The #1 Way to Stay Mentally Healthy

I attend a ladies Bible study each week on Tuesday mornings.  It’s a good opportunity to get out of the house, to let my daughter interact with other children and other caretakers, and it’s a wonderful time of spiritual learning/growing for me.  Since I have experience in teaching music, I was asked to lead the singing for the group, and I was also asked to be a group leader at my table, where I lead the discussion based on the questions in the material.  I really enjoy the time away from my daughter, I love the ladies in my group, and I like absorbing other people’s experiences about the topics we are studying.

There was a time when I couldn’t say I was happy about going.

There were many weeks when I just didn’t want to go.  I’ll just be honest.  I didn’t have the time to plan out which songs we were going to sing, and I sure didn’t have time to sit down and read through the lesson well enough to lead others to critical thinking!  For two months, I quit going and abandoned my responsibilities to the group.  (There were some physical roadblocks that aided that, but I was relieved when I had a good excuse to quit going.)

After we got our car fixed and I could get out of the house at will again, I jumped at the chance to participate.  Now, several weeks later, because I know how much it encourages me, I look forward to going and actually plan time to review the lesson and the songs before Tuesday morning arrives.  Planning is half the battle, so when I am prepared, I feel relaxed and ready to lead, instead of feeling stressed and unwilling to use my talents.

I’m glad I’m not that person anymore.

In the first article since my overhaul, I laid out what my healthy goals were – staying physically active, eating healthy foods, and maintaining good mental health.  Today, 3 months after the new year began, I can say that in each area, I have succeeded sometimes and failed at other times.

Above is a prime example of my victory over poor mental health.  The times I was relieved when I didn’t have to participate in the Bible study were times when I felt drained, like I was just giving, giving, giving of myself and not getting much back in return.  It’s hard to keep others afloat when you are sinking.   Click here to tweet this

In looking back on that time, I also realize I was battling mild depression about a friendship that wasn’t meeting my expectations.  Again, it was a mental health issue but it affected my physical health in many ways.  I had a hard time getting out of bed in the mornings.  Any free time I had, I wanted to sleep.  I began eating more comfort food than normal – breads, etc. – which meant that I put on a few pounds.  Those extra pounds contributed to my low self-esteem, and on and on the cycle went.

I’m really glad I’m not that person any more.

In the Bible study lesson this week, we discussed how God commanded the Israelites to set up altars as memorials to remember the ways He moved in their lives.  What kinds of markers do we have in our own lives today?

Journaling is my marker.  It’s my way of looking back at a picture of myself.  It’s my way of remembering how God brought me through whatever trial I was facing.  It’s my way of remembering the lesson I learned from that trial.

Journaling is my way of staying mentally healthy.  The times I keep a journal are the times I feel the best.  I can write my thoughts down without showing them to anyone, and I can identify what is really bothering me.  I wrote a post about it a while back – you can find it here.

Next time you feel like something’s just not right, or when you fly off the handle at the littlest thing, try taking a few minutes to write in a journal of some sort.  It will help you sort out your feelings and discover the underlying cause (is it the wasted food you’re crying about, or is it the fact that you haven’t slept a full 8 hours for more than a week and you have a sinus headache?).  I used to use Penzu, a free online journaling website.  Now, I just create a new document on my computer.  I even keep a small notebook beside my bed so I can write down anything that is bothering me at bedtime.  I usually have weird dreams if something is on my mind at bedtime.

I hope this is helpful to you, reader.  I’m just a fellow traveler on this journey toward good mental health.

Help! I’m a Vegan at a Backyard Cookout. What Can I Eat?

I live in Texas, where the weather changes every few days.  Today, for instance, it was in the 80’s; tomorrow, the high is only supposed to be in the low 50’s.  We flip flop from freezing to beautiful and back in a whip-lash fashion.

During one of these roller coaster weather patterns, when it was in the 80’s, my family went to the lake with some friends from our church.  It actually got so warm that day that our friends turned on their A/C in the camper after we all began sweating!

As per any camping trip, a cook-out ensued.  *cue dramatic music*

I actually knew what the group was doing for dinner (hamburgers and hotdogs), and I came prepared.  But I realized that a backyard cookout/camping trip chuckwagon/barbecue was never going to be easy as long as I am eating a plant-based diet, since nearly every outdoor eating experience seems to revolve around meat.

As I said, I came prepared; armed with Cowboy Caviar (a bean/raw vegetable salad marinated in Italian dressing) and homemade fresh salsa with tortilla chips, my family and I had the opportunity to share a meal AND eat well.  I’m not going to lie – I was a little grossed out when a plate went by with not one but TWO bacon cheeseburgers and homemade potato chips (deep fried in oil and doused with seasoned salt).  Not grossed out because it came from animals, but because of how I would feel if I ate that.  I would feel bloated, gassy, and a little bit nauseated from all the oil (I have found when I eat fried foods, or even popcorn cooked in oil, I get that same nauseous feeling).

But I was happy when I saw others putting salsa and the fresh guacamole someone brought onto their burgers.  At least that’s SOME improvement, right?! 🙂  And of course I beamed when someone asked who brought the delicious bean salad and who made the yummy salsa?  Score two points for Team Vegan!

As the days get longer and summer months draw near (hooray for DST, right?), our friends and families will want to eat al fresco.  So what’s a vegan going to do?

1.) Be prepared – bring your own protein.  Know in advance what’s on the menu.  If that’s not possible, ASSUME IT’S GOING TO BE HAMBURGERS AND HOTDOGS.  Bring your favorite broccoli recipe (broccoli has more protein in 100 calories than a steak), or black/pinto/kidney/soy bean recipe.  The Cowboy Caviar is awesome because it’s got 3 different kinds of beans and a myriad of vegetables, plus it’s light and refreshing in contrast to the barbecued, cooked, and otherwise charred-with-carcinogens food.  Just look up a recipe on your favorite browser.  You can put what you want in it – mine had black-eyed peas, black beans, kidney beans, diced tomatoes, corn, green, yellow, orange, and red pepper, red onion, cilantro, avocado, and a package of Good Seasons Italian seasoning made with white vinegar and EVOO.  SO ADDICTIVE!

2.) Don’t make a big deal out of it.  If you are new to eating a plant-based diet, you may want to shout it from the rooftops so everyone knows…however, that may alienate people or otherwise make them feel inferior.  You may get this reaction – “Oh, well SHE is too GOOD for OUR kind of food…” or something to that effect.  Just set your stuff out with the other food, fill your plate when it’s your turn, and be sure to thank the host/hostess for a generous spread.

3.) Accept offers with a thanks.  Remember that eating a meal together is more important than the food itself.  I admit, I ate a couple handfuls of those homemade potato chips that were deep-fried and covered in salt.  You know why?  Not because they would fuel my body in a positive way, but because it built the relationship with the person who made them.  It would have been rude to refuse them.  One piece of meat won’t wreck your diet.  It may not feel great on your system, but all things will pass.  🙂  So whenever possible, as long as it doesn’t violate your own conscience, eat what is set before you with thanks.  (I feel like we all need to go read 1 Corinthians 8 – the chapter about food sacrificed to idols!)

4.) Go for more of the same.  If the only option is lettuce, tomato, and onion as toppings for a hamburger, load up!  Make a salad out of it and keep eating vegetables until you feel full.

5.) Help your host/hostess think outside of the “hamburger and hotdog” box.  What about black bean burgers?  Tofu burgers?  Vegetable skewers?  A southwest style baked potato with black beans, salsa, and avocado is a viable option.

Knowing is half the battle.  If you have other tips for vegan eating as the temperatures and the barbecue grills start warming up, please share!  Let’s help each other make progress toward our good health goals.

5 Easy Ways to Lose Weight

If someone told me losing weight was as easy as eating plants, I would have started a lot sooner than I did.

If someone told me I would feel better if I cut out bread, meats, and dairy from my diet, I would have done so a lot sooner than I did.

If someone had told me I would CONTINUE to lose weight, even when I ate foods that weren’t good for me, just because my diet was plant-based, I would have done so a lot sooner than I did.

Photo by webmd.com

Photo by webmd.com

These five easy steps are what I wish I had known 30 lbs ago:

1.) CUT IT OUT.  Eliminate red meats, sausages, pork, poultry, then chicken, tuna, and seafood.  Go one at a time.  Then cut out white breads/pastas of all kinds, especially the ones with sugar and preservatives.  Then get rid of dairy products, which are full of fat and hard on the digestive system.  Immediately stop consuming foods with artificial flavors or colors (like sodas), anything processed or fried, anything full of fat (I had to stop making pies because my pie crust recipe used Crisco), and anything with unpronounceable ingredients.  If you can’t find it in nature, don’t eat it. Click here to tweet this

2.) ADD PLANTS TO YOUR DIET.  Any kind of plant – green leafies, cooked carrots, beans of all kinds, fresh or frozen berries, nuts, seeds, and LOTS of fruit.   These are your cancer-fighters, your blood pressure lowering soldiers, your blood sugar stabilizers…you get the idea.  Your body will function so much better once you get on a plant-based diet.

3.) Exercise when you can, but aim for 3 times per week.  I was able to walk 3 miles 3 times a week and saw tremendous changes in my muscles and body shape.  Besides just feeling good, you will LOOK good, too!

4.) Don’t count calories.  Forget about how many points something gets or is this on so-and-so plan.  Just eat plants and get rid of all the other junk in our American diet.

5.) Don’t obsess.  This is a journey, not a destination, so there is no race to the finish.  Food is made to serve you, not the other way around.  It’s designed to make our bodies function so we can live LIFE.  You won’t be perfect every day, so accept that.  Give yourself some grace.  Stick to the 80/20 rule if you are going to splurge – 80% of what you should eat (plants) and 20% of what you WANT to eat.  Losing weight and eating whole foods can become a “god;” an idol; an obsession that your life revolves around and distances you from  your loved ones.  God never intended food to be divisive – see THIS ARTICLE from someone who shared her own journey from food idolatry (shared with permission from the author).  There are more important things in life than food.

If someone had told me losing weight was easy, I would have started on this journey a whole lot sooner. Click here to tweet this I hope this has helped you make progress toward your healthy goals.  If you know someone who has struggled with their weight and wants to learn more, please pass this on!  Let’s all help each other make progress toward our health goals.

Jesus Took Mental Health Breaks

I mentioned in my introduction that maintaining good mental health is a goal of mine. I believe there are many things you can do to keep your mind healthy, but the most important thing is to withdraw and pray, as Jesus did.

In reading through the Gospels right now, it’s amazing to me the sheer amount of miracles and wonderful things Jesus did during his ministry on Earth. The Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were all close friends of Jesus, and they all testify to his supernatural powers of healing, intuition, and provision (He fed 5000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish). It seems He was constantly surrounded by people – large crowds, the 12 apostles, small groups – that all needed His touch.

Another thing that the Gospel writers all mention is his tendency to withdraw from the crowds and pray.  Mark 7:46 is one example: “After leaving them (he had just finished feeding the 5000), he went up on a mountainside to pray.” Luke 22:39 describes his “usual” routine of going to the Mount of Olives to pray.

Jesus taught us many things, but the thing I’m learning right now from reading the Gospels is that Jesus withdrew and prayed…possibly when He felt overwhelmed or when He was preparing for something big. (I won’t pretend to know how He felt but I can only comment on what the Bible says.) He even withdrew from his closest circle of friends.

How many times do we feel anxious or overwhelmed?  Psychology Today cites that the average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950’s. (see the whole story here.)  With all the “noise” in our lives, I feel it is important to turn it all off by withdrawing and praying.  I usually start my day off with a cup of coffee, my Bible, and a prayer to God.  On days that I don’t, I often feel like I’m already behind and I’ll never get caught up, everything goes wrong, I don’t have enough patience for my own child,  I’m irritable, and I usually make poor food choices.  Weird how it all connects, huh?

On the flip side, how much better do we feel when we pray before going through a stressful situation?!  Often we don’t recognize the stress as we go through it.

Jesus taught the importance of withdrawing and praying through His example.  Let’s learn from the Master Teacher.  Blessings to you as you make progress toward your mental health goals today.

Getting Back On The Wagon

During the month I got really serious about eating healthy and exercising, I went out to eat a couple of times one weekend.  These were places Hubby and I frequented; I got what I always got…a fried chicken sandwich, waffle fries, and a half sweet, half unsweet iced tea.  Then on Sunday, after church, I forgot to order a salad and got my usual pasta drenched in rich, calorie-laden sauce.  When I talked to my mom the next day and told her about our weekend, she laughed and said, “Did it hurt when you fell off the wagon?!”

I think a lot of us feel guilty on Monday mornings.  After a weekend of laying on the couch, watching football, and (usually) eating foods we wouldn’t normally eat during the week, we are filled with guilt.  For most people, me included, that guilt leads to an even stronger desire to “get back on the wagon” and do what is right for my body – eat healthy, exercise, and drink lots of water.

So don’t ever feel like it’s too late to do the right thing for your body.  Don’t ever feel like it won’t be worth it to eat a salad or fruit.  Even further, let’s take smoking.  I’ve heard doctors say that as soon as you stop smoking, even from the first missed cigarette, your body starts thanking you.  I don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about the effects of smoking; I only know it’s a terrible addiction that has awful consequences.

You only have one body, and you can never replace it.  God has commanded us to take care of His temple – that’s right, our bodies are where He lives, so we need to keep them clean.  I hope you will start today by making a good choice for your body!  Be blessed.  Ephesians 3:20-21

Be Present.

We are in a crazy chapter of our life right now.

Guitardude is working 2 jobs AND going to grad school.  I am juggling mommy duties, church/Bible study activities, playgroup activities, and keeping Hubby fed and clothed whenever he “lands” like a bird in our little nest.

We are exhausted (see the post about Sick of Rice and Beans for why), but we decided we would get up each morning to eat breakfast together to spend some quality quiet time together.  I am amazed at how this 30-minute session has lifted my spirits and improved our communication!

One of the things I’ve noticed about our interactions, as limited as they are, is that I have to choose to be focused on what he says or needs.  It takes a conscious decision to put down the phone, quit worrying about the baby, and exist in the current time and space.  Being present requires self-discipline.

You know those people who act like they are listening to you but really aren’t?  They may be looking around the room, or fiddling with their napkin, or checking facebook on their phones instead of listening to/paying attention to you.  It makes me so sad that our loved ones choose to discard these precious moments.  We aren’t guaranteed another moment, another day, or another year.  Every conversation you have may be the last one with your friend or loved one.

Be present in your conversations.  Be aware of the need of the moment.  Listen to your friend or loved one as if they were the only person in the room.

I have to make myself apply these same principles with my husband, and now with my daughter.  There are so many times I need to do chores around the house, or maintain my blog or online business, or fix something homemade in the kitchen.  All of these activities take me away from the people I love.  Are those chores more important than my baby?  It takes self-discipline to stop what I’m doing and go play with my baby girl–sit in the floor, stack the blocks, read a book, take a picnic blanket outside and sit under the tree.  Usually when I choose to spend those special moments with her, I end up laughing and smiling (because she is a funny kid!).  What better blessing?!  “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” -Prov. 17:22 (NIV).

So be present with the people you love and care about the most.  In doing so, you will be EXCEEDINGLY ABUNDANTLY blessed!  ~Ephesians 3:20-21

Sick of Rice and Beans

We are approaching the end of year 3 on rice and beans. If you don’t know what this means, it’s part of Dave Ramsey’s debt-free plan. Step 2 in this plan is to pay off all outstanding debts, minus the house, by cutting back on living expenses. One of the biggest areas to reduce spending in is food/groceries. Dave recommends eating “beans and rice, rice and beans” during this phase of your life because those are the two cheapest food items at the grocery store.

So after 3 years, we are SICK of eating cheap food, we are TIRED of not having blow money and entertainment money, and we are SICK AND TIRED of being in debt.  We have had some major bumps along the way, including eliminating one of our two incomes and welcoming our first child into the world.

We are ready to DUMP DEBT!!  One of the things we’re doing to gain more traction is increasing our income.  Guitardude is working 2 jobs to help cash-flow graduate school.  I am maintaining our eBay business (JMS_Music on eBay) from home.

I often get discouraged when we sit down for our budget meetings and lay out the plan for the month.  I see how much more we have to go, and I often want to just give up.  After all this time, it still seems like our goal is sooooo far away.  I’m sure a lot of you in Baby Step 2 have felt this same way.

But one thing that has helped me this week: read Proverbs 6: 1-11 EVERY DAY.  What does it say?  Here it is:

Proverbs 6

New International Version (NIV)

Warnings Against Folly

1 My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor,
if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger,
2 you have been trapped by what you said,
ensnared by the words of your mouth.
3 So do this, my son, to free yourself,
since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands:
Go—to the point of exhaustion—
and give your neighbor no rest!
4 Allow no sleep to your eyes,
no slumber to your eyelids.
5 Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,
like a bird from the snare of the fowler.

6 Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
7 It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
8 yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.

9 How long will you lie there, you sluggard?
When will you get up from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
11 and poverty will come on you like a thief
and scarcity like an armed man.

So I hope this will help you take heart as much as it does me.  You have planned your work; now work your plan.  It’s a slow-cooker, not a microwave.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  Just keep doing what you know is right.  I know God is pleased with us handling HIS money correctly and I know He will keep blessing us as we try to become better managers of HIS money.  ~Eph. 3:20-21

The Need of the Moment

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” ~Ephesians 4:29 (NASB).

I am very, very tired today. I stayed up until the wee hours last night, talking with a far-away friend. I am embarrassed to say that I called this friend to discuss a petty problem of mine, but as we worked through that problem, she began to open up and fill me in on some pretty significant things happening in her life.

A few times, throughout the course of the conversation, we each tried to ring off, but felt that there were too many things left unsaid, so we just kept talking. 3 and a half hours later, my body was finally shutting down all function and I couldn’t keep my eyes open, so we said good-bye and said we’d keep in touch. This friend is a fellow Harding alumna, so we tend to pick up right where we left off, as anyone with that “Harding connection” knows happens all the time!

I cannot tell you how blessed I was by that conversation, and I know that my friend was blessed by our conversation, as well. I may be a zombie today, but my friend needed me in that moment, so I chose to stay on the line.

Do you ever need to catch someone right after church service, but they seem to run out the back door? Have you ever felt the meal was rushed and everyone seemed to be in a hurry to get up and get on their way? These are moments; there is a need in these kinds of moments. The need to listen, the need to speak, the need to hug, the need to pray, the need to weep, the need to give a word of encouragement. Sometimes you need to receive these gestures; other times, you need to give these gestures. In fact, the verse I began with INSTRUCTS us to build each other up with our words, according to the need of the moment.

I encourage you to look for these “moments.” We’re all busy people, but are we really so busy that we can’t obey God’s instruction to us? Are we actually so busy that we can’t take a moment to speak with a lonely widower? Are we really so busy that we ignore the hurt and suffering someone is going through?  Are we so incredibly busy that we can’t take a moment to congratulate someone on their new job/achievement?

Take a moment. Be present in the moment. Give a kind word in that moment. Build someone up in that moment. You will bring grace to them and blessings upon your own head.

May God give you exceedingly abundant blessings today. ~Eph. 3:20-21

Baby Steps

My 9-month-old daughter started walking this week. Eek! I still can’t believe it.

But as I watch her take her first baby steps, I was struck with the following ideas:

1.) Baby steps are not without forethought. She sees something she wants (usually something she’s not supposed to get into!), stands up, and begins putting one foot in front of the other in its direction. You can see the wheels turning, practically!

2.) Baby steps falter at first, and sometimes fail. It’s a start-and-stop process. She usually gets one or two steps forward, then loses her balance and falls down. But if it’s something she REALLY wants, she’ll get up and do it over and over again!

3.) Baby steps require utter and total concentration. When she has figured out what she wants and gets her feet underneath her, she usually drops the toy she was holding but always keeps her eyes up and on the desired object.

So, naturally, I compared this to the Baby Steps in our journey to get out of debt through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. These baby steps can be applied to your financial life, too.

1.) Baby steps require forethought. What do you wish you could afford? It often sounds like, “When we get out of debt, I want to buy a ____________.” You fill in the blank with what you want. Mine sounds like, “When we get out of debt, I am going to have fresh fruits and vegetables delivered to my front door once a week.” Start dreaming! That’s what will sustain you as you climb your way out of debt.

2.) Baby steps falter at first, and sometimes fail. It’s a start-and-stop process.  When we found out we were expecting, we began saving extra money into a “Baby Fund,” as Dave recommends. When Baby Girl finally arrived and we all came home healthy, we paid off all of our hospital bills, doctor bills, anesthetist bills, lab bills…OR SO WE THOUGHT! 9 months later, we were slammed with an $800 hospital bill and another $100 doctor bill. We were so mad because we used the remainder of our “Baby Fund” to pay down student loans. Just when we thought we were making good progress, these bills came out of the blue and set us back.

3.) Baby steps require utter and total concentration. If I’m not careful, I find myself saying, “Oh, I deserve this ice cream,” or, “We can just move some money around out of the snowball money,” or, “Oooh, extra money at the end of the month?! I can go shopping!” We are totally bombarded with commercials, ads, billboards, and every kind of sensory attraction to make us think we need to purchase things we didn’t know we needed. STAY GAZELLE INTENSE! Keep your eyes on the prize – getting out of debt and being a better steward of the money God gave you to manage.

Good luck on your debt journey. May God bless you more than you could ever ask or imagine. ~Ephesians 3:20-21