Fine Tuning

This past week has been a bit mundane when compared to other weeks in recent history. The spring semester started up and I can see the finish line coming up this December. This past week has been filled with tons of meetings at work, tons of reading at home, and only one pound of weight loss to report. I’ve plateaued. When it comes to my ketogenic regimen, I have effectively cut out most carbs and am staying consistently below the 20 carb daily limit. The culprit of this plateau has been that I have reduced myself to a mere carnivore. Steaks. Chicken. Bacon. Eggs. Repeat. When I first started this change in a bid to better my health, and to lose weight, I incorporated a bit more intake of vegetables and other low-carb options. As time went on and became more pressed, I had to resort to quicker, simpler options when it came to my meal preparations. And… I’ve plateaued.

What I learned recently is that too much protein can actually knock someone out of ketosis (click here to see where I explain ketosis). By going some days without actually consuming a single carb, I have sabotaged my process another way by not diversifying my meal choices. So currently, as I lose a half-pound here and lose nothing there, I am in the process of fine tuning the regimen to get back on track and move onward towards better health and chiseled abs.

Fine tuning is important. It is how we avoid becoming stagnant in key areas of our life. Our bodies change over time, and there comes a day when we can no longer eat like we did as teenagers, and we must make the appropriate adjustments. I felt old typing that previous sentence, but I’m not even old. Granted, my body has been treated like some kind of amusement park in recent years, but I am not old. I am young. Why don’t I feel young? Anyways…

Fine tuning is also important when it comes to our spiritual lives as well. A few things we need to consider up front is that fine tuning does not equate to “changing it up” when we get bored, and it is not the enemy of consistency, or even a sensible routine when it comes to our faith and the way we live it out. Fine tuning means making the appropriate adjustments when they’re needed. Just like when my current meal regimen, as I was approaching it, ceased to be effective and necessitated an adjustment, so too our spiritual life ought to be adjusted when it no longer produces fruit.

Habits accompany virtue. Habits are good when it comes to our Christian faith. Getting into a habit or routine with our prayers, worship, reflection, and study wards off our tendency to base our entire Christian experience on what we’re feeling in that moment. Developing habits and routines cause us to worship and pray without ceasing simply because God is God who is all good and benevolent, and is always deserving of our praise even when we don’t feel like it. If I could be so blunt, consistency in our spiritual life is what breeds spontaneous and fruitful, Spirit-filled encounters. Praying when we “feel” called or led to do so breeds an appetite for the emotional highs of a relationship with God, but not the relationship itself.

One of the most discouraging events of a person’s journey towards better health is when their hard work bears no fruit. It is in those moments that the temptation to just say “screw it” and eat junk is at its highest. The principle is the same in our walk with God. When we pray, fast, and give alms, and get nowhere, the temptation to question the validity of it all comes to the fore.

In our consistency of worship, prayer, reflection, and study, we ought to avoid symptoms of comfort and complacency. If you are going to pray the Rosary every day or go to the perpetual adoration chapel every Thursday at 3pm, do it because it works, because it is good for you, and because you know God is real and present and hears your prayers. Don’t just do it because that’s what you’ve decided to do. We are Christians because all that has been revealed to us through Sacred Scripture and Tradition is real and it is life changing. No one is ever the same after having truly encountered God, but we can certainly fall into legalism and mindless practices if we become too comfortable.

You see, I don’t really care for too many vegetables. A few I enjoy but most I eat because I need to and they’re good for me. Our faith is the same way. Consistency is good and can work, but it takes some work. To the extent that we lose our sense of investment in these habits and practices, they might cease to be efficacious and worthy of our limited time. It is unlikely for anyone who prays the Rosary, ever, to say “this prayer doesn’t work” if they endeavored to do so with at least the slightest intent to be heard. If, however, someone prays the Rosary day in and day out because “that’s what good Catholics are supposed to do”, well it’s a good chance nothing at all is exactly what might happen.

I once heard a story about a husband who was always bringing his wife flowers. One day she finally asked him why he kept bringing her flowers and he plainly responded “that’s that husbands are supposed to do, right?” You can imagine how the rest of that conversation went. The thing is he wasn’t doing it for love. And I don’t mean love as an emotion, because love entails a great sense of duty and selflessness, but that’s another post for another day. What I mean is that in our faith and in our health, it is good to find what works and to keep doing it. We must never lose our fervor for doing what is good and true. When things in life begin to plateau or become stagnant, then it is time to reevaluate and figure out where and why things have simply stopped working. It isn’t always about changing it all up and changing course. Sometimes it is just about doing some fine tuning.

Lesson Learned

Leading into week two, and coinciding with my last update post, I decided to give myself a cheat day. The thought process was simple; I had lost a good amount of weight for the first week and I deserved a reward.

dwightmistake

My body had essentially gone through somewhat of a detox. I had come off of sugar, and was just starting to feel normal again. Better actually. Life without sugar and carbs has allowed me to think clearer, focus better, feel happier, and have more energy throughout the day. And then I decided to cheat. It wasn’t much, a trip to Subway for one meal and a pop-tart (two actually) later that day was enough to make me regret it.

I was doing so well, but when I cheated I ran back to the very thing I had been seeking to avoid. The problem with a “cheat day” mentality is that it holds up our vice, temptation, or near occasion of sin as the prize to be enjoyed. I’m not saying that sweets, or carb-laden food is a sin; it’s not. It is the unhealthy attachment to anything that causes that very thing to lead us away from God. Even an obsession with something very good such as exercise, to the extent that we use it to satisfy some longing beyond our basic health, wellness, and athletic needs, can come between us and God; it can become our idol.

After feeling the effects of my near-sighted decision, I was eager to get back on track and keep moving forward. The downside is that my weight loss kind of stalled for a day or two because I had knocked my body out of ketosis. Ketosis is the state when your body no longer looks to sugar, but to its own fat reserves for energy. Ketosis is brought on by the release of ketones in the bloodstream which help to break down the fat. This meant I had the painstaking process of getting back into that state so I could resume my journey.

In those moments when I weighed myself and found no weight had been lost, it would have been easy to become discouraged. It was really only a minor setback, but even the minor mistakes can lead us into discouragement and despair. One of the hardest things to do after a setback, whether it be in our health, our marriage, our career, or wherever is to keep working towards the goal. The highest goal toward which man could aim is that of personal holiness. Holiness comes in the letting go of what is temporary in exchange for what is eternal. For me, it is in the slow shaking off of various addictive tendencies. This process, for me, is more than just weight loss; it is an act of great surrender. I don’t want look for satisfaction in what is passing; I want to find it in God alone.

I’m getting back on track now, and the journey is becoming easier. I don’t say this as a boast of my own strength, but as a testament to God’s providence. As I carve out time for prayer, spiritual reading, and meal planning, I do it all as an offering of myself, and my time, back to God. I know that unless I completely give myself over to this period of growth and self-improvement, I will never be the husband/father/son/brother/friend/ catechist/student that I need to be. So I ask you to pray for me as I continue this journey. I’ll return the favor.

Jesus, I trust in you.

Progress Report: As of 1/16/2017, I have lost 13 lbs.

On Not Giving Up

Week one down, a lifetime to go.

This week has been a test of my will; the daily struggle caused me to constantly evaluate the changes I was seeking to make in my life. Daily. Literally daily, I entertained the idea of quitting. To give you a better point of reference: I’ve cut all carbs and sugary junk food out of my life. Complimenting this abstinence has been my intention to pray more often and incorporate more physical activity as I am able. Fast and pray, right?

Well, you never really learn just how addicted you are to something until you decide to give it up. Looking back, I lived from one sugar high to the next; between seven dollar latte drinks, instant-microwavable food, and a steady attachment to desserts, I was killing myself. Leaving all of this behind was hell. Most of last week I was nauseated, unable to think straight, unable to stay awake during the day, and unable to go to sleep at night. I would actually take time to plot ways of finding a dessert that could pass as healthy or ‘low carb’ enough for me to be able to fit it into my regimen.

Throughout last week, throughout my sacrifices, I was steadily looking for the loopholes. I was looking for ways to feed the desires of my flesh while keeping the bear-minimum of my new healthy lifestyle. And this behavior of trying to see how I could continue to get by with doing less, at this point, could be the tagline for my autobiography. I’ve always done this. I’m lazy.

More than being lazy, I lack faith. By not ever going ‘all in’ or by seeking comfort in material things I have precluded myself from trusting God fully. Padre Pio once described the Christian life as a “perpetual struggle against self.” Among the innate tendencies we struggle against, I think comfort and safety are among them. We have little faith that God will solve our problems so we frantically try to solve them all ourselves. We do what we don’t think God will. The result is, more often than not, misery. When we try to take on in our lives the role that belongs properly to God, we quickly realize that we are not God. It is our lack of faith that prevents us from surrendering, and we pick ourselves up from disappointment and go racing towards our next disappointment.

Last week I had to face hunger, boredom, anger, and hopelessness with no other resolve, but prayer. All of the feelings and sensations that I could typically numb with unhealthy distractions were now left bare. I had no other recourse but God. It was uncomfortable. Taking control was well within reach, but I could not reach. I had to be vulnerable before God, and my family. Last week was hell. Enduring such an immense amount of discomfort, for me at least, was the beginning of healing. It was the beginning of being whole again.

On Saturday I was able to grab coffee (regular black coffee, with just a bit of half-and-half) with two of my best friends, Josh and Braylin. I’ve been friends with Josh for 10.5 years now, and Braylin for 9. These are friendships that began in high school and have managed to last throughout college and into early adulthood. As I departed from the few hours we had spent together, I reflected on the longevity of these friendships. Many opportunities have presented themselves for each of these friendships to cease; to continue no more. Josh, Braylin, and I have grown into three seemingly different directions in our lives. The only reason our fraternal bond has withstood these changes was the fervent intentionality with which we approached it. With all the disagreements and differences, the three of us have decided not to give up.

Not giving up. Not giving up in the face of an insurmountable struggle. That is what this first week has been about.

The degree to which I have spent years giving myself over to the base desires of my flesh has, in many ways, rendered me unrecognizable. Like an addict going through rehabilitation, there will be a period of withdrawal. There will be moments when I struggle in my relationship with God, with my vocation to my wife and children, to my family and friends, and in my commitment to good health. The point is that I cannot give up. I most keep moving forward. Most importantly, I must trust that God is my portion, my fulfillment, and that nowhere else can I find the satisfaction found in Him alone.

Jesus, I trust in you.

Progress Report: As of 1/8/2017, I have lost 9.5 lbs.

Letting It All Happen

Well… it has been nearly a year since I’ve written for my own site. It feels good to be back, but at the same time I feel as though I am trying to strike up a conversation with an old friend with whom I’ve neglected to keep in touch. Since my last post a few things have changed in my life. The first and most significant change was the welcoming of our son, Noah Joseph. His arrival marks our third kid overall and the beginning of our more focused approach to Natural Family Planning (Where my Catholic parents at?!).

The next major change came in the form of a new ministry opportunity for our family; since November of last year I’ve been working with the Office of Youth Ministry in the Diocese of Beaumont. This was a tough transitional period for our family. Previously, I had been with Christ the King Parish in Lake Charles for over four years. During my last year there the Lord began to tug at my heart; He began to let me know that my time there was coming to an end. I was comfortable there… so I ignored the ways in which he was trying to speak to me. There came a time when the needs of my family were beginning to shift and a change was inevitable. The craziest part is what I often read about from others who are in ministry, but never actually experienced for myself, and that is the call to cast out into the deep, so to speak.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”  When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. – Luke 5:4-6

The Lord brought our family away from Christ the King in a very rapid and unexpected manner, and He wasn’t going to open wide the next door just yet. We spent the next three months living on prayer and whatever was in our savings account. Several opportunities that didn’t pan out led me to quite a low point; I avoided people just so I could avoid them asking how I was doing. Even among church family the response “Oh… you know… still praying.” only garnered a sympathetic nod. It was rough, but the Lord is faithful.

During my time of unemployment I launched another blog site, which I’ve since retired due to the busyness of life and the inability to find time to maintain it as an editor should. I’ve also been semi-steadily blogging at epicpew.com.

So often during my journey I’ve found myself identifying with Israel during her Old Testament years. I feel as though when I’m at my lowest point I begin to pray fervently and with great resolve. As soon as things begin to turn up I tend to leave God behind. I’ve become the unfaithful nation in many ways; I’ve fallen into the habit of only seeking God when crisis hits. Not long after I began working with the Diocese of Beaumont I kind of fell out of my regular prayer habits. Sure enough, just over a month in I find out I need an emergency surgery that will land me back at home for five weeks of recovery. This process made me angry. The money began to dry up again and I remember just crying out “WHY?!” During my recovery there were weeks when there were no groceries and no means of going to get more. I developed a great love for cereal during my recovery.

During this low point, as I processed what was happening to my family, I began to seek the Lord once again. He showed me during this time what I was doing wrong… He showed me where I was being unfaithful. It wasn’t until Rachel and I completely surrendered; it was when we threw our hands in the air and told the Lord “Not our will, but yours!” that (I kid you not) money began to show up at our front door. Before our great surrender, the lowest of low was when we had to approach family to borrow a few bucks just to keep our lights on. Such an experience broke me of whatever ounce of pride I had left.

I think that’s what God was looking for all along. He wanted our surrender. He wanted our pride to be broken. He wanted us to finally and completely depend on him.

This morning I was reminded of God’s faithfulness. During my morning commute the rain began to pour down as the rising sun became overshadowed by the blackened, stormy sky. I found myself driving as slow as 45mph on the highway just to keep safe (I drive a Sentra, don’t judge). Before the rain hit I prayed with great zeal for the rain to be held off until I reached the chancery. But… it came with a vengeance. During my coffee-fueled, wide-eyed, overly-cautious commute I began to kind of laugh at myself. I was praying for safety, but the Lord didn’t want me to pray for safety… He wanted me to pray for faith. God doesn’t want to spare you from the storm. Heck, sometimes God’s plan isn’t even to get you through the storm. In all things, however, He wants us to ask him for the faith and perseverance to endure. So if you’re still reading this far I implore you to endure whatever life is throwing at you. You may be suffering and that suffering may get a hell of a lot worse before (and if) it gets better. In any case, God has a plan for you and is trying to speak to you through the suffering and heartache. Let it happen and LISTEN!