Blog

Christmas Plus One

Writing over at The Glorious Table with a special “Christmas commissioning.” Please see the preview below or link to the full post here.

I come from a really big family. With my Mom as one of eight children and my Dad as one of five, every Christmas I knew as a child was filled with more people than I could usually see in one room. Now, years later, we don’t have quite as many people, but between myself and my sisters, there are still seven adults, nine children aged ten and under, and several others who are in and out throughout our days together. Whether Christmas past or Christmas present, each holiday is full, loud, and a little chaotic, but always full of love and lots of people.

I share this because, at some point during the pandemic, there was a time when our larger family couldn’t gather. Granted, this was for Thanksgiving, but the same experience applied. I had never known a major holiday when I would not be with the extended group of people I loved. An hour and a half from my childhood home, for the first time ever, I contemplated what a “small” gathering would look like. Of course, I was grateful for our safe, healthy little group of four, but it was strange to consider what it would look like to manage the meal, make memories, and be without my extended family.

A day or two shy of this particular Thanksgiving, a friend who lived nearby called me. She said she knew I was unable to be with my family, she and her family had talked, and they would love to welcome us to their family’s Thanksgiving if we could come. As she talked, my internal experience was mixed. I was grateful for the invitation, but I was still sad to be missing my own family. Ultimately, I said yes, asked what I could bring to contribute to the meal, and that was that.

On that Thanksgiving Day, my friend’s family included us in everything. This was not just showing up at mealtime and leaving after. Instead, we were invited to arrive at any point, join in the preparation of the food and fellowship, and hang out afterward. In addition to burning the one dish I brought to contribute (good grief), I remember being sad and missing my family but being grateful that someone else asked me to be a part of theirs. I think because I’d never “needed” a family, being invited to share someone else’s gave me perspective and gratitude I’d never had before.

Anne Rulo The Glorious Table Christmas Plus One

Here is what that experience brings me to. What if, from this point forward, we prayed about what it might look like to have “Christmas plus one?” I realize this would look different for each family (and it doesn’t have to look perfect!), but I think there might be a great blessing both for us and for whomever our “plus one” might be. Maybe it’s a family member, but one who is older and in a nursing home and would love to join us for a few hours. Maybe it’s a neighbor who doesn’t have family in town, or family at all. Maybe our plus one can’t come for the entire experience but would love a warm meal and some memories with folks who want them there. Maybe it’s a coworker who is pulling a holiday shift and can’t travel to their own family but could make it in time to open presents with yours.

Maybe, just maybe, we’ve all got a “plus one” we can invite to be a part of things some way, somehow.

To read the end of this post, link to The Glorious Table here.

The Modern Challenge to Set Boundaries Around Work

I recently had the opportunity to speak with a group of teachers about burnout. They (and I suspect many people who follow me here) tend to be caretakers. Empaths. Those who are the doers of tasks and providers of support not only at home but at work as well.

Many of us (no matter how much we try not to) find quite a bit of our identity in how hard we work or how much we’ve given. Of course, done in a healthy way, this is how we honor the gifts and talents God has given us. But, as with anything, our greatest strengths can all too easily tip over into weakness, resulting in a slow-developing state of burnout.

Anne Rulo Modern Challenge Boundaries Around Work

One of the major contributors to modern burnout is the ever-increasing reduction in social or natural boundaries around work, paired with the difficulty of enforcing them. Depending on how far back we think, there used to be boundaries around work that were hard to avoid. Pre-social media, our only interaction with work could be an email or phone call. Pre-cell phones, we had to fire up our desktops or be near a landline. Pre-internet, our only interaction could be a phone call. Pre-phones, we couldn’t be contacted until we returned to work the next day. And, pre-electricity, we had to stop our frenzied pace once the sun went down.

Can you imagine what it would be like if life set a limit on work, instead of us having to do so? Because the sneaky truth is, the effort to enforce the boundary can be as exhausting as any other part of it.

My fellow empaths, givers, and service providers (who also tend to be people pleasers 😉) we have to figure out how and where to set boundaries around work. And, maybe even more importantly, we have to come to peace with doing so. There may be an initial tension when we set a boundary. But, over time, we will eventually begin to reap its rewards and come to the very freeing conclusion that our perpetual work and availability were not what allowed the world to continue spinning.

In short, you are both more and less important than you think. When we let the former exist with the latter, we will finally be able to set the boundaries around work that honors the natural rhythm meant for our humanity. Rest on.

Handling Our Stories with Grace

As a therapist, I cannot share what a client tells me without written consent. Over the years, this confidentiality has allowed me to hear incredible, unspoken pieces of people’s stories. I know much of why they came was because I was legally “safe.” But, being the person who received that kind of information was always a privilege.

As Thanksgiving approaches, and we will be around dinner tables potentially sharing our opinions, these stories have been on my mind. Stories of babies not raised, devastating addictions, difficult marriages, promiscuous or dangerous years, suicide attempts, records they hope no one ever looks up, jobs lost, people hurt, behaviors they are ashamed of, secrets held, lives once lived…or lives they still do.

Anne Rulo Season Handle Conversations with Grace Stories

What I wanted to share is that people who carry shame don’t always look like it. They look like our next-door neighbor, the person in front of us in the carpool, the uncle across the dinner table, or the friend we made at work. And, they are listening. They are listening for opinions spoken as facts, criticisms of groups or people or behaviors, dislike, or even hatred for “other”, a lack of compassion for choices other than our own. And, they are trying to figure out who they can trust.

I know that receiving vulnerable stories is not everyone’s role. But, what I also know is that statistically, if someone is looking to connect, share, or possibly heal, they usually don’t seek out a professional first—they seek out a friend or family member.

If we want people to come to us with their stories, we have to make ourselves safe receptacles. This does not mean being opinionless, but it does mean being “clothed in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col. 3:12) so that people know they can come to us and experience love. After all, we are called to give out what we have so lavishly received for our own “stories.”

This holiday season may we remember it is so important to season our conversations with grace. Because we never know whose story is in the room, may we clothe ourselves with compassion and grasp the privilege it is to earn the right to hear someone’s journey.

Combating the Winter Blues: Using Daylight to Our Advantage

Writing over at Partners in Prevention today! See below for a preview or link here for the full post.

While the government continues to debate the value of Daylight Saving Time, we continue in the pattern most of us have known our entire lives. “Fall back” in the fall, “spring forward” in the spring, shifting an hour of daylight in one direction or the other. This month we’ve experienced it again as we set our clocks back one hour, making it lighter earlier in the day and darker sooner in the evening. You probably either love it or hate it but either way, we are all impacted by it.

But, even if we didn’t change our clocks, the tilt of the earth means there is always less daylight during the winter than in the summer. In fact, in Missouri, the winter solstice (shortest hours of daylight per year) equates to approximately 9.5 hours of daylight. In contrast, the summer solstice (longest hours of daylight per year) is nearly 15 hours of daylight, a difference of five and a half hours of daylight. So, no matter whether we are getting the light earlier or later, we still get less light overall in the winter.

Anne Rulo Partners in Prevention Combating the Winter Blues: Using Daylight to Our Advantage

This reduced daylight, along with harsher outdoor conditions, can contribute to mental health challenges in the winter months. For many, it is a general sense of sluggishness or depressed mood. However, for others, this experience is severe enough to qualify as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a mood disorder impacted by seasonal changes. So, whether you are impacted more severely by SAD or you simply want some tips to feel better in the coming months, here are some tips to take advantage of our limited daylight in an optimal way.

How to Use Daylight to Benefit Our Health

At last year’s annual Meeting of the Minds conference, there was a fascinating session on the value of nature, time outdoors, etc. One piece of information I remember very clearly was how beneficial it is to get outside for a few minutes when you first wake up. I couldn’t remember exactly why this was important but then my husband shared this video from Dr. Andrew Huberman, Professor of Neurobiology & Ophthalmology at Stanford, more thoroughly explaining this same topic. We will share the full video for you to watch below (and recommend that you do!) but here are just a few quick stats Dr. Huberman shared regarding optimizing your morning routine and exposure to daylight to benefit your overall well-being.

Quick Stats Regarding Morning Light Exposure

To finish these stats and watch a fantastic video on this same subject, link here!

Creating Space to Enjoy the Holidays

I suspect you may have felt it as I did. As soon as the costumes were put away and the candy dumped in a bowl, things shifted a bit. With Halloween behind us, we can now turn our eyes to the coming holiday season with its additional events, responsibilities, and social/familial expectations. It’s not bad, but regardless, it is more. And, it is always wise to acknowledge when we have entered a “more” season.

Culturally, many of us often wait until the New Year to try changing ineffective routines, perspectives, or habits. But, I want to suggest that we do ourselves a disservice if there is something we could change that would benefit us now. Especially the kind of thing that might make the upcoming 60-ish days better for our souls.

Anne Rulo Creating Space to Enjoy the Holidays

Given that the holidays are a “more” season, it is wise to take time to evaluate our schedules. There is work (paid and unpaid) we can handle at other times of the year that will be outside of our margins during this time. And, given that many of us are fairly terrible at saying “no” or not responding to notifications, emails, or texts immediately, it will benefit us to set boundaries proactively, rather than after we are tearing up in the wrapping paper aisle.

So, what it is for you? Whether turning off notifications, setting boundaries around email, or physically separating from our devices, we have to find ways to disconnect our brains and cortisol levels from the perpetual awareness of responsibility and being needed. Especially in a “more” season, it is this type of disconnection that can help us create the margins needed to physically, emotionally, and psychologically handle (and enjoy!) what is coming.

Remember, you’re not changing everything forever, it’s just for a season. These precious days of family and celebration only come once a year. This year, may we give ourselves permission to create the space needed to enjoy the “more.”

Solomon’s Fall From Grace

Writing over at The Glorious Table today! See below for a preview or link here for the full post.

In every generation are giants in the faith who fall after years of service in the ministry. Whether local pastors or major television personalities, their stories are splashed across the media, and their circumstances, secrets, and salvation are debated.

Our reactions tend to vary. Some of us quietly turn our heads, hoping to be polite by not drawing further attention. Others of us are intrigued by the circumstances and eager to know the details. Still others are sad, angry, or feel betrayed. Regardless of how we react, one thought is particularly dangerous—looking down at our fallen brother or sister and thinking, That would never happen to me.

Let me be clear: we are never in more trouble than when our judgment takes the form of perceived immunity.

Someone recently put the book of 1 Kings in front of me. For those of you who are as ignorant about this section of Scripture as I was, it covers the change in rule from David to Solomon as well as a heaping bunch of details about Solomon’s reign as king.

Solomon has always sat in one of those “favorite biblical character” spots in my mind because he penned the wisdom found in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. As the beloved son of David and Bathsheba, he seemed to be the nicely bow-tied answer to the mess David got himself into the generation before. God chose Solomon to build the temple at Jerusalem. Solomon received two in-person meetings with God. And he was blessed with the distinction of being the wisest man who has ever lived and will ever live. In addition to giving him this exceptional gift of wisdom, God also saw fit to bless Solomon with wealth and honor that had “no equal among kings” (1 Kings 3:13 NIV). Both inside and out, he was fully equipped to be the best king Israel had ever known. And for a good long while, he was.

Anne Rulo The Glorious Table Solomon's Fall From Grace

On the whole, for the first ten chapters of 1 Kings, Solomon is kicking butt and taking names for God. The written material he has produced and the work he has accomplished are absolutely staggering. He’s ruling his people with great discernment, and the kingdom is thriving. However, just after we’re told how he completes the temple at Jerusalem, knocking out the biggest blessed project God entrusted to him, the text starts to reveal previously unnoticed chinks in Solomon’s armor. For one, Solomon had an issue with the ladies.

Despite having his every physical and spiritual need met in abundance, Solomon decided he also needed women. Lots of women. Scripture tells us he had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. They were foreign women from foreign lands who worshiped foreign gods. They were “from the nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, ‘You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods’” (1 Kings 11:2 NIV).

And that’s exactly what happened. Just as God said. Solomon the great and blessed king turned away from God.

What a strange ending to a great beginning.

What sobers me most about Solomon is that over and above all the splendor in his life, God had blessed him with more discernment and wisdom than any of us will ever have—and yet he fell. Hard. His desire for those women and their gods blinded his wisdom and replaced his love for God. The back end of his life became a shattered mess that only vaguely resembled its former self.

Suffice it to say, Solomon did not end well. And if he wasn’t above it, then neither are we.

To finish the full post link here.

Yes, No, & Hang On a Sec

With no family living nearby, our little crew spends quite a bit of time on the road. And, as anyone with children knows, that means there are a lot of questions that come from the back seat. Recently, I was thinking about the endless amount of “yeses” “nos” and “hang on a secs” that come out of my mouth during these trips. And, while a very pale comparison to the real thing, it feels like the closest human example I can think of to how we receive answers to prayer. Here’s a few examples…

Sometimes my kids ask for things that are reasonable, within my ability, and will bring them joy. “Sure, I can turn on that song for you.” It’s fun for me to fill their needs and enjoy their happiness.

Sometimes, my kids ask for things that might be desirable but aren’t best for them. “Sorry kiddo, no ice cream in addition to the road trip cookies you already ate. You’ll feel sick.” Momentary happiness is not worth their unanticipated future consequences.

And, sometimes, my kids ask for things that are truly desperate needs or desires. If I can take care of them right then, of course, I do. But, sometimes it’s not the right time, it’s not safe, or I know something they don’t. “Hang on a sec sister, it’s not safe to pull over right now to use the bathroom. There’s a bathroom in just a couple of exits.”

Anne Rulo Yes No Hang On a Sec

On this “road trip” with God, I wonder how many questions we’ve asked Him. I wonder how many times our desires have aligned with His will and He’s said, “Heck yeah!”, watching with delight as we receive something He provides.

As we’ve traveled, I wonder how many times we’ve asked for things He knew weren’t best for us, no matter how much we wanted them. I even wonder if He’s sad sometimes when, knowing all He knows, He has to say no.

Finally, I wonder how often He’s not said yes, not said no, but simply said, “Hang on a sec sister” so He can make the road ahead safe, prepared, and headed in the right direction.

Yes, no, and hang on a sec. As hard as it can be, I guess sometimes it’s just wiser to sit in the back seat and trust The Driver.

#prayer#trust#Godstiming

Clothed in Christ

Writing over at The Glorious Table today about the transformation we go through over time to look more like Jesus. To be “clothed in Christ.” Please see the preview below or link to the full post here.

I was two years old when E.T. the Extraterrestrial was released in theaters. This sweet (if also sad and scary) story about a wayward alien and his friendship with a boy named Elliot was my first movie. As my Mom tells it, I reacted very little during the film. Because I was so little, she wasn’t sure how much I really absorbed. But later that night, as she was getting ready for bed, I wandered into her bathroom wearing a blanket and sunglasses over my head, repeating clearly, “E.T. phone home.”

Anne Rulo The Glorious Table Clothed in Christ

I love that picture of a little girl who was affected by what she had encountered. I love it even more that it wasn’t clear right away what impact the movie had. Sometimes, when we are being impacted by an experience, it isn’t immediately obvious. Sometimes, we don’t see the change until a little bit later. And sometimes, the change takes place bit by bit, over a lifetime.

My delayed transformation into E.T. got me thinking about the transformation that takes place in each of us through our relationship with Christ. While there are some immediate changes that take place, there are others that are more gradual. When we’ve worn one identity for so long, sometimes it just takes a bit before we start to look like the new one. Let’s explore a few verses referencing the “new clothing” we put on in Christ.

Immediate Changes

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27 NIV).

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13 NIV).

These verses about change are such a comfort. When we make the decision to follow Christ, a few things happen immediately, whether we’ve changed our behavior or not! No matter our history, mistakes, or doubts, when we choose to follow him, we get Christ as our clothing and the Holy Spirit as our companion. We may not see it (yet) and others may not see it (yet), but Jesus quite literally begins serving as a filter for our former selves beginning the moment we meet him. Thank goodness for these changes that are completely independent of our effort and simply gifts of grace.

Behavioral & Attitude Changes

“Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (Romans 13:13-14 NIV).

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12 NIV).

Unlike the verses in the previous section that are a comfort, these are the types of verses that occasionally get labeled as “dos and don’ts” lists. For those who want to look more like Christ, these words can feel intimidating, pointing out all the ways we aren’t measuring up. For those who are hesitant about faith, they can sound like don’t have any fun” or even like unattainable standards.

The important thing about these verses is not to read them as checklists of potential condemnation but as promises or invitations…

To finish the full post link here.

Switching the Language of Gratitude “On”

A grateful attitude/perspective is not about being “happy.” Rather, it is a way of thinking and speaking that can rewire the brain, allowing us to identify and enjoy abundance, rather than focusing on scarcity. Benefits can include positive endorphins, improved health, and conditions that support connection and healthy relationships. Here are some (very) simple examples.

Anne Rulo Switching the Language of Gratitude On

But vs. And: “But” focuses on what’s missing, “and” adds. Ex. “Thanks for putting the clothes away but you forgot my socks” vs. “Thanks for putting the clothes away and would you bring my socks?” “But” tends to sound more critical and invites defensiveness. “And” is more hopeful.

Have to vs. Get to: “Have to” implies force or reluctance, “get to” communicates opportunity. Even for things that may feel unpleasant, it helps our brains to feel in control. Ex. “I have to go to work” vs. “I get to go to work.”

Only vs. At least: “Only” implies what’s missing, while “at least” acknowledges gains. “They only had two types of apples” vs. “At least we can still make the pie.” This one is often used in tandem so we can be authentic about the loss and then shift to what we do have.

You vs. I: This is key to interpersonal communication. “You” invites defensiveness and subversively gives power away. “I” owns our experience. Ex. “You were mean” vs. “I am hurt by those words.” If you are not used to using “I statements” it can be hard to switch but so valuable.

Didn’t vs. Did: “Didn’t” points at the unaccomplished. “Did” acknowledges effort. This can be a hard one for perfectionists. Ex. “I didn’t get all the laundry put away” vs. “I washed and folded everything.”

Can’t vs. Can: “Can’t” focuses on end goals, “can” focuses on growth. This is huge for kids who want to be good at things right away. Ex. “I can’t dribble all the way down the court” vs. “I can make it to half court.”

Of course, these aren’t hard rules. It is not helpful to practice “toxic positivity” or dismiss difficult feelings or grief. And, we can’t flippantly use these for big losses or pain. However, when used in daily living, these changes in our language/thinking can be helpful for increasing the benefits of a positive mindset.

World Mental Health Day – A Visual

It is so important to talk about mental health. But, visuals are an extra way to increase our understanding of what a mental health difficulty may feel like, especially if you have never experienced it yourself. So, in honor of World Mental Health Day, here’s a (very simplified) picture explanation of some of the three most common mental health challenges.

Anne Rulo World Mental Health Day

The first, depression, is experienced by 5-10% percent of the population, with a higher reported incidence in women than men. But, the number for men may be higher as male depression often manifests as anger and may be missed as depression. That is why there is a smaller, “angry” drawing next to the figure of the woman. Sadness, tiredness, and brain “fog” are all common as well. It’s kind of like a negative “filter” standing in the way of receiving one’s internal and external world accurately.

The second, anxiety, is experienced by 7-19% of the population. Anxiety can come in a lot of forms including specific phobias or general fear and worry. Many people who struggle with anxiety report feeling as though their thoughts are often racing and worry that “something” could happen even if there is no evidence.

The third, trauma, is more prevalent. Statistics suggest that 50% or more of the population experiences some traumatic event. While not all people develop mental challenges, this helps show what happens when a brain is negatively impacted by trauma or PTSD. The front part of the brain becomes less active, reducing the ability to think rationally when triggered. The emotional, survival part of the brain (in red) is more active. And, the calendar shows the hippocampus that can shrink, making it more difficult to “stay present” in the moment. This is why trauma can feel like it is happening all over again, as intense as the original experience.

While oversimplified, I hope these visuals may help us understand a bit more about some of the most common mental health difficulties. Of course, if someone wants to share, it’s always best to ask, “What is this like for you?” and listen compassionately. This does more good than you know.

(Statistics drawn from the National Institute of Mental Health, VA, & NAMI)