Thursday, August 31, 2017

It Takes the Rain

Back in January, I was still working in Orange County so the commute home always took me on the I-57 North, which, if you're familiar with Southern California freeways, then you know that this one takes you through some small rolling hills before hitting the I-10. I drove through these peaks daily, but rarely noticed the beauty they offer until after a week or so of regular rainfall.  Instead, I mostly grumbled about having to drive in the downpour (pictured below) and sit in bumper to bumper traffic.  I dislike driving in wet conditions as it is, and most residents of the state will readily admit to being spoiled by the usually sunny conditions, so when our rainy season hits, people nearly lose their minds.  It's as if we all forget how to drive when water strikes.  Our interstates are jammed packed already without precipitation, but throw a storm into the mix and it looks like what L.A. dubbed "Carmageddon" in 2011 when the I-405 temporarily shut down.  Simply put, many of us, while keenly aware of the need for it, don't like the rain, at least not while driving.  On January, 12, however, I was heading home through the hills after the week of storms had subsided and I was caught off guard by how beautifully green the landscape looked as I passed by (see pictures below).  It was as if I was seeing everything for the first time.  Had it always looked so colorfully vibrant and just missed my attention or was there really a difference? There was just something deeper and richer about the shade of green than what it had been before the week of storms, and it wasn't long after that when I realized the sweet parallels in the spiritual realm - To see clearly, sometimes it takes the rain.

                                                                                                                                

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Choose Wisely

It's okay I felt His Spirit say.  After what I had just done, it seemed incomprehensible that His message to me would be one of consolation. I had just done the unthinkable, after all.  In a single moment I made the very mistake I had unknowingly been planning to make all along. The waves of forbidden desire finally emerged from my mind's shadow and came crashing into the shoreline of my moral compass, or as Freud would call it, my superego.  The gratification and pleasure I derived from it all slowly faded into a black hole of guilt and shame, despair and confusion. How could I have let this happen? I silently and anxiously questioned as I fought back the tears that tried to fall. I was horrified to have come face to face with the sinfulness and depth of evil in my own heart. You see, we rarely just make a bad decision or engage in a particular mistake on the spur of the moment. Before there's action, there was thought.  Contemplation. Consideration.   We entertained the idea of the sin before we acted out the crime.  You didn't just kill that person.  A thought occurred before the trigger was pulled.  Even in the most instantaneous and reflexive self-defense response, the thought preceded the pulled trigger.  You didn't just fall into bed with the attractive co-worker.  You first thought it through and imagined what it would be like.  Your nose didn't just accidentally snort the line of cocaine.  Your mind ingested it before your body ever did.  You simply followed the thought trail that led you to it.  The wisdom in Proverbs 4:23 that says "carefully guard your thoughts because they are the source of true life" is undeniable for it is in our thoughts that sin is first conceived.  In my own scenario, instead of starving those ruminations, I fed them daily over a period of months. The next step was, inevitably, a painful one. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Addicted

In my job, nearly all of the clients with whom I work are struggling, or have struggled in the past, with addiction.  Though I've had my own bouts with it throughout my lifetime, I have often minimized my struggles as being somehow less than an "addiction" problem.  My two biggest Goliaths have always been smoking cigarettes or drinking too much alcohol, both substances that are widely available and completely legal.  Most of my clients, on the other hand, doggedly battle against other foes.   Meth.  Heroine.  Cocaine.  You know, the "hard stuff." Until this last year I saw myself in a different boxing match than them, but what I've since discovered as I daily fight the urge to smoke, is that addiction is addiction and the struggle against one drug or habit is no less real than the other. Merriam Webster defines it as "a strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble)." Seems the heroine addict and nicotine addict aren't so different.  Both are addicted.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Fervent - A Book Review



Fervent - A Book Review

Broken.  Disheveled.  Discouraged.  Barely clinging to hope.  Those are the words that encapsulate where I found myself as I picked up Priscilla Shirer’s book, Fervent.  I felt broken by the looming threat of marital dissolution.  Earlier in 2015, my husband and I separated and I found myself contemplating divorce as the year neared its cyclic close.  I looked in the mirror and I was emotionally and spiritually disheveled from the harsh beating inflicted by gusty winds of uncertainty and icy storms of confusion.  Discouragement over the future lurked along my horizon and I was barely clinging to hope. I sat alone in my small, one bedroom apartment and, through tears, opened the pages of one of the most life changing books I’ve read. Ever.

Immediately, I was incited against the dark forces that had held me captive for the last year.  Things about myself that I had forgotten began to resurface in my memories.  New words emerged.  Called.  Equipped.  Armed.  Empowered.  Only moments into the pages, a shift began to occur in my thinking and suddenly, I felt a surge of strength.  Of passion.  Of purpose.  Of anger.  How dare the enemy aim to rob me of not only my identity in Christ, but also all of those things for which Christ died on my behalf.  To hell with you, devil, became the new message ringing in my ears as I began to take captive every defeating and disheartening thought that had occupied my mind prior to opening the Spirit saturated pages of Shirer’s book.  As the words took root in my heart, I began to see that this was no ordinary volume.  It wasn’t written for the sweet child who prays innocently for a piece of candy after dinner.  Neither was it addressed to the prideful Pharisee type who offers up prayers of gratitude that he’s not like others.  It wasn’t even written to the one who already has a strong and faithful prayer life.  No, it was written to the worn out, desperate woman who’s on the edge of the seat of despair.  To the one who is about to give up.  To her who is considering quitting.  It was written to the defeated, the hopeless, and discouraged.  It was written to me.  So if that’s also you…if you’ve lost your fight, forgotten your position of victory, or feel your candle is about to burn out, allow me to recommend Priscilla Shirer’s Fervent. Reading it will leave you changed.  Hungry for victory. Angry over the enemy’s lies.  Fervent in prayer. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Just as I am

In the above scene, you hear four of my favorite words, and, I venture to say, four words that we all long to hear.  "Just as you are..."  Not, "after you do this," or "when you change this," but "just as you are."  In my meager 35 years of living, I've stumbled (literally) upon the profound truth that as human beings, one of our vital core needs is acceptance.  We desire to be who we are, as we are, but because of demands from parents as children, spouses or significant others in adulthood, teachers in school, or employers at work, we succumb to the temptation to remain hidden.  Crouched down in the shadow of interpersonal expectations, external demands, and the cultural climate of showiness, we are unknown to ourselves and to others. The curtain in front of the authentic self remains drawn until some crisis or distressing situation brings it center stage, curtains fully drawn back.  Plunged forth by heartache and cracks in life's foundation, one's true identify only surfaces when confronted by the anxiety of forever remaining the same. A new fear emerges - that of change.  Behind the various masks worn to appease the masses or small collection of friends, co-workers, and family, is a deeply complex, sometimes troubled, individual, with likes, dislikes, desires, aversions, and overall perceptions of the world around him.  The discovery of one's true self is seldom a journey of willingness and delight.  It's muddled with uncertainty and pebbled with difficulty.  Carl Rogers once described a patient's path in this way: "struggling to be himself, yet deathly afraid of being himself - striving to see his experience as it is, wanting to be that experience, and yet deeply fearful of the prospect..." Why go down that road when the less challenging course is settlement on the comforting planes of "I am who I am?"  Even God, in Exodus 3:14, said "I am who I am," so it seems a worthy example of imitation.  And it's true..I'm okay. Just as I am.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Redeemed

In recent months, I've become conscious and deeply appreciative of my life's small victories.  I'm no longer concerned with widespread and total deliverance, though I still seek that as an ultimate goal. While I struggle against the tide of addiction to nicotine, for instance, I'm learning to relish in the seemingly insignificant decision to leave my cigarettes behind when I go somewhere. Or, when I know I've smoked less today than I did yesterday, I recognize that as a baby step towards quitting completely.  Today, I went to exercise instead of sitting on my patio with a good book and smoke. Although I enjoyed one upon my return, I'm cognizant of the very decision to initially delay it and I celebrate that. I've spent ample time beating myself up for having started again after quitting five years ago, but I'm discovering that this internal berating serves me not. It leaves me feeling defeated, condemned, guilty, and lacking in motivation to keep trying at all.  In response to such feelings, I've found that it's easy to settle into the idea that our circumstances are hopeless, but what this does more than anything else is let us off the hook.  We don't really want to change our behavior, and we haven't yet entered the stage of ambivalence, so we sink into a despondency that creates a disengagement to the battle. Why try? I'll never quit anyway. It's too hard.  I'm not strong enough. Sound familiar?  I've spoken these self-defeating words countless times in weeks passed as I've stood on the front lines of the war against my own temptations and addictions.  Interestingly, in my work, I often find myself guiding clients out of this dark pit and onto paths of self acceptance, onward movement, and ultimately positive inner growth.  Many of their experiences and struggles mirror my own, yet I find that the same compassion and generosity with which I counsel them, I frequently withhold from myself.  I'm working on that, and as I do, I'm discovering that our stories of heartache and pain and bad decisions are not stories of those things at all.  They are stories of redemption and we are the redeemed. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

All of Me

In the last few months, I've undergone a whirlwind of transformation.  Back in August, I moved out of my house.  Out of my marriage.  Out of the only life I've known for the last 10 years.  Separated from my husband by mutual lies and deception, brokenness and despair, I embarked on a journey marked with anguishing heartbreak, hard hearted rebellion, humble submission, and, ultimately, beautiful restoration.  My first step through this unknown and unfamiliar door, I began searching for a self who I didn't even know was there.  In the world of the human psyche, we all have what is known as a "lost self," a "false self," and a "disowned self," each one formed during the earliest stages of our existence.  Dr. Harville Hendrix defines the lost self as "those parts of your being that you had to repress because of the demands of society," the false self as "the facade that you erected in order to fill the void created by this repression and by a lack of adequate nurturing," and the disowned self as "the negative parts of your false self that met with disapproval and were therefore denied."  What I have since discovered in unearthing each aspect that comprises my whole self is the darkness of my own heart, my overwhelming propensity for sin, and the amazing grace of a loving Creator who knows about it all.   He truly loves me.  All of me.