Monday, July 29, 2013

Exercise to Reduce Anxiety: Even the brain changes

Exercise has been long regarded as an effective way to counter the blues, stress, and anxiety.  There seem to be many benefits including increasing socialization, improving our body image, increasing endorphins, and working off some of our adrenaline and tension.  

Turns out, exercise also changes the brain.  Researchers at Princeton used an animal model of exercise to measure neurons in the brain.  After 6 weeks of exercise, the "running mice were more willing to cautiously explore and spend time in open areas, an indication that they were more confident and less anxious than the sedentary animals."  When the animals were put in stressful situations, the running mice calmed much more easily after the stress than the sedentary mice. 

When they examined the brains of the "running mice," they determined that there was an increase in neurons that produced GABA, a neurotransmitter that calms down brain activity.  This neurologic activity may be true in humans as well!  Another reason, to get some physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle.  

link to New York Times article and original scientific article in the Journal of Neuroscience

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Beauty for Ashes: Can we be a blessing in darkness

 Have you ever prayed that God will increase your influence so that I can be a blessing to others?  Sometimes, in the midst of that prayer, I feel confronted by darkness.  I hear of devastating situations and feel distracted, as if darkness is trying to pull my focus off God's goodness.  I feel confronted by situations that seem to go from bad to worse; they appear impossible to fix, correct, or restore.   

I have come to realize that when I am praying to be a blessing to others, the seemingly impossible and dark situations that come to my doorstep are not distractions to shock and scare me, but rather God's answer to the prayers I have been praying. I have begun to realize that prayers asking God to allow me to be a blessing mean that I will be "given" situations that need light.  In those situations that I feel shocked by darkness, I have, in fact, been "entrusted" with "impossible" and dark situations, entrusted with situations that require God's wonderful goodness and divine intervention.  I have been offered a mountain, a valley of dry bones, a drought, a ruin and dead place.  I have been offered the opportunity to be a Royal representative of the Kingdom, anointed to bring God's goodness and order, moving mountains, resurrecting dry bones, and rebuilding the ruins.  These situations entrusted to me are an answer to prayer, a gift from God, an invitation to enter into the calling to live in a His kingdom and have the faith to see beyond the now and the visible. 

My prayer today is that when we are confronted with dark and dead and impossible situations, we will see the invitation of God to become speakers to dry bones, a resurrection people, rebuilders of ruins, firestarters.  We will see the gift of God, the plan of God, the way that He entrusts these situations to us because we are Kingdom people.  I pray that we will accept the invitation to bring Kingdom grace to a chaotic earth through outrageous goodness as we walk with a breakthrough-King.

Isaiah 61:3 (CEV) 

The Lord has sent me to comfort those who mourn,
    especially in Jerusalem.
He sent me to give them flowers in place of their sorrow,
olive oil in place of tears, and joyous praise
    in place of broken hearts

Monday, July 15, 2013

Does Your Child Have 'Super Powers?": Talking to your kids about their autistic spectrum symptoms

My son is 7 years old and has a diagnosis in the autistic spectrum.  One of the features of the spectrum is that some children and adults can have many sensitivities that feel overwhelming at times.  My son has many sensory symptoms like this: the sun is too bright, crowded places are noisy and chaotic, being touched can feel overwhelming.  The strength of these symptoms seems to be variable through different ages and seasons of life for him.  When he is having a hard day, he has more symptoms.  I remember one season when he was 4 years old.  He was so sensitive at that time that it was hard to function.  He didn't want me to use any of our kitchen appliances because they were too noisy.  Even if he was in a different room with the door closed, he seemed bothered by the noises.  We even considered taking the appliances to the basement! 

One decision facing parents whose kids are struggling is how to discuss the struggles without making the child feel chastised or bad about themselves.  In this case, we started talking to him about his super powers!  He could really resonate with this concept.  We talked about how not everyone could see and hear what he could.  His super powers (hearing, vision, etc) could be really valuable and wonderful (e.g., he can pick out details in a picture that no one else sees).  We also talked about how his powers can make life hard or uncomfortable.  

One of our goals was to teach him how to monitor how his powers were doing that day.  We would say, "Are your super powers bothering you today?" or when he could see or hear something we couldn't, we might say "Ah!  Your super powers are turned on.  I didn't even notice that noise."  Then we would ask him to start monitoring his own powers and telling us what he needs that day.  We would say, "If your super powers are really strong today, what can we do to make it feel better."  We would start to teach him options for coping with really strong inputs.  For example, we might suggest sunglasses outside.  I would warn him before I turned on kitchen appliances so he could decide whether he wanted to put his hands on his ears, go upstairs to his room, etc.  

He really responded to the concept of super powers having good aspects as well as challenges.  And he also started monitoring how he was doing on a certain day, and letting us know (with prompts).  Pretty soon, he could start to choose from options about how to cope on that day. 

What super powers do your kids have?  How do you talk to your kids about their strengths and challenges? 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Easy to Read Books on Child Development: Series by Louise Bates Ames

Louise Bates Ames was an American psychologist specializing in child development. She worked at the Yale Clinic of Child Development and hosted one of the first TV shows on child development.  She died in 1966. She published a series of easy to read books on child development by age, one for each year from 1-9 and then a book about ages 10-14.  Although dated in some ways, the book series is a nice resource for parents wanting to know about temperament changes and how this is impacted by developmental levels. 

Because my son had some developmental symptoms, I had trouble knowing what was just typical development and what was a struggle connected with his autistic qualities.  These books were a quick resource that helped me put his changing interaction styles into perspective.

 Excerpt from Your Three-Year-Old:  Just as the tides have their rhythms, so does human behavior have its own predictable rhythms.  As the child grows older, "good" ages alternate with "bad"; times of equilibrium alternate with times of disequilibrium; and periods when behavior tends to be expansive and outgoing alternate with periods when everything seems to be pulled in.

I personally appreciated having a resource that talked about the developmental stages of temperament, rather than just focusing on cognitive or motor goals for each age.  Some have commented that the books don't contain much information or that they are dated.  I would say that is probably true, but the dated portions don't negate the developmental gold in the pages, and the fact that the text is not complex is a plus for me.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Praying for Marriages in Households with Struggling Kids--John 17:20-23

 Excerpt from Soul Cries devotional, copyright 2012 Regan
*2013 National Indie Excellence Award Finalist*

John 17:20-23 (The Message)

I'm praying not only for them but also for those who will believe in me because of them and their witness about me. The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—  Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, so they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me. The same glory you gave me, I gave them, so they'll be as unified and together as we are—I in them and you in me. Then they'll be mature in this oneness, and give the godless world evidence that you've sent me and loved them in the same way you've loved me.


For those of you who are married or have been married, you know how very difficult it can be to sustain that close covenant relationship. Relationships do not often resemble greeting cards when you live day-in and day-out with someone, walking on the journey that life brings, going through seasons of struggle. I have read estimates that couples raising a child with extraordinary needs have a divorce rate near 85 percent. The fatigue and deep tiredness, and the uncertainty and strain can build and build. Your life may be in survival mode for so long that you may not even be able to pinpoint any specific moment when you and your spouse began to grow apart.

Today, let’s join in prayer for marriages. We pray that marriages will not only survive, but will thrive. I pray that couples will know what it is to become one heart and mind, supernaturally, through God’s Spirit. I pray that parents of children with specific needs will know such deep intimacy with God that they will grow in unity together. I pray they will know that they are filled with the same glory that filled Jesus, and that they will feel filled with that glory day after day and year after year. I pray, God, that they will know a life-giving oneness, a unity that sustains them in every season. May there be a kitting together of mind, body, and spirit. I pray that couples will know a supernatural resting in each other and in God. May there be no division, tension, or separating…but rather community and oneness.

1. I pray, reader, that you will have a deep intimate relationship that is filled with God’s Spirit. May you know blessing, oneness, and the joy of a covenant relationship with Him.

2. If you are married, how can you breathe life into your marriage relationship today? If you are a single parent, I pray that God will send you an intimate partner to covenant with. May you know abounding blessings within a partnering relationship.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Building Better Communities: Being a Blessing to Others

I remember just after high school and college, there was a lot of thought about direction, purpose, and identity.  What do I want to be, what do I want to do "when I grow up," what are my goals and ambitions.  Now that I have achieved many of my academic goals, I have been impacted by the worldview that whatever I am "doing," my purpose is to be a blessing to those around me.  It is what God said to Abraham (Genesis 12:2 "...I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing" ESV).  It is akin to the movements to "pay it forward" or to practice "random acts of kindness."

Being a blessing may be a long term thing.  It may involve developing deep lasting relationships with others, or community projects that are involved and complex.  It also may involve something on a smaller scale like paying for the person behind you in the drive through (something I love to do by the way!).  We may think about how to be a blessing to our children's teachers, our doctor, our boss, or our city. 

I am intrigued by a book (on my summer reading list) called The Art of Neighboring which talks about how to become more connected with the people in our own neighborhood. If the goal of "being a blessing" seems to big for us, we need only look outside our front door, meet our neighbors, and keep in mind our goal to bless.