Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Winning Your 30-Day Challenge

Folks have been cheering me on, encouraging me to hang in there and win my 30-day Exercise Challenge.  I'm not doing anything as intense as winning at Wimbledom but 30 straight days of exercise has been a huge challenge.

I'm three days and four workouts away! I didn't blog about the challenge as much as I would have liked, as other writing priorities took my time and attention. But as my challenge winds down, I'm giving lots of thought as to why this was different than other challenges I've given myself, and how you too might be able to challenge yourself and win.

First, pick a goal that's reasonable and doable. I could not possibly scale Mt. Everest for 30 straight days. I could, however, commit to 15 minutes of exercise a day for 30 days.

Second, define your goal in a way that you can't miss. 15 minutes a day? I mean, I spend more time than that reading in my bathroom. Uh, probably more than you wanted to know, but it's the only quiet place and... Well, you get my point. How could I not do 15 minutes a day?

Third, start your challenge quietly. I know pundits say that telling others creates a commitment. True, but sometimes you need to commit to yourself first. No one knew I was challenging myself until my challenge was well underway. Then, others noticed. "Hey, I see you doing this and you must be serious about it." If you don't get going--although you absolutely will--you're disappointing yourself which is heavy enough. Do you need grief from others too? Minimize the opportunities of the naysayers. Don't look to others in this challenge; look to yourself. Savor what you are willing to do for you.

Then, do more. That's right. This is not about challenging yourself to do the minimum that you can do, but to exceed your own expectations. I planned for 15 minutes a day, knowing I would never, ever exercise for that short amount of time. I averaged more like 40 minutes a day, sometimes, when my workout started in or around midnight, maybe only doing 20 minutes and some days, when I was particularly motivated, going for a full hour.

Fifth, once you get going, and you're nearing the end of those heady first few days, maybe three or four, when it feels exciting, tell someone. Tell everyone. Because darker days are coming, and you'll need some external support to push you forward. Your best motivation still comes from within, but a little nudge of encouragement from others doesn't hurt.

Sixth, do it. Whatever you said you were going to do, do it. No excuses. I had days when I was dog-tired and tying my sneakers at a quarter to midnight. I had to do it. I promised me, and that's important. There were days when I was dragging and didn't think I could last five minutes on the treadmill. I found that I could always do more than I thought once I got going. Inertia is heavy and resistant, but movable.

Seventh, celebrate your successes in ways that don't sabotage your victory. If you pledge to eat healthy for 30 days, then do that. Don't celebrate after day 10 with a candy bar, though, even a small one. Better yet, don't celebrate that way when the 30 days are up either. I'll talk more about the post-challenge at a later date, but once you've busted your butt for 30 days, why throw it all away for momentary indulgence? (Yes, this means I'll be continuing my exercise.)

Eighth, have fun along the way. This is so obvious but still needs to be said. Be creative with your challenge. Mine was exercise so I met my goal when I ran around a playground--yes, ran!--with my two youngest and when I shot hoops with the family. Because I really was excited about what I was doing, I still worked out on those days, and it felt great!

Ninth, invite others to join you. Because some things are better with friends. Know yourself. I needed to do this first one alone, to push myself in ways I'd not done before. Now, I can take others along for the journey.

Tenth, be prepared. Have a plan. To get through your challenge, you will need to do some planning. Look ahead to see where you might have obstacles in the road to success, and develop a plan. Mine were my bi-weekly hair appointments. Every two weeks without fail, and I, like most other Black women in America, do everything in my power not to look like I even know how to spell s-w-e-a-t for at least 48 hours afterward. So I gave myself that time. I exercised at night, except for on hair days. On those Fridays, I exercised in the morning and then not again until Saturday evening. Not quite 48 hours but good enough. And Saturday following a hair appointment was a light workout so I didn't sweat too much--gotta be cute on Sunday morning--but it still counted.

Then plan for the euphoria you will feel as you reach the end of your challenge, and plan for your next challenge and your transition to it. As I said, I'm going to continue my exercise. 5 days a week minimum. No exceptions. But I'm going to use my 30-day challenge to focus on another part of what I need to do to improve my health. Not sure which one just yet. Perhaps my eating. Getting more sleep. Taking vitamins (sounds simple, I know, but I never quite manage to do it consistently). Remember, your challenge is yours. It may be like swallowing for someone else, involuntary and requiring no thought, but for you, it's an area in your life where you need and have a desire for significant improvement.

Right now, my focus is my health, but there are other areas of my life where I expect to apply the 30-day challenge.  Writing.  Reading my Bible.  Forgoing TV.  It can be applied to anything at all.  It's about stepping stones to an optimal you.

The nice thing about your 30-day Challenge is it's all about you.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Featured Book: God Alone Is Enough by Claudia Mair Burney

I know author Claudia Mair Burney by way of her Amanda Bell mystery series, a mix of Christian suspense and romance.  Through her artful storytelling and sometimes lyrical prose, Burney has both pleasured and provoked my soul.  Now Ms. Burney has put her pen to paper for a nonfiction book that explores the art and power of prayer, courtesy of St. Teresa of Avila.

In this unique blog tour, each day a blogger has talked about a single chapter in the book.  (You can find the tour schedule here.) The final chapter is chapter 13, The Mysteries of the Bridal Chamber.

To bring you up to speed, Burney invites readers to take a prayer journey, guided by the provocative and powerful words of St. Teresa of Avila, a Roman Catholic saint. Like Burney, I too grew up in a church environment where "the esteemed dead in Christ are gone for heaven's sake". The "saints" were alive and well, or dead and never to be communicated with again.

Thus, I came to this blog tour with curiousity and not a small amount of apprehension. But I'm glad I did.

Regarding contemplative prayer as a means to growing closer to God, St. Teresa compares the soul to a castle with many rooms, not unlike the mansion God has prepared for each of us, the entry door being prayer.

Before we get to the bridal chamber, we must first go through rooms one through three, dark places where we must become more self-aware and get past the worldly things--possessions, accolades, business affairs, etc.--that cloud our minds and lessen our ability to hear God. Room four is a transitional place, brighter where our "holy longing" is more acute but still fraught with temptations and the possibility of falling prey to spiritual disappointments.

In this last chapter, however, Burney tells us, now that we've made it past the first four rooms in our soul's castle, we've arrived at a place that's not for the faint of heart. It's time for the spiritual "meat", and she likens this meat to "steak tartare...raw and dangerous".

Here, in rooms five through seven, is where we see ourselves as the spiritual brides of Christ, longing for Him, waiting for Him following our betrothal, and giving ourselves wholly to Him upon His return to us, the intensity of our passion for Him growing to the point of each passage into the next room growing aching and unbearable.

As Burney says, this is "heady stuff". I can't tell how many times I've heard recited or read the Scriptures likening Christ to the bridegroom.  I've mostly considered these to deal with the unbeliever coming, as the bride, and joining with Christ in salvation. Not so much have I've given thought to them with regard to continuing to seek Him after one is already in relationship with Him. But as Burney so pointedly notes, "we rarely trust what we already know how to do, which is why we miss many precious encounters with God".

Have you taken God for granted? I sure have. Not intentionally, of course. I certainly seek Him when I have need of Him or desire His grace for someone else, and I pray throughout the day, but I can't say that I walk around with a heart-wrenching longing for Christ every day. Sad and difficult to admit, but true. I've spiritual work to do.

"In the seventh dwelling things are different from before. God removes the scales from the eyes of he soul so she can understand in some way the grace she's received...What we knew by faith is now understood by sight, so to speak...The truth is, she's (the soul's) more active than before, especially where God's work is concerned, and where she's not busy serving him, she enjoys his ceaseless companionship. Unless she turns away from God, he'll keep her aware of his presence and she'll possess an assurance that God will never take the favor he's given her away now that he's bestowed it."

So go the words of St. Teresa of Avila. A ceaseless companionship such that the favor of God will never be taken away? Wow. Almost unimaginable.

But if we embark on this prayer adventure with Burney and St. Teresa, we may find the way to achieve such a state and our souls most certainly will be blessed.God Alone Is Enough is a wonderful companion guide for the journey.


"Joyous, sprightly, earthy, zestful and real, St. Teresa of Avila comes bursting forth in this vibrant new book. Claudia Mair Burney is the perfect guide to lead readers into the freeing, but often misunderstood, spiritual insights of one of history's most remarkable women." -- James Martin, SJ, author of My Life with the Saints

You have the opportunity to spend a few hours listening to the wise advice of a prayer warrior--one of the most interesting women to ever follow Jesus with abandon. So pull up a chair as Claudia Mair Burney introduces you to Teresa of Avila. You'll be able to say you've met a real saint.

"A perfect read for all who thirst for spiritual waters." -- Lisa Samson, author of The Passion of Mary Margaret.


Claudia Mair Burney is the author of seven novels, including the Amanda Bell Brown mysteries, and Zora and Nicky, and Christy Award finalist in 2009. Readers familiar with her style will enjoy this rollicking journey through their own interior castles. She lives in Kentucky, where she also authors the popular blog, "Ragamuffin Diva."

Learn more about the book at Paraclete Press.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wednesday Worship: How Great Is Our God

I think I featured this song before, but doesn't matter. Never grow tired of acknowledging the goodness and greatness of God.

Peace & Blessings,

Friday, June 18, 2010

Featured Book: Stuff Christians Like by Jon Acuff

If you find humor in Christianity, this book is for you.  Jon Acuff has one of the best Christian satirical blogs there is, and keeps me laughing daily with posts on subjects like how to know whether you're qualified to usher, knowing whether an American Idol contestant is Christian, and pastors' kids gone wild.  Along the way, he also takes a serious look at faith, helping readers to lighten up and in doing so, draw closer to Christ.

It's not uncommon for me to email the link to one of his posts to a bunch of friends.  Now, the book has been released, and I can encourage everyone I know to pick up a copy.  You'll find laughter...and God.


Sometimes, we fall in love on mission trips even though we know we'll break up when we get back. Sometimes, you have to shot block a friend's prayer because she's asking God to bless an obviously bad dating relationship. Sometimes, you think, "I wish I had a t-shirt that said 'I direct deposit my tithe' so people wouldn't judge me."

Sometimes, the stuff that comes with faith is funny.

This is that stuff.

Jonathan Acuff's Stuff Christians Like is your field guide to all things Christian. In it you'll learn the culinary magic of the crock-pot. Think you've got a Metro worship leader-Use Acuff's checklist. Want to avoid a prayer handholding faux pas? Acuff has you covered.

Like a satirical grenade, Acuff brings us the humor and honesty that galvanized more than a million online readers from more than 200 countries in a new portable version. Welcome to the funny side of faith.


For the last ten years, Jonathan Acuff has written advertising for clients ranging from the Home Depot to Chick-fil-A.  In addition to his many day jobs, he also writes a blog called Stuff Christians Like.  He and his wife live with their two daughters outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

For more information, please visit http://www.stuffchristianslike.net.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Wednesday Worship: It's All God

No matter where I find myself, up or down, I'm thankful that I know "it's all God".

Especially in those "down" moments.  I may have to still myself, pinch myself, remind myself, but I do remember that life isn't something that is happening to me.  Rather, it's a gift from God, something for me make the most of, with all that I am and all that I have.

I'm not much of a quartet fan, but I always loved the Winans.  This group, the Soul Seekers, kind of reminds me of them.  (Probably has a lot to do with their guest, Bishop Marvin Winans).

It's Day 8 for me on the 30-day Exercise Challenge.  Are you with me?

Peace & Blessings,

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Tacky Invitation to my 30-Day Exercise Challenge

This post is akin to me hosting a party and calling you from said party to say I meant to invite you.  Really.  But I forgot.  Yes, the party is already underway, but I really want you to come.  So do you mind dropping what you're doing and coming by?

Tacky, tacky, tacky.

My apologies.

It is Day 7 of my 30-Day Exercise Challenge.  On June 1st, well really, it was June 2nd, but my sense of time was all messed up by the Memorial Day holiday, I began a 30-day challenge.  The challenge:  I will exercise in a concerted fashion for a minimum of 15 minutes every day for 30 days straight.

That's it.  Pretty straightforward, right?  By concerted fashion, I mean something other than housework or running errands or even playing with my kids, unless we're in some type of athletic pursuit like basketball, tennis, swimming or such.  Mostly I use the treadmill, exercise bike, and free weights.

Please feel free to join me.  (I know, I know, but I've already apologized for the tardiness and tackiness of my invitation.)

How did this come about?

You've probably noticed I haven't blogged much about my weight loss efforts in the last, uh, year. That's because I lost 23 lbs last year but gained about a quarter of those back by year's end.  My gaining continued into 2010, even while I went to a free 12-week Weight Watchers At Work program where I went up and down and up and down, finishing at about a +3 lbs, I think, but ultimately up nearly 50% of last year's loss.  Shortly after that, I noticed my hands and ankles were retaining water, and my knees were starting to ache.  Oh, boy.  Not good.

I jumped back on the weight loss bandwagon.  (Yes, I know yo-yo'ing is not healthy, but isn't it yo-yo'ing only when you have a period in which you completely forget about losing weight and don't even try?  I never forget.  Not even in the middle of an all-out snack binge.  It's an ever present thought, 365 days of the year.)

Anyway, I have since lost all of the weight I had regained.  I am firmly back at last year's low and this time, I'm continuing on my journey.  For me, that means exercise and nutrition working in tandem.  I've learned that when I'm exercising, I tend to eat better.  The same is not true for when I'm eating right.  I do not necessarily exercise better, or more, or at all.

So to keep things interesting and moving forward, I decided to challenge myself.

30 straight days of exercise.

So far, it hasn't been too difficult.  My average time is 35 minutes per day, and the only major obstacle I had was the night of my son's prekindergarten graduation, when I found myself exercising at 11:30 at night, something I never would have done without this challenge.

I foresee some challenges on the horizon, like beauty parlor days.  I typically get my hair done on Fridays and don't even think about exercising again until the following Monday.  I need to get the most out of my newly coiffed head, and certainly want to look cute for church on Sunday.  I'm thinking I'll have to exercise the morning of my appointments which means getting it in before work, and then Saturday evening.  Since I vary the intensity of my workouts, trust me, Saturday and Sunday after a hair appointment will be lighter workouts.

So that's what's going on with me and my weight loss woes.  Feel free to join me in this challenge.  Unlike other bloggers, I don't have a cool prize to offer you other than the satisfaction of getting it done, and the glow you'll feel when you weigh yourself on July 2nd.  (The challenge began June 2nd and runs thru July 1st.)  After all, all this exercise has to result in reduced tonnage, doesn't it?

I'll be really impressed if you start your own 30-day challenge, a full 30 days.  If exercise isn't the bane of your existence, try something else, like forgoing dessert for 30 days or boycotting dairy or drinking more than 8 oz of water.  How about it?

Peace & Blessings,

Monday, June 7, 2010

Featured Book: What Your Son Isn't Telling You by Michael Ross & Susie Shellenberger

The title of this book, What Your Son Isn't Telling You: Unlocking the Secret World of Teen Boys, got my attention.  After all, we're raising three sons, one of whom is firmly embedded in the teen years, on his way to becoming a man and making it harder for me to know what he's thinking and feeling day to day.  I used to be able to look at him and tell him what was on his mind.  He would looked stunned, and I would reply, "I know you better than you know you."  It was true...then.  Now, not so much, although I still astonish him at times.

So of course, I'd be interested in a book that purports to help me understand my sons better.

I'm not sure whether this book does what it claims to do, as I've always made it my business to have open lines of communication with my children, and thereby, few surprises.  I didn't find a lot of "a-ha" moments or new information here.  It did, however, trigger memories of my own childhood, raising a few issues and feelings for me to be on the lookout for that I may have forgotten.  For that alone, it was worth the read.

Interestingly enough, I asked my teen to take a look at the book.  He didn't read it--not his cup of tea, of course--but he did thumb through it, stopping to read selected passages that caught his eye.  When he was done, he handed it back to me, and said, "Who are they talking about?  That's not me."  Either there's more that he's not telling me, or this book really doesn't speak to his experience.  I believe it's the latter.  If there is any place where cultural differences come to light and children struggle with them as they establish their sense of self and identity, it's during the teen years.  This book, although well-meaning and sufficient for many, doesn't address those differences at all.  That's why my child felt they were talking about kids other than himself, kids he might go to school with but who he doesn't really connect with on a deeper level.

Still, I would recommend this book particularly to those parents who feel distanced from their children and need help establishing better communication with them.  Putting cultural differences aside, there are many more similarities among teens than not, and What Your Son Isn't Telling You is a good place to start thinking about what your teens might be thinking.


Full of practical help, What Your Son Isn't Telling You gives parents behind-the-scenes footage they can miss in the day-to-day life of their son. Parents will begin to see and understand not only the world in which their teenage sons exist, but also their struggle to become their own person versus the desire to measure up as man by conforming to a false code of always being a tough guy, never showing weakness, and never expressing true feelings.

Each chapter of this must-read book is packed with real-life stories and emails from teen boys that will give parents a new understanding of what their sons aren't telling them

A complimentary copy of this book was provided to me for review purposes.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Featured Book: Uncovered: Revealing the Secrets of a Sexy Marriage by Susie Davis

How many Christian marriage books recommend having regular "quickies"? Today's book, Uncovered: Finding the Secrets to a Sexy Marriage, does.

In August, my husband and I will celebrate 19 years of marriage.  Although there have been way more days of rainbow and sunshine than dark clouds, we've had our moments and we're still together.  Believe me, I don't take this for granted. Just yesterday, it was announced that former Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper, are separating after 40 years. 40 years?

One thing that helps married couples is being open to new information and new ways of looking at familiar topics.  This is what made me sign up to tour this book.

I'm reading slowly because there is so much good stuff to digest, but to give you a better sense, here's another quote that I just love: "He didn't marry you because you were a great mom, sister, daughter, friend...you get the drift. He married you because you were plain and simple a fabulous, sensual woman. Yes, take a breath, dear, of course he loves 'your personality and your heart' but let's get real. He looked at you and he saw lips, breasts, curvy hips, bodacious booty--you know, all that."

Gotta love a marriage book with plain language that gets right down to the nitty gritty.  Here's what the publisher has to say:


In Uncovered, author and radio talk-show host Susie Davis offers wives a vantage point into their marriage that they’ve never had before: through the eyes of their husbands.

“I want women to understand what their husbands are really thinking and begin to understand what he really needs from her,” Davis says. “When you read these authentic testimonies, where husbands share what’s really on their hearts about their marriages, you start to see your husband in a different light and revolutionize your marriage.”

That’s the premise she offers in her latest book, Uncovered: Revealing the Secrets of a Sexy Marriage, where she pinpoints how wives can cultivate closer relationships with their spouses and understand their husbands’ needs.

But Davis knew that what would make these concepts resonate with readers was to hear what real men had to say on the subjects, ranging from quality sex and intimacy to how often they’d like to hear encouragements from their wives. So she formed a focus group of husbands—from construction workers to CEOs and even pastors, who all who have been married for at least ten years in Christ-centered marriages—and gathered their honest responses on these subjects and more.

Bolstered with biblical wisdom, practical sense and a bit of feminine charm, Davis helps wives understand what their husbands really want out of their marriage and what matters most to them, ranging from sex to finances to having fun together.

Readers will learn to:
  • Rediscover the “red hot mama” within herself and a sexy self-confidence about her body
  • Understand the powerful influence she has over her man—to do good or harm
  • Create a craving for sexual intimacy, even when life gets busy
  • Guard against materialism and the burden it can put on a marriage
  • Invite laughter and fun into your marriage, like when you were first dating
  • Communicate with their husbands in new ways
  • Discover the mission statement for their marriage
Susie Davis is the author of several books, including Parenting Your Teen and Loving It, and is a popular retreat and conference speaker. She is founder and director of Susie Davis Ministries and has a passion for helping others develop God-centered relationships. With her husband, Will, she co-founded Austin Christian Fellowship in Austin, Texas, where he serves as senior pastor and she frequently teaches. They have three children.

Susie is also a morning radio show host in Austin, on The River's Family Friendly Mornings on 105.9FM. One other book she authored, that I'd like to point out if for no reason other than I love the title, is Loving Your Man without Losing Your Mind. Find out more about Susie at her website, http://www.susiedavis.org.

Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, offers practical books that bring the Christian faith to everyday life. They publish resources from a variety of well-known brands and authors, including their partnership with MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and Hungry Planet.

For more information, visit www.RevellBooks.com.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Peace & Blessings,