Tag: Immanuel

When You Don’t Feel Good Enough

by Jen’s husband Chris

The other day I noticed my mind wandering to past events, previous relationships and moments in the rearview mirror of life where I felt shame. Thinking about these moments made my face cringe and my stomach roll in knots. The steadiness of my breathing slowed and shallowed.

As I pondered my tense reactions, I realized the common denominator in each of these moments: these were times I failed. I felt I failed by handling the situation poorly. Hurting someone’s feelings. Saying or doing the wrong thing. I took a wrong turn. Thinking about this turmoil left me feeling regret, shame, even some sorrow. I wanted to press the “Redo” button and start all over.

While these “recordings” have played before, I had the thought, “These are moments my brain has not fully finished processing something. The replaying that is robbing my peace is an indicator something needs resolved in order to return to peace again.” The absence of peace is an indicator something needs addressed. As you may notice from Jen’s blogs, our family strives to live a lifestyle where we turn to Immanuel in the good times and bad. I knew I needed to feel and share these feelings to find resolution.

After thinking about moments in life where I felt peace and joy, I then prayed, “Lord, I am grateful for the ways You are with me. Thank you for Your goodness. It appears I am missing peace in these places my mind keeps gravitating toward. What do I need from You today?”

At this point I had an image in my mind, where I was standing before Jesus with my head hanging down in shame. I didn’t want to look up. I felt like I was standing before a spotlight because bright light shone all around me. It was magnificent. Next, I sensed Jesus reach forward to lift up my head and I had the thought, “Stand up and face Me like a man.” This surprised me even more and reminded me of Job 38:3, where God tells his servant Job, “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” The tone and thought behind these words were empowering and inviting, not harsh or cold.

Next, I felt like Jesus shared several things including, “You are forgiven. I washed the filth from you. You are clean. I am in You. You are in Me.” There was more, but each word breathed life into my forlorn frame. While surprised by this “Immanuel moment” as we call it in our training, I felt seen, refreshed, validated and valued. Peace replaced my guilt and shame.

Later in the day I shared bits of this story with my sons at the dinner table. I said, “Guys, you won’t believe what I felt like Jesus told me today!” I asked my 7-year old son to lower his head as though he was feeling sad. When he did, I lifted up his head with my hand to see a big grin on his face. I said, “This is what Jesus did for me this morning; isn’t that neat?” I want them to learn through both words and actions that Immanuel is an available God who freely gives peace to all who need it.

I was using Skill 13 of the 19 relational brain skills during this interactive encounter to pursue God’s peace. Next, I was practicing Skill 18 to notice my brain had stopped processing and I was in need of a specific solution. Needless to say, this was a most remarkable moment that I cherish. The Good Shepherd was tender toward my weaknesses. I remembered the writings of a successful king who sometimes failed. He once said, “But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain.” (Psalm 3:3-4, NIV)

Now, when I think back on these moments that used to rob my peace, I see a picture of myself standing before the Mighty One in confidence. I don’t feel the heaviness in my chest. I can breathe easier. I feel accepted. Where do you need peace today?

Learn more about these skills with my book, Transforming Fellowship. Learn more about the brain’s Verbal Logical Explainer and The Immanuel Approach here

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Marshmallows, Moving and Michigan

My family is in the middle of a major transition. For over a year Chris and I have sensed God is up to something. While in prayer for God’s direction and clarity, we felt like our time in Illinois was coming to a close. We had the sense Immanuel was calling our family to a new adventure in Michigan. I felt a sense of excitement along with some dread!

You see, about 11 years ago we moved to Illinois from Michigan. Since that time, we have dreamed of returning one day to the land of lakes, ice cream and cherries. My husband and I have the flexibility to continue our ministry from wherever we live, so this direction worked out well to continue doing the work we love from the place we love.

To be honest, I am not a big fan of change. The prospect of moving was scary. From the moment we felt God nudging us this direction we began working during the winter months to get our house on the market. We began praying for God’s timing with the sale of our house. The last two times we felt God guiding us to move, He worked in miraculous ways to quickly sell our house and settle us into our new place. Because our intention this time around was to keep our sons in school here in Illinois until the end of the school year, we expected this move to be different than previous transitions. Little did we know.

As soon as our home was on the market and ready to sell, I began to fearfully question whether Chris and I were doing the right thing. Keeping our home in “perfect showing condition” with 5 and 7-year old boys along with my husband’s dear 94-year-old grandmother, has been stressful. While God continues to encourage and faithfully guide us along in this new adventure, I find myself dreading the thought of starting over. Starting from scratch feels, well, it feels overwhelming to me. Can you relate?

Anyhow, now that the boys are done with school I feel restless. I am eager to sell our home. The urge to, “Get this move over with already!” becomes stronger with each passing day.

Recently, I was praying and expressing to God my desire to have our house sell. “Sooner rather than later would be GREAT God!” I desperately pleaded. I then sensed Immanuel remind me that when I feel afraid, my way of handling fear is that I simply want to get it over with. Quickly. Now.

I sensed Immanuel tell me that He knows I am scared about the process of finding new friends and getting plugged in to a new community. He understands I feel worried about getting the boys settled. Yet, I sensed Him saying, “I have everything covered. I am going before you and preparing your path. My timing is for the best possible transition.”

After hearing this from God I felt a deep, profound peace settle over me. It was at this point an odd thought popped into my mind. “Do you want one marshmallow or two?”

This thought reminded me of the study on delayed gratification a team of Stanford researchers led by Walter Mischel first performed in the 1960’s. Basically, they left a young child in a room with one marshmallow in front of them. The children were given instructions they could eat the marshmallow or wait until the adult returns and have two marshmallows instead of one. Sounds easy, right? Well it was not so easy. Those who waited for a second treat often creatively distracted themselves in some way while waiting up to 20 minutes for the adult to return. Those who gave in to their cravings would usually sit and stare at the marshmallow before gobbling up the treat.

I felt like God was showing me that waiting on His timing would bring the best possible outcome for this transition. If I push for my timing to “get this move over with” I will be settling for less than the best that He has for me and my family. I sensed Immanuel asking me to trust Him and rest in His timing. I quickly answered, “Yes!” Then I proceeded to give Him permission to help me during the inevitable moments I begin to doubt and worry. I felt comforted that God has all the timing worked out, including Chris’ travel schedule, our July THRIVE Training, the boys starting school, etc. As only God can, I sensed He is going to work everything out. At this point I took a deep breath and relaxed.

While I still check in with Immanuel for daily doses of peace, I am excited to see what the Good Shepherd has in store for my family. Where do you need some peace today?

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The Big Bad Buzzing Bees

Last summer Matthew, my 7 year-old son, was stung two times. One time a bee got him while a wasp stung him the second time. These moments made a BIG impression on him. He quickly formed a strong opinion that bees and wasps are BAD and SCARY. It was clear his brain’s fight or flight circuit created an opinion and filed these fears for the future.

Because the second sting happened towards the end of summer, we did not see much of a change in his behavior. The bugs simply disappeared for the year so the threat was gone. Now that the warm weather is back and the flowers are starting to bloom, the bees are out in full force. I have noticed Matthew is showing signs of fear whenever he goes outdoors and spots a bee. He watches the bees closely then runs away at the slightest movement. His brain’s alarm bell is ringing loudly.

I recently took my two sons to a trail near my house so they could ride their bikes. It was a beautiful, sunny day. The yellow dandelions adorned the grass all around our path. As you can imagine, Matthew quickly noticed a bee along the path. He instantly swerved his bike to avoid the bee and get as far away as possible. He rode his bike off the trail, into the grass. A few minutes later he again ran his bike off the path trying to avoid an insect he thought could be a bee. He repeated this behavior several more times as we tried to enjoy our ride in the lovely sunshine. He panicked anytime he spotted something floating in the air that could possibly be a bee buzzing around.

The threat of a bee sting took over his desire to ride his bike and enjoy the outdoors. He was functioning in a constant “fight or flight” mode. While I encouraged him to take some deep breaths whenever he saw a possible bee, he couldn’t calm down. We shortened our bike ride and returned home. It was clear we were not going to enjoy the outdoors as long as my son’s fears were intensely activated.

Once safe in our home I began talking with my son about his fear. I told him how Mommy used to be terrified of bees. Using my body and voice, I acted out how I used to panic and run screaming whenever I saw a bee. My son started laughing and we laughed together. At this point I noticed a bee flying near our patio door so I walked over and pointed out to Matthew that the bee no longer scared me. Trying to inspire his curiosity, I asked him if he wanted to learn my “secret” how I learned to calm myself. He was intrigued.

I said, “Usually bees will leave you alone unless they feel threatened. Because bees can react to someone who is afraid and moves in a way that is threatening to them, they are more likely to sting if you react when you are afraid.” I told him when I learned my fear could increase the chances I would be stung, I was motivated to learn how to calm my fear.

The part of our brain that is responsible for the fight or flight response is also the root of phobias (in our training we call this Level 2 of the brain’s emotional control center). It is the area of the brain in charge once our fears increase and become strong. This brain region is non-relational, often irrational, and we can’t be talked out of being afraid. The best way to calm this region is to activate the area of our right frontal lobe called the prefrontal cortex (PFC – what we call Level 4). Level 4 is the Captain of the emotional brain and is the only region of the brain that can calm Level 2, the fear center. One of the best ways to activate Level 4 is to pay attention to how your body feels, so we can scan our body as we breathe deeply to calm ourselves.

I shared with Matthew that I learned to calm myself by taking deep breaths and pay attention to how my belly feels as I breathe deeply. I said, “Does my belly still feel tight and in knots, or do I feel calm? If my belly isn’t calm, then I need to keep taking more breaths and notice when my belly begins to feel calm again.”

Later that day we went outside. Whenever Matthew noticed something flying around, we practiced taking deep breaths and noticed how our bellies were doing. After several days of practice, he ran over to me one afternoon from the playground. With a big grin he shared, “Mommy, there was a bee right next to me and I didn’t even run away!” We both rejoiced that he had worked so hard to calm his fears and he was already seeing some results.

Sometimes the fears children have seem irrational and we may be tempted to discount or disregard our children’s fears. There may be times our own fears are irrational so we try to dismiss them. We can deal with fears that spring up by learning to calm these fears so they don’t paralyze us. This is an important brain skill and there can be times we need to share our fears with someone who is really good at calming down from intense fears so they can help us. Sometimes we need to improve our ability to notice how our body is feeling and practice breathing in order to calm ourselves. Sometimes we focus on the things that bring us joy. As always, it is a good rule of thumb to interact with Immanuel about our fears until we reach peace. We can train our brain to quiet fears so we learn, as a Psalmist once wrote, “I will not die but live!” (118:17)

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Jesus Met Me In My MRI

Continued from last week…

When I arrived at the hospital I was immediately interviewed by an admitting nurse about my symptoms. In addition to the numbness and tingling in my arm, I was showing signs of weakness in my right arm and leg. These symptoms concerned the nurse so she called a doctor to examine me. He quickly notified the stroke team then they cleared a room for me. Here is when the craziness started!

Suddenly there were 14 people in my room asking me questions. They began poking and touching me to identify what I could feel. They asked about my family history and pressed me about previous medical conditions. I answered, “I have none!” They asked, “If you had to live with your current symptoms, how would this impact your life?” Surprised by this question, I noticed my head start to swirl. I wasn’t sure what to say.

The medical team informed me they believed I was having a minor stroke. The big question was whether to give me a “clot-busting” drug. At this point they told me 6% of people who take this drug end up with catastrophic bleeding on the brain, 30% of people experience relief from their symptoms, and the remainder experience nothing. Because it took me so long after my initial symptoms to get to the ER, I had 30 minutes left in order to decide what to do before the window closes to take the medicine. No pressure!

There was no time for an MRI to confirm or rule out a stroke. This information would have been helpful to make a decision about the medication. I noticed my anxiety levels increase. My breathing grew shallow and knots rolled and formed in my stomach. I called Chris and explained the decision. Before we could discuss anything, the doctors asked me to call him back so they could talk to me. They recommended against the medicine because my symptoms were minor. Weighed against the risks of taking the drug, they felt I should not take it. I was relieved to hear their recommendation! Their thoughts lined up with my thoughts.

I was still very overwhelmed. My head was spinning with all the information, the risks and the unknown. They decided to take me for an MRI to look at my head and neck. While I don’t consider myself claustrophobic, I do have a fear of heights. Both fears come from the same region in the brain’s emotional control center. I wondered how I would last packed into the loud and narrow machine.

This was the first MRI in my life. Once they wedged my head into the headrest and moved me into the tube, I started to panic. I closed my eyes and focused on taking deep breaths. Quieting is what the brain needs when we experience intense fears so I noticed how my body felt as I calmed down. Paying attention to our body helps to activate the “Captain” in the brain that can override the fear center responsible for phobias. I began to share with Immanuel that I was afraid and I did not like feeling smashed into this tube. I asked for His peace.

As the words floated out of my mind I noticed an overwhelming sense of peace wash over me. My heart rate slowed down. My breathing steadied and I felt calm. Despite 45 minutes of jackhammer sounds echoing all around me I felt so relaxed I almost fell asleep! This Immanuel peace was exactly what I needed to quiet after the chaos.

When I returned from the MRI, Chris was waiting in my room. Everything moved slowly and calmly from there. The staff admitted me for the night and continued to run tests. Eventually we received the MRI results which showed no signs of a stroke. By the next morning my symptoms were completely resolved. The stroke team returned to my hospital room and shared their conclusions: “Well, we have no idea what happened to you!” They went on to say they ruled out a long list of concerns and by all appearances, I was the picture of good health.

I still do not know what caused the strange symptoms, but I am relieved to feel normal again. I am grateful for the prayers of many friends and family members while I was in the hospital. I feel thankful for Jesus’ profound peace in the midst of the chaos and the unknown. I am glad to have practiced the quieting skills as well as the interactions with Jesus that calmed my big emotions. Practicing these skills in the calm times made them available in the stressful, scary times.

It is much harder to learn to quiet or interact with Jesus for the first time in the midst of high stress and anxiety. I encourage you to start practicing these skills now when things are calm so they are available to you when you most need them. Take a look at the 19 skills here or read more about the skills in my husband’s new book, Transforming Fellowship here or on Kindle here.

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My Joy This Week

My sons are very blessed to grow up in a home where they are learning relational skills. These skills are the foundation my boys will need to navigate life and relationships. Many of us were not so lucky to learn relational skills early in life.

Just this last week I enjoyed the privilege of leading a group of motivated people who earnestly wanted transformation in their lives and relationships. I led what we call Track One of THRIVE Training. This is one of four training tracks we offer through our 5-day interactive training events. What a blessing it was to watch people change in the same week! It makes me think of a butterfly bursting forth from a cocoon!

Monday the group arrived eager to learn but trepidatious and unsure what to expect. Some people came in feeling low on energy, low on joy and a bit frazzled. In spite of this these courageous people were in pursuit of the 19 brain-based relational skills that are practiced at THRIVE and each person was intent to bring the skills home to pass on to their families and communities.

You see, ideally these skills would have been passed on to us by our family and community members early in our formative years. Once learned, we would have used these skills throughout our lives without even thinking about it. By adulthood we would be experts using the skills and we would be ready to pass them onto the next generation of young minds. Unfortunately, for many of us, we are simply trying to survive life, navigate relationships the best we can and fumble our way through parenting – without the necessary tools. We know there must be more.

One simple skill that many of us are either weak in or not utilizing to its full potential is Skill 2, Quieting. Calming and quieting help us get through the emotional roller coaster of daily life and the intense overwhelm of hard times. When we do not have this skill we may push ourselves to the point of exhaustion and burnout. We may run ourselves ragged each day without moments to recharge, much like using our phone all day without plugging it in. We end up with a depleted, drained battery.

One simple test to see how effectively you can use this skill is to take 5 minutes of silence. Set a timer, breathe deeply and notice how you feel when you finish.  Are your muscles relaxed? Did your thoughts and busy mind slow and settle down? Is your breathing deep and calm? (Mothers and fathers with little ones, you may have to try this when your littles are napping in order to find some quiet.) If you answered No to any of the above, it is likely you could use more practice. Don’t worry; most of us can use more practice with this essential skill.

For me, when I first tried this exercise my mind would busily race with a To Do list. My muscles tightened and tensed as though I was preparing for a marathon. I held my breath as the long list of items swirled through my mind. It took a lot of practice quieting in the calm moments in order to improve my ability to use this skill. Thankfully, I can now quiet myself very quickly – even in the midst of chaos. Once you are effective at using this skill you will be able to take a few deep breaths in the midst of screaming children full of demands and feel your body relax – even when nothing changes in your circumstances. As parents, the skill of quieting can really be a sanity saver!

My THRIVE group this week spent a lot of time practicing skills such as quiet, joy, appreciation, engaging stories, interacting with God, disconnecting to rest and fun exercises designed to build emotional resiliency. By Friday I saw joy breaking out regularly on their faces. There was a deep sense of peace in the room each session and I noticed attendees were spreading appreciation to those around them. This group appeared fully alive and one person even commented that this training week was the most amazing experience of her life. These are skills that have changed my life, my marriage, my family and my parenting, so it is extremely rewarding to see how people are learning and passing on the skills so that more families and communities will receive the blessing of joyful transformation.

These skills are so valuable to us as parents. Not only can they make the difference between barely surviving parenting and thriving despite our circumstances, they are also crucial to our children and preparing them with the tools they will need to navigate life as they grow. If you would like to join me at one of our in-person training events, learn more by visiting THRIVE Training as well as our weekend Joy Rekindled marriage retreats. To start practicing these skills in small groups or with a friend, check out Transforming Fellowship, Joy Starts Here, Connexus and 30 Days of Joy for Busy Married Couples.

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BIG upset and BIG joy

Like many of us, Matthew, my six year-old son, continues to learn how to handle BIG feelings. Just today he was having trouble listening and obeying my instructions so I took away a privilege. At this point the little guy became very upset with BIG reactions. Once my little negotiator realized he couldn’t talk me into restoring his privilege, his upset escalated. This interaction was heading south while negative emotions intensified.

At this point we were driving home and he started saying he wished he was never made. Talk about painful and intense! When I heard this, I synchronized with him. I validated his BIG feelings and affirmed that he must be very mad and super sad to wish he was never made. I shared how his absence would make Mommy, Daddy and little brother very sad since we love him and are glad he is in our family. Next, I mentioned that because Jesus is the One who made him, we should ask Jesus if there is anything He would want us to know about this. After a few moments of listening, Matthew said he didn’t hear anything because he wasn’t listening. It was clear to me this was not the right time to force an interaction with Jesus but some mutual quieting was needed.

My husband Chris and I make a purposeful effort to interact with Jesus on a daily basis, during good and hard times. This daily pursuit of interaction with the Living God is what we and our colleagues call an Immanuel Lifestyle. We desire to pass on this example and teach our boys the same purposeful skill. Because of this goal, we have given the boys practice since they were young. This process works best if the boys begin from a place of appreciation and gratitude, so we start out by inviting the boys to talk about something that, “makes them smile.” Next, we encourage them to ask Jesus what He wants each of them to know, then we suggest they pause and pay attention to thoughts or images that come to mind. After several seconds we follow up with the question, “Did Jesus give you any ideas or pictures?” and we wait for a response. We help the boys sort through the responses in their heads in order to figure out whether a thought brings them peace and if it lines up with what Jesus might say to them. As parents, it is important that we maintain our connection with Jesus as we walk with our children through this process and help them discern their thoughts. We have had success with the boys since they were 3 years old, although their responses are more consistent as they grow older.

Now back to Matthew’s BIG feelings. So, after some quieting and a bit of time passed, I entered his room, sat on the floor and started playing with him and his Legos. While we were playing, I asked him to tell me about something that brings a smile to his face. Matthew quickly shared about his favorite swing set from our summer vacation. After a few minutes of reminiscing, I mentioned how sad I felt earlier in the day when he was sad and mad, and he wished he wasn’t made. He looked down for a moment then I suggested we ask Jesus what we should know about those BIG feelings. After asking and listening, Matthew shared that he had a picture of Jesus standing in front of him with a BIG smile on His face. This made me smile. I affirmed that this picture sounded like a gift from Jesus since Jesus is glad to see him. I then suggested Matthew ask Jesus what he should know about the image in his mind. After a few moments Matthew said with a smile, “Jesus said He is glad that He made me because He loves me.” This thought gave both of us BIG grins! I suggested Matthew follow up once more to see if there is anything else Jesus wanted him to know. Now Matthew answered that he had a funny movie in his head, so I suggested he check in and ask Jesus what Matthew should know about the funny movie. Matthew replied, “Jesus likes to be silly with me because He loves me”. We ended the interaction with giggles and big smiles.

While I have no doubt there will be more moments where BIG feelings arise, and possibly other times Matthew wishes he wasn’t made, at least now we have a foundation we can build on. Now I can refer him back to this so that Matthew can reconnect with Jesus.

I share this because all of us can model what it looks like to talk with Jesus about anything and everything. Our children, grandchildren, friends and community can learn that Jesus is a good place to turn to during moments of joy or when painful emotions and problems strike. We do not have to be perfect parents but skill practice goes a long way. One of the best gifts we can give our children is the opportunity to discover that Jesus is always present and available. In this way God’s patient and gentle presence becomes a never-ending resource to carry them through the ups and downs of life.

 

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