Hope For Less Stress This Christmas

Christmas is one of the most anticipated times of the year, a season in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ our Savior, take time to bless others, enjoy Christmas traditions, spend time with friends and loved ones, and so much more.

Let’s be real, though.  Often the peace, the joy, and all that we long for as we anticipate Christ’s birth get lost in the shuffle of, well, the shuffle. Christmas joy can easily be replaced with Christmas stress as we try to pack into our already busy lives decorating, shopping, baking, caroling, wrapping, cookie making, card writing, traveling, fighting traffic, church services, work parties, family parties, school parties, etc.  Add to that other stressors such as the financial stress that comes with gift giving, relationship stress within families, and sickness that doesn’t get put on hold for the holidays and suddenly the joy of Christmas is replaced with STRESS.  And this stress can have a long-lasting impact on our bodies, our souls, our spirits and our relationships.

It probably won’t surprise you that…

  1. Women are more likely than men to report an increase of stress during the holiday season, have a harder time relaxing during the holidays, are more likely to fall into bad habits to manage their stress, like comfort eating.
  2. During the holidays people in the United States are much more likely to say they behave in sedentary ways, like watching TV, sleeping, eating and drinking to manage their stress.  Many individuals engage in comfort eating and other unhealthy behaviors to cope with their stress levels.

On a positive note, the APA survey also found that for most people in our country the New Year offers hope and a reminder that there is always opportunity for change and self-improvement.  In the New Year, most individuals would like to improve their health or lose weight, get their finances in order, or improve their relationships with family or a significant other.  I believe with all of my heart that our hope is not in the New Year.  How long do our resolutions really last anyway?  Our hope is in Christ, who loves us and desires us to be well- soul, spirit and body- right now in the midst of it all.  The easiest thing to do over the holidays is to ignore our health, telling ourselves, “ It’s the holiday season.  I’ll start over in January.”  Believe me, I’ve been there one too many times.

This year let’s choose a better way by choosing not to give up on our health.  Instead, let’s make it one of our holiday priorities.   God wants us to be whole, and He will show us the way, step by step.  When we are well, we are better able to love, care for and serve those we love.  Now that’s a gift worth giving.  http://www.faithandhealthconnection.org/the_connection/spirit-soul-and-body/wholeness-biblical-and-christian-perspective/

Making Our Desire a Reality

The thought of adding wellness to the list of holiday ‘to dos’ can feel so overwhelming, unrealistic and impossible, so much so that the temptation might be to give up before even starting.  But what if we decide to focus on a just a few decisions that we can make, or even just one, that will move us in the direction of the wellness we so desire.  Like a snowball effect,  our many small decisions over time will, over time, build upon themselves, leading to big changes in our lives.

Listed below are some ideas, some places to start, that I hope you will find helpful. Each begins with the letter P, for peace, which is the opposite of the stress that we don’t need or desire.  I will be reminding myself of these Ps each day, and inviting God to direct my steps in the midst of my Christmas busyness.

Ps for peace, not stress this Christmas season

PRIORITIZE

Focus on what really matters.  Make Christ your first priority. To help organize your other priorities, take time to identify six areas of your life that demand your attention during the holidays.  Then, list them in order of priority.   Keep a visual image of your priorities in an area you will see often as a reminder for you as you think, pray and plan.

PRAY

Invite the Lord into your days.

My prayer: Lord, we desire to have a joyful Christmas and we want to stay well through the hustle and bustle of this season.   Help us to identify the things that threaten to steal our joy this Christmas and do what needs to be done to prevent this from happening.  Remind us of what’s truly important when we begin to feel caught up in the materialism and the pressure to create the ‘perfect’ Christmas.  Help us to slow down enough to think and to plan now, before the whirlwind begins.  We know that a little planning goes a long way and will help us to keep stress levels down.  Help us each day to seek you first, trusting that you will give us everything we need.  Infuse us with your love and grace, Lord, and show us who we can bless this season with a touch of Christmas love. Amen.

PLAN

A little preparation goes a long way.  A great place to start is by making a holiday dump list.  Simply take a piece of paper and spend a good chunk of time dumping all of your Christmas thoughts – your to dos, to gets, to gos, to gives, etc. onto it. Getting it all out can actually help to bring focus to your cluttered mind.  Once you’ve done this, you can use this big picture as a starting point as you prioritize and plan each item into your days and weeks.  Keep your list of priorities in mind as you plan, and remember Matthew 6:33, which reminds you to seek first the Kingdom of God above all else trusting that He will give you everything you need.

PRESS PAUSE

Press the pause button each day by taking the time for short breathers.  They are so important.  Also, it’s extremely important to decide from the start not to burn the candle from both ends by getting up earlier and staying up later in the name of getting it all done.  Choosing not to sleep will backfire on you! Studies have shown that lack of sleep negatively impacts your mood and state of mind, leads to decreased focus and motivation, makes you less inclined to exercise, more inclined to eat more and drink more, and makes you less focused and efficient during the day.  Who wants all that??!!!

 

 

PLAY OUT THE TAPE

Before making decisions, play out the tape in your mind and ask yourself, if I do this/eat this/say yes to this then ____________.  If I don’t do this/eat this/say yes to this then _____________.  Challenge yourself to say yes to healthy decisions and no to unhealthy ones, not perfectly, but more often than not.

PRAISE

Psalm 92:1-2 It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to the Most High. 

It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning, your faithfulness in the evening.

 

I love what Ann Voskamp says about thanks:

“If gratitude is an antidote for anxiety…

and giving thanks is a real cure for stress —

why relegate thanksgiving to a holiday when giving thanks can revolutionize our whole lives?”

I encourage you to read her entire blog post on the topic of thanksgiving in the midst of stress, called, “Because Thanksgiving is more than a holiday.”

Because Thanksgiving is More than a Holiday

As for praising through song, simply let Christmas music fill your home and your mind.  Think about what the lyrics of each song mean.  Find a Christmas playlist on YouTube and listen to it while you do your daily tasks.  I’ve linked a few Christmas songs throughout this post for you to enjoy.

PLAY

Have fun, laugh, and enjoy family.  This one’s admittedly the hardest one for me to do in the midst of my daily to dos, and it’s high on my list of priorities this month.  You can be praying for me in this area 🙂

In the spirit of fun, here’s a fun version of Joy to the World by Pentatonix.

PAY IT FORWARD

What a gift we celebrate this Christmas- the gift of Christ.  For God so loved us all that he gave us his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life! (John 3:16).  God loves us so much and this season, may you receive that love and, in turn, share the love and light of Christ with others.  Little things mean so much.  A letter.  A phone call.  A kind gesture.  Reaching out to someone that God puts on your heart.

I wish you all a happy, healthy and blessed Christmas season.

Lauren

Grace Salon & Bridal Boutique

It’s all about grace

My first local business spotlight is on my friend Kristin Hull’s brand new salon that she has named Grace Salon.  About one year ago, as she cut my hair, she shared with me her dreams to open a salon that not only tends to the outside of women (and men too 🙂 ) but also is a welcoming place, a place that reflects God’s love.   Now, one year later, she has taken an amazing step of faith and is walking out the vision that God put in her heart so long ago. I love what she said when I asked her the meaning behind the name she chose.  She said, “God’s grace is enough for me and I want to share that grace with others.”  Grace Salon and Bridal Boutique has opened it’s doors in Queensbury (959 State Route 9).  Join them at their Grand Opening on Saturday, November 26th.  Visit her Facebook page (Grace Salon) for more information or call (518)761-9000.

Kristin Hull in her new salon perfectly named Grace Salon & Bridal Boutique

https://www.facebook.com/gracesalonbridalboutique/?fref=ts

Black Bean Soup With A Secret Ingredient

This recipe is a winner in my household and it’s so simple, healthy and loaded with nutrients.  It came from a cookbook my mother gave to me years ago called Mom’s Updated Quick Meals Recipe Box – 250 Family Favorites in Thirty Minutes or Less by Donna L. Weihofen, RD.  The secret ingredient is pumpkin.  You can easily add meat to this recipe.

Ingredients

1 T oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 tsp minced garlic
1 T ground cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
4 cups chicken broth
3 cans (15 oz each) black beans, drained
1 can (16 oz) pumpkin
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes
2 T apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (optional)
In a large soup pot, heat oil.  Add onion and cook over medium heat until lightly brown.  Add garlic, cumin, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper.  Cook for 1 minute.  Add all remaining ingredients except cheese.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes or until ready to serve.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Top with grated Parmesan if desired.

Serves 10

Seeds of Change

I am writing in honor of my mother, who celebrates her birthday today.

I’ve been thinking a lot about her and the role she has played in my life.  She is a beautiful, generous, humble, quiet woman with great love for her family, a passion for wellness and more knowledge about nutrition than I will ever have. Over the years, all she has learned she has given away.  I have been the recipient of countless emails, magazine articles, web site links, cookbooks, books, words of wisdom, hand-written and hand-typed summaries of topics I have expressed interest in, and so much more.  I have always willingly received her health and nutrition wisdom, as long as it didn’t feel ‘alternative’ to my traditional medical training, but balked at her attempts to talk to me about supplementation.  It’s easy for me to understand why I balked.  Not only did I get very little focused training in nutrition during medical school, but I also believed that I, along with everyone else, could, and should, get the nutrients that we need from the foods we eat.

About a year ago I dove head first into wellness, learning all that I could about the faith and health connection, stress, nutrition, supplementation, and, most recently, brain health.  The other day I remarked to a friend that I feel as though, in the area of nutrition and wellness, my blinders have been ripped off and that now I see so much differently.  But the truth is, my blinders were never ripped off.  I can look back and clearly trace the pattern of the many seeds planted over time, mostly by my mother, that had been growing little by little and were finally starting to bear fruit.

Milkweed in the fall, by Wendy Pogonowski
Milkweed in the fall, by Wendy Pogonowski

My transformation has been more like the milkweed plant pictured here, which grows slowly over time and then bursts forth with hundreds of tiny seeds that are carried away with the wind.

So, mom, I want to thank you for speaking into my life.  So many of your seeds took root and now look what you’ve started!  I have used the information you have given to me as I have reached out to others, and those ‘others’ that have been impacted by it are passing it on in their own way and in their own time as they grow.  If any of my friends are reading this and have a copy of Dr. Ann’s Eat Well for Life or Eat Right for Life – The Family Plan, know that the recommendation for this transformational book  came first from my mother. http://drannwellness.com/product/eat-right-for-life/

On a separate, and yet more important note, I am so thankful for the seeds of faith that you have planted in my heart over all of these years.  When it comes to harvesting, one never reaps in the same season that he or she plants.  The seeds of faith that you planted, and your prayers for the harvest in my life, did not begin to come to fruition until I became a mom myself.  This gives me great encouragement to keep on planting seeds in the lives of others and praying for the God of the harvest to grow them in His time, not mine.

 

 

Little By Little

Lessons From the Pineapple and the Poppy

“Fruit bearing is a beautiful process.  First there are leaves; then the flowers; then the fruit.  God provides the water from beneath and the sun from above.  Day by day the branches develop; day by day the fruit is produced.  If you are looking for instant fruitfulness, you will be disappointed.  Fruit must be cultivated.”    – Warren Wiersbe in his book, “The 5 Secrets of Living”

I have a print of poppys that was given to me by my best friend after her mother died of breast cancer.  It has traveled from home to home with our family as one of my treasured possessions.  I treasure it because Peggy’s mom, Beverly, painted it and her mom has a special place in my heart.  When we moved to Vermont, we bought a home with flowers galore.  As spring arrived and plants and flowers started to bloom for the first time I was so thankful for the beautiful flowers that kept appearing, and also frustrated with the many weeds that grew alongside of them.  One of the struggles I have always had in weeding is knowing what to pull and what not to pull.  Someone once told me that if I don’t like it, just pull it. One day, as I worked in a small bed on the side of our deck I noticed a prickly ? weed.  Though unsightly, perhaps because it was ‘different’ to me, I left it alone and forgot about it.  I’m not really sure how much time passed after that, but it was long enough that when I walked past this same flower bed some time later I was shocked to find this, my one and only poppy.  The others never had a chance to bloom because I pulled them, thinking they were weeds.

img_3045

My other story is about a pineapple.  When we lived in Guam, my neighbor was a master gardener.  She told me that I could take the top of a pineapple, put it in the ground and grow a new pineapple.  I took her advice one day and there the pineapple sat in the dirt for what seemed like forever.  When our house flooded and we had to move I went back to my old garden to see what I wanted to transplant to our new home.  The pineapple wasn’t on my list, but my friend, Cindy, later took it and planted it at her house.  A loooong time later I was visiting her home and this is what she was so excited to show me:

feb2008-020

I guess my point is this: Growth takes time, and it takes patience. It is so easy to desire so much of ourselves and then to place expectations on ourselves to, in our own strength, make change happen overnight.  Whether our desire is to eat better, exercise consistently, stop raising our voices at our children, start praying every day, stop eating junk, or whatever change or desire is pressing on our hearts, if we are looking for instant fruit we will be disappointed.  Most of the time (there are exceptions, praise God!) change doesn’t happen overnight, but rather one step at a time and one decision at a time.  If we tell ourselves that we’re going to change overnight, and then we don’t, or if we don’t like the ugly in ourselves that is revealed to us along the way, we’ll be tempted to give up on ourselves and the growth process that WILL yield fruit in time.  There is beauty in change and beauty through change.  Rather than setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves, let’s expect great things from God in time as we grow in relationship with Him, ask Him to show us our next step and, in faith, take it.

I want to share a little known children’s song with an amazing message.  After you click the link, play song number 3, “Little By Little.”  It’s a message not just for our children and about our children, but for us and about us as well.

http://tidido.com/a35184373620293/al55d60ab913b521ef223e5de5/t55d60aba13b521ef223e5e0a

Phillippians 1:6  (NLT) And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

 

 

 

Easy, Tasty, Healthy Lentil Stew

I’ve given this away many times and people say they like it a lot (and their kids!).  This is one of the healthiest meals you can make, and so easy!  Only labor intensive piece is the chopping but worth it!

1 T olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped carrot

1 tsp garlic

4 cups chicken broth  .  Many broths on the market, even organic ones, have MSG (monosodium glutamate) or hidden forms of it’s most active ingredient, free glutamate (autolyzed yeast extract, yeast extract, disodium inosinate, hydrolyzed proteins and autolyzed proteins to name a few) in them.   If you are trying to avoid MSG you may want to make your own broth.  There are many recipes out there.  Here’s a simple one.

https://www.google.com/search?q=easy+homemade+chicken+broth&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8

1 cup water

1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes, undrained

1 cup dried lentils

3/4 cup instant brown rice

1/2 tsp crushed pepper (this gives it just the kick it needs but doesn’t make it too spicy)

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

Heat oil in large pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add onion, celery, carrot and garlic to pan and saute for 8 minutes or until tender.  Add broth, water and tomatoes.  Bring to boil.  Stir in lentils, simmer 25 minutes.  Stir in rice, simmer 20 minutes.  Stir in red pepper, salt and black pepper.  To make it even easier just add the lentils and regular brown rice at the same time and simmer for 45 minutes or until rice is to your liking!

On the Rock

Building on the Rock

Building takes time.
Building takes time.

A few months ago a friend reintroduced my daughter and I to one of my favorite shows growing up, “Little House on the Prairie.”   Actually, the conversation centered on Albert… the girls thought it hilarious when I told them I had such a crush on him.

I was unprepared for the wave of emotion that flooded my soul as we watched and for the tears that began to flow as I reflected on the timeless Biblical truths and values that wove their way in and through the lives of the Ingalls family. Life was so hard for them, and together they worked so hard simply to live.  Strangely, though, despite the many ‘storms’ they experienced – their life threatening travels, wolves, Indians, fires, lack of food, etc. etc., I found myself longing for that life.

Why?

As I thought longer about all of this, I realized that this longing doesn’t stem only, as I initially thought, from my desire for a simpler life. It comes from a deep longing for a culture that carries on those timeless values and truths, and from my fears of the very real dangers in today’s world that threaten not just our personal safety, but the wellness and wholeness of individuals and families. Life is hard today, just as it was hard for the Ingalls family. It’s a different kind of hard.  I admit that at times I feel overwhelmed by the struggles of this life and want to just run or hide. Yet, as Chuck Swindoll said so well in a recent podcast, “Storms and life go together. There is no place on earth where any of us can be free-completely free-of tension or pressure, trouble or pain. Escaping such is only a dream…a fantasy.”

But God

God always meets me in my fears when I let Him. Over the last few months, through various teachings on Matthew 7, a parable about building our lives on the rock, He has been reinforcing in my heart and mind principles that allow me to stand firm and to live with confidence right where God has placed me, no matter what happens in life. He has been teaching me the secret to not running from but going through life and it’s storms.

Continue reading “On the Rock”