Let's Talk

Step 2 in Designing a Meaningful Life: Explore Your Gravel Pit

Part 2 in a series. Click here to read Step 1 in Designing a Meaningful Life: Start Where You Are

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

“Make insight your priority… Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom, set your heart on a life of understanding… if you make insight your priority and won’t take no for an answer… God gives us wisdom free.”

– Proverbs 2

What is in your gravel pit?

Everyone has a gravel pit of some kind in their background, whether it is the scars from childhood or the constant disappointment and despair in the present.

It may be the result of continuous scolding as a kid growing up with little encouragement. Perhaps there were constant comparisons with others or name-calling by other kids. Perhaps you were given a nickname that was hurtful or belittling.

When we take time to examine what is in our gravel pit, we can heal old wounds and replace negative self-talk with affirming statements.

Step 2 – Exploring your gravel pit

Within our gravel pits we find many things of little significance or things that might deter us from taking more purposeful steps. But there are also things of significance if we are willing to look for them.

Within the rocks and deep crevices, we can find the capacity for great potential and promise.

It can be discouraging to reflect or revisit hurtful things from our past or think about the doubts and insecurities created by them. But until we take ownership, we will not be able to make meaningful changes.

We can’t run away from mistakes or bad choices. Neither can we run away from the harm others may have inflicted on us. There are no quick fixes. If we get stuck in anger, hatred, or retribution, we will be unable to move forward.

Acceptance allows us to let go of what isn’t working and is the precursor to making new decisions. It means we can stop denying or running away from what is happening or has happened.

Each person’s gravel pit will be different. What life has handed us will require different approaches to create peace, hope, and contentment and the motivation to move forward.

gravel in the mountains

On a piece of paper write at the top, My Gravel Pit. Go over the following questions and list all the things that trip you up or keep you from achieving your goals.

1. What losses, hurts or tragedies have scarred your life’s landscape?

Perhaps it was a tough childhood, ongoing unresolved family issues, or a deep wounding to your spirit and sense of self.

Examples: resentment, left-over anger from childhood, lack of nurturing and care growing up, parent’s divorce, etc.

How do they continue to create obstacles in your life today?

We are not our past, nor our pain. Things may have happened to us, but they do not define us unless we allow them to.

2. What things from your past are you running away from, resisting, denying, or ignoring?

If we don’t face our pain, we can’t move through and beyond it.

What labels, negative self-talk or childhood criticisms do you continue to use to describe yourself?

While we need to accept our past, we do not need to accept what was harmful or damaging to our self-worth.

3. What do you need in order to accept?

For example: continuing to hold resentment will continue to cloud everything you see and limit you from exploring new ways of doing things. Forgiveness releases us from that ongoing pain. Remember, forgiveness is for you.

What current problems are you putting Band-Aids on instead of looking for resolutions?

Identify your quick fixes: alcohol, drugs, pain pills, sex, porn, TV, food, etc.

Quick fixes are like Band-Aids. They may stop the bleeding for a short while, but they don’t resolve anything. Band-Aids only last for a short time and constantly need replacing until the actual problem has been addressed.

When we look honestly at our problems, we can find ways to make things work for us instead of against us.

4. How would you identify your personal stumbling blocks?

For example, not following through, constantly listening to your internal critic, difficulty communicating, not trusting your judgment or believing in yourself, difficulty making decisions, etc.

5. What is your personal belief about what you can and cannot do?

Why do you believe that? What keeps you from believing you can make a difference or that you can turn your life into something positive, pleasant, and rewarding?

This is just a quick preview of how you currently see life. What you are looking for are those things that continue to cloud the future, keeping you stressed and feeling stuck so you can eliminate them. Until you are aware, you will not be able to make corrections.

Before we can create a design, we need to honestly evaluate what we are working with, what is currently happening, and how we are dealing with it.

This exercise is not intended to discourage you. Instead, if you can accept both the positive and negatives of you we are and how you are currently engaging with life, these things can’t sneak up and sabotage your efforts to create a new workable and meaningful design for life.

If you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends.

Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

Step 1 in Designing a Meaningful Life: Start Where You Are

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

“God made my life complete when I placed all the pieces before Him, when I got my act together, He gave me a fresh start…
– Psalm 18:20, The Message

Step 1 – Start Where You Are

Last week I talked about how the beautiful Butchart Gardens began as a gravel pit and became a place of beauty visited year-round by people from all over the world. I used it as a metaphor for us. At times we might feel as though our lives are a huge gravel pit. Yet with vision and design, we can turn it into a meaningful life.

Here is Step 1 of that process.

Whether constructing a sunken garden or building a house, we begin by evaluating what we have to work with.

What do I have and what do I need?

I was involved in building three homes. Each required not only construction plans for the house, but also an adequate plot of land, lot preparation and, after construction, landscaping. When it all comes together it forms a unique beauty all its own.

When examining the steps involved in building a new home, there are many commonalities we can apply. It takes a desire and then a vision, an architect to help in the design, a cost analysis in time, money and materials, a plan of action, motivation, and commitment.

But where do we begin?

We begin by reflecting who we are right now.

  • What is currently happening in your life?
  • What new information is needed to make a meaningful change?
  • What is involved in putting adequate time and finances in place?
  • What can I expect from the result?
  • And even more important, what do I believe about my capability to accomplish these things?

We can make all the plans in the world, but if we aren’t prepared to follow through, our plans just become another exercise in futility or wishful thinking.

What do you believe and why?

Our beliefs influence every aspect of living – the choices we make, the short-and long-term consequences of those decisions, the people we hang out with, and the overall lifestyle we choose. Perhaps you never considered how important this is.

A belief is something you accept as truth – it is a state of mind.

When you have thought through and made a judgment about its validity you feel confident to act on it. It involves your attitude, opinions, and ideas as well as your values and principles.

Principles take those valued beliefs and turn them into the foundation for how we act.

How would you define your beliefs?

What value do you give them? Core beliefs are often acquired haphazardly as we grow up. Many are some versions of the beliefs held by parents and friends, which we were taught as children. As adults we rarely take the time to examine or question what we believe and why.

And yet, it is those deep core beliefs we hold of ourselves and our world that influence how we think and respond to everything. Because they were put in place when we were too young to evaluate, they are often biased and idealistic. It is these distortions that can have serious consequences in how we live our lives.

tree of lifeTo survive as human beings, we need to believe in something greater than ourselves.

We need God. Christianity is the only religion in the world that offers us the free gift of salvation, grace and love. We can’t earn it – we can’t work hard enough for it – it is a gift, extended to us through the death of God’s son, Jesus, on the cross. Within that gift is a love that can transform our hearts and minds. It is where we learn how to live.

In his book, A History of Christianity, Paul Johnson writes why “I must believe in God… belief in God makes me a better person than I would be otherwise. Without God, mankind quickly degenerates into the subhuman.”

“Man without God is a doomed creature. The history of the 20th century proves the view that as the vision of God fades, we first become mere clever monkeys; then we exterminate one another. While it is a terrifying prospect, the restoration of that vision of God can arrest it. Society as a whole will be less self-destructive if it stands in awe of moral rules which cannot be changed at the whim of congresses or parliaments or central committees, but which owe their authority to God. Only a belief in God will make society decent, but we do not believe in God for that reason. Purely social religions are the route to idolatry. We must truly believe. It is part of our struggle to be human. But in this struggle, God himself will help us.”

If you have never given much thought to what you believe and why, this is a good time to do so. Changing your focus includes evaluating your beliefs, principles, and values.

What kind of life do you want to create?

When we are young, we can’t wait to take the reins of life and do what we want to do. By middle age, we start making excuses for our bad choices and totally deny our lack of personal responsibility. And when we become senior citizens, we can’t wait to get off the work train, sit back and enjoy our entitlements.

Then life comes along and teaches us some hard lessons. There are consequences that we hadn’t thought about. Sometimes, we learn our lessons quickly before the consequences are not so severe.  Other times, it takes a lifetime to finally understand that we can’t just do whatever we feel like doing – even when the culture of the day says it is okay.

As I reflect on the world around me, I see a world going faster and faster, demanding more and more of our time. I watch as people’s lives begin to unravel.

For many “God” is something we create instead of the God who created us.

Lack of time leads to shortcuts, which then leads to errors and excuses. Unchecked, we start the blame game, denial, and subtle lies.

While it may be considered normal in today’s world to get away with something, there is a dark side to that kind of thinking and acting. There is an arrogance as well as a sense of entitlement that has become pervasive today. As technology expands everything, there seems to be a bolder “so what” attitude.

What kind of life do you want to live?

What do you want to be known for?

What values have you adopted and put into practice?

Are they chosen for their potential long term good?

When we know ourselves and know what we would like to accomplish, we can stop doing things that waste our time and energy and begin making plans to bring that about. This is important as the first step in creating a new landscaping design for our lives.

So, as we begin this first step in developing a new focus, consider the following:

  1. What kind of life do I want to live?
  2. What do I want to be known for?
  3. What values have I adopted and put into practice? Have I chosen them after thoughtful consideration? How will they affect my life and the lives of others?
  4. What values have I initiated in the past? Did they harm my self-worth? Where they destructive in my relationships and the choices I made? Think about meaningful values you want to put in place.

If you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends.

Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

A Landscaping Plan for Your Life

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

Years ago, working with people in transition, I put together a program called “Turn Your Gravel Pit into a Beautiful Garden.” Many of the people in the class came from difficult backgrounds and felt discouraged. The wounds experienced over a lifetime dug deep into their spirits, leaving long-lasting doubts and fears.

I used the internationally renowned Butchart Gardens as an example of how we can turn tragic events – whether an abusive childhood, broken marriages or relationships or simply struggling to make ends meet – into something beautiful and welcoming. It was an architectural concept that could be applied to the creation of our own plan for life that provided beauty, peace, and purpose.

Here is a short version of that program.

Turn Your Gravel Pit into a Beautiful Garden

A gravel pit is a piece of land where bulldozers and huge earth-scooping machinery have removed the land to extract gravel and other ingredients needed to build roads, make cement, gather building rocks, etc.

What remains is a huge scarred and pitted hole in the ground with unstable and crumbling sides, water seepage from underground springs, stagnant pools of rainwater, huge, discarded pieces of rock and other unsteady mounds of earth.

We almost always find debris scattered everywhere, discarded by individuals who consider this a worthless piece of land; a place to throw away pop cans, beer bottles and candy wrappers.

What do you do with old gravel pits that have outlived their use?

Well, one woman, who had the skeleton remains of a large gravel pit in her backyard, decided she would find a way to turn it into something beautiful.

In the late 1800s, Robert Butchart began excavating limestone from a quarry behind the home where he and his wife, Jennie, lived. He used it to manufacture Portland cement in a factory he built at Todd Inlet on Vancouver Island. When all the limestone was extracted, all that remained was a huge, ugly, expansive hole in the ground.

But Jennie was not willing to let it lay there discarded, unsightly and debased. With the help of architects and landscapers, topsoil from neighboring farmland was brought in and a beautiful design created. Paths were constructed, ponds dug, trees and shrubs and hundreds of blooming plants planted. Leftover rocks were strategically placed in new locations, enhancing the gardens.

Turn Your Gravel Pit into A Beautiful Garden | focuswithmarlene.com

And so began the stunning reversal of desecrated land that today is known for its spectacular beauty. What was once an ugly and desolate pit in the ground is now a beautiful sunken garden whose paths wind around serene ponds of water where ducks and swans float between lily pads and tree branches gently caress the water’s edge. Flowers, shrubs, and trees artfully placed draw you into a world of beauty and a panoply of color. At night the thousands of strategically placed lights turn it into a fairyland.

And so was born the world famous Butchart Gardens, visited by thousands of tourists from around the world every year. What was once an uninviting and inhospitable place has been turned into a showcase. In fact, it’s so spectacular that people come to see the exquisite beauty and splendor throughout the year and in every season.

While this is a nice success story, how can we apply it to ourselves?

Many people feel their lives have been torn up and left violated and sullied. What remains are giant holes, unstable lifestyles, underground seepage of toxic messages, and huge boulders of doubt and shame that keep us blocked, unable to move forward because we perceive that our life holds little worth or value.

Everyone has elements of a gravel pit in their lives.

There may have been violence or abuse in our homes, tragic and lonely childhoods, or just careless living. Within our gravel pits we find old losses that have not been grieved, messages from the past that continue to poison our self-esteem and worth.

The walls of our heart resemble the scars from claws of the digger that scooped out our core values. Pools of disasters, calamity and catastrophe continue to leach into our hearts and rob us of joy. We build sturdy walls or fences around our pits so nobody can see our feelings of shame.

And we are left feeling desolate, abandoned, lost and lonely. In our attempts to reconstruct the pieces of our lives, we get overwhelmed, give up and accept that for us, life will forever be an ugly gravel pit. We don’t talk about our pits because we don’t want people to see our unattractive side and be rejected yet again. We run away or deny our past because it makes us feel repulsive and flawed. But even while we try to distance ourselves from our past, it continues to sneak up on us and impact everything we do.

But just as Mrs. Butchart took the gravel pit in her back yard and created a world-renowned garden, so we can take our lives full of pain, disillusionment and broken dreams and turn them into something meaningful.

We can turn unattractive and hopeless situations into satisfying, productive and pleasing futures. We don’t scrap it – we use it. It becomes the backbone – the template for our beautiful garden – positive gardens of hope, light, joy, energy, and strength.

Where do you begin such a daunting project?

The same place Mrs. Butchart did. She didn’t cover up the hole; she used it as a springboard. If she had just filled the hole with dirt, it would not be the beautiful place it is today.

It takes a vision and a desire and a willingness to examine our pits and remove rubble and contaminated waste. It takes insight to see that what was once an unwanted rock or obstacle we can now turn into a piece of art, something for good. It just takes a vision, a blueprint, and a willingness to take that first baby step.

Let’s turn our gravel pits into beautiful gardens.

If you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends.

Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

Where is Your Focus? On Things That Discourage or Motivate?

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

What are you focused on?

I love to take pictures. Cameras of today make it so easy to point-and-shoot. In fact, cell phones are the cameras of choice because they are instantly available.

There are times, however, when I want to do more than just snap a quick picture of friends. I want to capture the beauty of the countryside or zero in on a hummingbird or reveal the intricacies of a spider’s web. At such times, I want a camera whose lens I can adjust to take in more features or narrow the scope to pinpoint a particular point of interest.

If you are a serious photographer, you continue to adjust your focus until you capture exactly what you want. Everything is taken into consideration: the lighting, angle, depth of field, and nuances that give some pictures a timeless quality.

You are the camera of your life. You adjust the focus every day.

Every day we focus on something. If our lens remains stuck in only one position, we miss the highlights of the things that make our heart rejoice, the people who enrich our lives, or the timeless beauty of sunsets and sunrises. We miss the chances to try new things or experiment with ways to make life enjoyable and positive. We can get stuck on hate and resentment instead of developing an emphasis for love and happiness.

Each moment offers something new – a  depth of understanding or new way to look at what’s in front of us. Within each, there are opportunities that are gone in a second if we don’t stop, consider, and focus on them.

What amazing things we could accomplish if we allowed ourselves to actually see the world that surrounds us.

Our focus becomes the attention we give anything – what we do, how long we do it and where it will take us. It can have either a positive or negative outcome. We can allow our lens to remain fixed on problems or the injustices we perceive.

Or we can adjust our focus to search for the answers we need. We can broaden the focus of our camera and see the good in people. We can focus on God and build a relationship with Him; relaxing in the comfort and love He offers us.

There will be times when we need to quickly adjust our focus.

A family member has become ill or injured, or someone is experiencing chest pains. It may be as simple as an overdrawn bank account that demands immediate attention. But whatever the crisis or difficulty, at such moments you don’t care if the sun is shining, the birds are singing, or the daffodils are blooming. What you care about is the emergency in front of you that takes center stage and requires your full attention.

Life can be challenging. We will struggle with problems we never imagined we would have. We will experience losses of loved ones. If we focus on what we can’t do, however, we will worry, suffer anxiety, give up and become hostage to anything and everything that isn’t working.

Your focus sets the tone for your life – it sets the direction.

It will either motivate or discourage you. Every morning when you get up, you have a choice as to how you will meet the challenges of that day.

  • How will I use my energy?
  • Will I remain focused only on the mountain of problems facing me or on how I might reduce that mountain to manageable molehills?
  • I can focus on my weaknesses or limitations, or I can confirm my abilities.
  • I can remain depressed about what I don’t have, or feel I can’t do, or I can look for and find all the blessings and bits of gratefulness that are visible when I look for them.
  • I can adjust my focus on my assets and abilities, and then thank God for His faithfulness and assistance in helping me use them.

The Home page of my website states, “Your focus defines who you are and who you can become.”

This reminder represents our ability to become the best we can be. We can focus on developing our talents and skills and on all the choices and possibilities that lie before us or hang back in fear.

We can focus on God and let Him lead, helping us develop the core principles and values we will live by, or we can drift from one socially accepted belief to another.

Your focus will ultimately determine who you become.

If you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends.

Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

Where Do I Begin? Exploring Possibilities

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

The yard needs tidying  – but where do I begin?

Dinner needs to be made – but where do I begin?

The house needs cleaning – but where do I begin?

My life needs to be turned around – but where do I begin?

To clean a yard I need a rake, a pair of clippers and possibly a wheelbarrow. If a meal is to be prepared, prior grocery shopping is required to provide the ingredients needed. When the house needs cleaning, I need to decide whether a quick dusting will do, or whether a major house cleaning is necessary.

In these and other tasks, certain items are required before beginning.

  • Do I have the right equipment or tools or utensils?
  • Do I have adequate time to complete the job?
  • Are there things I need to purchase beforehand?
  • Which project takes precedence over another?

Where do I begin?  

Some tasks are simple and can be completed within a short time. Others, however, require more planning and time allotment. For example, in cleaning my yard, the grass might require mowing along with trimming and weed pulling.

I could plan a special meal and try a new recipe if I had enough time.

Ongoing home maintenance is more than just a quick dusting. There are closets to be cleaned and articles to be thrown away – all of which require thoughtful decisions.

To complete any task or large project, enough time is required.

Bigger jobs can be broken down into smaller, more manageable ones. The problem comes when we don’t follow through and complete them. You get the picture.

With changes come new decisions along with new tasks and jobs and responsibilities on top of what we normally do. At such times, it is easy to get overwhelmed.

Now, it is adjusting our life to consider all the things that need to be done associated with the major changes as well as the usual maintenance. It is no longer asking what is not working so we can fix it, but what I need to do to move beyond this radical change.

What is needed in both time and money? And where do I begin?

Exploring Possibilities

After the death of my husband, some major decisions had to be made. There was more than just grieving and adjusting to his death, but exploring the question, what do I do now?

I soon realized I had to sell my home. But then, where would I go? Should I move to another community or town, or another state where I had family? Where do I begin?

It took some sobering soul searching to consider not just the immediate but also long-term outcomes of my decision-making. This required time to adequately explore possibilities. I was fortunate to remain in my home for an additional time to work out the details of a move.

Before tackling any new project, it is important to give yourself time to consider what is involved. Explore as many possibilities and options as possible going beyond the obvious.

Before putting my house on the market, I had to consider if I was ready to move and the options available. My house exterior needed to be painted, storage units emptied and so on. There were a multitude of factors to consider. But all of them necessary.

With change come requirements you hadn’t anticipated.

It is here you draw from your past experiences, your ability to think, consider pros and cons, time required and commitment. In the example above, after exploring all my options, I decided to build myself a new house in the community where I lived. I drew from my experiences of being involved in the building of two previous homes with my husband. I sought the advice and help of good friends and mentors. And I believed in myself.

Can you ever be prepared for unexpected change?

Yes and no. But one thing you can do right now that is extremely helpful is to get to know yourself.

Are you open to new ideas?

Are there ways you can improve your life right now?

Is this the time to start projects that inspire and excite you?

If you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends.

Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

Developing a New Focus

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

Today I want to introduce you to my new series: Developing a New Focus.

On the HOME page of my website, there is a picture of two chairs and a table on a sunny patio, with a teapot and two cups, ready for two people to have a relaxed conversation.

Focus banner

Atop the picture, I wrote, “Your focus defines who you are and who you can become.”

I put those words there because it is so true – what you continue to focus on will determine what kind of person you become and what you can achieve.

If we fixate on doing the same thing over and over, even when it isn’t working, nothing will change, and things will eventually get worse.

But when we are willing to stop and consider whether what we are doing is benefiting us, we can make wonderful improvements.

Developing a new focus is an incredible gift of awareness you give yourself.

Every day there are decisions to be made. Decisions eventually become habits – we don’t think – we just act. The problem comes when we continue to react without thinking and set in motion routines and habits that are counterproductive.

Routines are important. But they need to be reviewed and considered from time to time.

Life can be daunting, especially for women who may be widowed or divorced. With losses come upsetting or worrisome changes. It may be the death of a loved one or the loss of good health. Other times, the aging process itself reminds us there are major changes coming. Often, we are left feeling unsettled at best and depressed at worst.

However, each time we are required to start again, we learn something new about who we are and ways to meet our challenges.

Any unknown territory can be daunting or intimidating. But when we develop a confidence in ourselves and a faith and trust in God, along with a willingness to do what it takes, there is little we can’t accomplish.


My upcoming blog posts and podcast episodes will focus on the many ways you can improve the quality of your life, reduce anxieties, and gain confidence. I want to encourage you to believe in yourself and all the things you can accomplish by adjusting your approach to problems turning challenges into victories.

Free Life-Planning Worksheet

I have put together a life planning worksheet, “Eight Ways to Change Your Focus and Change Your Life.” The worksheet includes tips and links for additional exploration to help you replace negative thinking, resentment, and bad habits with an “I can” mindset. Sign up here or on my website  to receive this worksheet.

Remember, that at any moment in time, we can learn and apply new things. We are never too old. It might seem scary at first but that soon changes to excitement as we see those first signs of progress.

For example, we grow up talking to one another, but often our communication turns into misunderstandings and major conflicts. Or we make decisions without investigating the pros and cons associated with them. We seldom dig deep enough to find the underlying causes of our problems. Yet, when we properly identify our problems, we can find good solutions.

How to Make Your Life More Enjoyable

Are you ready to take that plunge into discovering new ways to make your life more enjoyable? Are you ready to take charge?

If so, here are a few things to consider.

First, be honest.

Are you scared? Then acknowledge it. Meet it head on. Often, fear keeps us from trying.

Sometimes the hardest thing is getting to know yourself. Stop making excuses and accept who you are – the good, bad and the ugly. We have both strengths and weaknesses. Acknowledge both. They make us human.

Next, determine what you want.

  • What do you really want?
  • How do you want to live your life?
  • Would you like to be more flexible to new ideas?
  • Do you want to be more open and inviting?
  • Do you want to communicate better?

Listening is a major first step where we actively listen to opposing points of view without predetermined judgment or bias. Listening respectfully and genuinely doesn’t mean we have to agree.

Would you like to be more caring and accepting of people?

Look around and reach out to someone who needs to know they are supported. They may be grieving or going through tough times, or they just need to know someone cares. There are so many opportunities in our everyday life where we can extend kindness, understanding and assistance without it costing us a dime (and in most cases, little time).

If you want to be accepted by others, be accepting of them.

Would you like to be respected? Then respect others. Respect the boundaries and opinions of others and express your own boundaries. We often get hurt because of misunderstandings.

It takes time to put any new skill in place.

But with each step we gain a greater awareness of ourselves, others, and our world. Choose the principles you want to live your life by and begin applying them on a daily basis.

Challenge old behaviors and responses that don’t meet our standards or values and replace them.

As I start this new series, I would love to hear from you.

What questions would you like to ask?

As a former licensed counselor, psychology teacher, and devout Christian, I love to share the training and knowledge and life experiences I have had that might assist you in your journey.

If you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends.

Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

The Healing Power of Laughter

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Moving Beyond Survival series.

Can you laugh when the expectations you had for life have been turned upside down and inside out and you wonder how you will make it through another day? Your world has changed forever.

When my husband and I brought our third child home from the hospital after he was born, it was with joy and excitement. He was a husky, healthy ten-pound baby boy. However, by six months we knew something wasn’t right as he still was unable to hold up his head.

Many months later, once again, we brought our son home from another extended hospital visit where extensive tests had been done. Only this time, we were in shock. The final diagnosis was that Don had cerebral palsy of the worst magnitude (a-mi-tonic-quadriplegic was what we heard).

We were instructed to have a brace designed for him as quickly as possible so he might have a chance to walk. They didn’t offer much hope of him ever having a functioning brain; in fact, they gave us little hope of his ability to accomplish anything.

We drove home in silence.

When we arrived, I knew I needed the help of God to raise this child. This required knees on the floor beside my bed where I prayed for acceptance, strength, wisdom, and faith to raise this child as normally as possible.

I was rewarded with the most incredible peace I have ever experienced. And it was just the beginning of the most marvelous journey I have ever been on. My prayer was not only answered, but I was flooded with excitement and joy. Along with that peace I was given an “I can do it” mindset.

Don didn’t have cerebral palsy.

Instead, he had the absence and weakness of muscles, not only in his neck but down his back.

My son not only walked but started drawing as soon as he could hold a pencil. At the end of his career, he had become a freelance artist who worked in one of the most difficult arenas – L. A. – where he designed, created, and wrote. He created story boards and produced movie shorts.

When he died from pancreatic cancer, his celebration of life was full of people who came to pay their respects. He was esteemed by his peers and had a huge family of friends.

We never considered Don handicapped and he never considered himself handicapped. And while there were those serious moments of contemplation, they were few and far between. Don had a sense of humor that never quit and had us all laughing. He was a joy to raise.

Can you laugh through your tears?

Laughing through tears

Yes, but give yourself time to absorb the challenge you have been given. Then, with prayer, make a purposeful decision to find the blessings involved. Cry – yes – but then laugh!

For God, who loves us so much, will not only give us strength and faith, but joy, blessings and even laughter.

Don’s sense of humor tickled everybody’s tummy. Throughout his growing up years and afterward, he was the instigator of laughter and humor that seemed as natural as eating breakfast. It was infectious.

The benefits of humor

Can you find bits of humor nestled in the difficulties of a childhood?

Can you laugh when your wife has only a few weeks to live, and she wants to put up pictures that both of you can look at and laugh? Would you feel you were being insensitive and callous?

Or could you, like the author of I’d Rather Laugh: How to be Happy Even When Life Has Other Plans for You, see laughter as a way to help you get through an impossible time – a way to keep sane and keep from falling in the abyss.

Linda Richman had a crazy, screwed-up mother and a father who died when she was 8. In fact, she hated her mom! Linda married at an early age and her marriage was disastrous. She became agoraphobic (anxious and fearful).

Her son was killed when he was 29, just as Linda was beginning to pull her life together. She went into a tailspin. Her daughter was in pain, and Linda was in pain until she cracked a joke that broke the pain cycle for both of them. They were released and changed from that moment on.

She started performing at different clubs and groups, sharing her story.

“I learned that we could withstand a lot of pain and loss and not just survive but rise above it. I learned that no matter how sad you are today, happiness and laughter and even joy are still distinct possibilities for tomorrow, or if not tomorrow, the day after that. And I learned that I have in our power the ability to get all that and more. Everything important is in our control. I tell them that no matter what horrible thing has happened, life still offers you humor if you want it.”

“Are there really benefits to laughter, other than it feels good in the moment? Oh yes, there is,” Linda says. It is not only giggling and laughing, but also looking at the world with hope and anticipation.

Laughter and humor allow us to see an expanded view of the world. It allows us to see the good along with the troubles.

Laughter minimizes our suffering and helps us cope. With humor we can survive the toughest of situations – even concentration camps. Victor Frankl wrote about that.

Humor gives us power. It helps us overcome fears so we can rise above difficulties. It is uplifting, encouraging, and empowering and gives us the energy and strength to turn situations around.

Humor and laughter not only help us feel good in the moment, but literally contribute to good physical health. Daily stresses, unchecked over time, will contribute to illness.

Humor takes the pressure off “fear, hostility, rage and anger” so we can begin to think positively.

Hearty laughter exercises our heart. It lowers blood pressure, engages, gives our lungs a workout, releases tension in all parts of our body and with the release of opiates in our blood system, we experience a high – a lift.

“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”
—Proverbs 17:22

“The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.”
—Voltaire, French Philosopher

Charlie Chapman once said, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in longshot.”

Humor not only helps us see beyond our troubles, but also reveals potential solutions and options. It keeps us balanced and gives us a way out of the worst of times.

It helps us step away from our imperfections.

We can laugh with tears of happiness instead of tears of sorrow. Tears of laughter are as beneficial as tears of sorrow, carrying harmful toxins away from the body.

It diminishes our emotional pain and breaks that deadly self-fulfilling prophecy of doom.

Laughter helps us connect with others.

I’d rather laugh – wouldn’t you?

If you enjoyed this blog post, share it with your friends.

Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode. Click here and submit the form: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

The Joy of Laughter

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Moving Beyond Survival series.

“He will fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.”

—Job 8:21

When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. And swing!”

—Leo Buscaglia

When was the last time you laughed – I mean, really laughed – until the tears rolled down your cheeks, your sides hurt, and you gasped for air? You laughed and laughed and didn’t want to stop!

Something tickled your funny bone so that in an instant you saw the world differently – your situation was so bad, it was funny – your problem so profound, it was laughable – the ludicrous became the comical. The world had turned upside down and you laughed as you swung in the absurdity of the moment.

What precipitated that laughter?

How did it change how you felt about your world, your situation, yourself? How did it change the minutes and hours afterwards?

“Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”

—Mark Twain

Laughter helped Allen Klein, author of The Healing Power of Humor, go through the death of his beloved wife. Together, they chose to focus on the ludicrous, the absurd, and the farcical. They laughed over the ridiculous and after her death these memories put a smile on his lips along with the tears on the eyelids. The focus was on the good times together and the wonderful memories that were created.

“The crisis of today is the joke of tomorrow.”

—H. G. Wells

A year after my husband died, I invited a group of close friends to come to dinner, where we toasted his life and shared stories about the funny things he did, the way he could laugh at himself, and how much we loved his subtle humor. It was more than just a celebration of his life; it was a placing of wonderful stories and events and connections lovingly in our memories.

Our Ability to Create Humor

Each person has within them the ability to create humor and laughter. Humor is not just fun. It is extremely powerful “medicine” that heals the soul and mends the body. Humor is a revival, a mini-vacation, a breath of fresh air, a way to cope. There is no situation so severe that we can’t find a way to laugh at it.

Humor can instantly transport you to another world. It removes you from the troubles in the moment allowing pain to subside. It makes life bearable when everything is going wrong. It allows us to laugh at ourselves while giving us power over what seems impossible and powerless.

Tickle the Tummy of Your Misfortunes

women laughing

What makes you laugh? When do you laugh the most? What if you took your impossible situation and looked at it upside down? Would it make you smile – maybe even laugh?

Comedians find humor in all life circumstances. In fact, they would not be in business if they couldn’t turn tragic events into occasions to laugh.

Laughter is not a once-in-a while event. It is a lifestyle – a way to look at life. You not only find the good things every day, but you find those moments when you can take an intolerable situation, one packed with emotions and stress, flip it on its side and tickle its tummy.

“I’m hanging on so tight, I’m getting rope burn.”

—Fred Allen, Playwright

Humor takes the edge off any crisis.

It isn’t laughing at someone – it’s laughing at yourself.

It’s taking the edge off the adversity sitting in front of you.

It is enlarging the joyous moments – expanding the depth of our love and enjoyment of life.

6 ways to make laughter and humor a normal part of your life

1. Exaggerate. Take a bad day and blow it out of proportion. Make a mountain out of a molehill. Imagine you are giving a performance at a local theatre and your material is coming from what is happening right now in your life.

“I had such a bad day… You wouldn’t believe how bad it was… It was so bad…”

“I wouldn’t say the rooms in the last place I stayed were small, but the mice were hunchbacked!”

—Fred Allen, Playwright

2. “Ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive, e-lim-i-nate the negative” was a popular song in the 1940s.

Choose to look at the world on the positive side vs. the negative side.

A 50% chance of sunshine instead of a 50% chance of rain…

A glass half full vs half empty.

3. Start a “Happy Journal.” Paste a large smiling face on the cover. Record a happy, pleasant, or joyful event each day. Find that blessing in whatever is happening. Sometimes those blessings are hiding under a big rock of troubles. Lift the rock and release the blessings. Include warm comments, favorite sayings or anything that made you laugh. Paste in cards and letters or articles that focus on the positive. Look at your journal every day. Rewrite current events to include humor.

4. Smile at yourself every time you pass a mirror! At the same time, give yourself a big hug. Allow yourself to be open to hugs and you will find others may want a simple hug as well.

5. Cut out jokes and cartoons and place around your room. Create humorous affirmations, such as “I love to laugh!” and repeat them whenever you are feeling down.

6. Laugh at yourself. Perhaps the greatest gift of all is our ability to laugh at ourselves! If we laugh at ourselves, nobody can laugh “at us” – they can only laugh “with us.”

“When we admit our schnozzles, instead of defending them, we begin to laugh, and the world laughs with us.” 

—Jimmy Durante

If you enjoyed this blog post, share it with your friends.

Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode. Click here and submit the form: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

Reframing: A New Perspective

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Moving Beyond Survival series.

Our first response to any drastic life change is usually shock, then denial. When you lose your job, can’t make your house payment, or have been diagnosed with a life-altering or life-threatening disease, the crisis takes center stage and everything else is blocked from view.

Reframing takes what life has handed us and looks at it in an expanded way.

The following story illustrates this point.

Years ago, I worked for a company that led two weeks of day-long classes for injured workers. In these classes we taught attendees how pain disrupts our lives, what we bring to the pain experience and ways to go beyond this pain.

As individuals began to apply the information we gave them to their personal situations, it was amazing and encouraging to see what a difference it made in their outlook for the future. Their injury was not the end of the world. There were new ways to look at the world that not only changed their perspective but how they could reframe that outcome in a positive way.

People entering the class were dejected and angry – feeling helpless and hopeless. By the end of their first week’s class, I saw determination and motivation emerge – a sense that life was not over – they were just going through a rough patch.

When they returned for their last week of class, and as I listened to their newfelt optimism, one woman’s story especially grabbed my attention. She had lost her job and lived with her two children in a tiny one-bedroom house. Everything was overwhelming and she saw no future other than pain and poverty.

Over the weekend after that first week, she decided to reframe her circumstances to include possibility and hope. When she came to class the following week and shared her reformation, she was beaming.

When she had gone home, she decided to make some changes. She would give the one bedroom to her children. Over the weekend, the kids helped decorate their new room with pictures from magazines. They didn’t have money to paint walls or buy pictures or anything at that time.

She decided to turn the living room into her bedroom suite. The couch became her bed. There was a little fireplace that became the focal point for her “bedroom.” She rearranged furniture so that when she lay down at night she was facing the fireplace and could enjoy its relaxing atmosphere as she read her books and magazines. She said she had never slept so well and was actively making plans to find new employment. By the end of that week, she had secured new possibilities.

Why was this important?

Nothing had changed in her life except her perspective. The previous week, she has been feeling down, hopeless, depressed, and angry.

She was able to reframe her circumstances, her thinking, and possibilities, which gave her renewed energy, motivation, and goals.

She was not the exception. Others also shared a new outlook. Some, however, remained angry and resentful at how the events of life had altered their expectations and assumptions about life.

Reframing begins when we change our perspective.

Adjust Your Focus: Reframe Your Circumstances | FocusWithMarlene.com

It means stepping back from the problem and taking in more information. When our nose is pressed against a tree trunk, we cannot see the rest of the tree or surrounding area until we step back.

Reframing allows us to “step back” from the impossibility of the situation to see possibilities. It not only helps us transcend difficult or traumatic life situations but to find humor and purpose within them.

When faced with difficult or traumatic events, our perceptions of what we believe the world should or ought to be are challenged. Reframing allows us to review and evaluate our expectations and assumptions and accommodate for change.

For example, if you’ve been out of work for a while and can’t find work in your field of expertise, reframing allows you to look at alternatives… temporary jobs or ways to survive within this time period.

When my husband and I were first married, major transitions and loss of income resulted in the need to live with parents until we could get on our feet.

Reframing allows you to look at many different options – ones you wouldn’t have otherwise considered. It takes you out of a cycle of anger, stress, helplessness, and hopelessness.


  • Challenges a rigid and inflexible mindset
  • Focuses on what you can do, not what you can’t do
  • Looks for creative ways to resolve problems
  • Creates new meaning and purpose for life
  • Helps you become aware of your blessings and practice gratefulness

Life can be cruel and harsh. In all our difficult times, we still have our ingenuity, creativity, and determination to start again. When we choose to reframe tough circumstances, we will find a way to start once more and take those steps forward.

I leave you with one more story. I watched a TV program that highlighted a remarkable person. Nick Vujicic had been born without arms and legs, but he was not sad, depressed, disheartened or discouraged. Instead, he was a confident adult comfortable with himself. He had an enthusiasm for life that was infectious. Happiness and contentment radiated from his face – something difficult to fake.

He has authored several books, keeps an exhausting worldwide speaking schedule, swims, and even plays golf. He has a beautiful wife and active young son.

I may have had difficult times in my life but whatever was required of me I had the use of my arms and legs. To become inspired, check out his website, lifewithoutlimbs.org.

If you enjoyed this blog post, share it with your friends.

Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode. Click here and submit the form: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

Forgiveness: Release from the Prison of Resentment

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Moving Beyond Survival series.

“But I say to you that hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

—Luke 6:27

Really – pray for them?

Jesus said, forgive seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22). We take it as a moral imperative.

But it isn’t just Jesus who tells us how important forgiveness is, science confirms it as well. In fact, not to forgive is putting a slow death sentence on yourself, as the theologian Frederick Buechner so aptly describes.

“Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast fit for a king.

The chief drawback is what you are wolfing down is yourself.

The skeleton at the feast is you.”

Frederick Buechner,
Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC
(New York: Harper & Row, 1973)

Forgive for GoodIn his book, Forgive for Good, Dr. Fred Luskin lists eleven definitions of what forgiveness is and seven definitions of what forgiveness is not.

Forgiving the Unforgivable - FlaniganIn her book, Forgiving the Unforgivable, Beverly Flanigan, MSSW, defines how betrayal of people we trust shatters our core beliefs and concept of right and wrong and begins the creation of unforgivable injuries. Flanigan defines forgiveness as “mastery over a wound,” where an injured person embraces and then “conquers a situation that has nearly destroyed him.”

Unforgiveness creates a destructive force in our lives.

Within its tenets we find hatred, rage, and revenge – all corrosive and self-destructing emotional reactions to life. It allows evil and caustic pain to continue.

Research shows that “forgiveness leads to less stress” and fewer health problems. On the other hand, when we fail to forgive, that unforgiveness may be a greater risk factor for heart disease than hostility.

Forgiveness releases you from a prison of resentment. It is necessary for emotional, physical, and spiritual health.

Most of us deal with the sins and transgressions of others in the moment. We get mad, pull away, then make up and go on. When we are the transgressors, we do the same. With minor goofs and slip ups, we feel bad in the moment, apologize, and then move on.

When we personalize indiscretions or offenses of others, however, we are setting ourselves up for the creation of a “grievance story,” as detailed by Dr. Luskin. When we hang on to resentment, it becomes more toxic over time.

7 ways to make forgiveness a gift rather than an obligation

7 ways we can make forgiveness a gift rather than an obligation

Here are seven ways to make forgiveness a gift instead of an obligation, as suggestions offered by Dr. Luskin. They can help us better understand how and why we are so quickly offended and what we can do to change such a trajectory.

1. Don’t make “unenforceable” rules.

Unenforceable rules are expectations and assumptions that everyone must follow, or we will be personally insulted and offended. Associated with such rules are the words should, must, have to and When you hear yourself saying these words, ask what you are demanding from either yourself or another. How are you eliminating personal choice?

2. Own your feelings.

We blame others for how we feel. People can’t make us feel a certain way unless we allow it. We can choose other ways to respond that don’t involve escalating anger, ill-will or hatred.

3. An injury does not create a “grievance story” – we do.

We can reframe our situations, become less critical and balance troubled times with humor.

4. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing.

Forgiving prepares the way for reconciliation – it doesn’t automatically say it will happen. Forgiveness is letting go of trying to get retribution. Forgiveness of self says, I can admit when I am wrong, apologize to others and ask forgiveness if needed, and stop beating myself up.

5. Forgiveness does not mean condoning unkindness, inconsiderate or selfish behavior, or excusing bad behavior.

It does not deny or minimize the hurt, pain or injury done to us. It just refuses to make it into an ongoing resentment story that becomes toxic over time. We are the ones hurt by not forgiving.

6. Coming to terms with unpleasantness in life helps us understand we are not perfect or flawless.

We will make mistakes and need grace and forgiveness. Although people will hurt us, they are often unaware they have offended us.

7. Forgiveness is a choice.

We make the conscious decision to let go of hurts and wrongs. Forgiveness requires we first define our grievance. When we can articulate the details of the hurtful event, we will know exactly what we are forgiving. Acknowledge and accept your feelings, and then make that conscious choice to forgive. Forgiving helps us from getting hurt in the future.

Forgiveness allows me to let go of the pain and experience peace. I choose to forgive. How about you?

Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.