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Archive for September, 2007

Let’s take a detour from my recent posts about our wonderful pilgrimage walk/spiritual journey and return to a topic I touched on a few weeks ago: Health, exercise, weight, eating habits — and, in particular, the legacy we are leaving our children (https://chrisdowns.wordpress.com/2007/08/19/helping-our-children-make-better-food-and-lifestyle-choices/).

Unfortunately, many American children today (and, even just Americans, children or adult) have weight problems, some minor, some severe. Why have we drifted so far from a healthy, natural lifestyle, and how can we return? How can we truly live the concept of our bodies being the temple of God? How can we get past the guilt and the temptation?

I never thought I would ever have a weight problem. I was so healthy (and skinny) growing up; I could eat anything! Which, of course, was probably my problem. I didn’t have to watch what I ate at an early age, so I never picked up healthy habits. I’ve also always considered myself a determined, ambitious, goal-seeking person (in college, in career, in life), as well as fairly self-controlled and extremely persistent. How could I fall into the trap of over-eating?

My answer comes in one word, with which I’m sure many others will relate: LIFE!

After high school (and playing sports), I became a little less active. But, I still walked to classes at college, and I led a very active lifestyle (swing dancing, contra line dancing, hiking, in addition to walking 20 minutes one-way from my apartment to the Pitt campus my last year or so after I moved out of the dorms). So, I didn’t do too badly during my college years. I gained a little weight, nothing major. Then came the JOB. For the first time in my life, I sat behind a desk for most of the day — and then, when I got home from work, I’d be too tired to exercise. I drove to work (so no walking to/from anymore). Again, gradually, I gained a little more weight (and became less active). I was still very healthy, though. When I really started gaining weight was after having my first child. I actually started out well, losing the baby weight quickly. But, I didn’t realize how quickly it could return after I stopped nursing (which had really helped me keep my weight down!). From there, I became even less active (more responsibilities in life, so who had TIME to walk daily, right?). Even further, at some point, I started eating as comfort when I felt overwhelmed or down. You can see how that just exasperated the problem!

I doubt I’m unique in the pattern I’ve described. Many adults have fallen into this trap, allowing life to push them into unhealthy habits (or a lack of healthy habits).

So, if our entire society (not just me, as one person within the larger society) has drifted from good health and exercise, how do we solve the problem and get back on track? How do we prevent the next generation from falling into the same bad habits?

I don’t think there’s any one right answer, and many of us are exploring multiple options (and have been for some time). One person has set out to help children get healthy, and you may be surprised to hear who it is. This advocate for children’s health is none other than the basketball star Shaquille O’Neil.

Shaquille O’Neil started a television program — “Shaq’s Big Challenge” — last year to help six obese Florida teens and pre-teens shed the pounds by eating better and exercising more (basically, by learning to live a more healthy lifestyle). According to the website (http://www.shaqsfamilychallenge.com/), “Shaq’s Big Challenge was designed to be a wake-up call — to prod us into taking action against one of our nation’s most critical health issues: childhood obesity.”

We watched the show last season, and I think, in particular, it opened our daughter’s eyes regarding eating habits and health. Most of the lessons don’t just apply to children, though. We all need to learn from what Shaq is trying to do to help a handful of children in this country.

One lesson that really stuck with me is the episode where Shaq’s trainer said the children need to learn what true discipline really is. Don’t we all? Self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), yet many of us struggle the most with this concept (hurting ourselves and others by indulging ourselves). It feels good to eat a donut when you’re feeling down (it tastes good, too!). It’s difficult to get up and walk when you are tired and cold in the morning. It really DOES take some self-discipline.

The doctor on the show said that depression and anxiety are killers to eating healthy and staying motivated and energized to work out. How true! Depression and anxiety eat away at your self-discipline, making it even harder to get moving and to stop eating. It’s easy to say you should do something — harder to actually do it when obstacles are placed before you. And depression is one of the worst obstacles of all to many tasks in life!

Ironically, exercising will actually help combat depression — if you can just make it to the point of starting in the first place. That’s why something like Shaq’s Challenge, or Weight Watchers, or simply exercising and eating healthy alongside a friend or accountability partner can be so effective. You need support and encouragement during those times when you have trouble getting started, and you can also provide that same support to others in a similar situation — helping one another reach the goal of getting healthy.

You also need to make God your “accountability partner” in everything in life. God is there to take your burdens and to lead you through difficult times (so that you don’t need food or alcohol or any other vice). God is there to give us strength, and we can do it all through Christ! “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” – Psalm 55:22

As Shaq’s site prompts, it’s time to make the commitment to make some changes in my life. But I won’t do it alone. I’ll do it with the support of my family and friends, and I’ll do it with the support of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!

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Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

We prayed these words as we walked with Pilgrim George — occasionally out loud, but also in our heads (at least I did, and I know Bunny did when we weren’t talking because we discussed it a little). It was the only thing keeping me going at one point (I felt almost a physical push as I uttered the word “sinner” in my mind). God literally propelled me forward when I wanted to just fall down on the side of the road and not get up.

PRAISE GOD!

The worst moments for me, physically, were probably the final bit, as we walked UP the hill to our final destination (Mt. St. Macrina in Uniontown, PA — with “mount” in the name, I should have known that final trek would be UPHILL!). My wonderful sister in Christ, Christine, carried my bag on that final hill (also, once on an earlier hill), helping me a little with my burdens.

THANK YOU, FRIEND, SISTER. WHAT A BLESSING TO BE THERE WITH MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST!

I don’t know why I keep trying to put into words how meaningful last Friday’s walk was because it’s impossible to fully capture in words. But I’m a writer, I’m a “words person,” so I guess that’s “my thing.” It’s what I try to do about everything that means something to me.

And this meant SO much that I want to try to capture some part of it, to never let it go. I want to be able to come back to it and remember. I pray that God brings me back to that spiritual place again (which I still feel, but in a different sense from on Friday, which was absolutely and unbelievably amazing).

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. This prayer, the Jesus Prayer, says so much. It describes perfectly how we are to live with Jesus in our hearts. It helps us learn to pray without ceasing (https://chrisdowns.wordpress.com/2007/07/04/the-way-of-a-pilgrim-pray-without-ceasing/). It fills us with strength and peace and love.

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“What did you give up to be here today?” That’s the question Pilgrim George asked me when it was my turn to walk alongside him (since you could not walk more than two across, sometimes only one, along the highway).
 
My answer to him:

Hours of paid work — which is particularly meaningful right now, with our family finances in a state of struggle and me being the only one working. And time with my children. I also added that I expected to give up some comfort (after all, 8 miles is quite a distance for someone unhealthy like me; it can be a lot for many people, and I haven’t walked 8 miles even in an entire week since at least last year).

That final answer, regarding comfort, was given partly in jest although, I have to admit, I was a little concerned over how I would fare (and I told George of my concerns, as well as of my trust that God would give me strength, which was the only way I could even consider undertaking such a walk that seemed impossible to me).

Actually, I didn’t fully understand my third answer (again, the one about comfort) until MUCH later in our walk (about the 6th or 7th mile maybe).

Pilgrim George discussed suffering for Christ, and I had not initially considered the walk in that way. I had thought of it more in terms of prayer and fellowship rather than sacrifice and suffering.

Now I understand a little better. Christ walked a grueling trek during the final hours of His human life. He had been beaten, tortured, whipped. He was bleeding, exhausted, and dejected. And he had to carry a cross as He walked every painful step to Calvary.

I can never fully experience the same degree of suffering as Christ (none of us can), but yesterday I glimpsed a small measure of it. I was brought closer to Jesus, my Beloved Lord and Savior, through understanding (just a little more) how difficult it must have been, from a human standpoint, for him to take each and every step. Especially toward the end of His walk, as He must have been ready to fall over.

Then, the support of Simon, who took His cross from Him for part of the journey. What a blessing, what a relief, what a joy that must have been! With so many people persecuting and mocking Him, to have help surely was a Godsend (which I know it was!).

Even though Simon was forced to help, surely he was blessed by this task as well – by the task of taking a small portion of Christ’s burden on his own shoulders. Not many would have had the chance to understand in quite the way Simon would after that.

Not that I can claim to understand to that degree, but a pilgrimage does help you understand more than you did before (and to feel a little more than you did previously). I am thankful for the opportunity to grow closer to God in this unique way.

What did I give up? I think I gave up a little innocence, not having known that kind of physical suffering before.

I think I also took on some additional responsibility. Now that I understand a little more, and now that I have grown closer to Christ, I have the responsibility to continue on my path to Him (and my walk WITH Him). Not to stray. Not to grow weary. Not to give up! To just keep on walking toward Heaven, and to help as many others as I can on my way (to help them also reach Heaven). I can do it through Christ’s strength!

This experience has also awakened an even deeper hunger in me to expand my prayer life. I want more of Jesus! Maybe that’s selfish, but there are worse things I could want more of.

This past week, I’ve actually been reading the Bible more again than I have been lately (with the past few months being so busy), and I’ve also been praying more again (maybe God’s way of preparing me for the walk). I’ve also started reciting “The Jesus Prayer” recently (I mentioned it in a previous post, https://chrisdowns.wordpress.com/2007/07/04/the-way-of-a-pilgrim-pray-without-ceasing/) throughout the day, trying to pray without ceasing and keep God in my heart.

But, now, after yesterday’s pilgrimage (if you can call my part of it that; my portion of the walk was so inconsequential compared to the 1300 miles George walked, but I’ve also walked spiritually and emotionally as well) – now, after yesterday’s experience, I just want to be filled with Christ’s love and His Word. I want to know more, learn more, experience more, just BE with Him. I certainly know I can BE MORE with Him and through Him, and it all STARTS with giving Him my time, giving Him my ALL.

Pilgrim George is such a perfect example of giving Christ His all. Many of us have more distractions in life (families, jobs, other activities), drawing us more often away from time with God. Yet, we can still make time for God. It may not be as constant as walking 15 miles a day in prayer (and spending 7 whole months primarily in solitude and prayer, although that sounds absolutely heavenly at times), but we can learn to have constant prayer in our hearts. We can learn to pray without ceasing. We can learn to discipline ourselves (self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22-26) to devote specific time to more deep prayer, Bible study, and meditation. We can learn to do more than we already do.

Why is it so hard, in our busy society, to find that time for God? Yesterday, we devoted our entire day to God, and it was wonderful! I wish I could do that every day in the same way, but, realistically, I know I cannot. However, I can still devote my entire day (my entire life) to God in more subtle and personal ways. I can find my own ways and my own time. I can also walk my own path with God (which may not involve so much physical walking as it does for our friend George, but just as much spiritual walking).

So, what did I give up by being there? I’m not going to dwell on what I GAVE UP yesterday because I GAINED so much more!

What did I GAIN by being there?

I gained a deeper understanding of Christ’s suffering, which is a blessing although it sounds like it would not be (to experience suffering).

I gained a more fervent hunger for the Lord! What a blessing. What more could I possibly ask for? What more could I possibly hope to gain? That is everything.

(Also, please check out my previous post about some of the practical details of our walk, to set the stage, so to speak: https://chrisdowns.wordpress.com/2007/09/02/details-about-pilgrim-george-and-this-annual-labor-day-weekend-pilgrimage/. Thank you. – Chris)

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“My home is in heaven. I’m just passing through.” (Quote from Pilgrim George.)

“Dear St. Anthony, we are all pilgrims. We came from God and we are going to Him. He who created us will welcome us at journey’s end. The Lord Jesus is preparing a place for all His brothers and sisters. St. Anthony, Guide of Pilgrims, direct my steps in the straight path. Protect me until I am safely home in heaven. Help me in all my needs and difficulties….” (From http://raeshomepage.bravehost.com/pilgrim.html, I believe this is a quote from Pilgrim George.)

To better understand this pilgrimage, and why we joined in with our dear friend and brother in Christ, you need to know a little about our friend Pilgrim George and the church where he ends his pilgrimages every year (and why he chooses this particular weekend every year to complete his thousand-mile treks of prayer, sacrifice, and thanksgiving). I would also like to tell you about the members of our Legacy Inspirations group who joined in the walk.

Pilgrim George Florian Walker

Pilgrim George has been walking for Christ since 1970 (before I was even born!). He started in a Catholic seminary to become a priest but, instead, felt God calling him to be a pilgrim, hermit, and prayer warrior for Christ. He has walked in the Holy Land, in the United States, in Siberia, and many more locations around the world. During his time of prayer every year (September through March), he prays to God for guidance over where he should walk during his next season (April through August). In 2007, his pilgrimage took him into New York to bring Christ to the people of the Eastern U.S. When he is not walking, during his seven months of prayer time, he lives in a house on the grounds of a monastery in Butler, PA.

The staff George carries is made of wood from a cave on Mount Carmel, and it has touched the same land Jesus walked on. As he told my friend’s son as we set off walking with him yesterday, touching it is like touching Jesus (and we all held our hands around its smooth finish as he smiled and his eyes twinkled).

George is such a kind, calm, and friendly man. You just want to be around him.

Annual Pilgrimage at Mount Saint Macrina House of Prayer

Every year, the Mount Saint Macrina House of Prayer, in Uniontown, PA, holds a pilgrimage the weekend of Labor Day (this year, it is from August 31 through September 3). For most participants, this pilgrimage is a spiritual one (as not everyone can walk such a distance). This year the event was called the “Seventy-Third Annual Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.”

Pilgrim George chooses the time to return from his five-month pilgrimage to coincide with the beginning of this Pilgrimage event at Mount Saint Macrina. For a number of years, he has been staying at this house of prayer (the grounds are so massive that it is difficult to call it merely a church, yet I’m not sure if it is officially a monastery) over Labor Day Weekend. Everyone knows him, and many approach him for blessings.

People Who Joined Pilgrim George on His Walk Yesterday (Friday August 31, 2007)

The following members of Legacy Inspirations met Pilgrim George about a mile or two into his final trek (from St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Dunbar to Mt. St. Macrina in Uniontown), walking his last 7 miles or so with him:
– Christine Weller and her 9-year-old son Nevin (who fared better than the rest of us on such a long walk – in his words, “I can walk 6 miles with my eyes closed” – such a modest boy!)
– Bunny Petrillo
– Christina Downs (that’s me, the unhealthiest of the bunch)
 
Christine is sort of the “founder” of our fellowship group (or Christian networking group) Legacy Inspirations. She wrote a poem book for children/parents titled “Mommy, Be My Guiding Light.” Christine is also a hospice nurse whose compassion is a blessing to many ill people and their families. God works through her to give them and their family comfort during a difficult time. God has also worked through her to bring our group together and to encourage and support everyone. She is also mom to Nevin.

Nevin is into karate, which must help him stay disciplined, because he did so unbelievably well, walking such a distance. (He did better than me!) But, I’m also talking about more than just the physical walking. He listened to his mom (most of the time), he did not complain once, and he discussed all sorts of life issues with Pilgrim George in the simple and direct way only a child can do (and we all learned because of that process and because of his questions).

Bunny is a photographer and artist who takes pictures of nature and paints inspirational pictures that God brings to her. She is opening a coffee shop/art gallery soon in Derry, PA (The Gallery Dessert). She also has four wonderful children (the first of whom went off to college this year!). Bunny is also my aunt (my Dad’s sister), and I am so blessed and thankful to be part of this group with her, to have shared this walk with her, and just to get to know her and grow closer to her now that I am also an adult (she used to baby-sit me when I was nine and she was a teenager).

The final person on the list above, I am a writer, editor, and author of the book Simply Balanced: Bible “Contradictions” Teach Balanced Living. I also own Cross Your Heart Publications, a small Christian publishing company I created to publish my books and the books of others (we have some new ones coming out over the next six months!). I am also a wife and mom, too (I have two wonderful children). As I mentioned, I am also probably the unhealthiest of our group (needing to lose about 100 pounds). (I’ve blogged about eating habits and lifestyle choices for our children.)

We also met George’s friend Connie, who tried to find us on our walk (and who ended up walking 5 miles herself in her search for our small group). And we met many other wonderful and hospitable people once we reached Mt. St. Macrina. Thank you, Connie, for sharing your snacks with us when we arrived – we really needed that refreshment!

(Also, thank you to my mom and my mother-in-law for lending me some items to use on the trip. And, thank you to my daughter for lending me her pony bookbag.)

Details About Our Day

We met Pilgrim George about a mile or so after he had left St. Aloysius Catholic Church (God timed it perfectly because we saw George walking and then came upon a shopping center, where we were able to leave our car and wait for him). After some moments of prayer, we started on our way down 119. We walked along Route 119 from Dunbar to Uniontown, then we walked along Route 51 (Pittsburgh Street) until we reached our destination at the Mount, as Pilgrim Goerge called it. The approximately 7 miles took us about 5 hours, with one half-hour stop for a small snack lunch.

Once we arrived at the Mount, we met some new friends, prayed, and ate (and sat down)! We also attended a Byzantine Catholic Mass at the Mother of God Shrine and a blessing of the water in a pool below dozens of lit candles (I believe it was at the Crucifixion Altar; like I said, this was a large place!). I brought home some Holy Water for my family.

Well, those are the bare bones details. I’ll also post more about the spiritual and fellowship aspects of our journey – which are the important parts! What God taught us on the way and how He guided us on our journey, keeping us safe and encouraged and inspired… Because, as Pilgrim George says, we are all on a pilgrimage to be with God again in Heaven. We are all disciples of God, and we are all called to lay down our “nets” and follow Him.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. – Mark 1:14-20

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed – Mark 1:35

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. – Psalm 84:5

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