to Him who sets the captive hearts free…

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Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Mark 9:21-24

This is how we know Him. He sets the captives free.

I know this. I trust God. Or so I thought I did, until life hit me square between the eyes with a 2×4 – for the second time.

These verses from Mark – they were my lifeline a few years ago. I was battling depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Every day I would beg with all my heart that God would help me overcome my unbelief. I didn’t know how I could keep going. All I had was a shadow of hope that God might heal me. I didn’t really believe or understand how He could – but I knew I could pray this prayer and maybe He would instill me with the belief I needed to keep on living.

And He did. He healed me. He was faithful.

Fast forward to now…

My daughter has been facing some intense battles. Different from my own, but similar enough that I could feel her pain.

You would think I learned from experience that God is faithful to heal, but this whole thing has been a gigantic test of faith.

Do you trust me in this?

My heart beats out of my chest with uncertaintly.

I just don’t know…why is all this happening? Help me understand? Then I can trust you…

Throughout my daughters journey I, and so many others, have prayed for healing.

My faith has climbed the mountains, crashed into the ocean, dragged itself up to the shore begging, stood up shrouded in disappointment, cried out in anger induced mockery, and in some ways – accepted defeat.

I believed God could redeem the situation, but somewhere along the journey I lost the would.

He could heal her, but would He?

And here I find myself tonight, once again heart swelled into Mark 9:24.

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

The most beautiful thing? God healed her even though my belief had faltered – greatly faltered. He knew my fragile humanity and took care of her before I could say yes God, I believe you can do this.

I thought my heart might explode into gratitude as she danced across my living room tonight proclaiming her freedom.

Have we put a great deal of interventions in place to help her – YES! Does she have some amazing people speaking truth into her life – praise the Lord YES!

But I know this for sure. There is only one who sets the captives free. Intervention has a profound impact – but there is only one that permanently breaks chains – and that is Jesus.

Do you know the first thing she requested as she began to emerge from captivity? That she be baptized. If that doesn’t convince me that Jesus has set her precious tiny adorable heart free – I don’t know what will.

My girl is free. Not because I believed. Because at first I didn’t…

My girl is free because those who God sets free are free indeed.

Chains no longer bind her.

She has a long road ahead, but she will never ever again be held by the bondage of the shame her heart was holding onto. God has called her by name, redeemed her, and called her blessed. She is His daughter. She has claimed her freedom. And although there will be struggles, she can never ever be bound by any chains the Lord can’t shatter into a thousand tiny pieces.

My girl is free. I am free. You are free.

Thank you Jesus, and once again, I do believe.

 

 

fear does not live here…

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Fear does not live here. In our home. Our minds. Our hearts. And I will furrow holes in the ground with my praying knees before satan takes a stronghold.

That’s my theme song this week, because last week was a tough one. This week is better but my heart is still struggling to gag up the bitter taste of uncertainty. Beauty is on the horizon. It blossoms and I see it. Yet fear slithers in and tells me not to grab hold. That if I let my guard down the darkness will come crashing in.

“You want to be prepared? Don’t you?” Fear hisses. “If you trust God…that He is making things new…what if He doesn’t? What if it’s all just a big trap?”

I see these lies. I hear them. I recognize them. And I push them back with all my might. Because beauty, even if only present for a day or even a moment, is fantastic. It’s worth grasping.

And I get it. Sometimes night is so dark it seems all we can do is be afraid. Day after day of loss and mourning. It feels like we might break.

But let us not forget Jesus laid in the tomb for two long days. It seemed like evil had won. Just when the disciples were about to give up, He rose from the grave and filled them with power from heaven, the Holy Spirit.

It’s power that’s available to you too. Fear destroying ~ life changing ~ power.

When we encounter darkness, fear does not win. Not while Jesus lives. And He lives forever. Fear can be put to death by the power of His name. But we must not give up. We belong to Jesus. We have power through the Holy Spirit to drive fear back into the hell it came from. We win in the end.  And that’s the truth.

am I safe to trust God…

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When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O  lord God of Heaven’s Armies. I never joined the people in their merry feasts. I sat alone because your hand was on me. I was filled with indignation at their sins. Why then does my suffering continue? Why is my wound so incurable? Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook, like a spring that has gone dry.” This is how the lord responds: “If you return to me, I will restore you so you can continue to serve me. If you speak good words rather than worthless ones, you will be my spokesman. You must influence them; do not let them influence you! Jeremiah 15:16-19 NLT

Is it safe? Can I trust God?

We wonder these things in times of turmoil. Yes we take Your Word, and consume it voraciously, but will it satisfy hunger? Will it set us free? Or will we be left alone wandering?

Jeremiah shared our grief. Why the hurt and pain God? You could fix it but you don’t. Our human tendency is to throw up hands and say screw it. If You aren’t going to help why waste time studying and clinging to the Word?

His faithful actions from the past lose meaning as we swirl. So what if You helped last time, where are You now?

Intervention seems sporadic and undependable. It makes us angry. Turning our backs, shame tells us He was never on our side in the first place. We are unworthy and God’s love was illusion.

Is He safe? Can we trust Him? Is this God thing real?

God speaks to Jeremiah in this moment and basically tells him to stop whining and doubting and start speaking truth.

God doesn’t back down, give in to our weakness, or doubt Himself. No. Rather He commands us to stick our feet out, stop the trip down the my life sucks twisty slide, and begin the ascent back up to Him.

He instructs us to speak truth and serve Him, not just when it hurts, but specifically when it hurts. This is how we know Him deeper in our suffering – by allowing Him to shape us in and by the fire.

Can He be trusted? Is He safe? My answer is yes. Not because He is a God that rescues through escapism, because often He doesn’t. I trust because He places the protective covering of His Word around my heart so suffering does not consume.

He cares enough to grow us and at times this means we must be vulnerable enough to experience pain.

Is it safe to trust God? The answer is yes. So what do we do then?

Let us speak His Word over our lives. Even when it hurts and hope feels distant. His Word is faithful and true. When we speak it there is power. It tranforms us and changes others. This is our measure of safety. Not that He eliminates suffering but rather His love consumes us in times of pain.  He keeps us safe. Even when we don’t understand. There is purpose in the pain. Let that alone bring us to a place of worship.

keep that light strapped tight to your feet…

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Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Psalm 119:105

I woke up with this verse on my heart. The path my family is walking right now is dark. Quite frankly it’s scary. I just keep waiting for the boogie man to jump out and grab us. But He hasn’t yet. God has kept our peace.

What struck me differently today about this verse is that the lamp is on my feet. The path may be dark and dingy but as long as we are staying in God’s Word He adorns us with all the light we need.

The circumstances may remain stagnant and dangerous. But His Word festooned within our hearts creates light – the wisdom and guidance for the journey.

Like the Israelites we need only be still and He, through the power of His sovreighn voice and Word, will fight for us.

Last night we were surrounded by love. By couples filled with willing hearts in prayer. And it meant the world. Not because the path had changed but because the light was super bright. All of our feet lit up together in a glorious display and His Word. It was powerful. He was present. And I believe in these moments He provided some healing in our home regardless of our path remaining the same.

So strap on your foot lights every day. His Word. Spend time in it so not only do you know where your going, but so you can help light a dark path for others through the power of His great and mighty Word and Name.

He’s the only one who lights the darkest, coldest, deepest, dirtiest path. His Word is clean, fresh, restorative, powerful, and new. And we can choose to trust in Him. He makes our journey safe.

Depression, shame, and the abandonment of self…

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I was doing some reading tonight about depression. Some would propose it is rooted in abandonment. Abandonment by others, yes that too, but ultimately the abandonment of self.

What causes a person to abandon themselves? Perhaps shame. The idea that not only do we make mistakes, but that we are in fact the embodiment of a mistake. Look back at the story of Adam and Eve…the place where shame entered the human condition. Before eating the fruit Adam and Eve felt no shame but upon eating it they learned that they were naked and felt ashamed. They had done something wrong and now felt the need to hide, not just their mistake, but their entire selves.

Shame always perpetuates the need to hide. We don’t want others to see the bad in us, so we squash it down out of sight. The problem then becomes the more we squash it down the less self aware and self validating we become. Years upon years of abandoning ourselves and ignoring negative emotions or life events leads to an existence that – minus accomplishment and accolades – feels devoid of meaning. We feel abandoned and afraid, completely uncertain of who we are on the inside and absolutely terrified what we might find if we decided to look.

If shame then is at the root of depression, how might we undo the damage? How can we stop abandoning ourselves and start embracing who God designed us to be?

I think the first step is deciding that we will be open to experience all of our emotions. Even the ones that cause us distress and totally freak us out. But how do we do this when we have shut out negative emotions and pain for so long that even the slightest inkling of sadness leads to us feeling overwhelmed and sucked under?

It’s called distress tolerance. We must choose to feel our negative emotions without judging them or being fearful of them. We stop calling them bad and scary, and instead experience them for what they are – indicators of our internal and external states. Indicators that will pass with time and often come in waves. We don’t have to push them away. We can simply feel them, accept them, and observe as they come and go.

In other words, we become re-acquainted with living in our own skin. We become comfortable with our full range of emotions rather than stuffing them down. We decide that less than perfect is okay and that it’s just as normal to sit still with uncomfortable emotions as it is to sit with comfortable ones.

Because it is okay to be sad. It is okay to fail. We are human. We can get comfortable with our discomfort. Invite it in for coffee or tea and get to know it. Learn what it feels and doesn’t feel like. What it likes and doesn’t like. When it comes and when it goes.

Learning to stop abandoning ourselves is a huge step towards freedom from depression. We can be free to feel the full range of emotions God created, not only so we can connect with ourselves, but so we may then more intimately connect with God and others.

4 truths to remember when your child is hurting…

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As I watched her hop out of my car this morning, adorable bow in her hair, I could hardly stomach where we had been the night before. A place her frustrated anxiety led her where she could hardly come back. Feeling things and thinking things that are so untrue of her, it breaks my heart over and over again. It’s one thing to struggle with anxiety and depression yourself, it’s quite another to witness your child’s battle. It’s brutal. Heartbreaking. The only place I have found comfort is in the steadfast, solid, unchanging truth of God’s Word.

If you are a parent watching your child battle difficulties of any kind, these are a few truths God has shown me. Maybe they can bring you a bit of freedom and peace, they certainly have done that for me.

1. God loves your child even more than you do.

I have asked God hundreds of times why He is allowing my beautiful, kind, loving sweet girl to endure such trials and pain. I have begged him to remove this knot that seems to tie her up so tightly. It seems so unfair and I don’t understand. When it gets really bad, He whispers to me once again, “I love her more than you do, and I promise you, I will not let her go.” And even in my deepest hurt and mama gut wrenching pain, I know this to be true.

Isaiah 54:10 says, “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,”says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” 

Even if the entire world crumbles…if everything we love and cherish went away tomorrow…His love would remain. It is unshakable. Unfailing. It will not be removed. No matter what trials we endure or watch our children bear on already sagging shoulders, He will not remove His love. He will be faithful to His covenant of peace.

2. He makes things new.

My biggest fear is things won’t get better. That a hurting child will grow into a hurting adult. When the bad days seem to outweigh the good, and I realize yet again I cannot remove the shards of glass that poke at her heart, He reminds me He is greater. He can do things far beyond what I ask or imagine. He makes things new.

Isaiah 43:19 says, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

When hope tucks itself into the darkness and we can’t seem to pull it out we must remember who God is. He is in the business of healing and He isn’t going to abandon His children to their pain. He is making a way. He is doing a new thing even when we cannot see it.

3. You are their parent for a reason.

I’ll be honest. I see people around me that don’t love Jesus, people who have perfectly happy healthy children, and I wonder why my children have to suffer. My husband and I love Jesus, my children love Jesus, and yet I watch them suffer. At times I get angry and frustrated. I know God could fix it, but for whatever reason He choses not to. Why? I may never understand, but I do know this…God knit my children together inside of me for a reason. I am their mom and I will cherish them with all that is in me.

Psalm 139:13 says, “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

He has equipped my husband and I specifically with everything we need to parent our children, in the good times and the tough times. When I spend my energy being angry and bitter I do my children a disservice. But when I rejoice in their sufferings, thanking God that He has all of us exactly where we need to be, I am free to trust Him and enjoy even the most difficult and painful journeys.

4. As a result of this faith will grow, in you and in your family.

Colossians 2:6-7 says this, “And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.”

We have been taught the truth. It’s what sets us free to build our lives upon Him. If we trust Him in everything we do, with every step we take, with all our heart, soul, spirit, and mind we have no choice but to lean hard into His goodness. We follow Him not because we are seeking or looking for answers, because we may never have them. We follow because He is Lord. Because our roots have grown so deep into Him that He is our lifesource and strength. And no matter what we endure, no matter what pain our children go though, we know their roots will always lead them home. God is in them and they will not fail. And upon this…I can…you can…we can overflow with thankfulness – NO MATTER WHAT!

Maybe take a moment and listen to this song…let it wash over you…and remind you…even when all you can squeak out is a tearful breathy Hallelujah – these Hallelujah’s will be multiplied and His love will not be changed.

why there is no other relationship that can surpass our relationship with Jesus…

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What other relationship is there, or will there ever be, that we are completely and fully known from the very beginning? He knows our fears, challenges, strengths, weaknesses…absolutely everything. Even memories locked tightly away in closets…He knows. The joy we experienced walking the first time or riding a bike…we may not remember…but He does.

I’ve thought about this a great deal. God has brought some amazing people and partnerships into my life over the past few months. And they aren’t just surface relationships. God is challenging me to go deeper and wider regarding the manner in which I engage with people. It’s a challenge and a gift. But even my very best of friends do not know everything about me that God knows. Nor could they. He knows the depths of my soul that even I am unaware of and still discovering. What a tremendous gift. And one I take for granted often.

We sometimes feel He is distant because we can’t see or touch Him like we can our friends. Should He, could He, really be our first source of comfort when we can’t snuggle up in His lap, receive a hug, or hold His hand?

Yes.

Why? Because completely unique to our relationship with the Lord comes the power of the Holy Spirit. Can God empower others through the Holy Spirit to speak to us? Yes. And He does. But we must make it an active practice to seek out His wisdom and comfort before going to others.

John 16:12-15 says this, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.  But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

In times of hurt, discomfort, and confusion God’s wisdom and comfort speaks from levels that are fully aware of past, present, and future. Ways no human could ever understand or know. His perpective is perfect and unique. And although we may not find the actual physical presence we would from another person, the spiritual level of perfect acceptance and peace is unparalleled by any other relationship.

He is our Savior. Perfect and unique. The one place we are completely known. The hidden places are visible to Him before we even realize they exist. This is the power of a loving and personal relationship with God. It’s powerful. Life changing. Breathtaking. And complete.

 

 

 

A practical space to worry, and skills to help you let go…

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 “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:27 (NIV)

I spent the majority of the week in the bathroom. Not because of some horrible virus or something I ate. Instead, a situation at work was causing me extreme anxiety. I had control over what was in my files, but I had no control over how the files would be critiqued or my performance would be judged. I worried myself sick until the entire experience was over.

And guess what? Everything turned out fine. I left work with a sense of relief it was over and as I was driving home, a phrase popped into my mind: “I will not try and exercise control over things that are out of my control.”

 I thought to myself, “Wow, that was wise!”

I felt like it must have been the Holy Spirit talking because such wisdom is unusual for me. I might need to have this phrase tattooed to my forehead so I can remember it. But then people would actually hold me to it and I’m pretty sure I’m not ready for that!

Maybe that’s you, too.

Perhaps you worry about work like I do, or maybe a family member with an illness, a friend making negative decisions, or that person you really want to accept Christ who seems to have their ears glued shut. Maybe you spend hours worrying about hurtful words spouted out in a moment of anger. You wish you could take them back, but you can’t. Or maybe you made a bad decision you regret, but you can’t shake the consequences.

Regardless of what we spend time worrying about, I think we can all agree that worrying is rarely, if ever, an effective way to spend time.

Matthew 6:27 says, “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

The answer, of course, is no. But we choose to worry anyways. Like much of God’s instruction from the Bible, we might memorize it and even quote it to others, but struggle to apply it ourselves. So why do we worry when we know all it does is cause us more grief?

Often when we worry, we are grasping for control. We cycle situations through our brains in hopes of having authority over the outcome or try to plan what will happen. But usually no matter how much we agonize, nothing changes.

Worry and its partner, desired control, can consume our lives unless we make it stop. But how?

What if we created a daily worry time and space? I have done this myself, and as a professional counselor I have suggested it to many of my clients. And guess what? It works! But only if we use it.

Let’s set boundaries on our anxiety rather than let it stomp all over us. It sounds counter-intuitive, but by actually being cognizant and purposeful with worry we can reduce it.

So what could a worry time and space look like?

  1. Select 15-20 minutes each day to worry. That’s it!
  2. Keep a worry journal throughout the rest of the day. When you begin to worry, jot it down (or make a note on your phone) and save it for your worry time
  3. During your worry time go through your list of worry items. Decide which items you do and don’t have control over. You can make a plan of action for the items you have some control over. However, the items you do not have control over are to be prayed about and turned over to the Lord.
  4. Write action plans and prayer items in your worry journal as well. That way you can track of what God has taken care of for you and the action steps you plan to take. Eventually you’ll be shocked how your worry journal begins to look more like a prayer journal.

And guess what else Matthew 6 contains? The Lord’s Prayer! In the same space Jesus tells us not to worry, He teaches us to pray. That’s no accident. If we are truly releasing our cares to the Lord, worry and control are obsolete. His plans are far greater than our own. He controls the wind, the waves, and keeps the earth turning on its axis. Certainly we can trust Him with our cares, concerns and worries, both big and small.

When we choose to set limits on worry and stop trying to exercise control, we free ourselves to enjoy trusting God and watching His mighty hand at work.

Dear Lord, help us set limits on worry and stop trying to manage life events beyond our control. Release our hearts and minds to see and understand your purpose and plans that we may feel your perfect peace. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

to you that feels broken…

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To you that feels broken…afraid…lonely…in a tough spot…

If there was an easier place to go, you would have gone…but you are here…

The place where the weight of the world meets your shoulders in a fiery crash. I get it.

Shame and hurt have not abandoned you, although you certainly wish they would. They hang on tight like a rod wrapped around a string. Pulling you this way and that. Seems so unfair. And at times irrational and illogical. How many broken pieces can one already shattered heart hold. But God sees you.

It hurts. But you are bold. You have strength. It’s strength of far greater value than gold. Not your own. But bought at the highest price. Paid for. It’s yours.

You are going to be ok. Today. Tomorrow. Forever. It’s not a chance or gamble.  Your bends and breaks are known. He’s noticed every salty sweaty tear. Each bendy twisted place. The knots tied over again and now solidified by fear can still be undone. I know this for sure.

The pressure you place on yourself to be ok, right here, right now, is not necessary. You may not be ok. And that is ok. All God’s people endure fiery trials. They aren’t what makes us clean but they are what makes Holy.

Small shards of broken glass that when put together make a glorious window. A unique lens through which we view the Savior.

Dear friend, He sees you. It’s rough. But the water you swim in is safe. Take a breath and keep pressing on. Lift up a Hallelujah even when it’s grey. The clouds will part. Where He multiplies suffering there is fertile soil for healing. It’s planted and on the way. Prepare your heart and home for the harvest. In the end it’s going to be a blessing.

When it’s necessary to fight for change…

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And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:5

Let’s talk about belief systems. I’m not talking about Jesus just yet (although I will in a minute). I’m talking about our own personal internal belief system. The truth we believe about ourselves and the world. Our private logic.

As a counselor it’s my job to help people identify their belief system – the thoughts and things they tell themselves. This can be a difficult process, but it pales in comparison to the next task. Actually building the will to fight against dysfunctional thought patterns and beliefs.

Think of it this way. For years you have been the quarterback for the my life sucks and will never get better team. Everything that happens always happens against you. Nothing is right and you can’t do anything right.

You have designed the banners for this team. You’ve coined the slogans. You wear the t-shirt. Your all in. And all the sudden someone comes along and tells you that to regain your quality of life you must switch teams.

What? It goes against everything you know and believe to be true. Now your supposed to don a cheerleading skirt and pom-poms and be ready to fight for the other side. The my life can get better team. The team that’s banners are filled with hope. It seems like the better team to cheer for, but leaving the familiarity of your prior investment is terrifying.

The longer I do this job the more I see how difficult this transition actually is. It sounds simple – modify your thoughts and beliefs about yourself – but it can be excruciatingly difficult. And this is where  I start talking about Jesus.

Romans 5:5 tells us that our hope will not be put to shame. Tell that to a depressed person and they might smack you. Hope has always put them to shame. But I firmly believe a relationship with Jesus is the only way of gathering momentum to create permanent transformation.

We need Him and His amazing love to move out of the darkness into the light. He is the only hope that never fails. He’s the mediator between hope and shame.

The struggle is real. Personal belief systems are powerful and difficult to change. But pull on Jesus and He will give you the strength. It can be done.