Coping with Holiday Cheer in the Face of Loss

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Coping with Holiday Cheer in the Face of Loss

By Sally Carey

The holiday season, under the best of times, brings it own stressors and expectations, which we have all learned to manage or mangle, for better or worse, over the years. Congratulations on learning how to keep a grain of your sanity intact, hopefully without leaving too many bodies in the wake of seasons past!

But what do we do when we’ve had some serious, life-challenging or life changing event like illness, job and/or home loss, estrangement, divorce or separation, or even a death, and the happy, happy holidays are assaulting us at every turn of the channel?

I know the fantasy of a Hawaiian vacation or leaving the country altogether might be appealing, but most of us don’t have that option. We still have to figure out a way to get food and find shelter from the storm of good cheer while holding down the fort.

What can help?

The answers are as unique and varied as each individual, and each setback or loss. Regardless of that variety, one thing that does help is to make a plan.

Making a plan can give you a sense of control when coping with circumstances that have been spiraling out of control.

Plan your script. What can you comfortably say when greeted by those who may or may not know about your changes or loss? What are the words that honestly and gently express your feelings and experience?  Try rehearsing a few phrases so you aren’t caught off guard. Anticipate their responses and your rejoinders along with questions to ask them that can shift the focus. These might be no-brainer responses in better times, but you might not be functioning at your peak right now. Have some ‘planned and canned’ statements in your protective arsenal.

Next, lower your expectations about what you can comfortably do – physically, financially, and socially.

Refocus on your values of the season and give yourself permission to reconsider how you want to express those.  If that means changing a tradition like giving gifts to everyone, sending cards to millions, hosting dinner, etc., think about the purpose of that tradition and find a simpler way to accomplish the goal.

For instance, instead of giving gifts or sending cards, make a donation to a charity or cause that is meaningful to you or to someone who has died. Do it in the name(s) of those you would normally give gifts, and it is a win/win for honoring values and including others. Another bonus is that typically the receiving organization will send out cards to those you’ve identified as donors so you don’t have to do anything else.

Instead of hosting a dinner, you could make a date to do something enjoyable together in the near future. You could also ask someone else to host it this time as a gift to you, or you could tone it down to a ‘cider and cookies’ gathering. It could be that this year, instead of any dinner, you prefer to go to a prayer service. Invite others to join you and maybe have coffee afterwards. A change in tradition does not mean you are forsaking a tradition forever. It just means you’re making it work for you this year.

If you are missing someone who has died, make a plan to remember & honor your loved one—a lit candle, some pictures on the mantle, a prayer service, a gift to their charity, a day of service or creating a service project in their name are a few ideas.

In doing this, you are creating new ways to maintain your enduring connection with the one you are missing. There aren’t any road maps for that challenge. Search your heart and maybe connect with other folks who have done this. You can also turn to your local grief support groups or hospice bereavement counselors to get ideas that are specific to you.

Most people want to avoid public tears and runny noses, so plan on how and when you may need to safely release your difficult thoughts and feelings before going out in public.

If you are “keeping a lid on it,” you will probably blow your cover at a less than ideal time and place. Letting yourself have the private down time for reflection and feeling and maybe falling apart will help you have control when you need it.

If you are out and about, always know where the nearest bathroom is in case you have to hide and wipe your tears and nose. Believe me. It’s not a pretty sight to be sniveling and snotting while asking for directions to the restroom! Your car can be a good safety zone too. It also helps to go places with a trusted person who can whisk you away and make explanations or apologies at the drop of a tear.

Go ahead and make some plans for limited sociability, but also make a Plan B, which could be to only stay a short time or to allow yourself a last minute cancellation.

Also, have an escape plan. That is, plan for a bit of escape in the form of pleasure and comforting activities. You need to balance sadness with enjoyment however you like to create that. And yes, it is fine to turn off the holiday music, TV, or annoying people. Find something else to help you tap into the love and kindness that is your well-spring any time of the year.

If you know someone who may be missing a loved one, simply inviting them to share their thoughts and feelings without trying to ‘fix’ them is a real gift.

Many feel they cannot share their sadness, as it isn’t ‘fitting’ with the season of happiness and joy.  Listen to them and honor their feelings. Letting them know they are normal even if they feel ‘out of it’ can be invaluable support for them. If you ask them to share some of their memories of the person or holidays past, it may bring up a tear or two, but it will surely affirm the value of their loved one and offer a treasured opportunity to share that with someone who cares.

The holidays during a time of loss can be devastating. But make a plan for handling people, give yourself plenty of down time, and remember that traditions altered are not traditions abandoned. And in all things be patient with yourself. This, too, shall pass.

If you would like help with grief and loss, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a coach or counselor.

Funday Friday: Grammar Police Humor

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Here is some grammar humor for your Funday Friday:

grammar-humor

If you would like to add some more joy or humor in your life, please call CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.

Dear Pastor, How to Survive and Thrive During Christmas

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Dear Pastor, How to Survive and Thrive During Christmas

By Marty Duren

It almost sounds heretical doesn’t it? The idea that a pastor—called of God to lead and feed God’s people—could endure rather than enjoy the Christmas season? Let it not be!

Yet, because churches try to pack as much into the Christmas season as possible, pastors often find themselves unable to say “no” to one more invite to a class party, department fellowship, church-family gathering, or other yuletide function. By the time the last week of December rolls around many pastors find they have barely kept themselves—much less Christ—in Christmas.

Having survived a number of Christmases in ministry, here are a few things that can help you survive and thrive during Christmas.

Say “no.”

No matter how young and energetic or aged and spry you are, don’t do too much at Christmas. It’s okay to say “no” to some of the events to which you get an invitation. You can’t “keep Christ in Christmas” if you are giving yourself to everyone except Him.

Spread the ministry.

Whether your church has multiple staff, elders, deacons, a church council, or some combination, involve all of them in ministry around Christmas. Be honest that you cannot be available for every church event, family event, and community event without wearing out. Assign days for others to be responsible to spearhead ministry—even in emergencies. Lead the church-wide Christmas get together if needed, then graciously decline as many smaller parties as you can.

Take time off.

If it is at all possible save some vacation time for Christmas so you end up with multiple consecutive days off. Most years the world slows down at Christmas. Take advantage of it. If you are bi-vocational, try to schedule time off from your primary job to coincide with days out of the church office.

Close the church office.

It may be too late to do it this year, but begin planning to close the church office between Christmas and New Year’s Day annually. It is not a vacation because work still gets done, but there is no more dead week of the year than week-52. Sitting in the office waiting for phone calls that never come is a waste of time. Turn down the heat, close the office, and save the church some money.

When Christmas or Christmas Eve falls on Sunday bring everyone together for a combined service.

Some churches cancel services on Christmas, but I think there’s a better solution: bring everyone together—birth to senior adults—and have an informal, abbreviated service with carols, prayer, and a short, encouraging message. When I last pastored a church, such services lasted 45 minutes from start to finish. Kids sat in the floor, some brought new toys they had received. We had great responses.

Use a Advent reader/devotional guide as a family.

This is good advice for anyone, of course, but it helps the pastor’s family, too. Whether you gather nightly or 2-3 times a week leading up to Christmas, focusing together on the Christmas story with your family can be a highlight of the season. When your kids are old enough share the reading between them.

Christmas is an amazing time of year. Even with the secular trappings I find myself caught in the wonder of the incarnation, year after year after year. Take these first few days of December to remember why we celebrate and commit to celebrate and worship the Christ of the manger, the cross, empty tomb, and the crown, and commit to keeping Him central during this season.

If you are struggling with the stress of ministering during the Christmas season and would like to talk with someone, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a coach or counselor.

Marriage Tip: Speak Directly and Kindly

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Ladies, Speak Directly and Kindly

By Rebecca Evans

ltqqk5i6slw-toa-heftibaAlright, girlfriends.  This one is a tough one.  In my experience as a woman, females often speak to one another rather vaguely.  Sometimes we make what seem like very direct compliments: “Oh, I like your shoes!” Awesome.  Pretty simple. Sometimes we make sideways comments which could be taken a myriad of ways: “Oh, you got a haircut!”  Well, yes, I did, but, like, I can’t tell what you think of it based on your comment.  Do you like it? Is it horrible? Or did you just want to let me know that you noticed but you have no opinion on the change at all?  Confusing. I don’t think I’m alone in this space. 🙂

The men in our lives don’t play this game.  They speak directly.  They say what they mean and mean what they say.  If a man says, “I need new shoes,” he usually means that he has a hole in the sole of his shoe and water is leaking in.  He’ll go buy new shoes.  Many women who say, “I need new shoes,” mean that they need another pair to match the newest styles or to match the new dress.  The word “need” has various meanings for many of us women in this situation.  Not usually the case for men.

Well, Rebecca, how does this play out in marriage and relationships?  I’m glad you asked.

During peace and conflict, it’s possible for us ladies to not even realize that we are making vague comments. I’m a dreamer, for instance.  I’ll make comments about things I’m going to do, like clean out the car.  In real life, I’m just thinking out loud.  I’m just thinking about cleaning out the car.  So, when I don’t get up and do it, The Hunk asks when I’m going to clean out the car and when I shrug it off, he’s confused.  But sometimes, ladies, we aren’t just thinking out loud.  We are speaking as clear as mud.  We’re speaking in circles.  Instead of saying, “The trash is stinky!” try being more direct: “Will you take the trash out on your way to the car, please?”  This will give him clear objectives that he can achieve with no questions asked.

But no matter what, it’s important that we don’t mistake the word “directly” for “rudely.”  It helps a man when we speak to him clearly and directly; it hurts any person when we are unkind. We should temper our words when making requests or sharing concerns with our beauxs.  I mean, if he’s the love of your life, you wouldn’t dare hurt him with your words, right?  So let’s forgo the complaining and rude comment about him neglecting to take out the trash.

Let’s use kindness when we have complaints or requests to share.

If  you would like help with your marriage or relationship, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.

Beyond “Settle Down”: Coping Skills For Your Angry Child

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Beyond “Settle Down”: Coping Skills For Your Angry Child

By Nicole Schwarz

child-angerIt’s been a walking-on-eggshells kind of day.

“That’s my decision,” you say cautiously. “No more snacks before bed.”

You pause, waiting.

And, just as expected, your child flies into a fit of rage.

“That’s not fair!” He yells, slamming his fist on the table. “I’m still hungry!”

The yelling doesn’t stop.

“Settle down!” You yell back, “If you keep this up, you won’t have a snack tomorrow night either!”

Why is everything such a battle? Why is he so angry? What can I do to help him?

HOW TO HELP YOUR ANGRY CHILD

Anger is a tricky emotion. It will take time for your child to learn these new techniques and put them to good use.

Be proactive! Planning ahead is key to helping your child manage their angry feelings.  Teach your child a variety of skills and strategies while they are calm, in a good mood, or separated from the heated situation.

  • Explore Feelings:  Anger is a master disguise for many other harder-to-express emotions like sadness, fear, and embarrassment. Talk about a variety of feelings – what they feel like inside, what they look like in the body, and what they sound like when spoken. Use books, movies, or this feeling game for examples.
  • Write a Script:  Give your child the words to use when they are upset. Teach “I-statements,” (I feel…when you…because…I wish…) or even a simple, “I feel mad right now!” You may need to model this for them at first: “You’re upset that your sister bumped you with her scooter. You’d like her to go around you next time.”
  • Change the Self-Talk:  For some children, expressing anger is a vicious cycle. They feel bad, so they act out, they get in trouble for acting out, so they feel worse. Interrupt this cycle by encouraging the good traits in your child, remind them that it’s OK to be angry and that “mad doesn’t equal bad.”
  • Give Appropriate Alternatives:  If you don’t want your child to kick the cat, direct him to a soccer ball outside. If he’s throwing toys, offer him some balled up socks instead. Work proactively to set up a safe place to express anger or cool down. (Of course, if your child is hurting others, safety is a priority).
  • Use Art:  Sometimes, words can’t express what they are feeling or thinking. Allow your child to use paints, markers, crayons, and other art supplies as a creative outlet for pent up emotions. Here are some activities to try: managing big feelings, dealing with mixed up emotions, or art  journaling.
  • Deep Breathing: Learning to calm your body and mind is key to getting your anger down to size. Yelling “calm down” in the heat of the moment is not effective. Instead, be proactive! Take time to teach your child a variety of deep breathing exercises, then practice them in calm moments.
  • Big Muscle Movements: Some children need to relieve stress through exercise, hard work, and play.  Like deep breathing, be proactive and make time for big muscle movements, like push-ups, vacuuming, or swinging throughout the day. Teach your child a yoga routine or stretch together before bed.

BONUS TIPS FOR PARENTS:

  • Calm Yourself First:  It’s easy to get swept up in your child’s emotion. Matching anger with more anger is not helpful or productive. Instead, get yourself to a calm, rational frame of mind first.  You will be able to provide your child support, and they will feel safe knowing that you are not rattled by their big feelings.
  • Self-Care is Essential:  Parenting a child who struggles with anger can be exhausting. Do not neglect taking time and space to care for yourself. I know you’re busy, but self-care doesn’t need to take a lot of time. Find ways to fit self-care into your day so you can be available for your child.
  • Look Under the Anger:  Anger is often a go-to emotion because it keeps you from having to feel other painful or uncomfortable feelings, like sadness or disappointment. Instead of seeing your child as a “bad kid with a temper,” look at him as a “hurting child who needs help to deal with his feelings.”
  • Get Help:  Sometimes, your child’s anger is too big to manage on your own. If you feel that their anger is above and beyond what would be considered “normal” or if you just have a gut feeling that something’s not right, seek help from a mental health professional.

Stepping back, you decide to take a deep breath. (Or three)

He is still angry, but instead of seeing him as a manipulative monster, you see him as a kid who’s having trouble handling the fact that he’s not getting his way.

“I can tell that having another snack is really important to you,” you say empathetically. “You’re really disappointed.”

Instead of trying to force him to settle down, you give him space to feel this disappointment. You offer him a hug  and remain a calm presence in the room.

You know he needs to learn a better way to handle disappointment. And, it may be time to set a clear limit on after-dinner snacks. But now is not the time. You make a mental note to address these things later, when everyone is calm.

Your child can learn to manage their anger, and they need your  help to get there.

 

If you would like help with your angry child or other struggles with your child or children, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a coach or counselor.

Anger Iceberg

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The Anger Iceberg

By The Gottman Institute

anger-iceberg

If you would like help with anger issues, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.

Funday Friday: Whale Humor

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Here’s a whale of a good pun for your Funday Friday:

whale-pun

 

If you would like some more humor or joy in your life, please call CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a coach or counselor.

Let Your Children Feel Their Feelings

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Let Your Children Feel Their Feelings

By Nichole Schwarz

There is nothing better than hearing the sound of children laughing. Seeing your son confidently climb the ladder to the tallest slide. Getting a giant bear hug from your daughter.

Ahh…the joys of parenting.

Unfortunately, with the joy, there are also the hard times. Arguments, yelling, conflict and competition. Failure, disappointment and challenges.

Many parents feel very uncomfortable when their kids experience “negative” emotions – sadness, frustration, anger. We feel a strong desire to save them from these feelings and bring them back to happiness again.

Instead of rescuing our kids, we need to empower them! We need to let our children feel their feelings!

This is not easy.  It often takes time to see that you can still be loving and supportive without giving in or rescuing a child from a difficult emotion.

HOW TO HELP YOUR CHILD FEEL THEIR FEELINGS:

  • Identify the feeling: Imagine your daughter is lying on the floor of her room sobbing.  She says that she can’t move because she is so tired. She is demanding that you pick out her clothes for the day. Take this opportunity to explain the feeling she is experiencing is called, “exhausted.”
  • Empathize with their struggle:   Feeling big feelings can be overwhelming.   Both you and your child may feel the urge to just “make it go away!” Children can learn that even strong feelings will pass.   Show your support for their struggle by saying, “Trying a new skill can be frustrating!” or “Sometimes it takes a while to feel calm again.”
  •  Brainstorm alternative solutions:  Managing big feelings can be hard work! Prepare ahead of time by making  a list of ways to manage big feelings. Create a cool-down spot, practice calming skills, or make a plan.   Talk with your child about their ideas for managing big feelings, ask for input and put it into practice.
  • Look Beyond the Behavior:  Your kids aren’t going to like feeling their big feelings. They liked being rescued! You may notice an increase in behaviors at first. You may be tempted to give in or try to get the big feelings to stop. Instead, provide comfort, encouragement, and empathy as they feel the feeling.
  • Find a new way to communicate: Whining or demanding  may have  allowed your child to avoid uncomfortable feelings in the past.  Teach your child a different way to get their needs met.  You may need to feed them  the lines at first, but eventually, you can ask your child: “Can you think of a different way to ask me for help?

Remember, if your child is experiencing frustration, disappointment or anger, it does not mean you are a horrible parent.   In fact, sometimes it means that you have set an appropriate boundary for your child.

It may take time and practice to become comfortable seeing your child experience these big feelings. If this continues to be a struggle for you, please seek help from a mental health professional. Sometimes, things in our history make it very difficult to feel comfortable with big emotions – our own, and the emotions of others.

Depressed and Thankful: Six Ways to Find Joy

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Depressed and Thankful: Six Ways to Find Joy

By Stacy Reaoch

It was only about a year into our marriage when I had my first bout with mild depression. And it didn’t make sense to me. I finally was married to the man of my dreams. I had landed my first teaching job. We had started a new life together and were making new friends. But for whatever reason, my heart was downcast. Life felt overwhelming, like I wanted to pull the covers up over my head and stay in bed for the day.

The constant sadness in my heart finally led me to go to a doctor to share how I’d been feeling. Instead of quickly writing a prescription, my physician wisely talked through the major life changes I had experienced in the last twelve months — college graduation, moving away from family, marriage, my first real job — and assured me that my roller-coaster emotions were normal in light of all I had experienced in one year.

Eventually, I came out of that gray fogginess, but over the years of my adult life there have been other times where I’ve started to slide into the pit of despair. A melancholy side to my personality makes me prone to see the glass as half empty. I realize that for many individuals medication is truly necessary. But the weapon that has made the most difference in my life in fighting depression, and something we can all benefit from, is gratitude.

Worship Grows in Gratitude

In Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s excellent book Choosing Gratitude, she makes the point that we are either whining or worshiping. Our natural, sinful state makes us prone to see what we lack, what we don’t have, and what’s gone wrong in our lives.

Complaining is often my default response. Just the other day I noticed how even though I’d had a relatively good day, as soon as my husband walked in the door after work, I talked about the kids’ after-school squabble, our little guy’s potty-training accident, and did I forget to mention the freezer isn’t working right?

Often the things that pour off our tongues to others can be complaints of things not going our way or how we’ve been mistreated by others. We’re a rights-oriented culture, and if we don’t get what we think is rightfully ours, we storm off in anger or despair. Often, we slip on the sins of entitlement and discontentment down the slope to anxiety and depression. We can become surrounded by dark thoughts and unmet expectations that weigh down our hearts and put a cloud over our minds.

On the other hand, we will never be able to lift our hearts from despair to worship without expressing thanks to God. The theme of thanksgiving runs throughout all of Scripture. In the Psalms we’re commanded to give thanks to God:

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! (Psalm 105:1)

Thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! (Psalm 107:8)

The book of Colossians also carries the theme of thanksgiving. In Colossians 3:14–17, Paul mentions thankfulness three different times, one of them being, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15). Likewise, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 reminds us that it is God’s will to give thanks in all circumstances.

Six Tactics to Topple Ingratitude

God calls us to be thankful people. And it’s the very attitude of thanksgiving that can transform our lives. If you find yourself wandering down the dark path of depression and despair, here are six simple ways to fight for joy through gratefulness.

1. Fill your mind with the truths of God’s word.

Meditate on verses regarding thankfulness like Colossians 3:15–17. Commit to memory God’s commands to be thankful.

2. Remember God’s goodness and faithfulness to you.

Just as the Israelites were prone to forget all God had done for them during their time in the wilderness, so we too can forget. The discipline of remembering through writing down God’s blessings or retelling them to others has a way of stirring up gratitude in our hearts.

3. Ask God to put a guard over your mouth.

Instead of venting your frustrations from each day, look for reasons to rejoice. An attitude of gratitude is just as easily spread as a complaining spirit. Seek to be known as a Spirit-filled, joyful person, instead of a whining, disgruntled one.

4. Aim to make gratefulness your knee-jerk reaction to your circumstances.

When you hear news for the first time, ask yourself, “What can I be grateful for in this circumstance?” I always remember a story of a family that found out their daughter had died suddenly. As they joined hands to pray and mourn, the father first and foremost thanked the Lord for the years they had together. What an example of gratitude, even in the midst of great loss.

5. Put your thankfulness into words.

Write down five things to be grateful for as soon as you sense yourself heading down the miry path of despair. Sometimes it’s as simple as a cup of hot tea on a cold day, or a flower blooming outside my window. Listing God’s daily blessings has been one of the most transformative things in my life. By putting gratefulness into words — whether spoken or written — an abstract idea like thankfulness becomes much more concrete.

6. Look for specific evidences of God’s grace.

Search your life and the lives of others around you for grace. My faith is strengthened when I see God answer a prayer, when I notice the fruit of patience when I don’t cry over spilled milk, or when a long-awaited prayer request for my friend’s desire to be a mom is fulfilled through adoption. Intentionally watching for God at work gives me much to be grateful for.

The #1 Thing Couples Fight About

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The #1 Thing Couples Fight About

By The Gottman Institute

According to the Einstein of Love, Dr. John Gottman, the #1 thing couples fight about is . . . nothing:”