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Judy Lair is a licensed counselor and owner of Counselorplace Christian Counseling. She is the author of “From the Other Side of the Couch: A Biblical Counselor’s Guide to Relational Living.” Judy’s personal struggles with fear led her through the valley of hurt and sorrow. She now embraces a joy-filled life grounded in God’s truth and freedom in Christ. Judy uses her professional counseling expertise to tell stories that help people find healing and freedom. Her vulnerable, godly approach helps people find courage to move from Fear to Freedom. For more information or speaking requests, email JudyLair@counselorplace.com or sign up for blog posts at http://judylair.blogspot.com

 “Freedom is attainable. Trust me, I’ve been on the anxiety side, gone through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and now I’m praising God, eating at the banqueting table, and helping others make the same journey. Whether you find yourself stuck in anxiety, disappointment, grief, or confusion, your heart can be set free.” Judy Lair, “From the Other Side of the Couch.”

Sunday, October 19, 2014

It’s Not About Dumb or Stupid, It’s About Safe and Unsafe

How often do you beat yourself up? Tell yourself that you must be dumb, stupid, an idiot, etc.? How worried are you that someone else thinks all those same negative things about you and your actions? Join the club!

I moved into a new apartment complex a few months ago. My relationship with the management staff was tested from the very first day. Every question I’ve asked and every maintenance request I’ve made has resulted in me feeling ignorant and stupid.

After moving and unpacking all day, what I wanted most was a shower and my bed. I finally unearthed my shower curtain and as I was hanging it, the entire rod pulled off the wall! Maintenance request #1. The next morning I spent time setting up my bedroom, moving lamps around to get the best lighting. There are three light switches next to the door. Scout’s honor, I tried every combination of every light switch/wall outlet and could not find a way to turn on a lamp via a light switch. I emailed staff who told me to try again and if I couldn’t figure it out, they would send maintenance once again. When I got home that evening, maintenance had left step by step instructions explaining exactly what to do. I felt like a kindergartner. Uggg! How stupid am I for not figuring it out myself!

Trash in this complex is taken to a compactor where I need to put in a specific code to open the door. I tried several times and the door would never open. I emailed the office and received a very condescending reply, telling me to call next time I was at the compactor and someone would come and show me how to do it properly. Grrrrrr! So fine, the next time I took out the trash I called the woman to come “help me.” She smugly showed me how to enter the code, pulled on the door, and it opened easily. Undeterred,  I asked if I could try. She closed the door and I repeated the steps – but the door would not budge. She pulled on it and it wouldn’t open for her either. Saying the last person must have messed it up, she showed me how to give the door a body slam to fix it. Although I felt justified, her attitude left no doubt she thought I was lame.

The most recent debacle happened a few days ago when I emailed the office about seeing some small, black bugs on the wall and ceiling. I thought they were coming in because it’s starting to get cold outside. Management sent a pest control inspector who immediately identified them as flour beetles and began searching my kitchen cabinets. Now I’m exactly 5’ tall and even when I stand on a step stool, I’m not eye level with the second cabinet shelf and can barely reach the third shelf on my tip toes. The inspector opened a bag of flour I had on the top shelf. Gross! It was full of those beetles! I was immediately overwhelmed with embarrassment and shame. How stupid can I be??? He’s going to send a report to management and they will now be convinced I am the biggest idiot in the apartment complex!

When I feel dumb, my immediate coping mechanism is to call myself names, apparently believing this will remind me to be smarter next time. But we all know that doesn’t work! What I need to do is move from isolating self-condemnation to feeling cared for and loved. This takes place when we recognize it’s not a matter of being smart/stupid or right/wrong. It’s about feeling unsafe and unprotected.

King David is the best example of this principle. If anyone had reason to beat themselves up all the live long day, it was David. But I never get that vibe when I read his journal. Psalms is full of David confessing his foolishness without the name calling. Instead, he acknowledges his stuff and thanks God for protecting and caring for him even in the midst of it.

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord; “O Lord, save me!” The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me. Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. Psalm 116:1-6

I grew up feeling emotionally unprotected and unsafe. I can remember events ranging from elementary school to this week where I’ve felt stupid and trace it back to feeling unprotected. My coping mechanism was to become mature, dependable, and responsible as quickly as possible – hoping that by acting like an adult, I'd finally feel safe. But here I am at age 54, still triggered by condescending property agents who terrify me because I feel unprotected when I don't know something.

David acknowledged his immaturities and weaknesses without shame because he knew he was supposed to be imperfect. The job of a child is to experience life, letting their parents decide what is and isn’t safe. When I took my son Ben to the playground, I expected he would try to climb too high on the monkey bars or want to swing high enough to touch the clouds. It wasn’t his job to understand physics and determine safe/unsafe play, it was mine as his parent. Same thing when he went to his first school dance. He knew I’d share a couple suggestions that could help him avoid embarrassment, whether he wanted them or not:) I love watching Ben’s approach to the world; secure and confident.

I’ve learned that each time I start down the “I’m stupid” path, I reinforce my helplessness. Instead, I can choose to run to my heavenly father, tell him I feel scared and unsafe and ask for his protection over my heart. Calling on the name of the Lord allows me to grieve what I did not receive in the past and anchor to his trustworthiness in the present. 

I've been processing this event all weekend so when I open up the, “You’re stupid” letter from the office this week, I'll be able to deal with it functionally and move on rather than taking an emotional hit to my personhood. What do you do/believe when you feel stupid and helpless?

Photo located at flickr.com

Friday, October 3, 2014

Hope Trumps Fear

Just as darkness must give way to light, fear must give way when we choose to allow hope into our heart.

Fear of disappointment is the enemy of hope. How many times have you wanted to be excited about a potential new job or the outcome of a relationship, but didn’t want to set yourself up for disappointment? A great example of this belief is found in the story of the prodigal son.

The prodigal son decided to leave his father’s household and venture out into the world so he could make his own decisions about his own life. The folks he surrounded himself with all left when his funds ran out. Then a famine came and the son ended up in terrible circumstances. He eventually decided to go back home and beg his father for mercy, hoping he'd be allowed to become one of the servants. Not wanting to be disappointed, the prodigal son had absolutely no hope in forgiveness and grace. Fear lied to the son about the father’s heart.

In truth, the father was waiting and watching for his son to come home. Rather than being angry and holding a grudge, the father felt loving compassion and ran to his son, kissing and hugging him. Yes, there were barriers they needed to address, but the father wanted his son to hope into a full restoration of the relationship rather than settling for something less. Opening up to receive his father’s genuine loving embrace changed the son’s heart. It gave him the courage to see and confess his own brokenness as well as hope into personal and relational change.

Living the abundant life encompasses cultivating an excitement and passion to see and connect with God in our everyday life. Fear of disappointment limits our ability to receive all that God wants to bring into our life. It’s impossible to be passionate without hope. Unfortunately, mankind has learned how to beat hope down to a manageable size. We analyze the practicality of our dreams based on reasonableness and risk. Such a life strategy is based on managing fear rather than anchoring to the author of hope.

In 2 Timothy 1:7 we’re told not to live a life out of timidity and fear. Hoping into God’s heart gives us the strength and courage to triumph over fear. Ask God to deposit His hope into your heart. It will change your view about everything.
  • Hope that God really does love you all the time, no matter how you feel about yourself and your actions.
  • Hope that your heart can be transformed and your life changed.
  • Hope that you can trust in God and others rather than self-protect out of fear.
  • Hope that God has a wonderful, amazing plan for your life!

Photo courtesy of medicboyz.blogspot.com

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Hope in God's Heart Does Not Disappoint

Transformation is a messy process. I wrote this poem in the middle of moving from fear to freedom. As I intentionally sat in the hurt and pain I'd pushed aside for many years, I often felt hopeless. I hated seeing how my fear-based life strategy had caused me to make unhealthy decisions. Was it possible I could actually change? 

Fear dominated my life when I assumed all the responsibility for my own transformation. If it was all up to me, I'd absolutely screw it up. That's what I had done up to that point. But God was calling me to place my hope in Him. Transformation is God's responsibility. That was a life-changing revelation. My role was to put myself in His hands day after day after day. 

Learning to change my self-protective life strategy has been difficult. In theory, I love that God is responsible for bringing about change and I can rest in him. In reality, I often try to tell God how to do his job! 

Life is still messy with set-backs and disappointments, but placing hope in God's heart for bringing about my healing brings a sense of peace and contentment. Kinda like being a kid on a swing.

We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us. Romans 5:4-5

Where are you in your transformation process?

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Plato's Cave: Living in Darkness

Philosopher Plato wrote the Allegory of the Cave showing how fear keeps us chained and in darkness. Watching this excellent video story reminded me that centuries later, many of us are still living a fear-based life.

Plato’s story shows a man who courageously wanted to live in the real world rather than feel safe in the cave watching shadows. He bravely risked looking at what safety cost him vs. the benefit of living in freedom. The man returned to the cave and shared his testimony, urging other folks to choose truth, but no one else wanted to leave the security of the cave and face their fears.

I’ve been in the cave. I’ve made many choices in my life based on what would cause me the least amount of fear—and the consequences have been devastating. 

Choosing fear robbed me of all the good things God wanted to bring into my life. 
  • Seeing who God created me to be
  • Believing in God’s love for me no matter my immaturities
  • Allowing God to empower me to conquer the Goliaths in my life
  • Trusting fully and completely in God’s heart even when I don’t understand why he allows hurt and pain
So how do we press into fear so we can live in the light of God’s love for us? Do the very thing we fear most: intentionally choose to become vulnerable and transparent.

Woundedness causes us to shut down, transformation requires vulnerability and openness. No one is more vulnerable than a child. Choosing to be vulnerable feels unsafe and counter-intuitive to most adults because of the hurt they’ve experienced. That’s why we choose to live in a cave. It may not be the most joyful life, but at least we avoid people and situations that bring us fear.

Jesus’ relationships with his heavenly father, earthly family, disciples, and friends were characterized by openness and a willingness for his heart to be seen. Vulnerability and transparency with safe, caring people are essential for wounds to be healed and our life to be transformed. We have the choice to intentionally narrow our world down to keep fear at bay. This causes a very rigid, black and white worldview. Prioritizing security over relationship significantly impacts our ability to love well. 

But God wants us to take the risk to learn how to face fear with His strength and courage. No longer blackmailed by choking anxiety and fear, we can walk with the Shepherd who will lead us through the valley to the banqueting table beyond. In my book, From the Other Side of the Couch: A Biblical Guide to Relational Living, I share a Roadmap to Freedom explaining how to move from fear to freedom.

I know it’s not as simple as deciding today to be vulnerable and immediately feeling safe with God and others. There will be a gap between making this decision by our will and learning how to receive healing in the areas that caused us to stay in the cave. Continue to ask God to strengthen you and persevere during the gap.

And we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:3-5

Is God calling you out of the cave today?

Photo from Office.com photos

Monday, September 1, 2014

Is God For You?

My pastor Chris has been teaching a sermon series entitled, "Backstory." Chris points out when we miss the beginning of a movie, it’s hard to understand the full context. Imagine jumping into "Finding Nemo" 30 minutes into the story. You’d have no idea who Nemo was and why Marlin so desperately needed to find him. Any interpretations and conclusions you’d make about the characters and their motives would most likely be incorrect. The same thing is true regarding God's creation of the world and humankind.

In Genesis 1, God declared his handiwork, including people, to be "good." It's vitally important that our view of ourselves and the world is based on the understanding that God emphatically states we are created good.

The belief that humans are fundamentally good has been challenged by those who’ve come into the movie theater hundreds or thousands of years later. These folks point at the horrible things people do to hurt each other, concluding humankind has always been "bad." Deep down, most Christians believe God has to love them (him being God and all), but at best, he tolerates their imperfect existence. Most folks get stuck in the middle of the story where our heart is deceitful and we cannot do the good we desire.

But that’s not where God’s story ends.

Today Chris finished the sermon series by pointing out that everything broken in the Garden of Eden was made right by Jesus Christ on the cross. God, through his son Jesus, broke into human history at the point it went bad. It’s now all being made right again through each one of us who understands this truth. The final chapter of this story is about us going back to living out the good God created in us.

Jesus’ sacrifice made it possible for us to live a redeemed life. The only way we can be successful is to understand God created us good and He is always for us. Grab onto that truth, write it on your doorpost, rearview mirror, tattoo it in permanent ink! If we’re always worried that God’s disappointed in us, it’s hard to do anything but live in fear and discouragement. A foundation based on Genesis 1 allows you to confidently tackle your weaknesses and learn how to love yourself and others well. That’s how the last chapter of the story unfolds.

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up or us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us…For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, with be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-39

Do you believe God is for you?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

One Single Word

Today I was reminded how one single word can make an enormous difference in our lives. One word can shape our understanding of ourselves, our paradigm, context for where we've been, and send us on a new path.

Words are used to beat us down or build us up. So much of the hurt we experience originates from slashing words uttered intentionally by someone close to us, often even to ourselves. Some folks respond by absorbing the pain, believing the words are true. Others build a protective wall by hardening their heart. How we respond to words dictates what impact they have on our life.

Lamentations 3 describes the horror of the destruction of Jerusalem, the temple, and exile of Judah's inhabitants. One command was given, resulting in centuries of pain and suffering. The author's emotionally-laden words connect with our own individual wounds and painful stories.

He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship. He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead. He has walled me in so I cannot escape; he has weighed me down with chains. Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer. He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked..I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, "My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD." Lamentations 3:5-9, 17-18

So what do we do when we've received too many hurtful words and feel battered and abandoned? Ask God for a new word. A word that will bring light into our inner darkness, hope and vision for this day. 

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:18-23

God's compassion for me is renewed EVERY morning. Such power in that one word. No matter what comes my way today, God gives me a new, loving, compassionate, truthful word EVERY morning. It's my choice to learn how to ask for, and receive, His words.

We all have barriers that keep us from hearing God. Hurt, bitterness, beliefs, disappointment, busyness, etc. Don't be discouraged if you can't hear God today. Ask Him to show you what is blocking his voice. The ability to hear from God will grow as the healing process unfolds.

My word from God came today while sitting in contemplative prayer at a home group leaders retreat. We were learning different ways to incorporate prayer into our groups. God created us with different personalities, ways of learning, and communication styles. Prayer is as individual as we are, so if you cannot hear from God in one way, get creative! Nate introduced us to Praying in Color (www.prayingincolor.com), an interactive way to stay focused while praying. He also taught us the traditional Lectio Divina prayer model, a way of listening with your heart while you read Scripture. The steps are:

1) Read the passage, being sensitive to any particular word or phrase that stands out for you.
2) Reflect on the word, being attentive to what feelings it evokes and thoughts that come to mind.
3) Respond spontaneously to what you are thinking and feeling, offering prayers of thanksgiving, praise, petition, etc.
4) Rest in God's presence, allowing the Holy Spirit to draw you deeper into how this Scripture passage relates to you.

As I read Ephesians 3:14-20, the word "all" grabbed me. I absolutely want "all the fullness of God" in my life. As I focused on the word "all," God started giving me a vision of how he wanted to use me to impact others on a larger scale. Fear popped up. The more attention I get, the more risk there is for hurtful words to come my way. I was immediately reminded of the context of this passage. God promises fear must flea when I'm rooted and grounded in the knowledge that the love of Christ always surrounds me. As I focus on God's love for me, he will expand all five feet of me to be filled with all the fullness of God I can handle. Wow! One single word opened my heart up to an entire world of possibilities! What is God's word for you today?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Sitting in Sadness

Recently one of my clients took the risk to lovingly confront me about a situation where I incorrectly took credit for an idea she had generated. She'd been hurt in this same way by others in her past. I was so proud she stepped out in faith to say something to me. She was absolutely correct and I truthfully admitted it. It wasn't done intentionally, but in my hurry to get something done I didn't review it to see I described the situation inaccurately. The client was gracious in accepting my apology and I'm very grateful she offered me understanding and grace.

Seeing and acknowledging mistakes used to fill me with a great deal of fear, sending me into a self-condemnation cycle. I'd berate myself not only for the present error, but for all the dumb stuff I'd ever done throughout my life. My inner Guardian became a military sergeant, telling me to shape up, scrutinizing and analyzing every detail of life for the next week as punishment. 

I came to realize that I used this destructive cycle to keep me from feeling sad and disappointed in seeing my imperfections. It's scary and frustrating to see immaturities. Instead of bringing God into those feelings, I just wanted to quickly fix it all myself. Many times I came up with a good plan to make sure I never made that same error again. But in doing so I completely missed the bigger lesson God wanted me to learn--that character is not determined by making mistakes. It's shown in how we bravely risk to be vulnerable with God and others when those weaknesses are brought to our attention.

My initial concern was to take responsibility for my failure and make sure the client felt safe to continue the discussion. Driving home, I allowed all the other complicated feelings to surround me. I felt grateful she felt safe to bring the subject up, sad I'd hurt her leading her to question my trustworthiness, embarrassed because she was correct, and frustrated I could've made a different choice and didn't. My inner Guardian worried this lapse in judgment meant something negative about my character. It felt like she was shaking her finger and scolding me, saying something about me getting too big for my britches these days!

It was really uncomfortable meditating on my actions that evening, but I wanted healing more than I needed to side step hard emotions. I've learned how to sit in these difficult feelings and condemning thoughts without needing to defend myself or employ an avoidance strategy. It's not easy and still takes intentionality to implement. But that's where I find God--in the midst of doubts about myself. He reminds me what's true. My responsibility is just to sit still and be sorrowful in the arms of He who loves me dearly.

Graphic from Office.com clip art

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Do You Want to be Healed?

Jesus was at the pool of Bethesda one day and started up a conversation with a man who talked about being crippled for 38 years. He explained to Jesus that every so often, an angel would stir the pool and the first person to get into the water was healed. Jesus asked the man a very interesting question. “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6 NIV)

Now why would Jesus ask that question? Obviously the man wanted to be healed, he had just told Jesus all about his physical ailments and how he spent his entire day waiting at the pool. It seems like a very illogical question on its surface, but there were lots of reasons why it was critical Jesus ask that question of that man -- and why God asks it of each one of us.
Sir, the invalid replied, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me. (John 5:7 NIV)
The man’s response shows hope in his healing had dwindled down to almost nothing. He had no one who cared enough to be by his side to help him. We can often feel like the victim of a loveless world and get caught up in hating our weaknesses. At those times we need Jesus to ask this obvious question designed to challenge our ingrained monologue of hopelessness. 

This question shed light on the invalid’s despairing heart and gave him the opportunity to anchor to truth. Human beings equate love with actions. If someone loves me, then they will do things for me that feel loving. Instead, hope for healing and happiness must come out of our understanding of God’s heart for our full transformation. Changes in circumstances are temporary. Hope in God’s heart for us is always assured. Holding tight to this truth will change us for eternity. 

Is your hope in something or someone fading? Rather than narrowing your vision and demanding change happen in a specific way, I encourage you to ask God to expand your view. Lifting your eyes to heaven and genuinely asking to see through God's eyes allows us to not only gain a different perspective--but also draws us closer to His heart. Hope is found in a person. Healing comes by genuinely asking God if He loves you, separate and apart from your circumstances.

Photo by Judy Lair in Jerusalem 2011

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Revel in Being Loved

Before we can do relationship with others well, we need to revel in how God loves us. That means learning how to close out the world and sit inside God’s heart. Ask God to shut out everything clamoring for your attention and develop a special, unique place in your soul where the two of you can communicate. 

I do this by reading Psalms to hear David talk about God’s loving kindness and feeling Moses’ frustration with stiff-necked Israelites. Be inspired by Peter’s zealousness and go on an emotional roller coaster with John to share Jesus’ last days. Listen to music that stirs your heart. Sad, mad, joyful -- pour out all your feelings and God will share Himself with you. What we gain is a different way to view ourselves and others through God’s eyes.

A good example of this is when Jesus was invited to have dinner with a Pharisee named Simon. A woman anointed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them dry with her hair, kissing his feet and pouring perfume on them. From the Pharisee’s viewpoint, she was a known sinner and he would never have allowed such an unclean person to touch him. Jesus told a parable to help Simon see what the woman already knew about forgiveness and mercy. 

God’s viewpoint always starts with seeing how much He cares for us. Despite our weaknesses, it’s His loving kindness that leads us to repentance and new life. Humankind sets up artificial standards and judges whether people measure up. When we view the world through relationship with God, there is love, grace, mercy, compassion, and acceptance.

Do you revel in being loved by God, even when you see your weaknesses? 

The Bible truthfully reminds me of God's constant, unwavering love. I experience it in my soul when I feel the love I have for my son Ben, knowing God loves me even more deeply. I surrender to the waves of emotion when I'm in the midst of worship. And because I revel in God's love in all these ways, I'm able to believe it by an act of my will when my shortcomings and immaturities are painfully revealed.

Photos by Judy Lair

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Do You “know” Jesus or KNOW Jesus?

Last week I flew from Columbus, Ohio to Los Angeles, California to attend a conference. The first day I embarked on a thrilling walking tour through Sony Pictures/Columbia Pictures/MGM Studios. I hardly dared breathe on the stage where Judy Garland began her journey on the yellow brick road in Munchkin Land. Standing in the Barbara Streisand Sound Studio, I desperately wanted to break into “Funny Girl” or “The Way We Were,” but I didn’t want to get kicked off the tour! I visited the Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy studios and saw the New York brownstone neighborhood backdrop where they filmed The Smurfs. I think my favorite part was posing next to the Ghostbuster mobile! Everyone on the tour had their head on a swivel searching for celebrities, but no go.
I bravely took a public bus north on Santa Monica Boulevard to West Hollywood. Sitting at a stoplight, I looked to my left. There were four police officers with their guns drawn approaching a bank across the street which had apparently just been robbed! A helicopter flew overhead and several police cruisers arrived just as the light turned green and we pulled through the intersection. “Welcome to LA,” chirped the bus driver. How bizarre!
After snapping a photo of Adam Sandler’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for my son Ben, I made my way to Bronson Studios on Sunset Boulevard. The next several hours passed quickly as I laughed and cheered during the taping of Celebrity Name Game hosted by Craig Ferguson. A comedian named Frank got the audience revved up, telling jokes and asking us questions. He seemed really familiar and I felt like he was a rediscovered long lost relative. A married couple sitting in front of me shared they’d sat through six tapings the previous day and planned to attend all the shows the next day. Frank bantered with them like they were college buddies. Leaving the studio my sense of direction failed me. Believing I was taking a shortcut to the bus stop, I stubbornly kept walking and walking and walking, expecting to intersect Santa Monica Boulevard. As night fell in West Hollywood, a kind gentleman pointed out I was on a parallel street and needed to head west instead of south. Believe me, my anxiety was almost at panic level by that point!
The next day I again ventured out, getting off the bus in Beverly Hills to visit the CBS Studios. I enjoyed wondering around the Beverly Hills Farmers’ Market. Eating brunch in the outdoor cafĂ© gave me the freedom to drink in my surroundings. People watching in LA is amazing! Suntanned moms with long blonde hair, stylish gay men, and lots of bohemian 20somethings caught my eye as I savored the most amazing Hollandaise sauce I’ve ever tasted. I admit to eavesdropping on all the fascinating conversations around me. Everyone was talking about who they knew, who they wanted to impress, and who they wanted to “get a meeting” with next. I got caught up in listening to one young woman’s story of literally running into a famous movie director’s car, concluding they were now “in” with each other because the director gave her his Twitter handle.

Listening to all the conversations about knowing people made me realize we often do the same thing with Jesus. Christians know a lot of information about Jesus. We know stories about him, facts about his life, have heard about him from his friends—but do we really KNOW Jesus any more than I know Frank or that woman knows the director?

Stories, testimonials, and facts are a great place to start. But how do we KNOW Jesus in an intimate, relational way? We start by putting down our protective shields and intentionally showing our vulnerabilities. Turn your face toward heaven and say, “Jesus, my name is ­­­­­_______. I know you created me and I know what the Bible says about you, but I don’t really know YOU. Can we sit here while I tell you about my loneliness, hurt, and sadness?”

In most instances, folks try to establish relationships by putting their best face forward. We’ve learned how to read the other person, reinventing ourselves based on what we believe will get us a stamp of approval. Knowing information about someone helps us to anticipate what they expect and how to get “in” with them. But Jesus doesn’t want us to study up on his likes and dislikes in the hopes of gaining his favor. Nor does he want us to just be an audience member who believes proximity establishes relationship. Jesus asks us to go all in—drop all our pretenses and invite him to see our nakedness. While that approach may send your anxiety soaring, believe you me, it’s a whole lot better than finding yourself scared and alone when night falls in your chaotic life!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Order Matters

Do you remember learning how to drive a car? Living in Hershey, Pennsylvania when I was a teen, my dad taught me how to drive at Hersheypark. Lots of parking lot room for an inexperienced driver in an old Chevy. The worst I could do was sideswipe a light pole.

Dad felt it was important that I learn how to drive a stick shift as well as an automatic transmission. This added a whole lot more steps to an already complicated process.

  • Put on your seatbelt (if you’re super short like me, you have to learn how to adjust the seat belt so it doesn’t choke you at the neck!)
  • Hands at 2 and 4 (or is it 12 and 8?)
  • Adjust the mirrors
  • Make sure there are no children, animals, or peers who would make fun anywhere near you
  • Wear a cute outfit just in case you get in an accident -- clean underwear, of course!
  • Turn the key in the ignition and let go of the key before the starter makes grinding noises
  • Spin your head around in every conceivable direction to make sure there is absolutely nothing you can inadvertently hit
  • Put the car in reverse and start backing out slowly
 And that list is just to get out of the driveway. There’s a whole other list to follow depending on where you’re driving, who’s in the car with you, and who you’re trying to impress!

I learned very quickly how important it was to follow my dad’s instructions. Over and over I'd repeat his instructions to myself.

  1. Left foot on the brake
  2. Right foot hovering over the gas pedal
  3. Move the left foot to push in the clutch
  4. Right hand shifts into 1st gear
  5. Ease up on the clutch while at the same time gently pressing on the gas
 Everything got all messed up if I got the order wrong. There'd be loud, grinding transmission noises, not to mention exasperated exclamations by my dad. Trying to shift gears without pushing in the clutch or attempting to accelerate to 50mph while still in 1st gear resulted in frustration and a trip to the mechanic. After much practice, the steps flowed in an orderly fashion allowing for a smooth drive. Parallel parking, however, is still a whole different subject!

Process is based on order. Driving, baking, playing an instrument, planting a garden, learning math -- anything that involves process requires orderly steps. I love reading Bible passages that set out the order in which we are to grow. When I wonder why I’m sitting in a ditch of despair or I’m frustrated because nothing is working out, I usually find I'm hitting the gas instead of the clutch!

One of those order passages is 2 Peter 1:5-8.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (NIV)

Are you feeling defeated and discouraged in your life despite working hard at all the right things? Take a good look at the order of these qualities to see if you're skipping ahead. Beating yourself about not feeling kind or loving towards someone? Maybe you need to go back and pursue goodness or self-control first. Every human being picks the quality he/she believes is the most important and starts there. But God gives us a specific order for a very good reason. He knows what we need each step along the way to successfully learn and grow in maturity to love ourselves and others well.

Take a look at the order in this passage. Peter assumes we have faith first, then we grow from there. But how do you define faith? How do you define knowledge or self-control? Many clients look at me like I’m deranged, but the definition we live out may not actually be the one God wants you to embrace. If your definition causes you to feel heavy and discouraged, you might want to have a conversation with God!

Before you can walk out the order, you need to be sure you and God are both looking at these qualities from the same viewpoint. Someone living an Outcome-based perspective looks at this list and immediately beats themselves up for not being able to live it out perfectly. But God is relational, and He gives us this list as a direction to follow, excited to reveal how each of us uniquely grow in goodness, perseverance, love, etc.

One of my clients this week brought this passage to my attention. As we talked about the order, he realized he’d put self-control at the beginning. He felt ashamed at not being able to reign in certain behaviors. When he understood God wanted him to follow these steps in this order, he was hopeful and encouraged. Understanding and living out faith, goodness, and knowledge will give him the tools necessary to move on to self-control. When I feel stuck, discouraged, and frustrated with how my life is going, I go back and ask God if He can give me another driving lesson!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Garden of Gethsemane

I had the amazing opportunity to visit Israel a few years ago. It was surreal driving down a rocky road passing a Palestinian settlement on the left, a heavily protected Israeli settlement on the right, and seeing road signs for Jericho ahead. Standing on top of a hill overlooking Samaria, I felt the presence of God and sensed the sandaled feet that had passed this way. Psalm 121:1 came to mind.  “I lift up my eyes to the hills--where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”  (NIV) What an amazing opportunity to lay my eyes on the same mountains that prompted David’s praise to the Lord.

It was awe-inspiring to stand in the center of the Old City, looking at the Wailing Wall to my right and the Temple Mount’s golden dome to my left. Viewing the City of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, I had a profound sense of living in the past, present, and future all at the same time. 

The account of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane shows the genuineness of living an emotionally open life. Being able to actually see the ancient, gnarled olive trees surrounded by white stone allowed me to capture the feeling of what it was like for Jesus that night. He’d been telling the disciples for weeks that going to Jerusalem would bring about his death. Talking about it was preparing both the disciples and Jesus for the upcoming events. Jesus knew he was going to not only experience a great deal of cruelty and physical pain, but also overwhelming emotional and relational sorrow.

As Jesus was praying, he began to be sorrowful and troubled, sharing those feelings with Peter, James, and John. (Matthew 26) Jesus was so burdened with the enormity of the task that lay ahead of him, he asked the disciples to stay awake and pray for him to be strengthened. He was asking them to mourn with him as he mourned. Jesus could have asked God to send a host of angels to care for him, but angels are not made in God’s image and couldn’t join with Jesus in a deep, emotional way.

I’m most struck by Jesus’ humanity. The Bible reports his deep emotional state caused him to fall to his knees, his face to the ground. Jesus honestly, fervently begged God to find a way to take the cup from him. This God-man Jesus was in agony knowing what excruciating pain he would suffer and he did the human thing of asking God if there was a Plan B. Without this picture of Christ in his humanness, I would forever feel like a coward when I ask God to take away the hardships in my life.

Jesus honestly and genuinely allowed himself to feel all the emotions surrounding his impending death. He wasn’t ashamed to be vulnerable and transparent in front of the disciples and God. I love that Jesus didn’t use some sort of rationalization or minimization of his feelings. He didn’t sound like a pompous martyr, saying he knew it would be hard, but he would clench his teeth and march through it. No, he wept.

At some later point, Jesus returned to the disciples and found them sleeping, exhausted from sorrow. Jesus woke them, encouraging them to pray so they would not fall into temptation. I disagree with opinions that villainize the disciples, saying they were lazy or didn’t really care about Jesus’ concerns. The text says they were exhausted from sorrow. Have you ever grieved and cried so deeply that you were exhausted? Then you know this type of mourning comes from the bottom of your soul because someone you love is hurting. Jesus’ words were said to put them on high alert because he knew his arrest was imminent.

We are uniquely vulnerable to the discouraging voice of the enemy in the midst of a heart-wrenching season. The enemy can be found in words spoken by hurtful people when we need compassion or in our own condemning words about what we should have said or done. But almost always, the enemy takes on the form of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, making us question whether God really loves us. The disciples would soon be surrounded by this enemy.

Three times Jesus begged the disciples to stay alert and pray because temptation was upon them. But for all their good intentions, Matthew tells us their bodies were weak. Next thing they know, a large armed crowd shows up and arrests Jesus. Bedlam breaks loose as Peter grabs his sword and starts swinging it around in panic, threatening everybody, even cutting off someone’s ear. We then hear the strong, confident, powerful voice of Jesus call out to Peter. The same voice that calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee restored order to the Garden of Gethsemane.

Jesus reminded Peter he didn’t need Peter’s protection. He had the power to ask his Father in heaven to send down legions of angels. Jesus also reminded the crowd he had made himself available in the temple courts every day, so their armed show of strength now was obviously unnecessary. In fact, Jesus declared he had known all along he was the fulfillment of the writings of the prophets. By his words, Jesus gave notice he stood ready to take on all the pain and suffering those next days would bring.

So how did Jesus go from weeping in the garden to exhibiting strength and determination in the moment of his arrest? He poured out his heart and emotions in prayer to his Father. In return, God sent an angel to give him strength when the disciples had none to give Jesus. Every week I have folks weeping in my office, pouring out their hurt and disappointment. Most of the time they know I don’t have any answers to change their circumstances. They walk out my door and nothing is fixed. Yet their burden’s been lifted, allowing them to continue to persevere. When we’re given the gift of someone praying and waiting with us in that emotional time, we receive comfort which comes directly from God’s heart. Knowing in our soul that God sees us in that difficult place, that His heart hurts with us, and that He is bringing joy out of ashes allows us to press forward with determination.

Photos by Judy Lair

Information & Energy

Feelings give us two important things necessary for transformation: Information and Energy. Emotional information is critical in being able to live a relational lifestyle. Empathy, compassion, and sacrificial love are all fueled by our ability to be emotionally vulnerable. When we’re standing on the emotional river bank watching other people struggle with waves of feeling, our heart is not engaged. We shout out directions or vent our frustration with their process, but they cannot receive from us.

If we’re sitting in the other person’s boat, we become overwhelmed with their feelings and codependently take on their burdens. A healthy lifestyle is where we navigate our own boat through the river of life with God as our Captain, allowing others to pull alongside us with encouragement, and empathetically supporting others ourselves.

When feelings are shut off or dismissed, we miss out on valuable information God uses to reveal personhood. We’re not created as “one size fits all” people. Just as God created multiple varieties of birds, animals, and plants, He created each of us as unique and special. Wanting to feel special is one of the core longings God instilled in our soul. When this message isn’t communicated from our parents, we shut down our feelings and often go into victim-mode. Owning our feelings allows God to show us how we respond to the world in our own, unique way. Knowing what shuts me down emotionally allows me to protect myself in a healthy way from harmful people and situations.

Clients ask me how to clearly hear from God, wanting to know how to discern God’s plan for their life. There’s no way to establish walkie talkie communication with God without being an excellent student of our emotions. Feelings allow God to communicate through the Holy Spirit to our soul. I spend a lot of time with God discussing how I experience people. Every time I talk with a new client, I’m trying to open myself up to how I feel in their presence, what they say, what they talk about, and what God shows me about their heart attitude. I ask the Holy Spirit to sort through all my thoughts and feelings and give me insight into the client’s character and discernment about whether we will be a good fit for each other. I get a red light/green light sense in my gut that I’ve learned is God speaking to me.

Learning to correctly interpret our emotions is a trial and error process. Most of us are much more comfortable living in fear, relying on black and white facts to make sure we are “right.” Giving up the illusion of certainty is brutal. It feels like God is asking us to jump off a cliff without knowing how far we will fall.

Trust in the transformation process gives you courage. Most of us desperately cling to certainty for safety, but living free is about risk. I began stepping out in small ways to find out if I could trust my gut. When I got a red light feeling about a person, I asked more questions and watched their life for a while. It really did became clear what God was communicating to me. I became bolder, asking people if they had certain thoughts or felt a particular way, and usually they agreed with my discernment. When I missed the mark, I learned it wasn’t a fatal, catastrophic failure but a learning experience.

Emotions also give us energy to overcome fear. In some households, anger was used to overpower, intimidate, and harm. But emotions can be used positively to push through fear barriers. I’ve read amazing accounts where adrenaline provided people the physical strength and courage to act in a crisis. King David was the only one able to harness his outrage and use it to step out on the battlefield and challenge Goliath.

When I need to have a difficult conversation, I first squeeze out all the worry and fear. Venting all my knee-jerk self-protective defenses allows me to anchor to what God has shown me is true. John 8:32 says that God’s truth will set us free. I now know what freedom feels like, so I can use that knowledge to give me the needed boost to enter into that scary conversation with courage and confidence.

Graphic used by permission from Creative Commons (Office.com)

Become as a Little Child

Woundedness causes us to shut down, but the transformation process requires vulnerability and openness. No one is more vulnerable than a child. Choosing to be vulnerable feels unsafe and counterintuitive to most adults because of the hurt they’ve experienced as a child. Jesus’ relationships with his heavenly father, earthly family, disciples, and friends were characterized by openness and a willingness for his heart to be seen. Vulnerability and transparency with safe, caring people are essential for wounds to be healed and our life to be transformed.

Every human being has a variety of needs; physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual. Although a newborn has all these needs, they have almost no ability to meet any of them. As a child grows older, needs become more complicated, but the ability to empower ourselves to meet some of the needs grows as well. There will, however, always be some level of gap. God’s plan to address this gap is to facilitate meeting needs primarily through other people. Sometimes God intervenes directly himself, but most of the time needs are met by living a “one another” relational lifestyle.

I see this principle in Matthew 11 when Jesus explains we need to become like little children. Kids understand and accept dependence, so they aren’t shy about freely sharing wants and needs. Kids will volunteer all sorts of information about what they like, what they don’t, how it’s unfair their brother got the bigger piece of cake, and every overheard comment their parents don’t want shared with the world! When Jesus told the disciples they needed to be like a little child to enter the Kingdom of God, he was talking about vulnerability; approaching life with openness.

 The Bible clearly tells us God wants us to experience an abundant, full, prospering life, even in this broken, troubled world. That can only come about when we understand loving well is the key and put all our energy into identifying and pushing through the barriers. The abundant life encompasses love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There’s no way we can achieve any of these fruits without a vulnerable and transparent heart.

Many Christians find it shameful to admit it feels unsafe to trust those parts of us that are most precious with anyone, even God. One of the hardest parts of the healing process is tolerating that horrible exposed feeling while trying to connect with what is true. Being able to trust God’s motives and receive love from Him cannot take place without the uncomfortableness of feeling weak and vulnerable.

In William Young’s book, The Shack, each member of the trinity pursues the main character, Mack. Their intimate, probing questions shine a light on his deeply buried thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. Like most of us, Mack is caught off guard by God’s ability to look past the surface and he feels acutely uncomfortable at his transparency. When Adam and Eve were in relationship with God in the Garden, they lived an open, vulnerable lifestyle. The decision to protect themselves introduced fear. It’s at that point the Bible tells us they saw their nakedness and were ashamed.

I imagine this was what Judas experienced at the last supper when Jesus said someone there would betray him. Jesus didn’t mention Judas by name, but I’m certain Judas felt like there was a huge spotlight from heaven showing the darkness in his heart. Jesus loved Judas dearly and was giving him an opportunity to confess his heart attitude. But Judas was not able to tolerate his own guilt at being exposed. Rather than clearly seeing Jesus’ loving motives and responding to his loving kindness, Judas ran away from what Jesus offered and betrayed him. The weight of seeing his own cowardice and inability to receive Jesus’ love sadly brought Judas to despair and he chose death.

Are you willing to become vulnerable, trusting in the heart of your heavenly Father?

Photo from Office.com clip art

How Big is Your Child's Backyard?

God’s plan is for parents to be an integral part of meeting needs, teaching skills, and facilitating their child’s journey into their own personhood. This concept is different from an Outcome-based model where parents are judged by others based on whether their child meets certain societal standards. In a Relational Model, the goal of parenting is to help our kids see themselves the way God sees them and to live out of that knowledge. When they do so, they’ll learn to make decisions and choices in daily life that lead to a happy, healthy abundant lifestyle. Helping our kids, especially, teens learn how to make wise decisions is a huge part of parenting. Young children need clear parameters as they balance self-empowerment with safe options. As they grow older, kids need to experience a bigger choice backyard while still under your roof.

I absolutely love teenagers. They are full of energy, opinions, and attitudes. It’s like they’re being energized by the world. Talking to teens is like riding a roller coaster. Teen gals want to talk about everything relating to their life in the minutest detail. Who said what; what they wore; what they felt. Absolutely everything. Talking to teen guys is like waiting for water to boil on the stove. I ask a question, they stare at me, or the wall, or the floor for a while, then give me a one word answer.

Adolescence is a time for self-exploration. “Who am I and how do I relate to the world?” When parents don’t allow mistakes and demand adherence to rules and expectations, teens can’t develop their own identity. In an Outcome-based system, the high school years are seen as preparation for entry into adulthood. Teens are required to learn how to master adult values, adult behaviors, and how to play the adult game of climbing the corporate ladder. In God’s Relational model, teens are encouraged to try all sorts of things on for size, seeing each item fits with who God made them to be. Giving teens the freedom to experiment with how they express their individuality allows them to develop a solid sense of self.

Unfortunately, most parents live out of fear. They want their child to be a happy, healthy, productive member of society, have a strong faith in God, and not make the same mistakes. While those are admirable hopes and dreams, the way most parents try to make that happen is to micro-manage their child’s life, damaging the parent’s relationship with their child and wounding occurs.

When children are young, parents have almost complete control and strive to make perfect choices for their children. As the child grows, parents allow the child room to make their own decisions within a selection of “good” options. When a child begins to find their own individuality as a teen, parents need to allow room for “bad” choices. Instead of lecturing, listen. Ask how they made the decision and whether they feel like the consequences are worth the choice. Kids need to "try on" choices to see if those decisions fit their understanding of who God made them to be.

As Ben’s parent, I will always step into my son’s life if he’s making catastrophic choices that will cause actual harm to himself or others. Giving him room, however, to make bad choices is one of the most difficult examples of sacrificial love. I don’t want Ben to have his feelings hurt, lose money, fail a class, etc. I can foresee a lot of things he can’t at his age. But to protect him from making mistakes prevents him from growing and maturing. I wanted him to experience the consequences of bad choices while he was still under my roof and we could process those events.

There are many accounts in the Bible where God allowed his kids to make "bad" choices, allowing them to experience their own learning curve. I think about Moses hitting the rock to obtain water when God told him to talk to it; Sarah tried to have a son in her timing her way; Peter made impetuous decisions numerous times. God's priority is not about perfect choices -- He looks at decisions as opportunities to learn about ourselves, others, and God.

How is it possible that folks who were so immature, made a lot of bad choices, did not trust God, caused pain and suffering to themselves and others can be held in such high esteem? Because God knew their potential and allowed them to grow and mature into their personhood through the process of making good and bad choices.