My Exercise Journey

As a teenager, I used to exercise constantly, incessantly, basically non-stop. I cycled, walked, ran, swam, and did ball and band exercises. I ate almost entirely healthy food and only in small portions. Very few sweets or junk food. Then I started university and that all dramatically changed.

I started eating more pizza and sweets and exercising less. Study consumed me, as I had far-reaching educational aspirations, that would take me past a bachelor’s degree. I also began to battle more acutely with chronic health issues and life got harder.

Nearly reaching burnout in my fourth year, I moved relentlessly right into my master’s. Living on a dorm for the first time, eating substandard cafeteria food, experiencing the anxieties of living in a completely new and different environment, I ate way less and lost weight that first year. I also climbed the stairs to my room on the fifth floor multiple times a day. I always refused to take the elevator.   

Deciding to go back home for the summer, I became a homecare worker, the summer fill-in for regular staff. I had a total of 30 clients and was thrust into somewhat scary and very trying situations. With zero training (note that), I was required to care for mainly sick elderly people with a variety of ailments. I cleaned, cooked, did laundry and personal care, ran errands, and the list went on and on. My body reached its limits, and I was forced to look for immediate medical attention. I was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia and was sent to physiotherapy. However, nothing got better.

Back to school and suffering from a great deal of pain and fatigue, I made it through that next year, studying. And studying some more. Deciding to do my Ph.D., I kept those grades up, completing all my courses, writing a major research paper, taking two language course in two and half months, and throughout the summer, working just shy of full-time. I entered my doctoral studies more exhausted than ever.

Of course, no one is fully prepared for what doctoral work entails. All I knew is that I was surrounded by a group of people as stressed or more stressed than me. Stress only accumulated as the year progressed, while the pain in my body intensified. I had to receive extensions due to the fatigue overwhelming me and the pain that made me grit my teeth and cry myself to sleep at night. Exercise was non-existent. But due to anxiety and going off sugar entirely for a year, I was rather thin.

I knew what I needed–a rest. I thought at the time, just for one year, but now, I realise I need a nice, long one. Sadly, my next year of an extended leave consisted of frantically looking for work, beginning a new relationship, searching for a place to live, and you guessed it, no rest. I also started eating more, and sugary foods, while exercising less.

Due to unhappy circumstances, I returned home, forty pounds heavier and my fibromyalgia reaching its highest level of pain to date. It’s taken a number of months, but I have recently begun a new chapter of my life. I’ve now rested for the past number of months, doing very little, except reading, relaxing, and working a bit here and there. I have also sought to get my eating habits and my lack of exercising back under control.

I’ve begun to eat smaller, healthier portions, walking, and doing a very gentle pilates routine. Changes are happening. Slowly but surely. Due to my health issues, I can never go at the rate a normal person would. I have to move ever so slowly and not over-tax my brain and body. It is a rather delicate balance I have to maintain. But I’m pressing onwards and upwards.

My pilates mat and I have become best friends. We work together, sometimes every day and other times, every second day. I stretch, I move, I eat less, and I’m hoping my marshmallowy core will turn into something a little less soft and squishy. I feel better, mentally, emotionally, and maybe even physically.   

It’s still a hard journey for me. I suffer from nausea, fatigue, pain, and whatnot every day of my life. I don’t know what it is like to wake up feeling refreshed in the morning. I still wake up in burning, swollen, bruised pain. I have to motivate myself to get out of bed. But I’m doing it. My chin is up, and I’m convinced that I’m going places. It’s all about reaching my goal of maintaining a much healthier lifestyle.

And obviously, I hope that whoever reads this will be inspired to do the same, no matter his/her circumstances. Be determined. And remember that our bodies are important and worth looking after.

Why Read the Old Testament?

I’ve heard it said many times that since we have the New Testament Scriptures, it is hardly worthwhile to read the Old Testament. I’ve also had Christians confess to me that they find the Old Testament boring. I’m always a little taken aback by this, since the Old Testament is largely narrative and most people like to hear/read a story. I think back to my childhood memories of sitting in Sunday school and children’s church, learning the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Abraham and Isaac, Moses and Aaron, David and Goliath, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Elijah and Elisha, and the list goes on. Why then would we not bother reading those same stories, now that we’re adults?

Here are some reasons, I have heard, as to why many don’t want to read the OT:

  1. The Old Testament is boring. Too many lists of names, rules and regulations, and such lengthy explanations about the law.
  2. Is it really necessary to repeat Moses’ exact same instructions 12 times over?!
  3. I don’t like reading about animals being sacrificed.
  4. God seems too angry in the Old Testament.
  5. There is just way too much killing in those books.
  6. I want to study about Jesus. That’s what really matters.
  7. Who needs to read about the law anyway? We are now under Christ.
  8. It is more important that I know and understand the Gospel message.
  9. I don’t like reading history.
  10. We’re now under grace. We don’t need the law!

In response to these reasons above, I will say immediately that the Old Testament is vital for us to understand who Jesus really is, why He came to earth, and the purpose and depth of the Cross. Moreover, nowhere in the New Testament do Jesus or the apostles state that the law no longer matters. In fact, Christ states that He did not come to abolish the law but fulfill it (Matt. 5:17-18). In addition, Paul goes to great lengths to explain how the law is good and necessary, but because of the magnitude of sin, no person can perfectly obey the law and thus be cleansed of his/her sin (Rom. 7). It is utterly impossible, and thus we are all in need of a Saviour.

We then realise why God put the sacrificial system in place. Without the shedding of blood, no remission of sins can occur (Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22). In order to even enter the outer courts of God’s throne room, wherein He sits in all His glory and holiness, blood must be shed. Hence, this was the need for such an extensive and detailed sacrificial system. It reveals the seriousness of sin.

But even sin itself, how did it get here? Why even bother believing Christ is our Saviour? What’s the point? Genesis will tell us the whole story as to when, where, how, and why. It will explain what sin is and how it came to exist. Also, in today’s world, many are desperately seeking to discover what their purpose is for living; Genesis answers those questions. It is where the Gospel message actually begins. As God curses Adam and Eve, at the same time, He speaks a word of hope, a word of salvation to Adam and Eve. Read Genesis 3:15. Moreover, this Gospel theme is not forgotten throughout the rest of the OT. Prophecies of Jesus’ coming to earth to bring salvation are found all throughout the prophetic books. But we wouldn’t know they exist, if we didn’t read them.

Lastly, the concept of an angry God in the OT often becomes contrasted with the more mild and loving God a.ka. Jesus, of the NT. However, we serve God of both the Old and New Testaments. He exists as Three in One: Father, Son, and Spirit. Hence, Jesus, as such, is the God of the OT as well as the NT. If we view God as angry in the Old, then we do so of Christ in the New. The Gospel of John begins by stating that “All things were made through Him [Christ], and without Him nothing was made that was made” (1:3). Thus, Jesus as Creator God requires that we know Him in the entirety of Scripture. (And in response to God as angry in the OT, I strongly believe that the OT reveals the overwhelming mercy, grace, love, and justice of God, that I cannot fathom God simply as angry.)

Obviously, my response to why read the OT is rather short. I could have said so much more. But if by this brief answer, I can encourage and motivate myself and you, my reader, to begin or continue to delve into the richness of the Old Testament, then I have accomplished what I set out to do.

Alive to Spring

Charming earth of old.

Have you not a sad and weary step?

Have you not a drooping head upon your breast?

Stand erect yon orb of splendour.

Quicken your step, throw back your head, and gaze about.

 

Has one bewitched you?

Has one played upon your thoughts?

Has one charmed you into oblivion and sunk you into the depths of despair?

Awaken your passion! Let it live. Yet again.

See desire and clutch it! Grasp it and do not let it go.

 

Breathe again your Spring air.

Sniff heartily the ground between your toes.

Stretch invigoratingly and move with ease.

Wipe the grime clean from your face.

Bathe in the hope found in the newness of life.

 

Charming earth of old.

Can you not see it?

Can you not know it?

Life is in your flesh. Life is in your bones. Life is your sinews. Life!

Let it spring forth from you and abound.

 

May all that you touch invoke a sense of shivery delight.

May all that you touch be a touch of love, of life, of beauty.

Charming earth of old.

The Genius of Tolkien

Anyone who doesn’t think that the Lord of the Rings trilogy is pure genius, upon the part of the esteemed Tolkien, must be watching the movies with eyes shut or reading the books upside down. Who wouldn’t want to get lost in this fantastical world of hobbits, dwarves, elves, wizards, orcs, ringwraiths, ents, balrogs, and men? Filled with both lovable and detestable characters, entrenched in the war of good versus evil, LOTR reveals the extravagance of the human nature plunged into the dark depths of treachery and every vile deed, or soaring to the shining heights of loyalty and every noble contemplation.

It is overwhelmingly full of contrasts, from Aragorn and Gandalf standing strong against Sauron and Saruman, to Loriethien and Gondor facing Mordor and Isengard, down to Frodo and Sam waging a battle of wits with Gollum, and Pippin and Merry courageously taking on the Orcs. But even more so, besides these obvious contrasts between characters, the clever Tolkien includes numerous details to his works, to paint the most distinctively dark versus light picture possible.

He describes the withered and burned blades of grass where Orcs’ destructive feet have trampled, while pointing out the silvery, shiny leaves where Elves have lightly trodden for many a year. Some readers groan over the seemingly endless landscape scenes, preferring to skip over such parts, wondering why Tolkien included these numerous details. Why bother with so much flowery details, whether blooming or decayed? The answer, my dear reader, lies in the fact that Tolkien is pulling you into a world of dark shadows through which rays of hope are struggling to pierce. He wants you to see this world, smell it, taste it, touch it, and hear it. He beckons you to enter the world of Middle-earth, to be drawn in, to experience it beyond what you originally imagined or thought possible.

It is, in fact, his carefully thought-out descriptions that amaze me! They leave me in awe of the man. How could Tolkien switch from landscape to landscape, castle to castle, cave to cave, tower to tower, forest to forest, grass to grass and on it goes, seeming to glide as effortlessly as the elf Legolas through the woods? It is his descriptive details that reveal his genius. It is his intense labour of plotting out his story so exactly that makes LOTR so astonishingly great.

We move from the beautiful innocence of the land of the Shire as our four hobbits take a deep breath and plunge into the unknown forest. Although later we can hardly recall that first forest the hobbits wandered through, because of how much we experience with them and the other members of the Grey Company, it was the beginning of our journey. It now seems to us as if that was merely child’s play in the first forest. We easily forget that we were at first nervous, hearing and seeing that which made us uncomfortable. Tolkien moves us slowly in many respects. Even the whole ordeal at Mr. Butterbur’s inn is nothing compared to when Frodo and Sam enter Mordor or when Aragon travels the Paths of the Dead. We feel stronger when we look back at those first steps. The Shire seems so hazy in our memory, a dream of long ago, as we move forward to the siege of Gondor and the labouring climb up the stairs to Cirith Ungol. We are stumbling almost as much as Frodo. We have nearly become old wizards, haggard, with the world hanging unbearably heavy on our shoulders as Gandalf. We choke on Mordor’s abominably disgusting air. But there is hope. The lands of the Shire, Rivendell, Loriethien , Rohan, and Gondor don’t exist for nothing. They are the light overcoming the darkness. They will not be destroyed entirely. The good will triumph yet.

Moreover, we have become stronger. We refuse to give up. We have developed a tenacity, a stubbornness that refuses to stop us moving from valley to hill to mountain. Tolkien has drawn us in. He has captured us, and we are beyond the point of turning back. How can we now? The Ring must be destroyed! It is all that matters. Tolkien has thus revealed his genius. Through his details, descriptions, the weaving of this fantastical story, he has exposed his brilliance. He has thrown back his cloak to show forth that which seemed for a second, possibly boring and almost pointless. It is there through the details that we witness good defeat evil. Stop. Breathe, smell, taste, touch, and see it. Tolkien’s genius is upon us.

 

Women Heroines of the Bible: Jael, Matron Warrior

One of my favourite movies is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It showcases the technical skill of the martial arts as the primary fighting means of good overcoming evil. It is a welcome contrast to many Western films that often bombard the viewer with the same predictable and shall I say, boring “blow em’ up” scenes. Yawn. What makes this movie and others like it particularly fascinating to me is that they not only have male warriors but female ones as well. And the women are just as good as the men, when it comes to acts of bravery, the tenacity of self-preservation, and exceptional tactical movements.

A TV show that I saw a few times as a child and that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend as brilliant or exceptional in its storyline is Xena, The Warrior Princess. How Xena manages to fight off a group of tough male warriors single-handedly, we’ll never know. (However, we wonder about some of the scenes in CTHD above.) Nevertheless, she commands my attention because she is both a woman and a warrior simultaneously. In contrast, one woman whom we can readily admire reveals the skill and bravery of a seasoned male fighter and yet likely had next to no experience as a warrior. Her name is Jael and her story can be found in Judges 4.

As the wife of a Bedouin and thus a seasoned tent dweller, Jael would have likely wielded a mallet many times to drive a tent peg into the ground, gaining much precision and skill. Although I’m certain she never thought she would one day use both for a man’s skull, her previous experience would have aided her in responding quickly and deftly to the threatening presence of her people’s archenemy and mighty warrior Sisera.

Today’s audience can be divided over this story, questioning whether Jael was really a heroine or not. Many are shocked at the Scriptures’ seeming nonchalance at her rather brutal act: “But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him [Sisera] while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died” (4:21). They even deem it to be a cold-blooded murder, missing the fact that later, Deborah, judge over all Israel, praised this woman’s act through song:

Most blessed of women be Jael,

the wife of Heber the Kenite,

most blessed of tent-dwelling women.

He asked for water, and she gave him milk;

in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk.

Her hand reached for the tent peg,

her right hand for the workman’s hammer.

She struck Sisera, she crushed his head,

she shattered and pierced his temple.

At her feet he sank,

he fell; there he lay.

At her feet he sank, he fell;

where he sank, there he fell—dead. (5:24-27)

Heroic acts happen in all settings and contexts. Responding in her own context, Jael was thus honoured by all of Israel and most importantly God. Maybe we then need to redefine what a hero/heroine looks like. Would we have any issue with a mother protecting the lives of her children if a person was about to kill them? No, many of us would not. How then can we take issue with Jael helping to save the lives of an entire people by ridding the perpetrator and mastermind behind such evil acts toward her own? We would readily commend such an act if it were on the movie screen, so how much more should we praise her who did it not in the imaginary but the real world? Perhaps it is a harder story to grasp in today’s modern Western context; however, it would not have been in previous times or in other places. Jael can definitely take her place alongside of the imaginary female superheros and the like, but even more she can stand next to her female and male heros, counted as such throughout history, as they sought to overcome evil with good.

I’ve often stated that if I had a little girl, I’d name her Jael. I don’t know if whomever I marry may agree with such a name (!), but she remains a heroine of mine. I just wish I’d have that much boldness and courage in the face of such evil. She thus remains an inspiration to me and hopefully, you, my reader, as well.

Theology of Fashion–Defined

Entering into a discussion on fashion calls for none else than an entry on the theology of fashion! Yes, I said it and out loud too. And if you think that no theology on said topic could possibly exist, well, it does. This past semester, I gave a lecture on it to my class of all male classmates and my male professor. The following are bits and pieces of my lecture notes for the class presentation.

We often speak of today’s society craving something, that preceding societies did not desire. However, human nature has remained virtually the same since the beginning. Although context and environment may change, the human nature does not. Of course, certain aspects within human nature can become more pronounced, resulting in a propensity toward that aspect, that can in turn consume a society. This has happened all down through the ages. At the same time, it hardly seems so—that one aspect is emphasised above the rest. Human nature is commonly compulsive, obsessive, driven: prone to longings and cravings that leave people feeling empty or partially fulfilled but never completely satisfied. Thus the human nature, being deep and complex, searches for something more. In fact, it strives for that which is beyond itself. Moreover, because all are made in the image of God, thus all can exude a proclivity toward something and for this entry, that something is beauty.

I will not get into grappling with what the world defines as beautiful. That being entirely relative, none other than the fashion world displays this to such an extent. It is a place to witness an ever shifting culture of relativism, where one fashion is in, while another is out. What was entirely unstylish when we were children has now become vogue today. At the same time, some styles seem to remain for years, while others last but a moment and then just as quickly vanish from the fashion scene. Ironically so, in many respects, the fashion world many times hardly exudes beauty. Instead, it reveals the carelessness and fleeting nature of the world. However, beauty can be found within in it—that which is both physical and material.

Nevertheless, I want to focus on why fashion affects so much of the world, not so much fashion itself. Fashion is an outward manifestation of the inward make-up of what it means to be human. Humans desire beauty, that which is beautiful. It is a God-given desire, even if it can become at times rather warped and twisted. Thus the question can be asked, “What does fashion reveal to us about the desires, the innate longing within us for something other than ourselves?” Other questions can then follow: “Is it the desire for the Other?” “Or is it a desire to understand the self?” “Or possibly is it a desire to cover up self or hide from self?”

Oftentimes, we the Church believe that we need to redeem everything around us, including fashion. However, because we can recognise the Divine within all of creation, we can seek to understand the reality that beauty exists within fashion. Thus our desire for fashion does not necessarily come out of sinfully willful pleasure, but reveals our thirst for and our affinity for the Divine revealed in that which is beautiful.

Furthermore, the body is not bad. Unfortunately, many evangelicals maintain a gnostic perception of the body to their detriment. However, Michelle Gonzalez in her book Shopping points out that the Incarnation shows us more than anything else that the body is to be esteemed. Hence, the material world reflects the glory of God. In her warning against consumerism, she does not dismiss the idea that fashion can speak to the believer. Rather, she argues that daily life, which would include such activities as shopping that relates to fashion, is that which reflects the glory of God.

Thus and obviously so, I do not view the love of fashion to be only for those deemed to be hedonistic, materialistic consumers. In fact, I would say that many aren’t, and more are embracing the beauty found within Creation, rather than not.

Frugal Fashion (Part One)

I have had numerous discussions with women and men regarding fashion and the fashion industry. Because it has become a hot topic for me and I really enjoy talking about it, I have even considered writing a fashion blog to express my thoughts on the matter. Nevertheless, at the moment, I wish to write a few blog entries on the subject and see how it goes.

When I mention fashion, many people assume that I read the latest fashion magazines and pay attention to supposed popular fashion experts and media personnel’s articles found there. Far from it. I find many of those magazines to be almost useless. You will rarely find, if ever, those same outfits in the average mall store. Moreover, the price tag on most are simply outrageous. Thus, those who design and produce clothes for the public have to make the outfits less bizarre-looking and find means to make them practical, sensible, and attractive to the general public, while still dictating to the “masses” what they should and should not wear.

Obviously so, there is fashion considered to be trendy, the latest styles, what those who are “in the know” wear: the people you would find in such fashion-forward cities as Toronto, the one where I currently reside. Then there is fashion that isn’t quite up-to-date, that is often appealing to the majority of the public. As the trend-setters prance, strut, saunter around in the latest outfits, the rest of us are left uncomfortably behind, and hence don’t flaunt the latest colours, patterns, and pieces that are “in.” Eventually we do catch on but suddenly discover that fashion has moved forward, while we yet flounder awkwardly and painfully a few steps behind.

Hence, some of us dislike the subject of fashion altogether and wish to remain where we are in our baggy pair of jogging pants; the shirt that doesn’t really fit, but we like it anyway; that ratty sweater that desperately needs to be retired; our daily outfit of the same type of jeans and T-shirt; or God forbid, that same wardrobe consisting of one “colour”–black. Yikes! We’d rather continue wearing that then have to drag ourselves to the mall or shopping plaza to look for a new outfit.

On the other hand, there are those of us who enthusiastically embrace fashion and enjoy clothes shopping. We could wear the T-shirt that says, “I got an A+ in Shopping,” and shop until we drop. However, we just can’t quite seem to keep up with all the fashion changes, and if we’re honest with ourselves, don’t quite have enough money to do it. Thus, we too are dissatisfied and discontent with attempting to be fashion-forward.

Hence, my first piece of advice is that no matter what the fashion industry demands that we wear, we can recognise that what it offers are options for what can make us look and feel good. We don’t have to be into the latest trends, but nor do we have to remain stuck in frumpy clothes or colourless outfits because we don’t like the latest fashions. And if we do embrace the latest trends, we don’t have to have them all nor immediately either. Thus, my goal in the next entries on fashion are to offer tips on how to dress fashionably, prettily, handsomely, and frugally. Yes, I said frugally. We don’t need to spend as much as we often do on new outfits. It requires a bit of creativity and work, but it is well-worth the time and effort for feeling good.    

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