My dad, a pastor, frequently travels back to former churches to officiate at weddings or funerals or to serve as a guest speaker. Sometimes in our early morning conversations, he shares updates about people and happenings along his always-interesting encounters. Recently, we got on the topic of the serendipitous steering currents of spirituality – – those seemingly innocent coincidental moments when you realize that divine intervention has put you exactly in the right place at the right time, where long-awaited answers or answers to questions you never asked come when you least expect them.
Throughout his career, Dad collaborated with his own preacher father on a number of sermons, including one about Joseph of Arimathea. He’s recently been going through his files, deciding which hard copies to keep and which to let go. He’d set this one aside, pondering all its possibilities.
Later that same week, he’d returned to a former church for a funeral when a member asked if he remembered that particular sermon on Joseph of Arimathea he’d preached two decades earlier.
“Yes, Charles, ” he answered, “I do remember that sermon. I’ve preached it probably ten times in my career, and it’s interesting you’re mentioning it – I’ve had it on my mind lately to become part of a series I’ll be preaching in the coming weeks.”
Charles paused briefly, then shared, “It changed my life.”
The serendipitous steering currents of spirituality come when we least expect them, whether we’ve searched the clouds looking for answers to burning questions in words written like skywriting from airplanes or whether we never even got as far as asking the question and felt only the gentle nudge that caused us to set aside an idea to return to it later.
And no matter how they establish their presence, we recognize these divine connections and welcome them as guiding lights along the path.
My journey all started with high blood pressure and “not feeling my best, ” but it had been building since late 2019. It was hard to get comfortable enough to go to sleep in bed, and I couldn’t cross my legs anymore. My thyroid medication couldn’t keep up – but it was a handy excuse. I wore the same pair of black pants at least three times a week because I refused to buy the next size up and didn’t want to commit to the longevity of an additional pair at the same size ~ because that would be admitting complacency, right? And my shirts had to be long enough to cover my back end, like a Band-Aid “hides” a wound. When we went kayaking, I had to wiggle myself down into the seat of my boat. Then I prayed as I paddled that The Gypsy Soul wouldn’t take on water and sink me somewhere out in the middle of a lake. I was in a stuck spot, and I wasn’t liking the out-of-breath adventurer I had become.
Those were hard realities for a former distance runner. In 2019, I was at the bottom of my goal weight range, running competitively and occasionally placing in my master’s women age category in 5Ks. I endured a knee injury that stalled my running, and then Covid hit. My weight went mountain climbing and enjoyed all the scenery along the way. Straight to the 206# summit.
That’s where I drew the line.
I’d always cried out to Weight Watchers whenever I needed to drop some pounds. As a Lifetime Member, I counted points and made goals and set rewards along the way when I’d stepped out of bounds by ten or twenty pounds. But this time was different. I was so far out of bounds that I needed a personal coach.
Optavia answered. I knew Jennifer Carden was an Optavia health coach, and she lives within two miles of my house. I called her, and we began my journey – we talked through initial interviews about the type of eater I am, my habits and lifestyle, and my food preferences. I placed the order for the box of fuelings that would begin my “five fuelings and one lean and green meal” per day. I would eat every two or three hours, and I could choose whether I needed to satisfy my salty tooth or my sweet tooth. My sweet tooth has forever been the screaming baby in my life.
When the box arrived on a Tuesday, I didn’t want to “wait until Sunday” to get started. I did the gut-wrenching work of owning my weight and measurements and took my “before” pictures on Wednesday, August 10, 2022 – much like confessing to a crime and taking those convicted criminal mug shots. I did a lot of this without thinking or allowing emotional involvement. I willed myself to go on autopilot. One mission: lose weight. Just do it.
I’m posting these pictures, but it really, really hurts to do this. Here goes:
And then I went to the kitchen and made my first fueling. A chocolate shake.
At work, I said NO every time the office food gifts made an appearance in our work kitchen. We’d get an email: “(Local business) brought doughnuts by this morning. Help yourself!” or “We’re celebrating (occasion) – – cupcakes for everyone!” And let me point out: they were good – these are regular offerings by those in our community. It took everything in me to turn down the white fluffy cream-filled doughnuts and the red velvet cupcakes with the cream cheese frosting. I had to remember: auto-pilot. Don’t think about it.
By August 17, I was down ten pounds, to 196. On August 22, I was at 193.9, and on September 6 I was at 188.3. I’d lost almost 20 pounds in one month. I was already able to tell a difference in my black pants, and I considered getting some new ones. But I made an agreement with myself: whenever I bought a new size, I made myself get rid of garments in the old size. I didn’t want to keep the space in the old clothes available for regrowth. So I donated the 20s when I bought 18s, 18s when I bought 16s, 16s when I bought 14s.
By September 19, I was down to 184.6 and looking forward to entering the 170s on the scale. Every time I passed a tens digit, I bought shoes as a reward; I can keep them across the pounds, and they may be my biggest reward motivator other than traveling. By the last week of September, I was down to 182.1 and looking forward to a Fall Break hiking trip to Fort Mountain State Park in Chatsworth, Georgia (with a new pair of hiking boots)!
Instead, I gave a whole new meaning to Fall Break when I missed the last step at work and broke my ankle. Hiking wasn’t to be, but I continued steadfast along my journey and on October 2 weighed in at 180.9. I was 30 pounds from my goal. I was also convinced that if I had fallen at my former weight, my break would have been far worse. Somehow, I had avoided the need for surgery. I give the weight loss full credit for that!
Through the fall, I stayed the course – five fuelings, a lean and green meal, and plenty of water. By October 24, I was at 174.2. Though I was hoping to cross the next tens digit on Halloween (171.6), I wouldn’t get there until November.
During this month, I knew that Thanksgiving would hold its challenges with food temptations. I flew to California to give a presentation at the NCTE Convention with my writing group, and I flew home to enjoy time with my family at Thanksgiving. My daughter in law cooks an amazing turkey, so I focused on that delightful plate of dinner with a side salad. I kept trucking, setting my sights on new successes.
And then I got Covid. I didn’t feel like eating, so while I wouldn’t have chosen to be sick, the silver lining in the cloud was that I wasn’t craving anything. I doubled down on my water, and by November 28th I weighed 165.0.
December was quickly approaching, and I knew the main thing that would give me trouble: eggnog. I like both the mild grocery store brands and the loaded liquor store brands, so I figured out that I’d need to identify a “substitute.” I took the Golden Blonde Brownie mix and blended it as a shake with almond milk, and then sprinkled it with nutmeg. It did the trick! I knew that once I figured out a way to avoid the feelings of deprivation, I could be successful through the holidays. So I looked for my weakest link and set about problem-solving.
December 12 gave me the momentum I needed: 159.9. I’d crossed another tens digit, and the timing to celebrate success was just the motivation I needed to get through the Christmas holidays.
On January 1, I weighed 160.0, and I rejoiced – not only because I was ten pounds from my goal weight, but also because I’d minimized damages over Christmas. Even though I was up by a half a pound or so, I’d somehow gained only a little, and I suspected that some of it could be salt intake. Plus, my tens digit re-crossing was a breath away. I spent the day doubling down on water and choosing shakes, and by the next morning I was at 158.2. Salt.
This year, I have two weight goals: reach my goal of 150 and maintain it.
With careful planning and a mindset that doesn’t tolerate emotional eating, I’m confident that 2023 will be the year of getting back to the adventurer I was meant to be! I’ll be tracking my goals the last day of every month on my blog. There’s no better time than today to set new goals and start a new journey! Many thanks to Jennifer Carden for always being there and talking me through the struggles.
“Slow travel rejects speed, emphasizes soaking in the local culture, and encourages us to savor the journey, not rush it.” –The Art of Slow Travel, by Bhavana Gesota
Most everyone we told of our Christmas travel plans tried to convince us to rethink our winter camping journey in subzero temperatures.
"You might want to reconsider," they'd urged, each in their own way.
"It's going to be dangerously cold. How will you stay warm in a camper?"
We'd recently downsized from a 30-foot 4-season Keystone Outback to a 21-foot non-insulated 2022 Little Guy Max Rough Rider. We were looking forward to seeing what it was made of.....and, perhaps more importantly, what we were made of.
We weren't wavering on our decision. The plans were made, and we would set out with two full propane tanks, an indoor-safe propane heater, an indoor electric heater, a supply of firewood, and an electric blanket. We'd monitored the weather and were keeping close tabs on the conditions of the roads.
We weren't worried about the extreme temperatures, either. With three radiant-heater dogs (who sleep at our head, hips, and feet) and each other, we were looking forward to all the cozy snuggling and excuses to linger in bed with coffee and read or write or watch Netflix or listen to our favorite seventies bands until the sun came up and warmed the walking trails a half a degree or more.
With any trip, things happen that we don't anticipate - - like when the bananas freeze and all turn dark brown and ooze goo, and the jar of olive oil freezes solid when we'd planned on searing steaks. Or when the propane, which converts from a liquid to a gas in the pipelines, freezes and renders that first heating plan completely ineffective, taking us straight to our backup heat. Those kinds of things. A few minor setbacks mixed in with some more serious ones.
So it is in life. Determination, a plan, a road map, forecasts, obstacles, challenges, a burning desire to experience life ~ even in extreme elements. It's all part of the journey.
I'm so glad we stayed the course and savored the moments. It was worth it to experience "slow travel," without a novel-thick itinerary, to "camp our way across states," breaking down the drive into short segments.
Here are the “Slow Travel” savored moments from our week away over the holidays.
First Stop: Burdoc Farms, Crofton, Kentucky. Most memorable moment: goofing off in the snow in our pajamas, taking pictures of the White Christmas winter wonderland as one of our daughters clicked her heels in sunset snow.
Second Stop: Rock Island State Park, Tennessee. Most memorable moment: enjoying the peaceful sounds of the waterfall at the dam.
Third Stop: Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee. Most memorable moment: taking in the beauty and sounds of the frozen waterfalls and cascades.
Fourth Stop: Harrison Bay State Park, Tennessee. Most Memorable moment: sunrise on the bay.
Fifth Stop: Red Top Mountain State Park, Georgia. Most memorable moment: writing all day on a rainy New Year’s Eve Eve.
Sixth Stop: Lunch with my aunt and uncle at OK Cafe in Atlanta, Georgia. Most memorable moment: sipping coffee at the retro dinette table, celebrating their December birthdays.
Seventh Stop: Home for New Year’s Eve with one of our sons. Most memorable moment: eating collard greens, black eyed peas, and ribs as we watched the Peach Bowl.
Experiencing places + savoring the journey through slow travel = just the right pace!
In April, I took a girls’ trip with my sister-in-law to north Georgia and North Carolina. We ambled around Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Georgia at a leisurely pace, admiring the tiers of tulips and daffodils before embarking on the scenic drive to the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina, where we sat by the huge stone fireplace and sipped coffee in those relaxing wooden rocking chairs you see in the mountains in places where life is simpler and a fresher type of air cleans the lungs and awakens the senses.
“I’m loving this,” I told her. “I don’t feel rushed, and it’s a more relaxed pace than the itinerary I usually keep when traveling. I zip from place to place, and I don’t generally sit down and breathe until day’s end.” I was especially thinking about the EF Tour I’d taken with students to Europe in June 2019, when we’d visited four countries in ten days with a full day of air travel there and back as two of those days. It had drained every bit of me!
Sitting in the huge stone-walled lobby, I noticed the quotes on the rocks in the wall. On a breakneck-paced trip, I would have never noticed such a detail. As I observed more, I discovered that they were scattered throughout the hotel, and I visually scaled the walls on a self-secret scavenger hunt, making pictures, taking the time to ponder each one and to consider why it was selected out of all the quotes they could have chosen to etch there.
We stumbled upon the gingerbread house display from the annual competition and noticed each captivating detail of these winning designs. Further down the hall, we found the desk F. Scott Fitzgerald used during his time at the Grove Park Inn. Our room was directly across the hall from the two rooms that were “his” at the inn. We strolled through the gift shops, too, taking time to peruse the books about the history of this historic hotel. We each bought one and returned to the great fireplace to read them.
That’s why months later, when I saw the book The Art of Slow Travel, I knew it would be my next read. Four months into 2022, I was already beginning to realize that a more relaxed pace when traveling has more than mere physical benefits. Throughout 2022, most every trip that didn’t involve our camper held a hard lesson about taking life at a slower pace, lugging less on the journey, and savoring more tranquil moments.
My experience goals for 2023 are to cut back on entertainment in the form of concerts, sports, plays, and movies and instead focus on the experiences that are found outdoors – kayaking, hiking, long walks, conversations over orange spiced tea and playlists by the fire pit (my son and daughter in law gave us one for Christmas). It’s time to open the windows and relax the pace. To breathe. To embrace slow travel not only on trips, but as a daily living practice.
My childhood church on St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, where my father has served as pastor twice throughout his career, is the place where I began my life as a Christian and was baptized as a child. Thanks to modern technology, I can virtually attend my childhood church, even though I live five hours away. Kyle Keese, the current interim pastor, in his sermon on January 9 , 2022 (I’ve linked it at the bottom of this post), shared his story of a conversation with two friends who were attending a reunion church service. One of the friends revealed that he had recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and the other friend encouraged him to blog the journey. To share the story as a gift and blessing– to learn something about who he was, but more importantly, to learn more about who God was and how his faith sustained him in the midst of the pain.
I’d been late tuning in to the service, but as I began listening, How Firm a Foundation was the hymn being sung by the congregation. These words sung at my mother’s funeral were a nudge to lift my listening ears and open my mind and heart to hear the message that I needed to hear: share the story of a firm foundation and the difference it makes.
For a couple of years now, my prayer has been to find opportunities to share my family’s journey through a daughter’s addiction. I hadn’t anticipated another daughter on the road to recovery as I prayed, but as a mother who prays for my children’s health and safety daily, I could only rejoice as she came clean with her need for help – with her readiness to do the work she knows it will take. I thought of the conversation between these men, and the way our own family experience could be a gift to bless others with encouragement along the way.
My father, just last week, expressed his own desire to share our story so that others who are traveling through the back-alley-darkness of a family member’s addiction will realize that they are not alone – that there is hope – that it takes tough love and ceaseless prayer and unflappable faith when these shadows fall across our paths.
He shared that he’d once set his planned sermon aside and, led by the Holy Spirit in a different direction that day, spoken candidly to the congregation about our pain and our faith – and our blessings – in the midst of the road that we traveled. He spoke of the people who came alongside us, angelic friends, with resources and guidance to shed light on us even as we didn’t yet know all that we didn’t know. And as people left the service that day, he realized through the many similar stories shared with him that we have a responsibility to share because others have a need to hear how God uses our trials to shine His glory and pours out blessings along the way.
“I’ve never been one to set the sermon aside and tarry off course. But I felt led, so I did, and I understood as I stood at the door when people were leaving that the story needed to be shared – because so many people are struggling and need to hear that they are not alone – that there is hope,” he reflected.
My prayer remains to keep a steadfast faith, to listen and obey, and to allow the lyrics of my mother’s favorite hymn – the last notes of music to ever fall on her ears – to carry forth as a light in a dark, painful world – to share the message that others need to hear:
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, Is laid for your faith in His excellent word! What more can He say than to you He hath said— To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed, For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid; I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.
“When through the deep waters I call thee to go, The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow; For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless, And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply; The flame shall not harm thee; I only design Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose, I will not, I will not, desert to his foes; That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.” (-Author unknown except by letter K-)