The Biggest Loser
I am a loser.
I don’t say that for sympathy or encouragement. It’s just simply true. I lose school notes. I lose jewelry. I lose my keys, my cell phone, occasionally my purse.
Earlier this week, I lost my checkbook. I had it out to pay our tax bill. It was in my office, on my desk. And then, it wasn’t.
I’m lucky to be married to a finder. Even before we married, my soon-to-be-husband got a glimpse of what life with a loser would be like. Something I needed was in one of the boxes we had moved from my temporary home in Birmingham. He went through box after box until he found what it was I had lost.
Not much has changed. I still lose things. He still finds things. Only now, he is dad to two little losers who take after their mother.
To be sure, losing is an attention problem. A problem of not focusing, of not putting things back where they go, of being disorganized and having so much stuff that what is most important is not easily seen.
After searching all morning for the checkbook, I finally gave up. I told God that he would have to lead me to it because I had looked everywhere. Let’s just say it’s not the first time I’ve prayed that prayer.
Guess what? Within 10 minutes, my checkbook was in my hands. I was straightening up from my “looking” and there it was. In my office. Right where I thought it might be.
With gratitude, I shake my head in wonder that God cares about me enough to move me in the right direction, in the small details like lost things and in the major decisions that come up now and then.
I wish I didn’t spend so much time looking for things. I really wish I could get more organized, which would solve much of my losing problem.
But every search reminds me that I belong to a loving Father, a God who pursues those who are lost and rejoices when they are found. I am a loser, but God is a finder! Through His amazing grace, I, who once was lost, now am found.
God cares about me. He cares about you. His desire is for everyone to be found. That’s the good news of Jesus. And on this #ThankfulThursday, I am grateful indeed.
Two years ago, I made a commitment to exercise more and eat less.
Physical appearance was certainly part of it. I was not pleased with what I was seeing in family photos, and I realized that if I continued to gain a few pounds a year, my weight could easily reach an unhealthy level.
More than that, I needed to exercise for my mental and emotional health. I had changed jobs, so instead of working on campus, I was spending most every day at the desk in my home office. The long days began to take a toll, and the blues would often set in. I knew that could get to an unhealthy level as well.
A friend had lost several pounds tracking her diet and exercise on MyFitnessPal, and since we didn’t live close enough to exercise together, joining her on this social network/fitness app seemed like the next best thing.
It really worked!
Today, I’m about 20 pounds lighter, and I even began leading an exercise group at my church. Since we live in a rural area, there aren’t a lot of classes available, so my living room often substitutes for a gym. That’s okay though, because there I’ve found some great videos that get my heart rate up and put a smile on my face. Maybe some of these will motivate you to get more active, too!*
Leslie Sansone: Walk It Off In 30 Days
This one gets the top spot for a couple of reasons. First, there are two workouts and each is only 30 minutes. First, anyone can commit 30 minutes a day and walking is pretty easy for most of us. Second, these workouts work many different muscle groups and use light hand weights. For women, strength training makes a big difference in weight loss and overall fitness because it helps us build muscle mass that protects us from bone loss and increases our metabolism. The two programs on this DVD can be alternated daily for a total body weekly workout.
Strong Body, Ageless Body with Erin O'Brien
This one is more challenging, so it might not be the best one for those of you who are not already actively exercising. My husband teases me a lot about this one, since O’Brien frequently talks about the importance of building strong muscles in the hip area. However, she’s absolutely right. As we age, we are more at risk for falls and injuries. So the more flexible and agile we are, the more stable our steps. Just be prepared that if you do this full workout (approximately 45 minutes), you will feel it in your hips and thighs for a few days.
Leslie Sansone: Walk Away the Pounds - 5-Day Fit Walk
This is another great walking video. It includes five different workouts, all using different muscle groups. Leslie’s videos are great for group workouts because they rely on the same 4 basic moves. She changes things up a lot with add-on moves and different music, but once you are familiar with her basic program, you can comfortably do most of her workouts. And if you can’t do a move, she encourages you to just keep moving. Activity is what burns the calories anyway.
Element: Ballet Conditioning
In this ballet inspired workout, former dancer Elise Gulan leads you through moves that stretch and tone tight muscles. Ballet is challenging, but these exercises are great for balance and conditioning. Another plus for me was that I learned a lot of ballet terms as I worked out. Ronde de jambe, anyone?
Element: Yoga for Weight Loss
I like a lot of the Element workout series videos, and this is one of my favorites. If even the mention of yoga turns you off, you could turn off the sound, since she does use the terms of the discipline. However, I find that at many points in this workout, she may reference the strength within us, but I am lifting prayers to the real source of strength within us. My favorite thing about this workout is that when I’m done, it feels like every muscle has been worked--but in a good way. I feel quite relaxed when I’m done, despite the fact that I’ve spent the last 50 minutes exercising.
There are some great videos on YouTube that you can dance to also. REFIT® Revolution offers many workouts choreographed to contemporary Christian hits like Toby Mac’s “Feel It.” Mandisa's Original "Good Morning" Zumba Routine is a great one, too. Another option is to turn on your favorite CD and just walk. Once you’ve got a few basic moves in your exercise routine, you can do them to pretty much any music you enjoy.
One final tip that really helped me--never sit down to watch television! Seriously. Several years ago I bought an exercise step. When I began my weight loss program, I decided that instead of sitting in the recliner while watching my favorite TV shows, I would step. Trust me, stepping up and down for 50-60 minutes is a good way to work up a sweat. It might not seem like much, but on average, doing 30 minutes of moderate step aerobics could burn up to 200 calories--about the equivalent of a candy bar.
*This post is not intended to offer health advice. It’s simply a summary of what worked for me. Before beginning an exercise program, you should make sure you are healthy enough to exercise. Talk with your doctor, and be careful as you get moving.
Watch Your Tone
Conflict is inevitable when two people are together. We want our way most of the time, and given the opportunity, we will try to persuade another to accept our view.
With the election rhetoric heating up in these final days before the election, keep in mind that how you express your opinion is perhaps more important than the opinion itself.
Social media is filled with inflammatory language--posts intended to shut down rather than encourage civil dialogue. That's easy to avoid.
Discussions at work or at home? Not so easy to get out of.
There are some strategies that can make communication more effective when expressing a different view, however. I share some of these in my most recent article for Faith and Family. You can read the full article here, but keep these tips in mind:
At all times, keep these words in mind: "Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body." Proverbs 16:24
You’re just avoiding the problem. Sometimes, the right thing and the hard thing are the same thing. --Liz Lemon
I quote this line from one of my favorite TV characters often, and it applies today as the Alabama legislature considers a proposal to bring a lottery to Alabama. Most people agree that if the legislature sends this bill to a vote, the people of Alabama will approve it. Some argue that the voters should decide. Others argue that the voters have already decided by sending legislators to Montgomery that will make prudent financial decisions for our state.
Many voters, including me, are regretting those votes today because our leaders refuse to do the right thing, which is also the hard thing—use existing revenue sources wisely and add reasonable additional streams to fund state government.
I have yet to find any sound argument that a lottery is a good way to raise money for state services. There are those in state government and those who profit from the lottery who support the system, yes. But Google the question “Is a lottery a good way to raise state revenue?” and you will find the following in the top responses:
Our legislators know the facts. They are just letting the “people” decide so they don’t have to. That’s not leadership.
Proponents like Gov. Bentley now say the lottery is our only option. It hasn’t been that long since he expressed a very different opinion on state-sponsored gambling, but any moral ground Bentley claimed in the past has been flooded by the tide of his personal failings. He is grasping at a life raft that has way too many holes in it.
As an Alabama citizen who lives on the state’s border with Georgia, I’m familiar with the pro-lottery arguments. Everyone with a B average gets free tuition. Adults can go back to school. The state is buying technology with the proceeds and sending kids to PreK. Little of that is true anymore.
According to the website of the Georgia Lottery, Capital Outlay/Techology Grants from the lottery were last appropriated in fiscal year 2003. No students currently attending Georgia K-12 schools have benefitted from technology grants from the lottery because of revenue deficits.
Lottery funds help pay for PreK, though the funds are “provided on a competitive basis.” Not every child gets a free PreK spot at the school nearest their residence, and not every child gets a spot period.
Adults who earn a GED can receive a one-time grant of $500 to pay for tuition, books, or other educational costs. Georgia residents who are working towards a certificate or diploma at one of the state’s technical colleges can receive awards for tuition (not books) through the Zell Miller Grant or can receive a grant for a portion of their tuition (once again, not books) through the HOPE Grant.
So for illustration, a student who attends Georgia Highlands College in Rome, one of the most affordable colleges in the state, who takes 15 hours would be charged $1895 in-state tuition and fees (not counting books) for Fall 2016. The HOPE Grant for that student would pay $1,200 of that tuition, leaving $695 plus the cost of books for the student to pay from other sources. A student receiving the Zell Miller Scholarship Grant would receive $1,363, leaving a deficit of $532 per term for the student to pay. Multiply each of those by two (for two semesters) and you’ll see that the average student attending college will still pay more than $1,000 each year in tuition and fees alone.
I mention the additional cost of books for a reason. According to the College Board, the average college student will spend around $1,200 on books and supplies each year. Living expenses, gas, clothes, and other necessities just add to that total. The HOPE, while helpful, does not guarantee any student an easy financial path to a college degree. In other words, the proposed beneficiary does not get all that is expected.
Of course, in Alabama, none of the money from the proposed lottery is set to go to college scholarships or schools. The explanation of Georgia's benefits is important, however, because it supports the research that shows lotteries, including Georgia’s seemingly successful enterprise, seldom provide the funds they promise (see Why State Lotteries Never Live Up To Their Promises). Illinois lottery winners could substantiate that fact as well. Last year, Illinois’s dreary budget situation left lottery winners of prizes over $600 with IOUs from the state.
In Alabama, the proposed lottery would shore up the state’s ailing General Fund budget, which includes Medicaid. In Alabama approximately one-fourth of the state’s residents depend on Medicaid for healthcare. That’s more than a million people, half of whom are children. Dr. Marsha Raulerson, MD, has written a wonderful explanation of how cuts to Medicaid are hurting these patients and the doctors who care for them. You can read her article here.
Maggie Walsh has also written a great summary of how the numbers Bentley and other proponents are touting simply don’t add up. You can read her article here, but the gist is that the estimates of revenue being thrown around are bad estimates. It is likely that Alabama would not take in nearly the $225 million figure Bentley says is certain.
Moral opposition to a lottery is significant, but it also doesn’t persuade. As one commenter wrote in response to a CNN piece that asked “Are lotteries a fair way for states to raise money?”:
Any tax or revenue source that I have the choice to opt out of is OK by me. Lotteries, luxury taxes, speeding tickets, liquor, tobacco and, yes, eventually, marijuana taxes are great ways to fund my government without me having to provide the funds. If you, like me, choose to give up or moderate these activities, great- that means less pressure on the health care system and safer roads. If not, pay more so I can pay less.
Whether you view the lottery as a tax or revenue source, many of us will opt out of it. I live 3 miles from the Georgia line, but I haven’t bought a lottery ticket since 1995. (I bought 3 to take a picture of for an article I was working on.) I’ve thought about buying lottery tickets in those years. I’ve dreamed of how I would spend a few millions dollars (my list is pretty benevolent, in fact). But in the end, I don’t get much pleasure from losing, and I’d rather have a $1 sweet tea from McDonalds. The end result is the same—a handful of worthless trash.
By some estimates, every Alabama resident would have to spend $182 dollars annually on lottery tickets to provide the funding Bentley says is possible. In my family, that’s approximately one month of gymnastics fees or 5 fast food meals or 5 tanks of gas. For someone without insurance, that’s one doctor visit. One prescription. For some families, that’s two months of groceries. But for the majority of lottery players, $182 spent on lottery tickets is money that they will never see again.
Some argue that the poor who buy lottery tickets are simply putting their money back into the system that provides them benefits. Wrong again. Check out this article by Katherine Green Robertson, Vice President of the Alabama Policy Institute (API), who says this:
… Just in case you’re thinking it, taking from those who rely on state benefits is not a clever way to recoup costs, but will leave them with even less income and further diminished means of escaping poverty.
Finally, the argument “they’re already spending their money, why not keep it here” is common. Using that logic, we could also make an argument (which many do) that thousands of drug users are purchasing illegal drugs so we should make those drugs legal in order to get their money. Without a doubt there are many Alabamians crossing the border to other states and buying lottery tickets. But there is a big difference in having to transport yourself to another state versus dropping a few dollars each time you buy gas or groceries. How many parents will get sucked in to the lure of riches and choose to buy tickets instead of a gallon of milk for their kids or a gallon of gas to get to work? Foolish choice, yes. But just because people will probably make the choice anyway is no reason to make it easier for them to do it.
I'm sickened and saddened by the current state of our state and national politics and the world we are creating for our kids. I have moral objections to a state-sponsored lottery, yes. However, people with no faith-based objections have examined the lottery time and time again and found that it hurts the most vulnerable, poorest residents of a state. My faith and my experience tells me that all of us make poor choices every day, some that hurt worse than others. Why should the state be promoting those bad choices among its weakest citizens?
There is money in Alabama to take care of our budget, but our governor and many of our legislators refuse to make the tough choices that might lead to a reasonable long-term solution. The next few days have great importance for the future of Alabama. If there has ever been a time to consider the kind of future you want for our state, that time is now. Once you decide, let your state representatives know how you feel. You can find his or her contact information at http://capwiz.com/state-al/home/.
Whatever you do, don’t just sit quietly. Too much and too many are at risk.
A few years ago, a teenager in my circle had surgery. Her mom joked that she was at home "taking the good pain medicine" and recuperating well. Today, our laughing about the pain medicine scares me to death.
In the past couple of years, there has been a dramatic rise in heroin addiction in the United States, and many point to the use of opioid pain medicines as one of the reasons. These strong medications are in my medicine cabinet. They may be in yours. And they are probably in the homes of most of your child's friends. The CDC says that throughout the nation, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills. As a parent, the numbers frighten me, and I have begun to talk to my children about the dangers of prescription medications. I hope you will, too.
Drug addiction counselors have thousands of stories of young people whose road to addiction began with an injury or surgery. The story usually goes something like this: A promising high school athlete is headed for a college career when an injury strikes. Surgery or treatment follows, often accompanied by narcotic pain medication. The medicine helps with the physical pain of the injury, but it also helps with the emotional pain of losing the life that might have been. So even after the pain from the injury subsides, the pain medicine allows an escape from the emotional pain. If someone doesn't intervene, the temporary relief turns into an addiction that must be fed--legally, illegally, by any means necessary.
The CDC says that 1 out of 4 people receiving long-term opioid therapy eventually struggles with addiction. Treatment takes months if not years and often addicts relapse many times before overcoming their addiction. Unfortunately, many don't live long enough to recover. In 2014, overdose deaths from prescription drugs and opioid pain medicines rose to nearly 20,0000 -- surpassing car accidents as the leading cause of injury-related death in America.
Parents are always concerned about the availability of drugs in our kids' schools and the use of drugs in their social circles. One way we can help our kids face the temptation is to prepare them with strategies to turn down the opportunity to try drugs in the first place.
One strategy that is especially effective is at-home drug testing, according to J. Sándor Cheka III, executive director of the Addiction Prevention Coalition in Birmingham, though the reason might surprise you.
Cheka says that at-home testing is not a sign that you don't trust your teen. Instead, it gives your son or daughter a legitimate excuse when someone offers them drugs.
"It's a way for them to say, 'I can't because I'm going to get drug tested,'" Cheka said. Studies correlate early drug use with addiction, so delaying the onset of experimenting with drugs, if not preventing it altogether, is an effective way to prevent addiction.
Drug testing is also helpful because if your child tests positive, you can get them help a lot quicker, Cheka said.
Parents also need to talk to their children honestly and openly about the relational aspects of drug abuse. Cheka says that Christian parents are pretty good at having such conversations about sex, so the same kinds of conversations should be had concerning drugs and alcohol.
"We say, 'medicines are created for our good, but here's the problem with these types of things. Here's what the long-term effects can be.' Don't talk about physical harm but instead talk about what the relational aspects look like. Often kids are swayed by how drug abuse is going to affect relationships. In most cases, they're not going to die instantaneously from using drugs, but explain to them what can happen--they're less likely to make good grade, less likely to have meaningful relationships in their lives. They can grasp that," Cheka said.
Parents also should help children learn effective coping skills from an early age, Cheka said.
“Across the board what we are hearing from addicts is that some kind of traumatic life event drove them to try drugs,” he said. “As adults we think of trauma as death, divorce, maybe changing schools, but many kids are saying, ‘I didn’t make a grade on this test, so now I can’t get into the school of my choice and can’t have the career I always wanted.’ Or, ‘I don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend.’ These are things we have thought weren’t that big a deal, but these kids have no coping mechanism. They have nothing in their life they can grab hold of and realize it’s okay.”
That's where family discipleship comes in. We must help our kids see themselves through the eyes of Christ and understand that the evil one wants to steal not only their peace and joy but their very lives.
"Satan doesn't live in the light, he lives in the shadows," Cheka says, and if Satan can transform one young life into a shadow, he removes a light that could shine for Christ. As parents and church leaders, we can teach our children that hope and peace do not come from earthly sources like drugs, grades, or even relationships. Hope and peace instead come from Christ.
"Too many kids, from a fundamental spiritual level, have no hope. When one thing goes wrong their entire value comes crashing down. Unless they have hope outside themselves, which we know is Christ, they feel like their whole lives are falling apart," Cheka said.
To read more about the opioid addiction crisis in America, click here.
To read the full article about what parents can do to help children avoid the trap of addiction and to see additional resources on healing from addiction, click here.
I am a regular contributor to The Alabama Baptist newspaper, and I also write and edit for several religious, business and educational outlets through my business, McWhorter Media and Marketing.
One of the greatest privileges of being a writer is the opportunity to share the stories of others with a larger audience. I love to do that!
Sharing my own stories is much more challenging, though no less important to making sense of the challenges of Faith and Family in everyday life.
Thanks for joining me on this journey! Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or suggestions.
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