Christ Calls Christians to Compassion, NOT Comfort

I know everyone is passionate about what is going on in the country right now. There are a lot of legitimate reasons for people to be concerned about the direction we are heading, and emotions on all fronts are understandably close to the surface, which makes it really hard for us to listen to each other. But for a moment, I’d like to talk to the Americans who call themselves Christians. Everyone else, of course, is welcome to read on, but I’m specifically directing this towards those who strive to be Christ-like.

First of all, no one is perfectly Christ-like. That is simply unattainable. But if we are going to call ourselves by his name, that should be our aim. It is what we should strive for, and we should always be pressing towards that goal, to get as close as we are able.

There are a lot of words that you could use to describe Jesus’ three-year ministry on Earth. But the aspect of his character that always seems to shout the loudest to me is: compassion. Indeed, it is compassion that brought him to Earth in the first place. But almost every interaction that you see between Jesus and nearly everyone he came in contact with (perhaps with the exception of the religious rulers) was dominated by compassion. Here are just a few examples (in no particular order):

The (Samaritan) woman at the well,  John 4:4-26

Even though she was a “half-breed” Samaritan who would have been rejected by many of the Jews of her day, Jesus was not reluctant to associate with her, listen to her, and offer her a chance to accept him as the Messiah (who most Jews felt was exclusively for them)

The woman with twelve years of constant bleeding, Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-34, Luke 8:43-48

This woman had exhausted every penny she had going to doctors for healing and had found none, for twelve long years. We don’t know if she was in a lot of pain (although many of the conditions that cause constant menstrual bleeding are quite painful), but we do know that because of the restrictions on cleanliness there would have been many social and religious aspects of life she would have been excluded from.

 The feeding of the multitudes (two events), Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:5-15; and Matthew 15:32-16:10, Mark 8:1-9

Jesus and the disciples were exhausted. A seemingly never-ending stream of people with physical and spiritual needs had left them with no time to rest, relax, and restore themselves. In fact, the “feeding of the 5000” was right after they found out about John the Baptist’s murder. They hadn’t even really had time to mourn. But when the disciples wanted to send the crowds away, Jesus instead asked what they had to offer the hungry masses. He blessed it into enough not only for the crowd at that moment, but enough to send them home with leftovers.

The children who came to him, Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17

 Again, these guys are wiped out. The crowds were pretty much constant at this point, and the wear on the disciples was beginning to show in their crabbiness as they tried to shoo away the children and the parents who tried to bring them to Jesus. But Jesus urged them to allow the children to come to him.

 Mary and Martha (when their brother Lazarus was dead), John 11

There are tons of commentaries on this passage and the background of this family’s relationship with Jesus, and I am no scholar. The point I’m trying to make here is that he cared very deeply about this family, and his compassion moved him not only to tears, but to action.

Even on the cross, he was more focused on his compassion for others than on his own suffering:

Praying for forgiveness for those who were carrying out the orders to crucify him (Luke 23:34)

Assuring the thief on the cross next to him that he would join him in paradise (Luke 23:43)

Bidding his mother and Peter to care for one another as mother and son after he was gone (John 19:25-27).

Why am I prattling on about this? Because I believe that if we are going to label ourselves with his name, then this profoundly fundamental aspect of his character should be something that we are continually working towards. But what exactly does that look like in our current society?

I believe it looks like this:

Whenever we have an opportunity to ease another person’s suffering, we should do whatever we can to do so. Close to home, this may mean volunteering at a soup kitchen, supporting ministries that provide shelter for the homeless, medical and mental health care, sanctuary for abused spouses and children, etc. As we expand our outreach to those beyond our borders, I believe it should include humanitarian aid to victims of natural disasters, war, famine, etc. We should offer what we have to give to relieve the suffering of refugees, immigrants, and the like. Christ didn’t say only to care for those who believe as you do, or behave as you wish them to. In fact, he said exactly the opposite:

Luke 6:27-36 New International Version (NIV)

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.

The crux of this passage is that we (as Christians) should never sacrifice compassion for the sake of comfort. We should be willing to sacrifice our comfort for the sake of compassion. Yes, that means temporarily sacrificing our physical comfort in order to give our coat to someone who needs it, but I think it also includes something else. I think we are FAR too unwilling to sacrifice our psychological comfort for the sake of compassion. Follow me down this path for a moment, and maybe I can explain what I mean. If seeing a homosexual couple makes you uncomfortable, are you willing to sacrifice your comfort for the sake of interacting with that couple in a compassionate and loving way? If the Black Lives Matter movement makes you uncomfortable, are you willing to sacrifice your comfort for the sake of maintaining a dialogue, coming together in a spirit of reconciliation, and a true desire to right the undeniable wrongs that continue to be an issue? If the militarization of the police force makes you uncomfortable, are you willing to sacrifice your comfort to maintain a dialogue with them, addressing their very real fear for their safety, and the changes that need to be made in selecting and training our police force? If the Women’s March made you uncomfortable, can you sacrifice your comfort for the sake of reaching out to minister to the needs of those women, instead of calling names, labeling, or dismissing them?

Now, I don’t claim to know where the line should be drawn between the expected actions of an individual, and the prudent actions of a nation. But I do know that Christ did not call us as individuals to act out of fear, or greed, or entitlement, or paranoia, or anger, or retribution. If we are attempting to follow him, we should be acting out of compassion. And while I do not believe that a nation can be “Christian” (I believe that is a title that can only be assigned to individuals who have made that choice for themselves), if we would like to claim that we are a nation that is led by at least some fraction of Christian individuals, the decisions they are making should at least in some measure reflect compassion, even when difficult decisions have to be balanced with other concerns.

Obviously my sphere of influence doesn’t include our nation’s leaders. But if you’ve read through this far, maybe I can encourage you. Don’t let fear make decisions for you. God’s love is perfect, and perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18; note that it is in present tense, meaning it is an ongoing process–it continues to drive out fear, not that it drove out fear once and for all). Let us not belligerently withhold desperately needed aid in the name of self-protection, or nationalism, or entitlement. We are one of the richest countries in the world, in so many ways. We should be sharing that abundance. Do we have needy within our own borders? Absolutely. But we are blessed with such abundance that this should never have been an either/or discussion–we should be doing what we can to help both our fellow Americans in need AND our fellow human beings in need around the world.

Is there a way that you, personally, can sacrifice your own comfort for the sake of compassion?

Cleaning Out Mind Clutter

I LOVED this article on getting rid of mind clutter at Becoming Minimalist.  It seems as hard as it might be sometimes to get rid of physical clutter in our lives, it’s even harder to let go of mental clutter.  And I’d dare say that it is far more influential to our state of contentment.  Simplifying what we choose to keep in our heads goes a long way towards our being satisfied in this exact moment.

We have a tendency (or at least I do) to hang on to negative things from our past and allow them to have far too much influence on who we are in the present.  It’s hard to let go of the hurts from an unfaithful ex, an abusive parent, an untrustworthy friend.  It’s hard not to fret about all the things that could go wrong in the future, or dreams that might remain unfulfilled.  If we really could apply the idea of packing up our mind clutter to move into a small, cozy apartment, would we really want to hold on to hurts, disappointments, dashed dreams, and other negative thoughts from our past?  Would we want to bring all those worries, fears, and anxieties about the future?

I like how the article says that it’s OK to choose some of those negative things.  Sometimes you just can’t let go of them right away.  But choose them knowingly, and don’t be in denial about it.  Acknowledge that they’re negative, and eventually you’ll be ready to send them packing.  Just remember that the more negative thoughts you allow to take up space in your head, the less room you have for the positive stuff.  Carefully consider what deserves the privilege of that prime real estate.

I’d like to add something here.  I’m a pretty optimistic person, and I’d say I have a lot of hope for the future.  But there is a VERY fine line between having hope for a better future and being constantly dissatisfied with the present because you haven’t reached your ideal future yet.  From the time you are born until you die, your life is a work in progress.  Don’t be discouraged that you haven’t yet reached the pinnacle of your life.  This seems to be a common issue with young adults who want to have the dream house/car/job/family RIGHT NOW that their parents and grandparents had to work for decades to acquire.  I think that’s the biggest allure of credit.  Borrowed affluence is not the same as owning your stuff.  Make sure you work toward your goals with the idea of OWNING what you have, not borrowing.  If that means owning less, so be it.

And I know I keep saying this, but it’s so important: try to spend more time dwelling on the positives than on the negatives.  Obviously you can’t get rid of every negative thought that might pop into your head, but try not to let it to take up any more time than it takes to chase it out the door.  Try to imagine sweeping them out of your head with an old-fashioned straw broom.  The longer you let these mental freeloaders hang around, the more they suck the life and happiness out of you. Those negative thoughts are roaches in your kitchen, leeches sucking your blood, whatever makes you most want to eradicate them.  Make a conscious decision to think about something more positive instead.  And not in an artificial, Pollyanna, “starving-kids-in-Africa-have-it-worse-off-than-you” kind of way.  Make it real.  Seriously, there ARE people who have it far worse.  And chances are, you can even think of moments in your OWN life that have been worse than this bad moment right now.  Cling to the idea that it’s going to get better instead of how bad it is.

I too, am a work in progress.  But I have noticed how my overall attitude has improved immensely since I’ve started trying to be conscious about the thoughts I dwell on.  Those negatives still visit me, sure; I am a bit of a worrywort.  But I am getting better and better at chasing those thoughts away and replacing them with something positive.  Keep plugging away, and you’ll start to see a definite improvement!  And even if you feel you’ve taken a step backward, just move forward from where you are right now.  The important thing is that you’re going in the right overall direction.  Try to take a step back and see how far you’ve come.  Work towards the person that you’d like to be in the future, and your “now” will benefit from it.

The Keys to Happiness

I was talking with a good friend the other day about how some people just can’t seem to be happy, regardless of their circumstances, and others seem to generally be happy, regardless of circumstances.  We both agreed that happiness is, at its core, a choice.  As I reflected further on this statement, I found an article on Becoming Minimalist that followed right along with many of the things we discussed.  I will again try the “copy and paste” approach, but you can read the original article here.  As before, my comments are in blue.

12 Intentional Actions to Choose Happiness Today

by JOSHUA BECKER

“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” —Abraham Lincoln

Happy people realize happiness is a choice. They are not held hostage by their circumstances and they do not seek happiness in people or possessions. They understand that when we stop chasing the world’s definition of happiness, we begin to see the decision to experience happiness has been right in front of us all along. Research in the field of positive psychology continues to reinforce this understanding.

But simply knowing that happiness is a choice is not enough. Fully experiencing it still requires a conscience decision to do so each day.

  • I’ve said it several times, and I will continue to repeat–it is not a one-time deal, choosing to be happy.  Not in your job, in your marriage, or any other task or relationship.  It takes a conscious decision on a regular basis to CHOOSE joy instead of dwelling on the negative.  

How then might each of us begin to experience this joy?

Consider this list of 12 Intentional Actions to Choose Happiness Today. Embrace one new action item… practice all of them… or simply use them as inspiration to discover your own.

1. Count your blessings. Happy people choose to focus on the positive aspects of life rather than the negative. They set their minds on specific reasons to be grateful. They express it when possible. And they quickly discover there is always, always, something to be grateful for.

  • Thankfulness is a fundamental requirement for contentment.  We cannot be content if we are always fretting over what we don’t have instead of being grateful for what we do.

2. Carry a smile. A smile is a wonderful beautifier. But more than that, studies indicate that making an emotion-filled face carries influence over the feelings processed by the brain. Our facial expression can influence our brain in just the same way our brains influence our face. In other words, you can actually program yourself to experience happiness by choosing to smile. Not to mention, all the pretty smiles you’ll receive in return for flashing yours is also guaranteed to increase your happiness level.

  • It’s remarkable how this works.  It’s actually possible to improve your mood merely by this simple action of choosing to smile.  This is not some fake grimace, people.  Even people going through some pretty dark hours should be able to come up with something that can bring a smile to their face, even better if you can offer that smile, no matter how small, to someone else.  Then you also reap the benefits of the high probability that the smile will be returned, even by a complete stranger.

3. Speak daily affirmation into your life. Affirmations are positive thoughts accompanied with affirmative beliefs and personal statements of truth. They are recited in the first person, present tense (“I am…”). Affirmations used daily can release stress, build confidence, and improve outlook. For maximum effectiveness, affirmations should be chosen carefully, be based in truth, and address current needs. Here is a list of 100 daily affirmations to help you get started.

  • While I’m not generally one of those mystical “hug yourself” kind of people, I definitely think it’s a good idea to ponder the things that you do like about yourself.  Everyone has things about themselves that they don’t like.  Most of them are not in your power to change, which makes dwelling on them even more futile.  But you should be able to find some things that you DO like, physically, mentally, emotionally.  It’s a good idea to “accentuate the positive”, and play to your strengths.  If you have trust issues, but find that you are fiercely loyal when you do make a true friend, that’s a GOOD thing.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work to be a little more trusting, but in the meantime, affirm what you have.  If you are afraid to try new things, you might want to step out of your comfort zone, but acknowledge that a certain amount of healthy fear keeps you from going off and really wrecking things because you didn’t think before acting.  There’s generally a positive side to every coin, as long as it’s not taken to extremes. (Incidentally, that’s pretty much how I feel about politics.)
  • Everyone has been disappointed or frustrated by not reaching a goal that they had set for themselves.  But here’s the point: you haven’t reached your goal YET.  And sometimes it takes a great deal of maturity and self-understanding to admit that a goal that you’ve set may not be appropriate for you now, even if it was when you first set it.  I’m not saying to give up when the going gets tough, because it will.  Guaranteed.  But when you hit that inevitable wall or rough patch, you need to give yourself the mental boost to say, “No, I haven’t succeeded, but that doesn’t make me a failure, it just means I haven’t succeeded yet.”  And if upon reevaluation you determine that the goal is not for you (often these goals were pressed upon you by someone else, such as a parent or spouse, rather than one you set for yourself), it’s time to either redefine your goal, or let it go and replace it with something that suits you better.

4.Wake up on your terms. Most of us have alarm clocks programmed because of the expectations of others: a workplace, a school, or a waking child. That’s probably not going to change. But that doesn’t mean we have to lose control over our mornings in the process. Wake up just a little bit early and establish an empowering, meaningful, morning routine. Start each day on your terms. The next 23 hours will thank you for it.

  • Ok, this may seem weird to some people, but I have found that my mood for the day can be quite dramatically affected, negatively or positively, by the song that wakes me up in the morning.  And if I do something that I enjoy early on in the day (snuggling baby, enjoying a cup of coffee while appreciating the view from my patio, etc) it tends to make the day generally more positive.

5. Hold back a complaint. The next time you want to lash out in verbal complaint towards a person, a situation, or yourself, don’t. Instead, humbly keep it to yourself. You’ll likely diffuse an unhealthy, unhappy environment. But more than that, you’ll experience joy by choosing peace in a difficult situation.

  • This has to be one of the hardest lessons to learn.  And relearn.  And relearn.  Does anyone else need to keep relearning this one?  While it’s ok to occasionally decompress by venting to a trusted friend, it’s almost NEVER productive to attack someone when it can be avoided, and it’s almost NEVER productive to continually rehash the things that infuriate you about someone else to a third party.  While I usually prefer to avoid conflict when possible (which can be a good thing and a bad thing) I do catch myself ranting about the people who aggravate me to my close family members and friends.  This goes right along with dwelling on the negative instead of the positive.  Try (desperately) to find something about that individual that you like.  Come on, you can do it.  When you catch yourself trashing them, either out loud or internally, try to sidetrack yourself by latching on to that one redeeming quality you found.  You’ll discover that your interactions with that person will be far less negative, solely because your internal attitude has changed.  Give it a shot.

6. Practice one life-improving discipline. There is happiness and fulfillment to be found in personal growth. To know that you have intentionally devoted time and energy to personal improvement is one of the most satisfying feelings you’ll ever experience. Embrace and practice at least one act of self-discipline each day. This could be exercise, budgeting, or guided-learning… whatever your life needs today to continue growing. Find it. Practice it. Celebrate it.

  • I am a perpetual student; I always have been.  I love to read.  I love to learn new things.  I love to meet new people who do something I don’t know anything about, and pick their brains.  In my humble opinion, one should never stop learning.  You can never learn everything there is to be learned, and if you stop trying to learn, you’re only waiting around to die.  Probably with a higher chance of Alzheimer’s, the more sedentary your brain becomes.  Personal growth not only improves your innate awesomeness, it gives you that sense of accomplishment.  🙂

7. Use your strengths. Each of us have natural talents, strengths, and abilities. And when we use them effectively, we feel alive and comfortable in our skin. They help us find joy in our being and happiness in our design. So embrace your strengths and choose to operate within your giftedness each day. If you need to find this outlet outside your employment, by all means, find this outlet.

  • This part is all about knowing yourself, which should be right at the top of your to-do list for your continuing education.  Know what you like, what you don’t like, what you’re good at and what you’re not.  And I need to shout this from the mountain tops: You WILL change.  Your likes and dislikes change, your abilities change.  This is how two people who seemed to be a good match end up divorcing: because they both change, but they don’t change TOGETHER.  
  • Don’t let the fact that you are working in a job that is not your dream job keep you from happiness.  You have two options here.  One: change your job.  Yes, it might be hard.  You might have to make some sacrifices, maybe go back to school, but it is SHORT TERM and well worth it.  Two: in the event that it is completely and utterly impossible to change your job, or you are unwilling to do what it takes to do so, find something outside your job that brings you joy.  Even if it’s something you do only very rarely, use it as your carrot.  If I am not happy doing what I’m doing in this exact moment, I can look forward to doing something that will make me happy sometime in the foreseeable future.  Set a date, if possible, so you know how long you have to wait.  Although retirement may be a BIG relief, don’t decide you can’t be happy until retirement, and be a jerk to everyone around you in the meantime.  Find something that makes you happy RIGHT NOW, and plan on doing it even more when you retire.

8. Accomplish one important task. Because happy people choose happiness, they take control over their lives. They don’t make decisions based on a need to pursue joy. Instead, they operate out of the satisfaction they have already chosen. They realize there are demands on their time, helpful pursuits to accomplish, and important contributions to make to the world around them. Choose one important task that you can accomplish each day. And find joy in your contribution.

  • This is a great point.  Even on the days when I don’t physically feel up to doing much, if I just get at least one tiny thing accomplished, I keep from feeling like the day was a total wash.  Don’t underestimate the power of small contributions, or ones that affect only one person.  Even if your kid never SAYS how much they appreciate having clean underwear, rest assured that you’re making their world a better place.

9. Eat a healthy meal/snack. We are spiritual, emotional, and mental beings. We are also physical bodies. Our lives cannot be wholly separated into its parts. As a result, one aspect always influences the others. For example, our physical bodies will always have impact over our spiritual and emotional well-being. Therefore, caring for our physical well-being can have significant benefit for our emotional standing. One simple action to choose happiness today is to eat healthy foods. Your physical body will thank you… and so will your emotional well-being.

  • I am not a health food fanatic.  I am definitely not one who says you should never eat junk food.  But should you fall into the habit of making processed foods your mainstay and fresh foods the exception, your body will not run at peak efficiency.  Don’t put sludge in the gas tank of your high performance sports car.  Not all calories are equal.  Is it more work to make your own pizza with fresh ingredients than to pop in a couple of frozen disks?  Absolutely.  And it may not be something you’d want to do at every meal.  But any time you can improve the quality of what you’re feeding your engine, you’re going to notice an improvement.  And as an aside, those processed bits of garbage that pass themselves off as healthy snacks just because they have less than 100 calories per serving don’t cut it.  Go eat an apple, people.  And it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition: ANY improvement in your eating habits is, you know, and improvement.
  • Since I found out I am gluten intolerant several months ago and stopped eating gluten altogether, I have felt so much better in so many ways.  If you want to understand this phenomenon, it doesn’t take much effort to find tons on info on the interwebz about food sensitivity and all of its potential nasty symptoms, very frequently misdiagnosed as other diseases.  I started this post first, and then realized I was writing WAY too much about the gluten thing, so I decided to make a separate gluten-free post.   I try not to proselytize for the paleo lifestyle too much, because I’m not really hard-core paleo anyway.  But seriously, you owe it to yourself to try eliminating some of the common problem foods if you are showing symptoms.  It won’t kill you to go a month without bread (or milk, or other potential allergen).  And it could dramatically change your health and happiness for the better.

10. Treat others well. Everyone wants to be treated kindly. But more than that, deep down, we also want to treat others with the same respect that we would like given to us. Treat everyone you meet with kindness, patience, and grace. The Golden Rule is a powerful standard. It benefits the receiver. But also brings growing satisfaction in yourself as you seek to treat others as you would like to be treated.

  • You’d think this would be one of those “duh” kind of statements, but it seems that we’re all so busy with all of the garbage that we’re overloading our lives with, we can’t take the time to be kind.  We’re too rushed to hold the door for the person behind us, to show patience to our overworked waitress (especially since it’s usually not her fault that your food is not up yet), or just to surprise a stranger with a random act of kindness.  It may be just a tiny thing, but you’re making someone else’s day better, and that makes your day better.

11. Meditate. Find time alone in solitude. As our world increases in speed and noise, the ability to withdraw becomes even more essentialStudies confirm the importance and life-giving benefits of meditation. So take time to make time. And use meditation to search inward, connect spiritually, and improve your happiness today.

  • Meditate, pray, whatever works for you.  The most important thing is that we seem to have lost the ability to be content while alone.  Of course we don’t want to be alone ALL the time, but if we are never taking down time, and our happiness is dependent on someone else being there, we have a problem.  Learn to be comfortable with yourself, and take time to reconnect with God, to engage in some self-reflection, to see where you are and where you’re headed.

12. Search for benefit in your pain. This life can be difficult. Nobody escapes without pain. At some point—in some way—we all encounter it. When you do, remind yourself again that the trials may be difficult, but they will pass. And search deep to find meaning in the pain. Choose to look for the benefits that can be found in your trial. At the very least, perseverance is being built. And most likely, an ability to comfort others in their pain is also being developed.

  • Lots of sucky stuff happens to us through the course of our lives, some things definitely suckier than others.  No parent should ever have to bury their child, for instance.  It’s those really tough times that leave us reeling, wondering if we’ll ever be happy again, and if there’s even any point in carrying on.  It’s OK to feel like that.  Really, it is.  We run into problems when we let it break us permanently.  We can choose to never be happy again, because life has handed us this horrible blow, or we can find other things that make us happy, even though we’re still occasionally sad.  We can choose bitterness or healing.  There is no set time frame, and I’m not one to say what’s appropriate for you, but I think if you’re still stuck in bitterland years later, you need to evaluate why you are still hanging on to that negativity.  Have you let it become part of your definition of who you are?  It’s time to redefine yourself.  Let it be something that happened to you in your past, something that has certainly affected who you are right now, but not something that is exclusively responsible for shaping who you are for all of your remaining years.
  • I especially like the idea of using your pain to learn to comfort others.  It doesn’t even have to be EXACTLY the same pain in order for us to understand and feel for someone else.  We can still empathize, even if we haven’t been in precisely the same situation.

Go today. Choose joy and be happy. That will make two of us.

  • What did you think of this list?  Did you have any ideas to add?  Which one is you favorite?

Valeria Levitin,The World’s Thinnest Woman Campaigns Against Anorexia

Since I’ve been posting about outer beauty and healthy weight, I thought I’d share this heartbreaking story with you.

the CITIZENS of FASHION

I saw Valeria first time by the pool in Monaco,Monte Carlo two years ago.I still remember the shock of that moment… I was mesmerized by the person in front of me or better said “the dead walking ” in front of me… After the shock passed I had the strongest feeling to run to her and hug her,to listen to her story and find a way to help her. Something stopped me…. the idea that maybe she’ll get it wrong,that maybe my reaction could scared her,the person near me, telling me to stop staring at her…. But really how could everybody be so calm and cool like everything was ok when in one corner of the pool was sunbathing the skeletal system from the anatomy class back in school?!Are we so egocentric that we don’t see the suffering around us?!

The story of Valeria came out in the media at the end…

View original post 1,236 more words

Nurturing Positive Relationships

I’m sure every one of us has had a difficult relationship of some kind: a controlling boss, an uncooperative co-worker, a troublesome family member, an overly needy, drama-magnet friend.  While we may not be able to completely remove those trying people from our lives, we would all do well to concentrate on nurturing more positive relationships.

One of the best ways to reduce stress is to minimize your exposure to stressful relationships.  Now, I am not advocating that you go out and quit your job without another one lined up just because your boss is a jerk.  And while we may sometimes wish that we could, we cannot choose our relatives. Sometimes the best we can do is try to limit the amount of time we have to spend dealing with the difficult ones.  While I don’t necessarily agree with everything in the article, there are some great suggestions in How to Handle Your High-Maintenance Friends and Family Without Losing Your Mind.

But perhaps a simpler objective is to truly invest in your positive relationships.  Think of the people who make you smile. Those who make you want to be a better you.  Those who lift you up and encourage you, but are also willing to advise you when you are wandering from where you should be.  Those who are always willing to share your joys and sorrows.  Those who can pick up right where you left off, even when it’s been a while since you talked.

Knowing that we SHOULD nurture those relationships and actually making it happen are two different things, however.  In the frantic busy-ness of modern society, it’s hard to stay connected, even when we have the best of intentions.  I find this especially difficult, when being a primary caregiver to an elderly family member seems to take up every minute of every day.  Even before my granny moved in, caring for a toddler and a teen suffering from debilitating migraines while she’s trying to finish high school was quite an absorbing task.

I think this is why I so appreciate those friends who don’t get angry or hurt when they don’t hear from me in a while.  I can go quite a few days without being on line at all, and I miss all of the FaceBook updates on what’s going on in their lives.  I just flat out don’t make it out of the house often, unless it’s for a doctor’s appointment.

I’m trying to get a little better at sending a quick message or text that says, “Hey, I was just thinking of you”.  Even if I don’t have time for a coffee date or an extended phone conversation, these little chances to reconnect help, especially when I hear back from those individuals who never fail to make me smile.

Try not to let it go too long without reaching out to those people that brighten your life.  While you don’t want to become the “overly needy, drama-magnet friend”, you also don’t want to let a great friendship wither because you let the daily grind get in the way.    And don’t completely abandon the face-to-face moments, even when you really have to work to make them happen.  Nothing is as uplifting as a simple hug, a smile, and an “I missed you.”

How do you minimize the stress that difficult relationships bring?  How do you manage to stay connected to those who give you a boost, even when you’re really swamped?

More Reflections on Depression: Medication

I started this post quite a while ago, but things happened, and as it turns out I’ve recently needed depression medication again.  As I said in earlier posts, I have experienced depression severe enough to merit medication a few times.  There is a lot of debate over whether anti-depressants are over-prescribed, how effective they really are, and even whether they’re necessary at all.  For those of you who have never gone through this, I must stress this: true clinical depression is far more than just feeling really sad.  And it is not brought about by a lack of willpower, weakness of character, or inability to “suck it up”.  Just as we can sometimes take on too much physically and hurt our bodies, there are times in our lives when circumstances might be more overwhelming than we are emotionally able to handle, or there are physiological reasons for an imbalance.

The first time was many years ago, for what I now know was a drug-induced depression (that medication is no longer on the market).  In those days, I was the most complacent of patients.  I did whatever the doctor told me to do, including adding multiple drugs to combat the terrible side effects of the drug I was on, instead of insisting that I eliminate the drug that was causing the problems.  At that point in time, I was pretty much stuck between two moods: ticked off, and bawling.  This was not at all my natural state, and certainly not the person I wanted to be.

The second time around, there was a hormonal imbalance that we later found out was because of undiagnosed/untreated thyroid problems.  I was again often ticked off or bawling, but there was more of a feeling of hopelessness than I had ever experienced before.  I didn’t know what was wrong with me, or why I didn’t really care to do things that I normally enjoyed.  I didn’t really entertain serious thoughts of suicide, but I can’t say that I cared if something catastrophic happened to me either.  That’s not a good place to live.  And I imagine I wasn’t particularly enjoyable to be around.

This time, I’ve been having health issues that have made it nearly impossible to go about a normal day.  It’s been going on for so long now, and it’s so frustrating that every test keeps coming back negative.  I feel like my body has betrayed me, and the doctors are so hung up on lab values that they don’t even consider symptoms any more.  I don’t mind getting older, but I don’t want to feel like 80 at 40.  So even more hopelessness, fear that I will continue to go undiagnosed and never actually get better.  It was really starting to get to me, and I couldn’t stay on top of it any more, in addition to fighting the physical aspects of whatever is going on.  And added to the hopelessness was quite a bit of anxiety.  It turns out that one of the newer mood-balancing drugs is also sometimes helpful for one of the conditions I have, so it seemed like a win-win.  I haven’t been on it too long, but it seems like it might be helping on both points.

Why did I share all this?  Because I think it is appalling that we have made discussion of emotional and mental struggles such a huge taboo, while most people have no qualms about talking about their physical problems.  We always try to put on the mask that shows we have it all together, and so then we think that we’re the only ones who DON’T have it all together, since all we see are everyone else’s masks.  But all of us are broken in some way.  And it does a disservice to us all to wear those masks.  Let me reiterate:  WE ALL LOSE, because we don’t allow ourselves to share our struggles.

I’m not saying you have to bear your heart to strangers, and I don’t think it’s healthy to always dwell on how miserable you are.  But there have been a lot of famous suicides recently, and the stories mirror those of regular everyday people: even those closest to them often had no idea that they were contemplating taking their own lives.  We don’t even feel comfortable sharing with those who should be loving us unconditionally, because we don’t want to be seen as weak, or whiny, or whatever.  I’ve been guilty of it myself.  And while it’s definitely outside of my comfort zone to share on this level, I hope that it helps some of the people reading this.  Depression is NOT your fault, any more than having some random genetic disease is your fault.  Find someone you trust, someone you feel safe talking to.  Let them know what’s going on.  Maybe even ask THEM if they think it would be a good idea for you to see a doctor and/or a counselor.  Chances are good that they’ve had the thought and didn’t know how to bring it up to you.  Because no matter how bleak things seem right now, no matter how much you think everyone would be better off without you, that is not the case at all.

If you think a loved one is struggling with depression or any other mental battle, don’t wait to talk to them.  Let them know you are there to encourage them, to help them however you can.  Even if you’ve never dealt with it yourself and can’t fully comprehend what they’re going through, you can still be part of their support structure.

If you are struggling with depression, any other mental health issue, addiction, abuse, or self-harm, please seek out help.  There are so many resources available. There’s a great non-profit called To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) whose specific goal is to support those dealing with any of those issues in getting the help they need.  Don’t put it off because you think you can’t afford it: there is assistance to be had.  Don’t avoid it because you think you don’t deserve it, or that no one would miss you if you were gone.  There are people going through some of the same things you’re going through, and some who have survived it and come out the other side and want to help you do the same.  There are a lot more of us out there than you think.  You are not alone.

Random Reflections: Emotional Confessions, or TMI?

I think everyone has times when they are down, easily discouraged, or even just want to withdraw from the world for a while. But I guess it’s the recent incident at Sandy Hook that’s gotten me thinking: Why are we so loathe to talk about emotional issues the way we talk about physical ailments?

Why is it so easy to talk about our aching backs, our arthritis, our bad knees, but if someone said they were really emotionally struggling to keep their head above water, everything would suddenly get…awkward.

I have, in the past, been clinically depressed enough to be on medication.  I have to say it’s not the same as just being really sad, just as having a full-blown migraine is not the same as having a bad headache. When you are truly at the bottom of yourself, sometimes it’s even harder to recognize that you’re there, much less how to climb your way out of it.

I did occasionally have moments of clarity and self-awareness in which I knew that my behavior and my reactions were not my normal self, but it was sort of like I was watching from the outside and not knowing how to make it better.  I knew that something that was making me angry should not be making me THAT angry. I knew that something that was making me sad should not be making me THAT sad.  I just didn’t know how to temper my reactions.

When I was in that place, did I talk to people about it?  No one but my very closest friends and family, and certainly not regularly or in great detail. I’m not sure that I really felt “ashamed” of my apparent weakness or defect, but I guess I figured most people would rather not talk about such an unpleasant subject.

Maybe part of it is that we are less connected to one another. Yes, we have social networking to keep us up on the most ridiculous minutiae of one another’s lives, but are we really connected? Are we emotionally invested in one another? Are we too busy to take the time to notice when our friends and family members are hurting?  Are we sharing what’s really going on in our hearts and minds?  Or are we letting our relationships remain superficial because anything deeper than that is uncomfortable?

Maybe it’s because we just don’t know what to say.  Even when we’re trying to help a loved one through loss (death, miscarriage, divorce), we sometimes feel so compelled to say just the right words to “fix” the situation that we end up blurting out something that is not only unhelpful, but may even seem callous.  Can we instead just offer a hug, an “I’m sorry that you’re going through this”, or even, “Is there anything I can do?”

I’d like to take this moment to stress that autism does NOT necessarily go hand in hand with mental instability.  I know a few mothers with autistic children, and those kids savor life perhaps better than the rest of us, because they retain that child-like view of the world. I truly hope that Adam’s mental health issues do not become synonymous with autism, or Aspberger’s. Just because an individual is socially inept does not mean that they’re going to snap and go on a killing spree.

Having had two bright children, I can’t imagine the strain of having a mentally challenged child, especially one with behavioral and emotional issues.  I can guess that I would have wanted to have all of the support that I could get to help me through the inevitable difficult days.  I wonder, if more people were truly involved in the lives of Adam Lanza and his mother Nancy, would they have had the support they needed to get him the help he needed?   I’m not saying I have a crystal ball and I know how Sandy Hook could have been avoided, but I do wonder if things might have turned out differently if they’d had the community rallying around them.

I don’t claim to have all the answers.  Sometimes, I don’t think I have any of the answers.  I guess I’m mostly just musing, and wondering why we so fearfully avoid talking about mental health issues.  This blog is about Savoring Simple Life because I appreciate simplicity, and the peace that goes along with simplifying your daily life.  Unfortunately, there are no simple answers when someone is dealing with a mental illness, or helping a family member through one.  But it is also about SAVORING life, which we can’t do when we are in the depths of depression, or struggling with bipolar disorder, or any of those other disorders that we don’t want to talk about.

What do you think? If you are willing to share, have you or a family member ever struggled with depression, bipolar disorder, or other emotional issues?  Do you feel that people go out of their way to avoid discussing these things?  Why?  Do you have someone who has supported you even when the situation was awkward? Have you told that person how much you appreciate their support?