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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, 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.