Tag Archives: Spirituality

Religion vs. Evidence-Based Science: An Integrative Philosophy for Wellness

People like to pit religion against evidence-based science, and vice versa. I’ve heard of some Christians, for example, who write off modern evolution theories like clergymen used to write off Galileo’s then-revolutionary scientific findings about the earth and sun because such findings opposed outdated understandings about the earth in scripture (i.e. pre-telescope guesses about how the planets revolved). I’ve also seen atheist Christmas stockings with text bubbles spelling out “BANG!” above images depicting the scientific evolution of humanity from apes. Perhaps the most recent example that comes to mind is the religious skepticism tied to some of the anti-vaccination buzz amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, many attention-grabbing arguments and loud voices choose strict sides in this debate, as though preparing for a life-and-death game of dodgeball.

 

 

The world loves to think in black and white. It marries itself to binary perspectives because they are the most logical. To integrate dichotomous philosophies requires much more thought, contemplation and introspection. But I suggest trying it.

Here’s why…

Wellness is at its best when it’s approached in a multi-pronged and integrative way. I believe science and religion are also at their best when viewed as complementary forces instead of enemies at war. When they are integrated into the understanding of the human experience, we can take better care of ourselves than ever before, serving both our utmost physical needs and intangible longings of the soul.

It turns out that scientists and theologians aren’t all that different…

Many famous scientists are known for their belief in God including Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, Rene Descartes, Johannes Kepler, and Sir Francis Bacon, to name a few. One Catholic group explains that the scientist and theologian are fairly similar, especially in light of the scientific method: “The fact that he [the scientist] must seek answers proves that they are not in sight. The fact that he continues to seek them in spite of all difficulties testifies to his unconquerable conviction that those answers, although not presently in sight, do in fact exist. Truly, the scientist too walks by faith and not by sight.”

 

 

Albert Einstein famously said:

“Science without religion is lame,

religion without science is blind.”

I believe most people find themselves in some difficult-to-define balance between these two forces, using one and then the other to explain their life’s circumstances and beliefs. And that’s okay! Science operates in the realm of what we can logically understand about the body and nature while religion and spirituality operate on what is above our logical brains. Spirituality relies on the inexplicable and infinite whereas science rests firmly on the finite components of this world. As you can see, the two were never supposed to be forces at war. They complement one another, with spirituality picking up where the limitations of science, research and evidence have been reached.

I’ve heard of people inexplicably recovering from grim medical diagnoses because they found God or began a spiritual practice involving prayer and meditation. If science could keep an eye on every cell of the person’s body throughout that healing process then perhaps it might find an explanation for how the body corrected itself…or perhaps it wouldn’t. Personally, I’m okay resting into the unknowns and inexplicable. It gives me some measure of reprieve that there are aspects of us that can never be contained to an evidence-based study or a research lab. In fact, the more that I seek concrete answers in life the more that I find they seldom exist.

 

 

The more that I stretch my brain and heart to integrate multiple competing perspectives into my understanding about the mysteries of this world, the better off I am. It’s like that famous Indigo Girls song (yes, I rocked out to them in the 1990s):

“And I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
There’s more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive
Closer I am to fine, yeah”

So yes, one day I’m going to throw my hands up in celebration over a groundbreaking scientific discovery (ahem…mRNA vaccine trials for cancer) and another moment I’m going to raise my palms to the sky in praise of The Infinite. The One. The Mystery.

I’ve been given every reason to trust medicine because it has saved my body (and my oldest son) from tremendous harm and death. I also have every reason to trust in a greater power that can’t be contained by the laws of science because I have felt another kind of saving deep in my soul; the kind that allows me to be free from fear of death and open to abundant joy in this life, even in the desperate and broken moments. This peculiar balance has been paramount to my wellness journey.

 

 

Now, my question is this: Will you be brave enough? Brave enough to believe that you don’t have to pick sides after all?

It requires a leap of faith in two directions at once.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

Spiritual Bypassing: Why it Hurts Wellness

Spiritual bypassing was coined by John Welwood, a prominent psychotherapist and author. I owe Rachel Ricketts, author of Do Better: Spiritual Activism for Fighting and Healing from White Supremacy, thanks for putting this term on my radar. In her book, Ricketts makes excellent points about how damaging spiritual bypassing can be and how commonplace it is. So, what exactly is spiritual bypassing – and why does it hurt wellness?

 

 

Spiritual bypassing involves a large degree of avoidance and repression of emotions, resorting instead to spiritual ideals in pursuit of enlightenment. As described in Welwood’s book, Toward a Psychology of Awakening, spiritual bypassing is when someone uses “spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep personal, emotional ‘unfinished business,’ to shore up a shaky sense of self, or to belittle basic needs, feelings, and developmental tasks.”

Spiritual bypassing is a means of side-stepping hard emotions and truths through spiritual ideology and idealism. It’s succumbing to binary thinking and accepting black-and-white views of circumstances. Through spiritual bypassing people avoid the often painful and complicated realities of life by always trying to find a silver lining in traumatic events or saying “everything happens for a reason” instead of facing deep-seeded and difficult feelings. This happens because people mistakenly believe that we must rise above our “unreliable emotions” instead of facing them and allowing them to serve as inner wisdom in raw form.

Spiritual bypassing can look like the following go-to phrases during hard times:

  • Everything happens for a reason
  • There is no pain without purpose
  • There’s always a silver lining
  • God will never give you more than you can handle
  • Only positive energy and vibes are welcome
  • Your life’s circumstances are a product of the energy you attract

These statements are commonplace in everyday conversation about tough circumstances. They’re a way of glossing over the situation; an often underrecognized defense mechanism. My guess is that you’ve heard one of these phrases or something along these lines over the past year as the world has battled a deadly and devastating virus.

 

 

According to VeryWellMind, other signs of spiritual bypassing include:

  • Avoiding feelings of anger
  • Believing in your own spiritual superiority as a way to hide from insecurities
  • Believing that traumatic events must serve as “learning experiences” or that there is a silver lining behind every negative experience
  • Believing that spiritual practices such as meditation or prayer are always positive
  • Extremely high, often unattainable, idealism
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Focusing only on spirituality and ignoring the present
  • Only focusing on the positive or being overly optimistic
  • Projecting your own negative feelings onto others
  • Pretending that things are fine when they are clearly not
  • Thinking that people can overcome their problems through positive thinking
  • Thinking that you must “rise above” your emotions
  • Using defense mechanisms such as denial and repression

Kelly Germaine, a trauma therapist, wrote on Medium that although Christians most notably use spiritual bypassing, “The church is not the only culprit. Those of us disillusioned with the faith lineages our people come from frequently escape into Eastern spiritual traditions.”

Kelly continues by explaining that when westerners pursue Eastern spirituality, it’s “often an attempt to escape the roots of violence our people have enacted and been complicit in. We run away to nature, India, or Latin America to meditate, tree pose, permaculture, and breathe our way out of the reality that we live in an empire dominating the world along the lines of class, race, and gender. Our attempts to go anywhere else on the globe to get away from this reality are futile. We cannot bypass the truth and holing ourselves off will not save us. We cannot escape our global, interlocking crises of oppression.”

These forms of bypassing, defense mechanisms, and escapisms deny our innermost feelings and needs on both individual and collective levels. As Kelly highlights, spiritual bypassing inherently denies the harsh realities of those who are oppressed by society or have difficult lives. It turns a blind eye to people who suffer at the hands of others who seek to explain away such undue hardships.

Spiritual bypassing hurts wellness. Big time.

We can never thrive or be collectively well when it’s at the expense or denial of others’ difficult circumstances. We also can never achieve individual well-being when we deny our feelings or refuse to face reality. This doesn’t mean that we can’t be spiritual or religious. We can!

 

 

True spiritual wellness is essential.

Spiritual wellness is defined differently by each person but it generally relates to a sense of greater meaning in one’s life and connection to others and/or a higher power. More specifically:

Spiritual wellness provides us with systems of faith, beliefs, values, ethics, principles and morals. A healthy spiritual practice may include examples of volunteerism, social contributions, belonging to a group, fellowship, optimism, forgiveness and expressions of compassion. Spiritual wellness allows one to live a life consistent with his or her’s own belief and moral systems, while we establish our feeling of purpose and find meaning in life events.”

Here are a few ideas to embrace spiritual wellness without resorting to spiritual bypassing:

  • Listen in earnest to the cries, laments and needs of others
  • Demonstrate compassion
  • Attune to your personal emotions and the roots of them
  • Live in the here and now
  • Admit when things are hard and you need help
  • Engage in works of justice, charity and service
  • Connect meaningfully with others
  • Bring honesty into your community of worship
  • Heal from trauma
  • Accept your anger, grief, shame, etc. and find professional help when needed to work through these feelings
  • Stay emotionally present with the people around you
  • Avoid telling someone in pain how to feel or behave
  • Admit that it’s OK to *not* be OK all the time
  • Acknowledge your personal trigger responses, work towards healthier responses where appropriate, and set boundaries

 

 

Spirituality can help us achieve wellness when we avoid spiritual bypassing and find positive beliefs within our faith and moral systems. As mentioned, a person’s propensity to be overly positive and idealistic can be a harmful form of emotional repression. Positive belief systems are a bit different though. Positive beliefs associated with a higher power and our connection to others can be beneficial to one’s health.

On the other hand, negative spiritual beliefs can be damaging in many ways. For example, one study of over 200 people suffering from a range of conditions such as cancer, traumatic brain injury, chronic pain, and more, found that individuals who harbored negative spiritual beliefs had increased pain and worse mental health than those who held positive spiritual beliefs. Negative spiritual beliefs were associated with feeling disconnected from or abandoned by a higher power. The people with negative beliefs attended religious experiences less often and had lower levels of forgiveness.

Sometimes, for our overall health’s sake, we need to push the pause button and tune in to how our spiritual wellness is doing: Is it positive or negative? Are we making time for it? Is is helping us become more self-aware and fulfilled? I really like the reflection exercise (below) that I found on the Laborer’s Health and Safety Fund of North America:

Personal Reflection

Take a moment to assess your own spiritual wellness by asking yourself the following questions.

  1. What gives my life meaning and purpose?
  2. What gives me hope?
  3. How do I get through tough times? Where do I find comfort?
  4. Am I tolerant of other people’s views about life issues?
  5. Do I make attempts to expand my awareness of different ethnic, racial and religious groups?
  6. Do I make time for relaxation in my day?
  7. Do my values guide my decisions and actions?

 

 

As you can see, spiritual wellness involves diving deeper within and connecting to our most authentic self, values and beliefs. In doing this, we also convene with a greater power that connects all of life. The authentic practice of spirituality has the capacity to change the world and it reduces the amount of spiritual bypassing that is used in an effort to avoid the real work of wellness.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

 

 

Healing Requires Courage

The world is slowly inching towards a new year and possible solutions for moving the pandemic towards its end. Even once a vaccine is proven effective and administered to the masses, there is still global healing that must follow. No doubt many of us have suffered physical, mental and spiritual repercussions from this scary year. Survivors of covid-19 sometimes say that they have lingering and chronic symptoms from the virus. Still others are grieving losing loved ones who they longed to hold tight in their final days but could not. The whole world needs healing…and it may take a very long time for that to happen, even if and when global immunity is established. We must step into 2021 with bravery and hope like never before. 

 

 

At the outset of the pandemic I felt very fortunate to have escaped its nasty jaws (so far). My family’s livelihood was not majorly hampered and most of our professional work was already based out of our home. In fact, the pandemic meant that my husband’s part-time work travel was made obsolete. Suddenly, he was more available to help with the children, errands, dinner prep and chores. The atmosphere around the dinner table was still tense with pandemic-related stress but we felt like we could count our blessings and muscle onwards.

And then…well, then we were dealt a terrible blow. Our perceived invincibility went racing down the gutter. I was left quite literally dumbfounded and broken, brought to my knees by the great and tragic twists of life. I’m currently on my own unique healing journey. One that requires healing from emergency surgery and pregnancy loss.

My body has had to heal physically on many levels (at two months out it’s still ongoing, of course).

My hormones are finding their way back to equilibrium. The layers of tissue under the incision on my stomach are gluing themselves back together. My core strength and stamina is slowly returning. My heart is pumping to replenish from blood loss and recover from anemia. Emotionally…well…grief takes a while, and you can bet I’ve linked up with a mental health counselor to wade through the trauma. Spiritually, I feel like I’ve grown tremendously…but I still have lots of unanswered questions to make peace with.

Healing takes time. It’s complex. And most of all, it requires courage. 

 

 

Before diving into why healing requires courage, let’s explore how healing is defined to better understand it. Who better to ask than Wikipedia, right? According to wiki:

Healing is the process of the restoration of health from an unbalanced, diseased, damaged or unvitalized organism.”

Said in other words, being healed implies ongoing balance, wellness, safety and vitality. From this standpoint, healing is quite different from modern medicine. Prescription medicines are often masking while surgeries are considered curing in many scenarios. Healing isn’t either; it’s a holistic process.

For example, let’s say a woman is “cured” from breast cancer through a lumpectomy or mastectomy. Does this mean that she is also healed? No, not yet. Healing will take place in the post-operative room following surgery and in the weeks ahead as she regains strength and mobility. It will happen as she begins to deal with the emotional impact of being diagnosed with cancer in the first place. Additional mental healing may be necessary as she adapts to a new body image (in the case of mastectomy) and grieves aspects of the diagnosis and/or trauma. Perhaps healing must also occur on a spiritual level for her; she may be angry at God, questioning the existence of a higher power, or seeking to assign spiritual meaning and value to the experience as a whole. 

Nurses are often given credit for facilitating patients’ healing in hospitals. In nursing literature, healing has been explained as “the process of bringing together aspects of one’s self, body-mind-spirit, at deeper levels of inner knowing, leading toward integration and balance with each aspect having equal importance and value.”

Prior to my recent trauma, I learned the aforementioned definition of healing firsthand after being hit by a car. The healing process took over five years in my twenties. Yup, five full years – partially because my body began to dysfunction in response to the acute injuries I sustained. Also, I was going through a spiritual and emotional crisis at the time. You could definitely call that time a “coming of age” experience but it went hand-in-hand with lessons on physical, emotional and spiritual healing, and the complicated web that entangles them all. 

In the seasons that followed the bike accident, my eyes were opened to the powerful role of inflammation in our bodies, the complexity of pain pathways, the nonlinear nature of healing, and the difficulty involved when advocating to partner with the right health professionals, to name just a few lessons. But most of all, I discovered that healing requires courage. A lot of it. 

 

 

There are powerful stories we rehearse in our heads like “I don’t deserve to feel better,” and “No one can fix me,” or even, “I’m too tired, sad, angry (etc.) to find the resources I need to heal.” Other times, the mental narratives relate to the trauma or inciting incident itself: “It was my partner’s fault when he did ____,” or “I feel like I’m drowning when I think about the day ____ died.” Whatever image or phrase repeats in your head and causes a negative physiological and/or emotional response becomes a footpath in your mind.

As you rehearse or relive that negative experience or belief, that footpath expands into a one-lane road. Over more time and left unchecked, the road gets wider and wider, making it much easier to travel down than another path that is still overgrown and untrodden but which contains a positive belief about the experience. Your brain will keep choosing and reinforcing the wider road until there is courage to step away and intentionally choose to trailblaze a new path. Oftentimes this is a process, not an overnight fix, requiring intentionality and professional help.   

It can be very scary to choose to heal. It entails confronting “inner demons” and misbeliefs, working through trauma, and more. All of this can feel extremely daunting and draining. But being brave enough to heal isn’t about waiting for the fear to subside. It’s about stepping into the fear and moving through it. 

“Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.”

-Ambrose Redmoon

Each individual is responsible for being courageous and owning their healing process. Oftentimes, healing feels like a lot of small quiet victories, unannounced to the world but felt profoundly in a person’s daily life. These small “wins” add up and are just as significant as the big ones. Healing requires being brave enough to take action; setting boundaries, self care, and saying no to things that will deplete you too much or that you’re not ready for. Healing will look and feel different for each person.

We can also learn a little something about healing through understanding what it looks like at a cellular level in our bodies:

“With physical damage or disease suffered by an organism, healing involves the repair of living tissue(s), organs and the biological system as a whole and resumption of (normal) functioning. Medicine includes the process by which the cell(s) in the body regenerate and repair to reduce the size of a damaged or necrotic area and replace it with new living tissue. The replacement can happen in two ways: by regeneration in which the necrotic cells are replaced by new cells that form “like” tissue as was originally there; or by repair in which injured tissue is replaced with scar tissue. Most organs will heal using a mixture of both mechanisms.”

 

 

In other words, if we take what cellular repair and regeneration look like and blow this out to the entire organism or person, we might conclude that healing looks in part like an evolution of the self (regeneration) and in part like a return to the original self (repair). Both are paradoxically true: Through healing we return to ourselves just as we become brand new beings. As I’ve said once before, it’s a metamorphosis.  

I would like to leave you with this parting thought:

In what ways have you been healing recently? What parts of you feel steadfast and true, a return to your authentic self, and what parts of you feel transformed? Lastly, is there anything you can do as we head into a brand new year to heal more completely? 

Sending out a little prayer and some good energy in hopes you find the courage you need. And guess what? If you don’t find it right away, that’s okay. Sometimes healing looks much slower and more painful than we would like. It’s important to remember that living in a season that feels stalled does not make you “lesser than” or imply that you aren’t trying. Sometimes the most profound hope can be born in the midst of what feels like an unending dark night…  

Oh, one last thing:

In case you want some ideas for actionable things you can do in the healing process, here are a few from a very, very long list of options: 

  • Prayer
  • Mental health counseling
  • Herbal supplements, teas and tonics
  • Nutrient-dense meals
  • Restorative sleep
  • Meditation
  • Guided visualization and/or progressive relaxation
  • Rejuvenating exercise
  • Engaging with communities for spiritual growth
  • Omkar chanting and/or mantra recitation
  • Yoga and stretching
  • Aromatherapy and/or essential oils
  • Sound therapy
  • Nature therapy and grounding
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Chiropractic adjustments
  • Journaling
  • Leisure time and hobbies
  • Joyful activities with friends
  • Reading

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

Glimmers of Joy Amid Grief, Loss and Loneliness

I’ve been quiet on the blog and social media for the last month or so – and for good reason. Starting in mid-September, my husband and I started to get some bad news about the prognosis for our third son’s health and pregnancy outcome. We were devastated thinking about a child being born into a life of pain and suffering, and at the same time, we were mortified of losing him prematurely.

My body had been sending me signals that something was very “off” throughout this pregnancy and I feared for the worst. When I found out it was another boy (I have two sons already), my gut instinctively pulled hard: This little one is not okay. I could feel this truth deep down.

Sure, every pregnancy is different. I was told this countless times. “But this feels really different,” I kept repeating to friends and family, at a loss of what else to say.

As a health professional, who is very in tune with her body, I knew this time was wildly different from both of my other pregnancies. I couldn’t take a deep breath, my lungs struggling against some intangible resistance, and I couldn’t read bedtime stories without my heart racing. Every time I climbed the stairs in our home to retrieve a child from naptime or to help with brushing teeth, I would gasp for air.

In all of my adult life, I’ve never been sidelined from exercise. Not after having either of my other sons and not after being hit by a car. At these crossroads, I carefully scaled back my fitness efforts, focused on reducing inflammation, and moved my body through gentle, therapeutic exercises. During this pregnancy though, I could barely do anything. I felt crippled and perpetually exhausted, like life itself was invisibly seeping out from my pores, escaping me.

I told myself it’s all worth it for a healthy baby.

But…what happens when we don’t get our happy ending? What happens when our plans become undone? Or worse yet, what becomes of us when loss and grief strike with the force of a wrecking ball to the jaw?

 

 

That’s where I landed this pregnancy: At the pit of loss. The valley of the shadow of death. The mysterious somewhere between here and there, the intersection of heaven and earth, the place of struggle between shattered dreams and hope. The great purgatory of life where, at our worst moments, we must find the strength to pull ourselves up and out, despite being exhausted to our bones and filled inside with the stuff of nightmares.

I had already experienced loss with a former pregnancy that took place before the conception and birth of my second son. That miscarriage filled me with sadness and dashed hope, but I managed to put myself back together rather quickly, all things considered, and was soon thereafter filled with a complicated mixture of excitement and anxiety when I became pregnant again.

The impending nature of this loss felt different given what we had learned. It felt anticipated, agonized over, feared, and maybe, if I’m being completely honest, like something that might be the safest thing to happen to our child. This impending loss held implications that our child might not have to suffer from complicated surgeries after being born with a slim chance of survival. It would mean that his big brothers would never shed tears and sob into their parents’ arms about something so traumatic that their little-big hearts would strain to understand while simultaneously feeling it deeply. No parent ever wishes to lose a child. When we found out that we had lost our sweet Jake, we broke apart.

 

 

We prayed over our son’s loss with a chaplain at the hospital before surgery. Funeral arrangements were already in place. We felt a sense of peace in the middle of this loss, strange peace, the variety of which only comes from a greater power in the universe. Leading with a spiritual mindset, I prayed and said one last goodbye to my son as my vision went black on the surgery table.

When I woke up, I saw that the clock on the wall was showing a time that was alarmingly late in the day. I expected to wake up nearly four hours earlier than those glaring, sharp red numbers indicated.

What happened? This isn’t right, I recall thinking.

And I assumed correct: Things were definitively not right. 

While still in an anesthesia fog, the surgeon explained to me that I had experienced rare and unexpected medical complications during what is otherwise a routine and short surgery. Although the medical team thought that everything had gone smoothly, I began to bleed excessively. The doctors tried to find the source of bleeding but faced the grim truth that the bleeding was internal and the only way to get it under control was through emergency abdominal surgery. 

My throat felt tight and dry from being intubated as I regained consciousness and blinked at those red clock numbers. I groggily repeated the same questions over and over again to the surgeon, trying to grasp the reality of what had just happened. The doctor kept explaining to me that an artery and one of my fallopian tubes had ruptured and that I now had stitches from my naval to pelvis, both internal and external. As I looked down at my body I noticed large needles secured into veins on both hands from blood transfusions.

Minutes away from a hysterectomy, they said, but thankfully it was averted at last minute. 

Almost a hysterectomy? Potentially life-threatening blood loss? Emergency open surgery? My mind was in a panic. I tried to sit up straight in the recovery room only to be pulled backwards onto the hospital bed with the unbelievable force of a thunderous headache. 

The complications were so much for me to mentally and emotionally process that I briefly forgot about the grief we had been feeling. When it finally resurfaced, I felt like I might not be able to breathe. It felt like my entire life was ending and beginning, all at once.

My recovery nurse at the hospital said, “We’re going to take it one hour at a time, sweetie. Today is your day one.” And somehow, that’s exactly what it felt like. I was no longer the same woman – not emotionally, physically or even spiritually. I had been stripped down and given the chance to rebuild myself from the deepest parts of grief and loss.   

The rebuilding part is all very fresh and new…and painful. But, as an eternal optimist, I know that I will find a way to rise up from this, bearing in mind what I have learned through the years about the intricate web of wellness and how it steers the healing process. Although it’s a long story, and one I’m not ready to share in detail, there was a period of time both right before and after the surgery when I felt so much connection with the universe; with God; with a higher power calling me to lean into faith and trust. 

I can’t say with any measure of confidence that every bad thing that happens in life has profound meaning or a silver lining. I don’t believe that rock solid faith equates to good outcomes for a person. Sometimes, bad things simply happen to good people and there’s no sense or reason to it. Lives can be derailed and sometimes tragically never get back on the tracks.

But when the busy and self-centered nature of our lives fades to the background, and when all the noise is just so…noisy…that suddenly it sounds far off in the distance…in that place of great tragedy, I have felt that there is a hidden presence. A great comforter. Something – or someone – that is there, despite all logic and denial. And it is enough.   

“How is it enough?” You might ask. 

I can’t claim to have the explanation. It’s something that is simply felt; a raw and honest truth that is born from deep within, whispering to us that we are beautiful. We are loved. We are safe.

Contrary to logic, my husband and I have also felt glimmers of joy in the middle of this season of suffering… Not because we wanted to lose a child or felt relieved of all grief because he would never experience pain. Joy doesn’t come from those horrors… 

 

 

True, unbridled, unexpected joy openly presented itself to us through the love and compassion that we received from those who walked through this tragedy with us.

Thanks to loved ones checking on us, we felt glimmers of hope on the other side of exhausting, anxiety-riddled nights spent tossing and turning in our beds, awaiting whatever the future might hold. Friends who sent thoughtful gifts and messages of support from far and near helped us feel a little less lonely and scared while we sat at the doorstep of loss in the midst of an already-very-lonely pandemic. Because of social distancing no one ever stepped into my kitchen to hug me tightly while I cried, but it felt like they did, just the same. The love was so palpable and tender. So near.

Genuine compassion is rare…and we recognized in the middle of our deepest hurt that what we were receiving from others was one of the truest gifts possible in this short life of ours. For this, we are eternally grateful. Not everyone experiencing grief and loss has a solid support system. I know there are many lonely, hurting people out there in the world. To all of these people, and in particular, to women walking through an unexpected season of child loss from any reason – miscarriage, stillbirth, ending a wanted pregnancy, infant loss, or the death of a child at any age, young or old, I hope you know that a hidden presence exists near your suffering. You’re never truly alone.  

 

 

I’m battling fatigue from all this trauma alongside feelings of anxiety and grief every time that I catch a glimpse of the newly-forming scar in the center of my stomach. I know that there is a lot of work to do; physically to recover, mentally to become whole again, and spiritually to persevere and allow my scar to slowly…somehow…become beautiful. Today, my healing incision serves as a reminder of one of the hardest times of my life. It’s easy to resent the sight of it. But, as one who has recovered from trauma before, I know that pain can become beautiful. It’s peculiar how life can happen like that. And I know that wellness of all kinds is necessary for facilitating the metamorphosis. 

So, off I crawl…

Off I fly.

 

“Wounds don’t heal the way you want them to, they heal the way they need to. It takes time for wounds to fade into scars. It takes time for the process of healing to take place. Give yourself that time. Give yourself that grace. Be gentle with your wounds. Be gentle with your heart. You deserve to heal.” -Dele Olanubi

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie 

 

 

 

 

 

Discovering God in Movement

I’ve discovered in my foolish efforts to move faster, through exercise and life, that happiness alludes me. The more I try to align my purpose with the values of this world (my image, finances, and outward success), the more spiritually depleted I become. The more my spirit suffers, the more my physical and emotional health precipitously decline. The inner parts of me [and you] are interconnected. That said, the best part of discovering my weaknesses is that I’ve witnessed an eternal strength of God, who serves as my backbone during the movement of life, even as I am spinning in its tornado. These are just a few examples to ponder, when my body and mind were swept away by the hurried pace of life, but my spirit was called back to place of staying grounded.

…There are different ideas about meditation. Common Eastern meditation practices are a way of clearing the mind and simultaneously opening it up to receive the eternal, energy, detachment from superficiality, whatever the specific practice or belief encourages. You probably find a lot of these meditative forms in yoga classes. As an exercise professional who teaches yoga, I’m well acquainted with them. The Christian view of meditation is fixing one’s mind on scripture or the way of God, and allowing that to guide one’s adoration and intentions. Some Christians believe Eastern forms of meditation are “corrupt” because they don’t focus specifically on God and thereby open the mind to “satanic” and Godless thoughts. Yes, I’m a Christian. But no, I don’t believe Eastern forms of meditation are corrupt. In fact, I have experienced the Spirit through both forms of meditation, and have seen firsthand how each has a positive and transforming power; how God can be in written words, in the stillness of opening one’s mind, and in the focus on eternity. God is omnipresent. I’ve also experienced spiritual growth through another, less-talked-about form of meditation: movement.

…It all started when I was in high school. Field hockey tryouts were every August, so the summer evenings were spent running the hilly road that my family’s house was on. As I ran up and down, one hill after the next and my heart racing, I felt like life tilted just enough to see it from the right angle. Juvenile worries faded and my mind wasn’t distracted by the whir of emotions that accompany teenage years. I felt like I was one with God, the universe, life. Some might call it a runner’s high and attribute it to endorphin hormones, but if you’ve experienced a similar spiritual experience then you know just as well as I do that it’s more. So much more.

My running became less routine during my first year of college. Evening runs were traded-in for “pre-gaming” frat parties or cramming for morning exams. I lived in a cloud of stress and under a haze of booze, wondering if my pre-law coursework was really taking me in the direction I was supposed to go with my career and life. After my first year of college came to a close, I resumed running that hilly route on summer evenings, even though making the field hockey team was a thing of the past. I pined for the feelings of connection to God that I experienced on those high school runs and hoped I could find Him again that summer. The faster I ran and the harder I tried to force it, the less I could see of that Great Spirit. I was devastated. Where did God go? Had I been abandoned?

One evening run, mulling over my directionless academic experience and dim prospects for personal happiness in practicing law, I hit a different cadence. Instead of running fast and furiously, I just ran steady. My breath matched my step and a rhythm established itself. With every exhale, my mind began to clear of the stress. With every few steps, I felt more calm and began a true communion with God, there in that moving meditation with my feet loud on the pavement but His words whispering softly to my mind. It was in that moment of moving meditation when I let go of the things of the world, the lies I was telling myself about what “success” should look like. In letting go, I fell seamlessly into a new purpose. I realized I wanted to help other people feel amazing in their bodies, like I did in that moment. I didn’t even know about the Exercise Physiology degree option at that point in time, but I understood I had to figure out a way to help people move and find freedom for their bodies and spirits. So, that’s what I did.

Since that day, when my entire future turned on an axle, I’ve found it surprisingly easy to connect with God via exercise. It’s been my favorite form of meditation. It’s in the other forms of life’s movement that being spiritually centered has been a challenge. The hurried movement from one deadline to the next, from email to email, and all the busy-busy stuff in between that takes up mind and heart space. But, I’ve found that even though its undeserved, God is still there amidst the distracted movement of life.

…It was my last walk-through of my post-college apartment in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC. My now-husband and I had just made the decision to begin our lives together. We were making engagement plans, picking out furniture, and feeling the initial butterflies of settling in together. I walked through the apartment and felt stale feelings prickling up. Memories of the sleepless, scared and lonely nights in that space caused my throat to tighten. I had lived there three years and almost every experience had been marked by extreme growing pains. Late nights panning through spiritual books, trying to understand how to approach the “real world” as myself. Afternoons collapsing into my bed to nap, my body inflamed and suffering, before waking up to go back to work for another evening shift of clients. I heaved a sigh of relief that I was finally moving on. As I finished sweeping the last room’s dust bunnies I remembered that I hadn’t swept my bedroom’s closets out. I walked to the back of the house, opened the glossy black closet doors and began sweeping. A faint clatter sound on the ground caught my attention. As I knelt to inspect, I discovered the top piece of a broken prayer box that I’d long forgotten about, laying in the heap of dust. Someone had been with me through all the tears and loneliness, even when my unintentional inclination was to leave Him hiding in the closet.  

…It was my last walk-through of our first apartment together before moving. We had just bought a town home that we were giddy about. As I walked through the apartment, I checked cabinets and corners, almost 100% certain that we had collected all our belongings, but the paranoid perfectionist in me beckoning one last inspection. I pulled back the mirrored closet door and looked through the now-empty space where clothes had formerly been stuffed on hangers. My heart caught in my chest. Again? On the opposite wall inside the closet hung a cross made from Popsicle sticks, one I had long forgotten about and hardly remembered hanging there. It was a gift from a friend I had made while working in Sedona, Arizona, the capital of “New Age” practices, as a personal trainer. That friend made the cross in prison, where he was now serving time for turning back to drugs after several decades of fighting to find freedom from them and enjoying brief reprieve that summer we met. When he sent me the cross, he included a note with the quote:

“Peace,

It does not mean to be in a place

where there is no noise, trouble

or hard work. It means to be in

the midst of those things and still

be calm in your heart.”

(unknown)

…It was a handful of months after moving into our new town home. When we bought the home, we were thrilled that there was a lot of green space in front of it – a unique find in the city, let alone just one block from public transportation. The green space reminded me of being back at my childhood home and made me feel more spiritually centered. When we did our first walk-through of the home after getting the keys (it was officially ours!), we videoed the empty rooms exclaiming over the things we loved and things we planned to change. I was walking in front of the camera, my husband filming me from behind, when I approached one of the front windows. “And this beautiful park!” I declared. “If anything ever happens to it, I’ll die.” I replayed that moment in my mind while standing in front of our home, tears streaming down my face as I looked at the spray-painted grass and miniature white flags butting up right next to our property. These marked where a construction company would soon excavate this slice of nature to carve out space for an underground garage and apartment building. I was devastated.

I was spouting my frustrations over the phone to my husband, regretting our decision to buy and worrying over what living with a crane over our heads would be like. He was calming me down and reassuring me that we were still going to love our home. My crying reduced to sniffles as he explained that this “misfortune” might be an asset for improving our home’s future sale price. As this thought sank in, I took another long look across the expanse of greenery before turning my attention down to the ground in front of our home. It was still a painful thought; that the green oasis would soon be destroyed. As I kicked my feet against some loose rocks and dirt, a cream color caught my eye. I reached down, thinking I would pluck a large rock out of our front planter. But what I unearthed was something unexpected. “Hold on, Casey…” I paused him mid-thought. What is this??

It was a miniature St. Joseph’s statue. I’m not Catholic so I didn’t know what this signified. After a little investigation, I learned St. Joseph is the patron saint of families and homes. Catholics bury the statue in gardens and yards to bless the sale or purchase of a home. I’m not sure if the former homeowners put it there for their sale of the home or to bless its buyers [us], but that home afforded us many happy experiences and a tenfold profit (from our modest down payment) when we sold it just five years later. I still have that statue in my bedside drawer, a selfish part of myself unwilling to part with it now.

…It was just a few months ago, my husband and I experiencing butterflies on the drive home from Richmond, VA where we had just walked through a home we felt excited about putting an offer on. Are we crazy for moving to a new city where we have no jobs? Are we uprooting our lives for no purpose? We were both voicing our doubts and worries out loud on that drive, even though both of our heartstrings were being pulled in favor of the home. As the waves of giddiness and nervousness passed over me, I looked upwards to the sky through the front window. The light that had been pouring in through the car windows suddenly seemed dim. I wondered if it was about to rain. As my eyes cast upwards, I saw that the entire sky was covered in billowy white clouds…except for one small patch of pure blue in the shape of a well-defined heart. I knew. While only caring about the future amid my busy plans, God was steadfastly with me in the present.

….

Whether I’ve been moving fast or slow, looking up or down, focusing on meditation or tripping through life absentmindedly, God has proven that He is always there. And when I realize that I’m more than the sum of my physical parts, thanks to something greater, it’s pretty awesome. It puts a bounce in my step as I hit the pavement for a good run.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

Spirituality and Physical Health

I’ve talked before about how wellness is a balancing act, in perpetual motion as elements of our lives swing left to right, into clarity and back to darkness. I’ve even gone so far as saying that people who are physically healthy but spiritually empty are out of sync, and people who are spiritually devout but negligent of their health are in disharmony, too. Ahem, not talking down on ANYONE here or speaking blasphemy. If you’re imperfect, raise your hand!! Mine is waving high. At first, this concept rubbed me the wrong way, but it gradually settled in my heart after listening to a sermon by a pastor who founded a large DC-area church with a congregation in the thousands.

You can imagine my surprise when this pastor suddenly and unexpectedly said a choked-up goodbye to his congregation last week, admitting that his marriage and physical health were suffering. I was a bit shaken up, like many people. After swallowing the news, I realized that he isn’t all that different from the rest of us, even as a pastor. His relentless pursuit of “doing it all” [for God, in his case] is universal in American culture. Here’s what I have put together that he went through over the last few years and how it’s a warning to us all…

Eye on the Prize

The young pastor’s spiritual journey began when he was diagnosed with Leukemia as a young teenager. Doctors weren’t optimistic about his ability to survive and gave him his death sentence before he was old enough to have attended a prom and a healthy number of Friday night football games. Pastor Robert’s* (name changed for privacy) grandfather was a spiritual man, unlike young Robert, and he told his grandson that while he was praying for him, God gave him a vision. He said he saw Robert emerging from his hospital room a normal, happy boy. He felt confident this was a sign that God was going to heal him, in spite of the medical world’s ominous prognosis. The next day – yes, the next day –  Robert woke up in his hospital bed and felt great. The doctors were stunned when scans revealed that in less than 24 hours, the cancer had quite inexplicably vanished.

As you can imagine, this is one of many things in Pastor Robert’s life that ignited a fire under him to live out God’s word and spread it to as many people as possible. And he did. He did just that. He moved from the deep south to the Washington, DC area where more incredible divine interventions took place and allowed him to launch a thriving non-denominational Christian church community. His vision for expansion was aggressive, confident and, in a lot of ways, one might say “ordained.” For example, in just ONE weekend, he lead the effort of raising multiple MILLIONS of dollars from the congregation so that the church could build a new, larger main campus and new additional church homes across the region.

All this is the tip of the iceberg. Pastor Robert also has several beautiful children and has written and published multiple books. Wow. He has done A LOT. To me, it seemed there would be nothing stopping his relentless pursuit of his big dream; the vision he says God gave him, to establish over a dozen churches in the DC metro region. So, why is he having to step back? And what does this have to do with wellness or physical health? In a lot of ways, we sacrifice too much when we gives things our all…

Energizer Bunnies Come to Abrupt Halts

Pastor Robert hasn’t committed any moral wrongdoings and he is NOT a failure. No one can sustain momentum forever on only a few hours of sleep a night for several years as they pour all of themselves into their goals and work. I’m sure that this fact along with other unmentioned struggles caused turmoil in his marriage and home life. It also hurt his physical health. He has a surgery scheduled to remove his thyroid, after which he plans to spend time with a spiritual counselor.

Pastor Robert and his wife courageously told their congregation that they couldn’t focus on healing their marriage and health the way they needed to while also pouring the energy required of them into leading the church. From the outside, it’s easy to quickly judge this as weakness. It’s convenient to separate ourselves from their situation and assume that they must be somehow very different from us; less strong, more sensitive, lacking thoughtfulness about their former life choices. But this is a lie. If we’re telling ourselves this, it’s because it’s hard to remember that we pour a lot of our own energy into some things at the expense of others. No one can “do it all.” We are all only human. And I’m personally so impressed they have the strength to publicly admit this, leading by example how to make the tough calls in life. 

 

 “No, You Can’t Have It All”

The news from last weekend came full circle [for me] when I read an article one of my friends posted on Facebook: “No, You Can’t Have It All” by Mark Manson. Manson writes about a man named Mohammed El-Erian who was the CEO of a $2 trillion bond fund, earning $100 million/yr. Like Pastor Robert, he abruptly stepped away from his company, explaining that family needed to come first. He realized that his relationship with his daughter was paper thin after missing out on so many important experiences in her first 10 years of life. She made him realize that he hadn’t really “fathered” her when she countered his attempts at discipline one day by proffering a list of 22 things that were important to her that he had missed due to work.

Manson writes that in America “we regularly celebrate people who become rich by doing ‘exceptional things.’ But the nature of those ‘exceptional things’ often requires extremely high opportunity costs.” He argues that work/life balance plagues us all and that we are constantly guilt-tripping ourselves over what we can’t do more of. More workouts at the gym. Higher promotion and pay at work. Home-cooked meals and quality time with family every day. Manson asks us to ponder if the answer is to say “this is what I choose to value more than everything else” and wholly embracing the decision.

 

Spiritual and/or Physical Brokenness

I’m not sure that I can say there is a perfect answer. Actually, I know there isn’t. But I think one of several solutions for spiritual and/or physical brokenness lies in Manson’s suggestion; being honest with ourselves about what truly matters to our hearts. Another possible solution is finding harmony in the different aspects of our lives – that elusive “work/life balance” that Manson and many people argue is impossible. I will counter that thought. I think that it IS possible. But that doesn’t mean that “balance” will look or feel like we expect it to.

For example, we may not be able to assume a role at work that brings more responsibility, even if it means a bigger paycheck. We can say “no” to climbing the ladder aggressively fast, especially when it means we keep sanity in check for our families and sleep a little more soundly at night. Likewise, we can bounce back and forth between feeling full and whole in different elements of our lives. This oscillation between almost-full and somewhat-empty doesn’t mean we are failures.

I’m betting even Pastor Robert feels confident that God has promised him nothing is impossible and that he can feel overflowing with purpose, health and joy, even after stepping back from his big dreams [the church he founded]. Even after feeling left empty and depleted.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie