Adventures in Thanks-Living

Living the gift of life one breath at a time

Archive for the tag “good health”

On the Thin Edge of Health

With Lent has come a busier schedule both in my ministry and in teaching two online writing classes. Of course, to top it all off, both my dear spouse and I have found ourselves on the thin edge of health, fighting sinus infections that haven’t become full-blown but that are hanging on with annoying tenacity. Because of this lingering malaise, I did not post any entries last week, and I am sorry.

Good health is important, and Lent is a good time to think about health. Our bodies are made to sustain themselves when we eat well, drink plenty of water, exercise, and get sufficient rest. It’s the times when life becomes too hectic and we make compromises that dis-ease can set it. For me, a sinus infection is my body’s reminder that I am not taking care of myself, and I had better slow down.

I’ve kept exercising, albeit gently with yoga. I’ve indulged in a few much -needed naps, and I am eating simply and well. Hopefully, I’ll be back on solid health footing soon.

How about you? How are you tending to your health and wellness in the midst of wild weather swings, a glut of germs to share, and busy lives?

Photo by Hamron. Thanks!

Laugh! It’s Good for You.

Mirth is God’s medicine. Everybody ought to bathe in it. ~Henry Ward Beecher

(Note: This is the second installment in a series about how to really live life and live it well.)

Want to really live life? If you do, then make sure you laugh on a daily basis. Not only will you feel better and experience life as more positive, you may actually help your health.

A study at the University of Maryland Medical Center, led by Dr. Michael Miller, studied the humor responses of 300 subjects and found that indeed, there may be a real connection between frequent laughter and reduced risk of heart attack. Click here to read more about the study. Miller and his colleagues suggest looking at incorporating laughter into one’s life in the same way one would include a healthy diet and exercise.

What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul. ~Yiddish Proverb

How about combining exercise and laughter into one healthy activity? Check out laughter yoga as a possibility. This practice combines unconditional laughter with yogic breathing (pranayama). It was the brainchild of an Indian physician, Dr. Madan Kataria and has grown to more than 8.000 laughter clubs in 65 countries. Click here and here for more information. Laughter yoga combines exercise, breathing, joy, and community into one healthy and affirming activity. According to the American School of Laughter Yoga, not only will practitioners see health benefits, but work productivity may increase by up to 31% Clearly, research shows we need to infuse our schools, our workplaces, our homes, and our faith communities with more laughter and joy.

Seven days without laughter makes one weak. ~Mort Walker

The photo above is a close-up of the artist Yue Minjun’s wonderful installation “Amazing Laughter” in Vancouver, British Columbia. You can read more about the artist and the sculpture here. Seeing these laughing figures, all of whom bear the artist’s face, makes one want to smile–or laugh. Look for art, for music, for theatre, film, and television that make you laugh, and incorporate some healthy laughter into every day of your life. Commit to trying it for at least 40 days, and keep a record of your progress and experience. I am certain you’ll find yourself stronger, more centered, and possessing a much more positive outlook on life. Go ahead…try it! What do you have to lose?

Now just why did the chicken cross the road? Maybe it was to listen to some fowl jokes.

Photos by Jeff Halllululemonathletica, and Matthew Grapengieser. Thanks!

Life on Loan

Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children. — Native American Proverb

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it… — Psalm 24:1

“You’re not in charge!” Most human beings I know chafe under such an imperative statement. Sure we’re in charge, each one of us, right? Do you remember the Bon Jovi song “It’s my Life” and its siren song to individuality: “It’s my life/It’s now or never/I ain’t gonna live forever/I just wanna live while I’m alive…”? This song has inspired people of all ages and become an anthem to the idea of controlling one’s own life and destiny.

It’s true that we don’t live forever on this earth, and it’s laudable to desire to really live instead of go through the motion, but it is not true that this life is ours to do with as we please. Our life is a loan. We didn’t dictate our birth , and we’re really not completely in charge of our terminus post quem. And what we do while we’re here–every choice and decision–matters and affects the course of our journey.

Our choices and life paths also affect others, an important point to ponder. How we treat our bodies affects how long we may potentially live, how much we will have to invest in health care, and what our quality of life will be. How we treat our economic resources affects our security, the futures of those we love, and even the future of our community and our nation. How we treat our earth may potentially affect everyone. We are, in effect, “borrowing” the earth and all its resources from future generations.

Yes, we live on borrowed time with lives that are merely a loan. Each breath, each day, everything is pure gift, but the gift is shared. Our gift of life is lived out in community for good or for ill. How will you enjoy your gift, steward your loan, and care for what is not yours forever?

Thanks-Living Action:

1. Ask yourself what kind of world you would like to see for your children or your children’s children. If you do not have children of your own, what kind of world would you like to leave as your legacy?

2. How can you be a better steward of your time, talent, and resources?

3. What does it mean to live life as gift?

Finally, ponder these words from a sermon delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Ebenezer Baptist Church:

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. … This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.”

Photo by Damanhur, Federation of Communities. Thanks!

Time to Take Care of YOU

One might assume that because the United States spends more on health care than any other nation ($4,500 per person in 2000) Americans should also be the healthiest folks on the planet. Unfortunately, according to the UC Atlas of Global Inequality, that is far from the truth. In terms of life expectancy, the U.S. ranks 27th (77 years). An even more alarming trend is a 30-year pattern of decreased life expectancy, a high infant mortality rate, and the reality that U.S. youth have the “highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy and deaths from car crashes” among 17 developed countries studied in a recent report produced by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council.

An article by Sabrina Tavernise in the January 9, 2013 edition of The New York Times summarized the report’s distrubing findings. Particularly troubling are the findings that Americans under 50 had a higher mortality rate from gun-related homicide, drug and alcohol abuse, and car accidents than any of their counterparts in the other countries studied. We also posted the second highest rate of death from heart disease and lung disease.

Despite our many strengths as a nation, the United States also has the highest rate of poverty among the 17 developed nations in the study, limited  primary care resources in a fragmented healthcare system, and a high percentage of uninsured citizens. Cuba, despite its many economic challenges and limited resources, has made healthcare a priority. The country has a universal healthcare system and one of the world’s highest doctor-to-patient ratios. The average per person healthcare expenditure in Cuba is a mere $186 or about 1/25 of per person spending in the United States. Cuba comes in just behind the United States at 28th in terms of life expectancy (76.9 years compared to the U.S.’s 77 years). Go figure.

The bottom line is that YOU are responsible for your health. No one is going to force you to be healthy or to make good choices. Some health issues bear no relation to lifestyle, but most of the truly pressing health issues in the United States are indeed related to lifestyle, income, and education. The playing field is not a level one, but we make it even less level through choice and public policy.

Controversial filmmaker and best-selling author Michael Moore made the simple choice to start walking 30 minutes each day. As Moore notes, it’s free and it feels good. Don’t stop there! You can bypass the cigarettes and save money. You can cut out the sodas and drink water or green tea. You can brew your own coffee at home and moderate your alcohol intake. You can prepare simple, fresh foods and cut out the highly-processed junk. If you don’t know how to cook, you can learn.

No one is asking you to make a 180 degree change in how you live overnight–although if that’s how you work, go for it! Try to change one thing and see where it goes. Don’t go out and get an expensive gym membership; take that walk around the neighborhood. If you hate going outside, turn on a music channel and dance like a fool where no one can see you. Instead of driving eight blocks to the post office, walk there. Plant a garden. Get enough sleep. Drink enough water. Play ball with your kids. Walk through your neighborhood and get to know folks. Just do something.

Don’t wait for a better or more convenient day. Get started right now. It’s time to take care of YOU because YOU are worth it!

Photo by Green_Mamba. Thanks!

Beginning…Again

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice. [...] And to make an end is to make a beginning.         — T.S. Eliot from “Little Gidding”

Happy New Year! How are you spending the first day of the rest of your life? What is your state of mind? To whom have you said, “I love you”? What will you do with this one precious day?

Part of living a life of thanks-living is being mindful of each day and the gifts–great and small–that present themselves to you and that you present to others. The beginning of a new calendar year is traditionally a time for resolutions and hopefulness. How about mindfulness?

What if…instead of resolving to lose weight, make more money, save more money, find the right partner, get a better job, write that best-selling novel, or whatever else you might want to achieve…what if you simply resolved to be mindful of each precious moment? What if you promised to try and be aware of the gift of each day, one day at a time?

Sure, planning is a good thing, but we twenty-first century, multi-tasking, over-booked, under-capitalized humans tend to get so caught up in looking backwards and forwards that we forget to look straight ahead into the moment. Hey, I’m as guilty as anyone else.

Instead of a resolution this year, I’m simply going to try to live each and every day as if it is the only day I have. After all, we never know how much time we do have, so let’s try to make the most of it. So…

  • Let’s put relationships first and stuff last.
  • Let’s take care of the body we’ve been given by eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising.
  • Let’s look at our work as good and valuable and do the best possible job we can at whatever we do. If you don’t feel like you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, work mindfully at following your passions. If you live and work well, the living will follow.
  • Let’s focus on giving and sharing rather than amassing and hoarding, and
  • Let’s cultivate and nurture our sense of the holy, the spiritual, and the good (what I call faith).

As 2012 ends, however the year was for you, let’s embrace the new beginning of 2013 and make it 365 single days of joy and thanks-living. I look forward to the journey!

Want a little inspiration? Check out this You Tube video:

Photo by Sally Mahoney. Thanks!

No Place Like Home

How wonderful one’s own bed can feel! Not that the hospital bed was uncomfortable–I actually slept pretty well all things considered, and all the caregivers were excellent. Still, it was good to get home this afternoon.  It was relaxing and fun to sit at the dinner table with my family, although I had a tough time not laughing and straining my neck.

Yes, the blessings of a soft bed with fluffy pillows, potato, chive,and sharp cheddar soup with homemade breads, and being with the ones I love are not to be taken for granted. Fresh coffee, a refrigerator and pantry full of good, healthy food, and plenty of heat and light are blessings indeed. Oh, and I’m quite sure a hot shower will be counted among my blessings when I can finally take one! Have to let that surgical wound heal a bit more, you know.

It’s amazing to me how easy it is to take the basics for granted, at least this thought crossed my morphine-muddled mind several times yesterday.  Simply shuffling across the room while “dancing” with the caddy that held my IV bag or attempting to eat the delicious crab cake on my dinner tray despite a raw throat provided opportunities to reflect on the ordinary blessings of walking and chewing. Even something as simple as blowing in the respiratory therapy device brought to mind that every breath is a gift of God.

My situation is miniscule compared to those being faced by so many other folks right now. I think of people who are facing life-threatening illnesses, devastation from Superstorm Sandy, or economic calamity. Boy howdy, I am lucky. Even if I get a not-so-nice report on the nodule biopsy, I’ll still count myself in pretty good shape because I have access to good healthcare, a loving family, and a broad network of support. Most of all, I have faith in a loving and generous Creator who proclaimed everything good and desires good for all of us.

One final blessing I’ll share with you is Nurse Andi. She was an awesome nurse–patient, kind, efficient. I kept thinking she looked familiar but couldn’t quite place her face with a context. Today, on the ride home, I remembered. She was a student in one of my freshman English classes at the local community college several years ago. How cool to see that a good student has turned into a most capable healthcare professional.  That one small connection was a true blessing. You never know when something in your life will come full circle.

Off to follow Dr. McKee’s orders–rest, rest, and more rest! And blessings abound.

So how about you, friend? What about your home has been a blessing to you today? What have you taken for granted? What can you do to be a blessing to someone else right now?

Photos by sblezard and Valerie Everett.

A Simple Step Toward Good Health

If you have good health, give thanks! If your health is compromised, don’t despair. Give thanks that you can likely do something to improve it. You don’t need to spend a lot of money, you don’t need expensive equipment, and you don’t even need to join a fitness club.

Dr. Mike Evans believes there is a simple and inexpensive answer to vastly improving health and well-being. Check out his animated health lesson that challenges all of us to give just 30 minutes a day to the one thing that can do the most for our health. The answer is simple: GET MOVING! Just 30 minutes of walking a day–or some similar physical activity–can make a big difference in your overall physical and emotional health, your longevity, and your pocketbook.

Are you willing to trade 30 minutes a day to live longer, have a more positive outlook on life, and avoid chronic health problems such as obesity, arthritis, high blood pressure, depression, and high cholesterol? Look at it this way. Becoming a better steward of your time, talent, and resources begins with taking good care of your body. After all, it’s hard to help others if you aren’t willing to help yourself.

And if you think you’re too old, or too unhealthy, or too busy, well think again. My 84-year-old mother walks almost every day. My cousin’s spouse was extremely overweight, and he started walking, then running, and finally competing in triathlons. He’s lost the excess weight, added years to his life expectancy, and looks fit and healthy. You can do it, too.

If you need a little faith nudge, remember what Paul said about our bodies in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. Even Jesus pointed out in his greatest commandment that loving others begins with loving ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). Faithful discipleship involves faithful self-care.

Research tells us it takes 21 days to create a habit. Why not challenge yourself to creating the daily habit of physical exercise? Better yet, enlist a friend or family member to join you and hold you accountable. You are worth it, my friend. So get out there and take a simple step toward good health and better stewardship of self. Oh, but first watch the video; if you have any doubts, it will surely dispel them.

Here’s to your health and to the stewardship of all aspects of life!

Photo by puuikibeach used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Vacation Time

Last week I took a mini-vacation, and it was wonderful. It was supposed to involve a trip to see my spouse’s family, but conflicting work schedules made it necessary for me to stay behind. Because we could not go to New England with the rest of the family, my two girls and I determined that we would take the single day neither one of them was scheduled to work and go to the beach. Yes, that’s right. We got up very early, drove four and a half hours to spend seven hours at the shore, and then drove right back home. It ended up being a fine adventure and gloriously good time.

Our lovely mini trip cost less than a night’s stay in a budget beach motel, and we enjoyed a full day of fun, quality time together, and relaxation (I took a two hour nap and read while they walked the boardwalk). I am so thankful my youngest daughter insisted we take this whirlwind girl trip getaway. Just a few hours of ocean air, salt water, surf, and sun helped melt away accumulated stress.

Maybe it has something to do with the American work ethic, or perhaps it is my Germanic heritage, but whatever the root cause, I have a difficult time taking vacation. I am lucky; I have a job that provides generous paid time off. Not all Americans have that luxury. In fact, about one in four Americans has no paid vacation time or holidays as a  job benefit. Even so, I still have a hard time breaking away.

And yet, God commanded us to take Sabbath time., designating the first day of every week as time to reorient oneself to a right relationship with God, and to take sufficient time to rest and recharge. If God considers Sabbath time so important, why do I have such a difficult time taking the vacation time I am granted? Why are many Americans working themselves into illness and poor health? Why is paid vacation and holiday time a “benefit” offered to the lucky workers and not all working Americans?

In case you think I’m odd, read this article posted on Salon’s website. You might also wish to review this policy brief, entitled “No-vacation nation USA– a comparison of leave and holiday in OECD countries,” by Rebecca Ray and John Schmitt that is referenced in the article. Produced for the European Trade Union Institute for Research, Education and Health and Safety, the report provides a comparison of paid leave and holiday time for 21 wealthy countries (16 European countries, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States). After reading the entries for the other countries describing the various governmental policies for how paid leave and vacation time is guaranteed to workers, here is the statement for the United States: “United States law offers no statutory paid leave. The only exceptions are for government contractors and subcontractors covered under the Davis-Bacon Act (18).”

Here’s another telling excerpt from the report’s introduction (p. 2):

In the absence of government standards in the United States, almost one in four workers there has no paid leave and no paid public holidays at all. According to U.S. government survey data, the average worker in the U.S. private sector receives only about nine days of paid leave and about six paid public holidays per year, substantially less than the minimum legal standard set in the rest of world’s rich economies excluding Japan (which guarantees only 10 paid-leave days and requires no paid public holidays).

You can access the entire report here.

We are conditioned to think that vacation and holiday time may lead to lower productivity and sloth, even though credible research says otherwise.  If you do have paid vacation time and holidays as part of your work package, be thankful–and take it. Your body, your mind, your family, and your spirit will thank you.

Thankful for Walks

The last few months in our house have been excruciatingly busy, and because of that fact I let my fitness slip. I never happened to be near the YWCA and couldn’t seem to make the time for a special trip there. At home, something always seemed to intervene to keep me from my yoga routine and regular walks. It didn’t take long for a few pounds to creep back on (Thanks stress eating and lack of willpower!) and a general sense of malaise to settle over my days. What had originally been inconvenience and busyness gave way to stress and sluggishness. Ugh!

One day I finally realized just how far away from my healthy routine I had fallen. Sure, I was still making time for prayer, meditation, and study, but my physical self was suffering neglect. So I decided enough was enough. It was time to blend in a few more salads, a couple of extra glasses of water, and a long daily walk.

Walking is great exercise. It requires no special equipment other than decent shoes and a safe place to walk. It provides a completely different view of the world on foot than what one sees encased in a speeding box of plastic, glass, and metal. It can be a social activity or a respite that provides needed “self” time. It improves posture, breathing, and cardiovascular fitness. Even bone density gets a boost. Check out this article from the Mayo Clinic for more information about the many benefits of walking.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of taking two long walks. It was glorious! I used one of the walks as time to talk with my mother. Thanks, mom! It was good to hear your voice. I used the other one to spend time with my youngest daughter and the dogs. Thanks, family!

After my brush with the fitness slump and dumpy blahs, I have a renewed appreciation for the benefits of daily walking as an important part of my thanks-living lifestyle. In fact, I’m going to take the dogs for a walk around town right now.

How about you? Do you enjoy walking? What benefits do you gain from walking? I’d love to hear from you!

Photo by h. koppdelaney used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Give Thanks for Good Health

Good health is something we take for granted until there’s a problem. It is often something we ignore by making poor choices. It is also something that is quite difficult to regain, if not impossible, once it is lost. I’m talking about good health.

Our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made (see Psalm 139:14), and if we exercise proper care and live thankfully, we can usually enjoy good health and a good quality of life. It takes a little more effort and determination as the years go by, but with health one usually reaps what one sows.

Americans should be healthy, right? We have access to some of the best medical facilities, good food, plentiful water, and education. Unfortunately, even with these blessings, we are decidedly unhealthy as a nation. Click here to learn more about America’s health rankings (state by state).

Obesity is the number two cause of preventable death in the U.S. (Get America Fit Foundation). 60 million Americans age 20 and older are obese. Nine million children ages 6-19 are overweight. This dangerous trend is related to increases in many diseases and conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type II diabetes, breast and colon cancer, gall bladder disease, sleep apnea, coronary disease, stroke, and osteoarthritis.

As a nation we are both overfed and undernourished and over-stressed and under-active. We have moved from an active agrarian and manufacturing economy toward a nation of couch potatoes who would rather drive two blocks than walk and who choose highly processed foods over simple healthy options. Despite the plethora of gyms, home exercise equipment and DVDs, and diet programs, we can’t seem to keep the weight off and our good health intact.

I’m a seven year breast cancer survivor. There is no direct history of this disease in my family. At the time I was diagnosed, I was a full-time graduate student working three part-time jobs and rearing two children as a recently-divorced single parent. My stress level was through the roof, my sleep and eating habits poor, and regular exercise was not a choice I made.  The aggressive cancer was a big wake-up call to me. If I was going to live to see both girls launched to adulthood, some things had to change and change fast.

I still tend to work too hard, but I am eating healthier, trying to remain active through walking and yoga, and striving to get adequate rest and hydration. I don’t smoke, and communion wine is about all the alcohol that passes my lips. It is still a struggle, but I continue to work at it.My weaknesses are too much coffee and a craving for salty snacks like pretzels and tortilla chips. I’m trying to blend in green tea daily and choose popcorn or fruit and veggies over the salty snacks.

I’m lucky; as an ELCA pastor, I have access to amazing health care, including strong health education, incentives, and preventative care. This is a good thing because clergy are among the most unhealthy segment of our population. We are the ones who should be setting a good example for parishioners and modeling good stewardship of self-care and solid health.  Lucky for me, I  have a spouse who shares similar values and who is trying to keep himself healthy for the long haul. It helps to have a partner in accountability!

How about you? Are you tending to your own health? Do you realize the importance of making good choices in food, exercise, and stress reduction? Do you know your risks? Are you doing all you can to minimize them?

Remember, you have this one precious life. Be sure to tend to your health, doing the best you possibly can to be a good steward of the gift of life with which you are entrusted. Ask yourself what one small step you can take this week that will either lead you to better health or augment the positive steps you are already taking. It’s your life; make the most of it, and remember to give thanks for the gift of good health!

Photo by Samuel Sharpe used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

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