Reducing Stress in 2017

So another year begins and many of us love a fresh start to reset and hopefully do things a bit better than we did in 2016.

If I am honest I realised that I didn’t deal that well with the normal end of year stress in 2016 for a variety of reasons. (Hence the absence of my blog !)

If you are like me, you want to find a way to live with less stress and every year you come up with a new strategy – often for me  which involves sitting on a beautiful beach for hours, great plan but not always achievable.

I have just returned from a few weeks holiday (vacation) and I did just that – lots of chilling , on beaches or by the harbour. While I was relaxing one of the books I was reading was the  The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp . I can’t remember the last time I cried as much in a non fiction book . This book has much to say – and much that is challenging me . However as I process the challenges there is one thing that stands out to me right now .

Its Chapter Nine called the Miracle in Your Pocket that Breaks Stress.

In this Chapter, the Yale and UCLA study on Acts of Kindness is unpacked.

Turns out one way to reduce your stress is to do  a small act of generosity for some-one else ! Apparently overall we do one or two acts of kindness a day as a matter of course but when we increase this at all,  we see a tangible benefit to our well-being . Helping behaviours seem to lower stress. ( CBS Report of UCLA/ Yale study )

I love that science is showing us what the Bible has told us for centuries in so many verses –  here is a favourite “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” Prov 11.25.

I know we still need to exercise, eat well. delegate better, turn off emails at night etc etc to reduce stress  – but it turns out we can also just do a simple act of kindness to another person, once more than usual, in a day and we will feel better. I love it ! What a classic win/win.

Before we get too sincere and want to only give to others without benefit to ourselves lets consider our design.

What if we are created in the image of the God who IS love – and that love is expressed in giving?

What if the God of the Universe created us to be giving beings?

What if the only way we really function in a healthy way is when we are being kind and giving?

What if giving to some-one else takes our eyes off our own problems long enough for us to see a solution, hear the still small voice or reconnect with the Prince of Peace?

Imagine a world where everyone just did one more act of generosity a day, a world with reduced stress and increased kindness (little John Lennon I know but bear with me), sounds to me like a world where the Kingdom of God is increasing.

Its simple and basic I know – but isn’t it the loveliest way of reducing stress in 2017?

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I will be Happy when …….

I have often fallen into the trap when pastoring people and when dealing with my own life to think that if some external circumstances change happiness will follow.

However the older I get the more I realise that happiness is fleeting and contentment is not based on external circumstances.

Now I am not talking about tragic or incredibly difficult situations. These obviously effect our emotional well-being. As does chronic pain, mental health problems, isolation and long term stress.

However I know that as a younger believer I was often  thinking that when X happens I will be content, then life will be good.

These days,  I often have students in my office upset because they thought that by 21 they would be married, or the next Darlene Zschech or –  add in your own dream or goal.

There is nothing wrong with having goals and dreams, however they cannot be the source of our contentment.

We have to learn how to find purpose and contentment no matter what circumstance we are in. If we don’t we will spend our lives chasing the next thing, and nothing will ever satisfy.

I get the angst. Being in my 50’s and being single is not what I dreamed for my life. However one day after a lot of tears I realised – in the words of Joshua in the Old Testament – that life and death stood before me- and I had a choice.

I could stay in bed and  be miserable and depressed or I could stand up and choose life.

I decided that I wanted to choose life. I wanted to be content where I was and not wait for some-one or something  else to happen to make me enjoy my life.

I was going to acknowledge the tough parts of the circumstances but heck I was going to enjoy my life. I was going to work really hard to find the secret of being content no matter what the circumstances.

We all have bad days, but we have to be careful we don’t believe the lie that we will be happy when … when we get the new job, the new house, the new whatever. (Mind you some new boots right now would honestly make a big difference 🙂 )

Contentment knows that we have been graced by God for the season we are in. That this grace is enough for us. Contentment comes from a heart that is grateful what we have and is not constantly comparing our lives to everyone else’s gorgeous Instagram photos !

I know its not easy – believe me we have to fight to stay content – however its a great place to get to . I am so inspired by the Apostle Paul who was content in shipwrecks, floggings and stonings, as well as then he was feted and abundantly looked after !  When I grow up I want to be like him !

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Rest, People Pleasing and Ambition !!

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So as I mentioned last week it has been a tough few weeks in my family. I was really feeling it and so I decided to take a day off and escape to the mountains . I was scheduled to leave at 1pm last Sunday. At around 10.30 am on Sunday I got a text inviting me to be involved in a very cool ministry experience that night.

My 52 year old self  declined. If I was to tell you I declined without the thoughts crossing my mind – what a bummer, wonder if that opportunity will come again, wonder if I have let anyone down – I would be lying.

However decline  I did. I declined because I needed rest more than ministry. I needed to look after myself more than I needed to please the people who requested. I had been snapping at co-workers, sleeping badly and feeling like I could cry at any moment . I knew a place I could go to rest that would release the pressure valve. I had a great pastor suggest to me that I needed to do it, and I knew he was right.

However I knew my 32 year old self- and to be honest even my 42 year old self – would have immediately begun re-arranging things to take this and every ministry gig that came my way.

I am not proud of this fact. I am not proud of it, because it lacks faith.

It means I have to say yes to please people as if they are in the place of God. I have to say yes, because a tough God will see me saying no, and passes me by, the  next time his eyes rove across the earth to find those whose hearts are fully committed to him.

It lack faith in a Good Father who loves me and values me no matter what I do. A Father who makes me lie down to rest beside still waters (or mountains) when he sees me struggling.

Sometimes we just need to die to our people pleasing and our personal ambition – have some faith and look after ourselves.

Now as I type this I know there are some of you who will take this and make it justification for not ever stepping out of your comfort zone, and for being self indulgent. I am not talking to you – you probably need to say yes.

I am talking to the people like me, the driven, people pleasers who sometimes lack the faith to rest well. Sometimes too our sense of responsibility means we keep going way beyond where we should.

We should always say yes more than we say no- however we need to know when to say no.

We need to know that rest and recovery are crucial to longevity. I want to still be being fruitful and enjoying life at 80 and it won’t happen unless I look after myself now.

Tough times teach you so much, and reinforce old lessons. So I packed up my mum and the dog and went and stared at mountains, cooked, walked, played scrabble, finished my book , prayed and pondered. It refreshed my soul. Wish my 42 year old self could have done that too – she might have been healthier and more fun !

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Leading yourself 4 – Fight to be in the Moment

In January I had a few days up the coast at a gorgeous place called Woolgoolga, with my friends Kerry and Marg – and some of Marg’s family. It was lovely.

At the time there were some pretty challenging things going on in my family which were causing me concern.

I also knew that I would be going back to a very busy time at work.

I felt these pressures trying to rob me of my usual holiday joy.

So I made a decision to fight to be in the moment. It didn’t mean I stopped caring about my family. It  did mean that I savoured the moments that would fill my soul and bring rest to my mind, so that I can keep on caring.

Leaders know how to fight to be in the moments of refreshing despite pressures, concerns and problems.

So I walked on the beach,swam in the ocean, played 500, drank champagne as the sun set, and relaxed.

One of my favourite moments was where I took the beach photo, and got the fresh revelation that turned into this post. There was an outdoor shower at the beach. After I had a surf I would stand under cool fresh water in a shower looking at the view. I loved those moments. I determined to not worry about anything but to just soak in the pure joy of cool water , warm sun and a stunning view. To take the moment to thank God for his stunning creation.  To just be right there in that moment taking it all in.

We have to be people who can take every thought captive, we can lead our own minds and hearts to peace and joy in the midst of big lives.

Even in the midst of challenges and heartache, that we can stop and enjoy a moment. We can allow our soul to be refreshed by these moments.

I am convinced that leading our souls in this way will cause us to be able to run the race set before us for the long haul.

Lets be people who can be in the moment – and lets let those moments colour our worlds.

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5 Tips to Juggling

One of the things I was asked in my recent survey is how I do the juggle. The juggle that many of us do – balancing family, friends, work, second jobs, church commitments  and looking after ourselves.

To be honest this week I have failed badly at it. I almost missed a dear friends engagement, I messed up some dates that I booked people for and I tried to pray for new students for 2014 !! I blame it on a migraine, a move and inhaling too many cleaning products last week.

Normally I do manage to juggle quite a few things and enjoy it – so here is a few things I have learned about doing the juggle

  1. It takes planning – I spend time at the beginning of each week figuring out where all the pieces are going to fit in. I use my outlook calendar to put everything into – find a calendar tool you like and use it.
  2. I pretty much do what I have planned to do – no matter how I feel. Too much rescheduling causes lots of stress.
  3. You have to be in the moment – if you have a full life you have to enjoy right where you are at that time. I try to be totally present and enjoy right where I am. (The photo above is from the College Ministry Trip. Had a week with these crazy kids and loved being with them – enjoying too many great moments)
  4. I make sure that there are certain things that I don’t juggle – they are fixed and don’t move e.g. I walk and pray in the mornings, no matter what else is going on in a day. I always have one day off work a week no matter what. (If you have read my blog before you know I am passionate about the Sabbath -I wrote about it here 7 Tips to keeping a Sabbath)
  5. I allow margin where ever I can. Deliberate gaps in the schedule which allow for unforeseen interruptions. These interruptions are always people and people are always more important than any tasks, and worth the interruption.

I am not perfect at the juggle by any means and I don’t juggle as many things as many of you do – but I do have a full life and these are some tips that have helped me. Please comment if you have any great tips that could help us all

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5 Surprising Benefits of Travel for Leaders

This week I am in the US and Canada for work. Most years I get to do some work travel which is amazing. I have also personally done a decent amount of travel on holidays -not as much as many people, but travel is definitely high on my list of the joys in life. To be honest I have probably spent more money on travel than I have on shoes – and I love shoes !

We al know about the normal benefits of travel ; expanding your understanding of the people’s lives, experiencing other cultures and enriching your soul with the beauty of the planet.

However for leaders there are some surprising benefits.

1. Loss of Control

When you are travelling you are frequently at the mercy of many other people. Whether it is an airplane pilot or some-one picking you up from an airport, you have to rely on people. For people who are use to calling the shots this can be un-nerving. It is good to feel this again and realise we are never really in control. We need to stay in a place of dependence on God, good to be reminded of this as we travel so we are prepared for life’s challenges

2. Keeps us Flexible.

No matter how you travel, even if you can do first class five star all the way (and that is certainly not me -yet !!) you have to stay flexible when you travel. Planes are delayed, baggage gets lost, host families eat dinner at 9pm, instead of 7pm. In your normal life you can get quite stuck in your ways – flexibility means we can flow with these experiences. This ability to be flexible makes us better leaders and ministers because we can learn to flow with the Spirit

3. Teaches us Patience

If you live on the bottom of the world like I do, most places I travel to require a LONG flight. Even short flights require early check-ins and long lines to go through security checks. These places give us a good gauge of how the fruit of the Spirit is operating in our lives.

4. Creates a Strength in our Walk with God

Of course we all prefer to sit or walk in our special place to meet with God. Routines are good for us. However I have had some amazing revelations at 12,000 feet up. We need to have strength in our walk with God that allows us to connect with him wherever we are.

5. Creates a Character Check

Yes we all can behave well in our spheres of influence where our roles are defined. How do we behave in a city where no-one knows us. How do we treat people when we are tired and lost. Will we rip off local people when travelling alone ?

If you can possibly do it, build some travel into your life. It doesn’t have to be expensive, get on a train and go to the next state, stay in a backpackers for a night. Have an adventure – it will do you a surprising amount of good !

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5 Benefits of Turning Your Emails Off at Night

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I love technology. I love being connected to friends near and far. I love access to all kinds of input that enriches my world.

However since I got back from my Long Service Leave two years ago I have started turning my emails OFF on my phone at nights and weekends.

Before this I was known to have my emails permanently on – and reply to emails all times of the day and night. I did this mostly because that’s what everyone was doing. I thought it meant I could get ahead of the game and save myself some time at work.

Here are 5 benefits  I have found since I decided to turn Emails OFF at night.

1. It gives me an actual break from work – turns out if I keep emailing at night I am effectively working 12-14 hours and this is exhausting. I need mental and physical rest in the evenings and especially on my sabbath day on the weekend.

2.If I return emails all hours of the day and night people will expect immediate turn around time and I will create an expectation I cannot sustain.

3.  Checking emails at night makes me feel like I am never OFF work and this leads to staleness in the work place. This means that I am actually less productive and creative during my work days.

4. It means I give full attention to my family and friends – instead of giving them a distracted Pam who looks at her phone every time it bings. This gives us all more meaningful connections.

5. It reminds me I am not that important ! Pretty much everything I do can wait until tomorrow to get a response. When something is really urgent people will text. However even this is very rare. When I feel the need to email people back in the evenings it creates a false sense of how important I am. This is a dangerous place to live. I need to be comfortable in my identity as a daughter of God – not as some-one who works all hours of the day and night.

I am hoping I am the only crazy one who had their emails on all hours of the day and night (when I was checking email when I went the bathroom at 2am – I could have guessed I had a problem)

If you are on email at night – I would suggest for the sake of your health and longevity -you turn EMAIL OFF.

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