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Lent 2021

I don’t know about you, but last Lent was one I won’t forget. We experienced most of those forty days in a virtual lockdown due to pandemic. Those were scary and uncertain times, and although the pandemic still rages throughout the world, there’s less uncertainty thanks to more effective treatments, vaccines, and being careful.

Today, the first day of the penitential season of Lent, is Ash Wednesday. As with most traditions, the distribution of ashes will be different this year. Instead of being marked with ashes on our forehead, a visible sign to those around us that we are Christians who want to be a sign to the world that Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6), ashes will be sprinkled on the tops of our heads. The ashes remind the world that authentically living the Christian faith comes with difficulties and trials, especially in these times. With this new way of distributing them, the ashes will not be as visible as they have been in the past. In fact, most people will not see them. But we will know they are there. As with many things since the pandemic came upon us, we have lived our faith more privately, interiorly. I think this is a beautiful thing, since now we have more time to be with the Lord, just the two of us. Of course, we should all have the deep desire to return to ongoing participation of the sacramental life, especially Eucharist and Reconciliation, and many of us have done just that, following all the necessary precautions. One day soon, please God, the limits currently in place will be a distant memory and our faith life will get back to normalcy.

In case you are looking for help to experience a rich and holy Lent, here are some web resources:

Jesuit Office of Ignatian Spirituality

Ignatianspirituality.com

I pray that each person reading this post experiences and savors all that the Lord wants to give them throughout this holy season. Let’s remember to pray for each other, for the Church, and for the world over the next forty days. As my old friend and pastor used to say often, “prayer changes things.” Amen to that!

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Let’s Get Cooking

At the end of 2019, I began thinking about a particular goal for 2020. I wanted to start hosting monthly dinner parties for small groups of friends, mainly so I could introduce them to some healthy recipes which would be easy for them to replicate. I was excited to get going, and began looking for recipes to try.

I was following a low carb keto diet at the recommendation of my nutritionist. I had met with him that summer, and due to my desire to get better control of my Type II diabetes, he felt the keto diet might be easy for me to follow and have positive effects. Although I was not able to pull off a January dinner, I had set one up for the end of February and was really looking forward to it. Then Covid hit, and with a speed which still shocks me, the world as we knew it changed and life was anything but normal.

Now, here we are in February of 2021, and I’m back to planning future dinners for small groups of friends. In my area, Covid cases continue to decline, and many people are being vaccinated every day. Because of my age, my guess is that I won’t get the vaccine before fall, so my dinners will be up and running as the weather cools and heartier meals are called for. So, where to start? How about Julia Child’s famous Beef Bourguignon!

Now, I have to admit that I’ve never tried this dish. I know it’s hearty and I know that to make it right, you have to follow the recipe closely. Or so I thought. Thanks to the internet, I quickly realized that everyone and their brother/sister have a version of this much beloved French recipe, including the famous one from Julia Child, but also one (and not so fussy), from Ina Garten. For my first experiment, I settled on the Julia Child recipe on Epicurious. I loved that it was a pretty straightforward recipe using simple, easy to find and inexpensive ingredients. Coming in at around 700 calories and 24 carbs (with 4.8 grams of fiber), it met my nutritionist’s basic guidelines to keep my three daily meals to about 30 carbs per meal. I could serve it over Cauliflower Rice (4 carbs) and be under my target. The results were great and I enjoyed the meal immensely. Two days later, I made Ina Garten’s recipe, and I found it also delicious! I have to admit that with the isolation with Covid, I had not been taking the time to cook well.

The next day, I was talking to a friend and told her about my Beef Bourguignon meal and how delicious it was. She asked, “you made all that food just for yourself?” Hmm. I responded, “no, I made it for the people who will be coming to my dinner in October.” Now, I have to say that I’ve already eaten what I cooked the other night, but that meal was in anticipation of a future meal when my life gets back to some sense of normalcy.

So many people are stuck in place, with so much uncertainty and worry. We’ve all been there, and it’s time to get unstuck. I believe we need to start planning for the future, when we can start gathering with friends and family, without fear. That time is on the horizon, and won’t it be wonderful to share a beautiful and healthy meal with those we love? Let’s get cooking!

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So Long 2020

Last night, I had some friends over for food, fellowship and prayer. It was the first time since the spring that I’ve had more than one friend come over, and it felt so good to have our little gathering. COVID has affected each of us in different ways, with one person with us coming down with the virus this past summer and gratefully, it was a mild case and he has fully recovered.

More than anything, this virus has been a major disrupter to daily life to people all over the world. This has been especially true for those who regularly attend church services. As Catholics, my friends and I have been participating in the sacramental life since childhood. The sacraments are a critical link to God and our faith community, and it was a terrible loss when religious services were declared “non-essential” by government officials and effectively banned throughout the world.

Participating in services on line vs. in person were helpful, but in reality they were a poor substitute for being physically present to pray and receive the Eucharist. Gratefully, there has been a gradual lifting of the restrictions and we have slowly been able to get back to Church, although the number of people able to be physically present is limited and many continue to choose to participate virtually.

Last night, my friends and I reflected on all the many blessings we have received in 2020. Sometimes, it’s very easy to remember all the negatives which have happened since COVID came to our shores at the beginning of the year. In truth, there have also been many things/events to be grateful for. As the year ends, I suggest that we focus on the blessings, which might help prepare us for the 2021, now just beginning. We cannot predict the future, but we can trust that the Lord wants the best for us and will be there every day, just as He has always been.

May God bless you and those you love in the days and months ahead.

Happy New Year!

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Fall Has Arrived

Finally, here in my neck of the woods, the cooler days and nights of fall have arrived. I’m so grateful, since the summer humidity and heat kept me inside more than usual, enjoying the air conditioning. I know that other parts of the country are experiencing horrific storms, be the fire, water and/or wind. Please pray for all those experiencing these terrible and life-changing events, asking the Lord for all their difficulties be over quickly.

Last weekend, I had the chance to lead a day retreat for a wonderful group of people. We all practiced the precautions necessary to avoid COVID, and it was a great day. More than anything, it was good to be with others. Although the group was not large, it was still the biggest inside gathering I had been a part of since before the virus hit. It made me realize how good it is to gather together, to focus on all the good happening around us, and realize just how blessed we are, despite all negative parts of our daily life. As the seasons change and the days continue to become shorter, I think it’s always a good time to take stock of where we are and where we want to go in the season ahead. As someone on my retreat noted, it all depends on where you put your focus. Well said.

Friends, with the upcoming election and the continuing unrest, we have a great opportunity to show ourselves as we truly are: children of God. As St. Ignatius noted at the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises- Let’s assume the best in other people, having a generous spirit towards all those we meet, for they too are God’s children, whether they recognize it or not.

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Feast of St. Ignatius

Today, July 31st, is the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, one of my favorite saints and a true hero to me.  I didn’t know much about him growing up, and in fact, only came to dig deep into his story in my early forties.  While he was alive, he was a force of nature and the spirituality which flowed out of his powerful conversion and later his Spiritual Exercises literally changed the world.  He’s still having an impact today, not only in my life, but in the lives of millions of others.

I’m always struck by the fact that the saints recognized in the Catholic Church are celebrated, not on the date of their birth, as is normative in most cultures, but on the day the person died, born into Eternal Life.

You can find more about Ignatius on many other posts on this site or do a google search.  You will find volumes.

Join me in praying this Ignatian prayer, so challenging but also very freeing:

The Suscipe Prayer

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will – all that I have and call my own.

You have gift it all to me.  To you, Lord, I return it.  Everything is yours; do with it what you will.

Give me only your love and your grace.  That is enough for me.

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An Afternoon of Normalcy

Last week, I received an email from the Retreat Center where I have been leading retreats for the last several years, and where I meet monthly with people for Spiritual Direction.  Bon Secours is like a second home, and oasis for me and I haven’t been on the property for months due to the pandemic.  One of the staff sent the email, asking if I would be willing to participate in a “test retreat day” before they officially reopen this weekend. Although I’m super busy right now, I said yes, mainly because I wanted to reconnect with this holy ground.

I felt blessed when our little group gathered, learning that there were just six of us.  The day would be in silence, but we were encouraged to walk around (with mask on) and explore the familiar property, being sensitive to social distancing rules.  So far, it’s been a wonderful day, with very few people on the property.  I’ve been here many times when there are multiple retreats, all sold out, and the place is filled with people seeking to take some time away, to pray, relax and rest.

I have to admit that the place seems rather lonely, but with all that’s going on right now with the resurgence of the pandemic, I’m glad the few that are here have the place mostly to ourselves.  The bridge in the photo, seen in other posts on this site, is situated at the end of the pond next to the Retreat Center.  I guess I’ve been coming here for nearly thirty years, making various retreats or just stopping by for some exercise, and one of my favorite activities is to walk around this pond, eventually walking over the bridge.  I always think about how I’m generally in one place, but feel pulled to go somewhere different, somewhere new, someplace holier.  I love the bridge metaphor, and as I cross from one side to the other, I sense that the Lord is always calling me to somewhere new.  I can leave my “baggage,” no matter what that might be, on the side I leave, slowly making my way to the other side.  I often stop mid-way, looking down and the koi swimming in the water underneath me, oblivious to my presence.  So very normal.

I’m glad to be here today, returning to a place of normalcy for me.  I can’t wait for my next retreat, to be held in September and entitled “Finding God in the Mess.”  I came up with that before the pandemic hit, but now, is realize it was very providential.  Who could have imagined all that has occurred since the early part of 2020?  In talking with some folks here today, we are all longing for a return to normalcy, but none of us knows what that might look like, or when the return will come, if it ever fully does.  For me, I’m satisfied with my return to Bon Secours today, even just for a few hours.  As I sit here, I’m sensing the Lord is calling me across this little bridge, encouraging me to experience a new normal, trusting that all will be well, and that He’s right here with me, no matter which side of the bridge I’m on.  He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, and He loves you very much.

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Seize The Day

Wow, we’re back!  It seems like forever since I last did a post.  Some of it had to do with a big platform conversion, returning http://www.makingallthingsnew.com back to WordPress.  A longtime friend, who has been very generous over the years with his time and talent facilitated the switch, which involved moving years worth of content.  I have to add that the current pandemic we have been experiencing the last several months, with no end in site, also played a role.

But here we are, ready to seize the day and partner with God to make something good of it.  I took this photo three years ago.  I had just finished defending my dissertation, and was exhausted.  Wisely, I made plans months before to make a retreat and I chose a Jesuit retreat center in Gloucester, MA.  Eastern Point  faces the Atlantic Ocean, and let me just say its a wonderful place if you are seeking to recharge.

The main building of the center is a large mansion, built for a wealthy family early in the 20th century.  The photo is of a sundial mounted on the ocean-facing side of the house.  I guess it’s probably been there for nearly 100 years at this point, still performing the function for which it was made.

When I saw it, I reflected on the words, Carpe Diem, or Seize the Day.  I remembered the scene in the movie Dead Poet’s Society, where Robin Williams, playing the role as teacher Mr. Keating, challenged the boys gathered around him, looking at photos of long-dead former students, to seize the day and make their lives extraordinary. 

Friends, we seem to be at a major crossroads as a country and as a culture, and for me at least, it’s hard to see how it gets played out.  This being said, the Lord called us to not be afraid.  He promised to be with us always, until the end of the age.  I believe in that promise, made two thousand years ago, and I for one trust in it deeply.

So, with this fresh new beginning at Making All Things New, the very title of the blog speaks to me.  God is making something new, even though it’s not too clear at this moment.  Let’s not give into despair and useless anxiety, which won’t help us much.  Instead, let’s seize the day, and focus on all the good which is around us, and pray to God that we can make our lives extraordinary so as to be beacons of light to those around us. In these days, that would be extraordinary indeed.

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He Has Risen Indeed

Happy Easter! I first heard about this painting of the Resurrection in a book (I can’t remember which one) by one of my favorite travel writers, Frances Mayes. The masterpiece resides in the Tuscan hill town of Sansepolcro, and was painted by Piero della Francesca sometime in the 1460’s. It modern times, it was made famous by the British author Aldous Huxley, who upon seeing it for the first time in 1920, called it “the greatest picture in the world.” Seeing it myself is on my bucket list. Maybe one day…

Today, let us ask for the grace to share the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection with all those we talk to in the coming days and weeks. The world needs this good news and we should not be afraid to share it. Let’s not be asleep like the soldiers in the painting, and miss the opportunities all around us.
Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ, King of eternal glory! Alleluia!

Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ, triumphing over death, rising again to share Your message of peace and hope! Alleluia!

Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ, for sending Your disciples out to share Your labors and Your eternal life! Alleluia! Amen!

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Sowers of Hope

On this most unusual Holy Saturday, I’ve been at home all day. The birds are out, the flowers are blooming and the trees are leafing out. The world, as it always does, keeps it’s rhythms. For people all over the world, however, life isn’t the same. A worldwide pandemic has altered our normal rhythms. I was supposed to be on a Triduum retreat this weekend, but it was canceled. I was hoping to replicate my time there last year, where the quiet and peace of those days were such a respite for me.

Like believers all over the world, the Triduum liturgies will be seen online, since our churches are closed as a precaution against the virus. To be honest, I’ve gotten a lot out of the experience, and have watched priests, bishops and the pope do their best to help us feel connected. God bless them for their efforts. In his Easter Vigil Homily, Pope Francis talked about the importance of planting seeds of hope. Jesus, the premiant Sower of hope, gives us an example to follow. The world is in much need of hope right now. Everywhere, right down to our own houses and friends. Instead of despair and worry, let’s plant seeds of hope during this Easter Season. Let’s start with ourselves and our own hearts.

Here is the Holy Father’s Easter Vigil homily for your reflection and encouragement:

The women bring spices to the tomb, but they fear that their journey is in vain, since a large stone bars the entrance to the sepulcher. The journey of those women is also our own journey; it resembles the journey of salvation that we have made this evening.
At times, it seems that everything comes up against a stone: the beauty of
creation against the tragedy of sin; liberation from slavery against infidelity
to the covenant; the promises of the prophets against the listless indifference
of the people. So too, in the history of the Church and in our own
personal history. It seems that the steps we take never take us to the
goal. We can be tempted to think that dashed hope is the bleak law of
life.

Today however we see that our journey is not in vain; it does not come up against a tombstone. A single phrase astounds the woman and changes history: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Lk 24:5). Why do you think that
everything is hopeless, that no one can take away your own tombstones?
Why do you give into resignation and failure? Easter is the feast of
tombstones taken away, rocks rolled aside. God takes away even the
hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin,
fear, worldliness. Human history does not end before a tombstone, because
today it encounters the “living stone” (cf. 1 Pet 2:4), the risen
Jesus. We, as Church, are built on him, and, even when we grow
disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, he
comes to make all things new, to overturn our every disappointment. Each
of us is called tonight to rediscover in the Risen Christ the one who rolls
back from our heart the heaviest of stones. So let us first ask: What
is the stone that I need to remove, what is its name?

Often what blocks hope is the stone of discouragement. Once we start thinking that
everything is going badly and that things can’t get worse, we lose heart and
come to believe that death is stronger than life. We become cynical, negative
and despondent. Stone upon stone, we build within ourselves a monument to
our own dissatisfaction: the sepulcher of hope. Life becomes a
succession of complaints and we grow sick in spirit. A kind of tomb
psychology takes over: everything ends there, with no hope of emerging
alive. But at that moment, we hear once more the insistent question of
Easter: Why do you seek the living among the dead? The Lord is not to be
found in resignation. He is risen; he is not there. Don’t seek him
where you will never find him: he is not the God of the dead but of the living
(cf. Mk 22:32). Do not bury hope!

There is another stone that often seals the heart shut: the stone of sin. Sin
seduces; it promises things easy and quick, prosperity and success, but then
leaves behind only solitude and death. Sin is looking for life among the
dead, for the meaning of life in things that pass away. Why do you
seek the living among the dead? Why not make up your mind to abandon
that sin which, like a stone before the entrance to your heart, keeps God’s
light from entering in? Why not prefer Jesus, the true light (cf. Jn1:9),
to the glitter of wealth, career, pride and pleasure? Why not tell the
empty things of this world that you no longer live for them, but for the Lord
of life?

Let us return to the women who went to Jesus’ tomb. They halted in amazement before the stone that was taken away. Seeing the angels, they stood there, the Gospel
tells us, “frightened, and bowed their faces to the ground” (Lk 24:5).
They did not have the courage to look up. How often do we do the same
thing? We prefer to remain huddled within our shortcomings, cowering in our
fears. It is odd, but why do we do this? Not infrequently
because, glum and closed up within ourselves, we feel in control, for it is
easier to remain alone in the darkness of our heart than to open ourselves to
the Lord. Yet only he can raise us up. A poet once wrote: “We never
know how high we are. Till we are called to rise” (E. Dickinson).
The Lord calls us to get up, to rise at his word, to look up and to realize
that we were made for heaven, not for earth, for the heights of life and not
for the depths of death: Why do you seek the living among the dead?

God asks us to view life as he views it, for in each of us he never ceases to see an
irrepressible kernel of beauty. In sin, he sees sons and daughters to be
restored; in death, brothers and sisters to be reborn; in desolation, hearts to
be revived. Do not fear, then: the Lord loves your life, even when you
are afraid to look at it and take it in hand. In Easter he shows you how
much he loves that life: even to the point of living it completely,
experiencing anguish, abandonment, death and hell, in order to emerge
triumphant to tell you: “You are not alone; put your trust in me!”.

Jesus is a specialist at turning our deaths into life, our mourning into dancing (cf. Ps 30:11). With him, we too can experience a Pasch, that is, a Passover– from self-centeredness to communion, from desolation to consolation, from fear to confidence.

Let us not keep our faces bowed to the ground in fear, but raise our eyes to
the risen Jesus. His gaze fills us with hope, for it tells us that we are
loved unfailingly, and that however much we make a mess of things, his love
remains unchanged. This is the one, non-negotiable certitude we have in
life: his love does not change. Let us ask ourselves: In my life,
where am I looking? Am I gazing at graveyards, or looking for the Living
One?

Why do you seek the living among the dead? The women hear the words of the angels, who go on to say: “Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee” (Lk 24:6).
Those woman had lost hope, because they could not recall the words of Jesus,
his call that took place in Galilee. Having lost the living memory of
Jesus, they kept looking at the tomb. Faith always needs to go back to
Galilee, to reawaken its first love for Jesus and his call: to remember him,
to turn back to him with all our mind and all our heart. To return
to a lively love of the Lord is essential. Otherwise, ours is a “museum”
faith, not an Easter faith. Jesus is not a personage from the past; he is
a person living today. We do not know him from history books; we encounter
him in life. Today, let us remember how Jesus first called us, how he
overcame our darkness, our resistance, our sins, and how he touched our hearts
with his word.

The women, remembering Jesus, left the tomb. Easter teaches us that believers do not linger at graveyards, for they are called to go forth to meet the Living One. Let
us ask ourselves: In my life, where am I going? Sometimes we go
only in the direction of our problems, of which there are plenty, and go to the
Lord only for help. But then, it is our own needs, not Jesus, to guide
our steps. We keep seeking the Living One among the dead. Or again,
how many times, once we have encountered the Lord, do we return to the dead,
digging up regrets, reproaches, hurts and dissatisfactions, without letting the
Risen One change us?

Dear brothers and sisters: let us put the Living One at the center of our lives. Let us ask for the grace not to be carried by the current, the sea of our problems; the
grace not to run aground on the shoals of sin or crash on the reefs of
discouragement and fear. Let us seek him in all things and above all
things. With him, we will rise again.

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Diet Choices and Diabetes

When I was first diagnosed with Type II diabetes, I was simply overwhelmed with information about which diet might be most helpful for someone with this chronic illness. The medical staff at my local diabetes center were of little help. My sessions with them, sadly to say, seemed to be designed to scare me into submission. They focused more on foods they said I could never eat again, like pasta, and emphasized portion sizes that reminded me of my thumbprint. All the books I tried to read gave conflicting information, and the websites I visited all seemed to be selling “the cure.”

Over the span of months, I settled into the rather extreme vegan diet, recommended by one of the top diabetes doctors. I liked his approach because he didn’t emphasize portion control, but rather focused on eating certain kinds of food until you were full. Those certain kinds food, as you can guess, consisted of lots of veggies, some fruit, some pasta, grains, etc., but no meat or dairy. With my exercise routine developing and making a difference, this was the next big step I had to take. I want to say right off the bat that this diet, extreme as it was, helped me lose 65 pounds in the span of about 40 weeks, which was the length of time it took me to go through St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises.

To be honest, after many months, the vegan diet became difficult, especially as the holiday season approached. It was really hard not to be able to share the same foods (which I love) with those who were around the table with me. Eventually, I gave up, although this did not affect my exercise and prayer routines, which by then had become integral to my daily life.

Fast forward ten years, and my spring doctor’s appointment this past May. So, it might be helpful to give you a little background on this doctor visit. Two years ago, I felt like my local doctor (morbidly obese himself), was not especially concerned that my glucose levels, along with my weight, were both on a gradual upward trajectory. I felt like I needed a doctor with some expertise in working with diabetes patients over the long haul. I began searching and was grateful that my insurance covered visits to the Johns Hopkins Diabetes Center, not too far from where I live. When I called, I was amazed that it would take a year before I could get an appointment. Imagine that. Anyway, when I did meet a doctor there, I have to say it was probably one of the best doctor appointments I ever had. He spent nearly two hours with me and gave me such sound advice and confidence that I left there feeling like I had a new lease on life.

That being said, changes needed to be made. I needed to refocus my efforts on changing my diet and exercise routines once again. Because I had some family friends who had been on the keto diet for years and had great success and seemed to have a sincere love of life, I decided to give it a try. Although very different from the vegan diet I began my health improvement journey with years ago, I was equally surprised to see the positive effects this diet had on my physical health. But it too was a hard diet to follow and after some success, old habits came back, along with the weight I had lost. I’m sure most of you reading these words have had similar experiences.
The doctor at Hopkins recommended I meet with a nutritionist, since there were some other things my test results showed which could benefit from the input of an expert in this area. I made the appointment and had to wait several weeks before I could be seen. While I was waiting, I came across an article in the newspaper about one of the founders of Johns Hopkins Hospital, William Osler. As a student at Hopkins, I remembered seeing a huge portrait of him, along with the other three “founders,” but didn’t really know anything about him. The article mentioned that he was the person who began what we now know as “ground rounds.” He also wrote a medical school classic entitled “The Principles and Practice of Medicine,” which was, from what I read in the article, a primary medical school textbook for generations of future doctors. I found the article interesting and, maybe out of boredom that day, decided to do a google search on the good doctor Osler. I quickly found that a PDF version of his book was online. I saw in the table of contents that there was a chapter on “Diabetes Mellitus,” which Dr. Osler defined as a “disorder of nutrition…” Imagine that. Well over a century ago, a preemninat medical school/hospital founder made it clear that what we eat is directly tied to diabetes. Now, I know that this may seem so basic for some, and its true I already knew this from years of daily glocuse testing myself, but hearing it once again was a little jolt. What came next in my reading was even more fascinating. Without using the name, Osler went on to propose a treatment plan which was, I think, an early keto/low carb diet. “the carbohydrates in the food shoud be reduced to a minimum.” Wow.

When I did finally meet with the nutriionist, I didn’t mention what I had recently read from Doctor Osler’s book. What amazed me was that, after our discussion about my health, he proposed a “modified low carb diet,” one which had me eat about 30 carbs per meal, no more than 100 carbs in total per day. So, I felt like the low carb diet had been confirmed as my diet of choice. I’m still working on it as I type, but have to say that I feel really good on this diet.

One one of my early retreats, I had a nutritionist come to speak the the group. One of the things she said that day has always stuck with me. “What successfully worked for Paul may not work for you. You have to find what diet best suits you, and then stick with it. Don’t give up!” So the end of the story here is, if you are dealing with a chronic illness or are realizing that you have not been taking proper care of yourself, you have to meet with your doctor and other experts and find out what diet will work best for you. Use this time of isolation to start reading. Make an appointment with your doctor for sometime this summer, when, please God, the COVID-19 pandemic will be over, and get a plan together to get your life back on track, body, mind and spirit. We will get through this. Long Live Christ The King!