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Removing Your Shame Label: Learning to Break From Shame and Feel God's Love

Many Christians struggle to feel God's love because of their own shame. This book tackles an issue that is not addressed enough in our churches – Christians who live and suffer with shame because they do not believe they measure up to receive God's love. As a result, they feel disconnected from God and have a difficult time feeling His love.

As a Christian counselor with a private practice in Marietta, GA, I see two frightening similarities in many Christian clients.

1. They carry a burden of shame that results from an inability to control sinful behavior. We tend to believe God's seal of approval is based on our "performance." This creates a mindset of never measuring up to what God expects from us. This leads to what I call a Shame Label.

2. There is an endless struggle to feel God's love and presence. "What does God's love feel like" we ask. We dare not move toward Him in fear He will label us as disappointments and reject us. What we fail to recognize is we are projecting the negative feelings we have about ourselves onto God. We have adopted lies Satan drills into our heads in an attempt to hinder our relationship with the Father. We are trapped in the Christian Shame Cycle, which leaves us feeling spiritually empty.

What makes this book unique?

This book outlines various methods to help us manage destructive behaviors such as self-loathing, undisciplined thinking, inflated pride, excessive worrying, and loving with conditions. Learning to love ourselves leads to removal of shame and in turn a better understanding of how God sees us. This is not about teaching people to try harder to control sinful desires; it is about giving them real solutions to manage sinful behaviors. This is an integrated approach of Christian values and counseling exercises to help readers:

• Break their destructive sin cycle
• Reduce their level of shame
• Forge confidence in a renewed relationship with God

These are clinical and spiritual approaches I utilize in my own practice and have seen work with my clients. Case studies are utilized to provide readers with real-world experiences.

The objective of this book is to bring Christians out of spiritual darkness by assisting them in establishing an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ. It will help individuals overcome illogical thinking that leads them to wear negative shame labels. It also will correct their misperception that God rejects them. My overall objective is to help readers rid themselves of shame by learning how to better managing their destructive behaviors and enjoy a more intimate relationship with God.

June 2016 

Stop Keeping Her in the Dark (Share Your Sexual Addiction Progress)

Sitting on the couch in my counseling office, Sondra wore a blank expression on her face staring off into space but her mind was racing with thoughts about her husband Dennis. When I asked her what she was thinking about she quickly rattled off a list of worries and concerns.

"Why would he do this to our family?"

"What is going on in his head? Is he still thinking about them?”

“How do I know he will not do something like this again?"

“Is he learning anything about himself that will help him change?”

Sondra’s list of concerns was normal for a woman who seven weeks ago discovered her husband had been meeting women he found through Craigslist for casual sexual encounters. I asked her what Dennis had been sharing with her about his recovery. Her answer saddened me." Nothing," she said. “He has told me nothing. It’s like my life is on hold.”

Despite the good work Dennis was doing during counseling sessions as well his processing of information in between visits, it was being offset by leaving Sondra in the dark. When a partner is kept out of the recovery process they are left wondering if the offender is changing or even capable of being changed. This in turn generates anxiety in the offended partner and limits their ability to emotionally reconnect with the sex addict in fear of being hurt again.

Dennis’ reasons for not sharing his progress with Sondra are very typical of most men who have been caught abusing sex. He was reluctant to bring up the subject with his wife for fear that she would respond negatively and an argument would result. He also kept her in the dark because discussing any aspect of his addiction triggered his own shame and guilt.

While both reasons are understandable they only lead to more harm and distance between the couple. Keeping your wife or girlfriend in the dark because it lessens your anxiety only continues to serve the self-centered approach you have always taken in the relationship. It is time to put your selfish needs aside and to take every step possible to build within your partner a sense of hope that you can change. One of the most effective ways of doing this is sharing what you are learning about yourself and your addiction.

I have found that couples who work together through the process of recovery end up reconnecting sooner and in a healthier way than couples who do their work separately. One couple I worked with was extremely committed to sharing with each other what they were learning about themselves and their relationship as they went through the healing process. Two years after they first entered counseling they were facilitating a couples’ support group for those struggling to reconnect following sexual betrayal.

Stop keeping her in the dark and help her better understand sexual addiction and where you stand today.

It is critical for the sex addict to keep his partner in the light and share what he is experiencing – both positive and negative. This will lessen the partner’s anxiety and reduce some of the negative racing thoughts experienced.

June, 2016

Couples and Porn Don’t Mix

An article in the popular magazine Women’s Health outlined three reasons why couples should watch pornography together. Obviously, the writers and editors of Women’s Health don’t have a lot of experience in seeing how couples who watch pornography together can quickly see the erosion of their relationships.

Carla and Jonah started counseling after she found sexually-graphic text messages that he had been sending to women he met in chat rooms. He would later confess to her that he had been having online sexual encounters with three different women in which he would masturbate while reading the erotic text they exchanged back and forward.

Carla was devastated and rightfully so felt betrayed and humiliated. She could not understand how Jonah would need to engage in such activities especially since they had an active sex life that included watching pornography together on a regular basis. What she did not realize was she was enabling his sexual addiction by condoning the use of pornography.

Abusing sex with activities such as pornography provides a level of stimulation for men that they don’t achieve with their partner. Therefore, in order to heighten sexual intimacy between a man and woman there should be no outside stimulus that interferes with the natural bond that God designed.

Getting back to the Women’s Health article, the first reason for encouraging couples to watch porn together is so the male partner doesn’t have to hide his addiction. I could not agree more. Men should not be hiding their pornography addiction but instead they should be encouraged to bring it out of the darkness and into the light. And once in the light they can see pornography serves as a distraction from emotional distress they are suppressing.

A woman who discovers her husband has been secretly watch pornography and agrees to start viewing it with him immediately raises a red flag for me. There is one of two things going on with that woman. Either she is afraid that telling him she doesn’t want him watching porn will drive him away from her, or she has suffered from emotional and/or physical trauma in the past that has left her seeing nothing wrong with women being used and humiliated.  Each time she watches pornography with her partner another small piece of her dignity is stripped away.

Reason number two given for couples to view porn is “it can turn you on big time”. They are right pornography is designed to mentally and physically stimulate people. However, the point being overlooked is people are designed to stimulate people. Individuals who build a relationship based on true emotionally intimacy discover they also have a strong physical attraction for each other. This is a natural response God designed for us to experience.

“May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer—may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love.” Proverbs 5:18-19

It is your wife’s breasts that should satisfy you and not looking at another woman’s breasts. There is something very strange about the concept of preferring to watch a woman on video while you are in the presence of a real one. Basically what this says is the emotional bond between those couples is not fully attached. And over time the likelihood of further emotional separation is extremely high.

According to Women’s Health, the final reason for couples to watch pornography together is it will “inspire you to speak up in bed”. Basically couples are being told they need outside stimuli in their relationship in order to have the courage to discuss sex. But again, if a couple is struggling in communicating to each other their sexual needs and desires it is most likely a sign they struggling with their communication in other areas of their relationship.

Pornography-sex lacks genuine connection. It is not possible to be fully focused on your partner if you are engaging in pornography.  And if a couple is not engaged with each other in the bedroom there is a very strong chance they are not fully connected outside of the bedroom.  Instead of bringing pornography into your bedroom consider bringing God into your marriage.

“A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12

Introducing God to your marriage will open your eyes to a new way of connecting with each other both emotionally and physically. There will be no need for the three-ring circus in the bedroom, but instead you will find gratification and wholeness in each other.

Couples and pornography simply don’t mix. Just ask someone like Carla.

May, 2016

10 Ways to be a Loving Spouse

Want to be a better husband or wife? Try implementing a few of these ideas into your relationship.

1. Be encouraging: attempt to catch your spouse doing something good at least once a day and recognize them for it.

2. Be forgiving:  this is one of the keys to a successful relationship but it also can be extremely difficult to master. Work on it.

3. Validate emotions: don’t shut down your spouse by telling them “not to feel that way” or attempting to fix the problem, but instead work to better understand the emotions they are expressing.

4. Be empathic: we love better when we can understand the rationale behind irrational behavior. Uncovering the reasons (fears, past hurts) behind your spouse’s negative actions can go a long way in helping you deal with the pain they can cause.

5. Slow down: stop being reactive to their negative behavior and slow everything down so you can respond without adding fuel to the fire.

6. Be respectful: kidding remarks and little digs can be the sign of passive-aggressive behavior. Be sure to tame your tongue and monitor what comes out of your mouth.

7. Do the little things: leave them a message with mirror chalk on the bathroom mirror; drop a card into their briefcase; bring them their favorite chocolate bar; there are a thousand little things you can do to demonstrate you are thinking of them.

8. Engage in non-sexual touch: show your spouse you desire them even when sex is not involved.

9. Be present: it is easy to be in the same room but still be miles away. Make an effort to put everything else aside and focus solely on your spouse several time throughout the day.

10. Pray: spend time everyday praying for your spouse. Also set aside time to pray together.

May, 2016

Bring Calm to Your Marriage

One of the first questions I ask couples when they come into my office is “what is their counseling objective”. It is not unusual for them to say "we want to stop fighting." Now, that is a wonderful objective. However it is completely unrealistic. Healthy married couples are going to argue occasionally – there is no getting around that fact.
What their objective should be is how to manage conflict when it arises. That means keeping arguments under control and preventing them from igniting into infernos. The following are some basic guidelines that can assist couples in helping to manage conflict in their marriage.   

1. Understand conflict is natural. Married couples who have a passion for their relationship are bound to get into arguments from time to time. It’s the couples who say they never fight that I really worry about. That indicates there is little one-on-one engagement and/or passion in the relationship. If you find yourself in a conversation with your spouse that is starting to get heated “slow everything down” so you can make a more accurate assessment of what is occurring. Ask your spouse questions instead of making statements so you can develop clarity and help them see you are trying to be understanding.

2. Shift your focus from being heard to listening. During arguments couples place more emphasis on what they are going to say next than paying attention to what their spouse is saying. When this occurs, you miss out on understanding the emotions behind the comments your partner is expressing. Practicing to pay close attention to what your spouse is saying and holding off on formulating your counter response. Listen not only to the words but the emotions behind the words. When you believe you understand what your spouse is feeling, validate his/her emotions. What we are aiming for is having conversations that are not focused on “stuff” but instead “feelings”.

3. Stay on topic. During arguments it is very easy for one or both individuals to shift gears and move from one subject to another in an effort to try and win points. Before you know it, the real reason for the argument is a distance memory, while the couple wanders off attacking each other with any verbal ammunition they can mustard up.  Individuals usually shift topics when they believe they are losing their original argument. However, in a marriage in which two people are more centered on the desires of the other’s heart they should not be fixated on winning. Instead they should be aiming to “resolve” conflict and stay connect.

4. Be responsive and not reactive. It is not unusual in the heat of the moment for individuals to say whatever comes to mind. This is a reactive behavior. When we are reactive we usually don’t have all of the information we need to communicate effectively with our spouse. We are basically shooting from the hip and in most cases our aim will be off. Couples who have mastered the art of managing conflict understand the need to be responsive, which means taking a moment to comprehend what their mate has said and asking for clarification before replying. This is one of the most effective measures you can take to keep conflicts from escalating. 

5. Cut out defensive dialogue, which sounds like this:
“I thought you were going to clean the garage today?”
“Why don’t you worry about cleaning the kitchen and leave the garage to me.”
“Because if I don’t say anything you won’t do anything.”
“You’re talking to me about not doing anything? You are one of the laziness people I have ever known.”
“I’m lazy? Are you kidding? When was the last time you did anything around here?”

This is an argument that will continue to go in circles until one or both parties gets emotionally exhausted and walks away. Defensiveness consists of insults and counter-attacks. Individuals are trying to take the focus off of them and put it on their spouses. It is nothing more than attacking and it’s ugly.

You defeat defensiveness by focusing on what your spouse is trying to say and not allowing yourself to get offended by what you hear. This requires you “slow everything down” so you can be sure you’re accurately hearing what is being said versus jumping to conclusions. Overtime, defensiveness destroys relationships. You need to weed it out of your marriage immediately.

6. Learn to accept influence. During arguments it is not uncommon for people to shut down and become harden to the other’s opinion. By accepting influence we allow ourselves to be open and understanding to what our spouse is communicating. Studies have demonstrated this approach is more difficult for men than women. But couples who do accept influence see an improvement in the teamwork aspect of their relationship. What does it look like? Basically it is being open minded to what your spouse is trying to communicate.

7. Seek additional insight. There are times during relationships when everything seems out of control. During these times it may be beneficial to seek the help of an outside source to help sort through the issues. Don’t be fearful of seeking input from a trained professional such as a pastor or counselor.

Finally, it is important to realize that in marriages where there is a great deal of conflict the issue is not poor communication. The real problem is the marriage is lacking emotional connection. Each individual is frustrated and feels the other is not available to them. They feel alone and abandon. 
March, 2016

Slow Everything Down

Is there anything that gets us in more trouble than our tongue? All of us from time to time say things that we immediately realize we should have never said. Can you recall the sense of panic at that moment when you realized there was no turning back from the ugliness that came out of your mouth? Hopefully for you, those moments are few. But for others the inability to control what comes out of their mouths is a constant issue. And nowhere do we see this more than in marriage. In fact, in many marriages hurtful words are more the norm.

Couples have forgotten what it is like to interact with each other in a healthy manner. This of course leads to not only poor communication but more importantly destructive and hurtful arguments. So what is the answer for those couple who find themselves daily in the same negative pattern that they can't seem to escape from? Simple. Slow everything down.

Most of the time when we say the wrong thing it is because we are being "reactive" to the situation we are facing instead of being "responsive". This leads us to respond to our spouse emotionally rather than logically. By slowing things down and evaluating what is really taking place it affords us the opportunity to respond less emotionally therefore breaking the argumentative cycle. It allows for us to process what our spouse said as opposed to simply reacting to what we believe is their attempt to offend us.

March, 2016

What is Your Motive?

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. Psalm 139:7-10

 My favorite word is “motive”. I know that is a very strange word to claim as a favorite and I will explain my rationale in a moment. But as I ponder the thought of “God within us” it makes me take pause. While there is no doubt I often feel the presence of God within me via the Holy Spirit, I know there are many times, especially those in which I become more reactive to negative circumstances around me that I lose sight of the fact that I have a special gift that can help me to control my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

In my haste, I react more with worldly values than with the fruit of the Spirit. This of course often leads not only to poor behavior but also to feelings of regret and guilt in knowing that I could have handled the situation much better.

That brings me back to the word motive. Depending upon my motive my course of action in any circumstance can range from ‘proving to disapproving’; from ‘smart to not so smart’; and from ‘caring to insensitive’.

When we think of our decision-making process there are three basic motives we can use to justify our actions.

  1. To indulge in self gratification
  2. To impress others
  3. To please God

Yes, as believers we are filled with the Holy Spirit – it is God within us. However, as humans we are easily distracted and allow outside influences to lead us to react to situations in ungodly ways. The key to maintaining a sense of God with us is awareness. We must attempt to remain cognitive of the fact that we are children of God and that He wants to work through us to demonstrate His glory. One of the best ways to remain cognitive that God is always presence with us is to always ask the question “what is my motive”? And if it is for the glory of God most likely you're on the right track.

 February, 2016

 Beware of Fictional Emotions

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2

We all know one or two individuals who always seem angry. No matter how well things are going in their lives the slightest misstep will set them into a rage. We walk around on eggshells when we are with these individuals never knowing when they are going to explode and we will experience their wrath. But what is really going on with these people? How is it they are always in an emotional place where joy and happiness seem to be so distance?

These are people who are dealing with what I call “fictional emotions”. They substitute a secondary emotion like fear for the primary emotion that they refuse to recognize. For example, take a successful business executive who during a downturn in the economy -- although he maintains his position -- lives with a constant fear that he soon could be the next victim of a poor job market. But for this busy executive fear is not an emotion that he can successfully manage. Fear makes him feel weak and inadequate, which results in high levels of anxiety. Therefore, to reduce his anxiety level and to maintain an appearance of strength and confidence he suppresses his fear of unemployment. He then substitutes his fear with anger. For this gentleman, anger is an easier emotion to experience because it allows him to maintain an outwardly appearance of strength. If you were to ask this man why he is so angry he would run off a list of excuses including laying blame at the feet of others.

His engaging with ““fictional emotions” prevents him from recognizing fear as the underlining force behind his destructive behaviors. There are numerous negative primary emotions such as sadness, loneliness, despair, and shame that make people uncomfortable causing them to mask their “real feelings” with secondary or “fictional” emotions such as anger or contempt.

Carl Jung, a famous psychoanalyst said "the source of all unnecessary emotional pain is the avoidance of legitimate emotional pain".  Basically, what Jung is saying is if we run away from our “real” pain today we will have to deal with the consequences of it tomorrow. But there is an alternative to running from our pain and that is in turning to God who provides us with the resource of the Holy Spirit who can assists us in confronting and managing our true emotions.

“You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.  Romans 8: 9-10.

We must learn to accept our circumstances and the emotions that come with them in a realistic manner and not run away from them. This does not mean you have to like the unpleasant situation you are experiencing but dealing with your ““fictional emotions” in an honest manner allows you to learn to accept and manage your true emotional state. Once you have accepted your emotional state you then can begin the process of connecting with and experiencing those emotions. This will help you to recognize and eliminate irrational thoughts that feed your highly-charged emotional state.

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ,” is what Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 10:5.

By taking control of our negative thinking and replacing it with positive thoughts we not only remove our “fictional emotions” but we begin the process of resolving the “real” emotional turmoil that faces us.

February, 2016

Managing Conflict in Your Marriage

One of the first questions I ask couples when they come into my office is “what is their counseling objective”. It is not unusual for them to say "we want to stop fighting." Now, that is a wonderful objective. However it is completely unrealistic. Healthy married couples are going to fight occasionally – there is no getting around that fact. What their objective should be is how to manage conflict when it arises. That means keeping arguments under control and preventing them from igniting into infernos.  The following are some basic guidelines that can assist couples in helping to manage conflict in their marriage.

1. Understand that conflict is natural. Married couples who have a passion for their relationship are bound to get into arguments from time to time. It is the couples who say they never fight that I really worry about. That indicates there is little one-on-one engagement and/or passion in the relationship.

2. Focus on listening and not being heard. During arguments couples often spend more energy on trying to voice their feelings instead of validating the feelings of their mates. When couples take this approach they end up in heated conversations filled with criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and ultimately withdrawal. Begin practicing to pay attention to what your spouse is saying, especially the feelings they are communicating, instead of attempting to formulate your next response.

3. Stay on topic. During arguments it is very easy for one or both individuals to shift gears and move from one topic to another in an effort to try and win points. Before you know it, the real reason for the argument is a distance memory, while the couple wanders off attacking each on with any verbal ammunition they can mustard up.

4. Be responsive and not reactive. It is not unusual in the heat of the moment for individuals to say whatever comes to mind, which is being reactive. This can be destructive behavior for any marriage. Couples who have mastered the art of managing conflict understand the need to be responsive, while means taking a moment to comprehend what their mate has said and asking for clarification before replying. This can go a long way in keeping conflicts from escalating.

5. Learn to accept influence. During arguments it is not uncommon for people to shut down and become harden to the other’s opinion. By accepting influence we allow ourselves to be open and understanding to what our spouse is communicating. Studies have demonstrated that this approach is more difficult for men than women. But couples who do accept influence see an improvement in the teamwork aspect of their relationship.

6. Seeking additional insight. There are times during relationships when everything seems out of control. It is during these times that it may be beneficial to seek the help of an outside source to help sort through the issues. Don’t be fearful of seeking input from a trained professional such as a pastor or counselor.

January, 2016
Getting it right

"Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did." 1 John 2:6

I don't know about you but I struggle at times trying to get things right. It is not as though I'm a blatant sinner who intentionally sets out to do wrong or cause harm. I am more of an "unconscious" sinner who messes up because I don't take the time to stop and think of the consequences my actions will have on myself or others. Perhaps you've experienced something like this once or twice in your life.

But what does "getting it right" really mean? Do we need to be perfect in all of our actions? Should we never be spontaneous? Must we carefully map out everything we say or do to ensure it will be well received? The fact of the matter is we will never get it right all the time. And even God knows that.

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus”. Romans 3:23-24

You see God loves sinners. Moses was a murderer. David committed adultery. Noah had a drinking problem. Paul had anger issues. Rahab was a prostitute. God did not hate any of these individuals. In fact, God utilized them to demonstrate His glory. God doesn’t hate sinners. God hates sin.

Therefore, since we are natural sinners do we simply accept the fact that we are inadequate when it comes to following the teachings of Christ? Not quite. As Christians we are called upon to undergo continuous transformation in our lives that lead us away from worldly values and move us to be focused on spiritual values.

As a Christian counselor I work with individuals who are struggling to make significant changes in their lives.  In many cases these people believe they are incapable of changing since they have tried and failed numerous times in the past. But real change is not the result of “white knuckling” it and hoping for the best. Change is possible when we approach it from the right direction.

Let’s look at some of the important steps involved in the change progress.

1.    We should make every effort to continuously evaluate ourselves through self-reflection, which will enable us to be honest with ourselves and God about our sinful nature.

2.    We need to understand the true nature of repentance, which goes beyond simply asking forgiveness of our sins. We must make sincere efforts to change our sinful way of life as we continue grow spiritually.

3.    Understanding our past is sometimes the key to understanding what troubles us in the present. Many individuals were negatively impacted by both internal and external influences during their childhood and youth. It can be beneficial to go back and “connect the dots” to see if past wounds play a role in our faulty thinking today.

4.    We must become more cognitive of our thinking therefore allowing us to manage our racing thoughts before they get out of control. This is a critical step and requires discipline and practice.

5.     The will is strong. Therefore we must continue to build a strong emotional attachment with the Holy Spirit by continuously removing worldly distractions from our minds and allowing ourselves to focus on the events surrounding us at the moment. This allows us to respond to all situations with the power of the Holy Spirit rather than succumbing to our natural reactive tendencies, which are driven by selfish desires.

Finally, we must understand that changing our long-rooted negative thinking, feelings and behaviors is a process. And during this process we are going to experience success and failure. This is called “imperfect progress” – in which we are moving in the right direction but may experience setbacks. Getting it right all the time may not be easy, but by attempting to "live in the moment" and building a strong attachment with the Holy Spirit we can increase our odds dramatically.

January, 2016
How do you soothe yourself?

As a young girl Jenny grew up in a home with an abusive mother who unleashed on her verbal and physical assaults. While her mother was being abusive Jenny's father sat by passively and didn't act to protect his daughter. Instead after the abuse was finished he would take Jenny to get something to eat and buy her gifts. What Jenny's father taught her was that food and shopping are acceptable ways to soothe herself whenever she faced stressful or unpleasant situations. These habits left Jenny dealing with serious weight issues and financial troubles throughout her life.

All of us soothe ourselves when our anxiety levels are high. Healthy ways of soothing include: exercising, reading, listening to music, gardening, and mediation. However many people turn to destructive behaviors in an attempt to soothe themselves such as alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, excessive shopping, food, and overworking.

Most of the anxiety we experience is the result of fear. We spend far too much time worrying about the future or reliving painful memories of the past. Soon we are overwhelmed with racing, negative thoughts that require us to take action to reduce them (often through negative behaviors).

However, instead of turning to destructive behavioral patterns we can seek to reduce our anxiety by challenging and replacing our negative self talk with empowering and positive thoughts.

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:4-6

When faced with negative, racing thoughts use a thought-stopping technique such as envisioning a stop sign. This slows down your thought process and allows you to become conscious of the negatively, therefore preventing it from getting out-of-control. Once you have gained awareness of your negative thoughts, grab hold and remove them from your mind. However it is critical that you replace the negative thoughts with more positive thoughts. As the Matt Redman song says there are 10,000 reasons for us to feel blessed.

“For all Your goodness I will keep on singing,
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find.”

Soothe yourself by looking inward and take note of the blessings around you -- blessings that are often missed because we are too busy focusing on the negative aspects of our lives. We focus on minor worries and concerns that lead us to lose focus of the reasons to be thankful. Our lives may be far from perfect but Jesus tells us not to expect perfection in this fallen world.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

There is no better way to recognize and appreciate the blessings we have received then to strengthen our relationship with Jesus Christ. For when we walk closely with our Lord and Savior and build a strong emotional attachment with the Holy Spirit we become not only aware of the good things in our lives but understand that Christ is there to comfort us during those difficult times.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matthew 11: 28-30

Next time you need soothing turn to the one source that will never fail you – turn to Jesus.

December 2015
Understanding God’s Plan

I recently had an opportunity to speak with a group of teenagers on the topic of managing fear. Many in the group said a major concern for them was not being able to discern God’s plan for their lives. While they may be nervous about not following God’s plan I was very excited to know they were eager to hear God speak to them.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:11-13

While God promises that He has plans for each of us He doesn't always make it crystal clear from the start. Life is filled with twists and turns that sometimes leave us questioning our true purpose. And nowhere is that more evident than the story of Joseph, whose life is certainly a series of highs and lows. Originally it seemed God’s path for Joseph was clear and that he and his brothers would follow in the footsteps of their father and share in a great inheritance. However, that plan goes up in smoke as Joseph finds himself in a ditch and later sold into slavery by his jealous brothers.

The backup plan

Soon after Joseph finds himself the attendant for Pharaoh’s captain of the guard, which may not have been his first career choice but it’s a good gig if you can get it. However once again plans are thrown into disarray as Joseph finds himself in prison. But even there he can see God at work as the prison warden gives Joseph great responsibility. As Joseph continued to trust in God he found that he is able to interpret dreams, which leads the cupbearer to promise to remember Joseph and have him set free from prison. This seems like a great plan with one exception – the cupbearer forgets about Joseph.

The backup, backup-plan

The Bible tells us the cupbearer remembers Joseph two years later. That's a long time to wait for God to make His way known to you. But that is a key part of the Christian life – learning to be patient. As you know, Joseph goes on to become one of the leaders of Egypt seeing the country through a great famine and saving thousands of lives through his vision and with God’s help. The young man who was thrown in a ditch to die instead becomes a hero.

The teenagers I spoke with may never be heroes. However, if they are patient and learn the art of being still and listening for God’s voice they will come to understand He indeed does have a plan for them.

Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and led off to Egypt where life had its ups and downs. But throughout his experiences – both good and bad – Joseph never loses his focus on God. Just like Joseph, if we keep our eye on God we will come to witness that His hand is in everything that happens in our lives. And that He indeed has a plan for each of us.  

December 2015

We have Power Over What We Believe

A college student was desperate for money so he enrolled in a depression study and was given a prescription for a new medication being tested. Soon after his girlfriend broke up with him. Sadden, he swallowed all of the depression pills. Soon he started to feel light-headed and panicked over his potential overdose. He quickly called 911. Upon examination a tech saw the young man’s blood pressure was extremely low and his heartbeat was irregular. He began to slip in and out of consciousness and doctors struggled to stabilize his vital signs.  In desperation they call the drug company for information about the medication so they could treat him. They came to discover the young man had been taking placebo pills and not the experimental drug. Upon sharing this information with him his vital signs soon returned to normal.

This story, from in the book “The God Shaped Brain” by Dr. Timothy Jennings demonstrates that “what we believe” can have enormous power over us. I see this as I work with clients to help them identify and remove irrational thoughts that cause emotional turmoil and leads to destructive behaviors. For these individuals it is important to become more aware of their negative thinking and understand they have control over their thoughts.

God provides us with great wisdom regarding how to control our negative thinking. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:5 “We must take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”. You see, we are ultimately responsible for how we think. As individuals we have the ability to choose whether to allow negative thoughts to dominate our thinking or to focus on wholesome thoughts outlined in the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

Our minds are battlefields in which Satan continuously attempts to manipulate our thinking. With that in mind, let’s review some of the more common negative thought processes we deal with on a regular basis. See how many you can recognize
Mind Reading. This is a very common cognitive distortion in which a person believes they know what another person is thinking. They make assumptions how people are reacting to them without any facts to back up their thinking. For example, if you call a friend but they do not call you back so you assume they are angry with you.
Overgeneralization. This occurs when a person takes a single event and draws the assumption "this is the way it always will be".  For example, a husband may have a difficult time fixing a plumbing leak that leads him to say “I am awful at doing home repairs”, when history demonstrates that he has had some success with home repairs.
All-or-Nothing Thinking. Here individuals tend to look at things as either positive or negative. Good or bad. There is no middle ground. This is also known as black or white thinking. “If I don’t get all A’s then I am a complete failure.”
Filtering. This is where we will ignore positive aspects of a situation and focus solely on the negative details. This occurs quite often with Christians as we overlook the numerous blessings God has provided in our lives and instead focus our attention on what we are not happy with at the moment.
Fortune Telling. You tell yourself things are going to go wrong before anything starts. For example, “I know I am going to mess up this big project at work. And I will probably get fired.”
Blaming. This is one most people will recognize. I am sure you have had someone say to you “you make me so angry!” The fact is no one can make us feel a certain way. We instead elect to feel certain emotions.
Unrealistic Expectations. These individuals expect too much from themselves or others and therefore usually set themselves up for failure.
These are only a few cognitive distortions that undermine our thought process and lead to unhealthy feelings and behaviors. By being aware of them we have insight that can strengthen our ability to manage our emotional state and have power over what we believe instead of allowing our beliefs to have power over us.

Hello My Name Is...

 What identifies you? Is it your job? Is it the college you went to? Is it your status in the community or church? Or perhaps it is something from your past. Maybe it's an abusive experience that you replay in your mind again and again. These tragic memories never seem to fade away but instead continue to haunt you until they become part of your internal fabric that you wear every day. Or perhaps it's a series of lies you have come to believe that are part of your identity. Lies such as: “I'm not that smart.” “I'm not attractive.” “I am unlovable.” “I am worthless.” “People never like me.”

The mistruths we tell ourselves are numerous and we carry them around like ID cards. These are identities that are filled with hurt, pain and shame. Matthew West has a song called “My Name Is” in which he captures the essence of these lies.

Hello, my name is defeat
I know you recognize me
Just when you think you can win
I'll drag you right back down again
Until you've lost all belief

It is not uncommon for people to build an identity rooted in lies, which they believe are based in truth. With this poor sense of self, people experience self-hate and feelings of worthlessness. This in turns leads to destructive behaviors and the development of unhealthy relationships. It is all part of Satan’s game plan to crush our spirits and take our focus off of the abundant life that God promises for us.

But we don’t have to play into Satan’s hands. We can correct our erroneous beliefs and develop an accurate and genuine assessment of our true self. And we begin by understanding God’s assessment of our worth.

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” 1 John 3:1-3

As children of God we have been forgiven, redeemed, accepted, loved, called, given hope and made pure again. You see, the real truth is we are all children of a King. That is the foundation of our true identity. Take time to do some self-reflection by examining the current source of your identity and work to make the adjustments needed to align it with the one true King.

Hello my name is child of the one true King
I've been saved, I've been changed, and I have been set free
"Amazing Grace" is the song I sing
Hello my name is child of the one true King

Different Communication Styles

Women on average speak approximately 25,000 words a day, where as men speak close to12,500 words daily. Just based on this information alone we can see the potential for communication problems in marriage. During the evening when the husband is shutting down his wife is only half-way through. It is not uncommon in marriage counseling sessions for a wife to complain that she gets little reaction from her husband in the way of dialogue. On the other hand is common for men to often comment "she doesn't know when to stop talking ".

Do these differences in our style of conversing indicate that communication problems are a mainstay in marriages? Not really. While there are significant differences in the way men and women communicate there are many marriages in which couples learn to maintain a healthy balance that enables them to successfully navigate the pitfalls of communication. The key focuses on insight and compromise.

For example, it is important for women to understand that men can easily become overwhelmed when engaging in long conversations that touch upon multiple topics. The well-known marriage guru Dr. John Gottman referred to this as flooding. When men become flooded they have a tendency to look for an escape and that route usually leads to withdrawing. When a man withdraws it creates a counter problem with the wife feeling a sense of abandonment.

On the other hand, women are much more expressive when engaging in conversations and will be more likely to provide elaborate details to enhance their stories. If  a husband asks his wife about her trip to the shopping mall he will probably hear about the traffic conditions, parking problems, information regarding what was and wasn’t on sale, and where she stopped to have something to eat. If a wife asks her husband the same question she will probably get an answer similar to “It was good. I picked up this t-shirt”. End of story.

It's not that one style is correct and the other is wrong it's just that they are different. And therefore that requires each person to be cognitive of the other’s style and willing to compromise when it comes to communication.

Men must learn to be patient and allow their wives to converse in more elaborate terms then they are used to hearing from their male counterparts. They must understand that by spending time listening to their wives they are demonstrating attentiveness, which in turns provides wives with a feeling of bonding.

Women on the other hand need to learn to sometimes “ration” their conversation with their husbands understanding that too much communication at one time can be overwhelming. Therefore taking the story about her trip to the mall and condensing it into a timeframe that is more manageable for her husband to handle. This prevents her husband from becoming flooded and reduces the likelihood of him withdrawing.

Communication in a marriage takes time and energy. But the more insight that couples have about the differences in communication styles between the sexes the more likely they will be able to put together good practices that will lead to stronger and more effective communication.

Suggested reading: “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail” by John Gottman.

Live with Abandon

It's a new year and that can only mean one thing – resolutions. That’s right it's that time of year when we make promises to ourselves to make drastic changes in our lives. Whether it is to lose weight, start new relationships, get out of a dead-end job, break old habits, or simply spend more time relaxing we are determined to experience real change in our lives. However, as many of us who have created resolutions in the past know our expectations for change are usually too high for us to obtain. Within a matter of days, weeks, or months those resolutions are things of the past.

The reason most resolutions fail is because they are made based on our emotional desires to change something about us or our surroundings in which we feel inadequate or unfulfilled. They are generated without giving much thought to how we will deal with the challenges that will come when attempting to make serious changes. And when those obstacles to change hit – and they always do – we are left unprepared to face and conquer them.

Perhaps this year we should take a new approach to help create positive changes in our life. Let's take a vow to “live with abandon”. Wow, that's a radical thought. But what does it mean? Well, the Newsboys have a song called “Live with Abandon” and the lyrics go like this:

Chasing after this world makes me tired
Praising my own name leaves me dry

There's gotta be so much more to life than this
A higher calling that I missed
I want my life to count, every breath