What are you on fire for?

It is not uncommon in conversation with other believers, for me to say I am “on fire for the Lord”. Now I don’t mean that in a Christian-ese sort of way or certainly not in the same way some white modern-day Evangelicals would see advancing their political platform as evidence of being on fire for the Lord. Conversely, being on fire for the Lord to me means standing for the same things – and the same people: the marginalized, vulnerable, and disengaged – that Jesus did when he walked this earth. In the words of my favorite Psalm, being on fire for the Lord means defending truth, humility, and justice.

In your majesty, ride out to victory,
defending truth, humility, and justice.
Go forth to perform awe-inspiring deeds! — Psalm 45:4 (NLT)

When it comes to counseling – which is really about defending truth, humility, and justice in self, I am on fire – like super passionate, all-in, believe in it so deeply – for Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). For those of us who struggle with emotional regulation, DBT offers the skills training and tools for individuals to learn mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interactive skills to promote decision making out of a wise mind that takes into account both emotions and logical thinking, improves the ability to sit with stress awhile and both manage and communicate feelings that rise out of mindful self-awareness (truth), reaching into the tool box (humility), and having a healthy voice for your needs (justice).

As I wait for my NJ State LAC (Licensed Associate Counselor) license to be approved – likely in September, I am living with a tension now about how to proceed as I lie in waiting to do what I most desire doing and consider the dialectic at the other end of the spectrum – the financial pressure of needing a job soon. My approach is one of prayer – reminding myself of God’s faithfulness in leading me thus far, and mindfulness to intentionally find a balance that honors the value in both ends of the dialectic for now, keeping me in wise mind and using tools to regulate the emotions, doubts, fears that creep in.

My niece texted me this morning to say she had just watched this incredible 9-year old blow away the judges and audience at America’s Got Talent with a rendition of “This Girl is on Fire”, a random and unusual text from her so of course I had to look. It was a gift from God that inspired all I need to be reminded me of today to stick with my values and my gut … THIS GIRL is on fire for the Lord and for emotion regulation therapies, and that’s just who I am. Loved the end note from one of the judges who pushed the gold buzzer – it was like affirmation reigning down from the Lord when he said, “You are the chosen one!” Yes indeed, we are God’s chosen ones and He has a purpose and plan for each of us.

What are you on fire for?

Spiritual Autobiography – God’s Revelation

My son came for a few months over the summer and it was a visit unlike any other we had had. There was an ease about our conversation and I recognized how comfortable I felt asking him questions, knowing that God had used Group Therapy to shape a new relationship between us. We were different because I was different. He began asking me questions about mental health and ties between substance use and depression. It appeared to me as though my internship at Samaritan Daytop Village gave me credibility in his eyes, that my presumed knowledge or experience in the field opened doors to his questions and his vulnerability with me. I noticed heavy alcohol use while he was with me – a few times when he called me to pick him up, he was drunk and apologetic. And he enjoyed playing softball on Sundays with his old high school friends, and loved to have me go to his games. But I noticed he would drink 8, maybe 10 beers during a game, sometimes taking a beer can out in the field with him.

I recognized that he was likely in the throes of addiction – probably always has been and has only progressed his substance use since high school when I used to do battle with him. He hadn’t changed, only I changed – I stopped asking “parental questions” and looking for signs, out of sight, out of mind – I told myself he’s an adult and has a right to lead his own life. When I backed out of the parent-child relationship, the cost was backing out of relationship altogether with him … instead of building a healthy adult to adult relationship. As I prayed about the situation and how I might intervene in a helpful way now that the door seemed open, I could almost feel God telling me, “Now you know why I led you to your internship site”.

I had an initial conversation with my son that was refreshingly open and honest on both sides. It was the first time I had talked directly – and non-judgmentally – with him about his substance use, and shared what I now knew about significant risk factors for him because of my own family history of substance abuse, gambling addictions, and mental health issues. I was able to ask him specific questions learned at the outpatient substance abuse treatment center where God placed me to assess the stage of change he was at and level of treatment that would be helpful if he was open to it. Perhaps most poignant, I was able to voice that I wanted more for him, that I wanted him to feel well physically and mentally, that I wanted him to know it wasn’t a moral failure on his part, but there was a heavy genetic predisposition to addiction because of multi-generational family patterns and tracks laid down in the brain as a result of past use – both compelling forces he had to fight against to gain freedom.

I asked my missional community to pray that God would get ahold of my son’s heart and break any strongholds of addiction, that He would lead us as a family into acceptance rather than judgment or shame. The following Sunday, two unknowing people approached me at church to talk with me about their sons’ struggles with alcohol and drugs. I don’t know if God brought these women across my path to support me or if He is calling me to something greater, but we started a prayer circle and are praying for each other’s sons until we find out what God is up to. It is amazing when we bring our own needs and heartstrings out into the Light what God will do, even as we doubt our ability to make a difference in the situation.

Spiritual Autobiography – Unprocessed Grief

I started at AGSC (Alliance Graduate School of Counseling) the Fall Semester of 2015 and decided to do my required 15 sessions of Individual Counseling that first semester of the program since I was planning on doing the required 12 Group Therapy sessions during the Spring semester. It was difficult as I began uncovering years of unprocessed grief. My therapist noted that I spoke about very painful events in my life with a sense of detachment, almost as though I was narrating someone else’s story. She continued to challenge me to get at my feelings, not just thoughts about events and circumstances. I remember doing an exercise with my therapist that my Theories professor had suggested in class – going back to my childhood home to sit on the edge of my childhood bed and talk to my 10-year old self. I sobbed for about ten minutes straight as I talked to that little girl who had lost her mother, remembering that no one asked her about her feelings ever, no one asked her how she was doing, what she needed, what she missed about her mom.

I thought I had cleared the emotional decks and was ready to jump into group therapy the next semester, but I had no idea how intense that would be, particularly in the midst of an incredibly stressful semester of classes. I was so confused. I didn’t understand what the value was of people confronting each other. It was so unfamiliar to me to be able to speak your truth without risking the love and acceptance and support of the other person. I was getting in touch with my feelings but it was so hard to go on with the rest of life – it seemed like there was never enough time to process all the emotion I was experiencing before the next round. I felt attacked instead of encouraged when I confessed my realization that I loved the relationships I had with some of my younger classmates because they invited my influence whereas my son had always pushed me away in his younger years, and even then rarely accepted my influence. Group members challenged me and it felt harsh.

In The Rest of God Mark Buchanan writes about how we can go on in our lives without healing, becoming quite content with our pain. He says “Restoration meddles with what we’ve learned to handle, removes what we’ve learned to live with, bestows what we’ve learned to live without”. In short, we become adept at living with a gaping wound. It’s our comfortable place and what we embrace as our lot in life, our cross to bear. That painful truth – that I had become skilled at living with a gaping wound, was exposed for me in the course of Group Therapy.

When it became time to look for a Practicum site, I was really bothered that I didn’t get an interview at a Christian health care center and psychiatric hospital when I should have. I had been leading a monthly Parents of Suicide Loss Support Group there and had a relationship with the gentleman accepting internship applications. Other students had interviews set up, and even after the clinical supervisor emailed me to say apologetically that there were no openings for intern slots in the summer, he continued to schedule interviews of classmates I knew and offered them intern positions.

Again, I had to wrestle with the question of having a voice, feeling dismissed … should I call the gentleman to question it or believe God had something different or better for me?  I decided to apply to The Renfrew Center in Ridgewood, but when I disclosed that I had been in treatment for an eating disorder there in 2008, the Clinical Supervisor told me it was against policy to hire a former client as staff or intern.

As I prayed over the list of internship sites, I felt drawn to Daytop Village – an Outpatient Substance Abuse Center for some reason, but I didn’t really want to do substance abuse. I left my corporate job because I thought God was calling me to help adolescents deal with anxiety and depression, not venture into substance abuse counseling.  The nagging draw to Daytop did not go away so I consulted with a former clinical supervisor at the facility who was also an AGSC graduate to ask her about it.

She pretty  much told me I had to decide if I wanted to do substance abuse OR mental health counseling … because they were very different. And I wouldn’t be asking a client at Daytop how they were feeling about something, but more than likely I’d be calling them out about their lies and cover-up of substance use. She suggested that I go for an interview to check it out and see how I felt about it, obviously sage advice before ruling anything out.  Surprisingly, from the moment I walked into Samaritan Daytop Village to interview for an intern position, I felt comfortable, and at ease about the fit for me. But I was still confused about why I landed at this site, working with this population. I started doubting God’s leading just a little bit, and doubting myself too, wondering if I had not heard God clearly about my call to work with anxious, depressed, and suicidal adolescents, if I misunderstood, if my discernment had been way off.

Spiritual Autobiography – Hiding Out

I have been hiding out most of my life – hiding lack of self-worth behind credentials and accomplishments, what I do instead of who I am, hiding loneliness behind an outgoing exterior and sense of humor, a busy schedule, hiding the questions that haunted me  … who will take care of me? And … do I matter?

I was hiding out from my home church where I served as Youth Minister when I heard about The Plant, the church community that has transformed my life. I wanted to worship without some parent asking me about an issue they were having with their teenager or a committee chairperson asking me if the youth could help out with some church event … I pretty much wanted to control the time and way I served in ministry. So I visited a non-denominational Christian church and it happened to be their Missions Sunday when they talked about planting a daughter church, and I became a part of that plant core team in 2008.

I was convinced that God called me to this plant church, but had no idea of the provision He was blessing me with. He gave me both a family and a community that answered those big questions (who will take care of, do I matter?) when I gave them access to my life – they would take care of me and yes, I mattered to them. Sometimes it seems easier to welcome Christ into our heart than to open our life to others, but God in His tender mercies gave me what I fought hard against, but truly needed, for such a long time.

I was growing more and more frustrated in my job. Actually I loved the work I was doing, but struggled with my boss. Oddly there was no problem between us. I felt valued and needed and affirmed in my role in the department. But I was constantly upset about her showing favoritism to some others, the way she talked about some of the managers and admins to me, and her micro-managing of people that were fully capable to run with responsibility.

I started giving more attention to growing my Christian Life Coaching practice, and began attending Writers and Speakers Conferences, convinced I was being called to have a voice for the Lord …  back to that having a voice thing – you’ll know what I mean if you read Spiritual Autobiography Part I.  I went to the Proverbs 31 Ministries’ She Speaks Conference three years in a row for both the speaker and writer tracks, but I became really uncomfortable with some of the accolades I received, particularly from an editor who was interested in a book prospectus I pitched in a meeting with him.

My son created a blog for me to be able to share my words in a more private and less visible forum, and I blogged for quite a while, but again those anxious feelings about the influence God had given me in the lives of my readers crept in. It scared me and I didn’t feel worthy. Did He want me to speak, to write, to blog, to coach for Him? What was He calling me to?

My work situation was growing more unbearable each day and my daughters encouraged me to look for another job and helped me to update my resume. Funny, but in the moment when my heart became willing to make a change, I realized that I didn’t want to go to another company to do the same kind of work. If I was going to make a change, I wanted to go after my dream.  I wanted to go big or go home, as they say.

I began praying about quitting my job and going to AGSC (Alliance Graduate School of Counseling) at Nyack College, having obvious concerns about finances and what I would live on, and I invited many friends and family to pray with me for discernment and leading in the decision. In March of 2015, when my daughter’s good friend and co-worker was killed in a head-on car collision on the way to work, she called me and said “Mom, you gotta do this, you’ve talked about doing counseling for a long time. Don’t wait, we’ll figure out the finances. We gotta trust God on this.”

Spiritual Autobiography – Brokenness

I was the woman at the well, living in isolation, separated from people by the shame of two failed marriages, credit cards maxed out, a closet smoker and yo-yo dieter. I was a single parent of three, struggling financially, in almost constant conflict with my teenage son about his drinking. My entire family was in Wisconsin, and I had distanced myself from friends, thinking they were judging me for not following my husband to Boston for a job he accepted on his own and painfully against my wishes. I felt alone, insecure, like I didn’t matter and everything in my life seemed out of control.

So like the woman at the well who drew water in the heat of the day to avoid facing other women in the early morning, I snuck away to a 5-day Christian weight loss program called Lose it For Life to figure out how to control the one thing I thought I could. The heat that drove me into isolation was shame about the choices I had made in my life and a public image I was desperately trying to keep intact. I somehow believed that if I just lost weight and felt good about the way I looked, no one would discover the real me, broken and falling apart on the inside. I was a businesswoman, a single mom with three smart kids – all good athletes, the Youth Minister that led teens on mission trips, took kids to serve in soup kitchens, small group facilitator, a soccer coach and referee, outgoing, funny, confident, had it all together – that’s the me I let people see.

God got a hold of me at LIFL (Lose It For Life) when a complete stranger I was seated next to invited me to go to the Women of Faith Conference in Philly the following month and stay at her house for the weekend. I was so puzzled at her offer, but came home from WOF on fire for the Lord. It was the first time I ever heard speakers apply God’s promises to their lives and I was encouraged in my own life. I had returned home from Lose It For Life with a plan to fill the holes in my physical, emotional, spiritual and mental life and joined a Community Bible Study, which was the first time I studied the Bible and I thrived on the discussion with other women. I didn’t know until years later that I was filling myself with head knowledge about God, but dying of spiritual heart failure in this season of my life.

In January 2004 at the end of winter break, I wrote a letter to my son telling him I loved him, I stood for him, but I would not have his toxicity in the house any more, or listen to him screaming that he hated me, and I told him he could not come home on college breaks until he was ready to work on our relationship. He reminded me so much of my older brother, who died from a fall off the roof of a 3-story building after free-basing cocaine, and resulted in me parenting out of fear much of the time, afraid I would lose my son the same way. On the 4th of July, I got a call from DC police that my son had been drinking and crashed his car into a pole. He came home and we began to put our relationship back together in typical Midwest fashion – never speaking of the past, moving forward. He was respectful and didn’t push boundaries. The relationship was strained – I was still trying to fix it myself even after turning it over to God. There was no real relationship and a lot of uncomfortable silence.

One summer night in 2007, I woke up to spasms shooting out of my sciatic nerve into my lower back and down my leg. I was in extreme pain, couldn’t do anything comfortably except sit or lay down, and spent 10 weeks home from work only going out to the chiropractor and physical therapy. My self-reliance was shattered and I was dependent on other people for everything – oh I hated that! But in this place of physical brokenness God got my attention and I started spending the hours of my day in prayer and in the Word. I had just started a 12-week Christian Life Coaching certification program that required me to completely examine who I was before God, and I began to give each day to God, trusting Him to lead and knowing that my past didn’t matter anymore.

Spiritual Autobiography – A Small Voice

If you really knew me, you would know that as a child I had no voice … you would know that at 40 years old when I first attempted to speak my truth, things turned out so badly that I went back to stuffing my feelings inside. And if you really knew me, you would know that God gave me a voice for Him first, before He ever gave me my own voice out in the world and in my relationships. Music has always moved me like nothing else. It often gives voice to the emotions that well up in me … so I am choosing to use music to tell my story, to share pieces of my spiritual journey with you.

I was raised in the Midwest with lots of rules, a strong work ethic, a sense of responsibility, and high expectations for achievement and behavior. My dad was very strict and he wasn’t at all affectionate. I don’t remember him ever expressing pride or love – it was all about meeting his standards or expectations. Mama was the exact opposite – she was all mush and hugs and kisses, who offered her lap freely to cuddle up, and she was the one who told us not to worry when we were afraid of not measuring up in dad’s eyes.

I was the middle of five kids, and grew up in a churched home – we went to Mass weekly, said prayers before meals, I attended Catholic grade school – all the rituals of religion, but there was never any conversation about how faith informed our lives. I don’t ever remember a suggestion to pray through a difficult time or call on God – we fixed things ourselves. The focus was on self-reliance, and as a 10 year old when my mom died, I learned from my dad that life isn’t fair, but you just buck up and handle it. I never experienced the emotions or loss of mama as a child … I just did what needed to be done at each turn in life. I felt unseen, overlooked, insignificant, like I didn’t matter or wasn’t good enough to be noticed. My dad remarried two years later and we all quickly learned that my stepmom was essentially my dad’s double, and the rigidity they governed with, drew us together into a united front and formed unshakably close sibling bonds.

I got a full-time job after high school, moved into my own apartment, and started looking for love in all the wrong places. I went through a period of sexual promiscuity, mistaking sex for the love and worthiness I longed for but just couldn’t seem to find.  I met the man who was to become my second husband on a business trip, and 4 months later I left Milwaukee to move in with him in New Jersey. He talked about buying me a big rock, getting married and going to the islands for our honeymoon. I still remember the sick feeling I had when I got out there and for months he didn’t want to set a wedding date. I had left everything – my job, my family, my friends to be with him. We did marry 8 months later, but there was no engagement ring except for the diamond ring from my first husband that I took to the jeweler myself to reset in a new band, and our honeymoon was on Martha’s Vineyard, not the islands he promised. My husband always laughed about that, but he had no idea how important those things were to my sense of feeling loved and valued and worth it.

We both worked for AT&T and when Ma Bell divested in 1982 we opted to go back to his home company New England Telephone in Boston.  He was from Boston so he returned to a city, friends, and co-workers all familiar to him and I felt jealous, abandoned, alone, pushed aside when he wanted to commute separately or spend time with his friends or co-workers. Our three children were born in Concord where we lived and I received my Bachelor’s Degree from Northeastern after 9 years of going to school at night … those are among just a handful of happy times I count from our 6 years in Boston before we moved back to New Jersey.

Our life in NJ as a family felt perfect. I loved those 7 years in Ramsey and I was happy with our family and home and social life. When my husband’s position was being cut in a corporate downsizing, he wanted to return to his old job in Boston to provide for the family and ensure that the kids could go to good colleges, but I objected vehemently – I did not want to return to Boston. When I overheard him on the phone tell a friend he was returning to New England Telephone, I was livid that he made a decision on his own against my wishes, and so hurt that my opinion didn’t matter, that I didn’t matter. I told him I wanted to see someone to process my feelings before I decided if I would follow him to Boston with the kids in June. That was the first time I remember having a voice, really believing that he wouldn’t go to Boston, that my happiness would be enough for him to apologize and for him to prove my worth by not taking the job.

 

What would your Christian Experience Statement Look Like?

If you were asked to write a Christian Experience Statement, what would it look like? What would it say? What pieces of your life would it reflect? Would it include a future, a vision, or just the past?

When I applied to Alliance Graduate School of Counseling for their Mental Health Counseling program earlier this year, I was asked to provide a written Christian Experience Statement, using these two questions as a guideline:

Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? If yes, please state your conversion experience, fundamentals of your personal faith and present pattern of personal growth as a Christian.

Present a personal biography including a discussion of significant events and influences which have helped develop your present values and approach to life. What is God’s call upon your life? How do you see Alliance Graduate School of Counseling fitting into God’s call on your life? What do you visualize your ministry/profession looking like five years after graduation?

Here’s what I found … when you’re truly living your story, writing a Christian Experience Statement is surprisingly easy to do. 

The middle of five children, I was 10 years old when my mama died. My dad pretty much shaped who I thought I was after that – small, insignificant, a child; and who I thought I needed to be – brave, responsible, self-sufficient, independent, submissive to authority, perfect. I got my value and identity from obedience, performance, achievements, accomplishments, recognition, and attention.

I didn’t grow up in a church or family where Christ was part of everyday life, where we sought out God’s help to get through hard times, or prayed through problems or struggles. We went to Mass Sundays, I attended a parochial school, and we prayed before dinner – that was pretty much it. If there was a problem, we fixed it ourselves or accepted that life wasn’t fair, we didn’t ask God to intervene. I was raised with lots of rules, a strong work ethic, sense of responsibility, self-reliance, high expectations for achievement & behavior.

I’ve been hiding out most of my life … hiding low self-worth behind credentials and accomplishments, hiding loneliness and fears behind an outgoing personality, sense of humor, busy schedule. At 50 years old, I was the woman at the well, isolated, hiding out from the shame of two failed marriages. I felt alone, insecure, like I didn’t matter, and everything in my life seemed out of control. But I wore a completely different mask: I was a businesswoman, single mom with 3 smart kids – all good athletes, Youth Leader that led youth mission trips, took kids to soup kitchens, counseled parents of teens. I was a soccer coach & referee – that’s the me I let other people see, and the image I desperately tried to keep intact, hoping no one would discover the real me:  lost, broken & falling apart on the inside. My entire family was in WI, and I had distanced myself from friends, thinking they were judging me for not following my husband to Boston for a job he accepted on his own, and painfully, against my wishes.

My journey to redemption started in 2003 when a stranger sitting next to me at a Christian weight loss conference invited me to join her at a Women of Faith Conference. My randomly assigned roommate at that same conference happened to be a Community Bible Study core group leader in VA, and at confessing I had never done a bible study of any sort, she encouraged me to sign up for a local CBS class, which I did. Both Women of Faith and CBS were important steps in launching my spiritual journey, but more importantly they set me on a path of connection and emotional healing as others reached out to me. Being a part of The Plant core team, missional community leader, & later serving on the leadership team, all deeply affected me as I developed a relationship with Christ in everyday life, to look to Him in all things, devote myself to Him, and to grow in community. The heart of it was not in a salvation moment, but in being drawn into authentic relationships with others that led to a deeper relationship with Christ.

I have worked in a corporate setting by day, and done some type of ministry by night, for most of my adult life. My heart for teenagers and the desire for them to feel safe, seen, and valued has never wavered. Whereas I used to see teenage girls struggling with cutting & eating disorders, today I see a generation of overstressed, overcommitted, highly anxious teens with epidemic levels of depression, substance abuse & suicide. And I feel like the church should be leading the charge on mental health of our teens! We focus on spiritual development, cultivating a heart of mission & service, equipping them to know Christ & make Him known, and yet so many are hurting and wondering where God really is in their life.

I have wanted to be an adolescent therapist for as long as I can remember, and this year as I prayed through the word THRIVE, I decided I would not take graduate school off the table because I thought I couldn’t quit my job – God would have to! He had awakened such a desire in me, not only to counsel teens, but also to advocate for mental health of our teens in the church. God has put people and circumstances in my life to affirm the call to Alliance Graduate School of Counseling and the vision for the church He has stitched in my soul, challenging me to trust Him for financial provision.

Five years after graduation, I see myself as an Adolescent Therapist at a biblically based Christian Counseling Center, helping teenagers to settle their worth, coaching youth leaders through current mental health issues in their ministries, writing and speaking to church leaders on awareness, education, and role of the church in mental health for teens.

For we are God’s masterpiece.  He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long. –Ephesians 2:10 NLT

Standing on the Edge of Betrayal

Just about everyone is familiar with the “opening act” of the Passion story – Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, but Mark 14:10 gives us an unusual glimpse of that moment when Judas actually decides to betray Jesus.  The first word is key – Then. The sequence of events that precede it set the scene for the moment of decision.

Jesus was dining at the home of Simon, and a woman (John names her as Mary, sister of Lazarus in his account of the story) cracks open the seal of an alabaster jar containing an exquisite and fragrant perfume and pours it out over the head of Jesus. Some are outraged, thinking this to be wastefully extravagant – again Mark differs by referring to “some” objecting while John specifically names Judas as the one to object to this woman’s actions, citing the value of the perfume equal to one year’s wages and how that could be better used to serve the poor. Jesus goes on a bit of a rant telling them to leave the woman alone, and he praises her for the beautiful, worshipful act, saying the poor will always be with them while he will not, and predicts this anointing for burial will long be remembered.

10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests to arrange to betray Jesus to them. 11 They were delighted when they heard why he had come, and they promised to give him money. So he began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

What was it about what Jesus said in verses 6-9 that made Judas so indignant and triggered him, in that moment, to decide to betray him?  I can almost hear him saying “That’s it!” “I’m done here!”  “I’m outta here!”  Have you ever reacted that way when someone’s gotten on your last nerve?

We know from John 12 that Judas was in charge of the Treasury, and often helped himself to the money that was in there, so we might assume he wanted the perfume sold so the money – about a year’s wages, could be put in his care (more in the till to dip into). But it’s deeper than that.  Judas expected Jesus to lead a political rebellion to overthrow Rome – not to be talking about his death to come yet again.

So when Jesus praises this woman’s extravagant anointing and rebukes those who objected, Judas finally gets it – after 3 years of following Jesus, he realizes his kingdom is not a physical or a political one. He is confronted with the stark reality that Jesus is not – and will never be, the kind of Messiah he expects. In his disappointment, and feeling himself betrayed by Jesus, Judas decides to hand Jesus over to be killed.

How do we react when God is not the God we want Him to be, or expect Him to be, in our lives? Are we done with Him, outta here? Are we maybe standing on the edge of betrayal, too?  When we become disappointed with God, we have a choice to make – to desert, as Judas did, or continue to follow.

Following Jesus doesn’t have to be perfect, and it doesn’t assume we understand what’s going on.  Peter was disappointed and disillusioned, too, to hear that Jesus’ kingdom would involve shame & death – not power & glory as he imagined. Earlier in Mark, we see Peter pulling Jesus aside to admonish him for all this crazy talk about dying and then rising from the dead 3 days later, right after he declared Jesus was the Messiah. He was confused, and Jesus actually called him Satan in that exchange – harsh! But Peter overcomes his disappointment and confusion and lets go of the need to understand. With a simple trust, he continues to follow – not perfectly as we know, but he continues to follow nonetheless.

Life is just too tough to navigate in isolation – because that’s where greed, pride, and self-righteousness can so easily take root. In order to follow Jesus well in our disappointments requires us to be in the company of other doubting disciples.  The real tragedy in this story is that Judas was so isolated by his greed and desire for status, that he had no one to turn to in his disappointment, so he turned instead to the company of the religious leaders who wanted to kill Jesus.

What does this mean for us? Well, here’s what I think …

Unless you are anchored in a community where cracks in your character can be seen and filled by other imperfect followers, you are standing on the edge of betrayal at every disappointment in your life. Whether, like Judas, your disappointment is with God – not coming through as you expected or wanted Him to, or whether it lies with your spouse, your children, your boss, a friend, parent, maybe even your pastor for not living up to your expectation for them.

The choice is yours:  desert or continue to follow.  What I want for you is to choose community with other imperfect Christ followers!

  • Give them access to your life, invite their influence, allow the cracks in your character to be not only seen, but also filled.
  • Step away from the edge of betrayal and towards Christ who will never betray you, who will never be done with you, who will never be outta here, who will never say “That’s it!” no matter how many times you are disappointed in Him.
  • You are God’s Masterpiece, created anew in Christ Jesus to do all the things he planned for you long ago. Ephesians 2:10
  • You just have to continue to follow … with a simple trust, and a band of other imperfect followers surrounding you, just follow!

What Season Are You In?

Remember the days when being “color analyzed” was all the rage? It didn’t matter if it happened at a home party, a department store counter, or a fashion expo – as long as you had your color swatches with you, and knew what shades of eye shadow, blush & lipstick presented the best you, you were ready to step out and rock it! Oh, and the best part was being able to toss out that question understood by every real woman in your circles – What season are you?

I actually remember praying before my first color analysis that I would not be deemed “a winter” (my prayers were for such simple things in those days).  I hated the color red for some reason.  It just seemed so basic and plain – my sister who was far more conservative than me always wore red or navy … nope, I wanted to make a splash, not some quiet unassuming entrance into a room – me & my season wanted to be noticed! Praise God, I was an autumn!

As I thought about the next link on the bracelet – Health, and what God may be wanting me to share with you about it, the topic just felt too big.  I mean, seriously, what are we talking here … physical health (ah, yah, that’s important to give attention to), mental health, emotional health (now there’s a cavern to get lost in), spiritual health (nah, always the risk that I’ll come off preachy), so what then? There was a momentary temptation to reverse direction and go the other way around the bracelet .. I mean who says I had to go right?  There’s that catchy song “To the left, to the left …” and everybody knows in a card game or board game, play always goes to the person on your left.  But if you take a look at the bracelet, you’ll notice, I’m sure, what I saw as a clear sign that I need to tackle Health – there is a circular piece of metal with a squiggly line that inexplicably links Serenity to Health.  Take a look!

So what about Health, and what does it have to do with seasons? Ecclesiastes 3:1 has always resonated with me “there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens”. If you live in the Northeast as I do, you know we are so ready to be done with winter! We are anxious for signs of spring, even as snow blanketed the streets and grass again last night while we slept, and a random snowfall with big cotton ball size flakes surprised us mid-day to taunt the still wet pavement that would not engage & allow the flakes to settle there. But did you know that, despite all appearances, even in the harshest winters, the trees don’t stop growing? Beneath the bark, their sap is silently moving to fortify the tree for the coming months. Life is still in process, but in different ways than during the rest of the year.

“Spring is for beginnings. There’s a freshness, hope and vibrancy to it. So in the springtimes of our life, we have the opportunity to see God initiate new things in us. Summer is a time for labor and growth. Fall is for harvest. Winter is for withdrawal from activity, rest, and even death of what has come to the end of its time. To be fully healthy, our lives require each one of these seasons at its due time. The key is to recognize what season we’re in and then embrace it to the full.

We all know that in nature, sometimes winter seems like it drags on forever. Some summers can seem extremely brief. Seasons vary from year to year. Sometimes God chooses to prolong them to fully accomplish His work. Sometimes so much needs to die in us before we can embrace spring that we need an unusually long winter. We have no idea how brief or long each season will be this time, but we can also learn to embrace and find the good in each season as it comes, instead of being impatient to move on to the next one that we think will be better.”  -Richard Blackaby

This has been a tough winter – not for me particularly, but for friends crushed beneath an all-consuming heartache of loss, unanswered questions, unrelenting pain, and unseen possibilities of hope, believing even the coming spring will be inadequate to mend their broken spirits. This is the perfect season to ask God to take this cup, as Jesus did, but also to remember that in order to accomplish His greater purpose, He may need you to linger in this season of  life, to discover what He wants you to learn, to fortify your spiritual health for the coming season where all things are made new in Christ.  Cry out to Him, confess your need for Him, believe this season of life is charged with divine purpose for you, sing along to Plumb’s song and let the tears wash over you like the waters of baptism.

Need You Now (How Many Times) Plumb

What about you … what season of life are you in?

Pathway to Serenity

I had no intention of waiting so long to blog about SERENITY, but the truth and irony is that I could not find a sense of serenity in writing, and I wanted that, I needed that to feel authentic.  Oh dear sweet, patient, readers, has there ever been a time when you just kept putting something off that you needed to do?  Can you relate?

Maybe a conversation -one of those “truth in love” talks, that you’ve been mentally rehearsing for awhile, or a resume that’s been haunting & daunting you. It might be a decision you’ve made about a relationship that you’ve failed to act on, a choice to do what is right & good and in alignment with God’s desire for your life – to stop enabling, set boundaries, take responsibility for what God has given you to steward & get the heck out of what God has given others to steward for themselves – in other words, land the helicopter, parents!  Whatever it is, if you’re there with me, you know the feeling of angst, the daily awakening of self-disappointment – and even shame, that you have not done what you intended to do for yet another day. Ugh!

My mind is no different than yours apparently as I think of images & feelings of serenity – peace, calm, stillness, a quiet hush that honestly I experience most often in aloneness, not in “the village”. Yes, the beach is there in my mind, too – isn’t it funny how we all think beach or ocean?  I know if I can stand at the water’s edge with waves crashing and the feel of sand underneath my feet, wind blowing across my face so that I have to brush hair back across my face, that no matter what’s going on in my life, no matter what grief or emptiness I’m carrying for a friend, I can let the tears flow, release it all, while feeling grounded and steady and loved and protected in the presence of God’s great creation. But where is the beach in the midst of my work day, in a disconnected relationship, in resounding unescapable grief ? How do I capture peace and calm and stillness and inject it into my day when I wake to a Things to Do list streaming live in my head, when the noise and demands to ready myself for the day tempts me to cut short my much needed time with my Creator, Redeemer & Guide?

I found the answer this week in the familiar – actually, one answer & one key.  The answer – ACCEPTING HARDSHIP AS A PATHWAY TO PEACE … it’s right there in the Serenity Prayer, but how many of us have ever read beyond the “wisdom to know the difference” line? And one of the most “calming” passages people cling to in times of struggle & worry, “Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10  follows verses about God bringing destruction on the world.  Mark 4:39 when Jesus calms the storm, how could I have missed that without a storm, God could not display his mighty rebuke to the wind, He could not have ordered stillness out of chaos and fear and unbelief. So the answer is that we have to walk through the hardships, the struggle, the everyday annoyances in the workplace, in messy unsatisfying relationships, in fears, dashed hopes, unmet expectations, our deepest longings.

But the KEY is to create periods of stillness to bring those hardships to the Lord, to allow Jesus to calm the storm, to receive the guidance, the steps, even the words the Holy Spirit longs to give you on the pathway to serenity.  Stillness begets stillness … you must have stillness with God to have stillness in your life.  Otherwise you might as well take up residence on the beach ’cause that’s the only Way to claim it.

My friend Curt offers this suggestion for reflection: Allow God’s Spirit to speak to you in the stillness of a moment today.  What message does he have for you? What risks are involved in the call Jesus is placing on your life in this season?

There is an important footnote I need to add – it struck me shortly after I hit Publish to send the post your way, but it is more than an afterthought.  It really is the exclamation mark God used to punctuate my path in discovering serenity in blogging … it is the truth that IT TAKES A VILLAGE! I could not tolerate my day after day frustration & self-disappointment at not finishing & publishing a blog post … well, okay, so maybe I knocked myself around for a couple of weeks, and then took it to God in prayer, thanking Him for the gift of writing, asking Him to make me worthy of the influence He has given me, begging Him to reveal what was standing in the way of me getting His messages out.  The daily grind of self-disappointment began to weigh more as I took on the shame of disobedience – God has been very clear about His design & desire for me to challenge women to claim all He has for them, and I was letting Him down; I was being the downright obstinate child of God … pretty tough to write from that posture of failure.

The light went on in my morning prayer time on Martin Luther King Day – a day off from work, as I ask God to bless my friend and I over a planned catch-up lunch, and beg Him in almost the same breath to fill me in on what is keeping me from blogging.  I give God some options (love to do that!) … is it ego – am I afraid it will bring attention to me instead of Him & His message (oh Lord, I desire only to be your conduit), is it fear of failure or judgment, maybe expectation that I have to keep up a level of quality writing (as though that would be a problem for God, right?), am I worthy, do I deserve to have influence in women’s lives when I’ve screwed up my own life so badly in the past?  The soft, calming voice of the Spirit catches me off guard and arrests my high-pitched game of “Is it?” with the Lord … “Kathy will give you insight” I hear – whoa, are you talking to me?

And so it was that I came to this place of finishing & publishing my blog post this morning.  I shared the struggle with Kathy at lunch that day, she has been praying over the issue since, and on Sun. morning she gave me her thoughts – both on my blog and on the reconnaissance mission of the enemy to snatch what God has ordained for me to give to you, she prayed over me with two other sisters that God would release my gift of writing and that I could stand strong against the enemy.  There was that extra burst (oh minty fresh!) of admonishment that sealed the deal and made all things right and possible again in the blogging world when she looked me in the eye with her “I really mean it” pointer finger aglow and said, “You are to get up and have your morning coffee and blog first – nothing else until you have blogged!” Well, alrighty then!

SERENITY = ANSWER + KEY + TRUTH