Managing Transitions in Life

Transitions Come With Life

Reality confronts our beliefs, our hopes and our dreams as we move through the stages of life. At times the changes go un-noticed and we move forward seamlessly. At other times the changes derail everything. Questions evade answers. Nothing makes sense anymore. Before it was all so clear; but, now . . . .

There are Transitions For Which We Plan

You realize that it is time for a change. You want to be proactive. It is time to act. You look at all of the options and the potential consequences of your decisions. The ‘paralysis of analysis’ leaves you listing in a sea of indecision.

This is not a time to be preached at, for people to oversimplify your challenges or to have someone stand in judgment over your ideas. This is not a time to hear someone else’s claim: “I know exactly how you feel.”

There Are Transitions For Which We Do Not Plan

There are an infinite number of possible scenarios that can change the entire course of one’s life. Sometimes the changes occur at breakneck speed. At other times the change is gradual but unstoppable. Some changes can be good for us. Some changes can be devastating. Perhaps life has dealt you a hand that has left you with limited options and seemingly insurmountable challenges.

What you need is a caring person…

  • …to hear you out.
  • …with whom to think out loud.
  • …to ask questions and explore options.

It is time…

  • …to weigh out the pros and cons.
  • …to think outside the box.
  • …to challenge assumptions
  • …to set a new course and a new beginning.

It is time to plan for the change ahead and you want to minimize your risk and anticipate the hazards. Too much is at stake this time.

In Your Time…

Take time to assess the magnitude of the transitions, time to work through the feelings, time to take stock of your resources, and time to project where you wish to go now. It’s time to calculate the costs, work out a plan and put it into action.

To do this well takes time. In addition, having someone to help you assess where you are at in the process and where you need to go next can transform an intimidating process into smaller, do-able pieces that will lead to the best possible results.

Marriage and Family Therapists are trained to help individuals and families move through a broad range of personal and interpersonal challenges. In times of transition it is important to bring everyone along, whenever possible. To do this means examining life from a variety of perspectives, looking for the points of conflict and tension and helping people transition to the next level of functioning.

Overcoming Obstacles

We believe in solution-focused, brief Marriage and Family Therapy. Solution-focused because we function best with goals and objectives that clearly define when we have completed the task.  Brief because we believe that our role is to help families overcome obstacles, move past difficulties and get on with life. Typically we are able to arrive at a treatment plan within the first three sessions.

Not all obstacles and challenges can be addressed briefly, however. The key is that the therapist works out treatment plans with the full participation of the individual, couple, family or other type of interpersonal and relational system. Sometimes it is important to maintain a working relationship over a long period of time to track progress, to clarify or re-assess goals or to tackle challenges and interpersonal issues that get us off track.

Educated and trained in the tradition of Marriage and Family Therapy, Stephen emphasizes the importance of relationships that often stand behind the challenges we face. We focus upon the interpersonal factors that are at work, helping us do well, and which ones are getting in the way of helping us obtain what we desire. For many of us, we know what needs to happen and we even know what we need to do. The rub comes when we try to do it in a way that lasts longer than a few days or a few weeks; we’re looking for long-term solutions.

These relational systems can be between couples, parents and children, families and can be expanded to relationships at church or synagogue, school, work and beyond. The key is to evaluate the system as a whole and look for innovative and creative ways to emphasize the positives, always looking for the best. At the same time, it is important to identify the things that hinder our progress and to find ways transform those into learning opportunities and impetus for change.

Echoes of a Marriage and Family Therapist

This morning it was in the upper 40’s and it was cold.  Cold enough to wear a jacket!  Just two days ago it was 97 degrees and humidity was over the top miserable.

Coming down off of mid-life I have had several revelations of late.  One of those involves this ‘cold’ weather in the upper 40’s with overcast skies of the darker, heavier thin altocumulus type.  While attending school at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas I disliked the intense heat of the summer.

One summer I traveled with an International Campaign group to Germany and Austria and I was overwhelmed by the coolness of the evenings in the middle of summer…I loved it!  And so, from then on I have associated cool snaps in the summer time with Europe wherever we have lived in the south: Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Louisiana.

It was only this year that I realized that my love for the cool evenings in Europe had its origins in my childhood days in Michigan, much like we are experiencing today.  The high was in the 60’s with a low in the 40’s, the skies were overcast and mowing the grass was almost…almost…an enjoyable activity.  Growing up with this kind of weather led me to appreciate it in other locales to the point that I forgot about those early experiences.  Nonetheless, I longed for them.

Then the trips to Europe and Scandinavia became associated with cool nights and warm afternoons.  And then it hit me, after 54 years: the reason I love the weather in Europe is because I love the weather in Michigan.

Which reminds me of one of life’s great lessons.  Many of our attitudes, perceptions and values are shaped by times, places and people long forgotten or far away.   One of the great tragedies of life is the unexamined life.  Moving from one life event, family life cycle or crisis to another without contemplating how I deal with things and why leaves me rediscovering deja vu experiences without understanding why or how I got there.  But, perhaps one of the greatest tragedies is the unexamined faith is when we accept what we accept because we accept it without considering its basis in reality.  To live life with Christ without verifying, modifying or dispelling my beliefs…essentially, testing them, is to miss out on the adventure and to terminate the depth of understanding that comes with the life examined and tested.

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed” (1 Cor. 13:5-7).

A Morning Person

I used to think I would never become a morning person.  Actually, I used to be one back in Junior High school.  College changed all of that for me.  Late nights cramming or playing hands of ‘Rook’ would keep me going until the wee hours of the morning.

Late nights seemed productive for me over the years and, certainly, a great deal of work was done while everyone else in my house was sleeping.  As in all good things, however, there came a time when I needed to change and so, I decided to become a morning person.

The transition was not as difficult as I had convinced myself that it would be over the years.  It began with a trip to Finland and the jet lag challenge that comes with returning home.  Instead of fighting it, however, I chose to go with it and I crashed in bed, first thing.  Waking up at 4 am I got up, dressed for the gym and started the routine that has continued to today, more than 3 years later.

Now Pam is the night owl and I’m ready for bed by 9:30 in the evening.   She gets to greet the kids when they come home at night…come to think of it, being a morning person does have its advantages.

Family Life: My Dad’s Bible

Dad’s Bible

During a recent visit with my family in Searcy I found one of my dad’s Bibles that I knew he had used in Finland.  It is obvious that he had read it cover-to-cover.  It is pretty worn and frazzled with a couple of pages falling out.

There are the pencil highlights that verify his journey through every page.  Hardly a page in his Bible escaped a note or a pencil underline.

Then there are the pages folded over to mark special passages that he could turn to easily and that he did not want to forget.  One of those passages jumped out at me this afternoon.  Not only was it folded over; I also discovered one of my old business cards tucked in the fold of the page!  The passage is in Isaiah 1 verses 13 through 17.  It reads:

Stop bringing meaningless offerings
  Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations–
  I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts
  my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me;
   I am weary of bearing them.
 

Later, God says,

Stop doing wrong,
  learn to do right!
Seek justice,
  encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
  plead the case of the widow. (NIV)
 

Reading this passage reminded me that my dad has always made a point of showing me his religion.  A man of few words, dad rarely lectured me on the truths of scripture.  What he has always done is illustrate the Word of God with his life with a consistency that still causes me to marvel, setting a standard that I still aspire to achieve.

HOPE

Goldfinch In Spring

It doesn’t usually take much.  A small thread, a gleam, a light at the end of the tunnel, a silver lining…all of these colloquial expressions refer to the wonder of hope.  Just one little ray of sunshine can take horrible circumstances and transform them into redemptive events.

Here in the dead of winter in southeastern Michigan I sometimes wish it would warm up just a little bit…and then they forcast a low of 8 degrees over the next couple of days.  I found this picture from last summer and I thought, “It won’t be too long.”

Sometimes hope lies in the ‘already-but-not-yet’ aspect of our faith in Christ.  Paul tells us that our hope lies in the very power that raised Jesus from the dead (Eph. 1:15-22) and which, also, ushered us into the very throne room of God (Eph. 2:1-10).  Past-tense event empowers present-tense fact and points to a future-tense reality of standing in the throne room of God, face-to-face.

Hope.  It is an amazing thing.

Serenity

The Rising Fog

There are times when just being alone on the river in the peace and serenity of the evening can be mesmerizing.  I especially appreciate those times when there is a light rain and the fog rises gently off of the surface of the water.  Warm and cold come together to envelope me in the peace and quiet of nature’s simple wonders.  Serenity.

Times like this have been important to me as I have contemplated the failing health of my father and my mother’s efforts to love and care for him as he prepares to move through the veil.  It is a time to pray, to weep quietly and, through the tears, to observe God’s loving embrace through His creation.

I’m thankful for the hour or two that I get now and then to dress to stay warm and dry so that I can stand on the banks of the river and marvel at the wonder of God’s love and providence.   Lying behind it all is a quiet fantasy that maybe–just maybe–a fish will find my little nymph at the bottom of the stream and give me a few moments of intensity and joy.

Peace

Fly Fishing the Rapids

In this morning’s men’s devotional we were talking Sunday morning’s sermon reference to “The Prince of Peace.”

Peace.

In International Relations we are referring to the cecessation of hostilities between nation states.

In the quiet of the evening we are talking about the tranquil stillness of an undisturbed scene.

In the Christian life there are certainly those times when hostilities cease and the scene is all quiet and tranquil.  But then there are those times when there is peace in the midst of the storm when the rain stings your cheeks, the waters swell around your legs and waist  and you have to check your footing to make sure that you don’t get swept away…

…which made me think of the fly fisherman…or, in my case, the UN-fly fisherman.  There have been those times when in spite of the cold, the rain and the stiff current of the water I have been found wading in the midst of the stream, casting a nymph pattern in hopes of that illusive catch that would give me bragging rights for all times.  It is at times like this that your footing needs to be sure and solid because it only takes one slippery rock, one unseen hole or a patch of that slimey, glue-like sand that sucks you in and will not let you go.

I had that happen once.  I was alone.  In winter.  In the lower northwestern peninsula of Michigan.  It was cold and there was a mixture of sleet and snow stinging my cheeks.  I parked the car, pulled on my neoprene waders and boots, put on my coat and gloves and hat, put my rod and reel together, slipped on my vest and waded into the stream.

My ankles were in, then my knees, my waste and I was letting my line out for a cast under the overhang across the stream.  Confident.  Assured.  Excited and, even warm, a glow of satisfaction and self-confidence swept over me as I braved the elements to catch that trophy that I knew to be just waiting for my nymph beneath the tree limbs, under a rock.

Then it happened.  As I was wading across the stream my right foot hit a pocket of sand that had no bottom.  As I brought up my other foot to stop the sucking feeling, I also felt it being sucked into the abyss and there was nothing to do…I was going down with my gear, my waders would soon be filling with water and my head would be going under.   Every attempt to extract one foot meant the other would be sucked further in and I would be stuck on this stair-climer with no top stair.  I was in trouble and I knew that if I did not act quickly I would go under with no one to witness and rescue me.

So, as counter intuitive as it may sound, I threw my rod up on the bank, put my hands out and laid down face-first in the water and relaxed, stopping the downward slide that would have soon taken me under.  I did not notice the cold.  All I knew was that if I kept struggling I would not stop sinking.  It was time to float because the air around me and in my lungs and in my neoprene’s were the only things that would save me.

What I soon discovered was that as I began to move my arms as if to swim, and as I held my breath, I was able to feel one foot move upwards without sensing the sinking of the other foot at the same time.  Slowly, carefully, I began the process of swimming my way out of the hole until one foot found that little bit of solid ground that I needed so I could begin crawling.  Soon I  began standing again and work my way towards the way I had entered the stream where I knew the ground was solid and the footing sure.

When I got to the shore and pulled myself out of the stream I looked around to see if anyone else had seen me.

Nope.

This one was between me and God…and, now, you.

Which hit me like a wet fish across the face as I was listening to my friends talking about the peace that God gives in the midst of the storm.  The kind of peace begins with the sure-footed, solid ground as we wade into the stream of life.  The waters roar and the winds howl but we wade in, checking our step and walking slowly but surely.

Then there are those times when we are swept off of our feet or sucked under by an overwhelming, bottomless quicksand that will not release us…when solid footing is not to be found.  Then, just as we are about to panic, we dig deeply within to extract that quiet confidence that allows us to assess the situation, execute a plan to avoid going under and we crawl our way back to where we know the footing is sure and the ground is solid.

Often the scene is not a pretty one.  The initial grasping for something solid.  The quick footwork to look for a place to land.  The flailing of hands for a branch, some river grass or floating log to grab onto.  Something!  Anything!

And then comes the quiet moment when you realize it is that you either make it or die.  And so, you lay it all down, draw on your past experience and training to devise a strategy and execute it with calm assurance of a positive outcome.

I think that is the kind of peace the Bible talks about and that Jesus brings us.  It is that quiet assurance that sweeps over you after you have lost your footing and risked losing it all.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  – Isaiah 9:6

Helping people overcome obstacles, manage transitions and reach potentials.