Sunday Reflections – Attitude Upgrade

The word “upgrade” has gone to a whole new level in the world of marketing over the past couple of years. When you go on a cruise to the Caribbean, you’re encouraged to “upgrade your diamonds.” At pretty much any time after you’ve purchased a cell phone, you have the opportunity to “upgrade your device.” Fashion magazines also constantly encourage you to “upgrade your look” in one way or another. Everywhere we look, we have the opportunity to go to the next level, to upgrade in some way. The question that I find myself asking is, “Am I spending my efforts going to the next level in the areas that truly matter?”

At some point in life, we all feel in need of a new direction or even a new beginning alltogether. Whether because we’ve become overwhelmed by overload, saturated with stress or defeated by disaster, we sometimes simply feel like a whole new start or even a remodel of some area of our lives will give us the renewal we need to feel like we can finally make progress instead of constantly spinning our wheels.

Yet most of the upgrades we are offered serve only to give us that “fresh start” feeling temporarily. In time, the new becomes old, and we find ourselves once again in need of another upgrade. (Doesn’t help that commercials and advertisements are constantly encouraging us to upgrade something.)

There is one area where an upgrade is guaranteed to positively impact all of life. An attitude upgrade can bring a fresh start to those who feel stale and defeated. An attitude upgrade, if developed and maintained in a deliberate an intentional way, can bring renewal to anyone’s outlook. Following these 5 ways to develop and maintain a godly attitude could most likely be the upgrade that changes your life permanently.

  1. Let yourself be renewed. (Ephesians 4:22) Being teachable, flexible and willing to change are all aspects of letting yourself be renewed. Allowing yourself to be renewed involves being open to others speaking into your life and to new ideas and approaches for your personal growth.
  2. Acknowledge and repent of bad attitudes. (Acts 8:22; Genesis 4:6-7; Numbers 14:1-4) This involves letting go of pride and admitting to areas of struggle. This means admitting where your attitude is not what it should be and opening yourself up to renewal.
  3. Discipline your thought life. (2 Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 4:8; Philippians 1:20-25) Our thought lives are shaped by what we read, watch, listen to and the people with whom we spend time. Choosing positive input and allowing it to push out the negative will help to renew our attitudes. And remember that a key in any discipline is the idea of constant, deliberate and intentional effort.
  4. Understand the relationship between attitude and emotions. (Habakkuk 3:17-19) Nothing derails a positive attitude more easily and more often than emotions. Frustration and chronic illness can both create emotions within us that make having a godly attitude extremely difficult. Yet, the Bible tells us we are to choose to rejoice. That choice may need to take place every minute at times, but we must choose to allow our emotions to only be gauges and to not drive the car.
  5. Consider how your attitude affects others. This area of attitude adjustment can provide tremendous motivation toward wanting to upgrade our attitudes. When we realize that our kids, co-workers, family, friends, spouse, other Christians as well as non-Christians are watching, we realize that we are setting an example and sending a message. But what kind of message are we sending? The answer to that question indicates the aroma of our hearts.

When you’re tired, hungry or sick, what happens to your attitude? When your day (or week or month or year) has been particularly stressful with little (if any) relief, is it okay to let your attitude slip? Philippians 2:5 says that “your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” In other words, we all need an attitude upgrade. We all must choose to get to the root cause, which generally originates in the heart where our intentions lie. The intentions of our hearts are reflected in our attitudes. We must intentionally take steps, such as the ones listed above, to improve the aroma of our hearts (our attitudes). Doing so will serve to upgrade our attitudes, which in turn will upgrade our lives in increasingly significant and probably unpredictable and uncountable ways.

For a scripture study on attitude, check out Everyday Attitude.

DISCUSSION: What is the aroma of your heart? What changes can you make to create a better scent?

“Let’s have coffee.”

Coffee has gotten a bad rap. Sure, too much coffee can have a negative impact (nervousness, adrenal strain, and sleep reduction to name a few), but there are some terrific benefits that coffee has to offer as well. So, grab a cup of coffee (if you haven’t had too much already), and join me for a look at the positive side of that magical brew that has been around for centuries. (For those of you who enjoy useless information, coffee originated in Ethiopia. Some say its cultivation began in the 9th century while other experts claim it’s been around since AD 575.)

Health Benefits

Coffee has a high level of antioxidants (more than green tea actually). Antioxidants are basically enzymes and nutrients that help the body prevent disease from developing in the body. Coffee can also help speed up metabolism and reduce hunger, which can both aid in weight loss. Because coffee is a diuretic, it can also help flush the bladder and prevent it from developing disease. So, in a very real sense, coffee is a healthy energy drink. Can we go so far as to call it a “bean smoothie”? Step aside green smoothies and Red Bull!

Mental Benefits

Coffee can also enhance brain function by aiding performance and memory function, and it also works as an anti-depressant.  This enhanced brain function can aid individuals who are bored or tired by giving them a much-needed mid-day mental perk. Now, I’m not a medical expert, but I play one in my dreams. Seriously, on some days, nothing but a cup of coffee (half heated vanilla soy milk/half coffee) can break through brain fog and help me think clearly. While doing this day in and day out may point to a deeper problem (such as those mentioned in the introduction), coffee can provide a much-needed boost when strategically placed. Not only that, but spending time “having coffee” with friends is also great therapy, perhaps equal only to the therapy sessions with my exercise partner. (As expensive as specialty coffee can be, it’s still way cheaper than seeing an actual therapist.)

Nostalgic Benefits

When I was a teenager, my mom used to bring me coffee in bed every morning to help wake me up. While this may have fed my coffee addiction, I have since broken that addiction (See “The Coffee Gene”) and this memory now serves as a pleasant reminder of one way my mom showed me she loved me. She made me feel special as she took that time every morning to do something small but meaningful for me. Some of my best memories both growing up and throughout the first half of my life are associated with drinking coffee. So many times spent chatting with friends and family happened with coffee in hand. Experts say that the sense of smell is a tremendous precipitator for evoking memories. (See “The Nose, an Emotional Time Machine” for an interesting read on the power of smell.) I know whenever I smell coffee, I get a calming trip down memory lane thinking about all the times spent enjoying “having coffee” with people I care about.

Social Benefits

Coffee has long been a center of business meetings and social gatherings. Rarely do you find an event that, at a minimum, does not have coffee available. When individuals who haven’t seen each other in a while cross paths coincidentally, you often hear, “We should do coffee soon!” My husband and I try to spend one-on-one time together frequently, and often that is over a cup of coffee at a favorite coffee shop. I have many friends with whom I also try to meet regularly for coffee, which really means spending a couple of hours chatting and catching up with life. Yet, it’s the phrase “Let’s have coffee” that seems to offer a comfortable way of saying, “I miss you and want to spend more time with you.” Even my non-coffee-drinking friends will “have coffee” with me, and we end up creating great memories as well as spending valuable time strengthening our relationship. To me, the social benefits of “having coffee” far outweigh the physical and mental benefits.

Consider Coffee Balance

As with so many aspects of life, balance is key. Too much coffee, and you’re constantly jittery and in need of more coffee. Not only that, but too much coffee can have negative health benefits as well (such as those mentioned in the introduction). But some, maybe a cup or two, strategically placed can serve to increase productivity and energy not to mention add tremendously to your social life and increase the strength of your relationships. So, instead of believing that coffee is some sort of liquid evil from which you should completely abstain, consider that perhaps there is a less extreme approach. Consider that the coffee medium may be one of the best ways to give your life balance.

DISCUSSION: What good memories does coffee bring back for you? When can you next “have coffee” and reconnect with someone? Do you drink too much coffee and are possibly cancelling the positive affects it can have? How can you take steps toward a balanced coffee drinking life?

How to… Beat the Blahs

Blahs. Doldrums. Dumps. Depression. Gloomy. Melancholy. Dejected. Malaise. These words all describe that “ugh” sort of feeling that unexpectedly creeps into life every so often.

Did you know that the doldrums, in addition to being a gloomy state of being, is also “a region of the globe found over the oceans near the equator in the intertropical convergence zone and having weather characterized variously by calm air, light winds, or squalls and thunderstorms” and also that “hurricanes originate in this region”? There are two aspects to the definition of the doldrums region that correlate with the doldrums as in the blahs.

First, the doldrums are variable. In other words, they go from calm to a slight wind to stormy to a squall without notice. That’s how the blahs tend to appear in our lives too. They change from boredom to restlessness to depressed suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere. Second, the doldrums are where hurricanes originate. So often, the storms in life grow out of a period of the doldrums that went unchecked for too long. For example, if I fail to keep my blahs in check, I tend to enter a longer period of depression. (See “How to.. Help Someone Who is Depressed” for more on this topic.)

When it comes to beating the blahs, Psychology Today’s “Ten Ways to Beat the Blues at Any Age” focuses on changing that over which you have some control. (Bet you wouldn’t guess that “Floss your teeth” is one of them!) Their preventative approach is definitely worth considering and implementing, but what about those blahs that seem to sneak up on you and appear for no apparent reason even when you’ve already done many of the things that are supposed to help prevent them?

After you’ve gone through the checklist of what could be causing the blahs and not found a reason, the time has come to take defensive action. The following are 5 tips for defeating (or at least working through and surviving) the blahs or doldrums that perhaps you have not thought of yet. Please know that while these are tactics that have worked for me, they are always infused with prayer and dependance on God to lead me through.

  1. Let it ride. If there’s no specific cause, just ride out the storm.  Keep going through the motions of life. In most cases, the blahs will pass in a day or two. If they don’t, look again for a cause that you need to deal with. While you “let it ride,” try these other four tips.
  2. Escape from it. Nothing helps me beat the blahs like escaping into another world. I watch a favorite movie (one I can depend on to lift my spirits), or I get into a good novel that takes me to another world.
  3. Drown it. While some people may drown their sorrows in a much different way, I like to drown my blahs in a specialty coffee or tea or maybe even ice cream (dairy free for me, of course). A treat like this almost always lifts my spirits.
  4. Color it. This activity takes you back to your childhood and releases your long-forgotten creativity. If you have kids, they will love to color with you. (My 11 and 13-year-old boys still do!)
  5. Feed it. Put on your most comfortable clothes and mope. The experts might not agree, but whenever I feed the blahs, I tend to get so bored or restless that I find something constructive to do, like clean or cook or exercise. This is usually a last resort but almost always works at leading me into a better frame of mind. There’s something about allowing myself, at least for a little while, to feel the emotions that is somehow a part of beating them.

If none of these work, try some of Oprah’s “25 Ways to Beat the Blues” or Everyday Health’s “10 Natural Ways to Beat the Blues.”

The blahs will happen to everyone at some point in time. Luckily, they generally disappear on their own within a few days. When they last longer, there are many tried and true methods for defeating them. Beyond that, any medical or other serious causes need investigated.

QUESTION: What do you do to beat the blahs?

Sunday Reflections – Are You an “All-In Oddball” Christian?

A motto for the New York Giants team this NFL season is “all in.” The idea behind this focus is for everyone in the organization to hold nothing back when it comes to having a successful season. They’ve apparently placed this motto on towels to not only remind the team of this commitment, but they’ve distributed the towels to fans attending games as well. While “all in” is mostly known as a poker term and is also often used in sports, it certainly represents a full-commitment standard that can be applied to almost any area of life.

What does it mean to be “all in” as a Christian? In 1 Peter 2:11, Christians are identified as “aliens and strangers.” In other words, they live, react and interact differently than those around them. They are oddballs. Why is this important? Verse 12 gives the answer, “… so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” Peter was writing to Christians scattered among unbelievers, and the unbelievers were spreading lies about the Christians. So, Peter encourages Christians to let their upright and moral behavior prove the rumors to be false. To be an “all-in” Christian means to live in a way that causes you to stand out from the crowd, to essentially be an oddball.

But what does being an “all in oddball” Christian look like in today’s culture? The meaning is no different than it was when Peter wrote the above scripture. Being an “all-in oddball” Christian means living in a way that puts Christ and obedience to Him first and that does not adhere to the shaky (yes, that’s putting it kindly) morals of the surrounding culture. Being an “all-in oddball” Christian means living like these individuals:

  • A college professor who finds her students dumfounded because she went to church on a Wednesday evening (and goes regularly every week).
  • An NFL quarterback who isn’t afraid to say “Jesus Christ” in a press interview.
  • A man who forgives his wife for infidelity because he feels led by the Holy Spirit to give her a second chance.
  • The individuals who attend prayer service every day for a week even after a long days at work.
  • The teenager who goes to bed 15 minutes early every night to spend time studying God’s Word.
  • The group of individuals who take 10 days off work to go on a mission trip to Bulgaria.
  • Two individuals who spent a Saturday afternoon setting up for a Children’s church program taking place the next day.
  • A group of ladies who spent an afternoon serving at a funeral dinner.
  • The businessman who chose his family over a business meeting and who regularly chooses family over work.
  • The group of individuals who come an hour early before Sunday service every week to get an extra dose of Bible learning in a Christian education class.
  • Those individuals who tithe on gross income.

Being an “all-in oddball” Christian means being obedient to the Holy Spirit’s leading. Committing to obedience in a deliberate and intentional way to the Lord in and of itself means committing to being an “all-in oddball” Christian. As a Christian, challenge yourself to go “all in.” Dare to be an oddball.

Questions: Are you an “all-in oddball” Christian? Do you know someone who is?

The Coffee Gene

Yes, it was a habit. One that began at age twelve. One fed by my mother who brought me coffee in bed every morning throughout my teenage years.

Yes, it was an addiction. Something I needed to wake up in the morning. Something I got withdrawal from if I didn’t get my fix.

But coffee was more than just a habit or an addiction. It was a part of me, a coffee gene if you will. It was a desire that defined a part of me like nothing else. A part that would otherwise lie dormant if not brought alive by the orgasmic lure of that rich, creamy brew.

Before this daily habit started, I sipped from my parents’ daily habits. My 6’4” dad used to say, “Coffee will stunt your growth. Good thing.” He started drinking coffee when he was twelve too. I’m not sure how far back the coffee gene goes.

In sixth grade, we had to sing the “COFFEE” song. I remember being resentful of a song with which I did not agree. After all, how could I know “coffee is not for me” if I was only 11 and had not gotten the chance to fully experience it yet? Didn’t really matter anyway. I already knew I liked coffee.

In college, I started work at 7:30 every Saturday morning. When I realized that I never saw my co-workers until after 10:00 and at least four cups of coffee, I began to wonder if the beverage had an impact on my morning personality.

Thirteen years after beginning my morning coffee-drinking ritual, I discovered that coffee defined more than just my personality. Each morning as I stood in front of my 54-cup coffee mug selection hanging on the kitchen wall, I took in each mug not in appearance alone, but also in origination. I liked my bear mug because my mom gave it to me, but it was more of an evening mug to use when drinking decaf and winding down. There were several mugs from past places of employment that I liked to use in the morning to get myself into the working mode. And of course there were weekend mugs that were big and great for nestling in my lap while watching cartoons. (Yes, cartoons at age 25.)

There was one mug that I hated. Nothing against the mug; I just didn’t like the person who gave it to me. More than once I considered throwing the mug away, but something always stopped me. I guess I just figured that one day I’d let go of the past and no longer hold a grudge against the mug. (I don’t even remember who the person was now.)

I only used about 10 of the mugs regularly. The rest were neglected and were only used by company. Most commoners at my house figured out pretty quickly that they needed to look inside the mugs for dust bunnies and dishwasher residue before actually using them.

I remember a time when I needed a cup of coffee so badly at work every morning that I neglected to clean out my mug from the day, or week, before. (Yes, I could have done it at the end of the day before leaving work, but the thought never occurred to me for some reason until the mornings.) I guess I just figured the hot liquid would dissolve the brown crust on the bottom of the mug and kill any lingering germs. I read once that office coffee mugs are a major source of bacteria. Good thing I work from home now and usually use a clean coffee mug. Bacteria dangers aside, caffeine – too much of it anyway – isn’t good for you either, so I hear.

At age 26, I became pregnant with my oldest son. Oddly, I completely lost my craving for coffee (along with a desire for food in general), and thus was planted a seed of realization that I could in fact live without drinking coffee every morning. That seed apparently didn’t grow much right away, since I started drinking coffee daily again when my son was six months old and stopped nursing.  So, back to the addiction I obediently went.

I often made my coffee at night and set a timer, so I could wake up to the smell of it brewing. Not only did this help get up in the morning, it brought back great memories of when my mom used to bring me coffee. Some evenings I decided I wouldn’t need coffee the next morning. When I woke up the next day, I scolded myself for not making coffee the night before and would hurriedly start it brewing all the while sucking in the luxurious aroma and hoping it would get me through until the real stuff was ready.

At one point, I gave up trying to give up coffee. Even though a part of me knew it was possible since I had done it once before, I simply decided that I had fully succumbed to the power of that aroma that seemed to be everywhere. The mall, restaurants, church… I couldn’t get away. I decided it was time to admit that I didn’t want to get away.

When we first got married over 18 years ago, my husband didn’t drink coffee. He failed to understand why I let it gain such a hold in my life. However, after he got to experience my morning mood on a daily basis – we rarely talked in the morning back then – he was just as glad that the coffee was brewing as I was, maybe more so. About 10 years into our marriage, he started drinking coffee. While he didn’t have the level of addiction that I had, he did realize its powers. Not only that, but we found that we enjoyed having coffee together. At that point, I discovered that coffee was not only addictive but that it also was a great medium for developing relationships. Coffee and chatting… life just felt complete.

I was not shy about admitting my addiction to coffee. With the onslaught of coffee houses throughout the country, I realized that I was not the only person living under the direction of a coffee gene. Yet, in the back of my mind, I knew that I could and probably should work to lessen the grip that this addiction had on me. As I matured, I became less okay with the fact that coffee altered my personality.

Thus began my quest to stop drinking coffee, or at least to lessen how much I drank. I tried coffee substitutes (Yuck!), I tried half decaf and half regular coffee (I just couldn’t get past that it wasn’t fully leaded though.), and I tried weaning myself off gradually. I also tried quitting cold turkey a couple of times, but everyone around me quickly agreed that was a really bad idea. The more I tried to quit drinking coffee, the more I realized how much of a hold it had on me. To my growing frustration, I found myself completely unable to break the habit.

About 25 years after the addiction officially began, a variety of factors led to my body finally demanding that I make some significant health changes. My coffee addiction was not the only culprit, with undiagnosed food allergies wreaking the most havoc, but it certainly did illustrate a huge need for balance. With my adrenals in overload, I finally realized that the high level of caffeine in my system was impacting me negatively. The telltale sign? Coffee (or caffeine in any form) being substituted for a good night’s sleep or a nutritious meal. Guilty as charged!

The past five years have produced an amazing change in my health through a variety of factors, not the least of which is breaking the coffee addiction. Today, my primary drinks of choice are tea (yes, I know there’s caffeine in tea) and water. The mug collection is considerably smaller, and my husband and I sometimes have intelligent conversations well before 10:00 in the morning. What’s more is that drinking coffee is now a deliberate choice and not a need that controls my personality. I guess over the past 28 years I’ve not only matured, but I’ve also found a way to change what drives me. Instead of feelings and physical needs, my choices are driven by intelligent information-based research (That even sounds mature!).

What’s interesting in this whole growth process is that I think I actually enjoy coffee more now than when I was fully addicted. Coffee shop outings are a treat, and even the occasional cup of coffee at mid-day gives me an enjoyable reward. When something as simple as coffee no longer controls you but becomes a positive tool in your life, you find that you are strong enough to overcome more than just an addiction to caffeine.  Besides, it turns out that there’s no such thing as a coffee gene anyway.

Note: See “Let’s have coffee” for a related article on the many benefits of drinking coffee.

QUESTION: How does a coffee addiction affect your life?

How to… “Just relax!”

Someone I know has recently been struggling with an uptight colleague. This colleague emails even while he’s on vacation to the point where it’s easy to forget he’s on vacation. His emails are extremely long and confusing, and they include information for ten different people that should be sent in ten different emails if at all. This man is obsessed with a project on which he’s working, and he seems to think everyone else should make it their top priority as well. My friend finally told his colleague to “Just relax!” It worked… sort of… for a little while anyway.

Sometimes, people get so wound up that they forget how to relax. This is seen in variety of ways from an inability to fall or stay asleep, being unable to parted with email for more than five minutes, inability to focus on personal conversations, and walking around with a tight demeanor (hunched shoulders, scowl, glare, etc.) A 2007 American Psychological Association study found that ¾ of Americans experience symptoms related to stress with 77% of those individuals experiencing physical symptoms and 73% experiencing psychological symptoms. Clearly, America as a whole needs to “Just relax!

Fortunately, there are as many different ways to “Just relax!” as there are people in this country. Below are my favorite ways to relax. Hopefully, they will give you some ideas.

1.)    Take a hot shower. I get the cleaning myself part of the shower out of the way first, and then I turn up the heat and stand there letting the hot water run down my neck and back. Not very efficient water consumption, but it feels so much like a vertical nap that some days I don’t care.

2.)    Get a foot and neck massage. Sure, you can pay to have these done, but chances are someone in your house is already good at them or can be taught. My 11-year-old son is AWESOME! at giving massages. While he does them voluntarily most of the time, I’m not above bribery when necessary. I’ll ask my husband as a second choice, and he really is getting better at them.

3.)    Read. While I read a ton of books, magazines and blog posts, there’s nothing like a good fiction book to take me away from reality. Recently, I read the rather large “Inheritance” novel by Christopher Paolini and simply loved escaping into Alagaesia. While you may not want to read such a large book, there are plenty of what I call “Weekend Books” that can give you mini vacations.

4.)    Watch a movie. Similar to books, movies can take you away from reality just long enough to loosen those tight head and neck muscles. While I watch new movies fairly regularly (just recently got into Pirates of the Caribbean… I know, it took me a while), we love to watch old favorites. My boys and I have a few that we love to watch over and over and over… again much to my husband’s annoyance. We love Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Those are by far our favorites, but our Disney collection gets visited frequently as well.

5.)    Exercise. I think I just heard a low groan in the distance. While I personally enjoy a pretty rigorous workout, exercise at any level can be relaxing. In fact, just a short, brisk walk can go a long way in reducing stress and resetting perspective.

6.)    Drink tea or coffee. While this may seem counterintuitive in part because coffee and many teas have caffeine, I still rank this as one of my top ways to relax. Sipping the hot liquid seems to just relax my body instantly. As long as the caffeine is kept to a minimum, this is a terrific way to not only relax but to reward yourself as well. (Caffeine does have health benefits too, you know.)

7.)    Take a nap. My husband has the gift of being able to sleep anywhere, anytime. He can also fall asleep in seconds once he sits on the couch or his head hits the pillow at bedtime. I said that to say that I am the opposite of that in every way. However, I do manage to sneak in a Sunday nap most weeks. My favorite method is putting a sporting event on television with low volume (loud enough to where I can hear but quiet enough to where I can’t understand it) and to doze. My kids know to cooperate with this. I don’t sleep so deeply as to feel groggy the rest of the day, but I usually wake up feel quite refreshed.

8.)    Have morning devotions. While I do these daily year round, my favorite time is during nice weather on our back deck. The sounds in the woods combined with the fresh air seem to work with the Holy Spirit to renew and refresh my spirit. I wish I lived in Hawaii where I could sit outside year round for devotions and listen to the ocean waves at the same time.

9.)    Laugh. My demeanor tends to be serious way too much (I’m a dedicated introverted melancholy), so I have to make a point to laugh every day. Fortunately, my boys are hilarious most of the time and only bested by their dad. Funny movies (Alvin and the Chipmunks and Men in Black, for example) and television shows (Castle and The Mentalist… really, there is humor in these) are great sources of humor, but my favorite is by far the laughter of my kids. They both have such terrific laughs that I can’t help but laughing myself when I hear it regardless of the stupidity (you know, usually boy stuff) behind the reason they are laughing. (For a detailed look at an introverted melancholies search for her sense of humor, please visit “Laugh Often.”)

10.) Listen to waves. Because I live in Michigan and nowhere near the ocean, I have to get creative. I have a CD that combines ocean waves and light music that is very relaxing. Visiting Lake Michigan is relaxing too, but that doesn’t happen too often. My favorite is walking along the beach in Hawaii, which unfortunately happens quite infrequently.

If nothing on my list of ways to relax suits you, see “How Men and Boys Relax,” lists compiled by my 11-year-old and 13-year-old boys as well as by my 40-something husband. The point is to find your “go to” ways to relax and to implement at least one of them deliberately and intentionally on a daily basis. Not only will those with whom you interact be thankful, you’ll find that life has much more joy when your muscles aren’t constantly tense. In addition, you may even find that you have more energy, can sleep better, have fewer headaches, as well as many more benefits.

Don’t believe that a one-a-day stress reliever can do all that? The Mayo Clinic says that regular relaxation can slow the heart rate, lower blood pressure, show breathing rate, increase blood flow to major muscles, reduce muscle tension and chronic pain, improve concentration, reduce anger and frustration, and boost confidence to handle problems. In other words, relaxing helps you to be healthy. I don’t know about you, but I sure could use all of those benefits happening more often in my life!

QUESTION: What are your favorite ways to relax? Can you schedule in a time every day to relax?

Sunday Reflections – “Be careful of what you ask for…

… you just might get it!” Ever request something only to regret making the request after receiving what you asked for? Maybe it was a drastic change in hair style, perhaps a job promotion, maybe a running partner pushing you to break a personal record, or perhaps signing up to take a class at a community college or online. In all of these situations, challenging change is experienced. And regardless of the significance of that change, something was requested and expected as a result.

But what many don’t consider before asking is that they might not like the process of change or simply the results themselves. Maybe the hairstyle does not give the desired look intended. (Ladies, I know you understand this.)  Perhaps the new position causes more stress or comes with hidden responsibilities that had you known ahead of time would have caused you to not seek the promotion.  Maybe your body just isn’t cooperating with the increased speed or mileage you asked your running partner to lead you through. Or perhaps the class you are taking ends up being more work than anticipated, and you just are not finding the time necessary to complete the work. (It could just be too hard too.) The point is that often when we ask for a change to take place, we receive an undesired (more like unexpected) result or the process is more difficult than we anticipated, and we question our initial decision to seek that particular change. Change, large or small, is difficult and seems to go against our natural instincts.

There’s a wonderful portion of scripture in Jeremiah 18 that describes God as the Potter and us as the clay. The Potter’s eyes are all-knowing, and He understands exactly what type of vessel each individual should be shaped into. The Potter’s hands are all-powerful, and no circumstance is bigger than He who shapes us. The Potter’s feet go everywhere we go, and He is always present to re-shape us and to put us together again as the difficulties in life cause us to crack and break. The Potter wants to prosper us (Jeremiah 29:11), and no circumstances in which we find ourselves is too big (or to small) for Him. He wants to teach us during difficulties, and he wants to use them to help us grow as well as to learn to depend more on Him.  The process that the Potter takes us through when he molds us and shapes us is often one we ask the Lord to take us through, and it often comes with a more involved process than we anticipated as well as with change that is not only painful but also something we question wanting in the first place.

Often, when it comes to change of any kind, we give up too soon. The change is difficult and painful, and we decide it is not worth the result for which we were striving. We forget that in order for a clay pot to be put on display, it must first go through the fire in order to be strong enough to survive the elements of everyday life. We forget that the Potter also gets dirty too as He goes through the shaping and molding process with us every step of the way. In order to be vessels of use to God and others, we must go through this often painful process.

There are two facts about change with which we must all come to terms. First, change is usually difficult. We like routine and habit, and because of the discomfort, we often avoid or at least resist change in our lives. Second, change is inevitable. You’re either green and growing or ripe and rotting. Since change is going to happen whether we like it or not, we need to set ourselves up to be the kind of clay that makes the best vessels. Doing so will make the discomfort of change at least somewhat less painful.

Interestingly, clay itself comes from granite rock that has undergone years of weathering (contact with sunlight, rain and ice) to undergo a physical change involving being broken down into smaller and smaller particles until it becomes clay. Life this side of heaven has made us into small particles that need shaped. Some clay is better than other for shaping because it is more pliable. In order to be moldable, we must be pliable and able to be shaped. So the question we each need to ask ourselves is, “Will I allow God to shape my life?” We need to consider what we will allow God to do in our lives. The more we deliberately and intentionally allow Him to mold and shape us, the more likely we are to become a vessel worthy of display and use by others, most importantly by God Himself.

Note: This blog post was inspired by “God Treats Me Like Dirt,” a sermon delivered by Associate Pastor Jeffrey Zachary on Sunday, January 15, 2012 at New Hope Assembly of God.

For additional study on this topic, please read the devotion “Change” found in Everday God. This is a section included in the Victory! area of Struggle to Victory.

How to… Develop a Sense of Humor – Part II

Introverted Melancholy Humor

My guys (husband included) love to be goofy and joke around. Unfortunately, I struggle with being overly serious at times (okay, most of the time). As most people know, mom sets the tone for the household, and I am slowly dictating a tone of seriousness and lack of humor. Somehow, this needs to stop.

Part of the challenge for me is my temperament and personality. I am a very dominant melancholy and also very introverted. As a melancholy, I take most things in life very seriously. As an introvert, I struggle with knowing when something is supposed to be funny and when it’s supposed to be serious. My detailed thought process takes too long to figure this out. By the time I think I know, the conversation has moved well beyond the moment I was analyzing. Additionally, telling the difference can be very difficult with some people. I’ve made way too many mistakes being funny when I shouldn’t have been that I have a slight fear of doing so again. Social events are not my greatest strength anyway (probably my greatest weakness next to math), and trying to figure out where humor fits in just makes me want to avoid being social altogether. Plus, I’m finding that people like to say “I’m just kidding” when they really aren’t kidding as if they need some sort of excuse to undo something stupid that just came out of their mouths. This just adds to the confusion.

In my attempts to figure out where my sense of humor went, I’ve discovered a lot about myself. Some of it I wanted to know, and some I didn’t want to know but realize I needed to know. First, the sense of humor that I lost was insulting, and it’s good that I quit insulting people. Humor doesn’t have to be negative. (See last week’s post “Develop a Sense of Humor – Part I”)

Second, I grew up with someone who used humor all the time. Literally. No really, constantly. And, to be completely honest, it was embarrassing. I believe that this is the main reason I get easily embarrassed when people are trying to be funny. For me, it’s just uncomfortable.

Also, I learned that I take myself too seriously. As my pastor says, “take what you do seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously.” I need to learn how to not take myself so seriously.

Finally, I also learned that while I tend to be too serious, a lot of people I know don’t take things seriously enough. They hide behind humor like it’s an armor protecting them from people getting to know them. Wait, I think I might have done that before I lost my sense of humor.

Regardless of why I lost my sense of humor, I need to figure out how to find it again. Rather, I think I need to develop a new sense of humor. Come to think of it, my old one wasn’t very functional anyway since whenever I tried to be funny, I ended up insulting someone. Because I’m great at observing details in people, I can easily find some aspect about them to make the topic of a “joke.” While no one ever said anything to me about my sense of humor being insulting, and actually most people responded in kind, I suddenly realized one day that my humor was almost always at the expense of others. It’s like I suddenly developed a conscious about my humor and just knew it had to go. Unfortunately, I failed to replace it with a better sense of humor, and like an empty space will eventually fill itself, the void left by my fleeing sense of humor was filled with seriousness.

So how do I develop a new, more positive and truly funny sense of humor? Is it even possible? I mean, are we just born with the ability? Or, can we develop the ability to be funny? Now that I think about it, I’m not sure that a sense of humor is entirely about being funny anyway. This leads me to believe that I must also figure out exactly what a sense of humor is comprised of before I decide on one that fits my personality and temperament.

To answer these questions, I plan to observe and take notes on people I know who have a good sense of humor, and I plan to research what the experts have to say about developing a sense of humor. In addition, I want to check out what a sense of humor looks like specifically in other melancholy introverts. Along the way to answering these questions, I plan to keep my radar out for what I think is funny and why. In this journey, I hope I can come to terms with how so much of what others think is funny, I just don’t see as humorous. I need to really believe that’s okay.

The series based on these questions will all be included in “Laugh Often,” a section found in the Victory! focus area of Struggle to Victory. As my struggle in this area progresses, this section will grow. When will it end? When there truly is victory in my ability to have a sense of humor. Since I don’t know what that looks like, I don’t yet know where the end of this journey lies. I need to create the roadmap first.

QUESTION: How does your personality and temperament affect your sense of humor? Do you think it’s possible and worthwhile to develop and/or rediscover a sense of humor?

Note: This post is part of a series titled Laugh Often and found in the Victory! section of Struggle to Victory.

Sunday Reflections – Spiritual Fitness

My home gym contains everything I need to obtain and maintain good physical shape. The treadmill, elliptical and boxing bag give me great cardio workouts. The kettle bell, weights and stability ball give great strength training and toning. In addition to building physical strength, a healthy diet filled with the right balance of fruit, carbohydrates, protein and vegetables as well as one that avoids unhealthy foods can bring my body to a place of being in the best physical shape that is within my ability to control. Making the right choices with regard to what I put in my body as well as what I do to and with my body makes all the difference in determining my physical health. But it doesn’t happen accidentally. It’s an intentional choice on my part to be physically healthy.

Several of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions revolve around becoming healthier. (Lose weight, get in shape, quit smoking, and quit drinking). In general, we seem to understand the necessity for being able to operate at our best physically and how it impacts our ability to be successful and achieve what we want to achieve in life. We know that being unhealthy causes our body systems to become overloaded and even toxic, and we continue to at least acknowledge the importance of improved health by eliminating negative habits and increasing positive ones.

While shaping up by building muscle mass and getting healthy is worthwhile, spiritual fitness is even more crucial. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:8 that “physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding a promise for both this present life and the life to come.” No doubt that being healthy and strong physically has value; however, that value is limited because our physical bodies are limited… to life this side of heaven. Our spiritual health, on the other hand, holds infinite importance since it goes into life beyond the physical that we see now with our eyes and into eternity.

Knowing this, how can we place a higher priority on our spiritual health? Like the way I have stocked my home gym for physical fitness, using the right tools and equipment are also important for spiritual fitness as well. In addition, setting resolutions (or goals, if you prefer) and establishing healthy habits can also be helpful in becoming more spiritually fit. With that in mind, consider the following as a guide for creating spiritual fitness resolutions for this next year.

1.)    Keep Your Bible Close – Yet even this isn’t quite enough. Opening it regularly is crucial as is actually reading the valuable instructions included inside for a godly life. What’s more is that receiving instruction from godly pastors and teachers can help propel you into a much higher level of spiritual fitness much like a personal trainer can take you to another level with regard to physical fitness.

2.)    Prioritize Around God – Making God “a” priority puts him at the level of other priorities that fill your time. Instead planning around the things of God puts Him at a higher level and shows that He is not something to be scheduled but rather is something around which all else should be scheduled.

3.)    Give Yourself an Attitude Check – Assess the state of your heart, your intentions. Does what’s going on inside of you fit with what the word of God indicates about what our attitudes should look like? (Print and read “Attitude – The Aroma of Your Heart” for a scripture study on what the Bible says about attitude.)

4.)    Schedule Fellowship – Growth happens best in the company of others. You can read books about personal growth. You can read scripture about love. You can pray and ask for the Holy Spirit to work in you for change. But if you don’t interact with others, how will you ever know if you are growing? And, we can’t expect fellowship to happen by itself, especially in our busy culture. We must intentionally and deliberately put fellowship on our calendars on a regular basis.

5.)    Do something! If what you’re doing isn’t working, do something else. If you’re doing nothing to change the path of your life, then do something. Set a goal. Have some area in which you are pursuing a more spiritually fit existence.

Spiritual fitness is all about getting in shape on the inside, and doing so involves an intentional effort on our part to become increasingly fit spiritually. And while physical appearance is not a factor in eternal destiny, our physical appearance can also have a significant impact in our lives before we get to Heaven.  (Remember that I Timothy 4:8 says physical fitness is of “some value.”) Typically, what’s going on inside of us is reflected on the external through our attitudes and our appearance. Just a factor to consider.

Being spiritually fit creates an “aroma” or a “fragrance” (2 Corinthians 2:14-15) that indicates the state of our relationship with Christ. The question then for beginning a spiritual fitness program is to check your fragrance. What aroma are you giving off? What resolutions can you set to create goals that will help you become more spiritually fit? Start with the above guides as you consider your spiritual fitness plan for 2012 and consider how your spiritual sweat can be a sweet aroma to God.

Financial Fast 2012

People fast for a variety of reasons including working toward improved health, focusing on God and their faith, and breaking bad eating habits. A fast can be abstaining from something, focusing on a particular something or both. For example, a liquid fast is a fast from solid food and a focus on liquids (usually liquids like green tea, water and smoothies). People can fast to break habits too such as a fast from coffee or caffeine and chocolate or junk food. Whatever the focus, a fast is a deliberate and intentional approach to changing a specific area of a person’s life.

Fasts can be for a meal or they can be for a pre-determined period of time such as a 3-Day Green Smoothie Challenge. People often will fast a meal and then spend the time they would normally be eating in prayer, while others choose to go even more extreme and drink only water for an extended period in order to really deny the flesh and focus on the spiritual side of their lives. Whatever form a fast takes, it usually is done for a very specific reason (most commonly health or religious reasons). Essentially, a fast is a way to sort of hit a reset button and to be able to start again from a cleaner more balanced state.

The last quarter of 2011 saw way too much spending. While that may be true on many fronts (check out the national debt for example), I’m specifically referring to my and my husband’s personal spending.  The truck needed new tires. The attic needed more insulation. We needed a bigger storage shed, so the garage didn’t have to be the storage shed. My teenager had yet another growth spurt and needed new clothes and shoes. My youngest son had sports-related fees. There were Christmas and birthday presents (both boys within 10 days before Christmas) to buy. There were doctor bills and prescription costs. (I though insurance was supposed to help with those.) There was extra food to buy for parties and family get-togethers. For some reason, we threw a family vacation to Disney in there too. By Christmas, I felt like our spending was out of control even though much of what we spent money on was necessary, and we weren’t accruing any debt. Still, there was this enormous weight that I couldn’t shake, and I dreaded having to spend money on anything, even basic groceries and other necessities.

Just before 2012 began, the idea of a financial fast started growing in my heart and mind. The more I thought about it, the more I just knew this would lead to the freeing feeling for which I was searching. So, I approached my husband with this idea, and he agreed without hesitation. Apparently he had been feeling the same way as me, and we hadn’t been communicating our feelings to each other very well. (Okay, not at all really.) We talked about how this would be a terrific exercise in self-control simply because it’s one we were choosing to make. We are choosing not to spend because we want to make that choice and not because we have to make it.

The parameters of our financial fast are this: No extra spending for the first quarter of 2012. That means all we plan to spend our money on is food, bills and our usual church tithe and giving. So, when I went to the grocery store earlier this week and my eyes started wandering toward a new headband – I know a silly, little purchase, but that’s really what happened – I told myself, “No extra spending!” and walked past that isle to what I needed to buy.

How can this help you? Maybe spending is not a problem for you, but I’m willing to bet that there is something in your life that is suffering from a lack of control on your part. Being human means struggling with self-control. The most common areas of struggle are with spending and food. (Don’t believe me? Check out the 10 most common New Year’s Resolutions. Debt and diet are two of them.) We too easily fall prey to what feels good and how quickly we can get it. In other words, we do what we want as quickly as we can. Instant gratification. So really, this spending fast is a lesson in delayed gratification for my husband and me.

Chances are, you know exactly what area requires your focus. If you still aren’t sure though, the New Year’s Resolution List mentioned above most likely will hit on a possible focus area for you. If that doesn’t reveal a possible “fast” area in your life, ask your friends and family. Either you’ll get offended enough to where you don’t want to talk to them thus revealing an area on which you need to work, or they will offer some highly insightful information. However you decide, try to pick one area on which you can focus either to fast from or to focus on doing more of for a fast.

For me, there are two keys to completing a fast. First, I must have tunnel-vision. Second, I need a replacement for whatever I am eliminating. So, I know I need to replace the bad (spending) with something good or at least better; otherwise, I’ll just be simply getting through or be downright miserable and end up in the same place I was when I started the fast. I do have the tunnel-vision I need, which is simply no extra spending as a way to focus more on the eternal rather than the temporal. Just seems like sometimes I am so earthly minded that I do little spiritual good. The replacement? Haven’t figured that part out yet.

QUESTION: A fast doesn’t have to focus on food intake. The concept of a fast can be applied to almost any area of life. What area of your life requires a fast?