Beware the Thorns of Bitterness ~

 “Life is thickly sown with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to pass quickly through them.  The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.  ~Voltaire~

I enjoy working in our garden as the seasons change and delight in seeing the deep red of cardinals contrast against the glistening white of a first snow.  There have been times, when I have been lost in thought while clearing a spot for something new to be planted, that I have been surprised to hear the hungry ‘peep, peep, peep’ of newly hatched chicks coming from a nest that I did not know was even there!  In recent years, we have had several families of robins raised in amongst the thorns of a climbing rose that grows against the back of our garage.  The amazing thing is that the thorns on that climbing rose are absolutely wicked! Even when I wear my leather gardening gloves to cut some of its crimson blooms, I still often suffer a painful jab or stinging prick despite my precautions.  For a long time l wondered at the placement of the nest among those nasty thorns, but have realized that while nests in other parts of our garden have been raided by bigger birds, the robin’s nest remains unscathed.  It would appear, that those wicked thorns actually have shielded several generations of robins in our garden from outside predators! .

Yet, where the rose thorns serve to protect our robin fledglings, when people give reign to the prickly thorns of bitterness in the “garden” of their lives for self-protection, the opposite is true.  Instead of protection, such self-reliance often ends up becoming a prison of isolation as depression and loss of hope darken the senses.  The chilling result of depending on any resource other than God for protection is well expressed in Jeremiah 17:5 & 6,

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.”

Having battled depression several times in my life, I have experienced the awfulness of that lonely wasteland.   I know what it is to be blind to any provision of kindness from God as I have been overwhelmed by bitter despair.  I also know the blessing of His forgiveness as I have confessed my foolish sin and sought His help in dealing with my problems.  Indeed, I have learned to heed the warning to guard our hearts from serving idols given in I John 5:21 (The New Living Translation):

“Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.”

Idols can take a variety of forms, many of them appearing quite reasonable.   When we serve idols such as self-justification, they take God’s rightful place in our hearts.  Ultimately they lead us to doubt God’s goodness, when it is we who have abandoned Him!  I ache for Clients who come in with wounds that have never healed because bitterness had held sway far too long.  The truth is that the thorns of bitterness are at the root of much of depression.  Bitterness deepens scars rather than bringing about healing.

So is there a remedy?  Yes . . . and no.  It all depends on who we choose to trust–Ourselves or God?  If you are looking to go deeper in your faith and desire to be healed of the bitterness that has been a damaging influence in the “garden” of your life for all too long:

  1. Go to God in humility and faith; confess your sin of handling past hurts and disappointments in your strength instead of HIS.
  2. Ask Him to touch your mind and heart to begin the healing process that has been put off far too long.
  3. Give thanks daily for His forgiveness and His faithfulness as you move forward in obedience and faith.
  4. Enjoy His Presence and Peace daily as you stay close to Him through prayer and reading the Scripture.*

Consider these Scriptures for the help you to move forward:

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:43-45a)

“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.”  Hebrews 12:15

And finally, Roman’s 12:17-21 assures us that when we forgive God’s justice will none-the-less prevail against those who remain unrepentant:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Be encouraged and enjoy the light of His love . . . .

All to His Glory!

*The Journey Notes Praise Journaling process was designed to help Clients get back on the right path–check it out!

The Secret to Aging Well . . . .

If old grapes become prized as fine wine after aging over time and old furniture  increases in value as it is deemed to be antique, why do we have so little regard for people as they age? Living in a culture that celebrates youth and regards aging as something to delay or stop altogether, I fear that we have lost sight of the wisdom and perspective that can only be gained with time and experience.   I wonder if:

  • In our quest to avoid appearing older, we do ourselves a disservice in denying not only our own mortality but also our Creator?  
  • As we absorb ourselves with appearing outwardly young, are we leaving undiscovered the potential richness of character grown over time as we entrust ourselves to God as we age?
  • Have we, in our self-absorption, not only lost sight of God with our warped outlook but also lost the secret to aging well?

Of course, not all grapes become fine wine and most furniture either breaks, is worn out or discarded long before it could be categorized as antique.  The same can be said about people, except that inanimate objects have no choice as they age but you and I do.  The Scriptures teach that at the end of our days we will have to give an account to God as to how we have lived and the choices we have made.

So, is there such a thing as aging well?  I cannot speak to you as any sort of authority except to say that, like you, I continue to be a work in process.   However, the Scriptures have much to teach us to help keep our priorities straight:

  1. In I Samuel 16:7 we gain insight into how vastly different God’s priorities are from ours:  “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him.  For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”  Our lesson?  Go to God with an open and contrite heart; admit your need to for His help to make your heart right before Him.
  2. Starting NOW, give thanks to Him for the hope that is ours because of what Jesus accomplished on your behalf and mine.  Determine to live each day as Jesus directed in Mark 10:15, 16, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And He took the children in His arms, placed His hands on them and blessed them.”  

There is no formula or magic potion to help us age well, but attitude is certainly important.  What truly pleases God (no matter what our age) is a simple, trusting faith that opens heart, mind and soul to Him.  I don’t know when or how I learned it, but I have found this classic children’s prayer to be helpful for nearly six decades when life has been especially tough and I have been at a loss as to how to pray:

“Now I lay me down to sleep,
    I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
    I pray the Lord my soul to take . . . .”

It is a scary prayer to pray, sobering even for a child of seven.  I still hesitate before reciting the words, “If I should die before I wake . . . . “  as I am reminded of my own mortality before a holy God.  Part of me wants to pull back out of fear, but I am still compelled to push past those fears because of Christ’s faithfulness.  Even now, as I pray those words I choose to trust my Creator, surrendering my body . . . my mind . . . and my soul to Him.

So what is the secret to aging well?  I believe it is the mysterious working of God’s Spirit and His Word in those willing to trust Him:

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”  Hebrews 4:12, 13

It is faith lived out on a daily basis that demonstrates a life lived well at any age.

“May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.  I Thessalonians 5:23, 24

All to His Glory!

 

When Life Gets Wonky . . . Perspective is Everything!

My friend Peggy laughed the other day when I told her about my “wonky” vision.  “Wonky? Kathie, what kind of word is that?”  Peggy was right to laugh!  Yet at that moment it seemed to best express how the world appeared to me– blurred, slightly off-kilter, full of shadows and fading away– wonky! For months, I struggled to read the fine print on packages and containers and then it got to the point where even regular print was difficult to read.  I bought a large print Bible, but it also became increasingly difficult as the words I attempted to read seemed to mush together.  As my sight deteriorated, I became forgetful and disorganized; processing my thoughts became an almost overwhelming task.   Reading was no longer a joy, yet the hardest part for me was when the process of writing lost its spark and I had to stop.  I never realized how, for me, putting words on a page is interwoven with reading (seeing), thinking and praying!  I wondered, was this it?  Had the creative window to encouraging others with the words our Creator used to encourage me been closed for good?

I finally made an appointment to get my eyes checked, thinking I needed a stronger prescription for my glasses.   It was a shock when, a week before my husband and I left to visit our son and daughter-in-law in China, I found out I needed to have cataract surgery when we returned home.  The lenses in my eyes had become cloudy and darkened over time and needed to be replaced.  (Am I that old?!!)  Due to the advances in medical technology, I have been told that replacing the lens in the human eye is a fairly easy surgery.  If all goes well I should end up seeing almost as good as I did when I was when I was in my twenties!

Having to delay the surgery because of our scheduled trip meant extra time to think about what I would do if something went wrong; what if I lost sight in one or both of my eyes?  What then?  I struggled as I faced the question we all must face when life gets wonky–will we trust God for our daily sustenance and for our future–even when things do not go as we want?  Or, will we trust in technological advances and hope for the best?  In asking these questions I in no way mean to disregard the benefits of technology.   Every morning I walk down the stairs of our home I marvel at the wonder of walking pain-free because of my knee-replacement installed seven years ago!  What I am saying is that to forget the Source of all that is right and good in this world is to diminish the true wonder of the blessings received through technology.  Perhaps more importantly, to forget the Source of what is right and good is to lose sight of the wisdom and perspective needed when life gets wonky and technology fails us.

I love the perspective provided in the Book of Job when God finally responds to the complaints and accusations made by Job and his friends:

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:
“Who is this that obscures My plans
with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer Me.
 
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?
 
“Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place,
that it might take the earth by the edges
and shake the wicked out of it?
The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
its features stand out like those of a garment.
The wicked are denied their light,
and their upraised arm is broken.
 
“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?
Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasonsc
or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
Do you know the laws of the heavens?
Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?
(Job 38:1-7, 12-15 & 32-33)

Last Wednesday I had the first surgery replacing the lens in my right eye.  It went well and I have to admit I was more than a little tickled when I opened my eyes Thursday morning and could read the time on the clock on our bedroom wall!  For now, my vision is still a little wonky with my mismatched eyes but at least reading is less a struggle and I can write again!  My second surgery is scheduled for next week and I can hardly wait to find out what God has in store because I know and trust His Plan for you and me (no matter what happens) is right and good!

All to His Glory!

“Continue To Do Good . . . “

What are we to do when evil strikes and when life does not make sense?  How are we to respond to someone who slaps us hard and looks at us with eyes of hate; when there is no apparent remorse for what has been done?  It is tempting to try to hide from evil, to pull away from a world fraught with danger until things clear and we feel safe again.  Truthfully, that is my first response when life gets hard.  However, rather than curl up and hide, I have learned in my Christian walk to take a deep breath and respond to whatever challenge faced (be it my own or when helping someone else) according to the simple direction of 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.”

As the events of 9/11/2001 took place, I remember begging God for wisdom and perspective all that day and into the night.  I felt tormented and did not know how to respond to such evil.  Finally, as I was going to bed exhausted and confused these words came to me:  “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  God is good.”  (The first part is from Romans 12:9b; the second served as a reminder as to where I could safely put my trust.)  A sense of relief flooded my mind and heart as I reflected on the simple clarity imparted through those words.  As I went to sleep I remember how the words continued to work through my mind and heart: “Hate what is evil . . . cling to what is good . . . God is good . . . .”  I slept peacefully that night, finding my resting place in the hands of a loving God who is worthy of my trust despite the chaos in the world.

Since then, those words have continued to echo in my mind and heart, even as evil has continued to lurk and destroy.  I have continued to see God’s goodness still holding the upper hand.  This week though, I felt myself stumble inwardly as the tragedy in Boston took place and as I counseled three women hurt by the pain of rejection and betrayal.  What to do?  Deep down I realized I was tired of the hurting and done with the unfair suffering imposed on innocent people by the sin of others.  Even so, I had to smile when the words came to my mind, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God . . . . ”  My response was what I have learned to do, I took a deep breath and ran to the Scriptures, this time with my Clients.  Focusing on I Peter 3:8 through the end of Chapter 4, it was the final verse that settled into our minds and hearts as it rendered this simple clarity and assurance:

“So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

What would God have us do when bad things happen; when we are treated unfairly or betrayed by others?  Are you tired and feel as if you have nothing left to give?  God has cleared a simple path for you and me as He urges us to  “continue to do good” by hating what is evil and clinging to Him for the strength and mercy we need to speak and act in love.  We live in a fallen world, full of heartache and confusion; a world no different from the one two thousand years ago that rejected and betrayed its only Hope.  God was faithful then and He continues to be now so . . . continue to do good as we trust HIM to deal with the ugliness of sin in this fallen world.  Truly, HE IS WORTHY OF YOUR TRUST!  

All to His Glory!

“My Sheep Listen To My Voice”

I was two years old when my father was called to fight in the Korean War.  I have no memory of when he left, but I definitely remember him picking me up and hugging me over a year later when he returned to us at the Navy dock in San Diego, California.  Korea changed Dad.  He suffered severe frostbite on his legs and feet so he walked like he was walking on broken glass.  Also, he rarely slept more than four hours a night because of the nightmares that plagued him.   Early on I remember his hands shaking from what they called “nerves,” and he could not walk into a darkened movie theater for many years.  (Dad said it reminded him of the night he had to keep running along a steep ridge as he and his fellow Marines were shot at from either side.  Anyone shot had to be left, because the enemy was so close they “could hear them breathing.”)   It was rough carrying so many memories of war, but Dad worked hard and did his best to provide for our family.

My dad and I - Feb. 2013.
My dad and I – Feb. 2013.

Eventually, my parents worked to build a successful dry cleaning business.   While Dad cleaned and pressed the clothes, Mom did alterations of all sorts.  My brother and I helped Dad take care of customers, marked in clothes and put orders together when we weren’t in school.   To most people, Dad’s handwriting on their receipts was an almost indecipherable scribble, but after working together for so many years and because I loved Dad, it became as familiar to me as my own.  Almost fifty years later that proved to be an asset when I transcribed ninety-two of the letters Dad wrote to Mom during the year he was gone.  I must admit there were challenges (some letters I had to hold up to a light to make out the faded writing.)  But for me, it was a labor of love as I imagined Dad writing home from such a hostile environment.  As I carefully opened each letter, unfolded the fragile paper and started to read, it was as if I could hear his voice speaking through time.  To be honest, I believe transcribing Dad’s letters was one of the most worthwhile things I will ever do for our family.  His letters reveal the character of a young family man who wanted to be home but learned to love and care about the men he served with.  To this day, he can still tell you the names of many who “didn’t make it” back to their families.

Just as I recognized Dad’s “voice” speaking from a time when I was small, I believe Jesus was referring to a similar familial connection when He responded to the questions of some men who rejected Him as God’s Son in John 10:27-30,

“My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one.” 

When Jesus came to this earth He knowingly stepped into enemy territory, a spiritual battle fraught with danger, to save those who would listen to His voice for eternity.  In my last post I wrote about Connecting Your Story with His.

It is as we connect our stories with His though faith, that we learn to listen and recognize the voice of the Shepherd of our souls.

Do you have such a connection?  Do you recognize His voice as He speaks to your heart?  Then embrace the miracle of a changed heart and mind; remember the battle waged that ultimately secured your redemption.  If you do not know the voice of the Shepherd but desire to, then answer His invitation given in Mark 1:15,

“The time has come,” He said.  “The Kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the Good News!”

His Sacrifice given on your behalf and mine proves He is worthy of our trust . . .

Happy Easter!

Connecting Your Story With His~

Everyone has a story to tell:

you . . .

me . . .

everyone.

While in my role as a Counselor I count it a privilege to listen to the stories of every person I serve, it is my goal to help every Client connect their story to the larger story of God’s Plan being worked out in their lives.  That is why I do not place a huge emphasis on going through every single nuance of what contributed to why a new Client seeks help.   Instead, my priority in each Session is to help each Client connect their story to Scripture early and often.  Why?

Because the wisdom and perspective of the Bible combined with the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit in the human heart, provides the best source of healing there is.

In my weekly Bible study we just finished studying Job, which is actually a story within a story.  It begins with a straightforward introduction:

“In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.”  

Job was a godly man who was wealthy, respected and loved his kids.  Life was sweet, but things were about to change.  Six verses into the first chapter, a conversation takes place between God (who loves and esteems Job) and Satan.  Job is never privy to the conversation that will result in the loss of his wealth, his children and his health.   I won’t go into the details of the story except to say that it is full of drama as Job suffers the pain of loss in every area of his life.  What compounds Job’s suffering are the accusations of his so-called “friends” who insist that Job or his children committed some hidden sin.  Job insists that he has nothing to repent of.  In 19:25-27 he makes this declaration in his painful anguish:

I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and that in the end He will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see Him
    with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!

In the end, Job had to repent of doubting God’s goodness in his sufferings.  In doing that, God’s purposes for Job were accomplished as he comes out of the experience with a deeper appreciation and confidence in his Creator.

“I know that You can do all things;
     no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
My ears had heard of You
    but now my eyes have seen You.
Therefore I despise myself
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

 Job’s story connected with God’s larger story as Job learned to trust God no matter what.  And do you know what?  That is exactly what God wants for you and me.  

In this season of remembrance of the death and resurrection of our Savior Redeemer, it is my prayer that we will look at suffering differently.  My prayer is that as we remember the sufferings of Christ on our behalf we will look at whatever trial we face as an opportunity to connect our stories with His.  The Apostle John wrote in his first letter (2:1,2),

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

All to His Glory!