An Open Letter to Critics of #ThoughtsAndPrayers

Right after the tragic church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas in early November, social media was flooded with the usual chorus of people posting “sending thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families. This is an entirely normal reaction to a tragedy, to acknowledge a sense of helplessness and beseech the Almighty to intervene where we cannot (unless the it happens close to where you live, the ability to take physical action is limited).

What startled me was the instant, sharp-tongued mockery of such statements from liberals, progressives, and otherwise godless individuals. People from A to Q list celebrities as well as average Joes and Janes hurled insults on Twitter to those sending thoughts and prayers for the situation. Most were mean-spirited, a few were clever or even funny. The tenor of the sentiment was essentially that thoughts and prayers are meaningless, and not enough, or not even worthwhile.

I take serious issue with that view, or at least part of it. Calling prayers useless is the part that I wish to side against with vigor. In this post, I’ll make a case for the power of prayer.

I’ll agree with the critics that “sending thoughts” or “positive thoughts” is of utterly zero value. Saying that may make one appear pious, but that is all. It does nothing to help victims practically or enlist the help of the only One who can.

Here are my rebuttals to the anti #thoughtsandprayers crowd.

Prayer is not only worthwhile, but it is also usually the best  response

When tragedy strikes, whether a national crisis or within our own lives, that is when most people feel compelled to pray. Why is that? Because it often takes a crisis to realize how helpless we are, how little we actually have in our control, and how great and unspeakable the fallout from sin and resulting evil in the world.

I wouldn’t wish tragedy or hard times on myself or anyone. Having said that, if tragedy is what it takes to make someone do business with God, they will be better for it. Certainly from an eternal perspective, and most assuredly in this life as well.

As I said, when we can see no other option, we pray. Because somewhere deep inside, we know that it is the Almighty God and Him alone who can intervene. In the case of Sutherland Springs, and so many other tragedies in recent times, it is horrifying to see coverage and know there is not much I can do to help.

If I lived in the same town, I could bring meals to victims’ families. I could offer a listening ear to those who are fighting with grief. If I really wanted to go the extra mile, I could provide temporary lodging in my home for out-of-town family members who come in to sort things out in the aftermath.

In some cases, such as natural disasters, I could donate money to relief efforts. That is a tangible way I often choose to help. But in the absence of that…

It is God who can move mountains, inspire locals to act with compassion, grant effectiveness and wisdom to local officials, and most of all, to bring comfort to those suffering.

My passion and belief in the power of prayer comes from my knowledge of and love for God

I’ve spent my whole life reading God’s Word, the Bible. I’ve read the accounts of the amazing things He does through prayer:

  • Prophet Elijah prayed for rain, and God ended a drought in Israel (1 Kings 18)
  • Elijah also made a fool of prophets from false religions, with fire from heaven (also 1 Kings 18)
  • Joshua prayed for a longer day to defeat Israel’s enemies before the sun went down, and God answered (Joshua 10:12-14)
  • King Hezekiah prayed for life in spite of his mortal illness, and the Lord granted it (2 Kings 20:1-6)

This only scratches the surface of the truly amazing things God does when His people pray. In my own life, I’ve witnessed God work mightily through prayer:

  • Healing a dear friend and more than one family member from cancer
  • Giving me comfort and strength through every tough season of life
  • Providing for my physical needs 100% of the time, even when circumstances looked grim
  • Giving me boldness to do things I normally wouldn’t do, like share my faith with someone else
  • Creating, and providentially leading me to, my husband, a man who is more soul-matey for me than I ever could have imagined
  • Changing hardened hearts of people I know to be softened and opened to God

I realize that someone who mocks prayer as ineffective does so because his or her outlook on God is one that is completely removed from what God says about Himself in the Bible. There are many different nuances to that, which I won’t get into here. In short, those people don’t believe God.

Those of us who do, who have seen God work and love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19), know that praying in the midst of tragedy is not only practical, it is likely the most effective thing we can do.

“The Lord works in mysterious ways.” That phrase is thrown around a lot, almost to the point of being diluted of its significance. But it is still so true.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.

~ Isaiah 55:8-9

It is God alone who can:

  • Change hearts and minds (Ezekiel 36:26)
  • Give wisdom (James 1:5)
  • Direct the steps of a man (Psalm 37:23)
  • Inspire His followers to act with compassion (Philippians 2:13)
  • Make the miraculous happen in the lives of the afflicted and grieving (John 11, Psalm 34:18-19, Luke 8:40-56, cf. the whole Bible).

So to those who mock the sincere prayers of others, I say without irony that I will be praying for you. May God open your eyes to His goodness and power, and the salvation He offers through Jesus (John 3:16).

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6 Qualities That Will Make You More Endearing to Others

We’ve all encountered people that rock our world for the better. When we meet such a person, we delight to be in their presence as much as possible. They inspire us to be better people ourselves by their example.

While we all may have various ideas of what qualities we admire in people, here are six characteristics that come to mind, in the form of advice I give to myself. Perhaps it will be insightful and helpful for you also.

1. Develop a Sincere Curiosity About Other People

One of my favorite authors, Jon Acuff, said in his book Start, “Assume everyone you meet is more interesting than you.” Everyone has an interesting life story, worldview and experiences, and could probably teach you a thing or two. Using this guideline as a conversational principle is the key to unlocking some amazing information from people you wouldn’t expect.

How often we do the opposite. We try to flood people with impressive information about ourselves, or regale with stories of what we’ve been up to. There’s nothing wrong with that, but putting in equal or greater effort to getting to know others often pays rich dividends.

As an introvert, I tend to listen more anyway, because I am not a big talker. Because of that, I am often fairly quiet in group conversations. I secretly delight when people ask me questions – sometimes that is the only time I talk. (An aside: My post about introverts goes into more detail about how our minds work.)

2. Workout … Your Smile Reflex

More than just a wordy way of saying “smile,” by this I mean making the act of turning that frown upside down an active habit. A big, friendly grin is such a small thing that can make such a big difference in someone’s day. It says, “Hey, I’m glad to see you!” It can be so encouraging to be on the receiving end.

There is a conversation I had with a friend when I was in junior high that I’ll never forget. I always considered myself a friendly person, and thought I was an active smiler. This friend informed me otherwise; she said I didn’t smile very much. I was stunned! It took that unfiltered feedback to realize my perception of myself was off. I realized that I had to actively work to initiate smiles. That is something I endeavor to do with consistency.

3. Listen Attentively

Not much explanation needed here. (No I am not going to break down the principles of Interpersonal Communication 101, you’re in luck.) When in conversation with someone, listen with your full attention to understand what they are saying. It shows the other person that you value and respect them.

Half listening only to formulate your response, and especially, interrupting the speaker when you have something to add to what they are saying is the opposite of respectful. To me, it is discouraging. Let’s be honest, it shows a lack of courtesy, big time. And yet, I am guilty of doing it myself so often. Remember, I am writing this post as advise to myself.

4. Remember What People Told You

One thing that blows me away in a good way almost every time is when someone asks me the latest developments in a life situation I told them about days, weeks or even months earlier. I practically recoil with startled delight. “Wow, you remember that? I am impressed!”

I truly am, and that is likely because I am so poor at this. It means so much to me when someone demonstrates that they were listening, and care enough to ask later, that I know I need to be better at it myself. To match the efforts of the most thoughtful people I know = winning in my book.

Here are a few ideas for improving on this:

  • Summarize what they said before the conversation is over. “It’s been enjoyable talking with you Carrie. Sorry to hear you’ve been having back trouble. I saw an article about treating back pain recently. Let me see if I can dig it up and I’ll send it to you.”
  • Write down notes or replay conversations mentally once you’re done talking. Or take notes while you’re talking. (A few of the most effective people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing make a regular habit of pulling out a piece of paper and making notes about things we are discussing.) Whichever method works better with your natural learning style is most effective. I am a note taker, so I will need to implement this strategy. But I could see how deliberately thinking back about what was said would do wonders for retention.

5. Talk Good About People Behind Their Back

Gossip is easy. Talking bad about people behind their back is a default habit, no thanks to our sin nature. How about flipping that on its head? Why not try sharing positive traits about someone to another person when they are out of earshot? It is so much more fun. It may not spread as fast as gossip, but the result is far superior.

Have you ever heard someone report something glowing about you that was uttered by another person? I have, and it is a delight to my heart. It is a gift that keeps on giving. If you know that feeling, or even if you don’t, you can be that source of delight for someone else. Try it. I dare you.

6. Notice What is Good About People and Tell Them

This builds on #5, and is admittedly something I am naturally terrible at, but at which I greatly aspire to improve. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like to be encouraged or praised. That’s probably because I doubt such a person exists.

I’m not talking about flattery or insincere or shallow compliments (e.g. “Hey, I like that sweater!” Or, “You’re the most amazing person in the world!”) Most of us can sniff out the fake stuff, and it doesn’t really accomplish anything. Other than raising suspicion of someone’s motives, in the case of flattery. Lest you misunderstand, please feel free to compliment my awesome sweater. Don’t shy away from meaningful compliments – that is what I mean.

Here are some examples.

“It must have taken a lot of courage to defend that kid against those bullies. Not many people would be willing to do that. Thank you for doing the right thing.”

“I really appreciate how you tactfully returned the floor to me when other people kept interrupting me during that meeting. Thank you.”

“You’ve really improved at _____. Keep up the great work!”

“You always work so hard at your assignments, and you have a great attitude. I am so grateful you are part of the staff.”

“I can tell you are working hard to teach your kids good manners, and it shows. The world needs more parents like you. Just wanted you to know, I noticed.”

The ripple effects in someone’s life from a sincere compliment often go further than we know. If you’re like me, you are full of admiration for many people in your life, but fear the vulnerability required to express it. I’m going to work on that – will you join me?

In Conclusion

These six things, implemented by people in my life, have had profound positive impact on me. Those that practice some or all of these things are the type of people with whom I want to surround myself. The soul glow that these things produce inspires me to be a more thoughtful, concerned and attentive individual for those in my life.

~~~

Please feel free to share your thoughts and items you would add or subtract to the list. I always enjoy feedback. If you think this post was worthwhile, I invite you to share the link with others.

Thank you for reading!

 

Posted in Lifehacks, Opinion, Self-Improvement, Social | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Embracing the Boring Life: A Short Chronicle of My Transition from (Mostly) Adventurer to (More of a) Homebody

It sometimes pains me to admit that my life is not as exciting as it was in the past. I look back fondly on my college years and my 20s when every weekend was full of adventure and a high percentage of weekdays were too.  Being at home in the evening was boring, and felt like a defeat.

So I filled my nights with friends get-togethers and all manner of ridiculum. Can all 10 of us fit in the hot tub in the same time? How about in my car? Which live band should we go to see downtown tonight?

Weekends were reserved for outdoor adventures. Hiking, skiing, camping and the like. Later, service projects through church found their way into the mix also. As long as I was out doing something, not at home, I was happy.

The fact that I had an active social life was well-documented on social media. Seems that when a bunch of single people gather together, at least one person has a camera out and takes copious pictures that end up being tagged on Facebook. I didn’t mind at all.

When one group of friends ended up disbanding as they all started getting married off, a brief period of loneliness ensued before the circle was restored with a new group of folks who were eager to have fun. Back in business.

More Responsibilities + Change in Relationship Status = More “Boring”

As things like having a stressful job put the brakes on some of my fun, I still managed to be fairly active. The big turning point came for me when I got married. That is pretty normal I suppose.  I knew there would be a honeymoon phase where we would be happy to be hermits together for several months. That definitely happened. What I didn’t expect is that my desire to be social would be greatly stunted from that point forward.

Part of that is because Mike, my husband, really isn’t a social person and prefers to be at home. Note: I didn’t realize this while we were dating; he convincingly masqueraded as a social butterfly to make the rounds and find his woman. Once the deal was sealed, the homebody nature was revealed. This was not covered in pre-marital counseling.  I am not in any way throwing Mike under the bus. Just stating the facts.

I love being at home, hanging out with Mike, so that contributed to my growing homebodiness. (If that is not a word, I just made it one.) I’ve since learned that I also need social time with friends, so I have made accommodations for that in my schedule.

The stress of responsibilities at work and home further stunted my energy and desire to be social. I came to enjoy the relaxing moments I had at home, as they seemed to be fewer and more precious. Sharing life and a common space with Mike made all the difference in the world.

Tuesday night at home with no plans at age 25: panic and call friends to fix this disaster.

Tuesday night at home with no plans now: sheer bliss.

My Current Life: Boring and I’m OK with it

These days, I go on adventures much less often. I see friends much less frequently. I see nothing wrong with relaxing at home on a Saturday from time to time or spending the day catching up on chores.

As a result, my Facebook profile shows much less activity. The chronic party photographer doesn’t show up at our house to document me washing the dishes. Thankfully. It doesn’t have a whole lot of sizzle to post, “Staying in with pizza and Netflix tonight.”

Even though my life contains more routine and less action, I’m OK with it. We still go on trips and adventures. I post about half of them online vs. 99% from yesteryear, because, my level of caring about proving that I have an awesome life has diminished. I know my life has value and significance, even if mostly devoid of the energy-fueled adventures of my 20s.

I’m not saying you won’t ever see me post at 1 a.m. at an establishment with a band playing. It is still possible. It’s just more likely that you won’t see me post because I’m staying in with pizza and Netflix.

 

 

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You Can Be Passionate About Politics without Being a Jerk (And You Should – Here’s How)

I’m not sure about you, but in the months leading up to the last presidential election, and in the time since, I have been continually floored at how rude, tactless and malicious the state of political discussion in America has become.

It was so bad during the election season that I chose to remain silent during the entire 48 months of campaigning. I say that only partly in jest; I noted with great distaste that pundits were already talking about the 2016 election with scarcely a break after 2012 concluded.

I remained silent not only because I had been too active during previous political seasons, at the expense of some Facebook friendships, but also because I wasn’t willing to stick my neck out in favor of any of the candidates. The ugly accusations and personal attacks I saw leveled from people on both sides of the political spectrum reminded me that no matter where I stood, I was going to face some heat for stating my views.

Whelmed at best was my general feeling about all the candidates. None were worth ruffling feathers by making heated posts. I chose instead to leave my political discussions to the face-to-face realm, and say not anything online. In the process, however, I discovered a few takeaways.

People and Relationships are More Important than Politics

It was very informative to see friends and family post articles and comments that clearly divulged their political leaning. It is always nice to know where people you care about stand. Especially for introverts such as myself, who are not naturally inclined to bring up politics in conversation. Posting on social media is a way to express feelings in a relatively safe, insulated fashion.

As I noted surprising revelations about people, I was tempted to allow it to color my opinions of them. I had to stop, however, and remind myself that most come by their political inclinations sincerely. Regardless of the route they take to get there, they believe that their views reflect what is best. As I do, if I’m honest. Regardless of if their opinions clash with mine, those that I care about are worthy of the same respect I had for them before.

Your Views Don’t Give You Superiority Over Others

No, really. They don’t.

This is hard to swallow because we are instinctively inclined to think we are right, and others are wrong. It’s true that some conclusions use logic, education, and history more firmly than others. Most differences people have politically can be traced back to differing worldviews and theories on “the way things ought to be.” Keeping that in mind, it is easier to fathom how some people can come up with such wildly different things they value.

Again, I have to believe that most people are sincere. So it seems to me that it is a more humane thing to have a political discussion with someone eye to eye rather than starting from a position of proverbially looking down your nose. Asking questions about what they believe and why helps bring an understanding that could never be gained by making assumptions and name-calling. Which brings me to my next point.

If Name Calling is Your Game, You’ve Lost Before You Start

Whenever I’m tempted to think that most people are nice, all I have to do is look at Twitter. Then I’m quickly reminded of the depravity of humanity. Pure malevolence dished out in 140 character doses. It isn’t limited to Twitter, unfortunately. It is everywhere.

In my estimation, it boils down to two things: mean-spiritedness (I’m pretty sure that is a word) and laziness. The former is self-explanatory. The laziness part plays in just as much, however. It is easy to say of someone, “That stupid moron thinks that (insert political opinion).” How much harder it is to reach out to that person to ask them how they came to that conclusion. Then to listen respectfully while they explain. That element of willingness to be civil and humane is woefully lacking.

We are all guilty of name calling. But it is never too late to identify bad patterns and correct course. I’m going to drop a “Golden Rule” bomb. It would serve humanity so well to go back to the days when “treat others the way you want to be treated” was preached as a virtue and practiced more consistently.

Conclusion and Challenge

Most of us are passionate about the values by which we think the world should operate. When we see those being violated or taunted, it is a test of character. Will we respond in kind, sinking to the lowest common denominator of behavior? Or will we see the person on the other end as a fellow human with a viewpoint that is worth just as much as ours? When we present our opinion, will we do so with an air of humility, and a preparedness to respectfully discuss it in a way that leaves the other person’s dignity intact? I will prayerfully commit to that, and I encourage you to join me!

I’d love to hear your questions or comments on this topic! If you think this post is worthwhile, feel free to share it.

 

Posted in Lifehacks, Opinion, Political Musings | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

6 Tips to Make Cold Calling More Successful and Enjoyable

At the time of this writing, I am not sure which I naturally prefer: making cold calls or getting stabbed by my cat’s claws. The relative bliss of 20 simultaneous acute flesh wounds might top the list though. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Regardless of my preference, the cat-inflicted lacerations, unfortunately, are not going to help the company I work for make more money or advance in its business goals. So in most cases, cold-calling it is.

Many of us, at some point in our professional lives, will be faced with the task of cold-calling business prospects. Especially as an employee of a small business, where the number of hats you wear typically exceeds the number of hooks on the rack – regardless of whether the word “sales” appears in your job title.

I may have let on to the fact that cold-calling isn’t my favorite thing. But as a serial small business employee, I’ve done enough of it that I’ve learned some things that have helped. Here are the top seven in my book.

1. Take Detailed Notes

As I make each call on a list of prospects, I have my pen ready. I write down the person’s name who answers so I can repeat it back later in the conversation. As they relay information, I scribble down the high points so I can reference it for appropriate follow-up. If I don’t, there is a high likelihood I will forget within moments. And when it comes time to report to the boss about results of the callouts, I have all the facts handy for a concise, accurate report.

Bonus on writing down the person’s name. Most of the time they won’t be the end point of contact or the decision maker. But after I’ve chatted with them I can look back down at their name (If I’ve forgotten, which is likely. Short-term memory loss is the pits.) and say, “Thank you, Mary. I appreciate your help.” When I am on the receiving end of a cold call, I am much more likely to remember what the call was about, even warmly, if the person used my name. I figure even if it doesn’t result in a sale, at least it adds some friendly humanity to the conversation.

2. Respect their Time

Most of us have way too much to do at work than time available. If it is true for me, it is almost certainly true for the person I am trying to reach for my pitch. That’s why, when I do get that person on the phone, I try to lead with “Did I catch you at a good time?” That gives them the freedom to tell me if they need to schedule a callback or if they have a few minutes to talk. Then I follow their lead. If they say to call back in two hours, I make a note and call back at the set time.

The person that launches into a monologue the second you answer – we’ve all had those calls – they are so focused on themselves and their mission that they forget common courtesy. Don’t be that person. It is rude and a major turnoff.

3. Smile

I have to credit my teenage retail jobs for driving this point home. If you deliberately smile while the phone is still ringing, a friendly tone comes across in your voice. Not only that, it affects a genuine cheerful disposition when talking to the person on the other end. On the contrary, if you’re miserable and can’t stand making calls, that will come across loud and clear as well.

4. Believe Your Call is Valuable and Beneficial (and Be Ready to Articulate Why)

This should be done before you make your first call. Solidify in your mind why what you are offering is valuable to the other person. Write down a list of reasons, if that helps.

I don’t consider myself a “sales-y” person. I don’t have the saleswoman instinct or personality naturally. So this step helps me tremendously. If I am convinced that what I am offering to the person or business would be helpful to them, it takes a lot of the pain out of what would normally be a very awkward process for me. Furthermore, it takes away the sting of rejection.

I know that I am making a sincere, valuable offer. If they want it, great! If they don’t, no problem. I’ll just take my pitch to the next person on the list.

5. Inject Personality or Lightheartedness

Sales calls have a tendency to feel rigid, at least for me. Building on #3, I look for opportunities to insert some humor or personality into the call.

For example, if people are talking loudly in the background of the call, I might say something like, “Sounds like there is a party going on over there. I’ll pick up some donuts and be right over!” That sort of thing is my go to because I tend to be silly when given the opportunity.  It is usually unexpected and disarming, and helps set a more open tone for the conversation.

I should stress that everyone has their own style. What works for me might not work for you, and vice-versa. If I can inject some lightheartedness into the conversation, it seems to help. At the very least, it causes me to have more fun!

6. Be Persistent – Ask Follow Up Questions

I mentioned I am not a natural saleswoman type. As such, I am by default all too quick to gladly accept a “no” and move on. “OK thanks for your time bye,” I’ll say fast enough to create a draft into the phone. That quickness to welcome rejection may not be the best tactic, however. As painful as it is, the most painful part – making the call and introduction – is already over. Why not just take a few seconds to get more information? Doesn’t hurt to ask such questions as:

“May I ask why you’re not interested?”
“What would be a better fit for you?”
“Is there a possibility this might be of use to you down the road?”

Or if they seem mildly interested but still tell you no:

“How about if I call you back in a month to check in?” (If you do that, refer to #1 and follow up when you said you would.)

At the very least, you’ll wind up with more information than you would have had by rushing off the phone.

Unless you have a knack for sales, cold-calling can be anywhere from awkward to downright painful. But it doesn’t have to be. If you know you are offering a product or service of value, try to make it fun and/or memorable for the prospect, smile and ask questions, you may just find that cold-calling isn’t so bad after all. Save those cat-inflicted flesh wounds and pull out that prospect list!

Happy calling!

Have any feedback or questions? Please feel free to leave a comment. I would love to hear from you! Or if any sales types want to set me straight, by all means, go ahead

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How I Beat My Sugar Addiction: An Ongoing Victory Story

Ever since I was a small child, I’ve been a sweets enthusiast.

Growing up, my mom would often refer to me as her “little sugar addict.” That was usually when I was either stuffing my mouth full of cookies or complaining about the limit of Oreos I was allowed to eat per day.

For the record, the limit was five. I thought it was terribly cruel at the time, that I could only consume five cookies each day. But that is neither here nor there.

Sweets were a major part of my life until very recently. In fact, one of my college roommates nicknamed me “Cookie Monster.” Are you starting to pick up on a theme?

As a youngster, inhaling sweets by the truckload didn’t seem like a problem. I was thin, and no amount of sugary calories was going to put a damper on my basketball playing, bike-riding, skate-boarding, frolicking-in-general young metabolism.

Those were also the relatively innocent days, before it was widely known that sugar was way more damaging than just “empty calories” that caused cavities and maybe made you fat if you ever stopped moving long enough (I didn’t).

Fortunately, as I entered college, I found that I had developed limits on how much sugar I could eat in one sitting. For instance, if I’d had two pieces of cake with ice cream, I could easily refuse a cookie. Or maybe I’d only eat one instead of two. This was an improvement from my childhood when no such desire for limits existed.

Fast forward to adulthood and married life. Having married a fellow lover of sweets, the pattern continued. Cookies, brownies, ice cream, donuts and soda were no strangers to our household. As I noticed my youthful metabolism slowing upon entering my 30s, I knew something had to change, but I wasn’t quite ready.

A Wake-Up Call

Motivation dropped square into my lap after lab results came back from a doctor’s visit in 2011. My A1c (blood sugar) level had crossed the line into the terrifying category of … prediabetes. Granted, it was only .1 % over the normal range, but that was all it took. I was scared. “(Pre) Diabetes doesn’t happen to people like me! I’m in shape, and I exercise regularly!”

Turns out, it can happen, if you don’t think twice about polishing off a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in one sitting.

With the potential of diabetes being a very real threat, I did a 180. My shopping cart became devoid of all my staple junk foods. I even put the brakes on eating dessert at social gatherings far more often than I would have otherwise. Which is to say, the brakes got used for the first time ever.

My next doctor’s visit sometime later showed that my extreme approach had worked. I was out of the danger zone. A sigh of relief.

Know what happened next?

Now that I was in the clear, I started getting lax on my sweets habits again. Cookies made their way back into the shopping cart, as did many of the other comfort foods. Maybe not as many as before, but more than I needed. (Yes, I know that “zero” is the amount that I “need.”)

I never could forget that health scare, and I am pleased to say it altered my sugar consumption habits forever. I now knew I wasn’t immune. But the battle waged on with my deeply held desires for sugar.

Metabolism: Friend or Enemy?

The jury is still out on that question. I can tell you that as I marched further into my 30s, my metabolism did what it’ll do: it slowed down even more. Now it was starting to become a problem. What began as a blood sugar battle became a struggle with weight gain. The only reason I’d even consider my slowing metabolism a friend, is that it made me realize I had to take a hard look (again) at my consumption habits.

2016: The Year of the Great Awakening

I’ll admit, that is a melodramatic paragraph heading. I’m OK with that.

It was in spring of 2016 that I came across some information that changed everything for me.

You see, I’d heard things here and there from people about how sugar is “so bad for you.” I knew it was true, but I was eager to shrug it off when only hearing it as unsolicited advice from others, and not having hard and fast facts in front of me.

A health-conscious co-worker had told me that processed sugar was addictive, which was new to me, but seemed both logical and frightening. I think I responded to that with, “Oh. Yeah…” (long pause) “Well, I’m going to walk to the coffee shop across the street and get a mocha and a cookie the size of my face. Want anything while I’m out?”

The facts were mounting (so was my weight) against my favorite food group.

What came next was an “Aha!” moment. The “moment” actually came in the form of an article. I read it, and my world was rocked. All the things I knew and had heard were true, and it was even worse than I thought. (Rather than rehash all the contents of the article, I suggest you take a few minutes to read it for yourself.)

With the information I had learned, the choice suddenly became easier to make. I discovered that not only were sweets horrible, but that sugar is packed into normal foods too, even ones you don’t suspect. Read the article.

To test the waters, I devoted June 2016 to be a month of NO added sugar. (With few exceptions, like milk, which contains sugar.) I cut out ALL my treats: coffee creamer, desserts of every kind, soda, processed maple syrup, EVERYTHING. I also became a label-reader with renewed vigor and stopped buying many things that had a ton of sugar or high fructose corn syrup in them.

A side note: Another article I had read had around the same time opened my eyes to the danger of artificial sugar. That meant I also had to give up my cherished Diet Mt. Dew; diet soda was yet another thing I had been warned about without solicitation and ignored.

I expected June to be a month of withdrawals and urgent sugar cravings. It was rough for the first few days but not as bad as I thought. I was armed with chilled green tea when my afternoon soda hankering set in. I had apples and mixed nuts at the ready when I got the munchies after lunch.

The most difficult thing was the after dinner sweets craving. Up to that point, it was not uncommon to have cookies or chocolate chips in the cupboard to grab for dessert. But since I had purged the house of it, it was not a temptation I could act on. My poor husband got the raw end of the deal. He didn’t sign up for sweets purging, but since I do the grocery shopping, he was stuck with what I brought home.

Those 30 days weren’t easy, but I made it through unscathed. In the process, I undid some damaging habits that I replaced with new, healthier ones I maintain to this day. I even lost five pounds that month without exercising. When the month was up, I allowed myself to eat sweets again, sparingly. What I found though, was that I didn’t crave them as much. I had gone without, and I knew then that I could do it.

Furthermore, the sting of learning just how bad sugar actually is had been branded into my consciousness forever. I was not interested in going back to my old ways.

2017 and the Ongoing Victory Story

It has now been over a year, and I am pleased to report that my resolve remains intact. But as I mentioned at the beginning, I am a sweets lover at heart, and I suspect I always will be. Being diehard and never allowing myself to eat sweets is not my game. Nor is it even a good idea, in my opinion.

I still allow indulgences from time to time. A world without mochas and margaritas is no world for me. If we’re going camping or on a road trip, you bet I’m going to buy a package of Oreos.  And I am going to munch on them without guilt. But instead of consuming all my favorite goodies on a regular basis, I do so only as occasional treats.

Every once in a while, my inner sugar addict screams, “I NEED A MAPLE DONUT! NOWWWWW!” Those moments are tricky. But knowing what I know, nine times out of ten the rage of the Sweets-aholic in me subsides after a short while, and I go back to doing what I was doing.  Having things like gum on hand helps, or brushing my teeth right after dinner to get rid of that post-meal-need-sugar sensation.

More than that, I have continued to educate myself on balanced, healthy eating and rooting out processed foods and things that are much more sinister than they appear.

The crazy thing is, sugary, processed junk food is barely even a temptation for me anymore. Other than the aforementioned exceptions, I typically scoff at the Oreos and ice cream as I walk by them in the store. By the grace of God and the good fortune of learning some hard truths about my lifestyle, I have realized that the very short-term satisfaction of eating sugar just isn’t worth it. It is not worth jeopardizing my long-term health. That is what keeps my will strong, most of the time.

Now when I see others indulging in sweets as recklessly as I once did, I am tempted to make remarks about it. But I usually don’t, because I remember those comments from others didn’t sway me back then. I thought about them with various levels of annoyance. I tried to ignore them. I wasn’t ready to do anything about it until I came face to face with the facts for myself. Then, I had no choice but to take action. I’m so glad I did.

 

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My Personal Commitments for 2017 & Beyond

This post is instead of publishing New Year’s Resolutions.

I’m not talking about over-achieving early resolutions for 2018. I’m talking about for the year that is now three-quarters over. Try not to laugh at me. OK, fine, go ahead.

As a human, I wallow in the same problem that many of us do: not sticking to strict but well-intentioned resolutions. The last few years I’ve begun noting the seeming futility of making resolutions, only to have rolled back to the start line well before Easter. Maybe even Valentine’s Day.

Bearing in mind this futility, I failed to muster the traditional excitement for creating them this year and flopped into 2017 with a bit of a whimper and no formal resolutions. But all along I’ve been thinking about what could replace those things, which seemed doom to fail.

I decided that coming up with “personal commitments” seems like a fine compromise. Like mini-mission statements for my life. I’m not saying it’s a perfect solution, but so far I think I can get behind it. Things that say, “This is me. This is what I intend to be and do.”

So, now that we are nearly to Halloween, here are my top five personal commitments for this year – and for henceforth.

1. Practice Gratitude and Contentment

When I pause to consider the goodness in my life – family, friends, job, home, health, cat, reliable transportation, far more than my basic needs met, to name a few – I know that I have it so good. I am so very grateful for all the Lord has blessed me with, sometimes I feel like my head might explode with joy.

As long as I can maintain that gratefulness on a regular basis, it helps put the hard stuff life throws at me in its proper perspective.

2. Seek God First

As a Christian, this one feels obligatory. I should say, it felt obligatory in the past. Years of Sunday school pounded this truth into my head. There were probably dozens of times in church small groups throughout my school years when I earnestly pledged to my friends, “I am going to start putting God first in my life.”

Regretfully, for many years it was just lip-service without much action. But through the persistence of prayer (asking for a desire to love and follow God more), and the Holy Spirit, God has been faithful to begin giving me a greater and greater devotion to Him.

It feels odd to say that, and maybe even a little boastful. In reality, however, the opposite is true. It is God who has done all the work in me (Philippians 2:13) and continues to do so (Philippians 1:6). I can take zero credit for it. But it does give me just one more reason to thank Him.

3. Live for Others

As a natural result of #2, I commit to finding ways to serve others around me. The more I love God, the more love He gives me for others. It’s a non-vicious cycle.

Life is too short to strive for only that which makes me comfortable or happy. Selfishness comes easy, and putting it aside is hard. I commit to battling it every day.

As I look beyond myself and my circumstances (my default posture as an introvert is to focus internally), I see friends, family and church members who have needs that I could meet. It has become a joy to me to do what I can to meet those needs, even when it means giving up things I cherish such as my time, skills or money. This commitment comes by the grace of God alone, and by His grace, I will continue down the path on which He has set my feet.

4. Laugh More

This fallen world is full of tragedy. It seems like it gets worse all the time, and 2017 is setting some kind of gross record. This has been a particularly rough year in my extended family, with a stunning amount of deaths in our ranks, including one of a dear friend.

While I take the time to grieve these things, I also realize that there is so much sorrow all around us that if we focus too much on tragedy, we’ll all remain very unhappy people.

Laughing more didn’t start out as an intentional commitment. I just found myself doing it. In spite of a year full of tragedy, I seemed to find more things that make me giggle, and also, discover the hidden humor in normal situations. Even finding more amusing ways to word sentences or using various intonations to generate mirth has become a little game I play.

Since I noticed myself doing it, now I have decided to make it a commitment. Is there such a thing as laughing too much or having an excessive amount of amusement? Please.

5. Make Myself a Priority (Take Better Care of Myself)

On the surface, this seems like a contradiction to #3. But I don’t think it is. I can still serve others without neglecting myself.

I’m coming out of a long season of not making myself a priority (neglecting eating healthy, exercise and personal development). Some effects of this are obvious, like what I call the “bonus version” of me. Some not so much. But I know the impact it has had across the board, and it is not good.

If I’m not taking care of myself, learning and developing personally, the me that is left over won’t have nearly as much to give to the other priorities I’ve identified.

For instance, I am making the mental switch back to “I feel great after I exercise, and it improves my life across the board. Therefore, doing it is taking care of myself. It is an investment I am making in me. I enjoy it, and it is important.” From, “Exercise is a chore to be accomplished … or avoided because I have too much to do.”

This list isn’t comprehensive, intentionally. It is just a few things I’ve identified as that with which I choose to define my life. Commitments seem more positive and less harsh than resolutions. In the end, it may be just a matter of semantics. But it works for me.

 

 

 

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