Empty Nest, Abundant Life

Nag Less, Pray More

Category: My Health Journey

Aches and Pains

I will admit that aches and pains are not my favorite thing in life.  There’s not an hour that I don’t feel a twinge of discomfort in some part of my body.  However, I have learned some advantages to pain.

  1. It reminds me that I am still alive.
  2. It makes me rely on God more.
  3. It causes me to look forward to the day that I will leave this imperfect body on earth.
  4. It often signifies that I had worked a muscle hard enough to fatigue it.
  5. It allows me more empathetic with others who are experiencing physical pain.
  6. It forces me to slow down and rest.
  7. It humbles me and shows me that I am not invincible.
  8. It helps me to be thankful for the moments that I experience less pain.

As we age, aches and pains are inevitable, but moaning and complaining about them is optional.   I am making the choice to rejoice!


This post is part of a  31 Day Blogging Challenge entitled Embracing Fifty.  Please click here  to find all the posts in this series.  You can find the work of more bloggers participating in this series here. You’ll be glad you did!

Healthy Choices

My first half marathon, August 2015. I weighed 225 pounds and completed the race in just under 4 1/2 hours.

My second half marathon, August, 2016. I weighed 190 pounds and finished in just over 4 hours.

My most recent half marathon, August 2017. I took nearly half an hour off my previous year’s time, and I weighed 170 pounds.

My health, laziness, and gluttony dictated my lifestyle through my twenties, my thirties, and most of my forties.   Brownie bites and peanut M&M’s were staples on my Costco shopping list.   My exercise routines were nonexistent.  I chose dinner recipes based on ease of preparation and what the family liked instead of looking at the nutritional information.  The number on the scale rose steadily over the years, but I blamed it  on stress, my health, and having babies instead of my sedentary lifestyle and poor habits.  The more I weighed, the more my health declined and the less I moved my expanding body.  Three years ago, I was hospitalized for five days, too weak to breathe or walk on my own due to neuromuscular issues.  I weighed well over two hundred pounds.

After my hospitalization,  I made the decision to take control over my health.  I began training for walking a half marathon.  I purchased less junk food.  I focused on getting the rest my body needed instead of waiting for illness to force me to rest.   After walking my first half marathon in 2015, I decided to kick it up a notch and hired a trainer, a friend in her forties who had birthed ten children and then had made wise choices about her strength and health.  She designed a strength routine for me.  The first time we met, I was so weak that my whole workout was sitting down in a chair ten times and standing up again then ten bicep curls with five pound weights.  Even that was a struggle with my debilitated muscles.  She also had me log each piece of food I ate with an app called MyFitnessPal, trying to keep under 1200 calories a day.

Now, more than two years after starting with my trainer, I strength train for over 30 minutes three times a week with up to fifteen pound weights.  I walk or run three other days a week.  I still log my food each day.  In fact, I have almost a 600 day streak on MyFitnessPal.  I have dropped nearly 70 pounds.  I have completed three more half marathons.  I have more energy.  I am off all prescription drugs and all their nasty side effects.  I see a holistic chiropractor monthly who checks me not only for misalignment and weak muscles, but also hydration levels, vitamin deficiencies, food sensitivities, and thyroid and adrenal gland function.  I try to average close to 8 hours of sleep a night.

All of these new activities in my life are not part of a “diet,” but have been integrated into my lifestyle for the rest of my life.  It doesn’t mean that I can never have a piece of chocolate.  I enjoy a piece of Dove dark chocolate 3 or 4 days a week.  It also doesn’t mean that I never go out to eat.  It doesn’t mean that I can never take more than one day a week off exercise.  I’m flexible, and I’m giving my family the gift of a healthier, happier wife and mom who plans to thrive on earth for many more decades!

This post is part of a  31 Day Blogging Challenge entitled Embracing Fifty.  Please click here  to find all the posts in this series.  You can find the work of more bloggers participating in this series here. You’ll be glad you did!

Hormonal Changes

Hormonal changes may seem like an odd choice for a list of what I want to embrace in my fifties, but I’m choosing to take the positive route.  I’ve been in perimenopause for nearly ten years now, and I’m starting to notice some new and welcome developments.  I have to shave my legs a lot less now.  The acne that once plagued me has subsided.  I’m not experiencing the constant concern whether I am pregnant.   I have an excuse for being occasionally irrational.  I love the feeling of a frozen washcloth on my neck during a hot flash.  I feel like the world is wide open to me.

My mother started her menopause journey even earlier than I did and was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer when she was about ten years older than I am now.  She was convinced that hormone replacement therapy had a causative effect on her cancer, and she insisted that I steer clear of that route.  Even though I’d never heard of any correlation, I promised her that I would avoid this treatment if at all possible.   I wish I would have asked her more about her symptoms and experience.

Hormonal changes are a common factor in all women’s lives, and it’s time to discuss them and celebrate them!

This post is part of a  31 Day Blogging Challenge entitled Embracing Fifty.  Please click here  to find all the posts in this series.  You can find the work of more bloggers participating in this series here. You’ll be glad you did!

Physical Limitations

I just can’t do as much as I once did.  If I try to push myself too hard, I become dangerously tired and need to recuperate for days.   I realize that cannot get through the day without relying on God.  My own power will not be enough.

This might seem horrible to an outsider, but I choose to embrace it.  It keeps me in relationship with my faithful God, allows me to slow down and savor life, and reminds me that at the end of my life I’ll be trading in this weak and limited “earth suit” for a  new and perfect body that will last through eternity.

This post is part of a  31 Day Blogging Challenge entitled Embracing Fifty.  Please click here  to find all the posts in this series.  You can find the work of more bloggers participating in this series here. You’ll be glad you did!

Life is a Gift!

Today marks another anniversary that will always stick out in my mind.   It may not sound like a positive experience, but it truly was a gift that redefined my life.

Three years ago today started as a fairly normal day with house chores, going out to lunch with a friend, then preparing to go to work.  Then the day took a dramatic turn….I suddenly felt complete fatigue and collapsed on the coach.  As the day progressed, so did my weakness, until I couldn’t move from the couch and I was struggling to swallow and breathe.  It was frightening yet not totally unfamiliar.  At the age of nineteen, I had been diagnosed with a neuromuscular disorder called myasthenia gravis.  I had experienced bouts of weakness over the past 25 years, but this one felt the most severe.  My husband was immersed in a project with a swiftly impending deadline, so I didn’t want to bother him, but I knew that I needed more help than rest on a couch could provide.

A few hours later, due to an insistent phone call from our daughter, Darren took me to the emergency room, and I was admitted to the neuro ICU and hooked up to a number of machines, especially one to help me breathe.   Once I was settled there, Darren needed to go home and finish the project.  I was still fully conscious, and my thoughts were beeping and whirring around in my head much like the machines that surrounded me.  How had my life changed so profoundly in the course of a few hours?   I’d always thought of the Intensive Care Unit as a place where people don’t often exit alive.   Was the end of my time on earth near for me?

As I lay alone, I heard an electronic melody and immediately identified it as “Brahm’s Lullaby,” a song my mother had sung to me as a child.  Was Mom sending me a message from heaven, calling me to join her?  I later found out that the hospital PA system plays the song each time a baby is born in the maternity unit!

I reflected on my life…I had graduated both high school and college, married the love of my life, experienced motherhood with both a son and a daughter, and watched those two children graduate from both high school and college.   Would this be the complete experience of my life?   How would people remember me?  I still had so much more I wanted to do with my life!

I received the blessing of a second chance.  I stayed five days in the hospital before gaining enough strength to be released.   The summer of 2014 was a limited one, spent mostly in a wheelchair at my dining room table with my Bible and a journal.  I memorized the book of Philippians and found out just how much God loved me.  He loved me so much that He didn’t want me living an over-stuffed, stressful life but instead one filled with purpose and love.

Three years later, I am in the best condition of my life–both physically and emotionally.   Each day is a challenge to see just how many people I can make a difference with, care for, and love.  I know firsthand that tomorrow is not assured, so I choose to live each day like it is the most precious gift that I could ever receive.


The Race Set Before Me

I moved from California to Ohio between my freshman and sophomore years of high school and joined the cross country team to become involved in my new school.  I had never been a fast runner, but in my unrealistic teenage thinking, my change of location would make me the fastest one on the team.  I was the slowest member of the team, and I experienced significant knee pain.  My high school cross country career ended after one season in 1983, and I never thought I’d run a race again.

One of our first races together!

My husband began running for exercise and recreation in the fall of 2009 when our children were in their senior year of high school.  He enjoyed it, but I resented the time and money he spent on his new hobby.   I had allowed the excuse of busyness and raising a family derail me from a regular exercise routine, and I had steadily put on nearly 80 pounds since my cross-country days.  Running was the last thing on my mind or to-do list.  Nearly three years later, when he couldn’t run a 5k for which he had registered, he asked me if I would walk it with him.  I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.   In fact, as I approached the finish line, I joyfully broke out into a sprint over the finish line.  I was hooked!

On my first solo run, I could only run one block before I had to stop and walk.  I would head out a few days a week and increase my distance each time.  I finally could start running 5k races.  My husband was supportive, and it strengthened our marriage that we could share this hobby, even though he was much faster than I was.   He began running half-marathons and even a full marathon, but I was content to jog no further than 3.1 miles.

After some severe health setbacks, I became determined to complete longer distances.  My husband and I signed up to walk a half marathon as he recovered from injury and I recovered from illness.  We crossed the finish line of the Running with the Bears half marathon in 4 hours and 23 minutes on August 15, 2015.  Since then I’ve gone on to run a number of 10k races and 2 more half marathons.

Crossing the finish line of my first half-marathon!

Crossing the finish line of my second half-marathon exactly one year later. What a difference a year makes!

It isn’t easy to lace up my running shoes in the early morning when I’d rather be in my warm, comfortable bed, but I’ve never regretted the decision to exercise once I’m dressed and out on the road.  I have dropped 60 pounds and gained great confidence.  The stress melts away as my feet move to the beat of the worship music playing in my wireless headphones.   I’ll never be the fastest, leanest runner of the pack, but I am faster and leaner than I used to be, and I am thankful to run the race set before me.

Pure joy on my face after shaving 33 minutes off my personal record for my half-marathon!


Developing Habits

It can be so difficult to motivate myself to accomplish all that I want to.  For so many years, I was on a downward spiral of developing habits of laziness, unhealthy eating, wasting time, and letting my mind turn to mush.  I would make excuses such as, “I can’t help it,”  “I don’t feel good,” or “I am so busy with the kids that I just need to veg out right now.”  I let those excuses control me far too long as I watched the numbers increase on the scale, noticed a growing distance between myself and God when God hadn’t pulled away, and felt my mind growing duller.

As the children reached the end of high school, I decided to take action in my life on many fronts by developing new habits in my day.   I started with the activities I enjoyed doing but needed more discipline to do.  I began consistently having a quiet time with God each day.  I also began to do a Sudoku a day, as I watched my father struggle with forgetfulness.  I then branched out to exercise, simply walking or doing Wii Fit a few times a week.  At first, it was hard to adjust my schedule and life to accommodate these activities, but once I got used to them, I missed them if I skipped them.

A year and a half ago, I became much more serious about managing my health.  I even hired a weight loss coach who taught me to use my smart phone to log my nutritional intake and my exercise.   Before I go to sleep each night, it takes me less than 3 minutes to enter this data.   Just by developing these habits, I have lost nearly 60 pounds since then.

Now I’ve lost count of the activities that have become habits.  Before even getting out of bed, I have a prayer and Bible reading time and complete one Sudoku.  I make an apple cider vinegar concoction each morning and use it to down my vitamins and herbs.  I sing the Matt Redman song, “10,000 Reasons” as I rid the sink of dishes.  I complete a brain test on Lumosity, and finish two Spanish lessons on Duolingo.  Before I go to bed each night, I brush my teeth for a full 2 minutes, scrub my face, enter my nutritional data into myfitnesspal.com and my exercise into mapmyfitness.com and do a Bible reading plan through YouVersion.  All of these activities combined take less than half an hour, but they are prolonging my length of my life and the health of my spirit, mind, and body.

Does that mean I never miss a day of any of these?  Certainly not!  The difference is that instead of beating myself and completely giving up, I quietly strengthen my resolve and get right back to it the next day.

What habits do you want to develop in the coming year?

The Day My World Hit the Cement

This past Monday started out like any regular day, but I don’t think I’ll forget it for the rest of my life.  I woke up and began preparing for a full day when I received a text from my mother-in-law that she would be in town.   We only see her 6 or 7 times a year, so we wanted to make her visit a priority.  My husband had already made arrangements to take the day off work because we had more than the usual activities going on that day.  My daughter’s fiance’s parents were coming to town for lunch, to look at the wedding venue, and to scout out a place for the rehearsal dinner, and we were joining them.  In addition, my husband had a doctor appointment, a lawn care person coming to the house to help us rescue our lawn, and a late afternoon training run for his upcoming marathon.   I had my usual Monday schedule of walking 3.75 miles with the moms from my Mornings for Moms group at 8:30am and meeting with two friends for Bible Study at 10:30am.

It was a beautiful day for a walk through Bidwell Park’s lush foliage.  We had never seen so many butterflies in one morning.  My three friends and I were engaged in conversation about the joys and trials of family life. I tried to stay in the moment, but I was a bit on edge with our late start to our walk and the full afternoon awaiting me.  As we rounded the last corner before heading to our cars, I stumbled over a piece of bark, causing my ankle to give way and hurling me  toward the sidewalk face first.  I didn’t have time to react before hitting the ground with a sickening thud.   I pushed myself up to a sitting position and noticed the scrape on my sunglasses, the concerned looks on my friends’ faces, and the  blood dripping onto the cement from my mouth and chin.  I ran my tongue along my upper jaw and felt two teeth dangling precariously.  The pain throbbed throughout my body.

My friends sprung into motion as Carol called her dentist to see if we could rush me in, Tiffany gave me her baby wipes and prayed for me, and Lori bandaged my largest wounds.  Within minutes, I was in Carol’s Suburban heading to the dentist, stunned by how my day had derailed.   The next hour was spent in a dentist’s chair as the dentist and his assistant fought to save my teeth and stitched up a gaping hole inside my mouth.   My mind raced with thoughts of the effect this would have on my week and life.

I did not join my daughter’s future in-laws on the afternoon outing, but I did visit with my mother-in-law and her best friend.  I expressed my hope to be teaching again by Wednesday morning and have everything back to normal.  I awoke Tuesday with a groan as my body shouted in protest from head to toe.   My reflection frightened me with abrasions littering my face.   I knew it would be a long week.

Two days later, muscle relaxants are my friends.  I have not yet resumed my normal activities and am not sure when I will able to again.  Sleep is uncomfortable.   I have only left the house to go to Prompt Care and the chiropractor.  I still don’t look like myself.   Eating is difficult at best.

We never know what will occur in our lives from day to day.   We can’t emotionally budget for the unexpected, but we have to accept it as it comes.  When hard times come, we have to look for the lessons in them and how much worse it could be.

How was your life changed by unexpected circumstances this week?



Meal Planning

Dinner time has changed in the Clark house over the course of our 26 year marriage.  It began with painful attempts on my part to cook and a stubborn refusal to accept my efficient husband’s suggestions for improvement.  Then came the years of distracted dining with newborns, infants, and toddlers, as we went from spoon feeding our children to teaching them how to feed themselves.  The longest era of Clark dinners were the busy ones carved out between children’s activities, full of chatter and family-friendly foods.  Slowly, the times when all four of us could eat dinner began to diminish as our children obtained jobs and social lives away from our home.  When both children moved away, I tended to still cook as they were home, leaving many leftovers of foods that weren’t nutritionally best for us.  I definitely needed to change the way we planned for meals in our home

Now, each week, I print out a grocery shopping master checklist I developed on Microsoft Word, containing our favorite ingredients in the order we like to shop for them in the store.  The different headings include:  Produce, Meats, Cheeses, Refrigerated Items, Dairy. Frozen Foods, Canned and Bottled Goods, Dry Goods, Paper Products, Beverages, Breads, Toiletries, Cleaning Supplies, and Hardware.  Then I determine how many dinners we will be eating at home as well as the staples we need for breakfasts and lunches.

During the past two years, I have worked to reduce fat, sugar, and carbohydrate intake while increasing protein for my husband and I.  I have also been diagnosed with dairy and soy food sensitiviies .  My favorite recipe websites are those that contain recipes submitted by other people just trying to put dinner on the table like I am.   Reading reviews on each recipe from others who have attempted the recipe alerts me to any problematic elements of the recipes as well as tweaks I can make to enhance the flavor.  I have also enjoyed those sites that allow searches based on either ingredient, length of preparation time, and health parameters (calories, amount of fat, grams of protein, and more).  I love that all the nutritional values from these websites have already been entered into https://www.myfitnesspal.com/ so I can track my caloric intake and my nutritional value with the click of a button instead of painstakingly thumbing through calorie counting books every single ingredient as I remember my mother doing during many of my growing up years.  My two favorite recipe websites that I use on a weekly basis are https://recipes.sparkpeople.com/ and http://allrecipes.com/ . I then print out the recipes and transfer the ingredients I don’t have to the shopping list.

As my husband and I sample each recipe, we evaluate it and decide whether we like to use this recipe again in the future.  We also talk about changes that we would make.  We have expanded our culinary horizons and discovered many new foods that we can enjoy together.  What are your favorite recipe websites and ways to plan for dinners in your empty nest?

Bon Appetit!