Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Whole 30 Day 7

Brandon and I decided a week or so ago to launch into the Whole 30 Challenge after hearing about the overall improvements in health and well-being from a close friend of ours.  In short, the plan requires cutting out all grains, legumes (including soybeans), dairy, sweeteners, and alcohol for thirty days in order to do a full-body cleanse and right your digestive system.  We can eat all of the fruits, vegetables, meat, nuts (except peanuts) and oils we want.  The goal is to consume only those things that you can identify - so processed and pre-packaged foods are out.

We thought this would be really difficult to do. Our diet revolves around cheese and carbs.  And wine.  And sugar - I typically scoop three spoonfuls of sugar into my tea before work and then again at lunch, never mind the bowl of chocolate on my desk at work or the sneaky desserts at night.  And day one was quite hard - I could have chewed my fingers off for want of chocolate.  It was crazy.  I didn't know you could have such cravings, a mantra I REALLY WANT CHOCOLATE pulsing through your brain.  Intense.

But we have stuck to it, and after one week, we are feeling incredible.  Brandon has dropped ten pounds and I've lost seven, and I wasn't even looking to lose weight.  Besides weight loss, we both are sleeping better and have more energy.  And some of our less blog-friendly digestive symptoms have almost disappeared.

I just have to say what an advocate I am for this.  It will definitely change the way we prepare food after these 30 days are up, simply because of how much better we feel.  I will certainly eat cheese again, and drink wine, and be merry along with it... but these things -- carbs/cheese/sugar/etc. -- should be seen as special occasion foods, not every meal foods.  Cheese in my eggs, cheese in my salad, cheese on my broccoli, cheese, cheese, cheese.  Bread at breakfast, bread on my sandwiches, pasta and rice and bread at dinner, bread, bread, bread!  Given the choice between cheese and bread at every meal and losing seven pounds from my waist in one week, I'll take the seven pounds.

Of course, this does mean no more bowls of ice cream while I watch the Biggest Loser.  It serves me right.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Laws and Ordinances

I've been reading in the psalms lately and have noticed a common trend that I found bizarre.  The psalmists spend a lot of time thanking God for his rules/law/precepts/ordinances etc.  I don't know that I have ever thanked God for his law, so I've been thinking about this a bit and have come up with some parallels in my every day life that help me to understand gratitude for rules.

1. Job Descriptions
Imagine being hired for a job with no specific job description.  Or being a builder without a blueprint to follow.  Or perhaps just having a supervisor who has vague expectations for each task-- write a letter, crunch the numbers, give me a budget.  A letter to whom?   About what?  Is it formal?  Informal?  And what numbers do you want crunched?  (I think of the Office here.)  How much money do I have to work with in order to establish this budget?  What are your priorities?  I think you get the idea.  When there are no clear objectives, no clear guidelines or rules, there is no basis by which to begin a relationship.  No definition of the terms -- are you my boss, my co-worker, or am I your boss?  But when I have a clear and specific objective for a task or position, I operate much better because I know exactly what is expected of me.  The framework within which I work might be very rigid and defined, but it is within that definition that I find the freedom to do the work I've been given.  I am not chained to doubt and confusion.

2. Children
There are days when we need to shake up our schedule a bit.  We stay out later, push back dinner, skip a nap, wake up earlier.  Once in a while doesn't seem to do too much damage, but several days in a row of missed sleep or poor eating habits and my children turn into demons in training, or begin to appear as if they are possessed by demons.  They wake up screaming in the middle of the night (night terrors?) and have a hard time waking up in the morning.  They cry about everything.  But, when we get them back on a schedule, give them the proper foods to eat at the proper times of the day, and make sure they are sleeping enough, they return to the energetic happy people they were before the shift in their lives.  The structure provided them gives them the boundaries within which to live the fullest and healthiest life.

3. Diet
I love sugar.  Three spoonfuls in my tea in the mornings, three spoonfuls in my tea at lunch, several semi-sweet chocolates a day, a couple of scoops of brown sugar in my oatmeal, a quick munch on a chocolate-covered cookie dough truffle... mmmm.  Sugar. 

Brandon and I are on day three of the Whole-30 Challenge, a detox type diet that eliminates all grains, sugar, dairy, legumes, white potatoes, and other unpronouncable ingredients in food.  There's a specific list of foods we are supposed to avoid in order to help our systems "reset" from all of the junk we put into our bodies.  On day one of this diet, I had the maddest craving for sugar I have ever had in my life.  All I could think about was how badly I wanted chocolate.  I needed chocolate.  It was nuts.  I even had a headache most of the day from the sugar withdrawal.

But after just two days of following this regimented diet, both Brandon and I are feeling markedly better.  I feel less heavy and slow; his stomach isn't bothering him nearly as much as it usually does.  We are disciplining ourselves to cook and eat healthier, to deprive ourselves of fulfilling every desire of the flesh (SUGAR!!!!) and to feed ourselves the food that will make the vehicle run the best.

I am thankful for these kinds of systems and guidelines in my life, because by operating within clear precepts and laws, I have the freedom to live a full and healthy life.  It only makes sense, then, to praise God for the same laws and rules he's provided to give structure and direction for how to live the healthiest and fullest of lives on Earth.  Even more so with the Holy Spirit living within us to serve as our guide.  So, praise God for his laws and his rules, for the system he has established to instruct, rebuke, correct, and restore.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Finalist for T.S. Eliot Prize

I am extremely delighted to announce that my collection of poems, Pruning Burning Bushes, was selected as a finalist for the T.S. Eliot Prize through Truman State University Press.  It was one of five finalists out of 450 submissions.  While the judge did not ultimately select my manuscript for publication, she had this to say about the manuscript:

"I really enjoyed reading this collection, and it even has one of the best titles of the submissions.  It’s unified, well-organized, and would make a fine published book as is.  It balances the author’s spiritual life with humor such as “Jesus Walks Into a Bar.”  There’s the bawdy life of carnivals and yet a true spiritual practice mixed harmoniously in.  One marvelously original touch concerns a wound “bleeding” maple syrup from the broken glass of an Aunt Jemima bottle.  The pregnancy/birth poems are genuine, unaffected, and purely firsthand.  She stands humble before her subjects.  Some poems I particularly like are “Last Born,” “Hymn of Skin,” “Crater,”  “Assailants.”  It’s a book I would have liked to publish with my own chapbook press, if it were a little shorter.  The personality of the author comes through attractively."
—Sandra McPherson, 2012 T. S. Eliot Prize judge
Certainly a bright spot for me to kick off 2012! And now I can stop worrying about what to put on the cover of my book, for now anyway ;)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Getting My Martha On

Like most nights when my husband is working, a good hour needs to be dedicated to demolition clean-up after the kids go to bed. Between whatever the dog destroyed during the day (diapers, stuffed animals, Legos, etc.), the food left over on the table, chairs, countertop, and walls, toys that migrated all on their own from the basement where they are supposed to stay, and the dozens of sheets of paper that have accumulated from coloring, story-telling, backpack explosions, card making, etc., it takes at least that long to give the interior of the house the dose of loving kindness it deserves. 

Part of the reason it takes as long as it does is because there's a handful of fruitless attempts mixed in there to keep Beans from licking the silverware and dirty plates as I load the dishwasher, or to keep Beans from chewing ev-er-y-thing in the living room, except his chewy or dog toys, or to keep Beans from barking at the real squirrel or the imagined squirrel, or to keep Beans from drinking out of the toilet (kids! keep the toilet seat down and the door shut! gah!).

Sometimes I'm very cranky about this nightly process.  The house will be wrecked again in the same way tomorrow, after all.  Is it really worth the effort, when most of the house will be asleep or at work/school while the house is clean?  How did the food get on the wall anyway?  And what is the deal with this dog?  Whose idea was it to get a dog (...)?  All I really want to do is get under a blanket and write.  Okay, all I really, really want to do is get under a blanket, eat chocolate, and watch The Biggest Loser. 

But instead I'm chipping away at the dried banana and rice cereal on Henry's high chair.  That stuff could be a substitute for concrete.  Instead, I'm unloading and reloading the dishwasher. (The dishwasher that I love, trust me.  It's awesome and courageous and strong and can bench press all of my stickiest, caked-on something or other pots and pans, with one arm tied behind its back.)  Instead, I'm corralling all of those delinquent toys that escaped all on their own from the toy room and shepherding them back to their corners.  And I'm doing all of that with this joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.  Really.

But there are other times when this cleaning is a cleansing process, a sort of decompression that permits the stress and thinking of the day to be rinsed down the drain.  When I'm done and I have a glass of wine in my hand, a blanket across my lap, and a pillow behind my back, I can sigh a tired and contented sigh and know that the house will be clean for a whole ten hours before the day starts again tomorrow.  I can survey the kitchen and not see spilled something-or-other on any surface, and it is a beautiful thing.  I can turn off the light as I shut the door, closing down for the night in satisfaction.  Nothing is hidden or left undone.  Aaaah.

This exercise in creating order from chaos is what I'm thinking of as "Getting my Martha on".  Martha is the super event coordinator for Jesus and his disciples in the New Testament.  Sometimes she gets grumpy about it and asks Jesus to tell her sister to get off her rocker and start helping her.  Other times, she's the gracious servant, hosting her recently raised-from-the-dead brother and all of his friends. 

I think when Martha is at her best, her preparations and hospitality are an act of worship.  When Martha is at her worst, she's just busy and bitter about it. I need to decide which Martha I plan on being-- cranky Martha, or worshipful Martha.  Some nights it's easier than others to choose to engage in household chores as an act of worship, because the kids made it easy - they cooperated throughout the bedtime routine, they sang their sweet little prayers and asked for hugs and kisses.  Other times the night doesn't go as well, and buying into the joy of the Lord is much harder.

But I think that's part of the point.  Can I worship God even when I don't really feel like it?  Can I make these mundane tasks that are necessary every day more than just scrubbing down the counters, especially when worship is one of the farthest notions from my mind?  I'd rather not receive the rebuke of Christ in my mutterings and make every effort to turn bitterness into fruitfulness, crankiness into praise.  And, okay, sometimes I'm going to choose "the better way" and just plain shirk my household chores, opting into prayer or Bible study... or DVR'ed episodes of Hoarders.  At least someone is getting some cleaning done then.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What Chamomile and Honey Can't Do

I'm pretty sure I've had a cold/sinus infection since December 1.  It has backed off a little here and there as some kind of bacterial mercy move, but for the last two weeks (or something like that), it's been no nonsense, in your face (and nose, and eyes, and ears, and chest), Die Hard with a Vengeance.  It even persisted beyond the power of the almighty z-pak, which I finished off two days ago.

So tonight, after going back to work for the first time in two and a half weeks, I wasn't really up for much of anything with the kids.  Unfortunately, they can't bathe, feed, or put themselves to bed yet, so I couldn't just burrow into bed with an electric blanket and call it a night.  I at least had the foresight to pull a big pan of macaroni and cheese out of the freezer and ask my awesome Henry-sitter to pop it in the oven this afternoon so that we could eat before 6:30.  And there's the Blessed DVR to entertain two of the three little people. 

The usual bickering and silliness ensued throughout the night.  Nothing new, really.  And the dog, that ridiculous dog that I liked so much a month ago, kept getting into the trash and eating Elvis's Legos and whining to be let out and then barking incessantly at the front door to be let back in and THEN trying to eat diapers and tissues and all other sorts of disgusting.  And then bathtime with all three kids, water everywhere, Beans trying to drink the bathwater and lick Henry's face and drink out of the toilet and chew on the towels.

"I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33 -- Yeah, trouble. T-R-O-U-B-L-E. It ain't just a Travis Tritt song. Or a Ray LaMontagne song.   I've had more serious seasons of trouble and worry, for sure.  These little things, like sinus infections and being alone a few days and needing to take care of the business of life on my own, they are nothing really, but sometimes the little things catch me and I get downhearted. The world hands me a little trouble.  But, thank God, he's overcome the world.   And you want to know how he did that for me tonight?

I was ready for bedtime tonight.  Normally, each kid prays and then I pray, and then each kid picks a song.  I thought I'd speed things up a bit and skip the whole kid-praying thing and just wrap it up with a quick "God, thanks for everything.  Please help me feel better.  Give us sweet dreams.  Amen.", but after I finished, Lydia asked if she could pray for a couple of people really quick.

How do you say no to the request of a five year old to pray?  Okay, so I thought about it.  I mean, come on, the space between my ears is hollow and I can't close my mouth without whistling through my nose.  Let's get the show on the road, here!  I got trash to take out and a couch to get to.  I let her pray, of course - a kid who wants to talk to God should not be stopped from talking to God. 

"Dear God, please help **** walk.  She's already starting to walk some.  And thank you for..." (There's a girl in her class who has a disability.)  Lydia prayed for all her family and friends, and then Elvis asked to pray, too, singing a song they learned at preschool: "Thank you God, for our food, and our many blessings, thank you God, Amen."

The prayers of my children shore me up against weariness and bitterness. They help lubricate the gears that need to keep moving until the trash is taken out, the dishes are in the dishwasher, the laundry is folded, and the kitchen is tidied up, until I can sink into the couch cushions with a blanket and a few Bible verses and ruminate away about faith and the power of praise.

So the other verse that has me doing my own praising tonight, even with my runny nose, is this one: "Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger." Psalm 8:2  That's right.  Through the praise of my little ones, the enemy and all his trouble and worry is kept at bay.  There's power in those prayers.  I'm reinforced. Encouraged. Blessed.

Aaaand, ready for Nyquil.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My Thirtieth Year

As something of a kick-off to my 30th year and my mom's 50th, we ran a half-marathon back on December 3.  It was cold but dry and sunny, and we finished!  Now, I have ambitions to run a marathon with one of my good friends (who is also turning 30 this year) in May, but I'm not sure whether my knee can hold up - it hasn't felt right since the half-marathon.  Also, there's this thing about time commitment.  I enjoyed the structure and discipline required to train for the half-marathon.  Someone plotted out the miles I needed to run and which days I needed to run them, and I did it.

No one does this for me for writing.  Nobody sends me a schedule and says, SWells, sit down and give me 20 pages, and tomorrow, I want 20 more.  Plus, the time I've dedicated to running has filled any time or energy I had for writing.  I want to run this marathon (I think I do, anyway... I'm suffering short-term memory loss from the half-marathon).  But I also want to write, now that I've gotten a few essays done, toward a book-length manuscript.  I'd like to make year 30 the year I finish it, but that might be too ambitious.

There's a few other things besides writing and running I'd like to have happen in Year 30:

  • take a family vacation
  • go on a fancy date with my husband
  • go line dancing at least once
  • take Lydia and Elvis on two special one-on-one "dates" each
  • cut our credit card debt in half, with a two-year goal of being credit card free by our 10th anniversary
  • blog once a week
  • read ten books
  • run a marathon (maybe... at least another half-marathon)
  • write six or more essays toward the manuscript
  • incorporate Bible reading and prayer into daily life more
  • write twelve new poems
My immediate goals for 2012 are to get well - this sinus infection needs to go away - and to survive the next week of Brandon being out of town.  He's had a lot of work lately, and I'm ready for him to be home and around more.

Thirty years old July 30.  This is a crazy life.  I wonder what challenges and opportunities God will give us in 2012.