3 Steps I’m Taking to Manage Stress Better

Throughout most of my life, I’ve known I need to learn how to manage stress. While I am aware that I need to take care of myself and my relationships (with God, family, others), I also know there’s lots of room for improvement.

I’ve always said, I do well with vacation time, okay with days off, but not so well with the other six days of the week. Given the nature of our work, it’s easy to be “on” 24/7 (or at least when I’m awake). I like to get an early start, and it’s possible to fill all of the “gaps” with work. There’s certainly nothing wrong with working hard (I can’t imagine not being a hard worker), but gap time (devotion, rest, solitude, family time, etc.) are vitally important to health–and effectiveness–too!

I’ve also always thought I handle stress pretty well, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, but I don’t think my body handles it very well, physically. A week ago Thursday, I experienced some “warning signs” that I’m taking as a wake-up call to learn how to manage stress. (I may say more about this later.)

The following day, I spent some reflective time in prayer, repenting of bad habits and making some new (or renewed) commitments. Here are three primary actions I’m working on …

1. Play more, especially with Ethan and Sarah.
As a parent, there are some things we do well. For example, we’ve been extremely consistent with family devotion time (even when one of us is at a meeting, the other leads this time with the kids). But there are areas in which I don’t do as well. I don’t play enough. Too often, it’s easy to let the kids play together on their own while I fill some gap time with a little more work. Sometimes this is necessary, but other times I simply need to drop everything and play with my kids.

2. Rest more.
Since our jobs are not Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 kinds of jobs, carving out time for rest becomes even more important so that we do not fill all of our days with work. At a minimum, this means taking a break each day to rest, play, and/or take a nap. I’ve always loved Rick Warren’s suggestion of a “daily diversion.” Biblically, this means building in a rhythm of sabbath time.

3. Call a health coach.
Through our health insurance, we have access to a health coaching network, by telephone. In the next few days, I plan to call a health coach to work on stress management (one of the areas they offer help with). (I will likely say more about this later, too).

So, how well do you handle stress? What have you learned along the way? What warning signs have you experienced, indicating you need to make some changes? And, what commitments do you need to make to take better care of yourself and your primary relationships?

It Takes Time to Recover

Last month, Joleen and I celebrated 18 years of marriage (Really?!). It’s been quite an adventure. Everyone has challenges, and we’ve certainly had ours!

The first 9 years of our marriage were intense enough—married in 1994, graduated from seminary and moved to PA to co-pastor a small, dying church in 1995, moved to Williamsburg to live with Joleen’s mom in 1997, transitioned into the United Methodist Church in 1998 and began the long ordination process.

In 2003, halfway through our marriage, our journey took a detour and became much more intense. Five years into the ordination process, we hit an unexpected snag when we learned that the seminary we graduated from, which was accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, was not on the University Senate’s list of approved schools. As a result, our M.Div. degrees did not meet the educational requirements of the Discipline.

This snag delayed our ordination five years (it was to be six years, at the time, but a change to the Discipline in 2008 shortened the commissioning process by one year). We hit that snag during interviews with the Board of Ordained Ministry on March 3, 2003. By the next day, we decided to continue to work toward ordination by completing D.Min. degrees, and by the end of the year, we had begun at Asbury Theological Seminary.

After 4.5 years of fast-paced, intense work, we graduated in 2008—but not before adopting Ethan from Korea. We began the adoption process in January 2007, the same month we began work on our doctoral dissertations. The day after we both submitted our first complete (but unpolished) drafts to our faculty mentor, we got the call that Ethan was ready for us to pick up in Korea. We traveled to Korea in February 2008 while our mentor read drafts of our dissertations. Over the course of the next 4 months, we polished and successfully defended our dissertations, graduated, and then moved to new church appointments in Clearfield.

If that wasn’t enough of a whirlwind, several months later, we decided to pursue the adoption of a second child from Korea. We returned to Korea in October 2009 to pick up Sarah.

Since then, we’ve been adjusting to this new life with children, while also trying to be transformational leaders in our churches. We discovered that it’s taking a long time to fully recover from D.Min. programs, the 13-year ordination process, the adjustment to parenting while also serving as full-time pastors, and new appointments in the midst of it all!

Well, while we’re not ready to say we’ve fully recovered, we both said recently that we feel like we’re finally starting to recover. We’re regaining some energy for basic-but-important things like reading and the spiritual disciplines. In fact, in the last six weeks, I’ve even restarted weight training, which fell from the routine four years ago right before our first trip to Korea!

Life is an ascent, an uphill climb. At times, it’s downright tiring. When it is, understand that it will take time to recover!

5 Practices to Make the Most of Time

I’ve been writing about The Balancing Act by Bishop Robert Schnase (see “The Balancing Act” and Pray More Than Criticize).

Bishop Schnase writes on “Redeeming Time.” By that, he means “making time sacred, useful to God, holy” (119). Schnase adds:

… redeeming the time involves discovering the holy, gift-like quality, the grace of time. It involves perceiving time differently, looking at time through God’s eyes. (119)

I have always been interested in time, specifically how to make the most of it (see last year’s post, Time Management). I’ve also always been interested in improving my use of time!

The language of “redeeming time” comes from the King James Version: “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5.16) and “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time” (Colossians 4.5). The New Living Translation puts them this way: “Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days” (Ephesians 5.16) and “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4.5).

Here are five practices that help make the most of time …

1. Pray. “Teach us to use wisely all the time we have” (Psalm 90.12, CEV).

2. Pinpoint your mission. It’s impossible to make the most of our time if we aren’t clear on our purpose in life. When we know our mission, then we know what to say no to, which is critically important.

3. Prioritize your tasks. When we have pinpointed our mission, prioritizing tasks becomes easier—easier, not necessarily easy. See Michael Hyatt’s excellent post: Put the Big Rocks in First.

This is one of my challenges. I can prioritize tasks, but too often, I want to knock out a bunch of smaller tasks so that I can devote extended time to the big task(s). But sometimes, by the time I finish the lower-priority tasks, there’s not enough time for the big tasks!

4. Play. I’m sure we don’t do enough of it, but a healthy dose of play makes people more productive. That was a major premise of Jump Start Your Brain by Doug Hall, which I read a number of years ago. Of course, in our case, the kids help … when we let them!

5. Practice sabbath time. Like play, our bodies require adequate rest (e.g., I recently read about the hidden dangers of sleep deprivation, which adds extra motivation). It’s no wonder God built sabbath rest into the rhythm of our lives from the very beginning!

What practices help you make the most of time?

Recovery Time at the Bishop’s Retreat

One thing we’re slowly learning is that it takes time to recover from major stressful legs of the journey. The most recent stressful leg of our journey was working toward the monumental milestone of last week’s deadline for our ordination work. Fortunately, the Bishop’s Retreat, which I wrote about last week, came at just the right time (it started this evening).

We left yesterday after lunch and got in last evening after a 3-hour trip plus 1-hour stop for dinner. Ethan and Sarah are a little sleep deprived (but they’re doing well, overall). Tomorrow’s schedule begins fairly early (especially for Sarah).

Today, we had the whole day together until this evening’s opening session. The kids are in child care during the four sessions (tonight, tomorrow morning and evening, and Wednesday morning) but we’ll have extended time together tomorrow afternoon (lunch through dinner).

Based on tonight’s opening session, this retreat will be a soul-feeding time. Rev. Grace Imathiu, the guest speaker, did a nice job with the story of the “prodigal son.” It was very inspirational, and the most creative telling of the story I’ve ever heard. As a follower of Jesus, it was encouraging. As a student and communicator of God’s Word, it was also very challenging.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s sessions.

Preparing for Retreat

As we near the end of our ordination journey (more on that in the next few days), we are in much need of a retreat. So, the Bishop’s Retreat comes at just the right time. After lunch this Sunday, we will head to Lancaster, PA for the retreat.

This will be the third year in a row that we’ve attended the retreat. We were not able to attend before because of working on D.Min. degrees (with classes in January). Two years ago, Ethan made his debut at the retreat (just as we did) and last year, Sarah made hers. You can read about previous retreats in these posts: Arriving at the Bishop’s Retreat, Bishop’s Retreat Learnings, Halftime at the Bishop’s Retreat, and Ten Percent from the Bishop’s Retreat.

This year, the guest presenter will be Rev. Grace Imathiu. She is pastor of Brown Deer UMC in Brown Deer, Wisconsin and has served congregations in her native country of Kenya as well as Washington, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. You can learn more about her here at Day1.org, which includes video content.

We’re looking forward it, especially because of the timing. The deadline for our work in preparation for ordination is January 13 and our wedding anniversary is January 15. On January 16, we will take our family to Lancaster for some much needed retreating and reconnecting!

Temporary Workstation

If you read my post about the 2010 HealthFlex HealthMiles Challenge, you may know why I’m looking for creative ways to get my steps in each day.

IMG_1193My newest experiment is a temporary workstation on our treadmill (pictured below). I tried it out for about an hour this afternoon and it worked pretty well, although my typing at 3.5 miles per hour is a little erratic! 🙂

I’m not sure how much I’ll use it (I’ll use most of my treadmill time, especially early mornings, praying, reading Scripture, thinking about my sermon, and listening to worship/inspirational music), but I also may use this temporary workstation to watch the DVDs from Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit as well as online video resources like The Nines and Aha!. Or, I could read books, such as Secrets from the Treadmill and When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box!

Recharging Your Batteries

You know the drill, one of your many rechargeable battery-powered gadgets needs recharging, so you plug it into its specific rechargeable device (after you find it!).

A couple weeks ago, I plugged in my cell phone, and Ethan asked if my phone was dead. It wasn’t, so I said, “No, it just needs to be recharged.” So he replied, “Is it a little bit dead?” 🙂

Well, last week, I plugged a couple other rechargeable gadgets into an outlet. And this morning, when I tried to use one of them, battery power lasted only a few seconds. That didn’t make sense.

Seconds later, though, I thought to check the electrical outlet to see if the “Reset” button needed pressed. It did. So what I thought was recharging really wasn’t accomplishing anything!

I wondered if that happens to us physically, emotionally, and spiritually as well.

“Recharging batteries” is a good metaphor for personal/spiritual self-care. But we need to check, occasionally, to see if what we think is recharging our batteries is accomplishing anything or not. We may think we’re recharging our batteries, but if we’re connected to the power source, nothing is happening!

So, when you recharge your batteries, make sure you are *really* connecting to the power source!

HealthMiles Level 5

I have written several posts this year about the Virgin HealthMiles activity rewards program. The program is available to individuals but is available to us through our health insurance in The United Methodist Church.

The program involves wearing a pedometer to track steps. Depending on how active you are, you can progress through various stages, earning a little money at each stage (up to $300/year for all five stages, and actually, our insurance program added $125 in other incentives along the way). I decided to chart the course here on the blog through the first year, and today, I reached the highest level (5), nearly four months after reaching Level 4.

Interestingly, after the big HealthFlex HealthMiles Challenge (where more than 2,800 United Methodist participants competed in a national month-long challenge; 17 of us, including me, reached the daily maximum of 30,000 steps each day of the 29-day challenge), I haven’t been nearly as active as I was before the challenge. Of course, I expected a bit of a slump (or recovery time), but overall, my daily step counts are lower. I should get back on pace around the end of the year and the beginning of the new year, though.

On our “anniversary” date (the date we signed up for the program), participants start over, so on January 23, 2010, I will start all over again and work toward Level 1 (and beyond) during the second year.

Anyway, I’ve written these posts this year just to say that I think the program (or even simply wearing a pedometer, which provides instant feedback on activity level) is good incentive for getting/staying active!

HealthMiles Level 4

Yesterday, I reached Level 4 (of 5) in the HealthMiles walking incentives program, less than six months after signing up. That leaves me plenty of time (six months) to reach the final level (Level 5). At my current pace, it should take up to four months.

I reached Level 4 on day 7 of the 28 day marathon I blogged recently. The challenge, involving 2,830 people from across The United Methodist Church, is going very well. I am doing as well or better than I expected and am running with the leaders, so far.

HealthMiles, which is now available to individuals (not just organizations), is an excellent program. I like the instant feedback (by uploading my steps to the HealthMiles website), the focus on cumulative activity, and the ability to track progress at the website. The financial incentives are a nice touch as well.

I tend to get a lot of steps simply because I move a lot. A few days ago, Ethan’s first words after waking up in the morning (which I heard via the baby monitor) were, “Daddy, walking” (and I get most of my steps while he’s asleep!). 🙂

Occasionally, Ethan will stop in his tracks, lift up his shirt near his right hip, look at his imaginary pedometer, and call out a number, then continue walking. As we’ve said before, some things are better caught than taught.

Anyway, one more stop (in the first year), Level 5. One step at a time.

Four Week Marathon

Beginning at midnight tonight, 2,830 people from across The United Methodist Church will begin a 4-week challenge. The challenge is open to members of the denominational health insurance plan, HealthFlex, who are participating in the HealthMiles rewards incentive program.

As we’ve blogged before (see Racking Up HealthMiles), we are participating in the HealthMiles program, which involves wearing a pedometer to count the number of steps we take. We upload our steps to the HealthMiles website via USB cable to earn rewards.

The HealthMiles program allows organizations to conduct organization-wide challenges once a year. A couple weeks ago, we received an email inviting us to participate in the first ever HealthFlex-wide challenge, a 4-week challenge that begins tomorrow (7/15). Twenty minutes after the email went out, I was the 70th person to sign up. When registration closed last night, a total of 2,830 people had signed up.

The challenge will track the number of steps each participant takes over the next 4 weeks. There will be both individual and team components. Teams will be determined by conference relationship (in addition to a college and the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits). There are 32 teams in the challenge.

Team results will be determined by the average number of steps per day for each team member. Individual results will be determined by the total number of steps. There is a 30,000-step/day cap (my sense in reading the rules is that the cap is to deter people from cheating).

Each member of the winning team will receive 250 HealthMiles (i.e., reward points); 100 HealthMiles will go to each person of the second place team. In the individual competition, the top 50 people will receive a cash prize ($100 for first place, $75 for second, $50 for third, and $25 goes to those who place 4-50).

I’m excited about the challenge. I’ve been raring to go ever since the challenge was issued. I have at least three personal goals …

  1. To help my team (Central Pennsylvania Conference) win the team competition!
  2. To test my endurance and consistency (i.e., to pace myself and to rack up as many steps as possible every day)!
  3. And while there’s *always* someone out there who can do more, I’m playing to win! 😀

Part of the fun is that participants will be able to chart their progress and placement during the challenge at the HealthMiles website. Participants can also post comments on the chat page and with 2,830 participants, that could be interesting!

Well, I’ll write about the experience at the finish line (unless I decide to blog along the way, periodically). In the meantime, let the challenge begin!