Friday, August 5, 2016

A trip to the upper peninsula

Haven't had a chance to thank you for the prayers and encouragement for my recent speaking engagement in the upper peninsula. After I left Sault Ste. Marie, I caught a ferry to Mackinac Island to join my colleques there for another conference and some time to enjoy the beauty of the island. I returned Friday night to hear the news that my dear friend (father figure) had passed away so i headed back out-of-town for another funeral and then back to work. On Tuesday morning...be...fore daybreak....i will board a bus with a group of my students to head back to the Upper Peninsula for a school trip to the Pictured Rocks, Whitefish point, and paradise, among other things. Can someone say "BUSY!!!" 

It has, indeed, been a very busy summer, but I am so grateful that i am able to do things I never dreamed possible and see things that I only dreamed about seeing. In addition, i'm pushing myself out of my comfort zone by seeing new things, traveling, facing fears, and being open to all that God asks of me. Those things alone are more impressive to me than weight loss. Losing weight is just the beginning of freedom....and they make so many more things possible than simply shopping for smaller clothes. It will open doors and allow you to LIVE....truly live again. It is incredibly hard work, but so worth the effort. Don't give up on your dreams! YOU CAN do it too!
Below are some photos from last week's trip.... a sunset on Mackinac Island....a photo on the beach from an sunrise walk....some miscellaneous sights along the way. Next week will feature the pictured rocks!



Monday, June 20, 2016

A visit to Mackinac Island



Good morning!  Do you remember when I was complaining about how cold it was in northern Michigan last January? Well, this is the time when I need someone to remind me of that time because this weekend was very hot in northern Michigan with temps near 100.  I guess perhaps I’m a bit of a diva (okay, no comments, please! J) because fluctuations in temperatures really seem to affect me, mostly my RA.  Nonetheless, it was a beautiful weekend in the north woods!

On Friday, I took a group of my students on an adventure to Mackinac Island.  It was my first time there and I was overwhelmed with the beauty.  For those of you that aren’t familiar with this glorious piece of heaven on earth, I suggest you google it, because my words won’t do it justice. Going to Mackinac Island has been on my ‘bucket list” for quite some time, and many people are surprised that I had never been there, especially since it is only a couple of hours drive from my home. My reasons for never visiting, however, had nothing to do with distance, but rather, it was my weight that kept me from the experience.




There are no motor vehicles allowed on the island, and the only way to get around is a horse-drawn taxi/carriage, bicycle, or on foot. None of those options would have been feasible, or pleasant, for someone weighing 400 pounds. Even riding the ferry across Lake Huron would have been difficult before I began my journey, and visiting the island was just one of many things on my “gosh, I really wish I could do, but I know I can’t” list that was my reality not that long ago. Oh, how grateful I am that God helped me dismantle that list! 

It was a picture-perfect, sunny and warm, northern Michigan day. We took a bus for a couple hours before arriving in Mackinaw City to board the ferry. I’m not sure who was more excited: me or my students. The majority of them had been there before, so I’m guessing it was me! We had tickets for the early morning ferry that went UNDER the Mackinac Bridge. The ferry ride alone was magnificent and the bridge is majestic and magnificent. I marveled at the ability of human beings to create this 5-mile structure to connect the northern and lower peninsulas (some 50 years ago, nonetheless) over the 300+ deep waters of Lakes Michigan and Huron. If humans can do that, how could we doubt for a minute what marvelous things GOD can and will do in our lives?

We were met at the island with a horse-drawn carriage ready to take us for a tour of the island. Getting up on that carriage was difficult at my current size; it would have been impossible a few years ago. I could barely do it now. The carriage took our group around the island, past the grand hotel, through the state park, down the streets of downtown brimming with fudge shops and stores, and past the Arch rock. All around were breath-taking views of the glistening waters, vibrant wildflowers, and historical architecture. Truly beautiful!  After visiting the fort, we had several hours to explore the island on our own and eat lunch. It was an awesome day spent with great people.  And, I almost forgot: I came across a yard sale on Mackinac Island where I purchased my only souvenir: A girl’s guide to diva hood!  I have a magnet, I think! 

Later in the afternoon, some of my students and I stopped for lunch. Being on a wellness journey means that I have to make good choices, even on adventures and outings. Fortunately, my group was supportive. Before deciding which of the dozens of cafés, we stopped and previewed the menu to be sure there were options that would fit with my eating plan. I had brought a small container of homemade, almost zero calorie, salad dressing with me, as well as some fruit and yogurt, so I would have NO EXCUSE to stray off plan. We found a great place where my pals could order sandwiches and home-made potato chips and I could get a nice salad.  It was great….and a reminder to me that YES…YES…YES….I could stay on track, regardless of where I am.  Could I have just said… “What the heck, you’re on a sort of vacation, why not eat a burger and fries, Theresa?”  Yup, but after 5 ½ years without even a bite of such things…why, oh why, would I even consider it, when there are ways for me to stay focused?  Made no sense to me not to order the salad. Giving in to a burger on the island would have led to giving in to a carton of popcorn at the movie or a cupcake at a birthday party. There is always an excuse.

Later in the afternoon, as we walked through the downtown tourist area, the smell of fudge filled the air. I think I heard someone say that there are 16 fudge stores on the island and aroma, blended with salt water taffy, fine chocolates, and an assortment of flavored popcorns was overpowering at times.  One of my group members asked me how I could resist?  The answer is simple: I, meaning Theresa, can’t, but God’s grace can! I simply explained that ability to walk and take in the smell of horse manure (not pleasant but symbolic) and lilacs, both of which is in abundance on the island, was more powerful than fudge, and I know that as a food addict, I couldn’t eat just a bite of fudge; it would have been the whole slab.  The ability to walk and move and get on-and-off the carriage; to be able to experience the sights and sounds; to be present to see and feel and smell and enjoy is more powerful and meaningful than the smell of fudge or sweets.  That day….and every day…..it boils down to this: asking myself what I want more. In this case….it was to be able to enjoy this gorgeous island and walk the 5+ miles we logged that day. Fudge (or whatever your vice is) lasts only a few minutes; the memory of this day will last a lifetime (long after my RA and neuropathy limit my mobility).
 
My friends, my message today is simple: So many people take an experience like I had this past weekend for granted.  People take trips every day. They get on a ferry boat without thinking about whether they can fit through a turnstile or climb the stairs to the top level. They go to a restaurant without worrying about whether they have booths or chairs that will hold them. They look at tourist magazines and plan their next outing without worrying about whether they can physically do it.  They never give things a second thought; they simply make plans and enjoy all that life has to offer.

 I, on the other hand, and many of you, have missed out on many things like this because of weight. I would have never been able to do this a few years ago; nor would I try.  I also never imagined that it would have ever been possible….and yet….it was!  It can be possible for you too…..but only if you take the necessary steps to make it happen.  Today….right now… I encourage you to spend a few minutes thinking about something that you always wanted to do….but can’t….because of addiction, fear, weight, anxiety…..whatever…..and for a few minutes, try to imagine how wonderful it would (and will) feel to be FREE….truly free…..to embrace life; to see new things; to visit beautiful places, and feel truly alive. It boils down to this….for you and for me: WHAT do you want more?  That donut? That cigarette? That drink? That negative thinking?  For me….it certainly isn’t Mackinac Island fudge! 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Growing vegetables... I won't give up!



I don’t mean to brag or anything, but I am VERY GOOD at growing weeds! :-) Vegetables, not so much!  Once I regained my mobility a few years ago, I decided that I would once again pursue my love of gardening and attempt to grow my own vegetables, and every year, for the past 4 or 5, I have been disappointed at the harvest. While the old cliché’, “you reap what you sow”, might be true for virtues and such, it doesn’t always hold true for gardening.  Nonetheless, every year, I set out with a renewed spirit and commitment that “THIS YEAR I will finally have an abundance of the summertime treats”.  I told myself that I would not let past disappointments hinder my excitement.

Last year I was certain that planting my crops in large containers to keep the critters out of them, and enable me to grow them in rich black soil would lead to success.  Even moving them to a sunny location was a sure-fire way to get more cucumbers and zucchini than I could eat.  I was certain that LAST YEAR would be the year. I even planted watermelon!  Every morning I would faithfully water my plants and even spoke sweetly to them, but like most other years, I would end up with flowers on the plants that would soon fizzle away before producing fruit. The weather didn’t cooperate: too dry; too hot; too cold; late frost.  The growing season is too short in northern Michigan. The containers didn’t keep the critters out; they just made it so the deer didn’t have to bend down to take a bite out of each little squash that managed to sprout.  In spite of all of this, however, I did manage to get a few green beans, a couple of zucchini, and a few tomatoes, but certainly not the harvest I had hoped….or expected.  Weeds, on the other hand, grew in abundance!

In the early fall, disappointment set in when I realized that I was not successful AGAIN…and I headed out to the farmer’s market on a regular basis to enjoy their harvest.  I told myself that I would just give up on the idea of growing vegetables and stick to my perennials.  By December, though, after purchasing soggy cucumbers and hard, tasteless tomatoes, I began to think about trying again this year. After all, I did get great joy out of caring for my plants and watching them grow, with hope and anticipation. So I read what I could about gardening over the winter; thought about new strategies; found my motivation once again, and decided to try AGAIN.  Certainly, I wouldn’t give up this easy; after all, I’m stubborn and determined. And so…last week, I gave it another shot. I decided to try planting them directly in the ground in the sunniest spot in my yard so I reworked the soil, mixed manure into the sandy soil, and planted a few different kinds of squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, melons, and green beans. Of course, like I always do, I planted them WAY TOO CLOSE to each other simply because I was limited on space. I probably planted them too early as well because we ALWAYS get a late frost in early June. Very likely I will run into several of the same issues as in the past, but at least I didn’t give up completely. Score one for determination.

As I planted, I began to think about how similar gardening is to my personal journey, and how important determination and the resolve to keep trying again and again is to our success.   I had tried and failed to lose and keep weight off many times in my younger years, but had I completely given up on my desire to be healthier, it wouldn’t even be possible for me to plant anything. Likely, I would be dead by now.  Every single day of my life, I have to remember why I’m not going to eat a donut for breakfast. I have to remember why I’m going to remain faithful to my plan. I have to remember why I began my journey to begin with, and I have to offer all of it up to God with gratitude.  If I focus on past mistakes or failings; if I dwell on hurts and disappointments; if I give in to temptation and complacency, then I will falter; give up, and eventually fail. Sometimes, even when we do everything right on our journey, we still don’t see the results we want. We still gain or become stagnant. We still can’t reach those goals or get through to that person who is giving us so much pain. And yet….giving up after a bad day….will NEVER get us to the place we want to be, physically, mentally, emotionally….and so forth. We simply have to try again….and again….and again. 

Unless I put a plant in the ground, I can’t expect to grow a watermelon (unless some stray seed grows miraculously, but you get the drift.).  Unless I water/nurture those plants and pay careful attention to protect them from the elements, I’ll never enjoy the taste of a home-grown tomato. Unless I do whatever I can to set them up to be successful, I’m certain to fail.  Likewise, we face the same thing each day. Unless you TRY to change our life by taking small steps in the right direction, you will never see results. Unless you take care of yourself, being gentle, get enough rest, eat good, nutritious food, you’ll never have the healthy body you seek.  Unless you do whatever you can, planning ahead, surrounding yourself with like-minded, supportive people, asking for God’s help, and being grateful for all things, you will certainly never reach your goals. 

Today, I encourage you to make a decision to start over or recommit to a better life. It doesn’t matter how many times you failed before. It doesn’t matter how many reasons you can come up with why it won’t work. It doesn’t matter how hard it seems; how long it will take; or how impossible it is. I truly believe, with God’s grace, you CAN and you WILL change your life.  Will I successfully grow vegetables this year? Perhaps, but even if I don’t, I will be grateful that I can try and I certainly will enjoy the process with anticipation and hope.

Friday, March 4, 2016

You are GORGEOUS!

It’s no secret that I am a fan of thrift store shopping. I purchased a new pair of pants a few months ago but just got around to wearing them yesterday. To my surprise, the slacks had a message written on the inside waist band that reads, “You are gorgeous.”  Every time I used the bathroom (which is at least a dozen times a day because I drink about a gallon-and-a-half of water daily) I was greeted with that message. What a wonderful thing!  Those three little words set the tone for the entire day and every time I saw them, I felt empowered and encouraged.

So many times when we begin a journey, try something new, or even face a struggle of some kind, we ‘think” we can do it; handle it; and/or get through it, but deep down, we don’t really ‘believe’ we can. Perhaps we have tried and failed before. Perhaps we have just set too lofty a goal or are attempting something that is nearly impossible. Perhaps we just physically, mentally, or emotionally are not capable of doing what we want……right now. More often than not, however, we simply don’t believe it, and don’t succeed simply because we received the message (or told ourselves) that, “we can’t….we won’t…we don’t deserve, and so forth”.  We’ve been told, either by others or our own thoughts, that, “You’re not good enough; you’re so stupid, you’ll never be able to do college work; you’re ugly…..fat…..unworthy….too old”…..the list is endless. Regardless of whether we received those messages from abusive or thoughtless people, mean kids or bullies, past teachers, or whether we’ve told ourselves these things because of our thoughts or past experiences, WORDS, spoken out loud or internalized, can empower us or hold us in bondage.

As a child/teenager, I had my share of ‘mean kids’ insulting me due to my size. I’ve been called names, excluded from things at school, and made fun of, but I didn’t grow up in a situation where I was verbally told that was worthless, stupid, or undeserving. And yet, somewhere along the way, I convinced myself that those things were true; that bad things that happened in my life (namely, losing my dad as a child) was because I was ‘bad”. In those difficult years after I lost my job and a couple of loved ones, I told myself those things and somehow convinced myself that I didn’t deserve to be happy or healthy. The words my mother often said “You’ve got to play the hand you were dealt, babe”, meant to empower me to be strong and handle whatever trials come my way, got twisted around in my subconscious and for a time became, “You’re fat; poor; alone; and can’t walk…that’s just the way it is, accept it and deal with it.” And so I thought that my reality at that time (400+ pounds, unable to walk, living in fear, depression, and despair) was my destiny, and there was no hope of a different way of life. I was so wrong! By the incredible grace of God, I learned that I didn’t have to play THAT hand. I had the power to “throw those cards back in’ and get new ones! God replaced the negative words in my mind to, “YES, you can….and YES, you will….and YES, you deserve to healthy and happy and free….and YES….I WILL HELP YOU!”  What a miracle!

Changing the “tape” that you play over and over in your head is not an easy task, but it can be done. In the beginning of my journey, I had to reprogram my thinking so that I could actually envision myself thinner, healthier, and able to walk. I did this by telling myself (both out loud and in my mind) that I COULD do this; that I WOULD show them; that God IS bigger than all that worries me; that I AM worthy. I did this in a variety of ways. I put sticky notes on my mirror that said, “I can and I will.” I changed my passwords to words that empowered me so that every time I logged into something I was reminded that God is great. I listened to music that was uplifting and motivating; Alicia Keyes, “This girl is on fire” is one of my favorites. I played that song over and over (still do). I embraced the words of encouragement that other people surrounded me with. I made up little chants/poems that I recited over and over as I walked. I think I shared one of my favorites: Thank you, Lord; Thank you Lord, You have set me free. Thank you, Lord; Thank you, Lord, for this Victory!  Another is: God, you are so wonderful. God, you are so great. God, you are so marvelous… I am losing weight!  Over and over throughout the day I say these in my thoughts and out loud.  Little-by-little, I began to believe that not only COULD I do whatever it is I set out to do, but with God’s help, I WOULD. 

In recent months, the ‘tape” in my head wasn’t nearly as empowering, and part of that was my own fault. I have caught myself more than once saying/thinking phrases like “I am just SO INCREDIBLY EXHAUSTED”; “I just can’t take on anymore”; “Theresa, you look OLD, and TIRED, and FAT”, and so forth. Definitely not words/thoughts of a winner. Fatigue, physical ailments, stress, worries, and emotional ‘stuff” sometimes causes us to fall into the trap of negative self-talk.  Fortunately, I recognized it and have been very careful in recent weeks about the messages I have giving myself.

While recognizing that I am still very weary, I started thanking God for giving me all the energy, stamina, and strength to get through each day. I thank God throughout the day for the food that I have to eat, instead of proclaiming, “I am SO hungry.”  I thank God for the all the weight that I ALREADY lost, instead of saying, “Theresa, your pants are tight and you are still so fat.”  Changing what we tell ourselves plays in big role in changing what we believe about ourselves, and changing what we believe is a big part of changing what we do.

Every time I saw those words, “you are gorgeous” on my waistband yesterday, I smiled and I walked out of the bathroom a little taller and with a bit more confidence. Saying/reading/seeing those words didn’t change my looks any, but it did change my THOUGHTS and put a smile on my face, and we all know that we look a lot better with a smile!  So, my friends…. I encourage you to start right now…..telling yourself THESE words, “YOU…..wherever you are…..whatever your situation…..whatever your size…..whatever your need….  YOU…..are wonderful; YOU….are worthy; YOU…..are made in God’s image; and YOU….CAN….and you WILL…..change your LIFE!

Have a great day!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Bigger isn't always better




I have three cats, and although they provide me with a lot of comfort and companionship, I readily admit that I am not fond of litter-box duty. While shopping recently, I noticed that Meijer had a sale on cat litter, but it was a 40 pound bag of Tidy Cat. I typically purchase several smaller bags, but always one to save money, I bought the large bag that was on sale, thinking it was a ‘great idea.’ Yesterday, however, I thought differently and questioned my judgement when I struggled to bring the bag out of my vehicle in the wee hours of the morning to change the litter before work.

It must have been a ‘better day” physically when I purchased the bag a few weeks ago because I don’t remember it being that difficult to get the bag into the truck, but yesterday morning, it took a lot of effort to carry the bag in the house, open it and go about my task. The bag was awkward, heavy, and very difficult to hold on to as I moved it to the ‘litter-box’ room and then attempted to hold/pour and fill the box. I ended up spilling litter all over, and ultimately decided, that the extra effort needed to handle that size bag with arthritic hands was certainly not worth the dollar or two I saved. Needless to say, I’ll be buying the smaller bags from now on.

Although recently my mind has been saturated with thoughts of accounting principles, business administration definitions (my college classes), and student success, I know that God always uses these ordinary experiences to motivate and encourage me on my journey, so I began to ponder about that silly cat-litter. I kept thinking about how physically difficult it was to carry those 40 pounds up 3 steps, through the patio, down the hallway. It may have just been a ‘rough morning” but I had to put the bag down twice before reaching my destination. I could feel my heart pumping and kept thinking how much strain/stress just 40 little pounds made, and how tired I was after that simple chore. No wonder I was so physically exhausted, in extreme pain, always out-of-breath, and barely able to stand up just 5 years ago: I was carrying the equivalent of 6 of those litter bags around on a daily basis. YIKES! If you are questioning if losing even 15-20 pounds makes a difference, try carrying around a couple of bags of flour or a couple of gallons of water for a little while and see how it affects your body and energy level.

I also thought about how the media has influenced us to believe that ‘bigger is better’ and having ‘more’ is better than less. Certainly, purchasing a larger quantity of an item is cheaper (hence Sam’s and Costco’s success), but is it always better? For those of us addicted to food, I don’t think so. Although I haven’t eaten a cookie or potato chip in 5 years, I still struggle with portion control, only now, it’s healthier food. I can eat a quart-and-a-half of strawberries in one day, just as easily as I can eat a quart. I purchased a bulk size container of Greek yogurt a few months ago (equivalent to about 5 individual cartons), in order to save money and finished it in two days! I don’t recall ever eating 5 individual yogurts in two days, but because the yogurt was there; I ate it….a spoonful or two at-a-time throughout the day. I did the same thing with that big bag of Skinny Pop popcorn I purchased at the warehouse last month. In those case, bigger is cheaper…but for my journey, certainly not better!

In terms of weight-loss/diet/exercise, we often fall victim to the same kind of thinking when we begin a weight-loss  or exercise plan that is very restrictive, sometimes extreme, and promises ‘fast results.” In the beginning, we are ‘gung-ho” and are motivated so we go to the gym and walk 5 miles on the treadmill, lift weights, do “whatever it is people do at the gym (I really don’t know about gyms)’ and work-out so hard that we can hardly move. More often than not, we don’t stick with such a regime, simply because it is ‘too physically demanding, too fast.” I am more likely to continue to walk a mile or two every day for life if I start out slowly, than I am to start out with five miles a day, only to quit after a couple of week because it is too lofty a goal. Bigger/faster/tougher isn’t always better. Rather, slower, consistent movement, done more often is more likely to become a habit that one can maintain for life. Changing the cat litter with a 10 or 20 pound bag of litter is a manageable chore and I am more apt to do it more often with a smaller bag than with another 40 pound bag.  I am more likely to lift my 10-pound weights several times a day, every day, for longer period of time, than I am to start out with 15 pound weights, giving up the habit after only a few days because it is too taxing on my body and my arms/shoulders hurt.  Too big, too fast, too far, etc., isn’t always better. For me, slow and steady, wins the race.

The same holds true for the promise of ‘quick weight loss” programs or pills that guarantee results. Sure, one might lose weight very quickly, if all he/she eats is protein shakes or juices for several weeks, but I wonder….how long can a person do that? How long can one live on diet-pills or other extreme measures? Is it sustainable?  Will one really go the rest of one’s life without eating real food? What happens when one eats real food again or goes off the diet pills?  I’m not EVER going to question one’s journey or method to change because I personally believe that a person’s journey is PERSONAL….and one that each person must choose for him/herself, but for me….I made the decision on day one that I would not do anything in the beginning that I was not willing to do for the rest of my life. For me, that meant switching from French vanilla coffee creamer to a sugar free version because I simply did not want to drink black coffee for the rest of my life. Will I ever do it? Perhaps, but I haven’t yet. I’ve said it before….if you aren’t willing to give it up “for life”, then figure out how to incorporate it into your eating plan. If you can’t see a future without chocolate, try switching to 3 Hershey’s kisses or a fun-size candy bar, making adjustments as needed to compensate for the calories.

When I began my journey five years ago, I went ‘cold-turkey” on some things, and to this day, have not EVER eaten it since. Candy, chips, sugar, regular bread, cookies are among those things, but I attribute that to nothing more than God’s miraculous grace. Phasing out other things, like soda, was a slower, more manageable process of switching first to diet soda, then to alternating a bottle of diet soda with a bottle of carbonated water, to eventually just flavored water. I went from a ‘more-than-2-liter a day” soda habit to only an occasional (maybe a small bottle of diet coke every 2-3 months) habit. I was seriously addicted to soda and I’m not sure that I would have stuck with it beyond a few days had I just stopped, although I was able to do that with the sugar/sweets, etc. Slowly changing your portion size or what you eat might be a better solution for some.


I have never smoked, or been addicted to drugs or alcohol, so I don’t even presume to advise on beating that habit, but I can surmise that going ‘cold turkey” is probably the only way to do that (with the use of nicotine gum/patches/withdrawal drugs/support programs), because ‘substance abuse’ is a different battle, and giving advice is better left to professionals in that field. I’d be interested in hearing from those in our groups on whether ‘cutting back’ on those substances worked for you.

I guess if I were to give a suggestion it would be this:  Be careful about setting too big a goal: instead, set a bunch of ‘little ones.”  Be mindful about going too restrictive in your food choices; instead, find a way to reduce your caloric intake in a way that you can be satisfied with for life. And, make moving more a priority, but do so in ways that are enjoyable and sustainable. 

Sure, a bigger bag cat litter will save me money, but it doesn’t make the job easier, so I doubt I’ll buy that size again. Certainly, a fad or restrictive diet will yield quick results, but it that always better? Absolutely, losing 50 pounds is a very big, but achievable goal, but losing 5…and then another 5….and then 5 more is easier.  Cheaper….faster… bigger…may not always be better, but that is for you to decide!  You are in charge of your journey, and the choices you make along the way….it doesn’t matter how or when you get there, just take a step today in the right direction!