by Rev. Cindy Parker
This article was originally published in the November 2013 issue.
“I believe that there are angels among us, sent down to us from somewhere up above, they come to you and me in our darkest hours to show us how to live, to teach us how to give, to guide us with the light of love.”
The country group Alabama sings these words and they have been on my heart and in my mind lately as I write these stories about my experiences with angels.
Have you ever had an experience with someone that you didn’t understand or struggle to make sense of?
When I was in my third and final year of seminary, in addition to serving as a chaplain for Redstone Highlands, I was hired by Westminster Presbyterian Church as Director of Programs and Ministries. I helped the Christian Education committee, taught Sunday school, led the youth group and worked with the Rev. Donna Havrisko to gain some hands-on experience in ministry.
One day I offered to go to the hospital to help Rev. Havrisko with visitation. I drove over to Westmoreland Hospital to visit with a parishioner who was ill. I was a little nervous because I hadn’t been to Westmoreland more than once and I was worried about finding a parking space and finding her room. I asked for directions at the front desk and managed to find her room. Before entering, I stood out in the hallway and said a prayer, as I usually do before I enter someone’s room, (that God will give me the words that person needs to hear). I took a deep breath and walked inside.
There were two beds in this particular room. The first one was empty, and there was a man sitting in a chair that was positioned at the end of the bed. The other bed was by the window and it held the woman I was there to visit.
I walked into the room and as I passed the man sitting in at the end of the first bed, he stood up and introduced himself. He told me his name and let me know that he was waiting for his wife, who was having a test done. I shook his hand and introduced myself, giving him my name only, no other personal information.
I then walked over to the other bed and pulled up a chair. The woman I had come to see startled and woke up. She recognized me and started to tell me how upset she was that she was in the hospital, away from her husband, who was at home and needed her there. (Her husband was suffering from dementia.)
I tried to reassure her that all would be well, but my efforts only seemed to agitate her more. She cried and worried and lamented that she was in the hospital and her husband was at home, probably wondering where she was.
I listened to her patiently. I prayed with her. I held her hand when she fell asleep; all the while getting more and more frustrated that nothing I was doing was helping her. After she finally fell asleep I thought to myself, “Great! What a waste of time! Some pastor I’m going to be!” (Compounding my frustration was the fact that I was having troubles passing the exams required by the Presbyterian Church for ordination.) I was questioning my call, “Could God really be calling me into the ministry?Or had I mixed up God’s signals?” I was ready to cry myself as I sat in that chair in that hospital room feeling miserable and hopeless and so alone.
“Help me, Lord!” I prayed desperately. “Help me to know what you want me to do with my life. I hate to be so trite as to ask for a sign, God, but I really need some reassurance here!”
I waited for a few minutes, listening to the minutes tick by on the clock that hung on the wall. There was no bolt of lightning, no voice from above or within. I looked down at the parishioner, who was still sleeping, and decided I’d done enough damage, I’d better go home.
As I stood up, my gaze fell on that other chair. I’d been so wrapped up with visiting and listening and praying and wallowing in self-pity that I’d forgotten all about the man in the room who was waiting for his wife.
When I walked over towards the door, he stood up. That’s when I really looked at his face. His eyes were filled with unshed tears that threatened to spill down onto his cheeks.
“Thank you,” he whispered. “Thank you for coming to visit today. Your prayer was just the reminder I needed to hear. You’re going to be a blessing to a very special church someday.” The tears rolled down his cheeks as he shook my hand and then enveloped me into a hug.
I stood there, amazed and astonished as I hugged this stranger back. Dazed and confused I found my way back to my car, unlocked it and sat down, still wondering what I was supposed to be doing with my life.
It wasn’t until I went to put my key in the ignition that I realized I had just encountered a messenger from God. I could almost hear the crack of thunder as the lightning bolt of realization hit me right on the head!
“How did he know?” I thought to myself. “How did he know that I needed to hear those words, receive that reassurance?” And then I remembered – I had prayed only minutes before for a sign from God.
I have come to believe that God does indeed send God’s messengers to us: “they come to you and me in our darkest hours to show us how to live, to teach us how to give, to guide us with the light of love.”
by Rev. Cindy Parker
Originally published in October 2013 issue
“I believe that there are angels among us, sent down to us from somewhere up above, they come to you and me in our darkest hours to show us how to live, to teach us how to give, to guide us with the light of love.”
The country group Alabama sings these words and they have been on my heart and in my mind lately as I prepare for a bible study on angels for the women at Redstone Highlands Senior Living Community in Murrysville.
Every Friday I drive from Latrobe to Murrysville to meet with a group of beautiful women, most of them are in their 80s and 90s and over the last four years we’ve shared and studied together from both the Old and New Testaments. Sometimes we laugh and sometimes we cry together and we are constantly amazed at the way God speaks to us through Scripture.
Last year while we were working our way through the Acts of the Apostles, we came across a few passages that mentioned angels—and we were intrigued! We had many discussions about angels–and each member brought her beliefs about angels to the table. Some believe in guardian angles, others believed that after we die we become angels. I knew from my years at seminary that the Greek word ‘angelos’ means messenger from God and I shared with them a few of my experiences with God’s messengers.
The first came when I was 10 years old. My mom, dad, sister and I flew down to Mexico for a tropical vacation. We began our trip in Mexico City, visited the pyramids of the Sun and the Moon in Teotihuacan and then went on to Acapulco. One evening we went out to eat at a restaurant that was right on the beach. While my parents lingered over their coffee, my sister and I begged to go out and play in the surf. They finally relented and we ran out of the restaurant and on to the soft sand, failing to notice the sign stating there were dangerous riptides in that area. We weren’t in the water long before I got pulled under. Even though the water wasn’t deep, I couldn’t find my way out and I panicked, screaming for my sister to help–which resulted in a mouthful of salty water.
Wave after wave of water pounded over me as my nine-year-old sister watched helplessly. She didn’t want to leave me there by myself so she yelled for help. All of a sudden I was pulled out of the water by strong, brown arms. There was a native boy, maybe 17 or 18 years old with the most beautiful smile and white teeth. I hugged him tightly and thanked him as he put me down safely on the beach.
I ran to my sister, who was crying by this time. She hugged me fiercely and told me she thought I was going to die. I told her I thought I was going to drown and would have if it wasn’t for the boy who saved me. “What boy?” she asked. I turned around to point him out, confused that she hadn’t seen him, and there was no one there. The beach was empty, no one except the two of us–and no footprints in the sand other than our own. We walked back to the restaurant and never told my parents, afraid that we would get in trouble!
Fast forward to the year 2007. I had just quit my full-time job and enrolled at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary to study for a Masters in Divinity. If I went to school part time it would take 6 years to complete my degree! I decided to go full-time (which would only take three years) and I needed a job to support myself and my three girls. I answered an ad on the seminary’s bulletin board for a chaplain intern at Redstone Highlands. They had three campuses: in Greensburg, Murrysville and North Huntingdon. I would be responsible for visiting the residents and praying with them. After following the chaplain for two weeks I was on my own. I loved the visits! The people were so nice, and I’m sure that I was blessed so much more than the blessings I gave out.
After I had been there a few months, one of my favorite residents passed away. Her daughter came to me and said, “I have a crazy story to tell you, I don’t know if you’ll believe it, I hardly believe it myself!”
“Try me.” I answered back.
She proceeded to tell me about a conversation she had with her mother the night before she passed away.
“Cindy, she insisted my father had come to visit her! She said they visited, and ate dinner together, and the hours flew by! My father couldn’t have visited her–he passed away three years ago!”
I didn’t know what to say to this woman. So I nodded and said, “Perhaps the visit brought her peace.”
I think she could tell I didn’t really believe her story. We prayed together, and I lifted her family up in prayer. I thought about her and her story for a few weeks and then I forgot all about her.
Months later I was walking through the lobby when one of the staff members at Redstone stopped me. Her mother had passed away the week before and she was just returning back to work. “Do you have a minute?” she asked.
“Of course!” I answered and motioned to her to sit down in the over-stuffed chairs scattered around in the lobby. She told me that her mother said her brother (the woman’s uncle) had come to visit her. He reassured her that all was well and that she would be well soon too. A few days later, her mother passed away.
“That’s absolutely impossible, Cindy! My uncle has been dead for over 10 years! Do you really think he could have visited her or do you think she imagined it?”
I was at a loss for words. What did I believe? Not knowing what to say, I turned the question around and asked her what she believed had happened. I could tell that she wanted the story to be true, but she simply said, “I don’t know what to believe!” Too afraid that she would think I was crazy, I kept my mouth closed and prayed with her. It is easy to turn to God when you don’t what to say!
I served as the chaplain intern at Redstone Highlands for over five years, and I lost track of the number of times I heard that story or a version of it. I have come to believe that God does indeed send God’s messengers to us: “they come to you and me in our darkest hours to show us how to live, to teach us how to give, to guide us with the light of love.”
By Cathi Gerhard
Author Margaret Atwood once said that we should smell like dirt at the end of a spring day. When I was a young child, my parents nicknamed me “Pig Pen” after the character from the Charlie Brown comics. Not only did I come home filthy from a long day playing outside on our farm, but they often saw me sitting in the middle of the lane throwing handfuls of dirt into the air – and laughing heartily as it rained down on me. I was just following a famous writer’s advice . . .
I have always loved the earth, the fields of my family farm, and big gardens. Nothing compares to the smell of freshly turned topsoil on a spring day. And yes, because I grew up with it, the smell of freshly-spread manure has a comforting scent to me. Dirt (and everything it contains to make life grow again each year) is precious to me. The birds are singing its praises this very day, as they wait for worms and bugs to make their way up to meet the sun again (and their circle of life fate in a robin’s belly).
Our heirloom vegetable seeds arrived last week, and it’s time to sow our own food. I will check my notebook from last season to make sure I rotate my planting beds properly. Nutrients in and out are the key to sustainable farming, and during my tenure as caretaker to this patch of earth, it is my responsibility to follow nature’s guidelines.
Sadly, much of the 20th century endured the pursuit of mankind’s greed and comfort, with palpable disregard to our planet’s ecosystem. We now understand much of the damage done to the earth, and many of us seek to change those wasteful ways.
The first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970 and is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement, which led to the passage of the Clean Air, Water and Endangered Species Acts. Each year, more than 1 million people worldwide gather on April 22 to participate in green activities, making it the largest civic observance in the world.
The Billion Acts of Green campaign invites individuals and businesses to register the actions they are taking to help the environment. The next time you are outside, enjoying the moment, acknowledge your appreciation. And then think about what you can do to help, to get your hands dirty for the sake of the earth.
By Janine Koutsky, MS
If you haven’t noticed, the popularity of a gluten-free lifestyle is starting to pop up everywhere. In the media, you may hear how celebrities are cutting out gluten for weight loss. Or perhaps you’ve heard of the Paleo diet. Ironically, next month (May) is Celiac Awareness Month, so this article lends itself to this hot topic.
Not so long ago, the only individuals to eat a gluten-free diet were those who were prescribed to do so because of a medical diagnosis of Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. So why now the increase of gluten-free menu items, specialty stores, and gluten-free diets? Is it possible that there is an increase in gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease within our population? Or is it just those celebrities have that much influence on what we eat?
Before I continue, let me give you a brief definition of gluten. Gluten is a protein found in grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye. The big one here is wheat. Wheat is found in many carbohydrates, such as wheat bran, wheat starch, wheat germ, and cracked wheat. These are just a few examples. We also can’t forget all the flours that contain wheat, such as white flour, enriched flour, durum flour, and semolina; just to name a few. So basically, most cereals, pastas, and breads contain some form of gluten. But, let’s not forget the hidden gluten found in several processed foods, such as salad dressing and frozen or boxed meals. Bottom line –a gluten-free diet is not easy to achieve, unless you do your homework.
Let’s take a step back and look at Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where the body’s response to consumption of gluten is to attack the gastrointestinal track. Consuming gluten for these folks not only causes gastrointestinal distress and the potential malabsorption of certain nutrients, but also intestinal damage. Gluten sensitivity is when a person experiences the same symptoms as someone with Celiac disease, without the intestinal damage. If you know of someone who suffers or you suffer from either of these, then you know that Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity can cause substantial physical and emotional distress.
Grains that do not contain gluten are corn, quinoa, millet, rice, sorghum, amaranth, and teff. Not sure how to cook millet or quinoa? Of course there are several cookbooks dedicated to gluten-free living. Check out the gluten-free isle at your grocery store or a specialty store to find the alternatives to products like cereal, pastas, muffins, cookies, and breads. Do the research, because avoiding gluten cross-contamination can be tricky, which doesn’t end with the food manufacturers. Some individuals are so sensitive to gluten that merely cooking with the same utensils, pots, pans, or even a toaster can cause a reaction. Those folks looking to eliminate gluten without a medical diagnosis would not have the same concern for gluten-contamination.
Does gluten deserve the bad publicity? Let’s look at what we do know.
We know that eating a plethora of refined carbohydrates – pasta, bread, cereal, pastries, cookies, etc -is not the healthiest way to eat. We also know that most of those refined foods do contain gluten. What maybe you didn’t know is that foods like soy sauce, hot dogs, ketchup, beer, and deli meats also contain gluten. Shocker? Maybe. But this just means that when eliminating gluten you need to consider the less obvious foods.
We do know some of the reasons you may read or hear for people eliminating gluten, outside of a medical diagnosis, is because of these popular claims:
- Not digested properly
- Causes weight gain
- Causes joint pain
- Our ancestors didn’t eat grains or the modified grains we currently eat, so why should we?” (a’ la Wheat Belly)
- “Brain Fog”
If you are experiencing those listed from 1-4, you may want to speak to your doctor about testing for a gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease.
We also know that there is no scientific evidence that says gluten is bad and that we should eliminate it, outside of a true gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease. The common “junk” foods that are over processed should be eliminated anyways. Keep in mind that just because it says “gluten-free” on the box, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Gluten-free cookies can be high in sugar too!
If you are convinced that you might have a gluten sensitivity, even speaking to your doctor, focus on foods of quality that are naturally occurring gluten-free grains with higher amounts of fiber and loaded with great nutrients like buckwheat, nut flours, coconut flour, and quinoa. Look for the Certified Gluten-Free Trade Mark. Finally, speak to a Registered Dietitian for the best suggestions when eliminating gluten from the diet.
By Mark Rullo MS, CSCS, MES
In the previous article, “UNDER-standing Weight Loss Frustration” I discussed how it is easy to UNDER-report the calories you are consuming and give up in frustration. The purpose of that article was to reinforce the science that weight loss is simple, in that it revolves around calories in versus calories out. However, simple doesn’t mean easy, due to factors such as portion distortion, food label loop holes, accountability accuracy of nutritional labels, and Bites Licks and Taste’s that may cause you to miscalculate and UNDER-report the calories you are consuming.
This article is going to continue on that theme but now focus on the other side of the caloric equation: caloric expenditure (calories out).
We have been able to document with our clients here at My Fitness Kitchen that the UNDER-reporting of caloric input (eating) averages around 25-30% until they hone in on the factors leading to this error. Meaning if you report a 1500 calorie intake, in reality you could be eating 1875-1950 actual total calories. This equates to a daily calorie error of 350 to 450 from your daily deficit, or .7lb to .9lb per week you would be expecting to see on the scale but are not – VERY FRUSTRATING.
Now what about our caloric expenditure or “burn”?
First and foremost, let’s accept the fact that all methods used to measure caloric expenditure—such as the Exerspy™ armband (used here at the Kitchen), heart rate monitors, Fit Bits, Fuelbands, and displays on stationary cardio machines, to name a few—are only estimates. With that said, if you want to minimize frustration, choose a method that does not exaggerate your burn. It may be cool to see a large caloric burn from a device; but if it isn’t true, that is a cruel trip back to reality when you jump on the lie-detector, also known as the scale.
To document such a wide range of OVER-estimating caloric expenditure, I wore an Exerspy™ armband while doing a simple 30 minute steady-state cardio workout on an elliptical at a moderate level of intensity (level 14).
In the photo above, the exercise display on the machine reported 404 calories expended; whereas the Exerspy™ arm-band shows 192 calories burned in the 30 minutes of steady-state work. That is a 212 calorie difference in 30 minutes of work or 7.1 calories per minute difference! Imagine doing that 30 minute workout three days a week or every day. That is 636 or 1484 calories you believe you are able to eat. Again both are estimates; however it is better to err on the lower end so you don’t think you have more calories to eat than you actually do. It is no different than being told you will earn$404 dollars for doing something but in reality only get paid $192. Even worse is if you went out and purchased (ate) something that cost $404 but actually do not have the additional funds ($212) to cover the cost.
Another example happened when I was taking a Spinning class. A female next to me, no where near my size and weight (at least 60-70 lbs lighter), wore a heart rate monitor that reported she burned over 800 calories during the workout, whereas my armband showed only 380 calories burned. To understand this, the point is that mass (particularly muscle mass) plays a significant role on caloric expenditure; therefore even if I was dogging it and she was busting her butt, there’s no way there would be over a 400 calorie difference.
Another problem with calculating caloric burn of workouts is that it fails to account for the other 23 hours in the day (assuming the workout was for 60 minutes). This is where many info-commercials mislead people with hype of extreme caloric burns that are mostly impossible. Workouts with a 1000+ calorie burn are not happening unless we are talking about a large (300+ lbs.) individual who is extremely fit, exercising at a high intensity for 60 minutes.
By wearing an armband for 24 hours, I can see what the difference in one’s expenditure is while sleeping, sedentary, active (vertical/walking around), and exercising. For example, on average I burn about 4,000 calories per day. Typically I burn about 100 calories per hour sleeping, about 190 calories per hour being sedentary, and anywhere from 300 to 550 calories per hour during a workout depending on the intensity and type. Therefore to illustrate, if I would…
• …sleep 8 hours, that would be about 800 (8×100) calories
• …be sedentary for 15 hours that would be about 2850 (15×190) calories
• …and exercise an hour and average 425 calories burned for the workout
This example would total about 4,075 calories in 24 hours. The important take-away from this is that we burn calories 24 hours, not only when we exercise.
Yes, having knowledge of an individual workout burn is great and can be motivating, but it can be misleading, particularly for the devices that OVER-estimate the caloric expenditure. Equally troubling with individual workout caloric expenditure (even when the device doesn’t OVER-estimate) is that it fails to show the entire picture of weight loss. Regardless of what you burn in a workout, how will that help you determine what you can eat (in calories) if you do not know the other 23 hours or the complete total for the day?
Understanding that we burn calories all day can also explain and educate how we can influence our metabolism during rest, not just by exercising. Monitoring expenditure all day can show which workouts create the greatest EPOC (Excess Post Oxygen Consumption), which is a scientific term for “after burn” or elevated metabolism post workout.
As in the previous article “UNDER-standing Weight Loss Frustration” and in the few examples above on how people “OVER-expect weight Loss Success” is how we help individuals here at My Fitness Kitchen via technology and evidence-based science to eliminate the guesswork with weight loss and build programs around YOUR FOOD, on YOUR TERMS, for YOUR RESULTS.
For more information, please feel free to consult with any of the fitness professionals at My Fitness Kitchen®. Additionally, as an on-going thank you to Laurel Mountain Post and its readers, mention this article for a FREE, no obligation, personalized, metabolic nutritional formula and fitness program that will leverage the “Hierarchy of Fat Loss.” If you are serious about achieving a body transformation goal, then you need a program; as any goal without a plan is really only a wish!
As an added incentive for people new to My Fitness Kitchen®, by mentioning this Laurel Mountain Post article and after meeting with one of My Fitness Kitchen’s Fitness Professionals for a private consult as offered above, you will receive $50 “Kitchen Cash” to be used toward any program or service at My Fitness Kitchen®, as a courtesy of the Laurel Mountain Post.
By Cathi Gerhard
“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything” – William Shakespeare
I have never felt so old and tired as I did this winter, the one that seemed to last forever. I spent weeks not wanting to get out of my warm bed each day – the cold, dark and dreary skies encouraging my semi-coma.
The biting cold and lack of regular activity made my joints stiff and achy, which fed my weary state and left me constantly tired. Each day, if I dressed at all (because pyjamas are warm and cozy), my go-to item was one of my many pairs of stretchy pants – or as our generation more fashionably styles them, yoga pants. Not only are they comfortable, but they also help one manage the 10-20 pounds of extra seasonal insulation we tend to acquire.
The long winter of such discontent also brought about my first patches of grey hair, too, framing my face with a dull, white haze. The emerging streaks go pretty well with my new reading glasses, which many magazine articles tend to call “one of the ten things that make you look older.” Really? So what. I AM older now, and I think it is far worse to hide it – or rather pretend to be younger like a “Real Housewife of Beverly Hills” with too much plastic surgery, make-up and junior-sized clothing. I went through a short spell of such fashion disillusionment in my 30s, but quickly came to my senses. Going against the grains of nature is simply destructive.
All living creatures on earth follow the rhythms of life; but somehow humans have lost their way. Because of technology we now live “despite” nature instead of along with it. We control our climate indoors, like a science fiction bubble, and treat every day as equal. Medical science has invented youth serums, treatments and surgeries to change practically every-thing natural about us – all designed to fight time, which is still out of our control.
But youth is not just a fleeting period in our past – it is a spirit. Last week brought some quick samples of warmer weather, and with each burst I felt the rejuvenating power of the Spring sunshine. No vitamin D supplement can even compare to that feeling of the real thing. Suddenly I had enough energy to take a walk, and endorphins flowed to mask my back pain better than any narcotic. I no longer craved the comforting taste of carbohydrates, but rather the juicy flavors of fruits and vegetables. It felt so good, I wanted to dance and sing!
Poets throughout history have written the lyrics to nature’s songs about new life, and its promise of re-birth. Just when we start to feel worn out, and mostly dead inside, life draws upon that forced period of dormancy to re-energize a new season. We are a part of that cycle, no matter how much we try to deviate from it. In winter we may not hibernate, but we could all use a long winter’s rest. Cold, rainy days are for soaking up what we need (stay inside: rest, nourishment, and contemplation); warm, sunny days are meant for energy consumption (come out and play: work, activity, and enjoyment).
Consider nature’s simple, visible rewards for a successful cycle: flowers and vegetables in our garden. I love how they look. I love how they make me feel –young. The ongoing search for some fountain of youth is nothing but a fool’s errand, invented by a species that has somehow “evolved” too far from its roots.
Humans have tried to sever all ties with Mother Nature’s dumb “rules and regulations,” behaving like an arrogant teenager who knows it all. We take what we want (SUVs) instead of what we need (4 wheels and a sustain-able power source). But if we wreck her car, there is no insurance to fix it. We need to grow up, age gracefully, and play well with others. Perhaps humans are trapped in this Peter Pan syndrome because we lack patience and faith in the promised spirit of youth, caught instead in a self-spun web of frustration and fear.
This Spring, consider stepping outside of the climate-controlled box by taking a leap of faith into the real world. You might be surprised by how good it feels, inside and out.
By Michael Vernon
Grass. It is everywhere. Because most lawns are too small to be clearly seen via satellite in any kind of efficient manner we must rely on estimates to determine exactly how much of our surface area is covered by lawns. The latest estimates show that simple grass covers approximately 79,000 square miles of the earth. This is roughly the size of Nebraska. That’s a lot of mowing, fertilizing and watering. The question you have to ask yourself as a homeowner is whether or not you want to handle your little green oasis yourself or trust it to the hands of a professional.
Mowing can be a source of pleasure and pride for some homeowners and with increasing pressure from local governments to cut back on watering that leaves the third element of a successfully green yard – fertilizing. Your choice if you decide to chemically treat your yard is to hire a service to come out four or five times a year or to head to the local box store and purchase the fixin’s to do it yourself. The cost of doing it yourself is approximately two thirds of what it would cost if you hired a professional.
Before you determine that this is one area of lawn care that you can handle yourself, consider the positives of hiring a professional to treat your yard. If you are unhappy with how your lawn is coming along you can always contact that lawn professional and they can come out and make adjustments to the treatments you are receiving; usually at no additional expense. The chemicals a professional uses are also considerably stronger than what you can purchase at your local retailer. Some may say this is a bad thing but with today’s lawn chemicals being improved every year it is usually safe for your kids or pets to be on them after one day.
The choice comes down to cost and how much your time is worth. Please don’t hesitate to call me regarding this and any other issue you may have about your home and its upkeep. I can be reached at my office at your convenience.
Look out for more of my Information for Life.