The Slight Edge and The Secret to Healthy Living

What is holding you back from a healthy lifestyle?

The answer is so simple that it surprises me every time I stumble upon it again. It recently jumped out at me from the pages of a great book that I think everyone should read. A good book will take a basic truth and extract it from the superficial complexity of life and just NAIL it to my forehead...

"Here you go," it says. "You've forgotten this." And then it slips quietly back on to the shelf while I sit stunned.

The Slight Edge is one of those books and that is precisely why I recommend it to all who work with me; because it lays out simple steps to a successful life. Not just successful, but happy. Most people are probably prompted to read it in the context of a business endeavor, but the author's approach applies so well to a journey to physical fitness, good health, and even the spiritual life that the applications are almost limitless.

A good Christian friend of mine said that the principles in the book were to her like a secular adaptation of St. Therese of Lesieux's Little Way. Do small things with great love and do them well... trusting that the steady faithfulness will bear great fruit. 

Do you want to be healthy in mind, body, and soul? The Slight Edge makes it clear...

Healthy living is not about amazing and quick transformations, but about one small choice at a time. 

The author puts it bluntly...

"It's easy to eat well. But it's also easy not to, and to go on eating the food that will eventually kill us, because it won't kill us today. It's not the one junk food meal; it's the thousands, over time. Eating the burger is just a simple error in judgment. Not eating it, a simple positive action.

The thing is, eating it won't kill you... today. Compounded over time, it can and will - but not at first. And not eating it won't transform your health and save your life, at least not today. Compounded over time, it can and it will."

He makes a simple but powerful point about why so many in our fast food, click-bait culture don't reach their goals: Because they aren't willing to do the one mundane easy thing, in the moment, without seeing immediate results.

He says...

"Here's how real success is built: by the time you get the feedback, the real work's already done."

One day at a time, one choice at a time... step by step.

I know the path to healing intimately and I know how slow progress can seem at times. But then suddenly, you have turned a corner... and you're standing in the middle of Walmart bawling like a baby and thanking God because there was once a time when you were too sick to go on a short Walmart trip with your husband.

Yes, that happened to me... that day in Walmart when it all made sense. The day I knew that every little choice toward the positive had been worth it. Slowly, steadily, faithfully. That's how lives are transformed.

I know you can do this! I am living proof that you don't have to be a high energy "health nut" to make a change. Be a steady little plodder and you will achieve great things!

And read the book... it's well worth your time. The Slight Edge

Mateo's Story: The Day I Met Jesus (Guest Post)

This story was first shared on Facebook by my friend, Jen. I asked permission to share it here and the words written below are hers. I thank God for the gift of Mateo and his amazing parents. May the testimony of his life and death bring courage, hope, and healing to those reading.


Mateo's Story

by Jennifer Calabretta

I'll be honest, I am hesitant to share this story this morning. It starts out as a real downer, ha... But it has been TEN years today since we said our goodbyes to this sweet baby and began really walking down this crazy road that we never saw coming. And while many think it sounds like entirely too much, I cannot imagine our life any other way (especially without Mateo & later our daughter Sofia, and the 2 other sweet babies we have miscarried).

But I decided it is important to share for 2 reasons.

ONE, so many people go through the pain of a hard diagnosis, or losing a loved one, or just LIFE, and it remains only their cross. It is lonely. But life is never something you should go through alone. Grief and Anger require people to talk and share and reach out and cry; just to get through it still standing up! So many people reached out to us, and it made every difference.

TWO... It serves as a reminder to me that God is good. All the time. He walks through every single storm with us, and continues to do so. I do not know how Andre and I (& our family) would have survived all of this without Him. He sent us answered prayers, beautiful kids, homemade meals, loving friends, concerned family, well time scripture verses and moving song lyrics... all reminders that even the HARDEST situations can be gotten through.

So again, I apologize for the toughness of this. You don't need to read our story throughout the album if you don't want to. But I just felt compelled to share this today; and to share that God is always present, especially in our hardest moments. And with Him ALL things are possible. So keep on working through whatever life has handed you; you're destined to win:)

Mateo was born at 12:00pm on April 21, 2007. I finally figured out that I was in labor around 6 am that morning. I think I actually started earlier than that, but because I was only 35 weeks along, I didn't really think that it would be labor!! But when Andre came out to our Living Room at 6am and saw me taking giant breaths and squatting in the "Fat-Man" chair, he sort of figured it out right away.... 

So there we were, at 8 o'clock in the morning in the Labor & Delivery ER. No nurse really seemed to believe that I was in labor, despite the fact that I was swearing unholy words under my breath between contractions and shared with anyone who would listen that I had no problem giving birth in the wheelchair I was being escorted in if no one wanted to put me in a bed:)

So obviously - it was quickly concluded that I was in labor. 8cm the whole 30 minute ride on the slow and bumpy highway!!! Then my water broke, and we were sure Mateo would just come shooting out (sorry for the graphic imagery:))... but the weird part was that my labor actually stopped then and there. He just decided to slow it down. It would be another 4 hours before Mateo would come; it was really our calm before the storm.

At 12:00pm, the urge to push came and we went for it. 3 good pushed and Mateo was OUT! This whole labor, all we kept saying was, "How is he coming 6 weeks early? My entire pregnancy has been perfect, what's going on?" 

Nothing seemed to make sense. And then Mateo was born... and we realized we were in for so many more questions. Mateo was 5lbs 6oz when he was born, with a full head of black hair (as you can see in the photos!!). He had all 10 fingers, all 10 toes, and he was beautiful. Yes, I know I am partial because I'm his Mom... but he was perfect:)

But there were so many problems as well. When Mateo was first born, we had the NICU staff nearby as a precaution because he was early. Little did we know that they would be angels in our midst. Mateo wasn't breathing when he came out, and it actually took the NICU doctors and nurses 10 minutes to get a tube in to help him breathe. His fingers and toes were stiff and misshapen. And his arms and legs were not straight. 

We would later learn that the medical term for this is arthrogryposis multiplex congenita. It is a congenital condition that forms in the womb. When muscles aren't exercised during development (as Mateo's apparently were not), they become stiff and contracted. So when Mateo was born, all of his major joints were stuck in this manner. Needless to say, he was flown to the Cleveland Clinic NICU within an hour of his birth... and there we were, left with a whole lot of questions... and NO answers. 

But we love(d) him... and that was really all that mattered.

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Over the course of the next 2 weeks, we learned a lot of things about Mateo. We learned that whatever he was "suffering" from was probably a completely random occurrence. However, this randomness left him with very weak and brittle bones (that would fracture very easily), misshappen and underdeveloped external body parts, and no responsiveness to us. At least not externally.

I knew, in my heart, that every song we sang him and every book we read him was heard. I know that he appreciated the Lullaby CD that we played for him all day every day. I know that he hated the girly socks I put on him every time we came to visit. And I knew that he loved us - even at 3 days old - I just knew.

And on the inside...he was perfect. 

His heart, his organs, his blood... Christlike, right? Broken on the outside, but perfect on the inside.

It was amazing that every day we would keep getting these terrible diagnoses from doctors, and our glimmer of hope for a recovery kept moving farther and farther off ... but somehow, Andre and I knew Mateo was bigger than all of this. 

We knew that no matter what happened; that our lives were better having spent it, even a short amount of time, with him.

And a short amount of time it would be.

On a side note - most of my adult Catholic life I have struggled with this image of Mary. Understanding what it is like to be a mother to such a great son; understanding how you just stand by them watching such a great sadness and pain happen to one you love so much... It was always so beyond me... But I will tell you what, my greatest solace - in not only those 2 weeks, but NOW as well - was in Mary. Because it was in those moments that I felt so alone, thinking "who the heck does this stuff happen to?", I knew that there was at least one other person who had... I had a companion. And what greater Mother to learn from...

But May 4, 2007, is not a day we will quickly forget. It is the day we decided to take Mateo off of life support. To some, it might seem impossible to imagine ever making a decision to say good bye to your child. But there was a point, when we realized that the life HE was living was not the one he was meant to live. 

We had spent two weeks with NO answers. No reasons. It seemed that Mateo should have been this perfect baby with this perfect life. But life happened differently.

The evening before, on May 3, Mateo's doctors told us that they had done a biopsy to test his muscle for possible answers, but they, in fact, were not able to find any muscle; ANYWHERE in his body. In essence, while his organs grew, his body stopped growing very early on in the womb. And unfortunately, what you don't grow in the womb, you cannot grow outside of the womb. So we were left with no other choice.

It was such a sad day; the day we made that decision. But we knew that Mateo had a greater Life waiting for him in Heaven.

We made sure that we got our whole family together at least once. Dante, our oldest, got to meet his little brother. We thought it was important, even if it only lasted for a few moments.

Mateo mustered all of his strength to stay with us for a whole 15 minutes on his own. They took Mateo off of all of his machines, they brought him and put him in my arms. It was 12noon on Friday. And I breathed in every bit of him that I could.

This picture here is one of the last we took before taking him off of the machines and saying goodbye - and while it is one of the hardest to relive, it reminds me of the Miracle of Life. It reminds me that God is so much greater than the circumstances He meets us in. 

It reminds me that on THAT DAY - I MET JESUS ...

And I held Him in my arms, and I kissed Him when He died... and I loved Him, the best way I knew how; and I knew that he held together the pieces of my broken heart so that I could remember every piece of love I had for him.

And I will take that memory with me, every day, for the rest of my life.

And that same love, that I had for my son and my God at that moment, is unequivocally the same love that I have today for my husband, for Dante, for Cabrini... and for our other angels, Jeremiah, Sofia & Gabriel. And it is a love that binds and renews and purifies...

He really is our "Gift of God" (Which, in fact, is what Mateo means in Latin... awesome, huh:).

Amen.

Jennifer Calabretta is a wife, mother, and graphic designer from Northeast Ohio. All photos above are her property and permission must be granted for use.The "Courageous" graphic above is her design and you are welcome to share. 

How Essential Oils Helped Me Overcome Chronic Illness

If you would have told me 6 years ago that I would be living today without pain and chronic illness, I'm not sure I would have believed you. After all, 20 years is a long time to suffer. A very long time. I figured it was just my lot in life... my particular cross...

Until the day I learned that it wasn't.

I'll get to the essential oils in a bit but here is the background story...

I had spent thousands of dollars seeking a cause and a cure and had been diagnosed and medicated incorrectly multiple times. I was given antibiotics and steroids and shots and diagnosis that I still can't spell correctly. I was told I had diseases... and then told that I didn't have them. I remember breaking down in tears after one visit where a condescending specialist told me I was the picture of health. He thought I was lying. He told me I was just tired. That was my diagnosis: fatigue.

I was surviving but getting sicker every year... and losing hope. Eating was extremely painful. I stopped playing sports with my family because my inflamed joints were getting injured frequently. I ate mushy cereal for every meal since it was all I could tolerate. In spite of my supportive family, I felt isolated. I struggled with depression. I had forgotten how to dream of thriving.

I accepted my cross and wasn't seeking perfection; I only wanted to be well enough to serve my family with joy. And I was struggling with that. 

Over those years, I had beautiful babies and homeschooled and tried to be an attentive wife. I truly loved my life and could not help but be grateful for every blessing, but there were many days when I would wake up in the morning and my eyes would fill with tears... because I wasn't sure I had the courage to fight through my own limitations all over again.

I woke up to pain and went to bed with pain. I watched the moms in my community run from one activity to the other and I wondered what kind of superhuman powers they had that I didn't. 

One day, I hit bottom... and through my groans and tears, I made a desperate resolution: I would finally take the advice of a good friend and try an elimination diet. You can read that story in more detail elsewhere but I'll skip to the end for you now... 

I cut out every possible inflammatory food and ingredient and replaced it all with real, fresh food...


And my life changed immediately. 

Within three days, I was able to move one  injured and swollen joint in a way that I hadn't been able to for FIFTEEN YEARS. When people tell me that I must have amazing will power to stay on a clean food diet, I know they are wrong. It isn't difficult for me to choose to live pain free. It isn't difficult to pass up a donut in order to wake up and go to bed with hope. To have health and freedom for the first time in two decades and throw it away on a pastry? I don't think it's any superhuman virtue on my part which allows me to answer an emphatic NO. 

My body was nutrient starved and fatigued from years of struggle. So I kept going with the changes, adding supplements and new foods and eliminating anything that would tax or suppress my immune system. 

Essential oils inevitably made their entrance into my life when I sought natural solutions to things for which I would previously just pop a pill. My immune system was compromised by many years of antibiotic use, so I sought natural anti-bacterial solutions. I learned that ibuprofin is an immunosuppressant and hard on the stomach, so I researched alternatives for pain relief and anti-inflammatories. The list goes on. 

If I have to go to the doctor? I go. Natural solutions and modern medicine make a great team. 

My long-term relationship with essential oils started with oregano. I was extremely sick and pregnant and did extensive research about antibiotic alternatives and ways to support my body through this crisis. I call the results a "miracle" but I know that isn't strictly true. A miracle is when the laws of nature are suspended. But in this case, the effectiveness of this oil was not an atypical result; rather it was a natural result designed by God to bless His people. 

I've also been able to replace a number of household toxins with essential oil recipes and to finally (FINALLY!!) use pampering skin products which don't cause burning or hives. 

Once I got over the false idea that essential oils were some kind of snake oil voodoo, I was awed by the way God had designed plant oils for our benefit. For my benefit. Further evidence of His love for me... and a great consolation on my healing journey.

The journey is not over. I have sustained much damage from years of illness and I do have periodic flare-ups of symptoms (particularly during times of stress). I don't come to these pages as a model of success or perfection as much as I come as a friend seeking to support and to be supported.

I have recovered hope. And I want to offer you hope.

Is it dramatic to say that essential oils have helped to give me that hope? Perhaps... but it's true. It's no more dramatic than saying...

There are nights when I lie awake in bed just to marvel at the experience of being pain-free. 

Thank you, Jesus. 

UPDATE: 

I have finally been diagnosed with Lupus... and while that is not the diagnosis I was hoping for and flare ups are difficult, I continue to manage successfully with natural solutions alone. My hope is to continue to stay off chemo, immunosuppressants, and steroids unless necessary to save my life or injury. And if I do ever need them, I will continue to incorporate natural wellness solutions as my primary approach to health and healing. 

I continue to learn new ways to incorporate oils into my healing; to support my body through periods of immune depression and also to help calm through immune hyperactivity of autoimmune flares. 

For more information on what essential oils I buy and where you can purchase them, click here: GETTING STARTED WITH ESSENTIAL OILS.

How the Love of Another Man Pushed Me Into My Husband's Arms

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Photo courtesy of the beautiful Jeannette Ayoob-Urban

The man stood alone among over 50 women, speaking to them about their own womanhood...

Imagine a weekend retreat with all those women women attending with only that one man, a priest, to dilute the beautiful conflagration of estrogen. I was there and it was awesome. The positive feminine energy was a wonderful balm for my soul. So many "little mothers" to nurture and support!  And oh yes, the healing tears flowed.

Yet as much as I acknowledge the unique role that women play for each other in life (indispensable, really), I also returned home with a renewed appreciation for the role of men in how we come to see ourselves as women... and how we learn to draw closer to Christ through their steady witness.

It doesn't seem like it should have worked out well at all; a lone man speaking about womanhood and motherhood to a bunch of women (mostly mothers) who have 100% more life experience as females than he! But Father's words were more powerful for me than those of any woman I have ever heard speak. They challenged and pierced and illuminated the treasure of my femininity in a new way. And there's a growing part of me (not the former strident feminist part) that marvels and wonders what it is about a man that has the unique power to do just that. 

This experience of masculine speaking to feminine about the feminine was marvelous and unlike some male Catholic speakers who try to understand the "feminine genius" through their masculine lens and misapplication of JPII's marvelous Theology of the Body

I have taken the whole experience apart in my mind a dozen times since I've been home. Without analyzing too much, here are a few points I've been pondering... 

  • The complementarity of man and woman goes well beyond the sexual and does not even need a sexual context or metaphor to be true and powerful. We have been given to each other in service by God and we have been made for each other. The sexual context is singular to the married vocation. I am only married to one man... and yet that complementarity with all other men still exists in a completely beautiful and non-sexual context. I am a bride. I am also physical and spiritual daughter, sister, and mother to many.

  • The priest is consecrated and celibate but still fully male. His masculine gifts put him in a position to lead woman but also to be upheld by her. It is why we kneel for a blessing before him and why he clings to Mary and is upheld by the Spiritual Motherhood which is so honored by the Church.

  • The authentic words of affirmation and confidence given by a man have a powerful impact on a woman... perhaps even more so than another woman can give. As Pope Saint John Paul II said so perfectly:

    "God has assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman." 

Father's priestly counsel pierced my feminine heart all weekend. I was impacted not only by his words through his priestly office, but also by who he was as a person.  And my appreciation grew, not as a fangirl but as a spiritual daughter/sister being led to greatness in Christ. When he looked at us women and told us that we were beautiful in who we are and within the context of our vocation, I believed him; but instead of being drawn to his side, my desire for home steadily ignited. 

Fr. Nathan Cromley {Photo courtesy of Jayme Orn Photography}

That is what every man should do for every woman... Point her to vocation, to her greatness, to her spouse, to her Lord. That is what every woman should do for every man... Show him his capacity for greatness in Christ at home and in the world.

The nearer Father led us to Christ, the stronger that desire grew until it was a flame that became a blazing fire. I was enjoying the retreat and yet I longed to see my husband. To serve him. To be held by him. And a repeated daydream (that also became a dream during sleep) took hold of me there...

I imagined that my husband and I were holding hands and walking up the center aisle of the chapel toward our Eucharistic Lord exposed in the monstrance. And when we arrived in front of Jesus, we knelt together and received His blessing.

It was a physical longing and gripped me so tightly that it surprised me. 

Each time I heard my spiritual Father speak, that desire for my both my husband and my God increased. One man leading me closer to another man, my spouse... through Christ.

Many words have been written about the need in our Church for manly priests; men who not only understand their priestly identity but who understand it in the context of their masculine nature. It is not just an exercise in pastoral speculation... But a true need.

I not only reject the idea of women priests from a theological standpoint but also from a natural one. We need these men, these soul lovers who have taken up the cross of service for our salvation. We need not just what they do but who they are. Their masculinity is a gift that we cannot set aside as some random assignment of biological pieces. 

A woman needs men who will look into her eyes with their strong, confident, gentle love... and communicate to her the matter of her dignity. It is often said that culture will be restored by the heart, the woman. But...

Woman needs man to lead and to teach her through his words and love about her own dignity.
Man needs woman to support him as he carries his cross in the world.
He finds his own dignity and home in the heart of the feminine.
She finds her fortress and fire in the masculine.

It is my fervent prayer that the men of the Church will learn the significance of that role and take it up. Oh, how they could change the world! They are inclined to take it by might and sheer effort but do not know their own potential as soul-lovers.

I left the retreat a little early and went home late Saturday night, missing the two remaining hours on Sunday morning. I wanted to stay and continue to drink deeply from the retreat experience but I also wanted to be able to go to Mass with my family, to be able to sleep a little more deeply (even a quiet retreat stretched my physical limits during this pregnancy), and to hold my littlest girl who was missing her mommy. But mostly...

I wanted to see my husband. 

He texted me a response to my invitation saying: "Whatever you want to do is fine. Stay as long as you like. If you want me to come early, I will." I replied:

"Come and get me!"

... and I felt like a school girl while I waited. I also felt a little like a young bride waiting to see my groom before our our nuptial Mass. My eyes filled with tears when he walked through the door. He got bonus points for the roses that he brought me (husbands, take note!) but I would have rejoiced regardless.

After we arrived home, we imprudently but joyfully stayed up with the children until 1:00 am just being together before family prayers. My toddler fell asleep curled up on my lap and I fell asleep on the couch so quickly that I didn't even kiss my spouse goodnight.

It's not a story of glamorous romance. We are messy, we are weak, and we are broken... And we fall asleep when we don't mean to.

But the more attentive I am to my Lord, the more my heart is drawn to my home. And sometimes, it takes another man to remind me that to be fully who I am in Christ means to draw closer, not to the activity of my vocation, but to the souls with whom I have been entrusted.

The last time I went on retreat (over 11 years ago), I came home ready to change my husband... to form him more perfectly to my (stunted) vision of holy. That was partially (or largely) my immaturity and partially the questionable direction from the priest who essentially told me that my apostolic work was more important than the heart of my husband. And... it was kind of a disaster. I disrespected the treasure that my faithful, prayerful, hard-working, generous, amazing man that my husband always has been. I don't know if he was nervous about my return home this time (he was nothing but encouraging) but he would certainly have been justified! This time however, Father said something (among many things of value) that helped me correct that former error:

Jesus doesn't need new ministries, He needs lovers.

Instead of coming home with an agenda, I came home with a gentle fire. Instead of coming home to make changes to my family members, I came home to love them. Instead of coming home with a list and a massive plan, I came home with the courage to just begin again in steady charity. I also came home with a dozen red roses and a renewed appreciation for the irreplaceable role of the masculine presence in the feminine life. 

To any men reading...

Please lead the women in your life to Christ. Love them, give them courage by your own example, forgive them, make sure they have what they need to be well, and help them see their own beauty and dignity. 

To the women...

Let them. And then serve them with faithfulness, confidence, mercy, and joy. For those who suffer in that holy work, I share a few more of Father's words:

“When your heart is pierced, when your tears flow... Blessed be God! There aren’t enough tears in the world.”

To my husband...

I have no words for the gift that you have always been and continue to be in my life. You married a bratty teenager and you've loved and nurtured her into the woman that I am. Full of weakness and holes and sinfulness, yes... but also so happy. You have poured yourself out to give me life, hope, joy, and Jesus. You have tempered my wayward estrogen with the gentle strength. You have served even when there was no obvious return on the investment. Twenty years ago, you were the one who answered my questions about Christ and then set about to show me... and you are still leading. What all that means to me is inexpressible and touches an intimate part of my soul that knows no adequate expression. But I thank you. And I renew my commitment to our Christ-centered eternal love. 

Thanks be to God!

“Allow yourselves to hunger... Fall in love with Jesus.” {Fr. Nathan Cromly}

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We are fast approaching our 20th wedding anniversary. May Blessed Mother continue to lead us united to her Son.

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Retreat jewelry craft led by artist Andrea Singarella. Roses from my husband. Name tag from the Arise retreat.

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Photo of the attendees of the Arise Retreat. Over 50 amazing women... and one Fr. Nathan. {Photo courtesy of Jayme Orn Photography} My deepest gratitude to Brooke Taylor for running with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to make this event happen and to every woman there who said yes to that same Spirit by attending. 

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Photo of our walking Rosary courtesy of Jayme Orn Photography