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A New Start

A Church Comes Together to Help A Member

Sallisaw » Oklahoma ranks as one of the least healthy states, but that hasn’t stopped the Sallisaw Seventh-day Adventist Church from experiencing a health makeover—thanks in part to one member who made some healthy changes of her own.

Five months ago, Lisa McInerney thought her life was over. She stayed in bed 22 hours a day, cried nonstop when she was awake, and was crushed by anxiety, depression, and a host of medical problems. Only 52 years old, she had lost the ability to do her favorite activities, including attending church, teaching children’s Sabbath school, and caring for her grandchildren. She couldn’t even manage daily tasks such as driving, paying the bills, or buying groceries. 

Every attempt to get medical care left Lisa feeling worse. Unsure of a treatment plan, her physicians kept prescribing more medicine. Unfortunately, the side effects of the medicine left her sicker than before.

By the time she was on 12 medications, her anxiety had become crippling. Twice she was admitted into a psychiatric hospital, where they tripled her medicine and sent her home even more hopeless. 

“They said there was nothing else they could do, that I just had to go home and deal with it,” says Lisa. “But I just didn’t know any way to deal with it. I didn’t think there was any hope. I thought that was the end.”

That was until she got a call from her pastor saying that he had good news for her. “I thought he was going to tell me that I was going to be healed somehow,” says Lisa. And, in a way, that is what he told her. The Sallisaw  Adventist Church had rallied together and quickly raised the money to send Lisa to the 18-day NEWSTART program at Weimar Institute, in Weimar, California.

“We saw her suffering, and we knew we had to do something,” says Pastor Robert Quintana. “It was exciting to see everyone come together to help in her time of need.”

Lisa had never heard of Weimar Institute, an Adventist educational and health care institution that runs a NEWSTART lifestyle program based on eight principles of health (nutrition, exercise, water, sunlight, temperance, air, rest, and trust). She had never been on a plane before, and she didn’t even own a suitcase. She was terrified by the idea of going to California, but she felt like it was her only hope.

“I knew this might be the way that God was going to heal me,” says Lisa. “It just seemed like a God thing.”

Within days, Lisa was on her way to Weimar Institute, where she learned new ways to eat, got motivated to exercise, and was surrounded by the prayer and support of others. By the end of the 18-day program, she was smiling and laughing again, walking five miles a day, and was off almost all of her medicine.

Even before leaving the program, Lisa was worried that she wouldn’t be able to maintain the healthier lifestyle once she came back to Oklahoma—but she arrived home to find her church and husband eager to be a support system.

“Her first Sabbath back, we had a special potluck and asked people to bring all plant-based foods: beans, greens, and fruits,” says Pastor Quintana. “There was such a spirit of joy and unity at the lunch.”

In fact, church members liked the new and improved potluck so much that they didn’t want to go back to fat-laden entrees and high calorie casseroles.

“It was the most delicious potluck I’ve been to in my entire life,” says Gretchen Dobbs, who has been a member of the church for 46 years. Other members agreed—and have committed to making future church meals nutritious and delicious.

In addition, the church formed a walking club so Lisa wouldn’t have to walk alone. Every weekday at 8:00 a.m., you’ll find a group of Adventists on the local walking trail. Even in inclement weather, the group walks the ½-mile loop 10 times to ensure that Lisa—and everyone else—gets in five miles for the day. 

“The walking has brought us closer together,” says Lisa. “One of the ladies said the other day that we had been going to church together for six years but didn’t know anything about each other. After a few walking trips, we know each other’s whole life stories!”

Lisa has inspired the church in ways she never would have expected. Every week, church members mention new ways they have been influenced by Lisa’s health makeover. One member has also lost weight, while another said she has learned a lot from Lisa about new foods, such as flaxseeds.

The church is now planning a community cooking class to share some of the recipes and tips that helped Lisa regain her health.

Closer to home, there are also plenty of healthy changes. Lisa has lost 50 pounds (11 of which she lost while at Weimar), and her husband has lost 15 pounds. “My husband and I walk together on the weekends,” says Lisa. “And we bike together several times during the week.” Her husband Mike, a life-long meat eater, also enjoys the healthier fare Lisa now makes, which he jokes is often one of two things: “rice and beans” or “beans and rice.”

“If my church hadn’t done this for me, I wouldn’t be alive,” says Lisa, who glows with restored health and happiness. “My goal is to keep exercising and to stay healthy.”

Many of the church members now share those same healthy goals. “This wasn’t just good for Lisa,” says Gretchen. “This was good for all of us. Her experience has improved the quality of life for all of us.”

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