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Common Communication Breakdowns

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

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This is part 3 in my series on communication.
Part 1 – Learning to Communicate: 12 Tips
Part 2 – Communication Basics

Communication is a process. It is circular, both verbal and non-verbal, and it is continuous. You cannot not communicate.

Breakdowns in communication usually occur because:

  • We haven’t developed the skill of communication because we believe we already know how .
  • We are too busy to take time to listen.
  • We avoid what is difficult or we get bored, lazy, anxious, or distracted.
  • We don’t know what we really want, and we don’t know how to ask for it.
  • We haven’t set goals for what we want to accomplish.
  • We don’t know how to organize our thoughts into understandable messages.
  • We don’t feel confident with our communication skills, so we don’t share.
  • We think we may not be understood and fear retaliation or rejection.
  • We don’t want to be responsible for hurting anyone or saying the wrong thing or for owning our feelings.
  • We want to avoid conflicts.
  • We form opinions and resist changing those opinions or deeply held beliefs.

If you are experiencing communication breakdowns, take a week and pay close attention to your conversations.

  • When do they break down?
  • What is happening at that time?
  • What triggers a defensive reaction from you or from the other person?

We grow up talking and responding but are rarely taught communication skills. It is a skill that can be developed when we understand what is involved. Taking time to learn that skill will have enormous benefits.

Communication begins to break down when we stop listening and/or stop checking whether we heard accurately. It isn’t just the words spoken but what was meant by them. Unless we know the intent and what the content meant to the one saying them, we will have problems.

Until we can properly convey what we think and feel without blaming or becoming defensive, we will have difficulties. We end up playing games with one another rather than being honest about how we feel and our commitment to our relationship.

Problems occur when we don’t know how to express what we are feeling and thinking without being accusatory or diminishing our needs.

7 Typical Communication Problems

1. Self-Summarizing Syndrome

Each person continues repeating his/her point of view. Both feel hurt, not heard and neither understands what the other is experiencing nor hears their point of view. Neither stays on the subject long enough to resolve the problem.

If you find yourself in this scenario, ask for a quick timeout to check on feelings, intents and impacts. Ask for feedback. Listen to the feedback. Paraphrase and validate.

When you validate or authenticate the other, you are letting them know you understand their perspective. It is not just saying, “I agree with you,” or “You’re right and I’m wrong.”

2. Off-beaming

The conversation breaks down into rambling. Those involved stray or drift away from what is being discussed in the moment. Either one might start talking about plans for the future or commenting on other things instead of remaining on the subject. This leads to frustration and blaming.

3. Mind Reading

Here we make the assumption that we know what the other is feeling and thinking without checking.

4. Kitchen Sinking

Old history is brought up along with the main issue of every conversation.


“You’re always watching football. Every Saturday you are watching TV instead of helping around the house. You’re just like your father – never spending time with your kids. Your feet are on the table and when your friends were over they left a big mess. You don’t care about us, or your home and you promised to fix the kitchen sink.”

5. Yes-but. . .

The husband has just given a detailed explanation of why his wife should do something a particular way. He has logically thought it through, and it seems like the best possible solution.

However, the wife had thought of another idea and says, “Yes, but…”

The husband assumes she hasn’t heard him and re-states.

The wife also wants to be heard and responds and thinks to herself, “Nothing I say is really important or accepted.”

One accuses and the other defends with “Yes, but…”

6. Cross-Complaining

Each person states a complaint in response to a complaint. Neither person is responding to the other person.

She: “I saw this cute dress on sale.”

He: “Our budget is way overdrawn. We can’t keep spending money frivolously.”

She: “If we hadn’t bought all that hunting gear last month, we’d have more money to spend.”

7. Standoffs

The same thing is repeated over and over. It usually involves catastrophic expectations with fears about “backing down.”

“If I give in to him, I’ll always be in second place.”

Each person desperately wants approval, acceptance, and validation of feelings.

Each person assumes their same position in every communication scenario, usually thinking, “If he/she would just see my point of view…” “If he/she would just be nice to me…”

Giving in is out of the question. Both people assume they are right and the other wrong.

How to end a standoff:

Genuinely try to see things from your partner’s perspective. Summarize how you think your partner feels.

Communicate that you understand your partner’s perspective – that  what is said makes sense and is valid, even if you don’t agree. You can respect and accept the other’s point of view.

Be aware of the catastrophic expectations you may be attaching to things. Tell yourself you won’t let this happen.

Ask: What can we do to make things better?

State clearly, succinctly, and specifically what you are willing to do to make things better. Present your ideas in positive ways.

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

Communication Basics

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

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

This is part 2 in my series on communication.

Part 1 – Learning to Communicate: 12 Tips

When I’m talking about communication, I am not referring to texting or e-mails or words on a page. I am talking about a face-to-face exchange of ideas. We have a message to send and a message to be received.

Communication breakdown is nothing new.

How often are the messages we send received with the same objective we had in mind? How often do we hear something other than what was intended?

When the communication is among family members and trusted friends, we want that communication to be as honest and genuine as possible.

Our messages go through a filtering system that can color and distort.

We speak and hear from our own experiences, from how we feel in the moment, from our perceptions, and from our interpretations of life.

Knowing this can eliminate a lot of misinterpretations. The more we know another, the more we can take those differences into consideration. But life often intervenes, and things are said one way and heard another.

A significant part of communication is listening.

A good speaker will try to state exactly what he or she is thinking, wanting, or feeling.

The listener can verify what they heard by asking for verification instead of just assuming or filling in the blanks. While it may sound pedantic, clarification can eliminate a lot of misinterpretation.

Feedback lets the other person know what you heard is accurate.

It not only clarifies what was spoken but what interpretation you made. Behaviors often contradict words spoken. When instructions are given it is important that you repeat exactly what was said. At other times, paraphrase what you heard.

Give feedback in some way to be sure you heard accurately.

Here are some communication basics

Listen and Validate

When speaking, state exactly what you are thinking, wanting, or feeling. Use “I” statements.

When listening, make sure you understand what the speaker is saying – the intent, not just the content. We do that by asking questions or giving feedback on what we heard, to clarify, instead of just filling in the gaps with assumptions or guesses.

Provide Feedback

Feedback is telling the other person what you believe was said. You don’t just assume. It prevents resentment, irritation, and incorrect inference about motives.

“Let me be sure I understood you. Did you mean…?”

If the conversation is turning into an argument, ask for a stop action or time out to lower emotional levels, so you can re-focus.

“Let’s stop a minute. I think we are getting away from the problem at hand.”

Messages contain both content and emotional meaning.

“I am upset that you have made different plans.”

Give feedback by clarifying, paraphrasing, or perception checks.

When someone gives you directions or a timeline, clarify by repeating back exactly what you heard.

Paraphrase what was said in your own words. Paraphrasing explores the meaning of what was said. It does not mean the person is being disrespectful or insulting.

“I heard you say _____________. Is that true?”

“Did you say __________?”

“Do you mean _____________?”

Perception checks describe the other person’s feelings. It is not used to express disapproval or approval but simply conveys the desire to better understand how the other is feeling.

“This is how I understand your feelings. Am I accurate?”

“I get the impression you are angry with me when you become quiet. Are you?”

“Am I right that you feel disappointed when your mother criticized you?”

“I am not sure if you are confused or angry with me.”

The next time you are in a conversation and you find yourself getting irritated, check your feeling state and what is going on in your life at that time.

Check the things that might be making your conversation tense for potential misunderstanding, and make adjustments.

If you are a listener, do the same and use the skills of paraphrasing, feedback and clarification to resolve the problem.

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

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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.

Learning to Communicate: 12 Tips

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

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I want to continue this new year with the overall theme, “Change Your Focus – Change your Life.”

To develop a new focus that will enrich and empower your life, it is important to examine the patterns you have established over time and identify what is working and what is not.

With insight and understanding, you can change ineffective or even destructive patterns, one step at a time. These new patterns become new life tools you can use successfully every day.

Communication is one important life tool.

How often do you experience misunderstandings that have a negative outcome? Have you stopped and asked why you end up struggling so much to get your point across or to understand the other person? Have you thought about why your conversations end up in fights or misinterpretation?

Ineffective communication results in ongoing irritation and division. Why can’t she or he listen? I keep repeating myself, but it never resolves anything.

Soon we see the other in less than loving ways and relationships begin to unravel. We share our complaints with others instead of working together with our loved ones.

The Primary Goal of Communication

Communication is sending and receiving messages that we hope are understood. It involves words and symbols as well as nonverbal language. And most important, it involves careful listening that hears the other person’s intent and meaning.

Effective communication is an interchange, a conversation or dialogue that involves two-way contact where information, ideas and/or perspectives are exchanged with understanding as the primary goal. It requires that you know what you want to say and how to convey it in such a way that the person hearing understands accurately.

Sounds simple. So why do we have so many problems? Why do we have so much difficulty communicating our thoughts, wishes and desires with another? Is there a pattern occurring that continues this breakdown?

Meaningful Communication

There is so much chatter about insignificant things – the weather, what I had for lunch, who I saw at the store, etc. But communication that is meaningful includes a message and a desired outcome that is important to you. In transferring information, your goal is that the other person will understand what you are trying to convey.

Messages contain both thoughts and feelings. Exchanges are often frustrating because we don’t always say what we really mean. People are often too busy to listen to what is being said. And we have difficulty expressing our emotions that define what we are feeling.

There are so many ways to communicate: texting, Facebook, Twitter, e-mails, podcasts, etc. But that is not the same as talking to a person face-to-face, where we can see the responses and have a discussion about difficult issues, asking for clarification to be sure our intent was heard.

Learning to Communicate: 12 Tips | focuswithmarlene.com

12 Tips for Becoming a Good Communicator

1. Check your internal state.

Are you stressed, anxious, fearful, tired, depressed, etc.? How is that affecting what you are trying to say and how you are saying it?

How you feel inside and how you approach problems will be reflected not only in the words you choose, but by your demeanor, body posture and facial expression.

2. Be aware of your nonverbal cues.

We cannot not communicate.  We communicate both verbally and nonverbally. We pay attention to the body and facial expression first and words second.

Does your body posture and facial expression match what you are saying or what you want to convey?

3. Think before you speak.

Organize information before communicating it. What message are you trying to send? Perhaps it is feelings, wants and needs. Too often something someone said triggers a hasty response.

Try to keep main points together and ask for feedback to assure you were heard correctly. Think, ask questions, and verify.

4. Check your perceptual filters.

We each see the world differently. When you are speaking, how does your perception match that of your listener? What is the intention behind your words? Are you being honest? Do you have a hidden agenda you are not willing to admit to? What kind of response is the other person giving you?

5. Know how to ask for wants and needs.

If you want something, ask for it – don’t automatically assume others will know what you need or want. Don’t assume you will always get what you want.

6. Respect the rights of others.

Respect their space, their feelings, their integrity, and their intelligence. Are you attentive and do you show an interest in the person you are speaking with? Can you reinforce that attentiveness by eye contact, smiling, nodding, and with appropriate gestures?

7. Ask for feedback.

Don’t assume the other person heard everything and automatically understands what you are trying to say.

8. Use reflective language – validate feelings.

People who are emotionally upset, angry, or whose emotions are heightened or mixed may feel they shouldn’t have these feelings. They can become defensive or aggressive. They need validation that they are okay in spite of harsh feelings.

9. Let people know you are listening.

Use “uh-huhs,” “I see,” and other verbal and physical ways to let the other know you are listening. Be real. Really listen – don’t just pretend. Turn off the thinking and response mechanisms and focus on what the other person is saying, both verbally and physically.

10. Use “I” statements.

An “I” statement tells others how you feel, what you are thinking and what bothers you and what you want. It accepts responsibility for how you feel in response to whatever is happening.

11. Eliminate “you” statements.

“You” statements hold the other person responsible for how you feel. “You” statements blame, accuse, label, judge and evaluate. They are meant to intimidate and they create defensiveness.

12. Eliminate powerless talk.

If you have something to say, say it. But say it politely, specifically, and firmly. Powerless talk is tentative and hesitant. It hedges or qualifies what you say with statements such as “I guess” or “you know.”

Tag questions are attached to statements, such as, “It sure is cold in here, isn’t it?”  Powerless talk adds disclaimers to statements. For example, “Don’t get me wrong, but…”

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

8 Qualities of Hope

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

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I have published several variations of this post and it remains one of my favorites. For me, it is a meaningful ending to a turbulent year.

Hope that Sustains

 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

—Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

When everything around us seems to be crashing, and we think nothing else could possibly happen, it invariably does.

Problems have a domino effect – one problem creates another and so on. At such times, we cry out to God for strength and hope.

Throughout scripture, we read stories of God gracing His people with faith, hope and trust. It says something good and desirable can happen, even in the worst of times.

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

—Isaiah 40:31, KJV

Hope! It is a gift I cannot refuse.

Hope is the conviction that God will be with me through all things. He catches me when reality doesn’t match my expectations and I begin to fall. When reality has dashed my dreams, I need to turn my fear of falling into floating with the confidence that God is with me, ready to set me safely on the ground.

Hope encourages.

When encouraged, we gain confidence. Within confidence, we find courage.

Hope motivates.

With encouragement, we become motivated to look for solutions to tough problems and difficult life situations.

Hope energizes.

When we feel helpless and hopeless, our energy is drained, and depression settles into every cell and fiber of our body. Hope changes that in an instant. It allows us to focus on what we can do rather than what we cannot do. Hope literally changes the chemistry in our body.


Hope expects.

When hopeful, we expect a different outcome. We don’t worry about whether the earth will keep rotating, or whether the sun will come up in the morning or go down at night. We know that when the sun is hidden in the clouds, that it still exists.

Hope expects that tomorrow can be brighter than today, that our pain will recede, and that we will experience joy again. Hope says that when the world seems dark and we think we have been locked in a prison of despair, we can place our expectation on God for help in our time of need.

Hope believes.

When expectations are placed in God, we believe that He not only exists, but that He loves us, and will never leave or desert us. He gives us the strength to endure. Hope believes God’s word that says He cares personally about each of us, and that His love is so great, He was willing to die for us.

Hope never gives up.

Hope doesn’t quit. When we are exhausted and think we can’t do anything more, we hear God whispering to us, “I am there with you. Try again – one more time.” We feel His arms carry us. We hear His promises in our ear and feel His strength flow into us. He intervenes in our lives.

Hope surrenders.

When we surrender to the knowledge that we do not know it all, will never know it all and need God to survive, we begin to experience hope. Hope relies on something greater than ourselves. We recognize that we are not sufficient unto ourselves. In that surrender, we let go and let God. The focus is no longer making something happen but surrendering to God and adjusting our responses. In that surrender, we find peace. Hope then reveals itself in looking for and finding blessings in all things.

The Easter story reveals life after death, a new life that goes beyond the grave; a hope of salvation made possible by God. Within our tragedies, lies new hope and new life as well. With hope we can overcome anything.

“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place it won’t be a dead end – because I am God, your personal God.”

—Isaiah 43:1-2, The Message

Lord, we give you thanks for dying on the cross to save us from our sins and giving us hope and strength and peace.

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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.

Peace: A Gift We are Given

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

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“And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

—Philippians 4:7 (New Oxford Annotated Bible)

Peace. One moment our spirits are dejected and depressed – the next we are feeling at peace.

What changes have occurred to create this difference?

When losses run deep and grief has a longer time frame to complete, we may find ourselves feeling okay one moment and down in the dumps the next.

I have found my spirit and soul fed by the statements of faith, assurance and love I find in the scriptures. It is where I experience God reaching out to me and where I find peace in the midst of any turmoil or tragedy.

There is much I am personally responsible for: challenging negative thinking, reframing self-defeating self-talk and changing my focus.

I am responsible for taking charge of my life, setting goals, making decisions, and working through problems. But when I am in the midst of traumas, critical losses, uncertainty and pain, I also need the healing Spirit of God.

Grieving our losses enables us to heal, recover and integrate into our life story what has happened. We are molded and expanded by our losses. As we let go and risk being in uncertainty and anxiety, we discover more about ourselves than we could have at any other time. Unwanted change can create a whole new landscape of possibilities and choices we had not been exposed to.

Peace enables us to stay with the ambiguity and insecurity and doubt until we have worked through it.

Peace | focuswithmarlene.com

Peace comes when…

  • We don’t know the answers and stop asking the questions
  • We accept what has happened and choose to move forward
  • We don’t have to be perfect – we are okay just as we are
  • We rest in God’s assurances
  • We allow love to perform its healing power
  • We dig deep inside and pull out the strength and resilience that is there
  • We make the choice to become responsible and take charge of our life
  • We choose to focus on where we are headed and not where we have been

It is then that peace will energize, motivate, encourage, and lead us to a new path that holds promise of purpose and meaning.

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.

What if…

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“For we live by believing, not by seeing.”

—2 Corinthians 5:7, NLT

What if

We stopped trying to live the perfect life.

Would we become real?

What if

We stopped pretending we had it all together.

Would we fall apart, or would we finally recognize our need for help?

What if

We saw the Ten Commandments as a gift from a loving Father trying to teach us how to live non-destructive lives.

Would we follow more of them?

What if

We really believed God cared about us more than any earthly being could.

Would we finally trust and believe?

What if

We could actually say, “I’m a sinner, Lord; forgive me.”

Would we finally set down that bag of garbage we’ve been carrying around all these years?

Would we stop struggling and find rest and peace?

What if

We gave our “hearts” to God instead of our good intentions and good works?

Would we be able to let go of our fake facades and be transformed?

What if

We accepted God’s forgiveness.

Would we find peace?

What if

We forgave ourselves.

Would we be more forgiving of others?

What if

We actually loved ourselves because God loves us?”

Would we be able to love others more?

What if

We saw service as a joy instead of a duty.

Would those we serve see the love and compassion of a God who loves them too?

What if

We came and sat with God every day:  talking – listening – being still?

Would we hear His quiet but strong voice?

What if

Instead of asking “Why, why, why? – Why did this happen?… Why did God allow this?… Why did I screw up again?… Why can’t I ever get anything right?… Why, why, why?” We simply said, “I don’t know why, and I don’t care. I just know God loves me – period. He said it; I believe it.”

If He has the power to create this entire universe, this world, all the laws of science that maintain it, and you and me, then do I really need to know all the whys?

What if

There was no God?

It would be the day I died, and life no longer had meaning. The universe would no longer reflect light. The earth would stop rotating and on that day I would be joyless, lifeless. There would be no love – no laws – no protection – no joy – nothing! The earth would be full of nothing. It would consist only of facades, distorted mirrors, and no way to get out of the endless cycle of lies, deceit, and greed. Everyone would be left with a life that had no meaning, rotating around and around on a merry-go-round that never stopped, and we would experience hopelessness and despair.

No God? Impossible!

Lord, help me to believe when I struggle, to have faith when everything seems to be going wrong and to know that You are always there for us.

Lord, Teach Me to Pray

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As a young mother, I attended a Bible study group of women from all faiths and denominations. Listening to the women talk about their prayer life, I felt inadequate in my own.

I asked myself, How do I establish a meaningful prayer life?

Every day, I sent heavenward a constant stream of doubts and concerns as I chased after an ADHD son, tried to meet the needs of my daughter while helping my physically handicapped son learn to walk.

When I “prayed,” it was with the formality of praying to a stern father who listened only when you had cleaned up your act.

I understood and believed in grace, but that meaning hadn’t sunk in yet. To me, God felt like a puritanical God who expected and demanded a “right spirit within me” before I could approach Him.

Years later, after gaining a little more wisdom, I realized that all those times when I prayed the right words of petition, praise and worship, I was trying to live up to a standard imposed by man.

God heard my prayers, but I didn’t experience God in the way I so desperately wanted because I believed He cared more about perfection than the person. My “real” prayers were the constant stream of petitions, doubts and concerns and thanks as I struggled through my days.

Throughout the Bible we read the prayers offered up to God – prayers of pleading, complaint, confession, and blessing. The people of the Old Testament prayed for strength and endurance. We read the prayers of Abraham, Moses, Hannah, David, Elijah, Nehemiah, Daniel, and Jeremiah, to name just a few.

Old Testament people talked to God anytime and anywhere about anything and everything, using everyday language.

And yet, how seldom do we “talk” to God. We struggle to find the appropriate words to express our concerns.

woman praying

So, what is this thing called “prayer”?

Prayer is a conversation. It is developing an intimate relationship with God. He is the ultimate Father and friend. As Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven.”  While God is not to be taken frivolously or lightly, neither is He cold and aloof. He is our Heavenly Father.

Prayer is a relationship – an ongoing open dialogue between God and us.

Prayer is reverently acknowledging that He is Almighty God and humbly giving thanks for all the blessings in our life.

Prayer is studying, meditating and simply ‘being” with God, listening quietly for that small, quiet voice deep within us.

Prayer is becoming honest with ourselves before a God whose love will transform rather than destroy us. It is there we find peace and hope.

God graciously allows us to be real and free to be ourselves when we come to Him. In prayer we can bring our tears, frustrations, anxieties, doubt, anger, grief, and depression to Him along with our joy, humility, awe, thankfulness, and praise.

Prayer heals our wounds, gives us strength, and helps us gain a servant’s heart. It is where we find that “peace that passes all understanding.”

Thank you, God, that you hear and answer our prayers.

Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Lord, teach us to pray.

Teach us how to be real. Teach us how to be free to run and experience you as a child, as our father. Teach us how-to live in accordance with you.

“Come,” He says. Come honestly. Come as a child. You can even come as a hardened adult, but at some point you will want to check your baggage at the door, for your sake, not His. Just come. You will never be able to prepare yourself or be good enough. God is bigger than you think.

“Come unto me, all ye that labor who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

—Matthew 11:28-29, KJV

That means you.

That means me.

His love doesn’t depend on our feelings, state of being, sacrifices, or anything. His love is a free gift to each of us.


Come as a child or hardened adult.

Come as a doubting Thomas or a killer with blood on your hands or heart. Come as a thief who has stolen lifeblood from another.

Come broken-hearted. Come rejoicing.

Just come as you are – dirty – doubting – bleeding – beat up – defiant – arrogant – cynical – self-righteous – self-centered – proud – humble – faithless – faithful.

He will give you a spiritual bath and transform your life. He will kill the fatted calf and make a feast for you. He welcomes you with open arms as you bring awareness of your need – even if that is buried under the grossest garbage of this world.

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.

How to Reduce Stress During the Holidays and Throughout the Year

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Holidays often create high levels of stress and tension. Last-minute shopping, forgotten items on our to-do list, planning get-togethers, last-minute invitations, etc.

When under pressure to get everything done, we constantly work without taking breaks. However, unless we take purposeful breaks, that constant tension will soon exhaust us. When we learn relaxation techniques, we can apply them at any time to reduce stress and tension.

Only 15 minutes a day

It is difficult to learn how to relax on our own, as we try to “make” it happen instead of learning how to “allow” it to happen.

Relaxation Audio - Marlene Anderson | Focuswithmarlene.comA good friend of mine, Ron Jones, an Emmy award-winning composer, and I collaborated to create a Relaxation Audio (available on my website).

Ron composed the music specifically to go with the simple script I read that teaches the listener how to relax all parts of the body.

The script is based on relaxation techniques taught by a physician years ago working with biofeedback. I ask you to tense different parts of your body, breathe into that tension, and then slowly release both the air and tension.

As I breathe on the tape, you breathe.

When thoughts of work intrude, you don’t push the thoughts away – you simply allow them to pass by while you re-focus on the relaxation exercise.

The recording is both relaxing and instructive.

In the process of going through the exercise, you discover where you hold your stress and tension. We all have different areas of the body that seem to tighten faster under stress. While doing this exercise, you experience both the tension of muscles and the relaxation of those muscles immediately while breathing.

As you follow the sequence, the brain begins to associate the words, “letting go, relaxing deeper and deeper” with the intake and release of deep breathing, making it easier to release stress any time.

Our brain responds to words.

Without realizing it, we are constantly streaming thoughts and statements all day long in our mind, a lot of them loaded with stress that has an immediate response in the body. Purposefully choosing different words that associate slow, deep breathing with instructions to let go of tension, helps return the body to a restful state.

It takes about 30 days to put a new habit in place. If you listen every day to this 15-minute MP3 audio, you will experience lower stress levels.

Other Quick Stress-Reduction Techniques

Our brain not only responds to words, but also to the pictures we hold in our head. Here are some quick stress-reduction techniques that you can use any time.

Five-Minute Walk Away

Get up and walk away from your work. Physically remove yourself from your work and find a quiet spot by yourself.

Stand with arms at your side, take a deep, slow breath and slowly raise your arms, stretching them high over your head.

Hold them there for a minute and then slowly expel your air and gradually bring your arms back down to your side.

While doing this exercise, focus your mind on relaxing. Repeat several times. Before returning to work, take a few additional minutes to walk around, stretching muscles and focusing on anything other than work.

Ten-Minute Time-Out

When you have an especially busy workday, schedule longer breaks throughout the day, even if you think you absolutely have no time. Do it anyway. Set your watch.

Go for a walk outdoors even if it is cold.

Focus on the world around you and on relaxing your breathing. Pay attention to the beauty of nature, the trees, colors, shapes, textures, and sounds.

Healing Waterfall

Here is a quick visualization I use when I’m on the run and want to maximize time spent waiting in line, on the elevator, waiting in the doctor’s office, etc.

Since I have already taught the mind to respond to both images and accompanying words, I can use them both effectively in quick moments when I am not doing anything else. They reduce tension, time pressure and stress.

If you can, close your eyes for a moment. If not, you can still visualize. Focus on breathing calmly and deeply and imagine myself standing underneath a beautiful, warm, gently cascading waterfall.

Feel the gentle stream of water wash over you. As it does, feel your tension washing away as well. Let go of your stress and allow yourself to relax.

Positive Driving

Nothing can create tension faster than being late for an appointment with the traffic reducing progress to a crawl. Your thoughts increase the tension in your body, and you feel angry, anxious, frustrated, pressured, helpless, aggressive, etc.

Use your mind to bring calm instead. You can’t go faster. You are stuck in traffic. You will not arrive at your destination any quicker by feeling angry and getting more tense. You are berating yourself instead of going with the flow of events.

Use this time to monitor your thoughts and attitudes, let go of stressful events, reframe your situation, and relax.

Tell yourself you can’t get there any faster than what the traffic will allow. Tell yourself you will use this time to relax and think positive thoughts.

Stay in the moment rather than thinking about where you must be or what you should be doing. Whenever you feel tension rising, breathe into that space and release it.

Small new habits; big changes

It is amazing how our life will change when we apply relaxation and visualization techniques that are easy to learn and available anytime. These are new habits that can make a huge difference in your life.

Happy Holidays.


Thanksgiving Psalm of Blessings

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Blessings – they are there in the everyday routines of life. But we seldom see them because we are so caught up in our work and worries. In fact, we seldom find time to spend any time with a God who has blessed us in so many ways.

Sometimes in our tragedies and sorrows we think there is nothing for which to be thankful. Yet I have found it is precisely in my tragedies and sorrows where I have found God waiting to provide comfort, strength, and hope.

“You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God. You’re blessed when you follow his directions, doing your best to find him.”

—Psalm 119, The Message

I am blessed because every day I have the freedom to make choices. I can make them by myself, or I can choose to make them in harmony with God’s Word.

Turkey, Stuffing and Thanks

Thanksgiving isn’t just a time for turkey and stuffing. Giving thanks is an important value humans need every day. It isn’t some corny, left-over virtue from the past that we don’t need any more.

Learning gratefulness and humility is important to our health: mental, spiritual, and physical.

It motivates us when the world looks black. It energizes us to pick ourselves up and begin yet again. It gives us hope when our future looks hopeless. The more we practice it throughout the year, the more we benefit from it.

Here are some things I continue to be grateful for:

  • The freedom to develop my talents and use them in service to others as well as myself
  • The opportunities to express myself in positive and helpful ways
  • The ability to choose how I will respond to whatever life throws at me
  • The freedom to worship a God who is gracious and forgiving and gives me wisdom and strength
  • The capability to reach out, encourage and help another in their struggles
  • The assurance that I live in a free nation, where I have the opportunity to work and choose positive principles and values

This Thanksgiving, as I give thanks for all of those who have shed their blood to keep this country free, I am humbled by their sacrifice. I give thanks to God who has blessed our nation and our freedom.

“Oh, that my steps might be steady, keeping to the course you set; then I’d never have any regrets in comparing my life with your counsel.”

—Psalm 119, The Message

giving thanks

Blessings to you this Thanksgiving.

May the bowing of your head in prayer and thanksgiving give you the greatest blessing of all.

May your Thanksgiving be filled with remembrances of all the blessings God has given us as a nation and to each of us personally.

May you find in those remembrances the strength to meet tomorrow’s challenges, the peace you seek as you walk with God, and the hope for a future where God’s love is more evident than man’s hatred for one another.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

How Purpose, Optimism, Values, and Beliefs Work Together

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We can have all the goals and plans we want and work hard to achieve them. But without purpose, all that would be meaningless.

Purposiveness can be defined as “finding meaning in life.”

Without a sense of purpose and meaning, we might accomplish things, but they would feel insignificant.

Victor Frankl wrote that our search for meaning “is the primary motivation in life.” (from Man’s Search for Meaning)

Martin Seligman wrote, “Optimism and hope cause better resistance to depression when bad events strike, better performance at work, particularly in challenging jobs, and better physical health.” (from Authentic Happiness)

Optimism doesn’t just happen – it is learned.

The science of psychoneuroimmunology teaches us there is an interaction between the brain, endocrine system, and immune system and to this degree belief becomes biology.

Optimism is a biological phenomenon that creates a definite physiological response within an individual. It reduces anxiety and stress and its accompanying physical symptoms. Other studies reveal that when optimism was used as a primary coping strategy, people were less anxious and had fewer physical symptoms.

—Witmer & Rich, 1983

How do we develop the skills of optimism and purpose for our lives?

In studies by Maslow, we learn that having a definite philosophy of life and religion are as important as sunlight, calcium or love.

We can have the most beautiful and desired of homes, but without a meaningful purpose, we remain unhappy, constantly searching for that next thing.

We cannot live and survive without strong ethical and defined moral standards.

Valuelessness is the ultimate disease of our time. It leads to vague illnesses: apathy, alienation, hopelessness, and cynicism which lead to psychological, physical, and social illnesses.

Having a meaningful purpose in life helps us develop optimism.

Understanding the value of our beliefs enables us to develop a moral compass to guide our behavior. Morality guides behavior that maintains our well-being, along with giving respect and compassion to others.

Spirituality and optimism and a belief in God go hand-in-hand.

optimistic women

What do you believe and what do you value?

Beliefs form the foundation of our value system. Values are the personal worth we place on anything we deem important to us.

Sometimes we learn those values growing up, often by observing the role models in our life, such as parents, teachers, etc.

For some kids it is the movie and TV characters they see.

Other times it is a discovery as we go through tough times.

Our beliefs and values guide most of our behavior.

What do you value most in life?

Your kids, your marriage, your relationships? Perhaps it is your career or achieving success. Maybe you put a high value on your iPhone, iPad, or other electronics you have come to depend on?

We spend time with those things we value the most. If family is important, we will spend time with them. If our relationships are important, we will spend time with those we care about. If God is important, we will value the time we spend with Him and His Word.

The values we hold form a blueprint or guideline for the choices and decisions we make. They affect our choice of occupations, marriage partners, family and social interactions, political and religious activities, and future plans. Are values are more than just a set of rules and regulations.

When our beliefs and values and behaviors are incompatible or at odds with each other, we will experience conflict and stress.

If we are doing things that go against a deeply held belief or value, we will find ourselves in internal conflict. This creates a stress that will affect every aspect of our health: psychological, emotional, spiritual, and physical.

Identifying our core beliefs and the value we place upon them is crucial to living a healthy life.

Moral values are based on right/wrong – good/evil. They form the basis for judgments or moral responsibility. They guide ethical behaviors such as telling the truth, keeping agreements and not injuring others, etc. They often contain words such as should, never, always.

Non-moral values are based on tastes, preferences, and styles. There is no sense of obligation or moral responsibility attached. It is preferred vs dictated. They express our attitudes towards all kinds of things.

Both beliefs and values are very powerful. We will die for them. We will kill others for them. We will give up comfort and safety for them. We need them.

Healthy values are life-enhancing, realistic, flexible, and owned. They allow us to meet our basic human needs.

Healthy values encourage us to live in the present while still learning from the past and making plans for the future. They encourage us to problem-solve based on current situations and expand our learning base.

Unhealthy values, on the other hand, are rigid, introjected, unrealistic, and life-restricting. They diminish self-esteem and create a life that holds little joy or pleasure. They form rules that discourage thinking, problem-solving and evaluation. The rules are laws that cannot be broken – you must and have to follow without question.

In a fast-paced world that gives us little time to think and evaluate, we often find ourselves at odds with what we believe is truly important. But the time spent stepping back and evaluating our beliefs and values can be critical for our lives and that of our children.

What are some of the beliefs and values that govern your life?

Why do you place a value on them? Why are these beliefs and values important for you and your children?

What beliefs and values do you want to live by?

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