Health


Blame it on Shonda and Elizabeth… We all know that I love Ms. Gilbert for the brilliance that is Eat Pray Love. That book helped me come alive after years of just floating. It spoke to me and many others in ways that no other book had done, and I am forever grateful that she presented her truth in such a way that it seemed natural to look inside myself to see what I had in there. My copy of EPL has so many notes and highlights that just a glance will give anyone an insight to who I am.

Shonda Rhimes, well, she’s new for me. I was never a fan of Grey’s Anatomy, mainly because of the unfortunate presence of Ms. Heigl, so there’s a great deal of Shondaland that I have not seen. I am a fan of Scandal, but I never really focused on who was writing those amazing storylines. It was the actors that presented them that thrilled me. That is, until, I listened to the audiobook version of The Year of Yes, which I first found incredibly annoying until I realized that the person reading the book — Shonda — sounded exactly like me, and her thinking was so much like mine that there was simply no way that she wouldn’t have some knowledge that I needed.

The fact is, both of these books and authors resonated in my life because they stepped from behind their curtains to share the truths of their respective journeys of self-discovery, and I am a person who craves to get to the bottom of the truth of who I am and how I can be the best version of myself. What I’ve learned is that there is no “best version” of me without the honest look at what my life looks like, and how that makes me feel. I will not stop trying to be the best version of Reese, and this is another step forward in that journey.

I love hard. If there is confusion about what that means, read page 65 of EPL. I grew up in a loving home with wonderful people, and that’s the foundation of my life. There was no tragic childhood trauma for me. I was a happy kid with happy circumstances that were expected to lead to an inevitably happy life.

Of late I have been struggling to maintain that so-called happy life. There have been several big, grown-up, adults situations that seriously compromised that so-called happy life, and, without going into great detail, I can say that the wounds are deep, the scars are visible, and the pain does not really go away.  My focus has been to find a way to cope rather to find a way to heal. Until recently, that is.

Life can be deeply challenging to navigate. Just when you get used to things being one way, the wind blows or the car spins or the dog bites or the computer freezes, and then everything has to change. And sure, I’ve read Who Moved My Cheese countless times, and I know that change is inevitable, but sometimes, I just want to go back to way I was, the way I felt in my perfectly uneventful happy life.  Of course, I was under the age of 10, so things were much different. Still, it is change that inspires us all to grow, and so I’m working on finding my way to healing, not just coping.

And this process is not easy, so I have enlisted the help of a “healer”. Okay, she’s a therapist, but I call her the healer because she listens which makes me listen, and I see myself moving beyond the coping stage.  I look forward to the healing and the growth.

Today was a good day.

 

 

So many years, so many pounds… but I’m back. I’m back to write about the roads I’m travelling in this life. I’m back to write about what’s been going on. I’m back… to write.

In the far too many years since my last post, much about my life has changed. I married my true love, and gained 4 stepchildren and quite a bit of weight, and while each of those things are topics I could write about endlessly, for now, I’ll stick with the latter.

I have struggled with my weight since I was in college, and I’ve had varying degrees of success with my attempts at weight loss. Right before my wedding, I lost 25 pounds on the most restrictive diet I’d ever done,  only to gain it all back within a year of the honeymoon. Now, as I am almost the heaviest I’ve ever been, I’m willing to try almost anything to get to that elusive state known as healthy.

Recently, I was strongly encouraged to watch “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead”, a documentary about Joe Cross– a once fat, sick and unhealthy man who traveled across the country doing a 60-day juice fast, and tried to educate others (specifically Phil) along the way about the benefits of juicing.   This documentary is a must-see. The idea of juicing is very appealing, that is, until you realize the amount of work involved with juicing, and how drastically different meals and mealtime become. Still, watching Joe and Phil transform their bodies and their lives gave me the impetus to believe I could do it myself.

Juicing is not for the faint of heart or will or pocketbook, and I strongly suggest that folks do as much research as possible before starting a juice only regimen. Me, well, I prepared along the way (not recommended). The first thing I did was buy the juicer. There are many juicers on the market, but because I wanted to be just like Joe and his protegé Phil, I bought what they used — the Breville Juice Fountain Plus. What I like about my juicer is that it is a) affordable, b) easy to assemble and disassemble, c) thorough, and d) the juicer that Joe and Phil used.

My initial plan was to buy the juicer, test out a few recipes for a week or two, then go on a 30-day juice fast. What actually happened was that once the juicer was in my hands, I immediately wanted to begin the juice fast, so I did. I went to the organic market and Wegman’s, and, using Joe’s recipes, bought enough food for 3 days. That may not seem like a lot of food, but 3 days worth of produce filled my refrigerator. Because I’m an organization freak, I bagged the produce for each juice separately  — there were 15 different juices in the first 3 days. I don’t recommend using 15 different juices at a time, but it did afford me the opportunity to try out a lot of different juices to see which ones, and which ingredients I liked and didn’t like.

I managed to juice consistently for 6 days, and lose about 8 pounds in the process. Then, due to poor planning, I stopped during a short trip. Here’s what I learned from my first juice fast.

1. Find 2-4 juice recipes that you can use consistently during your fast. It makes it easier on the wallet because you can buy in bulk, and easier for juicing because you can juice several servings at one time. I use Joe’s Mean Green and the Carrot Apple Ginger juices every day.

2. Fresh juice does not last for days, so plan to juice at least once a day. I juice every evening for the next day. I juice 1-2 servings for breakfast and mid-morning, and then I juice 2-3 servings for my remaining meals. Mean green is delish!

3. Plan to shop every 3-4 days. Produce has a limited shelf life, so buy enough to make it to 3-4 days.

4. Get new containers for your juices. We all have bottles and containers for days, but you want a reliable, LEAK-PROOF bottle designated just for your juices. The smell of spilled celery juice in the car is not appealing.

5. Clean that juicer as soon as you are finished. My juicer is easy to clean, but I can just imagine that letting the discarded fibrous produce sit would create a challenging mess to clean up.

6. Throw the produce remnants in an outdoor trash can or compost heap. I made the mistake of using the kitchen trash can once… but only once.

7. Don’t give up on a recipe without testing with different ingredients. I made one juice that required 1/2 of a red onion — never again. Now I use red cabbage instead with that juice.

8. Always follow soft produce with hard produce. Kale is a great ingredient, but you’ll get more out of the kale if you follow it with an apple.

9. Organic is best… more expensive, but it makes a difference.

10. Enjoy the juicing for as long as you can. Believe it or not, the juice tastes amazing!

Today I’m starting a 21-day juice fast. I’ll be charting my progress, to some degree, along with other stuff.  At the end of these 21 days, I hope to lose some weight, and I hope that my body will become acclimated to a plant-based diet. I also hope that I can keep up with charting…

For the past few years, I have spent my vacations at a beach resort in Fort Lauderdale with my friend Netta. We sit on the beach, eat gourmet meals, shop for hours, and watch tv. For exciting reasons –namely, Netta’s 3 week tour of Great Britain — that vacation could not happen this year, and I had to scramble to find something else to do. Last fall, I was planning to go to the Kripalu Center to attend a Women of Color Yoga Retreat (WOCYR), but my depression was at such an intense level that I couldn’t set my mind to make any decisions. Needless to say, when I was in scramble mode this year, my search brought me to the Kripalu website, and the WOCYR happened to be scheduled for the same weekend as my vacation. We call that perfect timing.

I am interested in yoga, and I have taken quite a few yoga classes, but I have not practiced yoga. Well, yoga and the yogic lifestyle are a significant part of the Kripalu experience. At Kripalu, life is simple unless, of course, you choose to complicate it with a very visible flirtation with JC from Jerusalem, and despite the ever-growing presence of Kate Spade handbags in my closet, I crave a simpler life. This center is a special place, and the experience was one that I will build upon as much as I possibly can.

When I first arrived at the center, I expected to stand out as the lone suburban Jesus lover among a sea of experienced tree hugging, Eastern religion pushing, Christianity-averse people who potentially were boycotting deodorant. I could not have been more wrong. I went in with a head full of erroneous expectations and judgments hoping not to be judged by those around me.  We call that ironic hypocrisy.  

I needed the Kripalu experience. I needed to step far outside of my box and try something new. I needed no frills, no excesses. I needed deliberate exposure to nature uncluttered with buildings. I needed healthy nourishment without preservatives, and I needed interaction with a community of people without any agenda other than encouraging one another in being our authentic selves. Most importantly, I needed open space, fresh air, and a distraction free setting to allow me to sit and talk with my Lord, quietly enough to hear Him speak to me. And I got everything that I needed… and more.

As a Christ-follower struggling with my role in the contemporary Christian community, I found it refreshing to exist, however briefly, in a place dedicated to the yogic value system, which resembles some aspects of the Christian values with which I was raised. According to their website, “Kripalu operates in accord with a set of core values that [include]: a commitment to authenticity, radical self-trust, the courage to fully express one’s self, and unconditional positive regard for others.” I must admit, as I walked around the campus of Kripalu on my first day, and adapted to the spirit of that place, I was impressed with the commitment to the yogic lifestyle that everyone I encountered displayed. 

The makeup of this place is not at all conducive to sustaining the capitalistic, sex-, money- and power-obsessed world in which we live. It is a spiritual place that “works” because its ideals are clear and unwavering, and its leadership, staff and visitors hold those ideals as non-negotiable staples to the experience. And in a place without crosses and Bibles, I was able to focus on God, and listen to His cry for me to release my grip from the pains of the past so that He could fill my life with something better. And He used an unlikely bunch of amazing women to remind me that I am loved and accepted for nothing other than just being myself. They supported my creative flow in a new way, wiped my tears of loss and regret, shared God’s love by reminding me to take care of the temple He gave me, encouraged me not to give up the Church just because one church has forgotten The Way, and taught me the Cha-cha slide patiently and methodically. And for all of that, I am so, so grateful.

I suppose the biggest lesson I learned at Kripalu was about doing things differently. I incorporated that idea into my life immediately upon arriving at the center. For one thing, I ate an entirely vegetarian diet for my entire stay. In addition, when selecting my food from the meal lines – it’s cafeteria style dining – I selected foods that I had never eaten before, and I ate the food from one large bowl. That might not seem like a big deal, but I was a person that required that the items on my plate never touch, and I have never been adventurous with my food. The result – I ate fabulous meals in moderation, and I lost 6 pounds. I have gone back to eating some animal proteins, but far fewer than I had prior to my trip.

Another difference for me was that I paid little attention to my attire at the center. I wore shorts for the first time in about 3 years, and I wore bright pink fake Crocs – affectionately referred to as Cracs – that didn’t match a thing on my body, and it was great! And oddly enough, I didn’t even pay attention to what other people were wearing… except for the cool hat that JC wore.

The most surprising difference was that I freely expressed my creativity without any fears in the midst of strangers. I’m ashamed to say that despite my leaning to the creative side of life – namely writing – I have often felt hindered by the destructive criticism uttered by individuals around me. I remember the last drama I was asked to participate in at my former church, and how, on day 1 of rehearsals, almost the entire cast complained about my delivery of lines I had seen for the first time that night, each trying to out criticize the other… and those people were “Christians” claiming to be my friends. Imagine what strangers would do. But at Kripalu, there was a welcoming support for my creative flow, not just in writing, but also in dance and impromptu speaking and in jewelry making, and I created art in that environment in a way that I never thought I could. There’s just no limit to a freely creative mind. 

I understand, of course, that Kripalu was just the setting, that the experiences were not site-specific, and that timing had much to do with the benefits of the experience for me. A year ago, I would not have been able to comprehend the benefits of a technology free zone. A year ago, I would not have been able to accept that I had to let go of a place and people that were essentially more destructive than crack (or Cracs) to me. A year ago, I would not have been able to live without a burger and fries a few times a week. And a year ago, I would not have seen the importance of getting so quiet that the thoughts in my mind were still enough to actually hear from God. What a difference a year makes!

My intended prayer: “Lord, everything I thought I lost, everything I thought I needed, I give to You without hesitation. You have shown me something so much better – the wealth of a simplified and creative life. And you did it all at one of the most beautiful places on earth. Thank You.”

When it’s over, it’s still there in your mind, vividly, all that has transpired.  My muse demands that I speak.  Ten years ago, my father, Poppy, was diagnosed with Cancer.

Cancer doesn’t look at you before it takes hold of you.  It doesn’t care about your race, or your age, your name or your educational background.  It couldn’t care less about your bank statement or your health.  It doesn’t look at your permanent record, your weight loss attempts, your high score in basketball, or the book you never read.  Cancer doesn’t check out your church attendance record or whether you helped the little boy learn to tie his shoe.  Cancer doesn’t verify your social security number or test your ability to drive.  It doesn’t look inside your car, and it doesn’t care if you wear white after Labor Day.  Cancer is the only thing in life that never discriminates. 

I remember my Poppy’s response to the question, “Why you?”  He courageously said in his matter-of-fact manner, “Why not me?”  It did not matter that my Poppy took great care of his body, with regular exercise, vitamins, and a generally healthy diet.  Cancer did not care.  Cancer came inside his body and attempted to wreak fatal havoc with him and with our family. 

Whenever I thought about Cancer, before it came into my life, I associated it with suffering for families, not my family, but other people’s families.  I was so wrong.  I never thought of it in my home, in my family, threatening to take my daddy from me.  I now think of Cancer as an evil that comes into your body and grows and destroys everything in its path.  I didn’t realize that Cancer would dare come into my life.  But it did.  Cancer did not care.

When Poppy told us, his three adoring adult children, that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, we were each devastated.  I began to weep, almost uncontrollably.  Cancer did not care.  Given how close I am with both of my parents, I knew how hard this disease would be on both of them.  Mum and Poppy have a love the way God himself intends love to be.  I felt pity and sadness for my parents, fear and anger.  Cancer, of course, did not care. 

After much prayer, much prayer, much prayer, God gave me peace about the situation.  Knowing that God was in control, I awaited the day when the Cancer would be removed from his body.  There was a chance that the Cancer had spread to the lymph nodes.  If the lymph nodes were infected with Cancer, the surgery would be halted and there would be little hope of a positive outcome. 

Watching my father and mother walk hand in hand down the long cold corridor of Johns Hopkins University hospital, my eyes welled up with tears, realizing at that moment what life was really all about, having someone there for you during that long corridor of life and regardless of the pitfalls that may lie ahead, still holding on.  The two of them, Mum and Poppy, would be forever changed by the next few hours.  Cancer still did not care.

I sat beside my mother in the waiting room, with my brother and sister on either side of us.  My mother’s sister was also there, along with close friends from the church.  The pastor’s assistant had been at the hospital early to pray with us.  Poppy’s longtime friend from college also came to support his friend.  Conspicuously absent were my father’s brothers-one because he was not told of the Cancer, and the other because he was too selfish to care.  I will never understand how collectively they couldn’t manage to be half the brother to my father that he was in spades to them. 

When the doctor came to us after the surgery, I knew the good news.  The cancer had not gone to the lymph nodes and the surgery went well.  As so many others in the waiting room looked on, again, I wept – this time, with joy.  Again we prayed and thanked God.  There was still the final report to arrive two days later, but I was renewed.  I just wanted to see my Poppy. 

It was hours before I got to see him, but when I did, I saw a man I had never seen before in my life.  He was pale, weak, and almost helpless.  I saw the humanity of my hero, and it frightened me a bit.  Cancer transforms a person.  When Poppy awoke from the anesthesia, he looked into my mother’s eyes, his own eyes glassy with tears, and asked what the surgeon had said. My mum held his hand, smiled, told him the good news, and buried her head beside his.  

Although the surgery was a success, the recovery would still be the hurdle to surpass, and this is the worst part of Cancer.  How do you recover from near death?  How do you recover from almost losing everything? 

There is no Cancer in my father’s body – he fully recovered several years ago. During his recovery, my family was inundated with telephone calls, cards, prayers, flowers, and gifts from our church family and my mother’s family, from people as far west as Missouri and Texas, and Seattle, Washington.  My mum hung every single Get Well card in the entrance to the living room, and those cards remain there 10 years later. We have learned the power of prayer and who is really supporting us in the long run.  Cancer is not only a killer, but it is also a teacher.  I have learned not to take anything for granted.  I want to spend the rest of my life surrounded by the people who love and support me.    

My father is a remarkable man.  He is a strong Black Christian man with an eternal love for his Lord and his family.  He is retired and gets to do whatever his heart desires. He has everything any man really needs.  What’s more, he has a second chance at life because he beat Cancer.  It doesn’t matter that Cancer didn’t care.  There are so many others who did.