Wednesday, December 12, 2012

New Year's Resolutions: Dream Big, Plan Small

As we draw closer to the end of the year, many folks start to think about their hopes and plans for the New Year.  The New Year brings an opportunity to recommit to those things that are important to you, or to start something new entirely.  For some of us, we may frame these commitments as New Year’s Resolutions.

The bad news about resolutions is that, too often, our best intentions don’t get us the results that we want. Research confirms that more than half of resolutions aren’t sustained for longer than six months, and some suggest that that percentage is even higher.  If you’ve failed to maintain a New Year’s resolution, or seen someone else fail, you might be inclined to avoid making a commitment.  After all, that way you won’t be disappointed!

The good news is that people who make resolutions are far more likely to achieve their goals than people who aren’t.   In one study, only 4% of people who didn’t make resolutions achieved their goals, as opposed to 54% of people who did make them.  That’s a huge difference!  So, if you’ve got a goal in mind, don’t be afraid to commit.

If you’ve decided to commit to a goal or resolution, research has also found that there are strategies that are more likely to help you succeed.

1.  Little by little – People who break their larger goals into smaller, more achievable ones are more likely to succeed over the long-term.
2.  Celebrate successes – People who reward themselves for the goals they achieve are more likely to continue them.
3.  Get support – Those who share their goals with friends or other support networks are more often successful in reaching their goals.
4.  Accentuate the positive – Those who focus on the benefits of success rather than the risks of failure are more likely to succeed.   For example, someone who wants to quit smoking might focus on the benefits of breathing easier, smelling better, and regaining their sense of taste and smell (instead of thinking about how failure might increase their risk of chronic disease or death).
5.  Track your progress – Those who keep some kind of journal or log of their progress are more likely to succeed. 

These findings are completely consistent with my real-world experience as a health coach, and they probably make a lot of sense to you too.  Making lasting healthy behavior change is a journey that requires inspiration, commitment, planning, and support.  The important take-home message to me is that there are particular steps that one can take to get where you want to go.  It isn’t mysterious, and success isn’t just a matter of willpower.  As I often tell my clients – the goal is learning how to work smarter, not harder.

As you consider your aspirations for the New Year, I hope that you will be inspired to Dream Big and determined to Plan Small.  Dreaming Big will give you the energy you need to get started.  Planning Small will help you overcome obstacles and give you the structure you need to stay on track. 

Dream Big:  Are you ready to inspire yourself? I invite you to join me for a month-long "Picture of Health" event that I’m hosting on Facebook.  Once you join the event, just make a virtual health vision board (using Pinterest as a tool) and then post a link to your board in the comments section of the event page.  Then, please take a look at other boards that have been posted and share your ideas and inspiration!

Plan Small:  Once you know where you want to go, make a personalized plan that works for you!  I invite you to join me for a complimentary teleseminar on December 31 to help you do that.  I’d love to share more strategies about how to “Turn your New Year’s Resolutions into Long-term Solutions”!

So, will you make a New Year’s Resolution for 2013?  As you consider the possibility, let me share a quote by Peter Drucker:  “Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes…but no plans.”

I’d love to hear what commitments that you’re making to your well being in the coming year!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Seven Guidelines for Mindful Eating

How do you nourish yourself?
These days we’re hearing a lot about the power of mindfulness, and its amazing capacity to help us increase awareness, decrease stress and make wiser choices.  Although programs like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), originated by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts, continue to provide opportunities for individuals to explore pathways to mindfulness, the concept may still seem a bit nebulous to the general public -- particularly folks who aren’t used to the idea of a meditative practice.
Mindfulness and  "The Wheel of Health"

The good news is that mindfulness is something that we’ve all experienced, and it can be cultivated simply.  It is nothing more than “paying attention on purpose”, and it can be developed through formal or informal practice.  Like any habit, mindfulness becomes easier the more we do it.  As a coach, I find mindfulness to be a powerful tool in facilitating behavior change, and it is at the very core of the model that guides my practice.

Mindfulness is a particularly important habit to cultivate with respect to nutrition.  We’ve all heard about the trends – U.S. citizens are becoming increasingly obese, and our nutrition choices are a major reason why.  According to a 2006 study by the Pew Research Center, more than half of U.S. adults estimate that they overeat “junk” food at least some of the time.  Increasing our mindfulness about how we nourish ourselves, is an important first step towards making healthier choices.

Dr. Lilian Cheung, a nutritionist and health promotion researcher at Harvard School of Public Health, identifies seven behaviors that are key to mindful eating. 

1)  Honor the food – In remembering where our food comes from, we enhance our sense of connection to our food and our appreciation of its role in supporting our well-being.
2)  Engage all your senses – Sensory awareness is a mindfulness strategy that, when applied to eating,  allows us to fully experience our nutrition choices.  In addition to helping us slow down, this practice also allows us to notice what thoughts or feelings come up to interrupt our full participation.
3)  Be mindful of portion sizes – When we cultivate the habit of taking smaller portions, we reduce the likelihood of overeating.  Cheung recommends using a plate no larger than 9 inches.  A number of research studies confirm the link between large portions and overeating.
4)  Chew your food – Many of us have trained ourselves to eat quickly, but this habit does not promote healthy nutrition.  Chewing food completely allows us to fully experience our food and to digest it more completely.  It also helps us to eat more slowly.
5)  Eat slowly – Our sensation of being satisfied after eating (satiety), is driven by stretch receptors in our digestive system.  It takes approximately 20 minutes for these receptors to provide feedback to our brains that we are full.  If we eat too quickly, we are more likely to overeat because we don’t sense that we’ve had enough until we’ve already eaten too much.  Studies confirm that eating slowly reduces our food intake!
6)  Do not skip meals – Skipping meals during the day can negatively impact your nutrition plan for a couple of reasons.   Skipping meals alters your metabolism and may increase your risk for diabetes. Also, when you skip meals, you are less likely to make thoughtful food choices the next time you eat.
7)  Eat a plant-based diet – Plants are rich in fiber and phytonutrients, both essential to a healthy metabolism.  In addition, all the fiber that comes with eating plants increases our sense of fullness.  While one can find a wide variety of nutrition advice, all eating plans seem to agree on the value of eating more vegetables.  For an interesting summary about the research on plant-based diets, I recommend viewing the documentary Forks Over Knives.

In this three-minute video, Dr. Cheung shares her perspective about these habits.  It’s well worth your time!

What about you?  Which of these strategies have you tried and what have you discovered?  I’d love to hear what you think!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Making it JUICY!

Last weekend, I was driving to church with my daughters and had my radio tuned in to a local FM station.  A commercial break came on, and my attention was captivated by an ad for – of all things – a sandwich.  It featured a woman trying to tempt a man to abandon his willpower and give in to the pleasure of eating this particular item that apparently wasn’t on his nutrition plan.  The language that she used to describe this creation evoked such sensual images that it could have made a sailor blush!

This got me to thinking about all the ways that our popular culture pulls people in unhealthy directions.  Imagine all the money that is being invested in getting us to work harder, be sedentary, eat poorly, and numb ourselves with all manner of distractions!

What if we were promoting health with just as much intensity?  What would that look like?   Do you remember that famous scene from “When Harry Met Sally?”  You know – the one where Meg Ryan captivates everyone’s attention with her enraptured “Yes, YES, YES!!!!  That’s what I’m imagining.  What if we could inspire others to say: “I’ll have what she’s having!”?

Now, one thing you should know about me is that I am easily amused by words.  With a English teacher for a mom and a pastor for a father, I suppose this is no accident!  So, I decided that this could be fun challenge…

Here’s my first attempt: 

“Don’t wait another minute!  Optimal Health is the delicious creation that you’ve been dreaming of.  Once you see it, you’ll be longing to taste the juicy sweetness of each delicious moment.  As you enjoy bite after bite of a life that is drenched with joy and oozing vitality, you won’t want to stop!  Let your imagination run wild and experience the rich pleasure of extreme well-being.  You were made for this!”

Do you want to play?  Just for fun, I’d love to see what juicy advertisements that you can create to promote the idea of optimal health.  (Keep it G-rated please!)

You can post your ideas here, or if you want to make it more interesting, I’ve set up a Facebook event that I'm calling "The Juicy Life Challenge".  Just post your “ad” between now and Monday, November 19 (at 5:00 p.m. ET).  Then, please take a look at all the entries and click “like” for the ones that you think are the best!  Whoever gets the most “likes” will win a gift certificate for a 12-week integrative health coaching package.  What a great way to kick off the holidays!

If you don’t want to submit an ad, you’re still invited to participate by voting.

I’m looking forward to hearing what folks come up with.  This will be juicy!

Monday, October 22, 2012

What do you do?

I was in a meeting the other day with a group of other women business owners when one of them admitted to me: "Julie, I STILL don't know what it is that you DO!"  

After ten months of meeting together, perhaps I should have felt embarrassed...  Instead, I appreciated her honesty, and felt grateful for the opportunity to provide clarity.  It left me thinking, though -- Perhaps you wonder the same thing!  What is coaching anyway?  More importantly, why would anyone want to be coached?

Most of us are familiar with coaches of one kind or another.  Our first thought may be of an athletic coach -- someone who can help a player achieve their optimum performance by helping them play to their strengths and overcome their weaknesses.  We imagine an athletic coach as tough and opinionated.  This coach has lots of experience and advice about what works, and expects you to follow it.  Their style of coaching is what some call a "directive" style, or some might use the word "mentoring".  These coaches are experts in a given area and you go to them because you want their expertise and advice.

The coaching that I practice is different from mentoring in some important ways.  The goal is certainly similar - I am committed to helping clients achieve optimal health and part of that involves learning how to play to their strengths and overcome obstacles.  I am an expert in facilitating the process of transformation -- but my process does not involve "telling you what to do".  Folks work with me because they are ready to be the "captain of their own ship" -- but they want support until they get their "sea legs".  YOU are the expert in your own life.  You know your dreams and your values better than I ever could.  My job is to help you become crystal clear about where you want to go, chart your course, and then help you align your actions with that vision in a sustainable way.

The process that I guide my clients through is like the proverbial  "three-legged stool".  In order to support optimal well-being, we go through three important phases together -- each one essential to long-term success:
  1. Inspiration -- Clients become clear and energized about their vision and values.
  2. Action -- Clients take meaningful actions and deepen their learning
  3. Sustainability --  Clients create a context that will support successful self-care   
Just like that stool, the balance doesn't work without all three legs.  Inspiration without action doesn't produce results.  Action without inspiration lacks focus and energy.  Action without a supportive context is hard to sustain.  You get the picture.

So, enough about me.  What does this mean to you -- or someone you love?

First of all, let me clear that no one "needs" coaching.  Health coaching is an opportunity to take your well-being to a new level.  I work with folks at all different levels of health.  Maybe they have a chronic illness.  Perhaps they've had a health "wake-up" call.  Some are already very healthy, but are inspired to see what else is possible.  What all these folks share is a commitment to invest in their well-being, so that they can fulfill their purpose with greater joy and vitality.

Health coaching isn't for everyone.  It involves work and commitment.  Frankly, some folks are just fine with being "fine". And there's nothing wrong with that!

But, maybe you're being nudged to search for something more. Perhaps you're intrigued with the notion of being the "captain of your own ship" -- being proactive about seeking greater well-being instead of just "going with the flow".  If so, maybe health coaching would be a great tool for you. If you want to learn more, you can always email me!

Thanks for your curiosity about what I do.  I'm grateful for this work that I love!

I'd love to hear what it is that YOU love to do!


Friday, September 28, 2012


“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” ~ Albert Einstein

Last week, I had the opportunity to accompany a friend to attend a preview of a new documentary, “Escape Fire”.  The film has already won a number of awards and is purported to be for the American Healthcare Crisis issue what “An Inconvenient Truth” was for Climate Change.   Since healthcare transformation is a passion of mine, I was very eager to see it!  The film was a provocative attempt at creating new thinking about a critical problem, and I recommend it for anyone interested in this topic.

The title of the film is based on the fact that fire-fighters, when they find themselves caught in the midst of a forest fire, often have to do something counter intuitive.  They must surround themselves with a circle of fire – an escape fire – to prevent the larger blaze from reaching them.  This metaphor was used to suggest a practice that is necessary anytime one hopes to create breakthrough thinking or a paradigm shift.  Einstein summed it up in the quote above.  Simply stated – if we want transformation, we have to think outside the box.

Thinking outside the box may sound simple, but it’s not easy.  We all can get “stuck” in familiar ways of thinking until another way of thinking becomes available to us.  As long as we are “stuck”, we may have blind spots.  We “don’t know what we don’t know”.  This is a central idea to the practice of coaching.  Coaches use a variety of techniques that serve to help get clients “unstuck” in their lives (as I shared in my earlier post, The Power of a Mirror.)

Another way to open ourselves to breakthroughs in our thinking is to surround ourselves with people who have different perspectives.  In the case of “Escape Fire”, I found it interesting that all of the clinicians that were interviewed for the film were physicians (even though there are clearly many other professions who have a stake in healthcare transformation).  As the adage goes:  “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”  It is unfortunate that the filmmakers lost an opportunity to promote a broader conversation.

This kind of oversight isn’t uncommon, though. In many situations, people tend to prefer to be with like-minded individuals.  While this may be comforting, it isn’t necessarily a good way to expand our thinking!  Many businesses have already realized the difference that having a diverse workforce can make in promoting diverse thinking and creative solutions.

I’ve also seen the benefits of diversity in my coaching practice.  Last week, Eileen O’Grady and I held the first session of a new endeavor – a virtual group health coaching program for people who want to transform their relationship with food.   While it’s too soon to report on the group’s successes, I was excited by the potential I saw represented.  All the participants share a common vision, but their perspectives are diverse.   I look forward to the rich discussions that are ahead of us, and the transformations that the participants will be creating for themselves!

What do you do when you feel “stuck”?  Do you have some good support systems or “sounding boards” in your life to help you consider various perspectives?   If you’re looking for a breakthrough, I invite you to consider the benefits of using other people to help facilitate your transformation. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the documentary, Escape Fire, you can learn more about it here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


It’s been a busy summer and I’ve taken several months off from blogging to do some traveling with my family.  I hope that many of you have also been finding time to have some adventures, enjoy a change of pace or venue, and create some good memories.  Summer is a great time for that.  

In July, we were blessed with the opportunity to take a trip to Brazil to visit the family with whom I lived as an exchange student many years ago, and also to visit the area of Brazil where we served as volunteer workers between 2007 and 2010.  This visit to Brazil was emotionally dense -- full of encounters with special people who have touched and changed our lives.

Travel is a rich and rewarding experience.  But it can be stressful too.  As we were leaving Raleigh, my family passed through the first of many airport security screens, and afterwards, hurried to gather our belongings.  I had to laugh when I saw the amusing sign which was hanging above the seating area where travelers sit to put their shoes back on:  “Recombobulation Area”, it said.  Indeed.  That same sign could have been posted above all the bags and laundry that cluttered our home after we returned!

As the end of summer approaches, I find myself preparing for more changes that a new season will bring.  School started back this week and our family’s schedule has altered.  The weather will grow cooler, the days shorter, and we will adjust our activities and clothing accordingly.  Before long, it will be time to begin to think about preparing for fall and winter holidays.  And so it goes.

Life is full of transitions – some expected and others quite surprising or even shocking.  We often need to “recombobulate.”   Sometimes we manage changes by just hanging on for dear life.  Other times, we use transitions as opportunities to reflect, learn, and grow. 

As an integrative health coach, I often work with people in the midst of transition.  Some are hoping to enhance their ability to manage or prevent a chronic disease.  Some have had a “wake-up” call because of a serious health scare.  Others are led by an urge to pursue a new level of health and vitality.  For those who are seeking to clarify their direction or create a powerful new beginning, coaching provides a proven tool to facilitate that process.

Have you ever needed to “recombobulate”?  What approaches did you use to find your way?  When transitions come your way, I hope that they will provide opportunities for you to enhance your well-being.

As a wise person said: “Life is change.  Growth is optional.  Choose wisely.”  

May you be well! 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Power of a Mirror

I have always loved to dance, and over the years I’ve had my share of dance lessons. Most of them were ballet, and they occurred in locations that looked very similar. There was a large empty room with a wide expanse of floor, a barre attached to one wall, and a mirror on the other wall. The expansiveness of the room created a clear space where students could move freely. The barre was there to help us with balance.  The mirror was there to reflect the way our bodies looked as they moved or stood still.

The mirror was an important tool as we developed deeper awareness of our bodies. When we could see what we were doing, we could decide if it matched the aesthetic we were trying to create and adjust our positions accordingly. Over time, we learned how it “felt” to be a dancer. After many rehearsals with the mirror, we could recreate that feeling on stage – confident that what we were now able to perform would faithfully represent the vision of the choreographer.

I’ve been thinking about mirrors lately, and the power that they have. Sometimes when we look in the mirror, we don’t like what we see. But unless we are at a “fun house” we can trust that the mirror is showing us what is actually there. How we use the information mirrors give us is where the power comes in. It isn’t helpful to judge what we see, or to wish it were different. It is very powerful, however, to notice what is “so”, decide whether that matches what we want, and choose whether or not there is an appropriate action for us to take.

Among the other skills that professional coaches develop, we are particularly trained to act as “mirrors” for our clients. We listen deeply and then reflect what we hear. Whether we reflect our clients’ words verbatim, or paraphrase them, we are careful not to add anything extra. It is astounding how something so simple – paying attention to one’s speaking – can create breakthroughs. Clients often find moments of great clarity when a coach uses reflection – honing in on what is most important to them, or where they are getting stopped in achieving the results to which they are committed.

The “a-ha” moments that clients have during coaching are exciting and satisfying, but powerful listening and reflection also have longer-lasting rewards. As I work with clients, I have also noticed that it is common for them to begin to develop greater awareness and ability to listen to themselves. Just as I found a physical mirror helpful in honing my ability to dance on stage, my clients seem to use my reflections as a tool for increasing their mindful awareness in their day-to-day lives. 

Mirrors are one way to notice what is “so”. A physical mirror may help you notice that piece of spinach caught in your teeth, or that you appear tired and need rest.  A "coach mirror” may help you identify the vision and values that give your life meaning, and the daily choices you make that help create the life you have.

Are you using your mirrors to their best advantage?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Living Out Loud

This time of year, folks in our part of the world are mesmerized by college basketball.  To admit that one does not share this passion is something akin to heresy.  In all honesty, though, that is the case for me.   I realize that I am risking my credibility to acknowledge this fact (particularly as a UNC grad), but even though I don’t really follow the game, I do understand the appeal.

There is something else that I have been following closely, though.  There is another drama that is unfolding this month in North Carolina, and I have been enthusiastically watching and cheering from the sidelines as I hope for a big “win” for a cause that is dear to me. 

This month my friend, David Lamotte, launched a campaign through to raise funds to publish “White Flour”, a children’s book that he has written.  This isn’t just any children’s book.  “White Flour” tells the true story, in a poetic style, of an amazing event that took place in Knoxville, Tennessee nearly five years ago.  There, on a beautiful spring day, a group of clowns successfully derailed a white supremacist rally.  Through humor and nonviolence, they completely changed the dynamic and the course of what unfolded in their city that day.

The story captivated David, who, in addition to being a talented singer/songwriter is also a tireless advocate for peace and justice.  He knew that the story needed to be heard.  In a society still troubled by racism and bullying, this story provided a hopeful model of a healthy way to address conflict.  David turned the story into a poem, and now is fulfilling his vision to have it turned into a book.

When David first launched his initial campaign on Kickstarter, it only took twelve days for project supporters to blow past the initial goal.  The response was so enthusiastic that he decided to expand his vision.  At considerable personal risk, David decided to order ten thousand additional books and continue the campaign until the original end date of April 1st.  All along the way, he has shared his excitement and occasionally his concerns with us.  By “living out loud”, he has allowed others to take this journey with him.  His faith, commitment, and courage have allowed everyone supporting this project to play a much bigger game.

What is it about people like David (and maybe even basketball players) that capture our attention and imagination?  For me, it boils down to this: we are touched and inspired by people who use their talents in support of something larger than themselves.   Such people seem especially vital and “real” to us because they are being their most authentic selves.  When we see people using their gifts in a way that is consistent with their vision and values, we are inspired because we get a glimpse of something that is possible for each of us, too.   I call it flourishing.

As a coach, the possibility of a life that flourishes is something that I wish for everyone.  I believe that each of us has unique gifts, and that when we are being our most vital selves, we are able to fully offer our gifts to the world.  In other words, when our lives flourish, everyone benefits. 

Years ago, I attended one of David’s concerts and I bought a T-shirt there.  The T-shirt is so baggy and shapeless on me that one might wonder why I keep it.  What attracts me isn’t the T-shirt itself, but rather the message written across its front:  “Sing Loud.  It’s a big world.”   That phrase reminds me that only I can know my “song”, and only I can sing it.

What is your song?  What vision and gifts do you have to share with the world?  What is possible when you flourish?

If you are caught up in the midst of “March Madness”, I invite you to take a break from basketball and tune in to the game that I’m watching.  Below is a video of David reading his poem, “White Flour”.  If you love it as much as I do, I hope you’ll consider supporting the book launch and will share your excitement with others.  I’m grateful to David for allowing others to participate in his vision.  May we all be inspired to “Sing Loud!”

Thursday, March 1, 2012


"So be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact. 
And remember that life's A Great Balancing Act." ~ Dr. Seuss

At Christmas last year, I received a wonderful gift that had been on my “wish-list” for some time. It was a balance board. If you haven’t ever seen or tried one out, it is a simple device, but not as easy to master as one might think. It is a short, rectangular board with a non-slip surface on top.  On the bottom are strips of wood that create a groove which fits onto a round cylinder that is placed below it.  Imagine a plank laid on top of a barrel.

The challenge of a balance board, of course, is to position yourself with your feet at each end of the board, and then achieve balance.  A first attempt often looks like this: You step on one end, and the minute you try to get into position, the board flips like a wild seesaw. You, or the cylinder, are likely to go flying. If you read the directions, you hopefully took precautions!

With practice, it becomes easier to balance, and there is a certain satisfaction that comes. You can never be complacent, though. As you “balance”, you are actively managing lots of different variables simultaneously. The balance board, in addition to building balance and coordination, works lots of core muscles too. The minute you stop paying attention, you are in for a quick dismount!

As I’ve enjoyed this new activity, I’ve had time to reflect on what “balance” really is.  It is interesting, I think, that many of us think of “balance” as a static process.  Physics teaches us that bodies in motion tend to stay in motion, and bodies at rest, tend to stay at rest.  From the time that we are children and are learning how to position our building blocks to build a tower, we tend to expect things to “stay” where we put them. 

The balance board gives a more realistic picture of what balance really requires.  Balance is a dynamic process that requires intention and attention.  It doesn’t “stay” unless we work at it.

Our lives are much the same way.  For example, many of us aspire to balance our professional and personal lives in ways that honor all of our values.   At the same time, conditions in our home and work lives are constantly changing and requiring us to re-evaluate how to maintain this balance.  This, too, requires intention and attention.

The concept of balance is important in my work as an Integrative Health Coach. In that work, I use a model developed by Duke Integrative Medicine that is called “The Wheel of Health”.  This model identifies seven different areas of self-care that make up the “spokes” of the wheel.   As you can imagine, when one or more areas in a client’s life is out of balance, it can affect the whole “wheel”.   By helping clients identify and address the areas that aren’t in line with their values, they are able to restore a sense of wholeness and balance in their health and well-being.

Where are you looking for balance in your life?  Wherever that is, I wish you well!  

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Last week, as the weather became unseasonably warm, I found myself in a conversation with some plant-loving friends.  Was it too late to prune?  When was the best time?  The answer, by a knowledgeable master gardener, was not simple – in short, “it depends.” 

As my friend shared some of his knowledge about appropriate pruning of different plant species, I was reminded about my experiences watching people pruning trees in northeastern Brazil.

One particular pruning incident comes to mind.  There was a gorgeous flamboyant tree in the courtyard of the school that hosted our garden project.  I was particularly fond of it because it was large and shady, and such trees aren’t easily found in that dry, rugged part of the world.  One day, a caretaker at the school decided to prune the tree.  He pruned it so drastically, though, that even the principal was alarmed and asked him to stop before he finished the job.  Already though, so many limbs were on the ground that the tree was a shadow of its former self. I smile to remember how shocked and dismayed I was as I observed what appeared to be ruthless butchering of that precious tree.  Surely, it wouldn’t survive!

Despite my sadness and worry, though, everything turned out well in the end. In the process of witnessing that tree’s miraculous recovery, I learned a thing or two about the tenacity of life in the face of challenges.

It seems to me that regardless of when we prune, or how we prune, the objective is the same.  In gardening, the purpose of pruning is to help a plant flourish.  In our lives, pruning can help us flourish too!  Whether we are clearing away clutter from our physical environment, or from our mental or emotional environment, pruning leaves space for growth and creativity.

In my own life, I will confess that my natural attraction to possibility often creates a values conflict for me in my physical environment.  To sum it up, I keep too much “stuff”!  Should I honor my commitments to frugality and resourcefulness or my commitments to sharing and simplicity?

Recently, I invented an acronym to help keep me on track in my efforts to simplify.  I call it PrUNe!

Pr =Precious.  Is this item precious to me?
U= Useful.  Am I likely to use it again?
Ne=Needed.  Do I need this more than someone else might?

If I answer “yes” to any of these question, I can keep the item.  If not, I recycle it or find it a new home.

I still have a lot of simplifying to do, and I know it will be an ongoing process.  I am confident though, that faithful pruning will leave room for flourishing.

What about you?  Are you doing any pruning in your life?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


It is early January and after a busy holiday season, a winter stillness is in the air.   I just brought in a box of fresh produce, kindly delivered by a business that supports local farmers, and I am feeling grateful for anything fresh that can be grown in these shorter, colder days.  If you ride around the North Carolina countryside this time of year, many fields are lying fallow – resting and waiting for spring.

Just two years ago, my family was in a very different situation.  Living near the equator in northeastern Brazil, the days were always warm and long enough to grow an abundance of produce, as long as enough water was available.  In fact, farmers there had to be careful not to wear out their soil.  They constantly had to add rich compost back to their gardens so that they could continue to produce, day-in and day-out.

Our family was in Brazil as volunteer service workers with Mennonite Central Committee, and while there, I had the privilege of helping a school develop a garden project.  The students and I learned a lot about how to care for soil in that project, and the lessons from that experience continue to enrich my life.

I remember that when we started the project, the site for the garden was a bare, clay plot in the school courtyard, nearly devoid of life, and baked as hard as brick under that harsh sun.  The students worked diligently, and it took us nearly a month with picks and shovels just to loosen up the soil!

Once the soil was loosened, we added organic material, and some sand to help keep it that way.  We formed garden rows, and finally started to plant.

Once we planted, the work never stopped.  We had to keep the weeds out, watch out for pests, and make sure the seedlings got enough water.  Every now and then, we applied a “tea” of organic nutrients to continue to feed those little plants so they could have strong defenses.  We had to pay attention to spacing so that the plants didn’t get too crowded and therefore become weaker.

We didn’t just focus on the plants themselves, we had to pay attention to the whole environment.  The flowers that sprouted up attracted bees that pollinated our tomatoes, and birds that ate any pests.  We even learned about plants that could serve as natural pest deterrents!

In the end, we were rewarded with a flourishing garden that provided fresh organic produce for the school and the local market, but more importantly lessons in teamwork, leadership, healthy living, and the interconnectedness of all things.

Growing a life that flourishes is similar to growing a successful garden.  First of all, you have to pay attention to the foundation.  Just as a plant needs rich and receptive soil in which to thrive, our lives need good self-care practices that nourish and sustain us.  Initiating and maintaining these practices requires commitment and dedication.

How are you nourishing the soil of your life?  In this new year, I pray that you are preparing it for the possibility of an abundant harvest!