Discernment: Use it or lose it

If I had a dollar for every time a client said to me…

“I knew that I shouldn’t have (married that guy, trusted that person, stayed in that job, gone to that party, taken that loan, bought that car, tried that drug….) but I ignored the feeling”…

Well, let’s just say I would have a few dollars.

We all have an inner compass that guides us through life. We refer to it as our gut, intuition, our energy, the Holy Spirit. That internal guide works to convict us, warn us, alert us and protect us. It can also work to confirm decisions, tell us who to trust and push us to do something good. But for some reason, many times when we are getting our strongest messages, we hesitate to listen because it may mean that we have to give up something we want or alter our path to a journey that appears more difficult to navigate and because of that, we ignore it.

Unfortunately, when we fail to trust our gut, listen to our heart, and use our discernment, it all gets a little foggy. That muscle doesn’t increase in strength, it gets weak and confused and maybe even stops working at all, leading to more bad decisions, disappointment and heartbreak.

Ohhhh….if I could back up my own life and walk away earlier from that bad business partner, that terrible church, that boss….right? Can you think of times that you allowed yourself to get beat up because you didn’t listen to that inner voice?

If you feel like you need to strengthen that muscle again, take some steps to build it up by pushing the pause button when it starts to work for you. Here are some questions to ask yourself when you are wondering if you should listen to the warning bell ringing in your head, or pay attention to the red flag waving at you:

Do I have to make this decision RIGHT NOW or can I take some time to get good counsel and think it through?

Am I making this decision just to please other people?

Does this decision benefit me as much in the future as it does in the present?

Is this situation similar to anything in my past? If so, can I use the wisdom gleaned from that situation to inform this one?

Is there anything about my situation that appears too good to be true? Should I examine this a bit more?

Will other people get hurt by this decision? Do I need to consider that before I commit to it?


Discernment is a gift. You may not always like what it is telling you to do. Honestly, that most likely is the time to really listen. Learning to trust the spirit in you is a process that leads to empowerment. Give it a try.

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Sex Education: Wanna go there?

Lately, all my ‘magazines for therapists’ that I get, have one thing in common. They are attempting to educate me on how to work with people who have gender identity issues and/or people who have chosen lifestyles other than heterosexual relationships. There is an ever increasing need for therapy for those struggling with sexual addiction as well, including everything from porn addiction to sexual addiction within and outside committed relationships, crossing the lines of gender, age and species. This rampant addiction is ruining marriages and important relationships. An article I read recently was discussing the need for diversity in sex education at the elementary and middle school level so that all children could have an understanding of the issues they may encounter as they discover their personal sexual identity.

I remember when my own children had sex education in our local public school. We had some VERY interesting conversations in our home during that process. To be clear, I am not averse to sex education being offered at school…for goodness sake there are a lot of good reasons that the people spending most days with our kids need to make sure that they know some stuff. But for those of you parenting our impressionable youngsters, you may want to involve yourself in the process no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. Just because there is a curriculum being followed does not mean that the person teaching the curriculum doesn’t bring their own perceptions, opinions and let’s face it, baggage, to the table. For example, 1 in every 6 women has been molested or sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Depending on how she processed that event, she may be struggling with her own thoughts of how to be sexually healthy. This is only one example of something that could influence how sexuality conversations might be impacted within your child’s school setting. There are many more.

I also remember my own 6th grade sex education class and when I make the comparison to what is culturally acceptable today, it makes me laugh that my parents had to sign a waiver back then. What we learned back in the late 70’s/early 80’s was mostly science…there was not much sexuality being discussed. From a developmental stand point, this was very appropriate as what 6th grader is ready to make a commitment to a life long decision such as sexual preference? What adolescent should be making decisions that could impact them for life? And goodness knows that most 11-12 year olds are not going to enter into relationships that have good boundaries and heart protecting communication applications. To drive home the idea of who is teaching your children may impact their thought process, I had a teacher who literally told my class that oral sex is most effectively used when a woman is pregnant and may not want to have intercourse…huh? I can still see my mom’s face when I relayed that little tidbit. Oh goodness…I am laughing out loud as I write this, remembering that moment with my mom.

Is it possible that sex education in our elementary schools and junior highs should be focused more on personal development? Maybe instead of focusing on the sex act, we should be teaching communication skills, ways to communicate deeper level emotions, expectations in reciprocal relationships…I could go on. Let me spell it out for you. Very few couples come to counseling because they are confused about how to have sex. They are struggling because they have unmet expectations in their relationship, they have destructive ways of communicating, and life has been less than perfect so their relationship is suffering and thus, their intimacy isn’t near what they hoped it would be.

The bottom line, in my opinion, is that personal identity choices are best made when we are emotionally healthy, when we execute good boundaries and when we have a firm grasp on our non-negotiables in our relationships. Teach your elementary school and junior high kids about how to respect themselves, how to have healthy relationships evidenced by good communication and respect, and they have a better chance of making sexual choices that are healthy for themselves. If you don’t teach them these things, they run the risk of making sexual choices as a result of low self esteem, need for validation and the mistaken expectation that sexual interactions are always an indication of true love.

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Ministry Update: 2020 was busy!

I lit a candle for my health in this church in Croatia…not my normal tradition but it will always be special to me now in light of this past year.

2020 sure did bring some surprises to my ministry but thankfully, the Lord provided many opportunities for great connections!

I started 2020 working a Thrive retreat in Croatia, just when Covid was ramping up in nearby Italy. It was a last minute trip for me as I had to raise those funds in a very short window after serving in Estonia the previous Fall. Obviously, I had no idea at that time, what crazy times were on the horizon. It felt like as soon as the team landed back in the United States, everything started to shut down. Thrive retreats scheduled for later in the year were all cancelled.

Fortunately, my role as lead mentor for Thrive’s Alongside ministry did not stop because of The Rona. We continue to meet the needs of women serving overseas via online applications like Zoom and FaceTime. Thrive launched an online retreat called Gather and our numbers of mentor and mentee connections continue to rise. I am currently managing a team of 25 mentors who meet with 1-3 women apiece. We are excited about this growth and anticipate even more connections after another Gather event in February 2021. Of course, our prayer is that in-person retreats will resume as well in this next year. I plan to jump into action as soon as it is possible to do so.

In addition to working with Thrive, I continue to offer discounted and free counseling to many women I have met over the years in my travels. These sessions are made possible through donations from my supporters, who I am grateful to, for their ongoing support during this tumultuous year!

Many of you have been so supportive as I continue to battle cancer on a daily basis. I SO appreciate your kind notes and encouraging comments on social media. What a blessing to feel the love when I am at those icky doctors appointments! You may be wondering how this changes my work life. Honestly, it doesn’t. While the chemotherapy and the infusions can be rough, I have found that I do better if I keep a busy schedule. Focusing on my clients, who I meet with via Telehealth, is invigorating and I do not plan to end my time in private practice anytime soon. In fact, Telehealth has made it possible for me to travel to Phoenix monthly for treatment and not miss a beat with my clients. And PRAISE THE LORD…my new protocol continues to bring positive results. I have a great team of doctors who are all working to get me the treatment I need, with the least possible side effects. Some days are rough but most days I live life fully.

For 2021, I am again hoping to raise $18,000 to cover all my ministry expenses. I ask that you consider my ministry as you are making decisions about your year end giving and your philanthropy for the coming year. I know there are many worthwhile causes out there so I am grateful to those of you who continually put your trust in my work. You can donate here…Thank you for your sacrificial giving!

A strange blessing for me this past year is that my almost 7 year battle with cancer prepared me for life in a pandemic. I was wearing masks and over sanitizing long before the whole world shut down. I remember many plane flights in my past where folks would obviously avoid sitting next to me in my mask that I had to wear. Now I am one in the crowd and no one stares at me! I wasn’t afraid in the old days and I am not afraid now. Isn’t it comforting to know that our days are numbered by the Lord and the best place to be is in His will?

Blessings to all of you. My prayer for you as we enter 2021 is that God’s plan for your life will be clear to you in 2021!

With love,

Sonia

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2020: Best year ever?

Wow, it has been a long year. When I think back to my last overseas mission trip last February, it seems like it was 5 years ago! The initial Italy outbreak was occurring when I was in nearby Croatia, so our volunteer team was on high alert, being so close to the devastation. We thought it was a short term current event. Who knew that we were on the cusp of our whole lives being shut down! So much has happened, and not happened, since then.

My girls were on a senior year “Spring break hurrah”, with friends, when they got the news that their university was closing down for an extra week. It would be the last time they saw most of their friends, and they never did get to walk across a stage after 4 years of exemplary work. As one of my daughter’s shared, “I was living my best life and then it was gone in an instant!”

When I talk to clients, I hear stories of incredible loss: Loss of jobs, friends, freedom, community, mental health….and more. Many people have experienced lack of closure with those they used to go to school with or folks they worked with, loved ones who have died during this time, even people who have moved away.

On top of Covid, we in the United States have had political tension that has come between even the closest of family and friends. We are divided into camps where there isn’t a lot of common ground, since many of the polarizing issues rest in people’s core value systems. Even folks who value tolerance are struggling with how to live that in our current climate.

As a counselor, my job has always been to assist people with overcoming trauma and altering victim status to empowerment status, resulting in a life well-lived. Are you able to do this with 2020? I encourage you to try…

Here is what this processing might look like. I use my own life as an example.

I am grateful that even though I was forced to close down the office space that I LOVED, I am able to see clients via Telehealth. Because of this transition, I am able to meet with clients when I travel to Phoenix for cancer treatment! I don’t have to stop working because of my diagnosis, which is an enormous blessing because I love my work and I have to work in these economic times!

I am grateful that my daughter, who had planned to take a gap year to earn money to attend grad school, could not find anyone hiring during the shutdown, so she applied to grad school early and ended up with a full ride scholarship. She would never thought that possible. Covid forced her into pursuing her dream!

I am grateful that my online church encouraged me to join a virtual small group, because they were proactive in creating community during the shutdown. My church is in Texas, so I never dreamed that I would connect, as I have, with anyone in the congregation! Now we have dear friends in town when we visit our girls! I also have numerous friends who I talk to more often because we have scheduled weekly, bi-weekly or monthly conversations using Zoom or Face Time.

I am also grateful that through this last year, I have seen people’s colors…some of those colors darker and some brighter than others. I have been able to see people’s love and hate, and their thoughtfulness and lack thereof. I have been disappointed in some behaviors but motivated by others, as we all respond to the crisis at hand. I have learned who are my people and who are not. As painful as that can be sometimes, it is a gift.

I could go on…but you get the process. Romans 8:28 tells us that, “In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose”. The promise does not say that life will be easy but rather, we can turn hard times into purposeful living. What hardship of 2020 has lead to an unexpected blessing? Are you able to resist the urge to see this as a terrible, no good year, but rather see it as a time of refinement of who you are going forward?

World-changers are people who take their trauma and do something good with it. They use their character building tough days, as motivation for making their family, their community, and even the earth a better place. Google “People who overcame adversity to do big things” and you will see lists and lists of people who didn’t stop because they endured a hardship. We all have 2020 as a springboard into a great 2021. Do you accept the challenge?

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Counseling: Asking for a Friend

As many of you know, I am the Lead Mentor for a ministry called Alongside, designed to help women who are serving overseas, who might have the need for emotional support. The ministry is run through Thrive Ministries who strives to empower women in ministry around the world. My team of 25 mentors give a few hours a month to encouraging. listening and praying for women who have given their lives to be world changers. Our mentees are running orphanages, teaching English, rescuing women from sex trafficking, doing community development…they are strong but they are often somewhat alone and in need of support. My mentor team is an amazing group of selfless women who have incredible life experience but only a few of them are trained counselors, so we have some guidelines in place to put boundaries around the service we offer. Recently I was asked to put together a list of reasons to suggest professional counseling to women who might need more than we can offer in a mentorship capacity. It reminded me how often I have been asked in private practice how people can identify if a family member or friend might benefit from counseling. I thought it might be beneficial to adapt the guidelines we use at Alongside for my clients….

Here are some reasons that your friend might need counseling:

Your friend is having difficulty regulating her emotions. Of course you may have emotional moments with your friend where there are tears. However, if she expresses that she is crying all the time, struggling to keep her anger under control or fluctuating between extreme emotions, she may need more than an accountability partner.


Your friend isn’t performing effectively in her roles at home or work. Deeper mental issues can effect us cognitively and we can struggle to focus and engage effectively with people as a result. Sometimes it is a fine line between an overwhelmed mommy and a person who has ceased to function in a healthful way. If you sense that your friend is struggling, please advise her to seek counseling.


Your friend complains of not being able to sleep, eat or perform other normal human functions. Oftentimes, clinical depression and/or anxiety can lead to physical issues. Unplanned weight gain or weight loss, chronic insomnia or other symptoms such as headache, stomach pain, or even back pain, can be an indicator of a deep emotional need. If these symptoms are worsening for your friend despite your time together, she may need more attention than you can give in a friendship role.


Your friend reports an ongoing struggle with numerous relationships or an inability to build and maintain relationships. Many women have relationship struggles that they need to process and this is normal. However, if you start to get the feeling that your friend has no healthy relationships in her life, she might need to explore this at a deeper level.


Your friend has unresolved trauma. If your friend shares about past trauma, and you suspect that this trauma is part of the reason she is struggling, it is appropriate to ask her if she has ever gone through counseling for that trauma. Trauma comes in many forms. She may have experienced sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, a profound loss, or may have childhood trauma that has never been resolved.


Your friend struggles to find joy in activities that normally provide joy. When you are encouraging your friend in the area of self care and she can’t seem to find anything that brings her joy, she may be experiencing clinical depression. Is she isolating herself or focusing only on the negative? Encourage your friend to seek professional help.


Your friend has deep or unresolved grief. Women often experience grief because of job loss, relationship conflict, cultural challenges, divorce or death of a loved one. She may benefit from time with a therapist.
Your friend is using substances or obsessive activities to cope. If you suspect that your friend is struggling with addiction, it is important to suggest counseling.


Your friend suggests that they may self harm. Self harm in any form can be very dangerous. Please encourage your friend to seek professional services if you are concerned that she is a danger to themselves or others.
Your friend seems to need more than you feel capable of giving. If you start to feel overwhelmed by this relationship, the answer may simply be that the needs of your friend are too great for a reciprocal relationship.

As always, let me know if I can help!
With love,

Sonia

ADHD: Anything other than meds?

I used to be a high school teacher, so I am well aware of what it is like to have kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, as students in a class. One of my most memorable parent-teacher conferences was with a student and their father, where the father kept getting up to “roam” as we discussed how to manage his child in class. If dad can’t sit through a 30 minute conference….I wish I had known then, what I know now!

As I work with parents who are navigating online school during this Covid season, many parents are understanding how frustrating it can be for their students who struggle with focus. I can also imagine that there are some teachers out there, who are welcoming this season of parents gathering awareness, of what their child is like in class. Hopefully this post will give both parents and teachers some ideas! ADHD can be very manageable and some of the most talented people overcome the limitations of ADHD, and use the energy of this condition to do AMAZING things! Never use diagnosis as a lifetime limitation. Use it to empower!

For those of you who are wondering if your child has ADHD, here is a good definition for you:

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health disorder ( I prefer the word “condition”) that can cause above-normal levels of hyperactive and impulsive behaviors. People with ADHD may also have trouble focusing their attention on a single task or sitting still for long periods of time. Both adults and children can have ADHD.

It is important to remember that everyone has “wiggles” that need to get out, through exercise and movement. It is not good to diagnose every kid who has some extra energy as ADHD. But if you notice that even with lots of exercise and a good amount of breaks from concentration, you or your child have wandering thoughts, lack of focus, inability to complete regular tasks, poor job performance, and issues with relationships, spurred from an inability to stay attentive in conversation, it might be something you consider. Always seek professional advice before starting a protocol.

Some common medications being used right now for ADHD are Contempla, Mydayis, and Strattera. While the results vary, many people do not like the side effects that can come with taking these drugs: fatigue, nausea, dry mouth, dizziness, bad mood. People are sometimes forced to choose between the side effect and the original struggle. The good news is that an ADHD diagnosis does not always end in taking medication. Everyone needs to choose what is best for their situation.

If you are feeling like “something has to change” but you are hesitant to go the medication route, maybe try some of these ideas!

Diet:
The first place to start is with diet. Did you know that there are some foods known to trigger ADHD? Foods such as milk, chocolate, soy, wheat, tomatoes, grapes, oranges and corn have been found to cause ADHD reactions in a large number of people. Additionally, foods rich in protein, lean beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, soy, and low-fat dairy products, can have beneficial effects on ADHD symptoms. (Protein-rich foods are used by the body to make neurotransmitters, the chemicals released by brain cells to communicate with each other. Good to know if you have a family member struggling!)

A good book to take a look at is The ADHD Diet by Martin Meyer. (Amazon)  It is full of ideas to get your body working on your side!


Can Do Sitting Wedge:
Often times wiggling produces stimulation, resulting in more wiggling. Help yourself or your child sit still with a comfortable wedge that reduces stimuli and allows focus through less movement. These wedges are also good for posture and achy backs so it is a win-win. Click here for this much needed tool. 

Exercise:
Folks with ADHD need breaks from sitting still, more than most. Having a mini trampoline close to a work area is such a great idea for getting some energy out quickly. Those working from home might break for a walk around the block. While a long workout can be helpful as well, short energy burst exercise can help with productivity during a school or work day. Also, if your child has an opportunity to be part of an athletic team, take advantage of that! And don’t take those activities away, as a punishment, or you will only be punishing yourself!

Homeopathic supplement:
I always like to include a homeopathic remedy in my posts! Homeopathic remedies can be purchased at your local health food store or online and are often a good thing to try before you go the prescription drug route:

Hyoscyamos 6c twice daily for a period of months. Evaluate at 6 weeks and discontinue if there are no results. As always, consult your pharmacist for drug interaction with any prescriptions you might be already taking. Unlike prescription drugs, homeopathic supplements do not create artificial stimulus so do not use this for staying awake longer or creating hyper focus, as it won’t work that way.

Limit time on devices:
Oh…this is so hard nowadays! But just because your sweet child finally calms down when they are allowed to veg-out with their phone or the TV, you are setting them up have disrupted sleep (which is bad for ADHD) and restlessness later in the day. The reason is that devices are full of stimuli! And stimuli, for someone with ADHD, causes more stimuli (remember the wedge?)….so calm down another way.

Of course, this is just a snapshot of what can be done for someone with ADHD but it might be just enough to get you on a productive path to emotional health. As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,


Sonia