Somehow I always got the cart with the squealing wheel. I wrestled it through the twists and turns of the grocery store, throwing in rattling boxes of macaroni and cheese, rubbery hot dogs, chicken nuggets, whole milk, white bread, peanut butter, giant slabs of frozen pizza, and pastel-colored breakfast cereal in enormous plastic bags.
At the last aisle of the store, I stopped and turned around. The final aisle was the forbidden zone, a foreign and mysterious territory, a place I thought was off-limits to poor moms like me.
The produce aisle.
We can't afford it, I told myself. We won't eat it, and it will all go bad anyway. Fresh produce is for people with money. I maneuvered the cart toward the checkout lane.
Looking back, I know my daughter and I were very blessed. We never went hungry. Though we lived for many years on one minimum-wage income, we always had enough to eat, and for that I am very grateful.
But I have wondered what I could have done differently to feed my daughter more nutritiously on the resources we had.
"It's not all or nothing," says Meg, a Health Coach for the Dr. Sears L.E.A.N. lifestyle and nutrition program. Meg encourages moms to make small changes, small shifts in thinking about the way we feed our families.
"You can't change the way you eat all at once, or it won't be sustainable," Meg explains. She says small changes are less shocking to a family's habits and finances.
Meg offers a few small steps moms can take to provide more nutritious food for their families.
- Add one fruit or vegetable serving a day.
- Scrub fresh fruits and vegetables, or wash them with vinegar. We don't need to buy organic produce.
- Watch for sales and buy less expensive varieties. Apples are still apples.
- Have fun. Try new things, and let your children see you enjoying healthy changes.
- Experiment with small amounts of new, unfamiliar foods. Buy one star fruit and sample it with your children.
"Do what works for your family," Meg continues. "Realize this season of life is not forever, and do the best you can with what you have. Your family will benefit."
The Dr. Sears Wellness Institute offers lifestyle, exercise, and nutrition information and support. The website provides a blog about health and nutrition, pages of recipes and shopping tips, and the opportunity to become a certified Health Coach like Meg. In future posts Meg will share an explanation of Dr. Sears' Traffic Light Foods and guidance on how to read nutrition labels.
My family and financial situation have changed since the days I avoided the produce aisle. More importantly, my old attitude of "We can't afford it" has changed to: We can afford it. We deserve it, and I want to be healthy.
Now the produce aisle is my first stop in the grocery store. I buy bags of apples, oranges, and little baby carrots. I choose Romaine lettuce with sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, and raspberry vinaigrette dressing. We like cauliflower roasted in olive oil and sweet potatoes baked with real butter.
But somehow I still get the cart with the screeching wheel.
What has been your experience in the grocery store? How do you find nutritious alternatives for your family?
I put up my hair; stepped into my swimsuit and flip-flops; collected sunscreen, sunglasses, and a water bottle.
Together we walked downstairs and across the courtyard to the pool area. We found the gate chained.
The weather was perfect, warm, but not scorching. My daughter had taken a vacation day off work so we could spend the afternoon hanging out by the pool. The lounge chairs beckoned, promising peace, relaxation, and conversation; but that gate was chained.
We called the complex office. "Only a couple of hours," we were told. "Maintenance is adjusting the chlorine levels. The pool will reopen soon."
So we waited, frustrated, annoyed, irritated. We walked repeatedly up and down the concrete steps to check on the poolman's progress.
The gate remained chained.
We ate lunch, then checked the gate. We ate ice cream, then checked the gate. We drove to the massive aquatic center across town, then decided against paying to sit beside the crowded pool when we had a beautiful, free pool back at the complex. We drove home and checked the gate. Still chained.
We sat on the couch in the cool living room and watched a few episodes of Brain Games until the rain started. We didn't spend a minute by the pool or gain a degree on our tans.
"There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart."
I am grateful because I spent an afternoon with my daughter. We ate burgers and ice cream. We laughed about the silliness of walking back and forth to check on the padlocked gate. We shrieked over the dead mouse we found in the parking lot. We learned from Brain Games that compassionate feelings are shared and generated by compassionate actions. And we enjoyed the peace, relaxation, and conversation we had planned, but in the comfort of an air-conditioned living room.
I am grateful for every day I spend in the company of the people I love. I appreciate every moment I have with them, whether in clear skies or rain, sun or shadow.
What are your plans this summer afternoon? What will you do if your plans suddenly change?
This week I asked my friend Heather to share the story of how she chose her daughter's name, Alice. These are Heather's words.
When Alice grows up, I'm going to tell her the story about why I picked her name. I hope she likes it.
In fifth grade I had to do a report about Teddy Roosevelt, but when I Googled him, I was more interested in his daughter Alice. While her father was in office, Alice worked to help people with tuberculosis, even though her family told her it was dangerous. Alice was rebellious and did things like climb on the White House roof. She was fearless and had a pet snake. But though she was a rebel, she was kind too, and she cared about other people.
I chose to name my daughter Alice because I want her to be strong, independent, and outgoing like Alice Roosevelt. I want her to be self-confident and fearless, but also caring and kind.
I hope my daughter Alice will stand up for what she believes in. I want her to know that every human life has worth, and I hope she will help others because it's the right thing to do.
My daughter inspires me because I have social anxiety, and when something bad happens, it shuts me down. The other day Alice fell off the kitchen step onto the carpet. She cried for a minute, but then she went back to what she was doing. She didn't let it ruin her whole day.
And she's happy to meet new people. Since she turned a year old, she's not afraid of meeting new people anymore.
I want to tell my daughter that it doesn't matter where your family's from, you can still do your own thing.
My prayer for Alice Marie is that she will be fearless, confident, happy to be herself, and appreciative of all that makes her unique.
"A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, loving favor rather than silver or gold" (Proverbs 22:1).
How did you choose the names of your children? Do you have an interesting story about what makes them special?
The child's shrieks sounded down the narrow hallway. Amanda, the eye care technician, crept quietly toward Exam Room 2. She slowly opened the door and cautioned a peek inside the room where an angry woman straddled a kicking, screaming, squirming 5-year-old and another eye tech wrestled to control the child's tossing, turning head.
Amanda stepped backwards and silently shut the door. She immediately knew the source of the chaos in Exam Room 2.
Eye drops are the cause of fear and trauma for many young patients in the eye doctor's office. Pink eye is common in children in adults, and everyone sooner or later will probably have to face the dreaded bottle of medicated drops. Moms can take a few simple steps to help alleviate the drama of pink eye for their children.
Pink eye, or "conjunctivitis," is a general term that refers to any irritated or inflamed eyes. Pink eye can be caused by bacteria, viruses, allergies, or irritants like chlorine and other chemicals. Pink eye is identified by red, watery eyes, and that crusty, gunky stuff that sticks the eyelids together and looks nasty.
To help prevent pink eye:
Teach children to wash their hands often and to use soap.
Don't share towels or wash cloths.
Wash sheets, pillow cases, and towels frequently and in hot water.
When a child does show symptoms of pink eye, visit a doctor right away. Some forms of pink eye will go away on their own, but if left untreated, some pink eye could progress to serious and sight-threatening infections. Follow the doctor's orders and use all the drops or other medications he or she recommends.
Since most children will eventually get a case of pink eye and need medicated drops, a mom can prepare her child for the experience and avoid the drama of prying open the eyelids of a squirming, crying child.
One couple brought their 1-year-old to Amanda's office and showed how they had made their daughter accustomed to eye drops and unafraid of the eye doctor experience.
They bought a bottle of unmedicated, artificial tears for a couple of dollars, like this one from Walmart.
When the baby was only a few months old, Mom and Dad started practicing with using the artificial tears.
"Look. Watch Daddy." Dad dropped a few drops of the artificial tears in his own eye, then dropped a few pain-free drops in the baby's eyes.
The baby blinked and looked surprised, but she did not cry. She didn't squirm, scream, or feel afraid. And Amanda didn't have to help hold a kicking, fighting child.
What suggestions do you have for helping your child use eye drops or medications? What have you done to prepare your child for a visit to the doctor's office?
"Your pregnancy test is positive."
Kelsey heard the news without responding at first. The dim office lights flickered. Outside, the storm thundered and the cold autumn rain pelted the office windows.
"I guess I'm happy," Kelsey finally murmured, "but I have freshman orientation next week."
"What do you need to help you take care of your baby?" the counselor quietly asked.
"Everything," Kelsey answered, her deep sigh drifting up slowly like a faint echo from an empty well.
Sooner or later we all fall down the well of helplessness and need. When we call out that we are overwhelmed and can't continue on our own, God responds and sends the people who can help us out the most.
The people at Birthright answer those calls from women facing unplanned pregnancies. Birthright volunteers respond with free counseling, information, and support to help expectant moms make the best decisions for their children and families.
Kelsey needed provision.
Birthright gave her a bundle of baby blankets, onesies, socks, diapers, and books. The counselor directed her to organizations that donate cribs and car seats. Some Birthright locations help moms with maternity clothes and baby formula.
Kelsey needed information.
Birthright gave her referrals to community services, healthcare clinics, and childcare centers. The counselor helped Kelsey connect to an ongoing network of support that continued to help her after the birth of her baby.
Kelsey needed friendship.
Birthright gave attention to her concerns and acceptance without judgement or pressure. Birthright counselors are trained volunteers who donate their time to offer hope, love, and encouragement to moms in need.
Kelsey came to Birthright on a stormy autumn afternoon. Sooner or later we all face storms that rattle the windows and drench the ground where we stand. Those rains also refill the wells that feed new growth in the spring.
God knows where we are and what we need. He will provide the people to help and shelter us throughout the storms.
Do you know anyone who has been blessed by Birthright? Do you need information on the services Birthright provides? Click here for office locations, or call 1-800-550-4900 for 24/7 counseling and referrals.
"Look! See Mommy way up there?" I lifted the baby higher and swung his chubby arm in a clumsy wave. I don't know if his mother saw us from her perch high above our heads. She was focused on tiptoeing across a tightrope toward the platform 30 feet in the air.
Every summer YoungLives moms bring their children to Timberwolf Lake for a week of camp. Learning to navigate the high ropes obstacle course is one of the group activities the teen moms can tackle. Last year I stayed planted firmly on the ground and held a baby while his mother balanced precariously over our heads.
The ropes creaked and the trees rustled in the slight breeze. The metal hooks of the harnesses clinked as the women moved slowly through the course.
Some ladies clung to the upright supports and cried, but the mom I watched made the journey look easy. She practically danced across the swinging rope bridge and the single rope trail. At the end she faced a sheer drop to the ground. She gave one hysterical shriek as she slipped off the platform and rode the ropes gently back to earth.
Though I watched last year from the relative safety of the forest floor, I recognize we all perform a similar balancing act of grace and endurance. Whether we hold back and cry, or leap forward with joy, all our lives are a high ropes course of stamina and strength.
We walk a narrow, wobbly way of instability and uncertainty. The ground beneath our feet seems constantly shifting. Circumstances change. Dreams sometimes disappoint. Expectations can explode. We have only two choices: freeze in place and hold on tight, or keep moving slowly forward.
We have to trust we are clipped in correctly. No harness or helmet will protect us from the pains of daily life. No safety net will catch us if we fall. Money, resources, and relationships are never guaranteed. God is our only security. His Spirit holds us close, and his support system of guidelines leads us safely to the end of our adventure.
We have to keep trying. We have to take one tentative step, then another, then a few more.
"You must do the thing which you think you cannot do."
When we face our fears, we build courage. When we accept new challenges, we learn new skills. As we realize each success, we grow in confidence and discover the depths of our abilities.
We all face the final leap of faith. We have no choice but to let go, plunge forward, and believe that God will catch us in the end.
Last year I stayed on the ground with the babies. This summer I plan to walk the ropes and learn what is waiting for me beyond the final drop. The best part of freefall is the freedom.
What ropes are you walking today? Who is holding you as you make your way?
I know the past was more difficult than you deserved.
You learned to adapt to your constantly changing circumstances. I pray you remember that life is always moving. Have the courage to travel to new places, learn new lessons, and seek new adventures.
I know you were forced to take on responsibility beyond your years.
You learned to work hard, set goals, and look forward to success. I pray you have faith in your deep reserves of power and strength. Never fear your freedom to choose your future and create the life you want to live.
I know you sometimes felt alone and afraid.
You experienced the grief of loss and uncertainty. I pray you understand the importance of showing compassion toward others in pain. Remain forever thoughtful, caring, and kind. Be cheerful, generous, and unafraid to love again.
I pray you always know the value of your life to God and trust him to give you all you need. Be true to the Spirit that calls you, see the good in others, and believe in your unlimited potential. Bring hope and grace to the world, have confidence in your abilities, and be grateful for everything you receive. Always, always know you are loved.