Thursday, January 31, 2013

Does God Care About Your Body Fat Percentage?

Humans tend to extremes. If we're not eating double burgers with donuts for buns, we're eating grain-free, dairy-free, meat-free burgers. I tend to extremes. I like to do something all the way, or not at all. But being married to Medium Man Mike - who likes to be down the middle in all things - I have come to an appreciation for moderation.

And one of those areas is food. While much of our country is ensconced in ridiculous excess, I live in a community in which people run to the top of a 14,000 foot mountain and drink wheat grass for fun. 

It's good to be healthy, but I often wonder, are we as Christians - at least my subculture of Coloradoan skinny-jean Christians - far too concerned about our bodies, our health and our diet? 

The verse always espoused at times like this is 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?...Therefore honor God with your bodies."

The logic goes something like this: "How could you put donuts in the same container as the Holy Spirit?" 

But if we read the verse in context, it is talking about sexual immorality - specifically uniting our bodies with that of a prostitute. That doesn't mean that the principle of this verse can't be applied to other areas of our lives, but it's good to remember that the verse wasn't talking about saturated fats. 

The intent of the verse was to encourage us to lead holy lives. And what I must ask is this: Does an over-attention to health and diet lead to holiness? 

We know that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit and that physical training has "some value" (1 Timothy 4:8). But in my observation, the over-arching pursuit of good health can ultimately distract us from God, our family and life in general, rather than drawing us closer to God. 

When so many of our everyday thoughts and energy and actions are spent on our bodies, there is simply less left for other aspects of life. Our thoughts are preoccupied by shopping for and preparing our very specific niche diets. Our energy is spent on ensuring that we have no excess belly fat. In short, our bodies become our gods - the thing to which we give the majority of our time and attention.

I would like to argue that God does not care if my body fat percentage is below 23 percent. I don't think God cares in particular if I eat a grain-free diet. There are a lot of things God does care about. I think he may ask me how I loved my neighbor as myself. I don't think he'll ask me about my sugar intake. 

I'm not saying we should do whatever we feel like because God doesn't care. I believe in living a healthy life. I eat in moderation. I try to stay within a particular weight range. I try to walk or hike several times a week (I have to - I own an ice cream store). But these things should never become the focus of my life.  They should never become my god.

They have in the past, and perhaps that's why I'm so sensitive to the spiritualization or moralization of diet and exercise among Christians. When the Bible does speak about food, it doesn't teach us to be ascetics. Jesus endorsed bread and used it as a metaphor for himself. (Score!) We are told that God created all food for us to receive with thanksgiving. Chew on this challenging little tidbit: 

"The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly." 1 Timothy 4:1-8
Eating food sacrificed to idols was a hot topic in new testament times. While we don't have this particular dilemma in our time, there are still some principles we can glean: 

"Food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do." 1 Corinthians 8:8

"Why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."1 Corinthians 29-31. 

When it comes down to it, we shouldn't judge one another for our food choices: 

"Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand." Romans 14:1-4

I shouldn't judge those whose conscience has led them to eat dairy-free, but they also shouldn't judge me for owning an ice cream store. 

In conclusion: Live a holy life, don't let your body become your god, don't spiritualize food, receive what God has given you with thanksgiving, and don't judge one another. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Copy Cat

Alexandra loves to copy any noise that we make these days.

She's also enjoying new activities, such as playing in drawers.

This last week, she's started saying a lot of new words, like "ball," "bath," and "bottle" (which all sound like "baa.") She also says "maa" for "more" and "mouth." And she now says "up" for just about everything. "Up" to her means, "I have some unfulfilled need in life, and I'd like you to figure out what that is." She's also started pretend playing a lot - feeding her elephant food, blowing his nose, taking her doll on truck rides. It's pretty fun.

Five Ways to Take Great Photographs of Kids

Here's a post I wrote for Compassion about photographing kids on sponsor tours. Have a great Monday!

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Public Service Announcement: Dashes

We live in a world of seeming chaos, in which each new day greets us with another unfathomable news story and fresh reminders of how this world is ultimately out of our personal control. We humans have developed various disorders in a vain attempt to order our world, such as anorexia nervosa and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Others of us turn to grammar. Our semi-arbitrary set of rules we impose on the world are a way of curbing the anarchy. We know that if people would simply say "could have" rather than "could of," the Gauls and Goths won't break down our doors just yet. 

And so, I bring to you a public service announcement regarding dashes, those little lines that no one is taught how to use anymore. Do we use dashes despite our lack of knowledge about them, or do we use dashesdespite our lack of knowledge about them. It is the latter.

There are two kinds of dashes: en dashes and em dashes, and one cousin of a dash, the hyphen. 

Hyphens: You know what a hyphen is, the most diminutive dash (though it is not technically a dash). It connects compound words or indicates a word break at the end of a line: "This here is a clas-
-sic example of how mind-numbingly boring editors are."

En Dashes: An en dash is longer than a hyphen. It is used to signify "to" or "through" as in: "From 19921994, I had atrocious bangs." Or: "To learn about existential despair, read Ecclesiastes 12." An easy way to create an en dash in Microsoft Word is to write a word, type a space, type a hyphen, type a space, then type the next word. (Though I'm not a proponent for spaces before or after dashes.)

Em Dashes: An em dash is the longest, most grand dash. It is used to replace a comma, semicolon or parentheses to add emphasis or interrupt a thought. For example: "I love grammarexcept when people get all sanctimonious about it." You can create an em dash in Microsoft Word by typing a word, then typing two hyphens, then typing the next word.

I hope these distinctions will help you to order your world against the impending apocalypse. And the next time someone corrects your grammar or punctuation, think not only, "My, what an aggravating nitpick," but also, "Ah, my fellow man, who tries to make sense on this swirling ball of chaos, just as I do."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Back to Normal

Now that we've been home a couple more days, Alexandra seems to be getting back to normal. She's not throwing fits at every turn and is back to her (mainly) sweet self. Yesterday she had a play date with Ansel. He introduced her to the great fun of bouncing in the crib.

Notice that Alex has learned to say "ni" (which means "night night"). Notice also her aggressive hugs. A few seconds later, she knocked Ansel down with a full body-slam hug. That's our girl. Now she asks to play in her crib several times a day.

I tried taking Alex's 16 month photos, but it's pretty hard to get her to stay in the chair for more than a nano-second.

So I'm going to switch to taking these every 6 months...starting at 18 months. Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How come these children don't look poor?

Here's an article I wrote for Compassion Canada in response to some of my experiences last week in Nicaragua. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Nicaragua, Last Days

We're back from Nicaragua! We've been recuperating from our icky illness, so I haven't been up to posting. But now there are no more episodes of Downton Abby or The Bachelor to keep me from blogging, here goes.

Our last day was our tourist day in Nicaragua, which I was super excited for. We started by going to a market to do some shopping. Here's Mike chillin' like a villian outside the Mercado.

I don't actually like shopping and didn't intend to buy anything, but the atmosphere got the best of me. We got some pretty wood bowls to display on the lovely bookshelves Mike built. And we got Alexandra this adorable dress.

Then we got some delicious fresh fruit smoothies at the market - I got mango, pineapple and coconut. Mmmm...

Next we went to Catarina, a lake in a valley surrounded by lots of trinket stands. We looked at the lake only briefly, because the wind nearly blew us over, then admired the wares in the market, such as paintings of women sitting on the toilet. (Just what I was looking for for my living room!)

Our restaurant for lunch was amazing - well the atmosphere was amazing, I didn't enjoy my lunch, but by that point I had decided I never wanted to see another plantain in my life. Strolling guitarists serenaded us while the breeze swept through the quaint restaurant surrounded by gardens.

After lunch we headed to Granada and Lake Nicaragua, one of the largest lakes in the world. We got to take a boat ride on the lake. It was paradise. Here's our boat.

We were out on a peninsula where the waters were calm and there were lots of islands. The guide told us you can buy an island for about $150,000. I'm considering it.

After our ride, we went into the city of Granada, a colonial city with beautiful architecture. We only had about 40 minutes to explore, but it was my favorite part of the trip. We climbed to the top of the cathedral tower and got a great view of the city.

Here are a few more photos from Granada.

And then we had to go home. That night in the hotel, we got to watch part of the Miss Nicaragua pageant from our hotel room. They were pretty fancy. Flying home wasn't super fun, since I was sick. I felt like my ears were going to explode and cradled my head in my hands as we descended. (As it turned out, I had two ear infections.)

I could barely wait to see Alexandra. She was so excited to see us that she gave us repeated hugs and kisses. Now that she's at home, though, she's finding it a hard adjustment from being with doting grandparents to parents who say "no" all day long.

Thanks for going along with us on our journey!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Nicaragua, Part Two

Some of you might have been wondering, what's with Mike's face?
Turns out he found an annatto pod - which is used as food coloring in things such as cheddar cheese, butter, and snack foods. (Cheestos, anyone?) Yesterday, we did have a nice day relaxing by the pool and resting. Although the papparazzi did catch up with me.
We still have icky colds today (sounds like Mike is trying to hack up a cat), but we were able to get out today. We visited a Comassion project that has various vocational trainings for the kids, like baking, computers and barbering. Mike even got a hair cut!

Then we went to a restaurant for lunch where Mike got Nicaraguan style cheese fondue.

In the afternoon, we went to a project where Mike and I played with play dough with the 3 to 5 year olds. They, of course, loved Mike who does lots of silly faces and noises. They loved him so much, in fact, that several of them jumped on him and tried to beat him up. Now we're recovering at the hotel.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Nicaragua Thus Far

Well, hello there! We've been out of touch because the internet connection hasn't been great and they're keeping us busy down here. But Mike and I both came down with icky head colds, so today we're staying at the hotel to rest. So now I have the time to tell you a little about our trip so far.

We got in late Saturday night - to the hotel at about midnight. The first morning we got up early to go to church. We enjoyed the glimpses of the countryside we got from the bus on the way to church - rolling hills covered in lush foliage and trees that look much like Hawaii. We weren't sure if we would be sweltering in the heat all week, but there's a beautiful breeze coming off the coast or Lake Managua that makes it pleasant.

At church, the drummer in the worship band was crazy good. It was like a rock concert. After church, we went to lunch at a restaurant called La Pinca, a bright yellow building with ornate white columns and shutters. Very cute. I drank jamaica with my lunch - hibiscus tea - and Mike found that he's in love with the pico de gallo of Nicaragua - as it consists of onions and carrots, rather than tomatoes. In the afternoon, we had a time of relaxation, hanging out in one of the main malls of Managua. We enjoyed people watching the wealthy of Managua. That night, we had a chance to jump in the pool before it got too chilly.

At the mall in Managua
One of the weird statues we've been seeing around Managua

The next day, we went to the Compassion Nicaragua office in the morning to help sponsors understand how our programs work better. I got to visit with Orfa, one of the writers I used to work with, which was grand. For lunch, they had a traditional Nicaraguan meal for us at the office, including avocado salad, fresh pico de gallo, tortillas, shredded chicken, coconut candies, and sweet plantain candies. It was delicious! I am really enjoying all the food here.

Our delicious lunch at the Compassion Nicaragua office
Orfa and me
In the afternoon, we visited a project where we met several graduates of Compassion's program. It was so hot in the church, that Mike and I were both feeling a bit faint, and we had a hard time concentrating. But I hear everyone else had a good time. :) We had dinner back at the hotel - which has had excellent food for a buffet, where we've been enjoying things like limonada and tres leches cake.

Yesterday was a highlight for me so far. We visited a project that was on the southern edge of Managua, a very pretty place. At the project, the children welcomed us with balloons, a puppet show, and a song. They also had made us each a gift - a flower arrangement made out of paper and popsicle sticks. Then we had a chance to visit the children's classrooms, meet with the project staff, look at the programs files, serve lunch to the kids, and play with them. I enjoyed playing frisbee with a fiesty boy named "Jiminez" or something like that. I also really enjoyed hearing the project director share about the project. I asked him what his background was and he was in tears within minutes. He so clearly cared about the children he was helping and had a tender heart for them.

The kids put on face paint to sing a cat song for us
Playing Frisbee

For lunch, we went to a phenomenal nearby open-air restaurant. We sat under grass thatched roofs and looked out over the forest. I had lamb which was tasty and Mike and I both ordered tibio con leche - a drink made from corn and milk. It was like a rich, thick corn pudding for a drink.

Drinking tibio con leche
at the restaurant
In the afternoon, we visited the home of one of the sponsored children. They live in a one-room home on a steep slope. The father had just built their home by hand and he was in the process of building a latrine. He works 14 hour days 6 days a week, and when he's not working, he was levelling the land and building his home. We helped them put up fence posts outside the home. They had a TV, and the little girl started watching Futurama (before her mom told her to turn it off). Next door, a little boy was listening to Gangnam Style. You just can't escape pop culture anywhere. Meanwhile, Mike found a pod of orange berries on a tree and decided to paint himself with them.

Now we're just resting today, missing our daughter, and hoping to feel better for tomorrow!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Change Hearts, Change Haiti

Here's something I worked on for Compassion this week.

Today, Michael and I are leaving for Nicaragua on a sponsor tour with Compassion. It's been more than two years since I've traveled to the field with Compassion, so I'm getting excited to go. When you write every day about poverty, it can become routine. So there's nothing like actually going to see poverty to shake up your world. I've never traveled to the developing world with my husband, so that will be a new and interesting experience. I'm looking forward to a full week alone with Mike. (Well, kind of alone, we'll be with 30 Canadians.) Nothing says romance like visiting poor people's homes with a tour bus of Canadians. :)

Alexandra is sick with a nasty cough, so it's hard to say goodbye to her. But I know she'll be smothered with kisses and love by our family, which makes it easier. I'm not sure how much time I'll have, but I'll try to keep you updated on our trip!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Sleepy Head

Mike and I are leaving for a sponsor tour with Compassion to Nicaragua on Saturday. So we've been trying like mad to keep Alexandra healthy, despite the germs at every turn. But today she finally fell prey to sickness. (Just a day after I bragged to my sister-in-law that she is Bionic Baby and can never get sick.)

She took an extra nap this afternoon and was snoring away. We had to wake her up finally at 5:30 so she'd have a little wake time before bed. Usually she wakes far too easily - jumps up and immediately starts crying - but today we could barely wake her up. She was so cute, I can't help but post a video of it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Allie's Boyfriend

When I was pregnant with Alexandra, some good friends of ours were pregnant with a boy. They're smart engineer types, so we decided to arrange our future children's marriage.

Since their birth, their relationship hasn't been progressing much, and I hear Timothy has been stepping out on her with some chick from day care. But last night, they had a date together watching nature documentaries. I think it went rather well.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Problem with Resolutions

I don't usually make new years resolutions or if I do, it's usually something tongue in cheek. But this year, forces just so happened to coincide in a way that recently I've resolved that in this next year, I want to try to help people.

I don't tell you this so you'll know what a super swell gal I am. If I were, I wouldn't need this resolution. I need this resolution because I'm a pretty rotten, selfish person a lot of the time. I can have tendencies of the scrooge, of the agoraphobic, of the self-interested.

But in the last several months, Mike and I have had a chance to help several people in small ways. It struck us afterward how easy it really is to be a blessing to other people. Even small actions to you can make a big difference to someone else. And these experiences left me saying, "Thanks, God, I'd like to do that more."

And yet, here I am, January 6th, and already feeling burnt out.

This could have a great deal to do with the fact that I am laying here, sleepless, for the third night in a row. One shouldn't put too much stock in thoughts conjured at 4 am. This could be because I have the stress threshold of a squirrel. This could also have to do with the fact that we went to a dinner last night for the small group leaders at our church which left me feeling burdened rather than refreshed. (Due to no one's fault other than my own tail-spinning, burdensome thoughts.)

All this has reminded me of the problem with resolutions: They are inherently reliant on our own strength to accomplish a task. Most people don't say, "I'm going to seek God and his help to allow me to eat healthy and make good life choices." They usually say, "I'm going to lose weight."

Even if we do begin by seeking God with a resolution, such as me asking God to help me help others more, how easy is it for us to pick up that burden and carry it alone? I make it my own responsibility, my own burden, my own to-do list.

I realize that I need to dedicate...and rededicate...and rededicate my activities to God.

There are many small ways in which Mike and I serve others that we sometimes take for granted. We lead a small group, I do nursery at church and Mike serves as a deacon, we watch other people's children when they need, etc. etc. (And, of course, I help a little person survive every day of her life.) Not exactly Nobel Peace Prize stuff. But I realize that when I take the small things for granted - as obligations almost - rather than dedicating them to God, they leave me feeling worn out and empty and not refreshed. And then when I resolve to help others more, my house of cards collapses.

Before I can have any resolution, I need to first have my relationship with God in working order. Namely, that I seek God, receive strength and refreshment from him, and then offer myself to him as a servant to help others how he would like. Instead of being on serving auto-pilot and then seeking to heap more onto that plate, I want to have God as my pilot and allow helping others to flow naturally out of that (which it always does). 

It's also helpful for me to remember and repeat Scriptures that talk about helping others: be hospitable, love one another, bear one another's burdens. They remind me that this is what it's all about. For centuries, Christians have been helping one another and other people as an outpouring of the love that God showed them in Christ. It's not an obligation, it's a wellspring. 

So, like I said, I don't say all this to make you think I'm such a helpful person. I'm not. I say it because perhaps someone out there is feeling the same way and can say, "Amen!" and be themselves refreshed.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Can I take down the internet with baby videos?

I'm afraid I load so many videos of Alexandra doing absolutely nothing on YouTube that I might crash the whole internet. When the blackout happens, you'll know who to blame.

My mother complains that, although she checks my blog three times a day - alas - there have been no Allie videos. But we just haven't had much to video lately. But because I love my mother, here are videos of Allie doing nothing much.

In this first one, she displays her new skills of saying, "mama." (She inexplicably stopped saying it for about 4 months.)

And here's a riveting video of Allie standing around in the kitchen.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Flying W Ranch in Winter

The mountains are important to me. When I don't have them, I feel lost (literally, like many Coloradoans, I don't know what direction is west without the mountains). I feel depressed when there is only city or countryside stretching as far as the eye can see. When I am in the mountains, I feel connected, each pine tree rooting me to the earth. I feel small, reminded that my troubles are minute in the context of this grand world. I feel closer to God, the Creator of such immense quiet beauty.

So when the forest that marches up the hills behind our home burned this summer, I felt the loss deeply, even though I didn't lose any material possessions. I'm not usually prone to tears, but looking up at the bare mountains and hiking among the black stumps left me watery eyed. 

But now, six months later, I'm ready to recalibrate my thinking. Recalibrate: adjust, adapt, change, metamorphose, recast, transform. Instead of looking up at the blackened mountains and seeing loss, I want to see the beauty that has been revealed.

When we drive home at night, the white trails of snow on the mountains, without any pine trees to hide them, make it look like we're driving home to a ski town, the runs etched into the mountain in white.    

In the light of the sun, we can see all of the crags and formations that the trees have been hiding all these years.

As things begin to grow back, we can witness history, marking when the yucca start to flower again, when the scrub oaks reach our waist, when the aspens (hopefully) colonize the bare hillsides, and when pines start to peek their heads above the ground again.

There are some days that I still wish we had the soft blanket of green to look up at each morning. But instead, the mountains will remind me of not only the steady quiet of nature, but also how transitory and brief this life is.