Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Daily Reflections

I'm going to start a new thing: I'm going to blog after my quiet time every morning.

I've been following the One Year Bible reading plan since the first of the year. The plan is exactly as it sounds: it divides up the bible into little chunks each day, and by the end of the year, you've read the entire thing. I've never read the entire bible, and I've attempted these sorts of plans in the past with no success. I attribute my success this year to two things: the Holy Spirit (because who can really read the Word without him?) and the NLT (New Living Translation) version I purchased early in the year. The NLT has been a game changer for me; there really is something to the theory that you get more from the version that speaks to you.

This morning I read about King David in 2 Samuel 7-8. I am continually amazed by the Old Testament; indeed, this is my first time reading any of it. I cannot believe I've made it through 31 years of life without ever reading this! Most of what I know of the Old Testament I've learned through sermons, and I realize now that this isn't nearly enough. It's an entirely different experience to hear about parts of a story and then to read the entire story. You must read.

It seems like God acts as a crystal ball for David. David asks, God answers. Take this, for example:

Then he said to Abiathar the priest, "Bring me the ephod!" So Abiathar brought it. Then David asked the Lord, "Should I chase after this band of raiders? Will I catch them?"
And the Lord told him, "Yes, go after them. You will surely recover everything that was taken from you!"
1 Samuel 30:7-8 (NLT)

David puts on the magic garment (ephod), shakes the Magic 8 Ball, and gets an instant answer. This happened again and again and again throughout 1 Samuel, to the point of provoking me to jealousy. That's so not fair! I wish God would answer me instantaneously and reliably. Maybe he does, and I need to adjust my hearing. Or, maybe the bible isn't giving me the nitty gritty details. Maybe it abbreviated David's many questions to a simple Q&A. Maybe David really had to be still and wait for an answer just like the rest of us.

There's a lot to be learned from David's example. First, he asks for God's guidance before taking action, even when he's ready to move forward. Second, he obeys God and listens to the directions he gives. Third, he worships the Lord shamelessly. In 2 Samuel 6 he "danced before the Lord with all his might" as they were moving the ark into Jerusalem.

Last night before going to sleep I read a few chapters in The Emotional Diet. One of the last things I read before going to sleep was a visualization about the story of your life, and how your future is not yet solidified. The point of the visualization was to inspire you to take action and improve your health to improve the rest of your life story. That was fresh in my mind this morning as I entered my quiet time, and I couldn't help but put the two together:

What kind of person do I want to be?

I've heard David is later described as "a man after God's own heart." I'm starting to get a pretty good idea of what that looks like. Pray about everything. Obey God. Worship Him with all your might.

Isn't that the kind of person I want to be?

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Jesus at the Tattoo Shop

I love getting tattooed. I got a new one today, and my husband got one right after. While I was waiting for him, I couldn't help but reflect on the process.

Our new tattoos: King & Queen.
A tattoo artist doesn't hunt you down; you come to him when you're ready. He meets you where you are. Are you ready for a big piece, or looking for something small? Are you nervous about losing your tattoo virginity, or are you a seasoned tattooee? You bring what you have: some ideas, maybe a sketch. He gives you his honest opinion on the placement, style and details of your design, but ultimately, the choice is yours. Finally, when you're ready, he begins his work.

As I reflected on this process, it occurred to me that the way a tattoo artist relates with his customers is similar to how God relates to his lost children. I know that sounds nuts, but hear me out:
  • God doesn't force us into a relationship with him, just as a tattoo artist won't strap you to the chair and force his work on you. The choice is ours. 
  • You come to God as you are. Just like you bring raw sketches and ideas to a tattoo artist, you bring your raw self to God. A tattoo artist isn't expecting you to bring a tattoo-ready design; he fully expects to take your inadequate sketch and make it tattoo-able. In that same way, God receives you with no expectations. The idea that you have to clean yourself up first is a lie! God invites you to come to him as you are. Even if you try to clean yourself up, you'll never be clean enough. Only the blood of Jesus can wipe away the stains of our sins. Thankfully, that's a free gift, and all we have to do is receive.
  • God meets you where you are. Are you ready to die to self and give your life to Christ? Great! Just exploring this thing called faith? That's great, too. Just as a tattoo artist is equally ready to embark on a multi-session journey toward a large piece, or do a tiny, 10-minute starter tattoo, God is ready and waiting to walk with you through whatever season of life--and whatever stage of faith--you're in. 
  • A tattoo artist will be honest: if a design isn't practical, he will say so. He will either alter the design, or draw something new. Like a tattoo design, there are things in the kingdom of God that can be accommodated, and there are some things you may have to give up. Either way, the choice is still yours. You can choose to walk away, or choose to get tattooed. In much the same way, God will never force you into a relationship with him. You can choose to accept His changes to your design, or you can walk away unchanged. The choice is yours.
  • You get tattooed when you're ready. You come to Christ when you're ready. Not a moment before. 
Are you ready? I don't suggest waiting too long. Sure, the end of the world could come at any minute, but why harp on that? You already know! There is a better reason to come to Christ sooner rather than later: fulfillment. God, our creator, holds the keys to our destiny. Isn't that what we all want: to know that we're fulfilling a purpose here on earth? We reach for purpose, value and worth from many different things--career, relationships, accomplishments. None of these things can fill that void in your heart and your life. Your God-given purpose is the only one worth pursuing, and the only one that brings the fulfillment you seek.

The comparison between God and a tattoo artist obviously isn't a direct parallel. No one can parallel God! But God is everywhere, even in places you may deem unworthy of him. He is with you through your tattoo, through your greatest trials, and through your moments of triumph. Along the way, he hopes you'll find him.

Keep your eyes open.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Veganism and God

I’ve spent some really great time with God this morning: in prayer, in His Word, in articles written about him. I again feel convicted to remain vegetarian, thanks to Greg Boyd’s article about compassionate dominion. My heart has always been for animals, but I often abandon this conviction in favor of convenience or of supposed health reasons. It has become clear that one of the reasons I continually revisit vegetarianism is the conviction I feel from the Holy Spirit. Greg Boyd is right: if we are concerned with manifesting the Kingdom of God, how we treat animals matters—how we respond to the suffering of factory farmed animals matters. Participating in the consumption of tortured meat is the same as participating in the production.

There is no biblical mandate to abstain from meat, but there is the call to represent God’s heart. Boyd makes a clear case that God cares for his entire creation, not just for humans. Did you realize that God's covenant with Noah extended not just to all of mankind, but to all of the creatures with him? Read it for yourself in Genesis 9:12-17. There are many other passages that point to God's loving care for His creation. As Boyd points out, Jesus describes his father as "personally attending to the needs of sparrows (Mt 6:26; 10:29; Lk 12:6)". 

I have no agenda to "convert" others to veganism. We are all responsible for what we put in our bodies, and we all have a personal choice to make. I won't tell you that my way is the right way, and I certainly won't tell you that God wants everyone to be a vegan or vegetarian. That's simply untrue. But I do need to admit to myself that there's a reason I return to a vegan diet time and time again: it's the right diet for me. A diet of convenience is no reason to turn my back on the animals I love so much. 

My heart for animals is a piece of God I carry with me. Why wouldn't I embrace it? 

The three animals I love most. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Mental Challenge

The competition feels so far away (12.5 weeks), my body isn't even a little bit stage ready, and I feel like I'll be dieting forever.  Ugh!

These are the mental challenges I'm facing this week. I am disconnected from the competition mindset, and I feel like I'm floating along in diet land. I'm not entirely sure how this happened, but I suspect it has something to do with the little cheat I had this past weekend. On Easter Sunday, I indulged in dessert during our family gathering. This was in addition to my allotted cheat meal for the week; in other words, it was truly cheating. I rationalized it by saying I am still so far out from competition that I can have one "oopsie."


Lie! Lie! Lie!

I cannot have an 'oopsie' or an intentional cheat or anything in between. The mental challenges I'm facing this week prove the point. Cheats aren't a one-time deal, they're a slippery slope. I am not "so far" from competition, I am in competition. The time for cheating was the off-season. I am now in-season, and I cannot convince myself otherwise.

Despite a rough week, I'm really okay. I'll make it, and I have done no irreparable damage. The only lasting damage I can do is continue on this downward spiral I started, but that's not happening.

Here's my plan of action to stop this issue in its tracks:

  • Prep the rest of my week. I was also lazy on Sunday and didn't prep my full week. Running out of meals is the number one cause of diet disobedience, so devoting some time to additional prep work is necessary today.
  • Make more BCAA pops. This is my tastes-like-a-cheat treat. I must stay stocked.
  • Write this blog entry. (check!) Writing is my way to process my thoughts, feelings and ideas--my lifelong strategy for making sense of the noise in my head. Something about putting the situation on paper makes it real. Now that the issue is in the light, I feel prepared to deal with it.
  • If necessary, put on a bikini and take some pics. I feel so good when I'm training hard and eating well (contest prep). This is great, but when I feel healthy, it's easy to forget that my body fat percentage doesn't adjust as quickly. No better reminder than the photographic evidence.

In other news, I got a little extra cardio in yesterday. Kari (my youngest dog) and I went to do some interval training at a local park. I was "pretty sure" the trail looped back around to the parking lot, and found out a bit too late that it did not. We ended up doing 48 minutes instead of 30. 

Kari is notoriously difficult to photograph, but here she is too tired to give a crap about the camera. :) 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Dealing With Self-Doubt

It's still early in my contest prep journey, but I'm already experiencing those moments of self doubt. During my 2014 journey through contest prep, I encountered many people (haters?) who doubted my stage readiness.

"You're 8 weeks out?" *cringe* "Will you be ready in time?"

"You must be competing for fun because you don't look like the NPC girls."

"You aren't doing <insert stupid suggestion here>?! That's what all the competitors do, so I don't know how you expect to be competitive on stage."

It isn't accurate to say these voices are the sole reason, or even the main reason why I never competed in 2014, but they contributed.

When voices like this surface, you have two choices: kindly tell them to eff off and dismiss it, or let it swirl around in your head and contribute to your demise. Over the last two years, I've learned that this is in fact a choice. Now that these kinds of doubts are surfacing again, I am reminded to make a choice--and to choose wisely.

Last night I was inspired by this post from Alyx Ulbrich, a WBFF Pro Fitness Model:

Click image to enlarge. Credit: @alyxulbrich on Instagram.
Her comments go on to say how others claimed she had "no right" to be on stage in 2009. She concludes the post by saying, 
"Getting on stage is a beautiful journey and can help many to evolve themselves internally, externally, and in all aspects and manners of their lives. Want to compete? Then do it. Believe in your ability to change every single aspect of your life one action and one day at at time."
Thank you, Alyx. Your story brought back the feelings of defeat I felt two years ago and inspired the feeling of determination I should have allowed to power me forward. I will be revisiting your words and following your journey over the next 14 weeks. Can't wait to make an IG post like this of my own.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sunday Meal Prep!

Grocery Shopping: 1 hour (two stores!)
Meal prep: 2 hours
Total time invested in successful eating in the coming week: 3 hours

I'd say that's time well spent.

I'm beginning my third of 16 weeks of contest prep, and this is my most thorough prep thus far. I prepared 3/4 of my dinners for the week, 100% of my lunches, and chopped all veggies for my sides and snacks.

Prior to this experience, I would have thought working from home would make meal prep easier. Working from home removes the need to pack an entire day's meals into one cooler and haul it around everywhere. Must be easier to have your kitchen readily available, right? Actually, wrong. For me, constant access to food is dangerous. I also end up slacking on my meal prep; "I can always do it this week." HA!

My biggest struggle over the last two weeks was getting caught without prepped food, so my strategy this week was to be better prepared.

Can you tell which shelf is mine?

Okay, world, time for sleep. My coach revised my training plan for this upcoming week, and I'm really excited to smash legs at 5:30am tomorrow! 

Sleep well. <3

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Bikini Prep: 14 weeks out

Today marks two weeks since I began prepping for my first bikini competition... again. I attempted this same feat two years ago. All was well until the stress of life began to leak into my prep. Before I knew it I was careening toward defeat; I made it through 14 successful weeks of prep before throwing in the towel. Fast forward two years to the present day, and I'm beginning week three of a 16-week prep. I've already lost a bit of body fat, and I'm feeling great.

This was a progress picture from my 2014 prep, probably about 6-8 weeks out.


My diet has been very reasonable these past two weeks; I get two cheat meals a week (yes, two!) and I'm still eating plenty of carbs. Best of all, I still feel full when I eat. I know the day is coming when meal time does not leave me feeling satisfied, so I'm enjoying this while it lasts.

If you're curious, here's a sample day of food (training day):

Meal 1, post-training:
- 1/2 cup oats with 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk, 1/4 cup frozen berries, a drop of liquid stevia and a sprinkle of cinnamon
- Protein shake (current powder: PlantFusion cookies & creme) with water, ice and cinnamon
Meal 2:
22 almonds
1 apple OR orange  
Meal 3:
- 1/2 cup quinoa (measure cooked)
- 1/2 cup beans (usually black beans)
- large salad with spinach, cucumber and 1 TB roasted red pepper hummus as dressing 
Meal 4:
- 1/2 small avocado
- protein shake
- 20g carbs (usually sweet potato) 
Meal 5:
- 20g protein of tofu, tempeh or seitan (tofu is my favorite)
- 20g carbs (brown rice, quinoa or sweet potato)
- Tons of veggies!

You may have noticed there's no meat in that menu.... Yep, I'm prepping as a vegan. I'm not a devoted, full-time vegan (sorry, vegan friends) and I probably never will be. That said, I recognize that my body performs optimally and feels fantastic when I eat a whole foods, plant-based vegan diet. I have tested this time and time again since 2009, and every time I get the same result: I feel AMAZING. That's why I keep coming back.

Why do I ever depart from such a diet? Usually laziness, but sometimes it's the desire for Maryland crabs, or shrimp and scallops. ;) I'm just not willing to give those up for the long haul. But guess what? I don't have to. Strict veganism is not for me. I used to pressure myself into eating a strict vegan diet, but I've finally accepted that I am free to make my own rules... and my rules say "when in Maryland, eat crabs."


My training has been kicking my a**! These lower body workouts are killer, and it's making me question my own programming these last 6 months. What have I been doing--or not doing?! I was definitely taking it far easier on leg day than I thought.

What's most exciting about my training is that I've been lifting consistently for the past 7 or 8 months. That's a substantial "off season" and prep should unveil a nice muscular base. I'm really looking forward to actually seeing the fruits of my labor; I've been so fluffy! I'm like a little marshmallow with a chiseled center. ;)

Right now I'm on a 4-day split: hams/abs, back/chest/abs, shoulders/arms, and legs/abs.

I'm enjoying it, but I'm looking forward to moving to 5 days a week. Sometimes that day off in the middle of the week can work against me.

Okay, I'll be checking in periodically throughout the week and regularly each Saturday until contest time. Wish me luck!