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!

Time to Take Care of YOU

One might assume that because the United States spends more on health care than any other nation ($4,500 per person in 2000) Americans should also be the healthiest folks on the planet. Unfortunately, according to the UC Atlas of Global Inequality, that is far from the truth. In terms of life expectancy, the U.S. ranks 27th (77 years). An even more alarming trend is a 30-year pattern of decreased life expectancy, a high infant mortality rate, and the reality that U.S. youth have the “highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy and deaths from car crashes” among 17 developed countries studied in a recent report produced by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council.

An article by Sabrina Tavernise in the January 9, 2013 edition of The New York Times summarized the report’s distrubing findings. Particularly troubling are the findings that Americans under 50 had a higher mortality rate from gun-related homicide, drug and alcohol abuse, and car accidents than any of their counterparts in the other countries studied. We also posted the second highest rate of death from heart disease and lung disease.

Despite our many strengths as a nation, the United States also has the highest rate of poverty among the 17 developed nations in the study, limited  primary care resources in a fragmented healthcare system, and a high percentage of uninsured citizens. Cuba, despite its many economic challenges and limited resources, has made healthcare a priority. The country has a universal healthcare system and one of the world’s highest doctor-to-patient ratios. The average per person healthcare expenditure in Cuba is a mere $186 or about 1/25 of per person spending in the United States. Cuba comes in just behind the United States at 28th in terms of life expectancy (76.9 years compared to the U.S.’s 77 years). Go figure.

The bottom line is that YOU are responsible for your health. No one is going to force you to be healthy or to make good choices. Some health issues bear no relation to lifestyle, but most of the truly pressing health issues in the United States are indeed related to lifestyle, income, and education. The playing field is not a level one, but we make it even less level through choice and public policy.

Controversial filmmaker and best-selling author Michael Moore made the simple choice to start walking 30 minutes each day. As Moore notes, it’s free and it feels good. Don’t stop there! You can bypass the cigarettes and save money. You can cut out the sodas and drink water or green tea. You can brew your own coffee at home and moderate your alcohol intake. You can prepare simple, fresh foods and cut out the highly-processed junk. If you don’t know how to cook, you can learn.

No one is asking you to make a 180 degree change in how you live overnight–although if that’s how you work, go for it! Try to change one thing and see where it goes. Don’t go out and get an expensive gym membership; take that walk around the neighborhood. If you hate going outside, turn on a music channel and dance like a fool where no one can see you. Instead of driving eight blocks to the post office, walk there. Plant a garden. Get enough sleep. Drink enough water. Play ball with your kids. Walk through your neighborhood and get to know folks. Just do something.

Don’t wait for a better or more convenient day. Get started right now. It’s time to take care of YOU because YOU are worth it!

Photo by Green_Mamba. Thanks!

The Days are Surely Coming


The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. — Jeremiah 33:14

Read: Jeremiah 33:14-16


“One of the essential paradoxes of Advent: that while we wait for God, we are with God all along ,that while we need to be reassured of God’s arrival, or the arrival of our homecoming, we are already at home. While we wait, we have to trust, to have faith, but it is God’s grace that gives us that faith. As with all spiritual knowledge, two things are true, and equally true, at once. The mind can’t grasp paradox; it is the knowledge of the soul.” — Michelle Blake, The Tentmaker


It’s here already! Can you believe it? Today we lit the first candle on the Advent wreath and sang the first Advent hymns. While the season may be here, the days are surely coming and the promises of God are being fulfilled.

We live in the already and the not yet–all of us–in a state of tension. Our lives are pulled in many directions; there is always something to do. Our culture encourages us to hurry up and get ready for that perfect Christmas by searching for the latest and greatest and most perfect of presents. Images and sounds of Christmas bombard our senses at every turn. But wait…it isn’t Christmas. The days are surely coming, but the twelve days of Christmas are not now, not yet.

Right now it is Advent. God gives us the gift of 24 wonderful days to wait, to anticipate, and to be present in the moment. Advent reminds us that we are created as human beings rather than human doings. Instead of overspending our time, our energy, and our resources Advent encourages us to spend our love lavishly, to wait in wonder, and to experience life rather than rush through our precious days.

Dear friend, if your “to-do list” is spiraling out of control and your energy is flagging, then stop and be still. Sit and listen. Breathe. Pray. Relish this moment in faith that your work will get done and you will keep Christmas. The days are surely coming, but not just yet.

These are the days to sweep clean your cluttered mind and clear away any cobwebs of anxiety and dust bunnies of despair. God is coming again and God is already here. No perfection is needed, only an open mind, a quiet heart, and peaceful soul. You do not have to “out-decorate” your neighbor or “wow” your child with baubles and trinkets or throw the most memorable party. In the end those things will not matter or even be remembered.

The days are surely coming, but this is the day you have. Live it. Love it. Pay attention to it. And open yourself to the miracles of the Creator.

You will not be disappointed.


Today do nothing or as little as possible. Enter Advent on the hours of a gentle Sabbath. Experience God as fully as possible and rest in the divine hope and grade that are already yours.

Thankful for Slow Saturday

I promised myself a slow day, and I have enjoyed just that. This morning I slept late for the first time in quite a while (9:00 a.m.). I made coffee, enjoyed it, and finished laundry at a leisurely pace. Mr. Husband and I took the dogs for a long walk at the cemetery overlooking town and the surrounding hills and valleys. It was breathtakingly beautiful today. I tended the garden, and picked basil and tomatoes.

I did a little work and finished my sermon. I stayed hydrated and relaxed. We made a wonderful supper together: pasta with fresh homemade pesto (recipe below) or homemade Alfredo sauce, a lovely salad with cucumbers from our garden, and peach sundaes made with fresh local peaches for dessert. We enjoyed a leisurely meal with good conversation. Now I’m winding down and hoping for a good night’s sleep so that I can feel rested for tomorrow.

It was a lovely slow day. Did I accomplish as much as I would have liked to done? No. But that’s o.k. I am content.

How did you spend your Slow Saturday?

Fresh Pesto

Two heaping cups (press down) of fresh, washed, and drained basil leaves

1/2 cup walnuts

1/2 to 2/3 cups Parmesan cheese (freshly grated is best)

8 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped (use less if you’re not a garlic fan)

1/3 +/- cup extra virgin olive oil (add oil to get a pleasing consistency)

freshly ground pepper to taste

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Process in a food processor until desired consistency is reached. Mix with hot cooked pasta. Any extra can be put in small containers (press out air bubbles to avoid discoloration) and frozen. Will keep for a few days in the refrigerator. I put a thin layer of olive oil on top of the pesto to prevent discoloration.

Use as a sandwich or wrap spread. Mix with a little mayo or plain Greek yogurt in pasta or chicken salad. Spread on fresh artisan bread, top with a slice of homegrown tomato, sprinkle with a little Parmesan cheese and broil. Yum.

Photos by zoyachubby and diekatrin 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!

Days 5 & 6: Computer Trauma Cont.

My computer is off at the repair shop; no word yet on possible outcomes. Unfortunately, my daughter’s old laptop is threatening to give up the ghost, as well, with strange error messages reporting it cannot access the hard drive. Right now I would be thankful to have a dependable laptop that works. Hopefully, my spouse’s computer guru will be able to accomplish this mission, and I’ll have my Dell Vostro back in hand in short order.

This morning I met with a group of colleagues in ministry to discuss the lessons for this coming Sunday, and the gospel lesson from the eighth chapter of Mark proved quite convicting, especially verses 34-35: “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel will save it.” Ouch!

Granted, I did a little more than give up an indulgence like chocolate or coffee or television for Lent, but what do I really know about denying myself? I have very nice roof over my head, sufficient clothing, plenty of good food, reliable transportation, healthcare, and more than enough “stuff.” It’s way too easy for me to keep my mind on the things of the world — like ailing computers — that really, in the grand scheme of things, do not amount to a hill of beans. A little reality check is a good thing!

Meanwhile, Lent rolls on, and so does my 40/40/40 Challenge.  Here are my results for days five and six.

Honoring Relationships

For days five and six, I am honoring two more friends from North Dakota who made my time there a real joy. Both of these women are strong, courageous, and amazing. They’ll know who they are in short order!

Giving Possessions

For day five, I am finally parting with a beloved Eddie Bauer sweater and coordinating turtleneck. I have hung on to this set even though it is now too big for me and doesn’t really match my color scheme (although there’s not much scheming to my color palette). It’s still a nice sweater, but it needs a new home. For day six, I am giving away an almost brand new sweatshirt that is really too small. I am finally truly convinced that clothing should not sit in one’s closet unworn. No need to hoard, right?


Yesterday, I was thankful for a good night’s sleep. It’s been a busy, stressful, crazy week so far, and I slept incredibly soundly. It was glorious! Today, I am thankful that my oldest daughter is finally home from Korea. I can’t adequately explain how wonderful it is to have both my girls under the same roof, even if it is only temporary. Every day is a gift. Thank you, Creator of the Universe, for bringing Elspeth safely home again.

That’s all for tonight! I hope each one of you had a good day and found much for which to be thankful. Remember, a grateful heart is contagious and life-giving. Try it! You’ll be amazed at what happens.

Photo by sugree used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Super Bowl Sabbath

In 2011, more than 93 million people watched the Super Bowl. I suspect a lot of folks are gearing up to watch this year’s re-match between the Giants and Patriots. If you are among those numbers, more power to you! I hope it’s a good game, a good time, and an opportunity to relax and enjoy the company of family and friends.

As for me, I’m going to enjoy a little Sabbath time. I may watch a movie or read a book. I don’t have anything special planned, and that’s o.k. Time to rest, relax, and quiet my mind is the order of the day.

So, for today, I’m signing off to take a Super Bowl sabbath — and a nap. I am simply thankful for a little quiet time to end a busy weekend.

Blessings and peace — football or not!

Image by RMTip21 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!