Forget and Forgive

It’s Thursday morning.  Spent all of last weekend in San Antonio on a girl’s weekend with my mom, sister, aunt, and some other lovely ladies.  Worked the beginning of the week squeezing what used to be a 5 day work-week into 2 days (I was out Sunday).  Drove to Dallas Tuesday night, got to campus and went to bed.  Up early on Wednesday to read for class, and go to class for 7.5 hours, wrote a paper, and attempted to be social (which really just looks like me eating and nodding…or being incredibly grouchy…I’m grouchy this week).  And now it’s Thursday.  I usually get to the library early and get as much work as possible done all day.  I have a spiritual formation group at 1:30 and a class from 6-9 but I spend the rest of the day reading or writing or whatever other work I have.  But it’s Thursday morning and all I have managed so far is a shower, a trip to Starbucks where I chugged a double shot of espresso and watched Netflix on my laptop, and now I am in the library in a comfy chair with my feet propped up on a table (possibly not supposed to be doing that) reading some stuff I found online last week.  So…a productive morning to be sure.

I am certain you have had days like that.  When the work of your life just doesn’t seem to compare to the sweet, sweet idea of doing…nothing.  When you need to drink a cup of coffee and just troll around online.  Or take a long walk outside.  Or read a book you’ve been neglecting.  Or whatever your thing is.

To be sure, the work of our lives is just that- work.  Whether it’s a job someone pays you for, a ministry you feel called to, a tiny human (or humans) who you are caring for and raising, volunteering for a cause you feel passionate about, or whatever it is, the things that we dedicate ourselves to can sometimes become overwhelming.

It is a joy to have work to set your mind and your might to but it doesn’t mean that you don’t have times when your brain is tired and your body is worn out.   

Today is that day for me.  And yes I will still drag myself to class. Truthfully, once I get there I will probably really enjoy it because my professor is SO SMART and I love hearing what he says about New Testament interpretation.  But all that other stuff I would normally be doing this morning…I’m going to forget about it and forgive myself.  Maybe after lunch I’ll feel up to it.  Maybe it won’t be till tomorrow or Saturday or Sunday.  But most likely it’ll be later this afternoon when I’ve let myself take a break for a while.  Cause sometimes you need to take a break.  Yes the work you do is important but it’s not more important than you.  There is always someone who can pick up your slack for a while.  Someday you’ll be that person for someone else.  Forget about it for right now and forgive yourself.  And then get back to it tomorrow.  Or Saturday.  Or next week.

Because you aren’t valuable for the work you do but simply because you exist.  

You don’t have to do anything today to earn your spot in the world.  Right now you can breath and it’ll be ok.  Seriously…it will.  Promise.  It might not feel like it but it really will.

Forget it and forgive yourself.  Hang in there!  If I can pray for you today I would LOVE to do that.  Just comment or message me!

Toughen Up, Buttercup

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I’m a Southern belle from Texas through and through. I remember sitting on my grandmother’s back porch one afternoon talking to her about something or another that I was working on or wanted, I honestly don’t remember now what it was, and she was encouraging me to go after it. She said ” There are no shrinking violets in our family.”

Is this just a Southern expression? I don’t know who else says it but it’s definitely an apt description of most of the women in my family. We are tough, stubborn, opinionated, and hard working. We get stuff done even
though sometimes we run right over people to get it done. That sounds negative but truthfully it’s one of my favorite inherited qualities (the ability to drop grade A sass at a moment’s notice is also in this category).

Sometimes I get the impression that I am supposed to feel negatively about this ability to just push right through stuff. I rarely feel guilty about it though because in a culture that avoids conflict of any kind, including healthy conflict, and spends 30 minutes crafting the perfect vague and unassuming email I tend to find myself uniquely situated to help move things along. And I like that.

I wasn’t always like that. I mean opinionated and stubborn sure but ready to tackle problems? Not so much. Avoidance was the order of the day. But I was blessed by some really tough situations when I was younger and it taught me that it’s better to deal with stuff head on and aggressively than to let them build steam and cause more problems for you later. You tackle enough of the tough stuff long enough and you start to realize that it’s not so tough after all. You CAN do this…even if you thought you couldn’t.

I know there will be more problems that come my way and no matter how tough I am I won’t be able to tackle all of them. I can’t cure loved ones who get sick or create jobs for unemployed friends. But I can go to doctor’s appointments, do research, and hold a frightened hand. I can keep the faith when it seems like no help is coming and I can ask everyone I know if they are hiring or know of someone who is. I can’t think of many instances when there isn’t something you can do…even if it won’t fix everything.

Don’t get me wrong. I have cried buckets when people I love have been hurting and there is nothing I can do to alleviate that hurt. I have spent long hours in prayer asking for answers that didn’t come. But, as I’ve grown, I have learned that crying and sorrow aren’t the same thing as surrendering to despair. And I have found the ability to move forward in the faith knowing that unanswered prayers don’t mean that your prayers weren’t heard.

The world is broken and not as it should be but people of faith are tough people. We aren’t tough because of the things we have weathered but because we know the One who calms the storms. We press on and fight on and look for blessings in broken places because we know that the brokenness of this world doesn’t have the last say. We know that sorrow, loss, death, ruin, and decay are going to come to an end one day. We don’t bow to the powers of this world because we know that only Jesus is Lord…so nothing else can be.

Stuff is going to happen and you are going to have to be tough. But you don’t have to be tough alone.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
1 John 4: 4

So be brave today. I know it’s hard and I know it feels like it is coming at you from all sides.

But…

It won’t always be this hard.

It won’t last forever.

You don’t have to face it alone.

Go get ’em.

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10 tips for dealing with stress

Yesterday was not a good day for me.  I was stressed before I even left the house because I had ZERO clean clothes and a very messy kitchen (still do as a matter of fact) and ZERO time to do anything about it.  By the time I got to work I was not in the best frame of mind to work and I got sidetracked till about 10:30am when I found out that I needed to deal with some budgeting issues.  Y’all…I  HATE math (but it is super important).  So I had to struggle through piles of numbers and info that made no sense and try to wrangle it back under control.  Submit a new (lower) budget.  Then staff meeting with no time for lunch in between.  Weekly email newsletter, planning meeting for a new Wednesday night program starting in January, Advent planning…you see where I am going.  I was herding cats all day long and was getting pretty frustrated.  I like to think that I can keep a lot of plates spinning at once but the truth is that I get antsy when I feel like people are stopping me from keeping them all spinning.  Unfortunately for me this is what ministry work really is!  People are going to need my attention while I’m trying to wrestle with budget numbers.  And I need to be able to be, not just ok with that, but accepting and welcoming of that fact.  So I was busy, stressed, and not being a very great minister.  Bummer of a day.

Almost everybody I talk to on any given day, and for any given reason, is dealing with stress and a busy schedule.  It’s just the nature of our culture.  Most of the people I know are juggling all kinds of stressful tasks like crazy work schedules, loads of responsibilities, parenting, and relationships.  All of these things can be super rewarding and satisfying but they can also cause us to have lots of worry and anxiety.

Weeds and thistles will grow for you,
        even as you eat the field’s plants;
 by the sweat of your face you will eat bread—
        until you return to the fertile land,
            since from it you were taken;
            you are soil,
                to the soil you will return.

Genesis 3: 18-19

I had always read this scripture from Genesis about “by the sweat of your face”, where God is explaining the consequences of Adam and Eve’s choice to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, as though God was saying that Adam was always going to have to work hard.  But a couple of years ago I discovered that what the original language actually meant was that Adam would sweat with worry, anxiety, and fear.   Adam was sweating it out.     You know the feeling.  That same panic and anxiety that comes when you are faced with a difficult situation or job.  That fear or worry that you can’t or won’t get it all done or done right and someone will suffer the consequences.  I’m faced with this pretty regularly and in my case it can be pretty dangerous sense stress can lead to some crazy issues for me.  It’s not good for anybody to be dealing with stress regularly.  So, just in time for Hump Day, here are my top 10 tips for dealing with stress and taking care of yourself.

Disclaimer:  I am in no way an expert at any of this.  These are just things I’ve done and do that help me to maintain some mental health.

10)  Go on Youtube for 15 minutes and watch ridiculous videos.  Sometimes what you need is a good laugh.  I highly recommend this video and I know my sister likes this one.

9)  Make your bed.  This may seem like strange advice but I swear it helps.  If you start a crazy day by making your bed you know you’ve at least accomplished one thing that day.  Plus at the end of the day your bed will be a welcome and crazy-free zone, not to mention a monument to your awesome first-thing-in-the-morning achievement!  Seriously, a little bit of cleaning or organization goes a long way to improving your mental health.  If your space is cluttered your brain can register the mess as additional stress.  Just doing one small chore, like making your bed, can go a long way to helping you to feel like you’re gonna make it.

8) Go for a walk outside.  There is something about being outside, even if it’s just for a minute that I find very relaxing.  Walking on a treadmill or using an elliptical machine are great forms of exercise but there is something about being outdoors that is refreshing for your body and soul.  Exercise is a super important part of a healthy brain.  Do the best you can and don’t beat yourself up when you can’t make it work, but do your best to get some exercise at least 3 times a week.  If all else fails do some good stretching before you go to bed and right when you wake up.

7)  Get a physical and take vitamins.  Seriously, you need to be taking vitamins.  Not everyone needs a multi-vitamin though.  It depends on your diet and what you’ve got swimming around in your blood stream.  Make an appt for a quick physical with your doctor.  They’ll check your lungs, heart, and do some blood work to make sure you’re doing ok and can give you advice on what kinds of vitamins you should be taking.  I recently went in to my doctor who told me I should start taking a pre-natal vitamin.  I politely explained that I was in no shape or form needing to prepare for the birth of a child and she politely informed me that pre-natals have vitamins in them that my body needs for my health…not just so I can bear children.  I would have never thought about that unless I went to the doctor.  It takes a couple of hours (that includes driving and waiting…it happens get over it) but it makes a big difference.  You’ve got to take care of your body or else you won’t be able to do the things you need and want to do.

6) Eat real food.  There are lots of great and quick options for real food that aren’t frozen, processed, or drive-thru.  I’m the worst about this one because I crave the bad-for-me stuff.  If you are dealing with stress and you eat a bunch of processed, junk food you are going to feel more sluggish.  On the other hand eating a healthy meal will give you a boost both physically and mentally.  It’s worth the extra 20 minutes.  And make sure you drink some water.  This is my standard line whenever someone tells me they are hurt.  Your body is 80% water so make sure you are staying hydrated.  Ryan Gosling told me it’s important.  

5) Talk to somebody you trust.  Maybe that’s a spouse or a friend or a therapist.  I am a huge believer in therapy.  It’s a great to have a 3rd party who is objective and non-judgemental to share your struggles with.  You don’t have to worry that you are over-burdening them either.

4) Get a hobby…that is not related to your job.  My job happens to also be something I’m very passionate about but if it was all I did or talked about 24/7 I would go crazy.  Take up a hobby, any hobby, that will let you clear your mind and relax.  I love to do different kinds of crafts.  But I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to my crafts so I’ve been able to get a lot of satisfaction from it even when it doesn’t come out perfectly.  Maybe your thing is gardening, knitting, collecting stamps, or photography.  I don’t know what makes your little heart skip a beat but find something and do it.  Here’s the thing though:  you won’t always have time to enjoy your hobby.  So find ways to stay connected to it without spending a lot of time on it.  Maybe a book that you could read while you are traveling for work (or an audiobook that you could listen to while you are driving?).  I have a Pinterest board for crafts and when all I have is the 3 minutes I’m left alone in the bathroom (is this an over-share?)  I’ll look at a couple of projects that I want to try when I have a chance.  Google is a beautiful thing.

3)  Get some rest.  I basically don’t sleep in the summer.  From mid-May till September I run on about 4-6 hours of sleep every night…sometimes less.  Even when I can and want to sleep my crazy brain won’t always let me.  And that’s ok.  Yes, sleep should be a priority.  But don’t mentally flog yourself when you can’t get a full 8 hours.  Allow yourself the time to rest, even if that doesn’t mean sleep.  Practice some deep breathing.  Lay down for however long you can in a room with NO TECHNOLOGY.  That means no tv, radio, or noise (maybe white noise is ok but seriously can’t you just be quiet for a while?)  Get comfy, close your eyes, and let your body relax even if your mind doesn’t shut down.  Let your muscles take a break for as long as you can.  You may fall asleep and you may not but either way you will be ok.  And that brings us to…

2)  Give yourself a break…and expect others to do the same.  You are not a superhero even if you play one on tv.  You are going to mess up, forget things, say the wrong thing, look a hot mess, and accidentally insult your boss.  If you are super talented you may do it all at once (I speak from experience, folks).  Cut yourself some slack and let it be ok when you prove to be less than perfect.  I promise the world will still keep spinning even if you forgot something super important.  Almost everything is fixable even if it is a super pain to fix.  And if people are giving you a hard time feel free to let them know that a) you are doing the best you can b) you are sorry that you made the error and c) you would appreciate some support while you are dealing with lots of stress.  If your boss is being a jerk and you can’t say anything to him/her I understand not wanting to sass them about not being supportive.  But that doesn’t mean you have to internalize their negativity.  Acknowledge it and let it go.  You are doing the best you can.  Give yourself a break.

1)  Pray.  This may sound like the Jesus answer but I promise you it is the best thing I do for my mental health. There was a time when my prayer life was more like a Christmas list.  “Dear God, Please give me a good job and a hunky boyfriend (see Ryan Gosling comment earlier).  I swear I’ve been mostly good.”  But I have found that the more often I turn aside to pray, even if it’s just a couple of minutes,  the more peaceful I become.  For me this started by praying the Lord’s Prayer.  The more I paid attention the words of the prayer the more I found that it had the power to refocus and revitalize me.  If I’m praying for God’s will to be done I’m going to have to let go of my death-grip on control.  If I’m praying to forgive others as I’ve been forgiven I’m going to have to start being kinder and more compassionate to people.  And my favorite part of the prayer…Our Father.  Sometimes the only word I can manage to pray is “Father” on a loop.  And somehow just calling on my creator and knowing He hears me is enough to get me through the day.

I hope these tips are helpful for you.  I’d love to hear of any additional tips or tricks you have for staying healthy when you are dealing with stress and busyness!

The Monday Morning Mess

Last night, like every Sunday night, we had UMY (United Methodist Youth).  What is that, you may ask?  It’s our weekly church gathering of 6th-12th graders.  We eat dinner, play games, have small group bible study time, and in general hang out.  It’s 2 hours of craziness and I often feel like I’m standing in the middle of a whirlwind trying to control the direction it’s blowing.  Lately our group has grown from about 20-30 a week to 40-50 a week.  Which is awesome!  We’ve had to do some adjusting to make that work.  Which means my organized and decorated youth rooms got dismantled and we’re still working on re-mantling them in a way that makes sense for us.  We’ve been doing some projects to get the rooms up to snuff (let me know if you want to help with that!  I’ve got 2 booths and 2 tables that need painting!) and we’re making it work.

By the time the students leave we are looking at a pretty serious mess.  Luckily I’m blessed with some seriously amazing volunteers who always stay behind to discuss how the evening went and help me clean up.  But I’m still the last one out the door (as it should be…not complaining at all!) and I always have things that I need to tackle on Monday morning.  Usually those things are piled up on my desk staring at me accusingly until I stop ignoring them and get down to work.  There are papers that need to be filed, papers that need to be copied, checks that need to be deposited (we are always registering for something it seems), emails that need to be answered, things that need to be put away, attendance that needs to be marked and copied.  Last week I panicked because I thought there was paint on the floor from a project we are working on.  Luckily turned out to be a mushed  M&M.

Basically my worst nightmare.

Basically my worst nightmare.

 

I don’t enjoy the mess.  I am not a messy type of person.  I like things picked up, filed, and organized.  That fact makes me something of an oddball in youth ministry (although most of the people I know are at least somewhat organized) but it’s the best way for me to function.  For me a messy space= a messy brain and I need all the help I can get in keeping my brain straight.  So no mess please and thank you.  But there’s something about my messy youth room that makes me smile.  Even something about the panic of cleaning paint/chocolate off the floor BEFORE ANYONE KNOWS.  Having a jumble of chairs and having to move things around fills me with love because it means we are making room for more of God’s people.  Cleaning the floor and washing out paint brushes fills me with joy because it means that we have lived in this space.  Picking up bibles and pencils and putting them away fills me with peace because it means teenagers got out their bibles and used them!

 

I don’t know what your Monday mess looks like today.  Maybe piles of dirty clothes and baby bottles.  Maybe it’s paperwork and emails.  Maybe it’s kids coming back to a classroom.  Maybe it isn’t a literal pile at all but is instead a mental pile of worries and anxieties about money, loved ones, or life choices.  I don’t know what your Monday morning mess looks like but I do know that God is at work in it.  I know that He is moving in this world and in your life.  I pray that you find love, joy, and peace in your messy Monday.  If not today then a Monday in the future.  I promise not all Monday’s will be quite so messy.  I promise you are not alone in your piles of work and problems.  Today I will say a prayer for you and I will look forward to the way God will turn messy into blessing for you.  Monday mornings are messy but they don’t last forever.  May your day be blessed.