Thursday, July 31, 2014

Straight Talk About the Stuff Killing Us...Well, the stuff we can control anyhow :)

First I need to get something off of my chest, a confession of sorts.  When I came to Louisville last year I was in great shape and lifting freakish weights.  As I established in another post, I weighed 240lbs and filled a doorway.  To get that big and that strong was not cheap.  Now do not misunderstand me, I was a clean lifter and would have passed even the most stringent athletic drug testing, but I was a supplement taking fool.  In addition to that, I had to consume massive amounts of calories to fuel what I was doing, which of course means lots of food.

The problem?  I minister in an area where such things are a foreign concept and I found myself often convicted by that thought.  How much was my witness to these folks damaged by such things?  I heard a pastor at the Ichthus Festival a few years back state, "I feel convicted to tell you, I know I'm fat and that it damages my ministry and my witness."  Ouch.  Same principle.  And let's face it, even if we're not ministering in a context like mine, there are an awful lot of us that set a really bad example by the lives that we live.  We cost our employers way too much money because of our higher insurance premiums because we have a tendency to be fat, stressed out, and have bad tickers.  How is this Biblical???  Honestly, what does our shape/condition say about stewardship?  Our empathy for the world?  The very idea that our body is a temple?  Not super.

So, with this established let's talk about diet.  That is a scary word for a lot of us.  As a matter of fact, it is so scary that it fuels the billion dollar industry of diets plans/fads/frauds.  We want a quick, easy fix to a bad problem and I've got news for you; the fix is relatively quick and easy if you're smart.  Now, let me establish something right up front, or perhaps a few somethings.  I am not a dietician, nor have I played one on tv.  I'm also not trying to sell you a diet plan.  I am a pastor who happens to know a little something about physical fitness and eating healthy, that got the tar scared out of him and is in turn concerned for my brothers and sisters in Christ.  Because if I felt that rotten while still in relatively decent shape, I can only imagine how some of you might be feeling.  I'm also pretty motivated by the fear that I felt; the fear of what the doctor might tell me.

Back to the diet...wait...something else about me...I know me.  I have a tendency to be all or nothing when it comes to things like working out, dieting, study, prayer, videogames, pretty much everything...sounding familiar?  If I can't strive to be the absolute best at something, if I can't find that motivation, then what's the use?  One of the very first things I told my wife when I vowed to eat better, "I ain't going to go crazy with this stuff."  I gave myself permission to be human.  It's a mantra I've chanted over and over.  Simple, small changes to diet can produce fairly quick results without going "crazy".

Probably the simplest is portion control.  Eating as a power lifter it was hard to distinguish between when I was full and when I was pushing into gluttony, until after the fact.  Retraining your mind and body to recognize "full" can be difficult, but it really is something we need to do.  Portion control helps us to determine that and keeps us from overindulging.  It also helps us to cut massive calories while still eating what we like.  Think about it, what if you are a second and thirds type of person?  Simply by stopping with a single serving, which is probably more than enough to begin with, you have effectively slashed your caloric intake by half or even two-thirds.  Not to mention the fats, cholesterol, sodium, and so forth.  It takes discipline, but you will be amazed at how quickly you see results, feel better, and find that you're really not THAT hungry after all.  I've been amazed at how many times after a single serving I was still convinced that I was hungry until I stepped away from the table.  Within minutes, the hunger was gone and I would realize that I was content.

However, I've gone a little further than portion control.  I've completely cut out fried foods, I try to monitor sodium intake, as well as cholesterol and fat.  Once you become adept at reading labels, you will quickly become shocked at just how much bad stuff you've been eating.  It really is crazy.  I now eat a lot more vegetables and salads, usually with grilled chicken or lean steak mixed in.  I also eat a lot of fruits and whole grains.  With those things (aside from the chicken and steak) I by no means skimp, I eat as much as I want, whenever I want.  Which requires mixing up the greens, as well as the other vegetables in the salads to keep things "fresh" and new.  Beyond that, I eat a lot of lean protein (chicken, fish, Greek yogurt).  When I crave sugar or something sweet, which isn't that often, I quench that with bananas or granola.  Once again, I'm not being stingy with these things.  When I consider how and what I was eating before, an extra handful or two of granola is not a crime.

The not going crazy part?  I've not completely cut out carbs (although I do watch them), I'm not chasing after"organic only", or any of the other things we hear so much about.  I also occasionally cheat.  I love pizza and I refuse to give it up entirely.  There's just too many great pizza joints here in the Ville.  But now rather than being a staple, it is now a treat and a pretty amazing one at that.

The results?  As of this morning, I've dropped 30 pounds since the initial health scare.  I'm sleeping better, I've got more energy (which is really dangerous...muhahahahaha), my digestion is like clockwork, I'm not hungry, I don't have the frequent "crashes" I was experiencing where I'd get dizzy and the "shakes", and I'm also much happier.  My energy now comes from my food, not caffeine.  I'm doing more work than before (I've also worked hard on time management) in less time and the headaches that were pretty much an all day every day occurrence are gone.

Those things are all great, make no mistake.  However one of the greatest benefits is that I've found  that I am now enjoying food more than ever.  When we go out for pizza, it's something special and fun again.  When I experience a new vegetable, fruit, or grain (I've gotten pretty daring) it's exciting.  Food has in essence become the blessing that I think it was intended to be and our grocery bill has gone done significantly.  Things just taste better.  Weird :)

Lastly, one area where I've not gotten back on track in my exercise routine.  I've purposely taken a break to let my body recover and to find some sort of balance.  When I lift, I do have a tendency to push way too hard and this has been a struggle.  There is no need for me to carry 240lbs anymore.  I like being strong and truth be told, I'm a little put out that I'm no longer taxing the sleeves of my shirts.  So part of this has been attempting to discern what body type suits me best moving forward and then insuring that I could stick to the plan.  I know how I work.  Without this break, I would have behaved in the gym for about a week before I'd start piling weight on again.  I nearly canceled my gym membership earlier this week and couldn't quite pull the trigger.  I had considered starting to run again and getting involved in Krav Maga, which I enjoy.  However, I have decided to go back to weightlifting (high reps/lower weight) with an added emphasis on cardio.

I'll keep updating as we go and things change, for better or worse.  Also, I'm now one month away from my next round of blood work.  I have a sneaking suspicion the problems have been corrected :)

(June 5, 2014...247lbs)

(July 31, 2014...216lbs)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

So God, what are you going to do today? by Rickelle Nelson

Expectation.  Tough word.  We've been conditioned by life, by culture to temper expectations.  Expectations at some level leave one vulnerable; vulnerable to pain and to disappointment.  Tragic really.  A place where such thought, such teaching has absolutely no place is Church.  However, we are just as bad as anyone else when it comes to this, making the error even more egregious because we of all people ought to know better.  As I ask over and over and over of my congregation and fellow believers, "Do you really believe the things that we proclaim?"  I work hard to instill in folks that the sense of expectation needs to be a vital part of your faith; expect to encounter God, expect God to show up.  Expectation is at some level symbiotic with faith itself.  Ah but goodness, how I myself struggle at times with this.  I of all should really know better making my error even more egregious yet.  Thank God, God is not beholden to our faults and continues to work despite them.

I was going to write about the following account, but it didn't feel right.  It's not my story, so I invited the person to whom it belongs to write about it.  What follows is written by my wife Rickelle.


Today was an awesome day at Church…I mean, every Sunday is an awesome day at Church. I would say that it was different or something, but ever since I’ve started “expecting” God to show up, each Sunday has had its own special twist. Today I woke up thinking about two things. First I was thinking about a group of kids that had shown up to our Friday night movie night. They were new to the festivities, and I happened to be the one they talked to. I started explaining to them about what we do on Friday nights when the oldest of the four stopped me and asked, “But can we go to Church here?” It stopped me in my tracks as I answered, “Of course you can!” Then I started telling her about the services. We’ve had lots of kids ask about Church before, most of them show up for the evening service. Almost as quickly as I thought of them, they left my mind as I had dogs to tend to.

Later on, the second thing that I was thinking was, “So God, what do you have planned today?” It’s always fun to wonder and then sit back and see what He does. From all the unexpected new members and baptisms, to the neighborhood families that show up…it’s like the box of chocolates! =)

So, as I’m sitting in service this morning with the Sunday morning regulars, we get to the opening prayer and I think, “So God, it’s the regular crowd this morning…what are you going to do today?”  A minute or two later, in walk three of the four kids… “Ahhh…now I see! There You go again!”

Now, I should say that one of the things about our kids that come here is that they all seem to have their own person that they end up gravitating toward. I usually work in the kitchen and then clean, so I’m not out in the Dodgeball room and usually don’t get to the craft area until a lot of the kids are gone. While I have fun with the kids and know most of them, I haven’t had my own “crew”. For some reason, Friday night I was out in the movie area when the four came in. Carlos, the only boy, introduced himself and his three sisters, one of which was just a bit older than him, Meyda (I am not sure if this is how to spell or say her name, as she was the one who wasn’t here this morning, but it’s close). She started telling me about one of her sisters, Selena, who was shy, and Destiny, who didn’t have much to say either.  This is where I started explaining about the movie night and she asked about Church. They all sat down together and people were helping them, but no one knew quite what to do because no one could get them to talk.

This Friday was a bit different in that everyone was so in and out that I had to leave the kitchen on a few occasions. Each time, Meyda and Selena would find me. Selena and I had come to an understanding of sorts…I knew that she was shy, so instead of speaking she would just nod her head at me to say thank you. I would tell her, “You’re welcome” and she would smile. At one point I had to go to the Dodgeball room and she immediately (honey, you’ll like that!) came running up to me, wanting me to make Meyda give her back something that belonged to her. Now, one thing that I’ve always tried to be careful about when dealing with kids is mentioning both parents, and since Meyda was nowhere near, I told her that when they got home she could have her mom, or her dad, get back what was hers. She looked at me and said, “I don’t have a mom or a dad,” and took off running to play with the kids. Wow…don’t I feel like a heel. Guess they won’t be coming back…

The night went on, and they seemed to enjoy themselves…thankfully we had the Youth Group from Centenary UMC in Shelbyville back again and all the kids love it when they are here! I didn’t get to see them go, but I hoped they would at least come back again next Friday. I also learned to say “Whoever you live with…” Lesson learned and taken!

To say I was surprised to see them come into the Church this morning was an understatement. And when they saw me, they smiled and waved and came over to sit with me. How awesome was that?!? When there were pauses, I found out from Destiny that Meyda had stayed at a friends that was why she wasn’t there.  As soon as she started talking to me, her brother started telling her to be quiet and not be talking…. There it was, another of the things we’ve found about our kids. When they first meet you, they are reluctant to tell you anything about themselves. I noticed it Friday with them after they talked to me on Friday. Others would ask their names and where they lived and they wouldn’t answer. So, I just figured this was the case again.
After a bit I noticed that Selena was getting a bit antsy, so I handed them all some paper and some pens so they could do whatever kids do. They all just looked at me, so I told them if they wanted to draw or write they could. “Anything?”, Carlos asked. “Yes, anything you want. You don’t have to if you don’t want,” I explained. So they all sat there a bit and then started drawing. Pretty soon they wanted to know about where the bathrooms were, so I took them out of the sanctuary to show them. Selena (the shy one) just starts talking to me, about the church, about Friday night… When I had the three of them together again, Carlos stops me and says, “I think I need to tell you about my sister.”

“Meyda?” I asked. 

“No,” he answered. “My sister Angie. She died like 2 months ago. She was 14. She had seizures and like a hemorrhage or something in her brain…they couldn’t stop the bleeding.” 

Me, trying not to tear up, “I had an aunt that had that too. I’m so sorry.”

At this point, one of the sisters started talking about their moving here and how it took them just three days. Then they all started talking about the moving and the boxes. We all go back into the sanctuary, and they all sit listening to the sermon.

They all come up with me and took Communion, and when they sat with me they tried to figure out how the music in the hymnals worked. It was so much fun getting to sit with them and see them experience these things in this Church. After the service I take them to Corey’s office to get them some water and candy, and as we’re walking to the office the congregation starts singing Happy Birthday to someone. Carlos’ eyes get big and he asks, “Who are they singing Happy Birthday to?” “Someone in the congregation,” I answer.

Then he says to me, one of the coolest things I’ve heard from one of our kids, “I love this Church! We used to go to a Church, but they weren’t very social at all. This place feels like family!” Wow!!! Out of the mouths of babes! =)

And to think about expectations…It’s amazing the things we take for granted. It’s amazing how a kid coming here for the first time can grasp and put into words all that we try to convey in so many ways.
They loved the Church, the people, all the candy, and were excited about coming back tonight!

As I was going back to get my purse, I noticed one of the pictures that they had drawn. They all drew pictures of their sister who passed, as an angel. They said they were coming back,  I hope they do.  So God, what are you going to do today???

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Listen Up Pastors...Diagnosis: Bullet Dodged Secondary Diagnosis: Wake Up Call

I realize that this is really long overdue.  What can I say?  I've been busy.  But isn't/wasn't that part of the problem?  Sort of, not really.  More on that in a bit.

A few weeks ago, I received another one of those dreaded phone calls, "Mr. Nelson would you please return to the doctor's office, we need to talk to you about your results."  This caused me to wonder, "Why on earth do they do this?  Especially when they already know that I'm having some sort of heart issues?  Calls like that do not help."  So, I of course raced to the doctor's office, making plans on the way in my head for the heart cath, which is no doubt coming, and then I'm figuring out how to delegate out the responsibilities at Grace in my absence.  I can remember so clearly telling myself, "Yeah, but you're only going to be down two days tops."

I arrive at the doctor's office, they get me in to see the young lady that normally sees me.  She enters the room, carrying the file which is no doubt full of all sorts of bad news and she smiles.

"That bad huh?" I ask.

"Nope, as a matter of fact, your heart is in excellent shape."

"Wait!  What!?"

"Yup, not at all what any of us expected with that blood pressure and how bad you looked."

I was stunned and truth be told, I believe that she was as well.  When I finally broke down and went to the doctor, I was a mess, which obviously you can read about a few posts ago.  So what happened?  Beats me.  Her theory is that between my diet and my insistence on going a 100 miles an hour for long periods of time was essentially driving me into the ground and my body was throwing out all of the red flags.

So, what has been going on in the meantime?

-Well first, the blood pressure is under control through medication.  My heart has been racing so fast and so hard for so long that this in and of itself has been a revelation.  Everything seems to go slower now, almost like I'm perpetually stuck in the "zone".  I tend to be really good in chaos anyhow, even when life and evidently my heart were going at light speed.  But now?  It's pretty awesome to sort of feel like things are in slow motion.  I told my wife at one point I sort of feel like Neo in the Matrix.  I mean, let's not put that to the test by firing bullets at me, but it's kind of cool nonetheless.

-Now I realize that this point is truly relative.  I mean, I was essentially eating one meal a day and that was gorging on garbage right before bed.  With that said, I feel like I'm not only eating more than I ever have, but I'm eating healthy.  (I promise to have more to say on this in a future post; this is really important).  I expend a lot of energy and I'm not going to stop.  However, with as bad as my blood work was, it made me realize that I cannot keep up the tempo I want unless I am properly fueling my body.  I eat lots of veggies, fruit, whole grains, and lean protein.  And you know what?  I'm never hungry and I don't get cravings.  I've also cut down on the coffee.  Do I still drink it?  Yup.  But what I've noticed is that I get far more energy from the food that I'm eating than I ever did from coffee.  In the weeks since the stress test?  I've dropped over 20 pounds.  Oh!  And you know what else?  My financial expenditures on food is drastically less.  Don't buy the silliness that eating healthy is more expensive; but once again, more on that in the future.

One more point; it is still a constant struggle to stop and eat.  However, I do force myself to slow down and enjoy three meals a day.  I work hard not to "slam" my food, especially if I'm in the midst of something else I'd rather been doing and this has proven to be a big help in taking breaks.

-Speaking of breaks.  I purchased an Anglican Rosary.  Praying this Rosary forces me to sit still and in the presence of God.  I try with varying success to do this 4 times a day; each times takes me approximately 20 minutes, which means I'm attempting to give up 1 hour and 20 minutes a day.  A month ago I would've fought you if you tried to take 80 minutes from my day.  I could not fathom giving up such a chunk of time, "I'll pray on the run; God knows what I'm trying to do!!!"  Seriously, do you have any idea what giving up 80 minutes a day to sit still does to a person like me?

Which of course is really another way to say that my prayer life was no where near what this life demands.  Here's the odd thing...Losing upwards of that 80 minutes has not decreased my productivity or my effectiveness, I'm getting more done.  The prayer beads help me to be still, to focus, to rest, to be disciplined, and to listen to God in a way that is far more conducive to listening than is running my beloved hundred miles an hour.

-Where I've not done so well is finding my rhythm at the gym; I'm still working on that.  This has been hard for me because I do indeed love the gym and working out.  It's just a matter of first finding the place in my day where it makes the most sense.  Secondly, accepting that the 2+ hour sojourns to the gym are probably over and really not needed.  Lastly, and perhaps most importantly for me, determining what body type best suits me and my ministry now.  I do have the uncanny ability to transform quickly, which might have contributed to my having ignored the warning bells for so long.  I always told myself that it wasn't anything to worry about, because I could quickly fix it.

I had a certain body type when I was boxing, another when I was playing football, so why should ministry be any different?  One thing I have decided is that there is no real reason or benefit to carrying the 240lbs I was carrying when I got to Louisville, even though I was in excellent shape and all muscle.  It just can't be good on the joints or heart going forward, and isn't really needed to share the Gospel.

-All of that has conspired together to result in me feeling worlds better than I have in quite a while.  I'm sleeping better, my digestion is vastly better, life has slowed down (even though I haven't), my pants are falling off (lol) and I'm enjoying what I do even more...and frankly I didn't think that was possible  (You have seen the video of Grace right!?!?!?).  Even for as rotten as I was feeling before, I still loved to come to the church and the neighborhood.  I am so happy in this place.  Which of course, was also a part of the problem lol  However, the biggest benefit to all of this?  No more living in fear of what my body was trying to communicate.  I have been freed of that very sizable weight.