True Gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope you and your family have abundance and notice God’s blessings especially this week!

So, at a time when we focus on our gifts and are thankful, let’s look at true gratitude and what that really means.

Robert Emmons defines gratitude as two things:  “First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”  Secondly, he says, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves.…”

So, gratitude is receiving good things and recognizing those good things come from someone besides ourselves.  And if you’re a Christian, we recognize those gifts come from God – even if they come through another person.

Psalm 31:19 says, “How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you.”  (NIV)

So, gratitude is recognizing the good things God has given us.  And I might add, even those things we don’t see as good in the moment.

For example: my depression.  In the midst of it was the worst thing I’d ever experienced.  In my eyes it was not good.  But coming to the other side of it, I can see all the good it did for me.  It allowed me to deal with my past, it gave me great compassion for others, and brought me to the place I am now – which is soooo much better than where I was.  And if you are a Christian you know that what the devil intends for evil in your life, the Lord will use for your good – if you allow Him.

So, gratitude is being grateful for ALL things.  Sigh.  That’s hard.  Especially hard in the hardest of things.  So, how do we cultivate gratitude in the midst of the hardness?  OR how do we continue to be grateful in the good times?

Here’s what has worked for me:

My counselor helped me begin to cultivate a gratitude practice.  In the middle of my really sticky messiness when I was so far from having a grateful heart, she invited me to begin writing down every single day 3 things that went well that day.  And I also wrote down one thing that I would do differently next time.  This went on for months and months.  And then she invited me to begin writing down 3 things I was grateful for every morning.  And at the end of the day writing down 3 amazing things that happened that day (and it might be as simple as I made it through the day and am still alive).  And currently, I practice gratitude as often throughout the day as I can.  I am constantly noticing the beautiful things God has placed around me and stopping to say thank you.

Gratitude is a journey.  It’s not a destination.  And the more we notice the blessings and say thank you the more God will pour out from his heavenly storehouse on us!

If you’re wanting to begin cultivating a gratitude practice but aren’t sure where to start or how it will look for you, I encourage you to check out Ann Voskamp’s book and devotional, One Thousand Gifts.  It was super beneficial for me in cultivating a gratitude practice.  It’ll help you get started and guide you along the way.

The Comfort Zone

Do you ever find yourself going in the same stall in the bathroom just because you’re used to that one?

Or, do you always park near the same place because it’s what you’ve always done?

I found myself doing these exact things and really thought about my comfort zone.  Perhaps a different stall might be even better, or cleaner, or have purple toilet paper!

My comfort zone is a place where I have experienced certain things and outcomes and know exactly what to expect. It’s comfortable there.

What I also began to realize was my comfort zone kept me in a place that I wasn’t supposed to be, but it was what I knew. I called it my comfortable hell.

I was miserable. I knew God wanted something else for me. And yet, I also knew what would happen if I stayed because I was comfortable there.

God wants us to find comfort in Him, not in our circumstances.

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” Isaiah 40:1 (NIV)

Are you in a place, a relationship, a job, a home, a city, a Starbucks rut…. whatever?!?! that God is calling you out of? Is He asking you to step out and trust Him? Then your comfort might just be what is holding you back.

One thing I have learned is that if you seek God with all your heart and follow his will you won’t be residing in a comfort zone for very long. And once you get to a comfortable place, He’ll ask you to change something again!

See, God wants us to consistently and constantly trust in Him. And if we are relying on ourselves and our comfort zone then He doesn’t usually get honored and get credit for what’s going on in our lives. Comfort is a place we can handle on our own. Instead, if we step into a place God calls us where we are unequipped, nervous, or not ready then we have to rely on God. We have to trust Him.

That is His favorite place to shine! He loves to be the strength in our weakness, the comfort in our storms, and the peace in our dark valleys!

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s Power my rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

So, if God is asking you to step out of your comfort zone and trust Him, know that your choice will be rewarded greatly!

And in the meantime go ahead and try out a different bathroom stall! 😜

The Power of Creativity

Have you ever said, “I’m not that creative.  I can’t paint, or sew, or draw, or decorate a house like Joanna Gaines.”  (Love her!!!)

Being creative doesn’t necessarily have to be about art.  Perhaps you’re really good at cooking, making a spreadsheet, dancing, or diapering a baby’s butt.  Or maybe you can put together an amazing outfit or pick out the perfect jewelry to compliment.  Or perhaps, you always know the right thing to say.  These things all require creativity.

So, even if, just for a moment, let’s say we all are creative.  In our own special ways.

Perhaps we can even view our gifts from God as creativity.  Here’s what God says about our gifts:

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.  If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”  Romans 12: 6-8 (NIV)

God gave us all unique and specific gifts.  And he’s asking us to use them.

So, lets draw this all back to our health.  How in the world can being creative help me be healthy?

Here’s how:

Do you ever notice that as adults we get serious?  And if you are in a place of depression or anxiety this probably really hits home.  There’s no time to laugh and have fun.  We have things to do, places to go, and people to annoy (I mean see).  We get serious about all the things.

Now, lets compare that with a child.  Children are naturally creative, imaginative little creatures.  They pretend.  They laugh.  They play.  AND, for the most part, they are happy, lighthearted, and frolicy.

So, what if we tried on a little play and creativity?  What if we added a moment of lightheartedness to our to do list?  What do you think might happen in our brain?

It’s going to chill out!  Stress is going to lessen.  Digestion is going to happen.  Smiles are going to occur.  And perhaps even laughter might escape our lips.  We might even allow ourselves to feel lighthearted.

Play and creativity is a crucial part of reducing stress.

PLUS, if we’re using the gifts God gave us we are fulfilling our purpose in life.  You probably know that people who feel like they have a purpose are much happier and fulfilled than people who don’t know what their purpose is.

So, get out there.  Do your thing.  Create.  And enjoy doing it!

 

 

 

 

 

Just Breathe

So, I’ve had a pretty emotional few days and wondered what in the world I was going to write about today because I’m still in an emotional roller coaster. I decided to just write what was on my mind:

Sometimes life sucks.

Something unexpected happens and pulls the rug out from under your feet. Or something not so pleasant happens that you know is going to happen and it still sucks.

So what are we to do?!?!

My advice is to just breathe.

Breathe in the breath of God.

In Genesis 2:7 it says,

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

Without God’s breath this man would not have come alive. AND, it is the same today. Every single being comes to life with the breath of God.

Have you ever heard a baby take its first breath and cry? Guess what?!?! God did that! He breathed His breath into that little, precious miracle.

In addition, every single breath we take we are filling ourselves with the breath of God. Imagine that resurrection power entering our nostrils, traveling to the lungs, entering the blood stream, and what that power is capable of. 🤔

Johnny Diaz sings a song called, Just Breathe, that is such a good reminder for me.

Last week I posted a video on my Facebook page about anxiety. And in that video I discuss one way of breathing to help calm anxiety. And sometimes we could use to focus on the breath to just make it through the day- whether we have anxiety or not.

From a health perspective, breathing can calm the central nervous system allowing us to process the emotions instead of storing them inside our bodies as toxins. (I love talking about emotions and our bodies by the way! Perhaps a blog post topic for the future.) The less toxic we are the better our bodies function and the better we think and feel.

Yes, breathing can help with all that. Wowie! So, today, in the midst of the emotional struggle I’m going to focus on breathing. Breathing in the breath of God.

What life events or struggles have you had that pulled the rug out from under you? Comment below so we can support, encourage, and pray for one another.

That Elusive Peace

In yoga we often say, “Having peace doesn’t mean there’s no chaos in your life.  Having peace means you’re in the midst of the chaos and you have calm in your heart.”

 

Philippians 4:6-7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NIV)

 

1 Peter 5:7

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (NIV)

 

Isaiah 26:3

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.  (NIV)

 

Yeah.  Yeah.  Yeah.

I’ve heard those verses before (maybe even a thousand times).  So, how do they help me find peace?!?!

I heard a sermon by Pastor Mark this past weekend that was all about disillusionment.  He used the movie, Ready Player One, to illustrate his point.  The characters in this movie join in a video game to escape their current reality of life.

Is that you?  Are you currently trying to escaping your current reality?  Like, scrolling social media for hours on end, watching endless Fixer Upper or Family Feud, playing video games, whatever…..

Some people think if they become Christians and believe in God then EVERYTHING in life will be perfect and peace will abound endlessly.

That is disillusionment.

God doesn’t promise smooth sailing.  In fact, he might even bring you into the “wilderness” just so you will seek him to get out.

To have peace, we must first understand why we are here on this earth, understand our purpose.  And we all have exactly the same purpose:

To Serve God.

No matter what we’re doing in our day to day lives:  changing baby’s butts, doing dishes, driving, cooking, learning, working….

We are to serve God in all we do.  When we seek God with all our hearts God will come to us.  He promises to.  And, I know that is easier said than done.  Believe me.  It’s a daily struggle for me too.

But, I have experienced God’s peace.  And for an extended period of time.  I can’t explain it.  There was no reason I should’ve had it (my life was crazy unpredictable).  Yet, it was there.

And then… it was snatched away in an instant.

See, my husband was admitted to the hospital a few months ago, had two surgeries, and nearly lost his leg.  The same week, I was put on crutches for a torn tendon in my foot.  And I lost my peace.

The devil knew I was strong with God.  So, he attacked something I couldn’t control.  A rampant infection in the person I love the most and my mobility.  And he stole my peace.  Rather, I allowed him to take it.

I think we tend to see control as peace.  When we know what is going to happen, when it’s going to happen, and how it’s going to happen, then ahhhh…. we’re okay.  At peace even.

But, God isn’t about what we can control.  No. No. No.

Sigh.

He’s about us serving and worshiping him.   And I know and have experienced that if we keep our focus on him, peace will come.  So, as I work to reclaim my peace – in a place of complete uncertainty in my business, life, direction – I am seeking Him.  The one who’s hand created the boundless stars and hung the moon at just the right spot.  He’s got my focus….

Now, if I can only keep it there.

 

(By the way, my husband is fully recovered and still has his leg!  Praise God!)

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This is us the day we came home from the hospital.  Celebrations all around!!!

What Are You Waiting For?

While traveling this past weekend in one of my favorite places – Asheville, NC – I saw this bumper sticker that said,

Don’t Postpone Joy

And I thought, YES!  I love that!

And I love that because there were many years that I postponed my own joy and thought I’ll be happy when…

I’m not teaching anymore, when I get over my depression, when I get off this medication, when this rain stops, when summer gets here, when I have 10 more counseling sessions….

God wants us to enjoy life every single day.

In our American busy, busy culture we often think, ‘Well, I’ll be happy when….’

  • I get a new job.
  • I  move.
  • My husband does…
  • It’s sunny.
  • I feel better.

What is your fill in the blank?

2018-06-25 14.12.16

Why not choose joy now?  In this moment.  No matter what is going on in your life.

You might be going through the deepest, darkest valley EVER!  And joy is nowhere to be seen.  And everything is tough.  And there’s no money.  And life sucks.

But…

why not choose joy now?

Joy is a choice.

 

So, maybe you’re thinking, “How in the world do I do that?”

Here’s 5 tips to help you choose joy now:

1. Start a Gratitude Practice

If you have followed my posts for any length of time you have probably seen me mention gratitude before.  (I talk about it a lot because it is sooooo important.)  Being grateful for what we have opens our life up to more of that!  What we appreciate appreciates.  Ann Voskamp wrote a book and devotional titled, One Thousand Gifts.  It’s an amazing journey into gratitude.  I highly recommend it!

 

2. Dive Into God’s Word

The Bible has so many powerful stories and accounts of people who were persecuted and chose joy anyways (Paul, David….).  They are true inspirations.  I am not in jail and don’t have an entire country’s army chasing after me.  Things are not as bad for me as they were for them and they were able to choose joy.

Psalm 5:11

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy.  Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

 

3. Meditate

Meditation creates time and space for stillness in the midst of our crazy, busy lives.  It can be 2 minutes or 20 minutes or more.  Meditation helps to calm the crazy in our minds.  If you have a mind that runs like a train – like I do – then slowing that train down and breathing can bring a sense of peace and calm and joy.  We don’t have to be busy 24 hours a day to make God happy.  He wants us to create quiet time to be with him each and every day.  A meditation practice can help you do just that.

 

4. Do Yoga

Yoga has been a modality that has literally saved my life.  It also creates time and space for gentle movement and stillness (which is very hard for me!  Anyone else out there?!?!)  The breath work in yoga has not only helped my physical health but also my mental health and allowed me to slow down enough to be grateful for this very moment.  When I am grateful it is much easier for me to choose joy.

 

5. Make Healthy Food Choices

This might sound crazy but the food you eat can actually affect your mental health.  It is common knowledge that if we eat crappy food we will feel crappy physically.  Well, that also goes for mentally.  You either feed your body health or you feed your body dis-ease.  It’s much easier to choose joy when you feel good physically.  Feed your body organic whole foods and watch your joy level increase! Whoop!

 

Are you ready to choose joy?!?!  Comment below and let us know you’re choosing joy today!

What about forgiveness?

Yeah. What about it?

Forgiveness is all about letting go of hurts and pains of the past.  Letting go of that story.  Letting go.

Take a few deep breaths…

Now tune into your mind and heart and see what past hurts you’re holding on to.  Take some time here, and just trust what comes to mind.

Forgiveness doesn’t right the wrong or make everything okay. What is does is free you from the imprisonment of that pain. What is holding onto that pain doing for you? Is it making you happy?  Bringing you peace and joy?  Providing for you?

It’s probably just causing you some negative side effects.

What is holding onto that pain doing for the person who caused that pain? Probably nothing. They might not even know about it, or remember it.

There are three steps to transforming old wounds and hurts.

2018-06-11 14.36.011. Tell the truth.

Telling the truth is a magical healing tool.  Take time to notice when you hold back from telling the truth in any situation:  at work, at home, at the post office, or restaurant…

Begin to be brutally honest with yourself and others about what you really want.

 

 

1 Corinthians 13:6

“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” (NIV)

2018-06-11 14.36.412. Forgive

Who do you need to forgive in order to to heal?  And remember, you’re honoring step number one which is to be honest.  Perhaps, you might even need to forgive yourself.  Forgiveness is the key to liberation from being a victim.  Forgiveness is a choice.  Most times a very hard choice.  And sometimes forgiveness is like an onion – you just have to make the choice to forgive and keep peeling the layers away each and every day until the feeling finally comes.

 

Matthew 6:15

“But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (NIV)

 

2018-06-11 14.37.463. Be grateful

When you have an attitude of gratitude your life is already abundant.  I like to say, what you appreciate appreciates.  In other words, focusing on being grateful for what you currently do have and love in your life opens you up to more of what you love.  Focus on what you do have, not what you don’t have.

 

And gratitude is a practice.  Especially for those of us prone to depression – like me.  I have found that if I take even one week off from my gratitude journal practice, I begin to slip ever so sneakily back into the depths.  This is a non-negotiable practice for me.

 

Philippians 4:8

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (NIV)

 

What hurt or pain are you finally ready to let go of and forgive?

 

Suicide

“How can somebody be so selfish?”

“What in the world were they thinking?”

“Why would somebody do that?!?!”

“When does life get that bad, really?”

 

These are all questions and comments I’ve heard over the past week, or really anytime anyone in the public’s eye dies from suicide.

Let me ask you – Have you ever been in a place in life where there seemed no way out?  Have you ever contemplated suicide?  Has life gotten so bad that you didn’t want to live anymore?

My answer to all those questions is YES.  I have been in a place where there seemed no way out, I have contemplated suicide, and I didn’t want to live anymore.

And I got help.

 

See, I was suffering from a mental illness – depression, anxiety, and PTSD.  And if you’ve never suffered with a mental illness before you might not understand why someone would take their own life.  But I do understand.  I don’t think it’s right and the best way out, but I do understand.

The way out is tough work.  It’s very hard, strenuous on all areas of life, and often requires major adjustments in work, relationships, and the way you do life.  And if you don’t have guidance from a professional this hard work seems impossible.

I had gotten to a place where life off the couch was so intimidating.  I couldn’t deal with the emotions and thoughts in my own head, much less trying to deal with someone else’s thoughts and opinions too.  I developed severe social anxiety (which I still battle to this day).  I also had daily anxiety attacks and multiple panic attacks.  My brain was totally freaking out.  And I was so afraid to unload the dishwasher or cook because that would require me to touch a knife.  And all I wanted to do was take that knife right across my wrists to relieve the pressure of the physical and emotional pain I was in.

With the help of my amazingly talented counselor, Sybil, I was able to slowly come out of the deep dark hole I was in and able to function in life again.  But this took time.  A lot of time.  Effort, tears, and HARD, HARD work.  About 10 years worth.  And, I did it.  But not by myself.

So, I say to you:  Don’t judge what you haven’t known.  Until you wear those shoes you have no idea.  And you never know what someone is dealing with behind closed doors.

AND I also say to you:  If you are in a place where there seems to be no way out please get help!   Call this number now:  1-800-273-8255

or go to https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

There is always a way out.  Talk to someone you know and trust, or get help from a professional.  You are loved.  You are not alone.  You can do this.

 

Hebrews 12:1

“Therefore, since we have been surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us.  And let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

The PTSD Christmas

Happy Thanksgiving!  Merry Christmas!  Jingle Bells!  Santa Claus!

Do these words make your heart swoon or send dread all the way to your toes?!?!  For some people, the holiday season can be a time of anxiety, sorrow, dread, worry…

And I get that.

If you’re like me and have suffered from PTSD or anxiety/panic attacks, the whole thing and especially socialization of the holiday season can feel like a boulder on top of you. Even thinking about being with all those people and having to have conversations might just send us into a full blown “I refuse to get off my couch and celebrate – bah humbug” state. And possibly even the idea of getting one tree out of the attic -much less seven (yes, I have seven Christmas trees!) – is just too much to handle.

Let me explain.  When there is an emotional war going on in our brains the body is trying to figure out how to create balance and peace.  Some days it does better than others.  And some days it’s a total loss.  Either way, when something is thrown in – expected or not – that is out of our control our brains flip out.  Our brain is already overloaded and this small feather just sent it into full combat mode.  Que the heart palpitations, sweaty palms, shallow breathing, tight chest, dread, fear, and fight or flight mode.

The sympathetic nervous system -the fight or flight system – is fully engaged and anxiety is high with panic riding full force towards us on the horizon.  And grandma, parents, aunts, uncles, sisters, nephews, and in-laws are arriving shortly!  What am I supposed to do?!?!?!

Here are 5 tips for those of us with PTSD and/or anxiety to use in moments like this.

  1. Stop.  Take a deep breath.  And another.  And another.  And another.  When we breathe slowly and deeply for at least two minutes our brain says, “Hey!  I was freaking out, but I’m breathing like a calm, relaxed person soooooo – I must be relaxed.”  This turns on the parasympathetic nervous system and allows us to relax and calm down the nerves.
  2. Focus on what is going well in this very moment!  We are in control of our thoughts!  Much to many people’s surprise, we have the ability to stop negative thoughts from taking over and sending us in a downward spiral.  “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things.”-Philippians 4:8 (NIV)  Paul’s words are written as he sits in a jail cell wondering if he will live or die.  If he can focus on positive thoughts in that situation then I can too.
  3. Get grateful!  Begin to name all the things you are grateful for.  This also takes the focus off of the negative and puts it on the positive.  Gratitude can do more for us than we realize.  I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal that I write in everyday, and I really notice a difference in how I respond to anxiety producing moments.
  4. Be prepared ahead of time.  Take some time for yourself filling your own cup.  Maybe you’ve heard the thought that you can only serve others from the overflow of your own cup.  And if you’re dealing with anxiety or PTSD then you need some extra filling of your own cup to be able to deal with life – especially around the holidays.  What nourishes you or helps you relax?  What is enjoyable? Go do that!
  5.   Choose your activities wisely.  What are some parties, events, or gatherings you want to attend (if there are any)? You don’t have to go to all of them.  Choose the one or two that will be important for you but also the ones that could end up nourishing your soul.  If it’s too much to have Mammy, Pappy, and Uncle George over then ask if someone else can host this year.  Things don’t have to stay the same just because, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” Being kind to yourself and to others, make the best choice for you.

Implementing these tools won’t stop your anxiety, but they will help you manage it.  And as a yoga teacher I often tell my students that when we feel depression we are living in the past.  When we feel anxiety we are living in the future.  The best way to counteract both of those is to live in the present moment.

Comment below with a way you help manage your anxiety!

To learn more about me and my story visit my website, and contact me if you need advice for dealing with anxiety or PTSD.