Friday, July 13, 2018

Low Nickel Diet

Concluding our discussion on Comparison last week leaves me the perfect transition into this weeks blog post on health.  In my own life I don't think there is any subject where I compare myself negatively with others more frequently than health.  Our newest bump on the road of my families health is causing a great deal of stress for me because it involves such a steep learning curve.  Or at least, it feels steep.  My spouse has been dealing with a skin rash/eczema for the last couple of years that doctors and dermatologists have been unable to diagnose or treat. It was itchy, bubbly, red and caused hair to fall out (most notably on his eyebrows).  Spots would randomly flare up or spread and so I finally decided to make an appointment with an allergy clinic.  They concluded right away it was a nickel allergy and ordered my spouse to adopt a low nickel diet.

Can you guess what foods have nickel?  If you thought none, you would be incorrect.  If you thought all of them, ding ding ding, you are pretty close.  Nickel is in the ground, therefore, things that grow from the ground or eat things grown from the ground are going to have some nickel.  The trick seems to be choosing those foods that are lowest in nickel to avoid having an allergic response.  Here's the part that has been stressing me out.  All the lists I have found so far either contradict each other or only feel comfortable sharing the foods you can't eat.  Few will tell you what foods you can eat without doing some research.  

I want to emphasize the fact that I am not a medical professional.  I'm just trying to figure things out and thought it might help some people.  For me, I needed to figure out what I could feed my family in a practical sense.  I will also say that this is only the first step in figuring out how to live with a nickel allergy this severe.  I have personally found a great deal of information and encouragement from Christy Cushing.  Allergies are always a complex issue and my spouse apparently has quite a few.  Figuring out what will cause a reaction will require a lot of trial and error.  So to organize the information into a format that would be useful to me, I made a spreadsheet.

The problem with the above list is three fold.  

  • One
    •  it's not exhaustive.  I have no idea if quinoa is allowed yet. I don't know what other vegetables, like jicama or other root vegetables, we can eat.
  • Two
    • the nickel quantity in any given food is dependent on the soil it's grown in.  Manufacturing can introduce nickel into foods as well as pots and pans in some cases.  Identifying which items have nickel apart from the food equation is a whole other kettle of fish (which we really can't eat now) and so I won't go into it at this time.  
  • Three
    • We have to set aside the "healthy" diet/lifestyle we were pursuing and start completely from scratch.  I can't follow Whole 30 or Paleo because a good portion of what we eat under those plans are now not allowed.  Are we going to get enough nutrients on a low nickel diet?  What is healthy now?

It's been easy to get overwhelmed with all the effort that is going into learning right now.  Learning about a low nickel diet, learning what has nickel in it, learning about all the other things I'm pursuing right now.  More than any of those, I'm learning to humble myself.  I hate feeling dumb.  I hate feeling like I don't know what I'm doing.  I absolutely hate feeling like I'm doing something wrong.  And right now I feel all those things.  It requires humility to set aside my need to "have it all together" and be a student.  It requires humility to give our silent struggle to God instead of holding onto it so we can compare how much harder we have it than anyone else.  

What things are you struggling to set aside to be a student?  What does being a student mean to you?  Does it immediately conjure up images of youth, ignorance or weakness?   Whether you're struggling with comparing yourself to the seemingly healthy masses and wondering why you, or whether you are struggling to humble yourself as you learn to do better, you can do this.  One step at a time, in the chunks you can handle with God's help.  



Friday, July 6, 2018

Comparison - What's Important

We're back to comparison this week for a very good reason.  It's a complex issue and there is a lot to discuss.  Two weeks ago we discussed whether comparison was Inspiration or Pitfall.  Last week we asked the question, Is Comparison Always Bad?  This week I want to focus on what's important about it.  The why and how.

  1. 1.
    estimate, measure, or note the similarity or dissimilarity between.

    "individual schools compared their facilities with those of others in the area"

    "we compared the data sets"

What do you think of when you hear the word "Comparison"?  Books and sermons encourage me to set aside comparison and be content, which sounds right.  Comparison was always presented to me as a bad thing because it meant you were comparing yourself negatively to someone else.  A simple definition of terms can help clear some things up but this week we are going to hone in on why it is important and the reminder that keeping our focus on God is vital.  How we deal with comparison is important because trying to stop doing it altogether isn't really possible and leads to frustration, or worse, ignoring the problem.  We can, however, use comparison properly and safely.  

If we are ultimately trying to imitate Christ, to be more like Him, there are some steps we need to take.  

  1. Observe the provided example
  2. Assess your current starting point
  3. Make note of areas where you are not meeting the standard, ie compare yourself to the provided example
  4. Begin educating yourself on how to improve
  5. Practice

The list is a little tongue in cheek, especially considering that this sounds like a business assignment, not a life posture.  But think about it.  If you want to learn how to do something, or do it better, what do you do?  You look for an example to follow.  I think it's important to remember that self assessment is part of working out our faith just as much as it is in learning piano or how to shave a cat.  

Philippians 2:12 English Standard Version (ESV)
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,

More than that, self assessment requires that we know the standard of our faith.  If we are to be imitators of Christ then it is vital that we know Him.  Deeply, intimately know Him.  
Know the sound of His voice.
John 10:27 English Standard Version (ESV)
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
Know the way that He moves.
Matthew 20:26-28 English Standard Version (ESV)
26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,[a] 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,[b] 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Know where He moves.
Matthew 16:24 New International Version (NIV)
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

And so much more...

It is possible to look at fellow believers, rejoice in their differences, and ask ourselves where we can follow their good example.  It is vital for us to look at what God has asked us to do and compare our lives to the life He describes.  There is a difference between an honest assessment and envious discontent. 

Here is what's important to remember.  

Making yourself feel one way or the other about yourself will always be the wrong choice.  If you look at someones life and breath a sigh of relief because at least you're not as bad as them, that's not good. If you look at someone's life and deflate in defeat because how could they possibly have their life together and you don't, that's not good.  Comparison always becomes a negative when we use it to feel falsely about ourselves.  Comparison in the form of self assessment can sometimes feel convicting or uncomfortable but it should be honest and based on God's truth.  We know the negatives and they can be quite destructive to both relationships and health.  It is one of the many cages we put ourselves in without noticing because we think the comparison "means" something.  We assign meaning which we think affects our value in the eyes of the world, ourselves and God.  It doesn't.  Our value in God's eyes is set.  How freeing it is to to step outside of our emotional responses to what we think the comparison means and see it for the opportunity it is.  The opportunity for conviction.  The opportunity to learn and grow.

We look to those more experienced to teach us how to improve but only when we look to be teachable.  When we allow ourselves to be teachable, to see areas of comparison and conviction as learning opportunities, we can stand in awe of what the Lord will do.  



Friday, June 29, 2018

Comparison - Is it always bad?

Last week we talked about comparison as a tool that can be used for both negative and positive thought but I've been seeing a lot of talk about comparison lately that clearly believes comparison is always a bad thing. Is it?

Maybe it's the word "comparison" that has gotten a bad reputation over the years.  The english language is complicated and english speakers tend to assign nuance that was never part of the definition of the word.  We see the negative extreme that human beings go to with comparison and we, perhaps rightly, assume comparison is bad.

So if the word "comparison" gives you pause, let's try some different words.  Assesment, watchfulness, reasonableness, imitation. That word sounds familiar does it.  We are to be imitators of Christ.  

Ephesians 5:1-2 English Standard Version (ESV)
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  

Children emulate their parents or guardians and even adults continue to pick up manerisms from the people they spend time with.  Good or bad, comparision is something that we all do.  I still honestly believe that the foundation of dealing with comparision is recognizing God in your "dull" moments.  Those places that feel lacking when negatively comparing yourself to someone else won't feel lacking when you suddenly see how full of God those moments are.

The real question we should be asking ourselves is whether or not the comparison you are making is imitation of a good standard or envious longing.  So, let's talk about how to assess whether your comparisons are healthy or harmful.

Who are you comparing yourself too?

Galatians 1:10 English Standard Version (ESV)

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant[a] of Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:12 English Standard Version (ESV)
12 Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.
We often read verses like the ones above and nod our heads; yup, don't compare yourselves to others, got it.  Comparison = bad

1 Corinthians 4:15-17 English Standard Version (ESV)
15 For though you have countless[a] guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me. 17 That is why I sent[b]you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ,[c] as I teach them everywhere in every church.

1 Corinthians 11:1-2 English Standard Version (ESV)
11 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
Paul himself encouraged the church to be like him.    So what's does Paul mean?  It sounds like he's saying "be like me, but nobody else".  Not quite.  Notice who he tells us not to compare ourselves too.  Braggarts, or in other words, people who think they're awesome.  People who are trying to look good to other people.  

As he says in 1 Cor 4:15, we have many guides.  While it's true it's best to imitate Christ there are cultural bumps in our road that sometimes need navigation.  I'm sure you can think of a few good examples of Christ like behavior from modern day believers.  In a fallen world it can immensely encouraging to see brothers and sisters in Christ living a Godly life.  The destination is still Christ but having people to walk that path with, and point you in the right direction when you need a nudge, is a good thing.

Are you delving into envy?

Comparison is one of those tools that is bottom heavy.  We're always going to tend to go too far, to slide to an extreme, towards negativity.  I don't know about you but I engage in a lot of negative self talk.  For me, comparison usually leads to a negatively balanced conversation that I use to show myself, yet again, that I suck.  Despite this tendency I still honestly believe that comparison doesn't have to be negative.  It's not always bad.  But it sure is easy to go bad.  God is very clear about not gazing with envy at our neighbors stuff.  The shift towards sin in the comparison equation is when we begin to long for what we don't have instead of longing for our Savior.  I can look at my Savior, and Godly examples, and recognize areas I need to work on, with the Spirits prompting, without becoming lost in the disappointment of constant failure to live up to a perfect standard.  But maybe that's the difference.  Are you trying to live up to or live in?  Are you creating a fantasy of perfection to live up to or are you living in the reality of what God says is true.  No matter which Godly example you thought of earlier, they are still sinners struggling with their own stuff.  We create an idealized fiction and then wonder why we can't have/be/do/live like they do.  

Comparison can be the beginning of dreams, inspiration or conviction when we are striving to be imitators of Christ.  Our childlike desire to be like our papa will be His delight no matter how poor our attempt.  So let's talk about this some more next week. I know this is an issue I need to keep exploring for myself and I hope this is helping you ask yourself some important questions too.  



Friday, June 22, 2018

Comparison - Inspiration or Pitfall?

Greetings you awesome people!  God has been working on something in me for a while and so today I'd like to talk about comparisons.  There are a couple reasons for this.  

One -  the blogging/writing word demands that you self promote until your sick of yourself, and the idea you ever wanted to be a writer in the first place, much less have time for actual writing.  All of this means you are constantly looking at other peoples stuff so that you can figure out how to do the blogging/writing thing better.  

Two -  it's a common problem.  It isn't reserved exclusively to us creative, writer types either.  It feels pretty impossible not to compare ourselves to others.

The problem of comparison is a tricky one because it has some slippery slopes that lead most people to recommend you avoid the hill all together but that's not really practical.  Learning and growing usually requires reference material.  Looking at a reference means you are looking at someone with more skill than you.  In fact, Jesus is our ultimate reference material.  The ideal to which we strive but will never attain on this side of heaven.  Not to mention we are observational creatures.  We look around.  We see stuff.  Some of that stuff is what we want for ourselves.  It can inspire, or it can lead us into a pit.

One of my groups of Bible Study ladies felt prompted to start a study on this subject and so we went and picked up the new Lifeway Study, Rachel & Leah.  At the time we decided to start this study, each of the ladies in my group shared how they were struggling with comparision in their lives.  For me, it was looking at all these well put together websites, social media accounts and blogs.  It was observing those who had acheived a level of success in writing and recognizing my lack of skill in comparison.  It was disheartening.  What's worse, I didn't think I had a comparison problem until I was prompted to share.  

This is going to be a mini review of the study itself because the journey that my group is on can't be communicated without sharing how we're interacting with the Bible Study.  

We don't like it.  Each of us has struggled to get meaning or insight or connection with any part of this study.  Some of that is because we just think differently than the author.  Some of it is because my ladies have been in consistent Bible Studies for decades and this study is just not our speed.  It doesn't erase the need or the prompt we've had to address our comparision issues.  We are praying this study has impact because it's a neccessary topic but we've been disappointed that this wasn't the huge revelation we expected when God lead us to this study.

Well, God wasn't finished with me yet.  My husband and I just started attending a new church in our area and in the bulletin was an invitation to a Summer Ladies Small Group covering the book, Unseen.  I stepped out of my comfort zone and decided to join.  I knew from the description I saw of the book that this is what I needed to continue the learning process of addressing comparison in my life.  I'm only two chapters in at this point but I can tell you God is building a lesson plan for me.  A side quest on my adventure.  A beautiful reminder that what I see as delays on my journey towards something amazing or significant aren't delays at all.  

Comparison can be a tool that you use to inspire yourself; to give you hope that, with endurance and practice, you too can reach your goal.  It can also be a tool you use to build envy, resentment, despair and surrender.  

There are many ways to combat negative comparision but I'm going to start with what I believe is the foundation.  As I have been reading Unseen, I began to look at how I viewed my mundane moments. If my mundane, nowhere, "normal", boring moments are actually the perfect opportunity to hang out with my best friend, that changes everything.  Doing chores is so much more enjoyable when done with a friend nearby to have a conversation with.  

And suddenly we aren't comparing our lack against someone else's bounty because we are full up!  Your bounty may be different than mine but we can rejoice in our mutual abundance!  

God is always going to be the catalyst to a healthy view of your life.  I can look at my friends immaculate taste in design and sigh with joy or sigh with envy. I'd rather sigh with joy and share in the look on God's face as He looks with love on His precious daughter.

I do recommend you pick up Unseen.  I invite you to join me in reading it.  Let's talk!  Your invited to come on the journey with me.



Friday, June 15, 2018

Belligerent Depression

Yesterday was a hard evening.  I made my hubby a delicious meal, planned something special to show him I loved him and gave him time to relax playing his favorite game.  I was especially pleased and happy.  In that moment of happiness my hubby said something I'm sure he thought was a joke but hit me like a ton of bricks.  Instantly I bottomed out.  My joy fled, my happiness dissipated and I spent the rest of the evening silently seething.  I felt the depression circling my heart.  By the time my hubby came to bed I knew he had no idea he had hurt my feelings so I told him.  My hubby is famous for being Capt. Oblivious (yes I capitalize it, he has "super powers".  Capt. Oblivious is his hero name)  He is also sensitive and loving.  He doesn't like to have a break in our relationship.  It makes him extremely anxious.  But I couldn't let it go and I knew I wasn't just skirting depression, I was actively choosing belligerent depression.

Over the years I have learned what is and is not acceptable during an argument with my spouse.  I learned this at the expense of my amazing husband I am ashamed to say.  There are many reasons why my husband and I don't spat very often and one of the big ones is that I'm usually in the wrong.  Even if I'm right...

This isn't a commentary on who wins arguments, because if that were my goal I'd "win" every time.  My husband would acquiesce and apologize.  I could rule him like the queen of hearts.  My reign would be cruel and terrible.

In our first year of marriage God made sure to teach me some powerful lessons in submission.  My husband has a quiet, patient spirit that God designed to be the perfect mate to my impulsive, blunt spirit.  It took me a while to figure out how my big personality was supposed to submit to my husbands humble spirit.  It's a good thing God got started on those lessons early.  I needed lots of time to learn.  While learning that lesson I discovered something about myself.  Sometimes I get mad or depressed.  Randomly, without warning.  My husband, being a convenient, safe and non combative target, most often becomes the focus of my ire.  Sure, I get upset under the pretext of something he has done "wrong".  Some word or thoughtless action that hurt my feelings.  Years of marriage have taught me that my anger and depression have almost nothing to do with my husband's actions.  He hasn't changed.  The thing I laughed at last week suddenly becomes the thing that sends me over the edge today.

In the midst of hormones and whatever else is going on in my brain and body it's been difficult to stop myself from taking it out on my husband.  For the first few years I would remind myself that being mad at my husband (especially for as long as I felt like being mad) was like kicking Bambi.  Staying in an angry or depressed state for as long as I "wanted" to just made it more and more difficult to figure out how to extricate myself.  That's when I started the ridiculous habit of  the "Stupid Fire hydrant".  I had been punishing my husband with my anger for a time and I knew it was wrong.  I couldn't think of how to dismiss my anger until a red fire hydrant caught my eye.  God whispered quietly to me that my anger at my spouse was just as pointless as being angry at a fire hydrant.  I don't know what God did  but it felt like he supernaturally increased the amount of fire hydrants on that trip home and I just started saying "stupid fire hydrant".  After the first two times my hubby and I both began to laugh.  That allowed me to dissipate my anger and talk to my husband again without an agenda.  As my hubby and I approach our second decade of marriage I have learned how to apologize for getting upset and depressed.  I'm not apologizing for being on the "wrong" side of the argument or for biological predispositions.  I'm apologizing for reacting wrong.  My confession and apology to my husband aren't about making him feel like a lord over me (if he even noticed things like that)  but about me and the attitude of my heart.

Even after years of practice at asking myself if I am getting upset or depressed because of something my husband has said or because there is something going on in my mind or body, I still mess up sometimes and react wrongly or choose to cast blame at my spouses feet.  It's gotten easier to apologize over the years but every once in a while my pride stands in the way and the upset lasts way longer than it should.

There are consequences to stubborn pride and belligerent anger.  I know enough about my cycle of depression to be aware of the warning signs and for me it usually begins with pride and belligerence followed by isolation. God knows my family history, I am fearfully and wonderfully made after all.  If He hadn't taught me how to notice my reactions, submit, apologize and re-center I would continue down the depression spiral.  So I gave up my belligerent anger and appologized.  After years of practice it's no longer easier said than done, it's just done.  I appologize and let it go.  You can too.

What are your triggers?  What sets you down a negative spiral?  Do you have a hard time letting go of being angry?



Friday, June 8, 2018

Balancing Act

I was watching a Korean escape room live action show this week.  That sounds weird doesn't it.  I do believe I warned you that I was an Odd Duck.  One of the challenges had the teams trying to solve a puzzle that involved weights that they had to pass from one side of a platform to the other while the whole team stood on it and had to keep the platform balanced.  Each over correction or miscommunication in the team sent the platform tilting into the penalty zone.  It got me thinking about balance.  In this season of rest that God asked me to enter into, I have been struggling.  One of the reasons I don't like resting is that I feel predisposed to laziness.  In my youth I poured out prayers to God asking Him to give me discipline.  I've always known that I had a problem.  It's one of the things I liked least about myself growing up.  Those people that know me now laugh at this idea.  I'm always busy.  I've got a schedule that has to be carefully maintained.  But that's the thing, I schedule.  I to do list.  I took my desire for discipline and I built a framework that would allow me to maintain it.  This season of rest has shone a spot light on the fact that without my careful constructs, I still don't have any discipline.

I knew that God had some things to teach me during this time of rest and it was clear from the start that when He asked me to clear my schedule, He meant it.  Just like God didn't move in Abram's life until after he had done ALL of what God asked of him (see Gen 12:1).  God told him to leave country and family behind but he couldn't do it.  He traveled with his nephew for a time but didn't get further direction from God until he parted ways with his family like God had asked him too.  So I set aside my scheduler and my to do lists.  They have been sitting blank and forlorn for weeks.  I blocked out huge swaths before our Hawaii trip to remind me that I didn't have tasks to do, I had rest.  

There is definitely a lesson in reminding yourself that obeying all of what God has asked of you is important.  Lifting one finger on the clenched fist you have around the thing He's asked you to let go of is not obedience.  It's a step in the right direction but it is not the end of the journey.  

So here I sit, feeling adrift.  What exactly is God asking me to do.  I've got things I could be doing but without my schedule and my to do list....I've done pretty much nothing.  I wasn't even spending quiet time with God for a while, which was not okay.  What exactly did God mean for me to be doing while resting.  It can't seriously be nothing, because that's awful, and yet that's what I was doing.  That's why this moment on the TV program hit me.  Life in general seems to be a balancing act.  We're trying to maintain moderation and sanity.  I didn't realize how often I tilted on a huge fulcrum.  All busy or all lazy.  Frantically over balancing myself trying to correct, leaning too far one way or the other.  So afraid of leaning to the lazy that I never even attempted to correct my seriously tilted life.  

Most people would tell you that the secret to physical balance is all about staying centered and micro corrections.  But stress responses usually throw that knowledge right out the window.  Just like physical challenges that affect balance, we have mental traumas that can have the same effect. It can start to feel like the deck is stacked against us when it comes to balance.  It's easy to forget the easiest trick to maintaining proper balance...
a point of focus.

You see, over correcting my flaws is what happens when I take control of trying to fix them.  

So, I'm learning in the quiet to do one thing.  Focus on my Savior.

How about you?  Have you over over corrected your balance?  Do you need to take some time to refocus and regain your balance?  You're not alone.