Category Archives: Faith

Real presents for the people who have everything … 72 hours and counting.

It is now less than 72 hours before Christmas morning.  If you are like a minority of people, your shopping is done.  If you are like most of us, there is still someone that you are planning for that seems to have everything that they may need or even want.

I know that this year it is likely, by no fault of those that buy for me, that I will get things that are less likely to be used, and instead will be objects that I will have to continue to simplify.

This understanding is part of the reason that Summer and I decided that instead of purchasing things for each other, that we would experience a new place as our gifts to each other.  Read more about that here.

So, in the spirit of popular posts for the last days before the biggest shopping holiday of the year, here are some bona-fide ideas to get for people for whom you don’t know what to get, and seem to have everything.

Buy a chicken.

Support a child in a foreign country.

Help the homeless have a meal to eat.

Give the gift of giving.

I know it sounds a little corny, but in this season (as many other bloggers have mentioned and brought to bear for us), we do tend to get caught up in what we can get out of this season, instead of what we can put in.  Even the most devout Christians pine over buying a pink or Chartreuse sweater which we have no guarantee that the other person will use … much less like (just being honest folks).

So instead, take a look at a few ideas here to use your money to multiply lives as opposed to consume resources.  And, on the bright side, you’re guaranteed to get a thanks when they open it … cause no one is going to frown at a gift that helps those that need it. 🙂

1. Local Church.

If you are involved in a local church, sometimes a gift to a cause in your local church keep money local and can make a considerable difference.  See if there are particular projects to which you can contribute.  Building projects, support for local missionaries, building up food kitchens, or scholarships for youth to go to events or complete mission work.  This is a great place to start.

2. Nashville Rescue Mission.

If you are in the middle Tennessee area, consider a gift to this amazing organization.  Much more than a homeless shelter, this program utilizes its resources (all of which are donation – they do not take any form of government assistance) to not only feed and house Nashville’s homeless short term, but also have programs to help totally rehabilitate troubled and hurting lives.  My wife and I have personally given to this organization and we consider them dollars very well spent.

3. St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

I’ve written about this place many times before, but will toss it in here as a wonderful place for a donation to be made in honor of someone you know.  This year, I was able to raise 500.00 for the hospital as part of my 30 While 30 Goal list, completing their half-marathon earlier this month.  A wonderful opportunity to share life by giving to an organization that leads the world in cancer treatments for children and operates primarily on donation … also never turning a child away because they could not afford the treatment.

And now, some options on a much more global scale:

4. Samaritan’s Purse.

Provided in the title is a link to Samaritan’s Purse “Gift Catalog”.  In this way, you can make donations to various different projects around the world, ranging from providing clean water, to building a church, and my personal favorite, buying actual animals (sheep, goats, honeybees) to help support foreign communities increase their self-sufficiency.  While it is too late to participate this year, there is a shoebox program that allows you to fill up a standard size shoebox with items to bring joy to a child far, far away.

5. World Vision.

Rachel Held Evans, a blogger I follow had the opportunity to travel to Bolivia to experience first hand the work that World Vision does through it’s child sponsorship program.  I won’t repeat what she has said, but you can read some of the stories here.  This program does not center so much on the individual child that is sponsored, but instead works to improve the community as a whole, teaching skills, helping to develop lasting self-sustainment programs, and increasing the capacity of whole villages to increase their quality of life.

6. Charity: Water.

A charity based on a very simple premise: providing clean drinking water to those that don’t have it.  Charity:Water has an impeccable reputation on the ratio of donated funds that actually go to the on-the-ground projects.  This is an organization where a very small amount of money can make a very big difference.

–          –          –

So, if you’re looking for something that you can’t find at the mall, or you wonder if it will even get used, here are a few options.

Are there some good ones that I missed?  Let me know in the comments! 

Have a Merry Christmas!

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30 While 30: Day 257 – Not “for what” … but “how” are you thankful?

Today is a special day.

“This is the day, that the LORD has made.  Let us rejoice, and be glad in it.” -Psalm 118.24

Some days, that is all that you can really be happy about … at least you may think.

To be perfectly honest, I have been in a bit of a funk the last week or so.  It might be easy to blame it on lots of other stuff:

Time change.

Gloomy, rainy days.

Anatomy and Physiology Quizzes.

Not a lot of rest (not sleep, mind you, but rest – believe me, there is a difference)

It might be easy, until I start to lecture myself like the good counselor and mentor that I am… Continue reading


What’s in a cup?

So … every once in a while I treat myself to a Caramel Mocha from Fivebucks .. errr … I mean Starbucks.  It is a guilty indulgence, and definitely not an every day kinda thing, but every so often I do partake in the glorious bean juice.

Today was one of those mornings.  This particular morning I went in to the local shop (which is close to where I work), and immediately noticed something about the place that day. Continue reading


30 While 30: Day 215 – What do you crave?

Today is the last part in my “Lesson’s Learned” through my month experimenting in Vegetarianism.  A shorter post today, but I want to share this last aspect that was surprising.

First, some history.

Trying to lose 30 pounds this year is not the first time that I have tried to lose weight.  One time, back in (about) 2005, I did the “Atkins” thing.  It was the flavor of the month, and even then, I was desperate for some “easy fix”, some simple way to let weight just fall off.  Well, it worked.  During that stint, I probably lost 10 pounds (which I gained back later on).  That however, is not the point.  For anyone that knows anything, this diet is all about the elimination (at least in the beginning) of carbohydrates in an effort to entice your body to burn fat reserves for energy.  What did that mean for me?

I wanted potatoes.

I didn’t really care what kind.  Baked.  Mashed.  Fried.  Whatever.

There was nothing I wanted more.

My body was used to consuming mass volumes of carbs.  I wanted carbs.  My body had become used to obtaining them.  I wanted them.

I craved them.

Fast forward to the month of September, 2011.  Thomas goes meatless.  In the beginning, things were the same.  I wanted meat.  I wanted it bad.  The only things that really could sate that hunger were the protein staples I had come to depend on: yogurts, eggs, cheeses, and other dairies (with some legumes).  Then the end of the month came.  What came with it?  Well, oddly enough, not a craving for meat.  Did I eat some?  Sure.  Could I have survived without it?  I think so.

Now that this month is over, what can I say that my eating habits are like?  Well, I am eating less meat.  Meat isn’t nearly as appetizing for me as it once was.  A week and a half past the end of September, and I haven’t even had a steak (to put that last one into perspective … I had almost 20 oz. of ribeye steak at my “Farewell to Meat Extravaganza”.  To usher in meat again?  Not so much.)  It goes back to my watching of Forks Over Knives, helping me to realize that animal protein isn’t the end all and be all of effective eating strategies.

Here is my point:

Our bodies, our minds, and our spirits adapt to what we do to them.  This, in part is a good thing.  This is what helps casual runners to become marathoners.  It’s what helps good high school students become MD’s.  It’s what helps those that change their eating and activity habits to lose weight and increase their overall health.  When we put pressure on our body systems, they are forced to change to accommodate the stresses.  They get used to the way things are, they learn to want more of those things.

We learn to crave in relationships.  It’s what makes me stay up too late and fall asleep with the television on when Summer (My wife) is away – even for a day.  Think of those relationships that you know of, have heard about … or maybe ones in your own past (or present).  What happens when you invest in that person, get to know them, learn how they tick, what they love and what they hate?  You often can’t get enough of them.  You crave them.  You have trouble getting along without them.

This truth can also be a bad thing.  Addiction to drugs, alcohol, or nicotine are examples of biological cravings.  In that same thread, when we have habits that lend themselves to sloth and laziness, we let that be our natural state of being.  (Even heard or read of those people that seem to get a “high” from being busy or accomplishing tasks/projects? – these are the people that crave those things.)  When we are sad all the time, we think that is the natural way of things.

So, in part, cravings are natural.  But in my limited experience (and to be honest, an interesting topic for future literary review / scientific study) we can create our own cravings based on what we do to ourselves.  We build capacities and potentiality … but we also erect fences, and set boundaries.  The danger is in thinking we have nothing to do with this, that these capacities and boundaries are a simple product of our biology and heredity, instead of a manifestation of our choices and our habits.

Do that which will make you better, and more whole.  Do that, even when it feels uncomfortable … and soon, you will begin to crave it.

_Thomas


30 While 30: Day – Lessons in Vegetarianism – “The Joys of Simplicity”

Last week, I wrote about a few simple thoughts I’ve had over this last month regarding my experiment with vegetarianism.  I must say, out of the long list of things that I am attempting to accomplish this year (which by the way, I have crested the 6-month mark) this past month has been on of the most profound ones from a learning and experiential perspective.

In the last post, I talked about conviction.  Not only in regards to the reasons that people decide to forego meat as a lifestyle, but what role strong moral or logical beliefs have on how we interpret and act on the world around us.

Today, I want to talk about another lesson learned in the month of September: The Joys of Simplicity.

First, let me tell you a bit about some of my experiences with simplicity during my recent trip to Charleston, SC.

As I had mentioned and asked on Facebook, prior to my trip, I was seriously considering altering my vegetarian plan (and some might call it cheating … myself included) to include fish and seafood (called “pescatarianism” – normally a stepping stone from meat-eating to vegetarianism, but not considered by “true vegetarians” to be an authentic vegetarian lifestyle).  The truth being that I wanted to sample some of the various foods in town, especially after hearing of some of the varieties of seafood available.  Cravings are a topic (and lesson learned) for another week.

My colleagues were very gracious, often asking me if a restaurant was going to be suitable for my recently adopted lifestyle choice.  It was honestly very sweet, and an authentic demonstration of their sensitivity to the real difficulty I was having with the choice that week.  That being said, I didn’t really have the same dilemma that they did when staring at the menus.  My selections were much more limited.  Considering the lack of meat, or items cooked in a stock made from animal protein, my menu was unequivocally much smaller than theirs.  While I will admit that at first it was troubling,

at the same time, it was rather freeing.

–          –          –

When I started this month of being meat-free, I got quite a deal feedback and comment from friends and family.  My mother (bless her heart) was worried of my cholesterol, when she heard I would probably be eating more eggs for breakfast (and for the record, I had a complete blood work done just 6 months ago, and my cholesterol – the bad kind – was just fine).

My wife, on the other hand, wondered if instead of dying from lack of meat, would perish from boredom of my limited palette.

You see, my eating, while it had been without meat, had also becoming increasingly simple:

My breakfast consisted typically of 1-2 eggs or some greek yogurt, flavored with fruit.

My lunch was often a vegetable (simple or starch), a simple sugar (fruit like an apple, banana, grapes, or pineapple), and a protein source (almost always either some type of cheese or a slice of whole wheat bread with peanut butter). 

Snacks consisted of fruits, raw vegetables, or nuts, and dinner was often the side dishes prepared for the family (the wife and children ate the meat).  

Once again, something that people might have considered a burden …

… felt oddly freeing …

–         –          –

I’ve been trying to make sense of this sensation this feeling.  That by my self-confining of diet, and increased planning, my overall diet was greatly simplified.

Even so, by decreasing my options, the last month has felt the most freeing.

Granted, for the last several months, my eating habits have changed.  I notice it even more as I look back over our families eight years as a family.  There was a time (though Summer swears against it) that we ate hamburger helper … or flaked mashed potatoes, or “meals in a freezer box”.  That isn’t the case really anymore.  Summer, as the edible compass of the family, has helped reshape how we look at foods, and granted (as I have mentioned before) I don’t know if I am ready to forgo meat as a whole at the moment, we sure understand the difference between fresh and/or organic and heavily processed meat foodstuffs.

Now don’t misunderstand me.  This is not a post about how you are eating wrongly or a post about me sharing horrible facts about random additives to food.  That, honestly isn’t the point.  There are many more important things in life to spend time thinking about.

And that is the point.

In the process of simplification, an interesting thing happened.  When I wasn’t concerned with what I should or should not eat (as I had spent very little time planning and committing to a simplified diet), and my energy wasn’t focused on the moral dilemmas of eating things that were going to mess up my weight loss plans or specific dietary plans for my vegetarian month, I found pockets of time to spend on other things.  I have moved at a much faster pace through my next book in my list in the last two weeks.

Is that a likely link?  Maybe not, but it isn’t an impossible one and it is a link that lends itself to a common principles that have made good common sense the whole world over:

Simplicity leads to clarity.

Think about it.

The simplest beliefs are often the clearest, and the ones that are held the most tightly.  The ones that are the most meaningful.

The simple life allows for flexibility, malleability, the capability to respond more easily to unexpected changes.

People … very powerful and influential people … ones with resources sometimes incalculable … will take vacations, sabbaticals, leaves of absence … forgoing the conveniences of life, simplifying there’s for a time, for a specific purpose.

I seem to also remember a certain person who once suggested to us to look to the birds, noticing that each of their needs are cared for, and calling for us to wonder why we worry about anything in the first place.  We have so many things that give us more and more information … to formulate worries beyond our wildest imaginations.

So, if you were to take something from this rambling, open-ended, disjointed post, let it be this:

Look for areas to simplify your life, and weigh the cost of doing so.  Sometimes chains don’t look like chains … until you take them off.

_Thomas


30 While 30: Day 202 – On return from Charleston (Vegetarian Day: 27)

Photo courtesy of whitehouse.gov (re: your tax dollars)

Did you know that the VP garners 35k a plate?  I was unaware of this, until that is, I was down in Charleston, SC, trying to make a dinner date with my teammates from work at the lovely Magnolia’s Restaurant in the old district of Charleston.  We didn’t find this out until we got caught in traffic moving into the city, and noticing the fact that it appeared that every single officer in North Charleston and Charleston (yeah, there are two of them) was out on patrol for the event.

I digress … and I’m less than 100 words in.  I’d better get to point.

This past week, I had the pleasure of attending and participating in the 16th Annual Conference on Advancing School Mental Health.  It was my 3rd attendance, but I am happy to say, the first time (with the help of some of my teammates) that I was able to assist in presenting for one of the breakout sessions.  The week was filled with presentations of working school-based mental health programs and initiatives, and several key-note addresses by forerunners in this modality (way of doing) mental health treatment.

A few things that I have definitely taken away from this last week.

1. It is so important to not focus on the negative.

Granted, we are prone to this. In fact, much of our society is predicated on this.  Police and Fire services respond after an event has occurred.  Most strategic plans of organizations and entities are focused on a “what if this happens?” mentality.  That, at least, lends itself to the idea of proactive planning.  One of the most promising things about this national conference is the shifting from fixing problems with the “tough kids” to the proactive nature in helping to build resilience.  You see, the former is generally focused on a small minority of our children, the latter is the great majority of our young people.  What is true is that on the whole, most kids function very well, learn lots of information, and overcome a great deal of adversity … despite what you see on television.

I mean, how many times do you see on the news how dropout rates are high or increasing, and that we have an “epidemic of illiteracy” in the United States? Well, while it is important not to ignore the plight of those that need the most assistance, the truth is that on the whole, there are a lot of things that are working … and working quite well.

In that same line of thinking, how much time and energy do we put into the ideas that take what we know that works and make those things better (or more prevalent)?  How are we looking for the programs that do not just eradicate the deficient areas, but continue to raise the bars of achievement, personal development, and youth resiliency?

There was a lot of that this week, and I was glad to see it.

2. I am not a life-long vegetarian.

I admit it.  I like meat.  There … I said it.

During one of the key-note presentations (where the conference hall provided lunch), I happily discovered a fellow vegetarian at the table.  Jessie, a Psychologist was also asking the quick-moving table attendant about the vegetarian options for the meal.  Not wanting to miss a learning opportunity, I struck up a conversation.  It went a little something like this:

Me (in my head): What am I going to eat for lunch?  Yesterday they gave me a salad with eggplant on it.  Eggplant?  I mean, I understand it looks like meat … but does grilled eggplant actually go on a salad?

(I notice across the table, Jessie ask for a vegetarian meal)

Me (out loud this time): Jessie!  I know that I am a complete stranger, and you don’t know me from Adam, but can I ask you a question? (Enter longer-than-probably-needed explanation of my 30 while 30 project) … So, do you mind sharing with me how you came about your decision to be a vegetarian?

Jessie: Well, I was 16 at the time and had been reading the Jungle, y’know that book about meat processing, and around the same time, I ate this beef burrito at Taco Bell, and it really messed with my stomach.  I haven’t eaten meat since.  I don’t even notice, really, or even miss it.

Right about that time, the waiter brought us our vegetarian entrée.  It looked a little bit like this:

Image courtesy of kosherhamptoms.com

Yeah.  I’m glad the starter salad was decent.  I am not a fan of eggplant.  Even less of eggplant meant to look like a dish that contains luscious meat, like lasagna.

By the way, this is not a slam on vegetarians.  The honest to goodness truth is that I could probably do this for longer than a month (thanks to simple eating – something I learned about myself this week – that you all will hear about on Thursday).

The thing is that I don’t really want to.

That being said, the more I look at and talk with vegetarians, either over the internet or in person, when I can find them in the wild, is that in most cases, they have a strong biological aversion or moral objection to eating anything that “has a face”.  I don’t mind that so much.

–         –          –

The thing that I think I will take away from this particular month, is the power of a strong conviction.  Conviction, or a strong drive or belief in something that changes (in most cases) a particular action, is the reason that many people to the things that they do.  Conviction also holds you do it.  Conviction isn’t a preference (like the difference between Coke or Pepsi), conviction is more fundamental than that … more simple.  Conviction is what causes people who see their parents die of heart disease to commit to and successfully shed their extra pounds and lose that weight.  Conviction to a faith will drive people to radically change their lives (or who they vote for) or may even lead them to death … that the belief is stronger than the will to survive itself.

I don’t have a strong conviction to stay away from meat.  Summer has a documentary that she wants me to watch before the month is out, so maybe that will change, but as it stands right now, I don’t have that strong pull.  And that’s ok.  And it’s ok if you do have it.  That’s the beauty of this existence.  There is room for the both of us.

That being said, what are your convictions.  What are those singular moments (like Jessie with the Jungle and Taco Bell), or pounding beliefs (religious or moral), or persistent experiences that shape your worldview?

As we learn to harness those, we learn to focus our energy, remind ourselves of what really is important, and regain our understanding on where we fit in the big picture.

_Thomas


30 While 30: Day 166 – Sweet Interruption…

I feel I owe some kind of explanation to the folks that follow this blog.  While back in June, I would have thought I would have been able to cross off #26 (Blog regularly.), it seems that the months of July and August (at least so far) have been fraught with interruptions.  To be honest, I am into the meat of a lot of these things.  For example:

1. I am in the gym at 500am Monday-Friday, doing a myriad of things.  Having finished Belly-Off Diet, and Turbulence Training, for the last two months, I have been to the YMCA a lot.  I am doing interval weight training on my main days, and on my off-days, doing interval running to train for the races.  Days that I miss my morning routine, I generally am there in the afternoons, with the Family.

2. Weight loss has stagnated at right about 21 pounds.  I would by lying if I told you that wasn’t frustrated with that fact.  I can’t seem to figure it out.  I will admit, I have backslidden a few times in my eating plan, and paid the price, but I can’t figure out what’s going on there.  In leiu of figuring out, I am still pounding the weights and the treadmill, in preparation for my first 5k of the season, in September.

3. I have earnestly begun looking through the notes on my Paw Paw’s book (see #29 Finish my Paw Paw’s Book).  That is going to be a feat.  The story has some promise, but at first, I am working on copying the manuscripts outright.  My Paw Paw didn’t have the most elegant handwriting, so it is taking some time.

4. I am kinda stuck in my most recent book, Drive, by Daniel Pink.  About 1/3 of the way in, I am wondering how many different ways he can say how important activating people’s intrinsic motivation is (For the purposes of personal and business success).  I get it.  It’s just a slow read.

5.  I am prepping for September, which will be the month of no meat (for #24 Go vegetarian for a month.).  A post next week on that … but I think the month of September might just be worse than the half marathon, maybe even harder.

So …. I have been busy.  Busy doing the things on the list, and not so much been able to write much about what I am experiencing.

And then there are the interruptions.

-Two weeks ago, a friend from school passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.  I wrote briefly about him here, but find the words lacking.  What resounds more is the overwhelming understanding of how short and how precious life is.

-On the morning after that event, I traveled to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, TN to be with my family as my grandmother passed away.  I was honored to speak at her funeral, as I had been as well for her husband, my Paw Paw, just 18 short months ago.

-In my line of work, I don’t often work in the evenings, or on the weekends.  There was surely a season of that in my career, but the occurrences are fewer and farther between.  The last two weeks has seen me working and extra 25 hours or so, due to special duties.  Some weekends, and some early mornings (as I tweeted about this past week).

. . .

So even the best laid plans are sometimes impacted by the gears of life turning.

It is easy to be frustrated with little interruptions in life.

The salesman at the door.

The unexpected traffic.

The phone call that you feel you should have just left for voice mail.

It’s easy to be frustrated by these interruptions, because we always seem to have the most well-laid plans.

Regardless of that, I was reminded by a post from a blogger that I follow, Rachel Held Evans, who shares that in our walks, we should embrace the unexpected moments in life.

You can read the post here.

We should embrace those interruptions because those unexpected moments are often the ones that contain the true purpose of that moment, or of that day.  Not only that, but if you read this and you are a follower of Christ, you also know that Christ often moved from interruption to interruption … and that’s often when he did his best work.  Countless times would he be summoned here or there, and if they couldn’t get Jesus to come to them, they would just bring the interruption to Jesus, even if it meant tearing off a roof, and lowering the interruption right down into Jesus’ lap.

You see, interruptions are at times the lifeblood of what makes life exciting, real, and engaging.  Think about how boring life would be if it all actually went according to plan.

Painful, that boredom.

Well, the fact is that I need to be more accepting of interruptions.  I need to be more open to the possibility that my path may be heading one direction, only to hit a bump and head the other way.  I need to be open to interruptions, lest I miss out on the wonder that today actually holds.

Even if that means the blog doesn’t get posted to, or a goal sets on the side.

Yeah, I said it.

Doesn’t make much sense when this whole year is about accomplishing all these important, amazing, meaningful, or silly things on this list.

Until you realize that it makes perfect sense.

Up until this point in my life, there have been idols, things that have taken the wrong place of importance in my life.  These have been (in no particular order): Work, entertainment, food, laziness, and ambition (and I am for sure I am leaving some out, and I count on my friends to share with me the ones I missed).

If I let this list (for the sake of the list) take up one of those same pedestals, I have missed the point of this entire exercise.

Life is a process, a “going through”.  It is not a checklist.  Granted, I know this seems odd coming from a guy who has openly committed on the internet to complete a list of things while he is 30, but the list was a jumpstart.

The list is me throwing interruptions into my own life.

So, I take no shame if there are gaps on the posting, if I fall off the wagon while dieting and exercising, if I have to walk a little bit on the half-marathon in December.  The story of this blog is not one of a “super-person”, a “biggest loser”, or other sensational story.  This story is the everyman.  The reality that we all face as we look to tomorrow and wonder where yesterday went.

So, tomorrow, I look forward to the interruptions … they are bound to make this story more exciting.

_Thomas