Saturday, August 15, 2015

Roller Coasters & Tender Hearts -- Sequel to "Crying for Ethan"

I am a roller coaster fan. That should really be "Fan" with a capital F. As long as I can remember being tall enough to go on the fast rides at Disneyland (Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain and Matterhorn), I've passionately loved roller coasters.

Sadly, the Six Flags in driving distance from us (Six Flags America) is not what I'd consider an exemplary theme park, nor does it have great coasters. When we first moved to the DC area 4 years ago, we lived only 20 minutes from the park and gratefully received season passes from family. But after trying all the rides once, I discovered only one roller coaster that I really liked. The rest were quite jerky and left me either with a headache or just disillusioned. So I'd reconciled myself to only riding Superman and then enjoying the smaller rides that my kids liked, as well as the waterslides (which Six Flags America does do pretty well).

We're now farther away and only go once a summer (quite cheaply thanks to two different reading programs). Yesterday was our trip for 2015 and it was a milestone in a couple ways. For the first time, all three of my kids were tall enough to ride every single ride. This meant that Ethan wanted to try the roller coasters! Since we got there early and the lines were non-existent at first, we rode Superman three times in a row. Ugh. It made me feel sick afterwards! That was the other milestone: the first time riding a roller coaster made me feel nauseous, and I found more joy in watching my kids ride it than riding it myself. (Though in reality, I just shouldn't have ridden it three times in quick succession!)

I chalked it up to 'growing old' and told the kids my roller coaster days might be over. We headed to the water park and I avoided coasters 'til the end of the day. I thought I'd abstain from coasters altogether, as I was not anxious to feel sick again, but because my boys did not want to go 'without a grown-up,' I changed my mind and rode two more right before the park closed, actually feeling okay after all.

Before I changed my mind, however, I'd apologized to the boys. I'd said, "I'm sorry I can't ride with you anymore because I'm getting so old." Ethan turned to me and said, "You're not old, Mom! You just feel sick when you ride the roller coasters. Which I can understand because I even feel sick sometimes just from spinning on a chair. But the rides give me such a thrill that I still want to ride them." I just about fell over. Here my 8-year-old son was being both very empathetic and very articulate. To hear him say "I understand" to me made my heart melt because of his kindness, and to hear "they give me a thrill" made me smile. Five years ago, Ethan couldn't communicate his feelings to me at all other than with grins and tears. I remember being so frustrated that I couldn't know what was really going on in his little heart and mind. And now he was not only able to share with me his own joy in riding the new-to-him big coasters, but also his thoughtfulness in understanding where I was coming from.

I'm so thankful that my youngest child has learned to talk clearly, and feel privileged to have been part of his journey. And more than anything else, I'm grateful for his tender heart.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Small Changes Make a Big Difference

It took me a few months to figure out what kind of exercise would work best for me on a daily basis. I first tried using the Couch to 5K program and walking/running on a nearby creek trail. While I loved being outside and seeing the beauty of God's creation around me, I faced a number of obstacles. The first was practical: the trail tended to be bumpy with rocks and tree roots so I always had to be watching my step carefully. If I used a different part of the trail, it was paved, and my shins started hurting after a couple weeks of my regimen. Also, the bit of extra effort it took to get out of the house, coupled with days of bad weather, flooded trail, or early heat, meant that I easily found excuses for *not* exercising.

So then I turned to exercise dvd's. I used my local library and checked out at least ten over the course of a few months, trying to figure out what I liked and what worked. I really enjoy dance so I started with some dance/exercise videos. None really clicked with me. Then I tried Leslie Sansone, who has a video series called "Walk at Home." I decided that her style and method were what I needed, and now I've settled on one particular dvd called "5 Mile Fat Burning Walk" that I've used daily for a few months.

While it's called "Walk at Home," Sansone actually guides me in 'multi-muscle walking,' mixed with high-intensity intervals. I use ankle weights and hand weights to make the workout more effective. The 'walking' is actually a combination of various moves, including knee lifts, kicks, side steps and others. During the high-intensity intervals, we jog in place or back and forth, and do some of the other moves (like kicks) at a higher intensity.

When I started my exercise efforts, I couldn't do more than 15-20 minutes at a time. I gradually built up to more rigor and more time, though, and my latest habit is to exercise for an hour each day, for 6 days/week. It should be noted that this is the *first* time in my entire life that I've kept a commitment to exercise regularly. It's hard work, but I feel so much better because of it! Plus it boosts my confidence to know that I can stick with something difficult.

Other changes I've made in my weight loss effort include:

  • Not drinking coffee at home, which means I only drink about 2 cups/week. I tend to only like coffee with cream and sugar, so cutting back to when it's made available to me elsewhere (like church) has helped reduce calories.
  • Drinking a 'green thickie' most mornings for breakfast. I make them with oats, walnuts, fruit, yogurt, water, and spinach. 
  • Paying more attention to my hunger signals and eating less at any meal when my stomach says it's full enough.
  • Cutting back hugely on sweet things. This is my hardest effort of all, and I haven't conquered it. Sometimes I'm better off just not eating anything sweet period. Other times, I've been good at taking very small portions and not getting seconds.
  • Eating fewer baked goods. I used to make a lot of pancakes, coffeecakes and other yummy breakfast items, but now I use that morning time to exercise and we eat more smoothies and eggs instead. I've also cut back on my bread consumption by having fewer sandwiches.
I'm still very much a work in progress, but the longer I go with these changes, the more they're becoming a welcome part of my life. When I say 'no' to a dessert or take only a half-slice of cake, instead of being grumpy about what I'm missing, I rejoice in thinking of the health I'm gifting my body. I love the way I feel these days!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

New Beginnings

Steve and I have both undergone fairly major changes in the past ten months or so, and while we still struggle on multiple fronts, the changes have all been good. In September 2014, Steve began a PhD program at Georgetown University, studying Christianity and Islam in the theology department. He has loved this opportunity to stretch his mind and focus on what he really loves. He's reveled in the camaraderie of fellow students, and feels fulfilled in a way he hasn't for a quite a few years. While it's tough as a family to live on his stipend, and to find balance since his study seems never-ending, it is wonderful to have a happy husband & father!

The biggest change for me this year has been joining TOPS (Taking Off Pounds Sensibly) and working hard at both losing weight and gaining health. I'd never struggled much with my weight until about six years ago, but when I let it go, it got really bad really fast! My obesity has been a source of great sadness and frustration for me these past few years and I was tired of it. While TOPS is not a diet or exercise program, it offers support and accountability through weekly weigh-ins and meetings. This has helped tremendously! For the first time in my life, I've made it a priority to exercise regularly (and I'm up to doing it 6 days/week, usually an hour each time), and I feel stronger and healthier because of it. I now have energy to climb stairs, make a dash if I need to, or chase the kids in a game of tag. And I've coupled the exercise with healthier eating, which has made just as big a difference. I had fallen into the bad habit of self-medicating my sorrow with food, and it's taken a real shift in my thinking, as well as gargantuan self-discipline, to cut way back on my portions in general and desserts/sweets in particular. After six months in the program, I've lost 30 pounds and am 'halfway to goal.' I still have a long way to go, but I feel so much better!

Another new beginning has been joining a house church. Our good friends Jared and Claudia Holsing decided in December to plant a new church, and we joined their home group in January. We've treasured our Friday night meetings with new friends, growing, being encouraged and challenged. Now we're shifting from Fridays to Sundays, and are so thankful for the chance to be part of a missional, incarnational body of believers. It's a church experience unlike any we've ever had before and we look forward to how God will work both in us and the world around us as we pursue life together.

Finally, just a week ago I found out about another beginning. I was notified by the C.S. Lewis Institute here in Washington, D.C. that I was accepted for their 12-month discipleship program, which starts now! I've completed my first reading assignment ("Ordering Your Private World" by Gordon MacDonald) and will go to the orientation meeting this coming Thursday. After that, the commitment is to complete the reading assignments, write monthly reflection papers, meet with a mentor once a month, meet with a small group once a month, and attend Saturday morning class once a month. We'll also go on a retreat and do a service project together. I'm really excited about this opportunity! I think it will be the accountability for my spirit and mind that I've been longing for, similar to the accountability I've found for my body through TOPS.

I hope to write more, especially as I go through this year of readings and reflections. I'd love to share a bit of my journey with you. I'll finish with two quotes from my first reading assignment:

"I want first of all ... to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. ... I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God." ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh, The Gift from the Sea

"There must be a quiet place where all is in order, a place from which comes the energy that overcomes turbulence and is not intimidated by it." ~ Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World
Completing my first 5K! March 2015