Thursday, February 23, 2017

Gratitude and Cortisol WHAT???

What are you talking about Claudia?  What in the world do those two things have to do with each other.

Well, I thought you'd never ask.

You might be saying, "What IS Cortisol?"  According to WikiHow
Cortisol is a stress-induced chemical that is released by the adrenal gland. While some cortisol is beneficial for survival, some people overproduce cortisol. When this happens, you may notice you feel anxious, stressed out and have a tendency to gain weight. It is imperative to take action, once you notice any or all of these symptoms. Reducing the amount of cortisol produced within your body can have a positive effect on your overall health and leave you feeling more relaxed and balanced.

So, in other words, when you are in a stage of fight, flight or fight, you feel the cortisol rushing into your system to "pump you up" and get you ready for the upcoming dangerous situation.   The problem is that it can become addictive.

I've seen it happen in some of my children who have histories of trauma.  They experienced it so much before coming to live with us that they have gotten addicted to that rush and then then they work themselves up to get it.  Raging and running away are two ways to retain a cortisol high.  A less devastating way is extreme sports.  

For those of us who are "emotionally healthy", whatever that means,  can gradually become addicted to cortisol as well.   Our secondary trauma, the number of times that we are emotionally prodded and poked, and the times that we allow ourselves to get dysregulated, lead us to a lot of cortisol pulsating through our brains and bodies.  If we aren't careful we can start to use that "nervous energy" to propel us and become workaholics or exercise more than necessary or eat too much.... the implications are crazy.  It's like being stuck on an emotionally driven high that we can't stop.

So, what does gratitude have to do with it?  It has actually been proven that the feelings that are produced when we are grateful can have a magical effect.  They can reduce heart rate and reduce cortisol levels.

Cortisol isn't good for us.  While it is necessary in extreme situations (life and death for example), pulling large amounts of it into our systems for long periods of time can shorten our life span and make us susceptible to all kinds of physical problems.  (As the graphic above indicates)

One of the keys to regulating cortisol in us and in other people, is to recognize the symptoms.  I know for me it's cold appendages, increased heart rate, and nausea.   When I am under stress and experiencing anxiety and cortisol starts pumping my body responds.  But I have learned that when I feel those things I can go to a spot of gratitude in my mind and it helps me to regulate.

So, I am now instituting #ThankfulThursday.   Every Thursday we are going to list things we are thankful for so that we can remember them and dwell on them when we have an influx of cortisol.

Sounds simplistic, but if you can focus on things you are grateful for for a few minutes, you will feel yourself regulate and can be back to whatever your "normal" within 15- 20 minutes.

Try it.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What if Love and Belonging Are the Most Important of All?

Remember Maslow?  He said that we have needs and they show up in a certain order.  At the very base of what we need is food, water, etc.  Then we move into safety and we need to have that before we can feel love and belonging.   If we are fortunate to have all of these things we can move to self-esteem and them self-actualization.

Now I don't want to get to technical here, or even get into great detail, but some behavioral scientists are now suggesting that there are several instances in life where people will trade meeting their physiological needs and their need for safety in order to have love and belonging.

Think about kids living on the streets who form a group.   They may have the opportunity to leave that streets in order to have a safe place to live and food to eat, but they will stay with their friends.

Why is this important?   I think it has many implications.  As parents in any setting, it shows that the mount of money we spend on our children matters way less to them (even if they don't realize it) than how much time we spend with them and how much they feel they belong.

It certainly applies in the orphan care movement -- that if love and belonging is what human being needs more than anything, that caring for these orphans in a family like setting is more important than making sure they have shoes to wear.  

I think it also has implications for the church and society as well.  I love how 1 Peter 2:10 reads in the NRSV:
Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people.
Being God's people and belonging in God's family is so powerful.   And since God says that ALL people are HIS people, everyone belongs.  Just like Lilo said to Stitch when he was running away:
"Ohana" means "family."  "Family" means "no one gets left behind."  
What does that mean for you and me?  That need to be about the task of figuring out ways to instill that sense of belonging in the people we know.  Many people from hard places do not even know what love is, so trying to focus on that might not be as significant as making sure that people know that they belong.

What can you do today to make sure that the people in your life know that they belong -- whether it is in your family or in God's family.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Roller Coaster of Emotion

I found out yesterday afternoon that one of the best men I've ever known passed away.

He was fourth grade teacher to John, and then to Jimmy, and then to Jimmy again, and then to Tony and then to Ricardo.   He went on to become a principal.  He and his wife were Ricardo's sponsors at his baptism.  

While we lived in Luverne the lives of our families were intertwined.  His wife and children knew us ... we lived in community together.   As recently as this past summer, we saw his youngest son, now an adult, college graduated, insurance agent, while we were having dinner.

So my life has been crazy the past few days.

My mom + hospital = fear and anxiety for me, even if not for her.

My brother + new 27 year old African bride (yes, I found out today that she is 27 and my brother is older than her father) = shock, happiness, surprise

My dear, dear friend dead suddenly at 52 = shock, grief, anger, frustration, bewilderment, sad to the core

Lots of thoughts running through my head, lots of emotions running through my heart, but one thing always steady always stable.

I can honestly say, regardless of the ups and downs

God’s Faithfulness = It Is Well with my soul…

Monday, February 20, 2017

There's only Grace

A couple things happened in my family this past weekend.   Not in my family as in my kids and husband, but as in my extended family.

First my mom had a pacemaker put in and that was crazy.    She pent the night in the hospital for the first time since 1966 when she gave birth to my youngest brother.  In all of her near 88 years she had only been in the hospital three times — to give birth to three children.    She was all full of joy telling me about her adventure and how wonderful the people were and how great the hospital was.  I want to be more like her.  

And then last night, she told me this:

My brother, who will be 52 in a month, and suffered two severe strokes this past year, hopped on a plane for a 48 hour trip (including layovers and flight times) to go to Madagascar and marry the African niece of his nurse.   

Yeah, you might want to read it again.  A lot to digest!

Woah!  SO, this 30 something eager to have children gorgeous girl is now my sister-in-law and my brother, a life-time bachelor, might actually make me an aunt after all.

There reason I’m sharing this with you is because I am so grateful for my parents and the atmosphere of grace in which we have always lived.  I’m pretty sure that not being invited to (much less told about) the wedding of an African woman twenty year’s someone’s junior, would cause the family some stress.

Not mine.  My mom would say she is “tickled” and “thrilled.”   She is excited to start corresponding with her and can’t believe the good fortune.  Another grandchild would be an amazing gift — enthicity and race don’t matter not at all, which is pretty unique for someone of her generation.   She has been praying or my wayward brother for decades, and this girl is a CHRISTIAN.   An answer to her prayer.

I’m excited for him too.  Despite his struggles with alcoholism, I’ve always loved my brother Nate.  He has personality and charm and a sense of humor that, even after two strokes, is still spot on and he cracks me up all the time.

 want to offer grace and forgiveness as the norm.  I want to think of others before myself.

What would it look like at your job if you always extended that kind of grace to everyone?  What if our first thought was grace in our personal lives … to family members, neighbors, friends.

I’ve gotten used to it over the years, but this weekend I was reminded that when it comes to other people…. we need to live a life where we can say to everyone around us, “There’s only grace.”

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Summary Saturday

So, this year I have started a few new habits to give my life rhythm.  In case you are unfamiliar with how my life is right now, let me give you a glimpse:

I have two homes, three offices, four desks, and two vehicles that I am utilizing every week.   For the first 8 months of my job, my schedule changed every week.  From one week to the next I was in various places and nothing was consistent.

So late last fall I determined that I was going to have a set weekly schedule.  So, it goes like this:

  • Monday morning I leave the parsonage in Danville where Bart and the kids live for Brookneal (about 60 miles)
  • I spend the night in Brookneal.
  • Tuesday morning I drive to Lynchburg (36 miles, but takes almost an hour because the roads are ... well, you'd have to drive them to get it).
  • I have back to back meetings all day in Lynchburg.
  • Tuesday night I drive back to Brookneal.
  • Wednesday I have meetings in Brookneal and then in the afternoon I leave for Danville in time for Wednesday night supper and Women's Bible Study at church.
  • Thursdays I spend in Danville, catching up on email, paperwork, and other projects (and as those of you who work a day from home each week, usually get more done that day that any other.  Since our daughter's schedule changed and she has Thursdays off, Bart and I have been trying to take Thursdays to have a date night.
  • Fridays I have meetings in either Lynchburg, Brookneal, or another site where I'm networking or meeting with people outside the organization.   I try to take one Friday a month off to do a day trip with Bart (because he has Friday's off).
  • Saturdays are family days and time for me to catch up on personal projects.   Today Bart and I are going to meet our favorite college professor and his awesome wife for lunch a couple hours from here (it's half way for both of us).  It's on our bucket list.  :-)
  • Sundays are kind of a marathon as we head for church around 7:45 and don't usually get home til almost one.  I have started cooking Sunday dinner so we eat at home and then until it's time to babysit Bart and I occasionally try and take a drive or go to a library, but sometimes we just sit and do absolutely nothing but read, watch TV and simply relax.  

I know, I know, you don't care about all that, but this is my blog :-)   Remember, I blogged before blogging was cool, so I can put whatever I want here.  If you want to click off it, it's your choice :-)  And I wrote it to make a point.

Since I started having a pattern and intentional rhythm to my life, I have found myself a lot less stressed.   I feel way more in control of things too.

Starting to bullet journal has added a whole new dimension to intentional living and I'm loving it.  So part of what I've done is to use some alliteration to develop some themes for people at work.

Marketing Mondays are a constant reminder to my staff that we need to schedule time to do client marketing.

Too-Busy Tuesday means that I'm in meetings all day and too busy to make them do anything.

Deep Work Wednesday came about after I read the book "Deep Work."   I encourage folks to take 45 minutes completely free of distraction to think about something in particular and make some plans.  It has really helped me to intentionally grab time to focus at least weekly on some of the issues.

Thursdays are up for grabs but SPOILER ALERT -- I'm thinking of taking the advice of a coworker (Thanks Danika) and calling it Thankful Thursday.

Friday is #FinishWellFriday where I encourage myself and my team to pick three things they don't want hanging over their head and then get them done.   I think it's starting to catch on with others, but I know it's really helped me.  I love coming into the weekend with my worst "to-dos" done.

So, all that to say that today I decided that I would use my Saturday blogs to do a summary for myself and you if you are interested of the past week.  

Here are some highlights of my week:

  1. I had some good meetings this week and remain super excited about the way that my team is growing at work.   It is not only growing by bringing in new, awesome employees, but each of the members of the team that have been around for a while are continuing to grow and become sharper and smarter, going deeper and getting better.  I love being part of this!
  2. Bart and I got to spend some extra time together this week, including dinner out and the movie "Lion" which of course, we found meaningful.    We also had dinner alone last night as well and get to spend the day together today.  He really is my favorite person and I love making time to hang out with him.
  3. I had arguments/discussions with Tony and Dominyk this week that seriously made me want to bang my head against the wall until it bled.  Talking to them gets me nowhere and I'm not sure why I continue to engage.
  4. Carlos gave me several unsolicited hugs this week, which warms my heart.  He's such a unique little boy with a charming personality.  Gabby was delightful as always.
  5. I found out that I have a friend going through some serious health issues, and my mom had a pacemaker put in unexpectedly yesterday.   My mom is fine and in great spirits.
  6. I continue to find new ways to make my bullet journal meaningful and to live more intentionally.   Some examples include Bart and I cooking around the world by choosing recipes from different countries; being more motivated to read books and articles; intentionally choosing movies and TV shows, and doing more to help Bart around the house.
  7. We have regular contact with our kids -- Christy is great to snap chat pictures all the time of those three grandkids, and we talk with Courtney at least weekly.   Sadie texts almost every day, as does Jimmy.  We hear from Leon and Rand frequently as well.   
So, there's my summary.  Probably only here for me to read in the future, but in case you were wondering, there you have it!

And now I can cross of my list that I blogged today in my bullet journal!!!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Are you in Control?

I have spent most of my life in a control battle with God, which seems ridiculous when you think about it.  Maybe it's the human condition, or maybe it's my personality, but I like to be in control.  I like to think that I am in charge not only of my life but the lives of other people around me.  The truth of the matter is that I'm not, and the more days when I realize this, the better off I am.

I heard this song for the first time the other day and I it sums up this struggle more powerfully than I ever could.

Here are the words... and the song by Natalie Grant.

"King Of The World"

I tried to fit you in the walls inside my mind
I try to keep you safely inbetween the lines
I try to put you in the box that I've designed
I try to pull you down so we are eye to eye

When did I forget that you've always been the king of the world?
I try to take life back right out of the hands of the king of the world
How could I make you so small
When you're the one who holds it all
When did I forget that you've always been the king of the world

Just a whisper of your voice can tame the seas
So who am I to try to take the lead
Still I run ahead and think I'm strong enough
When you're the one who made me from the dust

When did I forget that you've always been the king of the world?
I try to take life back right out of the hands of the king of the world
How could I make you so small
When you're the one who holds it all
When did I forget that you've always been the king of the world

Ohhhh, you set it all in motion
Every single moment
You brought it all to be
And you're holding on to me

When did I forget that you've always been the king of the world?
I try to take life back right out of the hands of the king of the world
How could I make you so small
When you're the one who holds it all
When did I forget you've always been the king of the world
You will always be the king of the world

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Is the Devil really in the details?

If you know me at all you know that there has never been a detail I liked.   I love thinking big picture and my mind just doesn't work to break things down.   I have grown to love and respect people who can do this and I desperately need them.

As I was reading through Exodus and Leviticus, I realized that the old saying, "The Devil is in the Details" can't be true because God is all about the details.

Here's proof.  The Ephod was kind of like  robe that went over the priests garments.  It looked something like this:

Here's what God told the people to do in Exodus 28:

“Make the ephod of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen—the work of skilled hands. It is to have two shoulder pieces attached to two of its corners, so it can be fastened. Its skillfully woven waistband is to be like it—of one piece with the ephod and made with gold, and with blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and with finely twisted linen.“Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel 10 in the order of their birth—six names on one stone and the remaining six on the other. 11 Engrave the names of the sons of Israel on the two stones the way a gem cutter engraves a seal. Then mount the stones in gold filigree settings 12 and fasten them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders as a memorial before the Lord. 13 Make gold filigree settings 14 and two braided chains of pure gold, like a rope, and attach the chains to the settings.
See what I'm talking about?  Those are a lot of details. 
When I came to my current job I had a coworker who was always pointing out the huge differences between "detail people" and "visionaries."  I started to divide people that way, and I totally landed in the visionary category.  
But like in so many things, God is not an either or kind of God, but a both-and God.  He is in the details, but he is also a big picture visionary God.   If you look at the huge ocean, there is in that a small, perfect shell.   The massive forests hold tiny flowers.   He created this whole huge world and thought of things like butterflies and crocuses and hamsters.  He made the human body where all kind of tiny pieces make up a functioning hole.
My paradigm is shifting as I recognize my need to pay attention to the details more than I ever have before.  It's a challenge for me, but I'm working on it every day.    Because in missing the details, I am missing a lot of God’s glory. 
So next time you find yourself frustrated with those of us who get so excited about the big picture that we forget the details, be patient.  And for those of you who are big picture thinkers, remember to appreciate and love those people who rescue us every day by catching things that we don't see.

Since we are formed in God's image, maybe as we mature we can all have little pieces of both.