Posted in anxiety, Emotions, freedom, God, health

What My Dog Taught Me About Anxiety

“I need you to love me a little louder today.”  (Healthyplace.com)

This past year, our dog, Autumn, tore both of her ACLs and we made the very hard decision to put her to sleep.  She was an absolutely beautiful dog, a loving dog, an active dog, a mischievous dog, and a highly-anxious dog.  At our first vet visit when she was just a puppy, we were told that she probably had neurological issues (because we made the lovely decision to buy a pure-breed).  Little did we know then, but soon found out, that this dog was one nervous-nelly.

Life marched on and she had all kinds of typical dog anxiety related to thunder, strangers, and loud noises (like Allen and I yelling at the TV during Steelers games).  But she also had “not-so-typical” dog anxiety where she panted and paced often for no reason, snapped at the air like she was catching flies even when she was alone (it’s called fly-biting syndrome) and tried to climb out of our home through the fire place.

Needless to say, you get my point.  Like her loving owner, this dog had some serious issues with the dreaded monster of anxiety.  As the years went on, I learned some very valuable lessons from my Autumn, many that I remind myself on the days that anxiety rears its ugly head in my own life and the lives of those I love.

#1  Anxiety can come out of nowhere.
There are times that I find myself in a place that only moments before was nowhere to be found.  I am going along just fine and out of the blue, I have thoughts that are absolutely ridiculous and filled with fear.  (I haven’t heard from Josh today.  I wonder if he’s okay.  He is, Esther.  You are ridiculous.  But he could have fallen in the shower and all his housemates are already at school.  He might be laying there bleeding or worse, he might be dead.  How will we deal with this?  I will be wreck.  Stop it Esther.  This is nuts.)  This may have come on the heels of enjoying a nice breakfast out with a friend while drinking chamomile tea.

#2  Anxiety usually passes.
After years of observing Autumn’s and my own anxiety, I have come to realize that it doesn’t usually last.  The same way it roars into my life, it often makes its way out.  This is a lifeline for me in the throes of it.  On a very bad day, I remind myself that it will eventually pass.  It might take some time, but it won’t be like this forever.  It seems to be cyclical.   Shalom (meaning completeness, soundness, peace) is a life-long journey, with many fits and starts along the way.

#3  Anxiety isn’t about trusting God.
One day, Autumn was just beside herself.  It might have been a thunderstorm.  She was pacing and panting, wide-eyed and whining.  In a moment of clarity, I said to her (very tongue-in-cheek), “Autumn, you just need to trust God more.”  You are probably thinking to yourself, “That’s ridiculous.  She’s a dog.”  And you know what, it is ridiculous.  For years, I added to the shame of my anxiety by berating myself about not trusting God enough.  I memorized verses about fear, the “do not fear” ones especially (and yes, I do know that here are 365 verses about fear, one for every day…I would imagine you might sense the sarcasm).  I promise you.  If memorizing these verses and trying really hard to “trust God more” would have done the trick and that formula could have worked, I would be all over it, preaching it from the mountaintops.  If it were only that easy.  But the hard truth is it’s not.

This is a message for all of us.  Anxiety is a neurological disorder.   Anxiety is when a person’s central nervous system is telling them there is an emergency even when there isn’t one.   Anxiety comes from a place of fright without solution.  Yes, we can feed it and make it worse (learned all about those neurons firing and giant pathways being created in my Physiology class in college).  I am an expert at feeding it.   And yes, new pathways can be formed that bring calm to the nervous system.  I am in the process of feeding those new pathways now and have been for many years (which has helped tremendously).  In the end, it’s all very complicated and I am not an expert in the field.  But that’s not the point.

Here is the point.  For those of you who don’t struggle, please don’t tell the person in the middle of it to “trust God more.”  I promise you it won’t help.  It may just heap more frustration and shame on the person and send them deeper into hiding.  And for those of you, like me, who have this monster hounding them on many days and during many seasons, think about my dog.  Give yourself some grace.  Tell yourself some truth.  It’s just as ridiculous to say “trust God more” to yourself as it is to my dog.

#4  Anxiety dissipates by being “held.”
The best thing we could do for our dog, when she was at her worst and visibly shaking with fear, was to hold or pet her, come close to her, and speak gently and kindly to her.  That’s really what those of us with anxiety need.  We need someone to listen to our fears, be gentle and kind to us and most of all, hold us until it passes (this can be emotional or physical).  My favorite words in the whole world are, “It’s going to be okay.  You (the real you) are going to be okay.”

The big question that nags is what if there is not someone tangible to hold us?  Can we go to God?  Will He calm our hearts?  It’s not magic and certainly not a quick-fix formula, but I promise you that He cares for you.  He loves you.  He will listen.  He will be kind and tender to you.  He will hold you until your heart and mind calm.  A verse that I reprimanded myself with for many years got flipped on its head one day by our counselor.  I Peter 5:7.  Instead of “cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you,” it is actually the reverse in the Greek.  It really says, “Because He cares for you, you can cast all your anxiety on Him.”  God is the initiator here.  We ARE cared for.  He holds us.  To that truth, I cling with my life.  Shalom.

(By the way, I loved my dog and I miss her very much.  I wouldn’t have traded her for the world, fly-biting and all.)

 

 

 

Posted in anxiety, Emotions, Family, freedom, God, health, Sabbath, sacred

The Myth of Scarcity (and the Hope of Acorns)

“We must confess that the central problem of our lives is that we are torn apart by the conflict between our attraction to the good news of God’s abundance and the power of our belief in scarcity.” (Walter Brueggemann)

It’s happening again.  Acorns are falling from trees.  They are everywhere.

I believe wrong things.  The myth of scarcity is one of them.  It comes pouring into my newsfeed.  My television streams it.  It permeates conversations with family and friends.  My own thoughts teem with it.  Many of my decisions are made because of it.  And it’s downright wrong.  A lie.

The myth of scarcity is the idea that there isn’t enough to go around.  The world (and the God who created it) is lacking the resources to meet our needs.  There’s not enough _______ (you fill in the blank) for me and those I love.  At its root is the monster of fear.   And as we all know probably better than we would like to admit, fear is a slave-making emotion.  My reaction to its demands cause me to hoard, fret, close up and off, control, and protect myself physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Acorns speak something completely different, something that has been true from before the dawn of time.  As I walk down my tree-lined street in these months of the fall, they are strewn everywhere.  They crunch under my feet and get in my way as I try to get my 10,000 steps (see FitBit post).  It’s almost ridiculous how many there are.

One morning, I was fretting over the lack of ________ in our world, and in my own family, and I saw with new eyes these acorns.  They were abundant.  There weren’t enough furry little creatures to gather, store up and eat these acorns in the coming months.  There was a plethora of them.  I was gently reminded again from my loving God about how the world began and how it really works.

The creation account in the beginning of the Bible is the story of God’s generosity.  God’s force of life is loose in the world.  His creation is endowed with fullness of vitality, encouraged to “be fruitful and multiply.”  God’s goodness overflows from His creation.  There is so much abundance and generosity, the time must end in a period of Sabbath rest (my most favorite part).  The myth of scarcity is ultimately debunked.

In the last 24 hours, I went right back to believing the myth.  I became caught up in the lack of personal safety in our world and specifically wondering (okay, looping) whether Rachel will be okay through Hurricane Irma.  I told myself, “my 17 year-old daughter is by herself living in an apartment (well, her two 18 year-old roommates are with her…but that is not helping) 1100 miles away and a big storm is coming.”  At midnight, I went right to “how can I fix this?” and my actions quickly followed.  I scoured the internet for hotels and flights for hours.  Talk about slave-making fear.  I fell back into a fitful sleep hoping for different news in the morning.

The news was the same as I woke, but that didn’t matter to God.  He provided an initial text from a good friend saying Rachel could come to Atlanta and stay with him and his girls.  An acorn.  Another text came from a friend in Sarasota saying their home was open and they have water and a generator.  Another acorn.  A third text came later from the same friend that she went to Costco and loaded up for the weekend with more than enough food and water.   More acorns.  (This was not what I was seeing on the news.)  And now I have come to find out, it’s her husband’s birthday on Saturday.  There will be a celebration in the middle of it all.   A whole oak tree.

It doesn’t matter what the news is saying in Florida right now.  It’s the myth of scarcity: “Not enough food, not enough water, not enough gas.”  But God has spoken what’s true.  He’s got all the acorns in the world.  He is filled with abundance and generosity.  He is never lacking.   And He will do “exceedingly abundantly above all that I could ever ask or imagine.”  And you know what, because of His generosity,  I might just be able to take my own Sabbath rest in the middle of it all.  I needed these acorns today.  I hope you have some too.

(One caveat.  I know this is not Family Friday worthy.  I’m sure you can forgive me.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in celebration, health, recipe

Back to My Green Smoothie

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven.  (The Byrds and the Bible)

Fourth of July weekend is behind me.  Time with family.   Time coloring.  Time sharing fruity drinks.  Time at the beach.  Time dancing while listening to the Funsters on the boardwalk.  Time eating ice cream.  Time watching fireworks.  Time playing games.  Time watching my nieces and nephews jump into the pool fully-clothed.  Wonderful time.

I love stepping outside of my routine, especially for vacations and celebrations.  Who doesn’t?  I eat whatever I want.  I stay up late.  I sleep in.  I play.  I enjoy those around me and live mostly care-free (except for that time our son was ticketed by police for throwing water balloons out of his Mustang trying to meet cute girls and then having to return three weeks later for a court date).

To be really honest, however, I especially enjoy stepping back into my normal life.  I can’t live in non-stop celebration, vacation-mode.  I am not designed to.  If I lived like that every day, I would be broke, in a sugar-induced brain fog, and my six-pack abs would be six-lack abs.  (Cough.  Cough.  I don’t really have six-pack abs.  I’ve had four kids and I’m 51.)

There truly is a season for everything, even in our seemingly small lives.  There IS room for the extra-ordinary and the celebratory.   It only happens, however, because of the mundane and very ordinary that makes up much of our days.

Sustained health does not come from the hoopla.  It comes from the life-giving of the routine.  Regular disciplines make room for merrymaking.  Exercise produces muscles for dancing.  Healthy eating gives energy for beach volleyball.  Budgets provide margin for spending sprees.  Spiritual disciplines make space for loving relationships.

Today, I am back at it (or at least hopeful of it).  Back to an exercise routine.  Back to work.  Back to my budget.  Back to my to-do list (I mean my ta-da list).  Back to spending regular time with the One who loves me and pours into my soul.  Back to my green smoothie (recipe below).

Totally Guilt-Free Green Smoothie (because I don’t know what else to call it)

1/2 banana (I freeze my bananas…make sure you take the skin off…totally forgot to do this the first time)
1/4 can of unsweetened organic coconut milk (buy this in bulk on Amazon because it’s super expensive in the store)
1/2 cup of unsweetened almond milk
1/2 perfectly ripe avocado (good luck with this)
2 handfuls of organic fresh spinach or greens (I just buy those huge containers and throw them in the freezer)
1 scoop of vanilla protein powder (I use Arbonne and I can totally give you my awesome rep’s name so I can help her make money or you can just click HERE…I use it because it’s delicious, gluten and dairy-free)
1 scoop of Living Fuel Supergreens (I did have to get used to the taste of this but it’s got every vitamin, mineral, pro-biotic, and enzyme known to man and BTW, I am not making a cent for sharing this)
A bunch of ice cubes (if you like it more like a frozen drink)

I wonder if you are “back at it” today or still in the middle of the fun!  Let us know by commenting below.

Follow me on all those cool social media sites.  Share with all of your 534 very best friends!  I would also totally be super excited if you signed up to get my emails.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in health, Sabbath, Slow

24/6 (A Beginner’s Journey into Sabbath)

“Sabbath is a time to transform from human doings to human beings.”  (Matthew Sleeth)

Driven.  Workaholic.  Adrenaline junkie.  Type A.   24/7.  Savior of the world (or at least my world).  All of these and more.  That was the person behind this post.  Until I wasn’t.  Until it was stopped FOR ME several years ago.

Stopped.  Key word.  Stopped.  Everything stopped.  This mom of four, wife of one, ministry leader, job holder, keeper of an ordered house, ducks-in-a-row, mover and shaker stopped.  Little did I know then, but a terrible and precious gift had been given to me that changed my world: the word STOP.

After this emergency “stop” in my life (which came in the form of a complete nervous breakdown…the summer where my four kids ate goldfish for breakfast and watched endless amounts of TV instead of the completing the summer transition homework I usually planned for them…it might have been their best summer ever), I began to question the value of this word.  Was there room for me to rest, take a break, actually stop?  Would the world I carefully crafted fall apart without me?  I wasn’t sure.  For so long, I had worked and solved and rushed and moved.

At the same time, I never wanted that emergency “stop” again.  It had been horrible, filled with anxiety, panic attacks, dread and the feeling of being “out-of-body.”  I was desperate to do something, anything.

In the meantime, words like “sabbath” and “margin” kept popping up and I came across a book, thanks to Pastor Tim Lucas, that I avidly read, “24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life” by Matthew Sleeth.  The author is a former emergency room physician (can’t get any more important or busier) about how his life was transformed (physically, spiritually, relationally and emotionally) in his “always-on” world by adopting the practice of sabbath (which literally means “STOP” in Hebrew).   I drank the words in and came away with two life-changers:

  • a best practice for me would be one where I worked 24/6 and rested 24/1
  • this rest period was a truly a gift for me, one straight from the heart of God

I began with baby steps, starting with 6 hours, the time the kids were in school.  It was NOT easy.  My anxiety skyrocketed as I closed the laundry room door, shut off my phone and accomplished nothing.  I was sure my world would come crashing down.  Guess what?  It didn’t.  I literally took naps and did nothing of any consequence.  As a result (wait for it), nothing changed on the outside.  Bills were still paid.  Kids were still fed.  Friends still loved me.  Jobs got done.  However, much began to change on the inside.  Being allowed to be off-duty encouraged me.  Saying “no” to my kids empowered me.  The rest I so desperately needed calmed my adrenaline-addicted body.  I enjoyed every moment of this “sabbath,” not wanting it to end.   A small taste of the transformation Sleeth wrote about was mine.

It didn’t take a PhD in psychology to soon realize that I needed to take the plunge.  Being the recovering work-a-holic that I am, I knew it had to be drastic.  I drew a line in the sand:  24 HOURS.  STOP.  EVERY WEEK.  More anxiety came with this next step.  No change in my outside world once again.  Much more change on the inside.  This human doing began to give room for a human being.

It’s been seven years.  Mine is on Fridays.  My husband’s is on Sundays.  There are weeks when I miss, sometimes because of circumstances supposedly beyond my control (and my people will tell you I get a bit cranky) and other times I still struggle to “shut the laundry room door.”  But I can’t go very long without retreating back into that place of stopping for 24/1.

IMG_4558

(Picture compliments of my teenage daughter…forgive the grammar)

Many have questions that I have been asked time and again:

  • what do you do all day?
  • how does everything get done?
  • isn’t that legalistic?
  • do you watch TV?
  • what if I have kids?
  • what do I have to stop doing?  gardening?  painting?  social media?
  • does it have to be a full 24 hours?

I have more to share with you (some will be my thoughts on the above questions) and will do so over time.  It’s not a quick, change-in-a-moment kind of thing.  It’s a heart-wrenching, life-time haul, slow-moving kind of thing.  I am excited to slowly unpack my continuing journey towards rest(oration) for my body, mind, soul and spirit with you.

For now, I leave you with three of the many small gifts that I have received from my 24/6 adventure:

  • The world goes on without me and I don’t have to be the Savior of it (even in crazy, fast-paced, over-the-top New Jersey).
  • I have room for not “shoulding” all over myself for one 24-hour period.
  • I am never going back.

At the start of this journey, I asked, “What will happen if I do?”  Now I ask a much different question (and have experienced the answer to it), “What will happen if I don’t?”

Please ask questions or give responses you have in the comment section.   You have heard my heart.  Now I want to hear yours.