Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Is That Really Important?

How many songs have been written about the passage of time? I can think of so many lyrics that tell us about the realization that hits us all eventually in life, hopefully sooner than later. The truth is time passes quickly and once an hour, a day a week has already passed, we never get it back. Time just keeps moving until there is no more. One of the best quotes I ever heard about the way we move through life just trying to move on to the next thing was from one of my favorite TV shows, The Office.

For me, the proof of time passing so quickly is in two people I love, and it brings me to tears at times. My parents have grown old as I was aging faster than I realized. But sometimes with age in this broken world comes disease that speeds along the process even more. In the last 5 years, I have seen my mom age more than 25 year in her brain and her body. I never know how much time we have left together these days, but I hope it's enough for her to find out more about all the good things God is going to unfold for Lucas and our family. And Lucas, my son. Oh how the birthdays have flown by! I remember the moment they laid him on my chest in the hospital and understanding the feeling people talked about of the great pain you just endured melting away. I remember being filled such overwhelming gratitude at the sight of him like it was yesterday. But this year my baby will be ten years old.

So these facts have got me thinking about how we all have things we do that might not be the best use of our time, and we all claim that we are too busy for so many things. Too busy to take care of our health. Too busy for our families and to spend any time with friends. Too busy to see that loved one who is sick. Too busy to take a vacation. Too busy for church or any volunteer work. Too busy to send a note or make a phone call that lets someone know you still care and you still think about them. 

This morning, I heard Joyce Meyer say that "What you spend your time and money on is what is important to you." She spoke about the importance of spending time with God every day and if we don't do that, we can never be prepared for the world around us and the challenges we face. But even though that time spent with God will benefit us, the more frightening thing is how easily we might choose to say we just don't have the time. I will not go a day without at least turning my attention the the Word and to prayer for a few minutes. I have learned how stupid it is of me to decline my opportunity to approach the Creator of the universe freely with whatever is on my mind. I want to thank Him daily for making that possible through Christ. It's a gift to spend time with God and that time will always be restored to use throughout the day. His strength gives us what we need for the work that is ours to do. 
I wrote in another post that my other non-negotiable daily activity is to workout at least 10 to 25 minutes. Most of the workouts I have are about 30 minutes long. That is another investment of my time that is repaid to me 100 times over. I am more capable of handling life because I do it. It's not a waste of precious time. It's the way to get the most out of the precious time you have. 
So with the rest of what we choose to do or not do in life, I think we need to ask the question, is that really important? Yes, we have to work, but do we have to work so much that we can't be there for our families? Do we have to do so many things that we can't just have some white space in our schedule to enjoy life with the people we love? Is there a way that we can spend just a little of our time that will impact someone else? That is what I think is most important. It's people who matter. Don't be too busy for that. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Another Fresh Start

I got the idea to start this blog when I was doing The Daniel Fast a few weeks ago. It was then that when I was praying for clarity about the ways God wanted me to use my gifts in life that He said the first thing I should do is share with other people how He helped me. If you know me or even have me as a social media "friend," you already know that I claim a great love of food....a love that was TOO great because I became a chronic stress eater. In my recent blog posts, I said that I had been able to step down off medications for depression, but sometime between the time I got on them and the time I stopped using them, I had managed to place 30 pounds of the 50 I had lost before back on my body.

During my last two years working as a fitness coach, I tried to rid myself of stress eating but every so often I would go back to it, and as we age, the fact is one weekend of terrible eating can undo a whole month of hard work to lose some weight. So I have always felt my tendency towards emotional eating has been the reason I never made my final goal. I felt the need to try the Daniel Fast again, and not wait for the time when it was convenient. That was partly because of the urgency I felt to hear from God about so many of my prayers, and partly because I wanted to see if I could finally flip the switch in my brain about my on again off again emotional eating. Because you know something? I have learned that when we are addicted to food, especially those that contain sugar or white flour or artificial preservatives, it is not all our fault! Do you know that sugar works just like a drug in the brain? It provokes the same response and leaves the brain looking for more and more sugar so it can get the same "high." That is where we are left when we continue to eat it. And for me, it wasn't just that anymore, because I felt that I had broken that sugar addiction during the Made to Crave Bible study I did with my challengers before Easter this year. After I resumed allowing myself a little of it, I found that most things just tasted too rich and I didn't want to eat it anymore. Yet, when emotions were taking over in me or I had a hard day, I made the same old excuses and ate chips that were only in the house for my son. Lots of them. Yikes! I guess he could get his chip obsession from me! 

When I first wrote about the fast, I was bubbling over with everything that God had done with me during that three weeks, and I never did share about the hardest moments, which shockingly didn't actually involve chips or chocolate. No there were only two different occasions during this fast when I felt like my heart really hurt. As I shared before, I also gave up coffee as part of that experience, something I never thought I would be able to do. I miraculously got through my mornings all right without it, but it was the times when it was late afternoon, when I normally would have a cup for the boost I would be looking for after the day's activities that there were three different occasions during this fast that someone offered me free coffee. Free coffee that was not made by me, in the afternoon when I wanted a cup anyway. You just don't know how hard that was to say no. The other thing I learned about myself during this fast is how much I adore pizza. There was the one day we got to attend a Pittsburgh Pirates game with some students in my son's class and that was when the reality of how much I love pizza first became real to me. 

I had just passed up on all kinds of great food that was offered to us in our box that we were blessed with as a gift to our kids that day, and only ate what went along with my fast plan, which is basically vegan eating with no junk food allowed. Then we decided to take Lucas for a walk around the ball park. Of all the delicious smells around that place, the one that hit me like a brick was the pizza cooking over the flames in one of those brick ovens. That was painful. (FYI I felt it again when I took Lucas swimming at the pool and saw a kid on the deck eating a big floppy New York style slice!) 

But overall, the fast was such an amazing expeience and I felt so good after eating that way for 3 weeks that I almost hated to see it end. Then I had the opportunities for further reflection when it was over. I ate some things over the last two weeks that I just didn't enjoy as much as I did before and one day (this past Friday) I really over did it. I knew I would be starting over today so I rationalized that it was all right, and at least I was honest enough to share that with my Facebook friends. I felt so sick that evening and the next day. I was relieved to make it to Monday for my fresh start, with a great group of new challengers, and best of all, my husband! I believe God can and will help us make this the time we both stick to the plan. It's only 3 more weeks, since we are doing the 21 Day Fix programs together. (Extreme for me.) But I have a feeling after my most recent experience with giving things up that it will yield such positive rewards that we will want to stick it out longer. Actually, knowing the food addiction that I do have and the way my brain will be able to let go of the habit if I leave those trigger foods alone, I have already determined that I will wait until our vacation at the end of August to have any treats. The only real difference in the Daniel Fast and the 21 Day Fix Extreme way of eating is that animal products are allowed. I decided to go vegan for the first three days, as kind of a detox period, and during that time I will also avoid TV and spend a little more time in the Word and reading positive material because a good soul detox every so often is the most important kind. Then I will follow the plan accordingly with just a little more emphasis on plant based food because it turns out I like that most anyway. Except maybe for that cheesy pizza! 
But the most important thing that happened during my fast was when the scripture I needed came to me at the times I needed it most. When the enemy got into my thoughts and spoke about how unfair it was that I was not eating any of the delicious free food at the ball park, or that I couldn't have a hot dog on Memorial Day weekend, I came back at him with the truth. There is one little piece of the following passage that God gave me to use in the battle against the desire to overindulge. 

Matthew 6:25-27

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the 
body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; 
they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and 
yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not 
much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you 
by worrying add a single hour to your life?"

I love these words from Jesus, about why we shouldn't worry about things in this life. But the part that stood out to me in a different way recently was how he asked, "Is not life more than food?" 
Well, yes, it certainly is. The day at the Pirates game was much more than free chicken wings, sandwiches, and beautiful layer cakes. It was more than even the afternoon coffee and the cheese pizza that had been cooked over the fire. It was family time, on a beautiful sunny day, where my son got to try something different. He was surrounded by staff from his school who genuinely love him and kids who were excited to see each other and experience the afternoon together. Holiday weekends and trips to the amusement park this summer are more than the food. They are about family togetherness, spending time with friends, and making memories. I won't remember what I ate years from now, but I will never forget the smiles of my child that were captured on camera to cherish for a lifetime, and I will always be able to look back and smile at how little it took to make him happy. Life is much more than food, And I am about to find out how much more I can get out of it by continuously eating the right things and none of the wrong ones. We would be happy to have others join us for just this three weeks! I can attest that when you work hard and allow God to be involved, a lot can happen in a short amount of time. (Not to mentione, these programs are effective!) Overcoming eating issues is hard, but from now on, I choose to remember the words of the One who makes all things possible. "Is not life more than food?" 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

3 Happy Habits

It's true that I had grown accustomed to dealing with depression off and on for most of my life. It's true that my "rock bottom" moment came when I was trying to survive debilitating anxiety about the future right before my special needs son entered kindergarten, and I accepted prescriptions from my doctor in order to overcome the horrible symptoms I was experiencing. It's true that even after I stepped down off the medication and tried other more natural methods of combatting depression, depression wasn't finished with me. What I should really say is that the devil wasn't finished with me, because as a dearly loved friend of mine says, depression is really just oppression from the enemy. But here is something else that is true, and it is the most important truth of all, and the reason I am writing to tell other people that depression can be overcome and left behind.

If you don't know, Jesus it the Light spoken about here, and I encourage you to read the first chapter of John and read this scripture in context. It's one of my favorite passages in the Bible. It's the amazing story about how God became flesh and lived among people so that He could overcome the darkness. There is still darkness in this world of all kinds, but it will never overcome the Light. Not ever. 
I'll tell you the last time I can remember feeling held back by depression was about two years ago, around the same time I started working as a fitness coach. I don't remember all of the circumstances that made me feel that way anymore, but I remember doing all the things I knew to beat it, even though I didn't feel like doing them. Because now I was part of a team and trying to serve as a rolemodel to help other people. I had done my Body Beast workout that morning and decided to go out for a run, because it was summer and the sun was out, and sun and fresh air and exercise are all good tools to fight depression. I had just downloaded an album from NeedtoBreathe, and had the music playing in my ears as my shoes hit the pavement. For the first time, I heard these lyrics....

Yeah in this wasteland where I'm livin'
There is a crack in the door filled with light
And it's all that I need to get by
Yeah in this wasteland where I'm livin'
There is a crack in the door filled with light
And it's all that I need to shine

Depression feels like a wasteland. It feels dark. But there was always Jesus, my crack in the door filled with light. For the last two years, God has been showing me how to not just "get by" when sadness tries to overtake me. He is showing me how to shine anyway, no matter what my circumstances are like. There will always be plenty of trouble for all of us. The Bible says that too. But it also says that we should watch our thoughts and think about what is good. This leads me to my new happy habits. There are three of them I have committed to do every day without fail, and they really do work! 

1. Open your Bible.
It's the only place where you will find the truth to cover over the lies that depression makes you believe. (A favorite quote from a favorite pastor of mine, Steven Furtick: "Don't believe everything you think.") It's the hope of all hope to know the love that God has for you and to know the end of the story. Today is not the end of the story, and the end of the story is that we win. If you can saturate your mind with that truth, you can make it through the day and have peace. Let the Word be your anchor, every day, before the demands of the day and the negativity of the world around you have the chance to reach your thoughts instead. Truth first. Hope first. God first. 

2. Pray. More specifically, pray prayers of thanks. 
It is hard to stay down when you are praising God for all that is right. I fully understand from my own experience that it can be too easy to feel like everything is wrong and you have nothing to be grateful for. That is what depression does. It makes you think you would be better off if you were anyone else. But a perspective shift will help you see that there are other people in the world who wish they could be you. And even though we ALL have a problem of some kind on any given day, there is always something to be thankful for too. I have commmitted to write down three of those things in my prayer journal every morning. Thank God for life, breath, a new day. Thank Him for the clean water you have, or a job, or a friend, husband, wife, son or daughter. Sometimes you will find it is easy to fill a whole page with the blessings you do have. 

3. Move your body
I know, I know. You don't want to do it in the depths of depression, Your body already might hurt. But when I committed to doing at least ten miutes a day 6 days a week, (you should allow your body one rest day.) I found that once I got going, I almost instantly felt better. It's something to channel the angry energy into that is healthy for you and it's scientifically proven to brighten your mood. Endorphins are great! Try whatever activity you like, even just walking. When you can walk outside, all the better. When I am especially stressed out, kick boxing is my favorite! The best work out is the one you will do. So choose a good video program, or get outside, or to the gym, or to the class that just started up in your community. Just schedule it in and don't miss it. 

There are other things I do that bring me joy and some of them are fast and easy. I will share those mood lifters in another post. But for me, these three things have been non-negotiable for a while now. And you know what? Even though I have STILL had hard circumstances in my life of all kinds, this past winter is the first one that I didn't feel the affects of SAD very much. It was so much of a difference that a friend even pointed out to me that she noticed it! I still don't like the winters here because I don't like to be cold, I like the sun, and the snow affecting my son's regular routine is the worst of all. He hates being off schedule and that makes life a little harder for everyone. But these three habits kept me happy anyway. I finally feel like I have arrived at a full understanding of the following much quoted scripture. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

A prelude to my Happy Habits

Don't I look so happy in this picture? Well I will let you in on a little secret. I wasn't. I was feeling a little less panicked on this day then I had been a couple of weeks earlier, because I was on prescription drugs. Let me back up a bit. I am well acquainted with depression. The first time it came for me was when I was in my early teens and we all know the kinds of changes that take place. I was a young girl who let every negative word that was ever said sink into my mind and heart, and all of the bad things that had ever been said about me were the words I believed about myself. I didn't like myself or anything about my life, because I didn't understand that today is not the end of the story, and some bad experiences do not make a bad life. A Christian counselor thankfully made me believe the truth that I was made by God on purpose and for a purpose, and for the first time I felt like I was worthy to be alive. I never thought about ending my life again, and over the years, I have typically been a happy person. Every so often, the darkness would find its way back. I was also given a gift I didn't expect when my son was born. After finding out that autism and Fragile X Syndrome would be a part of our story, I accepted my assignment and believed God would provide everything we needed to make Lucas a happy and contributing member of society. But sometimes, the challenges of the days felt like too much to withstand.
It seems the times of transition for Lucas were the worst of times for me. I was happy with the services we had when he was a toddler, and the birth to three therapists had been a great help to me. He was home with me and under my protection. Then the time came to send him to pre-school when he turned three. I can't even go into details for this post because it would take too long, but it was right about then that everything became a mess. I remember a period of about 3 days that I just couldn't stop crying. I cried during all my waking hours, and couldn't stop it even when I was in front of people. But God...He always pulled me out of times like that. I got better. But then I set all these goals that needed to happen before kindergarten for Lucas and not many of them did. My son still never spoke, even though he was 6 years old. He wasn't fully potty trained yet, although we had worked on it for 4 years. The devil made his way into my thoughts. I know now that's what was happening. I thought about how no matter what I poured out into making my son do better, it would never be good enough. He would never be where he needed to be and all of my work was for nothing. Then there was the fact that he was going to public school, and one thing I will mention, is that his first pre-school teacher was abusive to her other non-verbal students in the classroom. Not Lucas, because his TSS always went to school with him, and that is the one reason that I know my son was never mistreated by a person who had clearly chosen the wrong profession. But in these weeks leading up to kindergarten, I thought back to what might have happened if God had not made sure that someone we could trust was at his side. What if? What if the new kindergarten teacher didn't love her job either? What if teaching kids with autism wasn't her true calling and she also was irritated and angry at them? What if the aids were not people who wanted to be in that class room? What if someone hurt my baby? And he couldn't ever tell me about it! How would I find out when I didn't know anyone in his room this time like I did in pre-school? Then it took over...the debilitating fear and anxiety of sending my child to school, and the future ahead of us. The enemy had gotten me to temporarily think that just because he wasn't where I wanted him to be by kindergarten, he wouldn't have a good life. I could feel my breathing become out of control when I tried to lie down and sleep at night, like I wasn't actually ABLE to breathe. I will never forget what an anxiety attack feels like. I get so mad when I hear of it happening to other people because I hate to think they feel the way I did then and it just isn't fair, because there are ways out of it. So after so many nights of tears pouring out and the feeling that I couldn't sleep, or breathe or take the pain of worrying so dreadfully about my son any longer, I went to the doctor. I blamed hormones and told them I thought I might have some sort of health problem, but they did blood work and checked for everything under the sun and told me I was perfectly healthy, The doctor told me most likely the imbalance was in my brain, because I was experiencing depression, and he said most people going through a big challenge know that it is going to come to an end, but for me, with the challenges of raising my son, there was no end in sight. I cried again just because I heard someone pinpoint the way I felt. And I left the office with my prescriptions. I know that prescriptions are sometimes necessary and helpful, and they were to me for a short time, but I have been someone who believes in more natural approaches for years, and personally don't like to take pills for very long.  My doctor even knew this about me, and assured me that I could step down from these drugs when I felt ready. I determined in my mind that some day, with God's help, I would GET ready, because I just refused to be on a prescription for a lifetime. It's nothing against anyone who has that need. Please hear me on that. This is just my personal experience and my personal choice.
Looking back, these were the best and cutest pictures I ever got on the first day of school. The day my son became a kindergarten kid was the time he was most cooperative for photos!
The only twinge of sadness I feel now is that my baby still had the baby look in these pictures, and it has long since left him, because he will be in fourth grade this year, at a school that has been a big blessing in our lives. He made the switch half way through his first year in public school. I do sometimes shed a tear over how quickly the time goes, but I have learned the most important factor in being free from the fear. 
As it turns out, I am glad I have these beautiful pictures of that first day when I needed a prescription to help me put on a smile. They remind me of how far God has brought my son, and how far he has brought me too. It was within the year that I did step down from those drugs. I used them to get through the winter months, because I do have classic SAD. When spring rolled around, I started the process of coming off the prescriptions, and moving into other methods to help me deal with any sadness or anxiety that came along, God has taught me a lot in the last three years, and has used things that seem so simple to help me overcome depression. And as I said in my first post, I not only "get through" the difficulties because of God, but I have actually learned to enjoy life and be happy while I am waiting for the blessings I believe He will let us see with our eyes in His perfect timing. I want to share 3 of my "happy habits" with you this week. Come back Wednesday to learn what they are! 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Change of Heart

It only took 37 years for me to finally grasp the real truth. The truth was I had known the secret to being free from everything that ever held me back in life for years, but I didn't fully understand it or tap into what was already available to me. A week ago, I was reminded of something called The Daniel Fast that I had done before from an unlikely source. I was watching a documentary about following a plant based diet. The Daniel Fast is eating plant based for 21 days.

I was thinking about how tired I was of slipping backwards in my healthy eating plan, and having too much junk in my diet for too many days of the week. I was also thinking it seemed I was doing so much struggling and striving lately and not getting very far in so many areas of my life, and there were parts of that I desperately wanted to receive God's instruction on, but for a couple of weeks, God seemed silent to me. I decided that it was a good time for the fast, and in the beginning, I started it just as I had all the other times, thinking about it primarily as a healthy way of eating in order to honor God. But it "just so happened" I found a book about the fast which I had never read at the thrift store. So I bought it, and in it, I read all the things that should occur during a fast, and the main thing was fervent prayer and a spirit of giving up anything that might take the place of God in our life.

It is shockingly easy to have "idols" in our lives without realizing it. I came to understand through another life changing Bible study I did based on the book Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst that an idol can be anything we go to for our comfort instead of God, like food, for instance. I already was aware that I had done this, and in doing that study for the fourth time, I felt that I had finally been freed of my addiction to sugar. But the pull I felt towards things that were salty, cheesy and deep fried was still there. So in these moments of reading this book, God spoke to my heart loud and clear. He pointed out to me that I had stuck with the fast the other times that I did it, except I always allowed myself the exception of one thing. Coffee with cream, because, face it, without cream coffee is not good. (Sorry, black coffee friends.) And actually neither of these are supposed to be a part of the fast. I heard God say, "You are willing to give up everything except the one thing you love most." Ouch. 

Well if you know me, you know the thought of drinking no coffee for three weeks would be enough to make me cry, much more so than giving up any of the other foods that are not allowed. But for God, in order to get closer to Him and hear Him speak to me more clearly in my times of great challenge, would I be willing to prove that I loved him more than sweet, creamy coffee? Well when you think of it in those terms, there really is no question, is there? So I said goodbye to coffee, and also to my TV, because that is the other thing that seemed to call out to me at the end of a bad day. Let me tell you, in my mind there is nothing like a binge session on Netflix to turn off my brain and forget my troubles. But is it beneficial? And it is more effective than prayer or reading and listening good quality content would be if I filled that time with those things instead? Certainly not. So for these three weeks, I didn't just see it as a time to clean up my diet and pray a little more. I saw it as a time to immerse myself in Jesus every day, while cutting out all the negative material that has every opportunity to bombard us wherever we go. And something amazing happened! It was like the culmination of every meaningful Bible study I had done and sermon I had heard so far this year. Everything became crystal clear, and I knew that the secret to joy no matter what our circumstances in this life are is to truly seek God first, and seek Him just because He is God and not because of the blessings we want Him to provide. My three weeks was so hard some of the time, but for all of the time the experience was so amazing, to actually FEEL the joy and peace of God, which surpasses all understanding right in the middle of the mess going on in my life. I wasn't just relying on God to "get through" anymore. I was feeling happy when I didn't necessarily have circumstantial reasons to feel very happy. I almost hated to see my 3 weeks come to an end, but I left it with this truth finally being fully understood.....

I get it now. What is in your heart takes you over and spills out into your life. I may have had some things that were sad going on around me, but sadness was no longer filling my heart. Complaining was no longer filling my mind and heart. Discouragement was no longer filling my heart. Because God was present and He is always good, even when life isn't good, and the Bible tells us His plans for us will stand no matter what we see happening in the present. Isn't it amazing to think that the final say belongs to the One who placed the world in which we live in perfect order? He promises us that all things will work together for our good! Yes, there are still things I am praying for, believing for, and waiting for, but I will praise God and enjoy my life just as it is while I wait. Am I anxious that things won't work out or worried about how long God's timing will be? Not so much anymore. Because I know the secret. 
"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."
Matthew 6:33

So as I am waiting for the things I asked God for, I asked Him for my one next step. What should I do first? And what He said was to share what He had done for me. Tell people. Tell as many people as I could that I have overcome depression multiple times in my life only through His strength, and that finally in the year 2016 He helped me get it under my feet for good. Tell people that it's possible to be free of unhealthy addictions and ways of dealing with stress. Tell people that even when life looks dark and things seem irreparable, all is not lost. As long as we are alive, we have purpose, and where God has a purpose, there is always more hope. So here is the beginning of doing what I was told. I want to tell you more about it. I hope the little pieces of my story will help someone else. Even one. That is all it takes to make it worth it.