Are you Spiritually Malnourished?

good foodI admit it. I am a fanatic for healthy living. I believe in eating organic, non-processed foods, exercising daily, taking vitamins, herbs and minerals, and going to an acupuncturist regularly. I am allergic to wheat and have a daughter who cannot eat artificial colors, flavors or preservatives and must avoid many natural foods that contain salicylates (almonds, berries, paprika, peaches–to name a few). So, eating out is a rare event and home cooked food has to be made from scratch.

Although not always easy, I am very happy with this way of living.  But when it comes to others, it is hard to convince them that they, too, would benefit from a change in life style. Try persuading a total stranger that her hyperactive child would be much better off without the processed, easy to serve meal or snack, the extremely colorful birthday cake from the local grocery store or even that innocent bowl of fresh fruit she serves him. (Believe me, I was one of those parents!)

It is difficult to get someone to believe that he or she would feel much better with daily exercise and a healthier diet.  Persuading that person that the effort is worth it is nearly impossible.  They don’t have a clue that they are hungry, that their bodies are craving and, in some cases, screaming out for healthy living.

I think it is the same for those who are spiritually hungry. We go about our daily lives never fully comprehending that there is something missing or that life could be more meaningful and balanced.  We live out our broken, dysfunctional lives unaware that there is any other way to live.  And, so, how does one realize that the soul is craving spiritual wellness?  How do we know that we are spiritually malnourished?

Admitting that I am “powerless” and especially that my life has become “unmanageable” is key for me (from Step One of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous). These signs–feeling trapped in the struggle of life (powerlessness) and having my life fall apart in the process (unmanageable)–are always my canary in the coal mine. A result of being spiritual malnourished is having a life that’s out of control.  This could be at any or all levels of our lives–in our finances, work, physical and mental health, relationships, physical environment or all of the above.

Another sign we need to tend to our soul could be when we experience a single emotion ruling our daily lives.  Do you have a tendency to rage? Obsessed with being over-the-top-nothing-is-wrong-in-my-life happy? Caught up in the downward spiral of depression?  Constantly suspicious and fear based?  Overwhelmed with stress?

My husband witnessed a man caught in traffic screaming, cursing and using choice hand and finger signals at anyone and anything that drove by.  I had been stuck in this same road construction days prior and although frustrating, it only lasted 10 minutes tops.  Can you imagine the strain his body, mind and spirit took reacting so strongly to a 10 minute delay?  And I cannot help but believe that if he had some form of spiritual practice to draw on, a way to move beyond that moment of rage and into a place of serenity–his ten minutes of waiting would have been a breeze and maybe even a blessing.

Spiritual malnourishment is evident in a life out of whack. It is not only about having one emotion dominate, it’s about skewed personal focus. If I am obsessed with Me–My accomplishments, My status and reputation, My needs, My upward mobility, My possessions–and cannot see the connectedness between self and others (God, people, the environment, animals) then I am out of balance.  If I have done the opposite and have forgotten myself and have traded my wellness to solely server others, then I am out of balance. For me, spirituality brings about this needed balance in our lives.

So.  When do you know that you are spiritually malnourished? What does that look like in your life? How do you tend to your soul?  What spiritual practices help you to find balance? How do you benefit from being spiritually grounded?

Share your insights and help inspire others to be spiritually nourished in an ever- increasing, crazy world.



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My own personalized license plate.

I had wanted one for years. My attempt at attaining this desired plate in Vermont had failed.  But on my first try, after leaving my associate pastor position here in Arizona, I was granted DARE2LV. Dare To Live. That had been my battle cry for years. I had first seen those words in my teens while on an exchange in the Netherlands. They appeared to be the motto for a coat of amour (so says the woman of Scottish decent) on a tile placed in a brick wall. Durf te leven. Dare to live. I imagined those to be words of inspiration and hope to that small village where the brick wall stood during the WWII German occupation.

They would soon be my own words of survival in the years I spent depressed in college. Durf te leven–Dare to live. Dare to embrace life and to fight for joy and serenity. Seek help. Find your way back into God’s light.  “Dare to live” were the words that pushed me up out of my despair and onto the path of intentional spirituality.

But when I delved into life as a minister of a church, without knowing it, my adopted motto was evolving. Dare to live was becoming Dare to love. I, the woman who hated conflict, now pastor and later associate pastor, was faced with disagreements, complaints, disputes, miscommunications, and misunderstandings large and small.

I was understanding with each year that passed why Jesus would challenge his disciples and followers to move beyond loving their neighbors to loving their enemies. A no-brainer, actually.  Loving someone who loves us back is rather easy, as Jesus put it.

But to love someone who doesn’t share that same feeling?  That’s taking your spiritual growth to the next level.

When I felt hurt by someone in the church, whether his or her actions were intentional or not, I was called by my God to love.  When I had to face someone who wasn’t ever going to like me, I was called by my God to love. When I was stung with harsh words about my performance or future potential as a minister, I was called by my God to love.  Each time I was challenged to move beyond my feelings of hurt, disappointment, betrayal, or whatever the emotional flavor of the day was and to dare to love that person anyway.

So when that license plate arrived in the mail, I was thrilled to have my unique three-word-two-messages-in-one testimony of faith on the back of my car for the world–or at least the Tucson area–to see. It also remained my own daily reminder as to how I was called by God to live my life–with courage and love.

Now let me tell you something else about myself.

I’m reasonably frugal.  Not as frugal as my paternal grandmother, but a spend-thrift nonetheless.  I didn’t mind paying the extra $25 to attain my unique plate, but I struggled each year after that to justify paying the same fee to keep my plate.  I surprised myself with the internal turmoil I experienced each year when debating whether or not to keep that versatile message on the back of my car.  It had become an outward expression of my internal spirituality.  When on the road, I wanted to be sure my motor vehicle actions reflected my belief in loving others.  After all, it would be hypocritical to flip someone off or refuse to allow someone to merge when one’s license plate could be understood as “Dare to love.”  And I didn’t want to drive recklessly and have someone interpret DARE2LV  as “dare to live–foolish, dangerous and inconsiderate of others.”  I didn’t want my fellow travelers to overlook the message of hope I was trying to convey on my plate.  I needed to have that same message be reflected in my actions behind the wheel.

I once heard a woman say that she refused to put bumper stickers with Christian messages on the back of  her car.  Although a Christian herself, she was prone to road rage and didn’t want to be that above mentioned hypocrite.  She wasn’t about to change her ways, however, on the road.  So to prevent this hypocrisy she didn’t advertise her faith on her bumper.  Interesting, huh? Her faith only called her to behave Christ-like when people knew she was a Christian.  It did not call her to change her ways and to embrace that “peace that passes all understanding” while in traffic.

This made me consider my own dilemma.  Was I trying to be a considerate driver because of the message on my license plate or because my faith calls me to consider my actions no matter what my bumper reads? Would my driving behavior change without it?  Was I really trying to spread words of hope or was I holding on to my unique plate for self-righteous reasons?

Truthfully, I have not fully resolved any of these questions, but I will say that for the last month I have been driving around town with an absolutely boring, meaningless license plate issued to me by the state of Arizona and…I’m doing fine.  I haven’t dramatically changed my driving behavior nor have I strayed from my faith. I might be missing out on inspiring a few observant drivers, but I will trust that my actions will speak louder than words.

So…What inspires you to live out your faith?  When was the last time you were a hypocrite to that faith? And what challenges you most about your beliefs or faith teachings?

Take time today to reflect on who you are or would like to be  as a person of faith.  Who is God calling you to be?  What does it mean to be walking your spiritual path? May you be blessed with epiphanies, clarity and inspiration.

May you DARE2LV.



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Living Forever–Life: Not to be squandered, Part II

hour glassClearly my friend, Rebecca, and her death are still on my mind and will be for a long time.

Over the last few weeks I have heard people in my hospice care and individuals on t.v. express their desire to live forever. My common response is that since I seem to make the same mistakes over and over, living forever sounds like a nightmare more than a dream!

And let’s not forget the environmental impact of immortality (should everyone live forever), the continued witnessing of wars and natural disasters, or the constant experience of loss (should only a few select individuals be granted immortality).

I imagine for some the longing to live forever grows out of their fear of death.  If you do not have a belief in any after-life or reincarnation as Rebecca did, the finality of death is daunting.

For others, perhaps the drive to do things—travel the world with a loved one, have fourth, fifth, sixth careers, or have the time to be “successful”—is what brings on the idea that never dying could make these things possible.

There is something about living forever, however, that makes me wonder how productive one would actually be.

As it is, with our limited life spans, how many take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way? I will need to pay more attention, but I do not recall hearing this desire for immortality come out of the mouths of too many young persons.

Do we suddenly wish life would never end when we reach middle age and face the stark realization that “it’s all down hill from here?”  Do we panic when struck with the horrific fact that time is running out and we have so much that we still want to do?  Youth (and life) is wasted on the young, right?  When we are in our teens and twenties it is hard to imagine that life is limited.  We delay taking those adventures.  We down play  the importance of healthy relationships.  We figure next year is the time to seek out that career or passion we long to do.

What so many of us fail to do is to live in the moment.  To live each day seeking joy, peace and reconciliation. To discover what gifts God has blessed us with to better this world. To set our sights on tomorrow making those dreams a reality. And to go to bed without regrets.

I believe that when we are able to live in the moment, life itself is fulfilling and beautiful.

Death is no longer daunting.

It is simply a natural part of the fullness of life, the circle coming complete.



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Life: Not to be squandered

flower & skyI was honored to witness the peaceful death of a friend a few weeks ago who courageously and beautifully danced with metastatic breast cancer for 10 years.

Just a little over a day into her 43rd year, she took her last breath.  Her husband, children, spiritual midwife and I were by her side while countless friends and family held her in thought and prayer.

And if there is anything I’ve learned from Rebecca, it’s that life is so very precious and we must live everyday to the fullest and with great joy.

And yet how many of us would say, “Oh yes…Yes, life is truly a gift” and continue on with business as usual?

Are we really living each day as if it were our last? Are you? Am I? 

My own father died suddenly of a ruptured aortic aneurysm. He had been working out at the gym and, according to witnesses, appeared to be trying to get off of the elliptical machine when he dropped to the ground dead. If he was able to realize at that moment that he was dying, did he feel ready?

Or in those last milliseconds, was there something he wished he’d said or done in his life? Were there relationships he’d wished had been mended or were there things left unaccomplished? I have often wondered about his soul. Was there time for his body and spirit to realize they were being separated?

Sometimes the more work I do as a hospice chaplain, the less I feel I know about death and what comes next.

What I AM learning, however, is that NO ONE has time to squander life.

Today is the day we must make things right. Today is the day we start making plans for that vacation we’ve always wanted. This very moment is when we begin working towards forgiveness, seeking it out and offering it up.

This day and every day we need to tell those we love exactly how much we care. It can’t be assumed.  We need to thank them for what they have done for us.

We must discover what brings us joy, what feeds our soul, what brings us peace.

And let me tell you, this ain’t gonna happen sitting numb in front of a screen, be that your Smart Phone, iPad, television, or computer.

We discover ourselves instead in intimate, heartfelt conversations with others, in analyzing our dreams, in studying sacred scriptures, in exploring nature and observing her rhythms.  We learn about ourselves when we take the risk to try new things. Okay, so maybe skinny dipping or ballroom dancing or staring at a mandala wasn’t for you.  But at least you tried.

Every day I strive to teach my children and to practice in my own life ways to celebrate each and every moment we have.  To let go of anger, stress and hopelessness and to live into joy, serenity and acceptance.

Thank you, Rebecca, for showing so many how to live and celebrate life! Love, love…

As nearly every elderly patient has told me, life is so very short.  Please don’t take it for granted.

Truly, today is all that you have.

Make the most of it!

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To Church or Not to Church?

ChurchTo church or not to church?

That is the question that often comes up in my ministry as a hospice chaplain.

Actually what comes up is people sheepishly or often defiantly stating—when I have asked them if they have any particular religious tradition or spiritual practice—that they do not attend any church.

In the past, I used to simply reassure them that 1) I was not there to judge what kind of spiritual being they are based on whether or not they participate in a faith community and 2) it didn’t matter anyway. He or she didn’t need to attend a church (or temple or mosque or meeting) to be a person of faith.

Over this last year, however, as I watched my beloved church dissolve and close her doors, I have begun to respond to my patients differently.

No.  Belonging to a faith group and attending worship/gatherings/services isn’t everything.  After all, I have met plenty of people who attend worship every week without fail, but lack that luminous, spiritual presence.  In many cases—quite the opposite.

But having been on a journey without a community of faith to call my own, I have realized that going solo isn’t enough either.

Now—if you have ever attended worship in any form and especially if you’ve been part of the leadership, I know what you are thinking.

I’ve been around the block enough times to know that clergy (myself included) and congregations let people down, to say the least.  Feelings are hurt; self-esteems, challenged; and spiritual cores, crushed.  Too many people have had negative, painful experiences in a congregation and have never set foot in a place of worship again.

I most certainly cannot claim that in my years as a church minister I was always there in that time of need, always followed through and truly was able to be all things to all people. To the contrary, I regretfully made plenty of mistakes and unintentionally hurt people along the way.

And in my decades of attending church, I have sadly witnessed and experienced the ways in which the ugliest of human behaviors seem to rear their, well, ugly heads in what is supposed to be a loving, holy, sacred environment, reminding me of the quote by Abigail Van Buren,  “A church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”  All too true.

So why exactly would I now stress the importance of a faith community to my non-religiously-affiliated patients and their family and friends?  Knowing they might be hurt, disappointed, neglected or disillusioned, why would I persuade anyone to step across the threshold of a place of worship?

Is it really worth the effort, with such risks, to find a congregation with whom to worship?  I believe it is.

What I have come to value and miss in my time as a spiritual nomad is Community. 

On my own,  I have so few individuals who challenge or further inspire me in my faith walk.  On my own, I lack the larger community who will witness to my pain and comfort me when hardship hits.  On my own, I cease being in an environment where I am reminded to count my blessings, to remain steadfast in prayer and meditation and to practice what I claim to be my faith. On my own, I am not held accountable.

In the last few months I have begun attending a local church again.  Nope. She is not perfect.  Every congregation has its quirks and shortcomings and my new faith community is no exception.  But I am not looking for “perfect.”   That’s the key.

None of us can expect a place of worship to meet every need, every time, with complete perfection.

What we should expect, however, is that WE will bring OUR very best, whether we have begun worshiping with a congregation or have found a small group of fellow seekers.

Our spiritual growth ultimately is our own responsibility and happens best in community.

We must seek out a place where we are accepted for whom we are.  We should strive to live out our faith every day, to help others along their own spiritual journey and to trust that somehow God’s Grace, Spirit and Joy will be experienced despite the faith community’s imperfections.

Is there a chance that you will be disappointed with or offended by your fellow sojourners in the process?  Always a chance.  But don’t let that stop you from belonging to a faith community.

To be deeply rooted in your faith, going solo isn’t enough.

May you be blessed in discovering that spiritual place to call home and may you no longer journey alone!

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