On Dealing With Fear and Bullies . . . .

This is the second in a series of posts featuring spiritual lessons God taught me through my family.  Over the years these stories have been helpful to many a Client; I share them now in the hope that they might also encourage you. ❤️

There is much talk about bullies/abusers in the world today, but bullies have been around since the beginning.  It was their fear of bullies, that resulted in Israel having to march around in the wilderness for forty years*; and Goliath (of David and Goliath fame) was nothing more than an oversized bully.

Of our three children, Amy (our middle child), was the most fearful. Amy was afraid of (or was resistant to) such things as:

  • Volcanoes. When we received orders to move to England, our then four-year-old middle asked with serious intensity in her voice: “Are there volcanoes in England?” (All these years later, we still laugh that if we’d received orders to Hawaii, we would never have been able to get her on the airplane!)
  • A boy in our village named Christopher Blackman.  I doubt that Christopher (who was probably about 10 and DID have a bad reputation) had any idea that our little Amy had stopped going to the village shop for sweeties (candy) because she was afraid he might be there.  Also, he probably was unaware that she immediately hid herself behind a garden wall or bushes if she saw him when walking home from school.
  • Pick-pocketers.  After traveling into London on a train, we heard an announcement warning that pick-pocketers had been active in the area that morning.  Amy clutched the little purse I had made for her tightly against her chest as she said, “They should make them wear uniforms so we can tell who they are!”
  • Learning to write–because she knew she wouldn’t be able to write as well as her sister–Amy resisted the pressure to learn to write.)

    Amy

Yet despite her fears, Amy could also be the most courageous.  When she saw a smaller classmate being bullied, she took it upon herself to stick up for them.  On one such occasion, Amy was quite surprised when the bigger kid (not Christopher) knocked her down.  Fighting back tears, Amy got up and yelled passionately, “I FORGIVE YOU!”  (I heard later that the bully looked quite embarrassed as he slunk off!)

When I learned about the incident I was both stunned and proud.  I had to admit that Amy’s response demonstrated a special courage and biblical wisdom that I lacked.

COURAGE defined: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.  (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary)

True courage demonstrates moral strength to withstand danger despite our fears
as we take our stand against evil.

God chose to teach our family a deeper lesson through Amy’s second fear: Christopher Blackman.

BULLY defined: “a blustering, browbeating person . . . one who is habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to others who are weaker, smaller, or in some way vulnerable.”  (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary)

Our youngest, Luke (about 2 1/2 years old at the time), was notoriously friendly toward anyone he met.  While taking Luke out to the local playing field in his stroller, Luke reached out to Christopher–who I had no idea was THE Christopher Blackman!  Soon after, Christopher began showing up by our garden wall calling out for Luke.  Having found out WHO the boy was, I kept Luke inside at first.  But I remembered what Jesus taught about dealing with enemies in Luke 6:27, 28,

Luke
with Christopher Blackman

“Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.”

As we (Amy and I) began to pray for Christopher, something unexpected happened: God softened our hearts.  I began to see that Christopher genuinely held a special affection for Luke–who Christopher called, “Lu-key”.  As I made some inquiries around our village I learned that Christopher was in foster care and was waiting to be placed in a special school. (He had been put out of the village school because of something he’d done.)  We reached out to Christopher’s foster parents and learned that because his foster mom was quite ill with diabetes, she put him out of the house after he’d had his breakfast each day to roam the village.  I realized that Christopher was showing up at our garden wall, because he was lonely while all the other children were in school.

What happened next is really kind of a blur.  We began by allowing Christopher into our garden and it wasn’t long until he became a special part of our lives.  I cannot tell you how long it was before Christopher and a couple of his friends began attending church with us.  Looking back, I do not recall even a hint of Christopher’s bad reputation being expressed in our time with him.

You may be wondering about Amy in all of this?  Well, she now says that Christopher probably DID push her down, sat on her and pounded on her back one day before he became a special part of our family.  But when she saw how he liked her little brother and saw our genuine concern for Christopher, she was okay with it.  Besides, even as a child, Amy said, she “figured that it was what Christian families were supposed to do!”

Soon after we returned to the States Christopher started at his new school.  We wrote back and forth for a while but then lost touch with him.  After all these years, I still wonder what he did with his life and would love to see him again.

So what did I learn from my children about dealing with fear and bullies?

  1. To take sin seriously–my own included–in difficult relationships.  Romans 12:9 says, “Hate what is evil, cling to what is good.”  God is both sovereign and good and worthy of our trust.
  2. To faithfully pray for my enemy.  I have learned that by doing this God keeps my heart soft. Praying for my enemy also opens the door to miracles, as God also can work in the heart of the bully/abuser.  James 4:7 hits the mark with this counsel: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
  3. To trust God to provide courage to resist being run by my fears. By standing up to bullies/abusers (and asking others to pray where needed) the sin is exposed for what it is.  The wisdom contained in Ephesians 6 about spiritual warfare, lends powerful encouragement to all who seek Christ’s help:

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.
Therefore put on the full armor of God,
so that when (not if) the day of evil comes,
you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Stand firm then . . . .”

Ephesians 6:10-14

After 25 years of counseling, I have learned (where bullying/abuse is concerned) that prayer and getting help (be it in the church or by calling on the civil authorities) to stop the pattern of abuse is the best course.

To allow the sin of abuse to continue without addressing it,
encourages disrespect in the heart of the abuser toward the one being abused.
To call for outside help often forces the abuser to face the ugliness of their sin.  

In the end, there is opportunity on both sides of the relationship, for spiritual growth to take place as God works in both hearts.

All to His Glory

*Press here–> Joshua 5:6, to read the text.

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!

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!

Doors . . . .

When our family returned to the States after living in England for three years, our four-year-old son Luke talked about missing his “green door”.  He was referring to the flint and brick home we rented while living in England that had green front and back doors.  Luke’s “green door” was the only place he had ever known as home.  It was six weeks before we finally found a place for our family and, YES, we painted the front door the same shade of green as our home in England, so Luke would know we were truly home!

Doors . . . there is something fascinating about doors (especially front doors) that I find intriguing.  I saw a poster once that pictured fifty or more front doors of homes, some quite plain while others commanding the passerby’s attention–each of them uniquely hinting at what might lie within.

When temptation entered the Garden of Eden there was no physical door to knock on except for the doorway to Eve’s mind and heart.  When Eve responded by opening the door to doubting God’s Goodness, the domino-effect of sin changed everything.  Gone were times of enjoying such intimacy as a walk in the garden with our Creator.   From that point, sin clouded our perceptions of God and of all He created for us to enjoy.  Perhaps saddest of all, we lost sight of our unique status as His image bearers.  Yes, when doubt darkened the perceptions of the human heart toward God, the unique relationship enjoyed before man’s fall into sin was lost.

When doubt enters, how are we to respond?
When doubt knocks, how are we to respond?

To be clear, there is a place for doubt/caution in this sin-bent world. The Bible affirms this danger as it encourages us to look to God as the Shepherd of our hearts.  James 1:5 offers direction and encouragement to believers,

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

To know that God wants us to seek Him in trouble is amazing.  Yet, for many years I struggled with the warning that immediately follows James’s encouragement:

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt,
because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”

(Verses 6-8)

“You must believe and not doubt?”  The question I wrestled with was,

How is it possible to guard against doubting God’s character,
when doubt can so easily slide in through the doorway of our minds?

I gained insight into my question recently while reading Matthew 9.  The passage describes a paralyzed man being brought to Jesus by some of his friends.   Also in attendance was a crowd of people that included some religious scribes.  Jesus spoke kindly to the man as He said, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”  Matthew relates that when the religious scribes heard this, they condemned Jesus and thought what He said was blasphemous.  Matthew then wrote,

‘”Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said,
“Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?”‘

(verse 4)

Jesus confronted them not so much for doubting but for condemning Him as they entertained evil in their hearts.

How does Jesus’s rebuke help to sort out the difference between doubt/caution that is necessary to help us navigate through life vs doubt that condemns?  As was said earlier, doubt serves a purpose when it comes to living in this world.

Doubt defined: to fear, suspect, to lack confidence in : distrust* 

  However, when doubt darkens the door of our hearts and negatively influences our perception of God’s character–doubt becomes insidious:

Definition of Insidious: Awaiting a chance to entrap : treacherous
Harmful but enticing : seductive 
Having a gradual and cumulative effect : subtle
Of a disease : developing so gradually as to be well established before becoming apparent.*

SIN is the disease that encourages us to question God’s character and to entertain doubts about God’s will and purpose for our lives.

So is there a way to avoid this problem?  I believe there is:

  1. Recognize that deep within every human heart the danger lurks of not only forgetting God, but also of doubting His character.
  2. Prayerfully ask God to help you recognize where you are most vulnerable when it comes to doubting His character.
  3. When you find yourself entertaining doubt (note: I did not say if)– go immediately to God in confession as you give thanks for His Sovereign Goodness.
  4. Seek His help in closing the doorway to doubt as you lean on Him as the Shepherd of your heart.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  
Proverbs 4:23

 All to His Glory! 

*Taken form: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary

Wisdom, Courage and Confidence in the New Year . . . .

Happy New Year!

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly God can speak to the human heart.  From the very beginning of my counseling career, I learned that the best way to minister to the hearts and minds of hurting people is:

  1. To offer a listening ear and
  2. Help them get into the Scriptures to gain God’s perspective on them and their circumstances.

What I am about to share is a lesson I learned from many of the Clients I have been privileged to serve.  Many who seek counsel are broken . . . others are angry . . . ALL are in need of direction, feel misunderstood and often are devoid of hope. Respecting the it took courage for them to make that first phone call asking for help, I am humbled by the privilege and responsibility that I bear–not only to them, but to God–as we work together.

I decided to write this post as we enter this new year:

Journey Notes: All to His Glory!
Journey Notes: All to His Glory!
  • To offer wisdom and courage to those of you who are struggling with fear and trepidation in these uncertain times,
  • To help deepen your relationship with Christ as you gain confidence in His ability to shepherd your heart through any storm,
  • As a practical means of helping you encourage a friend or family member who has been spiritually or emotionally”stuck” for too long.

So what is the means by which you (and/or your friend or family member) can move into the new year with wisdom, courage and even confidence?  Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 provides our first clue:

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their work.
For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion.
But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up . . . .
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

We use this passage in the Counseling Room to illustrate God’s vision for healthy relationships.  We talk about how helping others honors God’s command to love one another–two ARE better than one!  However, we need God as our third strand, to gain the wisdom, courage and confidence needed when we are in trouble.

More than needing a listening ear to talk to,
we need to develop an ongoing conversation with our Lord and Creator.
That is the benefit of Journey Notes Praise Journaling

If you are not familiar with Journey Notes Praise Journaling, the introduction and instructions are accessible at the top of this page.  It is a process I developed twenty-plus years ago when I started counseling–believing that as a Biblical Counselor, my Clients deserved far more than just a “good listening ear.”  My goal for my clients as they entered into the Journey Notes process was that they would gain wisdom and courage as they worked through their problems.  This they did as we worked together over weeks and months.  The benefit that I did not expect was how the vast majority gained confidence in God’s ability to shepherd their hearts.   Most notable to me were those Clients whose problems remained about the same, but who no longer looked at themselves as victims, but actively chose to trust and honor God as Sovereign and Good.  It has been amazing and humbling to watch the transformation that takes place in those Clients who enter a conversation with God through their Journey Notes.

In the Counseling Room, there is a simple principle we go by:

With every tragedy/ disappointment that comes our way,
we are gifted with an opportunity to trust God more.

For those who have learned to rely on God’s Spirit and His Word using the Journey Notes Praise Journaling process, this makes total sense.  It makes sense because they have experienced the faithful working of God as their Shepherd, not only helping them with their problems, but in transforming their minds and hearts as they endeavor to apply His teaching to their lives.  It takes courage to trust God like that, but when we do the outcome is nothing short of miraculous.

The times Jesus lived in were also perilous.  Knowing that He would soon be arrested and taken from His disciples, Jesus sought to prepare His disciples for what would be a frightening turn of events for them.  In John 14:18-20 Jesus offered words of assurance that they would not remember until later:

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
Before long, the world will not see Me anymore, but you will see Me.
Because I live, you also will live.
On that day you will realize that I am in My Father,
and you are in Me, and I am in you.”

John 14:18-20

Such powerful words to be strengthened by!  Jesus offered His disciples (and all who trust in Him) MORE than a shelter in the midst of storms or a place to stand.  Jesus words call us to move forward in faith as He directs our steps:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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

HAPPY NEW YEAR . . .
ALL TO HIS GLORY!

A Lesson On The Heart . . . .

Because I was born three years after the conclusion of World War II, I grew up with a lot of questions about the war and why it happened.  My biggest question had to do with how any nation could embrace the hatred that resulted in the extermination of six million men, women and children.  I received insight into the answer to my question in the autumn of 1965 when, at seventeen, I learned about the corruptibility of the human heart.  My lesson began when an assignment was handed to me on a small piece of paper in Mrs. Story’s high school speech class: Debate ABORTION (against).

100_5932

“Abortion?” I wondered to myself, “What the heck is abortion?”  

Too embarrassed to ask anyone what it was, I made my way to the high school library that afternoon to find out.  Back then, there were no books on the subject in our library, but I did manage to find several articles.  As I began reading about abortion, I remember feeling sick inside at the thought of an innocent baby being killed like that.  However, as I kept researching the subject I was assurred that when abortions were performed, there really was not a baby at all.  According to the articles I read, there was “only a smattering of cells . . . a blood clot . . . certainly not a baby!”  Besides, I learned as I read on, there was the life of the mother to consider . . . wasn’t her life far more important?  Certainly I felt empathy for any woman caught up in an unwanted pregnancy that could potentially ruin her life!

I began to wonder how I was going to debate against this weighty topic; the pros certainly appeared to hold the upper hand with the voice of reason.   I kept researching articles, increasingly depressed by the topic, until I read an interview with President John F. Kennedy on why he was against abortion.  Because He was Catholic, I assumed his answer would be based on religious reasons . . . but that was not what he said.  Instead, Kennedy explained that his conviction was based on a claim Adolph Hitler made about abortion and the hardened hearts of the German people.  Apparently, Hitler wrote that when abortion was legalized in Germany, he knew he could get away with anything else he chose to do–sadly, history bears out Hitler’s assertion.*

I can still remember sitting in the library that day, realizing that the answer to my questions about the horrific slaughter of innocent people was linked to hardened hearts.  It would be more than a decade before I came to understand that every human heart is prone to corruption–my own included.  In fact, the Bible has a lot to say about how the heart is reflected by what we say and do.  Jeremiah 17:9-10 declares:

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
‘I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.’”

In Luke 6:45 Jesus said,

“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart,
and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.
For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

Fifty years later,  I remember nothing about the actual debate that took place in my speech class.  Since then medical technology has stripped away our naivety about abortion, but it does not seem to matter.  It would seem that our “rights” reign supreme no matter what the cost to our own children.  Over the past two decades, I have been profoundly touched in the Counseling Room, as women have poured out tears of regret, because the birthdays of those lost children were never to be celebrated.  Instead, they speak of the ages their children would have been, had they not had an abortion.

I share my story with you, because I have never been able to find the interview with President Kennedy that touched me so deeply.  Yet I write this not only about the tragedy of abortion, I write this during a time when each of us need to be examining our hearts as we respond to the masses of people who are fleeing for their lives because of the faith we share.  

It is tempting to avoid watching the news, I confess there are times when I have done that.  However, I was grateful when I saw this video by Samaritan’s Purse two nights ago: to see families . . . young . . . old . . . and every age in-between, desperate enough to leave their homes, climb into those flimsy rubber boats in the hope of finding somewhere safe to start over.  It struck me then, that to ignore the problem, tempting though it may be, requires that I (we) harden our hearts. 

But God calls us not to hide in times such as these,
but to be looking for opportunities to be large-hearted
in helping where we can with our prayers,
our finances or whatever else God provides us to offer.

The wisdom of the Apostle John speaks to the responsibilities Christians bear in such challenging times as these:

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.
And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need
but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?
Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

I John 3:16-18

All to His Glory!

*President Kennedy knew what he was talking about.  A serious student of history–particularly political history— he wrote his senior thesis at Harvard on what was later titled and published as, Why England Slept.  His second book, Profiles in Courage (focuses on eight American Senators whom Kennedy particularly esteemed for their political and moral courage) won a Pulitzer Prize for history in 1957.  To read a good synopsis on both books, you will find The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum site helpful.