Friday, October 31, 2014

Have fun today......but say NO to candy!

    What good is the gift of a miracle - a brand new life....if i'm not going to spend every minute of it.....loving the best I can; helping whenever I can; giving thanks for all that I've been blessed with; laughing as much as possible; and having FUN at every opportunity! Happy Halloween! Spread joy all day................ Happy Halloween!

A Repeat of my thoughts from Halloween 2013....from youtube

Good morning…… Happy Halloween!  Today will be day of fun for me. I am taking a friend and her children “trick-or-treating” this evening after work.  I have put together a costume…..and if I don’t change my mind…. I will be dressed as a gypsy later this evening and walking through town with Marcia and her children. As a woman of faith, I struggle with the “dark side” of Halloween, and yet, the day provides me with an opportunity to have fun and celebrate life….to rejoice, laugh, and give thanks.  Below is a Youtube video that I made LAST HALLOWEEN. While my costume will be different, many of the thoughts expressed in the RERUN still ring true for me. I’ll upload this year’s picture later this evening as I’m not planning on going to work dressed in a costume like I did last year. I’ll change into it at the end of the day….before heading out to have fun.  And….just to add to the excitement….the weather report is calling for 45 mph wind gusts and snow here in northern Michigan!  Let the good times roll……  Stay away from the candy…..but partake in the fun, laughter, and smile a lot!  You’ll be hearing from me later on today!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Does ONE little change really make a difference?

Good Morning!  I was glancing through the  news feed on Facebook early this morning and noticed that someone had updated her profile picture. I liked the picture and proceeded to write a comment telling her that I thought the photo was lovely, only I had a typo and instead of a V, I typed a N.   Had I not noticed the error, my comment would have said, “You look LONELY” rather than “You look Lovely.” Earlier this week an instructor at the college asked me to contact a student who was struggling in his class in an attempt to motivate him to do better. I composed an e-mail and, fortunately,  before I hit “send” I noticed that I had made a simple typo and typed a W instead of a T;  the sentence read, “ Your instructor has informed me that you are now passing the class…….. instead of NOT passing”  As I drank my coffee this morning, I couldn’t help but reflect on these two incidents and thank God for encouraging me on my journey.  What???? You might be wondering…how does a typo relate to her journey?  What is she talking about at 3:30 in the morning?  

One little letter can completely change a sentence. Instead of, “You are LOVELY, my comment would have been, “You are LONELY.”  Big difference in meaning!  Sure, a woman full of self-confidence; one who feels beautiful, secure, empowered and a lot of other positive things may chuckle and recognize a typo right away.  However, one is struggling to lose weight, is burdened by life issues, is having a bad day, is feeling insecure, hopeless, or any other type of negative thoughts could read, “You are lonely” and it could ­cause them pain or hurt if she is indeed, feeling lonely or rejected.  A stretch???? Perhaps, but any of you women who have experienced PMS, any of you that have had a “straw that broke the camel’s back” kind of moment, or one who has ever burst into tears at a comment from a loved one, that on ANY OTHER DAY, would have just been “meaningless words” knows exactly what I’m talking about.  Sometimes…..just ONE…..LITTLE…..THING; just ONE….MORE…..PROBLEM; just ONE…..LITTLE……slight or comment or hurt or rejection or failure or……..can make or break us.  There is a big difference between feeling LOVELY and feeling LONELY.

A student getting an e-mail that reads, “You are NOW passing math” instead of “You are NOT passing…..” may respond differently depending upon his commitment to his studies and how important it is to him to succeed in the class. Telling someone that you are NOT going to attend their party is completely different than telling him/her that you are NOW going to attend.   ONE….LITTLE…..LETTER can change the meaning of a word very quickly.    A simple typo in a sentence could alter the behavior of a reader.

Yesterday during class I was teaching my students about financial literacy. I used the example of a person who buys a latte’ or other specialty drink every morning on the way to school or work.  Spending $4.00 per day on a cup of coffee may not seem like a big deal; after all, it’s only four bucks. They were astounded when I explained that while $4.00 per day didn’t seem like much, purchasing a single latte’ just five days a week, added up to $20.00 per week…….more than $1000.00 per year!  These young people looked at me wide-eyed and in disbelief when I told them that bringing a cup of coffee from home, or treating themselves to a latte’ a few times a week rather than every day, could have a dramatic impact on their bank account over the course of a year.  ONE…..LITTLE…..CHANGE… behavior could mean the difference between having money in the bank or being in debt.

While it is true that my life has changed dramatically over the course of the past few years, this change did not happen overnight.  I didn’t wake up 250+ lighter; I didn’t go from a  size 6X to a 12 in a few months; I didn’t go from the wheelchair to a bicycle in one summer.  It has been a journey of change…. ONE…..LITTLE……CHANGE… a time.  Ironically, while the physical changes are quite obvious; they serve only as a visible reminder of the even bigger….and far more important changes that have taken place: those changes in the mind and heart. God changed my heart and my thoughts…and those changes, in turned, helped me change my behavior.

When I started this journey I was completely addicted to sugar and soda.  I drank a 2-liter bottle of Faygo peach soda every night when I got home from work and two bottles of Mt. Dew each day.  I never once thought about how the soda was impacting my health until I looked at bottle on March 1, 2011 (the day I began my journey) and I quickly calculated how many calories a week I was consuming…..just by drinking soda.  YIKES!  I was drinking more than 7000 EMPTY calories a week….the equivalent to gaining two pounds a week….just by drinking soda. No wonder I was gaining weight when I didn’t feel like I was eating THAT much more than usual. What an eye-opening experience!  How did I not know that?  Truth be known; I probably KNEW how bad soda was for me, but I chose NOT to do anything about it.  And so….at that discovery…..I began to open soda bottles and pour them down the drain. Right then….at that moment….I made ONE….LITTLE….CHANGE…..that has dramatically changed my reality.  Giving up soda completely didn’t come easily. One of these days I’ll share my strategy for breaking the habit.

My journey has consisted of ONE…..LITTLE….CHANGE after another.  First came the transition from soda to flavored water (a process that took several weeks). Switching from eating four eggs or four pieces of toast at a time to three….and then two….were little changes.  Dumping the sugar and replacing it with Splenda (yes, I know artificial sweeteners are not good for me); buying canned fruit in natural juice instead of heavy syrup; switching from white bread to 35-calorie-a slice bread were other little changes. These little changes became a way of life.  Even if you are not ready to commit to a complete life changing journey; are not ready to go “cold turkey” on giving up a habit; are not willing to give up your way of eating, keep in mind that even small changes, done consistently over time, will positively impact your life.

Today, I invite you to think about some little things that you could do….and how it could improve your own life and the lives of those around you.   What would the result be… year from now….. if you:

…………Parked your car on the other end of the parking lot every day at work?   Took the elevator UP the stairs and walked down?  Drank one glass of wine instead of two or three?  Walked to the stop sign at the end of our road every day?  These simple little changes alone could help you lose 10 pounds or more in a year…without much effort.

……………….Said “Thank you…..I’m sorry……You look really nice today……You did a great job….. I really appreciate you….” or any other positive words every day to those you live with or work with. You have no idea how that ONE…..LITTLE…..CHANGE…..will improve your relationships.

………….Replaced a king-size candy bar with a fun size one; two scoops of ice cream with one; regular salad dressing with low fat; or pota­to chips with air-popped popcorn.  Although I don’t recommend it, even eating a “Happy Meal” at a fast-food place rather than a Super-sized one will cut calories. Baby steps are still steps in the right direction!

………Looked at the world with a sense of gratitude for the gift of life and the blessings you’ve been given, rather than focused on the things that are NOT the way you’d like them; on the things that you DON’T have; tried to see the positive/good in people and situations, instead of the negative.

God helped me change my life. He continues to help me change my life…..each and every day…  One THOUGHT…..ONE STEP…..ONE DAY……ONE MEAL at a time.   What is the ONE…..LITTLE…..CHANGE……you can make today that will help you go from LONELY to LOVELY….FROM “you are NOT going to be successful…to you are NOW going to be successful”…..or I “Can’t” to I “CAN.”   You can do it…..I know you can!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

An emotional farewell to my wheelchair

I shared with you in recent weeks that I was moved into a new office at the college and a couple of weeks ago was the recipient of new office furniture. Two weeks ago I was told that I needed to get rid of some of the furniture that had been part of my ‘space” for several years. This included a bookshelf, file cabinet, and the most difficult to part with….my motorized wheelchair.  That chair, once my mode of transportation around the college, has been a part of my life for several years, and although I have not had to use it to get around in about 2 ½ years, it served as a powerful, visual reminder of the life I left behind….and a life that could possibly be mine again……IF….I don’t make a daily choice to continue to be faithful to a healthy lifestyle. 

For the past couple of years, that chair sat in the corner of my office with a sign that proclaimed, “Theresa Doesn’t Live Here Anymore!”  Those words have become my mantra; are comprised in the title of my blog and website; and very likely will be the title of ONE of the books I will write in the future; likely my autobiography. The chair motivated me on a daily basis and I used it to motivate students as well. When a student would come to my office lamenting the struggles of math class and wanting to drop out of college “because it is too hard; I just don’t think I can do it; it seems impossible; you just don’t understand, Theresa” and other similar conversations, I would often point out the chair and remind them that “YES….you can do it….YES….I know it is hard and it seems impossible, but hard work pays off” and so forth.  That chair reminded me of pain and struggle; heartbreak and despair; and victory and joy, all at the same time.  My heart sunk when I was told last week that I could not keep the chair in my office any more.

When I thought about the chair being gone, my first thoughts revolved around fear.  “What if I need it again….after all, I still have RA and even though I don’t need it now, I might in the future because RA doesn’t go away and even average size people with RA need mobility devices?”  “What will motivate me now to “keep on keeping on”; what will I use to motivate students?”  “What will remind me of the grace of God and the victory that He won for me?” So many other similar thoughts and emotions began to flood my mind.

 Although the chair was part of my life for a very long time, it physically belongs to a relative of a coworker who loaned me the chair many years ago. This means that I couldn’t just take the chair home and store it in the garage….in case I need it….physically or emotionally.  It means that it needed to be returned to the original owner…..or….passed on to someone who really needs it; someone who would be as blessed and happy to have it as I was; someone who would use it on a daily basis to ease his/her pain.  The thought that someone else would be able to use it gave me comfort, but I secretly hoped that somehow I could keep the chair, even though that was unlikely. I do, however, still have my cane, wheeled walker, and wheelchair as those things are mine; they just are not visible to me on a daily basis. I decided that when the chair was removed, I would hang a photo of the chair in my office: That surely would serve as the reminder of my old life and someone else would have use of the chair – a Win-Win situation or all!

On Monday afternoon, the co-worker who gave me the chair, Connie, came to my office to get it. It was a bitter-sweet moment for me as she removed the “Theresa doesn’t live here anymore sign” and drove the chair out of my office. I admit I had a lump in my throat and fought back tears, but I realized that it was time to let it go. After all I don’t need it anymore to get around. I can walk freely and most of the time, without pain. “Thank you, Lord, Thank you, Lord; you have set me free. Thank you, Lord, Thank you Lord for this victory,” I prayed as she drove it away.

Connie told me that another co-worker, a wonderful friend and member of this group, Norma, was going to be using the chair. My heart smiled at this news because Norma is a beautiful soul and on a daily basis I watch her struggle to take a few steps at a time. She is in constant pain, uses a cane, and basically is where I was physically a few years ago. The thought that she would be able to get around with ease filled me with joy (and knowing that the chair was still in the building….just in case…. also provided me with comfort and security in a weird “Theresa” kind of way.”  That chair will become a blessing to Norma in much the same way as it is/was to me!  Still….it will take a bit of time to process the emotion I’m feeling.  As soon as the chair was out of my sight, I texted my dear friend, Chuck, seeking comfort and wisdom. As usual, he said just what I needed to hear: He told me that it was just like a tightrope walker who was confident enough to walk the rope without a net. And he assured that he would be there to catch me if I fall and would fly with me as I soar. What a blessing he is to me! YES, I can walk; YES, I have been set free: YES, I am a walking-talking miracle…and YES, God is good!

When I entered the college yesterday morning, I saw Norma. She was using the chair to get from the entrance to the college to her office. Although I wasn’t quite ready (had that familiar lump in my throat) to talk to her at that time, I felt my heart smile. She WAS going to use that chair; it would have the freedom to go anywhere at the college now; and her pain would be eased for a short time. I silently thanked God for my miracle and I prayed for her in her struggles, as I WALKED….in my high heels….to my office.  Yes, “Theresa doesn’t live THERE anymore!  Theresa LIVES….on a bicycle…..on a wooded trail at Tippy Dam or Hartwick Pines…..on the top of the Sleeping Bear Dunes…..on her hands and knees in the garden….on the floor playing with her nieces and nephews……on the cover of magazines and in front of a crowd sharing her story!!!!!”  I suddenly wanted to sing “Amazing Grace.”   And so begins the next phase of my life…….without that chair.

My friends, today I ask you:  “Where do you LIVE….physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually?”  “Where do you want to LIVE a year from now?”  “What do you need to do to relocate?”  Are you ready to put a “for sale” sign on your current reality?  Are you ready to move into a new life?   Anyone who has actually moved from one residence to another or tried to sell a house knows that the literal process of getting ready to sell or move, packing up and getting rid of things one doesn’t need anymore, finding another place to live, moving and settling into a new place…etc…(you get the drift)….will attest that it takes a lot of work to relocate physically and there is a lot of emotion involved in leaving a place that was once “home” behind and becoming comfortable and secure in another…..but it often is wonderful and the new place is often even better.  The same is true for moving into a new, healthier lifestyle. It will take a lot of work; it will take a lot of time; it will come with a lot of emotion…..but IT WILL BE worth it!  I encourage you today….if you are not happy with the reality of your life….take the first step today to begin to change it.  I want you to be know the joy of proclaiming that “You don’t live THERE anymore either….wherever/whatever THERE means to you.”  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What lasts....doesn't come easy

This weekend I was digging in one of my ‘costume’ boxes in the garage for some items to use for my Halloween costume. While doing so, I noticed my first…..well, I guess ONLY….stereo system that is currently being stored out there. It is a turntable; radio; and 8-track player combo (Yes, I’m aging myself).  I purchased this stereo “with mostly my own money” when I was in high-school for $79.00. I think my mother donated $20.00 towards the purchase, but she insisted that I would take care of it if I had invested my own funds, earned by babysitting, in the purchase. In fact, she used that principle for most of the major purchases in my young life. Oh, the joys of being the “first-born” child……sigh…..because I was the recipient of all of the “I’m going to be the kind of parent that teaches my child things like ‘responsibility’; ‘work-ethic’; and other life lessons. At the time, of course, I thought it was unfair and ridiculous….especially when those “parenting practices’ weren’t practiced with my younger siblings.

 I harbored a lot of negative feelings as a teenager when I had to work for many of the things I got and my siblings seemed to just be ‘given’ things. It didn’t seem fair to me then…..but…, if my mother were still alive, I would tell her “THANK YOU!”  Here it is, more than 35 years later, and the stereo system is still working and still in my possession.  She was……gulp…..RIGHT….and I did take better care of it…..and value it more…..because I worked for it.  I guess a true sign of maturity is admitting that your parents were right.  I don’t know what ‘goes on” in heaven, but I hope my parents are looking down and smiling!

The principle I learned with the stereo….and my 3-speed bike…..and my first car…..and many of the other ‘non-essential to life” purchases, ‘to die for’ pieces of clothing; make-up, etc…is more valuable than anything she could have ever bought for me. To learn that, “If you want something bad enough, you must be willing to work for it” is one of the lessons that continues to motivate me on my journey.  While some people seem to have it easier than others and things simply seem to just “fall into place for them” with very little effort; the reality is that most of us have to work hard to realize rewards. Hopefully, we find jobs and/careers which are life-giving and meaningful so that the time we spend ‘earning a living’ is as enjoyable as possible; but it is still WORK and, very likely, most of us would rather be on vacation or retired if given a choice. This applies to ALL area of life…..relationships; physical health; mental well-being…and our physical surroundings.

I was/am blessed as a student and I earned good grades in college but I worked/work (still take classes for personal enrichment) REALLY hard to earn those grades. I’m one of those “read everything assigned; go the extra mile; spend hours and hours doing homework” kind of students……but I reap the rewards. Hard work pays off….but it doesn’t come easy.  I have beautiful, but not perfectly manicured or landscaped, gardens in my yard and I enjoy them immensely. They require a tremendous amount of physical labor, though. I dig my own beds because I don’t have a rototiller (or a gardener); I plant my own plants; I pull my own weeds…..but I get so much joy from watching something grow; bloom; and produce….because I know how much work is involved in the process. Yes, I could just buy a few “already planted pots” and set them on the patio and they would be beautiful, but there is great satisfaction in ‘being invested; working hard; and patiently awaiting for ‘due season” when I will be awarded with glorious blooms.  Hard work pays off and I value things more when I need to work for them, and as a result of that hard work and investment in perennials, my rewards will last. Nothing that lasts comes easy…(or cheap).  Thanks mom!

This principle, absolutely, is key to my personal journey. Over the years I’ve tried some of the ‘quick-fix” weight loss gimmicks. The miracle “diet pills” of the 90’s that were supposed to just make one lose weight painlessly. While they certainly ‘seemed to work for a while” if I were willing to endure those wonderful side effects (anyone ever try Xenical or Phen-Phen….can you say “anal seepage”…YUCK…WHY...WHY…WHY would any of us take that stuff when words like that are on the label???)  I’ll tell you why: because it promised to be an “easy fix.” Today’s ‘fad diets’ fit the bill. How long, REALLY, can you live on protein milk shakes or meal replacement bars?  I’m not judging your journey because I hope it works and lasts for life; however, things that come easy, don’t often last. Sometimes they do: there are exceptions to every rule….but most of the time, they don’t.  

While some have an easier time than others when it comes to weight loss….NONE of it is easy. Even those who have elected to go the weight-loss surgery way will attest to this. All of it requires work and effort….if it is to last. So many people…( I am one of them)…think that life would be so  great if there were a product or plan that would allow one to just lose 50 pounds in a couple of months with very little effort….but honestly, how many do that…and are able to keep it off?  Some do; but most don’t.   Slow and steady…..making daily choices…..hard work and commitment for….combined with the incredible grace of GOD have been important principles for my journey. “What comes easy won’t last….what lasts won’t come easy.”  Thanks, Mom!

While we can all identify people that appear to have it all: great relationships; perfect children; gorgeous homes; wonderful jobs….money, health, beauty, success…..whatever we value…..the reality is that the majority of those people work really hard.  My grandparents had a wonderful marriage, spending 58 years together before my grandmother died….but they invested a life-time in each other; respected each other; prayed together; spent time together and loved each other through the tough times. While they made it “look easy” to a grandkid; I’m sure it took a daily commitment to each other and it wasn’t always easy. What lasts doesn’t come easy……. My sister and her husband have a beautiful home, nice vehicles, and take nice vacations, etc….but they both work VERY hard; go to work when they don’t want to; spend weekends doing housework and maintenance; and struggled for years to get through college.  “Perfect” children are not just born; they’re nurtured; taught; prayed for and with.  Sobriety doesn’t just happen; weight just doesn’t fall off; people don’t just ‘wake up happy, grateful, or peaceful…..It’s a daily choice… and a combination of good days and bad. But lasting joy……life-long change…..peace beyond understanding……and a gratitude that transforms one’s life…..doesn’t come easy. What comes easy doesn’t last…..and what lasts won’t come easy.   Thanks, Mom!

Today, my friends….ask yourself what you want more…..EASY….or LASTING?    If you’re blessed to have it both ways, then rejoice and thank your God…..but realize that for most of us, it’s one or the other!  I choose lasting. What about you?  Hard work pays off……

Monday, October 27, 2014

A trip to Tippy Dam

Good morning!  Is it REALLY Monday morning already? There used to be a time a few years ago when the weekends seemed to drag on and on and I longed for Monday to arrive so that I could go to work. My how things have changed! In those “Old Theresa” days, when I was carrying around a couple hundred extra pounds, my Rheumatoid Arthritis was exacerbated by the extra weight and the doctor was trying to find something (other than the obvious to many….losing weight….but certainly not obvious to me) to ease the symptoms. During that time I injected myself with a potent medication every Friday evening to try to slow down the immune system. Many find these drugs to be “miracle cures,” get relief from them, and don’t experience too many unpleasant side effects, but for me, they didn’t work; in fact, they landed me in bed for most of the weekend because my body didn’t react to them very well. Nausea and vomiting, fatigue, headaches were a way of life each weekend. Although I tried various injections, the results were similar.
If ONLY I believed there was another way to spend the weekend. If ONLY I believed that I had ANY part in my health. If ONLY I had realized that changing my eating habits could help improve the symptoms of a disease without a cure or improve my overall health.  Whether I KNEW and didn’t want to do the work; whether I KNEW and didn’t want to improve my life because I subconsciously was so lost in grief and sadness of loss and just wanted to be miserable; whether I KNEW and but didn’t think I was strong enough to change is something I’ve yet to come to grips with. I don’t KNOW why I chose to just exist; all I know is that I’m so grateful that God, in His infinite mercy and goodness, helped me realize one day that ENOUGH is ENOUGH and led me out of that darkness into a life where weekends fly by and there never seems to be enough time to do all the wonderful things that I CAN and WANT to do!

One thing I need to make clear, though, regarding Rheumatoid Arthritis: the disease has no cure right now. My RA did not go away just because I lost weight. It is something that I deal with on a daily basis and I still take several medications each day to keep me functioning. Some days are better than others, and I still have flares that come on as they will and remind me that I will deal with the disease until a cure is found. However, my condition has improved dramatically as a result of changing my life. I no longer inject myself with those potent drugs; I no longer need to take high doses of steroids or very strong pain medications just to get through the day; I no longer have to sit on the sidelines and watch those around me participate in life. Losing weight by itself didn’t cure me; it just made it easier to deal with the RA. It took a tremendous amount of stress off my already damaged joints; it made it possible for my body to grow strong enough to support my body weight and to walk again; it made it possible for me to say, “Sure….let’s go....I can do that…..Bring it on…..and just watch me,” rather than, “No, I can’t….I’d really like to, but I’m hurting too bad…..Gosh, that looks like fun…. I wish I could….” and so forth. It was a combination of losing the weight, eliminating the processed food and sugar from my diet, getting better nutrition and vitamins, and being able to be more physically active and move the joints that helped me get a handle on the RA and improve my symptoms so that I have many more ‘good days” than bad ones.  Making positive changes to improve one’s well-being and mental and physical health simply makes it easier to deal with the crosses in life.

I have a new magazine article that debuted a couple of days ago in the Arthritis Health Monitor magazine. This magazine is available by subscription and is distributed free of charge in many doctor’s offices throughout the country. I’ll post links and upload the article in a day or so for those interested in reading it. Anytime a magazine or interview focuses on the arthritis angle, I want to be clear that weight loss doesn’t cure it; but it does turn a lot of ‘I cant’s into Maybe I can’s’.  God is good!!!

This weekend was a perfect example. A friend took me on a surprise ‘day-trip’ up to Tippy Dam near Wellston, Michigan. The dam is a popular spot for fishermen hoping to catch salmon or steelhead this time of year. Those who have followed my journey for a while know that I went on my first fly-fishing trips with a charter captain for both salmon and steelhead in the past year, and I LOVED IT! My friend wanted me to see another way to fish for those monster fish…..and enjoy a gorgeous fall day with a drive at the same time. So….off we went.  This is one of those experiences that I never would have even thought possible just 3 years ago when I would have spent all day Saturday either in bed or lying around wishing that I was able to do something special on a beautiful day.

It’s no secret that I love being outside and get a “high” from the beauty of God’s creation. I didn’t know what to expect at Tippy Dam, but was pleasantly surprised when we arrived and I saw a beautiful view of the river, surrounded by a bit of remaining autumn color. We took a short walk down to a platform that overlooked the river; it was beautiful, but the best was yet to come.  What we didn’t know, however, was that we would need to take a very long walk down a very high hill to get down to the dam. It was incredibly beautiful but a very long way down a path with more steps than I could count. I stood there on the hill and looked down at the river and could hear the roaring water of the dam. I looked at the path and without even giving it a second thought, my friend and I headed down the path. NEVER, EVER, EVER would I had been able to do that a few years ago; even 10 -15 years ago it would have been impossible. Saturday, however, I had no doubt that I could handle the hike. Going down was a piece of cake, but climbing back up was going to be a bit more challenging. Still, I KNEW that I could do it….so down we went. Wow….what a beautiful walk!  The path was covered with freshly fallen leaves; the remaining foliage was gorgeous; there were several little waterfall streams making their way to the river; the sound of the rushing water was inviting; and the realization that YES, I can do things like this propelled me down the lane.

The dam was amazing and I was surprised to find that the river was full of fishermen standing both along the shore and in the middle of the river in waders. I’ve been told that by other hikers that were weren’t very many there that day, but a month or so ago, the anglers were lined up and down the bank. I can’t wait to go back again next year; only this time I’ll likely bring a pole!

You know, my friends, some of you might be thinking, “Yeah, so what…what’s the big deal about seeing a dam?”  While it is true that I have had limited experiences and have not really had the opportunity to see many of the more popular tourist places or natural wonders of the world, and I get really excited about simple things like this,  it’s really more about…. “THAT I CAN…..than what I see.” Having an overwhelming feeling of gratitude can make even a mud puddle appear like an oasis in the dessert or a weed appear like a magnificent orchid.  Changing your life; being given a second chance; experiencing things that you never thought possible; and realizing that each day is a gift and you have been abundantly blessed makes every day a miracle; every view breath-taking; and every experience a moment of joy and grace. 

Each of you reading this has his/her own experiences. Some of you are physically able to do these kind of things on a daily basis….but may take the ability for granted. I wonder if you realize how blessed you are; how wonderful the gift of life is. It’s a real chore this time of year to deal with all the fallen leaves littering the yard, but you know what….YOU CAN rake. Many people cannot. Some of you can no longer do much of anything and have lost hope that life will be any different. Some of you spend weekends wishing; hoping; praying that you would feel better; that the pain and sadness in life would disappear; that the depression would ease and that you could have a miracle too. I’m hoping that reading this will give you hope that YES….you, too, can change your life. YES…, too, can see things you never thought possible. YES…you, too, can have a miracle….and feel better….and be happier….and healthier than you ever imagined.   

Your journey….whether down a path to a dam….or up a hill to a dune…..down the driveway to your mailbox…..or back from a deep depression…..begins with a single step. It begins with a decision…right now….that you want to change your situation MORE than you want to eat a piece of cake; smoke that cigarette; drink that drink; or think those thoughts that cripple you emotionally or mentally.  You may have no desire or interest in taking a hike, seeing a dam, or going fishing, but I’m guessing, there is SOMETHING that you’d like to do that you currently can’t do. Find that “something” and use it to motivate you today.  You can do it… step at a time.  You can….change your life!!!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A little smile for a Saturday morning.....

 Happy Saturday Morning! Just wanted to start your day off with a little smile....and remind you, (okay, remind myself :-)) that even though food will make you feel better for a little while, eating to improve one's mood can lead to a whole bunch of other problems.  My goal today:  be conscious, not only about WHAT I eat today, but what I'm feeling WHEN I eat.  Have a wonderful day!!!!  

Friday, October 24, 2014

Turn your I Can't.....into I CAN....and I will!

I think one of the keys to having peace and joy in life is to distinguish between what I can and I can’t do.  Stress, depression, unhappiness and discontentment often comes from wanting things I can’t have or trying to change things I can’t.  Today I’m choosing to be grateful that YES, I CAN do many things….and then doing what I CAN to make it a great day; to improve my own well-being by making good choices, and make a positive difference in the world by trying to be better today than yesterday.

No… I CAN’T…..make the sun shine today; but I CAN brighten up someone’s day by being cheerful and saying Hello.

No….I CAN’T…..make anyone like/love me if he/she chooses not to; but I CAN make myself more loveable by being easy to be around; speaking kindly and gently; and being as pleasant as I am capable.

No….I CAN’T…..cause time to stand still or add more hours to the day; but I CAN make the most of every opportunity; realize that today is a gift; and use time wisely.

No….I CAN’T….run walk 5 miles today; but I CAN take a few more steps today than I did yesterday.

No…..I CAN’T….make anyone lose weight, give up an addiction, change his/her behavior in any way; but I can try to motivate him/her by setting a good example; praising one’s sincere efforts; and encouraging anyone who is seeking a change.

No…..I CAN’T bring back my parents, grandparents, friends or loved ones from the dead…even for an hour…..but I CAN honor their memory by doing the things they taught me and trying to make them proud by my thoughts and actions…..AND…..I CAN make sure that those people that are in my life know I appreciate and love them.

There are many things that YOU CAN’T do…..but changing your life….is NOT one of them! You may not be able to change everything, but you can change some things.   You may be struggling to believe that you CAN…..but that’s okay for now….because I believe YOU CAN!  However……

You CAN’T lose weight…..if you continue to eat donuts and junk food day after day.  Make a different choice!

You CAN’T be sober/smoke free……if you continue to drink or smoke.  Dump it out or put the cigarette out….and quit bringing the temptation home.

You CAN’T have a happy, peaceful, loving home…..if you continue to nitpick, start arguments, allow jealousy, unforgiveness, or negativity to rule your mind and dictate your conversations.  Choose today to say, “Thank you; I’m sorry; and I forgive you” instead of “You never….You always….Why don’t you ever….You’re such a…..” and so forth. Words are powerful; use them to build up rather than tear down.

You CAN’T be content and happy…..if you focus on what you don’t have; how bad your life is; how unfair things seem.  Try to focus on your blessings and be grateful for all that you do have instead of envious or angry at those things that you don’t have.

Mostly today……when others tell you that you CAN’T change your life….. or you feel that you CAN’T possibly do whatever……lose weight; give up whatever; be free; be happy…….draw strength from your higher power who says, “ALL things are possible” and keep telling yourself that “YES….I CAN…..THERESA says I CAN…” and then…..make the choices that will change the can’t into CAN!  YOU CAN….and you will….change your life… step; one thought; one choice at a time!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

How do you know that THIS time it won't work?

On Wednesday mornings I am required to travel from my office on one campus to the “other” MMCC campus to teach a class. The campus is located approximately 30 miles down the highway. The drive this time of year is enjoyable and each week I try to savor the beauty of the autumn color before the snow arrives in a few weeks or so.  I put a lot of miles on the car in the past month or so as I traveled throughout the state for various events.

 Typically when I get on the freeway, I like to set the cruise-control so that I don’t have to worry about my speed. It’s rare that I travel above the speed limit and the cruise control keeps me in check and, as I’ve been told, contributes to better gas mileage because it keeps the car traveling at the same speed.  For the past several weeks, though, I’ve had a lot of trouble setting this feature. It’s typically a simple thing: click the ON button, accelerate to the desired speed, then set the speed with the acceleration button. I’ve done it hundreds of times before but recently it hasn’t worked. I’d turn it on; let off the gas to allow the vehicle’s speed to register, but instead of the cruise control “catching”, the car would just continue to slow down. I’d have to speed up again to the speed I want; set the accelerate button, let off the gas and try to set the control again. Same thing…speed up; slow down; not working; turn it off; turn it back on; speed up….etc….. A real pain in the neck!  After a few minutes of this frustration, I’d give up and just maintain my own speed. I have no idea what the problem is, but it’s not really that big of a deal; after all I drove vehicles for many years that didn’t have this feature, but nonetheless, it is frustrating to me when I can’t make something work like it’s supposed to.  The comical thing, however, is that I keep trying to set it each time I get on the highway, even though I know that the outcome is likely to be the same: it isn’t going to work and I’ll feel agitated.

Yesterday, I entered the freeway and once I accelerated to the appropriate speed, habit kicked in (why do I keep trying to do something that I have failed at repeatedly in recent weeks) and I hit the buttons to set the cruise control. To my surprise; it worked! WHAT????  What did I do differently THIS time that I hadn’t done three dozen times in the past couple of weeks?  I was confused, but nonetheless, the cruise control was set and I took my foot off the accelerator and let the device do its job as I journeyed on.  I still don’t know that the “deal” is with the thing; why it worked yesterday; whether it will work today when I set out; or what I did different, but it worked THAT time, and I was grateful. Of course, it gave me ‘food for thought” as I pondered how that experience was going to impact my “personal” journey.

On Tuesday afternoon I attended a presentation at the college on Domestic Violence. It was put on by the Woman’s Aid Services and was part of an awareness campaign for Domestic Violence month. The topic was disturbing to me and the reality that many people live with physical, sexual, verbal, and/or emotional abuse on a daily basis left me ‘unnerved.” I’ve not personally experienced that type of horror before, although I’ve encountered many in my life that have been victimized by it.  One of the issues that was discussed was why the abused person remains in the situation and allows the abuse to happen. The presenter pointed out all sorts of reasons and underlying issues that I won’t get into right now, but I was surprised to learn that if the victim escapes the situation and seeks help, more often than not, he/she returns to the environment and the cycle continues. The presenter pointed out that often people on the ‘outside” who are aware of the abuse, often tire of helping the victim because “he/she repeatedly says that he/she is leaving the perpetrator, sometimes he/she does, but then returns; the abuse escalates; the victim is “going to/or does leave” but then goes back…..and the cycle continues.  Sometimes those that want to help get tired of hearing the same story over and over again and watching the victim make the same choices over and over again….and then getting hurt.  She then stated, “You know, I don’t care if I help a person leave 14 times; she returns to the situation 14 times; and then asks me again.  Even though it is frustrating to me to keep trying to help, if I get a call in the middle of the night and it is the 15th time I’ve heard the same thing and someone is asking for help, I’m going to get up and help.”  Her words stirred me and I’ve been thinking about them ever since.  It caused me to think about times in my own life when I’ve done something OVER and OVER and OVER again and it didn’t seem to change the situation in any way. At what point do I just surrender and give up?

There is such a fine line between “being a doormat” and allowing ourselves to be lied to; hurt; rejected; taken advantage of; unappreciated, etc….before we become strong enough to say, “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH,” and we do something to change our situation. I’m not taking about physical abuse here; I’m taking about those situations in our lives when we have people that continually say, “I’m sorry… I’ll do better…. I’ll help more around the house….. I didn’t mean to…. I’m going to change….THIS time it’ll be different…..just this “one more time”....and so forth…..and we believe the person…..and we end up with the same result.  What about the friend who gossips; disappoints us; tells lies; or lets us down…..over and over…..and we continue to tolerate it and give him/her another chance….only to be let down AGAIN.  When is ‘enough  really Enough….when should we give up and surrender?’

 I think it was Albert Einstein that defined insanity as, “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”  Although I believe that principle wholeheartedly with my own personal behavior and I can’t expect change to happen in my life if I keep making the same poor choices over and over again, I’m continuing to process my thoughts about the whole ‘If someone asks me to help for the 15th time….I’m going to help,,,, because maybe on the 15th time, it will work” notion.  Such a dilemma; such a fine line between helping/enabling; such a gray area.  And so….as I began to ponder, pray, reflect, seek God’s grace….I experienced the “Cruise Control” incident yesterday afternoon.   Hmm…..

Obviously, one needs to come to a point in life when he/she removes him/herself from a situation of abuse, physical or emotional harm, and addictive behavior that seriously impacts one’s life or those around him/her…..sooner than later. Continuing to make poor choices, engaging in unhealthy behavior, or allowing oneself to be harmed or victimized is a completely different situation than ‘being kind; being forgiving; being generous or loving” over and over again. 

I’ve been thinking about the New Testament scripture where someone asked Jesus, “How often do I have to forgive my brother: 7 times?” The reply was, “No, not 7, but 70 times 7 times….”  That’s way more than 15!  I reminded myself of the words of Mother Teresa, as pictured in one of my favorite quotes above….Do it anyway….  I thought about Jesus falling 3 times on his way to the cross during his final journey….and how HIS getting up each time and continuing on to death…..won the battle that SET ME FREE from obesity, disability, and despair. I thought about…. “If at first you don’t succeed; try, try again.”  I thought about that silly little moment with the cruise control yesterday and how on the 25th time or more of attempting to set it (even though it was an act of instinct) it worked!  I thought about how many times I’ve failed in the past; how many times I’ve said, “I’m sorry, God….help me do better;” how many times I’ve given into temptation over the years; how many mistakes I’ve made; how many 2nd chances I’ve been given;  how many times I’ve started OVER….and OVER….and OVER…..and I am humbled and extremely grateful that my God and so many others in my life….didn’t give up on me; didn’t turn their back on me; continued to love; hope; pray; and reach out to me….in spite of myself.

And so….this morning, I am once again overwhelmed with God’s goodness and I am empowered to keep trying to do better….and I encourage you to do the same. I am going to keep ‘smiling at the checkout lady that is ALWAYS crabby and somewhat rude to me’ because maybe TODAY will be the day she smiles back!  I am going to keep ‘being kind” even if my kindness is rejected or I feel unappreciated again…..because maybe TODAY is the day that someone says, “Thank you.”  I am going to trying to be a better person….regardless of the negativity around me….because maybe TODAY is the day that I make a difference in someone’s life.  I encourage you to do the same…not just for others…but for yourself.

So what…. Even if you’ve invited “whomever” to a holiday gathering every year for the past 10 years and he/she has never come; don’t quit asking….Maybe THIS is the year that he/she is ready to be with others. You could change his/her life with your kindness. So what….even if you’ve tried dozens of times to engage your teenager in a meaningful conversation, only to be met with looks of disgust or ‘leave me alone”….keep telling him/her that you love him/her. Maybe TODAY is the day he/she hugs you back and realizes that you are not the enemy.  So what….you’ve tried repeatedly to be kind to the co-worker, relative, neighbor, etc…and are continually met with negativity; don’t stop. Maybe TODAY is the day that you break through the wall.   You get the drift.  

In terms of your personal journey…. SO WHAT…’ve tried before and failed.  Maybe THIS time, it will stick.  SO WHAT……yesterday was a bad day: TODAY is a new one!  SO WHAT…..this may be the 15th time you’ve tried to lose weight; the 10th different diet plan you’ve tried; the 25th time you’ve thrown away a pack of cigarettes: How do you know that THIS isn’t going to be the time it works?  You don’t!  Keep trying; Keep believing; Keep working at it!  TODAY might very well be your day…..are you going to risk it by giving up?  I’m certainly not!

Do what you can to make it a beautiful day!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Don't let fear of failing keep you from trying again.....

I had a conversation yesterday with a student who is very close to graduating with an Associate degree. Said student, (I’ll call him Tom as I want to protect the student’s privacy), is enrolled in a couple of classes this semester and then has only one more class left to take in the winter semester to complete his program requirements. However, the student came in to talk to me about possibly taking some other training or switching up his program of study at the end of this semester. I looked at him puzzled and asked, why, at this point, so close to graduation, would he decide to leave us.  The answer was simple, “Theresa, I don’t want to take CLASS XXN (not real name) because I tried it before and didn’t pass it, and besides, it’s really hard.”   

This type of conversation is not unusual in my office, but I looked at the student with sort of a surprised look on my face, and we proceeded to discuss the issue in depth.  It turns out that the student had indeed enrolled in the particular class in question a few years ago, discovered that it is a difficult class that requires a very long research paper, had some difficulties understanding the expectations of the instructor, and therefore, simply walked away from the class in the middle of it.  The course is indeed a challenging one, which is exactly why it is only required for students who are likely to transfer on to a university to pursue a bachelor’s degree, but each semester, more than 100 students successfully pass the class. Academically challenging? Absolutely!  Impossible? No way!

I looked at the student and I could see deep emotion in his eyes; namely, fear and apprehension.  The student had tried and failed previously. Not only that, but he had encountered other academic challenges along the way and had heard from other students how hard the class was. He was apprehensive and the class seems like too big of a hill to climb; therefore, he is thinking the best solution would be to just avoid the challenge; walk away from his dream of graduating; not even try.” For a few minutes, I recognized the thinking in the student because I have been in his shoes; thought those same thoughts; and actually ‘did nothing” for a long time when faced with personal, emotional, and physical challenges in my own life. Past failures; fear of failing again; apprehension; doubt; and a plethora of other emotions can completely cripple a person’s dreams and can simple one to give up; walk away; and do “nothing.” 

The ‘cheerleader’ in me kicked into full gear a few minutes into the conversation and I told the student that, “Unless he was 100% certain that he did not want his degree, that there was absolutely NO WAY that I was going to let him walk away without at least trying again.” After all, he was ONE class away from graduation: ONE, little, albeit challenging, class away from reaching a goal that he had been working towards for more than three years.  I assured him that I would personally help him; get him a tutor; ensure he got enrolled in a class with the instructor of his choice; introduce him to the staff at Academic Support Services; and be available to help him in ANY WAY I could so that he could pass the class……IF…and ONLY IF…..he decided he wanted to try again and put forth a sincere effort.

The decision will ultimately be up to him, but I will be so disappointed if he doesn’t at least try; he is SO close to graduation. He walked away smiling. Whether or not he chooses to return next semester is yet to be determined; but at least he knows that if he decides to pursue his degree that at least ONE person on campus believes he can do it and will do whatever she can to help him succeed. His success, however, will all come down to HIM; HIS commitment; and HIS determination.   “How bad do you want to graduate? What are you willing to do to reach that goal? Are you REALLY going to walk away from your dream….because you failed before; you are afraid, AND you know it’s going to be hard?”

Amidst the sometimes stressful moments of my job, I am blessed with conversations like this. After the student left my office, I silently thanked God for that appointment, because I was the person that benefited most from the interaction with the student. It was almost as if I was giving myself a ‘pep talk” about issues that challenge me…ironically the same ones that students and many other people (like you all) struggle with on a regular basis.  I thought about all of you; all the e-mail and messages I’ve received recently but have yet to respond to; all those who have reached out to me asking for help and sharing the stories of loss/despair/pain.  I thought about my own journey and how I did exactly what the student was contemplating doing: I did NOTHING to improve my health and well-being for many years, simply because, “I’ve failed before; it’s too hard; I’m afraid…” It definitely is easier to give up and do nothing, but I cannot expect something to change if I’m not willing to do my part.  This is the same thinking that caused me to just “exist” or so many years when life got really hard.  “I tried before to lose weight and I failed, therefore, I’ll just quit trying.” “It’s going to be too hard; I’ll NEVER be able to do it; so I’ll just do nothing.” “Frankly, I just don’t care about…….”  Although my thinking was not about completing a class to graduate, the thoughts of fear; doubt; apprehension, etc….controlled my actions….or lack of actions.  The result: I ended up over 400 pounds and unable to walk, and I had more than a diploma hanging in the balance: I was a walking time-bomb physically and emotionally.  BUT….it didn’t have to be that way!!!!! Thank you, God, for not giving up on me!

I cannot force my student to enroll in that last class; the decision lies solely in his hands. I cannot pass the class for him; I’ve already taken and succeeded in that class many years ago. I cannot write his paper; do the research; put the effort into the coursework; it will be up to him.  But, I can…and I will…..offer support; cheer him on; point him to available help and resources; remind him how WONDERFUL it will be; how GREAT it will feel; How empowered he will be when he is handed his diploma next May; but he will need to decide how bad he wants it.  And, I can remind him…..over and over and over again if necessary….that a past failed attempt does NOT make him a failure; a challenging class does NOT mean it is IMPOSSIBLE: and fear does NOT have to cripple his dreams.  He can…..and he will….succeed…..if he is willing to try; believe in himself; take advantage of the help available….and put forth the effort…..but he has to at least TRY. And if….he sincerely tries…and can’t do it…..well, then he can try again….and again….and again if necessary!

My friends….many of you have the same type of thoughts plaguing your mind.  You WANT to be free from addiction; you WANT to lose weight; you WANT to give up smoking/drinking/gambling/gossiping  (whatever); you WANT to have healthy, happy relationships; you WANT to be a better person; feel healthier; make better decisions……but…’ve tried before and failed. Maybe you’ve lost weight and gained it back (really…who HASN’T done that at some point?????) Maybe you’ve gone 3 days; 3 weeks; or 3 years without a cigarette or a drink….but in a moment of weakness you gave into temptation and all your hard work was in vain (it wasn’t….even 3 days is better than No days). Maybe you’ve gotten through the entire day without being negative, but you get home from work and the house is a mess; the kids haven’t started homework; and your partner has had a bad day (and of course, it’s YOUR fault….NOT!) and you suddenly feel as if you want to explode…..or eat junk.

So….you’ve had a bad day….or week…..Are you REALLY going to give up?  Yes, life is hard. Yes, it’s challenging. Yes, you’ve tried and failed…..but I’ll ask you the same thing I asked my student:  WHAT do you want more?  How BAD do you want to succeed?  Are you really willing to quit trying…..because of a bad day…..or a week?  The decision is ultimately up to you….but I encourage you to really think about what you want to do.  I cannot do it for you….but I can promise you that I will do whatever I can to help you. I will support you; I will cheer you on; I will continually remind you how wonderful it feels to be ‘free” from that which threatens to rob you of your peace, health, and joy. And mostly, I will tell you that I believe in you and I KNOW that you are capable of doing it……but you will never succeed if you don’t keep trying!  Your self-worth isn’t dependent on succeeding EVERY time and EVERY thing. Your value doesn’t lie in being PERFECT; being THIN; being rich; whatever….your value comes from being kind, compassionate, generous, and loving.  I define success as TRYING again and again and again……  Come on now, Don’t give up!!!!! Next year at this time, my student will have a college diploma to hang in his room; what will you have?????  The decision is yours!!!     

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Turn those "No's" into a YES

Being a parent was not part of God’s plan for my life, but as a former teacher of elementary school students, a big sister, and an aunt, I have had many experiences of saying, “I’m sorry, but, NO, you can’t” do this, say that, have this”….and so forth.  These conversations often included the phrases I heard so often from my own mother….. “Because it’s not good for you……because it is dangerous…….because you’re too little……because……..finally, ending with a loving, but firm…..just because I said so.”  My “NO’s” were often met with frowns, pouts, temper tantrums, and sometimes even tears. Most of the time, the “I hate you; You’re so mean; It’s not fair,” looks didn’t last long and within a short time, the child/student/sibling was fine and we were friends again.

I’ve also heard my share of “No, I’m sorry you cannot…..” from various people in my life. I didn’t like being told NO as a kid, and I don’t like being told NO as an adult either. I especially didn’t like being told NO when there didn’t seem to be any logical reason WHY I couldn’t have….couldn’t go…..couldn’t do…..whatever it was that I wanted.   A ‘NO’ without explanation didn’t teach me anything; it simply made me angry and frustrated, especially when I saw others that had what I wanted. Eventually, it led to bitterness and fueled my emotional eating tendencies.

When someone took the time to explain to me that I couldn’t stay up late/do/say/have something because it cost too much….was foolish……could hurt me…..etc..., it taught me responsibility and helped form my conscience, and I was able to accept the reality….for the moment….but I  silently vowed to…. ‘Have it/get it/do it”…..when I grew up/got my own house/moved out/ got a job…..whatever.  These experiences fueled determination and motivated me to work harder in life, but oftentimes, when I could have/do/go wherever/whenever/whatever I “thought” I wanted, the thrill was gone.  It’s the whole, ‘We always want what we can’t have” mentality, if you will.

 I’ll always be grateful for those valuable life lessons and that I didn’t always get what I wanted because, ultimately, I learned that many goals/desires in life can be achieved and attained with time, effort, and work. I also learned that there are some things in life that, although I may want them, will never become reality in this life. I cannot, no matter what I do or how much I pray, bring back loved ones from the dead.  I can’t blink my eyes and make it 1987 again. I can’t go back and change ‘would have…could have….should have’s” of days gone by. BUT; I can change how I respond to those moments. I have control over that. I can learn from my mistakes; I can value those people in my life that are still alive; I can try to make better choices in life NOW so that ten years from now, there will be less regret and angst about missed opportunities.

 These days I am extremely motivated when someone says, “No, Theresa….I don’t think you can do that…..or….No, Theresa….it doesn’t seem possible that anyone could…..”  It arouses determination in me and I am so incredibly empowered by   “REALLY… don’t think I CAN….. go back to college at my age; ride a bicycle again after 30 years; jump on a trampoline; climb a dune; move that big log by myself.”  The “I’ll show you…..” mindset empowers me on a daily basis.

That same motivation, powered, first by GOD-POWER, then by intense willpower, has brought me to this day. Human beings thought….. told me….that it was impossible to lose a massive amount of weight without medical intervention, diet pills, or surgery, but GOD said, “All things are possible….”  My rheumatologist said, “Well, Theresa, there isn’t anything else I can do to help your RA,” but God said, “I will make you strong and help you…”  I had days when I doubted my ability to……finish college in my 40’s; get through the  times  of sorrow and grief; ever walk again without a walker; feel free from fear, pain, and the weight ….physical, emotional, and spiritual….that nearly killed me; but GOD said, “I will NEVER leave you or forsake you….”  Today….and for each day to come… I remind myself that, “I can do ALL things in Christ who strengthens me”….and……”Greater is HE that is in me, than he that is in the world”…..and….”Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  My journey is on-going and I have to continually rely on those promises to get through each day.

I am grateful today that I did not get everything I wanted in life, because ultimately, many of those things that I thought I couldn’t live without would have done me greater harm than good. Many of those people in my life that hurt me have ultimately empowered me to be better.  Many of those ‘No, I’m sorry….that’s just the way it is…..too bad/so sad” experiences have shaped my thoughts, built my character, and taught me life lessons that helped me become the person I am today.  I am grateful today for the challenges I face; the moments of doubt/temptation; the clouds/storms in life, because they make me appreciate the good times, victories, and peace and joy deep within, and have taught me that many of the things in life that I seek/desire/want can be realized….IF and only IF…..I am willing to cooperate with God and surrender my thoughts/life to Him on a daily basis.

I know that so many of you are in situations that appear to be hopeless. Some of you are dealing with issues, pain, illness, and concerns that almost seem unbearable at times.  You are struggling with addiction and habits. You have a long journey ahead. You are dealing with doubt, despair, depression, and/or grief. You may be ‘sick and tired’ of being ‘sick and tired” and you may even be bitter, angry, frustrated because you always seem to hear “NO, you can’t…..” and you don’t understand WHY.  I can’t tell you WHY some have heavier burdens than others; why some seem to have drawn the ‘short straw’; why life is so much harder for some than others….but I can tell you that, “You CAN….change your life…. Maybe not EVERYTHING in your life that you want to be better…..but you CAN change some things, even if it is just how you think/react/feel about the reality of your life.” 

 Likely, many of you don’t share my faith perspective, so I won’t tell you that GOD said…   but perhaps you will find strength from the words from Winnie the Pooh: “You are braver than you believe; stronger than you seem; and smarter than you think!”  Once you determine what things you CAN change….never give up believing….never give up trying to change those NO’s into YES’.   Say with me….YES, you can……but it is going to take work, effort, practice, and a combination of God-power and willpower!

I hope you have a wonderful day today…..

Monday, October 20, 2014

Thank you, Lord, for a new week!

Starting all over again….. I typically don’t feel this way, but I am really happy that today is Monday and it is the beginning of a new week. Last week was a challenging one in many ways, and although I enjoy having time off on the weekends, I’m honestly glad to put last week behind me and start with a fresh slate.
I’m definitely feeling much better physically, although the lingering congestion, fatigue, and deep cough may cast doubt. It appears that it will take a few weeks to totally rid myself of the cough, but I am on the mend and will be getting my flu shot later this week. This is a great example of having a ‘bark that is worse than my bite.” In addition to the physical challenges of last week, I also experienced some ‘mental challenges’ with some changes at work and had a couple of stressful days at the office when I returned to work last Thursday. I’m glad to start fresh today and put last week behind me.  I’m also finishing up the high-dose steroids that were prescribed last week; a very good thing because the prednisone causes some weird things with appetite and all I wanted to do was EAT last week. Add that to the inability to do any form of walking/exercise because of the asthma and illness, and it was a rough week.  Although I didn’t eat cookies, chips, or junk food, I definitely ate more than I needed.  Fortunately, today is a new day. 

Part of a ‘fresh start’ involves letting go of last week and being gentle with myself.  Sometimes I am way too hard on myself and hold myself to a standard that is very difficult to maintain all the time. I then struggle with an unwarranted sense of guilt (so what, Theresa, you sat and watched birds for an entire hour….your ‘energy fuel-tank’ is running on fumes with a busy schedule) or “I really should be….working on that project…….or answering those e-mails……or…….I need to do this…..or that…..or…..I HAVE to….”kind of thinking that causes stress. As a child or teenager, it hurt more to be called “lazy” than “fat”, although, admittedly, I was both.  Sometimes an unrealistic ‘Wonder Woman” mentality does more harm than good. Can anyone relate?  Perhaps those of you that are working mothers, single parents, or workaholic dads know exactly what I’m talking about?????   In any case, I’m glad to let ‘last week” go and start a new one.

It seems as if we are on the threshold of a new season as well. Although the might oaks are now golden brown, most of other trees are nearly bare.  I’ve put most of the lawn furniture and garden accents away for the winter and we had several hard frost/freeze nights this week, so even the hardiest of the plants have now succumbed to the cold.  I’ve brought many of my winter clothes/sweaters/boots in from the garage and the process of switching out summer/winter clothing is well underway. Before long, it will be time for the holiday decorations.  Yes….a new season is upon us; one that comes with its own set of challenges for those on a life-changing journey.  Have you been thinking about your plan to succeed? 

Many people find the autumn/winter to be a time of challenge on the life-changing journey.  The amount of daylight has dwindled significantly and it is now dark when I leave for work in the morning, making it impossible to get my early-morning walk in. I am often too fatigued by evening to take a walk immediately upon returning home from work, and before long, it will be dark when I get home as well, so I need to figure out how I’m going to fit time in to get some activity.  I have the ability to walk the hallways at work or visit the fitness center on campus if I can motivate myself to do so. Of course, I can make up all kinds of excuses about preferring to walk outside to get fresh air; my dislike for the treadmill, the hassles of having to change shoes/clothes at work, etc….but it will all come down to asking myself what I want more: to continue to be active….and somewhat inconvenienced…..or not.  My motivation will be challenged and it will be a daily choice…..just like it is for you.

This is not my first “autumn-winter” on plan, so I have developed some strategies to help pick up the slack. One the easiest for me is to just try to incorporate activity into the busyness of the day. Even though it’s not officially called “exercise (I hate that word/concept anyway)” being active is important. Each time I use the bathroom (multiple times a day because I drink almost 1 ½ gallons of water per day), I use the opportunity to do squats in the bathroom (no, silly, not in the stall) or I take the stairs to the upstairs bathroom at the college.  I lift weights while sitting in the lazy boy; I walk up and down every aisle in the grocery store or park farther away when doing errands. I do a few minutes of stretching/bending when I’m waiting for my soup to warm up in the microwave during lunch. Sometimes I just dance around the living room. When the snow falls, shoveling snow will provide some physical activity. Although this little bit of movement is certainly nothing compared to the couple of miles of walking/bike riding or hours of gardening I do each week during the summer, every little bit helps. What I need to do is to avoid the ‘excuse trap” of ‘Well, it’s winter, everybody gains 10 pounds during the winter because it’s too hard to get out and do anything.”

One of the other challenges of the cold/dark season is boredom eating. Although I’m not much of a TV watcher, many of you find that there is little else to do all winter. Less time outdoors sometimes translates into more time in front of the computer, reading, TV, or other indoor activities that typically are opportunities for snacking.  I know for sure that I have no control over ‘mindless” snacking so even things like the baked rice cake snacks, although lower in calories that chips or nachos, are a stumbling block for me. I ate an entire bag in two days last week!  Even if it is a ‘safe – on-plan” food, eating too much of anything is NOT a way to succeed (sigh…yes, even watermelon). Last year a friend sent me an air-pop popcorn popper as a gift. This has proved to be a great thing for a healthy, low-calorie snack option, and I’m sure I’ll be using it more often now that the colder weather has arrived.  I know the temptations will exist….so therefore, I have to be prepared to address them… that I don’t have ANY excuses.  How do you handle this?

Finally, the holiday season is knocking on the door. Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s are right around the corner, and along with the celebrations come the party invitations. These special days come with challenges not found at other times during the year. Do you have a plan to succeed in place or are you just going to “take a break” and pick up again on January 2nd?   The mentality of “NO ONE can lose weight during the holidays” so I might as well just enjoy the season and start again in January is one shared by many yo-yo dieters….work hard for months…..take the holiday season off....gain back 15 pounds that you worked so hard to lose during the summer….then start back in January… hard to lose 20 pounds….then do it all again. The result?  A constant up-and-down struggle where it seems that you are always trying to lose weight, but never seem to get very far.  Although this approach is better than just doing nothing (at least you try to lose the holiday weight), it doesn’t seem like a very good plan.  I’ve been there-done that…..but I’ve found it’s better to just plan to stay on track in the first place so that I don’t have to work to lose the same 20 pounds over and over again.  In coming weeks, I’ll share some of the ways I plan to stay on track.  I’d welcome your ideas as well.

Yes, it is true that there will ALWAYS be challenges; there will always be opportunities to make excuses or rationalize behavior, but they don’t have to be stumbling blocks to totally sabotage your journey.  Certainly, you need to take a break if you encounter illness this winter. Certainly, you need to make adjustments for weather and seasonal changes. Certainly, you need to allow yourself to enjoy the delights of the season……but… can minimize the damage if you plan ahead.  Most importantly, you have to realize that EVERYONE struggles at time times (yes, even Theresa) and EVERYONE has a bad/off day/week once in a while….but the biggest difference between success and failure is how one reacts to those challenges.  A failure allows a bad week to define him/her and gives up. A winner starts over….again and again and again…..and NEVER stops trying.  Which one are you going to be?????  

I want to continue to be a WINNER…..which ultimately means that I’ll be a “life-long” LOSER!!!  How about you???

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Really, Theresa....all of this for a few goldfish???

Good Morning…. There is no doubt that I am a “little peculiar” in my thinking about some things. Some might call me quirky; some might label me weird; others might say I march to the beat of my own drum. Obviously, to preserve my own sanity, I prefer to simply think I am “unique.” Nonetheless, I’m sometimes amused by my own thoughts. Perhaps it is the lingering effects of my respiratory infection or the medication, but today, my thoughts are rambling all over the place.

You may recall that I expanded one of my perennial gardens this summer and put a small pond in. This little pond was a source of much joy this summer, although at first, it was a big pain in the rear. It was a trial and error process, and I admit, that I went into the project with very little knowledge about water/pond gardening. It was just something I wanted to try, and when I saw the plastic pond form on sale for less than $30.00, I sent my friend to purchase it for me, without any pre-planning or even an idea of where it would go.

 A few days later, the hole was dug; the form was in; the pump set up and pond filled, and I had my first little pond. Of course, that wasn’t good enough for me: I wanted fish!  Most of you know that I live in a rural, wooded area where wildlife roams freely in my backyard and I’m often battling the critters. I even had what we believe was a black bear totally demolish my bird-feeding area last summer and again this spring. So…what was I thinking…..putting fish in a small 33-gallon pond in an unprotected garden?  It didn’t really matter; I wanted to try it… and that stubborn, bull-headed, determination that rules my persona….was going to give it her all.  And thus began the saga of “Theresa’s pond!”

Once the pond was filled and positioned, I asked my friend to take me to the creek to dig up some cattails and other pond “weeds” as he calls them. He did, and I transplanted the plants to the new pond. I hauled some rocks and arranged them along the outside; and was now ready for some fish. I wasn’t sure the pond was big enough to support fish or if they would even survive the elements, so I decided to just start with some minnows. So…my friend (the things the poor guy does for me) went to town  on  yet another ‘mission” and came home with bucket of minnows…a gift from group member and local business owner, Tom…. I was like a little kid and couldn’t wait to put my minnows in the pond.  The fish swam around happily….for a couple of hours….then, one-by-one, began to float on the top. By the next day, I had lost 10 or the 12 minnows. Apparently, something wasn’t quite ‘right” with the pond set-up, although I’ve been told that ‘bait minnows” don’t typically last very long anyway.  But….I was determined to have fish, wasn’t going to accept defeat without a fight, and so I did some research (Thank goodness for YouTube and the internet); made some adjustments to the set-up; added some chemicals to balance something out (not a science girl by any means) and went back for more minnows.  I purchased a dozen or so fish from the bait store for a couple of dollars and had several dead ones floating before I even got home, but put the others in the pond….determined that they would survive. Once again, the fish began to die. I was disappointed again….but NOT enough to give up!

What was I doing wrong?  I had water. I had rocks on the bottom and plants. I had oxygen going in the water via a fountain. I was perplexed...and somewhat frustrated.  BUT….. I am so strong-willed….and I was determined to figure this out.  After all…if OTHER PEOPLE can have fish in a pond… I CAN….even if I fail over and over again.   This time, I decided to start completely from scratch.  I emptied the entire pond (to my surprise, I found one surviving minnow….must be a stubborn, determined little guy like me!!!). I bailed all the water out, first with a bucket; then with a cup. I took every rock and every piece of pea gravel out. I dug the plants and put them in a bucket. I washed it all out on my hands and knees (why did I put all that pea gravel along the edges...made kneeling a bit uncomfortable) and started all over again, this time doing things a little differently. I decided to just float the roots of the water plants in the pond as opposed to putting them in pots full of dirt because I think the water was just too full of dirt and was chocking the fish, but I don’t know for sure. I put clean water in; I put some ‘pond-start up chemical in’ to balance the ph.; I adjusted the fountain pump and replaced the rocks.  When I was ready to give the fish another try, I went to Meijer’s and purchased a few ‘feeder” goldfish for a whopping 21 cents each. I was told that goldfish are very hardy and can live just about anywhere.  I couldn’t wait to get them home and put them in their new home, and although I was feeling determined and optimistic, I really didn’t know if I would attempt again if I failed for the 3rd time.  But….to my surprise….all but one of the goldfish lived through the night…and then the NEXT night…and for the next week.  Woot! Woot!  I was feeling pretty smug. “SEE…. I told you I could figure this out,” I boasted to my friend. 

My little goldfish continued to survive and I grew very fond of them. Every morning before work I would feed them and every evening I would sit on my swing and watch them flit around the pond. I especially loved their bright color because they were quite visible. My nieces and nephews would come to see them on the weekends when they came up north this summer and those silly little fish made me smile each time I saw them.  I’m not sure if it was the joy of seeing the fish swim around happily or the satisfaction of finally succeeding in getting fish to survive, or a combination….but nonetheless, I love my little (but not quite so little anymore….did you know that goldfish GROW in a hurry???) fish. 

About two months ago, my friend asked me what I was planning to do with the pond for the winter. Living in northern Michigan means that the temperatures are going to be well below freezing by November and the shallow pond will likely freeze solid. The fountain part will be easy to handle: I’ll just take it out and store it until next spring, but….”What are you going to do with the fish,” he asked. Hmmm….Well, good question: one I hadn’t thought about when I started this little venture.  I pondered my options. I could dump them in the creek in my backwoods and hope they survive or I could just leave them in the pond and get some sort of heater….or I could just let them die, after all they’re just $2.00 worth of feeder fish.  None of these options seemed very appealing so I just sort of pretended like winter wouldn’t come, but really, what AM I going to do with these fish?  Yes, they only cost a couple of dollars, but they ARE alive and God’s creatures….AND…they gave me so much joy…and they are sort of pets because I’ve watched them grow and took care of them…AND…..  What a dilemma!!! 

I knew that I could not, in good conscience, just let these silly little fish die, so I began to look for a fish aquarium so that I could bring them inside. Really, Theresa???  You have four indoor cats….and $2.00 worth of goldfish….are you REALLY going to buy $50.00 worth of aquarium supplies to save 5 little fish?   See what I mean about being a bit “weird” in my thinking?????  Well, I’m NOT going to just let them die, I decided….and once I make up my mind about something….I’ll figure it out. (Did I mention I’m a bit stubborn?) Perhaps, more accurately, GOD will help me figure it out….(YES, as silly as it may sound to some, I think God really cares about EVERYTHING that happens in our lives, even the insignificant things like goldfish…(just my faith perspective anyway).  Therefore, I was not at all surprised….but extremely grateful….when I went into work a few weeks ago and my friend, Matt Dixon, greeted me with a big smile and a, “I’ve got something for you!”  He had found me an entire fish aquarium set-up at a garage sale, and was kind enough to purchase it for me as a gift! What a great guy!!!  And so…..the combination of my stubbornness….God’s providence….and the support of friends…..and my little goldfish now have a new home on my kitchen counter. Sometimes, it takes an army!

Besides this being just a silly little saga with a happy ending, this little goldfish tale is really just one of the many ways that God speaks to me and encourages me on my journey.  When I began my weight loss journey, there was no ‘pre-thought’; no “plan” in place to succeed; no “knowledge of how to lose weight”; and no “long-term plan” in place. It was just an “I want this: I’m going to do this, spur-of-the-moment’ decision, fueled by complete stubborn determination that I was going to make this work, even if I knew ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about how to do it. If OTHER PEOPLE can do it (have a pond and make it work) I can do it too!!!!   Like buying that pond on a whim; I started this journey…and figured out the rest along the way.  I did what I thought was right. I purchased food that I thought was good for me. I sought out information when I didn’t know things…and I went into it full-force, somewhat blind….but determined to succeed.  There were days when things went really well. There were weeks when I was losing weight rapidly. There was a sense of excitement and joy….but then the “fish” began to die. I was no longer losing 5 pounds a week, but rather just a pound or so….or none at all…but I kept at it. I felt discouraged after losing 50 pounds and still wearing the same clothes (Will I EVER get out of this 5X) ….but I was determined and stubborn… I set smaller goals. I changed the eating plan around a little; I adjusted the calorie allowance…I got ‘new fish” (began praying for a “new way of seeing things”) if you will…..but then THEY died too (when I lost my peace, struggled, or got agitated when someone pushed my buttons or upset me).  Hmmm….

Well…. I AM going to do this….so I will keep trying. So what, the 2nd batch of fish died…. I’ll just start completely over. It’s a new day….a new opportunity. I’ll try ONE last time with a DIFFERENT kind of fish.   I started lifting soup cans in my lazy boy chair to get some form of exercise. I started buying “real” vegetables and cooking real food as opposed to frozen dinners. I began to get up earlier to pray and write.  I kept trying and finally, I found my stride. I was making consistent progress….and….was succeeding.  My new fish were thriving (I was reaching goal after goal); I was excited and began to walk a few steps without the walker (Enjoying the fish); people were beginning to notice my progress (enjoying feeding my fish); and I was feeling great.  I was happy and felt pleased that I hadn’t given up!

When I began my pond project, I didn’t put any thought into what I would do with it at the end of the summer. The same is true for my personal journey to wellness.  Although I had made the decision on Day 1 that the changes I would make HAD to be for life….I never really gave it much thought about what that meant. It just seemed like too far away, much like the winter was too far away to worry about the fish now; after all, it was only MAY!  But….time passes quickly…and before I knew it, winter was approaching. The two years I took to lose the weight just FLEW by and now I was faced with the pressure to “eat an ice cream cone for your birthday…or certainly, you can have a cookie now, Theresa.”  Sure, I could ‘go back to my old way of life” when I lost the weight I wanted (let the fish die)…….but…….I’ve invested SO MUCH of my time and energy into this journey….I’ve enjoyed the process and all the new adventures that have come my way as a result of the weight loss…..I love THIS NEW LIFE…..and I’ve managed to keep the weight off (keep those fish alive)….so….I’m invested. I HAVE….to DO….WHATEVER I have to do to maintain this, right?  At whatever cost…..RIGHT????   I CANNOT go back to the “Old Theresa” way of life. I absolutely CANNOT let those fish die….without a sincere effort to keep them alive.  BUT fortunately…….I don’t have to do it alone. GOD….and my stubborn determination….and the support of loved ones and friends…..will help me. (Did Matthew really find an aquarium at a garage sale the VERY week I told him I needed one…YUP!) 

Whew….what a long-winded story…..but, my friends… I encourage you today….to think about WHAT YOU WANT….more than anything.  What is it?  What do you have to do to get it?  Are you willing to risk failure?  Are you willing to invest yourself into your journey?  Are you willing to sacrifice your time, energy, will to get it?  Are you so determined that you will try and try and try again if you don’t succeed at first?  Are you determined that THIS time you will do it?  And mostly….are you willing to do this FOR LIFE?  You cannot buy goldfish on a whim…and then just let them die when they’ve served their purpose any more than you can start a weight loss plan or life-changing journey…..for just a few weeks or months.  Dig deep….find that stubborn determination inside….and Go for it!!!!!  You will be so glad you did!!!