Gratitude has a positive effect on your brain’s health and your sense of well-being. When you think a positive thought your brain releases chemicals that produce a good feeling inside you. Amazingly, this is true the first time you have the experience as well as anytime you call the memory to mind and experience it with all 5 senses. Look around your memory and notice what you see, what you hear, textures you feel, scents you smell and what you taste. Do this for 3-5 minutes (set the timer on your phone).
Last weekend I attended a family birthday celebration. My husband, kids and their spouses went to City Barbeque for supper (yum). Then we went to Graeter’s Ice Cream shop for dessert which was conveniently located next door. I like ice cream so much! In fact, right now I can close my eyes and picture my loved ones at the table with me, the inside of the shop and the little bowl of Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip ice cream. The taste was smooth, creamy and sweet. At one point I blurted out, “Ice cream makes me happy!” I can remember the sounds of our conversation and laughter. The weather was chilly outside, but the shop’s temperature was comfortably warm. I am grateful for the time I spent with my family and grateful for the invention of ice cream. I am grateful for my vehicle that allowed me to have this experience. I received the benefits of social interaction and joy in the moment and now I have a memory that is packed with gratitude that I can bring to mind which produces more positive chemicals for my brain.
Here is an exercise you can experiment with for one week. At the end of the day write three things you are grateful for in a notebook or journal. Do not write out the details, just give each item a short title.As you are falling asleep bring one of the items from your Grateful Journal to mind and replay it. Remember how each of your 5 senses experienced the event as you drift off to sleep.
So my Gratitude Journal entry would look like this:
Dogwood blossom 2. Bloodstain mark on dogwood. 3. Apple blossoms
Mother’s Day 2017
I asked my husband today, “What would you like me to write about this week in our Linville Counseling Services blog?” He replied that Mother’s Day is coming up and he would like to read something about that on the blog. So, I paused and prayed and asked God what he would like me to write about. God brought to my mind’s eye some scenes and words he’s been highlighting for me this spring.
Well, if you know my mother, you know she is a teacher by trade and a lover of nature. She often spoke to me in poetry and nursery rhymes when I was little and she often pointed out the beauty of God’s creation. Here’s a poem she often quoted, all the while teaching me the names of trees and other plants.
By Joyce Kilmer
I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
Mom taught me the legend of the Dogwood tree. We had a dogwood tree in the front yard of the last house I lived in with her and Dad. It was a beautiful white Dogwood tree. Mom would carefully show me the blossoms and teach me the Easter story as she talked about each part.
Four petals are on each blossom and if you turn the blossom like the picture above, it takes on the shape of the cross. Four torn edges at the tips of each petal remind us of the holes left in Jesus’ hands and feet when he was pierced by nails on the cross as He was crucified
Mom would gently turn one petal up to reveal that God had even marked each hole on this blossom with what looks like a blood stain. Then she would have me look at the center of the blossom and say this part of the flower reminds us of the crown of thorns that Christ wore on his head the day he was crucified. Mom would then remind me that in the winter the Dogwood tree would look like it was dead, signifying Jesus dying for our sins. And then, in the spring, new life returns in glorious, flowering color just like Jesus returning to life after defeating death.
Mom gave me lots of good gifts in life, especially her love. However, she is a human being like I am and like you are. Sometimes I hesitate to tell the good stories about my family because hurting people that I work with tell me they wish they could have a family like mine. I, my mother and my family are real. That means we have good, bad, ugly and glorious moments. We live in a broken world where perfection is not possible. But God, my Heavenly Father, is in the restoration business of bringing good out of things that are bad or hurtful. “God is able to make all things work together for good,” says Romans 8:28.
Here’s another story about my Mom and trees that I felt hurt by (unbeknownst to my mom) and how God healed and restored a lie I believed about myself. The lie was, “I am not important. If there is a break in a relationship, the other person will not come find me and work it out.” One day that lie got triggered when I had an argument with my husband. I chose to engage in Transformation Prayer Ministry (formerly called Theophostic Prayer), to ask God to replace the lie I believed with his truth. As I was praying, the Lord reminded me of an Easter when I was 5 or 6 years old. My family was visiting my mother’s parents for the holiday. This memory could signify many times when I would believe, “I am not important.” My father usually bought corsages for us girls and Mom to wear on Easter Sunday. Such a lovely tradition, but I digress…. That year he did not buy corsages because we were away from home.
Mom and I were walking among Granny’s apple trees. They were blooming in all their pink and white beauty. I excitedly said, “Mom, look, I could wear one of these blossoms for Easter!” My mom, being considerate of someone else’s property, said something like, “Oh, no. You can’t do that because that would be one less apple that Granny will have in the fall.” I was crestfallen. The blossoms were so beautiful and I really wanted to wear one, but sadly accepted her instruction. I didn’t let mom know I was sad, but I believed I was not as important as one apple. Fast-forward to prayer time with Jesus. Jesus entered that memory, picked me up and told me I was his girl and that he loved me very much. Then he picked me up and tossed me up and down like my dad used to play with me. Jesus turned me away from him, facing one large blossoming apple tree. He lifted me high, right next to the sweet smelling blossoms and said, “See this tree? I made the whole tree just for you.” Those words broke the lie and made me feel special, known and loved by God. So, now, anytime I see apple blossoms my heart is filled with joy as I remember that special healing prayer time.
The cool thing about being real as a Mom is that, with God, no matter if you are doing well or are missing the mark, God is able to work all things together for good. He redeems what I mess up with my kids if they will let him. He redeems my parents’ imperfections when I bring my heart to him. I know some of you have mothers who died or who were abusive or absent and this has caused your heart pain. God is a redeeming parent who picks up where our parents left off. I’ve seen him provide spiritual family for clients who have been hurt. I’ve seen him heal places that have been harmed by others. I’m so thankful for God. I’m praying you will let God redeem your hurts and acknowledge the good gifts he provides.
Another interactive prayer is called Immanuel Prayer and you can learn more about that here: Immanuel Prayer pdf
April Linville at Linville Counseling Services offers these types of interactive prayer in therapy sessions if clients request it.
Growing up in the 1970’s, I remember being taught that you could not call someone “fool” because you would be sent to hell. See Matthew 5:22. So this is something that I carefully avoided. Another cautionary tale was that you could not “judge or you will be judged”. The interpretation of this scripture (found in Matthew 7:1) was that I could not correct or advise other people because I would be judging them. The unfortunate fall out for me was that I thought making sound judgments, about what was right or wrong, was off limits. I became isolated and muted in group discussions where someone was trying to make a decision. I felt confident that I could choose for me, but that what you or others do “is none of my business”.
I believe that each individual is given the responsibility to choose their own thoughts, behaviors, words and actions. And I believe offering feedback to someone who is not asking for your opinion has the risk of being intrusive. However, when I have an opportunity to suggest a better course of action should I be quiet or speak up? When I am dealing with a person who is hurting me or a minor child should I just let him/ her do that without saying a word because how he is behaving is “none of my business”?
Enter one of my best teachers, Dr. Jim Wilder. Dr. Wilder is a retired, trained mental health therapist like me (his discipline is Psychology and mine is Social Work). Wilder has worked with people who have experienced severe trauma and I share that work with him. He also has a seminary degree from Fuller University. Here’s a link to biographical information about Dr. Wilder Wilder bio. His work now teaches people to live in a brain-healthy way.
Dr. Wilder’s teaching series on “Fools” has been so helpful to me. I’ve posted a link to the resource at the end of this article. The Bible compares and contrasts foolish people with wise people in many of its books: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the gospels and Ephesians to name a few. Fools are people who do things that tear down life in themselves and others. Their words and actions are destructive and not good for life, often wasting good resources that are given to them. However, fools think that the way they live is the “good life”. Wise people do things that are good for life for themselves and others. Wise people build up, encourage and speak truth to themselves and others. Wise people consider the impact of their actions on themselves, other people and the surroundings before acting.
The Matthew 5:22 instruction that calling someone a fool puts you in danger of hell was given by Jesus. In Matthew 23:17, Jesus calls the religious teachers of the law, “you blind fools”. So, why would Jesus prohibit calling someone a fool and then do it?
When you call someone a fool (“Raca” is the Greek word in Matthew 5:22), you are calling him a worthless person. Calling someone a worthless human being is insulting the dignity of a person made in God’s image. People are of great value to God, so calling them “worthless scum” is wrong. In the Matthew 23 example when Jesus called the leaders, “blind fools”, he was warning them that what they were doing was foolish and causing destruction to others. Check out what Jesus said to the teachers in Matthew 23. He lists many destructive behaviors that are deadly to emotional and spiritual health.
The difference between the two passages lies in whether you are calling someone a worthless human being or are warning the person that their actions are stealing, destroying or wasting life. The warning says, “Hey, what you are doing here is not good for life,” and calls the person to consider wise actions instead. Going back to the judgment verse: I am charged with considering options and making a wise decision. Judging another person to condemn her as beyond help and worthless goes against God’s redeeming work in the world.
Interestingly, when you venture to tell someone, “Hey, wait…what you are doing is not good for life,” the subject of, “Who is the fool in this scenario?” has been raised. So a point of judgment has arrived: who is wise and who is foolish? A wise person will stop and consider what you have to say and will correct their foolish behavior or at least stop the behavior while they consider what you said. A foolish person will tell you that you are the fool in a way to insult you and will not heed the warning. See Proverbs 9:7-10
Wise people can have some foolish moments (think King David). Foolish people can have a few wise moments (think King Saul). My challenge to you and to myself is to be on the look-out for foolish behavior in the self and in others. And for you and I to be willing to say what behaviors are destructive and which behaviors would be life-giving.
Last weekend my husband, Doug, and I attended the official opening of Bridges of Hope, a drug addiction treatment center in Anderson, IN. I was expecting an open house tour of the new facility. But, I arrived in time to hear the Governor of Indiana, Eric Holcomb and other dignitaries speak at the opening ceremony. I didn’t know the governor would attend. Another surprise of the day for me was the catered lunch. Yum!
I have an interest in this place for 2 reasons: 1. I’m a mental health therapist and am glad to welcome this treatment facility to my community. 2. Bridges of Hope bought my home church’s former office building. The building looked wonderful and the remodel will serve the new agency and its clients well.
A friend and I were chatting at the event and she asked me about brain science and addiction. One of the speakers had mentioned research that concluded that if an addicted brain can be drug free for 2 years, the brain can heal and build new neural pathways to replace damage that was done by drugs. Amazing! One of the goals of Bridges of Hope is to connect clients to healthy ways of living during treatment and after treatment. And within that goal, to make sure graduates get connected to healthy recovery activity in the community so they can continue to live a healthy lifestyle and allow the brain to heal.
I told my friend about the part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. Some therapists call this the “attachment light”. This part of the brain “lights up” when the need to connect/ relate to other human beings activates. What is good for the brain is to interact, face-to-face, with other human beings, especially if both people are glad to be together (joy) or if both are feeling peaceful and calm in each other’s presence. Unfortunately, addictions can hijack the nucleus accumbens. Drugs, alcohol, sex, food, shopping–any behavior that can be addictive–will partially satisfy the desire to relate to other people, but will not actually give the brain what is needed. So, the “attachment light” gets turned off, but not satisfied. The addicted person continues to use the substance when connection with (safe enough, not perfect) people is what is needed. The person is starving for emotional connection. The body becomes physically addicted to the substance and this cements the addictive cycle. (I understand that this is a simplified explanation of a large subject).
One of the reasons Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery 12 step programs are so effective is that the honest, face-to-face connection with other human beings starts to address the long-neglected need to connect with other human beings.
In the great commandment, Jesus told people that the 2 most important moral codes to follow are to 1. Love God and 2. Love others.
Mark 12:28-31 (New Living Translation)
28 One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] No other commandment is greater than these.”
I just love that this second commandment to love others as yourself actually has a physical benefit for the person following it because the nucleus accumbens is then satisfied in a healthy way.
Daniel Siegel’s The Developing Mind is a good way to learn more about the brain. Thanks to my friend, Diane, for asking the question. Do you have any mental health questions you would like to hear my opinion about in future blog posts? If so, please leave a comment.
Imagine picking up your best friend from the airport. You have not seen this friend for 2 years due to a move and work obligations. The first moment you see her your eyes and face light up and her face does the same thing. This is joy-“we are glad to be together”. When I feel joy and show it on my face to people I know, they often catch the joy and return it to me which makes me feel even more joy. Back and forth the nonverbal communication flows, building joy.
According to Dr. Daniel Siegel (The Developing Mind), joy is the human brain’s preferred state. Our brains grow and develop best when our default emotion is joy. Babies and caregivers spend hours a day smiling and cooing at each other, building joy. Rest and quiet (peace) is also a necessary ingredient for growing, healthy minds. Babies and parents take a break from the joy building by looking away from each other and taking a few breaths to rest. Then they are ready to engage in eye contact and joy building again.
Joy Starts Here: the Transformation Zone by Wilder, Khouri, Coursey and Sutton is a great handbook to learn about joy and how to develop more of it in your life. Many homes, schools, workplaces and churches are low-joy environments. This group of writers has a desire to spread joy in these environments so that people can grow healthy identities and improve the world around them.
Dr. Jim Wilder and another group of authors (Friesen, Bierling, Koepcke and Poole) wrote a book before Joy Starts Here called The Life Model: Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You. It is a book about ideal states of human development. The Life Model also promotes joy as a healthy state of being and gives some simple ideas about how to start joy in your world. I often share this list of ideas with my clients found on page 12 in The Life Model.
Smile whenever you greet those you love.
Use a warm tone of voice, particularly when you are saying “Hello” or “Goodbye” to them.
Ask them questions that invite them to tell you how they are doing and listen to what they are saying without correcting or advising them.
When you get to the end of a discussion do whatever you can to end it positively.
Before you fall asleep at night, make every attempt to get to joy from whatever feeling you may be stuck in.
Use touch whenever appropriate: Hold hands, link arms, give hugs, and stay connected as effectively as you can.
7. Give people you love little surprises that will cause their eyes to light up (these can be inexpensive or free gifts, too, like flowers from the garden or yard. Or a poem you wrote for them. Or their favorite brand of chewing gum…..). Let your eyes light up too! The joy builds as the glances go back and forth.
Linville Counseling Services therapists would love to help you build your joyful identity. Give us a call to schedule an appointment to develop a new strength in your life.
What are some ways you share joy with the people you love?
Ever get that gnawing feeling in the pit of your stomach that, “Something is not right here,” despite being told that, “Everything is okay. There is no problem here?” I do sometimes.
I get it when I am conducting couple’s counseling in which one partner is behaving foolishly, and the other partner is behaving wisely. I don’t know the character of the clients I am dealing with until we get into the hard work of counseling. This is when foolish and wise choices and behavior show themselves.
I use the terms “foolish” and “wise” as they are described in the books of Proverbs, Psalms and Ecclesiastes. Wise people take the resources given to them and use them in ways that bring life to themselves and others. Foolish people take the resources given to them and waste or use the resources against others. An interesting way to grow in wisdom is to read through the Proverbs, and ask God to help you apply what is taught in your own life. You will find many descriptions of foolish behavior and the consequence of choosing foolishness in the Proverbs. Did you know that Proverbs has 31 chapters? That is just perfect for reading one chapter per day. If you continue this pattern for 3-4 months, and apply what you are learning, you can grow in wisdom. Here is an audio Bible study on Fools and Foolishness by Dr. Jim Wilder. I respect his wisdom. http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/ejameswilderphd But, I digress…
One of my greatest joys as a therapist is to work with clients who are wise in character. When both members of a couple are wise, corrections and repairs are breathtakingly beautiful to watch. The marriage and each individual becomes more alive. Out of dead places new life is resurrected. I get to see the beauty of the indomitable human spirit heal, be restored and flourish, even. Wise people listen to instruction and grow and change for the better. Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” NIV
When I am working with two people behaving foolishly, quarrels abound and the problems are the fault of the partner…..both partners tell me this. Work with couples behaving foolishly rarely lasts longer than 1-2 sessions. This is sad because they will remain stuck in that state until each partner takes responsibility for personal choices, attitudes and actions. Waiting for another person to change so your life will improve is futile.
When one partner is wise and the other partner is behaving foolishly, this is when the gnawing in the pit of my stomach gets activated. Here is the thing: when I teach this couple how to use communication skills or any other intervention, the foolish one will take the new skills and use the skills against the partner, which is abusive and counter-productive. This is frustrating and sad. Like any resource, people can use it for great good or for destructive purposes. Think: Internet.
So, I am learning that the gnawing feeling is a signal to assess the character traits of my clients. I change my strategy and teach when behaviors are life-giving and when they are harmful in sessions. However, if a person persists in foolish behavior, my instruction will be used for —you guessed it— destructive purposes. In that case, I must stop the couple’s counseling, because I do not want verbal and emotional abuse happening in the counseling setting. If the foolish partner is willing to take responsibility for their hurtful behavior, then I can work with the partner individually on repairing what went wrong and learning healthy participation in the relationship. However, if the foolish person refuses to take responsibility for his or her action, then that person is stuck and the relationship will not get better.
One reason this is sad for me is my heart has a great desire to see people have a “good heart” toward one another. A heart that is “for” their spouse and desires to live in a life-giving way. I like the ideal that Colossians 3:12-17 calls us to:
12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
I believe learning to live like this is a way to grow in wisdom, and I particularly love that we can ask God to help us learn to live like this. I am hoping that you join me in growing in wisdom.