Starting Small – Welcome to the New Year

The new tree

I planted a small podocarpus recently. The front yard needed another shade tree and winter is the best time to plant in Florida. There used to be a larger tree there, a southern magnolia planted two years ago this coming March. Unfortunately it was done in by the one-two combination of hurricane Matthew last year followed by Irma this year. So, time to try again.

This time I went small, real small. I found a 1-gallon, two-stemmed, 20” tall Podocarpus macrophyllus “shrub” for $5.00. After getting it in the ground and eliminating the smaller stem, I’ve rechristened it a “tree.” Or maybe I should say “a tree to be.” Although typically pruned as shrubs here, P. macrophyllus does grow into a large tree if given time. That’s my plan; give it time and attention.

I’ll have to wait for the shade of course, but it was a whole lot easier to plant this little tree than a 25- or even 15-gallon version. Also a smaller plant will establish more quickly (meaning less watering for me) and will be at less risk of root disruption when hurricane season stars again next summer. All of the small stuff I planted along with the magnolia made it through the storms just fine. Hopefully this little guy will too.

As we see from the magnolia, not all plants work out as intended, but if you walk around my yard there are many large and medium sized trees that used to be tiny. Time and persistence can work wonders for your landscape.

Same with health and wellbeing. Many times our 25-gallon resolutions don’t lead to deep-rooted habits fast enough to avoid toppling when the storms of life hit; while smaller initiatives, implemented slowly and progressively, have a better chance of long-term survival come what may.

Welcome to the New Year! I hope you grow many good roots in 2018!

Let me know if I can help.

Sincerely,

Pete

I Did It ! (but I shoulda done it a while ago)

I finally did it! Last month I joined Planet Fitness and have begun to use an elliptical machine. Today I completed my ninth workout and I’m really enjoying it. Why didn’t I do this a year ago? Or even two years ago?

As you long-time readers know, a couple of years ago I suffered a medical meniscus tear in my right knee. I was fortunate in that it got considerably better rather quickly. Now I’m minimally symptomatic at rest and with walking, but every time I’ve tried to run, it lets me know that my running days are over.

Unfortunately, running was my main aerobic workout. Since walking wasn’t a problem, Sharon and I started walking together, and we’ve been going 3 miles twice a week. We enjoy the exercise and the time to talk but I’ve been missing the intensity of running. Healthwise, my weight is stable but my cardiorespiratory fitness must be way down as it hasn’t been seriously challenged in almost three years.

So, for at least two years now, I’ve been thinking, I should join a gym. I should work out on an elliptical machine. Or maybe hit the rowing hard again. Or try a NordicTrack. I should do something aerobic! But I didn’t. Until now. And now, I’m thinking, I should have done this before now. Long before. Why didn’t I do this last year? Why did I procrastinate? I’m a lazy person.

Oh well. Whatever. I’m not sure why it took me so long. As the saying goes, “it takes what it takes” and beating myself up about it isn’t necessary or helpful. I’m deciding to just be happy I’ve started. And of course I’m going to keep at it.

How about you? What are you putting off? Or what are you “woulda, coulda, shouda – ing yourself over? The past is past. Let the critical self-talk go and just do the right thing now. Then keep at it.

Good luck,

Pete

Autobiographies of Ordinary People

I’m still thinking about “being GREAT” and the intense focus on the “great” men and women of history or of today. Like me, you may read their biographies and autobiographies looking for insight – What can I learn from his life? How did they get to be great? What are their habits? How can I be like them? That’s okay I guess, but it’s not that simple. Great people seem to develop from some combination of circumstances, character and abilities that doesn’t seem easily replicable by most of us.

I’ve figured out that I’m not going to be great by society’s measures. And it’s also the case that many great men have terrible flaws – obsessiveness, arrogance, cruelty, greed, and the like – which may even have helped propel them to fame and fortune. I don’t want to be like that. Greatness at any price is not worth the cost. No, my challenge is to be great at living an ordinary life. How can I be a great husband and dad, a great employee, a great friend? Whose biographies do I read? Whose lives do I study?

Even reading the Bible, I’m tempted to identify myself with Paul, Peter, David, Joseph or some other prominent person. But these guys are amazingly great men of God. All of us simply can’t be like them. Perhaps it would be more realistic for me to identify with someone in the “multitude,” or “crowd,” or among “…the three thousand that were added…” Unfortunately it seems that most anyone in the Bible that gets much ink isn’t very ordinary.

It got me thinking that maybe I should start reading biographies of ordinary people with extraordinary character. Do they exist? I don’t know, but I do know that I’m learning a lot about life from trusted friends. We meet weekly to encourage and guide each other through life’s up and downs as we follow Jesus. We share our stories along with our hopes, dreams and fears. Last week it struck me that I’m hearing their autobiographies – as told by the authors – and they’re hearing mine. And we’re helping one another plan the next installment. Sort of an “autobiography writer’s group” as it were. Cool!

Autobiographies of ordinary people – they do exist. And they’re powerful. Hear a few from people you trust and find some friends to help you write yours. You’ll be glad you did.

Pete

 

Back to the Books

Now I remember why I didn’t want to be an endocrinologist!

My internal medicine board certification is set to expire at the end of this year. It lasts for ten years at a time, which seems pretty long until the end gets in sight. Well, the end is now in sight. Bummer.

The internal medicine certifying exam is quite hard. A lot of the questions end with a twist. I’ll be reading the clinical vignette thinking – “I’ve got this! Yes it’s an unusual case but clearly the diagnosis is __________” only to find the question at the end is not “what is the diagnosis? but rather “the best treatment is __________” and five potential treatments (all of which are good for that condition) are listed. Which is best? Why? Back to the story for more clues. It can be pretty frustrating.

I don’t really need to be board certified anymore. My clinical practice days are over, and my most recent administrative jobs have been very high level. But it feels bad to let the certification go. So I’ve decided to hit the books and take the test.

I’m enjoying the studying. It reminds me of when I was a “real doctor” and medicine is indeed very interesting. But it’s also a bit intimidating. There’s so much to learn. A lot of new things in ten years, but even reviewing the basics is a massive and daunting undertaking. Did I really know all this once?

Honestly, I put my chances of passing at 50/50 with the amount of work I’m willing and able to accomplish in the next 4½ months. More will be revealed.

In any event, I’m trying to learn more than just the facts. What higher-level messages am I getting during this process? Here are a few that I already knew (and you probably do too) but are coming to me with renewed force:

Your physiology is very, very, very complicated and finely tuned. Everything interacts with everything else. It’s all connected. Your body really is extraordinary, a marvel, even a “miracle.” If you’ve never studied biology, it would be worth it to learn just enough to be convinced of this through your own study. It could change how you think about your health – or your life.

When something goes wrong, other things are apt to go wrong. This is a natural corollary of “it’s all connected.” I learned this from simple observation in resident clinic. Serious conditions occur together. If you have one, you’re likely to have a bunch. Not all of them are avoidable, but try not to get that first one. Take care of yourself.

Many serious illnesses don’t have an identifiable cause. Some are autoimmune conditions, but then what exactly causes auto immunity? Others are more obscure. Perhaps unidentified genetics or environmental issues are at fault. We just don’t know, and perhaps some cause will be identified sooner or later. For now, sometimes what you get is what you get and there just is no explanation. That’s a hard message.

Doctors have a tough job. There’s so much to know and a great deal of judgment is necessary to balance risks, benefits and competing priorities in managing any reasonable complex individual patient’s situation. Normal physiology is complicated. Pathophysiology is more so. Then you’ve got the various diagnostic tests – sensitivity, specificity, risks, indications, contraindications, etc. – and the treatment options come with a similar set of issues. Back when I was a doctor, this was everyday stuff, not something to moan about, but now that I’m out of practice I have a growing respect for those who are still in the trenches.

As my studies progress, I’ll try to revisit what I’m learning, but this seems like enough for now. My basic message – It’s no fun to be sick, and sickness often snowballs. Take care of your health as best you can. Even then, things might go wrong for no apparent reason. If they do, find a doctor you trust to walk with you on your journey.

And, although it’s not in any of my study materials, trust God.

Pete

_______________________________

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
Psalm 139:13-14 NLT

Getting a Radically Healthy Lifestyle – Bit by Bit

Salad, it’s what’s for dinner

A couple of weeks ago over lunch, a friend and I got to talking about our respective health. As a reader here, you know that I pay attention to my health and lifestyle. This guy does too. We’re both relatively lean and fit middle-aged men, and we both eat a “healthy diet.” So I was a little surprised to find out that his cholesterol has been “too high” for years and perhaps he was similarly surprised when I revealed that some of my fasting blood sugars have been “too high” off and on. How could that be when we’re doing everything right?

Well… Good question. All is not controllable of course. Metabolic disorders can and do occur, even in folks who are doing “everything right,” for genetic or other reasons. “Just bad luck I guess” summed up the next few minutes’ conversation as we consoled ourselves. But then we came around – “Honestly, are we doing everything right? Are there actions that could improve our health (and bring those lab results back into the ideal range)? What else can we do?”

We came up with the typical list of incremental solutions – lose a couple of pounds, exercise a bit more, reduce snack foods/desserts/simple carbs/etc. – before getting radical. Sure those are all good, but how about eating vegan? No meat, no dairy – that’s radical! Would it help? Almost certainly. Will we do it? Maybe, maybe not. It’s hard to make such a radical change.

Yet we both have been improving our habits over the years. We both already live lifestyles that represent radical departures from those of average Americans. I do eat a lot less meat and more vegetables than I used to. How did that happen? For me at least, a little at a time. Bit by bit. Learning, growing, adjusting. It’s been a slow process.

Our conversation brought to mind the book Eat to Live by Dr Joel Furman, which I have read several times. If you only want to read one book on healthy eating – this should be the one. It’s radical, too radical for most of us.  Frankly it’s been too radical for me, but eating the way he recommends does cure people. I’ve seen it. Reading it again last week reminded me that I have farther to go. There is more that I can do. There is more I will do. I probably won’t do it all at once, but I’m going to keep at it.

How about you? Not ready to make the big changes that you know are indicated? Fine. Take a small step. Then keep stepping.

Let me know how I can help,

Pete

Learning, Regretting, Repenting and New Year’s Resolutions

“Looking back, I have no regrets and I wouldn’t change a thing.”   That may not be exactly right, but it’s close enough to what the celebrity said during the interview on her life and career. I read it in the newspaper recently and it got me thinking because that’s definitely not my experience. Of course I don’t know her, but I do know what it is to be human. Perhaps she’s had the perfect life, but I think it’s more likely that she has a hard time admitting her faults, at least to the media. Or maybe she simply hasn’t learned anything.

I’m happy to be alive, learning and growing, but it’s not always easy. As I learn new things, pretty often I find myself regretting my past behavior. Learning how to be a better person in various roles (parent, spouse, friend, employee, leader) means recognizing that my prior actions were often self-serving, counterproductive, short-sighted or just plain inadequate. Ouch! That hurts. It’s painful to admit that I’m not and haven’t been that good, and it causes me to regret (that is, experience a feeling of sadness) about my past behavior.

Yet that’s normal, helpful even. Can there be any meaningful learning without regretting? I don’t think so. We absolutely should experience regret from time to time; the more new things we learn, the more past behavior we will have to regret. The question is what do we do with those feelings? How do we not get stuck in guilt, sadness and despair?

Sometimes the regrets are minor in nature and easily dismissed. True example, I am contemplating writing another book, and have just now learned how to make an automatically updating table of contents in Word. Wow, so easy! I feel stupid for not learning that before. Why didn’t I take the time to do so? How much time have I wasted changing subtitles and page numbers? Oh well, it’s negligible in the big picture, and not worth thinking about any further. I’m excited to know how to do it now.

But regrets are not always so simple to dismiss. What about the things we did that hurt people? What about the money or years we squandered? How about the health we took for granted or compromised through self-destructive behavior? As Christians we should be led from regret, a mere sadness over our past actions, to confession and repentance; confession being the open admission of our guilt – our poor or inadequate behavior has caused harm, and repentance being a desire and intent to change for the better added to the sorrow of regret.

Repentance and confession to God allows us to experience his forgiveness. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. God’s verdict is “Not Guilty,” and knowing that should help us work through our sadness and regret without minimizing our past. Repentance and confession to other people may or may not result in their forgiveness, but it does allow us to be open to correcting wrongs where we can, and it’s helpful as we try to make a positive change going ahead. The Bible encourages us to confess our sins to one another.

Yet, the process isn’t without pain, which can cause us to look for an easier path. “No regrets, just be different! Change without guilt! Just do it!” How often we just try to be different without grappling with our weaknesses and our pasts. But there are no short cuts. Denying your nature and avoiding guilt puts you on the wrong road; it’s as much as a problem as getting stuck in the guilt. Neither gets you to the destination you seek. The path goes through the sorrow not around it.

Perhaps now at the start of 2016, you’re contemplating one or more New Year’s Resolutions. Maybe you want to be more healthy and well – physically, emotionally or spiritually. If so, don’t avoid the regret. Acknowledge the past, your guilt, and your weakness. Regret. Repent. Confess. Receive the verdict of “Not Guilty.” Then make your resolution.

Let me know if I can help.

Alive, Learning and Growing

I’m another year older today. Birthday-wise I’m almost in sync with the calendar year, just five or six days off, depending on how you think about it. So for me, and the calendar, another year’s over and a new one’s about to begin.

Like many people at this time of year, I find myself taking stock of my personal situation and asking questions like, Where am I in life? How’s my health? My wealth? Where am I professionally? How’s my marriage? How are the kids doing? What have I learned? Where am I going? Perhaps you are asking yourself similar questions. Although we all have ups and downs from year to year, it’s been mostly up for us lately. All in all, 2015 was a very good year for my family. God has richly blessed us, and I’m looking forward to 2016.

But beyond my life “situation” there is a deeper question, How am I?   Aside from my health, wealth, accomplishments, relationships and other external matters – How am I inside? Who am I inside? Even to me my own life is somewhat mysterious. Who can fully understand or explain themselves? I know I can’t. The best answer seems to be – I’m still alive, and I’m still learning and growing.

It feels good to be alive! And to be learning and growing. Ups and downs will happen no doubt, but Jesus has paid the price. He’s got my back, and in the big picture all is well. Resting in him frees me to be at peace and to enjoy the unfolding mystery of my own existence.  Of course I’m still learning that and growing in my ability to do so.  I hope you are too.

____________________________

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” – Jesus (John 14:27 NLT)