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:
Problems are a constant–this is NOT heaven and we ALL have a history.
Tough times provide powerful opportunities for personal growth and character development.
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.
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.”
This may be your ultimate opportunity . . . so go for it!
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.
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.”
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:
You are not alone and
Because of Christ, you have every reason to be filled with hope.
How are we to access that hope when darkness threatens?
By making prayer a priority–talking to God rather than just to yourself–when troubling news hits.
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.
By committing to live out what you are gleaning from the Scriptures–there’s nothing better to activate the truth of what God says.
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
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:
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.
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.
The question I ask every Client I meet for the first time is, “Do you have any questions you would like to know about me personally or professionally?” I encourage their questions because I believe they have a right to know something about the person they are about to open their lives to. We live in a world where we can no longer assume that “spiritual counseling” is Christian counseling; where terms such as “soul work” have more to do with the sovereignty-of-self than with God’s Sovereignty. This was affirmed recently when I googled, “Soul work–What is it?” What appeared on my laptop screen were ten articles on self-healing, self-exploration and “being fully immersed in MY truth and purpose.” (Emphasis mine.)
The question raised in my mind after perusing several of the articles was:
Can truly meaningful soul work happen apart from Christ and the Scriptures ministering to the human heart?
In thinking about this question of meaningful soul work, the teaching of Jesus helps to clarify this spiritual mystery:
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word
and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged
but has crossed over from death to life.”
Soul work is a God-thing. It is belief in God’s provision, His only Son, that brings us from death to life in Christ–body, mind and soul. Thinking about this I realized that I do have a story to share that I pray will be helpful in sorting out this question of meaningful soul work:
I was seven years old when I first became aware of the soul. Even now, I can remember feeling the lump forming in my throat as I contemplated reciting the words of the classic children’s prayer:
“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”*
Contemplating the seriousness of facing my own mortality and God, l ignored the lump, swallowed hard and prayed the words as best as I could. That simple prayer, along with the Twenty-Third Psalm, became my “go-to” prayer for many years, long before I entered into a relationship with Christ:
“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want . . . I will fear no evil, for You are with me; If I should die before I wake, I pray dear Lord, my soul to take.”
When I entered my twenties I set thoughts about God aside. More than anything I wanted a family of my own. I fell in love with a wonderful man, married and we began our family. Outwardly things looked good, I had everything I had ever wanted. However, it was the seventies and as time passed, the words of Helen Reddy’s popular recording, “I Am Woman”, became “my truth”:
“You can bend but never break me ‘Cause it only serves to make me More determined to achieve my final goal And I come back even stronger Not a novice any longer ‘Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul.”
I probably fooled a lot of people with my outwardly confident appearance. Yet inwardly, there was a darkness encroaching that I had little control over– all was not well with my soul. The challenges of marriage and having young children left me feeling constantly defeated by a fierce anger that seemed to well up out of nowhere. I made vow after vow that I would control my temper. Yet after being defeated continually, I got to the point where I realized that I deserved to go to hell. “Now I lay me down to sleep” was no longer enough to quell the ever deepening darkness. It was at that point that I prayed a small desperate prayer, “God, please help . . . .”
In the weeks that followed I was invited to a Bible study** where I found opportunity to take an honest look at the Scriptures. During that study the words of Jesus called through my self-focused darkness:
“The time has come . . . the kingdom of God has come near.
Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15
“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
Only after surrendering my life to Christ did light and hope begin to dispel the darkness . . . finally, I found rest for my soul!
Six decades later, I continue to find comfort in the simplicity of leaning into the wisdom and assurance of Scripture, as God’s Spirit tends to whatever fear crops up:
“Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from Him.
Truly He is my rock and my salvation;
He is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
Trust in Him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to Him,
for God is our refuge.” Psalm 62:1,2, 8
I am struck by the contrast between my life before and after surrendering all to Christ. That is why I urge every Client I serve to do the same through the Journey Notes process–a simple means of starting (or jump starting) an honest dialogue with our Creator/Soul Maker.
So . . . can meaningful soul work take place apart from the influence of our Creator? What do you think?
All to His Glory!
*The New England Primer, 18th century textbook.
**Community Bible Study– http://www.communitybiblestudy.org/get-connected/find-a-class/
Have you ever wanted to run away? In those seasons in life when we are hit hard by the pain of disappointment, rejection or failure . . . the thought of escape is absolutely understandable. Many years ago, although my circumstances had actually improved, thoughts of running was hitting especially hard, Tired of fighting, I ran to the Scriptures for the help and perspective I needed. For two or three days I wrestled with my fear:“What if it happens again?” When I received no answer to my query I changed my question to, “How do I move forward?”
The answer was immediate and almost took my breath away when I opened my Bible and read:
“Get rid of all bitterness (and) rage . . . along with every form of malice.
Be kind and compassionate to one another,
forgiving . . . just as in Christ God forgave you.
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children
and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us
and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
As I was forced to face the basis of my fear–bitterness and pride–I felt as if I had been slammed in my gut. Even so, I was profoundly encouraged by God’s answer to my question, couched as it was His reminder of my own need for redemption:
“Walk in the way of love . . . as Christ did . . .
who gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
The realization that it took enormous determination and a gritty courage for Jesus to carry out His Father’s Plan encouraged me like never before. When Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done,”* He fully understood what was to come in a very few hours. In those moments of reflection, I found courage in Jesus’s gritty steadfastness, to love, to forgive and to trust again as I placed everything at His feet.
These days many scoff at faith as being “naive . . . not in touch with the real world . . . a false hope for weak people.” But those who have entered into a faith relationship with Christ will tell you, faith is anything but naive. In fact,
Faith faces the fact of our human condition before a Holy God–there is no such thing as a “good person”.
Faith recognizes that we cannot save ourselves—“For all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God.”***
Only a faith invested in the gritty love demonstrated by Jesus, who knowingly faced rejection, torture and a very public execution, is a faith worth having.
Thankfully, it doesn’t stop there . . .
Faith knows that Sunday is coming and an empty tomb awaits for all the world to see— Praise Him for a gritty faith that moves us forward, to live for, love and serve Him with glad hearts!
“Yet to all who received Him, to 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 1:12, 13
All to His Glory!
**Maundy Thursday commemorates the last meal Jesus and His disciples shared before His arrest and crucifixion.
Do you believe in miracles? I certainly do. One of the primary reasons I love my job, is because of the joy and privilege it is to witness God working miracles in the hearts and lives of those I am privileged to serve. When facing a challenging situation, I encourage many a Client with this reminder: “We serve a God of miracles. He parted the Red Sea for the Israelites and changed your heart and mine–so keep going–He is worthy of our trust!”
The Bible talks about miracles and encourages us
to remember them as we face the unknown.
In fact, remembrance is so important in the Scriptures, that I draw a little cloud around words or phrases such as, “remember” or “do not forget”, so the reminder stands out on the page. Psalm 105:3b-5 says this about miracles and their importance:
“Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always. Remember the wonders He has done, His miracles, and the judgments He pronounced . . . .”
The following is a fun little miracle that, had I not witnessed it myself, I would never have believed it. It involved our middle child, Amy, when she was about 3 years old. At the time my nicknames for Amy were, “Sweet Pea” (when things were good) or “Stink Weed” when she was being obstinate. All that to say–she was quirky. (One year later, when we moved to England, we were grateful to be able to assure Amy that there were no volcanos there. For whatever reason, Amy was intensely afraid of them, so it would have been quite a fight getting her to board the airplane!}
I was busy working on a project in my sewing room when Amy slipped through the doorway and stood next to me. When I glanced at her, she looked down at the floor and mumbled, “I put ‘um up my . . . .” I put my finger gently under her chin so she would look at me, and asked her to repeat what she had said. Looking sober and slightly embarrassed, she still tried to avoid my eyes as she said, “I put gum up my nose.”
Stunned yet not wanting to upset her, I immediately forgot my project to give her my full attention. I could see the gum lodged in her nostril but could not quite reach it. Trying to stay calm, I instructed Amy to: (1) open her mouth to take a deep breath of air in, and then (2) told her to close her mouth as she blew the air (and hopefully the gum) out her nose.
Of course, that is not at all what happened. Amy took a huge breath in through her nose and sucked the gum far up into her sinus cavity! I called the Advice Nurse and was instructed to immediately bring her in to remove the gum.
As we drove to the clinic I asked, “Amy, why on earth did you stick gum up your nose?”
I nearly drove off the road when she soberly replied, “I didn’t. I was looking at it very carefully on the floor, when it turned into a worm and crawled up my nose.”
So far this is a cute story, right? Well, that is not my reason for sharing it. This next part is what is what has remained a miracle in my memory more than three decades later:
When we arrived at the clinic that late afternoon, Amy clung to me slightly but otherwise appeared fascinated by everything that was happening around us. We were put in a side room to wait for the doctor. When he came in, I explained why we were there as Amy soberly looked down at her toes. When he put her on the patient’s table to locate the, “worm”, the doctor saw that it was lodged too far up to remove without special instruments. Concerned (I’m sure) about the response of his young patient to what needed to be done, he gathered his instruments (a very long thin set of tweezers and a special light he wore on his head so he could differentiate between the gum and the tissue surrounding it) and four technicians to hold Amy down in case she turned into a wildcat. (Which I knew was entirely possible.)
As the four technicians held Amy’s legs, shoulders and hands, she became transfixed on the doctor and the light on his head. Her body did not tense, in fact, she appeared quite relaxed as the doctor positioned the long tweezers above her. As I watched the tweezers enter her nostril, Amy appeared to be fascinated by what the doctor was doing and NEVER FLINCHED–TRULY!
After the doctor had removed the gum turned off his light, he turned to me looking totally astonished as he said, “I have never had a child stay still like that for such a procedure–NEVER!” The technicians appeared equally impressed as they pulled out a bunch of stickers to commend Amy’s bravery. It was truly miraculous!
More than three decades later, it still gives me pleasure to think about that day. I never have entirely figured out what caused Amy to remain so still, but I do remember that she seemed transfixed as the doctor spoke softly and she focused on the light that shone brightly above her. What I DO know was that something special happened in those moments when Amy steadfastly refused to give way to fear.
What can we learn from this, especially when we face the unknown? For me, the lesson is about choices–in every season we come to in life there are choices to be made. Do we give way to fear, anger or some other emotion that can so easily overwhelm us? Or, do we take that deep breath of faith, steadfastly looking to the Light of Christ to help us in our time of need? After all is said and done, isn’t that what it is all about? We serve a God of Miracles, tried and true!