Friday, April 3, 2015

Easter Among Other Days

Parenting is hard.

As the father of six small children, I believe I can speak with confidence on behalf of my wife and myself in saying so. Our children are God's most precious blessings in our lives and a source of joy for us. They are also difficult at times. At times, they are obstinate. At times, they are rebellious. At times, they are disobedient. At times, they are just plain rotten. We call those times- weekdays.

During those tough moments, I confess that I sometimes fall into a pit of poor perspective. When one of my children rebels, I am offended. How could they act like this? Don't they realize how much money I've spent to allow them to play in this soccer league? Don't they realize that I would rather be sipping a frozen margarita at Chuy's with my lovely wife than sweating to death at this weekend tournament? I am offended because in some way I feel that I deserve their obedience and gratitude.

Just for any non-parents reading this, that isn't how it works. Ever.

Sadly, my tendency towards that logic also perverts my view of God. I am tempted to look at all of the nice things I have done and think that somehow earns my favor with God. Look at how nice I've been to my neighbors. Look at how kind I was to that lady at the grocery store who needed help to her car. Look at the way I held my tongue with my kids and chose affirming words when I had some other choice phrases that I really would've rather used to address the situation. Look at all these things I've done, God. Don't you love me now? Won't you accept me now?

This weekend we celebrate Easter. We celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of God himself- Jesus Christ. We celebrate the greatest tragedy in human history because it was also the greatest sacrifice in human history. It was a sacrifice that reversed the dynamic of our relationship to God forever.

On the cross, Jesus demonstrated his love for us. On the cross, he said to us once and for all, "Look at what I've done for you. Accept me. Love me."

A lot of people still try to reverse that relationship. A lot of people still start with the do's and don'ts of Christianity and try to abide by them like some checklist on an application. But in so doing, they miss the beauty of the cross. We are more loved and accepted than we could ever imagine by a God who sacrificed himself to make that relationship possible. Our response to that love should rightfully be obedience and gratitude. But regardless of how well we do in the latter category, God's love for us is not contingent upon a checklist. God loves us. On Easter, we celebrate his permanent declaration of that love.

I want my kids to be obedient. I want them to be respectful and polite. I want them to be a number of things. But just as God's love for me is not hanging in the balance of my own rebellious nature, my love for my own children is not conditional.

One of the reasons God made me a parent was to teach me that lesson, to help me remember that his love for me is permanent. The tremendous love I have for my children and sacrifices I have made for them pale in comparison to the way God loves me and what he was willing to do on my behalf. Easter shows me the most beautiful picture of love between a father and his child.

On Easter, God the Father says to all of us," Look at what I've done for you. Accept me. Love me."

Happy Easter.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Allergy Apocalypse- 4 Easy Ways to Fight and Win

If your house is anything like mine, the doors and windows have been wide open to greet these first few days of springtime. Sunshine and 70 degrees is a welcome change after the winter that never seemed to end. No sooner had the beautiful white blossoms of the Dogwood trees reached their apex than I felt a familiar tickle in the back of my throat that warned me of impending doom. Behold, the great green pollen cloud of death will soon be upon us!

Here are four easy steps you can take to survive the allergy apocalypse.

1. Wear Natural Fiber Clothing.
Synthetic fibers create electricity when they rub together. That charge acts like a magnet to every allergen east of the Mississippi. Not only will you have the pleasure of being up close and personal with every weapon in Mother Nature's springtime arsenal, you will also bring all of those insipid little molecules into your home. For the next several weeks, I invite you to enjoy the touch, the feel of cotton: the fabric of our lives.

2. Cut Down on Hair Products.
Think of that bright yellow bottle of LA Looks ultimate hold hair gel as nothing more than glue for pollen. The same can be said of every single product you use to get that 'just stepped out of a salon' look. Even the fancy all-natural hair products will make you more all-natural than you originally intended during the allergy apocolypse. For the next few weeks, just grab a hat. It's about survival, y'all!

3. Wear a Hat (and big sunglasses).
Don't you just love a good segue? Wearing a hat will keep the pollen out of your hair and out of your life. For all of the pale readers of this fine post, a wide-brimmed hat will do you the additional favor of shielding you from the first rays of sunlight you have likely been exposed to in about five months. Throwing on a pair of large sunglasses will keep the pollen off of your eyelashes and brows as well as giving you the pleasure of looking like Audrey Hepburn while you fiddle in your garden.

4. Take a Spring Shower.
Grabbing a quick shower at night is a must for anyone who wants to fight in the pollen resistance. Regardless of how much of my sage advice you decide to follow, you will have pollen on you by day's end. A hot shower before bed will have three distinct benefits. First, it will wash much of the pollen off of your body. Second, the steam will relieve inflamed sinuses and help clear any congestion before bedtime. Lastly, washing the pollen off of your body will keep you from bringing the enemy to bed with you. A good night of sleep isn't easy when breathing is difficult. Viva la resistance!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Bugs, Golf, WWI and Heart Attacks- A Brief History of Daylight Saving Time

Like so many things that are a part of the American routine, few people ever take the time to look at why we observe Daylight Saving Time. In the fall we celebrate an extra hour of sleep and every spring we complain about having to get up an hour earlier. Despite the massive inconvenience we experience, few can articulate the 'why' behind the concept of Daylight Saving Time.

Back in the good ol' days, time was regulated by the rising and setting of the sun. We were a largely agrarian society and when the sun went down we knew it was time to sleep. When the sun came up, rise and shine y'all. Beginning around the time of the industrial revolution, the sun no longer regulated the workforce and the need for government intervention presented itself. Or so we were told.

Originally, the concept of DST is attributed to a British born New Zealander named George Vernon Hudson. George had a shift work job in a post office which afforded him little time to do his bug collecting in the dusk hours of summer. Rather than ask to get off a little early, George decided that attempting to alter the way the entire planet recorded time would be a better idea. Talk about going postal! While many may argue with his method, the proof is in the pudding. His bug collection is the largest in New Zealand to this day and is still on display in the Museum of New Zealand.

Collecting bugs didn't prove as catchy a rationale as George was hoping and while he is credited with inventing the scheme, William Willett gets equal billing in most accounts. Willett had a far more palatable reason and approach to the concept of changing the clocks. He just wanted a few extra minutes to finish his evening round of golf. Willett's proposal, outlined in the famous pamphlet "The Waste of Daylight," only called for a 20 minute shift as opposed to Hudson's two hour change. It was taken up by Parliament in 1908 and summarily defeated.

It wasn't until WWI that a nation actually enacted DST. Austria and Germany put it into place to deal with the war-caused coal shortages. Not wanting to be left out of the Kaiser's fun, American president Woodrow Wilson (along with several European nations) followed Germany's lead and made DST the law of the land here at home. It was repealed shortly after the war until FDR re-enacted it as "war time" in 1942. That time it stuck.

The results of DST have been suspect at best. A 1975 study, published by the Department of Energy proved conclusively that DST saves energy and then was thoroughly debunked. Several studies regarding the affects of Daylight Saving Time may not have the authority of a debunked DOE study but still present some troubling questions to the casual observer.

- Clock shifts increase the risk of heart attacks by 10%.
- Disprutions of the circadian rhythms can be severe and last for weeks.
- Suicide rates rise dramatically in the weeks following the spring transition.

As you stumble around in the dark on Sunday morning, trying to figure out how to reset the clock on your microwave, take comfort in knowing that there was a Kiwi postman and a British golfer you can blame for the heart attack you are 10% more likely to have. Happy Friday.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Lesson of Daffodils.

I stood in my living room this morning looking out at the world. Dead leaves. Dead grass. Mud colored snow that had yet to melt away. No matter which direction I looked, the evidence of life was hidden from me; slumbering under a blanket of somber beige. There was dreary everywhere, everywhere except for my neighbors mailbox. There, in the midst of all this drab, were bright green shoots of daffodils already beginning to make their ascent toward spring.

It is a lesson I learn every year. Every spring I promise myself that next year my yard, my garden, my mailbox will host these optimistic plants. I make resolutions that I will plan ahead and plant before the ground freezes so that the happy daffodils will be there to greet me long before the rest of the world has begun to thaw. But happens.

Stuff gets in the way. Good stuff. Important stuff. Necessary stuff. Stuff distracts me from the relatively simple task of putting some bulbs in the ground. As a result, I stand in my living room after an endless week of snow and ice looking for daffodils which I have neglected to plant...again.

I recently visited with a couple who is doing their best to care for each other without the benefits of any family to assist. With both spouses approaching their 90's, the fact that they have been able to live independently for as long as they have is nothing short of amazing. Unfortunately, as in so many cases, an event took place a few weeks ago which has changed the trajectory of their journey. One spouse gave too much and ended up paying the price of her own health. Now they are separated from each other in every way. Questions abound. Who will care for him while she recovers? Who will manage finances while she is away? Who will manage the many prescriptions and dietary needs that need daily tending? So many questions that needed to have been answered long before are now left to be decided by friends and neighbors. However well intentioned, this remarkable couple is on the verge of losing the one thing they fought so long and hard to retain: control over their own lives.

The warnings were there year after year. Make a plan. Designate a POA. Establish advance directives. Write a will. But happened. Stuff got in the way. Good stuff. Important stuff. Necessary stuff.

And the daffodils are their remind the rest of us every spring.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

4 Easy Ways to Make Christmas Merry for Grandma

Christmas is a wonderful season; rich with experiences and opportunities. While there are many chances to delight your children with glitter and gold in December, Christmas also offers a fantastic opportunity to bring the older members of your family into the merriment.  Like anything else, a merry Christmas for all does require some planning. What follows is an easy list of ways to make Christmas merry for Grandma.

1. Christmas is a Season of Memories-

Even at my age, Christmas brings a flood of memories. I can vividly remember moments of unbridled joy when I received a basketball hoop. I can remember spending each holiday with my grandparents, helping serve meals to the less fortunate in Oklahoma. I can remember the smell of my grandmother's perfume when I would run up the front sidewalk to hug her upon pulling up to her house for the holiday. Even writing these lines, I start to drift away in a sea of happy thoughts of days gone by. For older adults, memories are a vital part of life. Especially for seniors who have begun to deal with short term memory loss, being able to recall and recount events from the past not only provides a sense of confidence and great pleasure. Reminiscing also provides what is known as "life review," an important part of the aging process. Plan to spend an evening in December with the older adult in your life looking through an old photo album or watching old home movies. Let them bring the ghost of Christmas past back to life.

2. Quality not Quantity-

It is easy to create Christmas overload with the best intentions. It is only December 3rd and my personal holiday docket is already jam packed with parties, gatherings and events. For seniors, it is particularly important to consider the dangers of doing too much. For many older adults, having an established routine is crucial. Throwing a couple extra things on the calendar is fine but don't attempt to drag your aging parent to every shindig and ugly sweater party available. Less is more. Plan on having them accompany you to no more than a few events and have an early exit strategy. People who struggle with hearing loss can become very agitated among big crowds and in noisy environments. Take this into consideration as you do your planning.

3. Connect

Isolation is a danger for seniors throughout the year but is especially painful at Christmas. If possible, try to connect your aging parent with peers or relatives that they might not get to visit often. For instance, plan to take your mother on a trip to Aunt Thelma's house to deliver one of your mom's world famous lemon pound cakes. It will be a great opportunity to share the Christmas spirit with both your mom and your Aunt. Who do you know who will be alone this Christmas and might appreciate a visit?

4. Watch the Booze-

Everyone has heard the cautionary tales of a coworker who had one too many glasses of eggnog at the holiday party and ended up xeroxing her own derriere by the night's end. Many of the medications that seniors take may make them especially susceptible to alcohol. No one likes to be babysat and that is certainly not what I am suggesting. However, knowing the effects that too much alcohol might have and planning (there's that word again) an early exit strategy might not be the worst idea ever.

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. Make a plan to enjoy it.

And to all ages a good night!

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Importance of Mother's Health

For the record, I am not a woman.

I have never been a woman.

To my credit, I have been involved in an extremely in-depth case study of a woman for the last 13 years known as marriage.

One of the things that I have noticed over the last decade is that my wife is consistently placing her own health on the back burner. If one of my children has a fever, she coordinates a trip to the pediatrician. Her calendar is the one which tracks the annual physicals and immunizations for everyone in the home under the age of 18. She arranges dental cleanings each year.

But if you were to ask her about her own health, you would hear a quick laugh followed by the popular internet refrain: "Ain't nobody got time for that."

Many women fall into the same pit, particularly during childbearing years when pregnancy necessitates frequent visits to the OBG. Unfortunately, proper health practices are habits which are formed and followed over years and have ramifications which unquestionably affect women as they age.

The Easy Mistake-
It is easy to think about OBG's as doctors. They are. But it is more accurate to think about them as surgeons. That is what they are.

An Obstetrician-gynecologist is a surgeon in the truest sense of the word. They are required to go through a four year surgical residency which contains curriculum entirely surgical in nature. It is natural to assume that, over time, OBG's will become competent in areas of outpatient medicine. However, it is important to remember that their knowledge base, skill set and entire training is limited to the female reproductive system.

There is more to women than just lady parts.

The mistake many women make is feeling that an examination as invasive as the one they receive at their OBG visit would surely catch anything major going on. That simply isn't the case.

Why It Matters-
For all of the reasons that men go to the doctor, women should go to the doctor. Things like hypertension, osteoporosis, thyroid disease, and diabetes are just a few of the first things that come to mind that OBG's do not (and aren't trained to) diagnose and treat. Additionally, screenings to detect things such as cervical and breast cancer are female specific health concerns which must be monitored on a regular basis. They are not concerns which are typically addressed during routine pregnancy visits.

Making It A Priority-
The reality is that no mother has time to attend to their own health. In no world does a mother wake up to birds chirping outside their window, the beginning of Rossini's "The William Tell Overture" playing in the background, and wistfully wonder what she will do with all of the extra time she has that day. The reality of a mother's day is far more chaotic and is unimaginable to anyone who hasn't walked a mile in those shoes. The finale of "The William Tell Overture," known by most as the theme song to the Lone Ranger, is a far more appropriate soundtrack for most. How would one find the time to tend to their own needs in the midst of the daily onslaught known as motherhood? Perhaps a good place to start would be to replace a word in the previous sentence. No one will ever "find" the time. One must "make" the time. Like Nike used to say- Just Do It!

Many of the seniors we serve are currently dealing with the reality of having ignored their own health needs earlier in life. Whether it is borderline hypertension eventually leading to a stroke, poor diet eventually leading to diabetes, high cholesterol eventually leading to a heart attack, or lack of sleep eventually leading to dementia; daily we are confronted with the repercussions of decisions made and habits formed much earlier in life. It is easy to ignore the piper when you won't likely have to pay him for another 40 years. The seniors who are enjoying long life and greater independence than their peers are not doing so by accident. Their success is a byproduct of careful planning and persistent attention to the little foxes which can so often spell disaster down the line.

Mothers, make time to take care of yourself; not just for yourself but for all the people who rely on you and care about you.

Fathers, make your wife's health your priority. The Bible tells us to love our wives as we love ourselves. If that means that once a year you need to take a day off of work so that she can go to the doctor then make it happen.

Friday, November 21, 2014

4 Easy Ways to Live Longer

Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to go today. Here are four easy ways to increase your longevity by almost 20 years.

1. A Salad a Day
 Italian researchers have pinpointed an easy habit you can adopt which will yield two additional years to your life span. A new study suggests that the simple practice of eating a salad a day is enough to make your life longer. The antioxidants found in vegetables such as broccoli, dark leafy greens, bell peppers and tomatoes have been shown in studies to ward off everything from major diseases to the common cold.

+2 years

2. Oh Nuts!
The crack team at Loma Linda University noticed something funny about Seventh Day Adventists in California; they were living longer than everyone else. Seventh Day Adventists are known for their healthy lifestyles and the avoidance of things such as caffeine, alcohol and pork. Scientists were able to pinpoint their practice of eating nuts as being particularly beneficial. After compiling all of the data, the research team asserted that snacking on nuts at least five times a week can add almost three extra years to your life.

+3 years

3. You Get By With a Little Help From Your Friends
In Australia, researchers found that the individuals with the largest networks of friends lived the longest. Whether just having someone to check in on you from time to time does the trick or perhaps it is the physiological benefits of companionship, having a good solid gang of buddies tacks on an additional seven years.

+7 years

4. You Gotta Ac-cen-tuate The Positive
Yale University researchers help us understand that not everything regarding longevity can be quantified as easily as a bowl of leafy greens. Older adults who enter the golden years of retirement with a general sense of doom and gloom are not likely to last very long. The mind is a powerful thing and can create health realities either positively or negatively. Individuals who approach the next chapter of their lives with a sense of optimism and purpose have been shown to live more than seven years longer. Programs like our Salute to Senior Service promote and recognize the contributions that older adults make for just that reason.

+7 years