Friday, May 27, 2011

A Cottage or a Palace? - Part Three

Thanks for coming back for Part Three of our Stake Women's Conference class! I just had my husband snap this photo of me, so that you can see what your "teacher" looks like, if you don't already know me personally. Let's jump back in to our discussion on creating balance in our lives ... we've covered the spiritual and physical components in the previous two posts, and now we'll finish with "emotional stability" and "temporal responsibilities".


**Being emotionally stable enables us to focus on both improving ourselves and serving others. It is important that we remember to fortify the "soil" of our daily testimonies with what it takes for us to feel happy and peaceful.

**I am not qualified to speak to the very real subject of clinical depression. What we will discuss instead are the occasional "down days" that we all have (that are a normal part of regular, busy, challenging lives), and a few ideas on how to put them behind us.

1. When my husband and I were "young marrieds", we lived in beautiful San Francisco where my husband attended podiatry school. We had a baby daughter, and we managed the 40-unit apartment building that we lived in. Though this was overall a rich, wonderful time of our lives, within a few months' time in 1989 I experienced two traumatic experiences there.

Perhaps you have put it together already: San Francisco, 1989?? Yes, we were there in our position of apartment responsibility when the big earthquake hit. As a 24 year-old young woman with little experience with crises, I was instantly called upon to assess damage to our building and the apartments therein, locate tenants, and our family's apartment became a stopping point for a couple of weeks for those who were dealing with large amounts of stress following the earthquake. My husband was there, too, but because he was in school during the days, most of the responsibility fell to me. This was a difficult and stressful time.

Not long after we recovered from the earthquake, my husband left for a month-long medical externship, leaving me "in charge" of our building. A series of events led me to find a tenant who had committed suicide in his apartment. It immediately became my job to work with authorities, notify his family, oversee his things being packed and moved out, and finally refurbishing his apartment so that it could be rented again.

The cumulative effect of these two events found me feeling like I had fallen into a black pit that I could not get myself out of. My parents were several hours away, and though I had a good support system of friends in the area, I felt very alone. Despair and a degree of depression set in, and I found it hard to make it through the day.

My sweet, elderly home teachers came by to check up on me one evening, and after I poured out my heart to them, they asked if they could give me a priesthood blessing. In that blessing, I was promised that if I engaged in hard, physical work, I would be able to come out of the funk that I felt buried in. The next morning, I scrubbed our apartment, mopped the lobby floor, vacuumed the halls, washed windows, and, in a few days' time, literally WORKED out of my black hole. The counsel from the Lord through his representatives proved to be the answer for me. I began to feel like I was making a difference for good again in my surroundings, and my whole attitude returned to normal. HARD WORK shifted my thoughts from myself to what I could do for others around me.

2. When I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis two summers ago, I hobbled around for a full three months before my medication really kicked in. My days felt like they moved in slow motion, every joint hurt, I was tired, and didn't feel like doing the things that normally brought me joy.

One night, as I lay in bed, I forced myself to think of the good things that had happened that day. I had to think really hard to pinpoint a couple. My mind was used to being in the "poor me" mode, and took it real effort to think of even one blessing. It may sound kind of cliche, you know "Count Your Many Blessings" and all, but I soon started to look forward to those moments in the dark where I would review my day and happily remember all of the good things that had happened that day. I even began to recognize blessings again as they were happening during the days. I could clearly see that Heavenly Father was with me through this trial, but I just hadn't made the effort to look to Him.

**Sometimes when we go through hard times - which ALL of us do - it is easy to become self-absorbed. I once heard a little phrase that has stuck with me for years: "Turn your mirrors into windows". Think for a moment about what that might mean. Especially when times are tough, we need to LOOK FOR and PRAY FOR opportunities to serve others. When we stop looking in our "mirrors" so much, and desire instead to view life through "windows", we become happier women.

QUOTE #10: "I don't want to drive up to the pearly gates in a shiny sports car, wearing beautifully tailored clothes, my hair expertly coiffed, and with long, perfectly manicured fingernails. I want to drive up in a station wagon that has mud on the wheels from taking kids to Scout camp. I want to be there with a smudge of peanut butter on my shirt from making sandwiches for a sick neighbor's children. I want to be there with a little dirt under my fingernails from helping to weed someone's garden. I want to be there with children's sticky kisses on my cheeks and the tears of a friend on a shoulder. I want the Lord to know I was really here and that I really lived." (Marjorie Pay Hinckley)

**My mother used to tell me when I was young to surround myself with the best of friends; to look for those who were strong and brought out the best in me, and to pursue friendships with them. I still think of this wonderful advice today as a 46 year-old woman. I am so blessed to be surrounded by truly magnificent women, who are some of the very best people I have ever met. These friends have done much to strengthen, support, and love me through the difficulties I have faced.

**Do we see our precious friends for the great women that they are? Do we look for their strengths, try to build and support them, and "champion their causes"? Someone once said that we should never supress a generous thought, and I think this is a great way to be a friend to others ... when we notice something or hear something good about our friend, TELL HER! It just may make her day.


ASK?? Would we all agree that it is hard to have lasting success in any area of our lives if our homes are a mess? (a resounding "yes"!!!)

**It is vital that the "soil" of our daily testimony includes a good plan for keeping the temporal things in our lives (our homes, our finances, our meals, our laundry) running smoothly. For me it is nearly impossible to be spiritually and physically on-target if my house is out of control.

**Confession: this is one of my hard things! My mother is the most excellent housekeeper that I know, as was her mother. I did not get the natural "clean gene"! I have to work really hard at it, then things fall apart, then I work really hard at it again. I hold on to that scripture that I quoted earlier (Ether 12:27) that tells us our weak things can become our strengths if we trust in the Lord ... someday I will conquer this!

**Stephen R. Covey ("7 Habits of Highly Effective People") talks about moving from "crisis living" to "preventive, joyful living", or "doing TODAY what you could put off 'til TOMORROW".

**Have you experienced either of these scenarios?: "Quick, family, ____________ (fill in the blank) will be here in ten minutes!!! Everyone take a room and get let's get this house picked up!" OR "Aaahhh! It's 5:00 already?! What am I making for dinner??" Well we have, more often than I'd like to admit.

**I have created a list for myself which I call my DAILIES. I have listed a bunch of things that, if accomplished, make it a "good day". Things like: clean up kitchen after each meal, put away clean laundry, have a good conversation with a friend, listen to some classical music a little on the loud side, study the scriptures, exercise, eat a green salad and a serving of berries, spend quality time with both husband and daughter, read from an uplifting book, spend some time in the sunshine, write a note to someone ... you get the idea. I have a list of about 20 DAILIES, and if I am able to accomplish most of them on most days, it makes for a pretty great week. I encourage you to give this a try! Make your own list of DAILIES and see if referring to it regularly doesn't help you stay focused on things that are important to you.

QUOTE #11: "Home is where women have the most influence; therefore Latter-day Saint women should be the best homemakers in the world." (Julie B. Beck, General Relief Society president, "Mothers Who Know", Ensign, Nov. 2007)

**It is important to remember that there is a difference between HOUSEKEEPERS and HOMEMAKERS. ASK?? What is a housekeeper? (one who cleans the house, does the laundry, keeps things orderly) ASK?? What is a homemaker? (one who strives to bring the Spirit into her family's home, one who makes home a refuge from the world, one who is concerned with beautification as well as cleanliness, one who focuses on the needs of her family within the walls of her home, one who encourages traditions/celebrations in home)

**We have been counselled to "stand in holy places". These places include the temple, our church buildings, OUR HOMES, and within ourselves. Truman S. Madsen has written about our homes having the potential to be like "mini temples". This is wonderful to contemplate!

QUOTE #12: "In the latter days there will be a people so pure in Mount Zion, with a house established upon the tops of the mountains, that God will manifest Himself, not only in their temple ... but when they retire to their homes, behold each home will be lighted up by the glory of God, a pillar of flaming fire by night." (Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses)


A fertile, rich, living daily testimony depends on a near-constant infusion of prayer, the following of spiritual promptings, studying of the scriptures, and using the power of the Atonement to improve. If we are careful and deliberate about adding these things to our days, our lives will grow, blossom, and bear fruit.

Likewise, as we stay balanced spiritually, physically, emotionally, and temporally, our lives will naturally become more "palatial" than "cottage-like", and our influence for good in the world around us will be immeasurable.

QUOTE #13: "Dare the encounter with God. It is up to each of us. We must choose. God does indeed stand with His arms outstretched, waiting, and a voice within us demands that we ascend. Such an encounter has its risks and its costs because, once we know, we become responsible. But, once we know, all His options are open to us. That is one of the unique teachings of the Restoration. His course is not easy, even now. He weeps or rejoices over us just as we do over our children. Our constant questioning, "Where art Thou, Lord?" is mirrored in His final question to us, just as He called for this earth's first children in the garden: "Adam, Eve, where art thou?" (Genesis 3:9) The day will come when I myself, the me whose heart he can read, will be the only answer that will be given." (Ann N. Madsen, "A Voice Demands That We Ascend", BYU Women's Conference)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Cottage or a Palace? - Part Two

Welcome to Part Two of the blog edition of the class I taught at last weekend's Stake Women's Conference! Let's continue with a couple more points under the topic of "Spritual Health"...


4. When we have said our morning prayers and have invited the Holy Ghost to be with us, perhaps it is time to do a little "spiritual creating" of the day ahead. To me, this is a beautiful, heavenly principle that we learn a bit about in the temple, and also in the scriptures:

Quote #5: "For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth...And I, the Lord God, had created all the children of men; and not yet a man to till the ground; for in heaven created I them;..." (Moses 3:5)

**Learning to create our lives spiritually (before we carry them out physically) can be a powerful practice. Ideas for doing this: set the stage with prayer and scripture study, have a special little notebook (a lovely one, because after all, we want our lives to be lovely, right?) set aside just for spiritual planning, and when under the influence of the Spirit, contemplate the day ahead:

What is important for me today? Is there someone I can help? What healthy meals will I prepare for my family? When will I exercise, and how? What tasks, if accomplished, would keep me ahead of the game? When will I spend time with my husband? With my daughter? Can I carve out a little special time for myself today? What uplifting book or music do I want to make time for? How will I FEEL at the end of the day if I was truly able to "put first things first" and "get out of the thick of thin things?" What time will I go to bed?

As you contemplate the possibilities and necessities of the day ahead, visualize yourself having success in the things that you write down on your To Do list. See yourself having patience with your children, feel what it will be like to complete that long walk, imagine how delicious dinner will be when you use those fresh tomatoes and onions for homemade salsa. Come up with a plan, making sure to leave room to shift gears if/when the Spirit prompts. Carry out your plan, and have joy in knowing you are accomplishing a great and important work, even if "cleaning out the garage" is the order of business for the day. Then, before bed, report back to Heavenly Father and review your day with Him.

Our roles as wives, mothers, and homemakers are SACRED. We should feel accomplished when put our hearts and souls into our busy days. I have found that when I partner with Heavenly Father, I feel a greater measure of success in my accomplishments, and more joy all around. On the days when I'm trying to power through on my own, life feels flat and uninspired.

5. Learn more about the Savior's Atonement and how it is available to us on a daily basis as we make poor choices and goof up. Because we are human, we are imperfect. When mistakes are made, turn to Him rather than succumbing to guilt. Remember that being tested is one of the primary reasons for being here in mortality, and failing now and then is normal. Take the time to repent! Ask for the power of the Savior's Atonement to make up for your shortcomings and to change your heart. Make restitution for any damage caused, turn your eyes toward God, and move forward. Feel - really feel - the peace that comes from appealing for forgiveness, and then having it granted. Repent daily, even hourly if necessary. Consciously make the Atonement a part of our everyday lives. Know that we are preparing ourselves to be worthy to be in God's presence.

Quote 6: "...nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God;..." (Alma 12:24)


**Good health is not usually a condition that some are granted, and some are not. Much of our physical well-being can be traced to the kinds/amounts of foods and substances we put into our bodies, how active we allow ourselves to be, the amount of sleep we get, the time we spend outdoors in the sunshine, and our mental attitudes.

**Would you indulge me while I primarily share from personal experience in this section? Your physical struggles will be different from mine, but try to look for PRINCIPLES that you could apply to what you are dealing with.

**Two years ago, on a June morning, I woke up with painful, stiff joints from head to toe. I could hardly move, let alone get out of bed. Panic!!! I got to the doctor right away, and blood work was done. After two weeks, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Really?? This was not at all what I had in mind for myself. Not only did I have a disease, but I was severely overweight and oh-so-tired all the time. It was a very discouraging, dark time.

I had always planned to get healthy and start exercising again, and now with RA, I feared I had lost my window of opportunity. Thanks to good medication, I finally started feeling a little better by September, but was still so frustrated with my weight. For a year, I watched people around me get fit and healthy, using a variety of diets and methods. I kept getting the prompting that those ways were not for me. The Spirit continued to quietly teach: "Yours is a spiritual path. Let me lead you. You will not find lasting change until you turn to Me."

**On February 21 of this year, I was suddenly ready. The "stars aligned", my heart was focused, and I made up my mind to make the huge lifeshift to get healthy and fit. On that day, I let the Spirit guide me to create a weight-loss/get healthy plan, tailored just for me.

Some of the items I listed in my notebook on that day: eliminate refined sugar from diet for now, drink 64 oz. water daily, eat whole and unprocessed foods in half the portion that I had been eating, start to walk, plan menus daily and track foods eaten...I jumped into the darkness in faith that day, and haven't looked back for three months.

And guess what?! I have lost the weight I had set out to lose by this point, I am running 12 miles per week, and I feel ten years younger. And! Almost all my symptoms of RA disappeared the very week I changed my habits. I am holding my breath. Is it a miracle? It just may be. I think that ridding my diet of refined sugar and processed foods, plus adding exercise and spiritual strength, have overhauled my physical health.

**The Word of Wisdom (Doctrine & Covenants 89) trumps ALL worldly diets. Start here when changing eating habits. ASK?? What are some of the "DO" components of the WofW? (eat meat sparingly, fruits and vegetables in season, grain for the use of man, all foods used with thanksgiving) To me, this steers us away from the high-protein or low/no-carb or other extreme diets that are so popular today.

**Through the wise insight of a friend, I began to see the need for repentance for the years I abused my body. ASK?? What spiritual laws had I been violating? (neglecting to see my body as a temple, misusing my gift of agency, not living the Word of Wisdom)

Quote #8: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit dwelleth in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16)

**My testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ has been strengthened as I have turned to Him to change my body, and also my heart. He wants us to be our very best selves so that we can serve Him and HAVE JOY in this life. The Atonement can compensate for every one of our personal shortcomings, but we must allow it to heal us. As we do, our righteous desires will be reached, and many other beautiful blessings will be showered upon us. The Atonement is for each of us, every day of our lives.

Well, friends, I'm going to take another short break before I post the remainder of our class. Writing and editing is exausting! What to look for tomorrow in the final Part Three: ideas for staying emotionally balanced AND a few thoughts on temporal well-being. Hope to have you back!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Cottage or a Palace? - Part One

Welcome to a blog edition of the class I taught on Saturday morning at our Stake Women's Conference! This is especially for Michelle and Karen, but I hope that any others (you!) who visit might find something of worth here. Today I will post Part One of the class, and tomorrow I will post Part Two.

I have recreated my table setting from Saturday (above) so that you can get the full "Relief Society feel" ... after all, what's a class without something beautiful or interesting to look at while you're listening?? In the photo, you can see a copy of the handout, which contains fourteen fabulous quotes. You'll find each of these quotes within the outline below, noted by "Quote #". If you'd like to print out my hand-out as was given in class, message me your email address and I will send it to you via attachment.

I taught this class twice on Saturday, and though my outline was of course the same, the class itself turned out quite differently each hour. This was because of the fabulous comments and questions that were shared, which led us down paths that we were supposed to go that particular hour with those particular women. I have included many of these comments in my outline, noted in italics within parentheses.

Let's get started!


In our ward Young Women organization, we recently kicked-off a two-part Challenge called "I Can Do Hard Things". We have challenged our young women to 1) Complete Pres. Thomas S. Monson's new biography "To the Rescue" by the end of August, and 2) Train for and participate in our 22-mile "walk to the Seattle Temple", also at the end of the summer.

ASK?? - What do you think our purposes behind such challenges might be? What do we hope to have happen?

(The physical journey to the temple is symbolic of the ultimate destination we hope for for our YW. Experience for themselves that "in the strength of the Lord they can do all things". Encourage developing an interest in reading and/or fitness. Providing girls with opportunities to complete "hard things" early in life will strengthen their beliefs that they can accomplish difficult things later in life)

**As Latter-day Saint women, we are continually bombarded with "hard things" in our lives that we must deal with and overcome. Today we will share ideas on how constant guidance from the Holy Ghost and accessing the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ can help us heal our lives and move us toward becoming balanced women, "filling the measure(s) of our creation".

**Imagine: you are scooping up big handfuls of fertile soil - what does it feel/smell like? What words describe this fertile soil? (rich, moist, fragrant, living, possibilities, earthy) Now imagine: you pick up several chunks of dry, parched soil in your hands - what are its characteristics? (barren, dead, hard) Let's compare these two types of soil to our DAILY TESTIMONIES ... not the burning testimony you feel while listening to General Conference or during Fast and Testimony Meeting, but the daily testimony you carry with you in your heart, day in/day out, as you go about your busy lives. Would you say your daily testimony is more like rich, fertile, living soil, or more like a chunk of hard dirt has not been tended to lately?

**Let's take a real look at the health of four areas in our lives: our personal spirituality, our physical well-being, our emotional state, and our temporal responsibilities. As we consider each of these four areas, what are the "hard things" that we, as women, struggle with or are concerned about?

SPIRITUAL: (not enough time to do what I know I should be doing, "hit and miss" personal prayer and scripture study, striving to hear the Spirit in the midst of a world of distractions, attending the temple regularly)

PHYSICAL: (my weight, not enough time to exercise, health concerns, disease, comparing myself to others, worldly diets and health advice, concern with providing healthy food for family, trying to live Word of Wisdom)

EMOTIONAL: (how to combat stress, depression, making time for real friendships, having enough time to connect with my husband, remembering who I really am and that Heavenly Father loves me)

TEMPORAL: (how to keep my home orderly and clean, how to organize my time with all of the commitments of family members, financial security, food storage/preparedness, planting a garden, keeping up with the laundry, repairs and projects)

**Quote 1: "Imagine yourself a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps you understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing, so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of; throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage, but He is building a palace." (C.S. Lewis)

**I love this quote, but it has always bothered me a bit, too, for I have fancied myself a definite "cottage girl"! I love the cozy feeling of a snug little, shingled home tucked off the path in the trees. I have never sought after a palace! If we use the cottage and the palace, though, as metaphors for a life, what are the qualities of each?
COTTAGE: (small, in control, comfortable, capable of hosting a couple of friends, reliable, predictable, easily managed, no risks taken...)
PALACE: (grand, sweeping, open-armed, influential, example to many, view, holds many people, a gathering place, limitless, must rely on God to help direct and manage...)

Two terrific comments from class members at this point:

(1. Analogy of "how to train an elephant". When a baby, a heavy chain is attached to one foot, allowing it to go eighteen feet in any direction, but no further. As the elephant grows larger, the chain is replaced with heavy rope, then a thin rope, then finally nothing at all. The adult elephant, though not tethered in any way, never ventures beyond that eighteen-foot circle that he was conditioned to stay within as a youngster. Liken this to "cottage life": comfortable in a small space, never branching out or taking risks or experiencing what we're capable of becoming.)

(2. Example of Pres. and Sister Pugh of the Seattle Temple presidency. The Pughs loved serving in the Church early in their marriage, and had dreams of a full but predictable life. Called to serve as mission president in PA with children still at home. Looked forward to retirement years, visiting grandchildren, traveling. Called to serve as temple president and matron. Despite their lives not going "as planned", they have loved every minute of serving in such capacities and have been able to touch countless lives because of their willingness to go where the Lord wanted them. Liken this to "palace living": being used far and wide as influences for good, spreading the gospel on a large scale, making friends all over country/world, finding more joy in living than ever expected.)

**Quote 2: "There are two important days in a woman's life: the day she was born, and the day she finds out why." (Elaine Cannon)

**When I ask you, "What were you born to do?" or "What is your life's mission?", what feelings come to the surface? (excitement, nervousness, guilt, hope, empowerment, feeling of being overwhelmed, uncertainty, motivated...)

**We discover what we were born to do by working to discover our talents, developing them, using them to lift others. This is when we become true partners with the Lord, when He can use us at our full potential to build up His kingdom within our spheres of influence.

**Two examples of women in our stake who (to me) are using their talents to do this:
Jennifer: ability to bring together a motley group of young women/Primary children/adults/whomever into a choir, work patiently with them, teach them about music, and lead them to produce a truly heavenly musical result EVERY TIME.
Mary: gift for gathering people. As a Relief Society president, she has gone out to the outer boundaries of her ward to visit and invite less-active sisters to participate in a weekly group of women who study the gospel together, led by the full-time missionaries. Through this inspired idea, women have returned to activity, and they now have a solid group of friends within their ward. All are preparing to attend the temple. (My mother is one of these fellowshipped women. It has changed her life, and it has changed mine.)

SPIRITUAL HEALTH: we must be consciously adding nutrients to our "soil" (daily testimony) to build a healthy, thriving foundation from which our lives will be able to grow and blossom. A couple of ideas for doing this:

1. Designate / create a small, quiet space in your home or yard for daily personal prayer, meditation, scripture study, planning, listening to the Holy Ghost.
ASK?? Why do the scriptures refer us to our "closets" as places to pray? What is it about "closets" that make them desirable for this habit? (they are small contained spaces, free from distractions, they allow us to focus internally more easily, they are private, they are set-aside for holy pursuits, they are closed off from the world)

In my "closet", or prayer space, I have a small stool that I sit on when I pray. I turn on the lamp on my bedside table in the morning, which reminds me of the heavenly Light that is available to me that day if I take the time to seek after it. I leave the lamp on all day long, and sometimes when I'm bustling in and out of my room later in the day, I will let the physical light draw me back to my space, to offer a quick prayer. Or, I will see the light and just remember what I am to be about that day.
On the wall next to this space, I have a large ribbon-board which holds things that are inspiring to me: photos, letters/cards, a great talk to study, momentos, handwritten notes to self to remind me of my goals. Seeing things visually, especially when my mind is focused on spiritual things, is another way to keep me moving toward what I am trying to accomplish at that time in my life.

When we take the time to establish a habit of personal, daily prayer, we begin to work hand-in-hand with the Lord to transform our lives. We are better able to start becoming the women we were meant to be. Even our weaknesses can be identified, sacrificed, and offered up, with the Lord's promise of creating strengths from them:

**Quote 3: "And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness tht they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things beome strong unto them." (Ether 12:27)

2. In our morning prayers, we must INVITE the Holy Ghost to be our constant companion that day, to guide and direct us in the ways of the Lord. As baptized members of His Church, we have been given this precious gift to use to our benefit as we are worthy of it and as we ask for it:

**Quote 4: "The Spirit is a divine entity. It therefore gives the ultimate example of politeness. It will not intrude into our lives. It will not force itself into our lives except under circumstances in which we may endanger our salvation...The Holy Ghost has been given to us as a gift, but it can only become an active part of our lives when we become aware of its dormant state and develop in our souls a desire to awaken the Spirit to life." (F. Enzio Busche of the Seventy)

3. Example of my mother. After years of investigating the Church, she was finally baptized twelve years ago. However, at this time she was also caring for my father who had had a debilitating stroke, and this took all of her energies. When she could no longer care for him (he now lives in a wonderful adult family home), she began to feel that it was time for her to return to Church. This happened last year, and following a personal, inspired visit from her Relief Society president, (see "Mary" above) for the first time is an active member of her ward. She has served on the Activities Committee, and is a committed visiting teacher who has learned to enjoy giving the monthly message. My mother is such an example of it never being "too late" to make a significant change in one's personal spiritual habits.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Blueberries for M&Ms and Other Little Lessons - Week #13

Let's not beat around the bush. I did not make my weight-loss goal on my birthday morning. On February 21, I had set out to lose thirty pounds by May 16, and when I stepped on the scale two mornings ago, I really did expect to see the needle point to the magical number. I had worked so hard, even completing a full five mile run (for the first time) two days before with my friend Beth. But alas, it was not to be ... the scale showed 28 pounds lost ... still a great accomplishment but, darn it, not quite what I had hoped for.

My wise and in-tune friend Michelle had posted a fabulous talk by Elder Dennis E. Simmons of the Seventy on her Facebook wall last week entitled "But If Not". I had read it, loved it, and filed its message away in my brain. Little did I know, I'd need to open that mental file within a few days:

Elder Simmons recounted the story of Shadrach, Mesach, and Abed-nego from the Old Testament (Daniel 3) when they came face-to-face with wicked king Nebuchadnezzar after refusing to worship his golden image. King N. is furious that these three men would openly disobey him, and says, "Is it true, O Shadrach, Mesach, and Abed-nego, do not ye serve my gods, not worship the golden image which I have set up? ... if ye worship not, ye shall be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?"

S, M, and A answer: "...If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.

"BUT IF NOT, be it known that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."

We know what happens next. Despite that powerful testimony of their faith in God, king Nebuchadnezzar's men do bind up and throw Shadrach, Mesach, and Abed-nego into the midst of the fiery furnace. God truly tested His servants to see if they would put their complete trust in Him. But AFTER THE TRIAL OF THEIR FAITH, God sent an angel to unloose the three men, and the king sees now four men walking unhurt in the midst of the fire, "...upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them."

Not only are S, M, and A saved, but the king sees the situation for what it really is and blesses the true and living God. Good stuff. The part that stuck with me this past week, though, were the three little words "but if not". To me, I knew with my weight goal that I had done nearly everything I could to reach my desired weight by my birthday, and I put my total trust in the Lord for making up the difference where my own efforts were insufficient. BUT IF the scale did NOT show what I wanted it to, I knew I would continue on in faith, knowing that sometimes His time is not my time. I would hit that 30 mark, just not quite yet.

And here I am. Still engaged in the fight, still asking for and feeling the guiding power of the Holy Ghost. I celebrate those 28 pounds, and believe me, I celebrate the fact that Beth and I ran that darn five miles. Life is good, and I will not be deterred!

I'd love to share with you some random thoughts of the past week that I'd jotted in my notebook. Let's make it a List of 18 again, just like last month. You know, 18 on the 18th!

1. In my "previous life", I often used little white ramekins (like the one pictured above) to hold treats of the candy nature. It was not unusual to find me curled up with a good book, with a dish on M&Ms perched close by. I loved having little yummies to grab between my finger and thumb as I read. Well, I still do this, only I've have replaced the candy with blueberries, arguably nature's perfect fruit. Genius, right?! Lesson 1: look for happy ways to replace old, bad habits with good ones.

2. A little shout-out to Marilyn, a visitor to my blog who had the courage to post a wonderful comment last week. Marilyn, I stalked your blog and would like you to know that you are adorable. Thank you for finding me and for letting me know that what is here is making a difference in your life. Lesson 2: when we share our life lessons with one another, we can not only strengthen existing friendships, but can even make new ones. Super cool.

3. I have am cooking up a real treat for you all. My amazing friend Julie has agreed to let me interview her, and I plan to post this "Know This Woman #2" in the near future. Julie has expertise in really living the Word of Wisdom, and I can't wait for you to meet her and learn from her. Lesson 3: sometimes the greatest of the great are in our very own circle of friends. Do we see them for who they really are?

4. My sweet husband was hugging me the other day, and stepped back to look at me. He said, "You're so....." and just left me hanging. I said, "Yeeessssss....? Finish that sentence, please...?" He looked apprehensive, I encouraged him, and he said, "You're so less bulge-y!" I couldn't help but laugh a big laugh!! What a great compliment! Who among us wouldn't like to be less bulge-y?? Hip-hip-hooray for less bulge!!! Lesson 4: never pass up the opportunity to share a genuine compliment with someone. It just might make their day!

5. My dear friend Missy took me to lunch on my birthday. Instead of ordering dessert "to celebrate" like we had in the past, we decided to walk across the street to the candy shop and buy two homemade salted pecan caramels for each of us. They were so delicious, and they were enough! Lesson 5: try to live Skip Hellewell's tip from his Word of Wisdom Living blog to never buy a bag of candy, but rather a piece or two.

6. We sadly lost a friend this past week to a two-year battle with cancer. Sarah and her family only lived in our ward for two short years, (more than ten years ago)but she impacted us forever. We all make "her" amazing, soft sugar cookies, and we still use many of her recipes that are just somehow "more and better" that the usual version. Sarah enveloped everyone she knew in two-armed hugs, and gave compliments as naturally as she breathed. She was such a happy presence who just radiated big-time love. We all miss her. Lesson 6: be more like Sarah.

7. I am teaching a class on Saturday at our Stake Women's Conference. If you come, you will get to hear my mother talk a little bit about her spiritual conversion of the past year. She is an amazing role model for all women proving that (Lesson 7) it is NEVER too late to make profound changes in your life.

8. I received some really wonderful birthday gifts this year from some really wonderful friends. I am humbled by how well my girls (and family) know me, and how thoughtful their offerings were. Lesson 8: take the time to really THINK about the person I want to give a gift to, and try to make it something personal, just for them. Keep a running list of ideas that come during the year for the special people in my life.

9. I need eight or even nine hours of sleep a night to really feel my best the next day. I am not the kind of person who can do well on less. And that's okay! Lesson 9: figure out and embrace what my body needs, and even if it is different from others around me, work to make it happen.

10. Our ward Young Women organization has embarked on a journey over the next four months called "I Can Do Hard Things", thanks in part to the inspiration and example of our General Young Women president Elaine Dalton. Each young woman and leader in our ward will: complete the new biography of our prophet, Thomas S. Monson, and start to train so that she can participate in our 20-mile group walk from our stake center to the Seattle Temple at the end of the summer. Our ward YW president, Eileen, hand-stamped silver disks with "I Can Do Hard Things" and strung them, together with a red and a turquoise bead, on chains for the girls to wear around their necks as an ever-present reminder. Lesson 10: find tangible things to wear or surround yourself with that remind you of your goals ... one more way to keep them in the forefront of your mind.

11. With all of the mental energy and physical focus that goes into working on personal goals, I have suddenly realized that I've let opportunities slip by for helping other people. I think, well I know, that I have become a little self-absorbed. I am trying to make good on a few promptings that came last week that I put off ... it's better to follow-through eventually rather than not at all, right? I had a long, wonderful conversation with my elderly neighbor yesterday about the health of her husband, and will try to be more open to ways that I can help them in the future. Lesson 11: personal goals are fantastic, but don't get so wrapped up myself that I miss important opportunities to serve others.

12. I would just like you to know that I am committing to using recycled, cloth grocery bags from here on out. (Even though they are in my car, I cannot, for the life of me, remember to bring them into the grocery store.) Lesson 12: sharing your commitments with someone else helps keep you honest.

13. Newfound "dessert" fix: Australian Noosa Yoghurt (in the yogurt section of the grocery store) pretty much tastes like cheesecake filling. It comes in raspberry, blueberry, or mango, and even though the label says that each container contains two servings, I find that just a few BITES does it for me. It is that rich and delicious. I have to fight my daughter for it. Sometimes I even hide it behind the pickles, which are behind the bag of flaxseed.

14. In our family, we are going to work on true, heartfelt blessings on the food at mealtimes. We need to be more mindful about what its (the food's) purposes are, where (and Whom)it came from, and how much of it our bodies really need. My goal as Mom is to help break us of those rote, word-for-word-the-same-for-twenty-years blessings that tend to get offered. Of which I am particularly guilty. Lesson 14: remember to practice eating mindfully, and set the stage by a real pause at blessing-time.

15. I am trying something new. On the days when it's possible, I am preparing dinner in the afternoon, around 4pm. I am eating my day's final meal then, and then sitting down with my family at the regular time with a glass of water with lemon/lime and maybe a portion of salad or vegetable. I feel that finishing eating the bulk of calories earlier in the evening is a key to continuing to lose weight. I'll let you know how it goes. Lesson 15: be open to new inspiration along the journey. Don't be afraid to mix it up and try new things, as the Spirit dictates.

16. Get a little friendly with the feeling of an empty stomach. Replace the thought of "I'M STAAARVIIING!!!!!" with the thought "Hey, this is a good feeling. I'm making progress toward my goal." Instead of thinking "I can't GET to the fridge fast enough", think "I'm going to go upstairs and take a bubble bath, read that good book, and go to bed a little early." Truth be told, I'm still working on this. Even at this very moment. But when I do it, I feel empowered and in control, rather than giving in so easily to my physical appetites. Lesson 16: practice "mind over matter" whenever you get the chance. Each time you prove to yourself that YOUR MIND controls YOUR BODY, you get stronger and you believe it more. It's kind of like the idea of slowly strengthening a muscle.

17. Remember I told you that I'm keeping a list of "Embarrassing Things That Happen When You're Overweight"? And that I'd publish it when those things stopped happening to me? Well, I'm ready to share two.
#1: When I first started running ten weeks ago, I would put on full, control-top panty hose under my running pants. Yes, it was awfully hot, and yes, I felt bound-down a bit. A lot. But those factors were outweighed by my own mental image of my backside shaking along down the (very public) streets. Here's the deal: whatever it takes, you know?! That crazy practice helped me to get that selfsame "rear in gear", and now, I proudly wear activity-appropriate Spandex.
#2: My daughter and I were in the grocery store last year, and a woman she didn't recognize was chatting me up like we were longtime friends: calling me by name, asking about my family, my church, you know, my life. As my daughter and I walked away, she asked who that was. I couldn't see any way around it. I had to tell her that it was the cashier from the drive-through window at the local Baskin-Robbins.
Lesson 17: As you make progress on your goals, allow yourself to look back and laugh at the crazy things you used to do. Laugh really hard at them. If appropriate, share them, even with blogging audiences, and let them laugh at them. Know that you are NO LONGER that person and allow yourself to feel terrific about that fact.

18. Today I came across a wonderful paragraph in the writings of one of my favorite authors, Ann S. Madsen, wife of Truman Madsen. I'll close with this, and hope that you like it, too:

"Dare the encounter with God. It is up to each of us. We must choose. God does indeed stand with his arms outstretched, waiting, and a voice within us demands that we ascend. Such an encounter has its risks and its costs because, once we know, we become responsible. But, once we know, all His options are open to us. This is one of the unique teachings of the Restoration. His course is not easy, even now. He weeps or rejoices over us just as we do over our children. Our constant questioning, "Where art thou, Lord?" is mirrored in his final question to us, just as he called for this earth's first children in the garden: "Adam, Eve, where art thou?" (Genesis 3:9) The day will come when I myself, the me whose heart he can read, will be the only answer that will be given."

Really, have a great week, friends. I hope that sunshine that we're being blessed with here in the Pacific Northwest is shining over you as well. 'Til next week...

Friday, May 13, 2011

Biggest Lightbulb Moment Yet - Week 12

I am blessed to have Beth as a friend. She is honest, wonderfully even-keeled and as true-blue as they come. Though our opportunities to talk, really talk, aren't as frequent as we'd like, I never fail to leave her presence feeling anything but completely uplifted and ready to "engage and conquer". (Okay, that was my high school's motto, but it just seemed to fit!)

Last week, after a Visiting Teaching appointment, we sat in Cafe Panini and caught up, over to-die-for steak wraps. We spoke of the latest in our children's lives, our callings in the ward, and our struggles to get ready for the ever-looming Ragnar Relay this summer. I was sharing some of my thoughts on my weight-loss and fitness journey, and what is making THIS TIME different from ALL the others. (We have been through many of these ups and downs together over the years.) I mentioned the spiritual connection that I've discovered is critical for deep, to-the-core personal change: reliance on meaningful morning / evening / CONSTANT prayer, striving for continual guidance from the Holy Ghost, the challenge to replace bad habits with good ones, and the importance of surrounding myself with a small group of people who are joyously supportive of what I'm trying to accomplish. Beth listened, and I could "see" her brain wheels turning. Then she said what will forever clarify my perspective on change: "I guess what you're talking about is sort of like repentance, isn't it?" Before I could even think about the power behind her question, I heard myself almost yelling "It IS repentance!" My dear friend provided me with a huge missing piece of my journey's puzzle.

Don't we usually associate repentance with more "serious" sin? I have learned for myself that repenting through the power of the Atonement can heal us from all of the poor choices we have made in our lives. It is the way to overcome our naturally selfish, physical natures and become closer to the Spirit, become better versions our ourselves, and make real progress toward "filling the measure(s) of our creation". (Doctrine & Covenants 88:19)

Embarrassingly, I've known for years that the change I was wishing for in my life had to be rooted in the Spirit. I had thought a little about what that could mean, would give half-hearted tries here and there, and then would fall back to my old ways. Still, the Spirit was patient and continued to whisper: "The path you seek must be a spiritual one. Let Him lead you. You will not find lasting change on your own."

Thankfully, on Sunday, February 20, 2011, I finally listened. And I mean really listened, with a blank notepad and a pen in my hand. I began to let my Savior lead me toward becoming better, inside and out. In those moments, I put behind me the diets of the world, and set out on the spiritual journey of a lifetime. The amazing thing is, I have lost the weight I'd hoped for at this point, but I've also broken through other roadblocks that have haunted me for years. As I have gained the spiritual strength to accomplish one goal, it has carried over to motivate and help me to make progress in other areas. This I know for sure: the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ is real and knows no bounds. It is not only for everyone, but it is also for me. I truly stand all amazed.

Have you heard this quote before?:

"True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behaviors. The study of doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior." (Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles)

Think about that! We can spend our time in the latest cutting-edge self-help manuals, analyzing why we are the way we are, what is at the root of our struggles, and what various stimuli prompt us to choose poorly. (I think a little bit of this is healthy.) Or, we can spend quality and quantity time in the scriptures and the words of our modern-day prophets and apostles (the ultimate handbooks for living) and in earnest prayer, being led to understand what spiritual doctrines we've been ignoring or violating.

In a wonderful talk by Elder Jay E. Jensen of the Seventy (November 1999 "New Era"), found HERE, he lists six vital precursors to personal change that we must not only believe, but internalize before we can access the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ to affect real and lasting change in our lives. Those basic principles (in very small nutshells) are:

1. God lives, and He knows us by name.
2. We are fallen and unclean, and we need help.
3. One day we will die.
4. There will be a Final Judgment.
5. No unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God.
6. We are saved only through Jesus Christ. He is our only Hope.

When I look at this list, and think about each point, I realize that I have a testimony of each of them. Why, oh why, then, have I been trying to "save myself"? Why have I looked mainly to the world for answers to my struggles? Why have I tried and tried to develop willpower of steel? Why do I own a shelf of diet and health books, but had not really bothered to consult the Great Author as my ultimate Source?

Now don't get me wrong: there may be just the right solution "out there" in the world. Perhaps my physician could steer me in the right way, or the book "Superfoods RX" could give me needed perspective, or becoming a faithful member of Weight Watchers could be the answer I need. (Heaven knows, I've taken EACH of these paths many times.) But THE KEY is to go to the Lord FIRST and let Him direct my escape route from the ground up. I must invite the Creator to create for me my own personalized way out of this mess I've gotten myself into. In my eyes, this is putting "doctrine" before the understanding of the world.

This question has been at the crux of my "Excellent Experiment": is it really possible to lose weight and get healthy relying first and foremost on the Atonement of Jesus Christ? Could the suffering He incurred in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross really help ME with THIS? After nearly 12 weeks of trying it out, of letting the Lord lead my way, together with lots of pondering following BETH'S INSIGHTFUL QUESTION, I want to yell "YES!!!!" from the rooftops. I think I'm finally getting it.

"...I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." (John 14:6)

It can't get much clearer than that.

No matter what our "hard things" are, Jesus Christ is the Way through them. He wants us to become our best selves, and He willingly gave His life so that this is gloriously possible. For each one of us. We must each make the choice to "choose Him", to make our own personal journey to Him on our own time.

If we really believe the truth of Elder Jensen's six points (above), we see that repentance is the only option for us as imperfect people. For me, I have recently come face-to-face with the fact that I have been abusing my body for many years, and had become addicted to food. The doctrines or principles that I had not understood properly - and therefore sinned against - are: 1. My mortal body is a gift from God and has been likened by Him unto a temple, and 2. My ability to choose for myself is also a gift from God, given so that I may be tested in this life to see if I will choose Him in all things.

As I pinpointed the "laws" I had broken, I saw very clearly the need to view a part of my journey as real repentance. In the wonderful little gospel reference book called "True to the Faith", several elements are listed in the this process: (the book offers a more in-depth look at each)

1. Faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ;
2. Sorrow for sin;
3. Confession;
4. Abandonment of sin;
5. Restitution;
6. Righteous living.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: "The gospel of Jesus Christ is the plan by which we can become what the children of God are supposed to become. This spotless and perfected state will result from a steady succession of covenants, ordinances, and actions, an accumulation of right choices, and from continuing repentance. 'This life is the time for men to prepare to meet God.' " (Alma 34:32)

Better understanding the ideas of repentance and the Atonement is allowing me to finally experience some success in difficult areas of my life. As I learn little truths here and there, I have such a desire to share them with you, in hopes that something I say may help in some way. Thank you, as always, for your wonderful feedback and for giving me the assurance that we are all on this journey together. Much love to each of you!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mindful vs. Mindless - Week 11

So it went down like this:

Husband was at the hospital for tests. Daughter was at a friend's. I was a little on-edge about the outcome of husband's tests, had some inane TV show (I think it was "Access Hollywood") blaring, and before I knew it, I was reaching into the Easter centerpiece on our dining room table which still held some leftover candy. In about four minutes, I had unwrapped and eaten: 12 mini Lindt chocolate eggs, 3 mini (for some reason I feel I need to specify "mini" ... does it really matter?) Reese's Peanut Butter eggs, and a handful of way-too-sugary and marginal quality jelly beans. Down the hatch. Just like that. Addict-like. Without even thinking about my past ten weeks of near abstinance from refined sugar.

Three hours later: sitting outside the O.R. with a headache, waiting for my husband to have his appendix laproscopically removed. (Happily, all is well.) Next day: caring for husband (which was actually a wonderful experience)and "too busy" (or was I?) to get out there for my Saturday Long Run. And: continually revisiting the delightful mini (there's that word again) loaves of banana bread that a sweet friend had dropped by for Husband.

Monday morning on the scale: after losing two pounds a few days before, I had gained one back. Despite sinking disappointment, I had to chock it up to pure justice and made myself feel fortunate that the damage wasn't worse.

So what are the take-away messages here? First: For the first time in an awfully long time, I made the conscious decision to quickly put the weekend binge behind me. No guilt, no dwelling on it. Realize that life happens, and that I am not yet strong enough to navigate perfectly through the curves thrown my way. And may never be. And that's okay! The key is to recommit and jump back on the wagon ASAP.

Second: Unless I have developed the willpower of Super Woman, don't keep chocolate and other treats hanging around waiting for my judgment to waver. If it's not there, I won't eat it, simple as that. I know my trigger foods ... why tempt myself with them?

Third: Remember that getting out for that run that I had planned for would have quite possibly turned the tables on my slippage a day earlier. Replace the thought "I don't have time to exercise" with the thought "I don't have time NOT to exercise." I totally could have gotten out that day, but CHOSE not to.

I was writing in my inspiration journal last night (yes, while sitting on my Chinese stool!) about the word "mindful". This word has quickly moved to the top of my "favorite words" list, right up there with "becoming" and "stepping-stones". My friend Jenni has a blog titled "Mindful Serenity", and my friend Brooke commented recently that she feels the desire to live more "mindfully", and it seems that I am hearing that word EVERYWHERE lately. You know how what I mean??! I started to ponder, then brainstorm on paper, about the concept of "mindful eating", what that means, and its opposite, "mindless eating".

Mindless eating, I think, can be perfectly defined by my above pathetic encounter with the Easter candy. It is characterized by some of these qualities: eating with the intent to gorge (rather than slowly enjoying each bite), eating until stuffed (versus satisfied), eating on the run (instead of taking time to sit down and relish in the experience), eating while doing something else (like watching TV, reading, surfing the net, talking on the phone), or eating out of the bag / carton (instead of preparing a serving and putting the rest away). I have personally proven over the years that mindless eating equals poor nutrition, weight gain, passing poor habits on to children, health problems, and an overall feeling of personal discontent.

Let's revisit some of our early childhood habits around the family dinner table. My husband, the youngest of four children, "learned" quickly to eat as much as he could as fast as he could to claim "his share". Being a member of the "Clean Plate Club" can be important as a child is encouraged to finish her broccoli or beets, but it isn't necessarily such a stellar achievement as an adult! And perhaps "remembering the starving children in Africa" is better done in ways other than feeling we have to eat all that is before of us.

Mindful: "pure awareness", "attentive or careful to all dimensions"

Our lovely, older, married daughter was home for a visit with her handsome husband over Easter weekend. My younger daughter and I love to quietly watch the WAY SHE EATS. Our oldest loves to sit down for a family meal and always comments on how delicious everything looks and thanks me profusely for preparing such a beautiful meal. Then, she serves herself small portions of everything, commenting positively throughout her meal. She puts her fork down between her small bites, and seems to be as interested in sparkling conversation and being with us as she is with eating. She does not rush, she does not stuff, she does not (gasp!) talk with her mouth full. And, to the fascination of my younger daughter, she always leaves a little bit on her plate. She is far from uppity or stuffy ... I guess the words to describe her eating habits would be ladylike (is this even politically correct to say?) and controlled. I don't think it's any wonder that she has never struggled with her weight. Here is an example of how our own children can become our teachers.

I realize that for me, I need to be very careful and deliberate, even "mindful" about my eating habits, or I will, in the blink-of-an-eye, revert back to my "mindless" habits. Here are some thoughts that I scribbled in my journal last night that work for me ... I realize that your and my life / home situations may be very different, but perhaps something below will ring true to you.

Even, or maybe especially, when you are eating alone, set a nice little spot for yourself to enjoy your meal. I snapped a picture of a breakfast last week (above) that was not only delicious but a delightful little experience all-around. (I have my share of a banana-on-the-run, or a quick bowl of cereal, but I do try, as often as possible, to make it look like what you see above.) A couple of specific thoughts from that morning:

1. I love the idea of combining different colors, textures, and patterns at the table. My favorite placemats right now are woven bamboo, and they look great (I think) with all-white dishes, a flouncy, ruffled spring napkin, and a tortise-shell glass. Somewhere I heard someone say that we should not be too concerned with matching everything, or sticking closely with a particular style, but to just buy what we love - what speaks to us - and what will emerge is our own signature style. I love this. I also like the idea of picking up singular, pretty cloth napkins and glasses, soon creating a one-of-a-kind collection to mix-and-match with.

2. I moved part of my Easter centerpiece in from the dining room table that morning (above photo) so that there would be something beautiful, living, and colorful to enliven the breakfast table. One of the most influential books that I have ever read is called "Living a Beautiful Life" (by Alexandra Stoddard) and the author's message is that the ability tolive beautifully is really in the small, carefully-chosen details.

3. The oatmeal du jour was cooked in lowfat vanilla soymilk with a sprinkle of cinnamon, then topped with a heaping tablespoon of flax and chopped, defrosted peaches. The toast: my new favorite brand, Rudi's Organic Honey Sweet Whole Wheat with a little bit of real butter. (I refuse to give up butter for any spread / margarine / spray!)

4. A new favorite CD was playing in the background: Jim Brickman's "Home" ... mellow piano solos that encourage a peaceful feeling. I am big into lovely music in the home, and will share some more ideas for this soon.

A few more general ideas for encouraging Mindful Eating:

* I try to clean up my kitchen prep area as I cook. It is not as pleasant to sit down to eat when you're staring at counter heaped with dirty dishes!

* Blessing the food: when we acknowledge from Whom our food has come and what its real purpose is (to nourish us and give us strength) it elevates eating to an almost sacred ritual. I am trying hard to remember to do this, especially when I'm home alone. I know I am less likely to overeat when I have taken the time to pray over the food before me.

* When I view my cooking efforts as an offering of love to my family, I am more careful with WHAT I am serving and HOW it is presented. Rather than "throwing something on the table" (which I've done plenty of times) I try to view feeding my family as part of my sacred responsibility as a wife and mother. Looking at it this way makes me more likely to plan menus early in the week, and prepare them with love and care.

* It's not always possible, but when my family slows down and allows time for conversation, catching up from the day, and laughing, it makes our time together about more than just the food.

* I would really love to get into the habit of serving an earlier dinner if our schedules would allow it. I like the idea of eating at 5:30 or so, rather than at 7 or 7:30. That way, it is easier to go to bed on an emptier stomach, which is just healthier all around.

* I read the most wonderful book last year called "The Blue Zones" by Dan Buettner. He identifies four "zones" in the world where "common elements of lifestyle, diet, and outlook have led to an amazing quantity - and quality - of life." (The Zones: Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; and the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica) I would highly-recommend this fascinating book; in fact, I just pulled it off my shelf and am going to read it again. One point that I loved was shared by an 102 year-old woman. She eats a diet mainly of vegetables from her garden, supplemented with a bit of fresh fish and tofu, and before each meal, she takes a moment to quietly bow her head and say "hara hachi bu", which is a Confucian adage loosely translated to mean "may I eat only until I am satisfied" (or, the author says, 80% full). Isn't that so wise?? I think I'm going to post that beautiful little Asian gem in my kitchen.

Well, friends, I'm now into Week 11 of my Excellent Experiment, with two weeks to go until my birthday and goal-date of having lost 30 pounds. I have lost 21, and the prospect of losing nine more in two weeks is a bit daunting. But, I choose to press on in faith, and do all that I can to reach my goal. Miracles can happen, and I'm a-lookin' for one! I ran 4.0 (let me spell that out for emphasis: F-O-U-R) miles today, and am shooting to run 5.0 by May the 14th. This is miraculous in itself.

Thanks for visiting my blog ... I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE running into you readers and hearing what you find inspiring here. I equally LOVE, LOVE, LOVE listening to you talk about what you're doing in your lives to become your best selves. I am blessed to know each of you and continue to wish you the very best in your own journeys to better health. xoxo Macy