Archive for March, 2017

Well-Being with Whitney: Spring Cleaning for Your Soul

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

When spring arrives, more sunlight brightens your home as the days grow longer, and fresh air blows in once the temperatures warm up enough to open your windows. But all the light and fresh air reveal what you may not have noticed during the dark, cold days of winter: Your house is a mess. It’s not fun to see the clutter and dirt that needs to be cleaned up around your house, but the more light and air that flow in, the more motivated you are to do some spring cleaning.

Spring cleaning can be more than just a chore, however. It can actually be exciting if you use the time to start cleaning up something far greater than your house: your soul. The more you invite God to blow the fresh air of his love into your life, the more motivated you become to cleanse negativity out of your mind and welcome in positivity that shines bright.

Here are 6 ways to spring clean your soul:

  • Eliminate clutter. Get rid of distractions that block your ability to focus on the values that are most important to you. Take an honest look at what might be interfering with spending time with God in prayer and meditation, so you can tap into wisdom and know what matters most. Are you devoting more time and energy to working, watching TV, shopping, playing sports, pursuing a hobby, or something else than you’re devoting to time with God? How much time are you really spending praying, meditating, and at your place of worship? Are frazzled thoughts cluttering your inner life, or are you making time regularly for quiet reflection, and asking God to renew your mind? Eliminate clutter in your schedule and your mind to create space to focus on what’s truly important.
  • Scrub away dirt and disinfect. Cleanse dirty attitudes and behaviors and purify your soul. What kinds of filthy attitudes are lurking in your soul? Are you harboring bitterness against people who have hurt you? Do you entertain judgmental thoughts about people you don’t like? Are you infected with anger, fear, or selfishness? How do impure behaviors affect your life? Are you struggling with a bad habit or even an addiction that causes trouble whenever it rears its ugly head? Pray about each dirty attitude and behavior, asking God to help you clean up each specific one. Whenever negative thoughts enter your mind, purposefully replace them with positive ones.  Whenever you’re tempted to slide back into a bad behavior, ask God to empower you to resist and overcome temptation.
  • Suck up everyday annoyances and persistent resentments that will stain your soul if you let them accumulate. Keep short accounts with people rather than letting issues between you pile up and spill over into dirty arguments. Ask God to help you learn how to deal well with difficult people and those whose personalities differ significantly from yours. Whenever people offend you in minor ways, be willing to let the issues go. Whenever people offend you in major ways, be willing to forgive them and reconcile if possible. Do all you can to live at peace with others and resolve conflicts quickly and wisely.
  • Wipe away vestiges of the past that are hindering you from moving into the future with confidence. Consider how you need healing from past traumas and losses. Then patiently work through the healing process as God leads you, from prayer and journaling to support groups and counseling. Expect that each time you deal with one layer of dust from your past, you can see a bit more clearly as you move into the future.
  • Make your relationships shine by serving others as God leads you. Be creative about figuring out how often you can bless others through your words and actions. Remember that even a brief encouraging comment or small act of kindness can make a significant, positive difference in someone’s life. Every day, look for opportunities to encourage or help the people with whom you come into contact.
  • Rearrange your life so you can move into your future with positive plans and goals. Build your decisions for how to use your resources (time, energy, talent, money, etc.) around pursuing your dreams, so you can focus on what’s important without being sidetracked by what’s urgent. Set specific and measurable goals to help you move closer to achieving what you hope to accomplish. Check your progress regularly, and make whatever adjustments you need to make to keep your life organized well.

Well-Being with Whitney: A Tulip Tale

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

How much are you worth? What are you basing your value on, and why?

Looking at thousands of blooming tulips recently at the Philadelphia Flower Show, I was amazed at the diverse beauty surrounding me: white and yellow Angel’s Dream tulips with smooth wing-like petals, purplish Blue Parrot tulips with rippled petals, bright orange Ballerina tulips with petals that looked like dancers’ arms elegantly reaching upward. A new tulip variety that botanists developed just for the show made its debut: the Philly Belle, a deep red flower with fringed edges.

The tulips at the flower show — America’s largest and oldest (since 1829) — were prized. They were carefully arranged by professional florists into creative designs, and then admired by thousands of visitors. These were celebrity flowers that were photographed and talked about widely.

I couldn’t help but wonder: What about the tulips growing in places that were out of the spotlight, like those tucked away in the corner of a neglected backyard, or those blooming in the wild? Just because those tulips are noticed less, does that make them less valuable?

Then I thought about the “Tulip Mania” in the Netherlands during the 1600s. After the Dutch brought tulip bulbs from Turkey to the Netherlands, the exotic tulip flowers became status symbols. Their financial value skyrocketed so high during the 1630s that the price of a single bulb for a rare tulip variety cost as much as an entire house. Men in love paid marriage dowries with tulips — just one bulb was enough for a father to give his permission for a daughter to wed. One unfortunate man mistook a tulip bulb for an onion and ate it. People were so outraged about that mistake that they sent him to jail.

By 1637, however, the tulip bubble burst. Doubts crept into people’s minds about how much more tulip prizes could rise. Those doubts led to tulip prices plummeting. As a result, many Dutch families who had mortgaged their homes to buy tulips and resell them lost their fortunes and ended up in poverty.

All through the dramatic financial changes, however, the tulips themselves remained the same. Their beauty was unchanged. So how much were they really worth?

When it comes to the issue of confidence, we can learn a lot from tulips. Different people assign differing amounts of value to us. We set a certain value on ourselves, depending on our self-esteem. Just like what happened to flowers during Tulip Mania, our perceived worth can either skyrocket or plummet. But the fact remains that our real worth — our intrinsic value — remains unchanged.

Who  knows best what our true value is? I believe it’s the one who created us: God. As Creator of both humans and tulips — as well as a lot of other awesome living things — God says that we’re all valuable and worthy of love, no matter what. It’s not the circumstances around us or the opinions of others that determine our value. It’s simply the fact that the One who made us loves us. In fact, God loves us so much — completely and unconditionally — that our value is so high it’s actually unlimited.

If we believe that, then it’s clear that we’re worth taking good care of, so we should always invest in our own well-being. Just like tulips sprout up through soil, absorb rainwater, and open themselves to the sun, we too should nurture ourselves with confidence. We have great intrinsic value. So let’s bloom and flourish!



Well-Being with Whitney: Saint Patrick as a Role Model

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

This week people all around the world will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, which was inspired by the life of Saint Patrick, one of the world’s most beloved saints. I have Irish heritage (from the Shannon clan), so I naturally love St. Patrick, but I also admire his wisdom on well-being.

Patrick was a man of great faith who relied on God for the wisdom to live well. Check out my new article “5 Ways St. Patrick’s Life Shows the Power of Prayer.”

Patrick was also a person who noticed and appreciated the wonder of life. Read more in my new Thrive Global article “5 Lessons on Wonder from St. Patrick.”

Praying and celebrating are two vital aspects of well-being that we can pursue any day of the year!

Well-Being with Whitney: Beyond Limits with Thomas Edison

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

One of the most famous inventors in history, Thomas Edison, made a myriad of important discoveries because of his determination to push past the limits of what others thought was possible. Edison patented more than 1,000 inventions — including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the first practical electric light bulb — during his lifetime (1847-1931). His work exploring physical science like chemistry, electricity, and machinery is well known. But Edison also worked to investigate the spiritual world by testing what the human mind can perceive beyond the boundaries of the physical senses. Edison was fascinated by extrasensory perception (ESP) and explored that phenomenon in various ways. His work with ESP is a a great lesson in the importance of creativity.

“If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves,” Edison once remarked.

Telepathy Experiments

Telepathy (mind to mind communication) was the subject of a series of experiments that Edison and some of his laboratory employees conducted in the early 1900s with Bert Reese, a man who was famous for his intuitive abilities. The experiments, which Edison recorded in his notebooks, involved Edison and his coworkers writing information down on pieces of paper while Reese was in another room and testing to see if Reese could perceive what they’d written without looking at the papers — only by reading their minds as they thought about the information.

Edison observed the experiments with Reese and his employees. Then Edison participated himself in several experiments, including one in which he wrote: “Is there anything better than hydroxide of nickel for an alkaline battery?” (a question he was wondering about because he was trying to develop a strong alkaline storage battery at the time).

Reese’s responses in all of the experiments showed that he apparently could perceive the written information while in another location where he couldn’t read the papers. In response to Edison’s question about the battery, Reese told him, “There is nothing better than hydroxide of nickel for an alkaline battery” when Edison returned to the room where he was waiting.

But Reese’s work was controversial, and some people said that his apparent telepathic ESP ability was a hoax. Still, Edison believed that Reese was truly about to read people’s minds. Edison said, “I am certain that Reese was neither a medium nor a fake. I saw him several times and on each occasion I wrote something on a piece of paper when Reese was not near … In no single case was one of these papers handled by Reese … yet he recited correctly the contents of each paper.”

Afterward, Edison conducted some telepathy experiments without Reese. Edison had electrical machines built for four of his employees to wear on their heads in a series of experiments where they tried to read each other’s thoughts telepathically. But these experiments failed to produce any clear results of telepathic ESP at work.

Psychokinesis Experiments

Edison was also fascinated with psychokinesis (the ability to move physical objects using only mental energy). In his notebooks, Edison recorded how he tried to move objects with his mind. After failing to do so in several experiments, however, Edison turned his attention to other experiments.

In an interview about his fascination with ESP experiments, Edison told The New York Times in 1910 that, even though his work was inconclusive, “There are bigger things remaining for discovery than any of the big things we have yet discovered.”

An Afterlife Communication Machine

Perhaps the most startling way in which Edison explored ESP was by contemplating how to build a machine to communicate with people who had died. This device would be able to send messages back and forth from the earthly dimension to the afterlife, Edison explained in some interviews he gave during the 1920s that elicited some people’s curiosity and other people’s ridicule.

“If our personality survives, then it is strictly logical and scientific to assume that it retains memory, intellect, and other faculties and knowledge that we acquire on this earth,” Edison said in article published in Scientific American magazine’s October 1920 issue. “Therefore, if personality exists after what we call death, it’s reasonable to conclude that those who leave this earth would like to communicate with those they have left here. … If we can evolve an instrument so delicate as to be affected, or moved, or manipulated by our personality as it survives in the next life, such an instrument, when made available, ought to record something.”

Since no evidence survives of such a machine or even a prototype for it, Edison likely never actually built the machine he had contemplated. But one of Edison’s employees, Dr. Miller Hutchinson, said that he worked with Edison on plans for the machine. In his diary, Hutchinson expressed enthusiasm for scientific research into the spiritual realm. He wrote: “Edison and I are convinced that in the fields of psychic research will yet be discovered facts that will prove of greater significance to the thinking of the human race than all the inventions we have ever made in the field of electricity.”

Still Experimenting When He Died?

Throughout his life, Edison had been fascinated with energy, and some people believe that Edison was experimenting with the electromagnetic energy of the spiritual realm when he died on October 18, 1931. Edison had reportedly told some of his employees that he would try to stop clocks after his death, as he was leaving the earthly dimension for the afterlife.

Three of Edison’s employees had their clocks inexplicably stop at 3:24 a.m. on October 18, 1931: the exact time that Edison passed away. Just three minutes later, at 3:27 a.m., the large clock in the office and research library of Edison’s West Orange, New Jersey laboratory stopped without any physical explanation, as well — and still remains stopped at that time. Believers say that Edison’s soul was giving people a miraculous sign that he had discovered there really is life after death.

Well-Being with Whitney: Lent and the Beauty of Ugly Scars

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Today I observed a cherished Ash Wednesday tradition: Getting my forehead smeared with ashes at a church service, as a reminder of my mortality and dependence on God. Year after year, the experience is humbling. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” the person who smears the ashes says to each of us who receives the burnt dust on our faces. At Lent, we come face to face with God’s unconditional love. All of the scars from the pain we’ve gone through — no matter how deep — can’t separate us from God’s great love. God takes our ugliness and transforms it into beauty.

Your scars are marks of God’s work in your life – evidence that you’ve gone through a struggle and emerged victorious with God’s help. In all of their ugliness, they can actually be beautiful.

Jesus Christ could have easily eliminated the scars from his crucifixion after he was resurrected. But he chose instead to display the scars in his glorified body.  He even invited the apostle Thomas to touch his wounds, saying in John 20:27: “… ‘Put your finger here; see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into my side.  Stop doubting and believe.’”  Jesus’ scars were powerful.  As Isaiah 53:5 prophesied, “… by his wounds we are healed.” His choice to keep his crucifixion scars still visible after his resurrection emphasize the value in brokenness and redemption.

Scars may be external, like a scarred knee that reminds you of a bad fall or a line that marks where you had surgery. Or they may be emotional, like the jagged memories of betrayal or abuse that make it hard for you to trust people now. We’re all carrying scars of some kind around with us. Looking at the scars on your body or feeling their pain in your soul may not be something you want to do. After all, scars are ugly. But if you consider the stories behind them, scars can communicate beautiful lessons to you.

No matter what kind of scars you have, our society will pressure you to try to hide them. More than 12.7 million cosmetic surgical and nonsurgical procedures were performed in the United States in 2015, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, and Americans spent almost $13.5 billion on those procedures.  That’s a lot of effort and cost to try to fight external imperfections, like scars. An AP-Ipsos poll from 2006 showed that Americans have trouble showing people their internal scars. It revealed that about 4 in 10 people think it’s sometimes justified to lie to others rather than honestly acknowledging the truth about something embarrassing in their lives.

But every scar tells a valuable story – the story of how you were wounded, and what has happened so far as a result. If you look at your scars from God’s perspective, you’ll start to see that there’s more to their stories than just suffering. Within each story lies the potential for redemption.

When you allow the ugliness of your scars – both external and internal – to disturb you, you can turn away from pride and toward humility, which makes you more beautiful in God’s sight.  As Psalm 51:17 declares, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

So don’t be afraid to reveal your scars and take an honest look at them.  Here are 5 questions you can ask yourself to discover beautiful messages hidden inside your scars:

  1. What different kinds of scars are you carrying?
  2. How did you get each of them?
  3. What can you learn from the experiences that gave you those scars?
  4. How can you gain confidence and courage from the process of recovering from those experiences?
  5. What positive choices can you make that will help you heal from your wounds?  Possibilities include: talking with a counselor or trusted friend about your scars, pursuing forgiveness and reconciliation, and letting old dreams go so you can dream new ones.

The next time you encounter the ugliness of your scars, let it lead you to the beauty of Christ.  Remember his promise in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “… My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Then you’ll discover why the apostle Paul declares in the next verse: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”