How to Develop Self-Care

Everywhere I look this month I see reminders of the upcoming holiday: bouquets of red, pink or yellow roses, heart shaped boxes of chocolate or other sweet confections, expensive greeting cards declaring love to a perfect valentine.

While I’m not necessarily cynical about this holiday (and will probably enjoy a nice dinner out to mark the occasion), I plan to celebrate a bit differently this year.

My word for 2017 is “Nourish,” and in that spirit I plan to focus this month on Self-Care.

The saying goes, “You can’t love others without loving yourself,” but I like Joyce Meyers’ expansion of that thought: “If you don’t love yourself, you can’t love others. You can’t give away what you don’t have.”

For me, the first step in learning to love myself is to accept God’s love for me.

I grew up in a legalistic society, where a good Christian girl followed all the rules and “Thou shalt nots” and never voiced any contrary thoughts. To me, God was a big accountant in the sky, keeping track of my debits and credits in his ledger book of life. No love or grace survived in this equation. Only harsh judgment and the wagging finger of shame as I continually fell short of heavenly expectations.

It has taken a long time to erase this warped view of my heavenly Father. And I must confess, at times it still comes into clear view. But over the past two years I have focused my Bible study on His Love for me, and His Grace and Mercy extended to me because of the blood of Jesus.

I now carry two verses of scripture in my heart at all times to remind me of this powerful love.

The first verse is found in John 10:10 (NIV) “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.

Jesus did not die on the cross so I will feel defeated, despondent and hopeless. That is the voice of the enemy beating me down with his lies.

And Jesus did not die on the cross so I can merely exist or simply go through the motions. He came that I might experience the joy, excitement and adventure that life with Him offers.

A God who desires I live a full, rich, abundant life is a God who truly loves me. I can trust Him. The fact that the God of the universe chose to create me and desires to fellowship with me, means I am lovable.

The second verse is found in Matthew 23:12. I particularly relate to The Message translation: “If you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.”

All God asks of me is that I be who He created me to be. I don’t have to be someone else. I don’t have to compete with others. I don’t need to change my temperament, physical appearance, or personal interests . I only need to accept myself (my strengths and weaknesses) and my life will have purpose. What a wonderful way to show love to myself as well as to my Creator!

While I continue to meditate on these scriptures, I have also adopted some pragmatic methods of promoting Self-Care.

How do I love me? Let me count the ways:

Treating my body and mind with love and respect.

  1. Drinking more water to stay hydrated
  2. Eating more nutritious foods that feed the body and the soul.
  3. Staying disciplined in an exercise routine. I want a strong core to help me overcome physical, mental and spiritual adversity.

Taking time to relax and rejuvenate in a purposeful way.

  1. Relaxing in a hot bath
  2. Reading a good book with a hot cup of tea
  3. Writing in my journal at a local coffee shop
  4. Taking myself on a date … window shopping, the library, the local museum, a movie
  5. Meeting a friend for lunch and sharing life stories
  6. Taking a stroll through the park – not a cardiovascular walk, but a leisurely stroll to admire nature and allow my thoughts to wander
  7. Purposefully spending money, rather than buying what I don’t need in an effort to fill a void
  8. Learning a new skill (like speaking Italian) rather than watching mindless television re-runs
  9. Keeping a gratitude journal – focusing on one positive event for each and every day
  10. Lighting a candle and enjoying its fragrance
  11. Playing soft music in the background (or loud music and dancing)
  12. Breathing deeply

Taking control of internal self-talk.

  1. Choosing to be joyful despite the circumstances
  2. Focusing on what is going right rather than solely what is going wrong
  3. Replacing critical thoughts with positive affirmations
  4. Acknowledging my effort rather than focusing solely on the outcome
  5. Thinking the best of myself (and others) rather than the worst
  6. Forgiving myself for making mistakes and being imperfect.
  7. Forgiving others for their imperfections

Eliminating unhealthy thought patterns

  1. Stop caring about what others think; focus on what God thinks of me
  2. Stop trying to please everyone. It is an impossible task.
  3. Stop comparing myself to others
  4. Stop fearing failure; the only real failure is not trying
  5. Stop taking everything personally; sometimes it isn’t about me
  6. Stop taking care of everyone else at the expense of my own needs
  7. Stop worrying about the future and instead trust God
  8. Stop squelching my dreams and instead believe Psalm 37:4 “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

What about you? What are some practical ways you can develop more self-care? Accept God’s Valentine to you this year and show yourself a little Self-Love.

©2017 Molly Totoro for GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.

How to Replace Fear

I’ve always struggled with the concept of denying self. It sounds so austere, like I’m supposed to give up all aspects of fun and forego any dreams of happiness.Molly Totoro

But isn’t that in complete opposition to the concept that Christ came that we may have abundant life?

Denying self reminds me of a tyrannical task master, demanding I keep strict allegiance to the do’s and don’ts of life, or suffer extreme consequences. Legalism at its best. But I am a rule-follower, so I try to obey.

Recently I read the following scripture that caused me to rethink my position:

“Don’t you realize that you can choose your own master? … The one to whom you offer yourself – he will take you and be your master, and you will be his slave.” (Romans 6:16 TLB)

I paused to ask myself: Whom do I choose as my master? And the answer surprised me.

I choose Fear.

  • I fear failure – and I fear success.
  • I fear what others think of me.
  • I fear making a mistake – I fear not being perfect.
  • I fear disappointing others – I fear disappointing God.
  • I fear rejection.
  • I fear lack of control.
  • I fear dependence.
  • I fear having too much fun; I fear not being fun enough.

And I realized… I am indeed a slave to fear!

Not only is this a miserable way to live (and contradictory to living the abundant life) but it is not biblical. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7 – NIV).

So I prayed and asked the Lord to help me reconcile these disparaging commands. How do I deny self and yet live a bold, joyful life?

His answer surprised me.

“You are indeed too focused on self, Molly. It is time to release its negative control of your life. Let go of Self-doubt, low Self-esteem, Self-consciousness, and Self-deprecation.”

At first I didn’t believe I heard correctly. I mean, denying this kind of self is not austere or punishing. It is a command filled with love and compassion. It promises a life of acceptance and purpose.

For someone who has been entrenched in religious legalism for nearly half-a-century, this is too good to be true.

Or is it?

What if I replace self-doubt with faith? Faith that God has created me for a purpose, and faith that He will equip me to fulfill that purpose in His time.

What if I replace low self-esteem with faith? Faith that God does not create junk. That He has indeed given us gifts and talents. Faith that humility is acceptance of these gifts, not denying them. And faith that God wants us to use these gifts and share them with the world.

What if I replace self-consciousness with faith? Faith that God accepts me, and He has promised to never leave or forsake me. As long as I do my best in obedience to His will, I do not have to fear what others think of me. I only need to concern myself with what the Lord thinks.

What if I replace self-deprecation with faith? Faith that God commands us to love our neighbors AS ourselves.

Faith that I am enough. I shouldn’t compare myself to others, but instead be content with whom God created me to be.

Simple faith is the antidote to legalism. We can’t earn favor with God by keeping the law because we will never succeed.

But we can put our faith in Christ who makes us righteous. This is the Good News. This is the truth.

The truth will liberate us from the shackles of self and allow us to live an abundant life.

©2016 Molly Totoro

Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.

How To Experience Guilt-Free Living

It’s always exciting to find a new book – that special topic I’ve been looking for – at a bargain price.God is not mad at you - book

Last week, I discovered the book by Joyce Meyer, “God is Not Mad at You.” In her usual fashion, Joyce speaks the truth about perfectionism, legalism, shame and learning how to live guilt-free.

These are topics we deal with regularly at GateWay of Hope. And the root to many of these struggles is the pain of rejection.

We can feel rejected because of various circumstances:

  • Losing our parents at an early age
  • The comments of children and/or teachers at school
  • Struggling through adolescence and the volatile teen years
  • Failing classes or failing at a job
  • Betrayal by a spouse
  • Comparisons to other women or even to our siblings
  • Abuse of any kind

When we feel rejected, we may try to be perfect – to reach that high bar others have set for us. And we may think we need to be perfect for God as well, which can trap us within the lies of legalism.

Then all sorts of damaging emotions can plague us, causing even more mental and spiritual problems which may lead to more rejection. And the cycle continues.

Some of these emotions may include:

  • Anger
  • Bitterness
  • A critical and judgmental spirit
  • Constant comparisons to others
  • Feeling defensive at any type of criticism
  • Distrusting anyone in authority
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • A stronghold of fear
  • Feeling hopeless
  • A poor self-image
  • Jealousy
  • Plus many more negative emotions

So how can we get past these issues, dig out the root and prevent the bitterness that leads to false guilt? How can we find freedom to move on?

In our Boundaries classes at GateWay, we teach women this truth, “I am not responsible for how someone else thinks.”

So if another person compares us to someone else or says something ugly to us – we don’t have to believe that or receive it into our spirits.

We can fight against it with the truth. “I’m not responsible for what you think about me.”

We can also learn to love ourselves and appreciate who we really are – separate from all the things we do.

As Joyce writes, “No matter how many other people love you, if you don’t love yourself, you will still feel lonely.”

Through Counseling, the support of relationships in groups and Coaching, we teach women how to be authentic, how to be honest and not afraid to be vulnerable, how to truly love themselves.

When we feel secure in the knowledge and truth of who we really are, when we accept ourselves as we are – then we don’t have to be perfect or meet the standards of someone else.

The most important path to guilt-free living is to realize we don’t have to earn God’s love. He accepts us and loves us. Period.

He won’t love us any more if we do great things. He won’t love us any less if we do nothing.

He has a special place in his heart for his daughters, and he will never abandon us, reject us or leave us alone to struggle through life.

When we truly know how much God loves us, then we can begin to love ourselves even more and stop living in the land of rejection.

And if you struggle with these issues, give us a call at GateWay of Hope. 913.393.GATE (4283). We’d love to help.

©2016 GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

The Power of a Preposition

Molly TotoroRecently my Bible study group examined Gideon’s story. While this narrative is short – only three chapters within the book of Judges – it is packed with powerful lessons we can apply to our Christian walk.

On one particular week we focused on God’s long-suffering and patience. We unanimously agreed we have all tested His tolerance. We have felt His rolling-eyes, heavy sighs, and mumbling, “Will she ever get this right?!”

But as I participated in this discussion I wondered if perhaps there was another way to interpret the message. Rather than feeling God’s disappointment WITH us … wagging his divine finger and uttering “tsk, tsk, tsk” … Could He in fact be disappointed FOR us?

Rather than tinged with disdain, perhaps there is empathy in His statement. He may not be saying, “Will she ever get this right?” – with my perceived implication that I am either stupid, sinful, or lacking in faith – but instead He may be gently pleading with me to simply Trust Him, and believe that He is truly for me and not against me.

“Molly, if you will just release this to me, you will receive the peace you desperately desire. Let me carry the burden, and you go take a rest.”

Or perhaps the words go something like, “Molly, you are making this too difficult. Stop trying to do it all and just take that one next step. I have this under control.”

Or perhaps He wants me to know that I need to stop viewing Him as the strict disciplinarian, just waiting for me to make a mistake, and instead view Him as the loving parent who wishes to grant immediate blessings for simple obedience.

I no longer think God is disappointed in me. He knows me – all my faults, all my weaknesses, all my baggage, and yet He still loves me. He just wants me to learn to accept that love.

Another scripture verse upon which I have meditated which also demonstrates the power of a preposition is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

For years I thought this scripture stated to give thanks FOR all circumstances, but I could not understand why I should be thankful for unemployment , no health insurance, and no financial savings.

While life is hard and oftentimes unfair, and circumstances can be overwhelming and painful, God completely understands. He is not asking that we give thanks FOR our difficulties, but rather, in the midst of them, remember He is in complete control.

While circumstances may appear impossible, we know that with God all things are possible. Practicing gratitude in the midst of difficulties is a way of expressing faith in his sovereignty and perfect will for our lives.

So in 2015, I am going to focus on the right preposition, and with that, change my outlook on life here on earth…and beyond.

Molly Totoro is a writer and a recently retired English teacher who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share” and is currently establishing a ministry, Milestone Memoirs, where she helps others discover and write their stories to impact future generations. Molly frequently writes about the need to leave a legacy on her Stepping Stones blog.

Action Points for God

When we think about the new year, making our goals and resolutions, we also decide how to make those goals happen. That’s where action points come in.

An action point is a definite activity or task which helps propel us toward the goal.

Did you know that God also uses action points?

A favorite passage for Jesus followers is Psalm 139:23-24. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (TLB).heart of art

A good practice is to pray through these action points and remind God that we want to pursue our relationship with Him.

1. Search me – It’s okay, God, for you to poke around in my soul. You are, after all, Emanuel – God with us. You aren’t scared by what’s inside me.

2. Know my heart – Since my heart belongs to You, God, I invite You into a deeper relationship with me. Know me, love me, pursue me.

3. Test me – Okay, this is not my favorite part, God, but I know that without the test I will have no testimony. So bring it on and then give me strength to pass the test.

4. Know my anxious thoughts – Since You know what I’m thinking, please replace my anxieties with Your peace.

5. Point out anything in me that offends You – For someone who is recovering from legalism, this is a great action point, God. I don’t need to discover my own weaknesses nor do I need to listen to other people list my faults. You know what offends You, and You know how to point it out. This is Your work in me, so I will ignore all the other voices.

6. Lead me along the path of everlasting life – That’s where we are, God, on the path together toward a stronger relationship and an eternity together.

What are some action points you’d like God to take in your life?

© 2013 GateWay of Hope Ministries