6 Keys to Understanding Resilience

Resilience is the ability to withstand and rebound from crisis and overcome life’s challenges, strengthened and more resourceful. Froma Walsh

purple iris

What transition or trying time are you experiencing? Where you wonder if you can make it through? Life includes hardships – short and long seasons that take us deep into thick jungle valleys, far from the spacious delight of mountain tops.

Excerpts from my journal these past months read:

woman holding her head with one hand“I am bone weary. Shoulders sag, heart is heavy.”

“I feel like giving up… walking away… checking out of life for a while.”

“One crisis dissipates and another replaces it. Let me catch my breath- I haven’t recovered from the last one yet.”

“At night, my mind ruminates a stew of thoughts, unable to sleep. I cry out. Where is God? Has He walked away, given up as well?” [Read more…]

Family – Connected In Crisis

I gaze outward, around the table
Six of us leaning in
Faces furrowed in concern
The most precious people in the world to me,
Minus one.

We’ve dropped all, ceased living ‘our’ lives
Come together
Shoulders sagged, hearts bleeding
In crisis with one missing from the circle
Knowing the sum of us will be stronger than any one of us.

Family In PrayerPanic presses in, dark
Fear’s tentacles attempt to squeeze hope dry
Eye contact made – volumes said… understood
For we have lived life deep together
Then words – prayers and plans

I look upward, light surrounds us
Protecting and providing
Hope anticipated, peace settled
Perfect Love mingled with family connection
Bonded and fast, sure as the air we breathe

A precious hour, in the depths of this crisis
Strength from above
Ignites and fuels strength from within
Embracing, we stand shoulder to shoulder
Choosing Grace to see this battle won!

The past 10 days has been crisis for my family. We took it an hour at a time (sometimes minutes), and were reminded that life as abundant means living the good and bad days, crisis and victory, sorrow and joy, failure and triumph. Victory isn’t known without crisis; or joy known without sorrow; triumph without failure. As a family, we limped and leaned on each other for what was needed.

Expat families, whether in transition or tragedy, possess great strength to forge forward and push past survival mode.

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Navigating Uncharted Territory

I started well, leaning into the uncharted territory of 2014. Spending a week at a get-away in Radium, British Columbia I pondered, prayed and penned my intentions. Two words came for this year and they brought hope and excitement: POSSIBILITY and SAVOUR!

Now, I gaze toward the window. My focus is blurred and unseeing. I feel shaky. What will today hold? I am hesitant and uncertain. Hope wavers. I stare at the blank page before me. Time to write this blog, yet my mind is empty – crazy when usually there’s many thoughts intersecting. Never stopping. Keeping me awake at night.

What happened between paragraph one and two? A call came from the high school principal “Please come in, Mrs. Matchullis. There has been an incident.” We’re in the midst of navigating unknown territory again … this time it felt like it came out of nowhere – like stepping on a landmine (figure of speech and somewhat dramatic, somewhat not)!

Helping HandUnknown territory. It’s rigorous, because it’s uncharted. Not yet investigated or mapped out. Investigation takes risk and focus. There’s rugged mountains to climb and valleys to survey. Forests are so dense, it may take months to find a way out. There are rivers to forge. Climate can be severe and relentless. Mapping takes experimentation and perseverance. It takes time and energy to rightly mark observations and learnings. Such a metaphor for expatriate life.

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COMPLETING 2013 and CREATING 2014 New Year’s Reflections and Intention Setting for Expat Success

Open DoorWelcome to 2014! The door has opened to a whole fresh year! What do you see as you peer through your door? What thoughts come? How do you feel? Maybe anticipation or excitement. Overwhelm or fear. Perhaps there’s a sense of numbness or grief. Joy or peace. Whatever it is for you – it’s ok. I’ve felt all of these at a new year or another, depending on the season I’m experiencing. Wherever you’re at, join me in looking at the ritual of reflection and intention setting.

Why not resolutions? Honestly, I’ve never liked New Year’s resolutions! They tend to be promised plans for self-improvement – to do something “more, better or different”. I then fall flat on my face in failure by the end of January, having me feel worse about myself and the start of a new year. Not a good way to open the door to 2014!

There’s no magic formula that says the last day of December is for reflection and the first day of January is for intentions. I like to take my time, well into January, because I’ve learnt that pondering and preparing infuses passion to carry through on what I choose. I encourage you to take time for both reflection and intention these next weeks. Seems following the Christmas holidays we’re either:

a) … in an “I-ate-way-too-much-food-and-am-exhausted” state, joyful from wonderful celebrations and fun times with family and friends, or
b) … on a sugar high, feeling down with the holidays exaggerating losses and grief. A sense of emptiness as you rear view peer and perhaps dread as you look forward.

This can change, because you can choose to reflect, then move on, letting go of the past and pressing on to what lies ahead!

ReflectionHow can this play out in your personal life? [Read more…]

Living Gratitude: An Ingredient of Resilience for Every Expatriate Family (Part 4)

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I got discouraged, teaching my kids gratitude. Why weren’t they more grateful? Did I miss something along the way? Maybe they got given too much? Had too much? Maybe not enough of this or that? Was I not modeling appreciation and gratitude like I could have?

Looking back, I saw lots of hope:

• Doin’ It Right (1st born son) was the kid who gave his shirt to a homeless Cambodian boy at age 10.
Missionary Picture• Princess (oldest daughter) wrapped her most treasured Etch a Sketch as a present for her Indonesian friend (even though I asked “are you sure?” until she finally screamed “yes and I’m not going to say it again!”). She always had the most polite “thank you”.
• La Di Da Girl (2nd daughter) was so creative, sending drawings and notes of appreciation frequently. She never saved allowance because she was forever buying gifts for others.
• And Munchie Crunchy Bar had the most endearing “please” and “thanks” – around his little finger, he had us wrapped! He loved helping, and would often say “I like it when you…” and could finish the sentence with more ideas than I could imagine.

Then came the teen years and I wondered what alien had overtaken their persona and character! Years of little behavioural or voiced gratitude. Now that 3 of 4 are grown, we’re reaping the benefits of trying to teach well. Don’t get me wrong – we failed many times. We forgot at others. We weren’t consistent and didn’t model like we could have. Yet children grow up… most often, in spite of us! Thank God! How grateful we are to have raised kids who are now adults, who live gratitude. You can too… [Read more…]

Living Gratitude: An Ingredient of Resilience for Every Expatriate Family (Part 3)

Couple relationships are richer when we express our gratitude to and for each other. Research done by Robert Emmons, Couple walking hand in hand(READ HERE), took three groups of volunteers and randomly assigned them to focus on different things each week over many months. The first group focused on everything that went wrong, like “This place is so irritating, I couldn’t get done half of my to-do list because it took 5 times longer than what I’m used to”. The second looked for situations they felt enhanced their lives, like “even though I didn’t get too far today, I’m so thankful I was able to get us hooked up with cell phones”. The third just recalled daily events, such as “I went to three different places, trying to find cell phones and it took all day.” The results: those who were grateful enjoyed a higher quality of life and a deeper connection with their partners. According to a study recently published in “The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,” by Dr. Amie Gordon, couples who express gratitude reported being more committed and saw an improvement in their sex lives. Now that’s always a wonderful bonus!

Why is it so hard for us to practice an attitude of gratitude, especially in our marriages? One reason may be that scientists have found that the brain has a negativity bias, written about in Sticks and Stones and Broken Marriage Bones. We tend to have Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones – we dismiss the positive aspects of our marriages while vividly remembering the negative ones. That means we need intentionality when it comes to gratitude.

How can you count your blessings as a couple? [Read more…]

Living Gratitude: An Ingredient of Resilience for every Expatriate Family (Part 2)

Last week we looked at the “why’s” of gratitude (READ HERE). It’s a recognizable ingredient for resilience at a personal level, in a partnership, and family. It aids in well-being spiritually, emotionally, physically, relationally and mentally. It lessens stress, opening us to joy, and freedom. Gratitude gives us an empowering perspective no matter what we’re facing and reminds us of what’s most important in life. It’s a perfect partner to grief and recalibrates our happiness set point.

Gratitude Can Transform

Today we look at the practice of gratitude on a personal level: [Read more…]

Living Gratitude: An Ingredient of Resilience for Every Expatriate Family (Part 1)

 PART ONE: WHY GRATITUDE?

Having seen the devastation and chaos from typhoon Haiyan in Central Philippines this past week, my heart aches for the people. Many dead and injured. Others lost. Families torn apart and in shock as they try to survive, get help for the necessities of life, and keep going. My prayers go out for them. And may we never take life for granted- but choose to live each day to the fullest, loving deeply and giving our best. Would you respond to help our Filipino brothers and sisters, so that one day they can look back, be grateful and say “People around the world were generous and kind”?

hands linkedTragedy connects us. It brings out a depth of love and understanding that compels us. Maybe because none are immune to life’s crisis’. We’ve been through hardship ourselves. Maybe not to this magnitude, yet we’ve all felt the pang of loss, security stripped and a sense of hopelessness. I’m all about resilience – facing hardship with a strength of spirit and rebounding stronger and more resourceful. You can’t have resilience without pain.

And that brings us to the topic of gratitude. It’s November… about that time in expat life when things are:

Girl SmilingRootless still, if you’ve just moved abroad and settled your family into a routine. There’s still a sense of aloneness, a disconnect between who you are and where and what you’re living.
Routine, after returning from home leave some 3 months ago, adjusting the kids back to school and now you find yourself pretty much at “same-old, same old.” Or,
Restless if you‘ve lived here for a while and sense you want a change. Likely not a move (!), but a sense of deeper contribution, fulfillment and aliveness in your expat life.

Gratitude can be your solution. It opens the heart and activates positive emotional centers in the brain. It soothes stress and broadens creative thinking to develop a more expansive view of our lives. It shifts our focus from what’s lacking to the abundance that’s present. It’s the awareness that whatever we have is exactly what we need – be it people, circumstances or challenge. It doesn’t mean everything in our lives is great, but rather that we CHOOSE to count blessings. Giving thanks makes us happier, more resilient and strengthens relationships. It opens us to freedom and generosity. How? [Read more…]

What Haiti Teaches Expats About Resilience

I’ve just returned from teaching and coaching in Haiti. As the plane descended, I intently peered out the window, eager to know what had changed since my last visit. Three months after Haiti’s earthquake, I spent two weeks near Leogane, the epicenter of the quake. One could see devastation high from the air – crumbled buildings, earth buckled and split, people wandering like ants. Once on ground, I saw shock from tremendous loss. Haitians were lost and homeless; helpless and in survival mode. Not only have they had to rebuild their country and houses, families have had to rebuild and individuals redefine who they are.

On this, my fourth visit, I was encouraged by what I saw. Major roadways are paved; tented communities, previously filled with thousands of people, have dispersed; garbage and rubble has been cleaned up; most buildings have been restored or torn down; parks are being built and more people have jobs. There was no mention of the earthquake. Haitians have moved on and they’ve survived with resilience!

There are times in expatriate life when the landscape feels buckled, torn apart and gaping. We feel reduced to ant size with the magnitude or number of challenges we face. What allows us strength to push through, so that we come out the other side with renewed hope and a greater ability to live well? Haitians showed acceptance and resourcefulness.

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Communication in Crisis

We sat side by side on the couch, outwardly silent in our pain. Our inward thoughts were tumbling and turning with confused questions and chaotic fear. The shocking statement had come from one of our teens, after a recent relocation: “I don’t belong. I hate school. I want to die.” Ok. This came from The Princess, aka Drama Queen. However this wasn’t the first time she’d said it, and with grades plummeting, no friends and 8 red flags of depression waving for some time, we were more than on alert. We were moving into crisis. There were no words. One of us reached and took the other’s hand.   Communication in marriage can be challenging at the best of times. What about when you’re in crisis? When the pressure of the situation is so great, you can barely keep yourself from blowing apart (exploding?) let alone hold it together with your partner? 

Here’s some of what I’ve learnt about communication in crisis from 34 years of marriage, 4 kids, life as a global nomad and coach to many expat couples: [Read more…]