Happy Valentines Day! Keeping it Real!

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So Blissful! So in love! 

It was 1984  Greg and I had just graduated from S.C.C.  (now Vanguard University) we got married in August,  and we were headed for our first ministry post.  Greg and I loved people, loved God, and hoped to make a difference in the world.

But … we were naive and tried so hard to have a GREAT marriage without having the tools we would need to have a successful marriage!  Caring for our young sons, pouring into our church body, living on pennies, and trying to stay positive in the process became challenging emotionally and relationally.  We meant well, but we were still lacking tools to help us to find joy in our marriage!

After 16 years of marriage, 16 years of sweeping our challenges under the carpet, 16 years of living with hurt feelings, offenses, and anger in our home–I threw my hands up and realized that without a real change Greg and I would not end well. We needed tools to help us build the kind of marriage we encouraged others to have!  There had to be a change!

As I pulled out of the driveway with a packed suitcase in the second seat; the garage door rose and I saw my youngest son standing there with tears and I KNEW that my willful behaviour was not the answer.  We needed tools.

It was at this time that Greg and I put ourselves in counseling, solicited higher accountability, took a true assessment of where our marriage was, and began the needed hard work to move from where we were to where we needed to be.   Anyone who talks to me now will hear me say that I have two marriages: the one before we had tools and the one after we had tools!

Here are the tools we gained:

  1. Active Listening:  With pad and paper we learned to listen and hear one another.  After repeating what we felt we had heard one another say we would then respond by saying “In light of what I have heard you say I imagine you must feel…….”  SO POWERFUL!!  Empathy, hearing each others heart!!
  2. Timing and Tone: Greg and I have learned that conversations, challenging ones, are completely unfruitful after 9 pm.!  AND our tone of voice can sabotage a positive end result.  Therefore, our timing and tone in our marriage makes a huge difference!
  3.  We are responsible for our own self-care:  Greg and I have learned that if our life rhythms are off-balance then our marriage will be adversely affected!  Each of us needs to build our Spiritual Connection, build into our physical and emotional health, and modify our schedules in order to have quality time with one another.
  4. We must choose kindness!  Greg and I are similar and yet very different.  We compliment each other; we fill the gap for each other.  However, unless this is something we embrace we can become offended by one others differences!  Learning to appreciate our differences, learning to show kindness; even appreciation, for our distinctiveness helps to build great equity in our marriage.

It was in 2003 when Greg and I renewed our wedding vows.  We had learned to listen, appreciate one another, to value our differences, and to approach one another with a fresh understanding of the impact of “timing and tone”.  If we had not stayed the course, if we had abandoned ship; we would have missed the richest years of our lives!!

How do you feel this Valentines Day?  is it time to really dig in and grow?  to get wise counsel? to acquire tools to help you move from a strife-filled marriage to a friendship-filled marriage??  Then DO IT!! gather the tools you need and watch how the dynamics of your marriage begin to change!  It’s never too late!!

So grateful we didn’t give up; just keeping it real!

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Can we have an honest chat?

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Have you ever had a “down” day?  Have you ever felt “blue”?  I have and I’m sure you have too.  There are times when the challenges of life feel like they are crushing in on us, there are times when situations catch us so off guard that it sends us into a sad tailspin for days or even for a short season.  The ebb and flow of life can bring both sadness and joy.  Even King David had some “blue” days where he cried out to God “Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak” (Ps. 31:9-10).

However, what if you found it impossible to move past those “blue” feelings?  What if you’ve tried everything you know to be happy and positive but the heaviness you feel remains?   What if anxiety and depression have become and unwelcome guest on your life journey? Shouldn’t you be able to fix it with enough faith in God?  What’s wrong with you?

Peter Kramer in his article; It Can’t Be Depression, I’m a Christian tells us:

“Christians feel guilty about being depressed. They feel they should “know better.”  This leads to denial, which only makes matters worse. Well-meaning friends, and even pastors, who don’t understand what is going on, encourage them to “snap out of it,” and offer advice on “getting their Christian act back together.”

But clinical depression and anxiety isn’t something a person can “snap out of.”

What if your depression and anxiety required some form of wisely administered medication to assist you in regaining that needed chemical balance? This is where we get religion and physical health mixed up?  With every other physical challenge, thyroid issues, asthma, cancer, heart disease, etc, we find it completely acceptable to require medications to bring greater health and healing, yet historically  the church can get really uncomfortable when medications are required for greater mental health.

Carlos E. Whittaker, a pastor, in a recent article says;

Common myths in the church as it relates to mental illness are:
1. A person struggling with mental illness needs to have more faith.
My faith and my serotonin levels have nothing to do with each other.
2. A person struggling with mental illness should forgo medicine and pray harder.
You wouldn’t tell an asthmatic to pray harder during an asthma attack. You would tell them to suck on that inhaler.

If you are a person who struggles with regular anxiety and depression then you are probably nodding your head in agreement.

Years ago, as a very positive type of person,  I was shocked to find myself in the midst of postpartum depression! I loved my baby.  Why couldn’t I shake off these feelings? Didn’t I have enough faith?  I was ashamed to tell anyone about how I felt and I didn’t know how to make it stop!  Finally, I got some much-needed help and over time I re-gained my emotional balance.

God understands our dark feelings, our doubt, our discouragement, and yes, even our depression; and his desire is to help us. Sometimes, the help we need might include professional counseling and some form of medication. After all, God created the minds that created these medications, and it is not a sin to take them if you truly need them. Sometimes simply making better choices for food, rest, and relaxation rhythms can be all that’s required to move us to a healthier place. Sometimes we need greater intervention.

You may agree with me or disagree with me, and that’s okay. However, as a Pastor’s wife and a Coach for many years,  I have heard the shame in the voices of those who struggle with the depression and anxiety; this breaks my heart.   Add their need for medication  and the shame triples! I don’t believe they should feel any shame; I don’t believe they are faithless people.  I believe God cares deeply and wants His church to express His heart to hurting people in the midst of a very difficult struggle.  I know you do too.

If you struggle daily with depression or anxiety; please get the help you need. Find someone to talk to, get some medical support, and refuse to let shame or embarrassment keep you from living a life full of purpose, peace, and joy.

Romans 12:15  Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

What are you trying to say?

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This past week I had the joy of babysitting one of my precious granddaughters, Scout Jubilee, 2 days in a row.  We had such fun together, however, we also faced a real challenge!  Scout is now a big talker, firmly expressing her thoughts about many different elements of her little life.  To her, she is speaking very clearly and certainly loud enough for her Mimi to fully understand what she is trying to convey.

Imagine her dismay when she looked into my very confused face and heard me say numerous times “Scout, Mimi doesn’t understand what you are saying.” Scout kept saying over and over “Ne Ne” and I kept asking her about different options to unlock the meaning of the words that clearly held a strong meaning for her!  After about and hour of trying to unlock the mystery I decided she was probably a little tired so I would kiss her and carry her upstairs for her afternoon nap.  The moment I headed up the stairs Scout started to say “Ne ne” all over again; but this time with her little head lying exhausted on my shoulder! And then it hit me, this little darling had been trying so hard to let me know she was very tired and wanted to go “night, night”!!

Because of my inability to clarify her words, I completely missed what she was longing to express! ( she slept for a little over 3 hours, by the way!)

I have pondered this experience with Scout and began to wonder how often we are all on the expressing side and the understanding side of a conversation.  I wonder how often we fail to express our heartfelt thoughts in a way the someone can truly understand what we are longing to say?  I wonder how often we fail to hear the real meaning of the words someone is trying to express to us?

Engaging in quality conversations can be a real art sometimes and I believe if we really want to understand someone else, if we really want to be able to respond in such a way as to make a difference, then we need to keep clarifying until we can see or hear that we have “got it”!! Are there any conversations in your relationships that are needing further clarification?  Are there questions needing to be asked for greater understanding?  The efforts to understand will make a big difference.

“The single biggest problem in a conversation is illusion that one has taken place!”  George Bernard Shaw

Some Relationships are Worth Extra Effort~

 

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Do you hate conflict? I sure do!! I used to run from it for many years; never expressing myself, wanting to please and appease! But I have learned two things:

1.  It’s so important to address challenges/disagreements in relationships.

2.  It’s so important to be willing to be humble to “not be right” in order to maintain relationships that DO matter.

In my life I am clearly aware that I have friendships/relationships that I want to, well, last forever.  There are times, even in those key relationships, that there may be disagreements.  How do we navigate some of those challenges without losing the friendship? Well, I am still learning.

There are times when it’s important to set boundaries on toxic or untrustworthy relationships…but there are also times when we might want to walk away from a relationship where there has been a challenge and yet, we know in our hearts we want them in our life!

Questions we can ask ourselves in these instances are these:

1. Though there may be a conflict right now, would I be saddened to lose my relationship because of our present challenge?

2.  Could there be a bridge built in our relationship if I humble myself and try to understand the heart and season of my friend?

3. Can I extend grace and am I willing to move forward?

Relationships are so important, take care, wisdom, and a humble heart to navigate~~ but they are worth it!!!

Proverbs 17:17A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.

John 15:13“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

Conversation Shake-Up~

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Over a year ago, my son and his wife gave us a box of conversation questions from a company called Table Topics.  I thought it was a clever idea, fun.  What I have actually recognized about their value is the unique way fresh questions can unlock meaningful conversations in a whole new way!

It is so easy to get locked into routine conversations around work, ministry, money, and children.  We partner with our spouse and we parent our children; which is all good.  But, what if we make an effort to simply want to KNOW more about those we love rather than spending the bulk of our time directing schedules and managing behaviour?

What if we gave ourselves a time-out from routine conversations at the table or in the car, using that time to ask about dreams, favorite things, ideas, and best memories? Perhaps even using that time to ask about the “highs” and “lows” of the day!  I imagine you will experience some un-expected moments of fresh understanding.  For some reason an unexpected question often takes the direction of the connection to a new place.

Table Topics is a great tool, but if we are intentional enough to want to experience fresh insights with our friends and loved ones; we can easily prepare some of our own, having them ready to use when the time arises!

As a coach I am asking my clients questions all the time. I have been amazed to watch a quality question give way to a truly rich conversation.

Perhaps this is the year to shake out of the mundane and make your conversations really count!

Skills for Life!

 

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My husband and I enjoyed the opportunity to train passionate leaders in the skills needed to coach people well.  We loved getting to hear their stories, experiences, and anticipation for their opportunities in the season ahead.  Some of these leaders could retire; and yet they are looking for new ways to impact lives in this fresh season, while others desired to gain greater leadership skills to strengthen their present leadership. Whatever the motivations were we knew they would benefit from the training they received.

Throughout the training I kept realizing that the tools we were passing on are actually tools for everyday life, for everyone! So, I thought I’d take a moment to pass some of them on to you!

1.  Choosing to be a person of Character~our character is displayed in our life, leadership, communication, choices, and emotional responses.  If we commit to intentionally choosing to have character when faced with life’s opportunities and obstacles we will have greater success in all we do.

2. Utilize Good Questions~ It’s so easy in our day-to-day lives to talk a lot, share our thoughts, and give our opinions.  However, the most effective way to understand those around us is to ask good questions; lots of them.  Learning to hear the thoughts, experiences, and dreams of those around us will help us to have greater success in all our relationships.  James 1:19 says; ” Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak…….”

3.  Learn to use Active Listening~  Active listening is simply a tool we like to use to help us to be sure we’ve listened well to those we are leading, coaching, and building relationships with.  Basically it requires a person to listen well and to be able to repeat back by simply saying ” so what I’m hearing you say is………”     The value to entering conversations with Listening in mind is that it shows respect, helps clarify what’s being shared, and it defuses emotions when the topic is challenging.   So often we move through our daily conversations without really hearing, truly understanding, or gaining good clarity.  Using this tool as a coach in invaluable, yet using it in everyday life will give all of us greater success in all our relational connections.

4.  Build accountability into your life~Whenever people are isolated they will become unhealthy in many ways. All of us were made to be in relationship; to learn from one another, grow together, challenge one another, and cheer for one another.  However, it’s easy to keep our relationships only surface deep, not allowing one or two trusting individuals in to provide rich accountability for us.   Proverbs 27:17 says “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Having accountability built into our lives will keep us on track; will help us to live and lead well.

5.  Keep energy renewal as a regular part of your life~ Every day we expend energy and so often we can keep our nose to the grind and just “press through” our busy schedules thinking we will take a break when we can…….but this is rarely successful.  We were made to take a “sabbath”.  God knew it and dropped it right in the 10 Commandments.  When we fail to renew ourselves we do exactly what the stewardess on your airline flight directs you to do ” put the oxygen mask on YOURSELF before you attempt to help others.”  We can’t meet the needs all around us if we are without air!!  Take time to rest, exercise, spend time with the Lord, engage in a hobby, laugh, and eat well.  These regular practices will impact your life more than you can imagine. And those around you will benefit as well. 🙂

These “Coaching” tips, if applied, will affect every area of your life! So dive in during these summer months and begin to count the fresh WINS in your life!