Monday, July 14, 2014

What Is Different This Time?

Friends, today is a day to celebrate! 
I feel like dancing a jig, screaming out loud, and possibly going on a celebratory tour of the state. 
 
So what am I celebrating?
 When I go to bed this evening, I will have completed two successful weeks on my allergy diet/auto-immune protocol.  That's right, 100% compliance in 14 days.
 
2 weeks?  Huh?  I can hear you thinking that.  2 weeks, after all, is nothing in the grand scheme of things. Why am I celebrating so early in the game, when the last few years have been so fraught?
 
Fair enough.
 
What you have to understand is that I've not managed this since before my surgery a year and a half ago. Prior to that, I'd done fairly well...managing long stretches of clean eating which were enough to give me glimpses of just how great I could feel.  Since then, I've struggled.  Believe me when I say that the last 19 months have been far more difficult than most of you know.
 
However, I started working this spring to pull the various pieces together.  When it began to look manageable, I gave myself a deadline, to get into full compliance by July 1.  To my great delight, this time it's actually working!
 
It begs the question...what, exactly is different this time around?

 To that, I have some answers.

1.  That letter I posted two weeks ago to my family and friends was extremely cathartic.  A very large part of why this has all been so difficult is because I haven't had the full support of many, many people who are a daily part of my life.  To be honest, some of the people who most need that letter will never read it.  BUT, regardless, I feel better for having written it.  The kind support of those of you who DID read it, and have reached out to me since has meant the world to me.  Thank you.  I meant every word, and the power and strength I've gained from standing up for myself, and for giving myself permission to walk away from unhealthy situations is incredible.

2.  My body has finally fully healed up from my last surgery.  I can't emphasize this point enough.  My body does NOT handle surgery well, and it's taken me at least a year to recover each time I've had to go under the knife.  Add to that the fact that this particular surgery (gallbladder) mucked with my digestive system, and you have a big, fat mess.  I lost a ton of weight last spring that had nothing to do with healthy living and everything to do with the fact that I was sick all of the time.  Not so surprisingly, that weight bounced back with a lot of extra over the winter as my body tried to find balance and readjust to it's new reality.  Then too, the surgery also kicked off another round of depression that was - quite frankly - the worst depression I've ever been through.  The surgery was necessary, and I don't regret it.  I do acknowledge, though, that the recovery process was a million times more difficult than I expected it to be. 

3.  I realized that my anti-depressants were actually doing more harm than good, so I stopped taking them.  I have an old, and very comfortable relationship with Zoloft.  This time, though, it didn't do it's job right.  Yes, it helped to pull me out of the worst of the quagmire, but in the process it totally flattened out my personality.  I had an epiphany to that effect during acupuncture a couple of months ago, and the very next day I stopped taking it.  By July it had cleared my system and I was starting to feel myself again.  I should also add that there are a couple of side-effects (weight gain being one) that were seriously contributing to what was wrong with me.  Thank you zoloft, but we are done. 

4.  My favorite cheat food is no more.  I've relied on a locally made artisan dark chocolate since this all began as my go-to reward/comfort/cheat/celebration/cope/you name it.  It's incredible.  Best chocolate I've ever tasted, in fact.  BUT.  This spring the guy that makes the stuff made some questionable business decisions.  (He wants to be a chocolate artist, not a business owner.)  The resulting price increase to an already expensive product as well as the resulting scarcity were last straws for me.  I was happy to support him before for better ingredients, etc.  I'm not going to support his life as a snob and/or his return to school.  (If I sound bitter, I kind of am.  He's kind of an ass.)  As nothing else tastes near as good...well, there's no more temptation!  (OK, there's still temptation, but it's not near as tough to fight given the circumstances.)

5.  I started exercising. I don't have to explain this.  Exercise produces endorphins, which make you feel better.  It also adds to the motivation to stick with it.  Not going to go running in the am and then ruin it by cheating all day!  I know, I know.  I should have started a long time ago.  All I can say to that is that the particular type of depression I was in really made that nearly impossible.  Don't judge.  (Also, my friend Matt C. was right.  Thank you, Matt.)

6.  But I started on a program that was slow and gradual and fun for me.  I have a tendency to all or nothing it, and any other time I've done an exercise program it's been of the sort that has you jump in and push to the max from day one.  Not smart when you are dealing with the type of health issues that I am.  Not smart at all.  Not only do you run the risk of burning out and giving up, but you also run the risk of making the health problems worse.  This time, I committed to two simple things - taking my 10,000 steps daily and doing the couch to 5K program.  Slow, gentle, steady.  With the 10,000 steps I'm teaching myself that it's ok to take slow and/or short walks - a revelation for me.  As to the other...To be honest, I had completely forgotten how much I enjoy running...and I mean truly enjoy.  Less than two weeks into the (unfortunately named) training program, I had rediscovered that joy and was looking forward to my morning runs.  Now, I also happen to love strength training, yoga, and tap dance.  As my health continues to improve, I hope to incorporate all of those!

7.  And I found a couple of exercise buddies.  So. Very. Important.  And it has to be just the right match.  Back in the day, I know the reason why I learned to love strength training so much was because of my friend and personal trainer, Meghan.  (And if she ever gets back to it, I'll hire her again in a heartbeat.)  Other trainers, and attempts to do it by myself failed.  Apparently, I need the support/accountability..but I also need it to be with someone who I work well with.  My BKB, Jenn, who's been by my side since the diagnosis had already committed to the 10,000 daily steps plan, so I latched on to her and check in with her periodically.  Just knowing someone else is also doing it helps me to keep myself on track.  I got really lucky when a friend of mine asked me if I'd like to do the couch to 5K with her.  Having never exercised together, it could have been a disaster.  Instead, Danielle and I are having a blast and have discovered that we work well together. Bonus..our pace and fitness level are pretty darn close.  By the end of last week, we were both looking forward to our runs together.  We also have planned to run in a couple of 5K's together this fall for fun!

8.  I'm rereading/skimming a lot of the health books/information I've gathered over the last few years. Yes, I've done a LOT of research over the last few years...but it's also been a while since I've touched on any of that.  A good reminder of the science is very helpful. 

9.  I'm building my meals in a way that keeps me full and satiated.  I learned through trial and error that I'm best on 3 squares/day with maybe a small snack in the afternoon.  Mostly, I follow the guidelines set out in the book It Starts With Food as to how to build and balance a plate.  I will not bore you with the details, but I will say that I have to be very careful to plan so that I always have what I need with each meal. 

10.  I'm measuring my water intake daily, to make sure I get enough. The formula that works best for me is the one I learned from my friend Meghan when she was my personal trainer.  I drink 1/2 oz water/lb of body weight each day plus 8 oz for each 30 minutes of exercise.  You bet, it's a lot right now...but it's what this particular body needs.  Incidentally, this is the ONLY thing I measure.

11.  The brand new scales I just bought?  I stopped using them and put them away.  Silly me. This isn't about the number on the scale, and I know that.  It's a deeply flawed tool to use to track health, and in truth it really doesn't say much about how healthy you really are.  Plus, for me it's totally about anxiety.  I only want to know when I'm worried, and I tend to use the information to beat myself up.  That's not good.  Also not good, in the few weeks I had the darn things I was starting to go back to my old, very-bad weighing habits. 

12.  I let myself have one good temper tantrum.  Ahem.  I went to the grocery store on the fourth of July, and came home and let loose all of the horrible feelings that had built up inside.  It didn't resolve anything, but it did release it so that I wasn't sitting on so much ugliness.  My therapist in college would be so proud.  She rightly identified that one of my biggest issues has always been that I stuff my feelings and allow them to eat at me.  (Heh.  I just realized I used food terms.  That might need some unpacking.)  It's been much easier since then.  Now, when I start to feel anything negative, I acknowledge it.  I have a lot of work to do still to make it ok, but this is a start.

13.  I accepted that my yeast allergy causes a serious food addiction.  So yes, it totally sucks when you've never been a drinker at all but your doctor flat out tells you that you are an alcoholic because your yeast allergy is biochemically identical in many ways to alcoholism.  It sucks, but it was true.  I went to my parents' farm in June, and decided to eat a piece of the rhubarb pie that my dad made with the girls.  It was fantastic.  It was also a major problem.  I found myself explaining to my mom, my aunt and the girls that although their bodies could enjoy one piece and be done, I didn't have an off switch.  I enjoyed one piece, and then wanted to bury my face in the rest and would probably be circling and obsessed until it was gone.  It is what it is.  Sugar, grains and dairy are my devils.  Just as an alcoholic can't safely have a tiny drink, I can't safely eat a tiny bit of any of my allergens.  I get that now.  As a side note, during some recent research I came across a diagnostic test that counselors use to determine food addiction.  Yeah, I score super high.  Damn lucky I never started drinking. 

14.  I'm making peace with the idea that I may never be thin again....but that's ok if I feel better.  I've spent the last 28 years worrying about my size and hating my body.  I've spent the last 12 years struggling with a lot of extra weight.  My allergist has told me repeatedly that if I can become compliant the weight will naturally go away, but I stopped believing her a while back.  My body has suffered the harm done by all of these foods for so very long that I'm just not sure it's possible to completely reverse the damage.  But.  But, I can feel better.  Two weeks is just enough time to get a glimpse of that.  Already many of my symptoms are gone and/or are fading.  (no required daily nap!  no pain!  better GI function! more motivation to get things done!  anxiety and depression fading!)That's enough.  I'm ok with never being thin again IF I can get to a place where I actually feel good.  It is what it is, and I'm not doing myself any favors by continuing to focus on the quest to be thin.  I'm much better served by a quest to find health. 

So Happy Two Weeks to me!
 
Here's to the next two weeks and beyond.



Friday, July 11, 2014

Duh

Summer has always been the season of spinning for me....especially when the weather is nice and I can indulge in some spinning on my deck.
 
I've been working on a project I started long ago.  The fiber is 100% merino from Greenwood Fiberworks, one of my favorite Etsy stores.  I have two braids (8 oz. total) of the lovely stuff, which was a special edition colorway created by exhausting the dyebath after other colors were done.  (I'd tell you if I could what she called it, but I've lost the tags...and anyway, it's not repeatable!)
 
The thing is, this project has been going at a snail's pace.  Even given the fact that I'm spinning a laceweight single it's taken much longer than usual.  As I'm generally monogomous when it comes to spinning projects, and as I have a ton of other fiber to work with, this is a problem.
 As I was sitting at my wheel yesterday morning, listening to a beautiful audiobook and dreaming fibery dreams while the wool slipped through my fingers, I had a minor epiphany.
 
Which is really more of a face-palm/d'oh moment.
 
Silly spinner...it would be so much easier if I would predraft the fiber!  Duh!
 
I had split the first roving into small, manageable sections, but I had not predrafted each piece.  It only took about 30 minutes to go through the wool, gently tugging the roving into gossamer strands and coiling them into their nests.
 
Now, the wool is FLYING through my fingers.
 
I suppose I'd best start thinking about a knitting project for it....I'm thinking lace...with beads...it reminds me of a quiet pond on a summer's day....
 
In other spinning news, I finally wound this yarn off of the bobbins, where it's been languishing for months and months and months.  (maybe years?)  Another etsy find, it's composed of Shetland wool and silk, which is a truly bizarre combination.  Spinning it was perplexing.  Shetland is nowhere near as soft and gentle as most of the wool used in silk blends, and it behaved rather oddly.  Can't say I really enjoyed the process much - which is why it's sat for so long.  The crazy thing is that the finished yarn (anther laceweight, BIG SURPRISE!) is actually quite fun.  A nice Euclan bath and a good thumping in the shower, and it's proving to be a pretty awesome yarn.
 
Now...if I can only figure out a project...
 
She says with a wink.
 
I have no doubt the Green Woman will have this one figured out pretty soon!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Workspace #2 and #3

The absolute best lighting in our house is in our kitchen.  As a result, this is where I tend to do most of my knitting and spinning.  Our dining chairs are falling apart, and so lately I've been dragging Starbucks chair #2 into the kitchen so that I can sit and watch tv in comfort while I knit.  Winston thinks this is a fabulous plan!
 
On a side note - I've had the fiddleleaf fig on the right for more than 16 years, having bought it from the flower shop I worked at during college.  The spider/airplane plant on the left is a dear friend of mine.  She's forgiven me for almost killing her a couple of years ago, and is now almost back to her original state of glory.  (Poor thing was down to four teeny, tiny shoots!)
 
And, of course, when the weather is good - and the pollen/mold counts low - my absolute favorite place to spin is on our deck.  A friend commented a year or so ago about how it looks like it's a tree house, and that's exactly what I love about it!  (This isn't the prettiest pic of me working outside, but it is current as of this AM.) 
 
I'm quite happy to say that after the heartache of having to cut down four dead trees last summer the remaining four have come back healthier than ever.  They are enjoying their new found room to grow, and I'm enjoying the beauty and shade they are giving to my deck!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

My Space

I've been talking a lot lately about my personal space needs for crafting and such, and so I thought I'd take you on a little tour of what serves as my office/studio.
 This is my corner of our basement.  The room is shaped rather like a backwards capital L, and my office/studio is tucked in to the foot of that.  I've spent the last day or so trying to make it a more workable space because - honestly - although I've been set up down here for quite some time I almost never actually use it.
 
To the right you see Gillian's spinning wheel (mine is upstairs so that I can easily take it out to the deck to spin...a favorite thing of mine to do in the summer) and a chest with piles of junk on it.  The chest is there because we cleared off the area rug in the main area so that  the girls could set up a Lego wonderland (which is awesome), and the pile of stuff is part of an effort to sort and purge.
 This is part of the problem.  I need a wall with a door right behind that desk to block out the craziness of the rest of the basement.  Ah well.
 
The desk itself was my Grampa Curtis's desk, and it is amongst my most prized possessions.  The bench that backs up to it is the toy box he made me when I was small, and it contains a great deal of my fiber stash.  The baskets on top hold various works in progress and/or materials that I will need to use soon.
 Next to it is my inspiration board.  Also inspirational?  The books on the shelves are my favorites...or as many of my favorites as I could cram on one book shelf.
 I was an RA one summer for Missouri Scholars Academy, and my girls gave me the print.  I'm going to hang it a bit on the high side so that I can put up a row of hooks underneath it from which to hang my homespun yarns.
 Love my Starbucks chair.  It's one of my most favorite things as well.  Draped on it is one of my favorite fingering weight shawls.
 The stash is contained in that dresser.  The two bookshelves hold all of my knitting and craft books as well as many of my tools.  Piled high, you see the rest of my fiber stash.
 
I used to have a shawl on display above that dresser, but I recently gifted it to a dear friend.  I've decided I need to hang another shawl there...I just haven't figured out which one yet!
This rocking chair came from Sean's Grandma, and is very comfy. 
 
Again, you see the chaos beyond the bookshelf...another great reason for a wall with a door.  Sean has urged me to put in a row of curtains for privacy.  Maybe I will this summer. 
 
Part of the problem is that I don't like the red for a work area.  It's too energized, when what I prefer are more peaceful colors.  The thing is, though, I LOVE that red for a basement family room.
 
In a dream world, what I'd really love is floor to ceiling bookshelves along the exterior wall so that I could bring most of my books out of storage.  Having said that, we're not sure how much longer we really want to be in this house, so I don't really want to start any major projects or make any big, unnecessary investments.
 
The fact of the matter is that I'm darn lucky to have a space to myself...I just need to start using it.  At the very least, I think I'll be buying a big Ott lamp this summer for better lighting.  That will help a LOT.  I'm also working to get rid of stuff I don't want, need, or use anymore so that the whole area isn't quite so cluttered.  One big thing that's also helping is the simple fact that the girls are old enough now that they don't feel a need to follow me around the house all of the time, so I do get some peaceful moments down here.
 
So there it is, my space!
 
Now...time to get to the knitting!


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Dear Friends and Family,

Four years ago I received an allergy diagnosis that was both amazing (It explains everything!) and devastating (I have to give up how much?!)  My journey since then has been full of ups...and many, many downs.  Honestly, I'm tired of the roller coaster.  It's time to get off and get it together.

Because my success depends largely on the type of support I get from you, I decided to write up a little guide as to how best to help me.  I'll state up front that this list is not intended to shame, accuse, upset or embarrass anyone for past issues and/or missteps.  Rather, I am putting this out there so that we can all move forward together.  Hopefully, this makes it a little bit easier for all of us.  (This list is purely based upon my own experiences and preferences.  Other friends you might have with similar issues may or may not feel the same way.)

1.  Educate yourself.  If you are someone who loves me, please take the time to learn.  I'm happy to point you in the direction of some amazing information.  It makes life a whole lot easier if I'm not constantly having to explain or justify the way I have to eat and live.  Believe it or not, this is a topic I'm thoroughly tired of discussing.  Plus, when you take the time to learn about my situation...to familiarize yourself with what I can and can't eat...you show me just how much you care.

2.  Likewise, don't question my doctors.  I have a fantastic team (allergist, OBGYN and Family Practitioner), and they all support each other.  Telling me that you think they don't know what they are doing is hurtful and offensive.  Rest assured, these doctors are all up on current medical research and know what they are doing.  They are NOT quacks, nor are they stuck using 20-30 year old information which may or may not be accurate.

3.  If I haven't told you everything, please don't take it personally.  I really don't need the whole world to know every detail of every single allergy related illness I've had since I was 12.

4.  Please don't try to one-up me in the illness or food-restriction department.  This is not a competition.  Saying things like "Well at least you can cheat once in a while" or "You think that's bad, you should know about my ...." really don't help

5.  Along with that, recognize that I'm human.  Those cheats you are referring to?  Yes, they were my choices...and as much as I enjoyed that food I also chose to remain sick by eating it.  I screw up, I make mistakes.  I apologize for any confusion that I've created in the past.

6.  I also ask that you pease stop tempting me with foods I can't eat.  Yes, a little bit does hurt.  Yes, there are consequences to every single food on the prohibition list.  Because I'm a human, and because this is so difficult for me, I may not be able to resist if you ask me to cheat.

7.  Playing food police is not helpful.  I'm a big girl, I make the choices - good and bad.  Leave it up to me.

8.  A good rule to remember is that if it's around, I'll eat it.  I can keep it out of my home...but I may need to remove myself from other settings in order to avoid the temptation.

9.  If you will be my host, please ask me in advance what I can and cannot eat...and then help me plan accordingly.  I do NOT expect you to cater to all of my needs, but it sure helps make things easier if I have a plan in place before I show up on your doorstep.

10.  Along with that, don't be offended if I pack along my own food.  This is not a reflection on your hospitality...it is me doing what I need to do to take care of myself.

11.  Making comments about what is on my plate - be it about the actual foods or about the quantity - is deeply hurtful.  I get it.  The way I eat may be very different from your understanding of a healthy diet.  That doesn't mean I'm wrong, nor should it be threatening to your way of doing things.  So if you can't say something nice, keep it zipped.

12.  Recognize that mainstream nutritional guidelines are not a one-size-fits-all set of rules.  Along with that, please recognize that there's a LOT of misinformation out there, and that you may hear a lot of things that contrast with what I'm doing.  It's ok to ask questions, it's not ok to use that information as a bludgeon to try to prove why I'm wrong.

13.  If you are hosting a social event and I decide not to come, please understand it's not about you.  I will, in fact, really miss my friends.  It's just truly that difficult to be around people who are enjoying things that I can no longer enjoy.  I hope it's not always like this.  I hope someday I can come and enjoy my carrot sticks and water while you are eating cupcakes and drinking wine and just be happy to be with everyone.  I'm not there yet.  If I never get there, well then..I still love you.

14.  As a side note to that last one...it is particularly difficult for me to go to parties where people are drinking.  I was never much of a drinker to begin with, but I am an introvert who kind of needed that little bit of a social lubrication.  Alcohol is a particular danger because of the yeast allergy.  I just can't risk being around it.  

15.  If I do come to your social event, please don't bring up my allergies.  I'd especially like you to not point it out to the entire group while we are eating.  Believe it or not, I'm uncomfortable with that type of attention.  It makes me feel like I've sprouted an extra few heads.

16.  One final note on social events - it would be really, really fantastic if we could figure out together ways to celebrate that don't center around food.  (birthdays, holidays, special events, etc.)  I tend to fall on my face on those events because I still haven't figured out how to disassociate them with food.  Yep, it's bucking a strong, strong cultural tradition. It needs to change, though, if I'm to be able to keep celebrating with you.

17.  Saying things like "I would just die if I had to give up X" or "I don't know how you do it, I could never!" is not helpful.  You know what, I am still grieving about having to give up X, Y and Z..and half the time I can't do it either.  When you say things like that you really put weird expectations/moral judgements on me that are pretty darn uncomfortable.

18.  Do not be helpful by trying to brainstorm alternative foods.  Dude.  There are none.  This is a damn restrictive diet, and there are just some things I'll never be able to have again.  I get that you are trying to be helpful, but this particular exercise has more to do with your own frustration on my behalf and disbelief than it does with reality.

19.  Please recognize that I'm thoroughly sick of the entire thing too.  I'd rather talk about sports than talk about me and my food allergies....and given how much I enjoy sports, that's saying something.
I'm more than my health status or my dietary restrictions.  If you are tired of hearing about it, imagine how I feel.

20.  Unless you have the exact same medical history, there is no way you can possibly understand.  I appreciate compassion, I appreciate kindness, and I appreciate empathy.  I don't appreciate empty attempts at commiserating. This is damn hard for me.  A simple I'm sorry - with a shoulder to lean on - goes a really, really long way. 

21.  This last one is not so much to do with me as with my kids.  Seriously.  They both have food allergies/intolerances as well.  They are also kids, and making the right choices is even more difficult for them than it is for me.  If you set them up for failure by offering them stuff that makes them sick...you are also setting ME up for failure.  Every time they go off course it is that much more difficult to get them back on track at home.  Their rules are slightly different than mine are, and we do give them a bit more freedom.  BUT, please don't push it.

I know that this list may come across as a bit harsh.  I honestly don't mean it to be.

The truth is that in four years I've not ever managed to stay on a clean allergy diet for more than a few months at a time, and in the last year or so it's become so difficult that I've not usually managed more than a week or two.  Most of the time, this is completely on my own shoulders.  Some of the time, it's been due to circumstances beyond my control.  Frequently, the situation has been made considerably more difficult by well-meaning friends and family because I've not stepped up to actively tell you all what I really need.

I'm tired. I'm really tired of being sick all of the time....and something needs to change.

To that end, I'm committing myself to following my allergy and auto-immune protocol to the letter for as long as it takes, knowing full well that I may never be able to relax the restrictions.  It takes a long time to heal the damage done by a lifetime of chronic illness and allergens.  This summer I'll be consulting with my doctors so that we can make sure there aren't any other contributing factors.  I'm also working to add in exercise, proper rest and the spiritual practices that I need.  I have hope that this summer I can finally, finally get it all pulled together.

Please be patient with me as I navigate this difficult path.

Onward.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Ta Da!

 All of this lovely stuff from the UK...
(Jamieson and Smith!)
Will be used to make this beautiful thing!
 
The OXO Fair Isle Crewneck
Country Weekend Knits by Madeline Weston
(Which is an updated reprint)
 
Let the adventure begin!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Extend Welcome

Why yes, in fact I DID deliver a sermon this morning about my dog!
 
Let me explain....
 
I've been on the schedule to speak today for quite some time.  I LOVE it when I have lots and lots of time to prepare because it allows me to explore a variety of options.  This particular idea - that of using my dog as an illustration - came to me about a month ago, and I just couldn't shake it.  My friends helped out with pictures of their own beloved dogs.  (Note to self, when you ask for dog pics on FB, everyone you ever knew...even marginally...will come out of the woodwork to offer pictures!  Dog love is MIGHTY!)  What follows is the meat of my sermon.
 
Extend Welcome, June 29, 2014
 
Our scripture for today:  Matthew 10:40-42 (NRSV)
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.   Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple - truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.
 
First, we had a discussion of the tradition of hospitality/guest rights in the classical world to help explain the scripture above, which is part of Christ's instruction to the 12.  (Insert joke about my minor in the Classical Greek language finally coming in useful!)  We then talked about how the idea of hospitality translates into the modern world, and about the fact that it's a foundational aspect of Christianity. 
 
"Patti asked me to speak today because of the fact that I'm the Mission Initiative Coordinator for our congregation.  It's a big job title, and honestly I'm still trying to figure out exactly what it means.  One part of what I'm to do, though, is to help facilitate a welcoming environment here in our church. 
 
The more I get to thinking about that, though, the more I have to laugh.  I've said often that God seems to have a sense of humor in what He's calling me to do. 
 
You see, I'm a person who is well known for not liking people all that much.  I'm an introvert with a Capital I, and a personal space bubble so big that it often excludes even my daughters and my husband.  There are a lot of things traditionally associated with hospitality that I am not.  I am not a social director.  I am not someone who likes having company in my home.  I am not someone who enjoys parties...in fact, I actively avoid them.  If any of this is a surprise to you, congratulations!  That's a sign of how much I love my church family, and of how comfortable I am around you.
 
The point being that to a certain extent, I don't have much to draw on when talking about how best to extend welcome. 
 
Fortunately, I have the perfect role model.
 This is Winston, my dog...and my teacher.
 We brought Winston home about a year and a half ago.  I was over the moon because I adore big, black dogs.  The girls were allowed to pick his name, and after great debate they settled on "Winston" because it was a name that had been used on the Puppy Bowl just a week or so earlier. 
 
I included here a bit about Winston Churchill and The Black Dog...about how I've chosen to embrace the beast, and about how making friends quite literally with a black dog has been a healing and helpful experience. 
 
One of the things I love the most about Winston is his unabashed enthusiasm for EVERYTHING.  He's particularly fond of meeting new people and new dogs.
 
Each and every time he meets someone new all he sees is a potential friend, and believe me...he LOVES EVERYONE!
 Winston likes little dogs with big ears.
 He likes silly dogs with funny faces.
 Winston likes dogs with funny haircuts who could maybe use a trim.
 He likes dogs who wear clothes.
 Winston loves fancy-pants dogs who just like to be pretty and adored.
 Winston likes dogs with a crazy mixed-up ancestry.
 He likes dogs of indeterminate origins.
 If you already have a friend, GREAT! That's one more!
 Winston likes dogs who some people think look tough.
 He likes dogs who might have a bad reputation with some.
 Winston likes the very young.
 And the older.
 Winston likes the teeny-tiny.
 And the great-big!
 Winston likes dogs with fancy pedigrees.
 He likes dogs who look as if they are close to their roots.
 Winston likes dogs who have jobs...like this service dog.
 And he likes dogs who have an instinctual need to work.
 He also likes dogs who like to lay around and relax. 
 Winston likes dogs who have what some people see as defects - like Lentil with his cleft-palate.
(Lentil, is an ambassador dog for the Children's Craniofacial Association, and does amazing work to help kids.  I don't actually know him, but I felt strongly that he needed to be included as he's come up in my sermons before!)
 And Lizzie with her missing eye. 
He likes dogs who like to have fun...no matter what their challenges.
 Winston even likes dogs when he can't understand why they don't act like dogs.
Winston is a happy guy...and with each and every dog he meets all he sees is the potential for friendship.  He doesn't care about differences.  He doesn't make judgements.  He doesn't care if you aren't just like him.  He just wants to be your friend.
 
Now close your eyes for a moment and think about the dogs that we just looked at.
 
As you are thinking, I'm sure that you can call to mind times when you've met people that fit these descriptions. 
 
Can you see the people in your life who've maybe had big ears? or needed a haircut?  Who were either very young or very old?  Very small or very large?  People who may have a bad reputation or who look tough on the outside?  Who have you met who has a mixed up background?  Or who has that fancy pedigree?  Have you met people who love their work?  When have you come face to face with people with disabilities?
 
It is my message to you today that each and every one of these people has been a God-given opportunity for you to extend welcome...to make friends...to build relationships.  It is my firm belief that before we can share the Good News of Jesus Christ we must learn to build relationships...to listen to each other...to love each other...to accept each other just exactly as we are.
 
My challenge to you today is be like Winston. 
 
The next time you are out in the world, try to set aside any judgements that may be in your heart and look at people around you with the excitement and interest that Winston has for his fellow dogs.  Try to look at each new person who comes into your life through the lens of a potential friendship, and see what amazing things can happen. 
 
Christ has called us to love each other...to extend welcome to each other...and what better way to do that than as Winston does, with enthusiasm, warmth and acceptance.
 
And on that note, we finished up with a second challenge to go out and invite people to attend church with us!