Tuesday, July 19, 2011


One of the things that increases our stress is any kind of change or transition. Be it a happy one (having a baby or getting promoted) or a difficult one (divorce or financial loss), changes will produce stress. There are lots of tests out there (you can find them on the internet) but to test your stress level, try this test to help you see where you are.

If you look back on this blog, you will notice that I haven't blogged for a couple of months. I was definitely in a period of transition in my life, and setting aside blogging was one way of coping.

Dealing with transitions can be stressful because often there are a lot of things "up in the air" and undecided, and sometimes one decision depends on another decision. You can literally feel like your head is whirling which, of course, adds to the stress.

Here are some pointers:

1) Simplify as much as possible. Set aside for a time the things that don't have to be done or dealt with.

2) At the same time, try to keep as much continuity in your life as seems helpful to you.

3) Focus on today and try not to worry about decisions that you can't make today. (There is a difference between thinking about decisions and worrying. You get that, right?)

4) Continue healthy habits of eating right, sleeping, and exercising.

5) Remind yourself that there are likely no decisions or moves to be made that are earth shattering or can't be altered if needed. You don't have to navigate this transition perfectly.

Transitions go better if we take one day at a time and envision a light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes it is difficult to see that, but keep in mind that you have made other transitions in your life and come out okay. Chances are you will this time as well!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Wishing, Hoping, Dreaming

Remember that old Dusty Springfield song, "Wishing and Hoping." Part of it went like this:

Show him that you care just for him.
Do the things that he likes to do.
Wear your hair just for him,
cause you won't get him, thinking and praying,
wishing and hoping.
Hold him and kiss him and squeeze him and love him.
Just do it and after you do, you will be his

Really? Seriously? If only it was that easy!

Sometimes clients are in a relationship with a boyfriend/girlfriend who doesn't want to commit to marriage or who isn't ready. They often ask me how they know if they should wait it out or move on.

It's hard to answer that question, because just as there are a million different relationships, there are an equal number of factors that can enter into such a decision.

In general, though, here are some things to consider.

1) Is this person worth waiting for? Ask yourself, in general, if this person has all the qualities you want in a partner. Consider employment, character, personality, family relationship, desire for children, habits, legal issues, etc. If you are waiting for a person who has major issues that you hope will be changed by marriage, you need to realize that marriage will not change who they are.

2) How long have you been in this relationship? If you have been in a relationship for over two years and there is still no long-term commitment from your partner, then the relationship needs to be examined. I generally feel that after one year you should both know if this relationship will work or not.

3) Do you find yourself arguing over the lack of long-term commitment? Be careful of that. If you end up engaged because of pressure you have put on your partner, you may find yourself in one of two situations. First, you may have an angry partner who will (later on) complain that he/she was forced to marry you. Second, you may find yourself engaged for a very long time and the argument will no longer be about becoming engaged but rather about setting a wedding date.

Decisions to leave a relationship are painful for both people, but sometimes it is better to give yourselves a chance to start over with someone who will make a commitment rather than spend time and energy trying to talk someone into marrying you.

Monday, April 11, 2011


One of the things I hear very often is parents telling me how their children are kind of a mixed bag when it comes to personality and behavior.

One day ten year old Jessica is being stubborn and uncooperative and the next day is helpful and kind. Eight year old Derek is selfish and angry at times and suddenly asks you if he can give his weekly allowance to a kid in his class who has no lunch. Fifteen year old Brittany is withdrawn and cranky, and the next thing you know she is out front helping the elderly neighbor next door carry in her groceries.

Parents are often confused by this as they worry about what their children are becoming. Of course, they want to see the helpful, kind, giving part of them be the default behavior in their children, but worry that the negative part will choke out the positive.

I often explain to parents that when we see those positive behaviors and attitudes in our children, they are like snapshots of who they may become. Those little moments demonstrate that the positive qualities you are trying to instill "are in there" but just well hidden at times.

Let those snapshots serve as a reminder to you that the seeds you are planting in your child are taking root, and they need to be tended to. How do we do that? Here are some suggestions:

1) Talk respectfully to your child, even when he/she doesn't earn it. That doesn't mean that you need to accept bad behavior, but don't resort to name calling or labeling.

2) Along with that, try to remember to label the behavior and not your child. Say, "that was wrong to hit your sister" rather than "you are bad."

3) Always affirm good behavior. Let your child know that you notice when he/she behaves in a way that pleases you.

4) Label your child in positive ways whenever possible. Say, "You are such a loving big brother," or "I see you being so helpful to your friends." Your child will be encouraged by those words.

Whatever you do, keep those snapshots of the good in your heart and your mind. Refer to those when you are frustrated with your child. Use them to encourage you to keep going, knowing that eventually the little seedlings you've planted will grow into strong trees with deep roots that produce good fruit.

Monday, March 28, 2011

People Who Aren't Like Me

We often are in relationships with people who are different from us. This is true in our family relationships or relationships at work or with friends and neighbors. That can be a source of both frustration and growth. If we see ourselves or our way as "right" and the other person or their way as "wrong," then we miss out on a great opportunity to benefit from what they bring to the table.

For the follower of Christ, if we keep in mind that God wants us to be more like Him, we will remember that we are constantly being molded into His image. We are growing in love, grace, compassion, gentleness, kindness, peacefulness, patience and much more.

That's the good news! The bad news is that He accomplishes that by putting us in situations where we have an opportunity to learn something or to fight against whatever "it" is.

God uses others in our lives to expose parts of ourselves that need to change. Sometimes He exposes boundaries that are missing or sagging. Sometimes He exposes selfishness, jealousy, narcissism, inflated egos, pride, arrogance, and other things that are in need of being rooted out and replaced with love, kindness, compassion, giving, self-control and much more.

Whatever it is He wants to accomplish in us, we need to keep in mind that it is for our ultimate good.

What if everything in the world was blue? Instead of our eyes feasting on the wonderful colors in nature, we would be all subjected to a view that would be decidedly boring! Without different colors, I doubt if artists such as Thomas Gainsborough, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, or James McNeill Whistler would have been inspired to create their beautiful works of art. It takes the blues, greens, yellows, reds, and purples to give contrast that makes it all beautiful!

What if everything we ate tasted like chocolate? As much as I really love dark chocolate, I have to admit that after awhile I would be really tired of it. We need sweet, salty, and savory. We need smooth and crunchy. We need different flavors and textures to make food interesting. Chefs such as Bobby Flay, Cat Cora, Emeril Lagasse, Giada De Laurentiis, or Michael Symon would not be inspired to create their yummy dishes if all foods were the same!

It is the same with people! God made us all different for a reason. If we were all the same, we would be like cardboard cutouts or clones and our relationships would be, well...boring at best!

In relationship difficulty where there are differences of style or opinion, here are some tips:

1) Remember that this is probably not "life and death." Develop a healthy sense of humor about your differences with the other person. Learn to laugh at yourself as well!

2) Remember that it is very possible that this other person is not wrong, but just different.

3) See what you can learn about the situation and seek compromise.

4) Learn to communicate to see how they view whatever the situation is.

5) Develop an interest in figuring out "what makes this person tick." He/she sees the world differently than you do. What makes no sense to you makes perfect sense to him/her.

6) Ask yourself if there are unhealthy or sinful attitudes in you that are being exposed and take steps to turn that around.

Variety is good and we can really learn from one another if we approach it with a healthy attitude! When we learn to see others who are different from ourselves as persons of value who bring something valuable to the table, we can begin to function together in ways that are beneficial.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Busy Kids

One of the things I notice more and more these days is how busy people are. Parents have their children involved in lots of extra-curricular activities--dance, football, piano lessons, Brownies, soccer, gymnastics, 4-H, Boy Scouts--the list is endless it would seem. There are so many wonderful things to choose from that afford your children with opportunities to learn teamwork, character, responsibility, work ethic, etc.

I think that all of this is very good. The concern I often have is the lack of balance in these kids' lives.

Kids often talk to me about how stressed they are. They talk about not having a lot of time to just relax between school, homework, and other activities. When I ask them what they would like to change, they say that they don't want to change anything. They really like all of the after school things they are doing. That is where parents come in.

Parents need to set limits on schedule and activities. Don't expect your child to find him/her own limits. They have lots of energy and literally want to do everything that comes along! Don't sign your kids up for something just because they "really want to do it!" Kids don't have the ability to predict the stress they will feel being so busy.

When you think about adding a new activity to your child's schedule, consider these things:

1) What does the overall schedule look like currently?
2) How will this new activity change the schedule?
3) What affect will this activity have on the family? How will it coordinate with other family member's activities?
4) Will the child have sufficient "down time" to just play and be a kid?
5) How will my child benefit from this activity?

I believe that kids need to be exploring different activities, but not all at one time. They are kids. Let them have time to just rest, play, and be kids. Teach them balance early, and it will be something that will go with them into adulthood.

Monday, February 28, 2011

People Who Need People

Do you remember this song sung by Barbra Streisand?

"People, people who need people
Are the luckiest people in the world."

Ultimately, I think that is a true statement. It has layers of meanings, of course. But for me, it reminds us that we do need each other and we are blessed if we understand that! We are relationship-oriented beings by nature. Our ancestors lived in tribes and communities where there was a healthy interdependence.

Somewhere along the line we replaced interdependence with independence and that became the norm. Now there is definitely a place for independence, but we need to live in community where we are dependent upon others and they are dependent upon us.

Together we can live and grow and thrive. We learn from each other. We encourage one another. We help each other. We carry one another's burdens, and we discover that a load is lighter when carried by two.

To be healthy we need to be in relationships with family and friends. If we're not, not only does our emotional health suffer but our physical well-being is at risk as well.

I encourage people to find a way to form relationships. Join a Bible study group. Volunteer. Take a dance class. Take up a hobby. Once you begin to meet people, don't be afraid to invite someone to coffee. Relationships start small and they grow from there.

Relationships are one of our basic needs. Take the steps to develop some, rekindle some, or deepen some. The rewards may be great!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day

Today is Valentine's Day. One of the things that often comes up with people who are not in a relationship is that Valentine's Day is a day of loneliness and feeling different. For some, it reminds them of the grief they feel at not having a partner or having lost one.

Those feelings are valid and are to be acknowledged and worked through.

Valentine's Day, for some, is a day of mourning that springboards into a period of grief. While (as I stated above) the feeling is a normal feeling, here are some suggestions for not beginning a spiral down that may be difficult to pull out of.

1) Plan activities with single friends. Love is in the air, but there are different kinds of love. Friendships are a kind of love that is deep and meaningful. Enjoy them!

2) Make Valentine's Day about serving others. Make some cookies or homemade valentines and take them to the shut-ins in your community. The faces that light up will warm your heart!

3) Do something fun for yourself. Get a massage or a manicure. Buy yourself a new outfit.

4) Throw a valentine's day dinner party for people who have no partner or whose partner is away (military, etc.). It will be a nice way to spend the evening, knowing that those you invite will appreciate the invitation on a day difficult for them as well.

The idea here is to try to not dwell on the sad feelings, but rather focus on others and what you do have in your life. It is normal to long for a partner, and if that sad feeling is an ongoing thing for you, then it may be that you need to work through the feelings with a counselor. If it is only "seasonal" then taking care of yourself will help greatly!

Monday, January 31, 2011


We have been having an extra long period of fog here in our area. I'm not talking about fog that burns off by 9 or 10 a.m. This fog can last until early afternoon and then rolls back in in early evening. It is frustrating. It causes all kinds of road mishaps. It is something that builds uncertainty into our plans for the day sometimes.

When I'm driving on the freeway in thick, thick fog (the kind where you can barely see 1/4 mile ahead of you) it always has a feeling of uncertainty. What if there is an accident ahead that I can't see? What if the fog gets worse up there? Maybe I should get off and wait. But what if just 1/2 mile up the road it is completely clear? What to do. What to do.

I think that there are some things about fog that can be applied to our relationships. Mostly in the area of understand what our partner is thinking, feeling, wanting, or needing.

When there are things in our relationship that cause us issues, it is probably because we "can't see through the fog" and neither can our partner.

Here is an example:

A woman sees her husband's frustration in looking for something he has misplaced. She feels compassion for him, and offers to help. He gets very angry and yells at her, "I can do it myself."

She feels confused and literally "in a fog" as to why he would react so strongly and negatively to her offer of help. On her side of the "fog," she felt compassion and love and care which prompted her to offer help. On his side of the "fog" he feels angry and put down when she offers help.

The only way to break through the fog is to talk it out and see "through the fog" and understand what is on each side of this murky abyss.

They sit down later and talk about what each was feeling. It turns out that he had been beating himself up for misplacing the thing he was looking for, and in his head the tapes were playing. Tapes from his childhood of his dad telling him he was a loser and would never amount to anything.

Aha, now it makes sense to her why he reacted as he did to her offer of help. He wasn't reacting to her. He was reacting to his dad and the old tapes.

So what is the "fog" in your relationship? When things "don't make sense," try to remember that on your partner's side of the "fog" it makes perfect sense to him/her. Talk about it so that you can peer through the fog and see what is on the other side.

Things that make no sense to us make perfect sense to our partners, and the only way to understand is to communicate.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Words Mean Something

The tragedy in Arizona with the gunning down of innocent people, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Federal Judge John Roll, has sent shock waves through our country. We now know that the shooter was a man who apparently is mentally ill.

It is unclear whether he was motivated by political rhetoric that was vicious and threatening. We may never know. What we do know is that some people are motivated by that kind of talk, and certain mentally ill people may act on what they hear instead of filtering it out.

The discussion that has arisen from this tragedy is one about words and how they change people, motivate people, influence people, and the climate they create.

It is simple. Words mean something. We can disagree, but we must not allow our disagreements to become personal attacks or threats.

It comes down to respect. It is important to have a basic respect for people, even if we disagree with their politics, their religion, or whatever else. If we have respect, we can enter a healthy discussion where ideas are shared, examined, and debated. Ultimately, we can have a better understanding of the other's views, though we still may disagree.

Respect and healthy disagreement is a part of every relationship--our "relationship" with our elected officials, or our relationships with family and friends. It is my sincere hope that this recent tragedy will change the way we talk to each other when we disagree.

I think it starts with John Q. Citizen. We must become intolerant of personal attacks and send that message in whatever way we can to our leaders. This is one thing that I personally believe will not change from the top down. I think we need a grassroots effort on this one.