Let's Talk

Focus on What You Can Do – Not What You Can’t

We had just moved into our unfinished new home. A vertebra in my lower back had begun to deteriorate sending my left leg into painful spasms. With all the work left to do, it was very depressing and frustrating to be limited in what I could do.

As I sat with an ice bag on my back, I wondered how I could make this time productive. What could I do? One of my future projects was to go through a large collection of food magazines and remove the recipes I wanted to keep. This was the perfect time to do this.

I enjoy cooking and looking through the colorful articles diverted my attention from my pain and limited ability. Before I entered the hospital for surgery, I had gone through all the magazines, removing and organizing the recipes into easy to use notebooks. I turned a potentially unproductive time into a pleasant and productive time period. I still use those recipes today.

There are always meaningful things we can do if we change our focus from what we can’t do to what we can.

Arnold Beisser wrote in his book, “Flying without Wings: Personal Reflections on Loss, Disability and Healing”: “Even though I could not move, I could actively engage with whatever was around me through the play of senses.”

Arnold was an athlete and tennis champion who contracted polio after completing medical school to become a surgeon. He lived in an iron lung for 3 years before emerging as a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. Life was just unfolding when this tragedy occurred.

But he began to reframe his experience while still in the iron lung. “I could be more than a helpless victim, and I could have a part in determining my life and what shape it took.”

He began to use his imagination to creatively look at things in a new way. He defines the baby steps involved in changing how he looked at his new reality. “I had moments of great pleasure and satisfaction when I became absorbed in observing minor details and becoming an active observer, rather than a passive one… Eventually, I could pass a very interesting time looking at the ceiling, noticing small details and changes.”

He did not allow his tragedy to disable him. He went on to become a psychiatrist, an administrator, an author, and fell in love and married a woman he met while still in the hospital.

No matter what the setback or situation, there are many things we can do to reframe our circumstances turning it into something positive.

©2012 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Freedom – The Ability to Make Choices

“What alone remains is the ‘last of human freedoms – the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.’” Victor Frankl

Now that the holidays are over, the grey skies of reality replace the warm afterglow of Christmas. The fun experienced on New Year’s Eve is part of the past as we grapple with the realities of the New Year. Perhaps you had been given your pink slip in December or have been out of work for some time and the holidays offered a reprieve from a harsh reality. But now, it is time to work on the here and now.

It is easy to talk about hope and offer suggestions as to what we can do to offset difficult times. But when we can’t put food on the table or pay the rent, maintaining a positive attitude is difficult to do. Unfortunately, the alternative is usually anxiety, fear, resentment or anger that soon leads to depression and a sense of hopelessness.

This may be the most challenging moment in your life. You may be faced with downsizing or giving up everything you have worked so hard to gain. Yet, as difficult and nonsensical as it sounds, with any situation we find ourselves, we still have the ability to choose how we will respond. We can meet the new day with plodding resignation or with a mindset of possibility.

In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Victor Frankl wrote, “To live is to suffer; to survive is to find meaning in the suffering.”

As a psychiatrist and Jew, Victor Frankl survived the tortuous years of confinement in Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War. In those unbelievable years of torture, death and humiliation, where all the members of his family died, Victor Frankl was witness to how people responded to this inhumanity:

“And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.”

When I have faced what has seemed like insurmountable obstacles or events in my life, I am not only reminded that God is with me through these times, but also that others have had to face far worse situations. We are all required to meet life’s challenges. My resolve is strengthened as I read the stories of others who have met their challenges.

As a new year begins, we have the opportunity to once again determine how we will meet the challenges life puts before us. Perhaps it means starting over – again. Perhaps it is allowing others to help us or asking for the help and support we need. Perhaps it is making a personal sacrifice to reach out and help others who are also struggling. Perhaps it is making a commitment to replace a negative lifestyle with a more self-disciplined positive one.

Change occurs all the time. We struggle against it because we don’t like the anxiety of the unknown. Follow this month’s blogs as together we explore ways we can meet the challenges of change. Fear and anxiety can be used to motivate us to find new possibilities and options. It is often in adversity where we discover the worst or best of ourselves.

©2012 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

What if. . . .

We are ending a holiday season.  As we end this year and move into the next, we  have the opportunity to reflect and make some new choices about how we direct our lives.  Here are some of my reflections.

What if. . .

We discovered that Christmas was more than the holiday parties, calculated gifts and compulsory visits to relatives we otherwise would not speak to?  Would these past weeks make a difference in our lives?

What if. . .

We really got it; that Christmas is about the birth of a Savior – not our need to have a holiday break from work, presents or partying with friends? Would we recognize our need for Him in our daily life?

What if. . .

We stopped pretending everything is okay and that we have all the answers? Would we become real?

What if. . .

We made our own pilgrimages into the soul, laying bare our sins and shortcomings before a loving God?  Would we discover grace and peace?

What if. . .

We forgave ourselves? Would we be more forgiving?

What if. . .

We were willing to share our talents, abilities and skills, our tattered love and lives, vulnerabilities and incompleteness with those around us.  Would others discover Christmas?

May the God who was willing to allow His Son to come to this earth as a vulnerable baby, transform your life as He continues to transform the world; and in that transformation, may each of us truly experience Christmas for the first time and take it with us into the New Year.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Peace and Hope

May God’s Gift of Peace and Hope be your best Christmas gift ever.

What Christmas Means To Me

Peace on Earth - Good Will to Men

I love the Christmas season: the smell of burning candles and pine boughs, Christmas cards that continue to connect me with old friends and music that fills all the tattered and worn places of the heart and spirit. I love the afterglow when family and friends have returned home after a special day of celebration.

It is the day after Christmas. Christmas cards that proclaim our desire for peace and hope are displayed on my mantle. Yet, as it has for centuries, the world remains in rebellion, revolts and war. Peace – Hope: are these things truly possible?

Each year, we are given the opportunity to pause and reflect on what Christmas means to us. For Christmas isn’t just about pretty bows, celestial music and lights that decorate trees and houses; it is about a gift given to us by God, a gift that involved sacrifice and love. Who can fathom such a God who loves us so much He would be willing to send His Son to die for us.

As we gather the wrapping paper strewn about and put away our presents, what will we do with the gift God has given us? Will we put it on a shelf somewhere with other gifts we don’t know what to do with? Or will we choose to continue to unwrap its many layers throughout the year.

The peace and hope we long for doesn’t begin with negotiations to end wars on foreign fronts. It isn’t found in governments that write peace treaties. But it can be found in the gift God gave us, which when applied, has the ability to transform our hearts and lives. The choice is ours. Do we use the gift given to each of us or discard it?

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC


Grieving Losses at Christmas Time

Part of the grieving process is not only letting go of the life that was, but involves creating a new reality. Throughout our lifetime we experience losses that require new adjustments. For most of our losses, the momentary twinges of sadness give way to exciting new possibilities.

But when we have experienced the death of someone we loved as much as life itself, our life shuts down, in shock. The world we knew has been irretrievably altered. One minute we are happily going about the business of life – the next we are trying to absorb what has happened.

With any loss, life does not allow us to remain frozen in time, hoping that events will reverse itself and everything will be okay again. Even before the shock wears off, we are required to go back to work and provide for our families. And in-between going about the business of life, we try to reconcile our grief and transition into a new reality.

Holidays and other important dates can be extremely difficult especially in the early stages of a loss. Here are some things that might help the process.

  1. Accept invitations of family and friends. We may want to just retreat from the world. Yet it is precisely at these times when we need the support of others; even if we don’t think we will be good company. Share stories about the person who is no longer with you. Help friends join a conversation about good times and good memories. It’s okay to laugh through the tears. 
  2. Take personal time to grieve. It’s okay to hold personal conversations with the person you loved. Write a special letter to him or her. Hang a special ornament on the tree. Journal, opening your heart and emotions onto paper. Allow yourself to cry. Then do something positive and pleasant. 
  3. Make peace with what has happened. It is okay to be angry about events; but use anger to propel you forward in a constructive way. Part of grief work may be forgiveness as you let go.
  4. Find something good every day. It could be the recognition of good friends or people who reach out to you. Perhaps it is a new awareness of the strengths you have. Good things can occur even from the worst of tragedies if we remain open to them.
  5.  Honor your grief. Remember, it takes time to heal – don’t be on someone else’s time frame for grief. Resist using drugs or alcohol to keep from feeling pain. We heal as we go through the pain. Create new positive traditions that represent your new life.

At this Christmas time, allow God to reveal all the little blessings currently smothered by pain. Immerse yourself in the good memories. May His love and peace heal your wounded heart. Merry Christmas.

Marlene Anderson, LMHC, NCC


What traditions create special meaning for your Christmas?

Traditions – Make Your Own

All of us have family traditions that we value and treasure. When I was growing up the magic of Christmas was candlight church services, traditional German meals and opening presents on Christmas Eve. When my children were growing up, Christmas was the wonderful feeling I had as I watched my children’s faces light up as they opened their presents and found their longed for gift.  Later as our family grew, we created some new traditions while keeping some of the old.

Traditions.  It is a continuation of practices and beliefs we want to keep because they symbolize what is important in our life. When we grow up and leave our family of origin, continuing to celebrate and honor those childhood traditions hold special meaning. 

When we get married however, family traditions can create a lot of contention. Whose traditions do we follow? If the traditions brought to the marriage are drastically different, how you celebrate Christmas can create a lot of tension, hurt feelings and resentment.

How do you pick and choose? How do you respect your spouse’s background while honoring your own? And if you spend Christmas at relatives, how do you handle the different traditions.

Let your Partner know what is important to you

Talk to each other about what was important to you as a kid and why Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without some of those childhood traditions. Not all of them will be as important. Which would you be willing to give up? Which would you like to make a part of your own family’s tradition?

Experience a different tradition

Be willing to try on your partners traditions one year and then agree to follow yours the next. Maybe your family opened presents Christmas Eve and your spouse opened them Christmas morning. Be willing to “try on” the different tradition.

Combine traditions

Pick and choose the parts of traditions that you can combine. Again, choosing from the above example, you might have celebrated Christmas Eve with extended family and friends who come for a special meal, opening of presents and attending candlelight church services. Your mate may have spent Christmas Eve wrapping presents with the family gathering on Christmas Day. Choose parts of both that are especially important to each of you and combine them.

Make your own traditions

Perhaps this year you want to put in place more meaningful traditions; such as spending time helping out at a food bank, or helping serve meals for shut ins, or sponsoring a child.  As you experiment with what is important to your family, these can become important new traditions. Explain to in-laws or extended family why these are important to you. Let them know how much you appreciate the family traditions you grew up with but these new ones are right for you today.

Whatever traditions you follow, it is important that they have meaning and value for you and your family. Compromise, combine and create traditions that are right for you.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Love Heals

Love and acceptance heals.  Have you received the healing grace of love from others?

Stressful Family Get-Togethers

Its Christmas and you are expected to spend it with extended family, some of whom you really don’t like. You remember Christmases past where quarrelling and disagreements escalated or words unspoken left a pall of tension in the room. Perhaps unresolved family history hangs like murky smog enveloping everyone. You are dreading the time spent with relatives – your own and those of your spouse. But you see it as a duty, an obligation, something you have to do to keep peace in the family.

We can’t change in-laws or family members. They are who they are and we are who we are. But we can reduce the tension and apprehension of times together. And perhaps in the process, we might find some pleasant surprises. Here are some tips that might help.

Check your attitude

Attitudes reflect our personal view of how we think the world should and ought to operate. So, before leaving home to attend family functions, check your attitude. We reveal what we think of others not only by the words we use but by our physical posture. When our attitude suggests superiority, others see it as a challenge – a threat to be defended.

Respect your differences

While it sounds old and trite, accepting our differences allows us to respect another without having to agree with ideology or beliefs. Acceptance goes a long way in opening the door to understanding.

Be nice – make it a decision

We are often nicer to strangers than we are to members of our own family. Being nice to people even if they are not nice to us is a personal decision based on principles we have chosen to live by. It doesn’t depend on another being nice first. Set aside old grievances.

Look beyond behaviors

Often people are grumpy or unpleasant because they don’t feel appreciated or believe anyone cares. Like a lot of behaviors, being grumpy or prickly can become a habit. Everyone has a history that has shaped and molded them. We are seldom privy to the background influences that are now acted out on the stage of life. Make a decision to look at the world from another’s perspective. God loves each of us – even those we think are despicable and not nice. We can accept people without accepting bad behavior. You can extend grace to individuals as God extends grace to us. Set personal feelings aside and focus on the other. Avoid contentious discussions that trigger anger or defensiveness.

“For God so loved the world, He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16.

Christmas is a time to enjoy each other’s company. God loves you – He loves me – He loves the members of your family. Hate perpetuates destructive behavior. Love heals, but also demands a sacrifice of setting self aside long enough to tune into others.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC