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?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Mission Accomplished!

The young girl enjoyed playing in her room; she was content to teach for hours. Her stuffed animals and baby dolls made the best students. As she passed out their worksheets for the day, she explained to them, "People can be mean; they can steal your toys and cheat off your paper, but no one can ever take your education away from you. Never ever!"

From an early age, I valued education. I remember telling "grownups" when I was in elementary school, "One day I'm going to get my PhD!"

I'm sure my parents thought I was a naive dreamer, but they never let on. They encouraged me every step of the way. When I decided to enroll in graduate school, my mom said, "God put this desire in your heart. Not many people dream of getting a doctorate. Go for it!"

Eight years later and I finally achieved my dream. It took a lot of hard work, social support from family and friends, and God's goodness but I am proud to say that on April 11, 2016 I passed my dissertation defense. It still seems surreal. I feel awkward each time I introduce myself as Dr. Ford.

You see, it's not so much the title, but its the journey. I have always enjoyed a good challenge, and this one stretched me professionally and personally. I have learned so much along the way, and one of the lessons I've learned is gratitude.  I'd like to take this time to express my appreciation to a few people who impacted my life throughout this journey. I hesitate to do this because I will surely leave someone out, so please know this is not an exhaustive list.

Jeff - Thanks for putting up with microwave dinners and an unkempt house; thanks for helping me to set healthy boundaries and teaching me to prioritize. I love you!

Jorjanne - Thanks for believing in me when I questioned myself; thanks for giving me grace when you wanted to chat and I was typing away. You were very patient with me.

To the brave women who shared their stories for my research - Not only did you help me to accomplish a dream but your words have the potential to encourage other survivors for years to come! I admire you.

Tony & Wendy Farmer, Randy &  Melody Hester, and Kalib &  Mari Wilkinson - Thanks for opening your home and your pantry to me on numerous occasions! You saved me thousands!!!

Mama and Hershell - Thanks for your constant encouragement and for all the free babysitting! Mama, thanks for sitting through the defense and praying for me.

Daddy - You may be the only person who wanted this more than I did.

Bobbie - Thanks for the road trips to Lynchburg and the fun adventures along the way. You make learning fun!

To my Liberty friends -- I thank God for you and look forward to seeing what the future holds for each of you.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Life Changing Decision (well, for me anyway)

I've always described myself as a "runner wannabe." For the first time in my life, I feel like maybe I am turning a corner...I started running 8 weeks ago with a friend doing the program from the couch to a 5K (C25K), and I actually enjoy running for the first time ever. Maybe its the camaraderie of running with a friend or the joy of getting my heart rate up while enjoying the fresh air. Whatever it is, I am thankful.

I decided in January to make a conscious effort to take better care of myself. I have avoided sugar and carbs so far in 2016, and partner that with running and I feel so much better.

For so long I knew I needed to exercise; exercise is my stress release, but yet I never found enough time to do it. I've learned a valuable lesson in all of this. Changing behavior begins with a conscious decision to start. One day I decided not to eat sugar and to exercise -- and I did not. The next day I made the same decision. Over time, I strung several days together and the result is a much happier, healthier me.

So, what habit do you need to change? What is it that you need to stop making excuses for and just start? Make a decision to do something different today - change happens one decision at a time.

Who knows, maybe you'll turn a corner like me. I'm no longer a runner wannabe but slowly but surely, I am becoming a runner.