Let's Talk

Laughter is a Lifestyle: 5 Ways to Make Humor Part 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


As soap is to the body, so laughter is to the soul.

— Jewish Proverb

Laughter is not a once-in-a while event – it is a lifestyle – a way to look at life.

Laughter allows you to see the good in the midst of our troubles. It helps you move through difficult times. It allows you to focus on things to be thankful for.

Laughter and humor take the edge off any crisis or adversity you are facing. It allows you to see a bigger picture. It doesn’t mean you diminish the importance of what’s happening, but you find a plausible way to work with it. It expands joyous moments and enlarges the depth of our love for and enjoyment of life.

“Every problem is a gift. Without them we wouldn’t grow”

— Tony Robbins

Here are five ways to make laughter and humor a part of your life.

1. Exaggerate.

Take a bad day and blow it out of proportion. Make a “mountain out of a mole hill.” Make it so preposterous that you and your friends can’t help but laugh over it.

When everything seems to be going wrong, we can either laugh or cry. Laughter helps release tension so we can explore ways to make things better.

You are taking charge. Viewing intolerable situations as comical and ludicrous is not minimizing problems – it is reducing their magnitude so you can find solutions or workable options. You laugh because at times the things that happen are just too ridiculous.

2. Look for the possibility of humor.

“Ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive, eliminate the negative…” was a popular song in the 1940s.

Put an encouraging emphasis on what is happening. Look for that possibility of humor. Choose to look at the world from a positive point of view. What can I do versus what I can’t do?

“Life is a gift. Never forget to enjoy and bask in every moment you are in.”

— Author unknown

3. Start a Gratitude or Happy journal.

Paste a large smiling face on the cover. We miss many blessings because our focus is on everything that is going wrong. If you continue to concentrate on everything negative, you will never see anything that is good.

Each day, record something happy, pleasant, or joyful. Find that kernel of gratitude in whatever is happening.

Rewrite the events you are currently experiencing to include hope and blessings. Sometimes blessings hide under big rocks of troubles. Lift that rock and release them.

Include in your journal warm comments you have received, favorite sayings or anything that made you smile or laugh. Paste in cards and letters or articles that focus on optimism and hope. Make this a priority.

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.”

— Norman Vincent Peale

4. Every time you pass a mirror, smile!

Laughter is a Lifestyle: 5 Ways to Make Humor Part of Your Life | focuswithmarlene.com

Then, give yourself a big hug. Be open to hugs from others.

Post jokes and cartoons around the house. Put them on your refrigerator door, or bathroom mirror so when you see them, it triggers a smile.

When troubles hit, we tend to stay in that anxiety space, ruminating over and over in our mind how impossible our situation is, hoping that solutions will pop up. However, the longer we stay in that negative space, the less likely we will look for and find the solutions we need. When we continue to focus on how awful things are, we no longer see options or possibilities because anything positive is screened out.

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

5. Create humorous or self-worth affirmations.

Repeat them throughout the day or whenever you are feeling down. Affirmations draw us towards something.

Make a list of them that affirm your worth and capabilities. Here are some examples:

  • I look for the blessings around me.
  • I am an intelligent, capable, and responsible person able to solve problems.
  • I love to laugh and enjoy life.
  • I can make and accomplish goals.

Elbert Hubbard wrote, “Happiness is a habit – cultivate it.”

We choose how we want to look at the world.

We choose how we will face our problems.

We choose to look for possibilities and answers.

As with any habit, we take one little step at a time to put it in place.

Humor: My Teachable Moment

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

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


At any moment in time, things can happen that will disrupt our day. But we can learn valuable insights during such times. Disruptions can become profound teachable moments. Such an event occurred to me.

I was washing clothes, preparing for our family to leave the following day on a camping trip. The water flow going into my washing machine was exceedingly slow. I had been improvising by attaching a hose from my laundry tub faucet to my washing machine to fill it.

When the phone rang in our office, I didn’t bother to shut off the faucet, thinking I would only be a minute.

But the call was about business and took more time than anticipated. Someone wanted to hire our band and in answering questions and gathering important details, the washing machine totally escaped my mind. But as soon as I hung up the phone, I suddenly remembered I had left the water running.

Humor: My Teachable Moment | focuswithmarlene.com

Panicked, I dashed into the kitchen and saw with horror the water happily gurgling out of a very full washing machine onto my floor, flooding the laundry room which adjoined my kitchen, as well as the kitchen. In a recent remodel, we had installed kitchen carpet, which was the rage at that time, to both the kitchen and our laundry room. It was saturated and pooling on top.

I shut off the faucet and stood there appalled, thinking about all the things that needed to be done before leaving the following day.

How would I clean up this mess on top of packing?

It wasn’t just the carpet that needed to have the water removed and dried, but also boxes of sewing materials stacked at the end of the laundry room with contents that had to be taken out and dried.

It was at this precise moment when my husband opened the door from the garage and stepped into the laundry room and stopped short as he looked first at the floor and then at me.  As was his nature, he immediately saw the absurdity and humorous side of the situation.

I remember thinking as I looked at him, don’t you dare laugh. It is not funny. If you had fixed that water pressure problem weeks ago, I wouldn’t be in this situation. Blah, blah, blah.

But I didn’t say it, because the very next second I received a thunderbolt revelation. I could either remain angry or I could laugh. I had a choice. I could see the funny side. Either way the job needed to be done. But with humor it would make the job much easier.

I vividly remember how my whole demeanor and body changed when I made the decision to see humor versus engage in anger. I learned a valuable lesson in that moment.

Events do not have to dictate our reactions. There might be an immediate visceral response, but we can then choose a different one.

Humor and laughter are powerful antidotes to the adversities of life. We can choose to laugh at ourselves and circumstances or become mired in resentments. We can make the job easier or more difficult.

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”

-Marcus Aurelius

As a former therapist and someone committed to helping people find ways to live more enthusiastic and productive lives, I love to share how something as simple as humor can make a huge difference in our approach to circumstances. We often dismiss things like humor and laughter by saying, “Well, that’s nice, but I have more serious problems to face.”

Laughter and humor are more than just temporary interludes to lighten the moment. They enable us to take a breath, step back and look at problems from a larger perspective.

They take “mountains” and reduce them to “mole hills” we can walk over. Mountains can seem formidable. How can I ever get past that? Our problems suddenly become insurmountable. There is no way to solve them. And you feel exhausted before you even begin to look for answers.

We can walk over or around smaller hills. When we view a problem as a huge mountain, it takes away our ability to see anything positive. Hills are just part of life’s journey.


In next week’s post, I will share ways to make humor and laughter a way of life – not just some rare occasion.

Olympic Gold: The Heart of a Champion

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

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


As I listened to commentators reveal background stories about athletes competing in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, BC, I was reminded of how many major setbacks and obstacles these men and women overcame in order to compete for an Olympic gold medal.

After spending most of their lives developing and perfecting their skill, major injuries or other overwhelming tragedies could require them to start all over again. And then, after all their hard work, their dream for gold might be replaced by a bronze or silver, or even more heartbreaking, to not even make it into the finals, oftentimes measured by a thousandth of a second or a fraction of a point.

Yet, after years of hard, disciplined labor and crushing defeat, many of these athletes were prepared to go home and work even harder in order to compete again in four years. They had come so far; they had done their best, but it was not good enough.

What creates the heart of a champion even when they don’t get the gold medal?

How do they overcome such enormous disappointments and setbacks?  Why are they willing to try again and again and again?

The obstacles seem insurmountable; yet they turn them into motivating forces.

Can we, like them, gain a similar perspective for our lives?

How do we learn to take crushing defeats and start over again?

Olympic Gold: The Heart of a Champion | focuswithmarlene.com

In the 1980 Olympic Winter Games, a young, inexperienced American hockey team “made up of a bunch of college kids” took the gold medal from the Soviet Union, “considered the best hockey team in the world.”

It was a miracle. The commentators were amazed.

In an interview with the team captain, this young man, overjoyed with their victory, reflected that without their “hard-nosed yet inspirational coach” it would never have happened.

The coach who was assigned to the team was tougher on them than anybody had ever been. He did not accept inexperience, defeat, injuries, exhaustion, or anything else as an excuse. He badgered them until they were ready to mutiny against him.

After losing their initial competition games, their final game was against the “unbeatable” Russians. They knew they were outranked by superior players. But in that moment of acceptance of the odds against them, they did not accept defeat. Instead, they focused as never before on everything their coach had been harassing them to do.

And together, as a team, they applied all that learning and training. They no longer focused on how they felt, how tired they were, or on their injuries or pain. They took every ounce of physical strength, mind and spirit and turned it into gold.

I believe there are valuable lessons for us in these and other stories of unbeatable odds.

We may be up against the best trained and best of talents, but what matters is what we do with what we have. The game isn’t about beating someone else. The game is about doing our best, no matter what.

You may not feel like applying the discipline needed to develop your skill, but you do it anyway.

You may wake up with physical or emotional pains that threaten to engulf you, but you get out of bed and go to work.

You accept yourself and your situation and, in that acceptance, focus on what is required to make a difference. Is it more education? Do you need to ask for help? Have you stopped and analyzed what is required to reach your goal? Are you willing to learn from others?

St. Paul writes in Romans 4:17-18, that “. . . when everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do.” (The Message)

An athlete digs deep inside himself and runs one more race.

As a Christian, whatever race has been set before us, we know that we are not doing it by ourselves. We have God as our spiritual coach and from Him get the strength to stretch our mind, body, and spirit to new limits.

A New Perspective: How One Woman Reframed Her Circumstances

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

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


Years ago, I worked for a company contracted to help injured workers in chronic pain recover and re-enter the workplace. Most had been injured on the job, even with all the safety precautions.

As part of their rehabilitation and recovery program, they attended a two-week all-day class. Most were not happy to be there; in fact, some were downright hostile. Yet after one week, we began to see a transformation of attitudes, mindset, and way of thinking.

It was always amazing to watch this metamorphous from hopelessness, despondency, and despair to one of possibility, expectation, and motivation. Some hung onto their anger and grievance. They were angry at the injustice of it all and did not want to hear about ways they could re-frame their circumstances moving forward. Their resentment turned into bitter grievances that they did not want to let go.

But it was those who took the information presented and applied it that humbled and encouraged me.

While there were many people who I came to admire, one lady in particular resonated with me. Her injury left her unable to continue in her job. She would have to be retrained in some other line of work. Her benefits would soon run out. She was a single mom living in a tiny one-bedroom house and the enormity of her losses was severe. Life seemed grim and hopeless.

After the first week, she returned to class from the weekend off, glowing. She was not the same person who left on Friday. She shared with the class what had happened to change her outlook. She went home and thought about all the information we had taught them and decided to apply it to her situation. The first thing she did was “re-frame” how she looked at her current existence.

A New Perspective | focuswithmarlene.com

She went through her tiny, cramped house, room by room, looking at it with a new perspective. There was only one tiny bedroom. She decided to give that room to her children and make the living room her bedroom. During the day it was a living room, but at night it became a cozy, spacious bedroom.

She positioned the sofa bed in front of the fireplace, and when she crawled into her “bed” that night, she lit a small fire in the fireplace and snuggled down to watch the flames and thought to herself, how many people do I know who have a fireplace in their bedroom?

She helped her children make her old bedroom into their special space. They were happy and she was happy. In fact, she told us she slept soundly for the first time in years.

What had changed?

Only her perspective. During the remainder of that last week in class, she actively sought out information about re-training and potential jobs. She was excited about the prospect of a new job from a re-training program that paid more than her previous job.

Was she going to have to struggle?

Yes.

Would it take hard work?

Yes.

Would she still have to live with limiting conditions?

Yes.

But she would be bringing into that space a new outlook – a new perspective – that held possibility, options, and renewed energy.

The world we live in today has drastically changed.

We are challenged as never before to be innovative, creative, and flexible. The beliefs we hold about ourselves can seriously impact our ability to move forward.

We may experience events that seem catastrophic, limiting, and hopeless. But within each of us is the ability to take what we have and create something new from it.

Out of the ashes of one disaster we can create the promise of a new beginning, if we are willing to re-invent ourselves, grow and change.

My Hero: My Mom

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

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


Strands of wispy grey hair surrounded her face as she sat at the kitchen table, laboriously translating her familiar German into written English. A word primer and scraps of paper were scattered over the kitchen table, as with pencil in hand she devoted herself to writing. It was nine o’clock at night; she was tired after a long day’s work on the farm where we lived, but she was committed to practicing her writing before going to bed.

I was next-to-the-last of ten children born into a German American family. Early in those family years, German was spoken as our main language. By the time I was born, it had been replaced by English.

But although conversation was now in English, my mother still read, wrote, and sang in German. She had a beautiful voice that evoked a resonance from her past.

Both my parents immigrated to the United States as young children, their parents moving to North Dakota where there was a large population of German people. My parents met as young adults through their small-but-strong Lutheran church.

Like many people at the turn of the century, they started life together with pennies in their pocket but with strong constitutions and beliefs. Formal education was a luxury to many immigrant children, as they often went to work outside the home at a young age to help support the family.

While my parents were not school educated in the traditional sense, they were both intelligent and wise in common sense, the ability to plan and achieve. They had a strong work ethic that went beyond the normal eight-hour workday.

Hardworking days

Chores started at daybreak and didn’t end until well into the evening. During the summer months there was a garden to be planted, chickens to feed, cows to milk. Mom would help with the crops when needed, and I remember Dad returning to the fields late in the evening.

Later, the garden’s harvest meant long hours of canning for the winter months, butchering of animals to be frozen or hams smoked. Most of the work was a joint venture while each held the responsibility for their end of the work.

To my mother, family was everything.

And next to family was her love of flowers. Even with all the chores and work required on a large farm along with raising a large family, she was able to carve out time to create pleasure and beauty with her flowers. Her flower garden was the envy of neighbors and throughout the cold North Dakota winters; her African violets thrived on the clear glass shelves Dad made to hold them inside the kitchen window.

A move from our large Midwest farm to a small farm in Oregon separated our sizeable extended family. At first, my older sisters wrote and sent letters, birthday, and Christmas cards for my mom. But gradually, as they married and moved farther away, this became more and more difficult.

At the time, I was considered too young to be a part of that mother-daughter group. And now in her mid-60s, Mom was not content to end the day without working on the personal goal she set for herself: finding a way to send those letters and cards. She would not be deterred.

She decided to teach herself to write.

My Hero: My Mom | focuswithmarlene.com

Family and connections were that important. It was in that moment at the kitchen table after working hard all day that I witnessed what faith and determination could do; and I beamed with pride at my mom, whose identity was often lost in the day-to-day struggles. It was an image burned into my memory and I have not forgotten that intense pride I felt for my mother. Later in life, I would appreciate even more what that effort in learning to write in English required in both willpower and resolve.

My parents had an old-fashioned marriage.

They were married 75 years before death separated them. My mother gave birth to eleven children, one who died in infancy and one who had severe Down syndrome. She worked hard every day. In today’s world some might think she never had an opportunity to develop her own identity. But I know she didn’t see it that way.

While life might have been hard, my mother developed her identity through her flowers, keeping her family connected and instilling faith in God to her children. Together with Dad, they taught us by modeling life, the importance and value of hard work and perseverance.

I leaned that even in the bleakest of times, we can create spots of beauty. And I learned that no matter what changes or adversities we face, God gives us the strength, determination and resolve to create something positive from it. It’s not what life hands us; it’s what we do with it that matters.

Mom, you’re my hero. I miss you as I celebrate your life.

“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.