Musings

Need some wellness tips? Then read on. . .  

I wanted to reach out and share some tips that might help you gain some traction in the new year.  Feel free to reach out if you’d like more information about a particular topic, or print out this list for future reference.  It's come from decades of experience and I pray something resonates with you.  

It’s amazing how many years I professed to be a disciple of Christ and went to church, yet rarely opened the Bible to read God’s Word for myself.  I was blessed to be led to the St. Louis area back in 2010.  Over the decade I lived there, I met many women who truly followed Christ.  I started to dig deeper into His Word and formed a deep and personal relationship with my Savior.  It’s so true that the Word of God is living and active and is different from any other book I’ve read.  The basis of all of my wellness is founded upon being connected to the One Who formed me and knows exactly what I need.  Through personal experience, my life verse is Matthew 6:33 “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”    

Structure is really important for me and probably why last year didn’t completely derail me.  Even with all of my major life changes, my morning and evening routines stayed basically the same.  Adults aren’t much different than babies, who need a consistent feeding and sleep schedule to stay happy and playful, and get ornery when structure is missing.    

A typical morning for me includes some combination of meditation/journaling/bible study/bible-based thought work and exercise.  Most mornings I keep my phone on airplane mode and don’t allow the world in until after breakfast. 

A typical evening for me includes guitar practice and evening yoga.  Ideally, I’ll stop looking at the computer screen for an hour before bed, which helps calm my nervous system. 

Eating well is non negotiable for me, because certain foods cause pain.  I’m on a paleo diet, derived from The Wahls Protocol.  It’s anti-inflammatory, important since I’m a cancer survivor, and consists entirely of whole foods.  I mostly keep sugar intake to a minimum, although sometimes I enjoy honey in my tea or on my fruit.  Gut health and brain health are deeply intertwined and I want to stay mentally healthy in these challenging times.  The other benefit of eating a whole foods diet is boosting the immune system so I'm less prone to illness.  

In the past I used to “sleep shame” myself, staying up late and getting up early, ignoring my body’s signs that I needed extra rest.  I had a major paradigm shift after reading what James Clear, a mindset and productivity guru, had to say about that.  I realized that I was incredibly unproductive when I was sleep deprived, I was just too tired to notice.  It was worth getting the extra shut eye so I wouldn’t have to redo projects that I messed up while exhausted. 

Music, of course, is a huge source of wellness in my life.  Emotional meltdowns turn into new song lyrics and melodies.  I have Spotify playlists titled “grief support”, “relaxation”, “worship”, “dance party” “fear not” and many others that help me navigate through the messiness of life. Recently I’ve been listening to classical music through the WQED-FM app.  It’s a station based in Pittsburgh where I worked before I was married.  It’s fun to hear my former boss, Jim Cunningham, during the “morning drive”.  Classical music has so many health benefits. Vocalizing and playing musical instruments can also lower stress and boost the immune response.  Try googling “health benefits of music” if you’re not already convinced!    

I needed extra support after my move back to my home state and dealing with grief after losing some family members, so I also enlisted the help of a mental health coach.  She’s one of the administrators of Dr. Caroline Leaf’s Facebook page and I knew she had the same beliefs about thoughts and mental health.  If you haven’t heard me talk about Dr. Leaf, her book Switch On Your Brain was another big paradigm shifter for me more than a year ago.  One of the things she said that I latched onto was “you’re not a victim of your biology”.  She has taught me how, in a very practical way, to capture my thoughts to Christ.  I use her online 21 day detox program which is very biblically focused.  She also has a “Switch” app and a podcast called “Cleaning up the Mental Mess”, which are geared toward a broader audience.    

Staying connected to my former support system and growing new relationships has been challenging, due to the PA winter weather and the social distancing.  I’ve been creative, though, and have learned to reach out and ask for support when I need it.  It’s comforting to know how many people are praying for me.  I realize I’m giving others that same comfort as I pray for them.  The power of prayer is truly amazing!  

Speaking of support systems, a book that has been priceless to me is Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud.  I love his analogy of personal boundaries as a “fence” around our emotional, physical, and mental “property”.  We’re not supposed to be completely walled off, yet we must have the discipline to not allow others to sow their weeds into our backyards.  We can have a gate in our fence that allows people onto our property.  However, it’s our responsibility to be discerning about who we let in and under what circumstances.      

I have many other tools in my wellness toolkit, since I’ve been adding to it since 1991, but I didn’t want to make this a dissertation!  I’m happy to share them with you if you have particular needs, so feel free to reach out.  Do you have helpful wellness tips you’d like to share with me?  Let me know! 

Blessings to you, 

Julie   

What do you hold onto in times of loss?    

“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord”  Job 1:21  

The other day I said that over and over with tears streaming down my face.  I said it because I believe it, not because I felt it.  I had finally hit a wall with the losses in my life.  Usually I’m able to “grit and gratitude” my way through life’s pain.  But the dam broke and the tears came.   

Good Friday, our 13 year old pup, Faith, passed away from cancer.  Last September, I lost my Dad.  April of 2018, my brother passed away.  June of 2016, we lost my mother in law.  Between 2016 and now, there have been other losses:  uncles, a cousin, some major traumas on both sides of our families.  This January, my husband and I decided to exit the financial services industry.  My part time job as Admin Assistant in his office disappeared at the end of February.  I was looking forward to focusing on my senior care performances.  Then COVID 19 hit and they all cancelled.  I was planning to visit my Mom for Mother’s Day, back in PA.  She’s 92, part of the most vulnerable population, so that’s not happening, either.      

When the tears came, I was staggering under the weight of attempting to hold myself together, telling myself I was trusting Jesus, not sure that I truly was.  “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away”.  As I said those words, it was with a mixture of accusation and surrender.  “How could you?” I thought, then immediately “Because you’re in control and I’m not.”  Wave after wave of grief has threatened to drown my faith these past few years.  I’m finding that the only faith I have left is in my Creator, my Redeemer, my Sovereign Lord and Savior.   

I have no faith in the news media, in politicians, in social media.  So many differing opinions, so many contradicting “facts”.  I don’t have the energy to sift and sort and process all this anymore.  I’m finding it difficult enough to focus on what needs to be done daily.  I’m trying to shift gears with my music career and get motivated.  Some days it works.  Some days it’s all I can do to get through the day without getting back under the covers.  Taking a shower and eating are sometimes major accomplishments.   

I thought back to years ago, when I was still a board-certified music therapist, required to take continuing education classes.  This particular class was led by a music therapist working in hospice.  She gave us a piece of paper and had us write down 4 people we love, 4 hobbies we enjoy, 4 of our favorite foods, 4 places we like to visit.  Then she told us we had been diagnosed with a terminal illness.  Step by step she took us through the disease process, at different points along the way telling us to cross off one of our “favorites” in a certain category.  I’ll spare you the details; it was a heart wrenching exercise in empathy, as piece by piece, I lost everything and everyone that I cared about.  We got to the end of the exercise and she noted that we had crossed everything off our papers.  But, had we?  

As I looked at my list, my heart began to soar.  I still had something left without my pencil line drawn through it.  When I wrote down the people I loved?  One of them was Jesus.  As I went through this exercise of losing everything I cared for, He was the One who walked with me every step.  He was weeping with me.  He was with me in my physical pain.  He mourned every loss with me.  And when the end of my life came after this imaginary terminal illness?  He would reach out His hand and usher me into eternity where I would spend my new life with Him.   

I have never forgotten that day, when I proved to myself that no matter what or who I lose in this life, I will never lose my Savior.  As I navigate my current losses and ponder what losses might be coming, I know He will give me the strength I need.  He knows my weaknesses.  He understands my current confusion and frustration.  Unlike my ego, He doesn’t need me to do something great for His Kingdom right now, He isn’t disappointed that I haven’t figured out something “spectacular” to do with my creativity.  Knowing that, I will continue to sit at His feet, learning how to truly rest in, trust in, and be loved by Him. So that I can say AND believe “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”        

What's Your Focus in Times of Fear?  

We live in unprecedented times.  The recent coronavirus pandemic is like nothing I’ve seen in my 50 years on the planet.  Thirty minutes scrolling through my Facebook feed today was enough to see plenty of frightening news.  Empty grocery store shelves.  Numbers of diagnosed cases rising in my state of Missouri and next door in Illinois.  Major public music and sporting events cancelled.  Schools shutting down.  People talking about the end of the world.  About the prudence of “social distancing” to avoid contracting or spreading the virus.  My own church cancelling in-person services and starting to live stream from YouTube.  I got up from my computer with a pit in my stomach.  Fear was getting the best of me.  

I had a choice to make.  What was I going to focus on for the remainder of the day?  

Of course, I want to be informed.  Sticking my head in the sand and pretending this isn’t happening won’t lead to wise decisions.  Other things that won’t lead to wise decisions?  Anxious, racing thoughts.  Expecting and worrying about worst possible outcomes.  Allowing myself to get so stressed that my body responds negatively.  Psychosomatically, even.  I could quite literally worry myself sick, with the exact symptoms I’m hearing about.  My thoughts are that powerful! 

So, I fought the fear.  I chose to capture all of my thoughts and give them to Christ.  To cry out to Him to help me focus on the right things.  “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  (Philippians 4:8)  I chose to be present in the moment, to take a deep and cleansing breath, to center my thoughts and to be grateful.  Grateful for my health, for my husband, for my family and friends, for my puppy dog, for the birds and bunnies in the backyard, for my Savior and His amazing love for me.  On and on I poured out my grateful heart to the Lord and found myself feeling lighter, less burdened, able to think more clearly.  

This choice was a decade in the making.  In 2010 while we were still living in Phoenix, Clayton lost his job in the spring, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June, completed treatment in August, he moved to St. Louis for a job in October, I followed in December.  I was anxious.  I was worried.  I was in physical pain.  Every morning I would wake up and check the Facebook app on my phone before anything else.  After months of that routine, I heard the Lord quietly speaking to my heart.  First, He asked me to delete the Facebook app from my phone.  Then, He invited me to spend time with Him first thing in the morning, reading His Word and journaling my prayers and thoughts.  

Ten years later, I can tell you that one of my life verses is “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”  (Matthew 6:33) The “things” that have been added to me are His presence, His wisdom, His counsel, His peace, His calm, His strength, His courage, and an intimate, heartfelt knowledge of my Savior that I never imagined I’d experience.  He even helped me chronicle my journey with Him in my Catch a Falling Dream program.  While I was writing and editing that program, I saw where His hand guided me my entire life.  It helped me to trust Him even more, knowing what He’d brought me through.    

Another choice I will make is to pray continuously, like never before.  I pray that the Lord stops this pandemic in its tracks.  I pray He gives the leaders of our nations wisdom and discernment; I can’t imagine the stress they are under.  I pray for the overburdened medical personnel.  I pray for the elderly in senior care homes, and the families who are currently unable to visit them.  I pray for the people around the world who are grieving their losses.  I pray for those who are fighting their own fears.  I pray that He heals those who are sick.  I pray that He draws people closer to Him through this.  I pray that He helps me to focus on the right things.  Because I can’t do everything that needs to be done.  The needs are too overwhelming.  But I can do something.  I will focus on my Savior and my Counselor and He will lead me.