This past week, I marked anniversaries of two important events in my life, and both involved pilgrimages. The first pilgrimage began the last week of April of 2009.  Easter was late that year, and I held off getting a routine medical checkup until after all the events of Holy Week were over.  As I recall, I went to get some blood work done on Monday or Tuesday, in anticipation of my check up the following week.  I wasn’t expecting a call from my doctor that Friday, but when his name came up on caller id, I figured something was up.  And it was.  The lab results showed that I had Type II diabetes.  I can still recall leaning my kitchen counter as he gave me the details of what this would mean for the rest of my life.

That phone call ushered in a series of changes in my life that I’m still working on every day.  It became a type of spiritual pilgrimage for me, and pilgrimages usually involve several things, including prayer and movement.  This particular pilgrimage involved a lot of both, and to be honest, I’ve very grateful for the experience, since it helped me encounter the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola, which has made a huge and positive impact on my life.

A year ago today, I had the blessing to make another pilgrimage, this one to Spain and Italy, where I was to visit many of the sites connected to St. Ignatius.  After an very long overnight flight from Chicago, my fellow pilgrims and I landed in Madrid.  Colleagues from Loyola Press joyfully met us at the gate, and before making our way to the bus, we stopped at the terminal’s coffee shop for one of the best cups of coffee I think I’ve ever had (and needed).  From there, we stopped first at Toledo, then on to Avila.  We were blessed to be in Avila during year-long celebration of the 500th anniversary marking the death of their town’s greatest saint,Teresa of Avila.

As we approached her home town, I was struck by the very high walls which completely surrounded the city.  I learned later that they are Romanesque in style and date from medieval times.  Seeing those amazingly strong walls and knowing that St. Teresa was not the only saint to be born behind them, I understood how Avila has been known for centuries as the “town of stones and saints.”

This morning, as I sit typing these words, I thought about the connection between those walls and illness.  For many people, especially those with chronic illnesses like Type II diabetes, working to improve one’s health might seem as daunting as scaling the fortified walls of Avila. With the right tools, prayer, perseverance, and support, health improvement can be achieved.  I know because it happened to me.

It didn’t happen quickly.  Pilgrimages take time and effort.  Sometimes, you want to give up.  More to come…


Diabetes Wisdom

Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) published it’s first Global Report on Diabetes.  I happened upon the report by chance while in the midst of my doctoral research, and I’m very glad I found it.  The report includes the most recent (2014) data on this chronic and serious disease, and the numbers were scary.  Globally, it’s estimated that 422 million adults were living with diabetes in 2014, compared to 108 million in 1980.  The global prevalence (age-standardized) of diabetes has nearly doubled since 1980, rising from 4.7% to 8.5% of the population. According to WHO, this reflects an increase in associated risk factors such as being overweight or obese.  In fact, 1 in 3 adults are overweight and 1 in 10 is obese.

A series of cost effective interventions can greatly improve outcomes.  These interventions include blood glucose control through diet, exercise and sometimes medication.  Sadly but not unexpectedly, the positive role played by faith and spirituality are not mentioned.  God, it appears, has no place in the WHO’s plan for improving outcomes.  But, for people of faith, we know better.

The thesis of my doctorate is that for people of faith, God can and should play a key role in health improvement for those with many chronic illness.  I know this from personal experience.  After receiving my diagnosis of Type II diabetes, I began applying spiritual practices found in Ignatian Spirituality.  Disciplined prayer, physical activity and healthy eating made a huge difference for me.  With the help of St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises, especially his Rules for Eating, over the span of about 40 weeks, I lost 65 pounds and by blood glucose levels dropped to optimal levels.  Yes, it was a lot of very hard work.  But I did it, not only for myself but, as St. Ignatius would say, so that I could do more for God.  For me, that’s the diabetes wisdom that doesn’t appear in the WHO report.  

I hope you’ll take some time to look around this website.  You’ll find out how I did it, and how you can too!  I’m not a doctor and I don’t give medical advice.  If you have diabetes, go see your health professional.  But if you are a person of faith, God has something to say about your health too!  Invite God into your healthcare plan.  When I did, it made all the difference, and I’m confident it can be the same for you.