Church Signs

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I think everyone enjoys reading the catchy little phrases that churches like to post on their front lawns to draw attention their way. At one time in my life, I was in charge of changing the message at my church every week, and I remember carrying the box of plastic letters and numbers out to the church sign on Friday morning to take the old message down and replace it with the new one. With the technological age well upon us, we see messages streaming, winking and blinking, and flashing in various colors, all drawing the passersby to pause to read whatever the message of the day might be. I have chuckled over some of the more clever ones, and I have taken pause in whatever was going through my mind at the time to reflect on the wisdom or humor of a message.

Down the road from where I live now is a little white frame Pentecostal Holiness church, and its signs are a source of inspiration and entertainment every morning as I walk my little dog, Sunshine, up the sidewalk past the church. This is not a fancy church, and I have a hunch that its members are not wealthy people. But they love their signs, which are often decorated with helium balloons, ribbons, or other sparkly doo-dads. Spelling is also sometimes a source for a chuckle from me. For instance, one that is on display now states on one side, “Every tongus shall confess to God.” On the opposite side, the sign maker corrected the mistake! I also love the three crosses with the American flags at their base. These church members can never be accused of not being patriotic, that’s for sure.

 

There is one sign, however, that doesn’t seem to fit the evangelical nature of this little church. To the right of the driveway of the small gravel parking area beside the church is this sign:

There is something about this sign that tugs at me, and makes me start thinking about religion, Christianity, and faith. I’m sure it is there to keep people off of the church grounds when nobody is there, or to dissuade ne’er-do-wells from using the parking area for purposes other than holy ones. But to me, it appears to be sending a message quite different from the other signs gracing the front of the church.

As Christians, we preach that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. We invite people to invite Christ into their lives and hearts, and we dedicate our lives to proclaiming the good news. But how often do we put up our own “No Trespassing” sign in the front yard of our lives warning those who pass our way to keep out? If you are not like me, if you don’t believe exactly as I do, if you come at the wrong time, then you aren’t welcome here. Don’t park in my driveway.

Just a little something to think about this morning.

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It’s Confusing!

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I’m confused!

For the past several months, I have been reading up on, and doing my research on, nutrition, exercise, and good living habits that I am hoping will help me navigate my way through my 70s. Finding a consensus from the so-called experts has my brain running around in circles.

Since I’ve turned 70, I’ve learned a few new things about myself. As my readers know, I have added a new word to my vocabulary – osteoporosis.  In addition to this scary word, enter the word, Alzheimer’s – even scarier. While I have the first, but not the second – yet – both additions to my vocabulary have sent me on a hunting expedition to learn as much as I possibly can about each. And to add insult to injury, Coronary Health enters my picture, after having had my heart and arteries recently thoroughly examined.

What is confusing me at the moment is trying to figure out what to eat. There is disagreement among the so-called experts about which foods are beneficial for my bones, my heart, and my brain. If I followed the advice of all of these people, I would be eating a diet consisting of only a handful of foods, and drinking nothing but water (but only water that doesn’t contain fluoride and chlorine) with maybe a cup of green tea or coffee. Even with these slim pickings for my beverage of choice, there are arguments for and against caffeine, so I’m not sure what I should drink!

This is a sampling of what I have picked up from the experts. Some say to eat nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Avoid cashews, but eat lots of macadamia nuts and walnuts. No peanuts – they aren’t even nuts, and they are bad, bad, bad! But peanut butter is yummy, and contains protein. Some say almonds are wonderful; others proclaim a weary ho-hum. A plant-based diet is the best one for optimal health. I am told to stay away from meat, dairy, and eggs. Ok, I’m good on this until I read that I need to eat pastured eggs and grass-fed beef, including bone broth and collagen. Vegetables are good, as long as they aren’t nightshade vegetables. Beans have protein and lots of beneficial nutrients, but they will kill me. Grains are bad, but ancient grains are good. Make sure they are sprouted grains. Oats are bad. Oats are good if they are non-GMO and are steel-cut. Eat the rainbow. Stay away from anything red. Don’t eat seeds. Eat plenty of seeds.  Drink a glass of red wine every day. Don’t consume alcohol, because it kills brain cells. Cheese is very good. Cheese will also kill me.  Make sure to consume lots of leafy greens and salads. Be careful about eating raw vegetables. They are better for me if they are cooked.  Make sure everything I put into my body is organic, because of pesticides and Roundup.  Avoid wines from the Napa Valley, but those from Oregon are OK. Omit all sugar from my diet, including honey. Make sure to include local honey in my diet for allergy protection, and also use it as an antibiotic and face cleanser.

WHAAATTT??? What’s a girl to do? Is there anything safe for me to eat?  What should I include in my diet on a daily basis that will benefit my bones, my brain, and my heart, but won’t present a negative impact on my thyroid, my liver, my kidneys, or any other important organ in my body?

OH MY!! The confusion only grows with each podcast, documentary series, book, and research study I encounter.  My common sense is guiding me toward my own theory of good nutrition and healthy living, of which tastiness is leading the pack. If it tastes good, contains natural ingredients, has nutritional value, and is affordable, then I’ll consume it.

Now that I am on a roll, I see a variety of blog entries in my future about me, my body, and my sanity. I wonder if there are others out there in this world who are scratching their heads in consternation while trying to write a decent grocery list, as I am doing?

For me, this morning, I am enjoying a breakfast of steel cut organic oatmeal, fresh frozen blueberries (not organic, so they may be contaminated), and a sprinkling of chia seeds, all mixed up in a cupful of kefir.

If it doesn’t kill me, maybe it will make me stronger! The one thing I know for sure, it will make me full!

My Brain Has a Mind of Her Own

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     No pun intended.
     With my growing older comes an awareness that my brain isn’t what she used to be. I think. Or maybe not. I wonder. Hmmm.  I find myself struggling for words and for names from time to time. But is this something new? I’m not sure. I wasn’t paying as close attention to my brain when I was younger as I am now. All of a sudden it seems she is a major player in my life, while before she merely accompanied me wherever I went, remembering things for me, making me look smart from time to time, and urging me to write my stories and sing my songs.
     I remember when I was teaching school way back when I was in my 30s, it seemed like it took forever for me to remember the names of my students. I came up with a handy-dandy “cheat sheet” in the way of a classroom bulletin board that I used every year for the first month or so of school. My bulletin board theme was “Our Class Hall of Fame.” I took a Polaroid photo of each of my students on the first day of school, and each one would decorate and write his or her name on a construction paper picture frame, and then tack it to the bulletin board, along with the photo. Very clever, if I do say so myself! By the time it was time to change themes, I knew everybody’s name, and what each of my students looked like. Retaining names seems to have always been an issue with me to some extent.
     But what about word recall? That is something that has begun within the past 10 years or so. The funny thing about this is that I will struggle and struggle to think of a word or phrase without it making an appearance in my mouth, mind, or ears. Then, when I least expect it, that particular word will pop up out of nowhere, to an amazed “Ah-ha!” from me. I have labeled this phenomenon”bubbling to the surface.” It is as if the word is hidden somewhere in the depths of my brain, and it just takes a little time for it to float up to my consciousness for me to grab hold of it, often at times when I am not expecting it at all.
     Last week when I was taking the cognition test for the Emory University Healthy Brain Research Study that I am participating in, Miss Brain went into action, or rather overt inaction. After about 20 minutes of looking at pictures, drawing clock faces and geometrical figures, and counting backwards by 3’s from 100, she let me know in no uncertain terms that she was done, finished, out-o-here. It was 2:00 pm, her lunch was settling after having fasted for 12 hours, and it was nap time. As I struggled to recall some pictures I had just looked at and verbally identified, my brain clicked off (I could almost hear the turn of the knob indicating to me that she was protesting mightily), and my thoughts began to wander in so many directions, I had to try to lasso them to reel them back in. I was unsuccessful. Miss Brain had left the building. She was out there somewhere searching for some soothing music to listen to, or some puffy clouds floating above to gaze at. Neither of these were available in the small testing room, so I was stuck with my protesting brain, which was sending messages to me that she was no longer interested in this particular exercise, and that she was ready to leave. Done! she reminded me once more. Thankfully, the testing concluded, and I was allowed to take my protesting brain back out into the world where she could hear birds sing, look up at the brilliant blue sky, do a little daydreaming, and get back to her everyday, normal life.
     It’s funny, thinking about aging and wondering how my brain is going to maneuver through old-age with me. I have been doing a lot of reading on brain health, have watched the documentary series, “The Broken Brain,” and watched a presentation on the relationship between the brain and the heart and one on the brain and the gut. She has her fingers, so to speak, in every part of my body! I know it is up to me to do my very best to keep my brain happy and healthy, as well as entertained, challenged, well-fed, and stimulated.
     One thing I know for sure, Miss Brain is happiest when I am joyful and at peace with my life. She thrives on my writing, and she loves music. Just today, she let me know that she was weary of the country music station I’ve been listening to on the radio and requested some classical music. I found a very nice selection on YouTube for her listening enjoyment, and together we took a 30 minute break to meditate and listen to the orchestra. We agreed that we like the strings best. It was delightful.
     Miss Brain has a vitally important job to do, and she does it well. So what if she forgets the name of someone I have just met, or needs a little time to come up with a word that I am searching for? I am hopeful that she will remain healthy for several more years and will see me through to the end of my life. I don’t want to succumb to Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia, and I know she doesn’t want that for me, either. With the two of us working as a team, perhaps we will have many more adventures in this life of mine!
     Yes, she does have a mind of her own. And it is also mine.

Brainy Me – The Emory Healthy Brain Study

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“If you could change the world for the better, would you?” This is the tag line for Emory University’s Healthy Aging Study.

When I learned about this study, I signed up for it, knowing that I wanted to, in some small way, do just that. As I have grown older I’ve looked back at my life, pondering if anything I have done in my 70 years has really made a difference in someone’s life, and if so, what was it?

Joining this group only opened the door for me to something even more exciting and potentially very rewarding. I was invited to participate in Emory’s long-term research study, “Healthy Brain Study.”  When I spoke with the coordinator of this study, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. As information about the study states, “The study’s goal is ambitious – eliminate Alzheimer’s, a disease that has no cure or prevention. The Emory Healthy Brain Study believes you hold the key to finding clues to stop Alzheimer’s disease.”

I hold the key! How exciting! And how challenging! What did I need to do? Maybe this is where my life will make a difference, a big difference! Where do I sign up?

After a short phone interview, it was determined that I was eligible to take part in this study. My appointment was made for a day of testing at the Emory Brain Health Center, I received directions to the center, as well as instructions on how to prepare, and I was on my way.

Yesterday was the big day. And what a day it was. Not only did I meet some wonderful, dedicated, smart, and interesting health professionals, but I also made a connection or two on a personal level with them as we journeyed through the day together. They eased my apprehensions, calmed my anxiety (especially the one about how to obtain a fecal sample), and taught me a thing or two about my body and my brain. It was fascinating, as I breezed through having my blood drawn, finding out how my blood flows through my body, getting to take a look at my spinal fluid, seeing an image of my eyeball, and discovering that I can walk around an oval track holding a full glass of water in my hand, as well as counting backward by 3s from 100 while walking.

What kicked my butt, however, was the cognitive test. Oh my! I have always had a problem with remembering series of numbers, recalling names, and bringing up instant recall of things my brain deemed insignificant. My mother called it selective listening. I chose to label it as brain clutter, mixed with a tinge of attention deficit disorder, and a dash of creativity that liked to take over when my brain became overloaded with mundane matters or taxed with something it was not interested in. As I’ve grown older, I am aware that my memory is challenged on a more regular basis, and I am learning techniques to put associations with things I really want to remember.  I don’t know how I scored on the test yesterday, or if there was even a grade attached to it. It was mainly a baseline for the future as I continue in the research study. It sure threw me for a loop, though!

As my day with the Brain Folks at Emory ended, a feeling of elation and satisfaction overwhelmed me, and I found myself close to tears in my dilated eyes as I drove away. I left them my blood, my spinal fluid, an abundance of images of my eyes, my arteries, and my walking gait, as well as a small sample of my poop. (I also plan to donate my brain to Emory upon my death). Maybe there will be something in this contribution, as well as in my next one when I go back in two years that will help the researchers discover why so many of us succumb to dementia and Altzheimer’s as we age. I am a small, small part of a big, big group, but perhaps collectively we will light the pathway to the answers and the cure.

If this is how I can change the world for the better, then my life definitely has a very meaningful purpose.

Jennie Lou’s brain is ready to help out in any way she can!

 

To learn more about the Healthy Brain Study, visit healthyaging.emory.edu/brain-study/, email healthybrainstudy@emory.edu, or call(404)727-4877.

Osteoporosis of the Heart?

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I am not encountering any aches or pains from my newly discovered diagnosis of advancing osteopenia and osteoporosis. Perhaps my bones are losing density and becoming brittle, but I feel healthy and strong, and I am making sure my diet includes the nutrients I need to make my bones stronger and healthier.

I can still walk and run, dance and twirl, swim in pools and wade in creeks, and do most anything I want to do. I feel like I am in control of my own well-being and health, and my body is carrying me where I need to go with no complaints. As one research paper I read proclaimed, it’s not the brittleness of the bones that is at the heart of this condition, but it is in the flexibility of the bones and in the strength of the muscles that support them, along with, of course, not falling. As long as bones don’t break, there is no problem.  With a good team working inside my body, I feel like am doing OK on this front.

But what about my heart? Is it healthy, or is it suffering from a type of osteoporosis, a brittleness and fragility that I can’t explain or do anything about? Divorced six years now (and this was my second marriage!), and a survivor of a few romantic encounters since my marriage ended which weren’t meant to be, I am now a 70-year-old woman looking for love, true love. And, as it appears, I’ve been looking in all the wrong places these past few years. Nothing has clicked for me so far, and as I look at yet another relationship fading into the sunset, I wonder if the Good Fairy of True Love has passed me by for good, shaking her head in puzzled defeat and tucking her magic wand snugly into her belt in a display of utter failure.

Those who know and love me reassure me that there is a man out there who is looking for me, one who will cherish me, and one who will appreciate all of my good qualities. I guess just haven’t met him yet. While I love these people and appreciate their kind words, I can’t say that I believe them wholeheartedly. At my age, I’m not sure that this man exists, and if he does, why would he want to become involved in a relationship that most likely could include care-giving, possible dementia, cancer, stroke, or other life-altering disabilities down the road, either for him or for me? Who would want to take on that kind of burden? Is there such a thing as true love at this age of life that would embrace love, along with the ailments and challenges that accompany getting older? For better or for worse and in sickness and in health take on a whole new meaning as one ages and doesn’t have a lifelong partner with a long history of togetherness. And what about families who are asked to accept a new person into their fold as their aging parent’s new partner?  Is it even a sane thought to imagine that love will find a way with all of these obstacles jumping out into the road we senior citizens travel? I’m not sure it is, and I wonder.

This I know. My heart is still capable of being broken, bruised, and battered. A man I dated briefly stated that if our relationship didn’t work out, he would be able to go on with his life on his own and that he would be fine. I thought, yes, I would go on with my life, as well, and would also be fine, but that’s not to say that my osteoporotic heart might be broken and need some time to heal. You see, when I give my heart to someone, I gently place it into his hands to protect, nurture, and cherish. If he returns it to me rejected and stomped upon, it’s going to take some time for me to get over it. Thank goodness that like my bones, my heart retains a bit of flexibility. It doesn’t shatter into a million pieces with no chance of healing. It may be bruised and battered, but with some time and a gentle touch, it will be healthy once again. It will carry a few more scars, of course, but will still be fully functioning.

I may be 70 years old, a senior citizen, an elderly adult, an old woman. But when it comes to my heart, it doesn’t seem to know how many years I’ve been around. It is still capable of loving, desiring, laughing, longing, yearning, rejoicing, mourning, agonizing, celebrating, supporting, and sympathizing. But with age, it does feel more fragile, bringing me to the need to protect it more, take fewer risks, and guard it more diligently.

So, what do I do? Should I keep looking for love, or shall I cradle my heart and keep her safe? Maybe she doesn’t have osteoporosis after all. Perhaps she has not become brittle with age. Could it be that she is becoming wiser, more discerning, and smarter?

Who knows? One can always hope!

A String of Pearls – It’s a Southern Thing!

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My fascination with pearls began in 2001 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My wonderful surgeon, Dr. Simpson, a lovely young woman, was wearing a strand of pearls when I first met her in her office to talk to her about a tender place in my left breast. After discovering that the offender and source of my discomfort was breast cancer, I placed my present and my future into her capable and expert hands as we headed down the road to survival together.

Her pearls made a distinct impression on me. I remember seeing her prior to my lumpectomy as I was being prepared to go into surgery. The pearls graced her neckline underneath her scrubs. I assumed that she wore them in the operating room, but that is something that I guess I’ll never know. On every subsequent visit to see her following my surgery and for several years afterward, she always had on her string of pearls. To me, they were her trademark, and a visible sign of the wonderful doctor that she was.

I wanted some pearls for myself. After recovering from my breast surgery, I saved my money, and when I thought I had enough, I visited a local jewelry store to see what I could find. As it turned out, the store was going out of business, and everything was 50% off. I saw the pearls that I wanted, and with the sale price, I could afford them. They went home with me that day.

I treasured my string of pearls. I wore them on special occasions, always so very careful to take care of them and place them back into their velvet-lined box when I took them off. I didn’t have much in the way of expensive jewelry at the time, so they became exactly what they were to me, a treasure.

Over the years, I wore them less and less. When I was divorced six years ago, I made sure that they were safely in my possession in a little portable safe that held my keepsakes and important papers. I hardly thought about them once the divorce was final and I was off on my own, rebuilding my life and concentrating on other matters.

Then, this morning in a weekly sharing and prayer group that I am a member of, I opened up to my friends my feelings of being off-center, not on solid ground emotionally and spiritually, and feeling the need to be better grounded in my life and in my faith. The past few months, following my 70th birthday, I have felt off-balance and unstable in many aspects of my life. The ladies in my group all offered bits of advice which I accepted and appreciated. One, however, said something that hit home with me.

“You need to put on that smile, some bright lipstick, a string of pearls, and get out there,” she said. “It’s a southern thing, you know,” she added with an exaggerated southern drawl.

“Well, I’m not sure about the lipstick, but I can surely smile. And I have a gorgeous string of pearls that I can put on,” I replied. “I think that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

I went home from the meeting, pulled out my safe and opened it, taking out the little jewelry box with the pearls inside. As I dressed for work, I clasped the string of pearls around my neck, and with a smile, admired myself in my mirror. I may be 70 years old, but I have my smile and my pearls. What more do I need today? Nothing! I was ready to go to work!

It was amazing how that little string of pearls lifted my spirits and brightened my outlook on my life today.

I think they are going to become part of my life from now on instead of returning to their place in my safe. My pearls need to go out into the world with me as we venture into the realm of being 70 and beyond.

I wonder how they will look with my Star Wars T-shirt and blue jeans!

Senior Citizen Exercise Class – Yes, I’m In It!!

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Every Tuesday and Friday morning, the recreation center gym in the town where I live is lined with chairs for a free Senior Citizen Exercise Class. My friend, Anne, talked and nudged and encouraged me for months, maybe even a year or longer, to meet her there to exercise with her.

I had enough excuses not to go stashed in my arsenal to last a lifetime, or at least what I thought I had left of my lifetime, but she was persistent. Finally, last fall I told her I’d go. But on one condition – she would meet me there and show me what to do. I was NOT going to walk into that gym by myself, not knowing anyone. Being the introvert that I am, it is very difficult for me to go into a new environment where everybody is a stranger or where I don’t understand the ropes of what is expected of me. Anne agreed to my demands, and told me she would look for me the following Tuesday. She assured me that it would be lots of fun, that we would be on the back row, and that nobody would care if I made mistakes in learning the exercise routines.

So, I went. When I entered the gym, Anne was looking for me and caught my attention. My God! There must have been close to 100 people in the room, all milling around and talking – some were walking laps – while waiting for the instructor to arrive. Anne had gotten there early, as I would learn that she always does, to claim a row of chairs on the back row for her and her buddies. If I hadn’t spotted her, I would have turned around and walked out, from the sheer numbers of strange old people I saw, all of official “senior citizen” age, with an abundance of white hair.

Anne introduced me to a handful of women who had staked their claim near us. I was soon to find out that the chairs were primarily there as place holders. Occasionally an exercise would require sitting or holding on for balance, but mostly their purpose was to hold water bottles and keep us (or me, mostly, as my new buddies were soon to learn!) from running into each other during an exercise routine. I liked these women immediately, and they seemed to be happy that I had joined their little tribe at the back of the gym.

I’ve been going to exercise class now for 9 months. I’ve just about learned all of the routines to the groovy songs that our instructor selected for us. It’s my kind of music – a lot of 60’s rock n roll, with a bit of a more modern mix that has a good beat stirred into the pot. I still turn the wrong way from time to time, forget what I’m supposed to do next, and kick the wrong leg out in front of me – hence, another purpose for the chairs. They keep me from running into my neighbor and doing bodily harm to anyone. I have a really good time, and nobody seems to care that I head in the wrong direction a few times each week!

Along with overcoming my shyness, I have met some remarkable women who I probably would not have met if it weren’t for Tuesday and Friday mornings. While the class is co-ed, and there are a number of men who exercise with us, the majority is female, women who are concerned about their health, eager to ward off old-age as long as they can, and who want life to stay active, interesting, and fun!

They say that growing older is only for the very strong and brave. I agree with the statement, but have to add that growing older is also for those of us who want to be really alive, to experience new adventures, meet new friends, and share our life stories.

Exercise class is one of the best things that has come my way in quite awhile! Thank you, Anne, for never letting up with that prod to get me there!