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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, June 6, 2016

A New Song

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord. Psalm 40:1-3

I’ve had six different offices in my 14 years of counseling. I began working out of my condo, then moved to a tiny 9x9 office some years later. Last month I had the opportunity to move my counseling office within our suite. I had eyed the corner office with two walls of windows since we leased the suite three years ago. When I initially joined the suite, I was thankful for the opportunity to be part of a group of folks who, like me, loved helping people. First-time clients called my small office “cozy.”

A lot of good things took place in that small office. Clients laughed, cried, and God used me to walk alongside them in difficult times. I wrote and published my first book, From the Other Side of the Couch: A Biblical Counselor’s Guide to Relational Living. I was content and grateful for God’s provision. Then an opportunity came open and I stepped out and asked if I could move into the more spacious corner office. Just one door down, yet I feel a new energy, new ideas, and hugely blessed every time I walk into that space.

Some clients see my wonderful office and experience my joyful heart and incorrectly assume I’ve never had difficult life circumstances. They see me with a new song of praise in my mouth without knowing the slimy pit where God rescued my heart, mind, and soul. Looking at my blessings causes them to feel ignored and abandoned by God. Yet my transformational journey is the vehicle God continually uses to help others find their own firm place to stand.

Do you look at the blessings of others and feel rejected by God? Do you beat yourself up when comparing yourself to those around you? Do you feel helpless to change your hopelessness?

Waiting on God’s timing in changing our circumstances can be excruciatingly difficult and discouragement will threaten to set in. But it’s at those times we most need to lift our eyes up to the mountains, ask for God’s help in your time of trouble, and receive hope through the testimony of others. What matters most is your perspective. Work hard to confess your negativity to God, asking him to pull the root of bitterness out of your heart. Wrestle with your automatic fleshly nature when it compares and condemns.

Ask God to show you others who’ve been rescued. Listen to or read about their story of transformation and allow it to inspire your heart. Then focus on crying out to God in the middle of your muddy life. He will not leave you stranded. God promises to give you a new song anchored by the firm foundation of his love for you.

Photo courtesy of en.wikipedia.com

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Living Messages

“Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” Neil Postman

Today I spent time with a group of Christian mental health professionals and the topic of generational limiting beliefs came up. From the time Adam and Eve left the garden, their outlook on themselves, each other, and God became the beliefs they handed down to their children. Their children received distortions which affected their relational understandings with their own children. And so on and so on.

It breaks my heart to hear inaccurate messages my counseling clients received from their parents and representatives of God. “Your worth depends on how others view you.” “It’s selfish to consider your own needs.” “You always have to turn the other cheek and let others walk all over you.” In response, many folks create vows which limit their ability to prosper. “I can’t ever do anything right.” “Nobody will ever care about me.” “I’m such a disappointment to God.”

These messages get installed deep in our soul and cloud the vision God has for our life. Instead of living a bold and courageous life, our beliefs bring fear and timidity. We model this lifestyle for our children and their perfectionism results in guilt and despair.

What messages did you receive that God wants to correct? What messages are you installing and beliefs you are modeling to those in your life today? Commit to wrestling with your belief systems. Whether your foundational beliefs came from parents, pastors, teachers, or friends, there will be distortions and we need God’s truth to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Photo courtesy of www.believersbrain.com

Monday, May 16, 2016

Random Acts of Kindness

‘Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’ Luke 6:38

Thank you to the unknown couple who selflessly bought my breakfast this morning! I woke up in a great mood, feeling blessed and joyful. After an early morning appointment, I stopped into my favorite restaurant for breakfast.

“What can I get you?” Debbie asked in a flat, bored voice.

“Good morning!” I said enthusiastically. Debbie looked a bit startled at my response.
After giving my order, I pulled out a book and sipped rich, flavorful coffee. The restaurant was quiet mid-morning. Two tables up a couple packed up their to-go boxes, walking past me without a word as they left the restaurant.

The book was awesome and breakfast was yummy. After my third cup of coffee, I asked Debbie for a box and the check.

“You don’t owe anything. The couple who left paid for your breakfast,” she replied.“

“What a blessing! I love it,” I said gratefully. Again, Debbie looked started at my response.

“Well I absolutely want to bless you as well,” I told her as I handed her a large tip. Debbie’s entire demeanor changed.

“I guess we’re all blessed today,” she said cheerfully.

How awesome it is when folks give from God’s abundant heart. I have no idea whether this couple were Christians. But I have no doubt God moved their heart to bless me this morning. While I was the recipient of their generosity today, I believe God will bless them with this same measure tomorrow.

I aspire to live a generous life, staying open and available to hear from God on how to bless others. This worldview allows me to express genuine thanks when I’m on the receiving end and excitedly look for a way to share the blessing I’ve been given. I was thankful to be able to share my heart with Debbie in a way that gave testimony to God’s goodness.

What is your story of giving and receiving?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Lesson in Humility

I love being inspired and challenged by reading biblical accounts of folks who struggled with the same human weaknesses I see in myself. Many folks quickly dismiss the interpersonal aspect of these stories in their haste to find the bottom line. The ability to emotionally connect and be convicted by their stories, however, allows us to grow in our own lives. Learning how God interacts with others gives me a greater understanding of my own blind spots and roadblocks.

Naaman was commander of the Aram army. We can read his story in 2 Kings 5. He is described as a great man, highly regarded in the eyes of his king and fellow soldiers. Interestingly, the God of the Israelites is given credit for giving Naaman battle victories. Naaman suffered from leprosy.

Leprosy is a chronic infection affecting nerves, skin, and eyes and loss of the ability to feel pain. Minor wounds can become major issues resulting in loss of limbs or eyesight. Watching his body slowly succumb to this progressive disease must have been devastating for Naaman, his family and those under him. I wonder how Naaman processed his helpless. Did he shake his fist at the heavens, blaming the God who helped him in one area of life but apparently deserted him in this personal fight?

Within his house was an Israelite servant girl. She risked her position by telling Naaman’s wife about a prophet in Samaria who could cure the leprosy. Full of hope, Naaman asked the king of Aram to make a way for him to search out this prophet. Valuing his commander, the king gave Naaman gifts of silver, gold, and clothing plus a letter directed to Joram, king of Israel requesting Naaman be cured of leprosy.

Knowing he could not cure Naaman, King Joram tore his robes in despair, believing the Aram king was trying to provoke a war. Word of the matter got to the prophet Elisha who chastised King Joram, reminding him God was in charge and directing him to send Naaman his direction. King Joram’s reaction sounds very much like an anxiety response. He automatically went into panic mode and had to be reminded what was really true.

When Naaman knocked on Elisha’s door, the prophet sent a messenger with instructions to wash himself seven times in the Jordan river. Naaman was furious. First of all, he was a well respected man who’d traveled very far to come see the prophet, and Elisha didn’t even bother to receive him personally. Secondly, Naaman was probably very familiar with ritual washings and expected any purification rite to utilize the purest form of water, not a muddy, filthy river in the midst of a second-rate nation. Naaman had obviously expected some type of hocus pocus magic by the prophet to heal him rather than a call to humility before the Lord.

How often do we Christians expect God to work in very specific ways? Do you shake your fist at the heavens when God asks you to wait on his timing or to respond with grace and compassion instead of condemnation? Sometimes we need to be reminded who is in control, so we can voluntarily submit ourselves to God to receive all the blessings he wants to bestow.

Naaman’s servants begged him to reconsider the prophet’s instructions. Using logic, they reminded him of his character: he never backed down and never gave up. Acknowledging the truth of their words, Naaman humbled himself and did as Elisha instructed. His flesh was restored and his body was renewed. Returning to the prophet’s house, Naaman professed belief that his healing came from the God of Israel, a testimony he would share for the rest of his days.

How do you connect to this story? Is God challenging you to change your view on something or humble yourself in an area of your life? If so, allow the Holy Spirit to soften your heart so you, too, can receive healing.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Old Hurts and Fears

Worry and anxiety kept me internally isolated for much of my life. When I did share, any reassurance I received was like sand trickling through open fingers. I felt comforted and cared about for a short time, then it was gone and I needed another handful of reassurance. This pattern made me feel helpless and incompetent. Constantly asking for reassurance was taxing on my family and friends. Believing I was a burden caused me to feel even more isolated and fearful. But God broke through and rescued me from that lonely place. 

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.” My lightbulb moment came when I realized moving from Fear to Freedom happens in the context of relationship. Even though my circumstances may not change, my ability to persevere and grow through them happens when I’m anchored in 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.

I’ll always have a chemical predisposition to anxiety and depression, but I can have compassion and learn how to care for myself well when I’m in the midst of that storm. Learning how to battle my isolating thoughts and allowing God and others to care for me was really difficult. I had a lot of feelings and beliefs about being seen as weak and vulnerable that needed to be critiqued.

As a counselor, I work hard to offer a safe, caring therapeutic relationship to my clients. Sharing how they've been wounded emotionally and relationally is the key to healing. Allowing God to show how parents, spouses, and important people failed to love us in ways you needed is painful, but often uncovers old fears and hurts which invade the present. 

Asking “what, why, how” questions allowed me to move from living in fear to embracing a joyful, freedom based life. John 8:32 tells us the truth will set us free. Truth gives us a solid foundation and energy to withstand internal and external storms. Doing the hard work of seeing how you’ve been relationally failed and understanding your unhealthy responses to those hurts will equip you with truth to face fearful worries, thoughts and feelings.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Serenity Prayer

A few years back I was profoundly impacted by reading the entire serenity prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr. Most of us have only heard the first four lines, yet the rest of the prayer brings about an important paradigm shift in how we view ourselves, God, and our time on earth. Meditate on this prayer. Ask God to show you how to deposit it deep into your heart so it will become your godly foundation for life.

Prayer for Serenity

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it;
Trusting that You will make all things right
If I surrender to Your will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Reinhold Niebuhr

Monday, February 29, 2016

Trading Sorrow for Joy

It was a regular Tuesday night. He was on final approach. Just a few hundred yards from the runway when something went terribly wrong. In a split second, everything changed for his wife, 1 year old twin sons, parents, siblings, family, and friends.

I attended my cousin Joel’s funeral yesterday. He was 33 years old, a well-qualified, excellent pilot who loved God and his family. It was my privilege to be part of a family who cared for each other well during this very difficult day. We cried together, hugged, and laughed. We made it safe for each person to mourn. In the face of a terrible loss that made no earthly sense, we declared as a family our faith, hope, and belief in God’s everlasting love.

Many folks get lost in questions when tragedy strikes. Why did this happen? How can I continue to live? If God loves us, why didn’t he change circumstances? Fear makes us question God’s heart. Being reminded of our vulnerability is scary. When Jesus started talking to the disciples about leaving them, they also felt vulnerable. Thomas in John 14:5 asked, “Lord we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus gave Thomas the same answer he gave us yesterday. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Finding your way out of grief and questioning starts with moving toward Jesus. He wept at Lazarus’ death and begged Judas to come to him at the Last Supper. Take the hand Jesus offers. He will guide you to the Father’s heart where you’ll find all the answers you need.

Some of Joel’s siblings danced to a special song at the funeral. It lifted our hearts, reminding us God has promised to prepare a place for us and take us to be with him forever. Joel, I look forward to once again see your ready smile on the day I join you in heaven!

Trading My Sorrows by Darrell Evans

I'm trading my sorrows
I'm trading my shame
I'm laying them down for the joy of the Lord

I'm trading my sickness
I'm trading my pain
I'm laying them down for the joy of the Lord

We say
Yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord
Yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord
Yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord

Monday, February 15, 2016

Growth Always Involves Fear

You know our significant other/s always test us when they realize we are at a new level of spiritual growth. When we are at a new level of emancipation. Of self-sovereignty. They are always the first to know. And they become frightened. And they try to get us to fall back into the old enmeshed patterns. But their test is really confirmation of our liberation and movement toward wholeness. Their fear is that our growth is a reminder that they too can choose theirs.  Martin Luther King, Jr.

Growth always involves fear. Most of my counseling clients realize they need to face their own personal fears in order to heal wounds, critique beliefs, and step out in faith. What catches them by surprise is the response of spouses, family, friends, church, etc. Instead of support and encouragement, clients often receive fear-based condemnation. MLK, Jr. understood this human response to change, using it as positive affirmation rather than personal defeatism.

Sanctification is the process of seeing ourselves and others through God’s eyes. This viewpoint provides freedom from an oppressive, restrictive, fear-based human lifestyle. Stepping out in confidence and faith can scare the pants off those around us. Reminds me of Moses at the Red Sea.

The Bible gives us a little information about Moses’ fears and wounds. Each time God told him to talk to Pharaoh was an individual growth opportunity to press into those fears. His confidence in himself and God grew so when he called the Israelites to follow him out of Egypt, they packed up and hit the road. When they got to the Red Sea, God called Moses to symbolically show his growth to the people by stepping out in faith. Everyone around him was freaking out, begging Moses to go back to Egypt and make peace. As Moses courageously stepped into the Red Sea, God spoke to the heart of every Israelite, calling them to grow in faith as well.

Your growth can both inspire and terrify those around you. Ask God to open the eyes of your heart so you can continue to step out in faith. Your godly model provides an opportunity for God to speak to onlookers about their own growth.

Photo courtesy of www.neverthirsty.org

Monday, February 8, 2016

Flawed Folks

            I find it super encouraging to read biblical accounts of folks who are as flawed as me. Women, men, siblings, parents, children, religious leaders, bosses—the Bible gives us relational models which speak to our lives. Today I’m focusing on 1 Samuel 1.
            Elikanah the Ephraimite was a devote man with two wives, Peninnah and Hannah. Every year he traveled to the tabernacle at Shiloh to offer sacrifices to the Lord and ask God’s blessing upon his family. During the festival, he gave generous portions of meat to Peninnah and her children, but he always gave a double portion to Hannah “because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb.”
            Peninnah knew Hannah was the favorite and intentionally provoked her, bringing Hannah to tears. The insults were especially hard to endure when they went up to the house of the Lord. Hannah wept so hard she couldn’t eat. Worried, Hannah’s husband begged her to focus on his love rather than her despair over being childless.
            One day enough was enough. Hannah’s bitterness consumed her heart and mind. Standing outside the tabernacle, she negotiated with God.

O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.’ (1 Sam 1:11)

            A priest named Eli watched this woman for a while. She stood transfixed, eyes closed, mouth moving but no sound coming out. Apparently this was very peculiar behavior because he concluded she was drunk and told her to sober up! When Hannah explained she was praying to God out of deep anguish and grief, Eli blessed her and asked God to grant her petition. Receiving comfort and hope, Hannah’s spirit was renewed. “In the course of time,” the Lord “remembered” Hannah’s prayer and she gave birth to a son she named Samuel saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”
            Once Samuel was weaned, the family once again made a trip to Shiloh to sacrifice. With Elikanah’s blessing, Hannah kept her vow and presented her beloved son to Eli as a dedication to God. 1 Samuel 2 chronicles Hannah’s prayer as she handed her son to the Lord.

My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance…The Lord brings death and makes alive; he bring down to the grave and raises up. The Lord sends poverty and wealth, he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap…It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be shattered. 1 Sam 2:1-10

            Sit in the shoes of each of these folks and you will experience their strengths and weaknesses. Despite being a man of faith, Elikanah showed favor to one wife over the other. Hurt and angry with her husband, Peninnah responded by scapegoating Hannah, knowing exactly what buttons to cruelly push. Bitterness grew in Hannah’s heart, eventually pushing her to bargain with God. Eli made inaccurate, incorrect assumptions rather than relationally moving towards Hannah to find out what she needed.
Do you find yourself in these flawed folks? The good news is God offered each person an opportunity to grow and mature. I like to hope Elikanah took ownership of his part in the marital issues and intentionally worked on his relationship with Peninnah. Hopefully her heart and attitude softened toward Hannah, promoting peace and harmony at home. We see how Eli allowed God to speak to his heart about making hasty judgments. Doing so resulted in compassion for Hannah’s sorrow and his words brought comfort and hope back to her soul.
Personally, I’m highly inspired and encouraged by Hannah’s transformation, as evidenced in her prayer in 1 Samuel 2. Like many folks, she lived with constant disappointment and hardship. As a Christian counselor, I don’t have a “why” answer. Why did God close Hannah’s womb? Why did he allow Peninnah to be so hurtful? Why doesn’t God step in and miraculously heal and protect those I love? Enduring these questions everyday can eventually wear folks down, bringing resentment and bitterness.
Many of us try to bargain with God and if that doesn’t seem to get results, we close ourselves off relationally and become cynical or stoic. Using human logic, Hannah had every reason to feel abandoned by God and renig on her “foxhole” vow. Yet her powerful prayer shows a heart of gratitude and thankfulness. Hannah confidently testifies to God’s heart of love for her, her son, and her people. She still lives in a fallen world, but she now knows in her soul how God is always with and for her no matter the circumstances. Looking at life through God’s heart gives us everything we need to persevere in faith and hope.
I was very blessed to visit Shiloh several years ago. The photo above is taken in the cave identified as the home of Eli and Samuel. Standing at the site of the original Tabernacle, I felt God’s manifest presence. I challenge you to adopt a relational view of reading the Bible. Put yourself in the shoes of all the flawed folks. Connect with their weaknesses and immature behaviors. Bring all your “why” questions directly to God. Allow these accounts to be a catalyst for growth in your own life.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Cultivate a "But-less" Life

            Imagine being on a journey for 40 years. You’re leaving slavery and all the hardships which came with oppression. God’s given you a vision of a bountiful banqueting table, a land promised to all the generations of Israelites. Hope keeps you pressing forward through all the frustrations that come with constant travel. Then one day ta da, you arrive. Thank the Lord! Arriving at the promised land means things will be easy and your burden will be light. You can finally put your traveling shoes and armour away, right?
            God commanded Moses to send tribe leaders to scout the land to finally answer 40 years’ worth of questions. Imagine being in the crowd, waiting expectantly to hear all the good news about your new home. At first it sounds amazing. The scouts show off wonderful fruit, describing the land as “flowing with milk and honey!” (Numbers 13:27) And then they say it. That little three letter word which has the power to deflate all hope.

But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.” Numbers 13:28

            These leaders had dreamed and traveled for years to get to the brink of God’s promise for their lives. I believe they’d set up inaccurate expectations of how God would bless them. We see several examples of how the Israelites expected God to provide for them in a convenient way. They grumbled about only eating manna, expected the Messiah to overthrow the Romans, etc. Our human expectations of how God blesses us can set us up for disappointment and discouragement. Fear sets in. How we respond shows our level of spiritual maturity.
            “But” is a powerful tool of the enemy. Most Christians struggle with connecting the head and heart; what they believe and what they feel. We know we “should” be grateful for all the blessings in our life BUT we feel disappointed at needs not being met in specific ways. Caleb went on the scouting mission and saw all the “buts” narrated by the other leaders, yet he had a very different response.

“Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” Numbers 13:30

            Caleb lived with passion, excitement, and hope. His expectations were focused on God’s vision of the future rather than the barriers between him and the blessings. He viewed the obstacles as opportunities for God to show his glory rather than looking at human weaknesses. There was no “but” in Caleb’s vocabulary.
            Cultivate a “but-less” view of blessings. There may be enemies to defeat, mountains to cross, and the unknown to navigate. Yet God will always empower us to be strong and courageous, blessing us with his presence and heart.