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Did you know?

 The busiest time of the year for counseling offices and psychiatric hospitals in the United States begins December 1 and continues through the middle of January each year.

 Why?

In the deepest part of us, we each have hopes and expectations, some life-changing, which are linked to this season of the year. It is the time of year when we are most vulnerable, and when disappointments we have experienced in our lives usually surface. 

The Holiday Season is the time of year when every adult becomes a child-at-heart, and when every child hopes for their wishes to come true.

So How Can I Experience Truly “Happy Holidays?”

 Determine beforehand (now!) how you will respond in given situations.  Listed on this page are a few common “Joy-Robbers” that can sabotage life’s meaning and fulfillment during the Holidays.

Stress                        

 Simply put, stress is Fear telling us that we can’t possibly do enough to gain the approval we feel we need…

Settle it now – it’s impossible to get everything done.  Let yourself off the hook.

Decide what you can reasonably accomplish, and then don’t push yourself to do more. Relax.

Make appointments during the Holiday to enjoy the time with your family. Let yourself have fun.

Conflict                  

Conflict happens because we don’t think about what our actions and attitudes are doing to those we  love.

Choose to refrain from having conflict during the holiday; this is not the time to settle deep issues, or  discuss areas of pain and                  disappointment.  Journal the things that you want to work through with your family – AFTER CHRISTMAS

Illness                     

The Holidays are no fun when you don’t feel good. Don’t push yourself.

Pushing yourself and your body past your limits decreases your ability to fight infection, and lowers your immunities—so slow down your pace. 

Make sure you get enough rest; research indicates we each need 9 hours of sleep each night to be healthy.

We each need 5 hugs a day to maintain emotional health.  Stay close to your friends and family. Studies show that a healthy community increases well-being and healthy living.

Wash your hands at least 3 times a day; – after restroom breaks, before eating, after contact with others.  Try to keep your hands away from your face.  Antibacterial cleansers are a great help. (Purel, GermX etc.)

Set your focus to search out and find the good things in the season. Look for the good in your family too. Try to focus on, and give thanks for those things.

 Financial Demands

 Determine beforehand how much you plan to spend on each person on your list, and don’t violate the amount you set.

 Plan at least one meal out for yourself (and your spouse) during the season.

 If you haven’t done so in the past, consider putting aside monies specifically for Christmas usage beginning in January.  Save throughout the year for the season, so that you are not pressured when it arrives next year.

Remember, the Holidays are about relationship; enjoy your family, and the gift of God’s Grace; don’t strive. Consider:  What homemade gifts could you give – without using a credit card?

 Depression          

Statistically, the busiest season of the year for psychiatric wards and hospitals is the Christmas and Holiday season. Most attribute this to the fact that creating the “perfect” family image tends to compete for our time during these weeks, conflicting with the realities we all experience. If this is true for you, take some time for solitude and spend it in prayer and meditation.  Ask the Holy Spirit to show you things you can give thanks for, in every circumstance you find yourself depressed over. (You would not be the person you are today without those circumstances.) Then, find someone who is in a worse situation than you are. Determine to bless them during this season. Many people have literally “served their way out of depression” by serving someone else in need. If you need counseling, or a friend to talk to, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Let someone else into your life….

on thanksgiving


The first Thanksgiving celebration held in America occurred in 1619. On December fourth of that year, thirty-eight English settlers arrived at the Berkeley Plantation in Virginia. Part of their original charter stated that they would set aside that day every year and observe it as a day of Thanksgiving. But the next year, 1620, those first settlers in the Americas  forgot to celebrate. Within a few years, it is believed they were absorbed into the Native American tribes around them for survival.

Also in 1620, the Mayflower Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock. The following year, 1621, Plymouth, Massachusetts, saw the most famous Thanksgiving celebration; the one we commemorate these days.  During their first winter in the “New World,” nearly half of those who came to this country on the Mayflower died. In compassion for these settlers, the peaceful Massasoit Indian tribes in the Plymouth area, not only brought food during the winter, but also offered help and instruction when it came time to plant spring crops. As a result of the native Americans and the settlers working together, a bountiful harvest was enjoyed by those in the Plymouth settlement.  To celebrate, the Pilgrims decided to hold a feast for celebration and thanksgiving. This ‘festival’, which lasted three days, included the participation of nearly one hundred Native Americans. Governor William Bradford invited the natives to show them appreciation, for helping his colony survive through the harsh weather conditions.

The next ‘thanksgiving’ celebration did not occur until 1623. That year, the Pilgrims were once again subjected to a great natural hardship, a drought. In the hope of bringing much needed rain, they gathered together in a prayer service, to “seek the face of the Almighty for rain.”  In answer to their prayers, within twelve hours, mercy drops from formerly non-existent clouds began to fall.  The rain was a gentle and steady one, continuing for several days. When it became apparent that the crops (and the colonists) would survive, Governor Bradford declared that the Plymouth settlement would hold another day of thanksgiving.  He once again invited their friends, the “Indians.” 

As other settlers joined the Plymouth pilgrims, it is noted in historical documents that other thanksgiving celebrations were held, each independently of the other.  

In 1668 the Plymouth General Court declared November 25th to be Thanksgiving Day.  The concept didn’t appear to be a national celebration, until 1777,  when the first national celebration of Thanksgiving occurred as a way to celebrate the American defeat of the British at Saratoga.

Two years later, saw the United States as a fledgling nation, with a president and governing body, known as Congress. It was 1789, and the country’s first president, George Washington, made his very first Presidential proclamation.  He declared Thanksgiving to be a national event, to be celebrated on November 26 each year.  This custom was followed until the next president,  a federalist named Thomas Jefferson, did away with the holiday.  “We do not need a national holiday to recognize God as the Source of all Blessings,” he said.

For the following sixty years, our nation had no official day to recognize blessings and give thanks to God.  It is interesting to note that during that time, our country became deeply enmeshed in the slave trade, and a civil war broke out between the northern and southern states… in the absence of giving thanks…..

Then, in the midst of the Civil War, in 1863, a magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale expressed her concern to the sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln; requesting the nation needed to set aside a day to “give thanks unto Him from whom all blessings flow.”  On October 3 of that year, President Lincoln set the day as a national holiday to be celebrated each year.

Interestingly enough, the Confederate armies had been victorious in the civil war until that point.  In fact, the final confederate victory in the war was seen in the Battle of Chickamauga Creek in Tennessee. In mid-October of 1863, that began to change. By the end of November of 1863, generals Grant and Sherman had seen a victory at Chattanooga, and were moving towards Atlanta.

Slavery was on its way out. 

Did the shift in the war’s direction have something to do with the Thanksgiving proclamation?  Many in that day believed so.  Lincoln’s decision was seen as an invitation to “allow God into the affairs of men.”    

The day was loosely considered a national day of remembrance, until 1941 — when Congress declared the fourth Thursday of November each year to be a national and legal holiday…. interestingly enough, the same year we began to fight once again for our very survival as a nation.

There are lessons to be learned from history.  There are lessons to be learned everywhere.  What would have happened in our nation had there NOT been a sixty year gap in recognizing and remembering where our national blessings have come from?  Where would we be in regard to spiritual growth and understanding?

It is the same in our day-to-day lives.  In my own life, I am realizing that when I pause, and take the time to find the “good” thing happening in the midst of my “bad” thing — I have less stress, I feel more connected to God, I think more clearly, and I communicate with grace– hopefully even when I’m under pressure.

Any time I begin to talk this way, someone will say, “You don’t know my life.  I don’t have much to be thankful for. Do you know what happened this year?” 

I hear you.  We are all in the midst of re-organizing our lives.  If you find yourself having difficulty giving thanks, here are a few things that I hope will help you to begin the process….

Give thanks……

                That we have anything at all to be thankful for. 

                That we can make a tuna fish sandwich with all the fixings.

                That we know people who will tell us the truth.

                That true love and good health are related.

                That she wants your help to hang the Christmas lights.

                That we saved old cards and pictures, and have time to go through them, remembering.

                That we have adversity.  Without it we won’t/can’t grow.

                That we are able to breathe.

                That we can experience seasons.

                That we are living.

                That we have a car, and can get from point A to point B.

                That we can chase fireflies.

                That we have friends.

                That the online site has free shipping.

                That the mammogram was clear.

                That we can watch old movies.

                That we live in a free country.

                That there are soldiers who fight for our liberty.

                That we have the freedom to worship as we choose to.

                That we have pets who love us.

                That we can believe in Santa Claus and not get into trouble.

                That someone in the supermarket said, “Go ahead of me.”

                That we can buy MacDonalds or Taco Bell on a busy day.

                That we have a job.

                That we can color our hair and hide the gray.

                That there are so many good books to read.

                That God made coffee.

                That God made chocolate.

                That God invented snow and children invented snowballs.

                That the country is still quite safe in spite of the politicians.

                That we even have a little spare change.

                That the cranberry crop wasn’t ruined by the frosts.

                That pumpkin pies are once more in fashion.

                That turkey is cheap enough for the poor man’s table.

                That when we pray, we have a God who not only hears us, but answers us, and wants relationship.

The old phrase “every cloud has a silver lining” came from the concept of finding something to give thanks for.  What “silver” is God wanting to give you today? 

Blessings!

(c)2010 Duplication without permission requires permission.


 Hi Ron — it wouldn’t let me add this to the post for session 8 — so here is the audio for session 9.  Blessings… Deb

Identity Formation — Session 9 Bonus

provisioned


In the 1650’s,  John Bunyan wrote a book.  It was an allegorical novel, said to describe a dream.  He titled it “Pilgrim’s Progress.”  If you haven’t read it, it’s a great read – although the original version is a little harder to get through; old English and all.  When I was about ten or eleven, I had an easy-read version that I read over and over again until the cover wore thin.  I loved the symbolism, even as a child.  If you haven’t heard of him, John Bunyan was a Reformation preacher who lived in England.  During the difficult years of religious upheaval, when for a time it was illegal to even own a page from a Bible,  this part-time tinker (repairman/handyman) gathered many together with his teachings about the love of God.  He was a man who understood the compassionate side of Abba Father. His daughter, Mary, was blind.  I have wondered many times if he wrote his allegory for her.  In the years since it’s initial publication,  “Pilgrim’s Progress” has sold more copies than any other book ever printed, except for the Bible.  So, take my word for it; it’s a good read.

Which brings me to my story. This morning, the Holy Spirit reminded me of an  experience I had when I was child, reading this old classic story.  As I said, the book is an account of a dream. It describes the story of a man named Christian, who is making a journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City.  Along the way, he meets many who help him, and many more who hinder him.  He gains companions; he experiences pain; he loses loved ones; and he finally makes it to his destination.  All along the way, he learns and grows, becoming the person he was created to become.

In the middle of his journey, Christian has travelled a long way.  Everywhere he goes, he looks for indicators to show him the next step in his journey.  He has a map, but sometimes he can’t decipher it well. Continually, he needs others to help him figure it out.  But he keeps moving.  He comes to a steep hill, and looks upward.  Sadly, overwhelmingly, it appears that the road continues up this small mountain;  so he sighs and moves forward.  He is tired; he is forlorn; he is weary; he is hungry and thirsty; he doesn’t know if he can do it.  As he climbs, the mountain becomes steeper than he anticipated.  Finally, he has to clamber on his hands and knees just to make headway. It takes all the energies he has in his possession.  But now he is committed. He can’t go back. He can’t stop.  He must finish this part of the journey.

Soon, he comes to a clearing.  He is close to the peak of the mountain.  He sees a large house, nestled close to the summit.  He thinks “I could get some refreshment there, if they will take me in.”  So, he moves on towards the house.  But then, as he draws closer, his heart sinks.  The pathway to the house is guarded by two large lions, who, although shackled to rock posts with neck irons, look at him with menacing eyes.  Fear rises in his heart.  He stops in his tracks. 

Now what?

Suddenly, a voice speaks from the front door of the house. The Caretaker shouts to him, “Don’t be afraid!  They are chained to the posts!  Keep to the middle of the path and they won’t be able to reach you!”

With a flash of hope, Christian slowly and carefully moves past the lions, who growl as he passes.  He arrives at the front door untouched. He is safe.  He breathes a sigh of relief. 

“Welcome!” says the Caretaker. “We have been waiting for you.” 

Surprised, Christian discovers a Place of Refreshment.  He is bathed, and receives medical treatment for his injuries.  He is given clean clothing.  He eats at a banquet table.  He laughs and relaxes in an atmosphere of safety.  For several days, he stays.  He finds his heart again.  He gains direction.  He asks questions.  He listens.  He learns.

Then, on the third morning, the King’s daughters; Faith, Hope and Charity, help him get ready to complete his journey.  They clothe him in armor, hand-fit to his person.  He is given a sword and a shield.  He is provisioned, and given a scroll of promises.  For you see, the House on the mountaintop was the King’s House.  It was a place of refuge.

In the next chapter of the book, Christian faces the dragon Appollyon, his nemesis; the image of Satan in his own weaknesses.  Because of his provisioning, he prevails victorious. He emerges from the battle battered, but wiser; stronger somehow.  He would have died in the battle had he not been to the King’s House.

It’s my favorite place in the book.  The House of Refreshing.

This morning, the Holy Spirit reminded me of an experience I had during one of my many readings of “Pilgrim’s Progress.”  I was ten years old. I had just finished the King’s House chapter, and I was overwhelmed with a sense of the Presence of God. “When I grow up, Jesus, I want my house to be like that.  I want people to go away from my house stronger than they came in.  I want to help people.”

That hope has remained a center in me for the past forty-three years.  When I met Bill, in our many conversations, building relationship, his heart resonated with that focus as well.  (It’s wonderful when you marry someone who carries some of your same pages in their own instruction manual for living.)  As as result, that same hope has filtered into the way we approach pastoring and leading people.  “Let them leave stronger than they came in.” 

It has become a personal mission statement for my counseling ministry as well.

All that being said, dear reader, I bring you a request for prayer.  My Doll-House Toehead (see blog by the same title), and her mother (see blog titled “Peaches”), move away this weekend.  They are on to the next step of rebuilding their lives in the aftermath of abuse, court systems and custody battles.  I miss them already…

I sent my toehead away with a jar of Play-Doh… one we played with together…. small offerings.  Someday, at journey’s end, we won’t have to go in different directions.

Pray for these two precious souls.  Pray for their armor to remain strong; that they lose nothing — and gain everything.

The world is a learning environment.  Some life-lessons come harder than others. 

We all need safe places of refreshing. 

Someday, I want to build a House of Safety for women in such stages of life….. God knows.  Pray for our ministry as well.

Blessings.

(c)2010 atg/dcg.  No duplication without permission.


This blog is actually being posted for my friend, Ron.  It seems that in sending the hardcopy curriculum to him for a class, one of the CDs for session 8 was scratched.   How does that happen exactly?  Although I am grateful for technology and its many methods of opening doors for each of us, I am now certain that I will never understand it all…. Oh well.

Ron, here is session 8, in two parts.  I realize one of these is unnecessary, but I thought, “Hey what if someone else sees the blog, and wants to listen to the session?  Half a session is not as good as the whole thing — (Although session 8 is the wrap up of an entire class).  It might be helpful to someone anyway — so here it is.  The theme of the class is “How Does Growth Actually Happen in us?”  We were utilizing all the elements taught in the prior 7 sessions.  As you listen, realize that each of the elements being discussed (because this was the wrap up, it was a class discussion) had been previously addressed pretty thoroughly …. The first recording is 67 minutes long, and the second is almost as long….

Identity Formation — Session 8, first half

Identity Formation — Session 8, last half

 If you want the entire class, it is available on lulu.com; and will be on Amazon by January, 2011.  Those who will use it in Ron’s setting (Covenant Theological Seminary), will also have other reading, assignments, and an exam…

All that being said…. if you do listen, I’d love your feedback!!

Blessings

on empathy


He sat across from me in my office, silent.  His hands were fidgeting as he continued to look down and shifted in his chair.  Was he contemplating the non-existent pattern in the carpet?  Had he heard me, I wondered?

Almost a complete minute of silence had passed since I had asked him the question. Apparently, it had provoked a deep introspection.  We had been discussing the value of communicating thoughts and emotions in his relationships.  As his griefs had surfaced over the past season, so had a deep confusion over his identity.  For this man, it had always been easier to logically assess a situation, plan a practical task, and move forward, ignoring the effects of his words and actions on those around him. 

Relationally, he was oblivious.  Until lately.

Now, in the midst of the cost of his marriage, his Inner Life was waking up.  My question had been a simple one:  “If you were your wife, what would you think or feel about you?”

I have learned over the years, to allow my clients time to think through their answers, and wait for responses.  But, as the silence wore on in this particular session, I began to realize we were on unknown ground for this particular gentleman. 

I broke into his reverie. “Are you having trouble?” I asked.

“She told me before she left,” he replied. “I just didn’t want to listen, I guess.”

“What did she say?”

“She told me that I didn’t want her.” He stopped. “Why would she say that? We never talked about this stuff.  Where would she get that idea?”

And there it was. After years of ignoring his wife; expecting her to take care of him without verbal or relational connection; leaving the care of the children and the home completely in her hands; acknowledging her only in public… this client was surprised at his wife’s apparently inconceivable decision to leave.  Hadn’t he been a provider, he reasoned?  That should be enough. After all, he was the man, he said.

“What do you think you would think or feel?” I repeated the question.

“I guess I would feel lonely,” he sighed a response. “I just didn’t know I was supposed to care about those things. It never occurred to me how she might feel.  I mean, she took care of everything.  I really thought she was happy. In control, you know…..”

“Did she ever tell you she was unhappy?”

He shifted in his chair again. “Well, a couple of times when we had fights. I would bring something to her attention, and she would burst into tears and ‘go off.’  You know, hormonal.”

“What does that mean: ‘you would bring something to her attention?'”

“Like something she needed to change — about herself; or about the house, or how she was handling something with the kids.”

“Did you help her?”

“I didn’t have time to do that.  I was working.”

“Were you critical of her?”

“Probably, but only to help her.” He looked at me. “Isn’t the wife supposed to take care of the husband? Isn’t that her Biblical reponsibility?”

At that point, I called him by name. “Do you realize that when you try to change your wife in that way, you are telling her that you don’t really want her as your companion? What she hears is that you want someone else who will act and respond in a different way, and be a different person than she is. You are telling her that you don’t want her. Not only that, but when that is the only communication she is receiving, it is doubly damaging.”

He looked at me, dumbfounded; his mouth and eyes wide open, like a deer in the middle of a road facing bright headlights.

“Not only that,” I continued. “But as to Biblical responsibilities, the Word has much more to say about the man’s responsibility to care and nurture his wife than it does about the woman’s role.”

“For real?” he asked.

Being female, it amazed me that he hadn’t known this.  This man, although he loved his wife dearly, had been content to live and function on a facts level only, ignoring his family, making demands. In contrast, his wife had been living in emotional starvation since their days of courtship.  Then, through the years of marriage, this husband had mistakenly assumed that because he could explain away her complaints and emotions as “not being logical,” they didn’t matter.  If he could discount them, and find an alternate perception, it became his habit to expect her to consistently adjust and make personal changes.  

This man had expected his viewpoint to determine Acceptable Truth.  Apparently, there had been no alternatives; no team; no unity.  He felt it was his God-given privilege.

Since that meeting several years ago, I have encountered many in our culture with the same issues; many marriages with the same struggle.  Sadly, in my own experience, situations like this one are even more prevalent within the mindset of the Christian church, than in the secular environment. 

God’s original design for marriage is that each partner seek to outserve the other one; not one-sided or demanding.  The husband submits his life to Jesus, and loves his wife without condition, laying his life down for her.  The wife responds by submitting her life to Jesus, and honoring his intentional choice to serve.  Together they are a team, seeking to build each other up — without asserting rights, choosing to learn how to grow together, living their growth honestly and vulnerably in front of their children and the rest of humanity.  This is the way of the Kingdom.

When we come to Christ, he calls us to forsake the desire to put ourselves first.  We become disciples — learners. We choose to serve.  A marriage doesn’t work when one partner does more serving than the other — because it isn’t God’s plan.  Such a relationship becomes selfish.  The non-communicative partner becomes the center of the orbit; with everyone seeking to gain their approval…… this is narcissism.  Sadly, it lives in the American Church as well; in marriages that would like the label “Christian.”  But Christianity is about what Jesus would do — not about our rights, our feelings, or our comfort.

We are not called to rule each other — we are called to serve each other. We are called to empathy.

I have had the exhausting joy of helping many broken and abused women over the years in rebuilding some semblance of their lives. I still find myself getting angry when legalistic dogmatics contend for some sort of “scriptural” selfishness and entrapment when it comes to abuse in Christian marriages.  In a day when our American culture has become increasingly self-focused, self-centered, and self-absorbed, there is a desperate need for more than surface answers in our homes and families. 

It is time for a house-cleaning  from the attributes of Denial, Entitlement and Religiosity. 

It is time for Honesty, Healing and Growth.

If you are in a relationship like the one described here, let me encourage you to seek help.  Find a good, solid, Christian counselor who won’t offer platitudes; but will speak real solution.  God’s plan for marriage is that it reflect the relationship Jesus has with His Bride — Honest, Safe, Secure, Loving and filled with Grace.  Within the context of Reality; it means growing, learning and communicating; allowing your spouse to know your entire life, with nothing held back — ever. 

I’m glad to say that in that particular appointment years ago the husband began a process in working, hard, I might add, to win his wife’s heart back.  What took many years to destroy, God rebuilt in a season of months — in fact, I spoke with him not long ago, and he said, “Thanks. We’re still learning– every day!”  

Aren’t we all?  (Thank God!) 

Welcome to Discipleship 101.

(c)2010 DG Awakened to Grow.  Duplication without permission prohibited.

what I have on hand


My Dad tells the story of a man who lived in his town during the years he was growing up.  This man was uneducated, and had been deprived of a high school education because of the depression.  I don’t remember the entire story, but it will help you to know he had dropped out of high school, in order to do his part to save a family farm.  Well, now it was years later.  He had left home, married a wife, and now had children of his own. Weary of small tips, tired of waiting tables, he realized he needed a job with benefits. So, he applied at the county school board office for a position as a janitor in the high school. 

“I’m sorry,” he was told. “We would like to hire you, but we have requirements for our employees.  It wouldn’t make sense for us to hire someone to work in the high school, who never attended it.  You need to have a high school education in order to work here.”  The man left the school board’s office, deeply discouraged.  He needed to provide for his family.  “Why not enroll in classes and finish your education now?” the secretary had suggested. But the man had no money for school. 

He was desperate. Unable to wait for schooling,  and in dire need of cash, he began to use his pickup truck to haul materials for friends, who would pay him in cash.  He hauled everything from furniture to hay bales to trash. He did such a wonderful job, his friends  began recommending him to their friends, and those new friends recommended him to larger clients. Soon, he purchased a new truck, and hired workers.  Within 3 years, he purchased a fleet of semi-trailers. 

On the day he signed contacts with the bank,  he told the officers, “If you gentlemen will witness me as I make my mark, we can close this deal.” 

 “Can’t you read or write?” they asked.  “No, I had to quit school to take care of my family.”  In astonishment they replied, “What would you have been able to do with a high school education?” 

“I’d be the janitor at the high school,” he answered.   

Wow. 

And yet, if he had been forced to choose early on, what path would be the wisest course for himself and his family; with secure benefits and a guarantee of income?  He would have taken the janitorial job, of course. 

Looking back, he realized.  When the first  job didn’t come through, he had wondered whether God had forgotten him. He felt stuck; mired into a waiting pattern; with no outlet, or hope for the future. 

Many times, when we experience hard circumstances, we do so, because our Heavenly Father is setting us up for a miracle. He allows us to experience hard circumstances so He can show us what exactly we have in our hand; something He can use to bring us into His purpose for our lives.

He has a plan, and it is a good plan.  His design is to bless us. He loves us …

His methods have not changed from days of old.  He still uses the same tools in shaping a vessel.

When Ruth found herself in a shack at the edge of a foreign city, taking care of a grumpy, embittered old widow, she did what she could to make ends meet.  She gleaned in the fields with the poor.  She took care of that widow — At the end of the story, she met and fell in love with the owner of the fields; Boaz, the city’s ruler.  She became the great-grandmother to King David of Bethlehem.

When Joseph made the mistake of flaunting his dreams and visions to jealous brothers, he ended up in slavery.  Then, falsely accused, he ended up in jail.  But he allowed God to make adjustments in his character.  He began interpreting dreams, serving wherever he could, making friends, staying hopeful — At the end of the story, he became the prime minister of a nation, saving more than a million people from death by starvation.  He also saved his family, and provided a place for them to live, setting up the founding of a nation.

When Moses murdered an official, and buried him in the sand, thinking to keep it a secret, he was discovered.  He had to run for his life, losing his place as a prince in a palace. He fled to the backside of the desert; to Midian.  He tended sheep for thirty years.   Was he forgotten? No.  He was waiting…… being seasoned by God…. His life was receiving flavor.

The prophet Elisha was greeted by a desperate widow one day.  “Help me!” she cried. “The creditors are coming to take away my two sons!  I don’t have any idea what I should do!”

The prophet smiled at her, comforting. “What do you have on hand?” he asked.

“I have a little oil in a jar,” she replied.

“Go home,” the prophet replied. “Go to your neighbors and ask to borrow as many containers as you can. Then, bring them all into your house, and begin pouring out what you have. Watch what God does.”

Unexplainably excited and hopeful, the widow went home, and did what Elisha had told her to do.  She visited all of her friends and neighbors and borrowed everything from an empty jar to a waterpot.  Then, she and her sons went inside the house and shut the door.  What was God going to do, they wondered?  With hands shaking, she lifted the small flask of oil, almost empty that morning. Amazingly, she poured out oil, and it filled the first jar, then the second.  The oil kept coming!  She looked into the flask.  Where was the oil coming from?

“Bring me another jar,” she told her son.

“There are no more jars,” he replied.

She looked into the flask.  It was almost empty once again. 

Looking around her small home, she saw every vessel she had borrowed filled to the brim with oil. How had it happened?  She hadn’t paid attention to how much was coming out of the flask.  She had just kept pouring…. Now she headed back to see Elisha. She told him what had happened.

“That’s good,” he told her.  “God is taking care of you.  Go and sell the oil.  Pay off your creditors, and you and your sons live on the rest.”

Each of the stories I have told here are true; actual accounts of the working of God in the lives of people who trusted Him, and were willing to wait for a promise to show itself.  Oh, did I tell you the first guy — the one with the trucking company — started out praying for a job?  Then, when the answer was delayed, he almost gave up….. But the delay happened for a reason ….

God wanted him to look around and see what he had on hand.

Just like the widow.

One of the habitual methods God uses in developing people, is this: He allows us to get to a place where we have to trust Him with what we have on hand.  The need becomes great — and then — strangely — He instructs us to begin “pouring out.”  It might be taking a gift to a neighbor. It might be choosing to serve someone. I don’t know what that would look like in your life right now. You will have to ask God.  Just say, “God, what do I have on hand?  What do you want me to do?”  He will show you.  He doesn’t play games. He is good. 

Sometimes, even true stories like these are hard to swallow…. but I challenge you to do so.  The fact is that God cares.  He cares about you.  He cares about your circumstance.  He knows the areas of your life where you feel desperate.  Perhaps your desperation isn’t financial; perhaps it has to do with just living your life.  Perhaps its your family; or your relationships. Perhaps you have been holding on to a promise, wondering when it will happen.  If it will happen.

Abraham’s wife, Sarah, felt that way.  She laughed when God reconfirmed His promise to Abraham…. In fact, she named her miracle son, Isaac, meaning “Laughter.”  Think about it.  She had a hard time believing God, and she still received the promise… How does that work exactly…. Because God’s grace cannot be earned by good behavior.   That might be why we call it “Grace.”  

Just remember the little boy who loaned Jesus his lunch — five loaves and two fish…. It must have been amazing to watch what God did…. So don’t worry……

What do you have on hand?

Thought to ponder: Everyone must row with the oars he has at the moment.

                                                            Old English Proverb

 Prayer of preparation for today: Father, I choose to look for Your plan and purpose in my present station and circumstance.  Show me what You have placed in my hand.  Show me the next step.  Amen

(c)2010  Duplication for profit requires permission.

no distractions


Have you ever been distracted?  Driven to distraction? Been behind the wheel and missed a turn because something took your attention on the side of the road?  Of course, we all have.  One of my clients was telling me this week how frustrated she gets when her teenager won’t look up from their laptop, or nintendo unit, when she is speaking to them. “They just seem to be lost in their own world,” she exclaimed.  “I don’t know how to get them to listen.”

When our own children were at home, I remember experiencing similar emotions. I remember Bill and I walking into the living room one evening, to find each of our three girls engaged in different “screen activities.”  For those of you not familiar with what I mean; “screen activities” are, by definition, anything that involves a screen: a laptop, a cell phone, a game system, a television, etc. 

 “It’s time to go,”  Bill said that night. No response came.  Each of the girls continued their activity, not hearing him; completely immersed in whatever had taken their attention.  Raising his tone, he repeated himself. “I said… it’s time to go.”  Still nothing…. We looked at each other…  Did they need hearing aids?

At that point, my husband walked over to our oldest daughter, Rachel,  sitting in the chair closest to the doorway where we were waiting.  Deftly, he closed her laptop. Surprised, she looked up.

“Dad! I didn’t know you guys were ready. Hey, I was in the middle of a game!” 

“I thought it might be something like that,” he said.  He pointed to her two sisters, who were still engrossed in cell phone and game system.  She followed his gaze to them.  They still did not look up.

“Girls,” he repeated. “It’s time to go.”  Then he called them by name.

Amazingly, both of our almost grown teens (at that time), looked up with bewildered faces. “What, Dad?”

“Didn’t you hear me?” he asked. “Your mother and I have been standing here for some time now.  It’s time to go.”

“Can I finish this game first?” the youngest asked. (You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought… and …. no.)

Even remembering that day as I am typing, I find myself smiling.  We had a really good talk about distractions over dinner that night — how things we enjoy can begin to consume all of our energy, and prevent us from missing the real deal.  How a cell phone chat isn’t quite like a conversation in person with a real live human being; how getting to the next level of a video game can destroy all your energies to actively do something in real life.  And, I have to say that  the girls learned the lesson well.  The initial training began that day, and took a little time and reminding.  But now, more than six or seven years later, we will joke about the lesson when one of us forgets and brings a cell phone to the family table.

Nothing replaces real life — ever.

Nothing replaces the real thing — ever.

Its the same in our relationship with God.  Continually, through the Scriptures, we are presented with an explanation of who God is — He is love, He is peace, He is the author of Grace and forgiveness, He is gentleness, He is patient, and He is good.  He is also All-Powerful, All-mighty, and the Creator/Sustainer of all things. Without the Presence of God;– the planet — and each of us — would just disappear, disintegrate… ..

The book of Colossians tells us that  He holds all things together within His Person.  He is the Advocate; the Healer; the Comforter; the Teacher; the Refuge.  He is the Perfect Parent.  He identifies with and understands what we feel.

He accepts us and loves us — just as we are — and when we experience Pain, when we invite Him, He will meet us there.  He will use that Pain to somehow birth something new and fresh through our lives — something that will make us wonder if the painful experience had actually been part of His plan.  And yet, He is the giver of Life — He is good.  It isn’t His nature to plan the bad stuff…

That comes from somewhere/someone else.

It is so important in our lives with Jesus, that we continually keep our hearts open to remember who He is….. and how much we have to be thankful for.  It is too easy to become distracted, perhaps with the need to defend position or debate and argue.  Recently, I have been exposed to a mindset that contends it is necessary for believers in Jesus to have heated debate in order to grow and learn…. I found myself walking away saddened somehow; perhaps because the opportunity for real fellowship had been lost….. Such a life approach destroys and prevents deep relationships — because the participants become distracted by the need to be right.

There are those who feel it is necessary to become immersed in angry discussions before they feel empowered…. Anger doesn’t really do much relational building.  Instead, it isolates us, and pushes those we want to be close to farther away.  Those who practice Anger never really understand how to have enduring friendships — they are distracted by the areas of disagreement, rather than by the areas where the Blood of Jesus covers all.

While I am sharing about this so candidly, let me just say that there is a final area of distraction.  It is the trap of feeling responsible to define, label and critique the words and actions of others….  It’s an appealing trap, because it can become our defense mechanism; providing some sort of false protection, if you will.  The end result with self-defense is that we eventually alienate everyone around us; only holding onto relationships with people who also hold our same viewpoints and religious posture.  In the end, there is no one left to agree with us..  In the end, we will be alone.

We are called to love. We are called to listen.  We are called to seek to understand.

As believers and followers of Jesus Christ, our first call in the Kingdom of God is to love each other the way Jesus loves us.  We are never called to weigh in and prove a point.  I have learned the hard way, just this week, in fact, that you cannot even defend yourself when someone has made up their mind to disagree with you.  When the faulty communication showed itself, online yet, I tried, unsuccessfully to defend myself.  I should never have done so…… I came away wounded and disappointed; feeling let down somehow by a lack of…. of what? 

Perhaps by my own lack of ability to explain myself…. or the polarity of our two basic beliefs about how God reaches people. Perhaps I had said more than was necessary. Whatever the reason, half-way through the discussion it became evident to me that the conversation was going nowhere.  What do you do in such moments?  

Do you “slap” the other person’s cheek back?  If I do that, I become just like the one who hurt me… or worse, I identify with the entity driving their behaviors…. When did good manners and the practice of civility take such a hit, I wonder?  I found myself flat-footed, surprised….. with no arsenal in the emotional “backpack” …

Now, looking back at the conversation, I’m glad my “backpack” was empty…. Defense would have served no purpose.  And thinking about it, what if this person is my neighbor in the Kingdom to come? 

We each have a purpose.

I am comforted by the example of Jesus and His disciples. 

Peter was an impulsive and mouthy hot-head;

James and John were  anger based (“Sons of Thunder”);

Philip too analytical;

Thomas couldn’t decide what he believed;

Nathaniel (Bartholomew) was too innocent, trusting all of himself quickly;  

Andrew and Thaddeus didn’t talk much, but observed;

Simon Zealot was a nationalist, confusing his patriotism with his faith; 

Matthew had come out of politics and money-laundering; 

James Alphaeus was too logical…

…and then there was Judas Iscariot, who lived and walked with Jesus, was sent out with the twelve, and with the seventy; who saw miracles; who passed judgment on worshippers; who verbalized his criticisms… and never let people see who he really was on the inside.  Scary stuff.

One of my pastors preached a sermon many years ago.  It was titled, “Kicked with Clean Feet.”  You guessed it…. it was about how Jesus handled His human responses to Judas’ betrayal — just after the Lord of all had washed his feet….   It was about what we do when relationships in our lives turn out to be something other than what we expected.  How do we handle betrayal? Or worse, condemnation and disapproval from those who also claim to know Jesus?  We’ve all had it happen.  Sadly,  our human-ness sucks us in sometimes, and we want to defend ourselves. But Jesus never did that…. although He did explain Himself for who He was (is) and His purpose in coming… over and over again. 

Its better to be vulnerable; to be known; to take risks — even if you get hurt in the end….

But… at the end of the day, it is just a distraction.  Pulling our attention — From Him.

Disagreement, debate, and defense are sent to immerse us into a life that isn’t real… like a teenager with a laptop.  Our Father speaks, and we can’t hear Him.  “It’s time to go,” He says.  Still we persist in our argument, or our defense….

We are distracted from the real calling — to press in to broken-ness to know the Lord.  To seek Him for His plan and purpose to be made known on the earth; to find our own Calcutta.

Jesus is the only one who can change a heart.

So take heart….when disagreement happens in your sphere of influence, don’t be discouraged….. Recognize it for what it is — a distraction.  You are called to love others.  You are called as an agent of change for the Kingdom…. Look up. We are aliens and foreigners on this planet; it is not our home.  We belong to the unseen Kingdom. We can’t afford to get immersed in the “not real.”

Dad will be standing in the hallway soon to take us to dinner.

Blessings,

(c)2010 DG Duplication for profit requires permission.

on bonding


I love YouTube videos… Recently I found one that showed a prank played by several college students on the public-at-large.  They had super-glued a quarter to the ground, and then set up a camera “blind” in a local mall. The results were hilarious.  People would walk by, most of them looking down.  Some would notice the quarter. Some would walk by it, oblivious.  Those who did notice the coin, stopped.  Almost all bent down to pick it up, after looking around to see who was watching. When it became difficult to lift the quarter from the ground, responses varied.  A few even got down on their hands and knees and tried to leverage the coin from the ground. 

Watching the video started me thinking…

Like most glues, Superglue is called a “bonding agent.”  Anything it touches will become bonded together; like my thumb and forefinger; or the china cup I’m just not willing to get rid of yet…. And it only takes a couple of drops too…. The results are almost instantanious; becoming permanent…  (unless I have a chisel handy…)

Don’t you wish it was the same with relationships?  Don’t you wish there was some fantastic agent that could be applied to a relationship, or even applied in drops to our inner understanding, deepening and sealing those relationships we sometimes fear might be slipping away?  Such an element could take us back to the formative years, when our self-concept was being formed; when we were experiencing imprinting; when our morals were developing; when we were being instructed in our values…. 

It would change our perceptions, and help us to see the world … well, properly…

Studies have shown that healthy emotional bonding in a child’s life is crucial in building a solid sense of personal belonging and confidence later in life.  Interestingly enough, the same studies have shown a link between uninterrupted, positive bonding during childhood years (ages 0-12), and the development of the adult moral conscience.  It seems that we each are born with the desire to receive approval; to be understood as having “meant well” in our lives.  Additionally, we are born with a temporary, and fleeting innocence that predisposes us to believe the best, to learn, and to live motivated lives. 

I’ll throw in an illustration here: As salt and baking soda is to a cake’s batter, so healthy bonding causes our lives “to rise.”

That doesn’t mean that we are born without a sin nature… Instictively, we all possess the ability to choose ourselves first — that goes without saying…. There are things that we must be taught; like sharing; like listening; like empathsizing with others’ pain, like taking the smaller piece of pie because the apple pie on the table is our brother’s favorite…  No, we are each inherrantly selfish, with our personal orbits rotating in loyalty around our own comforts and sense of safety.  But early years are the best season to shape unselfishness. 

Early years are the time when, as Anne Ortlund stated so eloquently years ago, “children are wet cement.”

Two studies come to mind, both of which I re-read recently, involve the mindsets of sociopathic killers over the past 200 years or so.  The studies included the lives of murderers such as Ted Bundy, Jack the Ripper, Hilter, Josef Mengele, as well as more modern mass murderers, such as those who have perpetrated school shootings; like Colombine, like Paducah, Cleveland, and New Orleans.  There have been more than 60 in our country to date.  And lest we believe that the problems exist only in our own sphere of influence, we must remember that school shootings have taken place in other countries as well:  Finland, the Netherlands, Germany to name a few.  These studies show that whenever a person becomes sociopathic, it is a result of emotional numbness, of ambient depression, of isolation — in short, an un-bonded-ness in the life.

But….

Yes. I hear you. Not everyone with a bonding issue becomes a socio-path.  However, we were created to bond — at Creation, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.”    When we are not well bonded, and are designed to bond with someone — who do we bond with?  We bond to ourselves. We feel alone.  We become our own sense of “rightness.” Even within a family, we feel  “outside” somehow.  We don’t sense much emotion, unless it is negative; like anger, depression, fear.  We try to meet our own needs — even when we don’t know what they really are — and we are tempted to overindulge.

Can you fix the cake as it comes out of the oven?  Can you add salt and baking soda then — when the layer hasn’t risen, and it “tastes unappealing.” No, for the cake to rise properly, those things must be added in at “batter stage.”

Sadly, the majority of people I see in my counseling office represent our culture pretty well. Most are trying to work through bonding issues — gaps in emotional development.  They are people who thought life was “just breezing along,” until a crisis presented itself; something they were emotionally untooled for; something that released a torrent of deeper pain from early life. Typically, men cover these gaps with anger; women with fear and depression.  And bonding gaps in children — become love needs that drive us in adults.

So,

How does a parent, or authority figure,  impart bonding to their child?  Consider: can they give away something they never received?

How does a mother guide without nagging or complaining?  Consider: can she follow a pattern she has never seen modeled?

How does a father become involved and empathetic towards his family?  Consider: where would he learn those examples?

Does our busy-ness and driven-ness as a culture explain away a child’s inherrent need for bonding? Why do we seek to be “normal,” rather than “healthy?”  

Answer: We can only do what we have seen done, and repeat what we have experienced…

Unless….  The solution is not an easy one.

Our culture is in need of healthy fathers, healthy mothers, …… and healthy churches. 

Currently, I am one of those who serve in a congregation of believers.  My counseling practice includes some from my own congregation, as well as many from outside our church walls.  Too many times, I hear the words, “I don’t go to church anymore, because I didn’t feel I was good enough; I couldn’t keep all the rules. I didn’t know how.”  Too many times, sadly, people in bars have proven to be kinder than people inside a church structure.   And worse, the only people who are offended when I repeat these statements, usually are those who feel they already know Jesus Christ.  Those who don’t know Him yet agree…. or even enlarge the statements.

How do we learn to bond?  My simple answer, humbly offered is this:  We must allow our hearts to receive the love of God.  It is not something we can earn, or prove to be worthy of.  But it is the only substance that can take us each back to “batter stage.”  Jesus said, in Matthew 18, “Unless you be converted (changed) and become as a little child, you will not see the Kingdom of Heaven.” 

Stop and think about that for a moment… reread the last paragraph… I don’t know about you, but I really want to see the Kingdom come — on earth, as it is in heaven… don’t you?  What would it take for you to let your heart go back to “batter stage?”  Can you believe that God deeply and thoroughly loves you — really loves you — just because He made you? What bonding needs were not addressed in your “batter stage?”

The only one who can help us become who we are designed to become, is the One who made us… Jesus Christ…. He is the bonding agent.

The salt and baking soda part of the proposition includes finding real disciples of Jesus who will allow you to learn as you grow; and will love you as well, without judgment, or give you a list of rules that must be “kept.”  I say that, because it is important that we realize that when we allow Jesus to really love us, we will begin to hear and feel His Spirit speak to us.   On the inside of us. And when the Holy Spirit speaks, He teaches us; encourages us; and helps us to make changes from the inside out.  It’s always better to work with Him, because He is our Creator; He alone knows who we are destined to become.  

When the Holy Spirit leads us, He never leaves us alone. He always leads us into a safe community.  In the Bible, that community is called “The Body of Christ,” or “The Family of God.” 

If you would like further study about this, please email me at awakenedtogrow@yahoo.com…. or find me on facebook.

Blessings!

“…. there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother…” (Proverbs 18:24)

“…. (Jesus said,) I will never leave you or forsake you….” (Hebrews 13:5)

(c)2010. atg/dg  Duplication for profit requires permission.

  

 

knowing


We don’t know what we don’t know…..

When we realize we don’t know, most of the time we don’t possess the correct questions to help us begin to know what we need to know….. (now stay with me..)

And, most of the time, we only discover what we don’t know after we have made mistakes, and wish we could fix them.

It’s so true, isn’t it?……

Each month, through our ministry at Awakened to Grow, I teach workshops for personal growth and development.  This morning, the subject was “Parenting: How to Discover and Develop Gifts in your Child.”  For three hours, we discussed personalities, parenting styles, bonding gaps, learning styles, and the process of connecting with children on a heart-level. I was particularly touched by one participant who came.  She is a single gal, who came not because she has children of her own, but because she is a teacher who wants to help her more emotionally disconnected students.

Why, you might ask….

Because emotionally disconnected students don’t really learn or absorb.  They just memorize facts, and forget them later on.  This woman knows instinctively knows that if she can get her students to connect with her as the teacher, they will learn.

When our children were smaller, I mistakenly thought that a more structured and somewhat rigid environment would help them to become better students.  I scheduled, made task-lists, and sometimes over-organized our home-schooling/learning environment.  It didn’t work.  Wow, that’s an understatement. It really, really didn’t work.

I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

When I discovered that I didn’t know, I realized that I had no idea what questions I should ask in order to learn a different pathway.

It is the same way in emotional development, which, by the way is necessary for both genders.  When we count the male gender out of the process during boyhood, we damage their souls.  We stunt them as men; turning them angry and violent… or worse, we cripple them in their leadership skills later in life.  They find it difficult to find the courage to walk forward without looking over their shoulders.

We hinder them from hearing the Spirit of God as adult men.

Emotional development does not track with the growth of our physical bodies. In his research on the levels of moral development at Harvard, Lawrence Kohlberg divided the steps of emotional/moral development into five stages.  Level 1 descibes a person who is emotionally infantile, unaware and out of touch.  At the other end of the spectrum, Level 5 describes a person who is able to fully invest in relationships, connecting with and investing vulnerability in others unselfishly on a consistent basis.  Sadly, even as adults, more than 90% of the world’s population does not move past level 3 — self-centered, self-absorbed, unable to really understand other people around them. 

So what prevents us from growing?

Here is the the first key:  Unless a person intentionally addresses an area of relational living; assessing, addressing, and changing it; they will not, they cannot grow.  They might try to imitate a behavior, or keep a rule in order to save a relationship — but they will not be able to make real steps towards adult living. For example, if a man has had a difficult childhood, say, where he could not relate to his mother; that man will find it difficult to relate to women in his adult life in a healthy manner.  He will also find it difficult to relate to his daughters.  He won’t be a good communicator.  He might be struggle with being tempted to be unfaithful, or even cold and unfeeling….

If he has sons, his manner of relating is passed on; imitated and followed, many times for generations…

The same types of symptoms occur in women, when emotional development has been stunted; or bonding issues exist. 

Here is the second key:  Emotional development does not happen in seclusion or isolation.  It happens in community — We were created for relationship — Therefore, we need it in order to be happy, healthy and whole. 

This kind of growth many times cannot happen unless hidden wounds are addressed in a person’s life.  And please, for those of you who have been in Christian circles for a long time, please understand that it doesn’t happen quickly, or overnight.  Rather than a one-time event, where a person comes to change; it is a journey, with one step following another; happening incrementally, and intentionally. 

The first lesson we learn in emotional development, is that we must be willing to be honest; assessing where we live without fear, blame, guilt, shame or denial. 

The second lesson is more difficult. Choosing to trust a safe person; asking them to give us a new set of questions to ask about our lives.  

For more, let me recommend a great read. “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” by Pete Scazzaro. 

To close, let me say this:

My friend, Mike likes to post funny things on his Facebook page. Today, his quote came up, “God has already figured your stupidity into His plan.”   At first, I laughed, and then, thought, “It’s a good thing!”  You know, if God had to wait for me to “get it” every time, my life would have more delays than an airport….. He is the only One who knows all the things we don’t know….. and at the end of the day — He is the only one who can heal us!

Blessings!!

(c)2010  DG Awakened to Grow.  Duplication without permission prohibited.