Learning Visually

May 30, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

Life around here has been moving at warp speed.  My rate of learning has increased to such a velocity that it’s difficult to keep up.  I think this has to do with the fact that I’m no longer the “information gatherer” on my own.  Life has ceased to be a solo mission and has morphed into a combined mission with information coming in from several different angles at once–the primary “alternate source” being my children.

One of the angles is learning how extensively I’ve always learned visually, how that helped me greatly, and how if you do not have this skill or know how to use it, life and especially learning becomes very difficult.

The reason I’ve been dipped into this understanding is because of my son, who as you know has dyslexia.  When we first found out, my primary course of action was to teach him to read.  Makes sense, right?

What I did not know back then is that one of the primary causes of reading difficulty is that visual learning has been impaired or not fully developed and thus taking in words with the eyes accurately is a real challenge.

Let me see if I can explain for those who have never faced something like this.  (I’m also learning how radically different we all perceive our worlds and how just because something works for me, it might not work for you–not because you’re not trying but because your make-up doesn’t work the way mine does.)

When my son would try to read something from the board, he had trouble focusing close and then switching to focusing far away.  Each time he switched focus, it would take a few more seconds to get an accurate visual read-out of what he was seeing.  So, let’s say he’s trying to copy “cat” from the board.

First, he would look at his paper to get his pencil in the right place.  Focus = 3 seconds.  Then he looks up at the board.  Focus = 5 seconds.  He has to locate the word on the board, get a visual of the first letter.  C.  Then he looks down at his paper.  Focus = 8 seconds.  He writes the C.  He looks back up at the board.  Focus = 10 seconds.  He must then locate the word, remember that he’s copied C and locate the second letter.  A.

Then he looks down.  Focus = 12 seconds.  Locate the C.  Write the A… it was an A, right?  Better make sure.  So he looks back up at the board.  Focus = 15 seconds.  Locate the word, load the c and the a.  Yes, it was an A.  Look back down at the paper.  Focus = 18 seconds.  Write the A.  Look back up at the board.  Focus = 21 seconds.  C A T.  T. T. T. T.  Look back down at the paper.  Focus = 24 seconds…  That’s what it was taking him to copy 3 letters from the board.

Now notice that he was doing all of this not as a unit.  He did not have the visual ability or awareness to look at the board and load C A T in his head.  He could only load ONE LETTER at a time.  If he tried to load all of it, it came out like this, “starts with a c, then there’s a little letter and then a tall letter.”  Add to this that his hearing the letters was messed up too, and what did I think was going to happen?!

But here’s the thing… he had no idea that this wasn’t “normal,” and I had no idea this is what he was experiencing!  I was saying things like, “Concentrate.  Just look.  You’re messing around.”  The truth is.  He was trying to concentrate!  He was looking but he wasn’t seeing.  And after awhile of trying so hard, his brain and eyes just needed a break!

What I’m only now beginning to comprehend and appreciate is just how visually I learn.  I’ve always been a good reader.  It was the thing I loved first off in school.  But more than that, pictures stick with me for a LONG time.  I told my husband the other day that I can’t watch anything gruesome because once that picture is in my brain, it’s stuck forever.

My husband is very different.  He can see a movie and ten minutes later can hardly tell you anything that happened.  The pictures don’t stick.

He doesn’t read unless forced.  He struggled in school, didn’t go to college, and had his mom read much of his homework to him.  (Seems that was a pattern in their family… and now I know why.  The eye thing is genetic.)

But here’s the thing.  Last night I was helping my middle daughter with studying for her history final.  She could get the terms but the people were really throwing her.  One was Ghandi.  I said, “Well, you know Ghandi.  He’s the old guy who always wore the sheet.”  It was only then that I realized, she had no picture of these people in her brain.  None.  So she was trying to pull names (unfamiliar names at that) out of a hat to fit who did what.  Impossible with more than one or two people!

I remember Ghandi from when I was in school.  In fact, in my brain I have a picture of him sitting there in his sheet (no offense intended) with his tiny, little circle glasses.  Under that “picture” is all the stuff about him.  India.  Independence.  Non-violence.  Hunger strikes…  But all of that info is tied together with the picture which is only then given a name.

Same with Winston Churchill.  Fat little guy.  Always had a funny black hat.  Smoked a cigar.  “Never give up.  Never, never, never give up.”  World War II.  Great Britain.

Ben Franklin.  Flying that infernal kite with the key on the end.  Man on the $100 bill.  Short.  Stout.  Bald on top with strings of hair on the sides.  Little round glasses.  Founding Father.  Wrote about very practical things.

But all of that info is tied up to the picture in my head.  Without that picture, I’m not at all sure I could remember all the details or if I could, if I could get them with the RIGHT name and thus, the right person.

As we were studying, my husband commented that maybe he should study with her because he didn’t know any of this stuff.  I was like, “Well, you know Churchill surely.”  Uh.  Nope.  “Ghandi?”  Negative.  “Mussolini?”  Who?  “Hitler?”  Ah, finally one he knew.  He said, “I have no idea what those people looked like.”  To which I said, “Didn’t you look at the pictures in your history book?”  He said (jokingly, I think), “Oh, is that what those were for?  I always thought those were just so you didn’t have to read so much.”

So I’m learning how I learn and how others do not.  I don’t know where this understanding might take me, but it is an interesting path.  So how do you learn?  Just curious.


I Can’t Imagine

May 26, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

There is a very popular Christian song that’s been around a few years now.  It’s called, “I Can Only Imagine.”  I love that song.

There is, however, a flip side to that song that I’m not sure many Christians think about too often.  I think we get comfortable with our faith.  We even take it for granted.  We have it, and well, we don’t really do much with it, but we’re glad it’s there.

I’m not sure why exactly but I’ve had several “I Can’t Imagine” moments in the last year.  I would describe them this way:

Something happens that’s beyond my control, something that I don’t know how I’ll ever make it through it, something that is either frightening or simply overwhelming, and I’m left trying to figure out what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.  In short, on my own, I’d be toast!

That’s when, sometimes, I think about what life would be like without Jesus in my life, without the Holy Spirit to guide me, without knowing God as my Best Friend.  How do you get through times that strike at the core of who you are?  That take the knees right out from under you?  That rip apart the fabric of your life–or even threaten to?

The wildfire is a good example.  I so remember standing in our living room with our kids with us, not knowing if the house would still be there when we got back.  The thing that gave me peace (yes, the peace that surpasses all understanding) was that, even though I wasn’t in control, God was and is, and one way or another, He would get us through that.

I watch the devastation of the recent tornadoes, and I think, if you didn’t have God in your life, where would you go for hope and healing?  How could you stand there over this pile of ruble that you thought was the point of life and walk away and go on?  If you didn’t have God and believe that good things can come from even horrible things, how do you cognitively deal with that?  How do you deal with a life devoid of hope?

And it doesn’t even have to be a huge tragedy even.  Take my uncle’s recent passing.  Where do you go with the grief when someone you love dies?  Where do you find comfort?  Where do you find peace if you believe they are simply gone, and you have no hope of ever seeing them again?  How does your spirit deal with that?  How do you deal with that?

Where does the anger go?  The grief?  The hopelessness?

If you look around our world, I would say one of our biggest problems in society is the lack or loss of hope.  When you lose hope, when right now, right here is all that matters, what holds you back from simply destroying, taking, robbing, pillaging everything in your path?  Hopelessness is truly the beginning of complete and utter destruction of self and the world.

And only God can give us hope.  For without God, the meaning in life is random, shifting, and ultimately temporary.

I truly can’t imagine living like that.  Maybe that’s one reason I try to reach out–especially to young people–to give them a foundation of God, to teach them that God’s not interested in their awards, He’s interested in their hearts.  Because truthfully, our accomplishments in this world are very temporary, but our hearts, especially when they are turned to God, go on forever.  God doesn’t look at the outside, He looks at the heart… for a reason.

I don’t know how we reach so many hurting, lost people with the message of God and His message of hope.  I do know, without a doubt, it is our only chance to gain peace and right back in our society.

Without God, I can’t imagine… and I don’t even want to try.

Saying Good-bye

May 23, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

I’m terrible at saying good-bye.  I always have been.

When I was about ten-years-old, two of my aunts left to go back home.  We lived in Texas. They lived in Chicago.  You would have thought they were never, ever coming back the way I carried on.  In fact, I can vividly remember standing in my grandparents’ driveway as they drove away, crying like there was no tomorrow.

It’s been over 30 years since then, and I’m still no good at it.  I love hellos.  I love “Hey, you made it!” whether I’m the one arriving or I’m the one doing the greeting.

But I hate good-bye’s.  And it really doesn’t matter how long it will be before I see the person again.

When my brother left for college, my sister and I cried for a week.  He was only gone for two months before he decided that wasn’t where he wanted to be and came home, but if tears at a send-off were the measure of greatness, he would have been a king.

Recently, I had cause to attend a funeral of a dear man whom I have known my whole life.  This man was one of those great men, a quiet man who didn’t grasp for fame or things of this world, but lived his life in such a way that even his grandson who is like 12 recognized his greatness by saying he hopes that someday he can be half the man his grandfather was.  This particular man lived quietly.  He was a farmer.  That was his occupation.  But that wasn’t what he “was.”

What he mostly was was the quiet presence that held everyone else together.  He loved music and laughter and he loved people–old people, young people, kids, teenagers.  It didn’t matter. If you were alive, you mattered.

I can remember when I was very young that his daughters were good at tennis, so they built a tennis court in their backyard.  Kids would come over to play tennis many nights, and they were always and all welcome.  One young man told me that he spent many nights over at their house when his sisters were at a basketball game.  He was always treated like family.

Family.  That’s what you felt like when you around them–whether you were or not.

They had ten kids.  What was one or a dozen more?

In fact, one of my best friends became one of their daughter’s friends.  Being single and alone for Christmas, she got invited over, and hearing her impressions of that family are priceless.  She wasn’t an outsider, looking in.  She was welcomed and loved by all of them that number nearly 100 now.

That was one thing about this man and his wife–they knew how to make you feel loved even if there were 100 other “real family” around, not because of some grand pronouncement, just because you were there, and you were seen, and you mattered to them.

And so, when it came time for a Heavenly send-off, I knew before I went that this man would get a great one.  He had quietly touched and nurtured too many other lives for it to be anything else.

The strange thing about this life is that no matter how long you are here, when it’s time to say good-bye, it always seems too short.  Or as our pastor said, “How sad it would be to be the person that everyone was glad when they left the room.”  This wonderful man was the one everyone was glad when he came in the room, and the sadness at his leaving was cushioned only by the gratefulness of the memories he left and the understanding that death brought him a reprieve from the suffering he was under.

Now, however, it was and is time to say good-bye, time to be grateful for the memories because the moments are now gone.

I am reminded at his passing of two things:

First, it is not the awards and accolades you accumulate in your lifetime that count.  It is the friendships.  The people you have been there for, the moments that you made the right things important.  That’s what you get to take with you.

Second, even if you get 85 years, your time here is fleeting.  Do not waste it.

So, for now, this is good-bye, but thankfully, we cling to a faith which says this good-bye is not forever.  It is only for now.

For that, I am eternally and everlastingly grateful.  God is so good.


May 16, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

Authors who choose to publish their own work are sometimes surprised by details of getting a first book published.  Little things like the challenge of applying for a copyright for the first time or the craziness of getting the cover just right.  But there is one detail that most relish and have thought about long and hard–the dedication.

Who do you dedicate your first book to?  Usually, that first one is pretty easy because you’ve had a long time to build up in your mind who you want to honor, who has stood by you, who has encouraged you, who has been the one to think you are not completely crazy.

But after the first book, and certainly after the first several, the dedications get a little harder.  I mean you’ve already dedicated one book to the people who were first in line, and you don’t necessarily want to dedicate them all to that person, so sometimes dedications can be quite dicey.  Then people come along in your writing career that make dedications easy again.  People you never saw coming but who impact your writing and your life so drastically that honoring them is a no-brainer.

It is coming up on the fourth anniversary of the day I met Dennis.  I think most of you know Dennis.  For those new here who don’t, Dennis was my writing partner for three truly great years.  He was my friend and the co-founder of this blog.  In fact, without him, you wouldn’t be reading this right now.

We are also coming up on the day Dennis passed away–one year ago–on June 2.  It’s almost ironic that as we approach the intersection between those two dates, I would be finishing the first novel I’ve written in nearly a year.

Those of you who know me, you know that I don’t plan my novels.  I don’t usually plot them out.  I don’t really have a plan other than go where the Holy Spirit says.  So it’s not like I consciously decided to take a year off.  In fact, I didn’t.  I’ve been writing on two other novels off and on over the last year.  They just haven’t had that burst of power yet that spurs one from the “being written” stage to the being “written” stage.  I don’t know why that is.  Couldn’t tell you if you asked me.  They just haven’t.

What I do know is that after Dennis’s death, writing which had been my haven from life for… well forever… became really difficult.  I would sit to write and there was so much I wanted to say about life and death and what it all means and if it means anything.  I took several detours into writing non-fiction, trying to sort it all out, to make some sense of it.  But to be honest, writing was painful in a lot of ways–especially writing my novels of romance.


Because my sounding board was gone.

The worst thing that can happen to a writer is to have something that perpetually yanks you out of the flow of writing and back into real life.  My kids have filled that roll for many years now.  “Mom, I want some juice.”  “Mom, someone’s hurt.”  “Mom, we’re hungry.”  And they always pick the worst possible times too!

Then for awhile it was my brother and then my brother-in-law’s deaths.  I would be writing and suddenly, I would remember, and the unreal world was stopped by the real world.

After Dennis’s death however, it was the writing itself that stopped me.  I would be crafting a scene, and my mind would say (as it had often for three years), “Oh, Dennis is going to love this.”  And instantly, the story was gone, and the ache of losing him was back.

It was really, really tough.

In fact, during one of my forays into one of the detours off the romance path, I was lamenting how hard it was to write the “new” stuff.  One of my friends came back with a message.  “Please don’t think I’m crazy, but I keep getting this message that is for you.  I don’t understand it, but maybe you will… It keeps saying, “Hey, Staci, don’t force it, girl.  You know it will come when it’s right, when it’s ready.  And don’t forget you write ROMANCE–and YOU don’t need a formula. Just follow your heart.”  And then she ended it, saying she also heard something she didn’t even know what it meant– “boo-ya!”

Boo-ya?  Seriously?  Now that’s funny because I knew exactly who that message was from.

The really funny thing about all of this is that Dennis would really have liked this particular book–though it would have made him completely nuts and he would have complained to high-heaven about me “keeping them apart” for so long.  The funny thing is that the premise of this book is that the two involved people don’t exactly like each other much at the beginning.  They are strong and stubborn and willful. They have their own opinions about life, and NOBODY is going to talk them out of those opinions.  In fact, the book is called “That’s Debatable” and if there were two words to describe me and Dennis, it would have been those two.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that who knows when or if this book will ever find the light of day.  When/if it does, I hope I remember to dedicate it to Dennis.  If not, I want it stated for the eternal record here and now that this book IS dedicated to Dennis–my partner and my friend.

I still miss you… in case you were wondering.


May 12, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

I have a friend.  Okay, I have several, but this particular friend has been digging out of a financial mess for awhile now.  Since 2006 to be exact.  It has been a long slow process, and it will not be over even when this part of the story culminates.  However, I think this piece of the story is instructive, so I want to share it with you.

One of my friend’s payments has been for a car.  It is a nice little car.  Nothing overly fancy maybe but nice.  My friend bought the car before she understood finances very well.  It sunk her into quite a bit of debt that honestly she didn’t need at the time, but the salesman made it sound too good to pass up, so she bought it.  Well, add to it bills from her previous car, credit cards, doctor bills, etc., and this payment represented a big chunk of her life every month.  She was down to paying minimum payments on practically everything until Dave Ramsey showed up in ’06.

Since then she has paid off all of the “little” debts–to friends, to the hospital, etc.  She is now down to four:  this car payment, two credit cards, and a friend.  She’s been working on paying off the car, making extra payments and paying off chunks of the principal.

As of last month, she was down to $960 left to pay off the car.

Now you have to know that paying off anything this big is a dream not even fathomable to her a couple years ago.  Oh, it would have been nice, but it was never going to happen.

Well, my friend has been coming over some Saturdays to help me clean.  I felt bad about this until Saturday when she spent literally two hours sitting on my couch folding laundry while I and my kids ran around and put it away.  I would never have gotten that much laundry folded!  No wonder I always feel so behind!

ANYWAY, she has been coming over to help me.  On top of that, she had just sold off some unwanted items and made $85.  So, at the end of working, I handed her a check for the time she has worked the last two months, which amounted to $200.  And I said, “Well, that means you should only owe about $180 on that car.”  (My head can do simple math like lightning, and I had been keeping up with how much she owed on the thing as it got closer.)

She was instantly taken aback.  “What?  $180?  That can’t be right.”  I said, “Well…”  So I grabbed a piece of paper and started putting down what she was planning to pay toward the car this month.  Sure enough $180.

Wow.  Did she get EXCITED!  I mean she was dancing around my kitchen, hugging me, and very nearly in tears.

See, this payment has always been “more than.”  More than she could ever do.  More than she could ever accomplish.  More than she could ever hope to pay off.  It was a dream that would never actually come true.  And now, suddenly she’s only $180 away from it being a reality.

She said, “I’m going home to put it on paper and see how much I actually owe.”  As we were using rough figures, that was a good idea, and quite funny actually from the woman who had never balanced her checkbook prior to 2006!  What an accomplishment!!!

I called her later, and she was even more excited… if that was possible.  She officially owes $181.02.  She said, “I can work and do some odd jobs and come up with the $181. And I have 2 cents in my ashtray.”  Too funny!

Now, here’s the lesson in all of this.  My first instinct was to give her the money to pay it off.  I have the money, and it would be easy to do.  As I thought about that though, I realized two things:

#1 That is exactly what Jesus did for us on the cross.  He paid off this huge debt we could never have paid on our own.

#2  But… while we’re here, sure He could snap His fingers and make everything perfect for us… but… like me with my friend, He sees the value in letting us do it ourselves–so we gain confidence.  We’re not completely helpless, at the whims of whatever’s going on around us.  We have choices that make us stronger or that weaken us.  WE get to chose.  To rob us of that victory by stepping in and just doing everything for us wouldn’t help anything.  He wants us to learn to both do it on our own AND to let Him back us up when we need it.  It’s not one or the other.  It’s both!

Are we indebted to Him for what He did in #1? No doubt.  But God doesn’t look at our debt.  He looks at our growth, what we’ve learned through the struggle, what we’ve gained in getting stronger through the pain.  He looks at us like a Father with a child on their very first bicycle saying, “I know you can do this.  I believe in you.”

You probably remember the feeling of riding that bike for the first time.  How great it felt to have accomplished something that maybe you never thought you could.  I’m beginning to learn that God is that Father to us… over and over again.  Standing there, not in judgment, but in encouragement.  Always ready to pick us up.  Always ready to help us out.  But most of all, cheering us on as we do things we never thought possible.

I can just see Him in Heaven right now, calling the angels over to watch as one of His children realizes that she doesn’t have to spend her life chained to debt.  By slow but persistently good choices, she can be free from this and begin living in His abundance rather than in Satan’s pit of worry.

And it’s not a lesson just for finances.  She (and we) can do the same thing in our relationships, in our bodies, in our lives.

So, if you’re living in Satan’s pit of worry over your finances, know it is possible to get out.  It is possible to pay things off and get your feet back on solid financial ground.  Hold God’s hand and take the steps He’s asking you to take.  One day, you could be saying, “I can earn the $181, and I have the 2 cents in my ashtray!”

Trust me, God will be right there cheering you on!

Eustress, Distress, Hyperstress

May 9, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

I’m still reading this book on Margin (called Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard A. Swenson) and wow is it good!

The part I’ve just finished reading talks at length about stress, noting that although we often think of any stress as bad, that is not the case.  Some stress, called eustress, is actually positive stress or good stress.

Stress is that which causes us to work harder.  If you lift a weight, you “stress” your muscle.  The defining issue is can you lift the weight without hurting yourself?  If you can lift the weight once, putting stress on the muscle but not overstressing it, that is eustress.  Eustress causes the muscle to become stronger.  That’s a good thing.

Now there are several things that can bring a eustress situation into distress.  The first is lifting too many times.  So let’s say you can lift a 10 pound weight, and that is eustress at 5 times–meaning you are making a positive difference in the muscle.  But let’s say that at 8 times, you enter distress.  You have overworked the muscle.  This is where people often get pulled muscles, strains, or even “stress fractures.”  They “lift” or “do” too much for a particular muscle or bone to take and there becomes a small fracture.

The other way to turn eustress into distress is to try to lift too much.  So let’s say that you can lift 10 pounds and it’s eustress.  But lifting 20 pounds causes distress.  It is not the lifting that’s the problem.  It’s how much and for how many times or for how long.  Maybe you can lift 10 pounds 5 times, but you can’t hold the weight for 3 hours.

So all of these factors determine if what you are doing is causing eustress (positive, growth-inducing stress) or distress (negative or destructive stress).

Make sense so far?

Okay.  Good.

The thing is eustress and distress are not only physical phenomenons.  They translate into mental, emotional, social, and spiritual realms as well.

(I love this:  Mr. Swenson says that emtional is our relationship with ourselves, social is our relationship with others, and spiritual is our relationship with God.  How very helpful is THAT information?! 😉

So, let’s take our eustress/distress model and see how it might work in a work relationship (social).

Let’s say, your boss gives you 5 letters to type in 2 hours.  Let’s say that this will be a challenge, but you believe you have the skills and ability to handle it.  Let’s say that you DO handle it.  That would have caused eustress because although it was a challenge, it stretched you just enough to make you feel good about accomplishing it.

Now, instead, let’s say that the boss has already given you 5 letters to type in 2 hours.  Then he comes in and gives you a stack of filing to also be done in those two hours.  Then he intercoms you that he needs you to take some dictation that needs to go out right away…  Do you see how DISTRESS would set in very quickly?

Distress has another name:  Frustration.  It’s loading too much on the “camel’s back” so that one more straw will literally break it.

But here’s the thing:  Many if not most of us deal with various levels of distress in many different situations all day long, every day, without a margin of time to recover.

Mr. Swenson adds in here the concept of adrenaline in this process.  Eustress causes our bodies to pump adrenaline, the hormone that psyches us up, gets us ready to play, to fight, to run, or to handle the situation.  When you lift that weight or start typing those papers, your body puts out adrenaline to give you a boost of energy to accomplish the task at hand.

However, our bodies do not make unlimited supplies of adrenaline, and trust me, it doesn’t grow on trees either.

So, you have this task that’s going to require more than simply doing it, so your body releases adrenaline, and you use the energy as the eustress is put on you.  But what happens when distress happens?  First, your body floods in more adrenaline, trying to help you have the energy to get through the task.  But at some point, the adrenaline runs out, and you experience collapse–you drop the weight for example.

All of this occurs, but with us it does not occur statically–with one stressor placed on us.  Instead, we have multiple stressors in various areas of life.

For example, we get up in the morning and the kids are yelling at each other, we didn’t get enough sleep, we’re worried about that presentation today and what our boss might think about us, we don’t have much savings and we’re worried about what happens if we lose our jobs, the wife wants us to pick up the cleaning after work because she’s going to be late from her job.  We head off to work, fight traffic the whole way there, listen to the news (depressing as it is), worry some more.  Get to work and the secretary can’t find the report, our co-worker calls in sick.  We get to the presentation ten minutes late, the boss frowns at us the whole time.   By lunch we can’t eat much and we skipped breakfast in the insane rush out the door.  Upon our arrival back at the office, things have gone downhill, someone called while we were out and we missed the important call.  The boss calls us in to his office… By this point, we literally a basket case.  Why?

Our adrenaline has been set on hyper-flow for nearly 8 hours, and it did not have time to replenish from the day before.

This is how “crashes,” “meltdowns,” and “nervous breakdowns” happen.  Now imagine that this scenario repeats day after day after day with no end in sight.  No wonder we’re tired, burned out, stressed out, psychological/spiritual messes!

The scenario above is an example of “HYPERSTRESS.”  It is continued, prolonged, and overwhelming distress.  It depletes our adrenaline stores and then literally begins to break down our bodies and minds on a cellular level, so we are left LESS able to cope with stress than before.

And some of us live in constant hyperstress.

All of this was very helpful in giving me a glimpse of what happened with my brother.  At first he thrived on the “adrenaline rush” that came with his work life.  He loved getting psyched up, making the sale, being the best, working for the awards.  But at some point, the eustress of his job and life became distress.  He did not take time to replenish, to have some down time, to recover.  Instead, he rushed along in every aspect of his life–kids, family, work.  Until collapse was inevitable.

Further, all of this eustress boarding on distress left him little margin for error when a major stressor–the possible loss of a large part of his business income came along.  It was literally the straw that broke the camel’s back.

So what is the lesson in all of this?  Simply put is know your limits, set them, and stick to them.  Are small periods of distress inevitable?  Yes.  But if you set your whole life up to be distress after distress, careening forward on the wings of hyperstress, that is a recipe for disaster. Distress should be viewed as a signal that something is wrong and needs to be changed, not that we are somehow weak and worthless.

Now, I will agree that the world entices us to do just that, but we are in the world, not of the world.  God has given YOU the choice of how you want to set up your life.  And if you are going to gain the peace that surpasses all understanding, it cannot be attained via this hyper-insanity way of living.

It just can’t.

So today, take a look at your life and your stresses.  Aim for eustress.  Eliminate distress.  And never, ever accept hyperstress.

Trust me on this, that’s not at all what God has in mind for your life.

Being Real

May 5, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

As I live, I learn how critical being real is.  As I write, I learn that lesson ever-deeper as well.

When I was younger (teens and college years), I don’t think I was very real.  I was mostly image.  I was too scared to be real.  I was too scared to let anyone know who I really was, what I was really thinking.  So I kept most of that hidden in an emotional lockbox.

I was frustrated a lot because I never felt like what I did was good enough.  For whom, or what I needed to feel that way, I don’t know.  I just know I didn’t.  If I got a 96 on a test, I should have gotten a 100.  If I got a 100, I needed to do extra credit.

I’ll never forget in college when I took my first journalism writing class.  Now, in my defense, I had heard the teacher in there very rarely passed anyone with more than a C, and I wasn’t going to get a C.  Nope.  Not gonna happen.  Then I went to the first lab where we had to write something–on old, worn-out typewriters (computers were just coming in… yes, Victoria, I’m THAT old!).  So mistakes were par for the course on those things.

The TA hadn’t “taught” us anything–about how she wanted the style, about journalistic style.  Nothing.  I had luckily had journalism writing in high school, and I was good at it.  I could hand-write a 400-word story in 30 minutes.  But typing it was another story (and I was even good at typing–but not on those things!).  So we “wrote” our first story, and edited it, and turned it in.

I got a 60 on it and PANICKED!  Of course, I didn’t share this panic with anyone.  Nor did I tell them about the 60.  Instead, when the TA mention “extra credit,” I latched onto that with both hands and my teeth too.  I did extra credit until my eyeballs about fell out.

Now in there, you did not know where you stood on anything.  There was no talk of a grading curve or even of your average.  They just kept saying, “Keep working at it.”  So I did.  Extra credit and more extra credit as my grades steadily improved despite the old typewriters.  At the end of the semester, they posted grades, and I was terrified to go see what mine was.

See, I was a straight-A student, save for a B in algebra and a B in history (one class each).  Otherwise, all A’s.  And that was who I was (or so I thought).  If I didn’t have good grades, what did I have?

I couldn’t bear to look so I took my roommate with me who started laughing hysterically when she saw my grade.  A 120!

No kidding.  That’s a true story.

I’m writing now about a couple of high school kids.  Both of them are caught up in this trap of trying to live up to an image rather than being themselves, being real.  And it’s a real struggle to write this thing because neither of them want to just let go.  They are afraid for themselves and their own reputations, they are afraid for each other because they are partners and therefore, their actions affect the other, they afraid for their parents and the schools they will be applying to.  And you never know if what’s coming out of their mouths is real or just words meant to cover something else up.

I’m learning that being real makes life so much easier.  You’re not trying to prop up a lie that is going to collapse everything.  You can just live.

I highly recommend it.