Tag: Gratitude

Enduring Hardship

This summer has been hard. For over 8 months Chris and I have been living in limbo as we wait for our house to sell. We have been anticipating this transition from Illinois to Michigan for some time, but living a week at a time is tricky. And, well, it gets old. Very old.

Keeping up a house in “showing condition” with 2 young boys has its challenges. We also have additional housemates with my husband’s 94-year-old grandmother as well as my mother who currently lives with us. These are blessings to me but as the joy increases so does the busyness.

To top it off, school is now in full force and I’m trying to figure out how the summer flew by so quickly. My main goal this past summer was to prioritize time with my sons. I believe I accomplished my goal but how can it be September? What happened to my friends June, July and August?

We have shifted some things to our new location but we are still harbored in Illinois. Between family needs, ministry work and my husband’s travel schedule, my plate is full! Can you relate to a full plate? I bet you can.

This season reminds me of another season a few years ago. My sons were 2 and 4 years-old when Chris injured his back. My husband could only work a few hours a day. He was miserably laid up on his back with ice packs most of the time. This situation meant I needed to hold down the fort with family needs, house maintenance, and ministry details. I remember feeling the strain. I was clearly in need of extra capacity to get through the trying time.

Extra capacity? How and where do we find extra capacity, exactly? Does it grow on trees? Does it use a battery charger? Maybe it comes in a can of spinach like Popeye used when he needed a boost.

If we are already practicing the topics from the previous 3 blogs, Remaining Relational, Acting Life Myself and Returning to Joy, these ingredients will help us immensely as we navigate the stormy waves of hardship. When I am going through a difficult season of life and I need to shore up my capacity, I utilize what’s called self-care. Self-care is simply the care of self and this crucial ingredient makes the difference between surviving and thriving.

For me, self-care means spending time listening to God, focusing on appreciation and quieting throughout the day. These additions create extra capacity with some “room to breathe” during the seasons when I feel as though the walls around me are closing in. It still amazes me the difference in how I feel after spending 5 minutes outdoors appreciating nature, 30 seconds taking some deep breaths or 10 minutes crying out to God in my prayers and journal as I wait to hear His voice and receive a fresh dose of peace. These are short little windows of time that sustain me for the day and refresh me to endure the next mountain to climb. While longer time periods are surely a blessing, short spurts tend to be what I can find during the busy seasons.

After the short time of refreshment, I notice some of the tension leaves my body. I can breathe more easily and, even if nothing changes in my circumstances, the day feels less overwhelming. One of my favorite Bible verses is 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” During seasons of hardship I often feel weak. I feel vulnerable and more dependent upon God. In these moments I feel as though God’s power works through me most clearly.

Our nation is in a difficult time where enduring hardship is vital. My prayers for each of us are that we will figure out what it means to care for ourselves so that we can better care for those we are serving.

What does self-care look like for you? I hope you will join me next week when I talk more about enduring hardship. My focus will be on helping our children endure hardship well.

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Appreciation Changes Everything

Just before bed last night I had an upsetting interaction with a friend. It was not a fight or an argument, but I was worried about her. In the past, something like this would have ruined my sleep. Yep; in days past this distress would have spun out my mind. I would have replayed the bothersome event while my heart thumped out of my chest and cortisol pumped through my veins. Doesn’t that sound fun?

Now that I am a mother of two active boys, I just cannot afford to lose a night of sleep over something like this. Sleep is a valuable commodity; losing it costs me too much. Thankfully, by the grace of God, I have worked hard over the years to improve my quieting and appreciation skills. This means I can better calm down, rest, and feel thankful as I need to. Last night was one of those moments I needed to put my two skills to use. I spent a few minutes reflecting on highlights from my day. I glanced at a few fun pictures from earlier when the boys went sledding. The memories and images of their smiles brought me some much-needed peace and joy. I noticed my body was relaxed while my breathing was deep and steady. After a short time my nervous system settled and I peacefully prepared for bed.

Do you know that you can change what your brain knows as its natural state? For some of us, anger may seem natural. For others, we may feel like fear is a normal part of our personality. Some may think sadness is the home base. Ideally, our natural state is a combination of joy and quiet where we alternate between glad to be togetherness and moments of peaceful restfulness. We may consider ourselves “happy” “content” “secure” and more good things, but, far too often, this is not the case. Most of us quickly recognize we could use a minor (or major!) adjustment to the thermostat of our nervous system to run a bit “hotter” or somewhat “cooler.” In fact, just how you can adjust the thermostat in your house to a temperature that feels comfortable, you can actually change what feels normal to your brain – with a bit of purposeful effort and practice.

Intentional practice with appreciation can change how we approach life and relationships. Appreciation is a brain skill that can, well, change our brain! Appreciation is one of the easiest skills to start practicing because most of us have already experienced it in the form of gratitude and thankfulness. Appreciation is what my husband Chris calls, “packaged joy” that can be remembered and shared anytime, even when circumstances are not bringing us joy.

Our friend Dr. Jim Wilder shares that feeling five minutes of appreciation three times a day over thirty days can change our outlook on life and reset the nervous system to run on joy. Five minutes sounds easy on paper but it does take some work. Five straight minutes of sustained appreciation can be hard to maintain because you have to stay focused and feel appreciation in your body. In the beginning you may find your mind starts to wander. Soon the warm feeling of appreciation begins to fade like an old stick of bubblegum. Don’t give up! The more you practice, the easier it will be to sustain the appreciation feelings. Also, I have a useful suggestion for you to try.

I have found it helpful to have a list of special moments in my journal that bring me appreciation. I like to have a one or two word “title” for the moments that will remind me of my appreciation memory. For instance: Snow Fort, Sunset, Michigan Beach, Giggles, Sledding, Camp Fire, Blowing Bubbles, Bedtime Snuggles, etc. These words jump-start my appreciation and give me a list to refer to in case my appreciation feeling fades. At this point I have a new appreciation memory to focus on. Many people find it helpful to look at pictures on their phones or photos from family albums or scrapbooks to get them started. Find what works best for you.

Appreciation is such a significant skill for building joy, strengthening connections between people, recovering from upset and helping our relational circuits come back on, to name just a few. Appreciation has helped me in many difficult seasons of my life, in my marriage, and for my parenting challenges. Go ahead; set your appreciation timer and have some fun today!

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