Just a month a half ago, I wrote that I wanted and intended to commit to stretching regularly. I’ve since been reminded that while stretching and training must go together, so do stretching and – uh – living. Somehow, I managed to twist the necessary association between stretching and training to – “well, if I’m not working out today, I don’t need to stretch! Do I not feel like stretching? I won’t train today!”
It’s absolutely amazing how many ways we can, as humans, find a way to rationalize our behavior. I found myself unbelievably tight after a cross country flight yesterday and spent a solid 30 minutes stretching before attempting a walk/run today and I am so much better for it, yet I am confident that I will somehow find some other excuse not to stretch. In the same ways our souls are meant to move toward God in order to maximally function, our bodies were created to move, and the specific movement of stretching assists in getting the most from the rest of our movements, from running a marathon to typing a blog post.
At 36, I’ve already experienced the type of pain that I can’t explain – you know the type, where you think “what did I do? Why does that hurt? Oh, because I’m alive.” While I am positive that a consistently followed regimen can help to prevent this, a long life means that there will inevitably be pain for which there is only ultimate healing – death. My man Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Philippi (presumably between stretches) that to live is Christ and to die is gain. I believe Christ suffered a *bit* in His earthly ministry, no? As unholy as my quadriceps and hip flexors were feeling this morning, on a scale from painless to crucifixion I can’t say it was too bad. It was enough to put me on a path today to take care of my body, and for that, I am thankful.
Every day that I am alive, I can seek Christ, I can seek physical wholeness, but again, Paul reminds us that as long as we are living, our perception will be incomplete. Are there any converts that are thriving 100% of the time? To live is to lapse. There really is no cure for my humanity – for now. That is not to say that there is no hope, because keeping focused on Christ is the only treatment I know that helps to alleviate anything that ails me. Lord, have mercy on my body and soul.
My journey to this weird but truthful statement is the fault of the CDC, whose most recent recommendations my church is now following – they are asking those who are not vaccinated to continue to wear masks and those who are vaccinated may feel free to bare face. Frankly, I feel about my mask indoors about the way conservatives tend to feel about their guns – from my cold, dead, hands. With no way to tell if someone is vaccinated, I’m simply not comfortable being in close proximity for extended periods to people without masks. If other people want to help Pfizer and Moderna figure out how long the vaccine lasts, I thank them for their contribution to science, but definitely from afar. FaceTime me in the meantime.
I was prepared to watch the livestream from the parish hall across from the sanctuary, which is why I had driven to church in the first place. Upon releasing the statement of the updated policy, my church had said that they would still have masking and social distancing in the hall. Space for people in the kingdom who believe in Christ and covid! Great! I entered the hall only to find that the livestream was down. I walked back outside and wrestled with what I should do. I stared at the church building, but I just couldn’t open the door. I thought I would be too distracted, and I would simply not feel good hanging out with my parents later today. I walked to my car, but going home didn’t feel right either. I ended up going back into the hall, where there was a table with books. I saw a few titles by Bishop Kallistos Ware that I have wanted to read, so I picked them up and sat in the empty hall. I figured a healthy compromise would be to read about church history.
I’ve continued to observe the church calendar by fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays and I love it. I am not sure if I am doing it wrong because, well, I love it. I know I have two days each week where I am not going to go bananas (heh, except for the part where I eat bananas because yay fasting, sorry, I love puns), and I am more mindful of my eating on the other five days. I don’t treat Tuesdays and Thursdays like Mardi Gras – I eat as I please, but there’s no need to overeat, ever. It isn’t a diet for diet’s sake, but for the sake of my soul, I am working to tame my passions. I want to stay connected for the reasons for the fast – I make sure every Wednesday I say at least once, “Judas. That MF!” and on Fridays, I reflect upon Christ’s crucifixion. Yikes. Big yikes for humanity’s sake. I haven’t weighed myself, but I know I feel better than I did in March. I need to pray for the strength to not react badly to whatever is happening on the scale; whether it’s a loss or gain since May 1, I need to handle it in a Christlike manner.
All this to say – I am thinking about officially switching teams from Evangelical Protestantism to Orthodoxy. I don’t know if this is a phase, so this is not something I would do anytime soon. When Pete and I married, I said I would never do it, because conversion is for the lost and I didn’t think of myself as lost. Frankly, I still don’t. However, I am unable to deny the effects of seriously participating in church observances, and what would I have been doing for the last 3 months at the church in which I was baptized? I cannot say for sure, but it wouldn’t have been *this* and *this* is working for me. I’ve reached out to my priest because I have many questions about Orthodox theology and history and hopefully will be meeting with him soon. May God grant me many more days in the church militant.
It is quite remarkable how many people remember my birthday without the help of Facebook. There are people in my life with whom I speak a few times a year at most and then I get a text or a call today! I feel very blessed to know that people are thinking of me, at least for a moment. Any time is a good time, you know?
I got to thinking – are the people with whom I speak on important days like recognition of Joan on my holy day? What about my regular days? How good a friend are you if I only hear from you on Joanmas? Is it better to not hear from you on Joanmas but then hear from you on ordinary days? I suppose a healthy mix of both would be the best answer.
There are people whose birthday I remember but have not reached out to them because I don’t feel like I am talking to them enough in their ordinary time. Then again, is it better to be a Chreaster type of a friend than no friend at all? I am unsure. Of course, there are people with whom I speak fairly often whose birthday will slip my mind and then I feel terrible, because of how much I love my birthday! Gah!
I have been very imperfect for 36 years. I pray for a year where I learn to show more grace and mercy and to be present in people’s lives as a positive, consistent force. I’m not taking any crap though. Every day brings me closer to Roger Murtaugh.
Holy Saturday started better than it ended. I began the day by doing my final weigh in of Lent – my fasting resulted in a total of 17 pounds lost. Losing weight without giving up carbs? Nobody can tell me God isn’t real. It was much easier to give thanks to God with a result like that than the one I had had two and a half weeks prior. May I give Him the glory throughout my journey and look to Him for strength and courage even when it appears I am not progressing.
I feel even more enthusiastic about fasting than when I first began. Though we are now fast free for ten days, I do not wish to return to my pre-Lenten mindset of indifference. Perhaps I would feel differently if I were not trying to lose weight, but why would I purposely eat more than I should? Because I can? A healthy body can help a healthy attitude and that is not a cycle I wish to break.
After getting my hair done, I met a friend for brunch. I enjoyed an oat milk cortado, oolong tea, and some delicious Brussels sprouts. I never want to forget how satisfying those sprouts were. I requested vegan preparation so the ricotta was left off. A simple lemon vinaigrette was all that was needed to delight me. I hope to live much of my life in this manner – how little does it take to make me happy? That is what I should seek.
I went to the store to pick up the ground lamb with which I intended to break my fast. I returned home to Little One, who had expressed the night prior that she wants to have a plant based diet. “Meat wastes water!” “Even if people are consuming the meat?” I asked. “I think so,” she replied confidently. I asked her if she would be participating in tonight’s meal. “Welllllll…” Hah! Don’t misunderstand – I, too, support eating in a manner that is more sustainable, but I am but one Lady J. While I do not wish to make unethical food choices, I am choosing to focus on changing myself. I think Christ’s words still apply – what comes out of me should be my concern. Fasting has been a means to an end, not the end. Pious eaters are annoying as hell regardless of diet, amirite?
I seasoned the lamb, baked the pita bread, watched the Kentucky Derby with a glass of water instead of coconut mojito (rum > bourbon), and attempted a nap before the resurrection service. It is a service I had yet to attend and I was pretty pumped about it. I had shared with my friend at brunch that I knew I was in a good place because I was more excited about church than the spanakopita and lamb that would await me after.
I arrived a few minutes early to church and it was nearly full. I found my preferred seat and settled in. It. Was. Dark.
The symbolism and organization of the Orthodox church continually amaze me. 9.5/10 only because the darkness meant I could not follow along with my Holy Week book. It is much easier for me to engage with any church service when I am reading along; I have found that my mind otherwise tends to wander. I prayed for focus. I was distracted by whispering people, crying children, you name it. I prayed for patience but I was not finding it. As the candles that represent the light of Christ were passed around, I found a glimmer of joy. I allowed it to be snuffed out by the whisperers nearby. I wished for a quieter environment with which to experience the most important moment of the church year.
The priest led us outside to proclaim Christ’s resurrection to the world, where we would sing Christos Anesti (Christ is Risen) and hold our candles. The vast majority of people were not singing. I tried to hang out by the choir so I could see their music but too many of them were not wearing their masks properly. When I found a place I felt physically safe, people around me were chatting. I have the spirit of an old church Auntie, and I’m confident that if I were Greek I would have been shushing people left and right. Not prepared to be the masked black woman who is telling people how to behave properly at “their” church.
I couldn’t wait to get out of there, and that made me sad.
I returned home to Pete and the Little One, who were wrapping up dinner. The lamb was terrific but I found myself too full for the spanakopita, so that would have to wait until Easter morning. I went to bed feeling a mix of joy and guilt.
I awoke around 9 am to read my devotional. Turns out St. John Chrysostom had a message just for Lady J from his Paschal Homily –
Whosoever is a devout lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful bright Festival. And whosoever is a grateful servant, let him joyously enter into the joy of his Lord. And if any be weary with fasting let him now receive his reward. If any has toiled from the first hour let him receive his just debt. If any came after the third let him gratefully celebrate. If any arrived after the sixth, let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss. If any have delayed to the ninth, let him come without hesitation. If any arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay; for the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him who arrives at the eleventh hour, as well as him, who has labored from the first. He is merciful to the one who delays and nourishes the first. He gives also to the one, and to the other He is gracious. He accepts the works, as He greets the endeavor, He honors the deed, and the intent He commends.
I would not be surprised if St. John Chrysostom had the parable of the vineyard from the Gospel of Matthew in mind as he wrote that. To my mind, the talkers and half-maskers are late to the game. I’m feeling indignation when I should be focused on what I am doing. The owner of the vineyard definitely didn’t promise that the other workers would be great people – just that I would get my denarius, ya know? How awful would it be if unintentionally, my behavior was like theirs – I could be doing something another person finds distracting and impeding with their worship. Gulp.
I hate that I am glad Holy Week is over, not because the lamb was great but because the classless Christmas/Easter folks will go back into their holes for 8 months. I should be thinking about how I can be serving and help enable their return. If I can return to church and be changed, certainly anyone can. Who served and helped to reach me? I’ve maintained for a long time that church is great except for the people, but I understand that that is truly not the case. I have greatly benefited from the hard work of those committed to advancing Christ’s kingdom on earth, and I want to work more, too. To many, I may be coming at the 11th hour, looking for my denarius.
May God continue to reorient my heart toward Him and love others. Even the annoying ones. Especially the annoying ones. I may or may not have a plank in my eye, not sure. What I do know? Christ is Risen. There is hope, even for Lady J.
I had signed up to read from the Psalms for 30 minutes at church. When I got to my car, I remembered that I needed to fill up before I went to work, but thankfully I had enough gas to make it to church and the time to fill up in between church and work. I arrived promptly at 6:30 and began reading from Psalm 107 to the middle of Psalm 119. Reading aloud in the sanctuary was such an incredible blessing. I marvel at how quickly the time went and am eager to have that experience again next year, perhaps for a whole hour.
After I finished reading and venerating the cross, I walked out of the church feeling full. I had plenty of time to get gas and get to work, praise God. I looked for my wallet and uh. It wasn’t there. Something about reading from Psalms for 30 minutes – I refused to panic. Very online Joanie mayyyyy have a few credit card numbers memorized hahhhhh, so I put one in my phone and tapped to pay at the gas station for the first time. BOOM crisis averted!
I called my Daddy to tell him what had just occurred, but he couldn’t really talk because he was getting ready to leave the house. I got to work a half hour later and tried calling again, but both he and Mom were navigating and Boomers + GPS = full attention needed. Pete was super asleep. I sat at my desk, feeling like I had no one with whom I could share my wonderful morning and thought about how while this feeling is temporary, one day it will not be – barring some inversion of the natural order of things, there won’t be anyone left in my family with whom I can talk about my day. It wasn’t as though I could walk into the hallways of my school and start proclaiming the goodness of reading the Psalms. Truthfully, it wasn’t even a church and state thing, but a God and Joanie thing – I really have no desire to seem as though I am super pious. I grabbed my headphones and started listening to Handel’s Messiah on my way out to my carline duty. Fun fact- did you know it was actually written as an Easter oratorio?
As I helped the PE coach with field day, I kept thinking of my loneliness despite being surrounded by others and in a generally jolly mood. My mind then went to Christ on the cross 2000 years ago and it hit me – perhaps God was allowing me to experience this feeling to better identify with His son’s sacrifice for us. Wild thing to think about while you are watching 4th graders do tug of war. I wish life didn’t so often feel like a tug of war, between light and darkness, but every time I turn toward Christ, I am able to better manage. The battles may be tough, but in Him, I know the wars are won.
“Stretch without ceasing.” – Apostle Paul, probably
Fine, perhaps that’s not ACTUALLY what Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, but let’s be real. Look at this map:
He’s not making this trip on foot without regular, frequent, stretching. No. Way.
I want to say that training at 35 is different than training at 29, but honestly? I should have stretched more then, too. I found myself injured and in pain back then, so there’s no way I can get away without stretching now. I was so hyped about starting a 30 day strength program when I realized I was registered for a race that rolled over from 2020. Getting my heart rate back up was feeling so good that I thought mayyyybeee I can start couch to 5k and get to running again in time for the race! My PT had said I was good to go and cleared from my knee injury so – why not, right? I wanted to lose more weight first but running is just the best. Let’s face it.
My body was in so much pain. It was about five days before I was fully pain free, and it has taken a lot of stretching and foam rolling to get there. Too much, too fast. I’m intimidated to start again, but I must! I was on a such a happy streak. For me, I think stretching is the physical version of prayer – when I do it, it is always a relief, it enables me to do more than I thought I could, but I don’t do it nearly enough. My glutes are saying I definitely need to stretch without ceasing. There’s no reason my body should be in pain in order for me to run and be fit, and YES I know the difference between soreness and pain.
What I’m saying here is that I’m looking for a stretching/workout regimen that I will follow religiously – can’t be a Christmas/Easter stretcher like I have been in the past. Frankly, it is like finding a church – I have to feel comfortable enough to do it consistently and it must help me grow stronger. I’m trying a 30/120 interval soon – hopefully that won’t kill me! ❤
Observing the fast has been an amazing experience. Aside from one more accidental dairy incident (who puts lactose in salt and vinegar chips?!) I’ve been a good little Joanie. I did eat olive oil throughout the fast, and while perhaps in time I will be in a place to give that up, I was not there yet. It has been gratifying to practice self-control – as a Christ-follower, one of the most important disciplines to have is the ability to say “no.” I do wonder if I have been too indulgent, but I am not where I was 8 weeks ago. I have moved closer to God and only want more.
I still can’t believe that I have been excited to physically be in church. I do not think I would be ready to go back if my church didn’t require masks and GUESS WHAT. The vast majority of people wear them PROPERLY. I am toying with the idea of becoming an usher but frankly I’m not sure my motivation to be more like a bouncer is pure. 🙂 In the meantime, I love praying the liturgy in a pew near the back by myself. Other Orthodox perks include my activity tracker not saying I need to stand/move because of all the standing/kneeling, hah!
As an adult, I have come to appreciate Easter more than Christmas. It is quieter and there are fewer social obligations. What’s more is that this year, celebrating it nearly a month after the Western church means there is ZERO commercial foolishness surrounding the most holy of days in the liturgical calendar. It is PURE passion/resurrection. I think Great Lent worked? For me? It’s not like I am going to the Resurrection Service on Saturday night and then the rest of my weekends will be free. I want to continue being more reflective and – and – maybe even get to know people at church. I finally bought a Holy Week book and y’all. I joined a GROUP. Who knows if I am supposed to engage even more? All I can say positively is that being in God’s word daily and eating this way has been edifying and I am excited to see what the future brings.
I am going to weigh-in on Saturday morning for a final result in that regard, but as I said before – I am not where I was 8 weeks ago, and that is truly a blessing. My birthday falls during Bright Week – fast free heh heh heh. I may have added some meat and cheese to my cart for Saturday night, and obviously Pete needs to get it together to cook me something fabulous, but fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays is here to stay.
Two weeks to Pascha. Five weeks of fasting. It’s been quite a journey. A few things have happened since my last post.
I hit the weight loss plateau I was expecting. When I weighed myself for the third time since the fast began, my weight was unchanged, down to the tenth of a pound, from 10 days prior. It was fitting for my mood, because I have been feeling pretty low. The fast has protected me from what might be a typical reaction of deciding not to care about what I’m eating again because hey, it’s not making a difference, right? Breaking the fast to abuse myself does not seem worth the regret I would have. Even if I were to somehow regain what I’ve lost in the next two weeks – which is highly unlikely! – I can call committing to maintaining a mostly vegan diet (shellfish is allowed, I’m not a cheater!) for seven weeks and sticking to it a sure victory.
Small changes have been adding up – on the inside. I have been reading the daily Orthodox church readings. I am working my way through the Gospels and noticing things I never have. Perhaps most shockingly, I can’t wait to go back to physical church. I have been praying more. When I am frustrated with a person, I have even (sometimes! which is more than never, like before) been lifting that person up to the Lord. Like right now – Pete made a comment about how my cooling lentils smell “different.” He sucks for that. I told him so. Then I prayed for him. 🙂 King Solomon wrote about my attitude sometimes – I think my food smells great but whatever. Anyway, I am hoping I soften enough to offer him some. He knows where to get meat. So there’s that.
I started strength training again. I actually am sticking with it fairly consistently – I don’t think I have missed more than 2 days in a row since I picked up a 30 day challenge from a site that The Mentor recommended to me. I cuss at the TV for 30 minutes and then I look forward to doing it again the next day. Even though I am mad at myself and it is hard to feel hope for my body, I know that it is not productive to do things that are not edifying. Moving more and eating less are good – the opposite is not.
Finally – I want to share my only workout secret. Whenever I want to turn off the TV and give up, I just remind myself that whatever workout I’m doing is much easier than loving my neighbor. That manmaker move is actually a day at the beach compared to loving my enemies if I am to be completely honest. I am looking forward to my next race when I am tempted to walk and imagine having to interact with someone who still hasn’t learned to wear a mask properly. I would much rather be running as fast as I can – maybe I can even pretend to be running away from people who are going to ask something of me!
We are now three weeks into Orthodox Lent and I’m still having a good time! Let’s talk about wins and observations –
Win #1: Temperance.
I think fasting has already had an effect on my portion control. I am eating what I like but eating less of it. For instance, I tapped into my Jamerican millennial-ness and made an ackee and spinach pizza last night. Typically, I would have made it a single serving, but I was full after half and finished the remainder for lunch today.
Win #2: Valuation.
I would like to use this space to offer a formal apology to fruits and vegetables. I thought I had given you proper credit for all you bring to the table, and I was wrong. Special recognition goes to chickpeas and parsley, which I am sorry to say I took for granted for many years. Not once have I felt unsatisfied after a meal in the last three weeks – that should probably be a clue.
Win #3: Perspective.
I am not dieting. I am fasting. This is much better than dieting, because I don’t feel like I am depriving myself of anything. It really may seem semantic, but it absolutely is not. I can eat some of Pete’s cheese anytime I like, or thaw some of the chicken in the freezer for some fried drummies, but choosing not to do so is incredibly powerful. If I can both identify and tame my passions, I can be a better Christian. Food is a logical way to practice this discipline. Feeling a connection to Orthodox faithful is more meaningful than some gym challenge to me.
Win #4: Numbers.
I am thankful that the equation of eating less plus moving more has equaled weight loss. Moreover, on my watch it appears my heart rate is a bit lower. God knows I would be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping this would be an outcome of the Lenten fast. I know how weight loss works and eventually I will plateau, but I am praying to be able to give God glory no matter what, especially if I am eating thoughtfully.
Observation #1: What happens after?
Honestly, Lent is the easy part. It’s like the honeymoon phase of this new eating relationship. What happens when any relationship turns sour? I don’t seek the Holy Trinity but the Dynamic Duo – Ben and Jerry, naturalmente. I have to keep programming myself to take one day at a time and make one good decision at a time.
Observation #2: Triggered
Pete has decided he’s had enough of my vegan dinners. He went to Culver’s just now and returned with a chocolate shake, double butter burger, and fries. Though fries are not prohibited, taking one did not seem in the spirit of what I am trying to do. The purpose of Lent is to develop healthy habits and now is the time to practice saying no to spontaneous things. “All things are permissible, but not all things are profitable,” said mah dude Apostle Paul.
Observation 3: What I miss
Meat is good. Cheese is fabulous. Eggs are fantastic. Fish can be great fun. What do I spend the most time thinking about? The booze I have tucked away. I. Miss. Drinking. After returning to Jamaica I got into a habit of having a nightcap – a cocktail, a glass of wine, something- before bed. While alcohol is allowed on the weekends, the fact that I miss that more than anything else is a red flag that it should remain tucked away until Easter. Although cognac comes from grapes which means Hennessy is like vegetables, right? Morning smoothie?
I’ve noticed that I’ve got a few new followers – thanks for reading! Know that I have said a prayer for you – we are all going through life, struggling in our own way. May you never feel alone! If you feel moved to do so, please pray for Lady J, too. 🙂
I mean – I suppose the short answer to serve God and serve others. I’m just not very good at any of it, and frankly I’m not sure what the execution of that always looks like.
I asked The Mentor last week for some arm and core exercise. Faithful friend that she is, she sent me some pretty terrible (good) ones. I struggled through planks, crunches, modified push ups – I am RIDICULOUSLY out of shape. God have mercy on the soul in this weak, weak flesh. Apparently, I am pretty normal in my demographic, but that does not mean that it is any less disappointing.
Perhaps it is just me, but does anyone else look at this meme and think of the book of King Solomon? Anyone?
8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 1: 8-9 (NIV)
Listen. Covid-19 may be a novel virus, but there is absolutely nothing novel about my being fat. My raceaversary came and went and I am about 40 pounds above where I feel it is safe for me to start pounding on my joints. God, in your infinite wisdom and mercy, why do you bother with me? I keep needing these remedial courses and my self-image is really taking a beating – I can’t even look at myself from any time period and see anything but fat or not fat. Not fat pictures make me smile, not because I think I look good but because of how physically strong I was at the time.
It is incredibly frustrating that I know that I can search my blog and find exactly the same sentiment. The Joan Show is LAME but I am not allowed to change the channel – only adjust my antenna, I suppose. Kermit takes me from King Solomon to Apostle Paul –
Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT)
I must remember that I am seeing myself imperfectly. I see my imperfections imperfectly. Yikes. I wonder why the people around me don’t tire of my foolishness – it’s embarrassing to be alive sometimes! I must focus on today – one good choice at a time because it is the right thing to do. It’s definitely safer than having hope again – perhaps that will come in time, too.