How to Nourish the Mind

In a few short days I will be leading a group of 38 students and parents on an international trip of a lifetime. We will visit seven major cities in twelve days: London, Paris, Florence, Rome, Pompeii, Sorrento and the Island of Capri. Needless to say, we are all excited.

At a recent group meeting, one insightful young man asked a valuable question: Do you have any tips for slowing down time? How do we remember the details when we are constantly rushing around?

While the answer I gave was specific to the trip, I think much of what I communicated can be applied to life in general.

Slow down. Recognizing the problem is always the first step. Since we know life is speeding by, we can now become more conscious of the world around us. Rather than always looking straight ahead with laser-lock focus, glance to the left and right to see what lies next to you.

Occasionally lift your head to the heavens and marvel at the color of the sky, the shape of the clouds, the warmth of the sun. Scan the path beneath your feet and notice the texture of the ground and the smell of the earth.

Allow your imagination to wonder who else traveled this same road. What did they experience? How was their life the same or different from yours?

Engage the senses. Don’t just walk around on automatic pilot, looking but not really seeing anything. As much as possible, try to notice specific elements, particular smells, distant sounds, unusual textures, and mouth-watering tastes.

The more we engage all five senses, the more likely we are to remember the moment in vivid detail.

Prior to writing his chef-d’oeuvre, Remembrance of Things Past: Marcel Proust wrote, “The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it … but … as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine … which my aunt used to give me …. the memory suddenly revealed itself.”

Monsieur Proust then went on to write more than 3,000 pages of memories. Do not underestimate the power of the senses.

Journal. We are far more likely to remember events or information if we write them down.

In her book, Writing Down Your Soul, Janet Conner reminds us, “When you write, you use several modalities at once: visual – you see what’s on the page; and you also see the events you are writing about in your mind. Auditory – you hear yourself talking about the events you are writing about; kinesthetic – you feel the pen, the paper, the whole physical experience of writing. That alone – using all three modalities – makes writing very, very powerful.”

When dealing with the hectic pace of an international tour – or everyday life – we don’t always have blocks of time to sit and write. In fact, we consider ourselves lucky to grab a spare minute here and there. But that is plenty of time to quickly jot a note, a thought, or a fleeting emotion.

The act of writing is what matters, not the perfect prose or the elaborate description.

At another time, when life is less chaotic, we will have the opportunity to review the journal entries, relive the experience, and add specific details as they come to mind.

When we take time to slow down and savor the moment, we are living in a state of mindfulness. It is in this space that routine tasks can become a source of joy.

For example, rather than grumble about the sink full of dirty dishes, shift the paradigm. We can be grateful for food to eat, colorful pottery on which to eat it, and indoor plumbing.

Rather than stand at the sink, mindlessly pondering our task list, we can emerge our hands in warm water, feel the bubbles tickle our forearms, and gently scrub away the grime.

Mindfulness is holistic, meaning, it focuses on life as a whole rather than the specific goal of the day. The latter emphasizes tyranny of the urgent, whereas mindfulness helps focus on life’s priorities – deliberately choosing what will bring long-term peace and joy.

Mindfulness also means living in the present. If we focus on the here and now, we have no time to think about the past, regretting things we cannot change; and we have no time to think about the future, worrying about things that may or may not happen.

This present moment is really all we have. And it is enough.

While present in the above context means the here-and-now, another meaning of mindfulness is gift. Imagine a large package, wrapped in colorful paper and tied with a festive bow. Excitement builds as we carefully remove the pieces of tape to discover what lies within. Such an exquisite package always contains a precious treasure.

This image is nourishes the mind. It helps us remember to never take a single day for granted. It keeps mundane chores in proper perspective. And it slows our steps so we can vividly live in the moment.

©2017 Molly Totoro for GateWay of Hope

Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.

11 Tips for Dealing with Holiday Grief

The lyrics from a famous Christmas song suggest December and Christmas as the most wonderful time of the year.

Yet for women who are grieving, the holidays represent fresh sorrow. They do not feel joy nor do they want to find enjoyment at such a difficult time.

How do we survive the holiday season when everyone else acts like cheerful elves while all we want to do is curl up in the fetal position and forget?

Perhaps some of these tips will help:

Express Your Feelings.

It’s okay to grieve, even during Christmas. Others may not understand but you are not responsible for how they feel. You are only responsible for yourself and your own reactions.

Allow yourself the time and space to grieve – in whatever way is best for you. No one else can tell you how to grieve or how long to grieve.

Be with People You Trust.

Although it IS okay to grieve, it is also important not to isolate yourself too long. Surround yourself with a support group that encourages you and helps you through the grief. Choose friends and/or family who allow you to be real.

Embrace the Memories.

Hanging ornaments on the tree often brings back special memories. Or baking a special Christmasy treat may trigger the smells and textures of Christmas past with that wonderful someone.

Go ahead and make that special holiday food or play that favorite Christmas song. Remember the good times and be grateful for the time you had together.

Re-examine Your Priorities.

You do not have to do everything you once did to make the holidays special. This is the time for self-care, so eliminate any unnecessary stress.

Set realistic expectations. Simplify. You don’t need to finish thank you notes from the funeral and then send out a bunch of Christmas cards. Do only what feels right for you.

Take Care of Yourself.

It’s easy to eat too much of the wrong foods, drink too much and miss out on rest. Especially during the holidays and especially while you are grieving, take care of yourself.

But maybe you need to have a toast of rum-filled eggnog to best memorialize Grandpa. Or maybe you need to make some fudge to remember Mama. Enjoy the treats of the season – within moderation.

Self-care might also include getting away. Plan a trip to the mountains or the beach. Use your Christmas money to escape from the craziness all around you and the constant memories. Whatever you need to do, give yourself the grace of self-care.

Exercise.

This tip follows the idea of taking care of yourself. Perhaps this is NOT the time to schedule an intense workout at the gym, but what about a brisk walk in the cool air? Or a few minutes of yoga stretches?

The movement will clear your head, boost your endorphins and help you deal with the holiday stress. Just the movement of walking can keep us from diving into depression.

So grab a friend you trust and take a quick walk.

Remember, Christmas is just one day.

The holidays will soon be over and you can launch into a new year. This difficult season will be past and everything that happened to you will be a memory – part of your history.

Keep looking forward. Keep trusting God to complete the good plan he has for your life. Think about tomorrow and be grateful for the days ahead when everything won’t hurt quite so much.

Do What Feels Comfortable.

Set boundaries around your life. You do not have to meet everyone’s expectations. You do not have to be involved in the same activities as before. Do what you want to do – whatever feels comfortable to you.

Eliminate anything that feels stressful or too overwhelming to deal with now.

Create New Traditions.

Your world is not the same as before, but you still have the freedom to do whatever you want. Try something new and create a new holiday tradition.

A writer friend of mine lost her daughter to brain cancer. Every year, on the anniversary of her death, my friend takes a gift to the children’s hospital and gives it to the first little girl born on that day. She memorializes her daughter and blesses the new parents. She has created a new tradition around the holidays that helps her deal with her grief.

Do Something for Others.

One of the best ways to move beyond our grief is to consider the needs of others – just as my friend does every year. Think of ways you can bless someone else.

Visit a nursing home and adopt one of the residents for a few hours of joy. Make a treat for your neighbors – maybe something your loved one especially enjoyed baking and eating. Go caroling at a hospital and bless those who can’t leave for the holidays.

Move beyond your own grief for a moment and offer hope to someone else.

Consider Counseling.

If you’re feeling as if you can’t cope with the holidays, consider counseling. We have licensed, professional counselors at GateWay and we also have a Grief Recovery Program. We can help.

Take care of yourself by doing whatever is necessary to make it through the holidays and move forward with hope.

What about you? How do you cope with holiday grief?

©2016 GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

Finding A Word for the Year

words-have-powerWhile December is typically a festive and sometimes hectic time of year, it is also a reflective season.

Perhaps it is a residual effect of the Thanksgiving turkey’s tryptophan, or it is the anticipation of starting the New Year with a clean slate. Whatever the cause, I find myself reviewing the previous eleven months with an analytical eye.

For the past several years I have joined thousands of others in selecting a Word of the Year: one word to help me focus on a particular attribute or virtue for a full twelve months.

One year I chose the word BALANCE. I knew my workaholic life needed a major overhaul, and I thought balance would help me keep things in proper perspective.

What I learned, however, was balance is an elusive goal. Perhaps it can be achieved over the course of several months… but on a day-to-day basis, complete balance between work, family, personal and spiritual life is simply not possible.

But I was not discouraged. I reasoned my true goal was PEACE. Balance, I mistakingly thought, was a means to that end.

So the next year I focused on peace, and it was year of personal spiritual growth.

I had hoped peace would mean a year free from conflict, but I quickly learned true peace only comes from trusting Christ as my personal savior. As long as I kept my eyes on Him, I was at rest.

But if I focused on circumstances, fixating on finances or personal relationships, peace disappeared.

Last year I knew I needed to relax. I am a serious person by nature, always responsible, accountable, and hard working.

While these can be admirable traits, I take them to an unhealthy level. I wanted a word that would help me release anxiety and find joy.

After a bit of word deliberation, I settled on DELIGHT.

I loved the layered meaning of this word. Delight means extreme joy, and I wanted to focus on finding joy in the moment.

The “light” portion of “delight” can refer to weightlessness – learning to let go of things that hold me down and adopting a more carefree lifestyle.  I wanted to balance my need for productivity with a need for play – doing what I enjoyed doing simply because it brought me pleasure.

And I love how the word brings to mind the metaphor that Jesus is the Light of the world. By focusing on this word for the year, I also focused on my savior.

As I came to the end of 2015 and reflected on my year of delight, I realized it was a stepping stone to what I really needed: FUN. While I could find the joy in the moment, I was still too serious. I focused too much on being productive and too little on play.

Armed with coloring books, markers, and a resolve to smile more in 2016, I began the year with great intentions.

Then on January 10th I fractured my hip and broke my left humerus (yes… the irony is uncanny).

I kept a positive outlook, however, and healed nicely… until June 26th when I fell once again and broke my right humerus.

As my eldest recently stated, “Mom, your body literally rejected the idea of fun.”

So much for the “fun” of 2016. This weekend I began my annual self-reflection. I’m still too serious. I still work to find joy in the moment. I still struggle to play.

Which word would help me overcome these weaknesses, while at the same time focus on my need for physical healing?

At first I thought RELEASE might be appropriate – let go of my constant need to be productive and my impossible pursuit of perfection.

I then pondered the word INTENTIONAL. The second accident taught me to slow down and be mindful of my actions rather than going through life on automatic pilot.

Lately I’ve discovered self-talk is a hindrance to spiritual growth. I cannot love others because I do not love myself. I need to guard my thoughts and bring them in line with God’s love.

Words such as TRANSFORM or RENEWAL seemed to address those concerns. But ultimately, I settled on the word NOURISH.

The definition is spot on for this time in my life: to supply what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to strengthen, build up, and promote.

NOURISH is all-encompassing and I believe it is necessary to bring this broken body back to wholeness.

I need to nourish my physical body through regular exercise and nutritional diet. No excuses, no cheating. I want the time I have left on this earth to be quality life, not mere existence.

I need to nourish my mental health through accurate thoughts of God’s love for me – just as I am. God calls us to love others as ourselves, but I cannot obey this command until I learn self-acceptance. This will strengthen my spiritual health as well.

And I need to nourish my emotional health by pursuing creative endeavors simply because they bring me joy – no productivity goal needed.

NOURISH. I love the sound of the word. The long, lingering vowel reminds me to slow down and rest. The quiet “sh” at the end literally tells me to be still and listen to the Lord’s quiet guidance.

Do you have a word for the year?

©2016 Molly Totoro for GateWay of HopeMolly Totoro

Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.

 

 

Transitions and Traditions

This past weekend I took a day trip to Branson, Missouri, home of the Ozark mountain amusement park, Silver Dollar City. For those unfamiliar with the area, Silver Dollar City is built around the theme of an 1880s farm town.

With a few thrill rides for the kids and some musical theater shows for entertainment, Silver Dollar City is an opportunity to step back in time and fondly remember a simpler life.

While I enjoyed meandering the streets of the old-fashioned town, admiring the artisan workers and their crafts, I especially liked visiting during this time of year. Nobody does Christmas like Branson. branson-christmas

Every building is outlined with festive lights, and Christmas Carols play over loudspeakers, joyfully announcing the Christ child’s birth. I left the park in a better mood than when I arrived, excited to return home and embrace the holidays.

On the three hour drive back to Kansas, I reflected on the day’s activities. Yes, I enjoyed visiting the past, viewing the idyllic life of a less stressful era. People seemed to smile more with little rushing about and harmonious peace filled the air.

But I would not want to return to that lifestyle.

I’ve grown accustomed to the modern conveniences of the 21st Century. I like my washer and dryer, which allows me to complete a week’s worth of laundry in just a couple of hours.

I enjoy my dishwasher, microwave and convection oven. I cannot possibly live without my computer and internet access.

No, as much as I admire a simpler time, I would never choose to go back.

So why do I hold on so tightly to my own past? I have a way of romanticizing how life WAS rather than embracing how life IS – especially this time of year.

In our household, November and December were steeped in holiday traditions, mostly involving food. Typically, I began cookie baking before Thanksgiving and kept them in the freezer – impromptu snacks for the kids and their friends.

We are an empty nest now with no children around to share sweet treats, and our figures certainly don’t need them. My baking days are now limited to a single afternoon.

During past Thanksgiving weeks, I would make a double batch of sausage balls and monkey bread for the holiday breakfast. We all sat around in our pajamas watching the Macy’s Parade. I especially enjoyed pouring over the newspaper ads as I carefully planned my Black Friday schedule.

Now I bake only a single batch as my husband and I, along with the basset, watch the parade.  It is becoming increasingly more difficult to surprise children with Christmas gifts. We now give them much-appreciated gift cards.

Decorating Gingerbread Houses was an annual event. I would make one house for each child and we would often invite at least one other family to join us.

The smell of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg would fill the house for days. The candy houses remained a part of the household decorations until January first, when the kids devoured them.

Now that the children live out-of-town and have full-time jobs, it is difficult to coordinate schedules to include this old family favorite. We have great intentions, but follow-through is difficult.

Christmas morning was always magical. After waking up and reading Luke chapter 2 together, we would all head downstairs to see what Santa brought. No matter the family finances, Santa never failed to disappoint, and the smiles of delight made the sacrifice worthwhile.

Christmas morning is no longer magical at our house. It has moved elsewhere. My eldest creates the magic at her house for her daughter, and the other children spend Christmas with their in-laws.

It is easy to think back to the way life used to be and long for the days when we were all together. But to do that would negate the joy of the present.

I am grateful my children are now happy, independent, flourishing members of society. My job as Mom the disciplinarian has now transitioned to Mom the friend.

In addition, I am grateful for the opportunity to focus on self-care. I gladly sacrificed money, time, and resources while raising my children. But sometimes at the expense of my own needs.

The empty nest phase of life allows me time (and a bit of extra money) to pamper myself. I can now pursue my creative interests without embracing the guilt of ignoring them.

Lastly, this new season of life allows me to focus on the needs of others outside the immediate family. By giving to Toys for Tots and the Angel Tree Ministry, I spread the tradition of Santa magic throughout my community.

Our family of five is now a family of nine, with the hope of more on the way. This growth and change means the joy of Christmas is no longer about the presents, but rather, about our presence.

We relish time together. And while it may look different than it did in the past, it is no less precious.

In this season of transition the one tradition that remains unchanged is our love for one another.

©2016 Molly Totoro

Molly TotoroMolly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.

How to Replace Fear

I’ve always struggled with the concept of denying self. It sounds so austere, like I’m supposed to give up all aspects of fun and forego any dreams of happiness.Molly Totoro

But isn’t that in complete opposition to the concept that Christ came that we may have abundant life?

Denying self reminds me of a tyrannical task master, demanding I keep strict allegiance to the do’s and don’ts of life, or suffer extreme consequences. Legalism at its best. But I am a rule-follower, so I try to obey.

Recently I read the following scripture that caused me to rethink my position:

“Don’t you realize that you can choose your own master? … The one to whom you offer yourself – he will take you and be your master, and you will be his slave.” (Romans 6:16 TLB)

I paused to ask myself: Whom do I choose as my master? And the answer surprised me.

I choose Fear.

  • I fear failure – and I fear success.
  • I fear what others think of me.
  • I fear making a mistake – I fear not being perfect.
  • I fear disappointing others – I fear disappointing God.
  • I fear rejection.
  • I fear lack of control.
  • I fear dependence.
  • I fear having too much fun; I fear not being fun enough.

And I realized… I am indeed a slave to fear!

Not only is this a miserable way to live (and contradictory to living the abundant life) but it is not biblical. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7 – NIV).

So I prayed and asked the Lord to help me reconcile these disparaging commands. How do I deny self and yet live a bold, joyful life?

His answer surprised me.

“You are indeed too focused on self, Molly. It is time to release its negative control of your life. Let go of Self-doubt, low Self-esteem, Self-consciousness, and Self-deprecation.”

At first I didn’t believe I heard correctly. I mean, denying this kind of self is not austere or punishing. It is a command filled with love and compassion. It promises a life of acceptance and purpose.

For someone who has been entrenched in religious legalism for nearly half-a-century, this is too good to be true.

Or is it?

What if I replace self-doubt with faith? Faith that God has created me for a purpose, and faith that He will equip me to fulfill that purpose in His time.

What if I replace low self-esteem with faith? Faith that God does not create junk. That He has indeed given us gifts and talents. Faith that humility is acceptance of these gifts, not denying them. And faith that God wants us to use these gifts and share them with the world.

What if I replace self-consciousness with faith? Faith that God accepts me, and He has promised to never leave or forsake me. As long as I do my best in obedience to His will, I do not have to fear what others think of me. I only need to concern myself with what the Lord thinks.

What if I replace self-deprecation with faith? Faith that God commands us to love our neighbors AS ourselves.

Faith that I am enough. I shouldn’t compare myself to others, but instead be content with whom God created me to be.

Simple faith is the antidote to legalism. We can’t earn favor with God by keeping the law because we will never succeed.

But we can put our faith in Christ who makes us righteous. This is the Good News. This is the truth.

The truth will liberate us from the shackles of self and allow us to live an abundant life.

©2016 Molly Totoro

Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.

The Problem With Settling

SettlingMost of the time, we think of being settled as a good thing – a safe emotional place. When we feel anxious, we want to settle down and relax.

But the type of settling we’re talking about is different. This sad “S” word means we have chosen something we do not really want instead of waiting for the best.

Sometimes we settle in relationships. We have been taught marriage somehow holds the key to security and happiness. For some women – that does happen. For others – not so much.

Or we settle for a relationship built only on financial security, live with a guy and finally discover he’s only using us for his own type of security. We’ve settled for less than the best. Remember: a man is NOT a financial plan.

Settling can manifest itself in many ways. We buy clothes on sale just because they ARE on sale when we really don’t love them that much. The unused clothes hanging in our closets testify to this truth.

Sometimes we settle for an apartment or a house just because it’s the only thing we can afford. Years later, we suddenly wake up and realize we hate where we live. We’ve settled and a portion of our souls has become tarnished with regret.

We settle for jobs that don’t fulfill us just because they meet a need and/or they provide health insurance. Then we hate getting up every morning and live for the day we can take a vacation. We’ve settled for a life’s work that feels empty.

Settling is easier to accept because settling means we don’t have to change. We don’t have to deal with the difficult decisions.

We just live in the same old rut and keep breathing. But the stress of settling becomes a hidden cancer that changes how we think about ourselves and our world.

Settling breeds a hopeless existence.

So how do we stop this negative pattern of settling? What can we do to move forward and change our perspective – to live within the best possible scenario?

Know Your Core Values

Once you know how to guard your core values, you’ll be able to make wise decisions based on those values.

For example: if your core value is creativity, then you’ll probably be unhappy settling for a tiny house where you have no freedom or space to create. You’ll need large windows that let in light. You’ll want an area where you can walk and enjoy nature, then come home and feel refreshed to paint, write or sew.

If one of your core values is integrity, then you won’t settle for a relationship with a guy who is deceitful. You’ll be careful to whom you give your heart, and you’ll check out every date to see if he has integrity.

If a core value is to help people, then you won’t be happy sitting in a cubicle all day working on Excel charts. You’ll need a job where you can be with people and serve them.

Pay Attention to Your Gut Instincts

As women, we are particularly instinctive. We have an inner voice, a soul temple that shares protective nudges with our brains.

We need to pay attention when “something” tells us a certain relationship has red flags, a certain house isn’t right for us, a certain job is toxic.

Some women like to make lists of the red flags to watch out for. Other women just keep an inner checklist for any type of decision.

Whatever you choose to do, listen to your heart. Pay attention to what you’re feeling inside. It’s much easier to say, “No” at the beginning than to live with years of regret.

Don’t Ignore Your Dreams

One writer quotes, “Don’t downgrade your dreams just because of reality.”

Many women do this. We ignore the dream of a higher education because we’re afraid of the costs: time, energy and money.

We push down our dreams of becoming a writer, a painter or a concert pianist because someone else has made all the choices for us – choices based on economics and reality.

But the truth is … God gave us those desires for a reason. He planted those dreams in us because he wanted us to live an abundant life.

When we pay attention to our dreams, then we refuse to settle for second best. We march toward the best possible scenarios in life, and we end up feeling more fulfilled.

Take the Time to Be Patient

When we make hurried decisions, that’s when we often settle. We want to make something happen, and we think a certain answer will do – even if it’s not what we really want.

The best decisions are based on godly wisdom, logic, figuring out the pros and cons and looking at all the possible consequences.

It takes time to consider all the variables of a wise decision.

Plus … if we take the time to ask God for wisdom, he always has a perfect timing involved with his good plan for our lives.

So take the time to be patient and then choose the decision that is truly best for you – not settling.

Rely on the Wisdom of Others

It’s great to have wise people in your corner, especially when you have a tendency to settle. Every woman needs a solid confidante she can depend on or even a group of dependable friends.

When we try to make life-changing decisions all by ourselves, we often end up settling. But a corps group of smart and intuitive friends can help us sort out all the possibilities.

An accountability group that focuses on NOT settling will help point out where we might be compromising our principles or making foolish choices. Having a few wise friends is a great gift.

At GateWay of Hope, we have Counselors and Coaches who will help you work through decisions, then provide accountability as you move forward.

Be Cautious about Life-Changing Decisions

For women who have a tendency to settle, caution is the key word. You might want to keep a journal with “Remember When” sentences:

  • Remember when you believed those lies about that relationship?
  • Remember when you bought that expensive sweater you didn’t even like?
  • Remember when you settled for the wrong house because it was cheaper than the one you really wanted?
  • Remember how you ignored your dream of becoming a dancer and how miserable you felt?
  • Remember your little girl soul and how happy she was living in the country?

By reminding ourselves about other times we settled, we can be more cautious when faced with the next life-changing decision.

Trust God’s Love for You

God is not waiting around for us to make mistakes, ready to zap us if we choose the wrong path. He promises, “I will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

WHEREVER YOU GO.

No matter what decisions you make, God will be with you, still loving you and still helping you.

Sometimes, of course, we make really bad mistakes and then we have to pay the logical consequences. But if we refuse to settle for anything less than God’s best for us – then we’re definitely surrounded by his protective angels and the covering umbrella of his desires for us.

So believe in God’s never-ending love for you and stop settling. Wait for the best. Check out all the circumstances and listen to the wisdom of others.

Then move forward with joy and a renewed sense of self-confidence.

©2016 GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

Finding a Healing Journal Method

At GateWay of Hope, we have found journaling to be a wonderful process that leads us toward hope, healing and wholeness.journal

But sometimes, we need a new way to think about journaling and process our thoughts.

In his book, “The Listening Life,” Adam S. McHugh suggests the AHEN method.

AHEN is a simple yet wonderful acrostic for helping us find clarity about situations we find ourselves stuck in. As we process through the acrostic, it might also bring up other possibilities for clarity and growth we haven’t yet considered.

So how does this work?

A = ANGER:

We may hate to admit it, but most of us have some type of anger. We may have hidden it well through the years, or we may have masked it by calling it something else such as frustration, irritability or being ticked off at someone.

The tricky thing about anger is that if it isn’t acknowledged and worked through, it can bury itself so deep that it causes depression. Because depression has so many nasty side effects, it’s best to call anger what it is and deal with it.

So make a list in your journal of everything you’re angry about – then consider who you’re angry at. That might include yourself, a parent, a child, a church member – even God.

Once you start on your anger list, you may be surprised at the emotions that surface, but keep working on it. Acknowledge that anger and then move on to the next step of the acrostic.

H = HURT

When someone hurts us, we often develop anger toward that person or that situation. None of us likes to experience hurt, whether it’s emotional, mental, physical or spiritual.

But life is often filled with hurts and again – when we discover them and acknowledge the hurt – then we begin to deal with the effects of that hurt.

For example: are you isolating yourself from a certain person? Maybe that person hurt you and you don’t want to expose yourself to more hurt. That is self-protection, a valuable tool for setting healthy boundaries.

But is that isolation caused by the hurt someone did to you? And are you angry about it?

Journal through the hurts you may be feeling and consider how they might be connected to any anger you are experiencing.

Why does it hurt so much when people say things to us or do things to us? Because of the next piece in the acrostic….

E = EXPECTATIONS

We are hurt because we have certain expectations about people, about life, even about God. When those expectations are not met, we are hurt and that results in anger.

For example: when a woman dresses in her bridal gown and marches down the aisle toward her lover, she expects him to keep the vows – to love and cherish her until death parts them.

But if he breaks that commitment, that covenant, then her expectations have been shattered. She is deeply hurt and incredibly angry. She may carry that anger for several years, into divorce court and beyond – even to the point where she loses the ability to trust.

All because her expectations were not met.

What are some of the expectations that have failed in your life? How deeply did they hurt you? Did they result in any anger? Journal through these possibilities.

Why are expectations so important? Because they are based on the next phase of the acrostic.

N – NEED

We all have deep-felt needs, sometimes so deep we are not aware of them. Our needs then feed into our expectations.

In the above example, the expectations were not met for a lifetime of love and commitment. Why did that hurt so deeply?

Because women have a deep need to be loved. They crave strong arms around them, the security of a home and the presence of the man they fell in love with – all those years ago.

They need the intimacy of someone talking and listening to them at the breakfast table, a warm body to cuddle next to at night and the wisdom of a man who knows how to fix the flat tire and the leaking kitchen sink.

They long to be cared for, to be honored and cherished, to be the only person that man loves for a life-time.

When that need is not met, when that commitment is broken, then the hurt spawns other problems.

They may look for comfort in substances, even food. They may try to find intimacy in another relationship that ends in another tragedy or a lifetime of toxic communication.

Even worse – they may cover up the need so deeply that they become bitter and refuse to ever love again.

The expectations were not fulfilled, therefore the needs surface and become a stumbling block for the abundant life.

Do you recognize some needs that have not been met because expectations were shattered?

FINDING THE HEALING PLACE

Now that we’ve journaled and worked through this acrostic, let’s find how to work toward healing by starting backwards.

Our NEEDS are great and sometimes we are needier than we want to admit. But when we base the meeting of those needs on another human being, we will inevitably be disappointed.

Our deepest needs were made to be met by the God who created us. In fact, he promises, “I will meet all your needs according to my riches of glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

So the healing place begins by taking those needs right back to God. No matter what your needs are, God is able to meet them.

Do you need some encouragement? Ask God for it and then watch for the amazing ways he chooses to meet that need.

Do you need some help with finances? Ask God to give you the name of someone who can help you.

Do you need something more concrete? Clothes, shelter, food? God knows all the resources available at all times. Tell him what you need, then be ready to receive his blessings.

When we place EXPECTATIONS on another human being, we may be disappointed. Sometimes we need to speak about what we expect so that person knows how to plan for that need.

Do you expect your children to go to college? Then begin a college fund, make sure they do their homework and talk about the value of education. Still, they may make other choices, so you may have to change some of your expectations.

Be realistic. Most of us experience some shattered dreams in life, but that doesn’t mean we have to live in despair. It just means we need to set new goals.

If you need help with expectations, consider the Coaching services at GateWay of Hope.  We can help you set realistic expectations and then work toward meeting them.

All of us are going to be HURT sometime in life, because life is hard and some people tend to be cruel. That doesn’t mean we have to wallow in the hurt or surround ourselves with self-pity.

It just means we can expect hurts. But it’s what we do with the hurt that matters.

Again, God has a solution. “Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

We can bring those hurts to God and ask him to help us forgive so they don’t dig deeply into our souls and keep us from living in peace.

Some hurts ARE going to burrow deep, just because of how intense they are. If that is your experience because of abuse, then contact one of our Counselors at GateWay of Hope. They are skilled in dealing with many types of abuse.

So we’ve worked backward and now we’re at ANGER once again. But you may find that because you’ve journaled through this AHEN acrostic, some of the anger doesn’t seem so intense.

Now it’s time to let the anger go. Think of it as a visual – a box of yuck you’ve been carrying around. It’s become a burden and you don’t want it anymore.

Let it go. Bury it at the foot of the cross. Turn it over to Jesus and let him heal you in those deepest places of hurt.

Get rid of the anger so you can begin living in joy and peace. Then you’ll experience the abundant life and become the woman God has created you to be.

©2016 GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

How to Be a Martha

For those of us who are the Type A-git-er-done women, the passage comparing Martha and Mary can be a problem.stress - relax

In the book of Luke, Jesus is visiting in Martha’s home. That description itself is a clue for what is to come.

This was Martha’s home. She wasn’t living in her brother Lazarus’s home with her sister, Mary. This was her place and they lived with her. So either she was a wealthy widow who inherited the house and the grounds or she was a hard worker and wisely invested her money.

Martha was a woman who knew how to get things done.

In the Luke 10:38-42 passage, Jesus travels to Bethany and Martha opens her home to him. Obviously, she also had the gift of hospitality, and she knew Jesus was an important figure in her culture. She became a disciple and a follower of Jesus.

Because she knew who He was, she wanted everything to go smoothly. She probably ordered her servants to bring the best wine. She planned a generous meal with some extra treats – something she knew Jesus would love. She made sure the house was clean and in order for this important guest. She changed into her best tunic and fixed her hair, slipped on her best sandals and probably spritzed some type of aromatic oil on her skin. She was ready to meet the Messiah.

Because she was an organizer and a planner, she wanted everything to be just right. But her sister, Mary, wasn’t helping much. Mary was spending her time listening to Jesus teach. She was right in the middle of all the guys, sitting at the feet of Jesus and learning all she could. For a woman, in her culture, it was a gift to be included in this special teaching moment.

Then Luke records what happened next, “Martha was distracted – anxious and worried – by all the preparations” (Luke 10:40). She wanted Jesus to tell Mary to come help her.

Jesus reminded Martha he didn’t really need anything, and her worries were keeping her from the most important part of the day – listening to him teach. He reminded Martha that Mary had chosen well and he would not take that choice away from her.

Several important points can be taken from this passage:

  • Jesus is including women as disciples who can learn from him.
  • Mary recognizes this gift and takes advantage of it.
  • Martha is caught up in the worries of making everything perfect for Jesus.
  • Perfectionism is not how we honor God.
  • It isn’t Martha’s work ethic that’s the problem here – it’s her lack of balance.

Sometimes Martha is used as an example of a woman who is more concerned with the work and the appearance of her home than Mary – who is content to just sit and listen to Jesus.

Sometimes Martha – and women like her – are shamed for being hard workers.

It’s not the work ethic that’s the problem. It’s the fact that Martha has become worried, anxious and distracted.

It isn’t wrong to be a planner and an organizer. In fact, without planners, much of the world’s business would never be completed.

It isn’t wrong to care about our homes and to make fabulous meals for our friends and family.

It isn’t wrong to be efficient in our work and do our best.

The problem comes when we’re stressed, overwhelmed and can’t get anyone to help us. That’s when we’re too tired to sit down for a talk with Jesus.

Finding the balance in life is the one of the most important things we can do for our mental, emotional, spiritual and even physical health.

Stress is a killer and when we don’t set healthy boundaries around our time – the world and other people will take advantage of our work ethic.

Check out this article on the effects of stress on the body.

Even something that sounds good can be an over-the-top-stressor and we need to say, “No.”

So let’s not vilify Martha, but let’s learn from her experience.

Let’s organize our time wisely so we CAN do our work effectively. But let’s also make time for joy, for some fun and for that special time with the One who loves us most.

©2016 GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

Comparing Apples to Oranges

I have struggled with low self-confidence since childhood. When someone compliments me, I mentally list others who do it bigger, better, grander than I.

apple tree I rarely try anything new or (gasp) a little silly because I fear what others might say. I imagine their judgmental thoughts: she’s such a klutz, such a fool, a real loser. I constantly hear the inner voice of Mom’s stern warning: What will the neighbors think?

But all this comparison and worry of others’ opinions is unhealthy. In fact, it is unbiblical.

We are called to love others AS ourselves. This means I need to treat myself with compassion, grace and mercy. And I must learn to accept myself as I am: my gifts, talents, strengths, and weaknesses.

 We bring joy to God by becoming who He created us to be.

How I must disappoint Him when I devalue my accomplishments. How I must frustrate Him when I compare my shortcomings to someone else’s expertise.

Comparison robs me of the opportunity to become my best, and it denies God joy.

In reading through the Psalms earlier this year, I marveled at the number of the times nature is used to illustrate God’s truth. And this particular word image came to mind: God creates the apple tree to produce apples. That is its sole purpose and the apple tree willingly obeys.

The apple tree doesn’t look at the orange tree and wish it could produce oranges. It doesn’t resent it is an apple tree, or harbor envy that it is not an orange tree. The apple tree accepts its role in life and is content to fulfill that purpose.

The apple tree doesn’t look at other trees in the orchard and wish it could be like them. It doesn’t put itself down. It doesn’t judge its fruit to the other, wishing its apples could be bigger, redder, or more plentiful. It merely produces the best apples possible.

The Granny Smith doesn’t bemoan the fact that its fruit is tart. It doesn’t wish it could be a sweet Honey Crisp. It is satisfied with its lot in life, and so is the Lord. God knows there is a unique purpose for each variety of apple. Think of it, without Granny Smiths we wouldn’t have the perfect apple pie filled with warm firm fruit, rather, we would have mealy mush inside a pastry crust.

Sometimes the apple tree needs a little help. If it is allowed to grow wild with no direction or discipline, it can’t achieve its full potential. The farmer must water, fertilize, and sometimes prune to help the tree become its best. This pruning is out of love and respect for the tree; it is not a form of chastisement or punishment.

And so the apple tree accepts its calling to produce apples. It derives joy from doing exactly what it is supposed to do.

Nature is teaching me to stop comparing and to simply accept who God created me to be. This lesson brings me joy and peace, even as it honors God and brings Him delight.

“…He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”          ~ Zephaniah 3:17

©2016 Molly Totoro – for GateWay of Hope

Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.

When Discouragement Settles In

depressed womanOne of the lines in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” presents a great truth.  Clarence, the angel who’s trying to earn his wings, asks God what is wrong with George Bailey. “Is he sick?”

“Worse,” God says. “He’s discouraged.”

We might define discouragement as a black cloud that hovers over us, stealing our joy and distracting us from the abundant life. We feel melancholy and can easily slip into a gloomy pessimism that eliminates hope.

Or we might go as deeply into the discouragement that we eventually develop the darkness of depression.

Sometimes, as in George Bailey’s case, discouragement settles in because of the circumstances of life. He was in danger of losing his business and going to jail for a mistake he did not make.

For us, discouragement might be the result of a financial setback, a health issue, a child who denies her faith or a host of other struggles.

Discouragement may be the result of how others treat us. Constant verbal abuse that tears at our self-esteem or someone who ignores us when we so desperately need to be cherished.

Sometimes discouragement creates a rut of gloominess. We feel we’ve struggled for so long, we can’t move forward and we don’t know how to climb out of that dark pit.

So what do we do when discouragement settles in? Can we pray for an angel, a Clarence, to come alongside us?

Yes, we can. We can ask God to send us encouragement through the presence of angels or through the kindness of other Christians, through the changing of circumstances or through a special song we hear on the radio.

We can ask Jesus to pray for us and help lift us out of our melancholy. His role at the right hand of God is to intercede, to remind God of what we need and ask for divine intervention. It’s okay to ask Jesus to pray for us.

We can talk to counselors and coaches who will help us find the root of the problem and formulate a plan to move forward. GateWay of Hope offers counseling, coaching and support groups. Check out our website for more information.

We can also remind ourselves that discouragement doesn’t have to win.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).

  • One day at a time, present the discouragement to God.
  • Journal about your thoughts.
  • Check with us at GateWay for ways we can help you.
  • Stay in hope – don’t lose heart.
  • Share the truth about your feelings with a trusted friend.

Discouragement doesn’t have to win, and we CAN live the abundant life in joy. Let’s all band together and fight against discouragement.

©2016 GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women