Let's Talk

“Just Go to Prague!” Overcoming Impossible Odds and Challenges

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Get caught up with all episodes in the “Threads of Life” series


A crowd gathered in the expansive home of a friend and colleague of my son. We were there to honor and celebrate his life.

Samples of his art were exhibited everywhere: fastened to walls, leaning against a lamp or piece of furniture and on covered tables.

We drank toasts to him and ate Creole rice, New Orleans style, using the recipe he used for large parties he gave where friends spilled outside his small apartment into the outdoor corridors because his apartment would not hold them all. His family of friends was vast.

After mingling and getting acquainted, we gathered in the spacious living room to share our stories about Don. Some of the stories were familiar to everybody; others, only a few knew, and some, only I, as his mom, could tell. These stories shared a lifetime of Don growing up and acceptance of physical limitations that never stopped his smiles or sense of humor.

One story I heard for the first time truly epitomized my son. Many people who gathered there that day used to meet regularly as a support group, where they encouraged each other as they endeavored to survive in a very tough industry, discussing potential and collaborative efforts on projects and their careers.

Here’s how the story unfolded:

My son desired to show his conceptual art and script ideas to a popular Hollywood director/producer whose films were in the same genre as Don’s.

As Don shared his hopes with his friends, they reminded him that this director was filming in Prague and would probably be there for a couple of years. The chances of getting to see him in the States would be hard enough; in Europe it would be near impossible.

But Don was undeterred.

He packed his portfolio and flew to Prague, where, despite the incredible odds and challenges, he managed to meet with this director. From then on, whenever his friends encountered what seemed like an impossible situation, the mantra became, “just go to Prague.”

My son had physical limitations.

He had been to Europe; he knew travel was not easy. There were a lot of hills and concrete steps; and walking up and down stairs was an effort for him. Yet, he went.

“Just Go to Prague!” Overcoming Impossible Odds and Challenges | focuswithmarlene.com

On a limited budget, he had to maneuver 100 steps to get to his rented room. When a call came telling him he could have a few minutes with this director if he could get to the film site within a half hour, he grabbed his portfolio and headed down those dreaded stairs. It took him a half hour to get down. But he continued anyway and was able to meet and talk with the director.

There was no guarantee that he would accomplish his mission. In fact, everything said the odds were just too great. But he believed in himself and his art. And he was willing to take the risk.

As writers, we too are asked to take a risk.

That risk involves becoming vulnerable to our creative ideas, beliefs, and desires. It involves rejection, over and over again while we struggle to perfect our art form.

The obstacles you face may be just as daunting as those my son faced.

But I believe that if God gave us the talents and abilities to become writers, then we too must pick up our “portfolios of thoughts and ideas” and “go to Prague!”

I wrote this piece after the death of my son to encourage the writers I knew. But whether you’re a writer, housewife, janitor, teacher, or medical doctor, you will face what might seem like overwhelming obstacles. But with a belief in yourself and in God, you can overcome any and all of them. Just believe.

Laugh and the World Laughs With You

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Get caught up with all episodes in the “Threads of Life” series


“The crisis of today is the joke of tomorrow.”
-H. G. Wells

One of the greatest benefits you will ever have when going through difficult times is the ability to laugh at yourself and your circumstances.

Research indicates that laughter has a positive effect on our brains – it literally changes the brain.

Even in the midst of distress and anxiety, we can find something that can make us smile or laugh. We can find that drop of humor in any difficult situation, and when that happens, the resulting laughter can instantly transport us to another world.

Laughter not only makes us feel good but is a powerful remedy to heal the soul and mend the body.

Humor is a revival, a mini vacation, a breath of fresh air and a way to cope. It removes us from the intensity of the problem in the moment. Each of us has the ability to see the funny side of life.

Humor makes life more bearable, allows us to laugh at ourselves and our problems, no matter how desperate they may seem. It gives us power over what seems impossible. It replaces hopelessness with hope. Everyone can cultivate humor and laughter.

I love to read memoirs of people who have used laughter and humor to help them through tough times. Allen Klein, author of The Healing Power of Humor, shared how he and his beloved wife chose to focus on the “ludicrous, the absurd, and the farcical” as she faced death.

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 remained on the good times together and the wonderful memories they created.

When was the last time you laughed – 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 not so bad; it was funny. Your problem was not 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?

At a dinner party I gave for a group of close friends, we celebrated the life of my husband with laughter and remembrances. He always found the humorous side to things. Together we toasted his life and shared stories about the funny things he used to do, the way he could laugh at himself, make others smile or laugh and how much we loved his brilliant mind and subtle humor. It was more than just a celebration of his life; it was placing wonderful stories, events, and connections lovingly in our memories, so whenever we thought of him it was with that enduring smile on our lips.

What makes you laugh?

When do you laugh the most? Can you purposefully look for those things that make you laugh? How can you bring humor into your life?

Remember that humor takes the edge off any crisis. Take an intolerable situation, flip it over and “tickle its tummy.”

Take a bad day and blow it out of proportion. Exaggerate. Make a mountain out of a molehill.

Comedians take the crises of the world and turn them into laughter all the time. We can do the same. Humor gives us a way to balance our life.

Landscaping the Garden of Your Life

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Get caught up with all episodes in the “Threads of Life” series


I have built three homes, two with my husband and one on my own.

Before you can start building, you need a piece of land that will accommodate the house you want to build.

  • What kind of home do you want?
  • How big or small and how much can you afford?

Included in that early decision making is asking where you want to live. What kind of community do you want to be a part of, and are there lots available to purchase?

We had lived in Oregon for many years. Ready for retirement, we wanted to be closer to major waterways where we could spend time cruising with our sailboat. That led us to a new state and new possibilities. Finding a community that gave us access to both, we build our home. After his death, needing to downsize, I had to make the same preliminary inventory as the one above.

After the purchase of a piece of property, construction plans can be drawn up with the help of an architect. The ground is leveled and prepared for the foundation, and building begins.

When the house is completed, piles of dirt, gravel and rubble remain. It’s time for the final phase; landscaping your yard to make your home pleasing and welcoming. You consult the aid of a landscape architect.

The first thing a landscape architect wants to know in creating a design is the lay of the land: what is the soil like, what has to be removed, what has to be added, are there slopes and stairs or retaining walls to be built.

Looking around, he considers ways to turn this lumpy, overturned ground into a place of beauty.

  • Are there trees that can stay?
  • Are there deep potholes or mounds of dirt that need to be leveled?
  • Are there rocks or boulders to be removed or repositioned to become a distinguishing and unique feature of this garden?
  • Is new soil needed to welcome the roots of new plants?

I like to use this same analogy of landscaping with our lives.

You have grown up and are ready to make your life fulfilling, satisfying, and pleasing. What rocks, boulders and piles of rubble currently exist in your life?

When comparing our lives to that of a plot of ground ready to be landscaped, we can begin to think of ways to improve or create a new life design.

To begin, start with the basics.

What conditions currently in your life impede your progress?

Are there hurtful labels deep in the residue of your childhood like deep ruts that judge, restrict, and prevent new growth?

Perhaps there are huge boulders of doubt and self-incrimination that prevent you from seeing anything of worth or value.

Perhaps you are so busy comparing yourself to others that you are blinded to your own potential.

What seems like overwhelming obstacles can keep you from envisioning anything new or beautiful, or what can be re-positioned into a distinguishing feature or welcoming stepping stones to small, recessed spaces where you can sit and rest.

Life is a series of developmental stages.

Some are predictable, such as toddler to teen to adult, etc. But there are other stages of development that give us the opportunity to grow and reach a higher level of understanding and accomplishment than we ever thought possible.

It is at these junctures where we can turn our lives into attractive gardens of respite, comfort, beauty, and joy, a place we want to invite others to visit and stay awhile.

Just like an architect takes raw land and designs something attractive and delightful, so you can take the components of your life, create a new design and build something enduring and meaningful.

Where do you begin?

Here are 5 things that can help start this journey.

Landscaping the Garden of Your Life | focuswithmarlene.com

1. Identify what obstacles are keeping you from living a more meaningful life – a life of self-actualization, purpose and worth.

This list might include a difficult childhood, unfair comparisons, failed attempts, unrealistic standards, conflict in interactions with others, negative thinking, and destructive self-talk.

This design goes beyond all that and focuses on ways to empower you. If you are currently going through an upsetting period, take time to calm your mind so you can focus on the design you want for the rest of your life.

2. Take an inventory of what needs to be removed or replaced.

Reframing our circumstances with optimism allows us to believe we can do it. Replacing negative thinking and negative self-talk with an affirming attitude allows us to problem solve.

Make a list of all the positive qualities and characteristics you have. We tend to keep our focus on what was unpleasant, hoping to change what happened. Let go of the past. You have overcome. We learn valuable lessons about tenacity and determination going through tough times.

Don’t minimize the value of the traits you have. How can you make these qualities work for you instead of against you?

3. Get professional help.

The life experiences we have had can be hard to identify and overwhelming in terms of where to begin. Find a good therapist, seek the counsel of others who have gone beyond, read books by the experts or people who have overcome similar things. Join a support group who are not just coping but working on new positive ways to succeed.

4. Create a life landscaping design on paper.

Accomplishing any task requires knowing exactly what needs to be altered or removed and why and how your replacement will move you forward. Remember that completing the design takes time, clarity, problem-solving skills, ability to reframe, etc.

But the design will help you focus on one thing at a time and in an order where the completion of one thing helps the completion of another thing.

For example, after the death of my husband, moving forward I needed to know what changes needed to happen, how I could reframe my teaching and counseling into writing, giving workshops, etc. It required a major move. What adjustments were needed financially? I was redesigning the landscape of my life moving forward.

5. Make a commitment.

Write it down. Read it often. Visualize yourself completing this work. Imagine how good you will feel. Imagine taking charge of your life with confidence.

Life is an ongoing process.

We grow from one step to another step. We are making the corrections and additions that will not only enhance our lives but bring us joy, happiness, and contentment.

Path? What Path?

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Get caught up with all episodes in the “Threads of Life” series


Difficult times compel us to stop and make an assessment of where we are in life.

  • Are we achieving the ambitions and aspirations we had?
  • Are our goals and plans to achieve stated in such a way that even when faced with unexpected obstacles, we have a clear direction on how to get there?

Such an evaluation can enlarge our vision. We may need to abandon unclear goals and replace them with new, more coherent, or articulate ones.

At these crossroads, we are given the opportunity to clarify what is really important to us so we can step out with a new purpose and ending in mind.

After the death of my husband, I was at a crossroads.

Everything had changed. I was required to make a new assessment of where I was and where I would go from here. New major decisions had to be made – a new direction and destination for my work as well as my life.

When I entered the world of authors and writers and wrote the following story, I questioned whether this was where I was to be. It was a turning point in my life.

Perhaps you are at a turning point where you are being asked to evaluate and consider, perhaps to start over, re-direct or choose a different path.

Path? What Path?

Before we take a trip, we have a destination in mind – we typically know where we are going. We have considered the best route, what we need to take with us and how to get there and back. We have a time schedule telling us when we are leaving and when we will return. We pack our bags, make reservations and step out the door.

The trip of life, however, isn’t quite so simple.

We venture out with a vague idea of where we want to go and end up wandering around in a vast desert stretching into infinity, devoid of markers or signposts, searching for a route to take. Or we take the first path we see, not sure where it is heading, just hoping it will take us to a fulfilling and satisfying life only to find ourselves at a dead end starting over – again.

God chose Joshua to lead the people of Israel out of the desert where they had been wandering for forty years and into the Promised Land. But as they stood at the banks of the roaring Jordan River, swollen with early spring rains, and looked across to the other side, it wasn’t a land of milk and honey they saw, but a land of giants, walled cities, undefeated kings and well-trained armies – in short, insurmountable odds.

Was this the pathway to their new life?

I’m sure Joshua, for all his bravery, might have asked, “God, is this really where you want us to go?”

As a new writer, I am entering a land of giants, a world of talented and gifted people who seem to have it all together; while I, on the other hand, struggle with putting down on paper my thoughts and ideas.

The pathway seems like sand and rocks and raging rivers, the obstacles as large as any giant army or walled city with few distinguishing markers. I’m not sure I would recognize them if they were there.

This land of writing and publication is already inhabited by men and women who are successful in their trade. How can I hope to compete? And I ask, “God is this really where you want me to go?”

But God sees far beyond the horizon.

Path? What Path? | focuswithmarlene.com

He knows the path we are to take even if we can’t see it.

He gives us glimpses of the possibilities and potentials of what our lives could be if we trusted Him and stepped out in faith.

But the choice is ours: we can continue to wander around in our own deserts hoping to find the path to success or we can make a concrete plan of action that enables us to cross over into new territory.

As I enter my new world of writing, I am reminded of young musicians and athletes. It takes hours of practice and discipline before they can run the race or play with the orchestra. During those hours of commitment, it also takes the encouragement of patient and discerning teachers and parents to guide them. It takes the belief that with the dedication of an end goal in mind, they will reach their destination.

As I step out in faith, I reach out to others. Together we become a network of support for one another, encouraging, validating, uplifting, and sharing knowledge.

And when we lay our anxieties, fears, and uncertainties at our Lord’s feet, He gives us the strength, hope, faith, and courage we need. Together, we move forward and enter our land of Canaan.

Wherever you are in your journey through life, you can step back and assess where you are headed.

Is this where your talents and passions are leading you?

Do you have a definitive plan of action to follow?

If so, then you are creating your pathway to a successful outcome.

Breath of Spring

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Get caught up with all episodes in the “Threads of Life” series


Since January, I have been sharing stories about the art of living; going through difficult times, healing from losses, and struggling with what seems to be impossible demands. These are snippets of the obstacles and challenges we face and how we gain confidence working through them.

My hope is that these stories will empower you to trust and believe in yourself and in God. Whatever you are facing, you can make it. I would love to get your feedback.

Introduction to this story

With each season there are new expectations.

Fall brings bright new colors as leaves turn red, yellow, and orange before falling, creating a lush carpet on the ground around them. The trees are preparing for hibernation to survive the cold of winter.

When winter arrives, we snuggle into our comforters or ski jackets when outdoors, enjoying hot chocolate and cookies.

Then, as the days get longer, the ground wakes up, and bulbs planted in autumn push their way up through the hard ground to add new color that promises a bright spring.

Throughout life we experience different seasons – not as predictable as the seasons of nature, but they are there. One of those seasons is going through the loss of a loved one you felt you could never live without, the winter of grief and the spring of a new beginning.

Here is a piece I wrote during such a time in my life.

Breath of Spring

Spring has come and with it, new hope. I feel a new life force breathing energy into my tired soul. In the darkest hours, I begin to feel deep within me the stirrings of new life. Just as daffodils and crocuses and tulips awaken in the chilly spring, eagerly pushing shoots of green upward to develop rich blooms of colors, I want to push out of winter’s gloom. Despite the late spring snow and cold, they are victorious. Like those bulbs, there is a deep longing within me to push out, grow and bloom again and be victorious.

Can you, oh Lord, breathe life into a dried-up old heart – breathe hope into the hopeless?

Can you remove overwhelming doubts and fears?

Can you restore life to those who so desperately cling to the hope that life can be happy again?

Do you ask more from us than we can give? Or is it within the constant stretching and demands and challenging of our minds and spirits that enable us to become what You knew we could be.

The consistency of new days dawning, the stability of the earth and the infallible design of the laws of nature remind us there will be a new morning, a new day, a new spring. The earth continues its rotation, the rain and snow fall, and the sun finds its way through the cloud cover. Bulbs planted in fall break through the still cold earth, exclaiming with new growth that spring has come – winter has been overcome.

It is against this backdrop of the laws of nature and the dependability and reliability of God, that we are able to survive. They form a background of consistency that remind us as we live through times of sorrow, when unseen forces disrupt and destroy what we cherish, that God is still with us.

It is within the backdrop of, “Why God, why have you taken everything away from me? Why do you let all these bad things happen,” that we begin to understand; He hasn’t left us.

It is here we learn how to deal with disruptions of nature, in mankind, and in ourselves when death and loss hit when least expected, tossing us around like discarded leaves before the wind. These changes, unexpected and unwanted, remind us there is a consistency in the world we live in.

Just as the earth keeps rotating, the rain and snow will fall, spring leads to the abundance of summer, and fall prepares us for winter, we will waken in the morning to a new day. Losses will come and go, but we will persevere.

Just as seasons rotate year after year, we too rotate from one period of time to another. Each season will have its demands for growth.

In the spring of my youth, I was full of hope and excitement.

The summer of my life was filled with the wonderful memories built with my husband, family, and friends.

When the season of fall arrived, my husband left me forever in death, and I entered winter, alone. I hibernated, like the bulbs in the ground and waited for spring to breathe new life into my lifeless soul and spirit.

And when I thought hope had left me forever, God breathed new life into me, releasing me from the frozen wasteland of grief and loss, reminding me life continues along with new blooms of spring.

As I sink my roots deeper in faith, I feel the breath of God strengthening me as He gives me His promise for a new tomorrow, a new time of contentment and pleasure.

Love and Sacrifice

I am reposting an article I’ve posted several times in the past at this time of year, featuring a poem written by my friend, Darlene Dubay, entitled, “Tree of Hope,” reflecting on the tree itself that became the cross on which Jesus was crucified.

Starting from a tiny seed, Darlene conceptualizes what that tree was thinking as it grew, was chopped down and became a cross.

Darlene is a talented and gifted writer and poet and her book, Walking is a Prayer: Glimpses of a Spiritual Journey, was released in 2020. You can find more details on her website, dmdubay.com. It is a book I wholeheartedly recommend.

There are many poems each of us can relate to with beautiful pictures added to further illustrate the poem. I have added a podcast episode to this year’s re-posting.

Love and The Tree of Hope

“For God so loved the world….”        John 3:16

Love. People sing songs about it, create movies with love as its theme, and try to find words to express it in books. It is a gift – we can’t earn it, we don’t deserve it, and yet we find it so hard to receive. What greater love can anyone have than sacrifice their life for another, as Jesus did for us.

Love and Sacrifice | focuswithmarlene.com

Tree of Hope

I remember being a seed, full of hope, dreaming.

 I would be the tallest tree, and proud.

Then, thrust into the ground, I shuddered.

Darkness overcame me and I broke.

No longer latent, I began to search for light.

Yet wanting to be anchored, I thrust my fingers deeper into ground.

They laughed at me as I broke free.

“A twig,” they said: Insignificant nothing.

Yet I dreamed of becoming—magnificent I’d stand, towering above—mighty.

When finally ready I would be mercifully cut to become

A pillar, strong and straight to hold the weight of majesty aloft.

Or maybe I would be fashioned as a cradle,

Holding precious life, or toy or tureen—useful—

bringing pleasure by being used.

I did not fear the saw; it was a long way off.

But when it finally came. I cried,

“No, let me grow a little more. I want to be the biggest and the best.

I want my glorious form to be admired.”

I lay there on the ground, helpless—

My fate in the hands of those who ripped me from my roots.

It did no good to protest. My voice could not be heard.

Lying prostrate, I imagined what I would become.

It was not good. Their evil tones were hinting shame and disgrace.

“No!” I cried. “I did not grow for this.”

My limbs were ripped and nailed into a form

So horrible—degrading—a mockery of what was meant to be.

Bitter nails drove into my flesh,

But worse was yet to come.

Dragged and carried in my ugly form, I tried my best to help the struggling one,

But felt my weight grow heavier with each step.

Then on the top of that ignominious hill,

They laid me prostrate to accept my fate.

I felt his flesh caress the roughness of my bark.

I groaned in shame that I would be the one

To lift His whipped and trampled body far aloft for all to see.

I felt the spikes drive precious flesh and blood into my wood.

Helpless, there I stood, as I was lifted with my treasure.

Oh, the shame! The agony! The jeering crowds saying,

“It’s the end. His suffering has no meaning. ”

All is lost. What victory lies in death?

What justice shines through bitter clouds of hate?

I felt his spirit leave and fear of being discarded racked my being.

The coldness of his absence permeated me

And I wished for burning fires of purification.

Better to be cleansed than to lie rotting in the dirt.

The emptiness of my ugly form was wretched. I watched them haul him off—just another lifeless piece of flesh.

And me? I only hoped that I could fade to nothing.

On the third day, though, he returned.

He held me close and promised—what?

I could not comprehend.

“I live,” he said. “I am alive forever.”

“How can it be?” I cried. “I felt your soul’s anguish

And despair. I know the emptiness of your departing.

I never want to be the one who displays

Your trampled, lifeless body up for all to see.”

He held me closer then and I knew it had to be this way.

My gift of self will be forever a symbol of great love.

My collaboration in his plan will always be

The means to life eternal.

I’m honored. I am cherished.

And every day and moment

Someone remembers by my sign—

True life awaits those who hold me closest to their heart.

Darlene
4-5-2010

I wish each of you a blessed Easter, knowing that it was the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, his death, and resurrection, that brings us this blessed holiday as well as the love, hope and grace we all desire.

Marlene Anderson

To discover more about Darlene’s writing talent, visit https://dmdubay.com/

I Cried – He Came: God’s Presence in the Midst of Grief

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

 

Get caught up with all episodes in the “Threads of Life” series


Grief is a journey requiring time and an open mind as we grasp the significance of our life, both before our loss and for what lays ahead. There will be moments when we acutely feel the need of understanding and comfort, and if we can be open to those moments, we will be rewarded with not only comfort but a greater understanding of life itself.

I Cried – He Came

God came one morning when I was down and low

He showed me a patch of blue between the clouds,

A bird scrounging in the dried bushes

Looking for food

Singing a song

 

And He said, “I’m here – I’m here

I’m right here beside you!”

 

I’m with that bird – He’s singing in the cold

I’m in that sky – there’s a promise of spring

I’m in the earth around you – Close your eyes and feel my strength

Feel me giving you breath to continue on

 

“Bloom wherever you are,” He said. “Just bloom.”

 

I looked and saw my rose bush blooming

There were no leaves

It was still the middle of winter

But there were roses blooming.

 

Bloom wherever you are

Bloom in the winter – the summer – the fall

Bloom wherever I place you

I will feed you

I will water you

I will be by your side

I do not understand so many things – why I must be alone when it is people I need… why I must struggle when others are at play. We all have our prisons – they come in separation and isolation – in loss and discouragement. They come in the midst of poverty and in the midst of wealth. They sneak up behind us and catch us when we are not looking, and in desperation we cry out to our God

I do not understand.

I do not understand.

But I do know this. My God came and stood beside me today

He came and I felt His presence: in the sky – the bird – the roses

I closed my eyes and felt his presence by my side.

 

And I was no longer alone.

 

Finding Humor in Our Grief and Loss

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Get caught up with all episodes in the “Threads of Life” series


When I was healing from the losses of my husband and then my son, I was writing and working with others on similar journeys.

As I read, studied, and took additional training about healing from loss as a therapist, a book written by Linda Richman captured my attention.

We seldom think of humor as important when grieving, but it not only is relevant and but can be instrumental in our healing process.  Here is a blog post I wrote at that time:

“And finding something funny – anything – under those painful conditions is good.

If you can laugh even while you feel pain, there’s hope.”

-Linda Richman

In her book, “I’d Rather Laugh: How to Be Happy Even When Life Has Other Plans for You,” Linda Richman tells her story of pain from the losses in her life, culminating in the loss of her young son and working through that tragedy with humor.

We may not think we can be as fearless or strong as Linda, but each of us has the capacity to activate humor in some way to help us heal.

On the first anniversary of my husband’s death, I invited friends and family over for a dinner party. All of us had been grieving in our own way. The intensity of pain had receded, and it was time to come together and just laugh. I wanted to put a happy, positive layer to our memories. So, we toasted to his life and laughed as we shared funny stories.

Laughter heals.

Finding Humor in Our Grief and Loss

Humor is not just fun. It is an extremely powerful “medicine” that heals the soul and mends the body. Humor can allow the pain to subside for a moment, make life bearable, put a different perspective on our troubles, and allow us to laugh at ourselves and our situations. It helps us cope. It gives us power over what might seem like an impossible or powerless situation.

It may seem difficult to laugh and find joy in our losses when our hearts are heavy with sorrow, but when we give ourselves permission to feel joy, happiness and laughter as we grieve, our losses begin to take on a more complete healing integration. We can tap into those layers of humor as well as the layers of pain and sorrow.

Humor takes the edge off pain.

We might think it is irreligious or in some way devalues our loss if we put a humorous spin on it. Instead, it balances our sorrow with joy. It takes the sting out of our loss and brings normalcy back into our life. It takes an intolerable situation – one packed with intense emotions –  flips it over and finds those kernels of gratitude that make us smile.

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

-Mark Twain

We can choose to look at the world in a positive way or a negative way. A loss by its very nature demands the normal grieving process. But even within its borders, we can laugh.

“Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative… and latch onto the affirmative” were lyrics of a popular 1940s song. This is finding the blessings within our infirmities. It is reframing our circumstances to find gratitude and good in spite of the loss.

When we look at the glass as half full instead of half empty, it registers a different mindset and a different reaction in the brain.

Day’s Dawning: Whispers from God

We miss so many opportunities to connect with insight when it arrives at our doorstep. As you listen to this episode, think about those times when you may have dismissed those gentle nudges to rethink, reflect and ponder.

Get caught up with all episodes in the “Threads of Life” series


The day sneaks up, rousing me from deep sleep. The urging of another day has not yet crowded out the deep internal musings that rise to the surface while I’m still half asleep.

A new day dawning.

I enjoy the leisure of this time, allowing my mind to consider the streaming of creative ideas, solutions, and unanswered questions. I didn’t formulate them – they just arrived, and I simply received.

How often we hurry from such moments and step into the fast lane of life. For, we reason, doesn’t life demand that we don’t dawdle? If we stopped and considered options all the time, we would never get anything done. We would constantly be questioning every motive or changing directions.

Yet, if we hurry into our tasks without paying attention to these insightful moments, we risk losing the opportunity of receiving something vital and life-changing. If we lingered long enough to listen to that streaming consciousness, our souls and spirts might receive wisdom that otherwise would be lost.

Where do these early morning reveries come from?

Day’s Dawning – Whispers from God | focuswithmarlene.com

Perhaps it is simply the mind working through questions and problems we had the day before. But I believe there is more.

I believe this is a time when we hear God whispering to us – a time of gentle nudges when we are not distracted, offering inspiration. In those few seconds of time, I have received the title to a book I was writing, the themes for blog posts, ideas for future possibilities, words of comfort to forward to someone in need, etc.

As we hurry from one task to another during the day, there is little time to stop and allow our minds to be still. There is work to be done. And so, whether early in the morning or during the day, we miss those moments when we could be open to insight, receive inspiration and solutions. And gradually our souls and spirits wither and die.

When we feel the undercurrent of unrest and disconnect, we look to the world for clues to relieve our fears and anxieties. We race around trying to find remedies and miss the whispers from God. Even when we attempt to listen, we often remain too distracted, and dismiss the messages without further thought. We turn back to the world for answers and miss the insights waiting within us.

But the world cannot give us what we thirst for.

Our souls and spirits have a deep longing for something which the world cannot give us. I see the hunger in the eyes of individuals speeding through life trying to sandwich in one more thing before the day is done. And I weep and wonder if God weeps too. I believe God wants the best for us. He doesn’t want us to live programmed and mechanical lives.

In order for us to hear his whispers and murmurings, we need to stop and listen. Really listen.

Turn Your Gravel Pit Into a Beautiful Garden

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Get caught up with all episodes in the “Threads of Life” series


Can something ugly and scarred be turned into something beautiful and inviting? Let me share with you a true story about a real gravel pit.

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

What remains, after all the extractions, 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 un-usable mounds of earth. Debris is scattered everywhere, discarded by individuals who consider this a worthless piece of land; a place to throw away their pop cans, beer bottles or candy wrappers.

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

One lady 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 this huge, ugly, and expansive hole in the ground.

But Jennie was not willing to let it lay there discarded, ugly and debased. With the help of architects and landscapers, topsoil from neighboring farmland was brought in and a beautiful design created.

Paths were designed, ponds dug, trees and shrubs and hundreds of blooming plants planted. Leftover rocks were strategically placed in new locations, enhancing the gardens. And so began the stunning reversal of desecrated land that today is known for its spectacular beauty.

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

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 panoply of color. At night, 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 is 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 does it relate to you and me? We can use that same analogy of a gravel pit to our lives: losses that have left huge holes, unstable lifestyles, wrong choices, underground seepage of bitterness and resentment along with huge boulders of doubt and shame and anger.

Everyone has a gravel pit in their life’s story – huge, ugly holes created by death or divorce, acts of violence, tragic and lonely childhoods, or careless living.

Within our gravel pits we find ungrieved old losses, toxic messages that continue to erode self-esteem and worth.  And we are left with scared landscapes of sorrow, isolation, rejection, and depression. Our days are filled with memories of what could have been.

In our attempts to reconstruct the pieces of our lives, we get overwhelmed, give up or accept that life will forever be an ugly gravel pit. We build sturdy walls or fences around it so nobody can see our feelings of shame. We don’t talk about it because we don’t want people to see our unpleasant side or be rejected. We run away from or deny our past because it makes us feel ugly and flawed.

Every aspect of our lives is affected by our gravel pits. But we can take our lives full of pain and broken dreams and turn them into places of beauty and contentment, comfort and inviting.

We can turn un-attractive and hopeless situations into satisfying, productive and pleasing futures.

We don’t scrap it – we use it. It becomes the backbone for our beautiful garden – positive gardens of hope, light, joy, energy, and strength.

Where do you begin such a daunting project?

The same place as the Butcharts did. They didn’t cover up the hole but used it as a springboard. If they had just filled the hole with dirt, it would not be the beautiful place it is today.

It takes a vision and a desire to examine our pits and remove rubble and toxic waste. It takes insight to see that what once was an obstacle can now be viewed as a piece of art.

With a readiness to count the cost of time, money, and energy a plan of action can continue the motivation. All of us can turn our gravel pits into beautiful gardens.

Marlene Anderson


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.