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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.”

Monday, December 28, 2015

Truth Sets Us Free

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort, you will not get either comfort or truth, only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair. C.S. Lewis

Looking for truth can be complicated and confusing. Most of us seek truth only when we need answers in the midst of difficult circumstances. Tragedy, catastrophic loss, and unforeseen events all lead human beings to look for an answer, an explanation—a truth. But most of the time what we’re seeking is comfort, a way to resolve emotional angst. Rather than sitting in grief, we start a crusade, demanding the world to agree with our “truth.”

Truth is not a belief, doctrine, or threat. It is not relative or absolute. God is both love and truth. He shares himself with us via the Holy Spirit to give us encouragement and wisdom. When we separate truth from the person of God, we use truth to harm and control others. Many folks take biblical principles and use them as weapons against others, insisting the only thing that matters is standing on the truth. 1 Cor. 13, however, tells us truth is nothing unless it comes out of a loving heart.

When you have been wounded, someone you love is harmed, difficult life circumstances arise, or your heart burns in resentment against wickedness, seek truth by seeking God’s heart for you and for humankind. Pour out your pain, then ask God to give you strength and courage to receive truth. John 8:32 tells us the truth will set us free. Free of confusion, doubt, resentment, bitterness and able to receive love and comfort.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Where is God?

More and more the world seems like a scary, terrible place. Terrorists, bombings, wars—all these beg the question, “Where is God?”

This isn’t a new question. Each generation has seen horrific hardship and pain at the hands of wicked human beings. Separation from God’s heart began with the eating of an apple, and continues in the hearts of those who desire world domination. How do we keep fear from overwhelming us in the face of these catastrophic events? By turning to the Psalms.

I love how David asks God the same questions we have today. He looked at the events in his world and his heart ached for those who were oppressed and persecuted. Out of that pain he asked, “Where are you God?” David found his answer by reminding himself of God’s character. 

The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you…The wicked return to the grave, all the nations that forget God. But the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted ever perish.” Ps. 9:9-10, 17-18

David chose to believe in God’s heart and character, even when scary circumstances brought fear. Pray for courage to face these difficult times trusting in God’s love and sovereignty. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Ask, Seek, Knock, Receive

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:7-12

We’re coming into the holiday season filled with lots of asking and giving. I love this passage because it helps us line up our beliefs about needs and wants. Here’s the lessons I learn from Matthew:
  • God created us to have needs. So many folks incorrectly label themselves as “selfish” for having legitimate needs. We are amazing, complex creatures made by God to have a wide variety of needs. Acknowledging our neediness keeps us humble and dependent on our loving Heavenly Father.
  • God wants us to ask for everything. There’s no shame in asking, whether it be for a something material, relational, or financial. Matthew doesn’t say we can only ask for “spiritual” needs vs. “secular” or “material” needs. Children don’t hesitate to be vocal about what they want. Part of parenting is to create a safe environment where conversations take place helping kids grow in discernment about needs. As God’s beloved child, I talk to him all day long about how I feel, what I think I need, and how to live a healthy, godly life. Knocking and asking leads to learning and maturing in understanding the good gifts God wants to share with me.
  • God teaches us how to love others well. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves so in order to meet the needs of those around us, we must learn to do a great job of acknowledging and validating our own needs.

Every morning of every day is like Christmas morning for me. My child-like heart is super excited to see what good gifts my Father will bring me. I love beautiful sunshiny days, a hug from a friend when I’m sad, a call from my son, a chocolate peanut butter ice cream cone, and a great deal on a new car. Since I’ve learned to ask for everything and see God’s hand in every moment, I get a boat load of gifts every single day!

Take some time now, before the holiday season takes off, to sit with God and critique your beliefs about asking and giving.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Sources of Worry and Stress

Odds are, you and I have very similar stories. Worry and stress have been annoying companions for most of our life. Decision-making can be a nightmare. All the “what if’” worries chase us around like howling wolves. Stress can feel like a vise squeezing us from all sides. Fear of being wrong. Worry we’ve hurt someone we love. Pounding heart, racing thoughts, shortness of breath, inability to sleep, overwhelming anxiety. How do we make it stop?
I’ve spent more than 16 years personally wrestling with this question. There’s no simple answer. You can’t “just put it out of your mind” or “think about something else.” It’s unnerving to be a confident, mature adult one moment, and feel utterly helpless and terrified the next. Bible verses tell us to cast all our cares on God, all things are possible with God and how he doesn’t give us more than we can bear. You and I know all these things, tried to push worry aside, and developed coping mechanisms for the stress. But it’s still there, lurking underneath the mask we’ve learned to create.
My journey to freedom began many years ago on the client side of the counseling couch. I poured out all the ways I’d tried to deal with stress, worry, and fear—sharing my disappointment at my failure to control those qualities. Learning to look through God’s eyes at me and my life has significantly changed my approach to stress. Utilizing a healthy strategy to process that stress determines the quality of our life experiences.
Looking back at my life, I see my worry, anxiety, and fear came from three sources: Biological/Physiological, External, and Internal.
My family tree contains anxiety and depression symptoms, so I received those genes honestly. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates 1 in 4 adults (approximately 61.5 million) Americans experience mental illness every year. Approximately 14.8 million people live with depression and 18.1% (42 million) live with anxiety disorders. Understanding there’s a chemical component to our symptoms helps to correctly identify it as a medical/psychological issue. Just like dealing with heart disease or diabetes, some folks need medication for a period of time to adjust or regulate the chemicals that affect mood. I found medication to be helpful. It allowed me to do the work in counseling to move toward hurt, pain, and fear.
External sources include all the voices that speak into our life. Parents, teachers, preachers, etc. Their life beliefs and theology are often given to us by way of rules and expectations which we can experience as constraining and guilt-producing. Looking at those voices and critiquing the beliefs we’ve internalize is an important part of understanding why we feel anxious and how do we move towards freedom.
Internal anxiety is tied to the emotional reactions we experience toward people and events. God creates us with core longings and legitimate emotional needs. We come into this world expecting to be loved perfectly, because that’s how our heavenly father loves us. But no parent is perfect and when those needs are dismissed or not met to the degree we need, we feel sad, disappointed, unsafe, unprotected, devalued, etc. Feeling such deep feelings towards those we love and legitimately expect to love us can bring confusion, hurt, and pain. Feeling guilty for bouncing between anger and sadness leads to anxiety.
What I learned in 16 years of digging into my heart, mind, and soul revolutionized my healing journey. I absolutely believe our bodies are impacted by genetics and physiological chemical issues that result in anxiety and depression. That’s why God gave us the ability to find homeopathic and chemical resources for both medical and psychological conditions. But there’s also an emotional component which is very real and often debilitating.1 John 4:18 tells us, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” Think of all your worries and fears. Aren’t they primarily rooted in not feeling loved or afraid you won’t love others well? My lightbulb moment came when I realized moving from fear to freedom happens in the context of relationship
I will never love God, myself, or others perfectly – but I don’t think God expects that of me this side of heaven. 1 John 4:18 tells me is there’s a connection between not feeling loved as the person God created me to be and my worry, anxiety, and fear. Being able to receive love, mercy, and grace significantly affects our ability to decrease fear-based symptoms. Fear breeds secrecy and shame. Opening ourselves up to receive love from God and safe people allows us to see what is true and hold onto hope.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Hearing God's Voice in the Middle of Deafening Pain

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pain.” 
C.S. Lewis

It all started with lower molar #18. I thought the root canal 1-1/2 years ago took care of my intermittent tooth pain. But the throbbing pulse came back every few months. Reluctant to spend more money and time on the issue, I popped an Ibuprofen/Tylenol cocktail for a few days and the pain went away. That is until last week when the pain refused to abate. Nervously, I scheduled an extraction appointment with a periodontist. Normally I have a high tolerance for pain. Born with scoliosis, I’ve had some level of back/hip/IT band pain my entire life. But going to the dentist always freaks me out.

Driving to the appointment, I prayed for courage, strength, and painkillers! A good friend came to lend their support and the dentist said everything went really well. He said I should feel substantially better by the next day. Stabbing pain woke me up several times during the night sending me running for the prescribed painkiller. Early afternoon Dr. Moore called and when I described increased pain and swelling, he told me to come in immediately. My stress level skyrocketed.

The first staff person asked me about my pain level, saying I probably had an infection or abscess and they might have to send me to the hospital! Dr. Moore looked at the extraction site and said everything looked good to him, no problems. His positive words feel on deaf ears. Between the unremitting throbbing pain, lack of sleep and food because I could barely open my mouth to eat, painkillers, and anxiety-provoking people, my body had hit its tolerance limit. My heart began beating like crazy, chills rippled down my body, I felt nauseous and lightheaded. Dr. Moore saw the panic set in and quickly raised the chair so my feet were higher than my head, calling for a nasal oxygen drip. It took almost two hours before I could safely stand up without my BP going crazy.

As a friend drove me home, I didn’t have any more info about my pain than I did that morning. The dentist didn’t see any cause for my level of pain, giving me no idea how long the pain would continue. At that point I desperately needed to hear God’s loving voice over the pain and panic.

Cognitively, we can acknowledge the Bible says God is always with us, that he loves us, and he is able to make everything work for good in our life. Experientially, it’s extremely difficult to grasp when pain, anxiety, suffering, fear, grief, etc. are deafening. That’s when the Holy Spirit speaks in a way which amplifies God’s voice if we use our hearts instead of our minds to listen. Practice listening for God’s voice in times of joy and areas of conviction so you know how to tune into its frequency in times of pain and sorrow.

P.S. Returning to see the dentist tomorrow. The swelling’s starting to go down and pain still demands my attention every 5-6 hours, but I am on the mend. My experience was apparently not the norm, but I’m committed to learning from God how to work with my unique body instead of anxiously fighting against it.

Photo used by permission through Creative Commons at http://petesimon.tumblr.com/post/637721075/rip-bad-tooth

Monday, October 26, 2015

Listening to a Different Drummer

The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Romans 14:2-4 NIV.

“Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” Paul used very strong language to remind us to keep our eyes on our own papers! There’s a difference between sharing your own testimony and experience with someone and demanding they follow your example or a specified set of actions in order to be seen as a “good Christian.” People and institutions that demand total adherence to one set of beliefs while judging folks who don’t adhere to them are exactly the people Paul was writing against in Romans 14.

I highly appreciate mentoring and general principles for folks to follow as they learn how to have a relationship with God. But the goal is for each person to develop an individual relationship with God where they receive direct guidance. Imagine what the folks in Ur thought when Abraham declared God had called him to start walking to an unknown place?

Abram:  “God’s called me to take all my family and leave dad, mom, my home and my country to go to a new place.”
Neighbor:  “Where are you going?”
Abram:         “I don’t know.”
Neighbor:  “How long will it take?”
Abram:  “I don’t know.”
Neighbor:  “How will you take care of everyone?”
Abram:  “I don’t know. I guess God will provide.”
Neighbor:  “Doesn’t sound like God to me. I think you’re hearing things! Seems really crazy to me to set out on a journey without knowing anything. Stay here, talk to the elders first, take some spiritual discipline classes, and pray about it as you’re teaching Torah classes. Give it a year or two so you can mature and listen to wise counsel. That’s the way we do things here.”

What about crazy old Noah who built an ark when there had been no rain for who knows how long? John the Baptist lived a very odd lifestyle compared to the religious establishment and regular people. Joseph had dreams, Deborah was a judge, Peter left his family fishing business to follow Jesus around the country. Every one of these folks knew they were God’s servants and they heard directly from him for their lives.

God speaks through his Word and other people, but our goal is to separate the wheat from the chaff and focus on what God has directly spoken to our own soul. I may be called to live my life in a very different manner than you. Please ask me what I’m hearing from God rather than condemning me for the differences. Follow God’s voice in your life—even if those around you don’t hear the same word for themselves.

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
Henry David Thoreau

Monday, October 12, 2015

Viewing Failure

Never let failure get to your heart. 

So I’m all geared up to spend my afternoon cooking and baking for the week.  I’ve recently decided to follow the Trim Healthy Mama eating plan (low glycemic). A requirement for success is planning and preparation. I’ve chosen new recipes, went to the grocery store to buy new ingredients, and now I’m standing in my kitchen mixing, cooking, and baking.

Excitedly I put ingredients into my NutriBullet for a protein shake (I am in love with this easy to use, easy to clean appliance). As the blades are whirring around, chocolate liquid oozes out of the glass. Humm, probably too much of this new stuff called Glucomannan which thickens liquid. I grab another glass and pour half the shake in it, then clean up the mess. Tastes good but really thick.

Okay, I feel really iffy about this next recipe for an egg custard. It looks simple enough, but I’ve not eaten many custards so I don’t really know what to expect. Egg whites, almond milk, vanilla, etc. all blended together and into the oven. An hour later I take it out and there’s a puffed up brown film that completely sinks 10 seconds after removal. Underneath it’s still as watery as when I put it in. Epic failure!

Let’s try a pasta dish. I should be able to get that right! Following a Spaghetti Pie recipe, I put the Dreamfields pasta (doesn’t raise blood sugar) on to boil. I’m making great progress proofreading my upcoming book on Generalized Anxiety Disorder when I suddenly realize I didn’t set a timer! Yup, overcooked pasta but since it’s the only box I have, I’m just going to use it and hope for the best.

Lastly I decide to make healthy muffins, yum! Oven’s preheated, should only take me 5 minutes to mix up the ingredients. Oatmeal flour, Truvia, yogurt, eggs, baking soda and baking powder…wait! I only have baking soda, what am I going to do now? My options are 1) stop what I’m doing and try it another day; 2) get in my car and run up the street to the market; or 3) ask neighbors. I’ve lived in this apartment for six months and although I’ve nodded to several neighbors, I’ve really not talked to anyone. But this seems to be a good opportunity so I take a small bowl and start knocking on doors. Saturday afternoon, surely someone should be home somewhere. Eight doors later, a woman finally answers.

She brings out a box of baking powder and I tell her, “No, sorry, I need the other one, baking soda.” She kindly gives me some baking soda and as I climb the stairs to my door I realize I messed up. I actually did need the baking powder! No way was I going back to the nice lady. Grabbing my keys, I got into my car and drove to the market with my oven still on and the rest of the ingredients sitting on the counter.

Looking at my actions today, I failed in a lot of ways. What’s most important is how I process each event. Viewing failure as a character issue wounds our heart. We then use negative self-talk to condemn and demean ourselves. When others point out it’s merely a learning opportunity, we brush them aside, holding ourselves to a perfectionist standard. I believe the Bible tells me to love myself the way God loves me. That means offering myself grace, mercy, and compassion. Not everything is a character issue and when it is, God is the one who convicts my heart.

When I view my actions today through grace-filled eyes, I’m excited about what I’ve learned. No more custard, remember to time the pasta, and now I have another neighbor to wave to in the complex. Albert Einstein said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.” I believe my Heavenly Father encourages me to try new experiences as I learn who he made me to be and live out the plans he has for my life. It’s imperative we critique our definition of failure, and not let it compromise our heart.

By the way, the muffins turned out scrumptious!

Photo used by permission thru Creative Commons by tobyelwin.com

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Other Brother

“I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found.” 
Henri J.M. Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son

The prodigal son is my favorite parable. There’s so much to learn from the viewpoint of the younger son, older son, and the father. Jesus presented a story which challenged the religious society’s belief system. His words continue to speak directly to our hearts today.
The entire crux of the story is the father’s heart. The angry younger son showed his resentment and bitterness by demanding his inheritance. An action which stated their relationship was dead. Such a request was a slap in his father’s face. What a gut-wrenching, painful event. A father’s heart torn to shreds and a family shamed by this dearly beloved child.

How did the father respond? By giving his immature, reckless son what he’d asked for and allowing him to leave home. There’s no indication the father begged his son to change his mind and stay. No stern lecture about disrespect and disobedience. Just a sorrowful acceptance of his son’s choices.

Later when he was out of resources, this son meditated on his father’s merciful, compassionate, loving sacrifice. Was he wrong about his father’s heart? The guilt and shame over his actions must have been tremendously heavy. Yet remembering how his father responded gave him hope for redemption and he headed for home. At best, the prodigal son hoped to become a servant. He prepared a speech, intending to beg for just a small measure of forgiveness.

The father was watching, hopeful for his son’s return. Unconcerned with convention, unfettered by bitterness, the father ran joyously to embrace his son. Immediately a celebratory party was ordered. When the prodigal son tried to speak, his father cut him off, declaring to all that his lost son had returned. No sermons. No hesitation. Only relationship.
But I think there were actually two prodigal sons in this story. I love Henri Nowen’s quote because it speaks to the hard heart of many Christians. Thankfully, many folks bypass the rebelliousness of the younger son. They follow the rules, attend church, tithe, work hard in ministry, etc. But what is the motivation of their heart? It’s revealed when God shows mercy to a sinful, disobedient child.

When the older brother heard his father was throwing a party for the brother who shamed the family, he was filled with anger.

Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him! Luke 15:28-30

The older son did not understand the father’s heart any more than his brother. All he needed to do was ask for what he needed and it would have been given. “‘My son, the father said’, ‘you are always with me and everything I have is yours.’” (Luke 15:31) Rather than rest in a loving relationship, the older son based acceptance on good works. He believed obedience would bring him special status, feeling betrayed when the father showed mercy.

No matter which son you resemble, the key is to move toward the father’s heart. Do you look for unconditional love in all the wrong places? Do you run towards trouble or stand in defensiveness? The younger son eventually came to his senses (Luke 15:17) and turned around. We don’t know what choice the older son made. Did he, too, see the error of his ways and embrace his father? What about you? The father is always watching and waiting for your return.

Sorrowful Prayer

There’s been so many sad, heart-breaking events in the news this summer. I absolutely believe God is in control and He grieves with us at the hurt and pain His children endure. Join me in this prayer as we release the sorrows in life and find comfort in God’s heart.

Father God, let this sadness envelope my heart
As a fog rolls across the coastline.
When despair clouds my vision & joy’s naught to be found,
It’s your voice I will follow, for I’m blind.

Savior Jesus, let me mourn each loss in my life
As a mother whose cradle is empty.
When the anguish it threatens my soul to undo,
In its midst can I truly embrace Thee.

Precious Spirit, please leave a tear in my eye
As a glistening jewel in the sun.
Though the waves of pain constantly rise up and fall,
Its reflection shows your comfort’s begun.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Longing for Jesus

As I look at my life on this beautiful summer day, I'm filled with thanksgiving for the abundant blessings God has given. Some of these blessings are external, but the ones I'm most grateful for are found in my soul. I've been a Christian most all of my life, but it's only been in the last 15 years I've experienced a deep relationship with Jesus. I moved from a fear-based legalistic spiritual life to an authentic, vulnerable relational-based viewpoint. I wrote the following poem to symbolize the transformation. This poem can be the prayer of your heart as well. 

I long to look into the eyes
Of He who died for me.
To see the love that shines therein
For all eternity.
Your piercing gaze into my heart,
Will cut thru my every wall.
And I will gladly surrender to you,
My hands, my heart, my all.

Jesus, I long to touch your face,
To caress each and every line.
To feel the nail prints in your hands;
The punishment that should have been mine.
I want to wash your feet, my Lord,
With tears of joy and love.
My heart is longing to be with you
In your temple in heaven above.

Jesus, I long to hear your voice,
Into my ear you will say
The words I long to hear the most,
“Beloved, here you will stay.
Forever you will sit with me,
Forever by my side.
It was only because of my love for you
That I went to the cross and died.”

So each and every day of life I struggle
To carry my cross.
And sometimes it threatens to crush me
And I think that all is lost.
But then I raise my eyes to the sky
And pray that soon will be,
The day that I will truly look
Into the eyes of He who died for me.

By Judy Lair 1997

Monday, September 7, 2015

Ask the Right Questions

I love that there’s no “one size fits all” answer with God. I don’t believe we are instructed to turn the other cheek for everyone nor are we to call everyone a “white washed tomb” as Jesus did to the Pharisees. When I run to God and ask how to love well, sometimes He tells me to say or do something immediately. Other times I’m instructed to just listen and validate feelings. In some circumstances, God tells me it’s best for us both if I love people from a distance in a prayerful way. A Relational approach to life involves learning how to receive clarity from God about how we best support other people’s learning curve. Many times this looks like stepping back and allowing our loved ones to experience hurt and pain as a result of their own immature decisions and rigid beliefs so they will seek God.

Jesus’ interaction with the rich young ruler in Luke 18 is a good example of this principle. This ruler had worked hard to follow all the commandments since he was a young boy. The account leads us to believe he was serious about his relationship with God. He had put time, effort, and energy into following the guidelines set out by the religious establishment. But even after being a model pupil, this ruler recognized the religious system could not assure him of God’s acceptance.

The ruler heard about a new teacher named Jesus and sought him out to ask him the burning question of how to achieve eternal life. I find Jesus’ response fascinating. The first thing he did was to challenge the ruler on the issue of Jesus’ credentials. When people are not ready to hear God’s answer to their question, they go shopping. Hearing something they don’t like from one source, people often rationalize and discount the source, then go searching for another opinion. I wonder how many “good teachers” this ruler had approached with this question. Jesus immediately established the fact that only God alone is the “good teacher” and if we ask God a question, we need to be open to hearing and receiving His truthful answers.

Jesus led the ruler to the heart of the matter by exposing his flawed life strategy. The ruler had been taught to keep every single commandment, assuring him he would receive God’s approval. Jesus points out that knowing information and blindly following rules never results in knowing God or others intimately. God’s strategy for our life is based on inner heart attitude rather than outward obedience. Jesus told the ruler to sell everything he had, give it to the poor, then leave home and come travel with him as a disciple. Luke 18:23 says the ruler sadly turned away. Unlike following a straight-forward set of commandments, Jesus’ words necessitates wrestling with heartfelt sacrifice as well as external cost.

Humankind has developed a hierarchy that relies on wealth, rules, status, etc. to bestow worth and value. God tells us,
The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (I Samuel 16:7 NIV)
We set up rules and systems that make it possible for people to build their own Tower of Babel and reach up to God. But we are fooling ourselves because God always talks about heart attitude, intent, motivation, and character -- and those things can never be achieved by simply obeying commandments.

The rich young ruler was saddened that the cost of being with God meant bankrupting himself financially in the present life. The life strategy he was taught caused him to ask Jesus the wrong question. Rather than seeking to know what hoops he needed to jump through to get the prize, he should have been asking how to draw closer to God’s heart. Viewing the world from God’s heart changes our perspective on everything.

I want to believe this ruler eventually sold all he had and went to follow Jesus. I hope this encounter with Jesus caused the ruler to come to the Apostle Peter’s belief that only Jesus has the words of life. Transformation of our humanistic life strategy brings us into the presence of the Almighty God, a gift that trumps all earthly treasures. But maybe all he could see was what he would give up and he learned how to shut off his disappointment so he could continue living by the rules.

I do acknowledge the rich young ruler was apparently living a very good lifestyle, making it easier to focus on the positive. That’s not the case for most of the people coming into my office. They tell me stories of hurt and heartache that has or is presently happening to them or to people they love. Everyone on this planet hopes for a quick solution that will stop pain and head them toward happiness. No matter which position you are in, the Bible is clear that the price of healing is truthfully seeking out all the self-protective ways that separate us from the love of God.

John 8:32 promises that God’s truth will set us free when we commit to a lifestyle of asking hard questions and sitting in painful feelings. Truth is not a scientific conclusion arrived at by examination of data. It cannot be separated from the person of God.

Excerpt: From the Other Side of the Couch by Judy Lair, LPCC

Monday, August 31, 2015

Soundtrack to our Transformation Journey

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony. Mohandes Gandhi

Music moves hearts and brings people together. I hummed and babbled before I could form words. Heaven’s music has always resided in my soul. Thanksgiving and praises rise to God for the food I eat, pillow to sleep on, and the unshakeable knowledge of being loved as an amazing creation. 

God gifted me with an ear for harmony. The intricacies of maneuvering around the melody in a beautiful dance captures hearts, bringing all who hear to the author of love. God has created a unique song for each one of us—the soundtrack to our transformation journey from disconnection to congruency.

Sanctification is the process of allowing God to show us the areas of our life that need to be confessed, grieved, changed, and healed. The goal of sanctification is to divest ourselves of anything which keeps us from living out who God created us to be. Only then will we be able to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, strength and to truly love our neighbor.

Focusing on the wrong goal results in a larger gap between our talk and our walk. The harder I tried on my own to match my head, heart, tongue, feet, and hands, the more I failed. I was trying to change my behavior when God wanted to change my heart.

A transformative heart change comes about when we see ourselves through God’s eyes. He sees us as beautiful, valuable, desirable—his masterpiece. Seeing myself through this lens ignited my passion to live such qualities out in the flesh. Instead of struggling to do, think, and say everything I thought God expected, I was now excited to share me as God’s beautiful creation with the world. That vision gave strength and courage to press into the sanctification process. For me, that process has been learning how to listen and live out the tune in my heart which fits in perfect harmony with God’s loving melody.

The Masterpiece of Life

Stumbling fingers, like tumbling words.
Searching for just the right note.
Eyes on the music, hands on the keys.
Playing melodies that someone else wrote.
Hesitant steps, like tentative rhythms.
Unsure of the path I should tread.
Defeated by doubt and shackled by shame,
Simply following the footsteps ahead.
Yet today as I played, a tune did emerge.
It’s melodious strain fresh and new.
Although it was simple in comparison to most,
My heart soared for each note rang out true.
If able I am to pen a new song,
Is it possible to blaze a new trail?
To shed habits of old, what a difficult chore!
But God’s intended creation would be unveiled.
A musical masterpiece in a day is not written,
So I guess neither is a new life so made.
Playing one note at a time,
Living each day on its own.
The framework for my new symphony is laid.

Photo used by permission from Creative Commons (Informationaction.com)

Monday, August 24, 2015

No Thanks

I’ve been struggling for several weeks to pinpoint my dissatisfaction at church. Driving home from Sunday service, I finally put my finger on the issue.

I don’t want to be thanked for my ministry efforts; I want to be ENJOYED!

Our lead pastor loves the Lord and is genuine and caring about his congregation. The church is passionate about showing love to the surrounding community and international missions. Sunday mornings you’ll find kind folks who are happy to help those in need. I love to walk past our children's ministry rooms and hear the kids singing about Jesus.

I grew up in church. Giving of my time, finances, talents, skills, and abilities is something I’ve always done. But lately I’ve become restless with being seen through the lens of what I do at church rather than who I am as God’s daughter. In no way am I being critical of my church and the wonderful folks who worship there. I’ve just realized I need more than being thanked for my service.

As a counselor, I believe God created each one of us with core longings designed to direct us to his heart. The desire to be enjoyed is one of those core longings. Infants are completely helpless. They can’t actively meet the needs of others. Yet most of us smile and enjoy listening to a newborn coo and chuckle as a toddler learns how to walk. We enjoy the miracle of life. Growing older, we cherish spending time with those we love listening to their stories or consoling them in disappointment. Mourning with them. Laughing with them. Enjoying them.

As much as I appreciate the heartfelt thanks of my church leaders for the volunteer services I offer each week, I’m really missing out on being seen, being enjoyed. My creator is passionately excited about this daughter whom he created. I’m a reflection of his creativity and glory. Yes, I do tasks such as run the sound board, sing and play keyboard on worship team, rock babies, finance summer camp attendees, etc. But on a week when I’m away, those tasks still get done. I find it hard to feel enjoyed if I’m merely thanked for doing a task that can be accomplished by interchangeable people. Rather than receiving thanks, I’m hoping someone shares how my singing blesses their heart or hearing from a parent how they feel watching me tenderly care for their child. Ask me to share my heart, then show genuine enjoyment at hearing my testimony.

Sunday mornings are a time to corporately come together to worship God and celebrate the amazing people he created in his image. Get excited to find out how God’s image is manifested in each individual person. Offer thanks to those who minister, but also spend time getting to know them as a special, unique, enjoyable child of God.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Faith Calms Anxiety Storms

Luke 8 tells us the account of Jesus falling asleep in a boat as his disciples sailed across the Sea of Galilee. A storm came up and the boat was in danger of being swamped by water. As the disciples looked at the waves, fear and anxiety climbed and their ability to see truth decreased. Panicked, the disciples woke Jesus up declaring they were on the verge of drowning. Jesus did an assessment and calmly rebuked the storm. He then asked the disciples, “Where is your faith?”

I don’t think he was chastising them for having worry and fear, because those are human traits we all share. I believe he was calling attention to the same fearful response we all utilize--relying on our own resources. These guys had been fishermen all their lives. They’d been through countless storms on this body of water. The wind, rain, and waves must have been extremely outrageous for these strong, capable men to fear for their lives and ask for help.

Faith is about a person. The disciples tried to handle the difficult circumstances in their own strength, only calling on Jesus once they came to the end of their human abilities to deal with the circumstances. God doesn’t always promise to immediately rebuke the anxiety storms in our life, but he does promise to give us strength and truth when we bring him into the situation.

I believe we’re created to reach out to God and other safe people to give us truth to use as an anchor in the midst of our anxiety storms. We see Peter’s growth in understanding Jesus’ message when he later walked on water towards Jesus. This time his initial response to an anxiety-producing event was to move forward toward Jesus, only sinking when he focused on his fear.

Holding onto truth when emotions are on high alert is hugely daunting. When panic sets in, we automatically equate feeling with truth, believing “If I feel this much fear about something, then my worry must be true. If my worry is true, then I absolutely, must, always do whatever relieves the anxiety.” Truth cannot enter into this equation. When we separate truth from God’s heart, we do not have the courage and emotional energy to withstand the anxiety storm.

Practice moving toward God in the middle of your anxiety storms. By an act of your will, declare your faith in his heart for you and trust in his ability to bring you through the storm.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Biblical Lessons from the Birds

Daisy #10 looks similar to my 9 prior paraketes. Caribbean blue body flanked by yellow and white wings. Soft yellow face with dark blue patches on each cheek. Sometimes she puffs up, her body expanding into a fluffy balloon. Daisy’s chirping brightens my heart.

I find it fascinating to watch how she spends her day. Initially I bought the same toys and treats my other birds enjoyed, but Daisy #10 ignored them all except one. She’s obsessed with a small, pink mirror. The majority of her day consists of Daisy talking and singing to herself in the mirror. She’ll bob her head and move her body like she’s doing an avian hip hop routine. Then she’ll look out the window and talk to the world, introducing herself and sharing the insights God’s given her.

Daisy never appears to have a worry in the world. She trusts I’ll remember to provide her with food and water. When I come in the front door, she generally responds with a chirp to my greeting. I love her unconditional, vulnerable trust in my care for her—and wish I could have that same trust in my heavenly Father!

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Matt. 6:25-27 NIV

I imagine some folks in the crowd hearing these words scoffed, “This Jesus knows nothing about the hardships in my life!” Worrying about obtaining basic food, clothes, and shelter has been a daily reality since leaving the Garden of Eden. Just as the Jewish nation mistakenly thought God was sending the Messiah to overthrow the Romans and relieve their oppression, we too expect God’s love to be shown primarily by fixing our circumstances.

Worrying is a fleshly human trait not shared by birds and animals. “How do I keep from worrying in the midst of legit concerns?” These verses say the key is to remind ourselves God has declared us valuable. We are his precious children, glorious bride, apple of his eye. God will never leave us and always keeps us under his wing.

My value to God goes beyond my present circumstances. This is a really hard concept for human beings to grasp. We’re always intent on having more control over our lives so we can feel safe by making our own choices. But that didn’t work out so good for Adam and Eve.

This week I looked at how many counseling sessions I had on my calendar. I’ve got a minimum number of clients I need to see each week to keep financially afloat. I was two sessions short and the worry started. “Maybe I should kick up the advertising or do a seminar or, or, or….” I’ve learned to take those thoughts captive by confessing my self-protective worries to the Lord. By the end of the day I’d booked 5 new clients. God was clearly reminding me to trust like Daisy.

Not every worry you and I have will be eliminated so quickly. I’ve spent years intentionally practicing trusting God in small areas, learning how to wait on the Lord with less worry when I encounter big concerns. Watch the birds. Use them as a daily reminder of the heavenly Father’s love and care for you.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Replace Your Distorted Filter

Meeting a counseling client for the first time, I’m listening to what information they’re communicating, observing how they express it, and making note of why they believe the issues are taking place. Everyone interprets life through a specific filter. Hard-wired temperament personality traits, socio-economic, gender and cultural factors, personal experiences, doctrine and theology, as well as family of origin models all combine to create the filter.

But what if your filter is distorted? Maybe you discard information that’s important, or minimize significant symptoms or triggers because you’re fearful. Without seeing all the information from an objective viewpoint, every conclusion you reach will twist truth--resulting in confusion and misunderstanding. Proverbs advises us to lean not on our own understanding. God speaks to us through others; parents, friends, pastors, doctors, counselors, etc. Look for what God is telling you through all the experiences in your life.

Many clients have beliefs about certain emotions being right or wrong or have been given legalistic interpretations of biblical principles. These filters restrict folks from genuinely processing their feelings, critiquing the beliefs therein, and allowing God to show them what is true for their life. Psalms models this process over and over.

Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer. How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods? Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord will hear when I call to him. In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord. Many are asking, “Who can show us any good?” Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord. You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4 NIV

Do you see the way David processes all his emotions in an unashamed, genuine manner? He began by venting to God, explaining the situation and how he felt. David’s anger came out in the venting, but he knew God saw that his heart motivation was not sinful. Venting allows us to purge our heart and mind of the emotions which, if stuffed, turn into bitterness and resentment. 

Once David purged the anger, sorrow overwhelmed his heart at the plight of his people in their difficult circumstances. Clarity and truth about God and his heart for those people came after David offered his emotions to God as a sacrifice. The Psalm ends with an exhausted David placing himself peacefully into God’s hands.

David showed us a biblical model we can utilize today. Process emotions, critique beliefs, and receive truth from God in order to live a relational, faith-filled life. I explain this Roadmap to Freedom in detail in my book, “From the Other Side of the Couch: A Biblical Counselor’s Guide to Relational Living.”

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons www.entirelysubjective.com