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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, 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