On the 30 Day Plank Challenge

At the end of February, I tossed out a quick question on Facebook. I said I was thinking of doing one of those 30-Day plank challenges that have been floating around Pinterest and asked if anyone wanted to join me. To my surprise, people did. So I started a group, posted the challenge, got friend to make me some cool images for the daily posts, and invited everyone to comment once they had finished the challenge for the day. Ten people made it halfway through the challenge and three or four made it all the way to the end. I didn’t get to my goal, which was a five minute plank, but I know at least one guy did. Jamie Thurston, you are a plank hero.

Here’s what I learned by planking (almost) every day for a month:

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On Avoiding Sugar

So I decided I’d like to lose some weight. I’ve been exercising consistently for awhile now (more on that in a later post) and although I’m seeing results in the mirror, I wasn’t seeing them on the scale. Normally, I’m not a dieter. The very thought makes me want to do burpees. I hate burpees. But I thought, just as an experiment more than anything, I’d try avoiding sugar for about three weeks in April. Nothing too drastic. I think I might have lost a pound or two, but I learned some interesting things. Here are some of them:

Sugar is in everything

Okay, maybe not everything. But seriously. I was only avoiding sugar and other added sweeteners, but I swear, it’s almost impossible to avoid added sugar unless you are also avoiding carbs, dairy, and processed foods, just to name a few. I actually had considered doing a Whole 30, a program that a friend of mine had recommended. I chickened out on that and just avoided sugar instead, but it turns out that’s harder than I thought it would be. If I ever try this again, I’m going to go with the carb-counting method I learned from my nutrition consultation when I had gestational diabetes, or just suck it up and do the Whole 30.

Sugar makes me sick

Not even kidding. On one Sunday morning, after I’d been avoiding sugar for about a week, I accidentally ate two cookies out of habit. About 30 minutes later, I felt terrible. Heart rate went wacky, stomach felt icky, and I got a headache. Then went I went back to eating sugar on my daughter’s birthday, I overloaded and believe me, I felt it. Clearly my body doesn’t handle it well. Sadly, I know that and I just keep eating the stuff anyway.

Some things actually taste good without sugar

First, I should probably confess that although I significantly reduced my sugar intake, I also increased one of my other guilty pleasures: butter. I love butter. Possibly more than sugar. Yes, I realize that eating more butter probably balanced out eating less sugar, and could be the reason I didn’t lose more than a pound or two, but I just kept telling myself that butter was better for me than sugar anyway. So I ate it on toast. Smeared it on pancakes and covered that with strawberries (yes I know pancakes have sugar. I checked the label. See? Everything has sugar) I cooked stuff in it. And it was delicious. Believe me, if a little butter is good, more butter is better.

Okay, enough about butter. I drink a lot of coffee. With creamer and flavored syrup and yes, sometimes whipped cream. All the good stuff. Well, I wasn’t about to give up coffee – I’ve tried that, with disastrous consequences – but I was good and didn’t put sugar in it. Sometimes I drank it black. I can do that. I like coffee. Sometimes I did put milk in it. And half and half. See what I mean about dairy? It’s a problem. But anyway, I discovered that plain, unsweetened lattes are actually really tasty. So now I’ll have my grande hazelnut latte with just one pump of syrup instead of three or four and guess what? It still tastes like an indulgent treat. A little bit of heaven. Happiness in a cup.

I also learned that plain yogurt isn’t actually that nasty. Especially if you put raspberries or blueberries and a teeny dribble of vanilla in it. Or a teaspoon honey. Strictly speaking, honey is an added sweetener (read: sugar) but it sure does make yogurt palatable. And we get honey from a local guy who has his own bees, not the fake crap from the grocery store. So there. Anyway, just today I had some yogurt with raspberries and honey, and I didn’t gag.

Also, homemade Chex Mix is really, really good.

Talking about what I’m not eating makes people uncomfortable

So much of our social interaction revolves around food. I gave up sugar and suddenly people were apologizing for eating it or making stuff with it, or asking me if I’d like dessert and then looking all guilty when I said no. I just wanted to make a sign that says “Please excuse me if my personal food choices are making you feel bad. Get over it.” Instead, I decided that if I ever go on any kind of diet again (somewhat unlikely) I’m not going to tell people about it. It’s just more trouble than it’s worth. So yeah, maybe I’ll just eat the brownie at the potluck. It’s not gonna kill me. It’s kind of like when the Apostle Paul talks about food in 1 Corinthians 8. Do what you have to do. But don’t throw it in people’s faces. Be kind, and gracious, and let other people eat what they want. It’s a good approach to food, and to life.

So much for my brief excursion into dieting. Even if it was short and rather limited. My biggest conclusion? I actually don’t eat that much sugar. I could eat less. But there’s a reason why I’d rather exercise. I love food. All the food. That is all.

On the Past

I’ve been thinking a lot about past events lately. For lots of reasons, not all of them good, but not all of them bad, either. I’ve also considered writing a memoir – crazy, I know, but all kinds of people are writing memoirs lately and it sounds fun. The past is a tricky thing. People say don’t live in it, don’t waste your time regretting it, what’s done is done…the fact is, what’s done is done, and there’s not a lot we can do about it now. So if we can’t change the past, which is true, and we shouldn’t dwell in it, which is also true, why can’t we just forget about it and move on? Is it possible that we’re not meant to?

Memories are fascinating. They are not always accurate. They are colored by our impressions of the circumstances, the people involved, our moods, either when the memory was created or recalled. And so the past becomes this vast subjective thing, where conversations and events are altered through our interpretations and impressions, either true or false. Very often, memories of the past are tainted with regret. I should have made a better choice. I wish I’d known then what I know now. What if I had done something or said something differently? Could I have done more? Should I have done less?

Then there are the parts of the past that we’d just rather not think about. Dark old secrets, the kind that lay buried most of the time, but sometimes bits and pieces show up, not always at the most convenient times. What do we do with them? Try to forget them? Wish they had never happened? For what it’s worth, here’s the perspective I’ve gained this week:

The failures of the past are more than just errors in judgment that we wish we could forget. As a believer in Christ, cleansed by his blood, I am forgiven of all those mistakes, and even the intentional sins I’ve committed. But I still remember them, even though sometimes I wish I could forget. Why? Because those things have shaped who I am today. There is no point in wishing they had never happened. I am forgiven, I’ve moved on, but in that process, my life and my character were changed. There was most likely an impact in others’ lives that they’ll never forget, either. We do this life thing together, and in some way, every choice we make changes our lives and the lives of people around us, in good ways and bad ways, for all eternity. That knowledge makes me want to live better in the future, make better choices now, so that the impact I leave on the lives of others is positive, not detrimental.

We can’t change the past. We can let it change us. Make us better, wiser, more forgiving of others’ mistakes. And when those things do pop up and we remember them, we can also remember where we came from, where we are now, and find reasons to be thankful for the blessings in our lives, both now and in the past. Most of all, I am thankful for the grace of God that covers my past, redeems it, and makes me new.

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19, ESV)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

On Friendship

Through an interesting set of circumstances, I’ve recently had an opportunity to evaluate some of my closest friendships, and I’ve learned some things. About life, about friends, and about my friends, in particular.  I think some of it is worth sharing.

I’m not a particularly outgoing person. I used to consider myself an introvert and I suppose that’s still true to some extent, although I like people much better now than I once did. I was very shy growing up, and being homeschooled didn’t give me much of an opportunity to break out of my shell. It wasn’t until after college, when I started my Mary Kay business, that I finally realized that I actually like people. Still, I’ve never had a huge group of friends. I tend to have a small handful of people that I know and trust, a larger circle of friends I genuinely enjoy spending time with, and then plenty of acquaintances who I’ll smile and chitchat with, but who really don’t know me at all. Most of those people tend to think I’m sweet. My friends know better. My close friends really know me, and love me anyway. At least, that’s how I see it.

I find that in life it’s helpful to think the best of people, but not trust them too much. Still, most of the time I’d rather err on the side of trust. There are times I regret that. But I’d rather love people and have real relationships where I might get hurt than put up walls and be fake. To me, that doesn’t sound like any kind of life. Anyway, here’s what I’ve learned about true friends:

A true friend is a friend all the time. Good times, bad times, fun times, hard times. A true friend knows my faults, maybe not all of them but most of them, but doesn’t fault me for them. A true friend will listen to me go on and on for hours or maybe even days, or sometimes even longer, about what is going on in my life. Even after I say, “Ok, now I’m done. Oh wait, one more thing…” A true friend will listen to my secrets and my fears and keep them quiet. A true friend will have my back when times get tough. A true friend is honest. A true friend won’t tell me “oh, you’re fine, everything will be okay” when it’s obvious that I’m not, and it won’t. A true friend won’t tell me what to do unless I actually ask for advice. A true friend is willing to let me make my own mistakes, pray me through them, and be there for me afterward without the obvious but belittling “I told you so.” True friends can have fun doing little stupid stuff, and big fun stuff, laugh at a gazillion inside jokes, and talk about nothing or important things anytime, for hours if necessary. A true friend has the courage to correct me in person, rather than going behind my back.

I have discovered that I may have fewer true friends than I thought, but I am so thankful for the ones I have. I hope that I am always the kind of friend I hope to have in my life. Because when the hard times do come, and they always will, it’s good to have a few good friends.

On My Anniversary

This week I’ve seen several blogs with interesting, thoughtful, perspectives on marriage. One was from a girl who was married when she was 19, about all the things she “gave up” when she got married. Another was from someone who’s been married 20 years, offering wise words to her girls about the importance of a marriage vs. a wedding. So with that and the fact that today is my 14th wedding anniversary, I’ve been thinking about marriage. I don’t know if my perspective is interesting or thoughtful, but here it is.

First, a word to my single friends: I know being single sucks sometimes. I remember what it’s like to long for someone to just live life with. I remember wondering, every time I met a guy, “Is he the one? Could I marry him?” Every. Time. As someone who married young and has now been married almost half my life, I may not be the best person to deliver advice to the single crowd, but what I have to say is this: Remember, there is no human being who will fill every void in your life, meet every need, be your rock, your everything, complete you, whatever. Only Jesus can do that. Whether you’re married or single or in a relationship or it’s complicated, believe me, Jesus is the One you want. Rest in that. Rest in Him. Someday He might bring someone along who you can spend the rest of your life with, but nothing in this world compares to spending eternity with Him.

Fourteen years ago today, I married Greg Duke, the love of my life. I was 19. I know all the questions. I heard them.
“You were so young! How could you possibly know he was the one for you?”
“Are you crazy? You think you’ll be happy with that one person forever?”
“You didn’t live together first? So how can you know it will work out?”
“Was something going on? Were you pregnant?”
“Weren’t you just, you know, in love with the idea of love?”
There were more.

Now I’ve been married fourteen years, and I hear other things.
“Wow, that’s a long time! Good for you!”
“So how’s that working out?”
“So are you…happily married?”
“Only 36 to go, and then it’ll really be something.”
There is more.

For some reasons, I think I was too young to get married. Mostly because I was pretty irresponsible and barely grown up. I didn’t have good habits for handling money, taking care of a house, being a wife and a student and sharing my life and my stuff and my bed with someone else. It took some adjustment, and that wasn’t easy. There were frustrations and tears and arguments and feeling like I wasn’t good enough. But we got through that, and although I’m still not good at handling money and taking care of a house, it seems to have worked out anyway.

Still, there were lots of reasons why I did get married when I did, and I think they were good ones. I had found someone I loved and who loved me, who I could spend hours and hours with and laugh and have a good time and not wish I were somewhere else. Someone who was as smart as me, who had a deep faith and commitment to ministry, who was more mature and responsible than I was, who could deal with my crazy quirks, who would take care of me and protect me and just be there for me. Someone I was happy to make dinner for, talk to, be with. He was graduating from college and I still had three years left, and I didn’t want him to move away without me. I was planning to be a camp counselor for the summer and God made it pretty clear that He wanted us to get married instead. So we did. No, I wasn’t crazy, or stupid, or pregnant. In fact, I was a virgin. Yep. That happened.

Being married for fourteen years does not make me an expert. It means I have experience, and I have learned a few things about commitment and choices and feelings. One thing I have learned is that I have to put him first. (What? Shouldn’t you put God first? I don’t know. Is God a priority for me? Is He #1? No, He’s everything. So He’s not exactly first, He IS) I have to put Greg before my kids, my friends, my parents, even myself. So the things I want don’t matter to me as much as the things he wants. When I pray for others, I start with him. When I need an opinion or I have a question, I go to him. I am not good at this, not by any means. I am so inherently selfish. But I’ve learned that if I don’t put Greg first, things go downhill. Quickly.

I’m not really a “feelings” person. Yeah, I have feelings, but I’m not really one to focus on them or let them interfere much with my life. I often find that they are inconvenient. Feelings can change. They can lie. If we’re not careful, they can lead us down paths in life that we would be better off avoiding altogether. But they are real, and sometimes they’re good. Going through life with a person for fourteen years means I’ve run a whole gamut of feelings. Have I felt 100% head-over-heels in love with Greg the whole time? Nope. Have I been an awesome wife the whole time? Nope. We’ve had some rough times, and a few moments when I wondered if I had it in me to make this whole thing work. But I have been his wife, and I know what it means to choose him. I chose him fourteen years ago, and in some ways, I keep choosing him every day. Most days, it’s not hard. He’s the best man I know, very likely the only person in the world who could deal with me every day, a godly man and great pastor, and he does dishes. He’s a catch. Most days, I’m totally in love with him. Those happy, “in love” feelings are nice, but love is a choice. Fourteen years ago I chose to love Greg, for better or for worse, forsaking all others, until death parts us. And today, more than ever, by the grace and power of God and the love He has for me, for Greg, and for marriage, I am still making that choice. So far, life with this guy has been good. I’m looking forward to sharing the rest of our lives together.