Tag: Stress

Redirecting A Rough Start

The start to my day was hard. My seven-year old son did not want to get up for school. After 10 minutes of coaxing he finally moved out of bed. Next, I tried to wake up my five-year old son. He was grumpy. Soon he was crying that he did NOT want to go to school. Fifteen minutes later he finally began to prepare for the day. Usually both boys are excited for school, but not today. At this point all signs pointed to the reality that they were going to miss the bus.

Sleep during the previous night was shortened due to a noisy thunderstorm. In retrospect, I probably could have alleviated some of the sleep deprivation by letting them sleep in a bit longer then drive them to school instead of take the bus. This may have brought a more peaceful morning for all of us. Regardless, both boys finally made it to the breakfast table with ten minutes to eat before the bus arrived.

At the breakfast table Andrew started crying again because the cereal wasn’t what he wanted. By now my patience was running thin. It was clear our emotional capacity was greatly diminished!

I was beginning worry about keeping my plans that were in place once the boys left for school. Feeling the pressure short-circuit my relational brain, I became focused on results. I tried encouraging, i.e. pushing, Andrew by saying, “Hurry up and eat so you won’t miss the bus!” My plan spectacularly backfired and led to more tears. I realized using fear to motivate my son was a bad idea, but the pressure was mounting fast. I threw my hands up in frustration, and gave up on the whole idea of making the bus.

Three meltdowns and forty-five minutes later, both boys were dressed, fed and climbing into the car for school. By God’s grace I managed to synchronize with my sons in their upset and help them return to joy from their distress. However, I was sure feeling the strain! As we drove to school I noticed I was now feeling grumpy, and my relational circuits were off.

At this point the boys were happily chatting. I turned to them and said, “Boys, our morning started out rough” and, before I could even suggest sharing appreciation on the way to school, Andrew cut me off with, “I’m going first!” Matthew quickly followed with, “I have ten things to share today!” These responses brought a partial smile to my face as I realized they both knew what was needed before I could finish my sentence.

The boys proceeded to take turns sharing four things (including people) they appreciated. I had to remind my sons that I also wanted a turn. They let me share my three but I barely finished because they were so eager to keep talking about what they appreciated. By now it was clear our relational circuits were brightly shining.

After I shared, the boys took turns expressing appreciation during the rest of the drive to school. I noticed I felt lighter. My mood started to shift, and I was laughing with them over the things that made them smile. We arrived at school and each of us went our way with smiles and energy.

Not only is it important for me as a parent to help my children successfully navigate rough mornings, it is also crucial for me to keep my own head above water. This means finding things that restore me when I feel depleted. You will notice I talk a lot about appreciation in my blogs. The reason for this is because “packaged joy” as my husband calls it, is so crucial to helping me return to relational mode when the stress of parenting threatens to knock me off track.

With the busyness and stress of the holidays, I encourage you to take a few minutes to focus on what you appreciate today. Notice the difference in your mood after just a few minutes of reflecting on the good stuff.

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Behavior Tells A Story

The last month has been incredibly chaotic. On top of an exceptionally busy time with my ministry responsibilites, we have also been in the midst of a major transition. The distribution center I started years ago has now moved out of our garage to a new location. I feel excited for this new adventure, however, this process added to an already overly full plate. I am sad to say my work stress spilled into my family time which was costly for our joy levels.

About a week ago I noticed a pattern in my youngest son’s behavior as it veered in a direction that concerned me. Andrew had become clingy. His usually joyful demeanor shifted to despondency and sadness. Frequent outbursts erupted when he failed to get his way. A few months ago Chris and I noticed an increase in whining and, with some focus on optimizing his joy levels, we overcame this pattern. This time, however, the whining had emerged with added intensity. His “listening ears” began to malfunction and stopped working. Andrew had been much more sensitive, especially when big brother teased or caused him trouble. Initially I thought my son was fighting a bug. After some time, when no sickness developed, I began to question what else could be going on. Andrew’s behavior was telling me a story, and I needed to pay attention.

After some prayerful reflection, I realized my emotional absence was taking a toll. I had been distracted. I had felt more rushed. My responses had been short instead of patient and tender. In my stressful state I had focused on keeping the household running by meeting physical needs and somehow I lost track of my sons’ emotional needs. With my relational circuits dim, I hadn’t given my children the attention and connection they deserve – and need. This painful absence created attachment pain, which is what children feel when mom and dad are unavailable and inattentive to their needs. Attachment pain leaves children feeling alone and creates anxiety, misery and restlessness. This is the last thing I want my children to feel!

Andrew has always been a caring, sensitive child. I like this about him. God has given my son a tender heart. I realized the change in my voice and infrequency of smiles on my face has instigated a downward spiral in his behavior and attitude. My normally secure child was shifting into a distracted attachment due to my overwhelm and lack of availability. His behavior was a warning signal saying, “Houston, we have a problem!”

If you are unfamiliar with attachment styles, there are two categories of patterns that develop in response to our closest relationships. These are known as secure and insecure styles. Secure attachments are the ideal attachment style for our children. These are established when mom and dad consistently meet the physical and emotional needs of their children in a timely, predictable manner. Children feel loved and secure. Children learn the world is a safe place because someone is available to meet their needs.

Next, there are three expressions of an insecure bonding pattern. These are called distracted, dismissive and disorganized attachment styles. Each of these insecure styles are based on fear where the child’s needs are not consistently met in a timely manner. Children learn their needs are unimportant, therefore the world is a scary place. These insecure styles take a toll on a child’s wellbeing and disrupt the child’s sense that having needs is a good thing. Insecure styles leave children feeling alone and overwhelmed. I am giving you a simple overview with the hope you will read more about these important bonding patterns with the chapter on Skill 17 in Chris’ book, Transforming Fellowship.

Once I realized my son’s behavioral changes were most likely the result of some attachment pain, I knew I needed to alter my behavior, quicken my responses and increase my availability. I needed to stay intentional about connecting with Andrew on his terms and in his timing. As much as possible, I made myself available whenever he wanted my attention. Yes, life is still incredibly busy and full, but the intentional effort made a drastic difference. In the span of one week I noticed more smiles, more laughter and less discontentment. Fiercely protecting times to build joy, play and rest together significantly turned around my son’s distressing reactions.

This is the second time in Andrew’s life where I needed to increase my intentionality because an insecure attachment threatened to rear its ugly head. While the first time took more effort, it paid off by forming the foundation for a faster recovery this time around.

If you notice your child’s behavior and bonding pattern is not what you want it to be, there is always hope. Like me, you can correct your pattern of connection with your child which can restore joy and increase security. At one point, Jesus’ disciples were feeling dread and attachment pain hearing about his impending absence. Jesus comforts them with His presence, saying, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”[1] At the end of the day, God’s peace anchors us in the hard times and, as parents, our attentive presence is the best gift we can give our children.

[1] John 16:33

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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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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 Skills Saved The Day At The ER

As some of you heard, I recently endured an unexpected trip to the emergency room to rule out a stroke. Of course, what trip to the emergency room is really expected?

The boys and I enjoyed a fun day together. We started out with lunch followed by ice cream then some running around at a local bounce house that is useful for children to run off their limitless amounts of energy. This inside playground was especially helpful because it was rainy and wet outside.

During lunch I began to notice increasing numbness in my right finger. By the time we arrived at the bounce house the numbness and some tingling traveled up my right arm. Feeling concerned, I took some deep breaths to calm myself then I reviewed with my sons what to do in case of an emergency. I asked, “What is Daddy’s phone number?” then I calmly shared that if something strange happened and I was sick, strangers would try to help them. In this case, they should ask someone to call their father. Confused, they asked me why I was saying this. I assured them that probably nothing was going to happen to me, but, if something did happen they would be less afraid if they knew what to do. The boys nodded their heads in agreement and ran off to play again. At this point I called Chris and shared that I was feeling weird. He suggested I call our family doctor, who referred me to a walk-in clinic nearby.

I loaded the boys into my van and told them I needed to visit a doctor, but hopefully we would return to the bounce house for more fun. As expected, the boys were disappointed but I stayed grounded, kept the conversation light and calmed my fears so they would not become worried or anxious. We drove to the urgent care clinic and only later did I realize this was probably not a wise decision since I could have been having a stroke, but, at the time, no one even considered the possibility that I could be experiencing a stroke.

When I arrived at the urgent care they took me right in to see the doctor. The doctor tested me with the common stroke tests and felt it was unlikely I was having a stroke. However, she shared that the only way to rule out a stroke was to visit the hospital. When I asked if I could drive myself, the doctor gently laughed and said, “No, you need to go by an ambulance.” This response surprised me. After all, my 5 and 7 year-old boys were with me and my husband was over 35 minutes away. I asked if my sons could ride in the ambulance with me. The nurses were incredibly kind and they decided to call the ambulance service and ask about this. The office said this was not possible but a supervisor graciously offered to drive a second vehicle so my boys could follow the ambulance to the hospital. “Thank you Lord!” I whispered to myself. I sensed God’s provision.

I took a few deep breaths to make sure I was calm and peaceful, then I explained to Matthew and Andrew they were going on an adventure. I said, “Mommy is going to ride in an ambulance and you can follow me in another emergency vehicle!” They looked intrigued. At this point the boys helped the nurse find our van to retrieve booster seats and then the ambulance arrived. I was quickly loaded in then a flurry of tests were started as we drove off.

When we arrived at the hospital my husband was waiting to meet us. Matthew and Andrew jumped out and were all too eager to share about their exciting ride in the emergency vehicle. Their hands were filled with stickers and suckers the supervisor had given them. I was swiftly wheeled to the ER waiting room. Because the rooms were all filled, I was taken over to the admitting nurse so she could interview me about my condition. Chris and the boys waited in the lobby to see what would happen next. When I asked about the timeline, the nurse said it was likely I would be at the hospital for several hours. I encouraged Chris to take the boys to his parent’s house so they could get settled for the evening.

I am deeply grateful for the kind people who served me. I am relieved I could calm myself during the distressing situation so the boys would not feel afraid by the intensity of the circumstances. Because of these ingredients my sons thought the day was a fun adventure. If I would not have remained anchored during the storm because of the quieting skill, I believe this ordeal would have turned out much differently for all of us. Next week I will share more about my ER visit and how Immanuel met me during a stressful MRI test.

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Does it bring joy?

These last two months have been a crazy season of sickness for our family. One illness after another keeps taking us down, and usually a few at a time. Things seemed to be looking up until a week ago. Andrew (4) came down with a cough. Then Matthew (6) spiked a fever. Next Chris and I were also fighting the boys’ colds. This round took all of us down at once! As you can imagine joy levels dropped. Grumpiness levels rose.

The boys have both been home from school at least a week. Then to top it off, Chris came down with the stomach flu last night. It feels like the perfect storm. And when is this happening? In mid-January when life slows down for the winter? No, right in the height of the Christmas preparation season! To make it even more stressful, this is also the birthday season in our house, with Chris and Andrew celebrating their big days next week.

Something you should know about me is I am a bit of a perfectionist. I try to cook healthy, homemade meals and snacks for my family. I also like to make a big deal of Christmas and birthdays. This season for me is filled with shopping, wrapping, party planning, hosting, baking and creating handmade gifts for all of my family. It is usually a stretch to include my long holiday To Do list on top of my already full life as a Mom, wife and director for the ministry, but add prolonged sickness and you have a recipe for STRESS. Even as I write this I feel the tension levels increase in my stomach and shoulders thinking about all the many things that are still yet undone.

This afternoon during a rare moment of quiet when all three of my sick guys were sleeping, I took a few moments to talk with Jesus about all that has been going on. I started by focusing on some things that I am thankful for and the ways I am grateful for Jesus’ care in our lives. Starting with some appreciation helps calm my restless thoughts and allow me to take some deep breaths. I asked Jesus what He wanted me to know during all this crazy sickness. A thought popped into my head that brought me peace “You can’t do it all and I don’t expect you to”. I felt the tension drain from my shoulders and stomach. The next thing that came to my mind is what my husband frequently asks me “does it increase joy levels?” I realized this needs to be the question I ask myself about every task before I add it to my To Do list. Baking multiple cakes from scratch and elaborately decorating them and the house to celebrate my special guy’s birthdays is a good thing to do, and something I am usually excited about. But in this season of sickness and reduced capacity, I know it will create additional stress and I am likely to start snapping at my husband and kids. While they would enjoy the results of a delicious, healthy and beautifully decorated cake, will it increase their joys levels if I get grumpy in the process? If ordering a cake frees up time for me to relax and be the emotionally present and joyful mother I desire to be, isn’t that better for my family than something I make from scratch? After all, the Christmas season is about celebrating the joy of Jesus’ birth. If all the things I do to make the season “perfect” actually steal the joy, is it really worth it? So what if this year we go out to dinner instead of making a special birthday meal at home? And if the neighbors receive a Christmas card without homemade goodies, is that the end of the world? I need to give myself grace. I need to adjust my expectations to my capacity given the current circumstances. Keeping joy levels high in our home is a priority, even if it means ordering take out. Or tonight, it means we are having cereal for dinner (and in Chris’ case, saltines and Sprite).

I encourage you to slow down and evaluate the things you add to your calendar and your To Do list this season with the question “does it bring joy?” and let the answer influence your decisions.