Monday, August 15, 2016

The Semicolon " ; "

Perhaps you have noticed the increase of tattoos, jewelry and clothing bearing the semicolon ( ; ). When writing, the semicolon is a symbol to pause. The author could have chosen to use a period, denoting a stopping point, but instead chooses to take a brief pause. Project semicolon started to raise awareness and support for suicide prevention. Those who have attempted suicide and have survivved are not defined by the attempt; their future remains unwritten.

While the past cannot be changed, we can pause and reflect, but then consciously choose to move forward. The semicolon has become a symbol of this resolve to move beyond the pain of the past and cling to hope for the future.

Yesterday I was meeting with a group of ladies in jail, and one of them said, "I just wish I had taken time to stop and think, before opening my mouth. I'm in here because I couldn't control my tongue." Can anyone relate? Maybe your words didn't lead to incarceration, but how many of us wish we had taken time to pause and think before speaking or doing something that led to more pain.

All of us have pains from the past that threaten to consume our present. We can choose to be the victim or to wallow in guilt OR we can choose to walk in freedom. May we take the message of the semicolon to heart. May we pause and reflect today on how we want our present and our future to look. We cannot control our circumstances, but we can control our response, and history has taught us that we control it much better when we take time to stop and think before we act.

So will you take 5 minutes to be still? Right now. Take 5 minutes and be quiet in the Lord's presence (Psalm 46:10), saying nothing -- just pausing for 5 minutes to listen. It will be awkward at first, because we live in a culture of noise and busyness. Stick with it, and you may be surprised by the result.

I leave you as I take time to personally pause, and be still before the Lord.


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Reducing Back to School Anxiety

The first day of school can be stressful for everyone -- students, parents, teachers, and administrators. However, the anxiety students experience is unique. In an attempt to "fit in" they worry about who will and won't be in their classes, who they will sit with at lunch, and what to wear (after all they want to look good without drawing too much attention to themselves). How can parents help reduce this anxiety?

For starters, it is important to tell your child repeatedly how much you love her, and affirm her in the days leading up to the big day. Pick out clothes and shoes the night before and have the backpack packed and sitting by the door so you aren't rushing the first morning. Try to remain calm and supportive on the way to school the first day. Use humor to minimize anxiety. Consider letting your child choose what to eat for breakfast that morning or what songs to listen to on the way to school. Make the day special by showing your child how special he is to you!

Don't forget to talk with your child. Ask them what they are feeling? Normalize their nervousness. Give them tools to deal with their anxiety -- deep breathing, prayer, art, and music can all help regulate anxious feelings.

Lastly -- relax and enjoy the process. Before you know it, your child will graduate and you will miss these special days.

What do you do to help with the first day of school anxiety? Feel free to comment below and share with others...

Friday, July 1, 2016

How Do You Love People Who Drive You Crazy?

We all have people in our lives that infuriate us; they know how to push our buttons, and they drive us mad. Some we defriend or unfollow on social media; others we avoid at all costs. I have a dear friend that calls "these people" sand paper people. God often uses "these people" to smooth out our own rough edges, to polish us so that we better reflect the light of Christ. It's easy to love the lovable, but to love the unlovable -- well now, that is a challenge. 

Jesus said, "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them" (Luke 6:32). Sinners refers to unbelievers in this verse. If we want to be like Jesus we are called to love sandpaper people even if they don't love us back.

Knowing this is one thing, but doing it is quite another. How do we love difficult people? I've been pondering this and have developed a list (it is not exhaustive) of ways I believe we can practically love people who are hard to love.

1.  Speak kindness. We all remember our mom's saying, "If you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything." This principle applies to loving the sandpaper people in our lives.

2.  Forgive. Easy to say, but hard to do. When we fail to forgive, bitterness and resentment set in making it almost impossible to love fully. Forgiveness is a process; sometimes we need to forgive daily. Forgiveness does not mean that we allow the person to continue to hurt us; it may involve setting healthy boundaries or even ending a relationship. Forgiveness does not mean the person's actions were acceptable. Forgiveness means we will no longer hold the past against the person in the sense that we want to get even. Forgiveness is more for us than for the other person.

3.  Treat them with respect. As a person created in the image of God, every individual is worthy of respect. This does not mean you respect all of the person's decisions or actions, but that you will treat them with dignity even when they fail to do the same. We cannot control another person's actions, but we can control our own.

4.  Pray for them. This principle is self-explanatory, but one we often fail to do. The Bible commands us to pray for our enemies. I'm not suggesting sandpaper people are our enemies, but I am asserting that we are called to pray for them.

These are just a few ways I am striving to love the sandpaper people in my life. What are ways you practically love those in your life?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

10 Things You Can Do to Counter Depression

1.  Exercise - Believe it or not, when you exercise, your brain releases pleasure-inducing endorphins which reduce perceptions of pain and produce a natural high (similar to a runner's high). When you are depressed the last thing you want to do is exercise, but if you can push through it, it is a natural way to counter those blues.

2.  Eat bananas - Depression can be due to a decrease in serotonin levels. Bananas are a great source of serotonin, and have the potential to lessen the effects of depression.

3.  Get adequate sunlight - Darkness triggers an increase in the production of melatonin in the body causing drowsiness. In contrast, sunlight is believed to increase serotonin levels increasing "happy feelings."

4.  Socialize - When we are depressed we tend to isolate ourselves, and this feeds the depression. As we withdraw from social situations, our self-worth deteriorates and the self-deprecation begins. We were created for relationships, and we need others to help us during times of depression.

5.  Get up and keep a routine - People who are depressed tend to sleep too little or too much. The tendency is to lie in bed all day. Again, this creates a vicious cycle. The more you lie in bed, the less energy you have, and the less motivated you are to get up. Fight through the temptation to lounge around in your PJ's. Get up and do the things you were do if you were not depressed. Keeping a routine helps to break the cycle.

6.  See a doctor - If your depression persists for weeks, you may want to see your primary care physician and make sure there is not a physical reason for your depression. Chronic pain, thyroid issues, hormonal issues, decreased serotonin or norepinephrine can all contribute to depression. You want to rule out any physical etiology for your depression.

7.  Talk to a therapist or pastor - There are times when life is just plain 'ole difficult. During these times we may need a trustworthy person in whom to confide. Consider talking with a minister or a counselor whom you trust.  They can help you to process your thoughts and feelings, give you tools to counter your depression, and offer added support so that you no longer feel alone. Learn more here about taking off your mask and being real.

8.  Replace negative thoughts with positive ones - Depression is usually coupled with negative thinking. In order to stop our stinkin' thinking, we have to identify our irrational thoughts and beliefs about ourselves and counter them with true statements. For example, "My family would be better off without me," could be replaced with "If I was not here, my parents and my siblings would be very sad and would miss me."  Another example is "I cannot do anything right." Replace this thought with "There are things I do well. I work well with children; I take care of my pets..."  You get the picture! Don't believe the lies that often come with depression. Click here for more on this.

9.  Start a list of things you are thankful for - This one is connected to #8. Instead of mulling over all that is wrong with me, I can focus on what is right. Making a list of things I am thankful for can help me to change my default setting to one of gratitude. Habakkuk, a man in the Old Testament, chose to rejoice even when things seemed bleak. Learn more of his story by clicking here.

10.  Do something fun!  People who are depressed often experience anhedonia. This means that they no longer enjoy the things they once did. Many refrain from such activities because they believe the lie that they couldn't possibly have fun, nor does anyone want to be around them. The mind is a powerful thing. Go with an open mind and you might be surprised by the fun you are capable of. If the depression persists, consider #6 and talk to a doctor.

Depression is treatable. You do not have to suffer indefinitely. Take control of your health and be proactive about reducing your depressive symptoms. Pray and ask God to help you to return to a place of joy and contentment. Don't give up! Joy comes in the morning.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

May is Mental Health Month -- what will you do to improve your mental health?

Putting the groceries in the backseat, I climbed into the car and left the parking lot. As I inched toward the road I heard a soft hissing sound that quickly escalated into a loud pop followed by a louder hiss. Oh no! The soda I put in the back seat had just exploded!

May is Mental Health Month. If we want to be mentally healthy, we need to get regular mental health check-ups much like we get annual physicals. When we fail to do so, we tend to suppress our feelings and we later explode over the little things, much like the 2-liter coke did in my car today.

How do we get a mental health check up? There are several ways of doing this:
1.  Meet with a mentor and discuss your strengths and growth areas as an individual.
2.  See a therapist or other mental health professional to process hurts you may have experienced throughout the year.
3.  Talk to a pastor about ways to improve your spiritual health and thus improve your mental health.
4.  Read a book about an area in which you'd like to grow healthier emotionally.
5.  Laugh. This is by far my favorite one. Watch a funny movie. Go to a comedy club. Hang out with friends. Do something that brings you joy. Relax and LAUGH.

What are you willing to do this month to improve your mental health?