A Fresh Perspective On Problems . . . .

When I began counseling, I saw myself as a sort of professional problem-solver.  In my naivety, I did not appreciate how broadly biblical counseling could impact the lives of others (as well as my own).  Reflecting back I can now see that for twenty-five years, God has directed the path of every conversation that has taken place in my office.  In those years, He has faithfully shepherded the heart of every Client (often despite my blunders) as He ministered to them through the Scriptures.  It has been a privilege (though humbling) to witness the courage of those who entrusted their lives to Him as they endured severe hardship and grew in their faith.  Many times I have felt like the proverbial “fly-on-the-wall” as I have watched God’s Spirit work out the impossible.  These are a few of the insights I have gained along the way:

Let light shine out of darkness . . . .

Let light shine out of darkness . . . .

  1. Problems are a constant–this is NOT heaven and we ALL have a history.
  2. Tough times provide powerful opportunities for personal growth and character development.
  3. In helping others, a personal commitment to applying the Scriptures in our own lives (along with a good measure of humility) impacts the receptiveness of the receiver.
  4. To go deeper with God, our focus should not be on the problem but on God and the wisdom of the Scriptures:

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”
made His light shine in our hearts . . . .
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen,
but on what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary,
but what is unseen is eternal.”
II Corinthians 4:6,18

Whatever challenge you face (or are trying to help someone else with), I pray that you will be strengthened by this truth:

It is in the challenging times that God invites us
into a deeper conversation with Him


“Consider it pure joy, my brothers,
whenever you face trials of many kinds,
for the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
And perseverance must finish it’s work,
so that you may be mature and complete,
not lacking anything.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God,
who gives generously to all without finding fault.”

James 1:2-5

This may be your ultimate opportunity . . . so go for it!

All to His Glory!

On Valleys and Avoiding The Pit . . . .

“How was your week?”  It’s a question I often ask a Client as we begin a Session.  Responses vary of course, but one Client recently got me thinking when she said: “It’s been ups and downs, peaks and valleys . . . today I’m in a valley.”

Wanting to clarify what she was struggling with I asked, “What’s happening in your valley?”

She looked at me with pain-filled eyes as she talked about her husband’s deteriorating health and other changes that have taken place the past year and a half.

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me;"

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me . . . .”

My response surprised even me as I said softly:  “Valleys aren’t all bad.  In fact, there are good things to be found in valleys: meadows . . . wildflowers . . . and God.  Valleys provide a quiet place to reflect on the challenges we face as well as on God’s Goodness.”  

I waited a moment before adding, “Valleys provide opportunities for spiritual and emotional growth when God is part of the conversation.  We get into trouble though, when we talk only to ourselves rather than God.”

She looked at me quizzically before I added, “You know, those self-absorbed conversations we have within ourselves–‘I should have said this’, or ‘I wish I’d done that.’  When we are angry with someone else or beat ourselves up because of our failures: light and hope are overshadowed by bitterness, anger and regret.  It is then, when we begin to doubt God’s Goodness, that the pit of depression can seem to swallow us up.”

We opened to the first four verses of Psalm 23 to gain a biblical perspective on valleys:

The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.”

Green pastures . . . still waters . . . soul restoration . . . clarity of mind and heart: ALL are ours when we stay close to the Shepherd of our hearts.  When shadows darken the terrain of our lives, He leads and enables us to walk (not run) through the scariest places as our Shield and Protector.

Isaiah says our problems multiply when we give way to fear.  It is then that we find ourselves in a pit of our own making:

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength.”
And you said, “No, we will flee on horses,”
Therefore you shall flee!
“And we will ride on swift horses,”
Therefore those who pursue you shall be swift.
One thousand will flee at the threat of one man;
You will flee at the threat of five,
Until you are left as a flag on a mountain top
And as a banner on a hill. 
(Verses 15-17)

Have you experienced that feeling of abandonment, when you look around and all you perceive is an impenetrable darkness?  Me too.  But don’t be fooled by your feelings; guard your heart against believing the worst of God.  Instead, consider the assuring words that follow the warning against being run by fear:

“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for Him!” 
(Verse 18)

“BLESSED . . . ALL who wait for Him,” in the valleys of our lives as well as on the highest peak.

But what about those pit times, when depression and anxiety darken your door and faith is all but forgotten?  I appreciate the grittiness at the end of the Isaiah passage that speaks truth and assurance:

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a Voice behind you, saying,
“This is the way; walk in it.” Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, “Away with you!”  
(Verses 21-22)

Jesus identified Himself as the Good Shepherd and gave further food for thought in John 10:14-16,

“I am the Good Shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me–
just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father–
and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen . . . .
They too will listen to my voice and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”

As we determine to stay close to the Good Shepherd in thanksgiving and in faith–
refusing to give way to the destructive self-talk that spirals into a self-made pit–
He will provide the shelter needed to withstand any storm.


All to His Glory!

Mere Chance . . . or God’s Glory?

“Seeing is believing.”  It’s a common phrase, thrown around without much thought.  Three little words that leave no room for negotiation or qualification.  But is it true?  Looking online for other perspectives on this question, I appreciated Brandon Stanton’s response.  Stanton, author of the enormously insightful blog, “Humans of New York,* responded to the question of the veracity of the phrase, “seeing is believing”, with this observation:


What do you see?

What’s something about the eye that most people don’t realize?  The eye doesn’t see. The brain sees. The eye just transmits. So what we see isn’t only determined by what comes through the eyes. What we see is affected by our memories, our feelings, and by what we’ve seen before.”

In other words, our perceptions are impacted by our past experiences and overall mindset.

Certainly, in Jesus’s day, seeing was not necessarily believing.  There were many who heard Him teach and witnessed many of the miracles He performed, yet never embraced Him as the Christ.  When it comes to faith, unless the heart is open to conviction and being changed, seeing is not necessarily believing.

As my husband and I traveled this year, I was continually struck by how our perceptions influence what we “see.”  This was most strongly brought to my attention during a group tour.  (You know, one of those–“See All of Europe (without sleeping) in 17 Days” tours.)  Actually, our trip was intense but it was great.  We saw and experienced all that we had hoped to (and then some!)  The bonus for us was traveling with 32 people we had never met before.  Traveling together on planes, trains, tour buses and boats for nearly three weeks enhanced our experience immensely.

But there was one aspect that I struggled with during our shared journey. As we traveled we enjoyed amazing weather–everything we had read urged visitors to bring an umbrella, because it rained a lot everywhere we were going.  Yet, in the nearly three weeks we traveled together, it rained two mornings!   Sadly, the most common response to that gift were remarks about “how lucky” we were.  When I pointed to God as the source of that blessing, I largely received blank stares.  To be fair, I don’t know how many in our group were Christians, so I’m not condemning them.  However, it is not uncommon in “Christian circles” for some to bear tribute to “good luck” for the blessings in their lives.  This may may seem trivial, but in a secular world that has increasingly marginalized God, IT MATTERS!

Consider the perspective of Apostle Paul as he wrote to Believers in Rome:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven
against all the godlessness and wickedness of men,
who suppress the truth by their wickedness–
since what may be known about God is plain to them,
because God has made it plain to them.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—
His eternal power and divine nature—
have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made,
so that people are without excuse.
For although they knew God,
they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him,
but their thinking became futile and
their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Romans 1:18-20

How do you respond when you watch a sunset?  I invite you to slow down and consider the perspective Scripture provides:

“The heavens declare the glory of God,
    the skies proclaim the work of His Hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
    where their voice is not heard, 
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.”
Psalm 19:1-4

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

Isaiah 40:26

So, what do you see when you look at the sky?
Mere chance . . . or God’s Glory?
If it’s the glorious evidences of God’s handiwork that you see,
then PRAISE HIM with all of your heart!

All to His Glory!

*Humans of New York“, sensitively features ordinary people Stanton meets on the streets of New York City,“one story at a time.”

Rule #1 . . . .

It began as a joke . . . “Rule #1”.  Three simple words born out of necessity–since our camper is equipped with comfortable sleep space and a kitchen of sorts but no bathroom.   Simply saying,“Rule #1” expressed  what was needed when “nature” called.  What inspired it?  I’m not sure.  Perhaps it was the thought of traveling together 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week for two months?  Maybe.  But it more likely was an attempt to streamline communication between us–given that my husband’s communication style aligns with “morse code” (one and two word responses are his specialty), while my own falls more into the realm of “s~c~r~i~p~t” (using a multiplicity of delightful, descriptive words that, at times, turn into a maze if I’m not careful.)  Whatever the inspiration, Rule #1  not only reduced the tension that can accompany such a call, it also added a bit of humor.  In the end, Rule #1 kept traveling from becoming more complicated than necessary.  Even now, it comes up on occasion–though not with the same urgency–causing us to smile at the private little joke we share.

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . your soul . . . your mind . . . your strength." Mark 12:30

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . your soul . . . your mind . . . your strength.” Mark 12:30

In the weeks after returning home, I thought a lot about how simply saying, “Rule #1,” served to reduce what can be a potential stressor for travelers.   Yet, when it comes to rules, we humans tend to balk at the thought of our “rights” being impinged upon.  Growing up, I remember embracing the notion that, “Rules are meant to be broken” with a certain amount of glee.  That changed, however, after getting to know new neighbors who moved in next to my parents home.  Having recently moved to the US from Denmark, Henry talked about living in Denmark during the WWII Nazi Occupation.  What shocked Henry, was not the behavior of the Nazi’s, but “what neighbor did to neighbor” when the rule of law was no longer enforced.  I’ll never forget the look on Henry’s face as he talked about his neighbors doing, “things that would have been unthinkable before the war.”  Looking at the world through Henry’s eyes, I learned to appreciate the order and security that well placed and maintained rules can bring to society.

Reflecting on our own time, as secularism is so brazenly removing God’s rule–ie, the physical removal of the Ten Commandments in the public arena as well as the principles they represent–we find ourselves in a moral crisis like never before.  We have forgotten the simple direction of the Golden Rule“Treat others as you would have them treat you”*–as we emphasize “building our self-esteem”.  The consequences?  Consider the warning the Apostle Paul wrote in what is believed to have been his last letter before he was beheaded for his allegiance to Christ:

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud,
abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving,
slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,
treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—
having a form of godliness but denying its power.
Have nothing to do with such people.”

II Timothy 3:1-5

As complaints of loneliness and depression skyrocket and as we worship created things rather than our Creator, it is no wonder that darkness has become so pervasive.

The good news is that all is not lost.  The Bible tells us that Christ came to free sinners (you, me and our neighbor) burdened by our sinful penchant to live as we think best.  The declaration the Apostle Paul makes in Galatians 5:1 lightens the heart of the repentant as it speaks assurance to all who trust in Christ:

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves
be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

To surrender self-rule to the Rulership of Christ,
is to discover true freedom to live for, love and serve Him with glad hearts.

So how are we to live out this amazing freedom?  That’s where Rule #1 comes in.   When questioned about what He considered the greatest of God’s Commandments in Mark 12:30-31, Jesus narrowed our responsibilities down to two:

Rule #1: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

Rule #2: “‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Faith that pleases God is intentionally placed on Him, first and foremost–Rule #1.
It is the fruit of that love relationship,
that strengthens and blesses us to pass on the light of His love
–no matter who the other person may be. 

This afternoon my husband and I were waiting for a table at a local coffee house.  We waited quite a while until a table was vacated and gratefully moved toward it.   All of a sudden, a woman who seemed to come out of nowhere, darted past my husband and claimed it for herself!  I confess feeling a certain amount of irritation that raised very quickly in my heart as we moved back to the side and watched the woman and her husband enjoy OUR table!  I am embarrassed to admit that it took a few minutes before I recognized the opportunity to apply Rule #1.  When I did, I couldn’t resist giggling at my silliness as I decided to love that dear woman–she obviously needed that table more than we did!  As I reflected on God’s love for me, the irritation vanished as I gave thanks to God for freeing me to love Him as He loved me. 

As we determine to put Rule #1 in the forefront of our thinking,
the possibilities are limitless.
Without a doubt, this crazy kind of loving with the hope and light of Jesus,
has the potential to change this world one heart at a time!

All to His Glory!

Hope in Evil Times . . . .

After being on the road for fifty-nine days and exploring over ten-thousand miles of this beautiful country, it took us a while to get back into the routine of what we’d left behind.  We have been grateful to catch up with the people we love sharing our lives with.  Yet we yearn for the comfortable simplicity of those fifty-nine days of discovery.  We miss following the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, who spent two-and-a-half years carving out a pathway for others to follow in the 1800’s.  We also miss discovering parts of the old Route 66 that connected towns large and small in an increasingly mobile society in the 1900’s.

As I reflect back on our travels,
it is not just the beauty and diverse landscapes we miss exploring–
we also miss connecting-the-dots of the history across this nation
that was especially gratifying.  DSC00803

Since our return, my husband has remarked numerous times, that the two things we saw most consistently as we camped our way through vast cities and the smallest of towns were, first of all churches and secondly Dollar General (or Family Dollar) stores.  The saddest thing we saw were many of those churches appearing abandoned.

Since our return home, the one thing we did not miss during our travels–the daily, sometimes constant pounding of national and international news–has hit us especially hard.  We miss the protective bubble that surrounded us as we mostly listened to audio-books.  I suppose that is why reading the wisdom of Solomon, brought a chill to my bones several days ago:

“As fish are caught in a cruel net,
or birds are taken in a snare,
so men are trapped by evil times
that fall unexpectedly upon them.”
Ecclesiastes 9:12

With every day that passes, the news reports of atrocities inflicted on innocent people fill us with dread.  How are we to live as the darkness of evil appears to become increasingly pervasive?  

I was grateful for the wisdom of the Scriptures as I reflected on this question:

  • Romans 12:19 & 21 directs our steps with, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone . . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
  • I John 5: 11, 12 reminds us to love those around us with the light and hope of the Gospel:  “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in the Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
  • Revelation 17:14 affirms the light of our future, when evil will be defeated and cast away forever:  “They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them (and) with Him will be His called, chosen and faithful followers.”

No matter what is happening in your life or around the world, if you know Christ, be encouraged that:

  1. You are not alone and
  2. Because of Christ, you have every reason to be filled with hope.

How are we to access that hope when darkness threatens?

  1. By making prayer a priority–talking to God rather than just to yourself–when troubling news hits.
  2. By investing time in searching the Scriptures to maintain a healthy perspective on what is reported in the news as well as what you are personally dealing with.
  3. By committing to live out what you are gleaning from the Scriptures–there’s nothing better to activate the truth of what God says.
  4. Finally, be encouraged by the wisdom of Jesus who dispels darkness with the Light of Hope:

“Why do you worry about clothes?
See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.
Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor
was dressed like one of these. . . .
But seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will worry about itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 6:28, 29, 33 & 34

All to His Glory!

She Was Brave . . . .

Bravery:  a quality of spirit that enables you to face danger without showing fear.
Synonyms: courage, courageousness
WordNet Dictionary

Over a lifetime I have learned that it takes courage and determination to love others well.  My cousin Janie was one of those brave individuals, who sacrificially gave of herself to bless those God put on her path.

Janie went home to be with her Lord on the morning of July 5th.  I wasn’t there but trust she was in much the same frame of mind as when I saw her two weeks before, concerned more for her family than for herself. Reading her obituary yesterday, I was touched by this very apt description of my dear cousin,

“Jane* was a dedicated and caring family woman and teacher,
full of love, pure goodness, generosity, enthusiasm, and the best advice.” 

There is no question that Janie measured up to those wonderful accolades.  But there is another attribute to add, that was foundational to her ability to love and impact the lives of so many: Janie was brave.  This is not to imply that she was never fearful.  It is simply to say, that Janie set aside her fears because she cared about people.  Here’s an early example:

She was brave . . . .

She was brave . . . .

My first clear memory of Janie was playing together on Grandma and Grandpa’s farm–I must have been about five and she would have been seven.  All the grownups were inside that late afternoon, enjoying the simple pleasure of “visiting”.  Outside I remember an undercurrent of competition between us cousins as we dared one another to climb higher and jump off some hay bales stacked to one side of the yard.  Not wanting to be outdone, I remember making my way up to the highest bale and then jumping off.  I hit the ground so hard that my legs buckled and I landed on my bottom.  Momentarily stunned, it was probably the first time I actually saw stars!

Then we made our way out to the pasture where the cows were.  Continuing to test our bravery, we ran around among the cows–until we saw one mean-looking bull standing off to one side.  Suddenly aware of the danger, we ran for our lives and ducked under the fence just in time . . . or so we thought.  When we turned back and looked, there was Bette Jo–no bigger than a peanut–still in the middle of the pasture!  As I looked on–too scared to move–Janie ducked back under the fence, ran to pick up Bette Jo and brought her to safety!  Embarrassed by my fearfulness,  it was then that I knew without a doubt . . . Janie was brave.

Looking back I see this pattern of living courageously throughout Janie’s life: sacrificially stepping in to help others, facing difficulty head-on as she made what were painful but right decisions, encouraging others with her humor and sense of irony.

When I first heard Janie was sick last fall, I messaged her through Facebook.  Fearing the worst, it was several days before I received this response:

“Kathie, what a prayer warrior you are!  
The doctors are amazed that I’m not experiencing more pain than I am,
but I know you’re praying for me–keep it up!”

That was pure Janie–taking the focus off of herself as she encouraged me to continue doing the one thing I could do living so far away–PRAY!  So that is what I (and many, many others) continued to do.

In May my husband and I (taking advantage of his recent retirement) began an adventure we’d talked about doing most of our married life: going to those “off the beaten path” places we never could go to before.  In the back of my mind I hoped to visit Janie when we got to California, but knowing she was so sick I tried not let my hopes get too high.13442057_10208969039816875_678463191_o

God was gracious in providing us the opportunity to get together one last time. As my husband and I approached the home where Janie was being cared for, I was excited but scared.  Deep down I was afraid of what I was going to see–a frail, weak Janie who needed rest far more than she needed to see me.

When I walked through the door and Janie spoke, it was as if we became those two girls looking through the pasture fence.  This time though, Janie urged me to enter into the safety of the pasture with her–the mean bull was long gone and her Shepherd was there!  She beamed as she told me how God was helping her to look for good in every single day (no matter what had taken place) and to leave the bad behind.  When I started to ask about a bad fall the previous month that put her back in the hospital, her eyes widened as she looked at me saying,

“No Kathie, we’re not even going to go there.  I have learned to trust God daily; to count my blessings and leave what happened in the past behind.  I admit that part of me is a little afraid of what may come tomorrow, but I have given that to Him as I give thanks to Him for the Gift of TODAY.”  

Appreciating her wisdom and courage we entered into the joy of the moment.  Our visit of two and a half hours could be likened to the “wild rumpus” of the children’s classic, Where the Wild Things Are.**  We laughed so hard that tears came and talked about many things.  When I asked her how she wanted me to pray for her, Janie got very serious again as she urged me to pray for those she would be leaving behind–“that their hearts would not harden toward God.”  Pure, wonderful Janie . . . putting her concern for those she loved above all else.

Since then I have thought a lot about Janie’s bravery and our “wild rumpus” celebrating God’s goodness together.  Pure and simple, it was a gift from God to be given a glimpse into Janie’s heart.  Something happened that was so much more than magical as Janie chose to live out the wisdom of I Thessalonians 5:16-22,

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all;
hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.”

Reflecting on the larger passage, I am struck by God’s goodness in providing Janie the courage to enter into His Pasture with an open and trusting heart.

“May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.
May your whole spirit, soul and body
be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The one who calls you is faithful, and HE will do it.”

I Thessalonians 5:23, 24

All to His Glory!

*Most people knew her as Jane, but having grown up together as cousins, she has always been Janie to me and most of our family.
**Where the Wild Things Are, written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, 1963.