New Year Reflections and Hopes from ALCS

New Year reflections and hopes from ALCS
Happy New Year! Hear from each of us at ALCS as we reflect on 2019 and offer our thoughts on beginning the new decade with awareness, gratitude, peace, and intention. (Not pictured in our staff party photo: Rachelle Honohan)
Was 2019 full? Do you find yourself tired as you begin 2020? I have two simple words for you: "find rest." Last year was so full for me at times, that I often felt overwhelmed and weary. During those times, the words of Psalm 46:10 became a frequent call, "Be still and know that I am God." Do you hear the invitation? These words are so needed in my stressful life. They have become a gentle reminder of my need to step out of the fast pace of life, and instead, pursue rest. An urgency to find a quiet place to pray. A call to go for a walk. A need to have coffee with a friend. A prompting to be more aware of myself and who and what is around me. What brings you rest? I hope you find it…and I hope you rest in the knowledge that the One who created all and knows all, knows you. He knows the things that have left you drained and weary.  He sees both your striving and your sacrificing. He knows the thoughts that won't stop at night. He hears your cries and your questions of why…and with all of this, He invites you. He invites you, much like a parent does to a weary child, to climb up into His lap and to be still and let Him be God… holding you and the things that are too much for you to hold. I hope you will find His lap in 2020 and that you will truly rest well.

One of the themes that is very important to me is “Relationships are the key to life”. This has come to the forefront in my mind as my husband and I sell our home of 23 years - a place where we raised our 4 boys. As I am saying goodbye to this chapter in our life, I have realized that my boys and their families will be creating new memories at the new house, so it makes it easier for me to say goodbye to their childhood home. I have come to realize that it is the neighbors that I will miss much more than our house. As neighbors, we have lived life together - sharing the death of family members, heartaches with kiddos, sickness, culdesac parties and just time catching up in the driveways. I know that my relationship with God is very important to me and I make that a priority, but I need to continue to remember that it is people that really count and matter. I hope that you will look around and find people to connect with in meaningful ways as you move through 2020.

I love the start of a new year! While January 1st is just another day, it also holds an expectation of what is to come and helps us to consider the possibilities for new growth, change, and goals to be accomplished! Every year I choose a word or phrase that represents the year to come. This year I am choosing to deem 2020 as the year of perspective, vision, and clarity. Yes, pun intended! I invite you into shifting your perspective this year, starting by practicing Self-Compassion. When reflecting on 2019, instead of dwelling on the failures, unaccomplished goals, or the lack of self-worth, CHOOSE to show yourself compassion and grace.  Use the opportunity of the new year to set an intention. Show yourself kindness when you think about your abilities, your skills, your growth, and your year to come. Remember you have been chosen by your Creator for such a time as this and your purpose goes far beyond your circumstances or your weaknesses.  You are allowed to give yourself compassion because the God of the universe gives it to you every day.  He has given you worth and He will give you courage to keep growing. Therefore, my perspective in 2020 is to fix my eyes not on my own strength or wisdom but rather on the plans and goals my God has prepared for me!

Does the letdown from the holidays leave you feeling sad or depressed? Some people tend to feel depressed during the holidays for various reasons. One thing I've noticed about myself is how the anxiety and excitement of gifts and Christmas and family and time together give way to sadness and disappointment starting the new year. In January 2019 I decided I would make it a point to get myself (and my kids, then ages 3 and 1) outside most days of the week. We are blessed with mild “winters” here in Texas, so there were days when we could actually be outside in shorts…in January! Other times, we just bundled up to go for a walk, find a new playground, ride bikes, throw rocks into a pond, or just explore and notice trees, birds, and other people. There are studies to suggest that being outside for even 15 minutes per day can change your mood and your brain, and I’ve noticed it happen in myself and in my children. So here’s to getting outside, taking in the sunshine, and transforming your mood in 2020!

As the new year draws near, I am always wanting to consider ways to make life a little simpler, and one of my favorite ways to do this is meal-planning.  With 4 boys running around our house for years (2 are out of the house now), I have found ways to make meals easy yet meaningful. Although we are on-the-go a lot with all of the sports that the boys have played, I strive for family meals and try to eat at home as much as possible. Sundays are my meal-planning days. After looking at the calendar to see what nights we are home versus what nights we are running out the door to a practice or a game, I take stock of the pantry and try to plan the week’s meals in advance. One sample week could be:
Monday: shredded chicken for tacos, made in a Crock Pot
Tuesday: quick fix of bean burritos, sandwiches, or salads to eat at the practice fields
Wednesday: shredded chicken salad with leftovers from Monday
Thursday: grilled hamburgers or enchiladas, planned for a more relaxed evening with family time
Friday: easy pizza with salad or something fun for the kids
When we are all at home and have a longer time to enjoy our food and each other, we visit about the week and just share about school, sports, friends, and life. I always find it important for parents to also share that things can be challenging for them and discuss how they problem-solve to get through the “yucky” feelings.
We also encourage our boys to participate in meal-planning. While Saturday nights are sometimes a special night out to eat, we get the boys involved on Sunday nights. Over the years, we have asked each of our boys to draw a number at the beginning of the month for a Sunday that they would be in charge of. They would decide what they wanted to fix for the family, and there were no rules about how easy or how difficult the meal could be. One time I had a kiddo choose to make Lunchable Pizzas for everyone and another make homemade fried chicken! We have really enjoyed the opportunities for them to explore recipes, learn new skills in the kitchen, and give me a break from meal-planning.
Meal-planning can be stressful, but taking some time to plan in advance can help you relax more during the week. I hope that you are able to simplify your meal-planning this year so that you can have more time to connect with your family as you share more meals together.

We work so hard all day, every day for the amazing things we get to have: our jobs, our families, our friends. The unfortunate part about working so hard is that we rarely sit down and enjoy the beautiful gifts God has given us. My tip for a better 2020 is to set a timer on your phone for 5 or 10 minutes a day (whatever you can commit to), turn your phone on airplane mode, and sit and enjoy the people you’ve been given. Whether it’s your spouse, children, or friends you love, take that time to wonder in the beauty of the people in your life and practice being more present. If sitting is impossible because your children are movers, move with them, but be mindful, soaking in the lovely, most important gifts you’ve been given. I find that 10 minutes a day to be the most holy times of my day, sitting, dancing, laughing, playing a dumb guessing game, solely being with the people I have been given and wondering at theirs and God’s love for me.

Feeling stressed or anxious?  Breathe!  Breathing provides a cooling effect on our prefrontal cortex and slows down our heart rate to trigger relaxation responses by releasing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline in the bloodstream.  So this New Year, when you sense yourself getting anxious about things or feeling emotionally overwhelmed, pause and breathe. 
Try 4-7-8 Breathing
1. Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds. 2. Hold your breath for 7 seconds. 3. Exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds.  4. Repeat until you feel calm and cooled off. 
Breathing and Blessings to a wonderful New Year!

Sometimes, handling stress and enjoying life more can be as practical and simple as getting adequate sleep! At the beginning of 2019, I purchased a Fitbit – not to measure my exercise, mind you, but to track my sleep! After all, it’s kindof hard for me to get excited about exercising, but I can definitely get excited about sleeping better! Here’s some things I’ve learned this year: Magnesium glycinate helps a lot with managing stress (I get mine at People’s Pharmacy). I can really tell a big difference in how I sleep when I take 2-3 before bedtime (depending on the stress level of the day.;))  I'm also a huge fan of Yogi Bedtime Tea! Having a consistent bedtime routine to wind down really seems to help, so I put water on to boil and put two bags of tea (the blue label, not the caramel orange label) in to steep while I take my Magnesium and take a hot shower (sources say not to take a shower, but I find that it relaxes my achy back and helps me fall asleep more quickly). Then I climb into bed with my tea and sip it as I review tomorrow’s to-do list and reflect on the blessings of the day. Then I cuddle over next to Kerry and drift off to sleep thanking the Lord for the blessings and His faithfulness for the day. I get so much more “Deep Sleep” and “REM sleep” when I do this - my Fitbit can prove it! :) Here's to a more rested and energetic 2020!

Maybe this is a year you could live more fully by adjusting your perspective to seek times of rest and connection with your Creator or with those around you. Maybe you could improve your mood by getting outside and getting some sunshine, or by showing self-compassion and celebrating growth, or by setting aside time to be mindful and soak in the joys and beauty of the people and gifts you’ve been given. Or perhaps this is a year that you could free up energy and minimize stress by being intentional and proactive with meal-planning or setting a consistent bedtime routine. Or maybe, you just need to regularly remind yourself that as you start to feel anxiety and stress during the next year to stop and focus on breathing. As you look forward to 2020, we hope these tips will bring more calm, more peace, and more joy. What intentions are you setting for 2020? Let us know! We at Abundant Life Counseling Services wish you and yours a VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR!