all clean

So my family and I took on clean eating in its simplest form this year for Lent, and it has opened a floodgate of information, emotions, and paradigm shifts for every single one of us.  One of my friends likened it to Morpheus’s red pill, and he is exactly right.  I feel like the scales have fallen from my eyes – and the new world I am seeing is rugged, powerful, and teeming with vigorous new life.

take the red pill

I began phasing into clean eating shortly before my girls did, because I wanted to go through all the hard parts and feel my best in order to support them properly.  These were noble intentions, but they turned out to be wholly unnecessary.  I did not face the migraines, fatigue, or listlessness that previous fasts / diets brought on.  Turns out, my body didn’t want the old way as much as I thought it did, and with a newly sufficient supply of produce  and all its nutrients in my system, I began to feel better almost immediately.

What I did crave, in a surprisingly fervent way, was knowledge.  I binge-watched half a dozen documentaries and testimonials (my personal favorites being Hungry for Change, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolutionand nearly everything Joel Salatin ever said), and still look for new ones every day. I also read every clean eating webpage I could find, and organized my recipe box to make room for all of the exciting new foods we were taking into our kitchen.  I actually enjoyed eating a parsnip, people!  It’s a whole new day.

The most surprising revelation of all, however, has been the unparalleled freedom I am experiencing.  I’ll admit it: of the three pillars of Lent, the one I have always gravitated toward the most is fasting.  There is a part of me that is still, every day, trying to earn my way into God’s favor.  I am good at rending my garments and covering my head with ashes, yet it is always accompanied by constant side-eyes at God, hoping I am gaining brownie points through my sacrifices and sorrow.  So yeah, when I came upon clean eating in my search for nutrition and health solutions, I easily targeted Lent as a starting point – you know, so my suffering would be all holy and everything.

pharisee fasting 2

 Instead – get this! – I am having FUN.  I am trying new things, visiting new places, meeting new people…even seeing new sides of those already in my closest circles.  Most exciting of all: There are no Nos for me anymore.  There is no list of food I can’t eat!  Sure, I have an ever-evolving list of foods I don’t want to eat, but it’s not because of any mandate or legalism; it is my own decision based on what I have learned about food and what goes into it (if you, as I, am still in the dark about this truth, please watch Food, Inc. as soon as humanly possible).  I can have whatever I want; I choose to eat that which is good, healthful, and free of toxins and bad intent.

And you know what?  I don’t even miss the old stuff.  There is nothing that Big Food or any other world system can offer me – no taste, treat, buzz, or sense of satisfaction – that is not only available, but actually better and more fulfilling when I get it naturally, as close to God’s original form as possible.  Pizza, macaroni and cheese, hamburgers and french fries…we still can and do eat all of the things we love, and we enjoy them with far more appreciation now.

Doesn’t that sound exactly like God’s original design, all the way back to the garden?  Now that I’ve seen this, I can’t believe I was blind to it for so long.  It’s like a hidden picture or word puzzles.  I can never NOT see it again.

The point of fasting is not merely to abstain.  This is a lesson I have been missing for nearly forty years.  The point of fasting – at Lent or anytime – is to make room for God to do something new in my heart and/or life.  After all of that striving and fear, I think I finally am getting it right for the first time.

I am SO glad that I finally took the red pill…more soon!

"Everything is permissible for me"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me"--but I will not be mastered by anything.  -1 Corinthians 6:12

“Everything is permissible for me”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”–but I will not be mastered by anything. -1 Corinthians 6:12

 

ta-dah!

When my girls were little, I quickly noticed that they based a large percentage of their feelings and reactions on mine.  This was most evident when they were learning to walk.  Anytime they wobbled, tripped, fell down, or even just startled themselves, they immediately looked to my face for a response.

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If I heeded my natural impulse to rush in and begin fussing over them, looking for injuries and cooing, “Oh, poor baby, are you okay?  Are you hurt?” they would take that as a cue that something was wrong – or should be.  Immediate result: terrified wailing, screaming, and gnashing of what few teeth they had.

It didn’t take me long to see that a better way was needed.  Instead of projecting worry, I trained myself to treat every fall like the world’s greatest magic trick.  Whenever they took a tumble, I would hold my breath, throw my hands in the air, and exclaim, “Ta-dah!”

To everyone’s great relief, it worked.  The girls were distracted, I was at peace, and we were all able to move forward with whatever business had been at hand.

Fast forward to today and the great thorn in my fourteen-year-old’s side: Algebra.  Well, it’s not really Algebra that’s the problem; it’s the teacher’s method.  He’s a super nice guy and his students love him, but he only teaches to one learning style.  He lectures and gives quizzes and tests, and that’s it.

My girl is a visual and kinesthetic learner.  She needs graphics and models and most of all, lots of tactile practice.  In the absence of those tools, she struggled mightily through the first semester of that class, barely passing by the skin of her teeth.  Even though she scored no grades lower than a 98 in every other class, she takes each mistake and under-performance in this one as a personal condemnation.  She must just be “bad” at math.

This week, I had the idea to talk to her about this class in terms of a new strategy.  Among some other tools that we sought out, I dusted off the old, “Ta-dah!” approach and challenged her to use it herself every time she makes a mistake on a problem in this class.

As always, my words to my daughter immediately took on an unexpected resonance for myself.  I get enveloped in self-defeating cycles in my work and aspirations every day.  Each time I miss a task, break my diet, or even just oversleep, I face the choice of whether to pick up and and move on, or take it as a “sign” of futility and an excuse not to try again.

I read just this week in the Harvard Business Review that cultivating a positive attitude toward failure is a great contributor to ultimate success.  “In fact, evidence suggests venture capitalists often see failure as an asset—not a liability—in an entrepreneur’s record. Why? Because failure suggests a tolerance for risk, a perseverance to succeed and, most important, a passion to push the envelope.”

What works for babies and pioneers can surely work for me too, right?

Forgot to put an important date on the calendar?  Ta-dah!
Procrastinated through two-thirds of my writing time this morning?  Ta-dah!
Snapped at my mom, put my socks on backwards, and dropped everything I touched today?  Ta-freaking-dah!  (Also maybe some chamomile tea at that point.  Or a cocktail.)

And now, for my next trick…

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it. -Maya Angelou

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.
-Maya Angelou

plants

2015 is now three weeks old, and the best gift I’ve received so far is plants.

Not real plants, mind you, as in flower boxes or a house cactus, but just the word itself.

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My family did an exercise this holiday wherein we each chose a word – any word that was on our hearts – and threw it in a hat.  Then we drew them out randomly, and whichever one each drew would be her word of meditation for 2015.

(Before I go accidentally taking credit for this lovely idea, please know it did not originate with me; my aunt suggested it based on a testimony she read recently, and there’s even a whole website dedicated to the concept here.)

So we drew our words and the most beautiful thoughts began to emerge: purposeful, patience, change, treasure…  And then I drew plantsIt was not at all what I expected, but the more I think about it, the more I love it.  You can do so many things with plants!

My daughter submitted it thinking of biological plants, with the implication that the person who received it would use the year to learn more about them scientifically.  To kick that off, we have some philodendron leaves soaking in our kitchen window sill right now.  They are cuttings from a plant of my aunt’s (the same one who initiated the exercise, in fact, so I love the symbolism of that); in a short time, they will sprout roots, and we will plant them into pots to begin new lives of their own.

phil leaves

But there’s so much more!

I love that, as a noun, the word is plural, implying a plentiful yield from that which was sown.

I love that, besides flora, it also can refer to places (again, plural!) where large quantities of manufacturing work happens – centers of productivity and industry.

Best of all, I love plants as a verb: to place or fix something in a specified location, usually with the intent that it will grow.  Whether I’m planting the seeds of our Three Sisters garden or planting a kiss on my girls’ cheeks or planting my stake in the ground, I am definitely praying for exponential growth this year.

And I pray the same for you.

    “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb

 

the big reveal

Halloween costumes have been the subject of much colorful discussion this year in my circles.

First there was this cartoon, which I saw posted on several Facebook pages but most notably on A Mighty Girl:

costume dilemma

Somewhat related, several of my coworkers have loudly bemoaned their difficulties in finding the perfect work-appropriate costume that is fun while remaining firmly within our safety and HR-friendly standards.

And scary clown costumes are making headlines, thanks to some disturbing experimentalists in California and Europe, as well as our freaky friends at American Horror Story.

All this talk of dressing up and what to wear and whom to be and how to be it has me thinking.  I don’t believe we actually cover ourselves up in this tradition of donning the perfect disguise / gag / alter ego for the night.  Rather, our choices reveal much more about us than we intend.

halloween 13For example, two years ago, my oldest daughter, in the midst of a tumultuous inner bout with teenage emotional upheaval, chose that Halloween to become Storm, the X-Men team member with control over any type of weather.

My beloved cousin, who moved away this year to law school, is being the Mad Hatter for Halloween: a kinetic, poetic creature driven mad by his craft, but coping through the whimsical interpretation of a comforting domestic ritual: afternoon tea.  (He also happened to escape an unjust conviction and sentence through manipulation of the “law” and an appeal to the Queen of Hearts, who had condemned him.)

Celebrities often dress up in surprisingly tame choices – surprising until you remember that they are already larger than life.  In that case, a simple cat or garden gnome costume is comforting in the other direction: a reflection of things that are ordinary, simple, and safe.

When you consider that the original purpose of wearing a disguise on Halloween had to do with warding off unwelcome spirits and/or attacks against the soul, the expressiveness of our costumes becomes all the more poignant.

I myself am not dressing up for Halloween, and haven’t done so for years.  Whether it’s due to an excess of honesty (I am who I am and I like who I am), crippling indecision, or mere self-deprecation (I don’t feel qualified to wear the one I really want to be), I will leave to your imagination.

Then again, that might tell you everything you need to know.

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person.  Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.  -Oscar Wilde

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. -Oscar Wilde

 

cross/fit

“No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up. Never give up.” -found at local gyms everywhere

I’ve been a church-going girl all of my life, literally since I was born.  Being a Christian has been one of the primary ways I identify myself, and a big part of that is attending church.  My weakest moments only meant that I would attend more – every time the doors were open, if I could.

Entering my mid-thirties, however, I began to entertain for the first time the idea that maybe I’d just rather stay home.  Millions of twenty-somethings are doing it; that would make me a trend-setter, right?  I was tired, disappointed, busy, and just burnt out.  And, I hate to admit this, but the age-old excuse was right: It actually is full of hypocrites.

Yet something compelled me to stick with it and it wasn’t until Sunday School yesterday that I found the words for why: Going to church is just like going to the gym.

The people I have met at the gym are ALL hypocrites.  For one thing, their motives are not pure.  They do not want to be there, or if they do, it’s to feed their egos or some other self-serving need.  Maybe they’ve come to socialize, to network, to connect with that cute gym bunny who always comes in at 7 a.m.  Maybe they are compulsive exercisers who fear going a day without it.  Maybe they can’t do it on their own and need the motivating presence and activity of others.

Not only that, but however they look inside the gym, they do not leave those doors and live a perfect life of health in the rest of the world.  There is no one who never ever makes a bad health choice, be it eating something off-diet or neglecting their rest or balancing their time management perfectly.  Some of us come closer than others, but no one can claim a life of perfect health and choices one hundred percent of the time.

Yet no one would ever condone these observations as a valid reason not to go to the gym.

This holds true for most of the reasons I use and/or hear to rationalize dropping out:
-I don’t fit in / don’t agree / don’t like some of the people there.
-They only want me for my money.
-I don’t have time.
-That’s my only day to sleep in.
-I don’t like the way it’s organized.
-It’s boring.
-I had a bad experience.
-I don’t need to.  I can make it on my own.

Some of these may be valid reasons for eschewing one particular site or group, but not for giving up entirely.  It’s a discipline.  It’s supposed to be hard.

The hard parts are what make me better.

pica

Last week, I got a name for a behavior that has long afflicted my youngest daughter.  The behavior is craving and /or consuming substances which are not food – recently it has been crayons and pencil erasers – and the name is pica.

Lots of people manifest it, but no one knows exactly what causes pica.  Some theorize that it is a symptom of nutritional deficiency, others that it stems from a low level poisoning such as of lead.  Many people who are diagnosed on the Autism spectrum experience it (though of course, there are some who believe Autism itself results from mineral poisoning, so that may be redundant).

Whatever the cause, the universal consensus is it’s not good for you.

My daughter is diagnosed with PDD-NOS and has eaten non-food substances off and on nearly all her life.  When she was a toddler, it was dirt and sand.  By preschool she favored play-doh and plastic toys.  Now that she is eight, apparently she has graduated to school supplies.  Until now, we as a family have tended to shake our heads at her cuteness and shrug it off.  We know it’s unhealthy, and we certainly discourage it, but every time she successfully phases out the behavior, then later it becomes something to joke about.

The thing is, she knows it’s not good for her.  Her mind responds well to rules, and she has memorized the reasons for not doing it, can quote them for you endlessly.  She even has put to memory some alternate choices to help her not do it, such as twiddling her thumbs or eating a cracker.  Yet the minute her brain turns elsewhere – for perfectly good reasons such as doing school work or playing pretend – back in the mouth goes the pencil.  Knowledge is not enough.

In my ideal world, I will sniff around and research and think through it enough to discover the root cause.  Then I will fix it, and she will have conquered the problem forever and can move on to grander pursuits that are not socially awkward, such as becoming an astronaut or saving all of the lost kittens.  My ideal world eludes me every day, unfortunately.  In the meantime, I am working on creative solutions involving things that are okay to put in her mouth (dental hygiene tools, perhaps?) and praying for guidance so that we can truly beat this thing for good.

Pica is a very visible faulty behavior.  It’s easy to look at the kid shoveling sand in her mouth and think her either silly or defective for doing it.  Yet in this case, once again, the little children lead me and I have to ask: Am I so very much more evolved myself?

I consume things that are not food all the time.  Facsimiles for reality have more of a place in my daily routine than truth.  A burger with fries is not a meal (depending on where they came from, it might not even be actual food!), and a full belly is not satisfaction.  Showing up for work is not doing a good job.  Waving to my neighbor is not being a neighbor.  Facebook is not friendship.  Attending a weekly church service is not righteousness.   Quoting scripture is not speaking for God.

I am rather convicted by this picture of filling up on falsehood and potentially hurting myself in the process – all in the name of relieving a damage that I can’t quite even define. 

My Sunday School class yesterday discussed a similar topic while studying the book of Micah.  In the final chapters, the prophet chastises the people for practicing ritual without heart and lists among the consequences always eating, yet never being filled.  That’s spiritual pica right there, and I totally have it.

There’s more to my life and call than this.  I know there is.  Today I am praying to move beyond knowledge and into active pursuit of real life.  I would rather suffer now for what will feel better later than forge relief now with what will hurt me later.

Plus, I’m tired of wiping this dirt off my mouth all the time.

 

feedback

I had a classic parenting moment this weekend.  My ten-year-old came to me with a problem – mean girls – and I spent about half an hour with her explaining the phenomenonWe covered everything from the art of recognizing knuckleheads in the wild to rooting herself in the knowledge of how God sees her.  I was firm, I was eloquent; we ended the session laughing and I was excited for the new strength I was sure she would carry with her for the rest of her life.  Problem solved.

Later, I set myself up for a writing session…and I completely froze.  The reason: a bad opinion some one had expressed about me a couple of days earlier.  I became fixated on the insult and utterly failed to produce so much as a single sentence, all because I knew that somewhere out there, at least one person would call B.S. on anything I had to say.  Defeated, I found some other diversions to pass my time staring at the screen, then closed down for the night.  Negativity wins.

It is disappointingly easier for me to talk than to walk.  Convicted on this point, I decided to cope in my typically nerdy fashion: research!  Here’s what I learned about negative feedback, and how I am planning to beat it next time.

1.  The most common image I associate with the word feedback is the horrible, spine-decalcifying squeal that sound systems emit by accident in a concert or speech setting.  This type of feedback occurs when sound waves from speakers pass into a microphone and are re-amplified and cycled through the speakers again.  I’m not sure that this is a perfectly technical application, but to me, it is a reminder that allowing my thoughts to loop and process around the opinions and words of others only creates increasing dissonance.

The solution is so simple: Move away from the source!  Put some distance and intelligent boundaries between myself and destructive voices around me.  Of course, simple is not the same as easy, and it takes practice.  Until I get good at it, I can always try the time-honored tradition modeled for me by the girls of Friends: get the words out of my head and onto paper…and then burn them.

2. In medical terms, negative feedback is one of the control systems used by an organism to regulate internal functions regardless of external conditions or circumstances.  In this system, the organism will automatically make changes in  order to reduce something it is producing.  For example, if my body is producing too much heat, it knows to excrete sweat to try and reduce the temperature.

Similarly, I can develop a set of pre-determined responses to negativity.  Good examples include reading the Bible, calling a friend, creating a music playlist around the theme (not to include only revenge-based hits like “You Oughta’ Know” or almost anything by Linkin Park), etc.  If I am prepared ahead of time, I’m less likely to lapse into bad habits or succumb to paralysis – no matter what is going on around me.

3.  Feedback has become a popular concept in the workplace, indicating a form of ongoing training that helps employees learn what to do and how.  Positive feedback involves praising the person for her strengths; negative feedback focuses on what the person is doing wrong, and then creating a strategy for how to change it.

This reminds me of a former pastor of mine, Rev. Tracy Saletta, who taught me to view difficult people as “life coaches.”  By their very existence, antagonists create boot camp-level real-world experience in practicing the example of Jesus.  Loathe as I am to give any credit to them, I know that there is value in this training, for character development if nothing else.  I do not, of course, mean to indicate in any way that the life of a believer is best served as a doormat, because that’s not the model Jesus laid out at all.  But can I pray for the ones who hurt me even as they are jeering and beating me up?

Or rather, will I?