We want your song

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“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song.”           -Maya Angelousongbird

For almost 2 years, this blog has been up and running thanks in most part to a group of CHI staff who have been probing their hearts, minds, and the internet for resources and news that might encourage and inspire pastors in their journey to wellness.  Along the way, we’ve featured a few Spirited Life pastor stories (ex. here and here) and have even had some guest bloggers (ex. here and here).  And, wouldn’t you know, it’s these personal stories and examples that have generated the most interest and comments on the blog?

If I had a guess, I’d attribute this to the fact that, as Philip Pullman says, “After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”  It seems that we especially find inspiration and encouragement in the voices and stories of our peers, our colleagues, our families – people we know or with whom we’re in connection – who’ve been where we are, felt what we feel.

So, we’re asking for your song, your story, your experiences, and we’ll post them on the blog.  Tell us what you’ve learned during your time in Spirited Life or in your own journey Kretzu 1toward wellness.  What are your churches doing to inspire communities to think about wellness?  Maybe you have some reflections (or poetry! or photos!) you’d like to share about one or more domains of health or about how you used your Spirited Life small grant.  Do you have a personal or church blog that might inspire others?

We don’t want this to be an extra item on your to-do list but rather something that is enjoyable and life-giving.  If you’re having trouble getting started, think about Hemingway’s words: “All you have to do is write one true sentence.  Write the truest sentence that you know.”

We hope you’ll share your song with us!  If you’re interested in writing a blog post or have questions about the right length or topic, please send an email to clergyhealth@div.duke.edu and write “blog” in the subject line.  We’d be happy to share more.

-Katie Huffman

First image by Flickr user Kohlmeise-2 via CC; second image courtesy of CHI, of Pastor Bob Kretzu, who used his Spirited Life small grant on painting classes and materials

Ashes

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It was a muddy March, many years ago now, and my liturgically-minded husband and I attended a small country church in rural Vermont. We had only been attending for a couple of years, but we’d missed the observance of Lent that we had enjoyed at our high-liturgy Episcopal church near our former home. Hesitantly, we approached the pastor and asked if we might be able to lead an Ash Wednesday service, and do a series of Taize services during Lent. He agreed enthusiastically, though cautioned us that the church had never done anything like that before.

As the day approached we had all the preparations in place: a simple liturgy, some reflective hymns, and the all-important ashes. What I was not prepared for was the powerful act of actually marking the foreheads of my beloved church family.

“Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”

One by one they came and stood before me while my husband played quiet instrumental guitar music. One by one I dipped my thumb in the ashes and lifted it to waiting foreheads. I bent to mark the smooth skin of our youngest members. I looked into the eyes of the men and women I considered my spiritual brothers and sisters. But it was the stooped frame of Richard, one of the eldest members of our community, that undid me.  I will never forget the grit of the ash under my thumb as I made the cross on his papery skin.  I could barely choke out my line:

“Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”

In that moment we both knew the truth of the refrain, and that it would come to pass all too soon for him. It was a holy moment, in which the nearness of death was acknowledged without fear.

DSC_0247In our day-to-day lives we live so removed from death–it is almost as if we forget that we will die. Is it too difficult to live with this reality? Is that why we put it out of our minds? In the wake of my father’s death over a year ago now, I have not been fully able to settle back into the familiar forgetfulness of a death-less living. I am all too aware of life’s fragility and ultimate end. But I must say, sad as I am to be without my father, I am grateful for this new reality. Each day is an ordinary gift of grace offered to me, and the chance for me to offer grace to others.

I love this prayer from Alive Now–the invitation to “reacquaint ourselves with our smoldering, crumbling, earthbound nature.”  Today, as you mark countless foreheads with gritty ashes, may you be comforted by the reality of the boundaries of all our lives, and the holy thread of God’s presence that is woven in the space between.

God of all peoples and creatures,
you knew the chaos that swirled before Creation
and the clash of tongues in Babylon;
you raised up humanity from dust by your breath,
and by your Spirit we may still be renewed.

But on this day of dust and ashes,
let us not turn too quickly to the hope of new life.
Let us first reacquaint ourselves
with our smoldering, crumbling, earthbound nature:
our ability to burn down all we have built up;
our tendency to devastate, to ravage, to destroy
every place where God dwells,
where Christ abides and reaches out.

Let us come face to face with all we have failed to honor,
every difference we refuse to celebrate,
every fear-based judgment that drives us away from love,
every certainty that lifts us above our brother, our sister,
our neighbor, our enemy,
our very own Belovedness of God.

We confess we are no more than dust and ashes,
and we desire to turn from our destruction.

God of hope and healing, save us from ourselves;
breathe into us again and restore us as your children.
Draw order out of chaos once more:
let our tongues fall silent until guided by your Spirit;
let our steps fall in line with Christ’s journey through the wilderness;
let our hands reach out in care and re-creation
where your work is still to be done.

And in life, in death, and in life beyond death,
may we be marked and claimed by your cross-shaped love.
Amen.

Reprinted with permission from Alive Now.

–Caren Swanson

Cycle to Lake Junaluska

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The following article was written by Mark Andrews, pastor at St. Luke’s UMC in Hickory, NC, and co-founder of Cycle to Lake Junaluska.

The Holy Rollers are a group of United Methodist cyclists who ride together once a year over the course of several days leading up to the annual meeting of the Virginia Conference.  I first learned about the Holy Rollers several years ago and, as an avid recreational cyclist, thought how much fun it would be to do something similar leading up to our annual conference in Western North Carolina.  Thinking it would be a formidable administrative task to sponsor such a ride I let the idea sit on the back burner until casually mentioning it to another cycling preacher and friend, Doug Miller.Cycle to Lake J image

Through Doug’s initiative, and in partnership with Brad Farrington of the Wesley Foundation at Appalachian State University, we have launched Cycle to Lake Junaluska.  A 501(c) 3 non-profit organization through the Appalachian Wesley Foundation, Cycle to Lake Junaluska is designed to promote fellowship, physical fitness through cycling, and raise monies for various ministries of the United Methodist Church in the Western North Carolina Annual Conference (WNCC).

The first ever Cycle to Lake Junaluska benefit ride will take place this June 16-18, in the days leading up to Annual Conference. Over the course of three days and 160+ miles, we will ride from the WNC Conference Center in Charlotte to Casar UMC where we will spend the first night (62 miles).  The next day will bring the challenging climb to Black Mountain UMC where we will spend our second night (53 miles).  The last day will be an unhurried ride in the rolling valleys circumnavigating Asheville to Lake Junaluska (47 miles).

What’s Included In The Ride:

  • Indoor camping and limited RV camping
  • Ken’s Bike Shop mechanic at camp (fees may apply)
  • Printed maps and cue sheets
  • Marked roads and route SAG support
  • Rest Stops with drinks, fresh fruit & assorted snacks
  • Restrooms at host sites and at some rest stops
  • Shower facilities each day and night

Riders may choose to ride one day or all three. T-Shirts and cycling jerseys are available for purchase.  There will also be a “swag” bag of gifts from our sponsors, including the Clergy Health Initiative’s Pastor & Parish curriculum – a wonderful resource for strengthening relations between clergy and congregations and promoting the health of pastors. As a benefit ride in support of the various campus ministries in Western North Carolina, donations will be accepted.

This year’s route is outstanding and our overnight hosts will be providing great food and activities each evening. We may not be Holy Rollers but through three days of pedaling we may certainly become “spirited spinners” of our wheels.  For brochures, registration and more information go to the C2LJ website and sign up today.

-Mark Andrews (pictured below with his bike)Mark Andrews

Welcome to the Human Race

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ParkerJPalmer-informal6001Parker Palmer is a Quaker teacher, writer, and world-renowned speaker and activist. He has received ten honorary doctorates in addition to his other academic accomplishments. He is the founding partner of the Center for Courage & Renewal which, according to his wikipedia page, “oversees the “Courage to Teach” program for K-12 educators across the country and parallel programs for people in other professions, including medicine, law, ministry and philanthropy.” By any account, Palmer is successful, leading a fulfilling life and reaching many people with his ministry. And yet, at the height of his success, Palmer, when in his mid-forties, faced for the first time a debilitating depression.

let-your-life-speakIn his book, Let Your Life Speak he wrote about his experience. “Depression is the ultimate state of disconnection, not just between people but between one’s mind and one’s feelings. To be reminded of that disconnection only deepened my despair” [p. 62]. This disconnection was experienced as friends unhelpfully tried to cheer him up, encouraging him to get outside and smell the flowers. He writes, “And that, of course, leaves a depressed person even more depressed, because while you know intellectually that it’s sunny out and that the flowers are lovely and fragrant, you can’t really feel any of that in your body, which is dead in a sensory way. And so you’re left more depressed by this “good advice” to get out and enjoy the day.”

As someone who has wrestled with depression myself, I can attest to the difficulty of being with friends and loved ones who want to offer advice.  While they mean well, and I would never want to disparage them for the courage to try to walk with me in my suffering, a depressed person really doesn’t want to hear easy answers. As the story of Job reminds us, sitting in silence with the person who is suffering is an immense gift. Job 2:11-13 recounts,

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

In real life this can be so hard to do. When someone we care about is in pain, we naturally want to do all we can to help ease their suffering. But as Palmer goes on to write, “One of the hardest things we must do sometimes is to be present to another person’s pain without trying to “fix” it, to simply stand respectfully at the edge of that person’s mystery and misery” [p. 63].

Time passed and Palmer found treatment that helped him, though he continued to struggle over the years.  After a while he felt compelled to write publicly about his experience, and he was met with a surprising result–people REALLY responded to his experience with depression.  In a recent interview with Palmer, now in his seventies, he shares what he learned about being vulnerable in this way:

I’ve written nine books… but the one piece that I’ve written that has gotten the most response by far is a chapter in Let Your Life Speak about my experience with depression.  It’s my acknowledgement of weakness, it’s my capacity to be vulnerable which has made me more friends than whatever capacity I have to be smart and strong…

When you start understanding wholeness not as perfection but as embracing everything you are, then you become able to talk about it [weakness] and to invite other people to share those same pieces of their own lives.

For many people, Palmer included, writing and speaking about depression has been part of the healing process.  It can be so hard to take that first step and open our mouths to admit we are struggling, but so often that experience is liberating.  I know for me, when I have the courage to share with a trusted friend about my story, I open up the possibility of receiving new support, deepening that relationship, and allowing the other person to be honest about her own suffering.

Near the end of this short video interview, Palmer reminds the viewer of the Leonard Cohen song that says:

Forget your perfect offeringSunlight Shining Through Forest

Ring the bells that still can ring

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

 

Thank you Mr. Palmer, for your honesty and vulnerability, and for reminding us all that we are not alone in our suffering.  In fact, suffering is simply part of being a member of the human race.

Other Parker Palmer Resources:

  • I first heard Parker Palmer talk about his experience with depression in an interview on the NPR show, “On Being” with Krista Tippet.  It is a wonderful episode that I highly recommend!  Listen here >>
  • The 4-minute video interview with him talking about writing publicly about depression is excellent.  Click here to watch the short video.
  • His book, Let Your Life Speak, is excellent!  Well worth purchasing or checking out of your local library.
  • The website of his organization, the Center for Courage & Renewal, is pretty fascinating.

Caren Swanson

Healthy Pastor

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The following reflection from Pastor Grace Hackney was originally posted on the Spirited Life blog in January 2010 and is re-posted here with her permission.  Pastor Hackney was a Group 1 Spirited Life participant and is an elder in the Corridor District of the NCCUMC.Pastor Hackney

I want to be a healthy pastor. I know that mind, body and spirit are tightly interwoven. I know that God wants me to be healthy, whole, undivided. I learned as a child that my body was a temple of the Holy Spirit. But I also learned that we are clay pots, easily broken, able to be used even with cracks.  I know from experience that sometimes we are better vessels for the Holy Spirit when we are broken; it is only then that we can get ourselves out of the way and make room for the mighty Spirit of God to work.

I want to be a healthy pastor, in the fullest sense of the word. I was a Health and Physical Education major and captain of the field hockey team. As a young adult I ran a marathon. I married an exercise physiologist. As a young mother, I kept our children away from sodas and fast food and turned off the television except for special occasions.

I want to be a healthy pastor.

Last month I found myself sitting in the dentist’s chair with my mouth stretched open for a full two and a half hours as I received two gold crowns for Christmas. As I lay there unable to speak or move, my mind took me to the past seven years as a full-time elder in the church. “How has ministry changed me?” I pondered.

As a Wesleyan, I would like to say I have moved at least a little bit closer to perfection, or that I have at least glimpsed moments of perfection as I have pastored, preached, prodded, and otherwise served as shepherd of this flock.

Mouth stretched open, I counted the ways my body has changed in seven years: two gold crowns, fifteen added pounds, more gray hair. I have moved from perimenopause to menopause in seven years. I have sweated during the prayer of confession and bled as I broke the Body of Christ. I have joined the apostle Paul in sleepless nights and the Council has been witness to my mood swings, far surpassing those of pubescent girls.

I want to be a healthy pastor. I tell the congregation that I cannot live into my baptism until they live into their baptisms. I cannot be healthy unless they are committed to my health. I tell them, “it takes a community to practice Sabbath.”  The reverse is also true: they cannot live into their baptisms unless I live into my ordination; they cannot be a healthy congregation unless I am committed to their health. We need each other as we seek to be healthy, in the fullest sense of the word.

Wendell Berry has famously said that the smallest unit of health is community. Being a pastor is teaching me that. Women in their 50s are going to go through menopause and are probably going to have dental issues just as surely as teenagers are going to have acne. How we live with each other during these stages of life can be witness to our love of God and neighbor. It means that as pastors, we are fully human, and only striving for the spark of the Divine. It means that daily, we must step off the pedestals our parishioners try to put us on and into the muck and mire of living together. It means we make appointments with ourselves to walk, to ponder, to garden, to knit. It means we care what our church potlucks look like. It means we don’t bring a pound cake to the Trustees meeting because we love George, who is diabetic, and love doesn’t tempt one another.

I want to be a healthy pastor. I wonder if the salvation of the world is actually dependent upon our commitment to each other: body, mind, and soul. I wonder what Church would look like if we really believed that God loved us so much that he gave us his Son so that we could all be healthy, so that we could love one another so much that it would really matter what we ate, how we used our time, how we lived our lives together. I wonder if the non-Christian world would see us and say, “See how those Christians love one another?!”

I want to be a healthy pastor. Will you help me?

-Grace Hackney

Re-framing “self-care”

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The following thoughts have been excerpted from a blog post entitled, “Self-regulation over Pastor Hesterself-care,” by Dan Hester, on his personal blog, ParsonDan.  Pastor Hester is a Group 3 Spirited Life participant and currently serves at St. Andrew’s UMC in Charlotte.  

“Much has been published about clergy self-care. Most of what I have come across makes the simple point that if I am in better shape, then I can be more effective as a pastor. A smaller portion of the material reminds me that God doesn’t need me to die for anyone; that’s already been handled. The burgeoning and much needed movement of positive psychology adds that God really doesn’t want anyone to be miserable, and self-care can help us enjoy this good life. I cannot find much fault with any of these points of view. Oddly enough, however, neither have I found much motivation to actually make needed changes in my life from these insights. Where I have found some recent motivation is with a systems thinking based view of the problem.

Systems thinking would rather talk about self-regulation than self-care. Self regulation is the basic functioning that makes self-differentiation possible. It’s what gives me responsibility for what’s mine, and leaves to you what is yours. Self-regulation is the capacity to choose wisely, based on solid-self principles and not on the anxious needs of the moment…

The language of self-care hasn’t always been effective for me. I think that ineffectiveness is because the phrase never conjured up any consequences apart from my own body and mind. But, when I think systems about the consequences of my choices, somehow the language of self-regulation connects with me. Through systemic thinking, I know that these decisions are not just about my own body, they reverberate across all my relationships. My excuses for not exercising usually have to do with lack of time. I can replace the important work of exercise with other important work. But if I see exercise as a building block of personal integrity, if I see it as a gateway decision to other important decisions, if I see it as a self-regulating act that has implications into my family and congregation, then that decision becomes irreplaceable and thus I have a little more success with it. I emphasize a little.

…I want to positively affect the lives of my family, my congregation, and myself. The best way I can do that is through doing my part in the emotional systems that connect us all, and practice self-regulation. Self-regulation is taking responsibility for my own condition, focusing more on my own resiliency rather than the environment, trying my best to act on my best thinking rather than my anxiety, ridding myself of the notion that the rules of biology don’t apply to me, and creating a repertoire of responses rather than banging away with one tool only. In the long run (no pun intended) this kind of practice will help me stand up for my convictions. It means I’ve upped my exercise regimen from zero to two or three times a week. Big whoop, right? But at least I’m moving.”

-Dan Hester

To read Pastor Hester’s blog post in its entirety, click here.  

10 Things I Want My Daughter to Know About Working Out

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4627134131_95949d83af_oBrynn Harrington, of the wellness blog Wellfesto, recently wrote a post that resonated with me about what messages we pass on to our children about health and well-being. She starts by telling the story about being in an exercise class and having the teacher tell the class to picture themselves fitting into “that dress.” For Brynn, this is NOT the reason she works out, and not the message she wants her young daughter to internalize about her body.  She then goes on to write ten things she DOES want her daughter to know about working out:

“I want her to grow up knowing that…

  1. Strength equals self-sufficiency.  Being strong – particularly as a woman – is empowering.  It will feel good someday to be able to carry your own luggage down the stairs if the airport escalator is broken, and it will be important to have a solid shot at outrunning a stranger should you meet one a dark alley.
  2. Fitness opens doors.  Being healthy and fit can help you see the world differently.  The planet looks different from a bike or a pair of skis than it does from a car or an airplane.  Out in the elements you have the time and space to notice details and meet people and remember smells and bugs and mud and rain and the feeling of warm sunshine on your face.  And those are the moments that make up your life.
  3. The bike is the new golf course.  Being fit may help you get a seat at the table.  Networking is no longer restricted to the golf course, and the stronger you are – and the more people you can hang with on the road and trail – the more people you’ll meet.
  4. Exercise is a lifestyle, not an event.  Being an active person isn’t about taking a class three times a week at the gym.  It’s about things like biking to the grocery store and parking your car in the back of the lot and walking instead of taking a cab and catching up with friends on a hiking trail instead of a bar stool.
  5. Health begets health.  Healthy behavior inspires healthy behavior.  Exercise.  Healthy eating.  Solid sleep.  Positive relationships.  These things are all related.
  6. Endorphins help you cope.  A good sweat session can clear the slate.  You will have days when nothing seems to go right…when you’re dizzy with frustration or crying in despair.  A workout can often turn things around.
  7. Working out signals hard-working.  The discipline required to work out on a regular basis signals success.  Someone recently told me they are way more likely to hire marathon runners and mountain climbers because of the level of commitment that goes into those pursuits.
  8. If you feel beautiful, you look beautiful.  Looking beautiful starts on the inside.  And being fit and strong feels beautiful.
  9. Nature rules.  And if you’re able to hike/run/bike/swim/ski/snowshoe, you can see more of it.
  10. Little eyes are always watching.  We learn from each other.  You may have a daughter—or a niece or a neighbor or a friend – one day.  And that little girl will be watching and listening to everything she you say and do.  What messages do you want her to hear?”

She concludes: “I’ll never talk to my daughter about fitting into THAT DRESS.  But I will talk to her about what it sounds like to hear pine needles crunching under my feet and what it feels like to cross a finish line and how special it is to see the world on foot.  I will talk to her about hard work and self sufficiency.  I will teach her the joy of working out by showing her I love it.  And I’ll leave the rest up to her.”  Read the whole post here.

What are the reasons YOU work out and what messages do you want to pass along to your children and grandchildren about health and exercise?  Try making a list and see what you come up with.  You might even surprise yourself.

Caren Swanson

Image by flickr user Saurabh_B via Creative Commons.

What Is Your Rope to the Barn?

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a hidden wholenessI’ve been a fan of the author and teacher Parker Palmer ever since reading “The Courage to Teach” in college. In today’s blog post, excerpted from his beautiful book “A Hidden Wholeness,” he writes thoughtfully of the need for “a rope to the barn” to keep us connected when life’s “blizzards” threaten to overwhelm us.  

Reposted from his blog at the Center For Courage & Renewal. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul.
—Leonard Cohen

There was a time when farmers on the Great Plains, at the first sign of a blizzard, would run a rope from the back door out to the barn. They all knew stories of people who had wandered off and been frozen to death, having lost sight of home in a whiteout while still in their own backyards.

Today we live in a blizzard of another sort. It swirls around us as economic injustice, ecological ruin, physical and spiritual violence, and their inevitable outcome, war. It swirls within us as fear and frenzy, greed and deceit, and indifference to the suffering of others. We all know stories of people who have wandered off into this madness and been separated from their own souls, losing their moral bearings and even their mortal lives: they make headlines because they take so many innocents down with them.

The lost ones come from every walk of life: clergy and corporate executives, politicians and people on the street, celebrities and schoolchildren. Some of us fear that we, or those we love, will become lost in the storm. Some are lost at this moment and are trying to find the way home. Some are lost without knowing it. And some are using the blizzard as cover while cynically exploiting its chaos for private gain.

So it is easy to believe the poet’s claim that “the blizzard of the world” has overturned “the order of the soul,” easy to believe that the soul—that life-giving core of the human self, with its hunger for truth and justice, love and forgiveness—has lost all power to guide our lives.

But my own experience of the blizzard, which includes getting lost in it more often than I like to admit, tells me that it is not so. The soul’s order can never be destroyed. It may be obscured by the whiteout. We may forget, or deny, that its guidance is close at hand. And yet we are still in the soul’s backyard, with chance after chance to regain our bearings.

This book [and the resources of Courage & Renewal] is about tying a rope from the back door out to the barn so that we can find our way home again. When we catch sight of the soul, we can survive the blizzard without losing our hope or our way. When we catch sight of the soul, we can become healers in a wounded world—in the family, in the neighborhood, in the workplace, and in political life—as we are called back to our “hidden wholeness” amid the violence of the storm.

Excerpt from Parker J. Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. Jossey-Bass, 2004

–Caren Swanson

A Love Letter… From Me to…_______

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I was reading through some short stories about love and loss, looking for words of comfort I could share with a family member going through a difficult time, when I stumbled upon this:

“I would like to grow old with you, before I lose you.

You may lose me, first, for I am not all so very young, anymore. But I will take care of myself so that I may build thin bonfires on the cold beach with you: I will climb regularly, I will wear through expensive running shoes, I will bicycle daily, I will yoga reluctantly for it stretches me where I am tight and leaning into resistance makes me lazy. I will eat real food and go to bed at a reasonable hour: I won’t drink bad beer, or take my stress too seriously: I am good at sighing. For I would like to live to see you grow old like a thick vine, still flowering.

8547433171_2b15a061c7_b

I would like to see you wear that same turquoise dress with white flowers when your hair has turned white.”

Waylon Lewis, excerpt from “Things I Would Like to do with You Before I Lose You.”

While reading this, I pictured a man (indeed the writer is a male) thinking of his beloved in this beautiful way, wanting to do the things that were good and right and healthy so that he could stay by her side and grow old alongside her beauty. Hers was a beauty he knew would remain even when her hair was white. And he wanted to be there to see it. It’s a simple but poignant reflection on the power of love between two people and the motivations for living well that love can ignite.

But then I had a thought: what if I had written that love letter to myself? And so I read it again.  To me, from me.

“I would like to grow old with you, before I lose you.

You may lose me, first, for I am not all so very young, anymore. But I will take care of myself so that I may build thin bonfires on the cold beach with you: I will climb regularly, I will wear through expensive running shoes, I will bicycle daily, I will yoga reluctantly for it stretches me where I am tight and leaning into resistance makes me lazy. I will eat real food and go to bed at a reasonable hour: I won’t drink bad beer, or take my stress too seriously: I am good at sighing. For I would like to live to see you grow old like a thick vine, still flowering.

I would like to see you wear that same turquoise dress with white flowers when your hair has turned white.”

7012071637_6305d72a02_bDo I love myself enough to do what is good and right and healthy so I can grow old in beauty? Don’t I want to live long and well and delight to see myself in a turquoise dress with white hair?  To be that thick vine that is still flowering?

I do. And so today I’ll eat lots of colorful vegetables. And I’ll take my dog for a long walk and laugh when he barks at a forgotten Jack-O-Lantern. I’ll do push-ups. And hold a plank exercise pose for longer than my body seems to want. I’ll finally hang those shelves that are sitting in the closet.  And I’ll meet my friends tonight for trivia and laughter and a good beer. Because today, that’s what loving myself means. And that’s what will feed this vine so it can grow old and thick and full of flowers.

Write a love letter to yourself today. From you, to you, for you and your white-haired, flowering, beautiful self.

Rachel Meyer

Images by flickr users 190.arch and Chickens In The Trees, via Creative Commons.

 

Rev. Dan Gobble: Success With Naturally Slim

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This is a guest post by Rev. Dan Gobble, pastor of Providence UMC in Salisbury, NC. It was originally featured in Naturally Slim’s newsletter and is reprinted with permission.  

All Spirited Life participants have had the opportunity to participate in Naturally Slim, and pastors still receiving services (Group 3) will have an final opportunity to enroll in 2014. 

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I recently turned 50 years old. At my annual physical in 2012, my doctor told me, “Dan, it wouldn’t hurt you to go hungry once in a while.” At that time I weighed around 240 pounds. I knew he was right. There is a BMI chart on the wall beside the scales in his office. I knew that, for my height, I was way over my ideal weight, almost in the morbidly obese category. I was frustrated because I wanted to do something about my weight, but I didn’t have confidence in what I knew about weight loss.

Dan collageIn the meantime, my employer, the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church began a program to help clergy better manage their health. Being a pastor is a high stress job, and clergy often have problems dealing with the stress that comes with it. As a result, they often experience weight gain and develop markers for metabolic syndrome like, high blood pressure, high or out of balance cholesterol, and even diabetes, which affect their health and quality life. Since entering the ministry in 2002, I have gained about 45 to 50 pounds. Over the years, my doctor had put me on blood pressure and cholesterol medicine. I was also borderline diabetic. When he told me at my last physical that it wouldn’t hurt me to lose weight, I finally RESOLVED that I would DO something about it. When the church offered the Naturally Slim program as a possible way to help us manage some of our healthcare concerns through weight loss, I jumped at the chance.

I had always been skeptical of diets and weight loss programs because I saw how folks struggled to sustain the results over the long haul. The thing that attracted me to this program was the overall common sense wisdom and the well-organized approach. This program looked like something I could incorporate into my lifestyle by making some “doable” changes. When I tried to lose weight in the past, I had no real success because I had no real understanding of how my body deals with food. Naturally Slim explains how our bodies and food interact and then Naturally Slim gave me a straightforward, workable plan for losing weight that made sense, and which is backed up by nutritional and medical facts. For example, after following the Naturally Slim plan for just a few weeks, I realized that I didn’t need to eat in the morning. I had been a big cereal eater for years, but it was more out of habit than a true need for fuel. Now I have some H-2-Orange in the mornings, plus some coffee, and I can enjoy food when my body needs it later in the day. This cut out a lot of unnecessary food on a daily basis.

Another facet of the program which really helped me lose weight was cutting out the sweets and high sugar foods (especially the constant snacking and grazing on sugary foods). Lowering my food intake, and learning the importance of eating slowly gave me a winning strategy for weight loss. The final component of the program that I found helpful was the pedometer that Naturally Slim sent in the starter package. It made me become more intentional about walking around the neighborhood and working to get a minimum number of steps in each day. As a footnote, I have now walked over 1,000 miles since April of 2013. I’ve always wanted to do more running and jogging. I am happy to say that I can now run a 5K (something that was impossible prior to the weight loss). I also enjoy an active lifestyle, including walking with my wife and our dog, running, and riding my bicycle.

I never really thought I would come close to attaining these results at this point in my life. I thought there was no other option for me but being overweight and in declining health for the rest of my life. But Naturally Slim has helped me reverse some negative trends in my health. At my last physical in June, my doctor took me off blood pressure and cholesterol medicine. I’m at the recommended BMI for my weight & height. I’m wearing the size clothes I wore when I was in my early 20s! I look and feel so much better and I have a much better self-image (I took my shirt off and body surfed the waves at the beach this summer, without being self-conscious about my appearance). My family is really proud of my weight loss. I get asked on a regular basis to reveal my secret. I tell everyone who will listen, “If you’re really interested in losing weight, then you need to check out Naturally Slim”. I’m a believer!

Update

Since Dan started the program in late March of 2013, he has lost 63 pounds.  At that time he weighed 233. He now weighs 170 pounds.  His waist has been reduced 10 inches from 44 inches in March of 2013 down to 34 inches in Oct 2013. He also reports that he is off all medication to control his cholesterol, and all cholesterol numbers have improved to the point that they are better than they were when he took the medication to keep them under control.