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Well-Being with Whitney: George and Martha Washington, Resiliency Role Models

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

On President’s Day, Americans think about our nation’s first president — George Washington — whose birthday inspired the holiday. We see his face on ads for President’s Day sales, and may be inspired enough to look up some fun facts about him or his wife, Martha Washington (the first First Lady). But how often do we really pay attention to how their long-ago relationship can give us wisdom today?

George and Martha Washington deserve a closer look. They’re excellent examples of how strong well-being is connected with strong leadership. It was because of how well they took care of each other that they were able to lead others well.

Making Time to be Together Often

George and Martha made their marriage a top priority in their busy schedules. They chose to be in each other’s company whenever doing so was possible.

At home at Mount Vernon in Virginia, they ran the plantation as a team during the days and enjoyed rich conversations in the evenings. They often hosted friends and family members for suppers and balls, where they loved to dance together.

When George’s public service as a Revolutionary War general and first U.S. president required travel, Martha did her best to be present with him. She visited battlefields, moved to new homes, and went anywhere else she had to go — during a time when few roads or bridges had been built and travel was dangerous. People routinely got thrown off horses, robbed in stagecoaches, or caught on sinking ferry boats. But George made elaborate plans for Martha’s travels, sending friends to accompany and protect her every step of the way.

Sometimes the first couple couldn’t avoid being apart. Yet they still made time to reach out to each other through letters, pouring out their thoughts and feelings on paper to stay connected. Every week, they made time to stay in touch by writing.

Sharing Joy and Sorrow

When they had something to celebrate, they did so together. The Washingtons often took advantage of opportunities to host parties, surrounding themselves with people they loved. During George’s presidency, they invited people in their vast social network to supper feasts every Thursday at their home in New York. At Mount Vernon, they regularly welcomed guests for celebrations. They ate, laughed, danced, played cards, and held hands — enjoying each happy moment to the fullest, whenever they could.

When they were struggling with sorrow, they helped each other carry their burdens. George and Martha had to endure a crushing burden of grief together, dealing with the deaths of scores of family members — including children from Martha’s first marriage whom George had adopted. The first couple also faced the relentless pressures of developing a new nation. That stress took a toll on their health, causing illness that led to more sorrow.

The key to their well-being through it all was their commitment to support each other emotionally in any type of circumstances. George and Martha made a habit of checking in with each other about their feelings and sharing those emotions with each other honestly. Then they urged each other to nurture well-being practices in their lives. George sent people to visit Martha when she felt lonely, while Martha urged George to control his temper in stressful situations.

Encouraging Each Other to be Resilient

Building resilience skills was a top priority for the first couple, who faced many crises and challenges while working to build the United States and had to persevere in the face of all sorts of uncertainty about how their work would turn out.

Martha once wrote about resilience: “I am still determined to be cheerful and to be happy in whatever situation I may be, for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances; we carry the seeds of the one or the other about with us, in our minds, wherever we go.”

George and Martha were both wholeheartedly devoted to their faith, which fueled their resilience. Throughout their lives, they each spent significant amounts of time in prayer every day, and they worshiped God and served people often in their church communities.

They came to trust God so strongly that they could look beyond their circumstances to him in any situation — and rely on his strength to flow through them as they followed his guidance day by day. “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the rest is in the hands of God,” George said.

So this President’s Day when you’re reminded of America’s founding couple, let their lives inspire you to do something to take care of your own well-being. Then reach out to someone else you care about, encouraging them to do the same. In the process, you’ll lead the way to something good, just like George and Martha did.

Well-Being with Whitney: Using Anger for Good

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Destructive anger erupts around us so often that it’s easy to forget that anger itself isn’t right or wrong; it’s simply an emotion that God has designed to direct our attention to important issues we should consider. We don’t have to react to angry feelings destructively. We can respond to anger constructively. Through wise anger management, we can not only strengthen our well-being, but use the tremendous energy of anger for good purposes — like solving the problems that are making us angry and changing our lives for the better.

My recent trip to Boston to learn about the American Revolution showed how significant anger is in the process of change.

When people just reacted to their angry feelings without much thought or prayer, the anger quickly turned into destructive rage. Unfortunately, examples of that happening abound. One instance is the tragic Boston Massacre, which started with just a trivial annoyance (a few boys throwing snowballs at a solider on duty in front of the local customhouse) and escalated into the murder of five souls when tensions rose between colonists and British soldiers crowding around the area. Rather than trying to defuse the situation, those in the crowd traded insults back and forth, until some soldiers shot colonists without official orders and with no warning.

Another sad example was the arson by a mob of angry colonists that destroyed innocent people’s homes in Boston. They reacted to their anger over the Stamp Act law (which created new taxes) by setting fire to the houses of those who they associated with the law — without bothering to investigate whether or not those people actually had anything to do with enacting the Stamp Act. After the mob burned down the home of Thomas Hutchinson, the colony’s chief justice (and later governor), they learned that he had not supported the Stamp Act. In fact, he had written to his superiors in Britain trying to prevent them from passing the law, warning them, “It cannot be good to tax the Americans” and that “You will lose more than you gain.” Hutchinson spoke in court the day after he lost his home to warn colonists about the destruction that rage can cause. “This destroying all peace and order of the community — all will feel its effects … I pray God will give us better hearts!” he exclaimed.

In contrast, when people sought wisdom from God and carefully considered their actions, their anger became a positive force that propelled them closer to achieving their goals.

The role that George Washington (commander of the colonists’ Continental Army and later the first U.S. president) played in the Siege of Boston showed the power of constructive anger in action. Washington, who was known for his strong faith and character, made a habit of seeking wisdom rather than reacting impulsively in conflicts. Rather than unleashing an uncontrolled fury on British soldiers in the area, Washington studied the Battle of Bunker Hill, learning why the British had suffered so many casualties (nearly half of their men killed or wounded) despite winning that battle. Then he carefully devised a strategic plan for how to proceed in the future. Part of that plan was fortifying the Dorchester Heights hills overlooking Boston Harbor) in well thought-out ways that surprised British soldiers, cut off their supply lines, and led to them peacefully evacuating Boston. Washington used his anger to come up with a plan that ended up solving a major problem for the colonists.

Another famous patriot, Samuel Adams, was angry about injustices under British rule but controlled how he expressed that anger. Instead of just raging against the problems, he used the energy of his anger to motivate him to find solutions. Adams often spoke eloquently in town meetings about the issues leading to the American Revolution. He directed his anger toward motivating others to think about the issues and figure out ways to make change happen. A great example of a female patriot who used anger to solve problems well was Mercy Otis Warren, who wrote poems and plays about the issues that inspired readers and audiences to respond thoughtfully.

I confess that I’ve been guilty of reacting to anger more times than I’d like. In the process, I’ve learned that arguments don’t solve problems well. Now when I feel angry about something, I try to pray about it to get a clear perspective on the situation, and to seek God’s wisdom about how to respond well.

What are you angry about right now? How could you channel the energy of that anger to accomplish a good purpose — like bringing a revolution of change to something in your life?

Well-Being with Whitney: Guarding Your Heart in Romance

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

Valentine’s Day is around the corner again, so our culture’s confusing messages about romance are in full swing right now. In the midst of the onslaught, it’s vital to remember this wisdom from Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

Guarding our hearts is essential, because our hearts are valuable and sensitive, and because love is the greatest force in the universe. What we decide to do with our hearts has powerful consequences — either good or bad.

That’s why I’ve been careful about romance in my life. As a girl, I experienced the damage that happens when romance goes bad by watching my parents divorce and living with the stress that resulted from it.  As a teen, I came to faith in Jesus Christ and chose to make him my number one guy, because no one offers a greater love than him. As a college student, I cautiously began dating, and was shocked to discover how many guys devalued their hearts and mine by trying to seduce me into casual sex. As a married woman, I was grateful to begin the journey as a virgin on my wedding night. Later on, I was grateful for God’s help to resist the many temptations that came when my husband couldn’t be there for me due to frequent business trips or serious illness, some other men I was attracted to flirted with me, and pornography called from my computer. I absolutely love sex! It’s one of my favorite activities. But only healthy sex will do. Thanks to my commitment to guard my heart and God’s grace to help me do so, I haven’t given in to affairs or became hooked on porn.

Even after all I’ve done to guard my heart, however, it’s still a daily struggle to do that living in a culture that devalues people’s hearts so much. The key, I think, is confidence. God — our true beloved — has confidence in us. Yet, too often, we lack confidence in ourselves. The reason why I’ve been able to enjoy a healthy romantic life is because I’ve been a confident person. Yet my heart breaks when I reflect on the many women I’ve known who simply don’t love themselves the way I do — and most importantly, the way God does.

Here are some ways to guard your heart in romance:

  • Understand the differences between healthy and unhealthy love: Healthy love: is reality-based, completes another, finds a friend, sacrifices, is patient, is kind, is forgiving, doesn’t hold grudges, is born out of security, is vulnerable, is allowed to develop, is gentle, is honest, and is satisfied. In contrast, unhealthy love: is fantasy-based, seeks to be completed, seeks a victim, demands sacrifice, is impatient, is rude, is resentful, seeks revenge, is born out of fear, is defensive, is pressed to perform, is combative, is deceitful, and is restless.
  • Shift your focus from receiving to giving: Understand that, as much as you desire intimacy, you can’t achieve it if you continue to focus on your feelings and how to try to gratify yourself. Replace unhealthy dependency on other people with healthy devotion to God, who can truly fulfill you. Ask God to help you shift your focus from your own desires, needs, and hurts to those of other people. Look beyond yourself and your own life toward God and other people. Focus yourself outwardly to gain genuine love for them.
  • Understand how your background has affected you: Think and pray about your childhood and other past experiences that may have contributed to you developing unhealthy attitudes about romance and unhealthy behaviors that sabotage your relationships with others. Consider whether you learned poor communication patterns that encouraged you to keep secrets, whether your feelings were acknowledged or denied when you tried to express them, and whether you learned how to trust other people. Once you understand how your background has affected you, use that knowledge to equip you to do think and act better in the future. Don’t blame your current problems on your past or believe that there’s nothing you can do to change your situation. Instead, once you uncover the sources of your problems, decide to deal with them head-on, with help from God.
  • Confess sins that are hindering you from giving and receiving love: Rob your secrets of their destructive power by bringing them out into the open. Confess each of your sins to God. Confess your sins to others you may have hurt, and humbly ask for their forgiveness. Join a support group or build friendships with a few others who are struggling to recover from the same issues you are, so you can hold each other accountable and encourage each other.
  • Embrace forgiveness: Forgiveness will help you resolve the past and clear the path toward a better future. Accept the forgiveness that God offers you after you confess your sins. Ask God to empower you to forgive people who have hurt you (such as through betrayal) by relinquishing any plans for revenge and inviting God to heal your heart toward them. Trust that you can live with confidence in your romantic relationship once you know you’ve given and received forgiveness.
  • Be accountable: Ask God to help you unlearn destructive ways of relating to people and learn how to relate to them in new, healthy ways. Take concrete action to make amends for past wrongs whenever you can.
  • Be patient with yourself: Realize that you can’t take shortcuts in recovery; the process demands plenty of time. Be aware that hunger, anger, loneliness, or fatigue can trigger a relapse into unhealthy romantic behavior. Don’t expect too much too soon. Instead, simply ask yourself each day what you can do now to become the person you want to be tomorrow.
  • Ground yourself in reality: Give up the fantasy high of immediate gratification to the strenuous yet rewarding task of building authentic relationships. Stop trying to take what you want in relationships and start making sacrifices for those you love. In the process, you’ll discover more fulfillment than you ever could have previously enjoyed.

Above all, remember: You are deeply and unconditionally loved by the source of love itself — God — and the heart he gave you is a treasure that’s worthy of protecting!

Well-Being with Whitney: How to Show Respect without Agreeing (President Trump)

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

Now we have President Trump here in the USA — and I’m not thrilled about it, but I accept it with grace. My concerns have to do with Trump’s character, which seems far from presidential. Trump often speaks (and tweets) mean-spirited comments about other people. He has been involved in all sorts of scandals, from financial lawsuits to sexual harassment cases. I didn’t vote for him and can’t imagine doing so.  However, despite how I feel about Trump, I’m committed to learning how to show respect for him. Why? Because all people are worthy of respect (because God made them) and our national leader is worthy of respect (because of the dignity of the office).

Trump has made plenty of mistakes, but his bad choices don’t make him a bad person. He’s still a valuable soul who is one of God’s children — no matter how much I (or anyone else) disagrees with his decisions. The “hate the sin but love the sinner” adage definitely applies here. Learning to respect all people is a vital part of our well-being.

Many people seem to enjoy bashing Trump and just leaving it at that. But where does that get us as a country? We’re already so polarized that fear and anger have become the default ways of communicating about our political issues. We can keep shouting at each other forever, but still not make any progress toward solving our nation’s problems.

Or, we can be graceful with each other, as God is with us. We can learn how to respect each other, and actually learn from each other, and move forward as a nation to accomplish good goals together. Maybe it takes an experience like electing a firebrand president to motivate us to do that.

One of the qualities I most appreciate about a person is his or her ability to listen. Others have told me that I’m a good listener, too. I think listening more than talking is like a spiritual workout that strengthens our respect muscles. We might hear a lot that we disagree with — but we all can learn valuable lessons from each other.

So when President Trump’s outrageous behavior bothers us, let’s think about what better choices we can make in our lives that are more respectful. Instead of letting our anger trigger us only to complain, let’s use the energy of our anger to do whatever we can to understand each other better and work together on solving problems.

Well-Being with Whitney: Stress and Broken Hearts

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

The recent deaths of Hollywood mother and daughter Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher just one day apart spotlight the powerful connections between the body and soul. Overcome with grief after Fisher died from a heart attack, Reynolds had a stroke after telling her son Todd that she wanted to be with Carrie. The two famous women shared a close bond, and the stress of Fisher’s passing was apparently too much for Reynolds to bear. Just like longtime married couples who pass away close together, this mother-daughter duo also showed how powerfully the emotional can affect the physical. While Reynolds had a stroke, others who are dealing with emotional stress may suffer a medical condition called broken heart syndrome, in which a surge of stress hormones can cause heart enlargement and damage.

“It’s horrible, it’s beautiful, it’s magical they are together; it’s beyond words,” Todd Fisher said in a television interview about the deaths of his mother and sister. “It’s beyond understanding.”

Part of the mystery surrounding the effect of stress on our hearts is the fact that we can’t see what’s going on inside our bodies when we go through stress. But we can measure the electromagnetic energy that our hearts and brains both emit through magnetic fields. That energy vibrates to frequencies that reflect the current state of our health — both body and soul. We can sense and respond to those vibrations from others, as well.

I used to struggle with anxiety before learning techniques for overcoming it (turning worries into prayers and practicing mindfulness meditation). Every time anxious emotions flooded my mind, my heart began racing wildly. Sometimes my heart would beat so fast that I had to sit down and breathe deeply to try to avoid fainting. One of the last conversations I had with my mother before she passed away involved her cautioning me about getting too stressed about her illness. “Relax, Whitney,” she told me. “Stress will hurt your heart.”

Finally, I’ve come to understand how important it is for all of us to protect our hearts from the damage by managing our stress well. We can’t prevent stressful circumstances from entering our lives, but we can choose how to respond to those situations carefully. Here are some basic ways we can do so:

  • Stay connected to a strong support system: When stress shocks our systems, loving relationships with God and other people act as shock absorbers. They give us the guidance we need to see the crisis from a clear perspective and navigate through it wisely. They also give us the support and encouragement we need to remain confident. Keep communicating with God through prayer and with loving people through conversations.
  • Express thoughts and emotions freely. Rather than denying or suppressing difficult things we think or feel, we can let them out so they don’t build up in our systems. Instead of numbing ourselves against the pain of uncomfortable thoughts and emotions (through addictions or other forms of escapism), we can face them and learn from them. We can find whatever method of expression works best for us: writing in a journal, talking to a trusted friend, reflecting on what’s on our minds while walking or running, or something else that helps us release challenging thoughts and emotions.
  • Make time for nurturing activities. Building our resilience by taking good care of ourselves on a regular basis will help us deal with the stress of crises when they occur. We can do that by getting enough sleep and exercise, eating well, and doing what we most enjoy whenever we can — from listening to music to taking trips.

Our hearts are sensitive organs that do much more than just pump blood through our bodies. They reflect what’s happening in our souls. So let’s pay attention, and respond to what they tell us with as much love and wisdom as we can.

Well-Being with Whitney: A New Year Revolution of the Soul

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Have you made New Year’s resolutions? If so, have you already broken them? Change is notoriously challenging. The new year changes we hope to make in 2017 can truly become realities in our lives only when we devote ourselves wholeheartedly to pursuing them. We mean well, of course, by setting goals for greater well-being. But the work of doing what we resolve to do and resisting temptations to quit is hard. It’s not fun, either. So to really change our lives in 2017 requires passion that fuels ongoing commitment. In short, what we need is a revolution of the soul.

This New Year, I visited Boston, Massachusetts, where the American Revolution began in the 1700s and resulted in the creation of a new nation: the United States of America. The stories I researched there make it clear that true change must start in people’s souls — in their thoughts and feelings — and move from there into words and actions that make change happen. Before the first shots of the Revolutionary War was fired in Massachusetts (at Lexington and Concord) in 1775, many American colonists experienced revolutions in their minds that motivated them to try to change their relationship with their British government. Those changing thoughts and feelings toward the British gradually built up prior to outright war, leading to significant clashes between the colonists and the British authorities years before — such as the tragic Boston Massacre in 1770, and the Boston Tea Party in 1773.

It was transformation in the souls of colonists that motivated them to do the hard work of giving birth to a new nation. They took risks and made sacrifices with great courage as they worked toward their goals because they truly believed in those goals and in their ability to achieve them, with God’s help.  Eventually, the nation  they hoped would emerge from the struggle became a reality.

Years later, one of the revolution’s leaders (John Adams, who became the second U.S. president) wrote, “The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people … This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.”

Let that inspire you as work to change your life for the better this coming year. Now that New Year’s celebrations have faded and the hard work of actually following up on resolutions begins, it’s tempting to just give up. In fact, although about 40 percent of Americans report making New Year’s resolutions, the majority of those who do (60 percent) abandon those resolutions before achieving the changes they had hoped to make in their lives, according to a University of Scranton study published in 2012.

You and I can overcome those statistics, however. The key is keeping our goals connected to our souls. We can stay in touch with God through prayer on a regular basis, listening to his daily guidance and relying on his Spirit to empower us as we slog through the hard work of change. Then, we’ll actually be motivated to keep exercising, organizing our homes, spending less money, getting more sleep, overcoming addictions, building better relationships, taking more risks in our careers — whatever he leads us to do to change our lives for the better!

Well-Being with Whitney: Setting Goals Together

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

New Year’s resolutions are notorious for fizzling out like exploded fireworks. But the 2017 goals we set stand a good chance of becoming reality if we work together to achieve them — encouraging, supporting, and holding each other accountable. Too often, we think of goals solely in terms of individual pursuits. But change doesn’t happen in isolation. Whenever we change our lives, we do so in the context of the relationships we have with others day by day. We affect each other as we interact, so we might as well do so with good purposes in mind.

I just spent New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in Boston, Massachusetts, where a tradition began in 1976 that has expanded throughout the world since then: First Night celebrations. These are New Year’s festivities that include everyone, offering all sorts of creative events in a schedule that aims to appeal to the greatest diversity of people. It’s not just a dinner and dance with drinks, which usually only appeals to a certain group: couples who have disposable income and like to celebrate with alcohol. At First Night, anyone can find something appealing to do among the free or low-cost activities that are alcohol-free. All ages — from babies to seniors — enjoyed the First Night Boston events we attended: a skating show, concerts, an ice sculpture exhibit, and fireworks.

First Night celebrations emphasize the fact that we’re all entering the New Year together and encourage us to do so in a spirit of unity. That same spirit can help us achieve our New Year’s resolution goals now that the party is over and the hard work has to begin in order to make real progress.

What goals are you working to achieve this year? Maybe you’ve made one of the most popular resolutions, such as losing weight, gaining better relationships, spending less money, or spending more time helping others. Maybe your goals are less common, but no less important.

I don’t make formal New Year’s resolutions anymore. Instead, I simply carry over my goals from the previous year and keep praying for God’s guidance from day to day. Some of the goals I’m working on for 2017 include expanding my career and getting more organized at home. I can’t accomplish those goals alone; I need help from God and other people who care about me. The gratitude I feel for help from caring friends lights the fire of motivation in me to help them achieve their own goals for this year.

It’s the same for all of us. As the Bible puts it in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.”

Working together, we can achieve much more in 2017 than we can apart!

Well-Being with Whitney: Silence Speaks During Times of Uncertainty

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

Since the old year will soon transition to the new year, this is a great time to reflect on our lives so far and how we hope to change them going forward. It’s also a time of uncertainty that can discourage us, unless we’re intentional about centering ourselves in what never changes — God’s love for us — in the middle of uncertain circumstances. Spending time in silent reflection (through prayer or meditation) empowers us to discover something ironic: silence actually speaks.

What comes through in the middle of silence is God’s voice, which the Bible describes in 1 Kings 19:12 as a “still small voice” or as a “gentle whisper.” It’s an incredibly powerful voice — but quiet enough to inspire us to listen carefully for it. God doesn’t shout at us above the noise of our lives. Instead, he motivates us to pay attention to his messages by speaking constantly in a loving way that we have to care enough to seek out. Silent reflection is like tuning our ears and minds into God’s frequency that has been broadcasting all along.

One winter day seven years ago, I heard God’s whispering voice while taking a silent prayer walk and wrestling with great uncertainty. My husband Russ needed a lifesaving kidney transplant and a great guy from our church had volunteered to donate a kidney to him. Right before the surgery was scheduled, however, the plans fell apart. That unexpected change made it a real possibility that I’d be a widowed single parent sometime soon.

God didn’t answer any of my questions that I asked on that walk, but in the midst of my uncertainty, he did something else: He sent me a powerful sense of peace. I didn’t know what my future held, but I did know that I could trust God, no matter what. When worry crept into my life (as it often did) after that walk, silent prayer and meditation centered my soul back into the place where I could receive God’s peace again.

Thankfully, a few months later Russ underwent a successful kidney transplant thanks to another hero from our church who made the lifesaving gift. But even before I knew what would happen, I felt at peace, because God met me in the silence and spoke just enough for me to renew my trust in him.

Whatever scary uncertainty you’re facing right now, I hope you’ll make some time to reflect on it during silent prayer or meditation and listen for God’s response. Even in silence, he has something to say to you.

Well-Being with Whitney: Christmas Peace with Fractured Families

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

This is the time of year when the harsh reality of family estrangement hits the hardest. Loneliness, anxiety, and depression rates spike during the holiday season when family stress collides with hopes for Christmas peace. This when we feel the pressure to present the image of a happy family to others in our Christmas cards, letters, and Facebook posts. This is when family gatherings bring together people who don’t get along during the rest of the year, with relatives trying to be on their best behavior. Despite family dysfunction, many of us hope that somehow, Christmas magic will solve our family’s problems. But we can’t sugarcoat our fractured families as easily as icing a broken Christmas cookie.

It’s time to stop magical thinking and start pursuing Christmas peace — peace within ourselves, with our family members, and with God — in the midst of dysfunction.

Ever since I was a girl, I’ve dreaded Christmas even as I’ve looked forward to it, because of the tension in my family. My parents divorced when I was 7 years old, setting in motion a stressful lifestyle for me that included listening to arguments and shuttling between houses. The Christmas season, while full of fun, exacerbated that stress by intensifying the arguments and complicating an already complex schedule. Figuring out who I would visit for Christmas, and when, became a tug of war in which I felt like a rope being pulled too hard. Eating copious amounts of chocolate Santas and singing along to Christmas carols on the radio distracted me somewhat from the stress. But no amount of Christmas magic could dissolve the sadness that settled in my soul like a black lump of coal in a stocking.

Now my family has new fractures in it, from a wide variety of misunderstandings, conflicts, and grudges. So as an adult, I still have never experienced the elusive magical family Christmas I’ve dreamed about experiencing. At least now I can see the situation through the eyes of grace. As an adult, I’ve learned that everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes all of us mess up even when we’re doing the best we can. Sometimes others hurt us so deeply that it’s hard to forgive. Yet still, I’ve continued to fall into magical thinking, naively believing every year when the holiday season hits that the stress will stop and forgiveness will prevail. Then I’m disappointed and frustrated when that doesn’t happen.

No more. This year, I’m giving up unrealistic expectations. I’m accepting that my Christmas experience will likely contain some pain that I simply can’t do anything to change. But that’s not a resignation; that’s a relief. I’m able to relax, having turned off the pressure of trying to make the family that I want happen, or of trying to pretend that it exists, at Christmas. I can finally enjoy peace at Christmas, despite family conflicts.

Families are complicated because people are complicated. People are complicated because they make a tangled mess of good and bad decisions, which God has given humanity free will to do. But we celebrate Christmas because God decided to live among us with unconditional love. That’s the true source of peace. No matter how our family members fail to love us and we fail to love them, we can live in peace because nothing can ever separate us from God’s love, as Romans 8:38-39 promises.

So this Christmas, don’t worry about the dysfunction in your family. God’s love is big enough to cover it all with a beautiful blanket of peace.

Well-Being with Whitney: Fasting from Comfort Food

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Who doesn’t love comfort food? Chips, brownies, macaroni and cheese, ice cream — it’s all fun to eat. Holiday food (from casseroles to cookies) is often comforting. Indulging in comfort food is fine once in a while. But eating comfort food regularly is a sign of using it for something it can’t reliably provide: good feelings. God designed food to nourish our bodies in enjoyable ways, but not to be the source of our comfort, as emotional eating leads us to believe. So fasting from comfort foods to lessen our dependence on them is a healthy choice to refresh ourselves in body, mind, and spirit.

That’s easy for me to say, but not to do.

Potatoes, cheese, and gravy sat before me at the table, all piled on top of each other in a deliciously squishy mess of a meal called “poutine” — the signature dish of Montreal, Canada. As I dug into it on a recent trip there, I savored every bite of that tasty concoction featuring not just one, but three of my favorite comfort foods.

Poutine was so comforting, in fact, that I found myself seeking it out whenever I felt stressed on the trip. Wait a minute, I finally reminded myself, poutine isn’t a friend — it’s just food!

Once again, I’d fallen into the trap of emotional eating. That’s something I’ve struggled with since childhood, when I began rewarding myself for finishing school homework by eating chocolate candy. Fasting from comfort foods from time to time is a great way to remind myself that food is meant for my body — not my emotions — and get back on track with healthy eating habits.

What foods do you turn to for comfort, and why? Do you tend to eat brownies when you’re worried? Do you relieve stress with a bowl of popcorn in front of the TV screen?

After you’ve identified what you’re feeling when you eat, you can choose new ways of dealing with those feelings — ways that don’t involve food. So instead of eating a brownie when you’re anxious, you can pray about what’s worrying you, and rather than eating popcorn to try to relieve stress, you can take a walk. Both prayer and walking can actually help you achieve your emotional goals, unlike comfort food, which may make you feel better for the few minutes you eat it but do nothing to help you in the long run.

Try fasting from your favorite comfort food for at least three weeks, since it takes at least 21 days to develop a new habit. Then, when you return to it, do so only in moderation and after you’ve already filled up on a healthy meal or snack. You can still indulge once in a while — just not in an emotionally dependent way. Enjoy a treat occasionally, but get your comfort from more reliable sources: God and caring people.