The Effects of Stress

A sound mind makes for a robust body,
    but runaway emotions corrode the bones. Proverbs 14:30

I saw this picture on a site when I did a search about the effects of stress on aging. This stunning photo shows President Abraham Lincoln in the short 5-year span of his Presidency during the Civil War. I am not sure that we can attribute all of this dramatic change to stress alone. Many believe that Lincoln suffered from a hormonal imbalance caused by a pituitary problem. I do not know that for sure of course, however, this picture shows a man under tremendous stress.

We have all seen “before and after” pictures of recent American Presidents who appear to have aged disproportionately during their tenures in office. Almost all of our Presidents show rather clear aging changes which might well be attributed to the incredible stress they carried.

Indeed, this is not only for American Presidents. Any world leader, or someone with terribly burdensome stress shows it in their face. The body reacts to the pressure in the mind and soul. The interconnection of mind and body seems to be clearly demonstrated in pictures like this.

The term “stress”, as it is currently used was coined by Hans Selye in 1936, who defined it as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”. Stress theory came into the popular parlance in the 1960’s and 1970’s as we came to better understand the relationship between stress and general health.

All of us encounter stress in our life, and the critical question is, “What do we do with it?”

More tomorrow…

Prayer: Lord, you know our frame and our frailty, but also the strength that you can give. Help us to understand that better, Amen

Rainy Day Memories…

We never realize the value of something until it becomes a memory                                                    (Graciousquotes.com)

Maybe it’s rainy days. As I sit to write this blog, it has been raining all day. Actually for me, that makes it easier to write, because if the sun is out, I need to be out too. The rain however puts me into a nostalgic mood. I am listening to old vinyl. My older readers immediately relate, but then again, vinyl is now actually a cool thing. The old records are amazing. I am immediately transported to another time as I listen.

My son helped fix up the speakers so that the sound is actually pretty good. He listened to some of the records with us that we used as background for childhood wrestling matches in the living room, and it recalled great memories. Yes, the records skipped while we wrestled in that old living room with my kids as we shook the floor, but what great memories!

I listened to records from my dad, one of which was the song my daughter and I danced to at her wedding (Daddy’s Little Girl by the Mills Brothers). So rainy days are good for memories and listening to old vinyl.

If you have saved old vinyl records, find a rainy day to play them.

 It is good for the soul.

Prayer: Lord, you give us pleasure in little things. Thank you for such detail in providing for us, Amen

Mothers

She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.                                                                                              Proverbs 31:26-27

Today is Mother’s Day. There is good cause for this annual celebration of mothers. I believe that men like myself are in awe and wonder of the very birth process, and how women take on this incredible task of birthing children. Then comes the hard part- rearing those children with love and nurture!

I was incredibly blessed to have a loving, sacrificing mother, who showed me the way of disciplined living, and how to care for other people. Then, I made the best decision of my life, and married my wife, who is a great mother, and has raised two amazing young adults who now care for families of their own.

I marvel at the self-sacrifice of mothers. The love and attention of a mother is such a crucial gift. That legacy of great mothers needs to be passed from generation to generation. I also realize that, unfortunately, not all readers of this blog have been blessed with a mother who is caring, kind and wise. If that is the case, the challenge is to start a new legacy of nurture and love for future generations.

Maybe the “mother-figure” in your life was an aunt, a grandmother, a foster-mother, or perhaps another relative or close friend. Celebrate the love you received from that woman today, and, if possible, make sure to make known how important they are or were in your life.

The best way to celebrate great mothers is to carry on the legacy of love and care. That would make all those moms happy.

Prayer: Lord, we are grateful for our mothers, who showed your love through their own, Amen

Morning Musings…

Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.                                                                                                                                            Lamentations 3:22-23

“You can observe a lot by watching…”                                                                                                     Yogi Berra

In taking my walk this morning, I was somehow taken back in my mind to my childhood as I passed a section of street with shade and sun mixed in a pleasing pattern. To put this in the words of that famous philosopher Yogi Berra, “You can observe a lot by watching…”

Walking, actually, is proven to be a great stimulus for the brain. Walking regularly is typically part of the homework I give to clients, because it is helpful at every level- physical, spiritual, and emotional. I often get the ideas for these blogs as I walk early in the morning.

Today’s musings included- that little trip to my childhood; a gratitude prayer for the beauty of the day; an observation that the sun has been creeping on a more northerly course and is getting to almost due east in the morning from its winter spot in the southeast; some mind organizing of my “To Do List”; and all this while I listened to podcasts that gave me thoughts about the progress of telehealth, and how the pandemic has changed society in so many profound ways.

So yes, my mind does go all over the place on those walks, and therein is the beauty. There is freedom to have my thoughts cover all sorts of things and muse upon them. It’s like exercise for the brain and the body.

How good is that!

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the ability to walk, and think, and observe your creation, Amen

A Theology as Big as the City

Like apples of gold in settings of silver Is a word spoken at the right time.                                         Proverbs 25:11

I read a book several years ago titled A Theology as Big as the City by Ray Bakke.  Lots of good stuff in the book, but one of the big takeaways for me was the idea that the church ought to serve as a chaplain to the city, or the area where it is located. Chaplains serve people with spiritual and emotional care at times of stress and crisis. We have hospital chaplains, military chaplains, hospice chaplains, police chaplains, even a chaplain for the U.S. Congress. That tells me that we value the spiritual care for people in critical situations.

The same goes for just us ordinary folks too. Heaven knows that there are daily stresses in our life that could be helped with the aid of a chaplain once in a while. The local church- that is the people who are part of that church (all of us, not the “pastor” necessarily), should be chaplains to the community we live in. We need to be ready to serve as the chaplain to the neighbor, friend, or even stranger who needs help, giving spiritual and emotional support.

If people saw the local church as a place where healthy, caring chaplains came from, they may be more inclined to check out what that church has to offer.

Just a thought…

Prayer: Lord, help us see the needs around us, and give us the will and courage to reach to help, Amen

What Do You Do?

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
    let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    let the field be joyful, and all that is in it…                                                                                           Psalm 96:11-12

Today, I simply put out a question to my dear readers. What is the best thing that you do for your own mental health? What practices do you have that give you peace in the midst of anxiety? What kinds of things do you do when you feel depressed?

I am not asking here for you to share those things, unless of course you want to. I am simply asking the question to help us to pause and think of those things which refresh or replenish us. Sometimes, we just intuitively do those things, and that is great. I always suggest to my clients that they try to become aware of those things that soothe them so that they can be proactive in utilizing those habits, practices, or just fun, even quirky things that help when they need some comfort or relief from the stresses of life.

So, think about it, jot down a couple of things, then do not hesitate to use those valuable tools when you need a lift.

Blessings!

P.S. One of the things I do for my mental well-being is follow baseball. Therefore, I need to say to Willie Mays, a childhood hero, Happy 90th Birthday Willie Mays!

Prayer: Lord, you give us good gifts in many places. Help us to identify them and appreciate them, Amen

Star Wars!

When I consider Your heavens,
    the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which You have established,
 what is man that You are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that You attend to him?                                                                                        Psalm 8:3-4 (Modern English Version)

As I write this blog, it is Star Wars Day. Yes, you know, May the fourth…                                 Do you remember when you first saw the first move in the franchise? It started, of course with Episode IV, something that we really did not understand as we sat in the theater watching that amazing scroll heading off into space. We were mesmerized by the graphics which, in 1977 were beyond amazing.

The movie unfolded, and we were struck with the levels of meaning that the writers, or we the audience, ascribed to it. Lots of action, heroes, villains, special effects, spiritual meaning, gripping plot line- I mean what else can you cram into a film? We just couldn’t wait until Episode V rolled out- three years later for heaven’s sake!

I think the franchise has been wildly successful for many reasons. It has gained world-wide acceptance and has been a fixed part of popular culture for generations. Part of the reason, I think, is that it reaches people at places where they want to be reached. People search for spiritual meaning in life, and Star Wars delivers in the way it portrays good vs. evil, and the faith level it takes for Luke to truly embrace The Force.

Our search for meaning even extends into our entertainment choices. I think this just reinforces that at every level, we are looking for something a little deeper. That is the amazing thing about how we are made, and our Maker too.

Prayer: Lord, you would have us seek you among everything in your creation. What a marvelous plan, Amen

The Price They Pay…

Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.                                                                                                                    Romans 13:7

During the stress of COVID-19 in the past year, we have, as a society, become more aware of the insidious effects of this stressful year on our collective mental health. In particular, there are some professions which have suffered a great deal. In fact, people in these professions have always suffered from the trauma inflicted upon them by their work, but the past year has been a scourge for them in particular. I know them well, because my kids are in these professions- medicine and law enforcement.

People in these professions are always on call, ready to provide safety and life-saving measures. In so doing, they put themselves in harm’s way for society. We take for granted that we can call the police when there is trouble, or we can be taken to the Emergency Room when we face a life-threatening situation.

By virtue of their positions, medical and law enforcement professionals encounter people experiencing the worst times of their lives. When people are going through such times, they often lash out at the first person they see- even the ones who are trying to help. People in these life-saving professions become lightning rods for behavior that is unseemly or even out of control. Yet, these professionals who serve people must be IN control, rendering help to those who may not, or cannot, appreciate it at the time.

The cost? It is high. Constantly being on the stress grid, awaiting the next crisis; chronic hypervigilance to the environment, they are victims of PTSD by definition. All these things lead to a type of burnout that can be deadly. Suicide rates in these professions are higher than I want to think about. But maybe the hardest thing for me to swallow as a parent is seeing that the stress and suffering of these professions are often more or less taken for granted. Sometimes people even blame the healers and protectors for the woes they suffer themselves.

So, I think of Jesus who was sent to the death of shame on the cross, and while he was suffering for the sins of mankind, he was jeered and tortured. I am not suggesting exact equivalency of suffering here. Just that we take for granted the sacrifices made on our behalf by law enforcement and front-line medical workers.

Yes, I have skin in the game because I am concerned for my kids. But really, we all have skin in this game. We rely upon those professions- and many more- for our safety and well-being. Maybe a kind word and thoughtful responses from the media might help too. Law enforcement professionals in particular are suffering from media scrutiny that only adds to their sense of scorn and disrespect. Let’s also give honor where honor is due…

Prayer: Lord, thank you for those who serve us and pay the price for their service, Amen

Where Are You Going?

 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.                                                                                                                                                                                       Philippians 4:8

One of the principles I share frequently with my clients is the idea of going toward the good rather than trying to avoid the bad. What do I mean by this? I think it is energy draining to try to avoid bad habits and behaviors. It is MUCH more energizing and life-giving to strive toward a goal that we want- a positive place.

I use the example of trying to run away from a dog that is chasing you. Eventually, we get tired of running away. The motivator is fear, and that works for a while, but it literally drains our energy. However, if we are striving toward a positive goal, we find ways to motivate ourselves toward the goal. We build in incentives and rewards, and we get encouragement from others with whom we have shared our goals. In short, we actually can get energized as we strive for a goal.

In situations with couples, I talk with them about not simply trying to avoid arguments, but actually finding ways to build one another up in little steps throughout the day or week. By concentrating on a positive behavior, they are automatically avoiding the troublesome behaviors that they do not like.

I remind people that they need to spend most of their time looking through the windshield, not constantly checking the rear-view mirror. Yes, we need to periodically need to check the mirror, but we need to keep our eyes on the road ahead the vast majority of the time.

So, let’s remember the word from Philippians-

 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.       

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the good words from Paul that contain such wisdom, Amen                                                                                                                                                                                  

Places of Encouragement

Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness                                                                                                                                                    Lamentations 3:22-23 (NIV)

It seems funny that a great encouragement can come from a book titled “Lamentations”. Yet, we get this great quote from a Bible book about national pain. Then again, maybe it makes all the sense in the world that an encouraging quote comes from a book about the lament of the destruction of Jerusalem- the literal worship center of the Israelites. The people who read these writings needed a great deal of encouragement. They got it in the middle of suffering.

Once again, the paradox of life always strikes me. We often get the greatest encouragement from those who are in the midst of suffering. In fact, it is much more meaningful to hear the story of an overcomer, and get encouragement from that, than it is to hear encouragement from one who has not known a great level of suffering. Don’t get me wrong, it is great to get encouragement wherever we can- we all need it. But to hear encouragement from an overcomer- that is deeply meaningful.

I have an old friend who has suffered all his life. He was born with a significant and debilitating epilepsy, and finally, at age 40, he received a surgery which essentially gave him almost complete relief. He got his driver’s license when he was 50, and he began driving others to appointments, doctor’s visits, etc. He has been on disability since he was a teenager because the brain damage he suffered in all those early years left him with some cognitive deficits that rendered him unable to do paid employment. Yet he has volunteered to serve others since he was about 20 years old, teaching disabled kids to learn how to swim. This guy volunteers almost everyday at a food pantry and other church ministries. This guy encourages others by his service every day.

 Let me tell you, that encourages me.

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for encouragers! Amen