Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Handling Stress in a Healthy Way

I recently received some ideas for new blog topics. One of them stood out to me as an important thing to address, dealing with stress. I think it's important to talk about stress because it is something that each and every person struggles with, no matter who they are, how old they are, male or female, rich or poor, we all deal with stress. Some of us deal with it better than others!

For me personally I have found that there are a few things to remember in order to be able to deal with stress well. The first thing I had to learn was how to live life from a powerful perspective, vs. a victim mindset. Just because you have a string of bad things happen to you, or even a series of horrible things that happen to you, it doesn't mean you are a victim for life. You can still be powerful in the midst of really difficult circumstances. Pain and hardships are not the end of the world. Learning how to stand and face my problems helped me feel powerful in life. Whenever I run away or avoid or try to cover up pain, I find myself acting like a victim. But when I stand my ground and ask for help, and deal with things head-on, I feel powerful, even when things don't go my way. Practice living life powerfully.

What makes you feel powerful?

Next, I learned to "know thyself." It is so helpful for me to have studied personalities for so long, that I not only understand what makes me tick, what motivates me and what scares me, but I also know those things about the people around me. Because I know myself really well, I know my limits. I know what I need, I know what will bring me joy. I've learned to listen to the signals my body sends me. When you develop habits of taking care of yourself, you are more prepared to handle stress well. I know that mundane routine wears me down. I know that I have a high need for change. I know that trying to keep my house really clean is near impossible with 4 boys. I know that I am no good to anyone before 9am. I know I love to cook but I hate to do dishes. I know that every once in a while I need a piece of bacon to feel satisfied. I also know that if I ate bacon every day I would be 200 pounds. I know that writing is an outlet for me, and I know that when I'm cooped up in the house too long with all my kids, I'm not the best mom I can be.

What do you know about yourself?

And lastly, it's important to know that no matter how hard you work on things, no matter how much you develop yourself, and no matter how many things you think you know there will be times of crisis where we are literally living in survival mode, just trying to keep our heads above water. In times like those I think it's so important to just give ourselves a break. Grace is what I cry out for in times like that. I give myself permission to temporarily melt down. I cry, I complain, and I say life is not fair. And at 34 years old, I still have weeks or even months when I live in survival mode. What do I anchor into when I'm in survival mode? I tell myself three things. The only thing that matters to me is that I come out of this season with my connection with God, my connection with my family, and my connection with my close friends in tact. Nothing else matters to me, not my weight, not my finances, not my goals, not my house, not a career, none of it is as important as my relationships. I lean heavily on others in seasons of survival, and I don't hold myself to high standards of performance. Survival seasons are not seasons to discipline yourself or accomplish new feats, or set new goals. It's not the time to evaluate yourself or grade yourself. It's simply a time to HANG ON, and GET THROUGH. Kind of like the song "if you're going through hell, keep on moving!"

Some people live in survival mode for years, and some people live there indefinitely. Take a look at your life. If you feel like you've been in survival mode for too long and need help breaking out - reach out and start pursuing something better for yourself. Our bodies were not designed to be able to handle the chemicals that get released when we are stressed long term. Not only will you feel worn down emotionally and mentally in extended or indefinite seasons of survival mode, but your body will start manifesting physical symptoms as well.

And lastly I'd say peace is my most effective weapon in handling stress well. When I focus on all that is going right instead of the things going wrong I feel peace. When I think about how much my husband loves me, I feel peace. When I count my blessings, I feel peace. When I slow down I feel peace. When I take a step back and look at things big picture, I feel peace. When I talk to my best friend I feel peace. When I cuddle with my kids I feel peace. And let's all just be real here, when I have a glass of wine, I feel LOTS of peace! All in moderation people, moderation!!!!! When I encourage people and counsel people I feel peace. When I make the world a better place, I feel peace.

What brings you peace?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sex and Covenant

For generations people have been preached at about sexual sin and sexual behavior. But I think a new perspective and a new approach needs to be brought to the issue of sex and covenant. I want to take you back to the beginning, the original design, the template of what God had in mind when He started. We were all created for intimate relationship, with each other and with Him. It's what we yearn for and we are not complete without it.

If you read the bible as a novel and really take it in "big picture", you'd see that it is a love story between God and mankind. At it's most basic form it is a love letter to teach, inform, romance and protect us. But so many view it as a rule book, a book of judgement, a book of criticism, and a collection of stern warnings. I often think if I had to be separated from my kids, what kind of letters would I write to them? My letters to them would look a lot like God's letter (the bible) to us. And I know the tone they would hear when reading would be a tone of love, compassion, protection and hope. I have had to re-train myself to read God's word with that tone, vs. the tone I was taught to hear in the church growing up.

When I was young I had a distorted understanding of sex. I knew for certain I was not supposed to have sex outside of marriage but without the true understanding of why, that rule was easily broken. If your only inspiration for not doing something is because someone told you it's bad, it is terribly difficult to uphold that rule.

So, back to the beginning of the story...In the beginning God created Adam, and they walked together and had relationship. In that initial time they spent together, God could see that Adam needed a mate. He needed someone that was created like he was to share his life with, so God created woman. God took a rib from Adam's side and created Adam's counterpart, Eve. Then God gave Adam and Eve sex as a way to bring them back together as one. Sex was designed for two people to connect at an intense level, and it was given as a way to create life, and it was given as a way to manifest the love they had for each other until one of them or both of them were no more.

At the core of who we are as women we need to feel safe, protected, and committed-to, to really flourish in a sexual relationship. When we participate in casual sex or sex outside of covenant, we are betraying ourselves. In our quest to get love, we give sex, and that leaves us ravished and devastated. The feeling is strong in the beginning, it is a sick feeling that leaves you empty and vulnerable, unprotected and stripped bare. But if you try hard enough, you can ignore those feelings, or suppress them temporarily and continue betraying your heart. But...there are consequences. There are addictions that will show up, or therapy sessions, or silent cries in the night when you betray the original design. "No man can tell you who you are as a woman. No man is the verdict on your soul. (Dear sister, how many of you have lost yourself in this search?)" - quote from the book "Captivating, Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul" by John & Stasi Eldredge.

At the deepest core of who a man is he is wired to bring strength, protection and love to a woman. When he engages in sex outside of covenant and takes from a woman something that he did not pay for in commitment, he becomes extremely challenged in the ability to give all that he was born to give. He takes on either subconsciously or consciously the role of a predator, taking instead of giving. In doing this he betrays his heart and his design. As a result, men will either feel a deep remorse, shame and guilt, or, they will feel a deep resentment towards the woman who could not ultimately validate him. He does not feel like the hero, he feels like a failure. He will either run away and continue his quest with the next woman, or he will stay and make an attempt to "love" the woman he is with. But it is not a natural intimacy, it is all manufactured. It is "love" that comes forth from the will of the mind vs. love that is an unstoppable flow from the heart.

There is no question that God designed a man to be inspired by a woman's beauty. He created arousal, he created femininity, and masculinity. He created them to be primally drawn to each other. A woman can awaken a man's sexuality in a way that no other experience on earth comes close to. This is the stuff that wars are fought over. These are the feelings we all long to have. A woman wants nothing more than to melt into the strong arms of her lover. But our primary and core validation has to come from God first, until it does we can never be satisfied by sex or by the opposite sex. The second qualification of being in unity with the original design, is to understand and believe that covenant (or commitment) is vital to the health of a sexual relationship.

Sex inside of and protected by healthy, faithful covenant is one of the most beautiful things a man and woman can experience. Under the umbrella of covenant a woman feels sheltered, safe, completely open and known. In her heart she feels respected and cherished. There is no competition, no fear, no emotion of being taken from. It feels right, in order, in harmony with the original design. She knows she is beautiful, she knows she is worth fighting for. Under that same umbrella a man feels strong, inspired, romantic and motivated. He is powerful in what he can bring to the relationship. His heart is not tainted with thoughts of compromise and he is at harmony as well with the original design. He knows he has what it takes to be a man and he knows he is the hero in his story.

To abstain from sex outside of marriage because you are afraid of breaking the rules, or you're afraid of shame or condemnation, (or std's, or unplanned pregnancy) is very uninspiring and it is ineffective. But to protect that gift until you've found loving covenant for life is an electrifying challenge. To understand the original design for sex and to really embrace the very highest plan that God has for you is hard work, but the reward is unbelievable. For those who have engaged in promiscuous sex in the past, there is hope to have a different relationship with sex and covenant. There is hope to discard your old ways of thinking and betrayals of the heart, and there is hope to embrace a new way of life. I speak to you from the other side of a story that started out very painful for me. Despite many mistakes my husband and I made in the beginning of our lives, we are now experiencing God's original design for sex and covenant. What we are walking in now inspired me to write this blog today.

I challenge you to see that all those scriptures about sexual sin and sexual behavior in the bible are not there to take away from you, or to limit your pleasures in this lifetime. They are there to show you that sex within covenant is such an amazing experience that there is an intense war over it. The enemy of your heart would come to kill, steal, and destroy any joy that would come from sex. Our enemy has done everything in his power to pervert it, compromise it, disfigure it, and sabotage it. So wouldn't it make sense that the lover of your soul would leave you tons of advice, guidance and direction to protect it and keep it safe? Sometimes there is so much freedom released to us when we see things in a new light. I hope this blog has done that for some of you today. I hope it has brought some understanding, some freedom, and some peace to your soul on an issue that for some, can really be very sensitive and full of questions and confusion.

Resources for more on this topic:

Wild At Heart - Discovering the Secrets of a Man's Soul by John Eldredge
Captiviating - Unveiling the Mysteries of a Woman's Soul by John & Staci Edlredge
Love & War - Finding the Marriage You've Dreamed of by John & Staci Eldredge
Moral Revolution movement:
Loving On Purpose Ministries: