More Than a Cup of Tea . . . .

“A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is
until you put her in hot water.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

When I read the above quote I laughed aloud as I thought, “Eleanor Roosevelt, how very biblical!”  Like it or not, it is adversity (or as Eleanor put it,“hot water“) that builds the kind of character and maturity that pleases God.  James bears this out in the introduction to his letter,

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,
whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work so that you
may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

James 1:2-4

Just as brewing tea with scalding hot water brings forth the best cup of tea, it is often the challenges we would otherwise avoid, that mold and change us when we choose to trust God. This can also apply to relationships:

  • In my teens and twenties I enjoyed the simple pleasure of drinking a cup of tea while doing some personal reflection.
  • In my thirties my appreciation for the benefits of sharing a pot of tea with a friend broadened as I savored the warmth and fragrance of tea with friends and, in the process, became a better listener.

Looking back, I can now see how God blessed those conversations,
as He challenged me to love others as He loved me,
by learning to trust Him as the Shepherd of my heart. 

As time passed, God put two women on my path whom I quickly decided “needed more than a cup of tea.” One was a friend of someone I knew in a Bible study I was teaching. She was facing some tough personal issues that I felt were beyond my experience. At almost the same time, another person I was just getting to know, opened up to me about having been raped more than a year before.

After looking for a Christian counselor locally and finding no one, I widened my search and finally located one living about 40 miles away. Both women went there for counseling and were helped, but it bothered me that they had to drive so many miles on back country roads to receive the help they needed.

As I recognized the need for a Christian counselor in my community, I enrolled at a University to begin work toward a Master’s degree in counseling.  With 3 growing kids at home and a husband who traveled A LOT for his job–I studied the major schools of psychology, with the idea of  integrating the best of those methods with the wisdom of Scripture.  However, soon after starting my internship, I discovered that the secular base of psychology tended to undermine the strength of biblical wisdom.  It was that realization that led to developing Journey Notes Praise Journaling and the counseling approach I have used for 25 years.

Helping Clients look at themselves and their problems
by interfacing with the Scriptures, has proven to be extremely helpful
to those who embrace the process.

So why did I decide to write about this? To encouraged you to not be afraid to minister to the people God puts on your path with the wisdom of the Scriptures..Here’s where I went wrong:

  • Once I got counseling help for those two precious women, I continued to pray for them–but backed off from trying to help them . . . fearing that I might “undo” whatever therapy they were receiving.
  • I didn’t think about it at the time, but in doing that, I diminished the value of Scripture in my mind as I looked to psychology to provide the help that was needed.*

It was true that the two women I was trying to help DID need, “more than a cup of tea” (or simply a good listening ear.)

So how can you move forward? Here are my thoughts:

  • Make prayer for your friend a priority.
  • Commit to bringing God into the center of every conversation you have with your friend, by asking your them to list 3 things they are thankful to God for. (This can seem impossible at first, but it helps to break up the negatively skewed thinking that feeds anxiety and depression.)
  • Encourage your friend to start doing Journey Notes to help them draw closer to God as you do the same. (I promise, it won’t hurt and you’ll actually grow too!)
  • When you get together, talk about what God is showing each of you through the Journey Notes process.
  • Be sure to share some of your praises and close your time together with both of you giving thanks to God for His faithfulness.

I like the picture of God’s plan for relationships illustrated in Ecclesiastes 4:

“Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of THREE STRANDS is not quickly broken.”
(Verses 9, 10 & 12)

God’s intent for relationships is blessing–as we share in our labor or help one another when needs arise. Yet, the larger blessing in relationships comes when we bring God into the center of how we relate to one another as that powerful THIRD STRAND .Speaking from experience, when we bring Christ into the center of our thinking in how we relate to others, blessings abound.

In the end this is what I learned: Being a good listener–as in sharing a cup of tea--when someone who is hurting can be helpful . . . but it has its limitations. Helping them look outside of themselves to God and the Scriptures, however, is to encourage them to discover boundless hope and joy in a God who is faithful . . . Always.

All to His Glory!

*To be clear: In a fallen, largely unbelieving world, psychology has its place and can be helpful. But that should never negate the value of Christians helping others look to the wisdom of Scripture and relying.on God’s Spirit to minister to the human heart and mind.

Back to the Basics: Love is . . . .

It never ceases to amaze me how God uses the simple, very basic elements in life, to deepen our perspective on what is most important.   You know, those everyday essentials we take for granted (until there is about to be a shortage.  Things like . . . air . . . water . . . or even a half-roll of . . . toilet paper?  Yes, toilet paper:

Love is sacrificial . . . .
Love is sacrificial . . . .

It was while traveling with my recently retired husband that my latest back-to-the-basics lesson began.  Having poured over a book called, Drives of a Lifetime*for almost a year, we had decided to try to follow some of the routes described in the book.  It took us three days to reach our first target: the “Illinois River Road” near Peoria.  We chose a somewhat remote campground to use as a base for our three days of exploring.  The campground was small and had only one toilet and shower to be shared.  But it was brand new.  It was so new it wasn’t completed.  It had hot and cold water (a definite “yay”) and smelled of fresh pine because of its newness.  However, the wiring was not connected, so we needed a flashlight not only to get to the facility at night, but also to use it.  But wasn’t a huge deal for us.  The only real problem we saw, was the single roll of toilet paper sitting on the back of the commode that had only about fifteen squares remaining on it. With no manager to ask about a fresh supply (he lived at an undisclosed location), we resolved to use the half-roll of toilet paper we had buried in our camper for just such an emergency.

All went well in our trekking to and from the bathroom, except I found myself trying to hide our treasure as I carried it–especially after the roll still on the back of the commode had been reduced to about three squares.

It was after lunch on the second day, that I heard that “still small Voice” speak to my heart, “Love thy neighbor, Kathie.”

Recognizing immediately that the thought was not my own, I tried to ignore it.  I managed about three steps toward our campsite before being overwhelmed by conviction.  Only then did I finally responded, “Love my neighbor, Lord?”

The response was gentle, yet firm, “Love thy neighbor.” 

I stood on the path, embarrassed by my selfishness, as the next thought came: Love is Sacrifice.”

A myriad of thoughts went through my head I pondered the disconnect between my selfishness, love and sacrifice.  I realized that when the Apostle Paul wrote about the attributes of love in I Corinthians 13 –“love is” patience, kindness, protective of the welfare of others . . .–at the foundation any of such love-reflecting responses to my neighbor (even to those I may not know), is a call to sacrifice.   Christian love is not a feeling.  Christ-centered love is a deliberate setting aside of our personal needs or desires, for the benefit of someone else.  Love IS Sacrifice.

As I made an about-face, returning to the bathroom, I admit feeling a bit sheepish.  But, as I intentionally placed the half-roll of toilet paper on the back of the commode, it became for me an altar of sacrifice before the God who saved me for Himself.  As I stepped out into the sunlight, leaving my treasure behind me, I felt a wry smile break out across my face at the thought of how loving my neighbor sacrificially gave me a taste of freedom that was sweet indeed.

Be it in large or small ways, love often requires sacrifice.
What is the basis of such love?
Our love for the God, whose Son sacrificially paid the ransom for our freedom.

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as beloved children,
and walk in love, just as Christ loved us and
gave Himself up for us as a fragrant sacrificial offering to God.”

Ephesians 5:1, 2

Is there anything you’re holding onto in your heart; anything that is getting in the way of truly loving God?  If yes, surrender it NOW as you lean on Him to love your neighbor as He so freely has loved you.

All to His Glory!

Continue reading “Back to the Basics: Love is . . . .”

Simple Kindness, Prayerfully Applied . . . .

It wasn’t until we lived in England, that I learned there is a difference between niceness and kindness.  As one friend put it, “Kathie, ice cream is ‘nice’, kindness goes deeper.”  Looking at several dictionaries this morning, I found the distinction between the two terms is best understood by considering what is at the root of what niceness and kindness do and do not communicate:

Niceness: Synonyms–befitting, correct, decent, well-bred, proper, polite, respectable, seemly.  Antonyms–improper, inappropriate, incorrect, indecent, indecorous, unbecoming, ungenteel, unseemly

Kindness:  Synonyms–benevolence, courtesy, grace, indulgence, favor, mercy, service.  Antonyms: coldheartedness, hard-heartedness, inhumanity, inhumanness, mercilessness, pitilessness

Niceness can tend to be a bit flashy (i.e. “Look at what I just did!”), kindness is more simply applied as it focuses on the needs of others.  It all boils down to this:

Love is kind . . . .
Love is kind . . . .

Niceness is about outward appearances,
Simple kindness, is often sacrificial as it reflects what is in the heart.
Simple kindness is a fruit of God’s Spirit.
Simple kindness, prayerfully applied, is rooted in God’s love. 
“It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,

it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” 

I Corinthians 13:5

When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus told a story about two societal “nice guys” and another man, viewed a societal reject in that day, who none-the-less, demonstrated simple kindness:

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him  . . . beat him and . . . left him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He . . . bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’  (Luke 10:30-35)

Jesus then asked this very important question,

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (verse 36)

The “expert in the law” responded to Jesus’ question–avoiding even mentioning the word, “Samaritan”–answered,  “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him (and continues to tell us), “Go and do likewise.”  (verse 37)

The Scriptures continue to call you and I to,

GO . . . “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:29),

GO . . . “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”  (Romans 12:10)

GO . . . “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

What I have learned this week as I have thought about kindness is that:

To act in the simple kindness of Christ, does not require a lot of fanfare,
but for it to be truly effective as a fruit of God’s Spirit,
prayer is essential.

In my last post I wrote about the Duggar’s, a Christian family featured on a reality TV program called, Nineteen Kids and Counting.  Normally I would not write about people on a television program, but as I have watched this family be (essentially) ‘beaten and left for dead’ by elements of the societal elite of our day, I have been challenged to think about MY role in their story.  Am I one of the “nice guys” full of self-importance, who says, “Too bad for them”, as I continue on my busy way?  Or, do I stop and apply simple kindness by praying for the family and asking, “God, what would you have me do?”  

How about you?  Are there people or situations that you are aware of, but manage to “pass by on the other side”, because you feel like you cannot take on one more thing?  Perhaps you avoid listening to the news (like I sometimes do) because it is always seems to be so . . . dare I say it? . . . not very nice.  What I am learning is that, although the world is not a nice place to live and sometimes is even scary, simple kindness applies prayer to every situation, looking to Christ for wisdom as to when and how to help.  Simple kindness challenges each one of us to set aside fear, and even our busyness, as we learn what living by faith is truly all about.  

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
Colossians 3:12 & 17

All to His Glory!

Hearts + Chocolate = Love . . . REALLY?

It was fun perusing Facebook last weekend to see what others had received on Valentine’s Day–flowers, chocolates and other gifts.  However, it was the comments written by single friends that touched me.  For many, our cultural emphasis so strongly bent on romantic love, makes the occasion a painful irritant to get through.  While there is nothing sacred about the day, I do believe that to remember the history behind the occasion provides a wonderful opportunity for Christians to love neighbors, friends and family “more deeply from the heart.” (I Peter 1:22)

I was grateful on that same day to find three posts (also on Facebook) that offered a healthier, more thoughtful way to rethink our approach to Valentines Day as a means of blessing others:

  • The first post was a blatant reminder of the gap between how our culture celebrates loving through romanticism, and the actual basis of Valentine’s Day–sacrificial love.  While our culture has largely reduced our understanding in commemorating the occasion with formula of Hearts + Chocolate = Love–Really?–we can richly benefit from the treasury of sacrificial love demonstrated by a man who truly loved God and his neighbors. 

“Greater love has no one than this,
that someone lay down his life for his
friends.”

John 15:13 (ESV)

  • The second post was a cartoon, taken from the cover of New Yorker magazine.  I totally related to the worry and doubt on the man’s face as he stared at the series of deadbolts and locks lining the inside of his door. Yet, when I saw the Valentine that someone had slipped in despite all off his precautions, I found it to be a healthy reminder that, while we may be tempted to hide in uncertain times, Christians are called to reach out t0 others in the love, hope and mercy of Christ.  Years ago I was challenged by a question someone asked, “If you were accused of being a Christian in a court of law, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”  Rather than allowing fear to rule us, we are called to love and serve others as we live out the gospel of hope.

    It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."  I Corinthians 13:7-8
    It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
    Love never fails.” I Corinthians 13:7-8

“And now these three remain:
faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is LOVE.”
I Corinthians 13:13

  • The last post was very personal.  My second daughter, Amy, put up pictures of her family observing  Valentine’s Day in the tradition that developed as our family grew. When my children were small and we were living in England, I helped my daughters (then, ages seven and almost five) make heart-shaped baskets “woven” out of contrasting colored construction paper. We loaded the baskets with handmade valentine cards and small, heart-shaped candies imprinted with such messages as, “love” and “be mine.” Early the next morning, the girls and I left those baskets hanging on the door knobs of our landlord and several neighbors who had become friends. We snuck off quickly, leaving no trace of our identities . . . or so we thought! Later that morning I received several telephone calls, thanking us for the baskets. Puzzled, I asked how they knew it was us? One friend laughingly put it this way, “I saw it hanging on the door and thought, ‘It was the Americans!’. . . we don’t celebrate Valentines Day in this country!”  (It never occurred to me that Valentine’s Day was not universal!)  My children still have fond memories of the parties we threw to love neighbors and friends on Valentine’s Day.
Brother loving brother . . .
Brother loving brother . . .

It was after returning to the States and our children entered their teens that I proactively morphed our family tradition to a more personal level.  The change was prompted when picking up my oldest daughter as a freshman in high school.  It was Valentine’s Day and I was shocked to see so many girls walking out of the school carrying bouquets of flowers, balloons, stuffed animals and other “gifts” that had been delivered to them in school from their boy friends. (In a culture that is so focused on building self-esteem, I find it astounding that such a practice was (or is) even allowed!)  Desiring to override the confusion of equating self-worth and being loved by trivial gifts, we shifted gears within our family.  From that time until our children finally left home we made Valentines Day a special day we all looked forward to:

  1. Special cards were made for one another that were affirming to that sibling or parent that was especially esteemed–“I appreciate how you . . . . “
  2. We dressed up to share our meal in the dining room, where the table was set with our best dishes and candles we burning.
  3. Dinner was kept simple but special since it usually was a week-day.
  4. After finishing our meal came the best part: when we opened the cards stacked at the top of each place-setting we had made earlier.  Every card was read aloud and enjoyed as we took time to love each other.

It was interesting this week when I asked my children (long out of the family nest with families of their own) about their memories of those times.  They all said they enjoyed and looked forward to our family celebration.  The memory we all still laugh about was a card Luke (our youngest) made for Amy (at the time Luke was probably eleven and Amy almost 15) that said, “Dear Amy, I appreciate it when you leave me alone!”  (That one kind of slipped under the radar of what we hoped to accomplish, but it definitely reflected the tension between siblings and their parents so it was allowed.)  Another comment I heard, was how reading positive comments from their family at a time when the tensions of daily life seemed to prevail, was an especially sweet gift.

No matter what your circumstance may be, whether you are young, old, married or single, if you are a Christian I write to encourage you to consider looking beyond yourself for opportunities to love others.  We live in a hurting and increasingly dangerous world that tempts us to run, but if we will live our lives intentionally and sacrificially as a reflection of our love for God and others, the rewards will truly be out of this world!  Hearts + Chocolate = Love?  No way!

All to His Glory!

Meaningful Encouragement in a Hurting World~

 
 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him.  Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
I Thessalonians 5:10, 11

Do you see people who are hurting but feel intimidated or unsure about how to reach out to them?  More to the point, how can we as Christians offer meaningful encouragement to a hurting world?  Before answering these questions, I invite you to think about the definition of encouragement:

Encouragement, according to the online Oxford Dictionary, is defined as:

    • The action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope.
    • Persuasion to do or to continue something (To not be a quitter!)
    • The act of trying to stimulate the development of an activity, state, or belief

True encouragement, does not tell someone what we think they want to hear–encouragement is not about “warm fuzzies!”

Christian encouragement speaks truth in love, to build courage and strengthen the one in need with the hope and assurance of Christ Jesus.   

There are times when I wonder if Christians are intimidated by our “politically correct” culture to the point where we are afraid to to love as we have been loved?  Have we abdicated our biblical responsibility to love our neighbor by relying on “professionals” to deal with the messy lives of others?  (I in no way mean to denigrate the need for mental health professionals.  Sadly, the need for such services will continue to be great in this world until Christ returns.)

What I am suggesting is that as a Biblical Counselor, I take seriously the responsibility of helping each Client I serve look at themselves and their problems as God sees them with the help of the Scriptures and prayer.  The thing is, every follower of Christ bears such a responsibility to whomever God puts on their path.  I write this not to scare you (truly!) but to encourage you to use what WE have–the Scriptures and prayer–to offer meaningful encouragement to the hurting people around you.  How?  By looking to God for the wisdom and courage we lack.

A good place to gain the perspective we need to help others is Philippians 2:1-4.  The Apostle Paul, encouraged his friends with these words:  

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (2:1-4)

As you reflect on Paul’s words, what stands out to you?  I see encouragement, comfort and unity in Christ as what draws us together.  Once we are drawn into Christ, tenderness, compassion and our joy in Him frees us to love others as a reflection of the grace He has extended to us.

In essence, Paul encourages us to keep Christ central in our motivation as we are freed to love others in humility and in faith.

 The result? A formula for meaningful encouragement in a hurting world where we:

  • Make prayer for and with those who are hurting a priority.*  As you pray for their needs pray also:
    • With thanks to God for their lives and for the fact that He is watching over them even now.
    • Give thanks that no matter how dark things may seem, God’s intent for them is blessing–that their faith will deepen as they trust in Him.
    • Give thanks for Christ’s sacrifice made on our behalf as a meaningful way of gaining the courage and perspective needed to face every challenge.
  • Dig into the Scriptures prayerfully, asking God for a teachable heart.  (Consider Journey Notes Praise Journaling if you don’t have something in place.)   Think in terms of application as well as inspiration as you read, Then, as God ministers to your heart, pass on what you learn to those whom you desire to encourage.
  • Better yet, encourage the person you want to encourage to also dig and pray.  Then arrange a time to get together to share insights gained and pray together.  When you get together be sure you both share at least three things you are thankful to God for.  (There’s no doubt about it, we humanly gain strength when our focus is more on God’s gracious provision rather than on what we lack.)

The Bible is full of meaningful encouragement that offers the wisdom and perspective we need to help others navigate through the worst of times with the love and hope we have received from the gospel of Christ.  .

All to His Glory!

*Many years ago a friend told me about meeting Corrie Ten Boom (author of The Hiding Place.)  My friend told Corrie about her sister who was being held behind the (then) Iron Curtain.  My friend related that they were in the middle of a room full of people when she felt herself suddenly pulled down on her knees as Corrie said, “We must take this to our Lord right away!”  That story has been an encouragement to me for many years to make prayer a priority when I see someone who is hurting.  I cannot get down on my knees but I have been known to put my arm around someone who is hurting to pray for them.