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Category: Blog (Page 1 of 9)

Setting Boundaries with Social Media

Are we ever really alone anymore? The truth is, we can have an audience anytime we want with the simple use of an app or two.

Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, I find that I have a choice. I can keep my experience to myself, or I can post about it online and make my experience available to the masses.

Everyday life becomes an opportunity for social media posts. A coffee date with a friend can translate into beautiful pictures of steaming cups of coffee for Instagram. A date night with my husband means taking cute pictures of ourselves, not for posterity’s sake, but instead so that I can document our date on social media. Actually, if we’re being honest, I might not even wait until the end of the date to post our pictures. Each and every experience in the day creates a choice of whether or not to let my online community be a part of my life. So long privacy, and hello global connection!

As much as I love the opportunities that this kind of connectivity affords us, I find that in my own life, it also breeds some unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. Can you relate? If so, I’d love to share four boundaries that I am finding to be helpful in forming my own relationship with social media.

The world of social media is full of perplexity!

Boundary #1: Taking a Break

More often than I’d like, I find myself interacting with social media in obsessive ways. This can look like checking and rechecking posts for likes or comments, or aimlessly and repetitively refreshing my feed out of boredom. Even more disturbingly, I sometimes have a difficult time being present with my family, because I’m thinking about how I could be turning our day out into a social media worthy post later. These are just a few of the ways that I know it’s time to take a social media break.

The spiritual discipline of fasting shows up often in the Bible as a way to repent, refocus, and reset our fleshly desires. As we take a break from the things that feed our worldly nature, we find that it resets not only our body and attitude but also our thinking patterns. Although people usually mention fasting in the context of food, social media fasts are equally important to our mental and spiritual health. I’ve found that blocking off a day, a weekend, or a week for a social media fast is very beneficial for helping to refocus my mind and priorities.

Taking a break from social media helps us recenter and focus on our present lives with the people who are physically present with us.

Boundary #2: Being a Respecter of Persons

When my children were little, one of my favorite things was to record their funny quotes on Facebook to share with friends and family. Now that I have two teenagers, I’ve found that I must be much more selective about what I post online. Unsurprisingly, teenagers have many opinions about what they do and do not want shared about themselves publicly!

An important limit for what I now post online is to respect the lives, privacy, and opinions of the people that I care about, including but not limited to my teenagers. I try to ask my family members’ permission before posting their pictures, stories, or anecdotes in a public space.

I hope one day when they have their own platforms, they remember to do the same for me!

Boundary #3: Keeping the Personal, Personal

Have you noticed that not many marriages or families survive reality TV shows? I don’t think our personal lives are meant to be shared with the masses. The essence of our closest relationships remain special because they’re shared in close and personal spaces. For instance, my husband and I share secrets, jokes, memories, and heartaches that are special and private to our relationship. This is part of the beauty and sacramentality of marriage.

In some ways the same is true for our closest friendships, our relationships with our parents, or our children. When we share the very personal in a public space, we risk breaking the trust of those we love. We also risk turning the precious parts of our relationship into a public spectacle. Major life conflicts aren’t meant to be played out on Facebook. At the other end of the spectrum, our precious memories and private moments may not be appropriate for social media either. The internet can be an unforgiving place, and we risk losing our special and private things when we place them in a public square.

In my own life, I am trying to differentiate between what stories need to be kept safe and “pondered in my heart,” and which stories from my personal life may be safe and beneficial to be shared with others through a blog, podcast, or over social media.

Boundary #4: Keeping the Sacred, Sacred

In the same way, I find that there are parts of my spiritual journey that are not yet ready to be shared publicly. This concept of the sacred can be broken into two general ideas.

1) Sometimes we’re just not ready to share the sacred parts of ourselves. For example, I firmly believe that in the middle of a painful season of healing, it is probably not yet time to share wounds publicly. The story is still being written, and mid-healing we may not yet have the perspective or strength to share our story in healthy ways. Although I definitely think we should be continually sharing our stories with close and safe people, it takes much more discernment to consider sharing our raw wounds with the online world. Social media does not discriminate people: safe versus unsafe. So, we must discern for ourselves, when and how we want to share about our own personal journeys of hardship, trauma, or healing.

2) The other sacred space I want to be careful about sharing online is my relationship with the Lord. Just like I want to be a respecter of persons, and keep my close relationships personal, I also want to keep my walk with the Lord close to my heart. When leading a ministry, it can be easy to turn every spiritual lesson into a public platform, but some things need time. Our alone time with the Lord is special, and it can take discernment to know when or how to share some of what He is teaching us in a public space. Everything the Holy Spirit teaches us in the quiet doesn’t immediately need to be shouted off of the rooftops. There certainly may come a time for sharing publicly, but I think understanding the when and how takes prayer. Even Jesus took time by himself in the wilderness to pray and discern what He was hearing from His heavenly Father. We can learn from His example.

Also, side note: he didn’t take his phone out into the desert with him to snap a selfie and document his alone time. (Not that we would be tempted to do that, right??)

Pause, Renew, Next: What about you? Do any of these boundaries resonate with you? Where are the places that you find yourself needing to set boundaries with social media these days? I encourage you to think about where your relationship with social media could use some tweaks or changes and consider what steps you need to take for your own soul-care.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus.

Pause, Renew, Next!

A Gentle Hand

It was a long and tiring day. Bedtime had finally arrived, and I was going through our nightly ritual with my youngest son. Every evening we have the same routine: he climbs in bed, arranges his stuffed animals, and snuggles with his special blankie. Then I cover him up, sing three songs, and pray before turning out the light and shutting the door. It’s a sweet and meaningful ritual. It provides safety and security for my son, and it’s a rhythm that he’s come to depend on.

Still, many nights, it feels more like a checkmark on my to-do list, than a sweet moment with my son. If you have multiple children, I know you can relate to the bedtime countdown. There are so many things to do each day, and once your children are in bed, sometimes it’s nice to have some time to yourself.

This night, however, as I sang his songs, I became aware of the tension in my body. I could feel myself rushing through the songs to get to the end. Then, I looked at my son and remembered he’d had a long day at school. It had been a busy afternoon and evening. I had hugged him during the day, but I had never taken time to really hold him.

Feeling compelled to give him some touch time, I leaned over the bed and laid my head on his chest, wrapping my arm around him. I kept singing.

Quietly, gently, I felt his fingers in my hair. While I sang, he gently played with the strands of my hair.

The song ended. I laid my hand on his chest and prayed for him. Then, I wished him a good night sleep, told him I loved him, and shut the door.

Every time I think about that interaction, I feel emotional. I instinctively knew that my son needed to be touched. I made an intentional choice to reach out and give him what he needed. What surprised me was his reaction. He touched me back. Not only that, he played with my hair.

Friends, I didn’t know that I needed to be touched too. That gentleness was a gift.

Raising boys is a challenge. Every boy mom knows that there’s a lot more yelling, rough and tumble, and grunge than there is gentleness. Yet sometimes, like a rainbow showing up after the most violent thunderstorm, a moment of sweetness bursts through and surprises me in the most beautiful way.

My fierce and gentle boy

Isn’t that typical of real life? The sweetest moments are often unexpected. They are the sprinkles on the ice cream of reality. It’s easy to miss them in the busyness of life, but when we find them, we can choose to cherish them.

Parenting is one of the hardest challenges and callings that I have been given in life, but I’m encouraged to know that I’m not alone. Our Savior, the Good Shepherd, cares for our children more than we do. Jesus has plenty of time for children, and He loves them very much.

Here’s the bigger encouragement though. The Good Shepherd cares for Moms too. He has compassion for our struggles, our weariness, our pain, and our worries. He wants to lead us with his gentleness.

He gently leads those that have young.

Isaiah 40:11b

Just like my son showed gentleness to me as I sang with him that evening, God shows even greater gentleness in the way that He shows me mercy as I stumble along in this mothering journey. He gently leads me: both in green pastures and in the valleys, walking me into paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake. (Psalm 23)

In the chaos of everyday life, I want to intentionally look for and cherish the gentle moments He provides.

Pause, Renew, Next: Take a deep breath and slowly exhale. Sit with the knowledge that Your Good Shepherd is leading you. He knows your struggles. He knows the journey ahead and the path you’ve already taken, and He shows you gentleness. If you have time for Scripture study today, pull out Psalm 23 and Isaiah 40, and notice the way that in these passages the Lord leads, guides, and renews His people.

May you be aware of all of the “sprinkles” the Lord sends your way this week.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Living into Your Role

Years ago, as a young and insecure new therapist, I remember feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. I was navigating my role amid various counseling theories and paradigms, and I was helping a host of clients coming from different backgrounds. My supervisor joked with me that she sometimes felt overwhelmed herself and wanted to say to her clients, “You should find a professional.” We laughed together, and then she gave me excellent advice that I have carried with me ever since: “The minute you stop feeling that way, you probably need to retire. You’ll never know it all, and you should never believe that you do.”

Over a decade has elapsed since that time, and by all qualifications I have been a “professional” for many years now. However, I still sometimes find myself feeling inadequate or looking to someone older, wiser, or with more qualifications for validation. Somehow, though, as time passes, I don’t have to look to others nearly as often. Most of the time these days, I have confidence in my role and knowledge level. Even more surprisingly, people are now coming and asking me questions! I have found myself looking both ways and realizing that I AM the professional in the room. When did that happen?  

The same phenomenon is happening in my parenting journey. As a young mother, I called my mom to ask advice all the time. I read pregnancy and child development books to learn about each milestone. Now, let’s be clear: I don’t think I’ll ever be a professional Mom. Each age and child presents new challenges to learn and navigate. Still, I am finding that as I look around, I am often the seasoned mother in the room. 

Case in point, I was recently shopping at a consignment store and realized that I was probably the oldest mom in the store. I didn’t have a baby in my belly or in my shopping cart. In fact, I was shopping in the teen section! 

Listen, I don’t feel like a teen Mom. I feel like I should still be looking through the baby clothes, but somehow life has shifted and so has my role.

The old adage, “fake it ’til you make it,” may not be wrong.  Still, if I were to put a different spin on it from my own perspective, it would be: “live into your role, allow yourself to be teachable, and soon you will find that you’ve grown into that role.” 

Spiritually, the Lord uses our seasons of feeling inadequate to grow humility and spiritual depth. Throughout Scripture, God rarely calls those who are highly acclaimed and proud.  No, He equips the lowly, and over time, as He seasons them, they slowly grow into their purpose. 

In our modern day, it is easy to believe that fame and success are at our fingertips. Anyone with a platform, influence, and charisma can turn their gifts into an audience and a profit. It’s true, many can. Yet, the experience, knowledge, and depth of character that develop over time cannot be skipped over on the way to success. We need mentors and supervisors who can speak into us and teach us their craft as we develop our own confidence and voice. Just as my supervisor and my Mom spoke into my life, I hope one day to help others gain the confidence and knowledge they need as they grow into their roles. 

So, wherever you find yourself now feeling inadequate, take heart. Being weak and humble is not necessarily a vote against your ability. Find some wise people whom you can learn from and who will encourage you on your journey. Allow the Lord to mold you on His potter’s wheel into the masterpiece He has envisioned. Being molded is uncomfortable but necessary. Then live into your role, and after a time, you will look back and find that you’ve grown into it after all.

Adapt or Grow

A few years ago I attended a professional conference for therapists and clinicians. The plenary speaker talked about technology and how it affects our brains and behavior. He posited a unique position. Rather than touting only the evils of too much technology, he instead offered what he considered an optimistic hypothesis: perhaps our evolving brains could adapt to the screens we so often utilize. He did talk about the negative social effects of screens verses relationships, but overall he believed that just as the human species has throughout history adapted and evolved for every challenge and change to the environment, our brains were now on a trajectory to adapt to the current technology phenomenon.

As an example, he talked about a two year old who could turn on and work an iPad or iPhone without being supervised. He joked that perhaps a two year old could figure it out more easily than he could.

Well, he’s not wrong there. My kids figured out how to unlock my phone and take selfies from a very early age. I don’t think he’s necessarily wrong about the brain adaptation either. We are created with exceptional capacity for resilience and growth. The neuroscience field is on fire right now with new information about the complexities of the human brain. Without a doubt the neuroplasticity of our brains is astounding. It means that we can change the very wiring of our brains, giving us the ability throughout our lifespans to learn new information and skills, and even change our thoughts and beliefs.

Yes, my kids love screen time!

On that point, I stop agreeing with the speaker. I’m not sure I hold the same optimism about the prognosis of technology adaptation that he does.

Here is my greater question. Even if we can adapt to life filled with screens and technology, is that ultimately for our good? Maybe. Maybe not.

During the past year of pandemic life, I should have been less distracted and busy than usual. I had less appointments and less social engagements. I did not, however, stop communicating with people. I just stopped communicating face to face. Everything that I did in-person became virtual: church, counseling, Bible studies, staff meetings, etc.

Even as life supposedly slowed down, my phone blew up. I thought I was “connected” before, but at the beginning of the pandemic my online connections multiplied. Instead of checking emails only at work, once I started working from home, I started checking them on my phone. I began getting more texts, emails, private messages, and DMs. Because my children were being taught virtually, I had 10+ teachers also sending me communication via phone and email. Whereas before, I could probably have put my phone in the other room for a day if I wanted to, I no longer felt I had that ability. Very quickly, I could feel my anxiety, stress level, and loneliness growing.

The effect of online “connection” without in-person community is devastating. Mental health has taken a dramatic hit over the past year. Rates of anxiety, depression, loneliness, and insecurity have sky-rocketed.

That’s the social aspect of the technology phenomenon, but I’m also concerned about the entertainment factor associated with technology. Thanks to our phones, we are constantly entertained, yet boredom is still increasing. Why? This happens because the dopamine center (the reward center of the brain) is receiving constant rewards due to the technology at our fingertips. This leads us to need more and more entertainment and diversion to get the same effect. It’s not that different from drug addiction, really. Our attention spans are also shrinking. YouTube videos no longer suffice, because they’re too long. Now we need TikTok.

There can be no silence or downtime before we are absently checking our phones again. Dings, pings, games, likes, chats, videos, we need it all. Any of it. From the time we wake up until the time we go to bed. No wonder our brains have a hard time quieting down. They’re being inundated with stimulation. More stimulation than we were designed for in my opinion.

So, is it all doom and gloom? Are we all destined to adapt to this new technology reality and flush our mental health down the toilet?

I certainly hope not, but the medicine to turn the tide is not an easy one to swallow. It comes in the form of intentionality, community, and self-control.

We will have to use intentionality and self-control because we will not ever choose slow for ourselves when we can have fast. We will not choose quiet when we can have noise. We will not choose rest and stillness when we can have entertainment. Choosing less screen-time means sacrifice and boundaries, and these do not come naturally. Our brains scream for more hits of dopamine while our souls cry out for peace.

The medicine of community is a necessity because we are designed for relationships. We crave real-life friendships where we can receive eye contact and hugs. Relationships are not a luxury. They are life-giving. Virtual relationships are certainly of benefit, but a real-life friend is a treasure. If we have learned anything from the pandemic, I think we all can agree that friends and family are not just a luxury, they are necessary.

Nature is one of the best antidotes to technology overstimulation.

Why am I writing about this today? Well, more and more the Lord is convicting me of my own inability to sit in silence. I am uncomfortably aware of my constant need to check and recheck my phone. I’m aware of my unhealthy drive to be in communication, even if it’s not a life-giving form of communication.

I know I’m not the only one who struggles with cultivating stillness. So, this season on the Pause Renew Next Podcast, I will be producing short 5-10 minute episodes which are focused on slowing down and reflecting. In each of these episodes, I will incorporate a slow-down/calming exercise and a reflection/meditation. I think allowing our bodies and minds to slow down and meditate is an incredibly important practice. These podcast shorts are not going to be entertaining, but hopefully they will be life-giving.

I hope to grow this year in my own ability to cultivate soul-care and one very important aspect of that is slowing down. I hope to help cultivate a space for that for you as well.

Pause, Renew, Next: (Take time to reflect/pray/journal) What times this month have you felt most at peace? What was happening around you? How does over-stimulation affect your own body and mental health? I encourage you this week to put down your phone for blocks at a time (minutes, or if you’re able, hours) and see if you notice a difference.

May the Lord bless our efforts as we strive to cultivate community, intentionality, and self-control.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Layers of Healing

Sometimes I think and write in layers. Please indulge me while I take you on a journey down three layers of a story.

Layer one: We have been battling fleas all summer. First, we noticed the problem with our cat. She received a flea treatment at the vet, but we still couldn’t seem to get a handle on our household flea problem. We tried to treat our dog, Dash, at home using organic products, followed by a flea shampoo, followed by a flea collar. All of it was to no avail. He scratched on. Finally, I noticed that he was developing bare patches on his hind quarters, and I scheduled a vet appointment.

I put off taking him to the vet, because his first trip to the vet as a puppy did not go well. He hid in every corner, under every piece of furniture he could find, and made a puddle on the waiting room floor. The vet kindly encouraged us to “socialize” him so that he would be less anxious in public spaces.

We apparently failed at this endeavor, because his second vet trip was not much better than the first. When he realized that we were going to put him in the truck, he decided that absolutely would not happen. We pulled on his leash and encouraged him, but it was no use. His strategy was to make himself like a pile of concrete: flat and heavy on the ground. Finally, my oldest son just picked him up and placed him in the back of the truck. Like a stubborn toddler, he made his body go rigid and wouldn’t sit down. We repositioned him the best we could and shut the door.

Our playful and loyal pup, Dash

All the way there, we petted him and spoke gently to him. Our trip into the vet’s office was much like the endeavor of trying to get him in the truck. A little pulling, a little encouraging, and then finally picking him up at times to get him into the areas he needed to go.

If only I could speak dog language. “Buddy,” I would say, “Don’t you know that we want to help you? You will feel so much better when you get some medicine. The vet is here to help you, not to hurt you.” From his perspective though, we were taking him out of his comfort zone, in a strange vehicle, to a strange place, to a man who poked him with a needle. I’m sure it didn’t seem very helpful.

Sometimes the way towards healing is uncomfortable.

Layer 2: As a counselor, I encounter a similar theme. Often, when meeting with a new client, I hear a familiar refrain that goes something like this: “It was hard for me to make an appointment. I like to be independent and try not to need others. It feels like weakness to need therapy.”

Oh, this could not be a more American idea. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make life happen.” Successful people are independent. Depending on others is a sign of weakness.

This, plain and simple, is a lie. We are built, by our Creator, for community. We were never mean to be alone or to do life alone. Asking for help takes humility, and it can be scary, but it is almost always the way towards true healing.

Like Dash, sometimes it takes an injury or a nudge from someone we love to get us out of our comfort zone and on the healing journey.

Layer 3: This summer I’ve been reading through the Gospels, and what stands out to me is how many people Jesus healed. He did teach and preach, but consistently he was seeking out and being sought out to perform healings. He healed people from blindness, leprosy, paralysis, bleeding disorders, shriveled hands, and even from demonic possession. These miracles in and of themselves were enough to draw people to him, but that wasn’t the entirety of his purpose. He desired to heal their souls.

Jesus didn’t heal those who thought they had it all together. No, he found the ones who knew they couldn’t get better on their own. He loved the down and out. The outcasts. The poor in spirit. Those who needed help.

When Jesus heard this, he told them, “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:17 CSB

Like those going to therapy for the first time, most of us find it uncomfortable to seek help. It’s extremely vulnerable and humbling to admit we are struggling. Like my dog Dash, sometimes we may not even know the extent of our own injuries and how much we really need intervention.

So, yes, this blog is a PSA for doctors, vets, and therapists. If you need an intervention, please go seek help. Even more than that though, I want to remind you that there is a Savior always ready to come to your rescue. He delights to save and care for His own. You can call on him anytime, anywhere. In God’s kingdom, humility and confession are not marks of shame, but symbols of righteousness.

Independence should not be our goal. Dependence on Christ is where real freedom and healing is found.

May you have the courage to ask Him for what you need.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Summer Slow-Down

Let me share with you how God abundantly showered me with a good and unexpected gift this week. It was the gift I most needed in this particular season: an unhurried and free schedule. He gifted me the kind of week that summer dreams are made of.

Now, let me share with you how this summer has been progressing up to now and what my week was supposed to look like, and I think you’ll understand why I’m overjoyed with such a gift.

My ideal summer vacation would be filled with unhurried days, hours working in my garden, occasional field trips with my kids, planning a few play dates with friends, and scheduling some road trips on weekends. As our summer unfolded, this is what I envisioned.

Then, as I always seem to do, I started scheduling.

Some of the scheduling was necessary. For instance, my kids needed swimming lessons. My oldest son needed to start drivers-ed classes. They all needed doctor and dentist check-ups. These are the normal items of Mom to-do lists.

Of course, even in summer, I work part-time. I enjoy my work, but with my kids out of school, balancing my husband’s and my work schedules becomes a little hectic and gives us less time together.

Sometimes we need a reason to slow down.

Also, as an Enneagram 2, when I would slow down for a few minutes, I would begin thinking of all the people we haven’t seen lately. I’d find myself making lists in my head of the people I need to check in with, the people I need to schedule play dates with, and the get-togethers I promised would happen that I haven’t yet pulled together. In some ways, being a people person is a blessing. The problem is, once I’ve started contacting people, I don’t leave myself enough time for slow-living, summer days with my children.

Without rest and sufficient down-time, coupled with having four boys in the house keeping the noise level at a constant and sometimes ferocious roar, my stress barometer has been climbing. Without question, I know I have been irritable, consistently feeling like an unkind and exhausted version of the self I once knew. (For you Enneagram fans, 2’s go to 8 in stress. I have definitely been camping out in 8 land!)

To top the building stress off, I was scheduled for jury duty this week, followed by an extremely busy weekend. As I frantically tried to do laundry, clean the kitchen, and prepare for a week away, I had absolutely no grace for the antics of my children, who were not at all on their best behavior yesterday.

Then, last evening, I remembered to call and check in for jury duty and was surprised to hear the words announcing on the other end of the line: “Your services are not needed for the week of June 29.”

Ahh…what a relief.

In preparation for jury duty, I took off work and scheduled no appointments or get-togethers this week. Now, with jury duty cancelled, I realized that I was officially on vacation.

As the news sunk in, I thanked God that He knew exactly what I needed. Apparently, it took scheduling jury duty for me to get a break. A break I didn’t (or wouldn’t) schedule for myself. Now, I am intentionally choosing to set these days apart for things I have wanted to do, but just haven’t had the time to make a priority.

Additionally, I noticed as my schedule cleared that when I wasn’t stretched beyond my bandwidth, I felt myself able to offer more grace again to my children.

I physically felt the relief in my body. That’s saying something.

What about you, friend? As you check in on your own soul-care, how much are you accounting for a hurried and full pace of life? Which of those scheduled items can you let go of this summer to give yourself more bandwidth? I hope the Lord opens up good gifts in the form of rest and slow-living opportunities for you, too.

Yes, I preach soul-care, but I will humbly admit that I often struggle to practice it myself. I’m also self-aware enough to know that I have not yet learned my lesson. Overscheduling will continue to be a struggle for me as I find confidence in knowing “what is mine to do,” as Suzanne Stabile often says. Still, while I’m learning my lessons, I’m thankful for a God who steps in to give me opportunities I couldn’t give myself. It is a luxury I won’t take for granted.

Pause, Renew, Next!

When Grace Overflows

I’m not proud to admit it, but apparently I underestimated my child’s ability.

Swimming lessons started this week. Due to fear of water on their part, laziness on my part, and a pandemic that put us behind a year, this Mom was late in putting my two youngest in swimming lessons. I pulled up the information on the classes offered at the YMCA, but I had no clue which class was most appropriate for their swimming abilities. So, I took a shot in the dark and placed them both in the same class. (Saves on driving, right?)

I was wrong about both of their skill levels.

Swimming lessons!

Surprising both me and his swimming teacher, one of my children could do laps back and forth in the pool. His teacher pulled him aside after the first lesson and told him he qualified for a more advanced class. He didn’t want to move up, so she generously volunteered to spend extra time with him after class helping him hone his skills.

In contrast, my other child was not yet ready for the class I placed him in. His specialty has been clinging to the wall and trying not to swim. He does enjoy the occasional splash and face dunk though, so he’s working his courage up slowly.

I would love to say that this is the first time I’ve under or over-estimated my children, but it’s definitely not. In fact, sometimes I think parenting is like one big experiment. Our job is to train these little beings into responsible adults, but most of the time we’re still learning how to be responsible adults ourselves! No, I definitely don’t always see my children clearly for both their strengths and weaknesses. It’s a work in progress, and they continually teach me so much!

Here, I want to lovingly juxtapose my parenting abilities with that of our Heavenly Father. Listen, if ever there was someone who could rightly assess our strengths, weaknesses, faults, and abilities, it’s our Creator. He knows the inner workings of our minds, our emotions, and our motivations. Even more astoundingly, he knows all that we’re capable of, and the good works that still lie in our future. He knows it all, and he never underestimates us.

If that weren’t already the best news, there’s more! He totally never overestimates our abilities either. He knows that on our own, we can’t always make it as far as we think we can or as far as we dream we will. We just may not have the resources or skills at our disposal. He, however, has an endless supply of resources. Like the loving Father that he is, he promises to provide for our needs (Philippians 4:19). He also promises that through His grace, we will not only have our needs met but be able to excel at every good work He lays before us (II Corinthians 9:8).

And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work. 

II Corinthians 9:8 CSB

I don’t know about you, but that is REALLY good news to me today. There is some “good work” that currently lies in my path that feels way above my skill level. Truthfully, many days, even parenting feels above my skill level. Still, we’re promised that God’s grace will not just flow, but OVERFLOW, so that in every way, with everything that we need, we will not just accomplish but excel at the good work before us.

What is the good work that the Lord has laid before you, friend?

I pray that this encouragement helps you realign your own estimations of not just yourself, but of the God who goes before you in it.

Pause: Take a deep breath and allow your mind and body to be still. When you’re ready, read through II Corinthians 9. What stands out to you from this chapter? Underline or highlight any phrases or verses that resonate with you.

Renew: This chapter is not only about provision but also about gratitude and generosity. How do gratitude and generosity play a roll in the good works you are accomplishing in your life right now? Take some time to consider in what ways you can reframe your thinking through the lens of gratitude.

Next: Take time to think, journal, or reflect this week on ways that you’ve seen the Lord’s grace overflow to you. If you know that you need help outside of yourself to accomplish the good works that lay before you, pray specifically for those needs. He is faithful to listen and respond to His children.

May you rest in His grace this week.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Anxiety, Anger, and Transitions

The last year is one for the record books. Literally. We certainly haven’t seen anything like a global pandemic in our lifetimes, and hopefully we won’t see one again anytime soon. Considering the magnitude of the life changes and grief that many have undergone this year, the resilience we’ve individually and collectively displayed is to be commended. Many of us transitioned to working, schooling, and going to church remotely, and we did it almost seamlessly. Our entire world changed the way it does business and travel, yet most of us kept on living day to day like we’d been performing remotely our whole lives. It quickly began to feel normal. Resilience is a beautiful thing.

Adaptation and survival are a part of resilience. Our bodies and emotions, however, may be telling a different story. As the pandemic began, anxiety spiked across the world. Fear and worry were normalized, as so many people were asking the same questions: How long will we be in lockdown? How soon will the vaccines be developed? How long will I have to homeschool my children? How long will we have to wear masks? And most importantly, am I safe?

Then, as the months slid by, anxiety turned to irritability. You see, anxiety and anger are two sides of the same system: fight or flight. Anxiety often causes us to avoid and worry. It makes us feel powerless. What then is the antithesis of powerlessness?

Anger. It fuels us with the adrenaline we need to affect change. When we lost control of our lives and the powers-that-be would not give us answers quickly enough, anger began to simmer. It is frustrating to not know how to plan your life! To not be able to plan a trip, a wedding, or even a school year. It is frustrating to be trapped at home with the same people day in and day out, even if they are your favorite people.

During a perfect storm of collective anger, the United States entered the election season. We all know how that turned out. People did not come together during the pandemic but, instead, became more angry and further divided and isolated.

Enter depression. As the long months of a pandemic wore on, and powerlessness compounded, apathy began to develop. I’ve heard depression called “frozen grief,” and I think that is an accurate phrase to describe what we experienced as a society. What happens when we can’t enact control over our own lives? Eventually, when anger doesn’t work, we give in to a sense of powerlessness and lose the energy to fight. We are created for community, and months of social distancing worked to make us feel alone and isolated. Add to this short daylight hours and the dreariness of winter, and I think we can say that many of us were living with at least low-grade depression over the past few months, marked by low energy and motivation.

Finally, however, hope is blossoming. Summer is on the horizon. Vaccines have been rolled out. Mask mandates are waning. Herd immunity is a real possibility. People are transitioning back to in-person work and schooling. It seems that now we should be overjoyed about getting back our “old lives.” Why then, does it feel like a mixed bag?

I propose that actually, anxiety, irritability, and emotional dysregulation may be on the rise again. Although it seems counterintuitive, seasons of transition (even good transition) create stress. After months of living life remotely, to then be told that we can go back to the old way of doing things is a little overwhelming. How do we go back to the way things were before? Will things ever be the way they were before?

This brings me back to the theme of resilience. You may think that you’ve handled this year like a champ. You probably have. You, after all, are designed to survive. Humanity is created to be adaptive, so like a superstar you’ve managed to navigate all that was thrown at you this year. Perhaps you didn’t even stop to grieve or acknowledge your own emotions. You just did what was required of you. Survival mode may have become a way of life.

Although not all of us pay attention to our emotions, our behaviors often give us insight into our mental health. As Bessel van der Kolk famously wrote, “our bodies keep the score.” Here are some signs you may notice in yourself, or your loved ones, while navigating transition: irritability, muscle tension, racing thoughts, social anxiety, avoidance tendencies, fatigue, mood swings, low energy or motivation, or not caring about the things you used to look forward to. You may also notice an uptick in the “behaviors” of your kids. They don’t have words for it, but their bodies feel the stress of change as well.

This is not a diagnostic blog entry. I don’t propose to have all of the answers. I do, however, want to encourage us all to pay more attention to what our bodies and our behavior are telling us. I also want to encourage us all to offer grace widely right now…to ourselves first and then to others. It’s impossible to offer grace when we can’t even acknowledge that we need it. And boy, do we need it.

A part of offering grace to ourselves is cultivating our own soul-care. What do you need during this transition time? Take time to think it through and make space and time to care for yourself intentionally. Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Seek out a professional to help you process your thoughts and feelings. Therapy is not a sign of weakness. It is incredibly courageous to seek support.
  • Cultivate time and space in your routine for stillness and renewal.
  • Find physical outlets for your stress. It doesn’t have to be a gym membership. Walking, swimming, yoga, gardening, or dancing are all great movement ideas.
  • Engage in a hobby. Creativity and play are the substance of growth.
  • Prioritize healthy relationships in your life. Make intentional time to get together with friends, family, or neighbors, particularly those who are life giving.
  • Seek spiritual connection. Spend time in God’s Word. Listen to praise music. Talk with God and share your heart with him.
  • Find ways to serve others. Although it is counterintuitive when feeling down, reaching out to others in need can help us shift our internal narrative and focus.

More than anything, I want you to know that you’re not alone. There’s no prescription or self-help book for how to thrive and live your best life through a pandemic. We’re all just figuring it out one breath at a time. It is okay to be human. We’ve been given grace for that.

May we allow the Lord to cultivate His grace in us day by day.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Mind Full or Mindful?

Occasionally, I like to play a game with my youngest son. This is a game I pull out when we need a distraction, when his potty talk has hit its limit, or when we’re on a walk and he’s getting tired. I’ll say to him, “Let’s play: what do you hear?” Then I fall silent and let him start listening.

Almost immediately, he gets quiet and observes his surroundings. We start naming the sounds around us: birds chirping, dogs barking, a distant motorcycle, or the wind in the trees.

These sounds are around us all the time, but generally we tune them out or cover them up with our own noises: cellphones, podcasts, radio, Netflix, or the internal static of our own minds.

I don’t know about you, but I can attest to having a full mind. For most of my life I have prided myself on my multi-tasking skills, but lately I find these skills to be lagging. I am growing weary with the constant barrage of noise and clamor around me and within my own head. After a year of collective trauma due to a pandemic and more time spent online than ever before, I think most of us can attest to having full minds and perhaps racing thoughts.

It can be difficult to slow down and be aware of the present moment.

Mindfulness

a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations,

Mindfulness has taken the therapeutic world by storm over the last decade. The benefits are vast: from relaxation, to greater awareness, to focusing attention, to greater health and mental wellness. Yet, focusing on the present moment does not come easily or naturally in a culture permeated by noise. It takes intentionality.

For Mother’s Day, at my request, my family took me hiking for the day. We packed a picnic and ate on a rock outcropping, overlooking a river and waterfall. Next to our picnic spot, the evidence of a previous visitor remained: a perfectly stacked pile of rocks. It’s clear that in nature, rocks do not naturally end up in such an orderly formation. No, this was the work of an individual with intentionality and creativity.

In the same way, practicing mindfulness takes intentionality and creativity. It takes intentionality, because it’s always easier to pick up our phones and be entertained than it is to pay attention to and fully engage the world around us. There is no end to the distractions available at our fingertips. Choosing to focus our attention on the present moment almost always takes intentionality.

Mindfulness also utilizes creativity and curiosity. Our brains absolutely thrive on novelty. We are curious creatures who love learning. In the same way I played a game with my son, we can engage our curiosity and ask ourselves: what do I notice in this present moment? Using our senses helps us stay grounded to the present. What do I see? What do I hear? What do I smell? What do I feel?

Anxiety always takes our brains into future scenarios, but by practicing mindfulness we can bring ourselves back to the reality and safety of the present.

When we are fully engaged in the present, we can practice gratitude for what we have: right here, right now. What are the good and perfect gifts you’ve been given in this moment? Perhaps it’s the giggle of a child in the next room, the way the light is streaming in the window, or the comfort of a warm cup of coffee.

It’s in these moments as we slow down that we are most likely to notice the presence of Christ.

A moment of caution before I end. Truthfully, as much as you may try to focus, your brain will inevitably wander off down a rabbit trail of thought. This is only natural, and it does not make you a failure at practicing mindfulness. Especially these days with our multi-tasking, Instagram-scrolling, channel-flipping attention spans at an all-time low, don’t expect the practice of mindfulness to be an easy-won task. No, intentionality is the ticket. When you notice that your thinking has drifted, gently bring it back again. Like a new driver, your brain is being trained to stay on the road. The more you practice, the longer you can do it, and the better at it you will become.

If you’d like to practice mindfulness now, follow along with the below exercise:

Pause: Inhale deeply and slowly exhale. As discussed above, take a moment to pay attention to what is going on around you. Name what you’re touching, what you hear, what you see, and what you smell. For example: I can feel the sturdy wood chair beneath me, I can hear the ticking of the clock in the next room, etc.

Renew: Now that you’ve taken time to ground yourself in the present moment externally, let’s do the same internally. What is going on inside of you right now? What bodily sensations do you feel? What are you thinking? What emotions are you experiencing? Mindfulness is about focusing our attention on these items, but all without judgment. That last part is the most difficult of all. For instance, you may find that you’re feeling angry or embarrassed. Rather than judging yourself for feeling that way, simply name the emotion or thought for what it is and move on. It’s not good or bad, it just is.

Next: Take another deep inhale and exhale slowly. You just took time to look outward and inward. If you have the time, this may be a great moment to spend in prayer or to make a gratitude list. If you don’t have the time, you can move on with your day. Congratulations! You just took time to intentionally pause and practice mindfulness, and your body, mind, and soul thank you.

May you give yourself permission to slow down and be present in the life you lead.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Being The Soil

Parenting has come with unique challenges for which I often feel unprepared. I don’t know what I expected raising children would be like, but I certainly did not anticipate many of the scenarios I’ve found myself in over the years. I grew up with one sister. One very compliant, easy to get along with sister. Then, the Lord saw fit to give me a house full of boys, all with strong personalities. Our house is anything but quiet, calm, and compliant!

With that as a backdrop, I’d love to share something the Lord taught me a few years ago. It was an encouraging and perspective-shifting message that I have needed to refer back to many times over the years. I’ve found myself reflecting back on it again after some recent parenting challenges.

On a drive home from work one day years ago, I was spending time in prayer. I find that talking with Jesus and driving go hand in hand! On this particular day I had the van to myself, and I spoke out loud, listing specific requests about my oldest child. I remember asking God to use my son’s strong will and turn him into a fine leader one day. I was on a roll, when right in the middle of my talking the Lord gently and firmly interrupted me.

Does that ever happen to you? Just like the verbal processor that I am, sometimes the Lord has to interrupt me to get a word in edgewise. This is one of the ways I know He’s speaking to me. I wouldn’t be able to interrupt myself!

In a way that only He can, the Lord gave me a picture in my mind of a plant growing in the soil. All in a flash, I knew deep in my spirit what He was telling me. He impressed on my heart that I was the soil that my children were growing in. That was my job, to be the soil. To be safe, fertile ground where they could begin to be rooted and grow into who He created them to be. I also felt His kind reprimand that it was not up to me to decide who they would grow to be. He would be the sun and the rain for them, causing them to grow in His timing and to His purposes. My job was just to be the soil.

Wow!

Believe me, I did not come up with that on my own. Experiences like this with the Lord just floor me sometimes. As if to confirm it, a few months later the staff at the counseling center where I work read the book The Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson. We each took a chapter to lead a discussion about in staff meeting. I was assigned the chapter on attachment, and don’t you know, the exact analogy Curt Thompson used to talk about attachment was becoming safe soil in which our children can grow.

Wow, again!

Being the soil is not an action. Rather, it’s a posture of letting go of control. It’s creating a safe place in which my children can grow. It’s providing for their needs, and then watching the Lord do His good work in their lives.

It sounds so freeing and easy. However, over the years as parenting has put me in hard positions when I wished for an instruction manual, I have cried out to God, “What does being the soil really mean? Like, right here and now?” I wish in those moments that He would swoop in and do the disciplining for me!

Still, I am finding that just like He is forming my children, He is forming me through the process of parenting. Becoming good soil is a process too. We are always in process this side of heaven. Parents and children alike need grace.

This week, I found myself sharing this story with a couple of my friends as we met together for Bible study. I confessed a parenting dilemma I found myself in, and as a friend prayed over me, she said, “Lord, till the soil of Ginny’s heart.”

Oh, as she spoke the words, I felt my chest open up inside. I could picture Jesus turning over the compact soil of anger and shame, giving my heart room to breathe, and preparing it to be better growing space.

So, friends, if you too find yourself in a difficult season of parenting, take heart. There is enough grace to cover you and your children. Through Jesus, growth always yields a beautiful harvest.

May we allow ourselves to be freshly tilled soil.

Pause, Renew, Next: Take a deep belly breath, and allow yourself to relax. How is it freeing to think about God being the one who causes your children to thrive, rather than feeling that the full responsibility rests on your shoulders? This week, I encourage you to pray, reflect, and journal about how to be good soil for the children the Lord has placed in your home, offering gratitude for the way the Lord cares for both you and your children.

Pause, Renew, Next!

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