Discovering Strength Through Brokenness

broken In 2009, I discovered my allergy to dairy and my intolerance to gluten. Sensitivities to several other foods (crab, eggs and cashews) also came to light. As I changed my diet to eliminate these foods, I began to feel dramatically better. In fact, I felt better physically and mentally than I had my whole life.

Then I reached a plateau about two years later. I felt a tremendous sense of isolation as well as frustration as I watched others enjoy any food they desired. I saw only limits. I saw a cage that separated me from others. My frustration increased as I realized that my body is also tremendously sensitive to a lot of stimulation.

In fact, inflammation rises at the slightest chemical imbalance. Too much of any food causes distress, but any of certain foods causes setback. In addition, a lot of noise bothers me, and too much information in too small space of time easily impedes my ability to think. I also struggle being in groups of people for very long, sometimes even at all.

At times, I’m simply at odds with understanding why I am so physically and mentally sensitive. Some days, I just feel very alone. But, this journey also brings to light my many physical and mental limitations and weaknesses and gives greater understanding of how God’s strength flow in a practical way through my weaknesses.

In this struggle, I learned a valuable lesson: Freedom comes through brokenness revealed by weaknesses.

Realizing utter helplessness to be healthy on my own truly set me free. The process began with salvation and seeing my inability to escape the grip of sin. And it grew when I finally understood that every weakness I have presents an opportunity for increased freedom from the flesh.

My weaknesses humble me. They force me to understand my inability to control. They lead me to increased reliance upon the only One who truly has control. They present a choice between letting those weaknesses define and control me or allowing them to direct me toward His strength.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

My weaknesses constantly remind me of my need for Christ. They remind me every day of my lack of self-control and of my tendency toward acting based on feelings and emotion. Without Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit producing the fruit of self-control within me, I fall prey to the consequences of my weaknesses.

Brokenness opens the floodgates for His power to work perfection in spite of me. It allows for a Holy-Spirit-led life that does not seek to gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-18), desires that most clearly show through in my weaknesses. And this by nothing in and of myself but instead only through His strength filling in the spaces left by brokenness.

DISCUSSION: How has weakness led to brokenness in your life? What difference does God’s strength make in your struggle with weakness?

Managing Stress by Recognizing Limits

Everyone Has Limits

834002_53926801Stress is not necessarily bad. In fact, it’s required for growth. But we weren’t designed for constant levels of high stress. We need rest; we need to ebb and flow. Not only does an ocean’s tide approach to stress allow our bodies the rest and relaxation they need, it also allows for the mental space necessary to process and deal with life in a healthy way.

Is stress constant in your life, or do you get regular relief from its pressure?

Everyone processes stress uniquely, and every person holds a different tolerance level for stress. Not only that, but how we handle stress and how much we can handle also varies contextually.

The Energizer Bunny

My husband and I provide perfect examples of this reality. I don’t handle chronic stress well and need lots of rest after a stressful event or situation. I also don’t do well with thinking quickly and making a lot of quick decisions, especially with people watching and waiting.

841712_81663505My husband is the opposite. He is energized being around other people and pushing through challenges, and he has an amazing ability to think quickly and act efficiently. In fact, he thrives under pressure.

We are also different in our down time. I need a lot of quiet & down time. He recharges very quickly, and his down time usually involves a lot of activity.

While my limits are quickly obvious, my husband seems to not have them at times. In fact, he’s earned the nickname “The Energizer Bunny” because he keeps going and going and going with uncanny consistency.

Recognizing Limits

It’s obvious to everyone nearby when I’ve reached my limit of stress, and I feel it internally well before it’s visible to others. I look fatigued, my digestion slows, and I get over-sensitive to sensory stimulation.

My husband’s limits are not so obvious. He works hard, sleeps deeply, and shows very few visible signs of stress. But when stress lasts too long, a limit well past that of most people, signs begin to show and include an increased obsession with work and falling asleep in 30 seconds instead of 3 minutes.

Are you like me who needs more ebb & flow or my husband who can handle bigger waves?

My husband struggles recognizing his limits because he, like many high-achievers, doesn’t like admitting he has them. I usually recognize the signs before he does, though he’s improved in this area over the years.

How to Recognize Limits

578724_45121810Regardless of whether limits come quickly or seem higher than most people’s, there are always signs indicating their existence. Learning to recognize those signs can prevent you from speeding down life’s highway at a reckless pace.

Which of the following 5 areas best help you recognize approaching limits?

  1. Sleep – What’s your optimal number of hours, and are you hitting it every night? How’s the quality of your sleep? Consistency in this area brings almost instantaneous overall improvement in the ability to handle stress in a healthy way.
  2. Energy – Is your energy level consistent throughout the day? Or, do you have periods where yawning increases & eyes grow unbearably heavy? Are you constantly reaching for caffeine or sugar for a quick energy boost? An inconsistent energy level is a caution light indicating limits are getting near.
  3. Thoughts – Do you struggle focusing? Do you zone out when others are talking? Are your thoughts constantly wandering to impossible scenarios of relief? Or, perhaps all you can do is think about work or whatever is causing stress. Has your concern turned into worry? Remember that thoughts determine reality, so understanding thoughts can help sense approaching limits.
  4. Leisure – When was the last time you took a day or even an afternoon off? Do you constantly bring work home? Even if you do take a day off, do you sneak in time for work? CNN’s Jack Cafferty reports that 57% of working Americans had unused vacation time in 2011 with most of them leaving 11 days unused. That means they only took 30% of their allotted vacation time mostly because they felt they had too much work to do. An avoidance of leisure is a sure indication of approaching stress limits.
  5. Relationships – Do you spend regular time with your spouse and kids/grandkids? What about dinner with your family regularly? Do you have any friends you hang out with outside of work? Strained relationships indicated stress limits are rapidly approaching or have been reached.

Taking time to assess these areas of life can make a tremendous difference in preventing the crash and burn that comes when limits are reached, exceeded and ignored. Don’t let a heart attack or adrenal burnout or worse force you to recognize and respect your limits. Choose to do so on your own terms before your body forces you to on its terms.

DISCUSSION: What experiences or other perspectives can you share regarding limits?

How to… Have the Best Summer Break Yet

After adopting our youngest son two years ago, we discovered the need to create more structure in our summers than we’d had previously. (Our oldest is very independent and keeps occupied easily.) The tips below are the result of what has worked well for us over the past two years and that look to make this third summer with him the best one yet!

  1. Know Your Priorities. Many parents save vacation time or adopt a modified work schedule for the summer months. Do this if at all possible. The challenge of summer break is only for a season, and parents whose kids are no longer at home stress the importance of making the most of every opportunity while the kids are still young as a top priority. If a changing work schedule isn’t an option, do what you can to make evenings and weekends as focused on family time as possible.
  2. Create Goals. Have goals to help motivate and focus you and your kids. Set reading goals summer, such as a certain number of books or completing a certain series. Set physical goals such as training for a 5k or exercising so many times a week. Set academic goals too, such as memorizing multiplication facts or completing a summer bridge workbook. Having goals gives kids a “go to” activity when boredom strikes. And, of course, have rewards for reaching goals too!
  3. Have Balanced Structure. Partly because my youngest needs structure and largely because I like sanity, we create a daily and weekly schedule. We allow for alone time, time together, and time out. We schedule TV and electronics time, and we schedule projects and activities such as cooking new foods, visiting interesting places, and playing with friends. We don’t schedule to the point of exhaustion but enough to avoid boredom.
  4. Be Flexible. Yes, we have a schedule, but we’re not fanatics about it. We allow for the spontaneous and unexpected such as weather changes, friends calling and those joyful moments when the kids come up with something to do together all on their own. We keep a list of summer activities to help create our schedule but remain flexible.
  5. Set Boundaries. Many kids would play video games and watch television all summer if they could. To avoid this, schedule media time into the day. Also, even though kids are at home, I still have work to complete. So, the office door closed means I need some time to write without disruption. The office door open means they can sit and talk to me while I work.  Also, they stay in their rooms until 8AM every morning and let me have time to exercise, pray and do devotions until 10AM. Setting these types of boundaries goes a long way in maintaining balanced structure.
  6. Get Input. Toward the end of the school year and when school first gets out, my boys and I spend time creating a list of summer activities. They usually have terrific ideas, and giving input creates excitement for the summer ahead.
  7. Include Mental Stimulation.  Tell kids they need to do schoolwork all summer to keep from losing what they learned during the school year, and they’ll look at you like you’re insane. But include mentally stimulating activities such as summer camps and going to the library or museums, and kids get excited. Get creative, but find ways to stimulate your kids’ minds.

Whether parents are home with their kids or not for summer break, the above suggestions provide ways to help make this summer break the best one yet. Take time within the next couple of days to go through these suggestions and create a plan of action. Oh yeah, be sure to write down what you come up with. My kids love looking at the schedule and list of activities to find out what’s coming up.

DISCUSSION: What suggestions do you plan on trying? What suggestions can you add?

Additional Resource: The article Keep Your Summer Organized by Simple Mom has some terrific suggestions that go well with today’s post. Check them out and let Tsh at Simple Mom know how great her ideas are!

Subscribe to Struggle to Victory by Email or Subscribe in a reader