Put Down Your Shovel

American business magnate Warren Buffet shares some profound advice about how to get unstuck in life: “The most important thing to do if you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging.” Stop digging? But doesn’t a little extra muscle help lift you out of your stagnant circumstances? Doesn’t trying a little harder move you forward?

IMG_3752Not necessarily. Sometimes the harder we try, the more frustrated we become. Sometimes digging and digging simply results in a deeper hole without a smooth escape. Warren, the Sage of Omaha, is right. Despite our instincts to work our way out of a hole, it’s important to stop and get our bearings. Often, it is best to put down our shovel and either climb out of the hole we’ve dug or ask for a helping hand to get out.

By nature, I’m more of a try-harder, dig-deeper kind of gal. I don’t list stubborn on my list of admirable qualities, but sometimes I do let my determination and drive get the best of me. What about you? When do you find it most challenging to put down your shovel? When the kids are sick and whiny? When you are sick and whiny? When the bills are stacking up and the bank account is running bare? When you are tired of waiting and want to see progress NOW? Some of us dig an assortment of holes: overworking, crash dieting, overspending, complaining, skipping sleep and rest, criticizing, and on and on.

But what if we applied Warren’s advice and instead of digging ourselves deeper in a hole, we dig deep inside ourselves . . . and stop? I’m game, if you are. With our shovels at rest, we’ll have more time to look around at our situation and even apply the advice of Hosea, a Sage of Israel, “it’s time to dig in with God” (Hosea 10:12). When we’re in a hole, fresh perspective from above helps us see the light of day.

What does getting out of a hole look like for you?

Brave and Resilient Tip #80: If you’re in a hole, put down your shovel and get some fresh perspective from above.

Let It Go—Part 2

“Let it go, let it go,” Queen Elsa sings in the film Frozen, but isn’t life a little more complicated than musical advice from the latest Disney sensation? Last week’s look at learning to let life’s stressors glance off us, elicited several post comments and personal emails to me. One person shared that letting go is not just a resignation, but more of opening your hands and literally offering the situation or person
to God.

iStock_000010378236SmallAnother friend shared the following:

The turning point for me was realizing that much of my dwelling on events was because things hadn’t gone my way and I was wrestling with God about life’s situations—pretty much fighting for control. But the day I admitted that I was refusing to acknowledge God was in control, and I finally relinquished all to Him, my life changed. I’m now learning not to get tangled up in the whys and why nots and this takes my focus off myself. This gives me more time for quiet reflection and maintaining a thankful attitude for all God’s blessings, which I find difficult in our fast-paced, loud, option-filled world.

Busyness and overstimulation get my focus off track. It’s crucial not to drown in a sea of activities. One of the best ways to do this is saying “no” to draining situations. Also, the apostle Paul advises us to “press on.” I can’t press on while looking back. I just don’t have the energy and I don’t want to miss what’s ahead. So now I’m deliberately choosing to keep my eyes off my selfish plans and desires and asking myself along the way, “Does this really matter?”

So what are some practical steps for learning to let go?

         • Stop fighting for control over life’s events and people.

• Offer everything to God with open hands and an open heart.

• Take your focus off yourself and your plans.

• Reevaluate your activities and priorities for a more even pace.

• Practice saying “no” more to prevent over busyness.

• Ask throughout your day, “Does this really matter?”

Brave and Resilient Tip #63: Letting go frees you to enjoy life less tangled in the whys and why nots. 

Determine to Bloom Anyway

Thirteen years ago yesterday, I let go of my mom’s hand for the last time on this earth. At age 70, she graduated to heaven because of a stroke caused by cancer treatment complications. My mom loved growing tulips and irises, really most any flower (I can still see her scattering mothballs in her flower beds to deter the neighbor’s cats from “visiting”). Bernice was one determined gal and would not let a few felines disrupt her floral beauty.

IMG_3057Since Mom’s passing, I’ve valued growing my own flowers. Last week I noticed the first tulips in my yard poking through winter’s crust. Spring is coming! But there’s more to the story. Last summer a friend added weed-barrier cloth and piles of new landscaping rock to the yard, but I forgot to dig away the rocks so my tulip bulbs could survive above ground. No problem—the tulips pushed, poked, and pulled their tender shoots through the semi-frozen, rocky earth anyway. Talk about brave, resilient, and determined!

Seeing these baby tulips coming to life, reminds me to take note of my own determination. Am I willing to push, poke, and pull my way through barriers that hold me back? Some rock piles in my life are fear, frustration, and fatigue. I can wilt under these weights and not rise above my circumstances. How about you? What rocks are holding you back these days?

I like how the apostle Paul commended the church of Thessalonica’s press-on lives. “We’re so proud of you; you’re so steady and determined in your faith despite all the hard times that have come down on you” (2 Thessalonians 1:4)

What would it take for us to live “steady and determined,” or more like a tulip—tenacious, resolute, and intent on adding beauty despite the rocks and debris in our way?

Live steady and determined. Push, poke, and pull your way through. Bloom anyway.

Brave and Resilient Tip #61: Forget the rocks. Determine to bloom anyway. 

Emptying the Trash

The other day I glanced at the little trash can icon at the bottom of my computer screen and remembered, “Oh, that’s right. I’m supposed to empty the trash every now and then.” I clicked on the “Empty Trash” command and discovered that 7,185 items were crammed in my computer’s dumpster. Wowzer! I had no idea my discarded Word documents, PDFs, and other files were piling into an invisible garbage heap inside my Mac.

Bin full of rubbish isolated on whiteWhen I drag computer files to the trash, somehow I always think I’ve tossed them away for good. Nope. I still need to empty the trash. This makes me wonder about junk that sometimes clutters our lives: rehashed conversations that didn’t go so well, frustrations sizzling on the back burner, fears that ooze into daily routines, regrets that taunt our decisions.

The enemy presses in to distract us from emptying our trash overflowing with decaying attitudes and pungent habits. Left to accumulate in our lives, worry and anxiety get pretty smelly. Anger and bitterness reek. A critical tongue and judgmental pride are rancid. Phewwww weeeeeee!

Doing a quick toss of our miscues and misguided musings doesn’t mean they disappear for good. To keep ourselves free from refuse that bogs us down, we need to empty our internal trash cans regularly. Daily is best. How?

We do a self-inventory and fess up to our fragrant shortcomings. Or, as David the psalmist prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Here, God, take this. And while You’re at it, will you get rid of this too? Thank You!

Sniff. Sniff. What’s in your trash that needs emptying?

Brave and Resilient Tip #53: Keeping clean on the inside keeps you living freely on the outside.  

Let’s Talk

Harmony vs. Discord

Q. How can we get along better in our families and close friendships regardless of differences? I long for harmony, but discord is more prevalent because of our differences.


 A. Let’s Talk! Our hearts were built to love harmony, but we do live among others with great diversity of thought and life choices. Let’s explore how we can navigate that kind of music playing in our immediate surroundings!

Of course, we want people to think like we think. It’s undeniably more comfortable, but it is not realistic. What if differences among family members and friends help prepare us to love those outside our circle? If we can live well with those we know well—we can handle bigger differences at work, school, in our neighborhoods, etc.

So, how can we be okay with differences in our family or close circle? First, let’s go back a few columns. Remember we talked about how we can’t change others, we can only change ourselves. If we try to change others, it is called control. Ugh. It’s an awful feeling to be either the controller or the controlled one. You can only control your side of a difference of opinion. With that out of the way, you are then in a neutral place to ask for clarification, just so you know for sure the other person’s stand on issues. Then you can ask if you can share your views, not to change your loved one’s views, but just so your position is heard and understood.

Next you are in the classic place where you can ask if you can “agree to disagree.” It is even helpful to say, “I am sharing my beliefs so you will know where I stand, but my purpose is not to persuade you to share my position.” That eases the control tension. “Healthy” families should be able to disagree and be okay. If we can’t disagree openly, then we are stuffing and that is unhealthy. Many families even have family meetings deciding on language to use to respectfully disagree.

Unconditional love is choosing to love someone REGARDLESS of differences or blemishes others may have. Jesus is about the only example of this in its truest form, but He compels us to choose it as a way to live among imperfect humans. Isn’t it totally refreshing when we know that someone cares for us whether we mess up or not? It is a great gift one can give to one’s children, spouse, friends, or world.

I can hear you asking, “But what if I am ‘right?’” My answer is: So, you believe that being right is bigger or more important than the relationship? Is that the message you believe and are sending to your family or, is the relationship more important? Can we love them anyway, even if we believe they are “wrong?” Are you miserable because of these people in your life? A peaceful heart has everything to do with choosing harmony in spite of differences. Does it mean we have given up our principles? No, it means we are choosing to be gracious. Do you hear a new harmony possibly? I sure welcome your thoughts on this discord vs. harmony topic.

You can contact me confidentially at DrHelen@braveandresilient.com.


For Deeper Reflection

 Proverbs 15: 16-17 “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure and turmoil with it. Better is a dish of vegetables where love is, than a fattened ox and hatred with it.”

Proverbs 17:1 “Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it than a house full of feasting with strife.”

Proverbs 25:24 “It is better to live in a corner of the roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.”

Helen B. McIntosh has a doctorate in counseling psychology and is a national board certified professional counselor and certified in reality therapy. An educator for 19 years, Dr. McIntosh is an author, a highly demanded national speaker and inventor of the Peace Rug®, an international curriculum for conflict resolution.



Let’s Talk

How Do I Change My Thinking?

 – by Dr. Helen McIntosh  

Q. You mentioned last week, “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” How can I change my thinking when I have unhealthy thoughts?

A.  Let’s talk! To be free, we want to be transformed in our hearts and minds. Last week we talked about family patterns and longing to free ourselves from unhealthy patterns passed down to us. One of those patterns that we need to take a look at is our thinking. It matters so much what is going on in our heads and hearts, and yet many of us don’t know where to start to make these changes.

Let me share how I used to teach small children to change their thinking, and then we’ll adapt it for grown-ups. One main problem children shared was getting stuck in what they were thinking (“a bad thought”) and not being able to get rid of it. The more they thought about the “bad thought,” the more it stayed. I knew that word pictures help children, so I asked them to picture themselves holding a remote control that changes channels. I asked them to picture the color red, then to picture the color green,and then to picture the color yellow. The goal was to replace one thought for another, just like changing the TV channel. Next, I had them practice using words or memories instead of colors. I would ask, “Are you changing channels with me?”

It is a dangerous thing spiritually to think about “nothing,” so I never asked them to get “empty,” just replace the thoughts. I wanted them to train themselves to change channels in their thinking if they needed to and wanted to. This is not “positive thinking.” This is choosing to replace untrue or dark thoughts with truth and light.

As adults, we can replace years of bad memories, faulty thinking, or even today’s dark thought. Recently I saw a movie trailer that kept providing a frightening memory – until I changed the channel. As we practice replacing light for darkness in our thinking, it becomes more natural. Ask Jesus to help you if the channel change is a resistant or stubborn one. One of my favorite words is “metacognition,” and it means thinking about our thinking. So, keep thinking about your thinking this week. Guard the gateway into your mind fiercely and replace what you need to, when you need to.

Next week let’s talk more about our thinking and how to reframe serious issues. I hope the above material helped you see that we can change our thinking, and we’ll do more. Then after that we will talk about changing our actions. Be sure to send in your questions and comments!

For Deeper Reflection

 Q. Can you also give some more verses on 3rd and 4th generational family patterns? I am fascinated with this subject.

A. Yes! Last week I shared two references (Exodus 34:6-7 and Deut. 5:9), but there are more. When a theme is mentioned even twice in Scripture, there is a profound truth to be found. When there are even more references, it bears serious study. There’s a pattern (speaking of patterns) and there’s a message for us in the repetition of words. Other verses for you to study this week, if you are interested, are: Exodus 20:5; Leviticus 26:39-42; Nehemiah 9:2; and Numbers 14:18. Ask God to show you the thought patterns passed on to you that need changing . . . for your freedom!


Helen B. McIntosh has a doctorate in counseling psychology and is a national board certified professional counselor and certified in reality therapy. An educator for 19 years, Dr. McIntosh is an author, a highly demanded national speaker and inventor of the Peace Rug®, an international curriculum for conflict resolution.



Let’s Talk

Fear, Control, and Letting Go

– by Dr. Helen McIntosh 

Q. Can you talk more about fear and control?

A.  Let’s talk! Picture a circle with the words fear, control and letting go and directional arrows going in the same direction. Here’s the flow: when fear hits, it usually then produces any control issues we have. Control is a normal and natural (though not advisable) response to fear as we attempt to manage or limit outcomes of which we are fearful or uncertain. When we see the fear and the control, our Father longs for us to come to Him and lay these at His feet. He can transform us. Fear is the absence of love and trust (1 John 4: 18) and so God is the answer. There is no place for fear to camp out if we are abiding in Him. If we have no fear, then usually control doesn’t show up. If fear and/or control keep cropping up, you can consider asking God what’s “under” the issues (see my column “Looking Underneath Depression”). We don’t want to just keep ignoring or pushing down fear and control without addressing them for more understanding. There is always a reason beneath our behaviors. Maybe more than one reason. For example, is your control about what will happen or what will not happen circumstantially? Or, are you trying to control the people in your life in some respect? We learn repeatedly that we really and truly can’t control circumstances or people, but sadly we keep trying and wishing!

Q. How does the principle of “letting go” fit into this?

AGod delights in bringing truth to the surface and setting us free (John 8:31-32). We can’t get free without truth’s discovery and the confession that we need help and understanding. That is called letting go—placing our fear(s) and control at His feet. This takes total trust instead of fear. But the test comes once we have let go. Sometimes letting go produces fears again because we are not in charge. The fears move to control and then we progress to letting go, but then letting go exposes fear and we start another round. Be set free and stop the flow by just staying in letting go! We get to choose whether or not we are flowing through the circle. We get to choose whether or not we want to live with fear and control. God is asking us to experience letting go. Tell Him if even letting go is scary for you, and wait for His answer. He will disclose anything that is blocking the letting go flow. Are your arms open?


For Deeper Reflection

1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love . . . .”

John 8:31-32 The truth sets us free.

Matthew 10:26-31 Knowing we are of infinite value helps us not to fear.


Let’s Talk

Living Free From Anger

– by Dr. Helen McIntosh

Q. How does one live free from anger? You started to tell us in your last column.

A. Last week, I did say that I thought anger was a normal result [in our heart and mind] when things don’t go the way they should. We just naturally carry expectations in our hearts and minds for how life should be. The disappointments then mount because . . . you guessed it: seldom are our expectations met as we had hoped. I suggested that you keep a mental note of the times you feel angry and try to name what isn’t going according to how it should go. That’s looking under the covering of anger. Let’s talk more about that. We want to find the deeper message going on in our head and heart. We are constantly editing our thoughts. Examples of this hidden thinking are, “They shouldn’t have said that/done that.” “My life hasn’t turned out like it should have.” “I am less than/have less than I should.”

When a thought like that comes, you will want to lasso that thought and ask God “What is that about?” Then listen for His answer. He longs to fill in our blanks. He longs to restore our hearts and souls. He wants us free from always measuring and feeling slighted — and wants us free from any pesky thoughts taking us down. Hebrews 12: 15 says to not resist the grace He has for us in the hard place we are in, and that if we choose to resist that grace, a root of bitterness will spring up and defile many. We have all seen that flow chart.


Q. So what can I do when my anger flares?

 A. Let’s review. The remedy is freedom from sustained anger. What I am encouraging you to do it is to be aware of your thinking when you get angry. Please know you are normal to feel angry at times — we just don’t want to stay there. Ask yourself, “What is it that is not as it should be?” Next ask God to show you what’s going on [as described above]. That’s step one. It’s a form of reframing. Step two is to choose to not have a pity party or root of bitterness party. Instead, it is letting go of the expectation of a different outcome. God promises grace for our disappointments. A courageous person seeks that strong place of resting in Him and believing Him for a good outcome no matter what. Should the anger persist, go back to God and ask Him what is still hidden. What false expectation hasn’t been given up to Him? What “rights” are you still clutching? What attitude, emotion, trouble, etc. have you picked back up from a time you let it go? Anger is a signal to go closer to God, not further into solitude.


For Deeper Reflection

Ephesians 4:26 says to not let the sun go down on our anger. Day Two in anger is not an option for a healthy heart and mind. Again, it is normal to get angry when things aren’t going well, but we don’t want to camp there. God says that dwelling in anger creates a stronghold. That’s not a strong and courageous place – it’s a stronghold ofgiving “the devil an opportunity” (verse 27). In fact, all of Ephesians chapter 4 offers great advice on how to walk free!

Helen B. McIntosh has a doctorate in counseling psychology and is a national board certified professional counselor and certified in reality therapy. An educator for 19 years, Dr. McIntosh is an author, a highly demanded national speaker and inventor of the Peace Rug®, an international curriculum for conflict resolution.

Let’s Talk

Living with Freedom

– by Dr. Helen McIntosh

Q. How does one live free? Sometimes I feel like a puppet, controlled by others or by things. I am not free. 

A. Let’s talk about how people, places, things, or circumstances can unfortunately have power over us (let’s just call it captivity). Then we’ll talk about how to break free. God longs for us to live free and not in bondage to anyone or anything on this earth. First, here’s more of a description of the problem. One sign of captivity is a very uneasy and unsettling feeling; and secondly, we realize we are being controlled — and then we realize that we ourselves GAVE away that power over us. Ugh. Another clue is that we have “lost our joy” and expect to find it in all the old familiar places. I wrongly kept trying to please a difficult person in my life and swore I wasn’t looking to her for my joy. But, when she was difficult with me, I would certainly wane in my joy. So, she did have control over me. Besides being a codependent people pleaser, I was indeed looking to her to help keep me joyful. That is God’s job only.

Galatians 5 starts off with “It was for freedom that Christ set us free . . .” and verse 22 tells us the secret: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace . . .  and more. John 15:5 shares the next part of the remedy: If we abide in Him, we will bear much fruit. So if we rest in Him, hang with Him — we will bear the fruit of Him — and we will naturally bear and wear love, joy, and peace. We don’t have to look to anything or anyone for that which God freely gives us every moment. We face no captivity in Him. We are wired by God to know when we are experiencing counterfeit happiness. It’s short-lived and empty to look to anything in Creation. Bravely look to the Creator today for your love, joy, and peace.


Q.What about my anger that sometimes gets the best of me? 

A. Anger is said to be the result when “things” aren’t going the way they “should.” As humans we carry expectations in our hearts for how life should be. The disappointments mount because seldom are our expectations met. Let’s talk more about anger in the next post, as there is so much more. Be keeping a mental note of the times you feel angry and name what isn’t going according to how it should go. That is the beginning of freedom.


For Deeper Reflection

At the very advent of Jesus’ ministry, according to Mark 4: 1 -21, He read this Isaiah scripture as His first public statement. Note His heart to set us free!

Isaiah 61:1 -3

Verse 1 – to bind up the brokenhearted and proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners

Verse 2 – to comfort all who mourn

Verse 3 – the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting or heaviness


Helen B. McIntosh has a doctorate in counseling psychology and is a national board certified professional counselor and certified in reality therapy. An educator for 19 years, Dr. McIntosh is an author, a highly demanded national speaker and inventor of the Peace Rug®, an international curriculum for conflict resolution.