That Weight Struggle – Environment

249433_pSome mornings I wake up and my first thought…well, my second thought is Bel-Vita Biscuits. That first thought is always coffee. The biscuits, really cookies, are sometimes a before a long run indulgence. The problem is that I want to eat them, dipped in coffee, just about every morning. Thankfully, I can most often skip the temptation.

Some afternoons I walk in the door…from wherever I’ve been, and immediately my body says, “hungry…let’s eat!” I doesn’t matter if I’ve just eaten. Like today. I attended a lunch meeting put on by our local homelessness commission. It was a good lunch and I ate my fill. My body does not need more fuel right now! And yet, the desire to eat upon walking in the door is palpable.

These are the feelings described in the quote I shared the other day (see The Never-Ending Struggle with Weight). The feelings are not weakness in will power, or moral failings, but rather my body trying to get me to gain back my lost weight. So what can I do? What can you do if you face a similar struggle?

First. Notice it. Yes, notice those triggers towards unconscious eating. You might still choose to eat, but at least you are aware.

Second. Change the environment. According to Stephan Guyenet, “if we change our environment, we can change the cues we send to the non conscious brain, aligning its motivations with our goals of leanness and health.” (The Hungry Brain, 223). He describes changes we can make as a nation and changes we can make as individuals.

One great environmental tricks to not make unhealthy food so readily available. Sometimes its as simple as keeping it out of sight. We have fresh fruit on the counter. The Bel-Vita Biscuits and other snacks are kept in a drawer, out of site. Keeping them out of site works, because I only want these things first thing in the morning. The rest of the day is truly “out of site, out of mind.” The truly tempting food should be kept out of the house. For instance, we no longer buy ice cream to eat at home. It’s too tempting. So a few times a year, we go out for ice cream. On Memorial Day I treated myself to a Rocky Road Ice Cream Cone. It was delicious! It’ll be a few weeks or even months before I have another one. If a half gallon of Rocky Road was in the freezer, I’d probably be eating it right now!

Third. Are you thirsty? Sometimes our bodies just want water. It’s that simple. So have a drink of some good, plain, healthy water and wait awhile. The desire to eat may go away.

Fourth. This logically falls under environment but it’s my list! Change your surroundings. If you’re like me, you might eat lots more when you’re alone at home. I work at home most afternoons and I’ve discovered this is prime time to scavenge for something to eat (which is why its good not to have unhealthy food in the house). This is why I sometimes choose to run in the afternoon. Or some afternoons, I find work to do outside of the house, interacting with people. Find your triggers…and change them if you can.

And last. Be kind to yourself. Tell yourself that you are valued. You are worth the effort. You are loved. Especially tell yourself this when that other kind of self-talk happens. You know what I’m talking about. We are often too good a verbally abusing ourselves. How often have you said something to yourself that you’d never say to another person? Today, choose kindness, love, and forgiveness. As you experience giving these things to yourself, you just might notice them more around you as well.

What environmental struggle do you need help with?

 

The Never-Ending Struggle with Weight

A year ago I did a little series on my post Mountains to Beach Marathon attempt to “lose that last 15-20 pounds. I actually lost about 5 pounds, yet didn’t keep it off. I started that little attempt weighing in at 168. This morning, almost a year later I weighed 171. (Racing Weight – Getting ThereOOPS – Racing Weight, Week 1Really?!?! Racing Weight Week 3Slow & Steady – Racing Weight Week 4)

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This is from one year ago as I ran my Boston qualifier 

The good news in this, is that weighing 3 pounds more after one year could be looked at as weight maintenance success. The challenge internally is that I continually bump up against 170 but never go lower. Maybe, this is a good weight for me, who knows!

What scares me though, is that it has been pretty hard to stay at this weight…it feels harder than losing the 80+ pounds in the first place. Some of this might be memory, as we sometimes forget how hard past struggles actually were. But the struggle is very real.

Last year I read the book, “The Hungry Brain” by Stephan J. Guyenet. This was both a hopeful and not so hopeful book.

The not so hopeful part is that our brains are designed to prevent weight loss. This quote and analogy gets to the heart of it:

“In effect, substantial weight loss triggers a starvation response, whether a person is lean, overweight, or obese – and this response continues until the fat comes back.

If you’ve never had the experience of fighting your own body’s starvation response, Jeff Friedman provides a helpful analogy:

Those who doubt the power of basic drives, however, might note that although one can hold one’s breath, this conscious act is soon overcome by the compulsion to breather. The feeling of hunger is intense and, if not as potent as the drive to breather, is probably no less powerful than the drive to drink when one is thirsty. This is the feeling the obese must resist after they have lost a significant amount of weight.” (129-130)

These are not very hopeful words at first reading. I think that anyone who struggles with weight can understand the analogy. I can think of times when the desire to eat, and eat anything is so intense that its overwhelming.

But then, on further thought, hope can be found in this knowledge.

First, with the realization that the struggle is real. It is not about will power or some moral failure. It is about a fight against our bodies. We can’t effectively engage if we aren’t aware of the struggle.

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While I was still active when heavier, I don’t want to go back to this…

Second, we have nothing to be ashamed of. But when we make is about will power, we introduce the concept of shame. In our culture, it is shameful to struggle with weight gain…especially the re-gaining of weight. This insidious shame makes it worse, because one of our best weapons is to be open and honest about our struggles. It is only in a position of openness that we are able to receive support from others. This is why I am now open about my weight.

Third, and most importantly, your weight has nothing to do with your value as a person. Yes, a healthy weight…is optimum for quality of life. But the number on the scale or size of your clothing are not indicative of your worth. You are a precious child of God, created in God’s image, and the number on the scale will not make God love you any more or any less…because God already loves you unconditionally! Maybe as we learn this, we can learn to love  and show compassion to ourselves and others.

So what do we do? We don’t give up! Really, what do we do? I’ll share some thoughts in another post. Meanwhile give yourself a hug because you deserve it!

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Me last week, with my son, showing off my “run now, wine later socks”

The Power of Love – A Sermon for Pentecost

Yesterday morning I got up at 4:30am. Yikes! Unfortunately this happens pretty often. I wake up early, do some meditative breathing to try and coax my body\ back to sleep and if I’m successful I “sleep-in” until 6:30 or 7:00. If I’m not successful I get up, make coffee and sit down in the den to read the morning news in my iPad, while also listening to it on television.

Yesterday, coffee in hand, I turned on the tv and found the coverage of the royal wedding. Not my thing… So I changed the channel and then discovered that the wedding was on every news channel. Really?!?! I turned off the television and commenced reading my iPad. Which, on Twitter, was guess what? All about the wedding.

But then I saw that Episcopalian Bishop Michael Curry was preaching. I’ve had the privilege of experiencing his sermons at preaching conferences. He is a wonderful preacher! So I turned the tv on again and watched, at least the sermon part, of the wedding.

I think we could say that the fact Bishop Curry was preaching was a Pentecost moment. This man, a descendant of slaves is preaching to the royal family in Great Britain. The same can also be said for the bride, the daughter of an African American mother. The members of the groom’s family are descendants of those who participated in the slave trade.

In a world where generational animosity is so often the norm, the fact of this wedding and this preacher is truly a work of the Holy Spirit. And then there was his sermon…all about love…actually about the power of love. As I listened I kept saying to myself, “that’s what I’ve been preaching!” Just not as eloquently as Bishop Curry.

Love…the gift from God to each of us

Love… the command from Jesus that we share this gift with one another and the world.

Love…that is the fruit of our life in Christ.

Love…where the power is.

One illustration that Bishop Curry shared was one I’ve before and it get s right to the Pentecost spirit. He was talking about this fire:

Fire, to a great extent, made human civilization possible. Fire, made it possible to cook food and to provide sanitary ways of eating, which reduced the spread of disease in its time. Fire made it possible to heat warm environments and thereby made human migration around the world a possibility, even into colder climates. Fire made it possible—there is no—there was no Bronze Age without fire. No Iron Age without fire. No Industrial Revolution without fire. The advances of science and technology are greatly dependent on the human ability and capacity to take fire and use it for human good.

Anybody get here in a car today? An automobile? Nod your heads if you did. I’m guessing—I know there were some carriages. But those of us who came in cars, fire, the controlled harnessed fire, made that possible. Now that the Bible says and I believe that Jesus walked on the water, but I have to tell you, I didn’t walk across the Atlantic Ocean to get here. Controlled fire in that plane got me here. Fire makes it possible for us to text and tweet and e-mail and Instagram and Facebook and socially be dysfunctional with each other. Fire makes all of that possible.

And he said, fire was one of the greatest discoveries in all of human history. He then went on to say, if humanity ever harnesses the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love, it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire.

 

Ahhh…Fire. Power. Pentecost. Holy Spirit.

I love the story of everyone being able to communicate with one another, despite not knowing one another’s language. Everyone from the known world was there. Can you imagine the diversity? The different skin colors, cultures, ways of dressing, and of course languages. It could be like walking through downtown Los Angeles on any given day.

All these different people. It’s beautiful. And more beautiful was that everyone was able to share God’s deeds of power. Now we might be thinking yeah, but I can’t speak any other languages, so I can’t do this. I admit that I wish I could harness the power of the Holy Spirit to better speak Spanish with my neighbors…even more I wish I could harness that power to understand what my neighbor is saying to me. You see, in my experience it is sometimes easier to learn to speak a language than to hear and understand it.

So do we give up and say that this story of God’s gracious gift of the Holy Spirit and power were for another time? I don’t think so. Instead we must remember that the greatest power is love. The greatest language is love. So the great examples of God’s power that were shared that day were found in love…specifically a love of inclusion, a love that says you all have a place here. That’s pretty awesome.

Now we might still be thinking to ourselves, but we’re too small. We don’t see how we can make a difference. We’re tired…and so on. I know. I also know that anything is possible with God. Just look at the new life described in that wonderful Ezekiel story of the dead and dry bones being reinfused with life. I love that story. Especially as the purpose of that renewed life is so that the people could return to their calling, which was to be a light for the world. To be about loving God and loving neighbor.

Our world is hurting today. This Sunday we mourn the loss of life from yet more mass shootings. We see strife and oppression and exclusion all around us. We see all kinds of reasons for hopelessness. But we all have one bigger, overriding reason for hope and that is in the love that is so abundantly given to us. Love!

I think Bishop Curry’s message was not one for a wedding (although it was) but rather it was a message for a world. For a world that needs to be reminded of love.

Love. That my friends is where the power is.

Amen

They are People and Deserving of Dignity

Today I took a glance at my Twitter feed and came across this quote from the current president:

Trump on deportation: “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals and we’re taking them out of country.”

This should be shocking, but based on the last couple of years it is not. It should be shocking that we have the president of the United States dehumanizing people, calling them “animals.” Why would he do that? Well, I can’t claim to understand the thinking behind such a statement. But I can unequivocally disagree with and condemn such a statement.

No human being is an animal. People who have come to this country, have lived, and have contributed to our communities, all while living without legal status are not “bad people.”

Sure some have (and will commit crimes), just as some citizens of this country commit crimes. Every time I read crime statistics, the actual rate of criminal activity among all immigrants is lower than that of native born citizens.

(see https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/26/us/trump-illegal-immigrants-crime.html and http://www.politifact.com/california/statements/2017/aug/03/antonio-villaraigosa/mostly-true-undocumented-immigrants-less-likely-co/)

The major problem is not whether or not immigrants, or more specially undocumented immigrants commit more crime. No, the major problem is the dehumanization of people. When we look at groups of people as “bad” or worse, as “animals” we are not looking at them as humans. This is the first step towards finding it acceptable to harm them…because if they are “animals” then they are not worthy of human dignity. This is not ok.

Last month I was involved with a couple that were deported. These were pastors, parents, grandparents, neighbors, contributing members of my city. They are not animals. You can read about this here:  We Shall…

As a person of faith, and as a pastor, I cannot stay silent as my fellow human beings, my brothers and sisters, my neighbors are referred to in such horrendous ways. I hope and pray that people of faith, and people of no faith or creed, will unite against this inhumane way to talk of and then to treat our fellow human beings.

A reminder from Matthew 25:

31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

 

A Big Distraction

This is a sermon based on John 17:6-19

I confess that I struggle reading this prayer from Jesus. Whenever I read it, it seems as if the words go in circle after circle. After about the third circle my mind is dizzy and I’m ready to jump off. Maybe this is why I don’t seem to have preached on this text.

But this week, finally, I understood something.

This something is connected to the text (and thus message) for the past two Sundays. Which, duh, of course it is…it is all the same discourse. Except that today, Jesus is no longer instructing his disciples, he is instead praying for them.

Two weeks ago (Discarded Vines? A sermon on John 15:1-8), we contemplated the vine and the branches. We were reminded that no matter how things may look, we have Jesus. While the vine is pruned, and in a church (or anywhere) this is a might painful process, we have the assurance that we are not pruned away. We have that promise that Jesus abides in us. We are then invited to abide in him. The good news was that his abiding or living in us is not conditional. It just is!

Then in last week’s text (The Greatest Fruit – John 15:9-17), Jesus took us a bit deeper. We were reminded that the fruit of the vine metaphor is love. I shared some delicious fruit with everyone and we talked about those things that distract us the way the abundance of sugar masks the natural sweetness of fresh fruit. The good news, again, is that Jesus loves each of us and he loves us collectively, as a church. His commandment is that we love one another…in the same way.

Sometimes this is hard to do…all those distractions that get in the way of our loving others. Today we are introduced to a mighty big distraction…hate. To get to this we need to weave our way through all that circular language…

About Jesus recognizing the disciples as belonging to God the Father, and yet given to him…

About being in the world but not of the world…

About truth and unity and a plea that the disciples are protected.

About his joy being made complete…as in love being present.

But the world will hate them.

Why? If what they are about is love…love of God and loving one another, why would the world hate them?

What do you think? (discussion ensued of those who advocate for others, like Colin Kaepernick who protests against racial injustice…by the way he was confirmed in a Lutheran church. We also talked about Martin Luther King Jr who’s unfavorable rating at the time of his death was more than 75% and is now over 90% approval.)

Here’s what I think. The world, as it is referred to here, doesn’t much like love. In the world, it is far better that people are divided and distracted. In the world, there is always a winner and a loser. In the world, there is the in group and the out group. In the world, things like racism, sexism, nationalism and other ismsare the currency of the day.

But to love one another means:

Thatwe love beyond the label, whatever it may be.

Thatwe see our neighbor, not as an opponent but as a precious child of God.

Thatwe defend our neighbor.

Thatwe leave our own comfort zones so that we can learn about and build community with our neighbor.

None of this should be controversial. But it is. And so, we might stay silent and inactive because we don’t want to be on the receiving end of criticism… of hate.

But Jesus is praying for us for expressly this reason.

This week I asked on my Facebook feed if anyone has received pushback for doing what was the right thing to do. Here are a couple examples of what I received:

  • We put a sign in front of our church offering a “Blessed Ramadan” for our Muslim neighbors. We were surprised at the negative response.
  • I am an immigrant from Mexico (and an American citizen). I tell the stories of, and advocate for my fellow immigrants. For this I am sometimes told to “go back where I came from.”
  • I once join with other kids in school and became a bully…attacking a fellow student who was Jewish. “Afterwards I felt really bad and went over to his house to tell him I was sorry.” Our relationship was never the same, but we are, thankfully, friends on Facebook today.

We all have the opportunity before us to love or reject our neighbor. How will we respond? Sometimes it’s hard to know…unless we’ve thought about, and even prayed about it in advance.

And that takes us back to today’s gospel, and to prayer. Jesus prayed for his disciples and today that includes us. It is prayer that helps us to see our neighbor. It is prayer that gives us strength in the face of opposition. It is a prayer that gives us hope in the midst of turmoil. It is prayer that gives us the power to love.

Let’s follow Jesus’ example and pray for one another…and then let’s harness the power of prayer so that we can better love God, one another, and our neighbor.

Training with a Group

In 2014 I ran my first marathon. It was hard. I trained alone. Mostly because I didn’t know any better. I did use an online training plan. It is one that adjusts itself to your current fitness and current goals. So as you improve it will automatically adjust workouts, distances, etc. They even have coaches available to answer questions. But it is not an actual, real, live, person as a coach. In retrospect I’d say this was a better than nothing approach to training.

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I have no idea why my mileage peaked in June and not August. The race was at the beginning of September. My August mileage was 85.93 which was so incredibly insufficient!

But when I look back at my training volume for the months leading to that first marathon I’m amazed that I even completed the race. I was not running nearly enough volume! Unfortunately I no longer have access to the training log from this online plan, so I don’t know if I followed their plan as I should have. I do know however, that I am a stickler for following the plan that someone gives to me!

That first marathon (Ventura 2014) took me almost 6 hours! The exact time was 5:51:02:36. After the marathon I was so hot and tired that I almost fainted while taking a shower…and this was at least a couple hours later!

I also knew that I could do better. I initially set my sites on the Los Angeles Marathon…but didn’t train well enough and backed out a week before the race. I was neither physically nor mentally ready.

While on a vacation that included site seeing in Boston two weeks before their 2015 marathon, I signed up for a group training program for the 2015 Ventura Marathon.

I was nervous. I was excited. I was nervous.

The hardest part, for me, was joining the group. I’m an introvert mostly…or more descriptively I’m very shy and quiet when I join new groups. Eventually, as I get to know people, I overcome this. But I’ve always been painfully quiet when new in a group.

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June 144, July 162 and August 177. Much better!

I did it and it was wonderful! I learned that the previous program had me attempting to run way too fast for my current fitness. I discovered that, with the right coaching, I could actually run much more volume. And most importantly, I joined a great running community and have so many new friends as a result.

That second marathon (Ventura 2015) was almost 45 minutes faster! The exact time was 5:04:36. That’s amazing results!

Now, three years and a Boston Marathon later, I get to help coach the very same program. It starts June 16th and I’m pretty excited!

If you’re in the Ventura area why don’t you join us! If you are farther away and want some online coaching let me know.

The Greatest Fruit – John 15:9-17

This is similar to my sermon for May 6, 2018. 

What does good fruit taste like? I can remember enjoying fruit when I was a kid. But somehow, along the way, I lost my desire to eat fresh fruit. I didn’t avoid it, it just wasn’t something that tasted especially good. It was easy to choose something else.

What tasted better than nice, fresh fruit? Other sweet things. Candy…well, chocolate candy to be exact. Cakes. Cookies. Muffins. Ice Cream. And an ice-cold Diet Coke to wash it down. I was eating a lot of sugar (and fat). I was even eating sugar that I didn’t recognize…in my cereal, pasta sauce (when I was too busy or lazy to make my own), canned soups, breads, just about anything that was processed.

Is it any surprise that I was obese? Like many I’d tried diet after diet. I’d lost weight and gained weight and continued the lose gain lose gain cycle for years…most of my adult life actually. At the same time, I knew that adult onset diabetes ran in my family (both sides) and that I was at high risk for contracting this lifestyle disease. But knowing something and doing something about it are two completely different things.

In 2012 I decided to try once again to do something. This time I added running to the mix! I did lose weight…about 30 pounds…then 40 pounds…then it started to creep back up…then I lost a bit more and with great struggles maintained a 30-pound loss for a few years. Meanwhile I had gotten the running/racing bug and knew that I would improve if I lost more weight. Heck, I was still over 200 pounds. I needed to lose more weight!

I also recognized that the way I was doing things wasn’t working. It was a major struggle to live on a restricted calorie diet and run at the same time. I decided to embark on an experiment. I knew that sugar was a potential problem for my health. So, I decided that I would quit eating sugar…refined sugar…sugar that was added into almost every processed for you could buy. Sugar. Sugar. Sugar. It is everywhere.

Shopping is interesting when you’ve given up sugar. You see a container, think “that looks interesting,” read the label, and put it back. I had to start buying (and eating) unprocessed…real food. It didn’t take long for the pounds to start coming off…up to a loss of 80 pounds. It didn’t happen overnight but over a couple years. Eventually (April, 2015) I had my last Diet Coke and thus my last taste of artificial sweetener.

My unexpected discovery was that once again fruit tasted wonderful. Without the masking effects of processed or fake sugar, the real sweetness of real fruit emerged. It’s like God’s wonderful gift of the best candy.

Fruit. Last week I spoke about fruitfulness and fruitlessness and being pruned and the uncomfortableness of it all. We took solace in the promise that we are not discarded…cut off branches. We know this because we have the promise from Jesus that he lives in us. He invites us to live in him and in our living in him we become fruitful. Discarded Vines? A sermon on John 15:1-8

As last week’s lesson continues, Jesus clearly identifies the fruit as love.

“As the Father has loved me, so I have love you; abide in my love” (15:7). Live in my love and I promise that you will experience great joy. This love is so important to our well-being that Jesus commands us is to love one another.

Be fruitful.

Live in my love.

Love one another.

You will experience great joy in this.

Wonderful promises.
But why then is it so incredibly hard to love? Why is it so much easier to find fault with others? To find fault with ourselves? To focus on all that is wrong? Why is it so difficult to know that God loves us, not so that we can someday experience joy in the future, but so that we can experience God’s loving presence today?

Distractions.
Distractions are like the added sugar. They seem important, they seem helpful, they lead us to what seems to be satisfying. They mask the essence of the real fruit which is God’s love for us. They make the love we are invited to share in the world taste bland…incomplete…boring even.

So what distractions keep us from fully experiencing God’s love and thus not fully loving our neighbor in return?

  • A specific way to follow Jesus?
  • Worry…last week talked about the decline of our congregation. How is this a distraction?
  • Fear…maybe the same as worry…but a bit more pronounced. It can stop us in our tracks…it can cause us to make poor choices
  • Anger…we have an over abundance of this today…often because of the exploitation of fear and worry…making others the recipients of our collective wrath.
  • Frustration…little things and big things. Being impatient with ourselves and with others.
  • Hunger…a need to fill an emptiness is way more than food. Many hunger for real community. The church is supposed to be the place to find and experience this community. Sadly we (the church) are not connecting with those who yearn for this. So that the church is dying while others are dying because they don’t have what we are supposed to offer. I wish I knew how to fix this. But I do know the answer is found in loving one another.

We are easily distracted. Sadly these distractions cause us to lose two things:

First, our understanding that God loves us and has chosen us.

Second, our ability to truly love one another…

And without these things our joy can never be complete. That fruit almost never tastes as rich and sweet and awesome as it really is. Almost never…because we always get glimpses. Just think of that last time you experienced great joy. What was happening? Who was there? Sometimes it’s an experience of someone else’s joy that moves us…like joy is contagious.

These distractions don’t have to have the final say. That’s what Jesus is telling his disciples, what he is telling us. To live in him is to live intentionally. To cultivate practices that help us to get past those things that distract us.

Practices like prayer…maybe disconnecting from the noise will help us to see one another as worthy of love.

Practices like caring for others. It’s amazing how we can see our own situations differently when we quit thinking solely about ourselves.

And above all loving one another…loving one another in our community and outside of it, is where we get to taste that wonderfully sweet fruit…and experience the joy of Jesus in and among us. It’s not always easy, heck it’s almost never easy, but it is oh so worth the effort. That fruit of love is the greatest.