On the Thin Edge of Health

With Lent has come a busier schedule both in my ministry and in teaching two online writing classes. Of course, to top it all off, both my dear spouse and I have found ourselves on the thin edge of health, fighting sinus infections that haven’t become full-blown but that are hanging on with annoying tenacity. Because of this lingering malaise, I did not post any entries last week, and I am sorry.

Good health is important, and Lent is a good time to think about health. Our bodies are made to sustain themselves when we eat well, drink plenty of water, exercise, and get sufficient rest. It’s the times when life becomes too hectic and we make compromises that dis-ease can set it. For me, a sinus infection is my body’s reminder that I am not taking care of myself, and I had better slow down.

I’ve kept exercising, albeit gently with yoga. I’ve indulged in a few much -needed naps, and I am eating simply and well. Hopefully, I’ll be back on solid health footing soon.

How about you? How are you tending to your health and wellness in the midst of wild weather swings, a glut of germs to share, and busy lives?

Photo by Hamron. Thanks!

Laugh! It’s Good for You.

Mirth is God’s medicine. Everybody ought to bathe in it. ~Henry Ward Beecher

(Note: This is the second installment in a series about how to really live life and live it well.)

Want to really live life? If you do, then make sure you laugh on a daily basis. Not only will you feel better and experience life as more positive, you may actually help your health.

A study at the University of Maryland Medical Center, led by Dr. Michael Miller, studied the humor responses of 300 subjects and found that indeed, there may be a real connection between frequent laughter and reduced risk of heart attack. Click here to read more about the study. Miller and his colleagues suggest looking at incorporating laughter into one’s life in the same way one would include a healthy diet and exercise.

What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul. ~Yiddish Proverb

How about combining exercise and laughter into one healthy activity? Check out laughter yoga as a possibility. This practice combines unconditional laughter with yogic breathing (pranayama). It was the brainchild of an Indian physician, Dr. Madan Kataria and has grown to more than 8.000 laughter clubs in 65 countries. Click here and here for more information. Laughter yoga combines exercise, breathing, joy, and community into one healthy and affirming activity. According to the American School of Laughter Yoga, not only will practitioners see health benefits, but work productivity may increase by up to 31% Clearly, research shows we need to infuse our schools, our workplaces, our homes, and our faith communities with more laughter and joy.

Seven days without laughter makes one weak. ~Mort Walker

The photo above is a close-up of the artist Yue Minjun’s wonderful installation “Amazing Laughter” in Vancouver, British Columbia. You can read more about the artist and the sculpture here. Seeing these laughing figures, all of whom bear the artist’s face, makes one want to smile–or laugh. Look for art, for music, for theatre, film, and television that make you laugh, and incorporate some healthy laughter into every day of your life. Commit to trying it for at least 40 days, and keep a record of your progress and experience. I am certain you’ll find yourself stronger, more centered, and possessing a much more positive outlook on life. Go ahead…try it! What do you have to lose?

Now just why did the chicken cross the road? Maybe it was to listen to some fowl jokes.

Photos by Jeff Halllululemonathletica, and Matthew Grapengieser. Thanks!

Thankful for Walks

The last few months in our house have been excruciatingly busy, and because of that fact I let my fitness slip. I never happened to be near the YWCA and couldn’t seem to make the time for a special trip there. At home, something always seemed to intervene to keep me from my yoga routine and regular walks. It didn’t take long for a few pounds to creep back on (Thanks stress eating and lack of willpower!) and a general sense of malaise to settle over my days. What had originally been inconvenience and busyness gave way to stress and sluggishness. Ugh!

One day I finally realized just how far away from my healthy routine I had fallen. Sure, I was still making time for prayer, meditation, and study, but my physical self was suffering neglect. So I decided enough was enough. It was time to blend in a few more salads, a couple of extra glasses of water, and a long daily walk.

Walking is great exercise. It requires no special equipment other than decent shoes and a safe place to walk. It provides a completely different view of the world on foot than what one sees encased in a speeding box of plastic, glass, and metal. It can be a social activity or a respite that provides needed “self” time. It improves posture, breathing, and cardiovascular fitness. Even bone density gets a boost. Check out this article from the Mayo Clinic for more information about the many benefits of walking.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of taking two long walks. It was glorious! I used one of the walks as time to talk with my mother. Thanks, mom! It was good to hear your voice. I used the other one to spend time with my youngest daughter and the dogs. Thanks, family!

After my brush with the fitness slump and dumpy blahs, I have a renewed appreciation for the benefits of daily walking as an important part of my thanks-living lifestyle. In fact, I’m going to take the dogs for a walk around town right now.

How about you? Do you enjoy walking? What benefits do you gain from walking? I’d love to hear from you!

Photo by h. koppdelaney used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Give Thanks for Good Health

Good health is something we take for granted until there’s a problem. It is often something we ignore by making poor choices. It is also something that is quite difficult to regain, if not impossible, once it is lost. I’m talking about good health.

Our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made (see Psalm 139:14), and if we exercise proper care and live thankfully, we can usually enjoy good health and a good quality of life. It takes a little more effort and determination as the years go by, but with health one usually reaps what one sows.

Americans should be healthy, right? We have access to some of the best medical facilities, good food, plentiful water, and education. Unfortunately, even with these blessings, we are decidedly unhealthy as a nation. Click here to learn more about America’s health rankings (state by state).

Obesity is the number two cause of preventable death in the U.S. (Get America Fit Foundation). 60 million Americans age 20 and older are obese. Nine million children ages 6-19 are overweight. This dangerous trend is related to increases in many diseases and conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type II diabetes, breast and colon cancer, gall bladder disease, sleep apnea, coronary disease, stroke, and osteoarthritis.

As a nation we are both overfed and undernourished and over-stressed and under-active. We have moved from an active agrarian and manufacturing economy toward a nation of couch potatoes who would rather drive two blocks than walk and who choose highly processed foods over simple healthy options. Despite the plethora of gyms, home exercise equipment and DVDs, and diet programs, we can’t seem to keep the weight off and our good health intact.

I’m a seven year breast cancer survivor. There is no direct history of this disease in my family. At the time I was diagnosed, I was a full-time graduate student working three part-time jobs and rearing two children as a recently-divorced single parent. My stress level was through the roof, my sleep and eating habits poor, and regular exercise was not a choice I made.  The aggressive cancer was a big wake-up call to me. If I was going to live to see both girls launched to adulthood, some things had to change and change fast.

I still tend to work too hard, but I am eating healthier, trying to remain active through walking and yoga, and striving to get adequate rest and hydration. I don’t smoke, and communion wine is about all the alcohol that passes my lips. It is still a struggle, but I continue to work at it.My weaknesses are too much coffee and a craving for salty snacks like pretzels and tortilla chips. I’m trying to blend in green tea daily and choose popcorn or fruit and veggies over the salty snacks.

I’m lucky; as an ELCA pastor, I have access to amazing health care, including strong health education, incentives, and preventative care. This is a good thing because clergy are among the most unhealthy segment of our population. We are the ones who should be setting a good example for parishioners and modeling good stewardship of self-care and solid health.  Lucky for me, I  have a spouse who shares similar values and who is trying to keep himself healthy for the long haul. It helps to have a partner in accountability!

How about you? Are you tending to your own health? Do you realize the importance of making good choices in food, exercise, and stress reduction? Do you know your risks? Are you doing all you can to minimize them?

Remember, you have this one precious life. Be sure to tend to your health, doing the best you possibly can to be a good steward of the gift of life with which you are entrusted. Ask yourself what one small step you can take this week that will either lead you to better health or augment the positive steps you are already taking. It’s your life; make the most of it, and remember to give thanks for the gift of good health!

Photo by Samuel Sharpe used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Choosing and Crafting the Future

We are creating the future today! It is hard to imagine what doesn’t yet exist. But the choices we make today will define future generations. We get to decide if we want to be part of blessing future generations. Our behaviors today impact the future of the environment, our health, our church communities, and our families.

We decide if we help to create a future of love, hope, and compassion or a future of hatred, fear, and judgment.

Bonnie Cassida wrote these words as part of today’s d365 Journey to the Cross e-devotion, and they really hit home with me. How often do we pause and consider that we are co-creators of the future, for good or for ill?

Our actions and choices matter; they matter a great deal. Whether we realize or acknowledge it, we are connected to one another. The choices of previous generations have affected where we are today, and likewise the paths we choose will have an impact on our sons and daughters and even on their sons and daughters.

Whatever blessings we enjoy today are often the harvest of seeds planted by others. I think of how my parents made sacrifices so that I could take advantage of opportunities in high school and college. I have heard my mother talk about how her older siblings sacrificed so that the younger children in her large family could have what they needed. Today, my spouse and I make choices with an eye toward providing for the needs of our children.

We try to consider not only our children but the children of other parents around the world. Our purchasing decisions affect other people we may never know. How we treat the land, water, and air may have a profound impact on future generations. This reality is both a great responsibility and an amazing privilege.

We, you and I, must decide whether we will create something of beauty and hope, or whether we will squander our inheritance and ignore the needs of our sisters and brothers. The choice is ours, left to us by our gracious and loving Creator. It is a great trust. What shall we do? How shall we steward this gift?


40/40/40 Challenge Day 12 Update

I’m more than 25% of the way through this Lenten challenge, and so far it has been easy to decide which relationships to honor, possessions to release, and thankgivings to offer. I suspect this could be habit forming.

Honoring Relationships

Today, I want to honor and show appreciation for my friend and walking buddy Dianne from Sheyenne. Sometimes in life you meet someone and it just clicks; you feel comfortable talking and sharing with that person, and you enjoy his or her company. Dianne and I logged many miles around town and up the hill past the cemetary. She’s one of the hardest working people I know, makes the best German Chocolate brownie bars, and can whip up a hot dish or soup in a flash. She donates time to almost every community event, and she has a tender heart and great sense of humor. She loves her family, nurtures her faith, and enjoys life. What more could one ask from a friend? Sure do miss those walks, Dianne!

Giving Possessions

Today I cleaned out my jewelry box. It was a pretty easy task because I don’t have much jewelry to start with, but I did pare it down to only the essentials and those few items of sentimental value. If it hadn’t been our of the box in six months — bye, bye!


I am thankful to be able to exercise. Sometimes it seems like a huge pain and mighty inconvenience, but I am grateful to have limbs that can move and stretch, a heart that supports such activity, and the time to do so. Some days I walk, some days I ride the Airdyne, and some days I do yoga. I need to get back to the YWCA, use that membership more regularly, and be a better steward both of my health and our financial investment. Always something to strive toward, eh?

Photo by alonis used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!


Day Two: Devotions, Daughters, & Dogs

For more than three years I have used Murray D. Finck’s Stretch and Pray program. Granted, I go through periods where I practice this discipline more faithfully than other times, but I keep returning to it because it works. Finck is an ELCA bishop (Pacifica Synod), and he developed Stretch and Pray out of his experience on a four-week mini-sabbatical/pilgrimage to Thailand and Nepal led by Roy Oswald of the Alban Institute. At that time Finck suffered from chronic back pain from an injury that occurred 20 years earlier. On the trip, the participants began each morning with a series of stretches, postures, aerobic exercises and prayers. By the end of the trip, Finck’s pain was gone.

He is quick to point out that these sort of results may not happen for everyone, but I can attest to the benefits of Stretch and Pray. When I incorporate the program into my daily routine, I feel better — mentally, physically, and spiritually. It is a wonderfully simple, invigorating yet relaxing routine. I especially like the prayer postures at the end.

Honoring Relationships

I have two for day two — relationships to honor, that is. Today I want to give thanks for my daughters. They were born six years apart on the same day. I’ve known them for 24 and 18 years respectively, and they have taught me much about what it means to love, to be fully present, to be human, and to forgive (myself and others). I am proud to be their mother, and I am proud of who they are and are becoming. Thanks, ladies!

Giving Possessions

Today is your opportunity to have a copy of the Stretch and Pray DVD. I have decided to give my copy away to a reader. I have only used the DVD a few times, so I want to pass it on to someone who might benefit from it rather than have it collect dust on the shelf. Leave a comment at the end of this post. I’ll randomly select a name on Sunday, February 26, and then pass this copy along to the winner.


I am thankful for dogs, especially Pete and Dexter. Pete is our Springer Spaniel, and Dex belongs to my oldest daughter but has been living with us while she’s been overseas. A wise colleague in ministry once said that all ministers should have a dog. Why? Because at the end of a long, draining day a dog will still greet you at the door like you’re the most important person in the world. A dog will give you unconditional love and will never criticize or judge. This is true; however, Pete will eat anything that resembles food and isn’t nailed down, and Dexter will chew socks, books, and furniture. Oh, well! One can’t have everything.

Thankful for Exercise

Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. — Hebrews 12:11-13

Exercise, for me, is something that’s easily pushed aside on busy days. I’ll waive my yoga routine if it means an extra half-hour of sleep. If it’s too cold, I’m much more tempted to stay inside rather than get out and walk a couple of miles. If I have looming deadlines, I won’t go near the Airdyne. I can find many excuses not to drive that eight miles to the YWCA where we have a family membership. I just sigh and chalk it up to a busy lifestyle and multiple commitments and maybe have another cup of coffee.

When I neglect exercise, I put in motion an unhealthy cycle. The less exercise, the more likely I am to feel additional stress since I am not releasing those lovely endorphins. When I go several days without yoga, my body becomes tight, tense, and stiff. Even my breathing is affected when I neglect the deliberate focus provided by my semi-regular Stretch and Pray routine. The more stressed I’m feeling, the more likely I am to overeat and consume too much caffeine.

I’m trying to rethink my approach to exercise this year and make self-care a real priority. As a pastor and cancer survivor I know the importance of self-care, but I sometimes fail to act on that knowledge. I neglect to show gratitude to my Creator when I fail to properly care for my body, a part of God’s good creation. I neglect to love myself and treat myself as a person of worth and beauty. I also potentially cheat my loved ones of the best I can give them when I fail to properly care for myself.

Exercise is one important part of the good health picture. It is my right and my responsibility to take care of this body. I am thankful to have reasonably good health right now. I am thankful to be able to exercise. Now, I just need to make sure it remains a priority for this year of thanks-living and beyond.

For Further Reflection

Ask yourself these questions and answer them honestly.

  • How often do you exercise?
  • What sort of exercise do you prefer?
  • How important do you believe it is to take good care of your body?
  • Is there a disconnect between what you think and what you do?
  • What changes might you need to make this year to ensure you are getting enough exercise?
  • What one step can you take starting today to take better care of your health through exercise?

Photo by whologwhy used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

You are Not Your Own?

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body. –1 Corinthians 6:19-20

It’s my body, I can do what I want to…do what I want to…do what I want to…and you can, too, ’cause it’s all up to you. No, wait. That’s not how the song by Lesley Gore went. It was something about a party, not a body. In our individualistic culture, however, we think we have complete ownership of everything and can treat even our own bodies with disdain or abuse.

In the verses above, the apostle Paul was trying to convince the Corinthians that GOD wants a 100% commitment, that we belong to the Creator and, therefore, do not have the right to treat our bodies as anything less than holy. The way we treat our bodies reflects how we treat GOD and how we feel about ourselves. We’re also told by Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves. How can we love our neighbor if we do not love ourselves?

Loving ourselves involves caring for ourselves–for our body, mind, and spirit. Here in the United States, obesity, hypertension, and a host of related maladies plague a large portion of our population. Fast food and highly processed foods are easy to come by, inexpensive, and pleasing to the palate. Just today my daughter pointed out how many calories there are in a prepared serving of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and little nutrition is provided. I believe one would honestly be better off boiling the box and eating it with a little pepper and olive oil.

Loving ourselves means eating healthily, exercising regularly, and resting. It means taking care of all aspects of our health and avoiding activities that would harm our bodies, minds, or spirits. Health and well-being are difficult to reclaim once they are gone.

It’s easy to assume that one is invincible and that one little slip up or poor choice will not have any consequences. That is not necessarily true. Have sex with the wrong partner and end up with a life-long disease. Smoke too much as  a youth and risk lung cancer later one. Party hardy in college, and discover that your genetic make-up predisposes you to alcoholism. Eat a steady diet of fast food might put you at risk for a coronary later. Yes, there’s a reaction in response to every action, sometimes sooner but often later.

Treat your body, mind, and spirit well. You are special. You are made holy by the GOD who loves you more than you can comprehend. No, you are not your own, and that is a very good thing.

For Further Reflection

Think about any ways that you treat your body as less than holy. Do you constantly burn the proverbial candle at both ends? Do you eat too much or too much of the wrong things? Do you drink too much or smoke? Is your eating disordered because you do not see yourself through the lens of love through which your Creator views you? If so, resolve with God’s help to repair, restore, and renew your precious body. Be conscious of what you put into it and how you treat it. It’s the only one you have, and in your Creator’s eyes you are amazing. Pray for help to make changes. Seek counsel from healthcare providers if needed. Covenant with a friend for better accountability and support in making changes.

(Photos lululemonathletica, ebruli, and mythoughtson by used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!)

Tending the Body

LORD, you have searched me out; O LORD, you have known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You trace my journeys and my resting places and are acquainted with all my ways.  — Psalm 139:1-3

How do you treat your marvelous body? Do you care for it like the precious gift that it is, or do you neglect, abuse, or disparage it? Do you allow culture to make you feel “less than” perfect and therefore not worthy? Are you thankful for the body you’ve been given? Do you appreciate and attend to the blessing of your physical health and well-being?

If you live in North America, chances are your body is under stress and overworked. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of adults and one sixth of children in America are obese (30% or higher body fat). What’s really shocking is that in the last 20 years adult obesity rates doubled, while childhood obesity tripled. We live in one of the wealthiest nations in the world, yet many of our people are under-nourished and overfed. Skyrocketing blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, depression, and arthritis, and a host of other maladies are on the rise. In fact, seven out of 10 deaths in the U.S. are attributed to chronic disease.

Do you get enough rest? Are you drinking plenty of water? Do you exercise regularly? Is Sabbath a regular part of your weekly plan? Do you even know how to breath correctly?

Our largely sedentary lifestyles are contributing to early death. The “convenience” of cars and affordable fuel prevents us from walking enough, plus our hurried, busy days often end up with a quick buzz through the drive-thru for a fast food dinner that is hastily inhaled. Evenings are more likely to be spent in front of the television instead of walking the neighborhood, gardening, or sports activities.

Yes, I know, I know. Enough doom and gloom. You’ve heard it all before. Well, then why aren’t we doing more about it? Why aren’t we as a culture demanding better health from ourselves? Did we ever imagine that enhanced technology, added convenience, and fast food would put us on the fast track to an early demise?

The good news is that it’s pretty simple to make some basic changes that will result in better health and well-being. Why not make one action a priority for a month and then add another one once you have established a new healthy habit. Consider these simple steps–

  • Get enough rest. Turn off the television, relax, and get seven hours of sleep each night. Teenagers need more than that and usually get much less. Click here for a good article about sleep.
  • Eat well. I like Michael Pollen’s suggestion that if something has more than five ingredients listed on its packaging or you can’t pronounce the ingredients and don’t know what they are, don’t eat it. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store, patronize farm markets and local farmers whenever possible, and try growing as much of your own food as you can.
  • Get moving! Walk or ride a bike whenever possible. Would you be surprised to know that New Yorkers have the longest life expectancy in the U.S.? They also walk more than the rest of us. Walking and biking are great exercise, plus you have the added benefit of breathing fresh air and enjoying creation. Try to get 30 minutes of sustained exercise several times a week. Try yoga, pilates, swimming, or the fitness room at your local gym. Find a partner to hold you accountable.
  • Cultivate relationships. Spend time with family and friends. Laugh. Play. Love. Relationships are simply way better than stuff.
  • Most importantly, cultivate your relationship with the One who created you. Carve out daily time for prayer, meditation, scripture or devotional reading.

Be thankful for your body and tend it well. It’s never too late to learn to take better care of yourself. After all, GOD has given you an amazing gift–YOU.

For Further Reflection

Choose one of the suggestions listed above and spend some time thinking, planning, and praying about how you can make simple changes that will show your gratitude for the gift of your body, as well  as help cultivate a spirit of thanks-living.

Photos by spaceamoeba, Joi, and Korean Resource Center used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!