Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Mile Seven

Earlier this month, I walked in a half marathon.

It was my first attempt at such an endeavor. I drove to Des Moines, Iowa with my husband and a good friend, and we took part in the event as part of Prevention Magazine's Team Prevention.

Now, I have been a "fitness walker" for years, off and on. For the last six months or so, I've been quite committed to the sport. I average three or four miles every day, at a pretty good clip, and had even completed at least one ten mile walk as part of my training for the marathon. I felt ready to do this. I was feeling strong and fit, even though my recent experiment with getting rid of my scale had left me a few pounds heavier.

So the three of us laced up our sneakers (can we still call them sneakers?) and took off at the gun with about 5000 runners and maybe 1000 folks like ourselves -- regular people, not necessarily athletes, who were there pretty much just because we could put one foot in front of the other.

All in all, it was awesome. We took off at at decent speed, staying together initially and then each advancing at our own pace. It was a beautiful day, fall leaves tossed by a chilly wind, sky bright blue, cold and clear.

I took off on the open road, feeling great. Things progressed well, and the miles passed quickly -- more quickly than I imagined they would! Then the second toe on my left foot began to rub, just a bit, on my shoe. My hips began to burn. My knees started making a clicking sound with each step. Despite the cool temperature, I began to perspire, no -- sweat -- it was definitely a real sweat!

Around mile seven it all got a little old. I started wondering what in the world I was doing. Why had I driven half-way across the country to walk around some Midwest town in crappy "sneakers"? Why had I paid 90 bucks for a t-shirt and bragging rights that no one back home could care less about? I was tired and cranky, and I wanted to go home.

The only way to get home was to cross the finish line.

When I saw the mile eight marker I snapped out of it. I was here, walking through a beautiful park in our beautiful country, with a healthy heart and lungs and legs strong enough to carry me home. Quitting was not an option.

Every day of our lives can be a bit like mile seven. We wonder what we're doing here. We wonder if this ride is worth the ticket price. We feel tired and defeated, and we just want to go home.

Those of us who are battling our bodies, trying to find balance, seeking good health, or trying to achieve a healthy weight may feel like we hit mile seven about seven times a day. That's OK. We're not alone here. There's a whole mess of us out there running, walking, maybe crawling that marathon.

"Keep your eyes on the prize" is a cliche, but a good one. Focus, friends. Push through to mile eight, and you'll be amazed at what awaits you.

For the record, my goal was to complete the marathon in four hours 22 minutes, a rate of three miles per hour. I crossed the finish line, euphoric, at 3:31.

I could hardly walk for a week, and I'm now suffering with an infected toe. But was it worth it? Absolutely.

Walk on, my friends, walk on.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Wisdom from Yoda

Okay, so you're probably thinking: "What could George Lucas's great Jedi Master possibly have to do with faith, body image, or fitness?"

More than you might think.

No, I'm not a Star Wars junkie (I did not dress up like Princess Leia to go see any of the movies nor do I own a lightsaber), but I've always liked Yoda and the wisdom he imparts. Plus, who doesn't like to see a little guy use some serious Force to kick the tails of some pretty big and fierce enemies?

Recently, I stumbled across a Yodaism that immediately made me think of how we place far too much emphasis on appearance. Yoda wisely says, "Judge me by my size do you? And well you should not!"

Looking at this little green, old guy with pointy ears and wiry white hair springing from his wrinkled head, you wouldn't immediately think, "Now there's a great warrior!" But that's exactly what Yoda is.

Society has taught us to assume so much based on appearance. It's easy to "size people up" just by looking at them. We assume beautiful people are happy. We assume tall, lean people are athletes. We give meaning to fat and thin people. Slender, attractive men and women are always successful and popular. Whereas too often people conclude that overweight people lack confidence or perhaps self-control.

What we're doing even more than jumping to unfair conclusions is seeing people not as human beings but as objects. The Catholic Church is very clear about the dignity of the human person and that we must recognize each person's worth - from the unborn child to the disabled adult.

It would be unwise for any enemy to see Yoda as old and weak and to judge him by his small stature. Likewise, we must not turn people into objects; we must "see" beyond appearance and not draw conclusions based on how a person looks or dresses.

Judge others by their appearance? Well we should not. Instead, we must look at people through Christ's eyes, a lens of love. Then and only then will we begin to recognize that everyone has worth and everyone is beautiful.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

More prayer....less fat?

Recent studies show that one reason we hang onto belly fat is because we are simply too stressed. Stress raises levels of cortisol in our bodies, and the result is resistant visceral fat -- the dangerous kind that surrounds our internal organs and leads to heart disease and type two diabetes.

Vain or not, we all want to get rid of that kind of fat.

Studies also show that an excellent way to destress is to practice meditative prayer.

If you haven't tried praying the Rosary, well, now you have no excuse.

Most Catholics recognize the Rosary as a series of prayers, primarily Hail Marys, said in succession while contemplating the mysteries of the lives of Jesus and His Mother. What they may also admit is that praying the Rosary is an excellent means of bringing onself to a calm, peaceful place. Calm and peaceful = less stress. Spiritual growth and a flatter, healthier tummy? Sounds like a combo we should try.

I've been attached to the Rosary since I was a little girl. (Today I wrote about it here.) It has been my companion through good times and in bad, and in fact many times has brought me great peace. And the physiological result of praying the Rosary simply cannot be denied. Many times I've even dozed off with my precious beads slipping through my fingers.

Curious about the Rosary? I invite my friends of all faiths to give it a try. Contemplation, peace, a better understanding of the Mysteries of Jesus' life, and better mental and physical health...something worth considering.

Visit this lovely site to learn more.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Just another four-letter word

D-I-E-T. Four letters that rule our lives.

I have been "on a diet" for most of my adult life. As I've shared before, I've counted carbs, calories, fat grams, measured portion sizes, and tortured myself on the scale. I've kept meticulous records and scolded myself for "failing" when the numbers showed I wasn't "doing it right."

Study after study proves that diets don't work, yet we cling to them as our very salvation. If we could just find the right plan, the right system, we could follow it and be freed from fatness. Our redemption must lie in the proper combination of food and activity, right? It's just so simple. Calories in must not exceed calories out. How simple. Any idiot can do the math. We are just lazy, gluttonous slobs. We can't manage our passions. Food is our god. If only we could follow the Magic Diet well, we would demonstrate prudence, temperance, self-control, and every other fruit of the Spirit.

Is that really the truth?

I am at the point, again, where I'm not sure if I should ask for encouragement as I go back on a diet or ask for encouragement to abandon them completely. My latest experiment with getting rid of the scale has been enlightening. It migrated back to the bathroom last week, and I immediately noticed a change (for the worse) in my mood. I went right back to it, seeking its approval and feeling dismal when it revealed my weight was up a couple pounds. I have since asked my husband to remove it again, and already feel lighter.

So now I'm contemplating dieting again, seeking that elusive eating style that will perfect me. But a part of me is starting to develop a voice, a part that shouts NO!
I am tired of the deprivation, the setting myself apart. I am tired of the endless counting and measuring. I am tired of the obsession.

But I still want to be thin.

This division of my heart is painful, and I'm praying for grace. I need grace to see that God has a plan for me that does not include obsession, vanity and a quest for impossible physical perfection. This grace is available to me, I'm certain. I'm just trying to unlock the secret, the secret of balance and peace.

I'm feeling it does not include any four letter words.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Finding Peace in the Eucharist

When my oldest was 2, each time I would prepare myself to receive the Eucharist, I'd hear a little voice, whispering, "Peace." As soon as she would see the Eucharistic ministers take their positions throughout the church, she'd vibrate with excitement, her little body twisting and twitching like a dragonfly's wings, and would whisper over and over, "Peace!" Going up with Mommy to receive a blessing and watching me eat this mysterious piece of food was one of her favorite parts of Mass (it still is, although she no longer calls it peace; I miss that.).

I'm not exactly sure why she started referring to Communion as peace, but every time I'd hear her whisper that word, I'd think my child was on to something when she likened receiving the Body of Christ with a word that evokes inner tranquility.

By nature, I'm not someone who easily attains inner peace. Okay, so that's an understatement. I have to really work at it. I'm too often consumed by anxiety and worry. Some of my worries are trivial like when will I find the time to take a shower, or will both my girls ever sleep through the night on the same night? Or, does this [insert article of clothing] make me look fat?

Sometimes I worry about the big picture. How are we going to get through these years of residency (my husband is a radiology resident) on such a tight budget? Is my growing baby okay (our third child is in utero)? Is my mom okay (she deals with myriad health problems, although you wouldn't know it by her trusting and sunny disposition)? I seek solitude to work on cultivating trust, but when things get quiet, my mind starts racing. Too often these worries (most of them unfounded) take their grip on me even though I know that this kind of fear is an absence of faith. Which leads me to another worry: Why can't I be more faithful? What's wrong with me?

God, I know, would probably say nothing other than the fact that I am human. However, I know that one of my problems in my endless quest for inner peace is that I want something dramatic to happen in my faith life. A dove to descend upon me while I am praying. A vision of Mary to appear before my eyes. A moment when I literally feel Jesus' embrace. A clear voice to speak to me and to tell what I need to do to follow Him. A real, tangible sign as clear as a billboard on the highway so that I can't miss what God's trying to say to me.

But that's not how it works for most of us. There are no lightening bolts. There are no opportunities to place our hands in Jesus' wounds as Thomas did. There are no saintly apparitions to guide us in our decisions. Yet, that doesn't mean God isn't speaking to us. We may just have to look a little harder, pray a little more often and seek out the Eucharist as much as possible.

Too often I am waiting for this profound moment when Christ comes to me and rids me of my fears and anxieties. In my waiting, I grow more anxious, all the while forgetting that there's a simple yet deep-seated way to feel Christ's presence in my life. Each time I receive the Eucharist, I am inviting Christ into my heart and taking him with me. I am getting a taste of peace.

Recently, I was at daily Mass. I didn't hear Madeline whisper, "Peace," but I felt it nonetheless. I was glancing up at the Crucifix hanging above the priest's head as he doled out our daily bread, and I felt a warm rush inside of me. I've experienced it before, and it is just what Madeline used to call it - peace washing over me. I want to bottle up the indescribable feeling that seems to come from nothing (there are no flashing lights or booming voices speaking to me), but it's fleeting. I can't quite wrap myself around it, but I know that in that brief yet profound moment, I am drawn closer to Christ and experience true peace. And what's amazing is that God does speak to me - sometimes through my children and on this day through the symbol of the Crucifix. If only I listened and paid more attention to what he has to say to me every day.

What's keeping you from inner peace? Whether it's body angst, worries about money, or some other concern, why not offer it up to Jesus? Nourish your soul with the Eucharist and allow His peace to settle in your bones.