The Brain Likes it When You Write

Last night, a Ph.D. student in neuroscience alerts me to a  study that looks at what happens when people put their feelings into words. I’m not sure, but I think it’s this one from UCLA Neuroimaging. The very act of articulating our feelings soothes the part of the brain (the amygdala) responsible for negative emotional reactions.

We’re happier when we write. We’re happier when we put our feelings into words. The brain responds.  

I love learning the science behind why my counselors always encouraged journaling, story-telling, and communicating to empathetic listeners. I love understanding the science behind why blogging isn’t just about bored mothers who feel the need to share everything they think about for no reason at all. No! It’s because daily writing is a beautiful and important mental health practice. It’s about training our minds to articulate into words what we’re feeling. The brain enacts different and less stressful patterns when we utilize precise language to talk about our lives.

I’ve been writing daily for over four years, and these have been the least reactive, least depressive, and least despairing years of my life. It’s no coincidence. If you’re thinking about writing today, do it! If you’re thinking that it’s self-indulgent, narcissistic, or pointless, revisit the science behind why it’s important to write.

It’s good for you.


This Will Sting

The weather report uses bitterly cold to describe tomorrow’s weather.

Bitterly! Bitterly!

The word use dates back to the 1800’s when, instead of describing a sour taste, bitter became figurative for hard to accept or endure, intensely grievous, and cruel. When used to describe the feeling associated with a bitter thing, writers use bitterly when they mean stinging.

Yes, all of the above. The bitter cold coming our way (when I was hoping for daffodil shoots and warm breezes) means we stay inside. The wind howls, and at this very moment, I can hardly see through the swirling storm. If I have to leave the house, I’ll wrap up in multiple layers so no cold can sting me.

I feel battle ready.


How We Perceive It

Today I learn that, although it’s technically 20 degrees outside, the RealFeel temperature is 5 degrees.

The RealFeel temperature represents all the factors that influence how the temperature feels to us (regardless of actual temperature). These factors, like wind, angle of the sun, and humidity change how we experience a weather reality. 
I like to remember that God’s love is, in fact, a constant reality, but on certain days and under certain conditions, I’ll perceive it differently. It won’t feel the same under stress, sickness, loss, migraines, or disappointment. 
It’s supposed to feel one way, but it often won’t. Do not despair; fair winds come. The sun rises higher. It won’t always feel this way.


Four Things the Priest Asks God For in Psalm 119

In Psalm 119: 33-37, a priest begs God to do four things:

Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees;
then I will keep them to the end.
Give me understanding, and I will keep your law
and obey it with all my heart.
Direct me in the path of your commands,
for there I find delight.
Turn my heart toward your statutes
and not towards selfish gain.
Turn my eyes away from worthless things. . . “

I consider how, with these four verbs, the writer declares absolute dependence on God to shape his mind and heart. Teach me, God. Give me understanding. Direct me. Turn me.

I begin this new work week asking, like the priest does, for these four things.

Teach me. Give me understanding. Direct me. Turn me.


Today I Reinvent Myself

I tried on a dress I’d never wear otherwise, and I bought it today.

I felt like I was reinventing myself.

All the way home, I’ve been thinking about reinventing myself because “the old has gone, and the new has come” (2 Cor. 5). I normally think this happens just once in the Christian life, but really, I find the old creeps in every few years or so. Right about now, it’s time for the new.

I know this because God’s been stripping away things I once valued and placing new dreams in my heart. What a glorious time to think of the new me, the new you.


Bad food = bad mood

A wise, older mother taught me the importance of being a “predictably cheerful” mom.

I thought that was crazy at the time. Predictably cheerful?

First of all, who can predict cheerful?
Secondly, who can predict cheerful?

I want to be predictably cheerful. I don’t want to have the kind of home where everybody fears what kind of mood mom’s going to have today. I want to have children and a husband who rush home to find a cheerful woman who loves life and overflows with a kind of irresistible vibrance and joy.

Over these past few decades, I’ve learned some tricks for mood management that create a predictably cheerful mom. Yes, it’s a lot about sleep, exercise, spiritual disciplines, healthy relationships, and meaningful work. But after all these years, I’m learning the strong connection between food and mood.

I can do all those things I listed, but in one mouthful, I can sabotage all these efforts.

Have you learned this? Have you noticed any connection between a dip in mood and soft drinks, sugar,  or processed food? I have! I have! I wish it weren’t so, but it simply is. 

What can we do? 

Today, I reaffirm to my husband my “Predictably Cheerful Mom Eating Plan” that reinvigorates some healthy eating–not for weight loss or image (although nothing’s wrong with this)–but for MOOD!

Are ya with me?  Bad food = bad mood. I’m ready for some predictable cheerfulness.


The Deepest Gloom

This morning I read Psalm 107, and I remember.

I remember what it was like to battle depression all those years. I remember the doctors, the therapists, the medication, and the despair. I remember the mornings of waking up and thinking, “I cannot do this anymore. I cannot do this another day.”

I read Psalm 107 from my old green Bible and my handwriting from that time:

I cried out; God saved.
I cried out; God led.
I cried out; God sent forth his word and healed.

It’s a beautiful, wonderful life. We are so satisfied. We are so filled with good things. We are healed.


It Can Be Anything

Today I recall a thought from over four years ago that I’m so thankful I wrote down. It’s about finding beauty in anything.  I think I remember this post because the Italian Mama recently fed me a wonderful grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup. Enjoy this old post from a time gone by:

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

So I Will

Today, I had the privilege of writing a guest blog post for The Seed Company, an organization founded by Wycliffe Bible Translators to accelerate Bible translation all over the world.  The Seed Company blogasked me the question, “How does reading the Bible help you live with flair?”   Here’s my answer below, and check out The Seed Company to learn more about this great mission. 

When I read God’s word, I learn how to see the world differently.
Suddenly, what’s boring becomes beautiful; what’s mundane becomes marvelous.  When I read the world through the lens of my Bible, I’m filled with wonder.  I’m on a treasure hunt to find the mysteries of God in acorns, injured cats, pancakes, or snowflakes. 
For the past 10 months, I’ve been blogging at “Live with Flair.”  It began with a challenge to find beauty, wonder, and spiritual truth every day.  Even in the most common thing, I could find God’s truth and reflect upon it. 
God’s word says I can, so I will. 
I have to take seriously the argument in Psalm 19 that the heavens “declare the glory of God,” and that the skies “proclaim the work of his hands.”  The psalmist claims that creation “pours forth speech” and can “reveal knowledge.” 
What speech?  What knowledge? 
Just this morning, I read a quote from E. Stanley Jones that “all things have the stamp of Christ upon them,” and that His will is “wrought into their very structure.”  As I turn to consider the book of Romans, I learn that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. . .” 
Might I consider this pencil and think about the divine nature of the Creator?  Might I make a cheese sandwich and understand the invisible qualities of an Almighty God? 
Colossians tells me that “Christ is before all things and in Him all things hold together.”  All things: pencils, cheese sandwiches, injured cats, snowflakes.  I challenge myself to let God’s word interpret my environment.  I’m on a mission to see into the structure of common objects and find the glory of God. 
This process comes about through mystery.  I find an object and ask a question about it.  Why is it this way?  How did it become this way?  Soon, I’m in the presence of mystery, one step away from worship.  As I uncover the wonder, I then turn and praise the Living God—Jesus—who created all things, even cheese sandwiches. 
And that’s how I live with flair. 

If It Can’t Be Said in 2 Minutes

When asked about the available means of persuasion in society today, college students talk more about YouTube, twitter, and photo-sharing (Instagram and Snapchat) more than anything else. They share that they’ll view short videos–less than three minutes long–and short news or blogs, perhaps only what fits on a screen. If it can’t be said in two minutes, perhaps it shouldn’t be said at all. 

Gone are the days of the long, well-articulated essay and the long, beautifully spoken 50-minute lectures from my professors that used no technology whatsoever (because it didn’t exist). What’s happening to us?
A student reminds me that all is not lost. There’s still hope in one thing: the power of story! Students still read literature and love movies. They’ll watch two movies a day sometimes. They’ll read fiction. Stories still capture our attention and hold it. They change us. Stories protest our culture’s shrinking attention span. 
All day, I think about what it’s going to take to speak and persuade in such a culture as this. It’s going to take story. It’s going to take truth distilled down to the perfect verbs and adjectives. Everything’s shrinking down to something essential. Perhaps this isn’t a terrible thing.