Feeding your Temple: Body, Mind, and Spirit

Feeding your Temple: Body, Mind, and Spirit

In college, I was quite the busy-body. I found my self-worth in participating in every possible activity, club, and organization. I was in the band, played tennis, and a member of student council. I was also a member of the student television news station, volunteered with the Chapel every Sunday, and I pledged a sorority. Can you say, “busy?!” The less I slept, the more meals I skipped, and the more coffee I drank, the more valuable I felt.

I was not taking care of my temple. Instead, I was abusing it as if that was a way to win God’s approval. As I write this now, it sounds so silly. I’ve matured a lot. But in my younger years, I had some serious insecurities and lacked self-worth. I literally hated everything about the body I was in. I hated my mind, I hated my body, and I hated my spirit. As a result, every part of me was mistreated by…me.

Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot since my college days. I’ve learned that there is nothing I can do to earn God’s love and make him value me more than He already does. How could I forget that He was the one who formed me in my mother’s womb? How could I forget that He created me in His own image? How could I not honor Him by taking care of the body, mind, and spirit that He formed—in detail—when He created me?

Since taking care of myself was a completely foreign concept to me, it didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t wake up one morning and begin eating healthy meals and taking time for myself. I truly struggled with how to start valuing and treating myself like a daughter of The King.

“Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that are as healthy in body as you are strong in Spirit.” — 3 John 1:2

 

God is glorified when we take care of the temples He gave us, and it is important that we do so in body, mind, and spirit.

Feeding your temple: BODY

In college, I was barely eating. I skipped meals to make time for all of my activities, and when I did eat, I only ate cereal, ramen noodles, and fries from the dollar menu at fast-food restaurants. Talk about nutritious! However, I realized that I wanted to be energized to do work for God’s Kingdom, but the way I was fueling my body was leaving me tired, weak, and lethargic. It was time for a diet change.

If you’re active on social media and spend your life online—like most people do—you are most likely aware of the constant pressure to eat healthier, lose weight, and feel your best. However, with my focus being on God’s glory, I chose to change my diet to ensure that His temple that He created was thriving. He is my motivation for healthy living – not how my body looks.

So, if you are looking to make some changes in how you feed your temple, here are a few tips:

Take time out to prepare three healthy meals a day. Breakfast is as important as lunch and lunch is as important as dinner. It is so tempting to skip a meal when we are on-the-go, but we are truly doing ourselves a disservice when we do this.

Start small. It can be overwhelming to change every eating habit at once. Start with breakfast. Set an alarm for 20 minutes earlier than you normally get up to allow yourself time to prepare and eat a nutritious meal.

If you have a sweet tooth like me, look up healthy alternatives online to satisfy that craving. My go-to is a chocolate peanut butter smoothie that is made with raw cacao powder and organic peanut butter. Super healthy and super delicious! It doesn’t have to be hard to feed your body delicious, nutritious meals. You will feel more energized and your body will thank you.

Feeding your temple: MIND

I believe that this falls under the category of taking time for yourself. Let’s face it. We are busy people. This society thrives on “busyness.” I fell into that trap in college and I still have trouble with it today as a wife and mom.

Things have to get done! There is no time for myself! Sleep? What is that?

Sound familiar?

However, if we neglect sleep and fail to take time for ourselves, our minds become cluttered. And, I realized that when my mind is cluttered, I struggle to hear God and stay in tune with His presence. I am here to glorify the Lord through my every step and if I can’t hear Him, due to a cluttered mind, how can I glorify Him?

I recommend writing down areas in your life that you can see as mind clutter. For me, it’s social media, my busy schedule, and a constant need for perfectionism. Once you figure out what your areas are, write down ways to clear your mind from these things.

I’m going to make a commitment to find time every day to be social media-free. I am going to commit to saying “no” to something on my agenda that just isn’t important and replace that time with something a bit more relaxing.

What commitments can you make to clear your mind? Whatever they are, write them down to help you stick to them. Place Post-It Notes around your house with your commitments. Set reminders on your phone. Write them down in your planner. Ask an accountability partner to remind you of your commitments.

Feeding your temple: SPIRIT

Finally, it is important to feed your spirit. It is the spirit of The Lord that lives inside of you. It is the spirit that God intricately created that makes you, YOU. It is your relationship with the Holy Spirit. Feeding this area of your temple is so important.

However, can I be honest with you? This is the hardest area for me to feed and keep healthy. Can anyone else relate? Why is it easier to scroll through social media than it is to open our Bibles and receive the Truth?

I’ll be the first to admit that planning a healthy meal is much easier for me than devoting time to my relationship with God. I am so thankful for God’s grace and strength in this huge area of weakness for me.

One thing that has truly helped me in this area is getting connected in my church community. Serving in the Church and being a part of small groups Bible studies are both ways to fuel my spirit. They are great ways to ensure that I am taking time out to refresh with The Lord.

However, alone time with the Lord is equally as important and should be a part of our daily lives.

One of my favorite ways to incorporate alone time is to worship in the car while I am driving. No phone, no distractions, just me and the Lord.

While working on your relationship with God, keep in mind that we are not earning God’s approval by spending more time with Him. We cannot do anything to make Him love us more. We are strengthening our relationship with Him because He desires us so much! Don’t let the enemy turn your efforts into a guilt trap when you fall short, because, the truth is, we will always fall short. We are human.

Our Heavenly Father gave each of us these beautiful temples that were made in His image. It is imperative that we take care of them and treasure them just as He treasures us. When we do so, we are making ourselves even more available for Him to use us at His will for His glory, and we are fueled and ready to live the lives that God has called us to live.

What are some healthy ways that you use to feed your temple? Share them below.

Is Black Church Culture Unhealthy?

Is Black Church Culture Unhealthy?

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own…. Therefore honor God with your body.” 1 Cor. 6:19-20

It is well known that blacks live sicker and die younger than any other racial group. Look no farther than the church with the pastor battling hypertension and diabetes or the congregation with several obese members sitting in the pews. It would seem that the black church in America would be the leading ally supporting the nation’s first black president in the debate over access to affordable healthcare. It would seem that the black church would lead the way toward healthier eating and living.

Could it be that black church culture is leading us astray?

I thought about this during a recent conference in Baltimore on black global health. The International Conference on Health in the African Diaspora, hosted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions, brought together healthcare professionals and researchers, from across the Western Hemisphere to discuss common health problems among the descendants of African slaves. Black Arts Movement icon Sonia Sanchez set the tone as the keynote speaker July 4, inspiring the crowd with a special poem for the occasion. The award-winning author participated throughout the weeklong conference.

Listening to a sister from Brazil and a brother from Peru discuss high rates of obesity, diabetes, infant deaths and the spread of HIV/AIDS among blacks in their countries sounded like the health crisis of black New York, Chicago, or the Mississippi Delta. Modern racism and the legacy of slavery haunt all of us. Participants also shared solutions and pledged to work together. In fact, according to Dr. Thomas LaVeist, a book and curriculum addressing these health themes are being created for the public and for high school and college educators. Thomas, who happens to be my brother, directs the Hopkins center and is the mastermind behind the conference, which is scheduled to take place every two years.

Solutions are basically what government and institutions can do to end racism and ensure all people have access to quality affordable healthcare and what blacks can do themselves to care for their “temples of the Holy Spirit.”

The black church should be more outspoken in support of increased access to quality affordable care. Our cousins from Canada and Central and South America, who for the most part receive varying degrees well-executed and poorly-executed universal healthcare, are puzzled as to why we richer Americans are debating what the rest of the industrialized world has long settled — that healthcare access is a God-given human right, not a privilege to be determined by profit-seeking private insurance companies.

After the conference, Thomas told me that the Catholic Church (obviously many Catholics are also black) has been the most vocal Christians on healthcare, mainly around the debate on whether Catholic organizations should be mandated to support abortions for employees (some evangelical Protestant organizations have recently joined that fight, too). Thomas suggested the traditional black church denominations could find their unified voice by calling for all Americans to be insured (Obama’s Affordable Care Act would still leave 20 million people uninsured). However, regardless of what the government does, black churches should lead by example with healthier eating and living, he said.

BAD FOR THE SOUL? Black churches are routinely feeding their people unhealthy soul food staples such as fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. Is that biblical?

“Black church culture is out of alignment with some biblical teachings, particularly when it comes to how we eat,” my brother said. “Church culture has got us drinking Kool-Aid, eating white bread, fried chicken, large servings of macaroni and cheese and collard greens drenched with salty hog maws (foods that are high in sugar, salt, calories, and carbohydrates that trigger health problems). We’re eating this in the church basement at dinner and at church conventions! Meanwhile, the Bible teaches against gluttony.”

Don’t judge or condemn those who are obese, but encourage and show everyone how to eat healthy, Thomas added. He cited Pastor Michael Minor of Oak Hill Baptist Church in the Mississippi Delta as pushing the healthy eating message that all black churches should adopt. The Delta is one of America’s poorest areas and leads the nation in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease rates. In 2011, Pastor Minor, known as “the Southern pastor who banned fried chicken in his church,” banished all unhealthy foods and insisted soul food meals be prepared in healthier ways; many of his members are losing weight and improving their overall health. Other churches across the country such as, First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, are on similar missions.

Ask yourself, when it comes to health, what is the black church best known for?

What might the state of black health in America (and the African diaspora) be if your answer was healthy eating and living?

The Breast Cancer Reality Check

The Breast Cancer Reality Check

The truth of the matter is that I’m an anxious person, and my anxiety manifests itself in various ways — some comical and others not as much.

For example, I’m a bit of a hypochondriac. If I happen to be in front of my computer when someone on Good Morning America is describing the disease du jour — from West Nile virus to celiac disease, I always fire up Google to make sure I’m not exhibiting any of the symptoms. I haven’t slept in complete darkness since I was in the fourth grade (unless I’m not the only person in the room), which is when I discovered scary movies. And I am an avoidance perfectionist, which essentially means that I sometimes avoid starting on a task because I’m scared that the end result won’t be all that good. (Some call this procrastination, but I like to keep it complex.) Deep, huh?

As I’ve gotten older, though, my anxiety seems to be loosening its grip on me. So far a random mosquito bite or a bite of bread, for instance, hasn’t killed me. The bogeyman hasn’t scooped up me from my bed as I slept. And slowly but surely, I’m discovering that “not perfect” is sometimes just fine.

But no matter how I spin it, the truth of the matter is breast cancer is a scary disease, and not just in and of itself. It’s also scary that, according to recent studies, one in eight women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. This is not a random condition that fits into a singular episode of a morning news program. It is not some phantom that disappears in the light of day. Breast cancer cannot be avoided, even if you try. It’s a bomb whose blast will eventually be felt in our lives, or in the lives of people we know.

In the course of my 38 years, I can recall many brave women who have had to battle with this ugly disease. I recall a woman at my church who was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was a little girl. I remember her saying she just wanted to live long enough to raise her children, who were close to my age. Her breast cancer eventually went into remission. I found it courageous yet tragic that this woman was able to raise her children before ultimately succumbing to the cancer after her kids reached adulthood.

I remember the editor of a small community newspaper I worked for after college. A former member of the U.S. Army, this tall woman intimidated me with her “take no stuff” orders and her “colorful” language. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she took it on in the same way she managed the newsroom: with courage and a determination to do it her way in spite of what others thought or said. She shunned traditional cancer treatments for a while because of the side effects and searched for alternative options. Although she eventually lost her battle with the disease years later, I was encouraged when I learned at her funeral that my former, irreverent editor had become a Christian. Before her death, she had faithfully attended and became an active member of a little Baptist church in the country.

Despite knowing these women, the prevalence of breast cancer did not truly enter my consciousness until I discovered that one of my Delta Sigma Theta Sorority line sisters was diagnosed with breast cancer when we were in our late 20s. I mistakenly thought only older women got breast cancer. I was shocked when the disease took her life in 2005.

I cannot pretend to know why God allowed these and other women who have suffered from breast cancer to die. But I am determined, particularly as this month is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, to remember these and other brave souls who passed away and honor those who are surviving.

Another one of my Delta Sigma Theta Sorority line sisters, Lola Brown, is one of those survivors. She is a two-time breast cancer survivor, though she is not even 40 years old yet. She says battling breast cancer has enabled her to develop a personal relationship with God that might not have happened otherwise. Her testimony is featured in my upcoming book, After the Altar Call: The Sisters’ Guide to Developing a Personal Relationship With God. For me, Lola’s experience puts a human face on another troubling statistic: black women have a higher incidence rate of breast cancer before age 40 and are more likely to die from the disease at every age, according to the American Cancer Society.

As I noted earlier, my tendency is to avoid anything that scares me, and sometimes my anxiety leads me to inaction. But since I am a woman, I cannot ignore breast cancer — though I’d certainly like to. I have to make sure I conduct monthly self-examinations, visit my doctor for annual examinations, and live a healthy lifestyle. More than anything, I have to take my anxiety to the Lord while praying for a cure.

For more information, visit the website for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Is That Hair Killing You?

Is That Hair Killing You?

As if chemical relaxer burns, alopecia, and unnecessary poverty from the staggering cost of sew-ins and lace fronts wasn’t enough, our hair has found another way to potentially kill us.

U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin, who is black and no stranger to black women’s hair concerns, issued a warning last month against the common excuse of skipping exercise to preserve a hairstyle. According to the New York Times, Dr. Benjamin’s remarks to Bronner Bros. International Hair Show attendees aligned with a 2008 study where a third of the women cited their hair as a reason they exercised less often.

“For shame,” I’d like to say, but I’m just as guilty — maybe even more so because my hair is chemically relaxed. I’m in no danger of the regression from straight to curly to kinky that happens when moisture strikes pressed natural hair. I can identify, however, with the sinking feeling brought on by rain when I’ve just dropped $50, $75 or $100 (or more) to get my hair done. And, in case you didn’t know, weaves and wigs aren’t exactly waterproof nor are they cheap. Given the investment, I absolutely think twice before willfully dismantling a style through sweat from a vigorous workout.

Biblically, our hair is our glory, our individual object of pride. When Mary anoints the feet of Jesus and then washes them with her hair, the symbolism of the act of sacrifice is as much about the cost of the oil as the fact that she willingly sullied her hair to honor the Lord. Then and now, regardless of whether we grow ’em or buy ’em, we hold our tresses in high regard. We capitalize on our locks’ ability to influence the jobs we’re offered, determine how we’re treated and even how we’re admired. Ignoring the historical and social context of black women’s hair makes it easy to ridicule the expense of it all and downplay its significance.

But our hair is not as significant as we make it, particularly if we allow it to compromise our bodies so dramatically. Our hair was meant as a covering, not a cross to bear.

Exercise isn’t just for overweight people, and those who don’t engage risk more than obesity but also hypertension, higher levels of bad cholesterol, poor sleep, and increased fatigue. Beyond that, if it’s our desire to positively participate in a movement of God with a broad impact on the world around us, physical health must trump physical beauty, even as the two coexist.

Whether well coiffed or not, we still exist for a greater purpose that we can’t be ready to fulfill if we’re falling apart. We can’t be spiritually strong if we’re physically worn down.

As good stewards of the bodies God gave us — that still belong to Him — we have a responsibility to maintain ourselves as much as possible to fulfill our individual callings. And if that means exercise at the price of a few bad hair days, then so be it. Just keep the flat iron ready for after the workout.

Too Big for the Job?

Too Big for the Job? for urban faithA friend called me the other day and challenged me to use my powers for good. I’m a writer; it’s what I do. He asked me to say something about the chatter in the blogoshpere and around the Web suggesting that Dr. Regina Benjamin, President Obama’s choice to become the next U.S. surgeon general, is too overweight for the job. In other words, her size or appearance might send the wrong message to the country.

Dr. Benjamin is a doctor — a very good one. She is a MacArthur Grant fellow and the president of the Medical Association of the state of Alabama, where she launched a clinic to serve poor residents affected by Hurricane Katrina. She was the first African American woman to sit on the board of trustees for the American Medical Association, and the U.S. recepient of the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights.

Oh, and she’s a doctor — a very good one.

The criticisms being leveled against Dr. Benjamin should probably not come as a surprise in our current political climate, where every move President Obama makes is found suspect by some group of haters. At times, the opposition has been rooted in suspicions about Obama’s racial loyalties. So, when he nominates an eminently qualified judge like Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court, questions arise about whether she’ll favor Latinos and other minorities over white males. And when he speaks out (yeah, perhaps too honestly) about the Henry Louis Gates incident, according to some, it proves that he’s a racist. Then there are those who worry that Dr. Francis Collins, Obama’s choice as director of the National Institutes of Health, is “too Christian” to head the nation’s premier medical research agency.

This latest drama seems to be subtly fueled by biases on various fronts. First, though it may be a fair question to ask whether Dr. Benjamin, as the nation’s principal champion of good health, should look the part, it’s also fair to ask whether our culture’s perception of what “healthy” looks like is a bit skewed. For instance, does the American standard of beauty look more like a size 2 runway model or the size 14 of the average American woman? Popular culture would have us believe that any woman who has a little meat on her bones is unattractive.

A better question would be, is Dr. Benjamin healthy? Yes, obesity is a problem in our nation. But unrealistic notions of the ideal female body may be an even bigger problem. If a woman is eating right and getting the proper daily exercise, that is the most important thing, not whether she looks stick thin.

A second bias in play regarding the criticism of Dr. Benjamin’s weight involves the racial and gender stereotypes that have long circulated about African American women — that they are large and loud. Whether intentional or not (and I’m betting some of the critics know exactly what they’re doing), questioning Dr. Benjamin’s qualifications based on her size conjures the old sexist fears of the “too-aggressive, unfeminine black woman.” That kind of prejudice must stop.

If we judged all potential leaders primarily by their physical appearance, rather than their character, talent, and credentials, many exceptional individuals would never be given a chance to lead. In fact, the denial of opportunity to qualified individuals because of race, gender, or physical difference has been one of the shameful tragedies of American history. By now, we should know better.

By all accounts, Regina Benjamin is an excellent doctor who will bring vision, wisdom, and compassion to the role of surgeon general. We should all be outraged that some people would want to deny a highly educated African American woman this opportunity not because she isn’t smart enough, but because she isn’t skinny enough.