While It Is Still Today . . . .

In a world where money, talent and fame garner highest praise, the suicidal deaths of fashion designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain hit hard last week. Spade and Bourdain appeared “to have it all'”, yet they chose to end their lives as the world wondered, “Why?”  

Kate Spade’s family and friends pointed to a long history of battling depression and anxiety.  Those who knew Anthony Bourdain pointed to possibly the pressure of working on a film series, but otherwise were clueless.  The saddest part (from my perspective) was that they both left young daughters behind, ages 13 and 11.

While it is still today . . . .

This was in stark contrast to the four women I saw in the Counseling Room last week.  Each one vastly different in terms of background, yet each Client familiar with the downward spiral of depression and therefore desirous of biblically-centered counsel.

What stood out was not their differences in background, but their agreement in recognizing the value of doing their Journey Notes.  Each Client talked about how being encouraged to talk TO God (rather than ABOUT Him) helped them to focus more on Him and less on themselves.  They also said digging into the Scriptures helped them keep their thinking straight as they gained clarity into themselves, the world around them and into God as the Shepherd of their hearts. As a result, each reported that the spiral of depression was much less of a threat to them than previously.

What touched me most, was hearing to them talk about their hopes for the future, as well as changes they intend to make in future choices.  These three praises logged in one of their Journey Notebooks reflect the tenderness of relationship between God and one of His children:

Thank You God:

  1. You’ve never taken advantage of me.
  2. For Your sense of humor.
  3. You brought me out of depression.

When it comes to loving others in a hurting world, this nugget of wisdom from Hebrews tells us not to put off what we can do to help someone now:

“You must warn each other every day,
WHILE IT IS STILL “TODAY,”
so that none of you will be deceived by sin
and hardened against God.
For if we are faithful to the end,
trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed,
we will share in all that belongs to Christ.”  
Hebrews 3: 13 & 14
New Living Translation

Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be within the body of Christ?  When we claim Christ as Lord and Savior, we are responsible, while it is still today, to love and to encourage others facing depression, anxiety and the innumerable other problems that can hit so hard.

The question is, HOW?

One way to help such a friend is to offer a listening ear, a heart willing to pray with them, and a steadfast commitment to helping that friend to get closer to God.  If your friend is willing, put a Journey Notebook together for them (and perhaps one for yourself.)  Then commit to getting together for an hour or two each week to pray with thanks for God’s faithfulness as the two of you talk about what He had revealed since you last met.

I love the perspective of the Apostle Peter given as a blessing and a warning all:

“Whoever would love life and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and His ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
I Peter 3:10-12

While it is still today . . .
loving our neighbor in a hurting world is risky business,
but it’s the only business that truly counts!

All to His Glory!

 

The Tyranny of Perfectionism vs The Joy of Godly Discipline . . . .

God uses what He will to shepherd our hearts.
This is the third in a series of posts featuring some of the ways God
used my family and the Scriptures to draw me closer to Himself.
I share them to encourage you to trust in God no matter what “life” brings. 
 ❤️

A WORD TO THE WISE:

“Do not deceive yourselves.
If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age,
you should become “fools” so that you may become wise.
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.”

I Corinthians 3:18, 19a

For many years, feeling as if “failure” was my middle name, I struggled with depression. After surrendering my heart to Christ, the first Bible study I participated in was a six-week study of Philippians. Written by the Apostle Paul from a of filthy Roman prison cell, Paul none-the-less urged his friends toward JOY:

Battered by winter, yet signs of spring prevail!

“REJOICE in the Lord ALWAYS, 
again I say, REJOICE!”
Philippians 4:4

What did I learn from Paul’s letter?

  • That for Christians, the basis for JOY runs deeper than mere happiness.
  • JOY is a choice.
  • No matter how my circumstances change or what others do, JOY is always to be had through Christ who strengthens me.

From then on, that was all I wanted . . .
pure, unadulterated JOY in the One who saved me
for Himself.

Yet I continued to struggle in two areas:

  1. I was disorganized.  I felt as if I constantly let God down, as I struggled to care for home and family.
  2. Going deeper, I knew my children needed discipline as they grew but, I didn’t how to discipline my children as a Christian mother.

At times, feeling closer to despair than joy, I prayed and dug into the Scriptures for the perspective I needed.  Finally, this verse pricked my mind and heart:

“The LORD does not look at the things people look at.
People look at the outward appearance,
but the LORD looks at the heart.”
I Samuel 16:7

As I contemplated the wisdom of Samuel, it struck me that my problem was rooted in my ideal–PERFECTIONISM (or what I jokingly referred to as, “Better Homes and Gardens perfect”.)  I realized that I was confusing Scripture’s call to holiness** with perfectionism.  Until then, I would have laughed at the suggestion that I was a perfectionist–assuming that true perfectionists DID have their lives together!

However, the one thing I knew for sure,
was that God as my Shepherd would be far gentler
than the tyranny of perfectionism that had ruled me for so long.

Soon after, help that would answer my struggle with organization arrived.  A church friend invited me to join her and several others looking for help in organizing their homes.  Using an organizational card-system for “Side-tracked Home Executives” (referred to as, SHE), we found encouragement.  For several weeks we laughed as we listened to tapes featuring the stories of sisters, Pam Young and Peggy Jones, who sounded as if they had been more disorganized than we were.  It was their humor as well as their insights shared, not only about organizing our homes, but also a fresh perspective on husbands and children–that ministered to my heart.  In the end, their system did help me bring order to our home, but it also brought fun ways to encourage and discipline my children toward organization through:

  • “The Maid’s Box”–a cardboard box where favorite toys cluttering our home were placed until redeemed for 25 cents; and
  • “The Room Fairy”–who left occasional treats when their bedrooms were picked up.

Looking back, that season not only brought order (a healthier goal) to our home but also encouraged my heart in many other ways.

One memory that still causes me to smile occurred while we lived in England.  After my daughters found special treats on their beds from the Room Fairy, a neighbor girl said, “Aw, there’s no such thing as a Room Fairy, your mum bought those things.”  For a moment fearing that I had been found out, my oldest promptly responded, “Yes there is a Room Fairy, there’s no way my mum would buy such great stuff!” 😊

I continue to be grateful for how God freed me to trust Him with managing my home and family.

While getting organized outwardly, there was still a long way to go in tending to God’s primary concern: the inward condition of our hearts.  In my next post I will write about lessons learned as God replaced perfectionism with His perspective on discipline.  Here’s a hint to encourage you until then:

“He tends His flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart;
He gently leads those that have young.”

Isaiah 40:11

All to His Glory!

*But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” I Peter 1:15

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!

 

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.

PRAISE HIM!

All to His Glory!

Voices (Part Two) . . . .

If you are a Christian who struggles with depression and/or anxiety, or if you know someone who does, this is for you.  In my last post I wrote about learning to distinguish between God’s voice and those “other voices” we hear in our heads.  You know, those accusing voices that taunt us despite our repentance saying, “You claim Christ but look at you . . . you are never going to change . . . you will never measure up to being a REAL Christian.”  Sometimes those “other voices” can sound quite reasonable, justifying sin, even as we are inwardly convicted by God’s Spirit.  Also, there are those angry, self-righteous voices that declare, “Enough! You don’t deserve to be treated this way!” as they urge us to hold on to bitterness and/or resentment.

DSC02555
“WE TAKE CAPTIVE EVERY THOUGHT TO MAKE IT OBEDIENT TO CHRIST.”

To gain insight in discerning the difference between God’s voice and those “other voices”, I included several examples of God’s voice as our Shepherd to compare with those taunting, deceptive voices we hear in our heads.  From James we learned that one of the distinguishing marks between God’s voice and those “other voices”, is that God does indeed test our faith (in order to strengthen and mature us), but He never tempts us to sin.  When we are tempted, that is completely the voice of evil. (James 1:13,14)

This post will include insights into how to reduce some of the incessant “chatter” of those other voices that can rob us of the freedom won for us in Christ.  (Galatians 5:1)   They are personal insights, gained in my own battle with depression, that have also been helpful to others.

1.  We all have a history of past sin; Christ Jesus is our only hope.  

“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned . . . ,
how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace
and of the gift of righteousness reign in life
through the one man, Jesus Christ!

Romans 5:17

2.  God convicts in order to draw us to Himself; He does not torment or abandon His children.

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name,
He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you;
not as the world gives do I give to you.
Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

John 14:26, 27

3.  So long as we live on this earth, there is an ongoing spiritual battle between God (who is Light) and evil (spiritual darkness).  To forget or be naive about this makes us vulnerable.  The Apostle Paul warned his friends in Ephesus with this admonition:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.
Put on the full armor of God,
so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,
but against the rulers, against the authorities,
against the powers of this dark world
and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 6:10-12

4.  God will provide all that we need to do battle as we stay close to Him.  It strikes me as ironic that in the battle against terrorism, the term “chatter” is used to refer to listening in on Internet conversations between known terrorist organizations to try to figure out where the next attack will be.  In God’s “army”, we are to resist exposing ourselves to the “chatter” of the world as we draw nearer to God:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.
On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up
against the knowledge of God, and
WE TAKE CAPTIVE EVERY THOUGHT
TO MAKE IT OBEDIENT TO CHRIST.” 

II Corinthians 10:3-5

5.  The best way to resist evil, is to persist in offering praises to God.  (James 4:7) I learned this years ago when I was tormented by thoughts that seemed to come out of nowhere.  Initially I was horrified and embarrassed . . . waves of depression hit me hard.  It was as I prayed, asking God to help me in my weakness, that it occurred to me that the last thing the evil one wanted to hear were praises to God–so that is what I started to do:  “Thank you God that you love me; thank You that You died so that I might live to your Glory; thank You that my future is secure in Jesus . . . Lord take these unwanted thoughts away from me (clean out any lingering “garbage” that may be hiding)–that I might give You all honor, praise and glory.”

“The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.
So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

Romans 13:12

6.  Always assume the best of God, especially when we are hurt and life seems unfair.  God’s purposes are always for our ultimate good–that we will be “mature and complete, not lacking in anything” when we meet Him face-to-face.  (James 1:2-4)  We find encouragement in the call of Jesus in Revelation 3:19-20,

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,
I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

The wisdom of John Newton offers blessing as we reflect on God’s voice as our source of light and hope vs the voices of darkness that seek to ensnare us:

“When we burden ourselves with our many sins, we are apt to overlook the very greatest of them–unbelief.  For what can be a greater proof of stubbornness and pride than to dare to contradict the express Word of God.  To say that He will not pardon when He declares He will; to persist in it that He will make differences when He assures us that He will make none . . . . Be thankful for the past and the present.  Trials no less than comforts are the tokens of His love.  ALL is regulated by infinite wisdom.  You will find cause to praise Him, even for the severe.“*  (Emphasis, mine.)

All to His Glory!

*Letters of John Newton, from The Banner of Truth Trust, written to the Rev. William Howell, pgs. 198 & 201.

“If Any Of You Lacks Wisdom . . . . “

I can still remember the first time I read James 1:5,

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all
without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” 

 I was a new Christian with much to learn as a wife, a mother and a daughter of God Most High.  In my world before Christ, making mistakes or showing oneself as weak was a dangerous thing.  Once exposed, the resulting fault-finding and blame-shifting were elements that tore at the soul of this wounded and confused kid.  I had lived most of my life desperate to please and keep peace at just about any  price.   The thought of not having to guard against being ridiculed for showing weakness intrigued me and was downright revolutionary.   In the thirty-plus years I have walked with Christ since reading James’ letter, I have tested this promise many times and in various scenarios:

Crying out to God in fear. . .
Turning to Him with deep regret . . .
Seeking Him for the comfort and assurance I lacked–
 
God has proved Himself faithful . . .
EVERY . . .
SINGLE . . .
TIME . . . .

In my last post, I wrote to you about humility being the key to helping others as we rely on God for the wisdom and strength we need.  We looked at a picture of relationships being lived as God designed them to be–“Two are better than one . . . “–in Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12.  We focused on what happens when we invite God into those relationships as the powerful “third strand.” We marveled at how God’s people are strengthened and how those relationships become cosmic because of His Presence.

As I concluded that post, I promised to write in my next post about a very practical tool/exercise that has been helpful to me and has benefited many others.  I ask but one thing of you–I ask that you apply it personally before attempting to help someone else with it.  I make this request because you will never appreciate the value of what is offered unless you have personally reaped its benefits.  Also, by applying it first, Christ’s admonition that you, “take the plank out of our own eye” before going after the speck in the eye of a friend or neighbor (Luke 6:42) will have been honored.

The goal of the exercise is to discern (or expose) who or what the primary influence ruling your thinking and responding at various times is.  It is based on the assumption that there is always a rule or authority that influences how you think and/or act.  We start with the bare bones:

  1.  Draw a triangle on a piece of paper with a heart placed in the center of the triangle.
  2. Write your name next to the right bottom tip; to the left of the triangle write either “Life’s Challenges and Joys” or a specific problem or concern that comes to your mind.  (The point here is, that this illustration holds merit in both difficult (challenges) and easier (joyful) times.)
  3. Draw an arrow from where you have written your name to the top of the triangle.
  4. Draw another arrow from the top of the triangle to the bottom left where you have written, “Life’s Challenges and Joys” or have entered a specific problem or concern.

Now, put some flesh on those bones:

  1. The premise of the exercise: we rarely respond to the challenges and joys we encounter straight on–draw an arrow between your name and the other side underneath the triangle, then “X” the line out.
  2. Instead, we are influenced by whatever “rule or authority” we hold to at any given time.   Identifying what is at the top of the triangle is the key to determining what rules the heart at any given time.  (When working with a Client I ask them, “who or what” is influencing their thinking about their problem?  The answers vary: pressure . . . fear . . . anger . . . hurt . . . anxiety . . . pride . . . money . . . confusion . . . guilt . . . resentment . . . and the list goes on!)
  3. The next step (remembering James’ encouragement)– ASK GOD for the wisdom you need to identify what is influencing your thinking toward what you wrote to left of the triangle.  (Write those influences above the top of the triangle.)
  4. Now, take a deep breath and consider this: Anything written there that is influencing you (other than God) is probably an idol.  Write “God or Idol?” above your reasons listed over the top of the triangle.
  5. Finally, ASK GOD for the help you need to clean out the excuses and keep Him in His rightful place–“God and . . . ” never works!

There are times when I know my attitude is not right or when I know what my problem is but I feel stuck.  In both cases, when I ASK GOD for the wisdom and courage I lack, He has delivered without fail.  I have learned through this simple exercise that when God exposes my sin He does so, not to ridicule me for my failures, but to free me by facing my sin to enjoy a deeper faith.

Proverbs 16:2 warns:

“All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.”

To hold onto our “reasons” for what we do is to lose what we need most–
the blessing of Christ’s Presence in our lives.
 Seek Him for the wisdom you lack to grow and mature spiritually through those difficulties.
He is worthy of your trust!

All to His Glory!