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

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

Rise Above: There will always be a Covid

Rise Above: There will always be a Covid

I remember sitting at my mama’s feet, as she tried to communicate with the customer service rep on the other end of the line. I am sure, me sitting there while she tried to make her point, was super helpful…why do our littles always sit right next to us when we are on the phone? She was being asked to repeat herself, over and over again…no doubt her accent was making it difficult for the person unwilling to just listen for a second. She put down the phone with disgust and told me to get my shoes on. We were going to go in person, “so that they can see that I have money and I am not stupid.” Before she hung up the phone, she asked for the person’s first and last name, a practice I use to this day to advocate for myself. I hope my girls learned lessons sitting next to me when I was on the phone!

Meeting in person did not always work. She also told me the story of when the Friendly Hills Country Club ladies came to “interview” her and they obviously did not see her as an equal. When she shared this story with me, she reflected that being refused was good information…better than being admitted and treated poorly. Even when the club changed some policies, she knew it wasn’t a home for our family.

My mother was anything but stupid. She came to the United States, brought by missionaries Chuck and Mary Olvey,  to attend their alma mater, where she graduated at the top of her class, in her second language. I still have a copy of the speech she gave at Biola’s graduation, typed out…a message to inspire others. In her life, she overcame obstacle after obstacle, with a grace that probably gave the impression that it came easily to her. As her daughter, I had a front row seat to some of the obstacles, and it wasn’t easy; she had a deep rooted faith and she refused to give up. And she refused to be mediocre.

Here is my mamacita getting her citizenship…fun day!
Green Card photo….how brave she was!

When California held a vote to make Spanish an official language, I learned how very wise she was….”If California says they are willing to loose language, a uniter of people, there will always be two or more groups, and the English speakers will always have the advantage.” Soon after, she began volunteering, teaching Hispanic adults to read and speak English. She also decided around this time to turn in her green card for United States citizenship, so she could vote.

In the last few years, I have been told by professors, friends who have differing political viewpoints, and popular culture, that my story and my mother’s story don’t count, in my perception of how to really change the world. That is fine. Maybe our story is just for us and the children I am raising.

My daughter is teaching dance in Waco, Texas, and after having classes via Zoom, for 10 weeks, some of the girls were not feeling ready to perform. She shared with me that she told those girls that there will always be a Covid, or a current event, or a personal struggle, that will impact their lives…but they have a recital to perform and they can choose to give it their best effort or give up. She has no idea that she inspired me that day. Sometimes in life, it just seems easier to give up. There is a temptation to forget how hard we have worked to get where we are, and in those moments, we can be willing to throw it all away.

Friends, is there a situation in your life that is beating you down? Is there a job situation, an illness, a broken relationship???? Are you tempted to give up, retreat, or forget that you have life to be lived? I have never met a person who didn’t have a situation in their life, where others were to blame, or the unfairness of the situation was unbearable. But we all do have the choice to press on. Every hero, every success story, has a moment in the story, where all the odds were against them, and they did. not. give. up.

Have faith. Do not give up. Refuse to be mediocre. Thank you, Mamacita, for the lessons you taught me, when I sat at your feet.

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

 

My Offering: Sitting in the Pain

I just got off the phone with my best friend from my childhood. We met in 7th grade when she and her brother accidentally rang my doorbell, when they were going door to door selling magazines for the school fundraiser. She told me later that she was mortified when I answered the door…we were in 7th grade where everything is embarrassing. I honestly thought it was hilarious, and it lead to a joined-at-the-hip friendship that took us through high school and beyond. I can’t tell you how many memories I have of the two of us laughing till we cried. We passed notes, talked on the phone, double dated, played sports, went on family vacations, were in each other’s weddings…we had no idea that life might not always be so carefree. Since then, our lives have not always been intertwined, but we talk and get together whenever we can, because we will always be heart sisters.

This morning I was liking a photo of her handsome son on Instagram. Her son and my girls are the same age. I remember thinking it was so fun that we were pregnant at the same time. He was recently made a deputy and I thought the picture was celebrating that. It wasn’t. It was the picture in the paper, that told how he died in a car accident yesterday. His was a young, beautiful life, cut short and his mama is my dear friend. And even though I am a trained counselor, and have lead grief groups, and taught seminars on grief… I had no words.

Sometimes in life, there are no words for the pain we shoulder. Even as I have been crying for her all day, and reflecting on our earlier conversation, where she shared about the last time she saw her son and the way God allowed some moments to take place in the last week that she will be forever grateful for…I still do not know what to say. I know better than to think there is a sentence or a phrase that will take any of her pain away. She has faith. She is relying on that to get her through this time. I can only offer myself to sit in the pain with her.

Have you ever had someone sit with you in the pain? I can think of several times in my life where my situation in life was inconsolable and there were no words to ease my burden and there were people who sat…sat next to me…no words…just presence. Presence just says, “I Iove you and I wish had a magic wand to wave on your behalf…but since I don’t, I will sit and pray and hold your hand…” I can only hope that is what I offered this morning.

Our world is topsy turvy right now and you might know of people who need some sitting next to. Maybe you need someone to sit in your pain with you. If you have ever shied away from being with another human because you didn’t know what to say, know that words are not always the only way to be there for someone. I am grateful for every person who has silently come alongside me and sometimes it is all I have to offer.

I wish I could wave a magic wand today…for my dear friend and for those who are facing all sorts of crazy in this pandemic. But today, all I can do is say I am sorry and offer my presence.

Love,

Sonia