Those “Aha!” Moments . . . .

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary refers to the times when we experience, “a sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension” as,“Aha!” moments. When they happen, they typically grab our attention as we realize an adjustment needs to be made in our perspective.

My first, “Aha!”moment. as a young adult took place when I was 19. I was talking to a customer at my dad’s dry cleaners while waiting for his order to be put together. Mr. White was a postman who had watched my brother and I grow up serving customers for many years. As we waited for his last pair of pants to be pressed, Mr.White and I were enjoying a jovial conversation about the qualities I was looking for in the man I would consider marrying.  Mr. White laughed as I chattered, quite enjoying the mostly one-sided conversation. It wasn’t until there was a lull in my chattering that Mr. White spoke these words: “Those are amazing qualities you’re looking for, Kathie. But have you ever thought about what you have to offer such a man?” I can remember feeling my inflated ego burst like a balloon, as I inwardly realized that I had a lot more to think about (and work on!), if marriage was to ever be in my future!

“Beautiful possibilities to be worked out over time . . . .”

For Christians committed to living an intentional faith, “Aha!” moments can be important markers of spiritual growth and maturity. They happen fairly frequently working in the Counseling Room, as each Session is opened with a prayer asking God to, “Direct the path of our conversation.” He continually proves Himself faithful, by leading us to Scripture that lends insight and direction to navigate through the problem(s) the Client is facing.

Here is an example of such a moment that happened a few weeks ago:

As I watched and listened to an already stressed Client list the things that contribute to her anxiety, I could see an expanding mountain of guilt threaten to overwhelm her. As I listened, a verse from Proverbs came to the forefront of my mind:

“She is clothed with strength and dignity; 
she can laugh at the days to come.”
Proverbs 31:25

It is a beautiful picture of a godly woman who trusts and honors God with her life.  Even so, I tried to ignore the verse because I knew that it is part of the description of “The Wife of Noble Character.”* Thought by many as being a guilt-inducing, daily “to-do” list–myself included-the passage exalts a woman who buys fields, plants vineyards, manages her household and feeds the poor while her husband spends his time sitting at the city gate! (As one already depressed and anxious Client asked me years ago–“Does this woman ever sleep?!!!”) When viewed as an impossible “to do” list, the passage can be overwhelming!

However, trusting that the Holy Spirit had brought the verse to my mind for my Client, I felt convicted that we should at least go to the passage. When we did, my heart softened as I saw the passage with fresh eyes. Rather than being a daily”to-do” list, I saw the Proverbs 31 passage as a picture of a life dedicated to trusting and honoring God over time. To be clothed with strength and dignity, and to no longer be overwhelmed by fear and anxiety, is to rely on God every moment of every day.

With that insight, the passage became a picture of beautiful possibilities to be worked out–as God guides His own through the challenges that WILL come.

In reading verse 25 as God’s goal for His children and then looking at the passage as being worked out over a lifetime, both my Client and I experienced the refreshment of an “Aha!” moment. Suddenly, wisdom and hope replaced guilt and anxiety as we understood that we are to no longer rely on ourselves but look to God as our faithful Shepherd.

Weeks later, that insight continues to inspire and encourage me and several other Clients I have shared it with.

Do you have an “Aha!” moment you can share that God gave you? Here’s your opportunity to pass the blessing you received on, by writing it in the comments below.

All to His Glory!

*Proverbs 31:10-31.

A Simple Faith: Connecting-the-Dots As God Intends . . . .

A pastime I enjoyed as a child was working connect-the-dots puzzles–the greater the difficulty the better.  Back then, I found the process of locating the starting place and carefully following the numbered sequence to reveal the image inwardly satisfying.  Often the picture that was revealed was, at best, a rough skeletal image. What gave me the greatest pleasure was going back over the image exposed by my pencil, to soften the lines and make the picture a more realistic likeness.  If I really got into it, I used my colored pencils to enhance it even further.

Until recently, I never thought about how strongly my approach to living and problem-solving relate back to that simple pleasure.  When counseling I listen for the essentials, many that at first glance appear unrelated.  I ask questions to clarify and better understand how my Client perceives their problem(s).  What I find most helpful, in connecting-the-dots as I work with Clients, is in paying attention to how they respond to the Scripture we read during the session.

It is our response to what God says, that determines
how accurately we “connect-the-dots”
to learn life lessons as God intends.

Several months ago I received one of those rare connect-the-dot gifts that has blessed me in countless ways.  It was a book containing a collection of letters about faith, written in the 1700’s by John Newton*.  Newton, who prior to his conversion was involved in the slave trade, wrote of his relationship with the God he came to love and serve with these words:DSC02073

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.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home . . . .

The wisdom of Newton’s Amazing Grace has continued to resonate from generation to generation.  What I have discovered in reading his letters, is the timeless beauty of a faith fully invested in trusting God.  It is Newton’s insights, written to encourage others so long ago, that have broadened and deepened my own understanding of what he referred to as, a simplicity of faith:

 “Our hearts are very dark and narrow, and the very root of apostasy is a proud disposition to question the necessity or propriety of divine appointments. But the child-like simplicity of faith is to follow God without reasoning; taking it for granted a thing must be right if He directs it, and charging all seeming inconsistencies to the account of our own ignorance. (p.116)

Although “grace” is not mentioned, it certainly is implied.  It is fully by God’s Grace that we are able to connect-the-dots to embrace a humble faith.  These are the “dots” that helped to deepen my understanding of Newton’s “simplicity of faith”,

  1. “Our hearts are very dark and narrow . . . a proud disposition (that) questions (doubts)” God’s Authoritative Goodness.  Apart from the transforming work of God’s Grace in the human heart, we remain condemned and without Hope.
  2. “But the child-like simplicity of faith is to follow God without reasoning; taking it for granted a thing must be right if He directs it . . . .”  I am struck by how often my mind goes to Isaiah 1:18, where God says, “Come now, let us reason together . . . .”  I  must confess that I am quite comfortable with the notion of a “reasonable faith.”  However, Newton’s assertion denies the veracity of a faith built on reason.  Such a faith is not faith at all, having lost sight of our great need for forgiveness and mercy before a Holy God. 
  3. The last “dot” points to the necessity of humility as being essential to maintaining a simple faith: ” . . . and charging all seeming inconsistencies to the account of our own ignorance.”  When we forget the corrupt state we were saved out of, arrogance assumes equality with God.  There is no room for a meaningful faith apart from a humble, grateful heart. 

The Apostle Paul affirms all of this in Ephesians 2: 1-10 where he wrote:

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air . . . . Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions . . . . For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

It is the final verse that brightens and lightens our vision, to appreciate the way God works in the hearts and lives of His people:

 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Ephesians 2:1-10

A dear friend once told me that Paul’s reference to “God’s workmanship” actually means that we are “God’s poem.”   As we continue to walk in simple faith we discover rest in God’s Sovereign Goodness.  I love the notion of being part of His Divine Poetry as He connects-the-dots toward the light and hope of our future with Him.  

All to His Glory!

 *Letters of John Newton, With Biographical Sketches and Notes by Josiah Bull, first published 1869, First Banner of Truth Edition 2007.

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!

The Clarity Faith Provides on Suffering . . . .

 
” . . . though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 
These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold . . .
may be proved genuine . . .
for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 
I Peter 1:6b-7a

Fleeing the dangers of gangs and drugs pervasive in the city she grew up in, single-mom Debra moved with five of her seven children to our area about two and a half years ago.   Unable to find a job, Debra attended a Jobs for Life course offered at a local church where she not only gained job interview skills, but was touched by the spiritual caring and encouragement she received.  It was the folks at Jobs for Life who connected Debra and I to begin a Counseling relationship that has been truly special.

That she came from a rough background was apparent but from the beginning her focus was on getting her life straight with God.  As we worked together phrases such as,”I’m confused” or “I must have done something really wrong,” were expressions Debra frequently used as she tried to make sense of her upside-down world.  Week after week we met, pouring over the Scriptures together to sort out the constant challenges of Debra’s life–when one son was incarcerated, her landlord took advantage of the situation by raising her rent.  Pressure from other family and tense relationships with several of her co-workers workers seemed constant.  Still, Debra found courage and strength in Scriptures such as:

Psalms 46 and 139
Hebrews 12
I Peter
James and
Isaiah 30:15-22 . . .
became her lifeline . . . 
        to a Sovereign and Good God.

As time passed, Debra continued to express gratitude for God’s provision and protection over her and her family with a decent paying job and numerous Christians who reached out to her.  At the conclusion of every Session I asked the same question, “Are you loved?”  Every time she would look at me and smile shyly . . . “Yes, I am loved.”  It was with that assurance that Debra continued to do the best she could with what she had.

Last week when we met she had yet another story to tell.  Having moved herself and her two youngest children into the basement of a co-worker several months ago, she was hopeful that she had finally found a house to rent.  She also told me about the encouragement she received from her pastor’s sermon on suffering the previous Sunday.  As she spoke, I was awed by her thoughtful countenance as she quietly resolved, “I will never go back on my faith again.” 

To continue to broaden the scope of the beauty worked out through suffering (and discipline) in the hands of our faithful God, we read Hebrews 12:7-13.  Verses 10a-11 stood out mightily to Debra:

” . . . but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 
No discipline (or suffering) seems pleasant at the time, but painful. 
Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace
for those who have been trained by it.”

The beauty I witnessed, was the transformed outworking of that “harvest of righteousness and peace” being manifested by Debra’s faith in a Sovereign and Good God.  Ah yes, the wondrous clarity faith provides in suffering is totally out of this world!

Whatever challenge you may face, take heart as the God who loves us so completely watches over you . . . no matter what!

All to His Glory!

FOUND!

I hate when I wake up in the middle of a dream, feeling lost and confused, not knowing where I am or where I have been.  A few mornings ago I experienced just such an awakening.  I dreamed that I was lost for what seemed hours and then, finally, found myself driving home to visit my parents.   It was then that I felt my body heave an involuntary shudder as I remembered that Mom is gone, Dad’s days on this earth are probably short and the home I grew up in was sold three years ago.  It was at that moment that the cold shudder of feeling lost and alone gripped my heart.

Trusting in God’s Goodness has kept me steady even as:

I have fought tears back when I have seen something Mom would have liked . . .
when thinking of Dad alone and confused in a strange place . . . 
realizing that what was . . . has been lost forever.

The temptation to separate myself from the festivities of Christmas–knowing that Christmas will never be the same–has been especially difficult.   Yet it is in those moments of suffering profound loss, that God has faithfully shepherded my heart with these verses:

” . . . 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
 
“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
John 1:5
 

Even as despair has threatened I have been greatly comforted in remembering that,

No matter how dark life may appear, Christ’s Light dispels darkness like nothing else can.

Daily, He has drawn me into the Light of His Love, filling my heart to overflowing . . . not with a Christmas carol, but with the comfort of God’s boundless Grace in saving the lost:

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.
 
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.  
How precious did that Grace appear  
The hour I first believed.  
 
Through many dangers, toils and snares  
I have already come;’
Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far  
and Grace will lead me home.
 

As the Celebration of Christ’s Coming draws ever closer, God has faithfully spared me further heartache with the wondrous truth that God came down to seek and save the lost–you and me!  Jesus taught in parables about God’s pursuit of lost things in Luke 15.  I especially love the picture He painted as the love of a father was poured out when his son returned home:

” Bring the fatted calf and kill it.  Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.‘  So they began to celebrate.”  (verses 23-24)

If you find yourself struggling this Christmas . . . give thanks that you are not alone and lean into to the Light of His Love–He is so very worthy of our trust!

Yesterday I was able to talk to my dad on the phone for the first time since having to leave him in early November.  He is still very sick but there was Joy in his voice, so very grateful to be back in his apartment for Christmas.  Many thanks to those of you who have asked about and prayed for my dad.  Merry Christmas!

Rejoicing in Him Always!

Forgiveness + God’s Gracious Hand = Freedom to Love

One of the most exhilarating Scriptures that causes my mind and heart to soar beyond the cosmos is Galatians 5:1.

“It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do no let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

What a precious gift our Christ-won freedom from sins bondage is!  For many years, resentment and bitterness weighed deeply in my mind and heart.   What I am about to share with you is a personal story.  It is a story that impacted my spiritual growth as I was freed to live for, love and serve God (and those He puts on my path) with a glad heart.  It is a difficult story to tell because of the oddness of it, but I assure you that it is absolutely true.  I share it in the hope that it will encourage to you (or someone you know) to trust God to accomplish what seems impossible: To be free from the hurts and regrets that weigh heavy on the soul.  The formula is simple: Forgiveness + God’s Gracious Hand = Freedom to Love

The Call:  It was late one evening, my husband was away on a trip and our little girls were asleep.  I was sitting in bed reading my Bible.  I cannot tell you what I was reading, except to say that it did not have anything to so with what was about to occur.  As I read I heard a voice say, “Kathie, you must forgive.”  Startled, I looked around our bedroom but realized the voice was not really audible–I heard it in my head.   Assuming it was God speaking to me, my mind started to race, “Forgive what?  Forgive who?”  The room remained quiet, but as I thought about it I realized that I blamed my mom for many of my inadequacies.  The voice spoke again, “Kathie you must forgive, otherwise you will remain an emotional cripple.”  I sat there thinking about my options, “Emotional cripple or forgive my mom . . . emotional cripple . . . forgive my mom . . . emotional cripple . . . .”  I recognized that forgiving my mom was the only viable option so I thought, “Okay, I forgive my mom,” and promptly fell asleep.

Forgiveness applied?  The saying that “old habits die hard” is all too true.  When I said I forgave my mom I meant it.  But it was not long before I recognized the old anger and frustration overtake me when I interacted with her.  I went into a tailspin . . . devastated by the thought  that, “I lied to God!”  I struggled with depression for many months.  It was awful.

I continued to struggle with my failure to forgive until one day reading in I Samuel 13:14 where King Saul, the first king of Israel, was replaced by David, “a man after God’s own heart.”   I remember wondering why this was so, when David was by no means a perfect man.  Curious, I began to read the Psalms because so many of them were written by David.  What stood out to me was that David, more than anyone else in the Bible, exposed his heart to God.  Desiring to become a woman “after God’s own heart”, I began to pray the Psalms where David opened his heart to God.  I found the process to be helpful until the day I came to Psalm 139:23,24–

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

As I contemplated praying those words I experienced a panic attack!  Suddenly, I was in God’s operating room and I was about to come under the knife; my heart was about to be totally exposed!  Should I trust Him?  It took several minutes to decide . . . .  Finally, I moved forward in faith, scared out of my mind but determined to remove the unforgiveness that plagued my mind and heart.  I wondered, could I stand the pain?

God’s Gracious Hand:  It was a pivotal moment in my life.  What I found out was that God is far more gentle than I ever dreamed!  Where I expected the old junk of resentment and bitterness to be ripped out once and for all, He was far more gentle and thorough!  Amazing grace flooded my fearful heart in a profound way with the revelation of an all-encompassing love that ran far deeper than I ever imagined.  It was at that moment, that I knew that I could trust His divine power to finish the work of forgiveness in my heart that I desired, but had not the ability to complete.

I would love to tell you that after such an amazing encounter everything fell into place.  It did not . . . but change did come.  Rather than beat myself up when resentment reared its ugly head, I ran to God instead and said, “Take it!  I hate it!  Help me Lord to walk worthy of Your Name!”  Ephesians 5:21 took on new meaning for me:

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” 

As I reverenced Christ by surrendering and confessing my sin, He continued to cleanse and make me whole within.  It was nothing less than a miracle being worked out in my heart.  Then one day it happened . . . .

Freedom to Love:  I will not go into the details except that one day God finally broke down the last wall of resentment in my heart, replacing it with a heart of compassion for my mom.  The thought still brings tears to my eyes when I realized that I was truly free, not only to forgive but to truly love my mom!  Having just recently lost her, I cherish the twenty years of being able to love and enjoy my mom (warts and all) as one of God’s sweetest gifts to me.

How about you?  Is there an area in your life where forgiveness needs to be applied?  Perhaps you are in a place as I was, feeling like a failure as you battle within?  If that be so, then learn from my experience and go (RUN!) to God for the cleansing work that only He can work out to completion. Let’s face it, only God can accomplish the miracle of change in any of us . . . one heart at a time.   Forgiveness + God’s Gracious Hand = Freedom to Love . . . it’s totally a God-thing!

All to His Glory!