My New Book Living More Than OK

My New Book Living More Than OK
purchase it at B & N, Amazon or (click on image of cover)

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Lessons in Cinemetherapy from Wonder



With the craziness of ending the college semester I have been away from my blog. As I finish giving my students their final exams I thought I would share some thoughts on a movie my family and I saw a few weeks ago. The movie was Wonder. It is based on the book of the same name by the author, R. J. Palacio (Can’t forget the book order it here!). As a family we were amazed and I felt this should be a family classic. The movie follows a family through a year of their son transitioning from home schooling to a middle school. The son, Auggie, was born with a rare physical deformity that affects his appearance.

Of course Auggie being the central character, his concerns are in the forefront. The movie is an excellent study on the topic of bullying as Auggie was faced with rejection and being made fun of by the students at the school. Yet the movie is much more than an anti-bully movie. The story speaks to the importance of real friendship. There is a positive look at how a family works together in dealing with life difficulties. As a counselor I appreciated the in-depth look at the lives and back story of the various characters. The older sister realistically shows what siblings go though in a family with a special needs child of how forgotten they feel. Married couples can also learn from the parents in the movie how to be supportive of each other during life difficulties.

This was one of those movies that made me reflect back to my Masters in Counseling program when we lived in Brownsville, Texas. One of my professors, Dr. Selma Yznaga at UT Brownsville, (now UT Rio Grande Valley), shared with us in her classes about the benefits of Cinematherapy. She revealed to us how movies can speak to the power of stories to clients. In the movie, Wonder, there are many topics as I stated about that relate to the stories people live out in their daily lives. Movies can have a transforming effect as we connect with the purpose of the story and connect with the characters in a movie. We learn and transform through the power of story.

Dr. Birgit Wolz in the introduction to her book, E-Motion Picture Magic, says this about the power of movies: “As a therapist, I believe the movie experience used in a very specific way can have great healing benefits for those who are willing to apply themselves. I also believe that this experience can be fun” (p5). As a family we have often have learned and also enjoyed the experience of discussing a movie once we have seen it together. I have also had success with teen and child clients when discussing a movie that meant a lot to them.

This movie with its story line that touches on bullying, also provoked my mind to think about an old friend from high school days in Barberton, Ohio, Dr. Ron Graham. He is active in helping schools on the issue of bullying. He was a contributor with Kelly Karius in a book titled, No Such Thing As A Bully (purchase it on Amazon). It is a great resource for counselors, teachers, and parents. Their website for the book and their program is -- http://nosuchthingasabully.com. I encourage anyone interested in bullying to check out their book and website.



Back to the movie, as I do not want to pigeon hole it as just an anti-bully movie. As you go to watch it, (put this down as a must see movie), keep in mind the title, WONDER, and reflect on how to add more wonder in your own life journey! My book, Living More Than OK (click to purchase) has within its pages principles to live a Wonder-filled life. There is still time to order it as a Christmas gift for a friend or yourself.

Reflection: What comes to your mind when you quiet your mind and reflect on the word WONDER? How can you build more wonder in your life? What are some best ways to counter bullying in society?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Gratitude Is Helpful Beyond Thanksgiving




“Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” Cicero- Roman politician and philosopher

“I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds” (Psalms 9:1)

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Every Thanksgiving I make sure I do a blog post about the importance of being thankful. As I state in my book, Living More Than OK, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

This year at the college since it is Thanksgiving week I did a lecture in my College classes on the importance of being grateful in our lives. I could have given a quiz or test right before the holiday but I thought it would be better for the student’s lives to think through some positive psychology research on the emotion and attitude of gratitude.

I shared with the students information from some research studies on gratitude. They were based on the work of Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003) as well as Wood, A. M., Joseph, S. & Maltby, J. (2009). I have links to the articles listed under the reflection in today’s post.

The quotes I have listed above show the importance of gratitude in life. Cicero felt it was the parent of all virtues. In the Bible we are encouraged to have thankfulness in our inner most being as well as be thankful in all the experiences in our lives. Thankful in every circumstance t is sometimes hard as in October I shared, I was not too thankful for going into heart stent surgery but again I must confess it saved my life.

I discussed with the students some of the benefits from the research about gratitude. I was also able to bring to their attention research from the most recent issue of Live Happy magazine. In their December edition, Paula Felps, writes about the physical and mental benefits of gratitude from the research of Dr. Sara Algoe at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Grateful people according to research are happier. They find more satisfaction with their life and social relationships. Grateful people are also more positive in their ways of coping with difficulties. They have less stress and depression (I have seen this develop in clients I have worked with in therapy as they reframe from depression to thankfulness). So you can see there are many benefits to being a thankful and grateful person.

Gratefulness does not mean the storms of life will go around us. No, we still are hit with difficulties in life but if we keep a grateful spirit we can bounce back and often learn from our experiences to help others.

At the end of the class we went around the room and each person shared one thing they were thankful for. Most of the gratefulness revolved around family. In each class one person spoke out about being thankful for being alive. That means a lot to me again this Thanksgiving. I am thankful for my family – my wife and daughter but I have a renewed thankfulness for living. Being so close to the October stent surgery where one artery was 99% closed reminded me of 15 years ago when I had 2 arteries 99% closed. Each time I have never suffered an actual heart attack. They have always been caught and unblocked before an actual heart attack. For me that is a miracle and something in both cases I am thankful for.

This Thanksgiving take time to be grateful at some point in the day. Then remember with the benefits of gratefulness isn’t it a good idea to keep the spirit of Thanksgiving going all during the year?

Remember comments are always welcome.



Reflection: What are 3 things you are grateful for this Thanksgiving? How can you be more thankful throughout the year? What does it mean to you to “Give thanks in all circumstances”?

Here is a Youtube video of gratefulness quotes. Which is your favorite quote?

Quotes about gratitude and thankfulness
www.youtube.com/watch?v=IW1uD6FozHU


Here are links to 2 of the articles I shared with my college students

Article by Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003).
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/pdfs/GratitudePDFs/6Emmons-BlessingsBurdens.pdf

Wood, A. M., Joseph, S. & Maltby, J. (2009)
http://www.academia.edu/176467/Gratitude_predicts_psychological_well-being_above_the_Big-Five_facets

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Let There Be Light In Your Lifestyle



As a family we saw the Kevin and Sam Sorbo movie, “Let There Be Light”, a couple weekends ago. As I checked the local theater schedule I was glad to see that it was still going strong in our community of New Braunfels. My wife, daughter and I, felt it was a touching story and there were many angles to view different aspects of our life journey.

I felt the famous atheist character, played by Kevin Sorbo, captures the arrogance of the New Atheists. A Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris may not debate so over the top like in the movie but when watching them in interviews and debates they and other atheists carry an arrogant attitude with them. Of course why not? In their minds if there is no God, then they are a god themselves, better and smarter than most people -- especially those that believe in God. I present my thoughts on the faith beliefs of the New Atheists in my Spirituality chapter of my book, Living More Than OK.

The story lines of families dealing with loss of children and diseases such as cancer allowed for the movie viewer to think through the realities of the difficulties in life. Realities such as those can and do shake people’s religious faith. These hardships can also renew our turning to God as the Christian thinker C. S. Lewis stated, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” This thought of Lewis is seen in the movie story line. I think is it a wonderful movie for those who have lost loved ones and are processing the grief.

The story of the movie, also helps us think about purpose in our life journey. There is seen a renewed purpose in family relationships. Also as a couple and family, they think big about leaving a legacy in doing a work for Christ. The movie is about the Christian faith, (one reason movie critics are giving it poor reviews), and living out that faith. The movie is personally challenging from that point of view. I do hope Christians will continue to support the movie and I believe it is a great story for those who are seeking answers about the spiritual part of life.

We do need light in this world as there is much darkness. This is brought out in the movie as well. The recent church shooting in nearby Sutherland Springs, Texas reveals the evil darkness in the world. The church killings reminded me of the movie in that the killer according to quotes from his former classmates, was always promoting atheism and being antagonistic towards Christians. That is not to say all atheists are killers but that side of him could explain why he had no moral qualms of shooting up Christian worshipers and even little children. From that atheist standpoint I think of the quote of atheist, Richard Dawkins “DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.” With no moral absolutes the atheist killer was dancing to his DNA. That is repulsive thinking to those of religious faith traditions that believe life is precious and there are moral absolutes to follow.

I am thankful that the Sorbo’s wrote and directed the movie. I am also thankful there are people such as, Sean Hannity, who caught their vision for the story and helped produce and provide financial backing. If you are looking for a refreshing and touching true to life story about a spiritual journey I highly recommend “Let There Be Light”.



Reflection: How does your faith tradition deal with the darkness in the world? How can you be light to the people in your sphere of influence?


Friday, October 27, 2017

Heart Caths, Gratefulness, and Prayer



In my last post I shared about taking a positive look at my first heart catheterization and stenting of the blocked artery. That was a few weeks ago. Last week I had a second heart cath for another blocked artery they could not do the 1st time. As I look at the tiny dot of an incision I am amazed at the technology available now to help with arterial blockages. About 15 years ago I had two 99% blockages and these two now were 99% and 80%. My hope is that I do not have to go through any more in the future.

As I have been thinking and reflecting over the past few weeks I am grateful for being alive. I remember in my 40’s with the first blockages my cardiologist told my wife I would have died in my sleep if they would have not taken me to the hospital. I remember back to that time realizing since I was that close to death but did not experience a heart attack, as they did the heart cath just in the nick of time. I came out of that with a renewed sense of purpose and gratefulness to God as I was given a second chance.

Now looking at this time of heart artery blockages, it is like having a third chance at a renewed life and purpose. Not many people get that. I remember 3 weeks ago with the first procedure one of the surgical techs asked what music I wanted to hear at the start of the surgery and I said “classical”. Another tech responded with “I think he said classic rock”. Remembering that Tom Petty had just passed away from heart failure I said “Let’s go with Tom Petty music to remember him”. So as I drifted off I heard Tom Petty’s ‘I Won’t Back Down’ playing.


With the blockages removed I find I am breathing better so I am grateful for the renewed energy and just the ability to breathe easier. As I came home from both procedures my wife and daughter were a big help to me so I had a renewed sense of gratitude for family realizing some people don’t have family so have to be in hospitals longer or go into nursing care.

As I mentioned in my last post on positivity, my father had died of arteriosclerosis at age 58 when I had just turned two in October of that year. So with this happening in October I thought about my father’s death. He was a good man and a hard worker so I have carried the good I had heard about him throughout my life. I will continue to press on to be here for my family. I am renewed in finishing my PhD dissertation in Psychology. I know I am alive for my wife and daughter and any other purpose God has for me. I see in the future, more teaching of college students and counseling of hurting people so they can move higher up in living an abundant life.

Lastly I found myself grateful for prayer and it’s power. I have many friends from Facebook and churches, we are involved with, who were praying for my two heart procedures. Knowing about the prayers provided comfort and hope in going through the heart procedures. I am thankful to God for honoring the prayers of many people and mine in giving me this third lease on life.

Feel free to leave a comment.


Reflection: Have you had a second chance experience in your life? How grateful are you for the simple things in life such as just breathing and the family and friends in your life? Are you grateful for some of the life difficulties you have faced?

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Change to a Positivity Outlook


I have been away from writing in my blog due to work and medical tests. This week I am back at it. I am reflecting on a book I read after attending the IPPA (International Positive Psychology Association), conference in Montreal in the Summer. The book is Positivity (Purchase this at Barnes & Noble) by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson. She is a professor of psychology at University of North Carolina. In her book she discusses many of the common topics within positive psychology. One of the many strengths of the book is that she includes the research behind positive psychology in an understandable fashion. I cover some of the same topics in my book, Living More Than OK (Purchase this at Barnes & Noble), but I do not delve into the research as I was writing a personal journey reflection book.

What is positivity? Most people are familiar with negativity. We are inundated with negativity in the news as negative stories draw people’s attention. Over the years working in different environments I remember that most of what people would bring up in the work place was how frazzled their day was or negative events. Dr. Fredrickson at the beginning of chapter 1 in her book she shares an experiential description of two perspectives of starting the same day that sheds light on positivity.

The first morning perspective is a mother who wakes up late as the alarm doesn’t go off. It does not take long to read the all too common negative self-talk we all do when we oversleep on a work day. The reading then shows how that negatively spirals down to harping at her children in getting them off to school. Then a further negative spiral downward occurs as she interacts in a negative manner with her co-workers. If we are honest this is all too common for all of us.

The second perspective shows the same mother waking up late but instead of the initial negative self-talk there is a positive realism on how to make the most of the day. That initial mental change creates a positive upward spiral in relating to her children with a further upward positive spiral with her co-workers. After reading through the two perspectives I thought back to some times in my life where I reacted negatively and could see now if I worked from a positive self-talk and positive actions, things would have gone better.

I read these pages from the book to my College Success students this semester and the two perspectives provided a helpful positive discussion on how our thoughts and perspectives can create better days through positivity. If you honestly think how often we spiral down in our days by reacting negatively in our thinking and responding actions; you can then understand that we have a choice to change our responses in a positive direction. Those few pages are worth the price of the book.

I experienced this thought on perspectives recently after doing a nuclear stress test. The nurses said I did great as I went the max speed and incline on the treadmill. So I felt pretty good. Then a few days later the cardiologist called me and was concerned over the cool down EKG results and pictures of the heart showed a possible blockage. Negativity set in as I had to schedule a heart cath to check for artery blockages. I was not looking forward to it as I asked the doctor to post pone until the end of the semester and his response was I could have a heart attack before then.

So my wife took off time from work and I went into the heart cath expecting to go home that day with no blockages. When I woke up later, I found out one artery was 99% blocked which they stented. Then I would have to go back in again soon for another lesser blockage. As I was resting in the hospital I thought of Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s book and thought on positivity in this situation. I thought back to 15 years ago when I was in my early 40’s, I had 2 other arteries blocked both at 99%. I thought also how about 56 years ago my father had died when I was at the age of 2 because they did not have heart technology to save him.

So while I laid in the hospital bed, I thought of the concept of gratitude considering that I have missed a heart attack or death twice. I was also grateful for the technology that could help with heart blockages before a heart attack occurs. Also I could be thankful for many friends who offered prayers for me. From my spiritual viewpoint, I also thought over purpose in life that if I have missed a heart attack twice. There must be other purposes for my continued future living. As the saying goes “God isn’t through with me yet.”

Back to Dr. Fredrickson’s book, another important strength of her book is that the last half of the book is filled with interventions to help you grow in positivity. As a therapist I appreciate her listing and explaining the positive interventions. I have used many of them in my own life and with clients. There are practical ideas such as gratitude journals, random acts of kindness, visualizing your future dreams, and focusing on your strengths. She also presents positive themed portfolios to help a person focus in on positive emotions. I will mention one here from page 117 to give you a feel for this activity (purchase her book or find it at a library to do the other portfolios). You answer questions about an emotion using words or pictures or drawings combined. I think of them as collage posters. Here is her “Serenity Portfolio:

1. When have you felt fully at peace and serene, truly content where you are?
2. When has your life felt so comfortable and so very right?
3. When does your body feel completely relaxed with all your physical tensions melted away?
4. When do feel like simply sitting back and soaking it all in savoring the goodness you feel, thinking of new ways to get that feeling in your life more often?


I encourage you to add Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s book Positivity to your must read list as it will help you spiral upwards in your life journey.



Reflection: Think through a recent negative life situation and how you responded. How could you have changed your thinking, feelings and actions in a positive manner? What are 3 things you are grateful for today?



Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Love’s Power Greater Than a Hurricane



With the recent Texas experience of Hurricane Harvey and watching Hurricane Irma in Florida I gave a fresh listen to the Switchfoot Song “Hello Hurricane”. In watching Harvey as the first forecast showed it moving our direction until it jogged Eastward it was amazing to see the power and strength of its furious winds and rain. In the aftermath watching the recovery in Houston and the Coast more amazing were the stories of people banding together out of love and concern for their fellow citizens in caring for their well-being. Take some time to click on the title of the song and listen to it while you reflect of the lyrics.

"Hello Hurricane" by Jon Foreman of Switchfoot (Click on title for video)

I've been watching the skies, They've been turning blood red
Not a doubt in my mind anymore, There's a storm up ahead

Hello hurricane You're not enough
Hello hurricane You can't silence my love
I've got doors and windows Boarded up
All your dead end fury is Not enough
You can't silence my love, my love

Every thing I have I count as loss Everything I have is stripped away
Before I started building I counted up these costs
There's nothing left for you to take away

Hello hurricane You're not enough
Hello hurricane You can't silence my love
I've got doors and windows Boarded up
All your dead end fury is Not enough
You can't silence my love Yeah my love

I'm on fire fighting for control I'm a fighter fighting for my soul
Everything inside of me surrenders You can't silence my love
You can't silence my love

Hello hurricane You're not enough
Hello hurricane You can't silence my love
I've got doors and windows Boarded up
All your dead end fury is Not enough
You can't silence my love

Yeah I said hello hurricane

Jon Foreman wrote the song in the context of Hurricane Katrina. Here are some of his comments from that time about the song: “"This is a subject matter that I speak of with holy reverence. Having grown up on the East Coast I know firsthand of the houses lost, of the dreams turned into nightmares. I take my shoes off and recognize that this is a matter that is dear to our nation, especially of late- with every passing hurricane season. Last year, with Habitat for Humanity we helped to build a house for a woman who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. The hurricane had taken her city, her house, and her leg. As she relocated to Baton Rouge and learned how to walk as an amputee, her mantra was this: "I walked out of my house and my life in New Orleans on my own legs, I'm going to walk into this one the same way." This is the spirit that I wanted to capture with this song.” (from http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/3530822107858782485/)

Foreman’s song captures what we have seen in the news and internet about Hurricanes and other natural disasters. There is a fury that beats and batters the environment and homes. That is why people board up their homes. Although when you look at the people’s responses in the aftermath, you see the resilience and grit of the fighter in his song. Especially when you consider the thoughts in his comments about the lady who lost everything – “I'm going to walk into this one the same way."

A hurricane is a perfect metaphor for many of the problems we face in life. Many problems come into our lives with a furious pounding. Sometimes we have a warning like the red sky coming so we can board up internally with prayer, reaching out to friends, or creating a fighting back plan. We need to remember that with the storms of life that come at us with a vengeance we have a choice. The choice is to cave in and respond with bitterness and anger or to fight back with grit and keeping love as our foundation of healing after the storm.


Reflection: What thoughts do you have about the song that can help you through life’s storms. Think of a storm you went through – What helped you bounce back after the storm?


Monday, August 7, 2017

Mindfully Living More Than OK


On the Merriam Webster website mindfulness is defined as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” In my book, Living More Than OK, (click on the book title to see my book) I share in the chapter of savoring how living Mindfully helps us appreciate the present moments as we go through each day. Learning to enjoy the moments, instead of dreading them helps us in Living More Than OK.

From a Christian viewpoint much of what is taught about mindfulness fits well with Christ’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:34 “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” (Message Bible). Following Jesus each day one day at a time, if we are mindfully aware we can understand and see more of what God is trying to accomplish in our lives. Most of our worries and anxieties are future oriented that don’t ever occur so living in the present cuts down on our worries.

After attending a mindfulness meditation course we tried mindfulness meditation as a family. I was skeptical of it as first as we turned our living room recliners and couch into a family meditation center (Yes you can use a recliner! It is a mindful myth that you need to twist your body in an uncomfortable pose to meditate). We tried the Jon Kabat-Zinn 8 week body scan meditation system. The meditation was 30 minutes long. After a week of getting used to the meditation without falling asleep I found that my mind was more alert afterwards. We also found we slept better during the night. The benefits I had read in research articles on mindfulness I was able to see in my family’s lives. We have switched off to a shorter 20 minute body scan. You can find the body scan at this website my wife came across:
20 minute body scan from a mindfulness website:

palousemindfulness.com/meditations/bodyscan20min.html

Music can also help you mindfully relax and meditate. In my office when I am working on projects or paperwork to keep my mind relaxed and alert I often listen to the techno music of Dr. Jeffrey Thompson. Here is a link to one of his Youtube videos:

Dr Jeffrey Thompson meditative music:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=rY5k0ZG6XcA


When I think of meditation I remember at a conference hearing a secular therapist share how he was working with a client from the Christian faith and suggested mindfulness meditation to him. The man bristled that he could not do something contrary to his Christian faith thinking is was about New Age or Buddhism. The therapist shared how he then researched meditation in the Christian context and found a rich heritage in early Christian writings about meditation. He presented that to the client and that made a difference in the man’s mental health healing.

There are many scriptures that point to meditation for those like myself that look at life from a Christian worldview. I will list a few here:

Psalm 77:12 I will meditate on all Your work And muse on Your deeds

Psalm 145:5 On the glorious splendor of Your majesty And on Your wonderful works, I will meditate.

Psalm 119:15-16 I will meditate on Your precepts And regard Your ways. I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word.

The three verses from the Psalms reveal a type of meditation different from the mindful body scan mentioned earlier. They speak to a devotional meditation that is longer than a 5 minute quick read over a devotional. This meditation is making time to reflect on God’s work in your life, in creation and in the scriptures. Take time to reflect, muse and meditate on how God is working in your life and in the precepts and statutes in His Word.

Considering our noisy and busy world one of my favorite Bible verses that relate to being mindful in the moment is:


Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

We need to take moments during the day to be still and be aware of all that God gives to us. This can build up a grateful spirit in us and we may be more aware in other moments of God’s little ways of speaking to us.

Reflection: What comes to your mind when you think of meditation? Try one of the links on meditation either the 20 minute body scan or the Dr. Jeffrey Thompson music. Did you find yourself more rested or alert? What do you think of the verses from the book of Psalms about meditation?