 pm, it is pretty likely that tomorrow our habit will literally pull us to the bakery.

That’s rather bleak. Now for the good news.

We can make new habits! The brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit. Habit-making is encoded into the structures of our brain. On one level, this is a huge advantage for us: habits allow the brain to perform everyday tasks without conscious thought. Without habit loops, our brains would quickly shut down, overwhelmed by the detail of daily life.

Have you ever experienced pulling into your driveway and not remembering the details of your drive home? Driving home safely has become a habit which allows you to think about your grocery list and getting dinner on the table.

To change a habit, we must learn to create new neurological routines that overpower those behaviors, forcing bad tendencies into the background. With some help and intentional work, we can figure out our habit loops, identify the cues, the routine that occurs, and the reward we receive. In doing so, we gain power over our habits and can begin to shift our behavior.

  • What habit(s) do you struggle to change? Identify the behavior or routine.
  • What need gets met by the reward? Experiment with rewards: what’s valuable or meaningful?
  • What triggers your behavior? Isolate the cue.

Then, reframe the habit by creating a new habit plan: When I see [cue], I will do [routine], in order to get [reward].

Changing habits is really, really hard work. Biologically, it was meant to be so. But understanding more about how habits work can help us make plans of action. When we have a plan, and a lot of support from people around us, we can all develop new habits that eventually will become old habits.


Going for a walk around the block at 3 pm can replace our bakery run and become as mindless as brushing our teeth.

You do brush your teeth, don’t you?

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”            -Romans 12:2

Kelli Sittser

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

This week we are giving away one copy of The Power of Habit!

There are 3 ways to be entered in our giveaway – just make sure to tell us what you did so we can count your entry!

  1. Take a moment to look back through the blog and find a post that catches your attention, then leave a comment with what you like about it!  ( = 1 entry)
  2. “Like” the Clergy Health Initiative’s facebook page! ( = 1 entry)
  3. Share our blog with 5 friends, and tell them about the giveaway! ( = 1 entry)

You can enter as many times as you’d like, just make sure to leave us a comment ON THIS POST with how many entries are “due” to you! That’s right, if you e-mailed 25 friends (or tagged them in a post on Facebook) about the giveaway, and liked our Facebook page, and left a comment on a previous post, you would be entered 7 times! Thanks for celebrating with us by participating in the giveaway!

A winner will be drawn at random on Friday morning, May 24, so be sure to get all your entries logged by 10 a.m. EDT Friday.

And the winner is Laura Stern!  Congratulations!  Please contact us Laura, and let us know where to mail your copy of this book!

Thanks to all who commented here on the blog or on our facebook page, and for supporting the work of the blog!  

Check back with us for details on our final May giveaway next Monday!


To keep a true Lent


I eagerly await the slender crocus and bright daffodil creeping cream to green, bringing with them the promise of spring.  Anticipation is a beautiful thing.  Having something to look forward to, no matter what the circumstances, brings a certain joy well before the event actually takes place.  In fact, sometimes the happiness in anticipation is greater than the happiness actually experienced in the moment – that’s known as “rosy prospection.”

As a Christian, springtime means something more than bright greens and growing bulbs. Lent (literally “springtime”) is a time of anticipation and even more importantly, of preparation. It is our time to return to the desert where Jesus spent forty days readying for his ministry. As his followers, we are called to do the same.  I want to challenge us though, as Robert Herrick, a 17th century poet, challenges us in his poem, “ To Keep a True Lent”:

To Keep a True Lent

Is this Fast to keep
The larder lean?
And clean
From fat of veals and sheep?

Is it to quit the dish
Of flesh, yet still
To fill
The platter high with fish?

Is it to fast an hour
Or ragg’d to go
Or show
A down-case look and sour?

No: ‘tis a Fast to dole
They sheaf of wheat
And meat
With the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife
And old debate
And hate
To circumcise thy life.

To show a heart grief-rent
To starve thy sin,
Not bin;
And that’s to keep thy Lent.

Lent is not a time to morosely give up the foods we love the most, but a time for honest reflection on ourselves; a giving up of our sin and a giving in to Christ’s love for us. It is an opportunity to become a group of people who embodies springtime. Lent is springtime; a time of joy as we emerge out of winter’s sin and brightly claim a new season, the resurrection of Christ.

–Kelli Sittser

(Image by flickr user lilli2de via creative commons)

Entering into Advent


We find ourselves in the middle of an unusual week, hovering between Thanksgiving and the start of Advent.  In this time of transition, let us pause in the glow of gratitude as we look forward to welcoming the Savior’s birth. Let us allow ourselves to carry our thanksgivings into the season of Christ’s birth with praises and joy.  Let us “joice” and rejoice throughout the Advent season.

On her blog, The Advent Door, Rev. Jan Richardson invites us to enter the Advent season with a blessing.

Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
—Luke 21.28  Reading from the Gospels, Advent 1, Year C

Drawing Near
A Blessing to Begin Advent

by Jan Richardson

It is difficult to see it from here,
I know,
but trust me when I say
this blessing is inscribed
on the horizon.
Is written on
that far point
you can hardly see.
Is etched into
a landscape
whose contours you cannot know
from here.
All you know
is that it calls you,
draws you,
pulls you toward
what you have perceived
only in pieces,
in fragments that came to you
in dreaming
or in prayer.

I cannot account for how,
as you draw near,
the blessing embedded in the horizon
begins to blossom
upon the soles of your feet,
shimmers in your two hands.
It is one of the mysteries
of the road,
how the blessing
you have traveled toward,
waited for,
ached for
suddenly appears
as if it had been with you
all this time,
as if it simply
needed to know
how far you were willing
to walk
to find the lines
that were traced upon you
before the day
that you were born.

-Kelli Christianson

Image by Flickr user Paul Simpson (Creative Commons)



 “Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you; they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.” -Bernice Johnson Reagon

 Great, but what do you do when this happens?

Some things we can control and some things we can’t. What do we do with the things we can’t control? Hopefully, some humor can help.

What helps you deal with the lava flows in your life?

–Kelli Christianson

Spiritual Practices: The Lydia Group


“Close your eyes and try to think of nothing. Be silent in your mind. Gently push all thoughts and images away,” encouraged a thoughtful facilitator teaching the Spirited Life staff how do to the Centering Prayer.

What? Leave all my thoughts behind? But then I’ll be left with…with nothing. I closed my eyes and practiced. The silence was uncomfortable. The discomfort came from my own restlessness and my unease with quieting my heart and mind. I don’t know how to rest.

This ancient Christian practice was humbling and focusing.

If you are looking for a place of spiritual renewal and enrichment, I invite you to think about attending one of the fall offerings from The Lydia Group, located in Statesville, N.C. The founder, Ann Starrette, has a passion for ancient spiritual practices. Her life’s work is devoted to teaching and sharing these spiritual practices with everyone, especially clergy in need of renewal. The Lydia Group, named in the spirit of Lydia from Acts 16, provides individuals and organizations with spiritual growth workshops, retreats, and resources. Their focus and main desire is to nurture transformation in Christ through the ancient spiritual practices.

This fall’s spiritual enrichment program includes practice in welcoming prayer, centering prayer, and lectio divina, as well as quiet space days and a clergy renewal and formation opportunity called School of the Spirit.  The retreat house is also available for rental.

I hope this falls brings opportunities of reflection and silence, drawing you all closer to our Triune God.

–Kelli Christianson

Photo by Flickr user Jim Nix/Nomadic Pursuits (via Creative Commons)

Pastor spotlight: Lee Pittard


In an interview with North Carolina Health News’ Rose Hoban, Rev. Lee Pittard shared his journey toward wellness as a participant in Spirited Life.

Initially a skeptic, Lee signed up for Spirited Life because he thought it was expected of him.  But “when I actually saw that I was making progress and having a different attitude, I thought, ‘changing things is possible,’” he said.

One of Lee’s initial goals was to acknowledge his stress-eating patterns and form some new habits to help with weight loss.

Realizing the importance of community support, Lee made a request to his congregation that they stop feeding him so much.  “A lot of people would make a cake for me for my birthday in December,” he explained. “I told them this past year, ‘Don’t love me so much. Just tell me happy birthday, but no more cakes!’”

He also enlisted the help of a wellness advocate.  “Having a Spirited Life coach email me and check up on my progress has been really useful. One thing I need is someone to hold me accountable for exercising,” he said.

Lee began with walking as his main form of exercise; he now jogs 3-4 times each week. He chose running in part because it was an activity he could do with his son, who runs cross country for his high school.  In April, Lee achieved one of his health goals when he completed a 5K race, beating the time he had set for himself.

By late April, Lee had lost almost a hundred pounds, and his blood pressure is down.  “I’ve lost over 11 inches in my waist, and gone from an 18.5 neck shirt to a 16-16.5,” he said. “I can’t even wear my robe anymore; I trip over the extra material.”

Lee will graduate from Spirited Life at the end of 2012 and plans to continue working hard toward achieving his health goals. “Multiple times we get reports of pastors who have had heart attacks or strokes, and weight on top of stress plays a factor,” he said. “I don’t want that to happen to me.”

-Compiled by Kelli Christianson

Read the full North Carolina Health News article here.