Grace found in Small Steps

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An uphill journey might seem hard, but the view at the top is worth every step.

The other day I was listening to the Rich Roll Podcast and his interview of Zach Bush, MD. You can listen to it here: RichRoll Podcast – Zach Bush, MD

There was much to be alarmed about in this podcast, especially in the way our farming and use of pesticides is responsible for much illness and other problems. But the message from Zach was also one of hope and promise for the future.

The most impactful statement…the one that made me stop what I was doing, find some paper and pencil, and make a note was Zach’s scientific definition of grace.

Previously I’d never thought of a scientific definition of grace. Here is what he said:

Grace scientifically is that you heal faster than you injure.

I love this definition and can find so much truth in its simplicity…not just scientifically but in life. There is so much hope in these words.

You heal faster than you injure.

Simple decisions that lead to simple changes can lead to healing. This idea is not that making a small change will lead to overnight improvement. But rather our simple changes (which if truly simple are also small), lead over time to big transformation.

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Oatmeal and berries…much better than what I used to eat for breakfast.

Some examples that come to mind:

  • Choosing healthy food will lead to a healthier body over time. The effects of past poor choices don’t disappear immediately but they do over time. My own experience of this is that by (mostly) eliminating processed food from my diet and replacing it with real, wholesome food, I’ve lost 80 pounds. It took a few years.
  • Choosing to move a bit every day can lead to better fitness. If it’s hard, then start with walking and move from there (or even stay there if that works for you). When I decided to be more active and start running, I could only run 30 seconds before needing to walk. Over time, my body grew stronger and in 2018 I completed my 10th marathon…and marathon number 8 was Boston.
  • Choosing to limit online media can lead to a healthier attitude. I confess that this one is a struggle for me. But I do notice that my decision to refrain from pointless online arguments and to no longer follow certain people has made me a much happier person. I need to take daily steps to further limit the time I spend here (especially on Twitter 🤔)
  • Choosing to mediate or pray regularly helps to clear the mind of distractions. Haha…this one is a work in progress too.

All of these transformations – or potential transformations have been gradual. They are perfect examples of healing (or better health) coming about through small changes. Of course we must acknowledge that better health can also be relative. The starting point often dictates how far we can go, but that doesn’t mean we cannot make some improvement.

Sometimes we fail to take those initial, small steps because the change we seek seems to be so far out of reach that we give up before we start. Or it is painful to start moving. But the experience of grace is that when we take one small step after another we are eventually able to look back and see that we’ve travelled so incredibly far on the road to better health.

How have you been able to experience this grace in your life?

Mile A Day Challenge Update

Pastor-Coach Nancy's Thanksgiving to Christmas Mile a Day Challenge-3 I started this challenge 4 years ago as a way to encourage activity. The idea was, and still is, that all of us can find at least 20 minutes a day for exercise. That is how long it takes for the average person to walk a mile

For the first three years the challenge was free to enter. Some would enter and never even start. This year I decided to charge an entry fee of $25, with $20 of it going to a local non-profit (in this case the Ventura Land Trust) in support of open space. Would people sign up?

Ultimately we had 31 challengers, and thus raised $610 for the VLT.

Of the 31 participants:

19 traveled the minimum mile a day
2 missed only 1 day each
4 missed a few days but kept trying

All together the challengers logged 2,772.41 miles. That’s an average of 81.54 miles a day!

Not bad!

Icebergs – Rediscovering the Lost Body-Connection within Christian Spirituality #3

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From page 31 of “Rediscovering the Lost Body-Connection…”

There is much more going on below the surface! This iceberg analogy resonates with me. Maybe it will with you as well. Briefly, we experience feelings, emotions, and physical sensations all the time. Often we react to these emotions without having a clear understanding of where they came from or what precipitated them.

For much of my life, this reactionary activity resulted in my pushing these feelings aside with food.

Was I happy? Then eat!
Was I sad? Nothing like eating for this!
Was I bored? Hmm, what could I eat?
Was I angry? Nothing like something crunchy and salty.

The problem with this approach was that I was unhealthy…physically, mentally, and spiritually. Learning, instead to explore the “why” behind an emotion, has been a freeing (and difficult) process. I say process because I am still learning here and can safely say that it will be a lifetime of learning, of exploration.

The first step in exploring what was under the water line (the iceberg) was through faith. In knowing that God loves me unconditionally, I could safely and critically interact with old hurts, old failings, old disappointments. This was freeing, but it was mostly the spiritual and mental.

The next step for me came through endurance sport. It was here that I truly learned to love my body and the gift that it is. It was here that I learned that I could endure great hardship…and later say it was “fun” (see Fun? Endurance…Is it fun?). It was here that I’ve learned so much about the holistic nature of faith. It has changed my outlook and given me the desire to help others experience life through endurance and through grace.

Today…food can still be a struggle (The Never-Ending Struggle with Weight). Unfortunately that will always be the case because of biology. But mindfulness and movement can counteract the struggle. If you’d like some help here let me know!

 

 

Rediscovering the Lost Body-Connection within Christian Spirituality – #2

Way back on October 31, 2018 I posted the first of what was to be a series on the above mentioned book. Then I got bogged down in all kinds of stuff…and to be honest the book is not all that easy to write about. Well, also, I’m only on page 38 so that’s maybe not the best excuse. Today, a few quotes that are important.

All of us, especially children, must be encouraged to listen to our bodies as teachers and not as enemies.

Somehow, as a child I learned that my body is the enemy. I was told that I was fat…ugly…lazy and I believed all this. It’s only recently that I’ve learned to love this wonderful body that God has given to me. It is indeed fearfully and wonderfully made…freckles and lumps and all!

I’ve learned this through sport…endurance sport…running to be exact. I wish I had discovered this earlier, but as I keep telling people, “it’s never too late to start.”

Important to my journey (which led to a pastoral call) I discovered the truth that God’s grace is an absolutely free gift. This knowledge has freed me from lots of self-doubt, but I must have thought of it more in the sense of feelings and heart. Today, as I fully realize this grace, I now believe, it can a should lead us to a holistic understanding of our bodies as gifts to be used and cherished and cared for.

What about you? How do you interact with your body today? Is it different from when you were a child?

Running Our Public Lands

img_4998.jpgLast night I listened to a friend, Vic Thasiah, make a call for the running community to be more actively engaged in conservation efforts for our public lands. His presentation took place at Topa Topa Brewing Company, and since I was holding a beer while listening, I missed taking notes! I wish I had because his talk was inspiring.

img_4776He shared that, from a national perspective, runners, as a group, are not as involved in preservation efforts as are hikers, kayakers, mountain bikers, and skiers. We as runners, are not organized around this important issue as are other groups. As I listened to the presentation, I wondered how many of us runners consciously appreciate the beautiful places we can go. Or do many of us think of running as “exercise” and something to “get done” while also experiencing the added benefit of a beautiful view?

As a pastor, I pray my gratitude for this beautifully created world in our weekly worship, while also praying that we would be good stewards of all that surrounds us. I find myself envisioning some of the places I’ve run as I pray. I’ve also tried to encourage our getting outside for worship with a monthly Hike Church. This has been met with limited success… but maybe that’s because I’m not doing a good enough job of inviting people.

img_4207-2.jpgThe other day, while running on one of our paved, but in need of much work, bike trails, I wondered about the feasibility of runners and cyclists fundraising to fix the trails. That’s a good endeavor and I’d support it. But now, I’m also thinking that we, wherever we are, should involve ourselves in to caring for, and helping to preserve, and conserve our public lands.

In my area, that care can be exercised through The Ventura Land Trust. I might even use my upcoming Thanksgiving to Christmas Mile a Day Challenge as a fundraiser for this worthy organization. Meanwhile, how do you see the running community participating in care for our public open spaces?

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The Never Ending Struggle with Weight is Downright Scary

“In further studies, they found that weight loss, both in people who are lean and obese, triggers a powerful suite of biological and psychological responses that work together to restore the lost fat… 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.”
From “The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts that Make Us Overeat” by Stephan J. Guyenet, Ph.D., page 129

The above quote from “The Hungry Brain” isn’t very encouraging at first look. But on further reflection it’s helpful for anyone who has struggled with the up, down, then up again (sometimes higher) of weight loss and weight gain because it helps us to understand the real struggle.

Most of the people I know who’ve battle obesity don’t struggle because they don’t know what to do. I’d venture to guess that most overweight people are very well versed in the world of diet and weight loss.

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Me in Napa in July, 2009. I was not at my heaviest but probably pretty close to it.
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At the same winery this year. This is a more fit and healthier me…and I plan to stay this way!

I’ve personally tried most commercial as well as fad diets out there. I’ve read countless books. I’ve joined various programs. When I look back at the past 40 years (I’m 55 and remember dieting as a teenager), I’ve probably lost and re-gained hundreds of pounds. It’s probably not a stretch to say that maintaining a weight, any weight, is not something my body has much experience with. My actual experience has been down, then up a bit more than where I started…down again, followed by a bigger increase and so on. This led to my highest weight of at least 250 pounds in 2012. It was probably more than this, but I quit stepping on the scale.

I’ve been at my current weight for two years. Well, I’ve gone up and down within a 10 pound range in that time. It’s been a struggle! A year ago I hit my lowest weight of 163 – an 87 pound weight loss! Maybe it is no coincidence that I also had the best half marathon ever in terms of how I felt. It wasn’t my fastest because it was up lots of hills but it was awesome! (I Can Run Hills! A Recap of the The San Francisco (First) Half Marathon)

But I was unable to maintain that weight, even though my desire had been to get to at least 155 so that I would no longer be identified a “overweight” according to the medical world. Over the past year the pounds have slowly come back so that today, after a wonderful vacation that was fill with activity I weighed in at 174.4. An 11 pound gain in one year! At least I can still say I’ve lost 77 pounds.

I share this because I want to let people know that the struggle is real and I want to help myself and others to find peace with themselves, regardless of weight. Sometimes this peace is elusive, because there is a great deal of shame associated with weight gain. We tend to look at the person who struggles with their weight as someone lacking will-power, restraint, or even self worth. But it is far more complicated than that. Our bodies are far more complicated than that.

In “The Hungry Brain” Stephan Guyenet, shares years of obesity research that is both demoralizing and hopeful at the same time. Demoralizing because he clearly shows just how difficult it is to fight our own brains… in the often futile effort to maintain weight loss. But then it is hopeful for the same reason. If it’s not solely about will power then we can remove the sense of shame, while also making changes that can be helpful.

For Guyenet, the one answer lies in “Restricting Reward.”

High-reward foods tend to increase food intake and adiposity, whole lower-reward foods tend to have the opposite effect. This suggests a weight management ‘secret’ you’ll rarely find in a diet book: eat simple food. The reason you’ll rarely find it in a diet good is that, by definition, lower-reward food is not very motivating. It doesn’t get us excited about a diet, and it doesn’t make books fly off the shelves. We want to hear that we can lose weight while eating the most delicious food of our lives, and the weight-loss industry is happy to indulge us. The truth is that there are many ways to lose weight, but all else being equal, a diet that’s lower in reward value will control appetite and reduce adiposity more effectively than one that’s high in reward value.

I like the use of the word “reward” in this context. We can think of food as a reward and when we do it is usually very tasty calorie dense food. Or sometimes it is that salty-crunchy-sweet snack that we turn to in times of stress – tortilla chips are my particular weakness here.

But we can also think of other rewards. Rewards like feeling good and being able to move can impact us far more than can the immediate gratification of something we eat.

And still it is hard! Personally I will clean up my diet, eliminating those unhealthy foods that have crept back in… and I will continue to run and strength train and maybe even start bicycling once in awhile…I can easily do these things because of the rewards of fitness!

If you would like to share your own struggles, please feel free. There is strength in community and that is another reward that far surpasses any food!

To read past posts on this topic:
That Weight Struggle – Weekends
That Weight Struggle – Environment
The Never-Ending Struggle with Weight
What Happened to Healthy Eating? Boston Marathon Training – Week 1
Body Image – Gratitude 8/10Slow & Steady – Racing Weight Week 4
Really?!?! Racing Weight Week 3
Ummm – Racing Weight Week 2
OOPS – Racing Weight, Week 1
Racing Weight – Getting There

Run in this heat? Yes!

Screen Shot 2018-07-10 at 9.40.21 AMConsistency. Showing up. Getting it done.

These words have been my mantra the past couple days. Officially I’m tapering for the San Francisco Marathon (July 29), but that doesn’t mean all running stops. It just gets easier, or at least it should.

So far this week I’m not feeling it. Instead I’m feeling hot, sweaty, tired, and cranky. I don’t like the heat! Well actually the high temperatures are not that bad as compared to others places…but their higher (86 yesterday) than is normal for us! Making it worse is the humidity. Right now it’s 77%…we’re not supposed to have 77% humidity!

I think the real problem is that the heat is trapped and we’re not getting our nightly cool down. As you can see in my photo, our low should be a nice cool mid-50 degrees this time of year. Instead we’re hanging out in the high to mid 70s. This makes good sleep in our non air-conditioned home elusive.

So that’s my whining!

Yesterday I woke up and thought, “it’s too hot to run.” Then I drank my coffee, changed my clothes, and did my 7 miles. My method for keeping my easy runs easy is to use my heart rate as a guide. My goal is to stay between 130-140 bpm. Yesterday my average HR was 133. My average pace was 9:51. Not bad for a hot morning!

At lunch time, I needed to do a strength workout. I do these in the gym at the back of my local running store, and there is no air conditioning at the back of the store! I thought all morning, “maybe I’ll just do it tomorrow.” But tomorrow (today now) I have a massage scheduled, so better get it done! Other than sweating so much that I could see wet spots all over the floor, the workout went well. Yeah!

Last night I went to bed hot. Woke in the middle of the night hot. Woke up this morning hot. I sat with my morning coffee (too bad I don’t like iced coffee!) and thought, “gonna have to skip today’s run.” I even had a second cup, which I never do before running.

fullsizeoutput_10aa.jpegAnd as I drank that second cup I remembered Des Linden’s advice, “keep showing up.” I thought about the inspirational Western States Endurance Race where athletes ran 100 miles in temperatures that topped 100 degrees. With these thoughts, I put the coffee down, changed clothes, and set off on my easy 5 miles. It went well!

Consistency. Showing up. Getting it done.

That’s what it’s all about. In running. In life.

Happy Tuesday.