Believing is Seeing

Birthday 2Until the recent past, shopping existed as therapy and a way to for a least a little while forget about life’s struggles. I loved finding good deals and saving money on unplanned purchases. Loved the image I showed from being stylish, though I’m not sure how much others actually noticed.

For whatever reason, the feel of some new thing energized me and gave me a sort of high. A high I forgot and needed again as soon as the new became old.

I’m not sure when, but the same sort of fading of newness happened with my physical self too. I find myself wondering…

When did the physical weariness begin to rear its ugly head?

When did the groaning and sighing become so commonplace?

When did my desire to recuperate replace my desire to be active?

I’m not talking a negativity, really, but rather an increased awareness that feeling new and energized — like I used to in a new outfit — happens a lot less frequently in the physical sense now than it used to not too many years ago. My body simply doesn’t respond and renew physically like it did even 5 years ago. At the same time, my desire to focus there exists more for maintenance purposes now anyway.

When I read 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, I gain a better understanding of what’s likely happening. I’m becoming more aware of my earthly tent and its weaknesses. At times, I focus there and allow the number of my life as it increases toward finality to consume me. If I stay in that thinking, I get increasingly discouraged. But if I choose to dwell instead on God’s truth, I find tremendous encouragement once again. Specifically, I am renewed in my knowledge that…

I will have an eternal home in Heaven one day, one God Himself made.

The body I will have will be like wearing heavenly clothing, like putting on a new outfit but knowing the newness will never fade.

Not only did God prepare this eternity for me, He guarantees its reality through His Holy Spirit.

This reality — one more real than the physical one we live in now — not only encourages me, it gives me great confidence too. And this confidence…

Always exists even though I’m not yet in my real home.

Focuses on believing rather than seeing.

Provides motivation to always please the Lord.

The encouragement and confidence instilled by God’s truth in my heart through His Holy Spirit helps me turn my birthday focus from a melancholy perspective that feels overwhelmed by the current reality to one that aims to please God rather than self. One where the earthly weakness still exists but that matters less and less as eternal life draws increasingly near.

DISCUSSION: How does “believing is seeing” play out in your life?

Consistent Stretching & Strengthening

Stretching 2Foot and leg pain began when I started running at age 14 because a boy I liked ran cross country. (Incidentally, over 20 years later, not only do I still run, but I’m married to that boy who also still runs.) My first memory of these problems were shin splints. My cross country coach faithfully taped my feet before every practice & meet to help alleviate some of the pain.

My mom took me to the podiatrist who fitted me with orthodics, which I don’t recall really wearing much (okay, not at all). In college, I ran very little, so the pain subsided, and I all but forgot about it.

Then the pain started again after college because I started running again. I also started teaching college classes, which meant a lot of standing, and the pain in my feet and legs gradually increased and returned worse than ever.

Stretching 1After trying orthodics again, expensive shoes & lots of rest, I finally sought to revamp my running form as well as to incorporate cross training activities. Still, the pain increased to the point of not being able to walk without a limp.

Next, I endured the most painful event ever in my life, nerve testing of my feet (seriously, huge crochet needs stuck in the side of my feet). No problems found. Next came hours of physical therapy on pretty much every joint & ligament from the waste down. Painful.

The point? I’ve done a lot to find relief from this chronic feet, leg & hip pain. But only one route brought any consistent relief… stretching & strengthening.

Physical therapy taught me how to stretch the tight muscles in my legs and feet. About the same time, I began to strengthen my core too. When I do these regularly, my feet and leg pain – along with any back pain – almost disappears. Missing a day or two here and there isn’t a big deal, but chronically missing them gradually brings back the pain and tingling sensation.

My lifelong struggle with foot, leg and hip pain and finally finding the solution of stretching and strengthening remind me of the importance of consistent Bible study, prayer and fellowship. When I do these activities regularly, my focus remains steadily on Christ and my purposes set toward His desires. When I don’t, I lose focus easily and find myself lost and unbalanced in a chaotic world. These activities, when done consistently, do for my soul what stretching does for my muscles… prepare me to better handle the stress and strain of life.

So, why don’t I always keep with the habits of prayer, Bible study & fellowship?Probably for the same reason I neglect my stretching & strengthening routine at times. When the pain goes away, I forget what brought relief. Conversely, when I feel the pain, I’m motivated toward the habits that keep me flexible and strong.

The same holds true spiritually. Unfortunately, I’ve sort of trained God that I need to feel pain and/or discomfort in order to keep to the good habits that provide for my protection. He knows I need to be reminded of the basic habits needed to remain strong and flexible in this journey of life.

Does your life reflect this truth? Share your story in the comments.

Five Ways To Combat Stress, a Guest Post by Dan Erickson

Dan Erickson writes about writing and blogging in a hectic world.  His blog,  “writing for the sake of my humanity,” is an eclectic combination of writing and blogging advice, poetry, music, and minimalism.  Dan has written two books including, A Train Called Forgiveness , based on his personal experience of being the child victim of an extreme religious cult.

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Dan EricksonStress.

I’ve had my share.

I was the child victim of a religious cult, basically a slave to a megalomaniac cult leader.  After my escape as a 16-year-old boy, I went to the opposite extreme and enjoyed my freedom a little too much.  I spent years wondering aimlessly, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, which be the way, didn’t relieve the stress.

After a dozen years of self-abuse, I finally found my way back to normal.  Whatever that is?  I went back to college at the age of 30, earned my master’s degree by 38, and was married about the same time.

My spouse wound up having extreme mental health issues.  More stress.  We lost our firstborn child.  Stress on top of stress.  She couldn’t care for our second.  Her meddling parents tried to convince her she could.  Triple stress.  That led to a divorce that took five years to complete, and to me becoming the single parent to my daughter when she was 11-months old.  Superstress.  Yes, that’s a new word.

So as you can see, I’ve dealt with my share of stress.  Recently, I added more stress to my plate.  I started a blog (or three).  I wrote a book (or two).  I bought a house (only one).  And now I’m teaching double-overload classes as a college instructor in order to pay for the house.  Geez!  Will I ever learn?

Yes!  I will.  And I have.  What I’ve learned is that one doesn’t necessarily have to eliminate stressful events, but rather there are ways to relieve stress during those events.  The key is balance.

Stress becomes harder to bear when we focus only on the stressors.  So we must find other outlets, other places to focus our energy.  We need to learn to compartmentalize our activities.

Here are five things I’ve done to help myself through the most stressful times in my life.

  1. Eating right: I put this at the top of the list because it’s essential to well being.  When we eat foods that lack nutrients, it’s like fueling our bodies with bad gas.  If you get bad gas in your car, it can cause it to sputter and run inefficiently.  When we eat junk we get tired and worn down.  This is the last thing we need when we’re under heavy stress.  Make sure to spend the extra time and money to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts, and other foods rich in nutrients.
  2. Exercise: My divorce was strung out and frustrating.  The waiting and the expense was enough to drive anyone crazy.  So… I ran.  I discovered that running is an excellent way of dealing with pent up negative energy.  Something happened when I ran.  It was meditative.  I focused only on the moment, each step, my breath.  That allowed me to disengage from the stress of the divorce.  Exercise helps us think clearer.  It’s an essential part of dealing with life’s stressors.
  3. Team support: I’ve always been a bit of a maverick.  If I can’t do it myself then forget it.  When I became a single dad, I discovered that I could not be a one-man show.  I had to reach out to others.  What I found is that there are a lot of good people out there who are willing to help out someone in distress.  Several members of the church I attend stepped up to help take turns watching my daughter so that I could work and take occasional getaways.  Having people in your corner during stressful times is a Godsend.
  4. I’m a musician.  Music has always been an incredible outlet for me.  But sometimes life has become so complicated that I’ve set my music aside for short periods of time.  When I’m stressed I’ve found that returning to music is another effective self-therapy.  For you it might be writing, cooking, or gardening.  But having a hobby to turn to helps to balance things out a bit.
  5. Meditation: I’m not a Zen Master.  I’m not a Yogi.  In fact, I’m a Christian by faith.  But I’ve found that meditation can be extremely helpful in relieving stress.  That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in prayer.  I do.  And I practice prayer, too.  But sometimes prayer can cause us to focus on the problem when we should let it go.  I’ve found that practicing simple breathing exercises while letting the mind relax, letting thoughts dissipate, can bring down tension levels considerably.

I’m sure there are other things one can do to combat stress.  From my own experience, finding a balance that includes good nutrition, team support and healthy activities has worked wonders.

DISCUSSION: Tell me about a stressful situation in your life.  What methods were most effective for you in dealing with the stress?

Dan invited me to guest post on his site, “writing for the sake of my humanity,” earlier this month. Check out the post, “writing, why you should trust the process,” on Dan’s blog. Be sure to peruse the rest of the site while you’re there!

For the month of April, Struggle to Victory is focusing on my virtual influences by featuring guest posts, by guest posting on other sites, and by highlighting some of the regular visitors to this blog. Hopefully, you’ll be encouraged, strengthened & challenged by these people as much as I have on a regular basis, people I am proud to say have an impact on my thinking in ways that matter eternally.

5 Crucial Principles for Managing Stress

Manage stressAn interesting progression took place while blogging about stress this past month – I became more stressed. No, writing didn’t negatively stress me. Stress, yes, but the good kind resulting in stretching and growing, the therapy kind.

Do you have any good stress in your life right now?

Maybe the increased awareness of stress in general played a role. For sure, a large part came from an increase in stressors, most through others and out of my control.

My first reaction, my automatic response, is to eliminate stress as much as possible. That’s not always the best option, though. Sometimes my focus must be on recharging and then continuing, letting stress be and not trying to control it. With that, I realize that I must…

Persistently pursue time to recharge and refocus.

Relieve stressIf Jesus needed to do this (Matthew 14:13-34), I definitely need this habit. So, instead of trying to fix everything (which is impossible and only adds to stress), maybe letting it ride, living within it is best. In other words…

Acknowledge the stress, then keep commitments and fulfill responsibilities by simply doing what’s next.

As I’ve learn to keep moving through the stress, I’ve also gotten better at not letting stress constantly eat away at me, at not worrying about what I can’t control. I’ve learned to counteract stress with healthy outlet activities (exercise, reading, talking, etc.), and I’ve learned to pray… a lot… about everything (Philippians 4:6). Do you have healthy outlets for stress relief?

In that, I begin to focus on controlling my attitude and responses during stress. Out of that comes a realization that I need to apply a principle I’ve told my boys many times, namely…

Understand what you can and can’t control, and refuse to dwell in the wrong place.

Prepare for StressWhen I realize what I can and can’t control, I must then focus my energy and effort on that which I can control, even if only slightly. One of the most difficult areas to realize control involves the volume of what we take on, what we commit to and assume responsibility for.

And what I see happening is a lot of people drowning in a perfectly floatable boat simply because they’ve weighed it down by taking on too much. They’re sitting in a sinking boat because they’ve put too much in it, and the only way to keep from drowning is to get rid of some of the stuff. Really, it’s best to never take it on in the first place, but at some point, we must…

Learn to say “no” – even to good – so we can say “yes” to better and best.

As stress ebbs and flows, and as I realize my inability to truly control its existence, I increasingly understand the importance of a habit of consistency regarding stress management. I realize that stress exists mostly as a mental battle, that it’s the atmosphere of my inner self that truly determines whether or not I sink or float. Do you have any consistent habits to help manage your stress?

Psychcentral says “most negative symptoms [of stress] can be corrected if you take action.” My experience with stress – and a crash and burn resulting from not managing it well – supports this fact. With that comes the final principle for managing stress…

Find ways to manage your stress on your own terms before your body forces you to on its terms.

Dealing with stress really isn’t an option. You WILL deal with it one way or another. The question is, will you deal with it by choice or by force?

DISCUSSION: What can you do today to better manage stress? What advice do you have for others?

Additional posts about stress:

Essential Elements of Vision Therapy

Many optometrists do not recognize when someone needs vision therapy. In fact, a person with vision problems often passes an eye exam. This happened with my son, and we did not realize it until one of his teachers suggested we check into vision therapy.

Elements of Vision Therapy

Before a patient begins vision therapy, an eye therapist does an assessment. Then, a doctor specializing in vision-related problems reviews and interprets the results. He  creates a treatment plan with goals and expectations. Next, patients attend in-office therapy. Patients also have tasks to complete at home.

This process works well for our spiritual lives too. It can correct and prevent vision-related spiritual problems like double-mindedness, lack of or wrong focus, and absence of alertness that plague our spiritual lives.

After asking the question, Do you Need Vision Therapy, proceed to implementing the necessary elements.

Elements of Spiritual Vision Therapy

  1. The basics serve as a vision evaluation for our spiritual lives. They include regular fellowship, daily Bible study and prayer. These create the core of our spiritual health. Stopping regular practice of any of these habits leads to blurred spiritual vision and even blindness. (Colossians 4:2, 3; Acts 2:42)
  2. Consultation with a seasoned saint provides the insightful observations to help adjust spiritual progress. In addition, regular accountability keeps our blind spots from creating havoc. Talking out problems is often all that’s needed to find a solution. (Galatians 6:1, 2)
  3. Expert advice comes through a variety of sources. Some struggles need the experienced vision of a pastor or Christian counselor. Regularly reading Christian books also provides preventative as well as problem-specific advice.
  4. Practice involves not just taking in the Word and hearing from God, but also “going into all the world” and practicing what God plants inside of you. (Mark 16:15)
  5. Continual reassessment helps see The Danger of Routine and Habit in Our Prayer Lives. Every area of life benefits from regular assessment. Check with the Holy Spirit daily in prayer and make a point perform regular personal assessments.

One final connection between vision therapy for the eyes and spiritual vision therapy lies with the power of choice. Individuals must decide whether or not to participate in the recommended therapy. The eye doctor makes the vision therapy plan clear. God also makes the plan of action clear for preventing spiritual vision problems. Both require commitment and follow through  vision to improve.

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Do You Need Vision Therapy?

When a child under performs due to one or more vision-related deficiencies, they have a vision-related learning problem. These problems often get misdiagnosed as ADHD, behavior problems and/or reading disabilities. This happened with our youngest son. Fortunately, a 3-month eye therapy program corrected these deficiencies.

The following points teach about common vision-related learning problems. They also help illustrate some of the common reasons for vision problems in our spiritual lives.

Convergence Insufficiency

Convergence Insufficiency involves eye-teaming skills, or the ability to coordinate both eyes together. Symptoms include eye strain, fatigue, poor attention and reading avoidance from words overlapping and causing double-vision. Many kids with this problem don’t know what they are seeing isn’t normal and say nothing about the problem.

James 1:8 says a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. Just like convergence insufficiency leads to struggles with confidence in reading, spiritual double-vision leads to avoidance of obeying God’s will. Like waves of the ocean, a double-minded man is unpredictable and even destructive.

Accommodative Dysfunction

Eye focusing skills, such as the ability for sustained reading and shifting focus from near to far, fail to function properly with accommodative dysfunction. Symptoms include miscalling easy words, headaches, tiring easily and poor attention and concentration when reading. Accommodative dysfunction results in the inability to focus and results in blurred vision.

The Old Testament gives numerous examples of what happens when focus moves off of God. Psalm 1 also get at this idea as it relates to the type of people we spend time with on a regular basis. Blurred vision in our spiritual lives leads to fatigue at every level, inability to hear God, and failure to focus when do hear Him.

Occulomotor Dysfunction

Occulomotor dysfunction involves eye tracking skills, which involve the ability to point eyes to printed material and then move them from word to word. Symptoms include losing one’s place easily, needing a finger to keep one’s place when reading, slow reading, poor fluency and comprehension, inability to pay attention and difficulty copying words. With this dysfunction, words appear to jump around on the page.

Luke 21:36 addresses constant alertness and paying attention. We don’t know the day or the hour of Christ’s return. Failure to be alert results in wandering outside of God’s will, inability to pay attention when God speaks, and struggle copying the example set for us. We jump around in life without focus or purpose as we overlook the work God gives us.

Vision-related learning problems affect more than just reading. They compromised my son’s ability to properly socialize, to keep focused in and out of school, and to enjoy much of life in general. Vision-related spiritual problems impact our spiritual lives in similar ways by negatively affecting relationships, stealing focus, and robbing joy.

My son needed vision therapy to correct his vision-related learning problems. Vision-related spiritual problems require vision therapy too, and that requires knowing the Essential Elements of Vision Therapy.

Let’s Have Coffee

personal-pic-1Coffee has gotten a bad rap. Sure, too much coffee often has a negative impact (nervousness, adrenal strain, and sleep reduction to name a few), but there are some terrific benefits 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. (Coffee originated in Ethiopia. Some say its cultivation began in the 9th century while others claim it’s been around since AD 575.)

Health Benefits

Coffee has a high level of antioxidants, enzymes and nutrients that help prevent disease. It actually has more antioxidants than green tea. It also speeds up metabolism and reduces hunger, aiding in weight loss. Because coffee is a diuretic, it also helps flush the bladder and prevent it from developing disease.

In a very real sense, coffee is a healthy energy drink. Many people even use it in smoothies. Step aside green smoothies and Red Bull!

Mental Benefits

Coffee enhances brain function by aiding performance and memory function. This enhanced brain function helps those who struggling with boredom or fatigue by giving them a much-needed mid-day mental perk. In much the same way, it also works as an anti-depressant.

In addition, 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 is, it’s still way cheaper than seeing an actual therapist.

Nostalgic Benefits

When I was a teenager, my mom brought me coffee in bed every morning to help wake me up. While this likely created my coffee addiction, this memory serves as a pleasant reminder of the man ways my mom showed me she loved me.

Experts say the sense of smell evokes strong memories. (See “The Nose, an Emotional Time Machine” for an interesting read on the power of smell.) Whenever I smell coffee, I feel calmer, and I think it’s because I associate it with so many great memories created 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 any such event that does not at least have coffee available. When people 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 often, and often that is over a cup of coffee. I have several friends with whom I also try to meet regularly for coffee, which really means spending time chatting and catching up with life.

The phrase “Let’s have coffee” 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.

Consider Coffee Balance

As with so many aspects of life, balance is key. Too much coffee, and you’re constantly jittery and craving more coffee. Too much coffee can have negative health benefits as well (such as those already mentioned).

But, a cup or two, strategically placed serves to increase productivity and energy not to mention add tremendously to your social life and strengthen relationships. Coffee can actually be a medium through which your life finds balance.