Category Archives: Winter Weather

Advent, Food and Exercise, Writing, and Stress

Most people who know me would not be able to believe that my two favorite liturgical seasons are Lent and Advent, in that order. I love spiritual waiting, because I know at the end of the wait there will be Jesus. I love the anticipation of Jesus, who is in all ways God, coming to earth in all ways human during Advent. I reluctantly wait for his inevitable death with the promise of resurrection during Lent. There is nothing quite like spiritual anticipation to make a person realize how blessed we are on this earth, how much the God of the universe cares for us and gives us grace. I agree with Nadia Bolz-Weber when she insists that our spiritual and theological lives consists of hundreds, if not thousands, of little deaths, resurrections, and rebirths (paraphrase). So it is every day for me. Anticipation of these spiritual events keeps me keeping on. Anticipation gives me hope.

Contrarily, I do not love earthly waiting. Instead I am like the cliché kid in the candy shop, wanting to take as little time as possible to make things happen in this world. I want things and I want them now. Maybe that’s why I put so much stock in Advent and Lent; it makes feel as if I have some otherworldly waiting ability. Anyway, I’m in a period of waiting now, on this earth, for the next steps. I’m leaving teaching at the end of May, at least for a while, until I can figure out what I want to do with myself. I’m hoping to be a bartender, or a barista, or something that involves the outdoors for a bit. I need to regroup and rethink and refocus. So, I am waiting to see what comes next. And it feels like an eternity. And it feels like so many things to figure out. And it feels overwhelming.

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Well, I tried a Whole 30, but again didn’t succeed. It takes a lot of work for me to be that strict with my food. Food is love and grace for me, and I still want to share in happy hour with my friends. Maybe I’m a weak person, maybe I have no self-control (see above, I want it, now), maybe I need a legitimate starting point like New Year’s to make things stick, maybe I’m just destined to be a fat kid. Who knows? What I do know is that from my lowest weight last year until now, I’ve gained almost 30 pounds. I chalk it up to stress, since I eat my feelings. I chalk it up to the mild depression I feel every fall/winter, since I sometimes don’t even want to get out of bed.

I am nowhere near my fattest, but I am not happy with this weight gain, because I can’t run, bike, or swim as fast. That being said, I’m cruising through the holidays, and then I’ll try to make some changes. It’s too much to try to be festive and self-policing at the same time.

I have also fallen short of my yearly goal this year to move my body 5 miles each day. I don’t think there’s any way for me to accomplish this goal, since my body doesn’t seem to want to cooperate with my grand plan of completing a mini-triathlon each day. I did four days worth, but then my body sort of said, “Fuck you, fatty, this is too much exercise.” And now my foot hurts, and I don’t think I can do it. But I’m going to try again starting tomorrow.

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I’ve been trying to write with my students this semester, but all I’ve gotten out of it is a load of crap and some really bad starts to several nonsensical stories. I am taking a teaching creative writing class this spring semester, so I can make something out of my classes for my PhD that I won’t be using for an actual PhD, since I quit. I hope the muse comes back to me before I have to start working on my creative project for the Master’s degree I’ll be trying to get. It’ll be in creative writing, and I have to write a new creative nonfiction piece that is publishable. This may be a bit tricky. Anyway, my whole point is I need a muse.

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I have never felt so much stress at any point in my life up to this date. I can’t imagine being a person who is this stressed all the time, nor can I fathom how some people function while carrying around such a huge load of anger, suspicion, and doubt as I see people carrying. I have found myself wondering how people keep from simply collapsing under the weight of the burdens they bear, because I sometimes feel like I could cave to the small amount of things I shoulder.

During this Advent, my heart hurts for people who experience stress, despair, anger, suspicion, doubt, hate, a painful past, or illness, and I pray and hope for healing, peace, love, and grace to visit them through me. I anticipate that the risen Christ will show through me and my actions as I love people this Advent. I anticipate being grace.

Winter Break Retreat and Dissertation Work

I’m spending my winter break at home by myself. Well, more accurately I am spending it at home with five cats, three dogs, a fish, and some outside birds. More importantly, however, I am spending it in a quiet house. I decided to use the time I’d be home alone to give myself a spiritual retreat of meditation/prayer, silence, and reading/writing. Of course, this retreat isn’t as focused on spiritual matters as I would like it to be, because it has to be equally focused on school matters as I work to finish this dissertation re-proposal. I’m enjoying the fact that my typical day is looking somewhat contemplative at least.

For the past several days, since the day after Christmas (so when my mini-retreat concludes with Bec’s return on Sunday evening it will be a five day fast from normality) my day has looked like this:

  • Instead of using the alarm clock, I’ve been getting up whenever I feel like waking up. Most mornings it’s been between seven and eight in the morning.
  • After getting dressed, the first thing I do is put a pot of water to boil on the stove, set on low, so I can make a French press of coffee when I get back from walking the dogs.
  • I take a nice, slow walk with my dogs and give them lots of extra love once we return home. I take care of the cats, feed the birds and the fish.
  • I make coffee, eat breakfast, and have a bit of prayer/contemplation time with the help from Common Prayer and some fragrant incense. I light my St. Jude candle and pray for assistance with this dissertation, because it seems like something I should ask for help from the patron saint of the impossible.
  • Once I’m finished with morning prayer time, I read whatever text it is for the day for my dissertation and I take notes on the text.
  • I stop to make lunch/dinner, and I spend time doing some physical activity (riding my bike trainer, walking, shoveling snow) to make my thoughts congeal. Then I write a bit about the text I read that day.
  • Finally, I have allowed myself only an hour and a half to use Facebook, talk on the phone, text, email, or meet with friends. The rest of my day, from whenever I wake up until 9PM is spent in contemplative silence. At 9PM, I watch a bit of TV while trying to fall asleep.

I’ve noticed that during this week my thoughts have become clearer, my energy has gone back up, my spiritual life has turned for the better, and I don’t really miss talking or watching TV. I’d love to take a week long silent retreat at a convent or monastery some time, where I can’t even have a computer and can only use the land line telephone to make calls.

I’ve made some interesting discoveries about myself this week, too. The first is that I need an intense amount of what my friend Amy calls “self-care.” Here is what I wrote to another friend of mine about the dark night I went through this November; it was the worst one I’ve experienced to date. “I’m also not being preachy (okay just a little bit) when I say that even Jesus had to take a time out once in a while to feed his soul. Families complicate that, and so do friends sometimes, and it’s hard to strike a healthy balance between the two. I find that sometime the ‘should’ rules bind me in to the point where I can’t have fun or enjoy life even when I don’t have something I ‘should’ be doing. That’s the point I was at in November (the very bottom of the barrel), and, yes, I’ve always (since I can remember) struggled not with the notion of killing myself, but of sometimes feeling that I’d be better off in another place or that my life is too overwhelming to keep living. I have only been in a really bad spot like that a couple of times in my life and I had a really hard time getting out of it this time. It made me realize that sometimes for me the ‘should’ is taking care of myself, even if it means doing things at the expense of spending time with others. You know I love a good conversation and some good quality time, but I had to take a weekend to ‘go to a conference’ to get my perspective back. Thank God for my friend Amy, who is a hospice chaplain. She didn’t realize that she was going to have work in her off hours. Since then, I’ve tried really hard to make at least half an hour for myself before anyone else is up. I get up at 4AM most mornings to get time to run, pray, worship, and feed my soul. I am super tired sometimes because I am so not a morning person, but I find the trade-off to be worth it.” I owe my sanity to my friends Sarah and Daniel as well. I am not sure any of them really knew how fragile I was that weekend, but I had a hard time even enjoying anything, let alone learning anything at that conference.

Sometimes—I’ve learned about myself—I am really high maintenance in the emotional department. I can be dark and brooding, and I am sure it is difficult to be my friend. However, I am so thankful for those people who stick by me and who keep me laughing (or at least smiling) when I really question why I am here at all. I’m not saying this to be melodramatic or to draw attention to myself, but I am saying it because I know there are others out there who feel the same way. I wonder probably too frequently what is the point of my existence, and before you think it, yes, I do love the existentialist writers, particularly Dostoevsky. I do know, somewhere deep down inside of me at all times: there is hope, there is help, and there is healing. I’ve experienced it again and again through my friends and through my faith. There is a purpose to all of this, but for me it’s difficult to understand.

I’ve learned that when my faith suffers, I suffer. When I get in a place like I was in November, that dark and scary place, I can’t feel God or connect with God in any meaningful way. Do I keep searching? Yes, but it feels as if I just keep finding nothing at the bottom of dark, dark hole. There aren’t many people who I know in my life who would admit to this feeling, but I am sure we all have it at least fleetingly. I think too much, I rationalize too much, and I don’t just “let go and let God,” as the cheesy saying goes. Well, I can’t do that. And I do think it’s cheesy. I prefer my theology with a dose of reason and my faith with a dose of doubt. Though I am in a much better place now than I was in November, I still wouldn’t say I’m a bucket of sunshine and rainbows. Full of hope, but realistic about it.

One of the books I read over break, which had nothing to do with my dissertation, but which helped me to think about my faith in new ways was An Unquenchable Thirst by Mary Johnson. The book is basically about her long struggle as she lived as a Missionary of Charity for twenty years of her life. Many of her theological struggles are mine, many of her relational struggles are mine, and many of her solutions are mine as well. The place where the book challenged me the most was near the end. Johnson leaves the Church: “I don’t tell Father Bob about the still, small voice I heard within. Look inside yourself, the voice said. God is like the best parts of you. From there it was a short step to God is the best parts of you. [. . .] I tell him that the freer I become, the more beautiful I grow” (522). I am not sure that I can follow her to the point of leaving the Church, but I can certainly respect her ideas and would love to bring them into the Church. From her story, I can only imagine her being able to relate to God in such a manner (one without the presence of hierarchical church structure). In many respects the Church has made God out to be the best parts of it, so why as individuals can’t we believe that God is the best parts of us? The peaceful, loving, grace-filled, compassionate parts of us. Near the end of the book Johnson writes about the way most people remember Mother Teresa as being filled with joy, almost nonhuman in her joyfulness: “I feel odd to prefer the human to the perfect; maybe that’s why I don’t fit anymore. I want earth, not heaven” (523). I think I must be super selfish, because I want both.

I find that when I keep a balanced perspective about theology, when I realize that some of my understanding of heaven comes from Scripture, and that much more comes from experiencing God’s love (and human maliciousness) here on earth, I can relate to God much more clearly. Just this morning, after four days of “retreat,” I was finally able to pray again (it’s been a long time coming), to feel as if God heard my thoughts, heard my prayers. I felt as if I was literally in the presence of God. As I prayed for others, I felt their names, their faces, their difficulties come rushing forward to meet my lips. This experience wasn’t from me, but was it from God? Do I owe this to some divine breakthrough or is it more the fact that I am just relaxed? Have I just given myself enough self-care to be open enough to be in the presence of God? Have I tricked myself with contemplation and incense? Have I tried harder this week and somehow tricked myself into feeling God’s presence? Is it the beauty of the snow? Is it having time? Is it the lack of stress? Is it an emotional spoke in my menstrual cycle? These are the questions I ask myself when I start to feel to deeply and can no longer rationally explain my theological ecstasy. I want both the rational and the completely irrational, the earth and the heavens, the justice and the grace. I want to enjoy the mystery. God, I want.

 

 

Lent Day 19: Well Just Like That

My spring break is over. I have never understood why Ball State’s spring break is the first full week of March, nor will I ever. It was mostly cold and yucky, and now this week it’s supposed to be in the 70s all week. My brother’s school doesn’t have spring break until the first week of April! I’m not complaining. I just don’t get it, nor will I ever.  Now, as far as I’m concerned, summer can’t get here fast enough.

I don’t really have anything to say today. Well, I have a lot to say, but I’m old, I’m tired, and I still have a lot of grading left to do before tomorrow. So instead of writing my own reflection, I’m going to send you over to my friend Kimberly’s site to read her post on baptism. It’s beautifully written and it touched my heart. Baptism is one of my biggest theological interests, so I was pleased to read such an interesting take on it. And, since I recently wrote about it, I was especially intrigued when I saw the title, “Beaches, Bikinis, and Baptism.” Seriously, go there. Read it. You won’t be sorry. And, while you’re there, nose around. There are too few women who write some decent feminist theology, or who share their specifically female spiritual thoughts. Not to knock you men out there, but sometimes women just have a different row to hoe. We sometimes need to speak to, and for, our own, as do you.

Lent Day 3: Date Night

Today I kept up with the common prayers, and I find that it settles my otherwise erratic personality. Maybe between the niacin, vitamin C, paleo diet, and following the daily liturgy, I can make a way to keep myself on track emotionally. If you read this blog at all, you know that’s something I struggle with, and it’s finally something I feel like I am getting a strong hold on, or control over, rather than it controlling me. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to get past writing about it.

I also had the opportunity today to go on a date with my significant other. We went to Indianapolis to pick up a friend of ours, so we decided to make a special time of it. First we went to Rock Bottom Brewery and had a couple of beers, then we walked through Circle Center Mall for a bit, really just using it to walk to and from our car without being lambasted by the ridiculous Indiana spring-winter wind. Finally, we picked Elizabeth up at the train station, and then went to Peppy Grill in Fountain Square.

The workers at Peppy are amazing. Talk about your sassy, ornery, short order cooking and serving staff. I never leave disappointed, even when I realize that my corned beef hash comes directly from a Hormel can (not so paleo/primal) and gets heated up on the grill. I think I may leave that dish for Brunchies and just return to my ham and eggs at Peppy. But it was still good, of course, and greasy spoon!

Beautiful Sky on Binford in Indy

Looking South on Meridian and Vermont: Monument Circle

South Side of the Circle: Turning onto Meridian

After A Rock Bottom White Ale: A Little Out of Focus

1004 Virginia Avenue: Peppy Grill

Good Thing We Had Three People

Corned Beef Hash for My Love and Me

Today was a nothing’s profound, but everything’s lovely, kind of day. Peace.

Bike Rides. Pumpkin Curry. Period. Cultural Studies.

Bike Ride

When we left school today to walk the quarter mile to our cars, I almost had Lisa, my friend and colleague, pinch me, because it’s January 30 and the temperature was hovering nicely around 50 degrees. The sun was shining, the breeze was blowing, and the air just smelled joyful and springlike. I felt like running and playing, but since I had just run on Saturday night, I thought I’d play it safe by taking my dogs for a walk. We walked down to the dam, where I like to watch the water spill over, and where the dogs like to sniff things and pee on the concrete wall that separates the road from the water.We lingered there for a bit enjoying the weather and the majesty of the water before heading home.

When we got home, I brought the dogs inside to play for a bit, but I was feeling antsy, like I didn’t quite want to settle in for the night, so I decided to go for a bike ride. I rode down the White River Greenway to Jackson Street, staying on the pavement the entire time. As I turned off of Jackson back onto the Cardinal Greenway, I got a little adventurous notion—probably a side effect of the paleo lifestyle, I mean who doesn’t like to play?—and I cut off the path to ride cyclo-cross style (on my mountain bike) back along the river bank, stopping only to carry my bike across two railroad tracks. While I realize this little side trip off the asphalt isn’t that adventurous, riding on private property along the river is not my usual bike trip.

I always see this group of guys—and, yes, they are all guys—riding along the river bank at night, wearing headlamps. They always look like they are having such fun. I think they are the same guys who practice their cyclo-cross skills by riding in circles around the trees in the field at Minnetrista. The riding in circles is a little odd, but I can see how liberating it is to ride near the river in the grass. I may even give the circle riding a whirl! Even that little bit of transgression against the societal norm here in Muncie makes the world seem like a little bit better of a place. A little less restrictive and a bit more free. Maybe once I get in better shape, I can join them sometime. They have to be some kind of Ball State club. Maybe I’ll check into it.

Pumpkin Curry

During the fall and winter, I can’t resist a good, hearty soup, stew, or chowder. Tonight for dinner, Bec and I had Creamy Pumpkin Curry. The soup/curry was amazing just like the recipe is written, but when I make it again, I plan to halve the amount of shrimp to one pound and add in some fish chunks for a bit of variety. I may also add in some kale for a little bitterness to offset the sweetness of the pumpkin. I found that since I eat very little sugar these days, things like pumpkin taste really sweet to me, particularly when paired with coconut and spices like coriander. Don’t get me wrong: the soup was amazing like it was. I just like to experiment, and I needed one more layer of flavor to dilute the pumpkin-sweetness.

Period: Yes, That Period.

I was beginning to feel sorry for myself because I hadn’t lost any weight this week and because I was having all these cravings for sweet things the past couple of days. Then I realized that I am supposed to start my period soon, and that means all bets for normalcy are off. I must say, though, that being paleo has really cut down on the PMS and mood swings I typically experience during this week. In fact, had it not been for the constant craving for ice cream this week (coupled with not losing weight) and my new-found obsession with writing everything down including the days of my menstrual cycles, I wouldn’t have even realized that this was the week before my period.

I wonder if other people have the same experience with paleo living and their menstrual cycles or if it’s just me. I can only assume this is yet another excellent bonus of living this lifestyle, though I am unsure if my non-angst-riddled pre-menstrual mental health can be contributed to diet or to my general physical well-being and differentiated exercise routine. Either way, I’ll take it.

Cultural Studies

I’ve decided to take a new approach to teaching my high school literature class, particularly the modernism section that we are heading into right now. For some reason, Modernist literature seems like the most difficult genre/time period for my students to understand. This could be because of my own apprehension at defining Modernism, or it might be because of their own inability to understand that historical period. They seem to get tripped up on what that time period really entails historically. They know the wars and some of the industrial situations, but as far the rest of the cultural milieu of the early 1900s, they are at a loss.

I decided to fix this difficulty this year by having them do some historical/cultural situation of events in the time period. For tomorrow, each student will come to class with a newspaper article from 1890-1935, one that was written then, not about then. They will use these articles as background knowledge for the texts we’ll read. To choose from, I gave them topics, such as fashion, industry, war, science, psychology, agriculture, music, art, and politics. I hope they come in with a broad range of “current” events to discuss, and I hope they have lots to say about their articles and what those articles tell us about the Modernist time period and the few years leading up to it. We’ll see how this works out, and I’ll keep you apprised.