On "Should"

I have decided that one of the most potentially dangerous words in the English language is "should."

Look at all the things other people and various industries or marketing ploys pressure us and others to do, all in the name of "should..." or "should not."
  • You should or should not be eating this way.
  • You should or should not be exercising that way.
  • You should have this body type.
  • You should or should not be feeling this way.
  • You should be over that by now.
  • You should be studying that degree.
  • You should or should not go to that school.
  • You should buy this product.
  • You should drive that car.
  • You should stay at, or quit, your job.
  • You should be making more money.
  • You should be getting along better with that family member.
  • You should be catering more to your friend's demands.
  • You should forgive your abuser.
  • You should be sorry.

Worse yet, look at how we use "should" and "should not" to punish ourselves, and for things on which, at a closer glance, we might actually be right.
  • I really should lose weight. Look how fat and worthless I am.
  • I should stop whining. I'm having such a hard time, but I have so much for which to be thankful, especially compared to others.
  • I shouldn't have had that piece of cake. I'm a terrible person with no self-control.
  • I shouldn't be standing up to my mother like that. She might berate and belittle me any time I call her, but she gave me life.
  • I should have listened to my partner/spouse. Maybe I deserved to have him/her treat me that way because I pushed too hard.
  • I should stop being such a bitch/an asshole.
  • I should have listened to my Dad. He's right, I'm in a dead end career because I didn't become a (enter imposed career choice here).
  • I should work harder at forgiving (name). God won't forgive me if I don't, and then I'll go to Hell.

Can you think of others that belong on either of these lists? I'm sure you can... though I won't say you should.

It isn't to say that "should" in itself is a dangerous word. It's just six letters arranged in a way that the dictionary defines as "a simple past tense of shall" (Dictionary.com). On its own, it's merely a word...

It's what we, other people, industries, marketing ploys, or societal dictates inject into its meaning and context by the way we misuse it against ourselves and others that makes it so dangerous. Human influence is a powerful thing. We all possess the ability to use it for leadership or to overpower and abuse.

"Should" brings questionable truths with it when used to overpower and abuse. Should you really have refrained from that piece of cake? Does that really make you a terrible person? I doubt it. Perhaps you were in a celebratory mood, and perhaps you otherwise eat healthy.

Are you really an asshole or a bitch, or have others conditioned you to believe that about yourself?

Just how much merit does that Bowflex commercial really have when it comes to purporting the perfect body type and then telling you that you should buy their machinery to get that way?

Oh, and whining? Are you truly whining, or are you going through a hard time and need support? Sure, we all have things for which to be grateful, yet consider this: Gratitude for the good and suffering through the bad can coexist, and life is certainly not a contest. Nobody has the right to guilt you over how you feel about your misfortunes.

Now, here are some "shoulds" that I think we can all apply for a better life:

We should do our best to be healthy... and we should stop beating the daylights out of ourselves when we miss the mark. I eat paleo/primal most of the time, but I'll admit I allow myself to break those rules. Most chocolates, even the no-sugar ones sweetened with stevia, honey, agave, etc., have soy lecithin. I'm not going to let some paleo "guru" give me crap over allowing a little soy into my diet so that I can enjoy some chocolate.

I'm also not going to go about my day mentally kicking myself for missing a workout. Bummed, yes, but I will not self-berate. I do Callanetics, and based on how she talks to her students and what she's said in her books, I am confident even Callan Pinckney would not endorse such self-talk if she were still alive.

We should do our best to treat others with kindness, dignity, and respect... and again, we should stop beating ourselves up when we miss the mark. Especially when we are struggling with mental health conditions or extreme stress that can compromise how we behave. It's not a pass to be mean and abusive, to be sure, and we have an obligation to make amends as soon as possible when we do wrong.

On the other hand, I have yet to know of a time that shaming myself half to death ever resulted in an improvement of my behavior or ability to control myself. If that works for you, then fine, but it sure never worked for me.

We should do what we can to make this world a better place. That begins with love, and as Mother Teresa said, love begins in the home. I believe it also begins in our own hearts, by opening them to God's infinitely abundant love. Once we tap into that love, we can make amazing things happen.

Those things do not have to be humongous or extraordinary by some out-of-reach standard. Donating a bag of clothing to a thrift store might not seem amazing to you. Yet if someone down on their luck buys that really nice suit or dress you gave away for a few bucks to attend a job interview, and looking nice in your old duds helped them gain employment that gets them out of a rut, they will think you did something amazing for them. They may, in turn, pay it forward to someone else down on their own luck, and so forth. That is a wave of love and generosity started by your simple act of kindness - and that is amazing!

We should never tolerate abuse. Ever. You do not deserve to be the target of malicious words, spiritual shaming, a physical attack, or a sexual assault by a stranger, a friend, a family member, a spiritual leader, an authority figure, or a partner or spouse. Conversely, other people do not deserve that sort of behavior from you.

If you are in a relationship with someone who is mistreating you, you have the right to protect yourself. That includes getting out if that is what it takes - you owe that to yourself. Waiting to see if the other person will change will only keep you vulnerable to more abuse. Take it from someone who knows. The only person you can change is yourself, and the first thing you can do in that area is start protecting yourself and anyone vulnerable to abuse who cannot protect themselves.

If you are the one who is being abusive, get help and end the cycle... right now. Not tomorrow - now. You owe it to your loved ones before it's too late and you end up permanently wounding them, destroying relationships, or figuratively or literally destroying lives. The tendency to abuse others won't stop because you wish you would, and it will involve making very hard choices, but when the alternative is ending up in jail, maiming someone you love emotionally, psychologically, or physically, estranging your children, etc., then suddenly, tough choices don't seem so tough.

Take it from someone who knows - and no, you did not misread that. I repeated it. Yes, I've been both a giver and a receiver of abuse, and the regret I experience from the damage I've done to those who meant most to me is not worth the false sense of power and control abusing others gave me. I paid a heavy price for how I treated others, but not nearly as high as the price my victims paid for how shitty I treated them.

We should never compare ourselves to others. As I said before, life is not a contest. Once you begin that competition - openly or in your own head - it only results in loss and tears. You will always find a way to tear yourself down using perceived standards from someone else, or worse yet, you may put yourself on a pedestal and use comparisons to judge or tear down others. Don't go there.

We should never allow others to act as God's mouthpiece on our behalf, nor should we presume that we are God's mouthpiece. God has plenty of ways to speak to us. He does so through Scripture, tradition, conversation in prayer and meditation, miracles, the inspired words and actions of others, nature, you name it. God can also speak for Himself perfectly fine.

God is also, at the core of things, undefinable. In the Old Testament, He calls himself I AM. That is by design, something Jewish traditions follow by not mentioning God's name. It's we who try to define for ourselves or others who He is, or how He really speaks to us, what He is really trying to say to us, and that is where the trouble starts. Specifically, that is how spiritual abuse and control can generate.

I have learned through experiences, as well as from my own arrogance and stupidity, that the best thing I can do to represent God is shut up and let Him guide me... and sometimes, do His own work through me. "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10) says it all. To be sure, I believe God expects me to use the brain He gave me to take action, and sometimes I believe He expects me to use that same brain to understand when I need to take a back seat and act as a vessel rather than a steering rudder.

In what areas of your life have "shoulds" limited you? What can you do to change that and redefine your "shoulds" to be opportunities for growth?

On EFT

I have been using EFT, or Emotional Freedom Technique, for a couple of years now. It started when I found this video from Brittany Watkins in my quest to find a solution for emotional eating, with which I have struggled much of my life:


 Source: YouTube

I admit I was cynical about EFT. I had heard of it a few years before and it sounded like a bunch of psychobabble woo-woo, so I rolled my eyes, blew it off, and moved on to the next best thing that I thought would help me.

So, what changed my mind? Well, for one, going through multiple "next best things" and finding they didn't do squat for me. This article from a PhD psychology professor at UCSF in the Huffington Post that established some scientific backing and the author's relating her experience with trying it helped remove some barriers as well.

I remember lying in bed in total darkness, trying to sleep, when I found Brittany's video. I thought, What could it hurt? Certainly, I could turn to another "next best thing" if it didn't work, right? God knows I'm getting to be an old hand at that!

But... something happened. I felt what many EFT practitioners call a "shift." I literally felt a change happen in my brain. It was a very similar shift to what I experienced when an EMDR session would finally "click" after my brain processed the memory my former therapist chose to work on for that session.

I didn't have to wait for an appointment to make it happen, though. I didn't have to search for a certified therapist. I didn't have to get to know someone new after having to relocate 800 miles and leave behind a good counselor I'd come to trust intimately. I didn't have to take the risk of seeing a counselor who, like the one who treated me with EMDR, began projecting her personal problems into our sessions and expected me to support her more than she was able to support me. I didn't have to wonder if my hard-earned money - be it through my insurance plan or co-pays - was going to waste as I went in every week or every other week feeling like I'd made no progress after months or years, like I had experienced with way too many therapists from years past.

I experienced this in the comfort of my home, on my time, when I was ready, and it didn't cost me a dime. Well, okay, I probably technically spent a dime on the electricity my tablet used and my wireless services, but you get my point.

Pardon my language, but my thought after following the video was, Wow. This shit works. Especially when I found that not only did I experience a shift that night, but I began to resist cravings that normally prowled and dominated me like a raging, all-devouring monster.

It is not to say that this was an overnight cure. I continued to have problems with binge eating, with craving foods, and I caved, over and over.

Yet, I stuck with it. I signed up for Brittany's newsletter, in which she provides free webcasts for learning about what she calls weight loss blockers, and free tapping seminars where you can learn about the Push the Food Away technique. This ended up being one of the most powerful weapons in my battle with emotional eating.

It took the better part of a year of trying, stopping, trying again, lather, rinse, repeat, because I had so many layers of pain and trauma tied in with the food, and then something finally clicked. The weight began coming off as my binging and craving decreased, and I turned to healthier foods as I discovered a way of eating that worked for me and my body, beyond just going gluten free. I also began desiring exercise and after trial and error, started a regime that I liked and was easy on my body.

I eventually signed up for Brittany's Think-and-Thin six week program, but by then, I was over halfway toward my goal weight. Her techniques were already helping; I signed up to merely ensure I had completely gutted the pumpkin, if you will. I wanted to ensure I'd gotten out all the slimy residue that might be lurking and preventing a light placed within from shining outward.

When I finished The Think-and-Thin program, I was in a healthy weight range for the first time in several years. I reached my goal weight shortly after the beginning of the year and I have maintained since.

So that is my story so far with using EFT in a nutshell. I have also attended a virtual tapping summit hosted by Nick and Jessica Ortner that I found very beneficial in working through emotional pain connected with my former marriage, an estranged relationship with my daughter, and other matters.

The more I use EFT, the more it helps me function emotionally and spiritually in my everyday life, and my husband and son have begun to benefit from using it for their own needs. I can't begin to say what a relief it is to be able to tell my son to go to his room and "tap it out" when he is on the verge of an autistic meltdown or gets into a state of circular anxiety. It sure works better than locking horns with him over and over, dealing with endless frustration - and, worse yet, sometimes giving in to that frustration by engaging in shouting matches or blowing up - when all of us end up feeling stuck and exasperated. We aren't consistent in using EFT in the heat of the moment, but we are slowly getting there.

With that, I'd like to provide a short FAQ on EFT that I hope will help you make an informed decision about if it right for you:

What is EFT?

EFT, also known as Emotional Freedom Technique, psychological accupressure, or "tapping," is a method by which you tap on certain pressure points on your body. Most people use it while identifying emotions surrounding a memory, reaction to a situation, and/or limiting belief system.

Why EFT?

While a lot of people are still skeptical of EFT's effectiveness, more scientific studies are proving its benefits. The Huffington Post article I linked above is a good place to start in finding supporting evidence; HuffPo also has other articles by Nick Ortner, Brad Yates, and a few other experts who either use EFT or support it through studies. Well-known self-help authors Jack Canfield and Wayne Dyer have also gotten on board with promoting EFT as a valuable tool.

Perhaps what is so remarkable about EFT is its versatility. The most common issues that people have reported successful treatment with EFT are emotional/binge eating and PTSD; however, people can also use EFT

Do You Need a Counselor to Use EFT?

The beauty of EFT is that you can do it on your own, and it is a simple technique that does not require a therapist performing it on you. You can start experiencing the benefits within minutes in the privacy and safety of your own home.

That said, I would recommend seeing an EFT coach or practitioner if you are in a place where you need a lot of guidance or extra help to get started, or if you are in a very vulnerable state and there is a risk that any emotional fallout could trigger something you are not sure you could handle and you need the extra support. Dawson Church's website, EFT Universe, has a directory of specialists you can find in your area.

How Do You Use EFT?

Brittany's video above provides a good demonstration of the tapping points and is pretty easy to follow. If you would like a more watered-down tutorial not tied to working on food cravings, Jessica Ortner's how-to is a good place to start:


Source: YouTube

Isn't EFT Spiritually Dangerous?

You may have read articles in which someone describes using EFT in alignment with certain spiritual or religious beliefs, such as with chakras. Some Christian authors have attempted to argue that this means EFT is a spiritually dangerous practice. I have found Christian websites and videos where people try to convince readers and viewers at length how using EFT will put their mortal soul in danger. Another aspect mentioned often with EFT is the Law of Attraction, which is primarily a New Age concept, and again used by various Christian, anti-EFT sites, videos and articles to discourage their faithful from giving it a try.

My experience with using EFT is that it has not only not been a risk to my spiritual development; my connection to God, and my deepening of my Catholic faith, has actually increased as I work through traumas and experience emotional healing. My theory for this is as I heal, I am letting go of vices that I have used to numb myself and live in a false state of feeling in control. This, in turn, allows me to turn more of my life over to God and be more open to listening to Him guide me where He wants me to go. It is opening the door for me to experience metanoiete - to go beyond the mind I have - by giving me more time and energy to serve others in the way God intended, rather than being stuck in the prison of trauma and addiction and unable to grow in my faith.

I can also tell you that since I started using EFT, I have not found myself drawn to beliefs concerning chakras or associated belief systems, nor do I give credence to the Law of Attraction. Those things simply do not resonate with me when I read about them and I therefore do not incorporate them into my belief system.

I do believe in miracles, and I believe EFT in itself is a miracle. I also believe that unexplained mysteries can occur in our lifetimes that we can only attribute to the Divine. That said, what I believe in are things that align very much with my faith traditions and that align with many other Christian traditions. So, again, no, I do not think EFT has created a spiritual rift between me and Christ; if anything, my faith has increased for the reasons I have stated, and I believe it will continue to do so.

What EFT Resources Do I Recommend?

I have already mentioned Brittany Watkins, and she is fantastic (click her name at the top of my post to go to her website); however, as she would say herself, she specializes exclusively in helping those with emotional/binge eating struggles. If you are looking for EFT scripts or treatment to address other issues, the following may be a good fit or may provide jumping points for locating what you need, or if you're simply curious and want to learn more.

Brad Yates - Brad provides hundreds of YouTube videos containing tapping scripts for almost everything under the sun. He covers every emotion, issues with sex, money, exercise, food, you name it... and they're all free. He has even created EFT videos to go along with the Serenity Prayer and the Prayer of St. Francis that are lovely. You can also download his mobile app for just a buck and he has a great newsletter. He is currently doing a tap-along tour around the country, so you can also try to see him live. He's also written an adorable book that teaches tapping to children called The Wizard's Wish, which you can purchase here, or you can listen to Brad read it:


Source: YouTube

Nick and Jessica Ortner - Nick and Jessica are the founders of The Tapping Solution Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping others heal from trauma and achieve life goals using EFT. Nick has also written a book called The Tapping Solution that has been a New York Times bestseller and provides more in-depth information on how to use tapping for a variety of issues. The Ortner siblings have been doing their work for well over ten years and their successes include helping surviving victims and their families following Sandy Hook, where they make their home, as well as traveling around the world to provide EFT in a charitable spirit.

Gene Monterastelli - Gene hosts a seminar called Tapping Q and A every Wednesday, which you can listen to through his website or on his mobile app for free. Gene is also the author of Comprehensive Anger Management, a book he wrote as part of a successful anger treatment program he heads for prison inmates. Gene is also Catholic and serves the Lord by evangelizing through APeX Ministries, and he has a special place in his heart for autistic children and their families, so he scores extra brownie points in my book!

Do you think EFT is right for you? If so, how will you plan to use it? If not, how can you keep yourself from falling for the "next best thing" so that you can experience metanoiete?

On Gluten

I have been listening to the Kristen Kancler-hosted Own Your Power Summit podcasts this week. The focus of the summit has been about encouraging listeners to rethink their body, including eating habits, fitness, body image, self-esteem, etc., and achieving life goals. I learned about the summit from Brittany Watkins, who I have been following for some time in my own path on overcoming emotional eating and who was a guest speaker for the summit.

Today, I listened to a podcast with guest speaker Dana James that piqued my concern. I will get right to the point: Ms. James advocated that most people who stay away from gluten do not have to do so forever. Her opinion is that most people can stay away from it for a nine month period to heal their gut, and with some other dietary adjustments, they may be able to resume eating it.

Gluten is a hot button topic these days. Debates are ongoing as to whether gluten intolerance, or gluten sensitivity, is a valid medical condition. Some studies suggest it is not, and that other ingredients in foods containing wheat may be at play, specifically FODMAPS. Other studies provide evidence that gluten sensitivity is indeed real. So it appears the coin has not fallen on either side of the fence, here.

Then, we have celiac disease, a proven autoimmune condition in which the body attacks itself if the person in question eats gluten. Medical documentation has existed on celiac disease since the 2nd century AD, with doctors associating the condition with diet since the 19th century. There is no question it is real.

Sadly, the desire to turn gluten free diets into a health and fitness trend has muddied the waters. Turning a diet that has restored the health of millions into a fad risks turning it into a pariah, and that exactly what has happened. When even Jimmy Kimmel skewers the gluten free "trend," you know the effort to educate others about why it's a necessary treatment for some is in trouble.

Source: YouTube

My take on the Dana James podcast that I listened to today is that it will do more harm than good in the need to educate, raise awareness, and advocate for those who have celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. I think it is also dangerous for her to argue that folks with these conditions can, at some point, go back to eating gluten-containing foods safely.

Why do I say this? Because I live in a household in which we have to ban gluten for health and safety reasons. My son and I have gluten sensitivity, as evidenced from swelling/bloating - not just the gut but water retention in limbs and digits, irritability, fatigue, and loss of mental clarity, or "being in a fog," if we eat gluten-containing foods regularly. We are able to handle the small amount in a Eucharistic wafer, but beyond that, a gluten-free diet is a must so that we can function and be at our best, physically and mentally. I have furthermore found in my case that going grain-free completely has helped me feel even better.

This is not totally surprising to me as I have heard of the connection between autistic symptoms and gluten for many years. Going gluten free does not cure or totally alleviate the symptoms for either of us, and most of the evidence on whether it is effective is anecdotal rather than scientific, but it certainly has been a big help for me and my son.

Some have also asserted a link between Hashimoto's and gluten sensitivity, and it is possible that is where my inability to digest it originates, rather than Asperger's... or maybe in combination with it. I simply don't know, but it reinforces that a gluten free diet is indeed best for my body.

Then, we have my husband, who has celiac disease, as diagnosed by a physician. I had already been on a gluten free diet for a year before he tried it as well out of curiosity. Lo and behold, symptoms he had experienced for much of his life began to disappear, including a skin condition we now know was dermatitis herpetiformis, which is a direct result of the autoimmune reaction to gluten common in celiacs. The mental fog he had experienced for so long lifted. He also began losing weight associated with inflammatory water weight gain. His doctor at the time confirmed that his response to an elimination diet was enough to confirm that he had celiac disease and ordered him to stay away from gluten.

In the ten years since his diagnosis, my husband has encountered cross-contaimination a few times when we've eaten at restaurants. His reaction is always the same: He develops a widespread red rash, usually behind joints and around his belly, along with fatigue, flu-like symptoms, and occasionally weeping sores.

The last time it happened, however, it was much worse and would not go away after a week. I urged him to see our family practice, where a PA informed him that his reaction was so severe that he was at risk for anaphylactic shock and his throat could have swelled shut on him. In short, his celiac has progressed to the level of a severe allergy. He had to take prescription antihistamines and a steroid, and his doctor even urged him to consider an Epi-Pen prescription to keep on him in case. All in all, it took several weeks for his rash and sores to heal completely.

So, in our home, whether my son and I have a valid gluten sensitivity is, to an extent, no longer relevant. We have to keep gluten out of our home to protect my husband from an allergic reaction, and even if my son and I had never had an issue with gluten, I would insist on having us all follow a gluten free diet out of solidarity at this point.

Sadly, even when we have been very open with our stories, we have still encountered very ignorant, judgmental, and hurtful responses. Family members blew off my husband repeatedly and became offended if we refrained from eating foods at gatherings where they could not confirm if it was gluten free. A former friend suggested my husband's symptoms were psychosomatic. We had to escalate a situation at my son's school recently after his classroom aide ordered him to eat a dessert, despite the substitute saying she was not sure if it was safe, and despite his IEP stating he must be on a gluten free diet.

It's families like mine for whom Dana James' counsel as she provided it on her podcast could prove questionable, if not downright dangerous. If my husband resumed eating gluten based on her advice - even just a bite - it could land him in the emergency room, or worse yet, the grave.

Mind you, Ms. James wrote an article on mindbodygreen where she lists who should not eat gluten, and that includes those with a celiac disease diagnosis, among others. She also talks about doing what is right for you and your body, and I agree on that point.

On the other hand, the article is nearly two years old, and I did not find it without doing an online search, so this information is pretty buried when it comes to the timeline and piles of information on the Internet. Additionally, the information and advice she provides throughout the article can come across as conflicting and confusing on first read.

Dana James is not the only person, specialist or not, who has a weigh-in on the gluten "debate." A quick Google search alone can overwhelm you. So, what to do?

If you have read my post On Good Brains, then you have seen me mention discernment as a valuable skill, and that definitely applies here. We all have to discern what is right for our bodies based on what we have experienced and on truth and facts. Yes, Google searches can be overwhelming; however, research is still necessary to learn about what may be going on with our bodies, and coupling that with conversations with your doctor or a specialist can help narrow down anything going on and what to do about it. An informed choice is the wisest choice.

Lastly, take articles, podcasts, and blogs with a grain of salt. That includes people like Dana James, and even more so, it includes ones like mine. As I state in my disclaimer, I am not a medical expert, and if I was one, I would still be telling you to consult your physician. Why? Because I couldn't diagnose you through a computer screen, and your situation is unique. Even if we shared the same symptoms and what I say resonates with you to where you say, "Oh, this has to be it! I must have the same thing!," there are too many medical conditions with parallel symptoms to allow anything I share to be a definitive marker for a diagnosis.

How will you make informed choices for yourself and your family?

On Good Brains

Some time back, I read a news article featuring an African doctor who dedicated his practice to assisting female victims of rape in the Congo. Unfortunately, I can no longer find the article, but he shared how he is a Christian, and a philosophy he holds in alignment with his beliefs is that God gave us good brains and expects us to use them for good.

This resonated strongly with me. As a Catholic, I have attended a couple of Marriage Encounter retreats, and a phrase they introduce at the beginning of the weekend is, "God does not make junk." Many couples who attend the retreat come in with shredded self-esteem, and one of the things Marriage Encounter attempts to accomplish is to restore individual self-worth. The Catholic Church is well aware that we all have our wounds, a side effect of living in this world, and they believe part of serving Christ is to encourage its followers to opening themselves to Christ, to share our woundedness with Him, so that He can touch and heal those wounds.

Sometimes, we may experience full healing of those wounds. Other times, not so much. It depends in part on the trauma, the depth of our scars, and ultimately, perfection is not a guarantee in our lifetimes. We will always carry some sort of scar from a trauma, yet that is not a sentence of doom, but rather a reality, because we cannot forget, and in some cases it would be dangerous to develop a dismissive or casual viewpoint about what has happened to us.

Anger has its benefits. It can protect us by letting us know when a situation is unjust and dangerous. It can also be a catalyst for finding a solution or seeking justice.

Grief exists as a cathartic tool. A good cry is damn good for you because tears literally wash toxins from our bodies and the physical activity associated with crying can release endorphins. Crying is also a signal to others around us that we are in need of care and empathic support, not a sign of weakness.

It's important to point out here that empathy and sympathy are not the same thing. Empathy is the capacity to put ourselves in a mindset where we imagine what it is like to be in their shoes. To empathize is to connect, and many times, this is far more important than sympathizing, which is when we share or agree with someone's feelings.

I am not discounting the value of sympathizing, as of course that is also important. Rather, I am pointing out that empathy goes beyond. It allows for deeper understanding and opens the door to providing better support, because then we are truly side by side, helping someone in need carry the load.

We cannot let our scars be a limitation when it comes to helping others. I am sure even the good doctor from Africa who I mentioned in the first paragraph has his own story, and yet he has not let that stop him from bringing healing and hope to women victims. Similarly, we cannot allow our scars and those who inflicted them to lie to us and tell us that we are junk.

From an intellectual and spiritual standpoint, discernment is also a valuable skill. Discernment is the ability to understand what is going on clearly with people and situations, and being able to exercise best judgment in how to respond. Christian teachings often encourage the use of prayer and Scripture to reach optimal discernment before acting on a situation. Some call this a spirit of discernment, or spiritual discernment, and I believe it is an essential practice. If you are not Christian, discernment is still an important skill to develop; you may refer to it as common sense, street smarts, or any number of other terms.

Discernment is a wonderful way to get beyond the lies and limitations that exist because of internal scars and external abusers. My son can sometimes experience anxiety because of his disabilities and the dynamic hormonal changes he is experiencing at his age. He ends up asking cyclical questions repeatedly as a result. I have told him in response that his having a particular thought does not make it truth, and that if logic, evidence, and experience all outnumber that thought, then he must tell himself that he will not buy into that false thought. He must tell himself not to believe that lie.

So it is with us as well. Escaping the clutches of puberty does not stop the mind from generating false thoughts, especially when we experience anxiety and troubling times, or when anger prompts us to go to an irrational place.

A midwife once said to me that the mind is a dangerous playground. Indeed, we have to take care to navigate our own thoughts so as not to let them lead us to dangerous places and fail to exercise discernment.

Let's go back to the phrase, "God does not make junk." That includes your brain. Are you aware that you already have all of the above skills and that you can already reap the benefits of your God-given emotions, including anger and sadness? Are you aware you may already be practicing these daily?

If you sat with someone recently and felt sad with them while they grieved, or felt angry with them as they raged, without the need to fix their problems, and you let them know you understand how they feel, then you have empathized.

If you made a decision not to spend money on a goodie that was tempting because you knew buying it would make or break the ability to take your family on an amazing vacation this summer, then you have exercised discernment and common sense.

If you stood up to someone at work who was spreading rumors or gossiping about a coworker who you know is of upstanding character, because it troubled your heart and gut and you knew it was wrong, you have exercised spiritual discernment.

These are the ways in which God has given us good brains, how He expects us to use them... and God challenges us to do so much more. Christ uses the word metanoiete when he calls us to repentance. Metanoiete translates from Greek to "Go beyond the mind you have."

Repentance is not about wagging fingers and shaming, like we probably see in our minds when we see all the sign shaking, screaming fundamentalists holding a protest somewhere. Repentance is about changing our minds, and it can be an experience as subtle - and yet literally as illuminating - as flipping on a light switch in a room. God designed repentance to be an exercise in encouragement to stretch us beyond our own limitations, and sometimes, it is not about turning away from sin but a challenge to look at things differently even when we are in a state of grace and good standing with God, so we have the ability to make better changes in the world.

What will you do with the good brain God gave you? If you believe you are junk, what do you need to do to change that? How have you experienced metanoiete, and how will you take advantage of that opportunity to go beyond the mind you have?

On Humor

Without humor, I'd be dead.

That's not some dramatic declaration. The people I've loved most and who have brought me through the hardest times in my life have also been among the funniest people I've ever met.

I managed to make it through a horrifying childhood and yet have a part of me that stayed relatively happy, almost blissful at times. Without a doubt, I believe dissociating and being in my own world because of Asperger's contributed. I also believe if it had not been for my best childhood friend, I probably would have checked out a long time ago. In short, he was one of the few people I knew I could count on, not only to make me laugh but to look out for me and care for me.

Tragically, he committed suicide 20 years ago; his family now believes he may have had undiagnosed bipolar. His autopsy revealed he had no serotonin in his blood when he died. Part of the tragedy and irony in that is in the way his humor kept me from despair, while he used it to mask his own suffering.

A few years after my friend died, I saw a man who looked remarkably like him at work. When his job later crossed paths with mine, I would learn that he also had a similar sense of humor.

After I got past my "back from the dead" flipout, I started getting to know him better. One thing led to another, and long story short, we'll be celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary this summer. He still makes me laugh, and truth be told, that's one of the reasons I'm still here, in addition to his support and compassion. He saw me through one of the lowest points of my life, when my mind began surfacing and releasing many emotions and memories that were previously unsafe to address.

My children have also brought me a lot of laughter. Both are special needs; one is grown and lives with her father, while the other is in his tweens. Raising special needs children can be very challenging, for sure... and it means getting to know and appreciate their unique perspectives and their often-times funny ways of responding to the world.

My daughter once told my husband after a trip to get some ice cream while we were dating that his driving reminded her of the Pizza Planet delivery driver from Toy Story. Another time, she asked me to heat up a sandwich by handing it to me and saying the stove's brand name that she'd read on the front in a questioning tone.

My son has a few more impulse control issues than his sister because of his conditions in particular. This means we get treated to blurted out comments that take a second to register because you wonder if he really said that... and when you realize he did, you end up laughing pretty hard. It also defeats the ability to scold him for being inappropriate or swearing, such as when he said Woody the cowboy was in Card Hell during one of the opening scenes in Toy Story 2.

Humor is a multi-faceted pathway. Some use it to channel anger - look at how many standup comedians make big bucks these days off that venue, who use "shock humor." It certainly is popular, especially with how crazy our world can be today. In essence, that's expressing anger through humor, and when under stress, that can be a good outlet.

We can experience relief when we find something funny in a situation infuriates us. Laughter boosts  "feel good" hormones, such as endorphins, and I have learned being able to laugh at a situation can help change my perspective so I no longer feel stuck. It can create the energy needed to comprise a solution or simply move on and outlive the situation. So, don't feel guilty if you find yourself chuckling in the midst of your frustration. It may help you resolve something that's been bothering you for a while.

We have to be careful in using humor this way, however. The word sarcasm translates from the Greek word sarkazein, which means to tear the flesh or bite the lip in rage. We risk biting others in the lip in our own rage by turning sarcastic remarks into weapons and using humor at another person's expense if we do not use discretion.

As I outlined with my friend's tragic situation, humor can also be a mask to cover up discomfort, despair, or any number of other issues bothering us. Our society has taught us that anger, fear, and sadness are "bad" feelings, something we desperately need to change. I've heard terrible stories about people receiving prescriptions for antidepressants after only grieving the loss of a loved one for a few weeks or months. Many experts state it can take many months, or even years, to process all the stages of grief.

I am not against using medication to treat chemical depression and other mental health conditions when it is necessary; however, why are we pumping medication into people for experiencing the normal? Talk about an extreme case of telling someone to "get over it" so as to please others.

It is no wonder, then, that we feel so much pressure to put on a smile or force a laugh to make others happy. I've struggled with being a people-pleaser much of my life, and while the tendency has worn off as I've gotten older and have continued healing from my past, it still creeps up, especially when I am feeling down or insecure or vulnerable in times of stress. It is these times in which I have to stop myself and examine if how I'm responding to others is to allay their discomfort or my own.

Again, humor can be great to relieve stress and shift perspectives, but if it's not bringing any benefit in the long run, it's time to ask yourself what's going on with the "happy happy, joy joy" act. Be honest with yourself about your feelings.

Source: YouTube

Conversely, we need to be careful about using humor and not inadvertently pressure others to wear a mask. Sometimes we may encounter the temptation to tell a joke for levity when someone is down or frustrated. In some cases, that may be okay; however, if what you get in return is silence, a look as if you have two heads, or the other person quickly excuses themselves, then you've trespassed that person's boundaries. In those cases, it is best to backtrack with an apology and offer empathic support instead. Meet the other person where they need, and not where you would like them to be.

I know that is common sense in a lot of cases, but we are all human and can have our moments of being insensitive. We must be mindful and gauge where the other person is to avoid such painful missteps.

Finally, the most common way we use humor is to bring joy. Sometimes it happens by design. Most of the time, though, that occurs through happy accidents. Life can be hilarious, let's face it. The statement "Children say the darndest things" contains a lot of truth. How often do you share the same story about your own children, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, etc., to as many people who will listen, just because you know it will bring a smile to someone's face? Raise your hand if you find yourself wandering onto social media sites and get lost for an hour (or more) looking at photos and videos of mishaps, cute animals, or even reading snarky comments (super guilty here!).

Life can be just as funny as it can be tragic because we live in a world that isn't perfect. This world can sow tears and joy. In our own state of humanity, we have the ability to use humor to inflict suffering as a tool of malice, or we can bring kindness, light, and hope by using it in the right context by alleviating tension and sharing joy.

Humor is a powerful tool. How will you choose to use it today?