Happy Harvest Festival!

Many parents will this week have been scrambling around the house looking for unwanted tins, bottles, and packages of food that their children can bring in for the Harvest Festival.

I remember bringing in bag loads as a child, and the food always went to charity. As I packed my children off to school this morning, with arms hanging from the weight of their bags, I smiled at this tradition.

But why do we do it?

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Fasting is commonplace in the Catholic faith (and many others), and spiritually this enables us to be closer to God. It sharpens our mind and gives us the clarity to reflect in prayer.

It also has a practical and charitable theme in the modern world. As I sit here with a growling tummy, I am reminded of the people who have this feeling all day every day – both in third world countries, and on our doorstep (quite literally in some cases).

For health reasons, I also practice fasting on quite a regular basis

For me, this has proven to be the best for my lifestyle, my mental clarity, and also to help keep my body weight in check.

I practice what is known as Intermittent Fasting. In the most basic terms, you just skip breakfast. Except I don’t skip breakfast – I just don’t eat it at the time that people would “normally” eat breakfast. I get up, got for a walk, come back, have a black coffee. I get the kids up and ready for school, walk them to school, come to work, work, then, at around 12-1pm, I eat my first meal of the day. This isn’t lunch, this is breaking my fast – or more commonly known as breakfast. I do this for many reasons:

  1. I have always struggled to eat first thing in the morning. My stress reaction from waking from my slumber gives me zero appetite. So it isn’t until I have been up for a couple of hours that I feel that hunger and am ready to eat.
  2. Which is at the point where I am getting the kids ready for school, ushering them out of the door, and getting ready for my own commute – so I don’t eat because then isn’t practical.
  3. I don’t eat and drive, nor do I work at my desk and eat. So my lifestyle has dictated that my first meal of the day is around “lunchtime”.
  4. Not eating until this time gives my digestive system a rest, and also enables my body to tap into its most resourceful fuel that is living on my body – FAT.
  5. To enable my body to stay as a fat-burning machine, I ensure that the first meal I eat after this fast is full of healthy fats, a good source of protein, and lots of vegetables to get the nutritious fuel in my empty tank – then I am good to go.

So maybe the person in the Bible who first decided to have a fast as a way of supporting our faith was onto something.

If you are interested in hearing more about how fasting can help you and your health, get in contact. But remember, it’s not something to be done without contacting a health professional first!

Happy Harvest!

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Do you really want this?

This week we listened to another parable from Matthew in the Gospel.

This time it was about two sons who were both asked to work by their father in the vineyard.

One said he wouldn’t, then later changed his mind. The other said that he didn’t want to, and never turned up.

Apart from thinking about what disobedient and disrespectful children these sons were to their father, there is a clearly a message that goes above and beyond the bible, one we can see evolving in the modern age.

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I have two sons, and I ask them to do things all of the time. It seems I am repeatedly asking my eldest to tidy his room. His response is ‘OK MUM!’, only for me to ask again. And again. And over and over again, until it gets to the stage where we have an argument about it, or he loses something (usually his Xbox access) for it to finally be done. That is pretty much the process we go through each week.

My youngest will get bored and do his room when it gets to the point where I am about to nag. But when it comes to brushing his teeth, or washing his hair properly, we have a daily battle, which normally results in me either washing his (long) hair for him to make sure it has been done properly, and the threat of all his teeth falling out. These issues are not, however, something I have to nag my eldest about.

So there you have it, the tale of my two sons alongside the parable. Neither are naughty, or disobedient overall, they just need encouraging with certain things.

As we all do.

I have had emails before from husbands, enquiring about my personal training, because their wife needs to lose weight. When I have asked why the wife doesn’t contact me herself, I get a tumble weed moment – because she’s doesn’t know. That’s right, the husband has been so desperate for the wife to lose some weight, he has taken it upon himself to contact me. In these instances (and there have been a few, unfortunately), I ask them through gritted teeth to get the wife to contact me, as it needs to be what she wants to do.

Conversely, I’ve had similar conversations with men and women who have come to me reluctantly, because their partner has suggested that they need to lose weight. Again, the question is put back to them – ‘What do YOU want to do?’

I’ve had parents of overweight children, sisters of concerned brothers, and fathers of concerned daughters. I turn them all away until I have spoken to the person involved directly.

So, thinking back to the parable of the brothers. The father was asked which son he favoured after their responses. It was expected for him to say the first son, who was honest, and then his work ethic took over and he did it anyway. But did he find out the reasons why his son did this? Was it because he truly felt he had to and guilt took over?  Or did his other brother tell him to help out because he had no intention of doing so. Was he “bullied” into his decision?

How about the brother who was honest about not wanting to do it? Is it that the rest of the time he turns up and is reliable and does a good day? Was it that he wasn’t feeling well that day and wanted to tell his dad straight? Was it because he was scared to go because his brother was there and there was a bad relationship between them? Whatever their reasoning, they are reasons all the same. And their father knew this about them and was forgiving of their behaviour, much like I am with my two sons, and my constant nagging for different things.

When it comes to entering into a healthier lifestyle, we need to be respectful and take into account the other persons feelings about making a change. It is not for us to step in and do it for them. Forcing a situation won’t help in the long term!

Is this fair?

Last weeks’ gospel spoke of the Parable of the Vineyard.

This, in a nutshell, told the story of a farm owner, who paid his workers at the end of the day for a job well done. But, controversially, he also paid the “workers” who didn’t do any work. When the workers told him that it was unfair, he answered, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

When I deciphered this, I came to the conclusion that, in fact, it was none of their business what the others got paid. The workers had turned up, done a job, and got paid.  They would have done that had the others not been paid, so it should make no odds to them.

Except it did. It was unfair. And I agreed.

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When teaching Children’s Liturgy this week, I had them re-enact this scene. I chose their professions (builders), and had 3 of them working. One was laying bricks, one was measuring out the floor, and another was mixing cement. The other children in the group were sat in the middle, relaxed. I told them to talk among themselves and I would see them later. Fast forward a hypothetical working day, I then walked round to every child in that room and “paid” them for a job well done.

The children who were sat in the middle laughed: ‘Haha, we did nothing and still got paid.’

The brick layer, surveyor, and cement mixer all looked on aghast. ‘How come…?!’ they exclaimed.

So I said, ‘it doesn’t matter. You came here to do a job and get paid, you have done that job and you have been paid. It is no business of yours what I do with my money.’

I love this parable.

It skims the surface of many traits of our personalities, including jealousy and bitterness – both quite hard to control. And these are traits that I see all the time in the people I work with.

I don’t mean this in a horrible way of course. All of them are lovely in their own right. But every now and again, the green-eyed monster rears its head.

‘I have this friend,’ they say. ‘She is a size 10, can eat what she wants, and never exercises. She has 3 children and works full time. It’s so UNFAIR that she gets to make no effort whereas I have to come to the gym, run, and watch what I eat!’

Yes, you may see this as unfair. But what difference does this friend and her body composition make to your life? Apart from being a constant reminder of how hard you work to nourish and keep your body fit and healthy.

So what if she can eat what she wants and never put on weight, that makes NO DIFFERENCE to you not being able to eat pizza 3 times a week and maintain a size 14 figure.

It makes no sense, that this person, who has no bearing on your life at all apart from (hopefully) being a good friend, incites so much bitterness and jealousy into your persona.

When none of it should matter.

Be wise, take people for what they are, and continue to the best version of YOU, and not try to compare yourself to someone else.

Summer of healing… almost

During the summer, we went to Cornwall, to a place called Perranporth. We have been going there as a family for many years – I have photos of Gav and I there when we were young couple, just starting out in life. Photos of me from 10 years ago with a baby bump, then 8 years ago with another baby bump and a toddler on my hip. We continued to go there for years so that we could create memories that the children could apply to their families when they’re older. Gav and I often refer to it as our “spiritual” home as we feel so connected with the place.

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Over the years we have also met and become friends with many people who have shared our holiday home at the same time, each year seeing their families grow a little more. And on this particular occasion, a family that was well known to us had brought their parents so that they could experience this Cornish beauty spot.

One particular night, we met this family for a drink and invited them up to watch the sun set over the cliff. Now this has been somewhat a tradition in the family, that on nice evenings we would sit atop the cliff and watch the sun sink down the horizon, while we enjoyed a bottle of wine and a fish and chip supper. It was nice to have company and to share this experience with them.

As we got talking the subject turned to faith, and how we considered Cornwall to be very spiritual for us, for no other reason that we have made lots of memories there. It was at this point that one of the parents of the party said that they were a Reiki Healer, and my Aura shows a very green colour, which indicates a content person, apparently.

I have read about this practice, but have never experienced it first-hand (nor had any inclination to do so), or met someone who was so heavily involved. With my tongue loosed by a glass and a half of wine, I delved deeper and asked them to tell their story – which they did. I won’t elaborate on it here; this was their story to tell me and no one else. But at the end of it, he reached into his shirt and produced his crystal. He then proceeded to ask the crystal questions about my family, and my husbands’ family, and have a conversation with his spiritual guide.

I shall admit, I felt *very* uncomfortable.

From the moment he reached for the crystal I could feel my heart beat very fast and my cheeks became flushed, despite the cooling temperature of the cliff top. I told the healer of this and he explained that because of my faith, I was experiencing a different kind energy and I should embrace it. Again, I blame the wine but I then felt inclined to take the crystal and hold it in my hands for the remainder of our conversation. I can’t explain why, but this calmed me.

I have always considered myself a very open-minded person. I am open to the idea of ghosts, aliens, fate, karma, and even fairies, but having never experienced this kind of feeling before I had no idea what I was feeling or what to believe. For the 2-3 days that followed, I felt strange. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I felt like something was quite right. So I did what felt natural and turned to my faith, or to be more specific, my Parish Priest.

I explained what had happened and asked what he knew about such practices and what they meant. He explained that perhaps it wasn’t something I wanted to get involved with and maybe the compelling need to hold the crystal and be open to this new “faith” on the cliff top was perhaps the workings of something darker. Food for thought, certainly. And something that I have pushed to the back of my mind since.

Since I have experienced this, I felt compelled to ask others if they had any experiences too. When I turned to family and friends about Reiki healing I had a mixed response. Some explained that they felt “cleansed” and happy after. Some were left with a feeling of anxiety and dread. Others felt very sad after their “healing” session, and others felt like a weight had been lifted. And it made me think: Any kind of faith that makes you feel at peace and good is the right thing for you. I bet that if you asked the person who felt cleansed after their session if they went back and still felt the same they would say “yes”. Because this is a positive experience they’ve had and one that they wanted to repeat. The ones who didn’t have a good time would not have gone back, not wanting to go through the process they did and feel bad again.

And this is why I go to church, to continue with the experiences I have come to crave. Love, faithfulness, community, praise, peace, fulfilment, etc. I can get it in one place and feel no need to search for it elsewhere, because I have the tools to tap into that feeling wherever I am using the power of prayer.

I have clients who have been working with me a long time who, from time to time, will come to me with a new fad, or a story that their friend has lost 3 stone on some magic pill diet. I listen and advise of course, but I tell them the same thing. There is no magic pill that will make you feel happy, healthy, fit, and well. The process is the same. You still need to make changes (if it be only eating a coconut bar for 7 days and lose 7 pounds), but the key is to be able to sustain this. So if you are making the changes that incorporate a 10 minute walk every day, which you have never done before, then the results will come. And when you has mastered that habit, you incorporate another one, until you are living a life that encompasses good diet, plenty of exercise, and good quality sleep. Once you have that, then there is no need to look elsewhere – no matter what the temptation may be. You just need to address what you are doing at the moment and ensure that you are doing what you did to get results in the first place.

And this could be the same for our faith. I could easily have waivered up on that cliff top and ventured over to the “other side” because I felt that I was not getting what I wanted from the Catholic faith. Thankfully this wasn’t the case, but I can see how it can happen. I just needed to remind myself of how my faith makes me feel, and not jump to another one that *may* make me feel better.

What do you think?

What’s in a name?

I have always had a slight obsession with names. As a young child, I was intrigued as to why my siblings had strong, simple names (Deborah and Kerry), yet I was burdened with a French name that bore no connection to my Irish heritage.

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When I asked my parents, the answer was inconclusive:

“It was just a name that was popular around the time you were born,” they said, which appeased me until much later, when I was making the big decision of naming my own children.

I needed to respect the fact that my husband had to have choice as well. We were blessed that we were able to find out if we were having a boy or a girl, so we were able to narrow the names down.

Due to my unusual Christian name, I favoured simple and classic names, such as James, Ryan, William, Richard. But my somewhat “modern” husband preferred names that were, well, modern; different, but not too unusual. So when my eldest son began his transition in to the world, I was doubled over in pain with the television projecting the cricketers name “Matthew Hayden”, knowing that this man was sharing his surname with my son’s first name. There was no other connection with his name apart from this. Gavin liked it, I thought it was OK, and I made Gavin promise that the next child would have my choice of name (within reason).

When choosing Hayden’s middle names however, more thought went into this. I wanted to honour both of their grandfathers, so Hayden’s official birth certificate name says Alan, and his baptismal name is Michael, which was not only Gavin’s father’s name, but I also chose this name because I had always referred to Hayden has my “angel”, so it was very fitting

We followed a very similar decision-making process with our youngest son. I decided on his Christian name with the decision based purely on the fact I had read an article of a rock star who had named his son that, and I loved it. The bonus was that it was Irish, and that it was unusual enough to keep Gavin happy. It ticked all the boxes. His middle name honoured Gavin’s father on the birth certificate, and as Donovan had a due date which was the Feast Day of St Nicholas (and that he was my early Christmas present), we decided on his baptismal name of Nicholas.

Despite our perhaps sloppy decisions on the first names of our sons, we did dig deep into our core values when it came giving them their other names. It was important to me that both maternal and paternal grandparents were incorporated (we would have done the same with female names had we had girls), and my religious background had to bring in the reasoning behind their baptismal names. When it comes to their Confirmation names (should they wish to take this path), that will be down to them, as it was to me when I took mine.

The important point here is that any important decisions we make in life, we draw upon our core values to help make that decision. For example, Gavin and I have very healthy, good, and longstanding relationships with our fathers. They are active in our lives, and I hope they continue to be so, for a very long time. We have named our sons after them from a place of love and loyalty. Had we not had any kind of relationship with our fathers, the names we chose could have been very different, and we could have adapted our mothers’ names, or honoured good friends.

So let’s move on to the decision of changing jobs, or moving house. We don’t make these decisions lightly either. We don’t just decide to move house or walk out on a job. This normally involves a long process where we analyse the reasons why we want to do it, and see if it is worth moving on. For example, we decided to move into our house as we knew we would be starting a family, we wanted to be in a family community with good local schools and a short commute from our jobs. The house ticked the boxes, and we are here now. Should any of that change with time, we would look to move again. And the decision would have to be made again through that process. Do we need less room now? Are we able to still travel to work? Are we still near family and friends? All these things are important to us.

And this moves me on to the reason I ask my new clients *why* they want to lose weight and get healthy. I want them to look beyond just getting “skinny”, or fitting into a certain size, or having their body “bikini ready”. I appreciate that these things are important to people, but I want to delve deeper. It can normally take a life-changing situation to really make people aware they need to make the changes. A health-related death in the family for example, a particularly horrible photo they have been tagged in on Facebook, a sombre chat with the doctor during their check-up, laying out all the risks they will have should they continue on this path, a comment from a friend of family member voicing their concern, upping of medication they never thought they would be on. These are all reasons why people end up contacting me, once we delve beyond aesthetics.

Have a think about the most important decisions you have made in life, and what thought processes you have gone through to get there.

As always, I welcome your comments!

What if they don’t understand?

At the end of May, I was four rows back at my church, ready to witness my 8-year-old receive his 1st Holy Communion.

This was after months of preparation, commitment, and of course, sacrifice for all involved in this sacrament. And there was a mixture of excitement and nerves.

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As I sat there, waiting for the service to start, there was also an element of apprehension about me. You see, my family are divided when it comes to faith. Not in a massive way – we are still talking to each other and there are no hard feelings – but my side of the family are Irish Roman Catholics. We are all “cradle” Catholics, and are familiar with the ceremonies, the sacraments, the prayers, the responses, and the importance of Communion. My husband’s family are not so so familiar. Most of them (not all) have been baptised by the Church of England. Most only attend church for a wedding, christening, or funeral, and for this reason are not overly familiar with the ways of the Catholic faith. And they were all sat in the church with me, waiting for the Mass to start.

Thoughts were rushing through my head:

“Will they be bored?”

“Will they judge?”

“What will they think when I kneel?”

“Are they going to understand what the Priest is talking about?”

“Will they talk during times when the silence is required?”

And a million other fears and concerns.

My family are amazing people. And even when I read those thoughts back that I have committed to paper, I find it amusing that I am relating them to my family. But I did at that time. Of course, nerves had a huge part to play, but in the end, they were as I would have expected – dutiful, compliant, respectful, and, most of all, supportive of my family and my son, who was going through perhaps one of the biggest days of his childhood.

In fact, at the reception after, many of them told me how much they had enjoyed it. They asked questions about the Mass and made a super fuss of Donovan on his special day. I couldn’t have been prouder of my son, my family, and also my extended family for making the day so special for us.

But it did make me think how different it could have been had my family not been as supportive as they were. What if they caused problems by refusing to come to the church because of conflicting beliefs? What if they had caused a scene and tried to stop it from happening? What if the Priest had to send them out of the church? These may seem like extreme examples, but I have heard of such things happening when it comes to faith.

I see this all the time as well when it comes to the support my clients receive from friends and family about their new eating habits. They will find themselves out to dinner and making a good choice, only to be scuppered by a “well-meaning” friend or family member asking why they can’t “treat” themselves now and to “live a little”. Or the husband who, despite knowing that his wife wants to make the good choices and lose the weight that will make her happier, insists on bringing a Chinese home and convincing her to to have “just a bit”.

I call these situations barriers. And we shouldn’t really have to put up with this from people who are close to us. Yet we do. I did a complete blog post recently to my group about what to say when people try to sabotage your efforts. It was one of my most popular blogs and it was a shame as that struggle IS real.

When it comes to belief, be it religious, moralistic, or health, it is important to be as supportive as you can. We are all different and we all have things we believe in more than most. So if you are tempted to pass comment, go out of your way to make it difficult for something, or just to outright stop them, please think first and remember how it feels to be on the receiving end.

What Does It Mean To You?

I was speaking to a friend recently about a course she went on. This course was training in Dowsing Rods – which I have zero understanding of.

I asked her to explain what the course was about and what she hoped to gain from it. And there stemmed a very spiritual conversation between two people with very different beliefs – and I loved it.

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You see, I am quite sceptical about the whole healing process when it comes to cleansing energy, the power of crystals, and anything that doesn’t involve physical evidence, so people are very surprised when I talk about my faith and the power and strength that I get from God. I am a walking contradiction in that respect. I know that.

My friend went on to tell me that the course had people from “all walks of life”. Young, old, spiritual, Catholic, Islamic, and even a Scientologist. They were all brought together to experience this ancient practice and learn more about it. They all shared the same belief in the power, and it meant different things to each of them.

So lets bring this back to Catholicism and what it means to us. There are three things that I LOVE about being a Catholic:

  1.  The sense of community and belonging
  2.  Somewhere to go for help (in more ways than one)
  3.  The continuous education (yes even a cradle Catholic like me, I still learn every day)

There are of course more things I love, but they are the ones that are most important to me, and they have been listed in order of importance.

In light of recent events in Manchester, I have seen many posts about requesting prayers, offering prayers, and also questioning why ANY God would allow something like this to happen in the first place. They are all valid.

We have all experienced things that have prompted us to ask God for help. These could be throw away comments, such as “Thank God they are OK”, or “God help them”, or “I pray that things work out for them”. Even in desperate times when we are looking for help we plead with God to help us. But what we EXPECT from God can be very different.

I had quite a difficult time at work recently, and whilst waiting for a client in the gym I Googled “prayers for strength”. I found some suitable ones and found a quiet spot to offer these up. I will share the one that stood out for me here:

Lord, you are Holy above all others, and all of the strength that I need is in your hands.

I am not asking, Lord, that you take this trial away. Instead, I simply ask that Your will be done in my life. Whatever that means, that is what I want.

But I admit that it’s hard, Lord.

Sometimes I feel like I can’t go on. The pain and the fear are too much for me, and I know that I don’t have the strength on my own to get through this.

I know that I can come to you, Jesus, and that you will hear my prayer. I know that it is not your intent to bring me to this point just to leave me in the wilderness alone.

Please, Lord, give me the strength that I need to face today. Don’t have to worry about tomorrow.

If you just give me the strength that I need today that is all I need.

Keep me from sinning during this trial. Instead, help me to keep my eyes on you. You are the Holy Lord, and all of my hope rests in you.

Thank you for hearing my prayer.

The reason this resonated so much with me is this: I have never expected God to help me by changing things, by changing people, or helping fate along. All I have asked him to do is to guide me and give me the strength to deal with whatever is thrown at me. After muttering this prayer a couple of times I slept well that night knowing that despite the troubled day ahead, the next day would be OK. That I had been filled with the strength and the guidance to know what to do. I was fine, of course. I knew I would be.

So I was telling my friend about this and she said that it was wonderful. That she also pulled upon the strength of healing and other ways (I know next to nothing about these by the way which is why I remain vague) to help her during testing times. So we both drew upon the strength of the power we trusted to help guide us, NOT change things.

And with everything else, we can apply this to the mindset of health and fitness. I will often have people coming to me in the hope that I will “transform” them. Which I can do, but only as much as they are willing to help themselves of course. A client asked a few days ago, what she would need to do to get MAXIMUM results. I told her to simply “LISTEN” (to me…).

You see often people come to me and by giving me money, they think they have found the answer. What is quite alien to some is that they don’t put the work in and still expect to get results. Look at the success of gyms and slimming groups up and down the country. If I had a £1 for every time someone had said to me they have a gym membership (and have had since January) that they never use, I would be very rich.

So you need to get out of these things what you put in. For me, I pray but realise that praying alone won’t help – I still need to go through and work out (with renewed strength) what needs doing.

Much like I tell people that exercise alone won’t help. You need to keep an eye on your food, sleep, and general activity – ALL the time.

What do you think?