About Angela M. MacDonald

Angela is a Wellness Advocate for the Clergy Health Initiative. Angela earned an MDiv/MSW; a joint graduate degree program sponsored by Duke Divinity School and the UNC School of Social Work. Angela is also an ordained Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Angela’s past experiences includes parish ministry, crisis intervention counseling and legal technology consulting. Angela enjoys reading, international travel and "I love lamp".

A baby step in saving

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A few months ago, wellness advocate Ellie Poole wrote about the benefits of Minty Fresh Financials via the use of mint.com. As we gear up for financial fitness alongside physical fitness, consider this savings idea that has been circulating throughout the internet over the past few weeks.

The 52 Week Money Challenge provides a simple way of saving at least $1,000 by the end of the year. Although the creator of the challenge remains unclear, there have been many people challenging themselves as well as friends and family to give it a try. The concept is simple: deposit money into a savings account (or piggy bank) based upon the number of the week for that year. For example, you would deposit $1 into the account for Week 1 of 2013. From there, your deposit increases based upon the week until you deposit $52 during week 52. According to teachme2save.com, you can save $1,378 by the end of 2013 following this pattern.

Below is a chart that many have been printing out as a guideline for the year, crossing off each week and its corresponding deposit amount as they go.

This challenge is a great way to create an emergency fund or a good introduction into more disciplined saving habits. According to one 52 Week Money Challenge Facebook group,  some have modified the challenge a bit. Taking advantage of new energy around resolutions for 2013 as well as cash gifts they received for Christmas, some users have decided to take the challenge in reverse. Meaning that they would start with a $52 deposit for week one, working backwards to a $1 deposit in week 52. The end result is the same — a savings of more than $1,000 over the course of the year!

We’re only two weeks into the year — it would easy to catch up if you want to give it a try.  What an easy baby step to implement with a clear (and substantial) ending point!

-Angela M. MacDonald

(Images courtesy of blog.timesunion.com and teachme2save.com)

Perspectives on New Year’s Resolutions

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Happy New Year, folks!!!!

Next week begins the first FULL week of the new year. This is an important detail for those of us who have strategically delayed executing goals to maximize any final moments of vacation – i.e., to procrastinate. For clarity’s sake, you are not alone. My name is Angela, and I am a procrastinator.

But, as we hit the reset button on how we envision our healthier, wealthier, happier selves for 2013, I would like to offer some optional approaches. My most practical offering is Craig Ballyntyne’s book entitled How to Set Goals: Ultimate Goal Setting Guide to Having Your Best Year Ever.  This book is a very worthwhile 99-cent investment (via Kindle) — full of practical guidance in achieving goals around our “health, wealth, social self and personal enrichment.”

However, I’ve included additional perspectives/insights that you may find helpful, but mostly humorous. For instance…

…if you’re looking for MOTIVATION…

…if you find REALISM more helpful…

…perhaps an alternative form of BEHAVIOR CHANGE…

…or a more CLINICAL perspective…

……..or just a good old-fashioned prayer!

Remember, it’s all a matter of perspective.

– Angela M. MacDonald

(Images courtesy of thehealthfiles.wordpress.com; bengallagher.com; Icanhascheezburger.com; curiositiesbydickens.com and
searchquotes.com)

The Pain Behind the Mask

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The holidays are expected to be a season of joy, benevolence and (frequently) a LOT of shopping. However, studies reveal that the holidays can also signal the recurrence of past emotional pain and an increase in ‘the blues’ or ‘holiday depression.’ As such, many pastors also deal with an uptick in requested pastoral counseling sessions. This means that pastors may hear countless stories about the memories of lost loved ones, the absence of family due to travel or family conflict, and strained marriages.

Pastors are expected to be caring, available, and safe receivers of this information. And society conditions all of us to present a brave front in the midst of sorrow. So how can pastors manage the weight of sadness heard from congregants while it may inevitably remind them of their own losses?

One way is by recognizing depression, which often gets masked or overlooked.

Drs. John Lynch and Christopher Kilmartin have written a compelling book entitled The Pain Behind the Mask. Although the book’s subtitle says that it addresses masculine depression (an often undiagnosed condition), the authors provide incredible points throughout the book that can be useful for everyone. The authors specifically mention female professionals who decide to adopt a less feminine persona as a survival skill in male-dominated professions.

Lynch and Kilmartin explain that women are diagnosed with depression twice as often as men. However, they note that those statistics may be inaccurate since men experience depression differently than women and are expected to display “traditional masculinity” (hyperindependence, toughness, unfeeling, detached from feelings).  While the definitions are not absolute, Lynch and Kilmartin describe the differences in masculine and feminine depression using the figure below:

The book delves deeper into these and other topics, featuring chapter titles such as  ‘He Sure Doesn’t Look Depressed’ and ‘Empathy for Self and Responsibility for Change.’

It seems to be human nature for all of us to wear some type of mask in our everyday lives. Whether it is at the workplace, a social event or even church, our masks serve to disguise or protect us. For pastors, it can be especially difficult to find a safe place to remove that mask. Further, it may be difficult to recognize that you’re actually wearing a mask when you believe it has been removed.

The Pain Behind the Mask goes on to provide a list of helpful questions to consider if you or a loved one notice that there is a strong disconnect between one’s public appearance and private appearance. Most importantly, The Pain Behind the Mask includes very helpful information and tips to assist you in improving relations with your peers, family and yourself.

Do YOU have an outlet, reliable support person or system that gives you a safe place to take off your mask?

– Angela M. MacDonald

Image credits: Puppy photo courtesy of Bill Weaver, via Flickr/Creative Commons. Book cover and image on male/female depression courtesy of ‘The Pain Behind the Mask.’

Finding your strength amidst the broken places

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This piece is offered by my fellow wellness advocate Lisa MacKenzie:

Years ago, after going through a difficult time, I received a card from a friend on a cold snowy day. The card read:

“Perhaps strength doesn’t reside in never having been broken, but in the courage required to grow strong in the broken places.”

I found the card last week as I was sorting through a box of papers and began thinking about the word strength.  Reflecting on getting stronger in the broken places, I thought first of a broken bone: once healed with a good callus, the bone is just as strong as before the break. I thought of a child, abandoned by a father, who grows to become a beautiful, loving mother.  Of an old woman, left alone in a rundown trailer, who wakes each morning and thanks God for another day to work in her garden.  You know people like this.  Perhaps you, too, have found the courage to grow strong in the broken places.

So how do we find that strength — not only in the broken places, but in the stress and strain of everyday life?  How do we identify our personal strengths when we are so used to finding our faults instead?

As a program, Spirited Life is interested in the field of positive psychology, resilience, and what it means to flourish.  Positive psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on the empirical study of such things as positive emotions, strengths-based character, and healthy institutions.  We’ve been using some of the tools found on Authentic Happiness, the homepage of Dr. Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of positive psychology.  One of the areas that Seligman looks at is character strengths.  He has created multiple surveys, all of which are free — they just require creating a login.  If you want to evaluate your own strengths go to the following website:

Evaluate your strengths here

  • In the blue menu bar at the top of the page, click the “Register”  link. When the Registration page appears, go to “Free Registration,” enter your name and email address, then create a password.
  • After you register, log in to the site and the “Authentic Happiness Testing Center” page will appear.
  • Under “Engagement Questionnaires,” go to “VIA Survey of Character Strengths” and choose “Take Test.”

Regardless of whether you use these tools, perhaps you’ll take some time this Advent season to think about your strength and courage.  Write your thoughts and your story down. Consider it an early Christmas gift to yourself.

— Lisa MacKenzie

(Image courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr/Creative Commons)

A Prayer for Writing Commissioning/Ordination Papers

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Like the rest of you, Spirited Life is celebrating the beginning of the Advent season. However, we know that this also is a season for commissioning and ordination papers (at least for United Methodist clergy).

For those of you writing, reading, editing and re-writing (sermons OR papers), we offer a prayer from St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). This prayer is known by a few names, including ‘A Prayer Before Study, Speaking and Writing’:

Ineffable Creator,

Who, from the treasures of Your wisdom,
have established three hierarchies of angels,
have arrayed them in marvelous order above the fiery heavens,
and have marshaled the regions of the universe with such artful skill,

You are proclaimed the true font of light and wisdom,
and the primal origin raised high beyond all things.

Pour forth a ray of Your brightness into the darkened places
of my mind; disperse from my soul the twofold darkness
into which I was born:
sin and ignorance.

You make eloquent the tongues of infants.
Refine my speech and pour forth upon my lips the goodness of Your blessing.

Grant to me keenness of mind,
capacity to remember,
skill in learning,
subtlety to interpret,
and eloquence in speech.

May You guide the beginning of my work,
direct its progress,
and bring it to completion.

You Who are true God and true Man,
Who live and reign, world without end.

Amen.

(courtesy of www.liturgies.net;
image courtesy of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church – New Orleans)

Book Review: Total Money Makeover

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See if this sounds familiar.

We navigate the beautiful, busy Christmas season, with its joy, excitement, reminiscence, gifts (and possibly negatives too, but that’s the subject of another post).  After the holiday festivities settle back into normalcy, and we sit down to balance our checkbooks like the responsible adults that we are, the cold hard numbers staring back at us are daunting. As it turns out, we went slightly over budget this year.

If that’s been your experience, you’re not alone.

Finances continue to be the number one stressor in households, and we feel the pinch most acutely over the Christmas season.  That’s when the combination of daily expenses (day care, tuition, utilities and/or car maintenance) and holiday gifts and/or travel delivers a one-two punch that can do a real number on a pastor’s sense of wonder and holiday cheer.

Despite housing allowances and other UMC benefits, some pastors still grapple with concerns about (1) mortgages on family homes not occupied due to very distant church appointments; (2) college tuition; (3) retirement planning; and (4) personal funds used to subsidize a church’s financial needs. And what if you have to deal with a sudden pastoral move and  associated costs that may or may not be covered by the denomination?  Below is an image courtesy of mint.com that shows how these financial issues can cause fear, embarrassment and/or stress:

Given that those pesky household bills don’t take a well-deserved holiday themselves, Dave Ramsey’s book Total Money Makeover can provide helpful insight about how to get wayward finances back on track.

Although Ramsey is also creator of the highly recommended Financial Peace University program, Total Money Makeover is a much more accessible reference tool for beginning financial resuscitation. This book can be purchased, but can also be checked out at your local library if you want to skim through it before making a purchase. One item included in the book is Ramsey’s Seven Baby Steps that provide a general road map that can be followed.

Below are some pros and cons about the book:

Pros

• It’s very simple to follow — there’s no financial jargon.
• Ramsey is upfront and direct about what his book is about and what it’s not.
• It’s motivational.
• It includes true life stories, including Ramsey’s own.
• It includes many worksheets.

Cons

• He seems to put an emphasis on mutual funds, although he does state that his book should not be treated as an investment book.
• You may or may not agree with the theology included, depending on your hermeneutic or understanding of the Bible.

Theology aside, Total Money Makeover offers a logical approach to financial fitness, therefore stress reduction.

– Angela M. MacDonald

(Images courtesy of daverasmey.com and mint.com)

Can you take anything off your plate?

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Amidst the frenzy of gearing up for the holidays (food preparation plans, gift giving, holiday travel), many pastors are also juggling overloaded church schedules.

In addition to the regular activities of the church, the weeks leading into Advent bring charge conferences, capital campaigns and/or ordination papers, plus an influx of denominational retreats and unexpected pastoral emergencies, not to mention daily family life.  During other parts of the year, a pastor might be able to prioritize action items or delegate some duties to willing church or family members, depending upon the tasks. But what about those times when it seems as if absolutely NOTHING can be delayed, delegated or outright removed from the list of duties?

That’s exactly when stress moves in.  And as the pressure rises, it can be all too easy to return to old habits of choosing unhealthy (though very convenient) foods or eating to relieve stress — habits you may have worked really hard to change.

Through our Spirited Life program, we offer pastors the Naturally Slim healthy eating program, and countless clergy have seen it make a real difference in their lives. But the stress of the holidays can put the program’s tools to the test.  The Naturally Slim ‘hunger savers’ or the incredibly popular H2Orange may not feel like enough to get you through the long and stressful days of the Advent season.

So: some reinforcements…

Stress is a known trigger for cravings, so planning ahead is key — especially when craving foods that are either salty, sweet, crunchy (or all of the above!) In addition to packing the recommended Naturally Slim hunger savers, here is a useful chart from NowLoss.com that helps you match up your unhealthy craving with healthier food options.

May God continue to strengthen you to add healthier food to your physical plate, even as you juggle the duties piling up on your pastoral plate.

– Angela M. MacDonald

(Images courtesy of awornpath.blogspot.com & www.NowLoss.com)

Seeing Church Problems, Looking for Church Solutions

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“…you have an inner-city church with inner-city problems; might I suggest you quickly wise up and find an inner-city solution…”
(Archdeacon Robert, from the BBC TV Sitcom ‘Rev.’)

The BBC show “Rev.” is familiar to some, but may be new to many on this side of the pond. The show centers on the life of Rev. Adam Smallbone, the Anglican vicar (pastor) of a church located in downtown London. In the clip below, Rev. Adam is providing ideas to Archdeacon Robert (Rev. Adam’s District Superintendent-equivalent) about ways to pay for a window in the church that has been broken.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teosebTsBSc&feature=relmfu

Like Rev. Adam, many pastors are faced with very real financial challenges, and it can be easy to assign them a label.  You may have a ‘rural’ church with ‘rural’ church problems or a ‘dying’ church with ‘dying’ church problems or an ‘apathetic’ church with ‘apathetic’ church problems. While these labels provide helpful context for what a pastor faces, they  typically serve as a reference point, not as an absolute descriptor of the challenges faced.

Regardless of how the issues are named, the solutions tend to require creativity, because pastors are finding it increasingly difficult to secure streams of revenue to sustain the churches they serve.  In addition to church yard sales, food sales or car washes, some churches now rent out their facilities to other churches or nonprofit organizations. Other churches have joined with neighboring congregations to sell popcorn, fruit baskets or Christmas wreaths. Still other churches pool resources to offer financial education programs such as Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University or Crown Financial. The rationale for focusing on family finances?  As the cash flow of members begins to stabilize and improve, so should the finances of the church.

How has your church creatively raised funds? Please share your ideas in the comments section!

May God bless our Church Universal and our pastors who continue to navigate their way through the stressors of church stewardship. May God provide them with the wisdom, strength and vision to keep serving our [insert label here] churches with their [insert label here] problems, while looking for [insert label here] solutions.

– Angela M. MacDonald

(Video clip courtesy of BBC TV, Episode 1; Season 2 ‘Inner City Church, Inner City Problems’)

Pastor Spotlight: Andrew Brown – the Faster Pastor

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Wellness advocates repeatedly remind one another that their work is not about themselves, but about providing space to pastors that do not otherwise have a sounding board of their own. With just a simple opening question, we never really know how a conversation will flow until it flows. Of course, the talks can run the gamut…and then there is the occasional surprise.

“Hello Pastor XYZ! What’s new? What’s exciting? What’s different?” That was my admittedly corny opening for calls on this particular day. Before I could mentally rapture myself to the unemployment line for such a clumsy opening, the pastor says, “Well, I raced a school bus yesterday!”

As it turns out, Rev. Andrew Brown, senior pastor of Hawthorne Lane UMC in Charlotte, happens to be the winner of the 2012 “Faster Pastor” race, an annual spectacle in which “local men of the cloth wheel 13-ton monstrous machines…

Pastor Andrew was kind enough to grant an interview to Spirited Life about this incredible experience.

ME: What made you decide to enter the ‘Faster Pastor’ race?  How did you hear about it?

ANDREW: I received an email from the district office saying they needed pastors to drive in a school bus race. It sounded interesting; who wouldn’t want to drive a bus around a race track when someone else is paying for the gas!

ME: Describe your bus – who painted it?

ANDREW: I rallied some of our church members to get a pit crew together. They were responsible for the design and painting of the bus. The pit crew consisted of children, youth, and enough adults to make it legal. We had an artist and an interior designer on the crew. The final design was created by one of our church’s fifth graders; “Jesus Take the Wheel” was the theme. Everybody really got into it.

ME: What was it like to get behind the wheel?

ANDREW: Getting behind the wheel was a rush – a four-point harness, a full face helmet with radio receivers, and a couple of track mechanics explaining how to drive the bus.

ME: Did you do a donut in the grass after you won the race?

ANDREW: [Laughing] No, the engine wouldn’t go fast enough.

ME: What was your winning strategy, and what did you do to celebrate?

ANDREW: I don’t think I really had a winning strategy. I was surprised to win. I just went back to the lessons I learned in childhood driving go-carts. Go fast and stay upright.

I wasn’t really sure how to drive against a bunch of pastors. I mean, I didn’t know if they would drive aggressive or not. Then, when we went into the first turn, one of the other drivers nailed me in the back fender and I thought, “OK…it’s on!”  I did my best to keep it together, and everything worked out great!

We had about 30 people from our congregation come to watch the race, including my wife and two of our children. The Faster Pastor race was a novelty race between the real [NASCAR] races that night.

Also my parents, who have both gone through some serious health issues lately, were there, and that really meant a lot. They rode from their home, about 2 hours away, with my oldest brother and his wife. After the race (and the win) I went with my family to Cracker Barrel to celebrate. We brought the trophy in [the restaurant], sat it on the table and had a great time!

ME: Are you in again next year?

ANDREW: I don’t know if I will be able to do it again next year. But I would love to do it again.

ME: Assuming this is one fun way to let off some steam, what are some of the other ways you try to reduce stress?

PASTOR: I didn’t enter the race to reduce stress. I did it to have fun. I believe there is in each of us a kid who “had to” grow up. It is important for us to let that kid out from time to time and have fun! Maybe that’s what Jesus was getting at when he said you must enter the Kingdom as a little child.

As Pastor Andrew enthusiastically described his experience, he said, “I’ve gotta take more chances in life!” It sounded as if he had rediscovered some laughter and adrenaline that he had been missing. It seems that this experience gave him an opportunity to channel fun memories from his childhood, while creating lasting memories for his congregants and family members in the stands as supportive witnesses.

As men and women of clergy who are dealing with countless stressors spiritually and professionally, it can be easy to forget or bypass those hobbies, those moments that give us a chance to have fun. Have you put a hobby on the back burner? How long ago? Maybe it is time to think about reconnecting with something fun that will give you joy, laughter and some great memories.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8JEWjgh_Po

— Angela MacDonald

(Pictures and YouTube video provided by Jami Brown and CMS/HHP Photo)

Laughter is the best medicine

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HAPPY WEDNESDAY!!!!!!!

The theme for today’s entry is ‘Humor and Inspiration.’  So, because we know that a picture is worth a thousand words, enjoy the humor and inspiration below!

A LITTLE HUMOR:

* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Spirited Life…..:-)

A LITTLE INSPIRATION:

A LITTLE MANNA [John 6:35, 41-51]:

(Agnus Day appears with the permission of www.agnusday.org)

-Angela MacDonald