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.   

Saturday, August 22, 2015

It's Okay

For as long as I can remember, I've been terrified of making mistakes so to rectify the wrong thought patterns I've had towards them, I recently embarked on a journey of embracing them.  Ordinarily this would be healthy and beneficial, but what I've found myself doing goes beyond hugging my errors close and looking for growth opportunities within them; it seems I've been purposing to make them.  I didn't just decide that I would learn from them if I unknowingly made them; I deliberately and voluntarily put myself in situations where it was inevitable that I would make them.  The results? Sleepless nights and irritable bowel syndrome. Don't try this at home.
I'm still working to find my elusive balance and I hope I connect with it soon because the stakes have gotten too high and the internal conflicts are nearly overpowering.  In the last few days especially, it has taken all of my energy just to maintain steady breathing.  In the wake of my latest and greatest misstep yet, I'm discovering the underlying reasons for my recent risky behavior.  It's not that I really want to do the wrong thing...I've simply been testing my Father to find out how He will respond.  Will He yell at me? Beat me down with His wrath? Call me names and send me packing down a path of guilt and shame? Even knowing the Bible as well as I do and after walking with Him for the last eight years, I honestly didn't know.  All of us develop an image or idea of God that is based on something or someone else in our life and until we get to know God for who He actually is, we perceive Him symbolically through the being of another.  Most of us formulate this symbol during childhood, but for others it comes later.  Whenever it arrives, the time will invariably follow when it must be dismantled and reconstructed based on the reality of His true nature.  Here's what I've learned so far:

1. He is not mad at me when I mess up
2. I'm going to make mistakes with or without trying to make them. No need for added effort.
3. When I do make a mistake, He responds with it's okay.  I love you and you are mine.  Call out to me and I will help you work through this. 
4. His response feels so odd. But I like it.  
5. It really is going to be okay. 

Next step...

Monday, July 6, 2015

Perfectly Imperfect

I am free from the bondage of "can" and "cannot"...I have now entered into a realm of "want" and "do not want".. which makes choosing my Father's will far more desirable than it ever was while shackled in the chains of rules and dogmatic thinking.  I understand fully that I don't have to select His plan.  After giving it a go on my own, I've discovered that I want to choose His plan. I am no longer bound by the rigidity of absolutes like "must" and "should," nor does the catastrophizing over mistakes of which I'm accustomed suit me any longer.  Slips and miscalculations will not end me; instead, they will add beautiful and candescent color to my journey's canvas and will serve to grow me.  I am liberated to enter into all of life's activities untamed, wildly curious, and completely free to be me.  Mishaps are not only welcome, they are encouraged because from them, I will learn more reasonably who I am and why I'm here.  So far, I know well only these things:

1. I am not perfect
2. That's okay. 

Next step...

Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Confession

I have a confession.  A deep secret boils in the caliginous recesses of my mind, and it lures me and torments me simultaneously.  I long to hold it close for the gratification of my flesh, but I'm even more compelled to let it go in order to protect my spirit.  Never before have I physically felt the war between good and evil raging the way I do now.  In one direction, I hear God gently whisper (I Kings 19:12) return to me (Joel 2:12) and in the other, a seductive voice calls out to me from the darkness that is my shadow. Carl Jung described the allegorical shadow as the "hidden, repressed, for the most part inferior and guilt-laden personality whose ultimate ramifications reach back into the realm of our animal ancestors and so comprise the whole historical aspect of the unconscious...".  Until recently, I had never fully explored mine, at least not intentionally, and as I have begun to open myself up to its existence, I now know why.  For most of my Christian walk, I've ignored its pull and even denied it, but as Dr. Stephen Diamond said "The shadow is most destructive, insidious and dangerous when habitually repressed...".  This, I know to be true because once the restraint has been lifted, sin will undoubtedly ensue.  More than once lately I have been caught in the snare of my own unconscious turned conscious desires, and like the opening of Pandora's Box, the invitation to the shadow to become center stage can give full vent to the most gruesome consequences.
What, then shall we say? Should we continue in ignorance of the shadow's urges? No, we should know full well what it wants that we may be prepared to give an answer when the time comes (1 Peter 3:15).  To be clear, the shadow is not to be avoided, but embraced for the purpose of assimilation or integration.  I'm not there yet.  I'm still navigating its depths, trying desperately not to fall completely under.  No matter how badly I misstep, however, and I often do, somehow I know that Genesis 28:15 is true when God says "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go." If that wasn't enough, Isaiah 41:13 says "For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you." I'm not getting it right everyday, but when it's all said and done, Proverbs 19:21 says that "many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails." This, too, I know to be true and as I continue on this journey of exploration and deeper self awareness as a therapist, I rest on Exodus 14:14 that says I need only be still for "the Lord will fight" for me. What confessions do you have and to what or whom does your shadow cry out? Don't run from it, engage to understand it and let God help you overcome it. (Romans 8:37).

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Lay My Burden Down

I was devastated.  Word of her pregnancy should have lifted me to jubilant celebration, but instead it only reminded me of my own barrenness.  During the last month she had accidentally been careless with protective measures against conception, while across the map in my own corner of the world, I pleaded with God to work a miracle through the physiological impossibilities shared between my husband and me.  She neither planned on nor wanted more children, but I longed for as many more as the Lord would give.  The last month in particular, I had taken bold and daring steps of faith and risked letting my hope rise again.  Like every other month throughout the last eight years, though,  the wave of hopeful anticipation and expectation crashed ruthlessly into the rocky shoreline of failed attempts and cold nothingness.  Allowing myself to hope again was simply becoming more than I could bear and I reminded the Lord of Proverbs 13:12 that says "hope deferred makes a heart sick..." At my core, I felt my heart becoming sick as depression mercilessly reared its ugly head again.  Nothing, however, could have prepared me for what God asked me to do that night on my way home when He said to lay my burden down...

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Transparently Me

The following is an excerpt from an unrestrained flow of thought that poured forth from my consciousness several nights ago.  I kept my eyes closed while I typed so that I wouldn't focus on editing while I wrote or how I presented to others.  I just felt and thought and wrote with no intention of trying to join or divide thoughts.  I find myself preaching transparency to others recently, yet so often I hold back. It's hypocritical and I find that to be free, I must, on my next step, be transparently me.  

I sit in the dark listening to the soft escape of the piano and I wonder ...will the fear ever end? Will the pain ever subside? What is it like to live without it and have I ever had a full day absent from it? I have, but so much time has elapsed that the memory is too distant, the feeling removed.  I strain to recall, but it's as if I'm incapable, stopped in my tracks.  What is blocking me?  Or, do I even need to remember?  Can I just begin again?  I would like that.  To begin again.  A rebirth.  Jesus take my wheel and set me free.  I imagine the soft caress of water enveloping me as a child in the womb.  Free.  But I can't go back.  I can only begin again.  But how? I long to understand my fears, but more than that I yearn to live on the other side of the prison doors.   I want to be in the fresh air and walk in the sunlight.  I want to bask and not cower.  I want to feel and not avoid.  I want to experience life and not run from it.  How do I do all of this? The Bible says to "cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you..." (Psalm 55:22), but I'm not quite sure I've ever known this phenomenon.  I try. I try so hard to "cast my cares"...and yet something seems to go wrong, because they remain.  How Lord?  How do I cast them onto you for you to take over?  How do I do what you ask and command in your word? I don't know how and I'm angry because I haven't been able to figure it out.  What comes to mind next is "cease striving and know that I am God.." (Psalm 46:10).  In one breath I'm told to "cast" which implies action and in another I'm told to "cease" which means stop.  How, Lord, how do I know what to do?  I feel like the confused youth on a basketball court learning to play for the first time. His coach yells directions to him from the sidelines but I watch his head turn all around looking for what she means. He doesn't find it.  Instead, her yelling and his uncertainty only distresses him more.  He doesn't know which way to turn.  I know this pain.  Just tell me what you want from me, Abba Father.  I just need to hear your voice, but there are so many directives in the Bible, which one is for me today, here and now? Psalm 27:14 enters the realm of consciousness now and it says this: "Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD"...

I do love the sound of the piano as it plays alongside the running thoughts in my mind.  I've thought for some time now that if I only just got older, my worries and anxieties would dissipate in the wake of age and experience and wisdom.  Though some have settled, they have never fully gone.  Like the patient with schizophrenia who must learn to not feed his delusions, so too must I starve my fears and nourish my faith.  Rolling into my waking thoughts is Romans 8:37 that says "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us," so if the Bible truly is the Word of God, then I've already won.  I am "more than a conqueror..." I must only believe. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

I worked with a young woman recently whose presenting problem was attraction to a younger co-worker.  Under normal circumstances, this wouldn't be such an issue, but this young woman was married with children, not to mention a devout Christian.  Her faith was very important to her, but no matter what she tried in prayer and study, she couldn't shake what were for her adulterous thought patterns towards this other man.  She sought intercessors, she cried, and she even confessed her growing attraction to her husband and a close friend.  Still, the feelings remained.  When she came to me, she was worn out from trying to overcome it all and sought more than anything to understand the why behind her attraction.  She was particularly hung up on something the object of her affections said to her at work one day.  She had openly disclosed to him that she found him attractive, but assured him (and likely herself as well) that she loved God more than she would ever be drawn to him. In fact, she told him "I'm cured of my attraction to you and no longer bound by it."  Her alleged hope was that by being transparent with him, she would strip the situation of its mystery and allure, for after all, she reasoned, "we're attracted to the forbidden fruit, so if he ceases to be a 'forbidden' through the confession of my attraction, then I'll simultaneously be delivered." It would have been a potentially successful feat had it not been drenched in the dishonesty of her unconscious motives. She professed John 8:32 that says "the truth will set you free," but what she was really aiming to do by informing him of her expired attraction was increase his attraction to her.  She had shared with me that she felt the attraction was at times reciprocal, but wasn't entirely sure.  He was, after all, seven years younger.  For her, this confession was a way of testing the waters to find out where he stood.  When she told him of her "cure" he responded by telling her that she felt that way simply because she had been out of the office for several days and her deliverance was merely a case of "out of sight, out of mind." Success.  His ego had been hit and she interpreted this response as his desire for her to remain attracted to him, which, in her mind meant he must also be attracted to her.  The question at this point was why?  Why did she need him to be attracted to her? Why was she attracted to him and could an out of sight, out of mind approach really work to free her from the increasingly tangled web of her feelings?

Saturday, February 28, 2015

MY Next Step

So this is MY next step.  Welcome. In 2011 I created The Write Hope, another blog you'll find under my name, but in the last year I found myself wanting to part ways from it and start something new. As it turns out, I most definitely do not have it all (my future that is) figured out, but I knew I needed to take the next step in discovering what lies ahead. I considered a more professional type of website to market my talent and abilities and God given gifts, and that may still follow, but for now I know little more than my love for writing.  The rest remains delightfully unclear.  Interestingly, I have yet to turn this literary passion into a profitable means of survival, but I'm working on that.  In the meantime, a little bit about yours truly.