Thursday, April 8, 2021

Hoping Is Not A Hopeless Endeavor

Having a healthy dose of hope can be motivating and inspiring. It keeps people focused on what's ahead instead of what's in the past. It can also help keep the focus on possibilities, and reframe obstacles as opportunities.

For some, however, being hopeful goes hand-in-hand with feeling naïve or foolish when things don't work out as planned. They would rather not have hope at all if it means later disappointment.
But for others, having hope doesn't mean living in denial of life's difficulties; it simply reminds them there are better times ahead.
The Benefits of Hope
Research indicates that it's more beneficial to have hope than not. Hopeful people tend to show more resilience when faced with difficulties. They have healthier lifestyle habits and, on the whole, are more successful, personally and professionally.
According to the Mayo Clinic, having a hopeful, positive attitude has health benefits as well. These include: increased life span, reduced depression, lowered levels of distress, increased resistance to the common cold, greater emotional and psychological well-being, decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and improved coping skills during difficulties and stress.
In addition, people with hope typically have meaningful long- and short-term goals, a plan to achieve those goals, flexibility to find alternate ways to achieve goals when faced with obstacles, and positive self-talk.
We human beings are sometimes too inventive for our own good -- we can envision a future course of action along with every potential catastrophe that could occur along the way. Being aware of everything that can go wrong often makes doing nothing -- in an attempt to avoid failure or pain -- seem like a viable option.

Cultivating hope, on the other hand, helps activate creativity and inventiveness and prompts us to solve the predicaments we face by taking action in spite of our fears.

Hope brings with it the belief that things can change for the better. Regardless of how dire things may seem, there is potential for a positive outcome.

Is It Possible to Be Too Hopeful?

It could be said that optimists have a healthy dose of hope while "extreme optimists" suffer from blinding hope. They want nothing to do with bad news.
Researchers at Duke University found that extreme optimists (you could call them "high-hopers") don't save money, don't pay off credit cards and don't make long-term plans, but they are more likely to remarry if divorced.
Moderation, as usual, is the key. The researchers also found that "moderate optimists" tend to work harder, work longer hours, make more money, save more money, and pay off credit cards.
Being a moderate high-hoper doesn't mean keeping your head in the sand when it comes to life's occasional unpleasant circumstances. It just means keeping a positive attitude -- believing the best will happen, not the worst.
Studies seem to suggest that being hopeful is a skill that can be learned. So whether you're an extreme optimist, an extreme pessimist or somewhere in between, there is hope for us all.
A Different Kind of Hope that Gives Us Strength
Feeling the love of God and believing in Jesus as our resurrected Lord has brought us a different kind of hope.
"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." (Romans 5:1-5)
Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Have a Goodnight's Sleep

According to a National Sleep Foundation poll a few years ago, 40% of adults say they get less than seven hours of sleep on a weeknight, compared with the seven to nine hours that are recommended.

Of course, most of us know this. We burn the midnight oil, we get up way before the kids just to get things done. Our days are go, go, go! And it’s often hard to stay asleep once we get there.
And while most of us know that too little sleep makes us cranky, less focused and less available to those who need us, did you know this?
• Bodies deprived of sleep produce less leptin, an appetite-regulating hormone; this increases our craving for sweets and salty carbohydrates.
• Shortened sleep produces metabolic changes. These may lead to diabetes or may alter the nervous system in a way that could contribute to high blood pressure and heart-rhythm irregularities.
• Insomnia substantially increases the risk of developing depression.
In short, not getting enough rest can affect both our mental and physical health much more than we thought. Here are some DOs and DON’Ts that will help you get healthful, renewing sleep more often.
 DO structure your sleep. Try to go to bed and arise at the same times every day. Irregular hours can throw off the internal biological clock.
 DO create a soothing bedtime routine. Watching the news or reading the latest page-turner are not good sleep inducers. Meditation or soothing music helps to end the day.
 DON’T work, eat or watch TV in bed. Keep your bedroom for sleep. DO keep it quiet, dark and cool, and your feet warm. However, within five minutes of waking, expose yourself to bright light.
 DON’T exercise or eat heavily within several hours of bedtime. Both energize the body. However, DO exercise in the late afternoon or early evening. This reduces tension and makes falling asleep easier.
 DO avoid stimulants and alcohol late in the day. Caffeine, nicotine, sugary snacks and alcohol all can cause wakefulness.
 DO head off potential anxieties at the bedroom door. Make lists of chores or tasks for the next day, and/or gather things you will need. (It’s like laying out your kid's school clothes!) If worries keep you awake, write your concerns down and list possible solutions already swimming in your head without analyzing them.
 DON’T look at your clock if you wake up in the night. Figuring how much sleep you’re missing intensifies the wee-hours stress of insomnia. Cover your clock, if you need to.
Do you have a habit of staying up late and waking up early to do things on your own? If you feel stressed, anxious, frustrated, lonely and terrified, you are not alone! I felt the same until I found real safety and security in Christ. We all face pressure and challenges of life; but I trust that Jesus loves me and will never leave me nor abandon me. 
By nature we all want to fix problems and make things better on our own. But who is really in control?
"In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety." (Psalm 4:8)

Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Love Them in the Ways that They Get it

Love is powerful. Being loved and cared for are basic human needs. Holding premature babies in your arms, talking with them, and singing to them can make up for their congenital shortcomings.

Love Languages

One couple was in distress over their teenager. The mom lamented, "I do this and that for him all day, but he doesn't appreciate me one bit." The dad added, "He always asks for homework help at the last minute. Instead of giving thanks, he questions my logic and gets mad at me!" When love and dedication are taken for granted, parents will inevitably feel hurt and depressed.

Are today's young people just selfish, inconsiderate, and ungrateful? Is it possible that they don't feel loved deep down in their hearts?

Author Gary Chapman described "The Five Languages ​​of Love" in a series of books. Depending on experience and needs, everyone has his or her dominant language of love: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, Physical Touch, and Gifts. A loving relationship can only be established after the most heartwarming expression of love is received.

For example, a daughter yelling "You don't care!" may wish to spend quality time with her parents listening to her fear, anxiety and dreams instead of advising, nagging and lecturing. Therefore, don't get upset at "You don't love me!" but try listening to their feelings with empathy. There is a Chinese saying, "You will only understand the love of your parents when you raise your own child." Maybe someday our children will really understand our love and sacrifice. But why not try to love them now with the love they desire so that they can truly feel your love?

Depositing Love into Your Marriage

Another author Gary Thomas once said to a young friend, "If you want to be free to serve Jesus, there's no question--stay single. Marriage takes a lot of time. But if you want to become more like Jesus, I can't imagine any better thing to do than to get married. Being married forces you to face some character issues you'd never have to face otherwise."
Some couples do not feel loved in their marriage even though their spouse keeps saying: "Am I not cooking, cleaning, and driving around all day for you and our children?" or "I work so hard to make money to support our family, and you still say I don't love you?" The truth of the matter is that people wants their needs to be understood, and they want to receive the kind of love they desire. Therefore, please pay special attention to complaints in the home. Does a exhausted mother need acts of service from her family? Does a problem solving father wish to be respected and affirmed?
Regular deposits are required for the "Love Bank" between two people because every negative interaction may cancel out 5-7 positive interactions. Do more positive, effective, and constructive things. Pay particular attention to your words and body language such as facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures and movements.  Couples need to date regularly in order to cultivate their marital relationship.
On this coming Valentine's Day, would you like to stop destructive interactions and negative thoughts, and start making a list of positive things you like about each other? Try to express your love by encouraging and affirming their efforts, listening to their feelings, hugging and kissing, saying, "I love you!" and buying (or making) a heart-to-heart gift.
Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Plan Your New Year Today

After what we have gone through in 2020, everyone is yearning for a Happy New Year. Unfortunately, the wake up call has shaken us to the core and deep down inside, we don't feel life is as predictable as we once like to imagine. 

No wonder someone confidently "predicted" that there would be ups and downs in the New Year. If uncertainty is the only certain thing in life, how then can we keep our hope and live life to the fullness, one day at a time?

The best way to have a good year is by living life on a daily basis, letting the good days accumulate, one by one. And it doesn't have to be New Year's to resolve to have a good year. Start anytime. Today, for instance.

1. Take time, slow down. Be present in your life and mindful of the present.

2. Care for your body, eat well, exercise, treat yourself to loving, nurturing self-care.

3. Spend quality time with family and friends. Communicate, keep in touch. Say I love you. Tell people you appreciate them.

4. Take time throughout the day to renew yourself. Take a walk, read a poem or a good book, listen to music (really listen); bring beauty into your life. On a monthly basis, take a whole day for yourself—play, treat yourself to something you want to do; retreat from your daily life. Mark these special days on your calendar (in ink) so you'll be certain to take them.

5. Clean up what needs to be cleaned up. Make amends, fix what's broken, clear away clutter, forgive what needs to be forgiven and let go.

6. Commit to a project you really want to do or to learning something new or attaining something you want. Commitment is the first step. Then set achievable goals and work toward them on a daily basis.

7. Give yourself to a cause, volunteer at a nonprofit organization, a community group, your church or lend a hand to an individual or family who could use your help.

8. Practice your spiritual discipline on a daily basis. "But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:21-23)

9. Laugh every day. "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." (Proverbs 17:22)

10. Take time to dream. Life on earth is short. Instead of doing the same old thing out of habit and tradition, ask yourself, "What's God's calling and plan for me?" and boldly follow your dream!

Monday, December 14, 2020

Love Without Fear

Nobody wants to be hurt, but protecting ourselves often prevent us from loving freely and living courageously. Let's face it: love is messy. With its magnified highs and lows, love is unpredictable and never what we expect—so much so that we might be tempted to cower in fear. But if we approach love with the courage of a warrior, we can have relationships of heroic proportions. Here are 10 ways:

1. Be your true self. If we want to be loved for who we truly are, why put on an act? Do you know that you and I are so valuable in God's eyes that He was willing to rescue us, risking the life of His Son Jesus Christ?

2. Don't believe just your side of the story. Our interpretation of events and feelings is, in fact, just one possibility for what is actually true. Focus on what IS to get closer to the truth.

3. Stay open. Fear's favorite pastime is to shut us down. But when we are vulnerable, true connection to others is possible because "there is no fear in love."

4. Speak up. We become silent when instead we desperately want to connect.

5. Stop looking for perfection. More than likely, what we call "high standards" is a mask for our own feelings of inadequacy.

6. Embrace the messiness. It gives us the gift of growth.

7. Allow yourself to feel mad. Learn the difference, though, between expressing anger responsibly and dumping it.

8. Love with no thought of what you'll get in return. This is fearless love in action.

9. Take responsibility. Be accountable for your own emotions, thoughts and actions.

10. Love yourself. Only then can you love others and be loved.

Are you living in fear or in love? It might be a good time to find out what you are afraid of and where that story came from.

Even after being married for 13 years, I still did not understand the true meaning of love. When I met Jesus Christ, I finally realized the Truth. "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." (1 John 4:18 ESV)

Thank God for what happened one night more than two thousand years ago. In the wilderness of Bethlehem, the angel said to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11)





Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications

Friday, November 13, 2020

Cultivating Gratitude in Your Family

The words thanks, gratitude and giving derive from the word grace and refer to meaningful, authentic ways to acknowledge the grace in our lives. Too often, however, we are trained to notice what is broken, undone or lacking in our lives.

Gratitude is a perception, a way of looking at things, and an attitude of gratitude is a cornerstone of long-term mental and physical health. It balances us and gives us hope. Numerous long-term studies suggest that a positive, appreciative attitude contributes to greater success in work, greater health, peak performance in sports and business, a higher sense of well-being and a faster rate of recovery from surgery.

But for gratitude to meet its full healing potential in our lives and the lives of our children, it needs to become more than just a Thanksgiving word. When we practice giving thanks verbally for all we have instead of complaining about what we lack, we give our children—and ourselves—the chance to see all of life as an opportunity and a blessing. There are many things to be grateful for: autumn leaves, legs that work, friends who listen and really hear, chocolate, cars that work (usually), warm jackets, jump ropes, garage sales, the ability to read, swings, rain boots, being alive, butterflies, ...

Every evening before digging in to dinner, members of the Wang family take turns sharing something, good or bad, they have experienced that day.  One by one, each person acknowledges something that might have been difficult or a stretch, and something that they are grateful for. A typical response from the children (ages 10, 9 and 6):  "I got a compliment from a classmate. I finished piano practice before school. And I'm so glad for our dog and cat." Though full of the everydayness of life, their responses show that the childrenand the whole familyare developing a profound practice of gratitude.

This may mean overcoming the three main obstacles to gratitude: self-preoccupation, expectation, and entitlement. Self-preoccupation leads us to focus our attention on our problems, difficulties, aches and pains. Similarly, it's only when our expectation isn't met that we notice what is special. And when we think we're entitled to something, we won't consider it a gift.

Here are some ideas to help your whole family learn the attitude of gratitude:

• Keep a family gratitude journal or "Gratitude Attitude Calendar." Younger members can write one-word answers.

• Make a gratitude collage by drawing or pasting pictures.

• Practice gratitude around the dinner table or make it part of the bedtime routine.

• Make it a game to find the hidden blessing in a situation.

• Let each child have his or her own day on which the rest of the family tells why they are grateful for his/her life.

• Compile a gratitude list to counteract a litany of complaints.

If others don't want to share gratitude, don't force them.  Just set an example by being the first to express gratitude.  Bit by bit, an inner shift begins to occur, and we may be delighted to discover how content and hopeful we are feeling. This sense of fulfillment is gratitude at work.

"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications

Monday, October 12, 2020

Turn Relational Conflicts into Blessings

Conflict is as natural to the human experience as thunderstorms are to springtime. When left unchecked, conflict can generate heat and discomfort, disrupt interactions and destroy relationships. Between a couple, discord can lead to divorce. Between countries, hostilities can lead to war. But when differences are openly acknowledged and addressed, conflict can be a powerful source of energy and lead to creative solutions that encourage growth, deepen intimacy and strengthen bonds between people.

The world is made up of individuals with different ideas, wants, needs and beliefs, and conflict may occur when our differences meet. Like so many other aspects of human interaction, it's how we deal with controversy that affects our relationships -- with others and ourselves.

Dr. Wei-Jen Huang said, "Facts seldom cause conflicts. It's each person's value system, point of view, perspective, and interpretation about such facts that produce conflicts."

Some relationships appear to be without conflict. This can mean that everyone is in tune with everyone else. But what's more likely is that some people are not being honest and real with others, or that some individuals regularly and routinely acquiesce to others. This is true with a couple, in a family, or in any group. When conflict appears to be totally absent, it is best to take a look under the carpet.

For some, the inability to face conflict comes from old, deeply imbedded fears, such as the fear of being wounded or absorbed by another. Or some may fear that there is no resolution to the disagreement. In avoiding conflict, individuals may lose themselves in a forest of fears where no one says what they truly feel or want or believe.

Without resolution, conflict converts to stress that causes all sorts of ills and disease and may ultimately release itself in explosions of rage, withdrawal, acting out, addictions and general unhappiness.

However, with resolution comes the release of fear and tension, clarity and remarkably creative solutions or ideas. A feeling of closeness may result or, at the very least, a deeper understanding, acceptance and respect for one another.

If you are reluctant to engage in conflict resolution, consider the following:
  • Because people are different, conflict is natural.
  • It's more important to find clarity and unity than to be right.
  • No one is right in God's eyes. Outside of Christ, we are all fallen creatures (Romans 3:23). Remember it is God who made us different and unique (Psalm 139).
  • Conflict is about speaking up and telling our truth (what seems so real and true to us).
  • Conflict is about being open and honest with others.
  • There is usually a win-win-win solution somewhere. This solution can only be formed in Christ.
  • Resolving conflict keeps us from living in fear.
  • Resolving conflict helps us clarify, sort and value our differences.
  • Resolving conflict can bring us closer together.
  • Resolving conflict is respectful of ourselves and others.
Guidelines to Resolving Stress in Your Relationship

Resolving conflict is a commitment to clarity, to listening with an open mind and an open heart, and to respecting and valuing one another and our differences. Following are some guidelines for working through conflicts. In some instances, it may be helpful to have a third person to help guide you through the process.

1. Agree that no one will leave the discussion session and that each person will be respectful. Commit to stay with the process until you reach an agreed-upon solution. If you need to take a break, agree on a time to resume.

2. Have each person name the problem or conflict and describe feelings, thoughts and needs. Be as specific as possible. Take turns to listen actively without being defensive.

3. Admit that each of you have contributed to your unpleasant and unhealthy interactions. Own your part in creating (or maintaining) the conflict/problem. List past attempts that were not successful in resolving the issue.

4. Take time for silent reflection. During this time, allow each person time to reflect and consider each aspect of the concern. Affirm that there is a way to come to resolution. From this place of silence, tell each other any thoughts, concerns or considerations that arise. Braintorm solutions with an open mind. Do not judge or criticize any suggestion until all ideas are on the table.

5. Discuss and evaluate each possible solution. Stay with the issue until a resolution emerges. Allow for all the time it takes. Pick one solution that both of you want to try (with specific actions from each person). If you can't find a resolution, you may need to accept that you disagree, or get professional help to continue working toward resolution. In any case, set up another time to review and discuss your progress.

Because conflict is natural to the human experience, the best way to deal with it is to create the kind of connections in which differences are acknowledged and supported as part of the ongoing and spirited process of being in a relationship. We all want to be understood and accepted!

Do you know your problems will become smaller if your God becomes bigger? As Christians, we also need to stay in relationship with God the Father, Jesus Christ His Son, and the Holy Spirit so that we can rise above our human limitation and turn conflicts into blessings.

Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications