Me Too . . . .

After hearing their stories, I have told countless new Clients,

“I won’t pretend to say that I know exactly how you feel,
but there is little that comes through my office door
that I haven’t had at least a taste of.”

It’s true . . . and most seem to know it, as I look them in the eye with as much tenderness and compassion as I can muster.

I thought about this as I scrolled down my Facebook timeline last week and noticed several “Me Too”* posts entered by people I care about. Knowing personally the powerlessness of being a victim of abuse (sin imposed by others), and having listened to countless stories in the Counseling Room, I was deeply saddened by the dark reminder that such evil continues.

While a sympathetic, “Me too”, may offer temporary comfort, the larger question remains, “Where do I go from here?” 

Christ Jesus–the Ultimate “Me too” . . . .

That is the question we face in the Counseling Room, and the answer is always the same:

“We go to God and the Scriptures,
for the wisdom and perspective we lack.”

Why?  Because, while the world offers theories that change with the seasons; God calls us to trust Him as He speaks to the heart of our problems in every season:

Genesis 4:6,7 (the first counsel offered in Scripture):

“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry?
Why is your face downcast?

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?
But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door;
it desires to have you, but you must master it.’”

Isaiah 30:15,19:

“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’,
but you would have none of it . . . .

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!”

In Matthew 11:28-29 Jesus said,

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.

Of the many places we visit in the Scriptures, Psalm 139 is one that speaks light and hope to every possible challenge we face:

“Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Where can I flee from Your Presence?
If I go up to the heavens, You are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there Your hand will guide me,
Your right hand will hold me fast.”
(Verses :7-10)

To those who isolate themselves from the world to avoid further pain or heartache, Psalm 139 reminds us, there’s nowhere to hide from a Sovereign and Good God:

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to You;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to You.
(Verses 7-12)

Truly, when the whole of Scripture
and the ultimate, “Me too” of Christ on the Cross is received,
a new dawn speaks light, hope and ultimate joy
into the darkness of brokenness.  

This is why I urge Clients to enter into the Journey Notes process, to discover God has so much more to say to them personally.  As they do, I am always profoundly touched as I watch God’s peace pushing back the darkness.

“He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.
Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His Name,
He gave the right to become Children of God—
children born not of natural descent,
nor of human decision
or a husband’s will, but
born of God.”
John 1:11-13

So my question to you, no matter what your past history is: “What are you waiting for?!!”

All to His Glory!

*Part of a movement on social media, meant to expose the problem of sexual harassment and assault in our culture.  “Me too” was a quote taken from a tweet by actress Alyssa Milano.

The Bitter With The Sweet . . . .

BITTERSWEET is a word is we grow into over time.  It speaks to the disappointments and heartache that are part of life, yet refuses to let go of the vestiges of sweetness remembered.  The dictionary defines bittersweet as:

  • Arousing pleasure tinged with sadness or pain
  • Being at once bitter and sweet; pleasant but including or marked by elements of suffering or regret

Such is the definition of a life lived out fully.
Bittersweetness acknowledges the harshness of things broken or lost,
as it retains the memory of sweeter images past.

 Christmas is one of those seasons where bittersweetness abounds:

The Light of Hope shines through.
The Light of Hope shines through the darkness . . . .
  • Childhood memories of hope and excitement as the Big Day approached and family gathered together.
  • The shadows of candlelight playing against the walls during Christmas Eve Services as “O Come All Ye Faithful” was sung.
  • The joy of giving sacrificially out of love for the Savior.

Christmas is also is a season of reflection and remembrance of things lost or broken: relationships . . . people . . . health . . . hopes . . . and, yes, dreams never realized.

This past year was especially hard for my family and friends . . . tears still come easy as we remember those who are no longer with us.  Many dread the approach of Christmas, unsure of how to get through the bitter pain of loss:

  1. Some may choose to ignore Christmas–with hearts bitter toward God..
  2. Others will go through the motions of Christmas–not wanting to disappoint others, but find themselves numb within.
  3. Still others will choose to lean into the Hope of the Christmas Story-realizing that it was written especially for them.

Is there a way to navigate the pain of loss at Christmas?

Through personal experience I know that the third option is by far the best.  To ignore Christmas altogether, or to numb ones-self to the Celebration, too often leads to an ever-spiraling, dark despair that tends to rub-off on those closest to us.

The wisest choice is that of entering into the Light of Christ’s coming,
while embracing the Hope of His return.

After ministering to people struggling with brokenness and loss of every sort and in every season, it is always those who entrust their brokenness to the One who saves, who realize the blessing of a deepened faith that moves them forward:

“The people living in darkness
have seen a great Light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a Light has dawned.”
Matthew 4:16

This past week my burden was lightened by the sweetness of a video put out by Southland Christian Church in Kentucky.  I offer it to you as we navigate this Season of Celebration, in the hope that leaning into this retelling of the Christmas Story will sweeten your perspective as it has mine:

 

All to His Glory!

 

Voices . . . .

It is a conversation that takes place more often than you may think . . . talking in the Counseling Room about how to distinguish between God’s voice and those “other voices” we hear in our heads.  You know–those destructive voices that fan our fears and encourage us to run from God (believing the worst of Him); those lying voices (and sometimes even, “well-meaning” voices) that rob us of wisdom and hope in how we view ourselves, our circumstances as well as our relationships with God and with others.  Why is this important?  Because living in a world filled with so much “chatter” bombarding us from every direction, we are too easily taken off track.  Too often, I have had to help a Client pick up the shredded remains of their faith, because that Client listened to voices that lead them astray.

To be able to recognize the voice of the Shepherd on good days and in bad,
is critical to navigating through the challenges we face in uncertain times.

This is not new.  That is why Jesus encouraged His own to stay close to Him:

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;
and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish;
and no one will snatch them out of My hand.…”

John 10:27-28

There are many reasons people seek Counseling: ALL need clarity in discerning God’s voice, because All are vulnerable to the unrelenting accusatory voices that seek to weaken our faith.  That is why I encourage every Client to connect with God through the Journey Notes process:

"Come to me all . . . . "
“Come to me all . . . . “
  • Logging their praises and concerns to God with every entry,
  • Prayerfully investing personal time reading Scripture (becoming familiar with God’s voice),
  • Writing at the top of the page in red, the Scripture that stands out to them in their reading,
  • Responding prayerfully to what God has said as they log their thoughts and feelings in their Journey Notebook.

In the Counseling Room, we talk about the way God speaks to us–to convict and bring us to repentance in order to free us. (Galatians 5:1)  We also talk about how the voices of evil seek to distract or cause us to doubt God’s goodness.  We find James extremely helpful, as he makes a clear distinction between being tested by God (in order to strengthen our faith) and when we are tempted by our sinful desires:

“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.”
For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone;
but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.”

James 1:13, 14

James makes clear: we are not victims when it comes to sin.  We are challenged to confess our sin when we go our own way and receive God’s forgiveness in repentant faith..

We spend quite a bit of time in the Old Testament, finding that God’s voice is the same in both the Old and the New Testaments.  Two passages that are especially helpful are:

Genesis 4:1-7  When Cain got angry because God was not pleased with his offering (displaying a bad attitude), God’s response was interesting. God sought Cain out, not in anger but to offer the first Counsel to the rebellious heart recorded in Scripture,

“Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?
If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?
But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door;
it desires to have you, but you must master/rule over it.”

(verses 6b & 7)

Of course, we know what Cain’s response was . . . but that same voice of a caring Shepherd speaks to you and I in our struggles.  The only way we can “know what is right” is to become familiar with His voice as we follow Him.

Isaiah 30:15-21  God offers the prescription we need when it comes to facing up to our sinful propensities:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength . . .

and follows up with a challenge to resist going our own way:

 . . . but you would have none of it.
You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’
Therefore you will flee!
You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
A thousand will flee at the threat of one;
at the threat of five you will all flee away,
till you are left like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill.”

Can you relate to that image of feeling abandoned and without hope? When you realize you have nothing left to give? The passage continues with this encouragement:

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 . . . .

Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction . . .  
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.’”

Isn’t that amazing?! As our voices are raised to Him in repentance and rest, God rises to the occasion with GRACE.  Instead of anger and wrath, He responds with compassion and justice, directing our every step. 

As we listen to the voice of the One who saves and obey Him, His Grace begins to fill in the gaps as our faith is strengthen.

Of course it does not stop there, does it?  In my next post I will write about how to reduce some of the incessant “chatter” of those other voices that rob us of the joy, hope and peace that are meant to be ours in Christ.

All to His Glory!

When The World Around You Crumbles . . . .

I saw it in her eyes . . . a glazed fatigue that said she was just barely hanging on.  After stowing her backpack under the seat in front of us, she settled next to me with her 17-month-old daughter and a paper cup filled with a large scoop of ice cream.  Perhaps seeing the concern in my face or . . . just needing to talk, she said softly, “We have been flying for the past thirty-six hours . . . from Kathmandu.”  Having watched many reports of the devastating earthquake all week, the only thing I could think to say was, “Welcome home.”

Popular 200 ft. tower landmark in Nepal, gone in an instant.

As she fed her daughter spoonfuls of ice cream (the only thing the worried mother could get her little one to eat on their long journey) she talked about her experience.  She and her daughter had flown to Nepal to attend her sister’s wedding.  When the quake hit, my seat mate was the only one in the house–the rest of the family (including her daughter) was out in the back garden.  She said several times, “I thought I was going to die,”  before adding,  “My only comfort was in knowing my family would take care of my daughter.”  

Thankfully, she survived.  But I could tell she was still reeling from having seen the world she had known since childhood literally crumble.  She described “the wind that seemed to form with the quake”, filling the air with all sorts of dust particles that made survivors prone to eye and respiratory problems for days after.  Over the next three days, she and her family “camped” (along with countless others) in an open-dirt area with no power, water or even a blanket to form a shelter.   Finally, she and her daughter were admitted to the American Embassy, where they stayed two more days until a flight out was arranged for them.  (Her comment here, “I have never been more grateful to be an American citizen!”)

She spoke softly about the historic sites as well as the majority of the city being flattened.  To help me appreciate the significance of what she had witnessed she said, “Imagine the White House in Washington, DC, being demolished in just a moment . . . that is the magnitude of what has happened in Nepal.”  

How does one respond to a story such as this?  It took some careful thought before I responded with, “During times when I have felt like my life was crumbling, the Bible has provided me with the strength and courage I needed to continue moving forward.  Psalm 139:16b is one of my favorites,

‘All the days ordained for me were written in Your Book,
before one of them came to be.'”

A gentleness settled across her face as she said, “I know that what you are saying is true, that God can often bring much blessing out of tragedy.  That is what I am clinging to right now.”  We spoke for some time about the blessings that could come out of the catastrophic shift that had taken place.  Soon, as her little one finally relaxed and fell asleep in her arms, she also closed her eyes and drifted off in exhaustion.

I watched them as they slept, grateful for the privilege of hearing their story as they traveled this final leg home.  I thought about her husband,  waiting at the airport, hungry to see that his wife and daughter were truly alive and safe.  Sitting there I also thought about how “life” can crumble around us in a myriad of ways–relationships broken, dreams squelched, a devastating health reversal, missed opportunities never to return . . . .  The truth is, life on this earth is full of danger.  I remembered the words of Psalm 46, where I have found comfort in the midst of trials:

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
(Verses 1-3)

There is no tower we can build that will be high enough, nor any wall we erect that will be broad enough to keep trouble away from our door.  Only God can provide the comfort and shelter we need during such storms.  I love how the rest of Psalm 46 draws us ever closer to the God who is our only Hope and Sure Shelter:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
He lifts His voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations He has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
He burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
(verses 4-11)

When the plane finally landed she opened her eyes and smiled–HOME!  They were finally home!  Doing what I could to help, I gladly held her little one briefly as she gathered their few belongings.   Then, almost in an instant, they were gone.  Only when they were finally out of sight, did I realize that I would never forget her–even though I never learned her name . . . .

All to His Glory!

Perspective on: “A Healthy Death . . . .”

“Perspective is everything.”  I don’t know where I picked it up, but it is a phrase I find myself repeating a lot these days.  Yesterday, as I prepared to make the half-hour drive to attend the funeral of my friend Pat, I remembered back to when she told me she had cancer, two and a half months ago.  (Even then, that conversation was so remarkable that I decided to share Pat’s story with you in, A Healthy Death.)   In that conversation, still shaken by the news of Pat’s battle that had been ongoing for three months, I found comfort and blessing as Jim (Pat’s husband) told me how they had decided to pray,

“This is what it boils down to, Kathie,
we are praying for HEALING or . . . for A HEALTHY DEATH!”  

Since writing that post, I have thought often about writing its follow-up . . . hoping to write to you about Pat’s miraculous healing.  Yet inwardly, I also wondered, “If You decide to take Pat Home, Lord, what would You have me write?  What exactly does a healthy death look like?”

As I drove to the funeral home, all I could think about was the pain of separation being experienced by Pat’s family and friends.  It was good to greet and feel the hugs of friends I had not seen for many years.  It was also amazing to see the crowds of others, whom I had never met, but who also had been touched by Pat’s life.  As I watched Pat’s family offer comfort and reassuring hugs to all who came, I was struck by how they reflected the love and strength of the One carrying them.  This, I realized, was my first lesson on what a healthy death looks like–the Body of Christ ministering to one another.

The Service for Pat began with this simple story:

Around 125 A.D., a Greek by the name of Aristeides wrote to one of his friends, trying to explain the extraordinary success of the new religion, Christianity.  In his letter he said, “If any righteous man among the Christians passes from this world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God, and they accompany his body with songs and thanksgiving as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby.”

I was struck by how very much the Christian walk is about pilgrimage–then and now.  The pain of death is nothing new.  However for Christians, the sting of death has been taken away, because of the Hope we share from this life into the next.  In fact, the second lesson on a healthy death, relates to it’s uniqueness to the Christian faith.  There is no possibility of experiencing a healthy death apart from the saving work of Jesus in the heart, mind and soul of the individual.  

During the Service, hearts were ministered to as some of Pat’s favorite songs and hymns were sung. I found the wisdom and perspective of the Scriptures shared to be strengthening and uplifting.  Certainly tears were spilled and will continue for some time, as we remember Pat.  However, as we rely on the Hope embedded in the Resurrection of Christ–promised to all who trust in Him–we are strengthened to persevere on this journey and into the next.  What the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21 reflects our third lesson on a healthy death: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

This morning, I thought about Pat as I remembered the words from an old hymn:

” . . . and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on!
And when from death I’m free I’ll sing on!”*

The thought of Pat presently experiencing such freedom brought fresh delight to my soul.   This rendition of Fernando Ortega’s, “What Wondrous Love Is This” is a favorite of mine.  I offer it to those of you who may be suffering loss or who are facing uncertainty in your life right now.  What does a healthy death look like?  Take a moment to reflect on this question as you marvel in His Wondrous Grace.  Truly . . . PERSPECTIVE IS EVERYTHING!

“All the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”
Psalm 139:16b

All to His Glory!

*What Wondrous Love Is This, Author: Unknown, first published 1811.

A Comforting Grace . . . .

“It’s hard, but God is good.”  Those are the words I find myself repeating when a friend mentions the loss of my father. Some look at me quizzically and a silence lingers as they wait for me to offer more– that I know that he is in a better place (which I do.)  The problem is, when I say anything more I find myself battling unwanted tears welling up in my eyes. The odd thing is, until a week ago, I would have told you that I was, “Doing just fine.”

IMG_0015
Christmas, 1953

Few of us escape seasons when we find ourselves battling emotions that appear to come out of nowhere.  To say that I have been surprised by grief is an understatement.  When I received word that Dad died, it was not unexpected. Dad’s health had been declining for several years, to the point where he was confined to a wheelchair the last time I saw him.  Living three thousand miles apart, my brother Norm has been extremely good to let me know about Dad’s overall health–the good days as well as his drastic decline three days prior to his death.  When I said goodbye to Dad last fall, I knew that it was likely the last time I would see him.  I was grateful Norm was there too . . . grateful to see Dad bask in the loving care he was receiving.

That Dad is in a better place is without question.  Yet, despite knowing this, I STILL MISS HIM.  I miss hearing his voice and seeing his face light up when I came into his room.  The one Scripture that truly speaks to the emotional loss I am presently experiencing is, “Jesus wept.”  (John 11:35)

It is a comforting grace to know that Jesus,
not only walked among us, but He wept for and with us. 

This especially resonates when we read about the death of Lazarus in John 11.  Jesus did not weep when He informed His disciples that Lazarus had died–in fact He initially told them Lazarus had fallen asleep. (verses 11-14)  It was not until Jesus saw Mary* and others around her grieving, that He was brought to tears:

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled . . . . Jesus wept.”
John 11:33, 35

We talk about this in the Counseling Room.  When we find ourselves on an emotional roller coaster after suffering a loss or when experiencing anxiety and/or depression, it is a comforting grace to know that God is not offended by our struggle.  In fact, when we find ourselves colliding with trouble, the Bible assures us that He has compassion on His people. (Matthew 14:14 and 20:34; Mark 6:34)

Yet God does not want us to remain spiritually frail.  During the twenty years I have been privileged to Counsel, I have repeatedly marveled at God’s faithfulness in transforming human brokenness into a loveliness and strength that is fully of Him.  The key to that transformation? Time after time it has consistently occurred in those who embrace the Authority of the Scripture as God’s Spirit has tended to each heart.  Jesus continues to call us to Himself, offering His Comforting Grace to all who seek Him:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.…”
Matthew 11:28,29

Yes, I still miss my dad and trust that I will for some time.  In fact, as I have been able to identify the blessing of His Comforting Grace being worked out in my life right now, I give thanks to God for the sweetness of memories that can never be taken away.

All to His Glory!

 *The sister of Lazarus who would soon anoint Jesus’ feet with perfume and wipe them with her hair– John 12:3.

Lost and Found . . . .

 

Yesterday I received a phone call that I hoped to never hear: “Hey Kath . . . are you sitting down?  Dad died this morning . . . .”  

How does one prepare for the pain of losing someone you love?  I have faced that question with many a Client; searched the Scriptures for glimmers of hope when darkness threatened.  When feeling lost in a sea of emotion, my thoughts inevitably run to the wisdom of Scripture,

My sweet dad . . . three weeks ago.
My sweet dad on “Mustache Day”. . . three weeks ago.

“Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.”
Matthew 5:4

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  

I Thessalonians 5:16-18

“And God shall wipe away all tears . . . and death shall be no more,
nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more,
for the former things are passed away.”

Revelation 21:4

My mind ran in snippets yesterday as I remembered my dad as a much younger man.  He was number five in a line of six children, grew up during the Depression on a farm in Pixley, California.  He was loyal, dedicated to loving his family, and was never afraid of hard work.  My first “real” memory of Dad goes back to when I was three years old, after he returned from the fight in Korea.  I remember the strength of his arms when he picked me up and held me close.  The following years are a blur of Dad working hard to care for our family–even as he struggled with the aftereffects of war.  A memory I especially cherish, is of walking down the church aisle on his arm, to marry my husband of (now) forty-four years.  Even sweeter were the decades that followed, when he embraced his role as, “Grandpa Clyde”. . . priceless!

While desiring to find a a resting place for all the thoughts and memories that whirled through my mind, I could not come to terms with the harsh reality of being separated by his death.  This morning, God’s shepherding hand touched my mind and heart through a post written by Heidi Viars.   In her post, Heidi describes a scene that took place in a parking lot on a freezing cold day.  After coming out of a store, she noticed a store worker, standing out in the cold without a coat.  After loading her packages into her car and seeing the woman still standing there, this conversation ensued:

 “‘Are you OK?’, I asked.

She looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, just cold.’

I realized she was watching the car next to us. A man in his eighties, maybe nineties, was occupying the passenger seat. His eyes were sad and his head nervously moving back and forth.

‘I saw him wandering in the parking lot. He was lost and I helped him get back in his car. I think he has dementia. I am just waiting for someone to return for him.’ the woman said.”

I was struck by how the lost elderly man reminded me of my dad in recent years.  Age definitely took a toll on Dad as he fought to retain his independence.  It was hard when he had to admit that he could no longer take care of Mom by himself.  I wanted them to move closer to where I live.  Dad rightly refused the offer, citing his desire to stay closer to his sisters and the rest of the family. The move proved to be a good one.  Mom and Dad benefited from getting their medications on time, eating healthier food and enjoying visits from family.  Even so, the bitter reality of dementia robbed him of the joy of being able to drive when he became hopelessly lost in what had been familiar places.  When Mom died two years ago, Dad’s lostness increased.  “I miss Mama,” were the words he most frequently uttered when anyone tried to talk to him.  Even so, we noticed a sweet gentleness emerge, more in keeping with the farm boy he was when he gave his heart to Jesus at age thirteen.

Time has slipped away all too fast for our family, but the words of the woman standing watch over the elderly man in the parking lot brought a comforting perspective, “I am just waiting for someone to return for him.”  In a sense, that is exactly what has happened these past two years with Dad.  We have enjoyed him as Dad has waited in hope for the return of His Savior.

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time.
He never sinned, but He died for sinners to bring you safely home to God.”

I Peter 3:18
(New Living Translation)

Of the snippets that continue to run around in my head, the words from John Newton’s, Amazing Grace, come continually to the forefront,

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

Feeling lost?  Desiring to be found?  There is no one greater than the Good Shepherd of our hearts, to lead us safely HOME.

All to His Glory!