Gift Ideas - Handmade and Other

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Finding Solutions

In a recent blog post, I spoke about finding solutions instead of getting stuck in a negativity pit. Yet, finding solutions is not always easy. Difficulties and challenges can be complex and hard to unravel, making it tricky to find not only a solution, but one that works.

Over the course of the last few years as my Mom has battled Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) we have faced challenges and had to seek solutions. Doing so took perseverance and in some cases courage to step outside what was comfortable to find solutions that would work. (One little side note. Many things have come one step at a time, finding one solution for an issue at one point in the disease and then later repeating the process to find another for issues that developed further on.) Here are some of the things that helped us as a family to find solutions that worked.

Prayer. Several of my siblings and I made it a matter of diligent prayer. We talked with God about our situation, told Him our needs, and asked Him to come through with a solution. He has been faithful to bring solutions each time.

Gather Information. We gathered information from a variety of sources. We used the internet and Googled for suggestions. We contacted The Office for the Aging and then followed up with other agencies they recommended. We talked with people – friends, people with experience in the field, doctors, and counselors. Really, we talked with anyone who we thought might have insights that would help us. We also read articles and books. Through all this we sought God’s guidance from Scripture and godly men and women who could provide counsel.

Brainstorm. As a family we talked, looking at the current needs and issues and discussing possible solutions. As a teacher, I would tell my students to list all the solutions they could think of, even those that seemed impossible or impractical. Sometimes the ones that seem impossible are the ones that actually spark another idea that is not only possible, but a good solution. While in our situation it was largely a group activity, it is certainly something that can be done by one person on their own as well.

Evaluate. As we looked at our potential solutions, we also evaluated them to determine which ones were realistic. This helped us to weed out the ones that really weren’t workable and to find those that were. As we talked and evaluated sometimes a whole new solution arose that was better than the individual ones we had started with. Again, this does not require a group, only some time and thinking.  

Decide and Pursue. Lastly, once we had narrowed down the possible solutions to those that were realistic, we decided which ones to pursue first, often with some sense of priority. Then we set about to pursue the solution, doing what was needed to put it in place, tweaking as we went.

Sometimes our initial solution worked, sometimes, we had to look for others. A key factor through the whole process was prayer. Along with prayer was a willingness to pursue different solutions until we found the one that worked best.

This is one group of ideas, but there are other ways to find a solution.
What has helped you to find solutions to challenges you’ve faced?

Friday, May 20, 2016

Climbing Out of the Pit of Negative Thinking

Credit: Tuomas_Lehtinen

Do you ever struggle with negative thinking? I do. Less now than a few years ago, yet still it pops up its ugly head and I have to remind myself to think differently.

Some days the negative thinking begins with the simplest word, look, action, or thought. A word of criticism, an embarrassing mistake, or a perceived slight is enough to start the downward spiral of negative thinking. Then, what started as a small thing becomes a mountain of discouragement and self-condemnation.

For years this cycle of thinking plagued my life. When my thinking had spiraled out of control into a pit of negativity, my emotions and my ability to cope with life, to be productive were all impacted. While I still struggle with negative thinking at times, I would no longer describe it as plaguing my life. I’d like to share with you some truths and techniques that helped me to climb out of the pit of negative thinking and turn that energy into something more positive.

The Apostle Paul teaches that we can control our thoughts and bring them into submission (2 Corinthians 10:5). When I came to this realization, it was life changing and thought changing. I learned I had the ability to recognize and choose between negative or healthy thoughts. With the help of the Holy Spirit, God had given me the power to bring my thoughts to a place of obedience to Christ, aligning them with those things that Christ asks of me.

At first it was very difficult. I had developed the habit of letting my thoughts go wherever they wished with little deliberate guidance. Learning to recognize what was happening and to pull in the reins required discipline, persistence, but most of all the power of the Holy Spirit.

Ways to Move from Negative to Positive Thinking

Recognize and Redirect My Thinking.
The sooner that I could see the negative thoughts had started a downward spiral, the easier it was to stop it and redirect my thoughts in more positive and healthy directions. If I let the negative thinking go unattended, the resulting discouragement made it difficult to fight back, to get out of the pit by redirecting my thinking. 

I found a few techniques to be helpful in redirection.
  • Memorizing Scripture. I noticed that my negative thinking could be grouped into a few specific categories, things I struggled with over and over again. As I identified these categories, I also identified verses that counteracted these thoughts. I began to memorize just one or two of these verses for each group and when I began to spiral downward in that area, I began to use these verses to redirect my thinking.
  • Choose creativity. Negative thinking and the resulting emotions expended a great deal of energy. However, this energy was expended on self-defeating, draining emotions and thoughts, resulting in no valuable action. By refocusing my thoughts on something positive, productive, or creative, my energy was concentrated on projects and relationships in a way that led to valuable results. 
  • Seeking Solutions. So often my negative thinking merely resulted in a critical, complaining attitude. Rather than continuing to complain or feed the frustration, I began to think in terms of solutions. What could I do to change the situation? What could I do to change my response to it? What could I do to improve the thing that was troubling me? This shift in perspective brought not only a move toward greater positivity, but also brought a sense of empowerment and more frequently being part of the solution.
  • Lies v. Truth. Many times my negative thoughts were based in a lie - a conclusion I had jumped to, a word or action I had misinterpreted or exaggerated by my own imagination. I began to ask myself if what I was thinking was true or my own interpretation, conclusion, or imagination. I also began to ask myself if there was another perspective, another interpretation for what I had heard or experienced. Did my perspective need an adjustment? I began to seek truth and flee from lies and misinterpretations. 
  • Journaling. Journaling also played a significant role in changing my thinking. My journal was a place where I could process these negative thoughts without judgment, a place I could think on related verses, seek solutions, identify lies and truth, and think creatively. The act of writing the positive, healthy, creative thoughts helped to cement them in my heart and mind.
What about you? 
How have you overcome negative thinking?

Friday, May 6, 2016

When Mother's Day is Painful, Making Meaning

For the mother who has lost a child, the woman who has never had children (but wishes she had), for the child who has lost a mother, for the family who is slowly losing a mother to a debilitating chronic illness, for the mother estranged from her child, for the child estranged from his mother, Mother's Day can be painful. For many Mother's Day is a painful reminder of what has never been or of what has been lost.

Mother's Day is coming up this Sunday. For me this day has always been a joyful celebration of the woman who has had more influence and impact on my life than any other. As I watch my mother succumb to Alzheimer's Disease (AD), Mother's Day becomes bittersweet. A sweet opportunity to celebrate my love for her and her influence in my life, as well as bitter as we face the daily reality of her slow but continued decline. Additionally, this day, this year is the anniversary of the day my father stepped into heaven. Painful, yet not hopeless.

For many Mother's Day is a painful reminder of what has never been or of what has been lost. It becomes a day to get lost in work, to medicate the pain in one way or another, to ignore it, or to get through the day the best one can and breath a sigh of relief until it comes again next year. Is there a better way? Is there a way to make meaning out of the pain?

God gave us a great gift when He gave us the ability to choose how we would cope with the circumstances we face. Thankfully we can chose to take the pain we feel, even the overwhelming pain, and take steps to make meaning out of it. In the beginning when the pain is raw and fresh, the steps may be small and deeply personal. As the pain begins to recede and we begin to adjust to the loss, we may be able to do more and more to make meaning from our pain. 

Here are a few ideas to cope with a painful day in a positive way.
  • Write a letter. Write a letter to the mother or child that is gone, even to the child that you wish had been. Tell them what you're doing, your thoughts about them, what you wish they were here to enjoy. This letter can be kept in a special place for cherishing, attached to a balloon and sent away, or destroyed if it is deeply personal. 
  • Give to a motherless child. Look around for a child (young or old) who may be having a difficult time on this day. How can you encourage him or her? How can you ease their pain and make this day a positive memory for them?
  • Honor those who are childless with kindness and understanding. Childlessness whether through infertility, miscarriage, or singleness can be painful. Acknowledging the contribution these women make into the lives of others is a gift of hope and encouragement.
  • Take time to share memories of the lost mother or child. On this day we think of our mother who is gone or the child whose seat is now empty. They are in our thoughts, but sometimes they get caught there. It is good to not only think of them, but to talk of them, to share memories, to tell stories, to savor the person we still love and to introduce them to others. 
  • Give to a bereaved mother. Be sensitive to the woman who has lost her child(ren) either through death or estrangement. What act of kindness would comfort her on this day? What word of encouragement would refresh her heart and lift her mouth in a smile? 
I have suggested a mere handful of ideas. I'd love to hear your ideas.
What are other ways to make meaning when Mother's Day is painful?

Monday, May 2, 2016

How Journaling Increases My Hope

Grandpa and Grandma
When I was a young child, we visited my mother's parents regularly. One of the things I remember about my grandmother is that she wrote in her diary every day until a stroke took away that ability. Since her death in 1986, I have treasured a box of her diaries. Her love for keeping a diary, built in me a love for keeping my own. I asked for a diary of my own for Christmas when I was only 11 years old. I was impatient however, so my very first diary was made of scrap paper and yarn.
A few of Grandma's Diaries

Over the years keeping a diary (a daily accounting of my activities) has morphed into keeping a journal (a record of my thoughts, feelings, doubts, and growth). Journaling has often renewed my soul and given me hope.

Journaling gives me hope . . .

1. by reminding me what God has done in my life. When I look back through the pages of my journals, I am reminded of things God has taught me, ways He has shaped my life, people He has brought across my path. I am reminded of verses that have spoken to me and times I have experienced Him in powerful ways. These fill me with hope that the God who never changes will continue to do His work in my life.

2. when I see prayers answered. Many times when I have reread prayers I have written in my journal, I have been surprised (even though I suppose I shouldn't be) at the very specific ways that God has worked in my life, in the lives of others, and in situations around me. This instills in me a confidence that God will continue His work.

3. when I work through to solutions for challenges I am facing. As I pray and meditate on God's Word, as I pour out my heart through pen and paper thinking through a challenge, nearly always I am led to a solution, to a path through whatever the challenge is. Finding the path through gives me hope.

4. when I am reminded of special times and words of encouragement. On those days when I get down, the only one celebrating at my own pity party, reminders of better days, of words of encouragement bring refreshment to my weary soul. These memories and words of encouragement become like diving into cool, clear water on a hot, dry day.

5. by helping me re-member myself when things feel like they are falling apart. In the midst of hard times, in the midst of loss and chaos, I start to lose my sense of self, to feel like I am falling apart. Reviewing my journals reminds me of who I am, who God has been shaping me to be. I walk away from them with a sense of hope that He can keep me together and with a confidence in my true identity.

Do you journal? How has journaling benefited you?