Let’s Play!

It’s been a crazy season.  Who am I kidding, every season is a little crazy, but there’s something about May that breeds its own kind of crazy (…like December).  So here I am, over two months later, writing another post.  For those still hanging with me, thanks!

During this crazy season, my family adopted a dog.  This dog is a good dog.  I love all dogs.  I’ve had 3 dogs before this one and I would say all were good dogs, but not like this one.  You see, this one is also well-behaved.  He doesn’t destroy things.  He doesn’t beg.  He doesn’t jump.  He plays well with other dogs.  He doesn’t bark or lick incessantly.  While this dog still hasn’t stolen my heart quite like my other dogs did (give it time, he will), it’s obvious that he is a very good dog.

But there’s one thing we noticed this dog lacking when we first brought him home: he wouldn’t play.

Even my most recent dog played…and he was fifteen when we lost him.  But this dog just wouldn’t play…and he’s one.  He’d snuggle and give kisses and wag his tail, but he wouldn’t play.  We took him to PetSmart and he didn’t pick up one toy.  We would throw a ball, squeak a squeaky toy…still nothing.

For my family and I, his lack of play was sad.  We got him from our Vet, who had nursed him back to health after he’d been hit by a car.  Thankfully for the dog (and us), he’d been socialized, walked, and loved after his accident by the staff.  I’m sure they also tried to play with him, but my mom and I couldn’t help but wonder if his lack of play was because he’d essentially lived in a kennel for over 7 months.

Then one day, something changed.

Milo played.

The toys we’d purchased for him suddenly became interesting.  He jumped around, looking ridiculous, as he carried his ball around, tossed his tug-of-war rope, and chewed his squeaky toy.  He still doesn’t get games most dogs understand (like fetch, tug-of-war, or actually squeaking the squeaky toy), but he does play.

My Psychology mind can’t help but think that Milo now feels safe.  We can’t play unless we feel safe.  For Milo, that took a little longer than the average 1-year-old dog, but it came.

So what does it matter if Milo plays? Sure, it’s cute.  It brings my family joy to watch him.  I think it also helps him though.  The more he plays, the healthier he seems.  It’s almost like each time he plays, looks absolutely ridiculous, and is still praised, the more confident he is about his new home and his new family.

There are some obvious implications about Milo’s play for kids and I plan to write more about that on my website later, but I think there are also implications for adults.

  1.  Play is good.  Our society sexualizes and cheapens play.  Yes, play can be sexual and sexual play is good in the right context, but play isn’t always sexual and it certainly isn’t dirty…at least in the way it was designed.  Adult play is associated with sin in our culture, but God designed us to play.  When Jesus says “let the little children come to me” in Matthew 19:14, I can’t help but think that part of the reason this teaching was unusual was because most rabbis were not into the sticky fingers, silly games, and endless questions that come with kids.  Play is interwoven in each aspect interacting with children, but Jesus welcomed it.  He wasn’t afraid to play and I have a feeling He was willing to look silly too.  I think we are buried so deep in sin that we sometimes don’t even know how to play in a way that honors God.  So, we work.  At the office.  At church.  At home.  (Or we play in ways that don’t honor God.)  Even the silliest activities can be fun if you’re willing to actually engage, like watching my goofy dog play with his newly discovered toys.
  2.  Play is needed.  Like Milo, we all need to play.  It’s a way to rest, recover, and heal.  Play is also how we connect to others.  You have to be vulnerable to play.  If you want to play with someone, you first have to ask or initiate.  That could result in a “no,” but it could result in a “yes.”  The “yes” could mean doing something silly or embarrassing in front of another person.  There’s something about that vulnerability that helps us connect and bond…and we all need relationships.  Play also required our full attention, which goes hand-in-hand with connection.  To really play we can’t be on our phones or multitasking, we have to engage.
  3.  Play has to be intentional.  Yes, the hallmark of play is spontaneity, but how often are we really spontaneous in our culture? Rarely! If we don’t really set out to plan and prepare for play, we won’t play.  For Milo, he needed tools ready for play, so he had them there when he was ready.  He also needed the time to play.  His playing was eventually organic and spontaneous, but it wouldn’t have happened without some preparation.  For us, that probably means getting enough rest that we feel like playing and planning times to play.  What would it look like for you to be more intentional in that area?

So, let’s play! I’m leaving here to toss a ball to the furry friend sleeping by me, what are you going to do?

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Apps to Start 2017 Right

Recently I shared some of my top reads for 2016.  Books are some of my greatest resources, but recently God used some apps to really enhance different areas of my life.  I love the convenience of apps, especially for trying to develop/improve certain disciplines.  In grad school, we constantly shared good apps with each other and I hope these will help you in whatever your 2017 resolutions are! Haven’t thought of a resolution? Maybe this list will help.  Aren’t into resolutions? That’s okay too, maybe this will just help with wherever God’s leading you.

fullsizerenderScripture Typer – App to Help Memorize Scripture

…and it actually helps! Scripture memory is one of my worst spiritual disciplines, but this app has helped me so much.  You can choose any verse and version unlike some of the other Bible memory apps.  As the name suggests, you type the verses to memorize them–a huge help for visual learners–but there are also several other ways to learn the verses (including recording and listening to them).  The app also notifies you when it’s time to review the verses.  If you’re a classmate of mine from seminary, you’re already aware of this little gem.  My professor that had us memorize the book of Philippians encouraged us to use this app.  That was when I first discovered it and I’ve been hooked ever since! This app is one of those you pay for (which goes against everything I typically believe about apps), but it’s worth it.  I actually paid for the pro version (breaking another cardinal rule of mine), but I haven’t regretted it at all!

fullsizerender_2Rain Rain – App to Help Sleep

I hate to admit it, but I’m one of those people that needs some sort of white noise while I sleep.  This started while I was trying to block out noisy roommates and has just gone downhill.  Usually I sleep with a fan (often pointed away from my cold-natured self), but this app helps when I’m sleeping away from home.  There are a lot of noise options that you can mix and match: rain, campfire, snow, laundry machines, and more.  If I have a lot on my mind, this app can also help me think about being in a cozy log cabin or at the beach for vacation.  This app is free and totally worth the download.

fullsizerender_3Stop, Breathe, Think – An App to Slow Down and Take Care of Yourself

This app is not a Christian app and some of it is a little wordly (depending on what option you choose within the app–some are better than others).  It’s an app to encourage “mindfulness,” which basically means paying attention to what you’re feeling in your body and your emotions.  That practice may seem a little silly, but it’s been a big help for me.  I used to intentionally do this app three times/day.  When I did, I noticed sometimes I had knots in my stomach or tension in my shoulders.  Inevitably, this was caused by some sort of stress, but I didn’t even realize I was stressed until I stopped to check-in.  In the busy, stressful world we live in, I think this app encourages better health.  I also think it’s easy to incorporate prayer and thanksgiving into this practice, making it a time to set aside with God.  It’s free, so try it out!

fullsizerender_4iMood Journal – An App to Track Moods

This is an app I discovered a few years ago, but it is one that I would still recommend to anyone.  If you haven’t ever tracked your moods, please do! It’s amazing the patterns that emerge and how God can use that in such a transforming way.  I’ll admit that this is a very counselor-y thing to assign, but I’ve seen it change my life and the lives of others.  It’s been long enough that I don’t remember if I paid for this app, but I know there are numerous mood tracking apps and several are free.

Hope this helps give you some ideas for 2017! I’d love to hear about some of your favorite apps or your goals for the new year!

 

Zooming-In: My Top Reads of 2016

It’s hard to believe that 2016 is almost over.  It’s been a rollercoaster of a year!

For me, it’s good to zoom-in, reflecting on what God has done.  After that, it’s easier for me to zoom-out and get a glimpse of the beautiful picture He painted for the year (even if it’s only a piece of my life’s puzzle and it’s still difficult to see what He’s shaping up there).  One of the ways that helps me zoom-in is looking at the books I’ve read the past year.  Many years that means I’m basically looking at a bunch of textbooks, but this year I have gotten to read a few more non-textbooks that people may actually be interested in reading.  I tried not to geek out too much with my selections.

Before I list them for you, please note that I don’t necessarily endorse any of these authors and none of these books are perfect.  Some authors are Christians, some aren’t.  Most are Christians, but I don’t necessarily agree with every word they’ve written and I know they’re each capable of falling off the deep end (like me, apart from the grace of God).  I’d also like to say that the book I do wholeheartedly endorse is the Bible, and if you’re not reading that please skip these books and dive straight into that one.  That book absolutely impacted me the most this year.  The two books of the Bible really impacted me in 2016 are the Psalms and Philippians.  Feel free to take those recommendations over any of the ones I’m about to list.  Also, the books below aren’t exactly in order of how I’d recommend them.  It’s just too hard to pick a favorite!

Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard

I received this little gem for graduation, but have already recommended it to countless people.   It’s an allegory about Much-Afraid, who has to develop hinds’ feet so she can climb the high places with the Great Shepherd.  I have the devotional version, which includes Scripture reflection, but any version does an excellent job promoting self-reflection in an easy-to-read and insightful way.  I especially love the way it addresses suffering.  One of my favorite quotes from it is the Shepherd saying, “Go with Sorrow and Suffering, and if you cannot welcome them now, when you come to the difficult places where you cannot manage alone, put your hands in theirs confidently and they will take you exactly where I want you to go” (page 62).

The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Dr. Dan B. Allender

A lot of people reading this blog have no interest in this topic.  I can’t say that I blame you, it’s a tough one! But for those that interact with people touched by this difficult topic (and chances are everyone knows someone, whether you realize it or not), I would highly recommend this book.  It is the best book I’ve seen on this topic from a Christian perspective.  For mental health professionals and ministers, it is a must-read.  I would recommend caution in giving this book to anyone that’s experienced sexual abuse.  Be sure they have a good support system and are already getting help before giving them this book.  It could be very triggering and difficult to read for someone with those experiences.

Image result for the gifts of imperfectionThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown

This book isn’t written from a biblical worldview, but it does offer some incredible reflections about topics that align with the truth of Scripture.  For those unfamiliar with Brené Brown, she is a shame researcher.  Because the Bible speaks so readily about the results of shame, I truly believe Brené Brown’s research offers some excellent insights on how to live a life more wholeheartedly in love with the Lord.  I would caution the reader that there is some language in the book and some of the points suggest that our hope comes from within ourselves, which I would substitute for coming from God.

Image result for uninvited bookUninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely by Lysa TerKeurst

 Anyone that’s read or listened to Lysa TerKeurst knows that she’s extremely funny and engaging.  She writes very transparently about “living loved” and uses some great illustrations to explain how to do that better.  This book is geared specifically for women and I would truly recommend it for any woman.  The last chapters offer some especially useful tools for self-examination…and are very convicting!

Image result for ministering cross culturallyMinistering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships by Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers

I’ll confess this was technically a textbook assigned in my multicultural counseling class, BUT it’s not your average textbook.  This little guy is only 128 pages (including the index, table of contents, etc.) and covers topics that are incredibly applicable and practical…and relevant in the cross-cultural world we live in today!  Like all the books that I’d consider my top reads of 2016, this book makes you think.  It does provide a lot of interesting information from a Christian perspective, but I promise it isn’t overly academic.

Image result for change the conversation samantha hanniChange the Conversation: Teens, Dating, & the Church by Samantha Hanni

Friend or not, it says a lot that I am listing a dating book in a top reads list of less than ten books. When you’ve worked with a lot of teen girls and been single for a long time, you feel like you’ve heard just about every Christian dating thought imaginable. However, the transparency of Samantha’s writing and her fresh, grace-filled perspective made it a definite must on this list. Samantha shares sweet stories, deep thoughts, and Christ’s love in an easy-to-read format that I read in a couple hours. There are countless good quotes, but one of my favs was in the intro on page 2, “[The church] has failed to paint purity as a lifestyle; a lifestyle to be pursued before and during marriage, not a checklist of do’s and don’ts.” The only shame of this book is that more people don’t know about it! Seriously, go order it today (http://mrshanni.com/)!

Image result for every bitter thing is sweetEvery Bitter Thing is Sweet by Sara Hagerty

I love the way this book is written, the author’s transparency, and the imagery of God’s love in this book.  I’ll admit the title is a bit like a slap in the face when you’re actually experiencing something bitter, but I would truly recommend it to anyone.  I cannot relate to many (okay…most) of the struggles the author describes, but this book gave me such a sweet perspective of God’s love in the midst of trials.  Read it before you’re in the midst of something bitter, read it during a bitter season, or read it while a friend is in a bitter season.

Image result for sin and grace bookSin and Grace in Christian Counseling by Mark R. McMinn

Okay, okay, it was technically another textbook, but this too looks more like a short novel. I’ve read a lot of non-textbooks that aren’t on this list that I really enjoyed, so for this to make it says a lot about its content. This book would probably bore most people, but if you’re a Christian therapist or mental health professional…it’s another must read. It points to the gospel so well. I’ll admit that it’s the closest I’ve come to geeking out in this list because it’s a little technical, but it’s impacted my life too much to exclude it.

Zooming Out…

After listing those books, there are some themes I could easily identify: reflection, Jesus, mental health…and others.  But I can also see God’s hand in each of those books and the hours, days, or weeks I spent reading them.  It’s also just a sweet reminder about what God taught me through each of those reads.

My sister and friends often say that my down time is too productive, and it would benefit me to just do something fun.  That’s not entirely true, but this list probably also screams “read something fun!” And I would agree.  I did read a few more fun things that aren’t listed (though they also weren’t as enjoyed), but a goal for 2017 is definitely reading (and doing) more fun things.

What are some of the books you’ve read? Want to read? Would recommend?

 

Safe Place

safe-place

Where do you feel safe?

An important part of therapy is creating a safe place for a client—in and out of session.  In session, it’s important that a client feels safe.  Out of session, it’s important that a client feels safe.  Literally, a client needs a safe place to talk, cry, feel, and live.  Figuratively, a client may also need a safe place to “go” emotionally.  This safe place may be imagining a beach when something hard from counseling tries to pop back up between sessions, or a peaceful log cabin when day-to-day stresses are seem to be too much to handle.

I’ve used this technique and intend to use it again.  I truly believe safety is a key to healing.  But I also think safety is a concept that’s really popular in our humanistic world today, and can be idolized.  Contrary to this ideal, we aren’t always going to be safe.  Don’t get me wrong, I want people to be safe.  I encourage safety.  I value safety.  I teach safety.  I think part of my life’s work is/will be advocating safety.  I think there is great wisdom in safety.  After all, safety is preventative and restorative.  I just think this emphasis can fall short when we’re hit with a cancer diagnosis, job loss, or a natural disaster.

I think this goes back to age-old questions like, “why did God allow ______?” or “where was God when ______?” Maybe you’ve asked these questions yourself.  I have, many times.  As an aspiring therapist, it seems like these questions come up more and more—for me and those God has called me to serve.    Atrocities in our world seem inconsistent with the character of God.  In Millard J. Erickson’s third edition of Christian Theology, he wisely refers to this issue as “Evil and God’s World: A Special Problem.” Evil, like feeling unsafe, in God’s world does present a special problem, doesn’t it?

Disclaimer: if you’re hoping I’ll answer these questions in this post, you might as well stop reading.  I have no intention of even trying to touch either question.  I would, however, like to share a thought I had while singing about God’s intercession one Sunday in church.  To be honest, I don’t even remember what song it was, but I do remember feeling overwhelmed by God’s willingness to take the worst of everything I’ve done.  While I was meditating on God’s intercession, it made me wonder if God experiences the worst hurts of sin.  Yes, God takes the worst result of sin from those that profess Him as Lord (death), but I wonder if God also experiences our hurts with us.  Not just with us in the Hebrews 4:15 (been there, done that) way or the 1 Corinthians 6:19 (the Holy Spirit is literally in us) way, but somehow in an experiencing the pain for us kind of way.  In other words, I wonder if He wipes us clean of just our sin (which is a huge deal, please don’t hear me lessen that) or if He also takes some of the burden of the sins against us.  Romans 8:26 makes me think He intercedes for us with more than freedom from death, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings to deep for words” (ESV).  That is powerful intercession! It makes me think that God is experiencing our hurts with us and somehow knows them more intimately than we do.

I wonder if God hurts more than we do when we hurt.  Not the cliché “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you” pre-spanking kind of hurt, I wonder if God actually feels the pain we’re experiencing worse than we do.  I wonder if God somehow feels the pangs of hunger worse than a child without food.  I wonder if God somehow aches more than the person plagued with chronic pain.  I wonder if God somehow feels more agony than a grieving widow.  I certainly don’t mean God experiences emotions like we do.  I’d actually argue quite the opposite: that we, as image bearers, experience emotions like Him, just in a lesser, more sin-skewed way.  I also don’t mean that God’s emotions change or are fickle like our emotions are.  The Bible is clear that He is steady and unchanging, our Rock (Psalm 89:26).  I’m not even sure God feels physical pain apart from the pain Christ experienced on earth, but I am confident that God feels empathy for His children that we cannot begin to understand.

As I was thinking about this, the illustration that came to mind is from the 2004 Pixar movie, The Incredibles.  In that movie, one of the characters has the power to create a protective forcefield over herself and any object or person near her.  Violet, this forcefield-producing teenager, manages to protect her family on numerous occasions using her powers.  Yet, during each forcefield save, Violet’s family is always hovering and terrified throughout the experience.  Violet, however, is bravely standing and working to keep her family from harm.  After each experience, the whole family is relieved, while Violet is both relieved and exhausted.  While God doesn’t always save us wholly from harm like Violet did, I wonder if He sometimes stands and takes the brunt of it, while we cower and endure a milder version of the pain.  The experience may still be excruciating and awful for us (it may even kill us), but it somehow seems safer considering God overseeing and enduring a greater version of it.

My thoughts about God and my illustration aren’t perfect.  I haven’t examined every implication of either assertion or comparison (though I did study many).  I also know that many people have experienced more pain than I can imagine.  Regardless of the imperfections of my theology or the naïveté of my experiences, I hope that these thoughts help you more deeply experience the truth of God’s love despite the reality of sin and hurt.  Following God may not always be safe, but His love produces unrivalled security.

 

A Loving “No”

One of my classes this semester is Chemical Dependency.  It’s been an interesting class . . . to say the least.  We were required to attend two Alcoholic Anonymous meetings in addition to giving up some sort of “addiction” for two weeks as part of our coursework (I gave up dessert…needless to say, it was a rough two weeks).  Although there’s still a lot of required reading and writing, this class is different than a lot of the classes I’ve taken.  Recently, my professor astutely observed one of the main reasons that the church is inhibited from reaching addicts:

“As a church we know how to say ‘yes’ lovingly, but we don’t know how to say ‘no’ lovingly.”

In other words, we’re pretty mean when we finally say “no.”  Of course we are! We’re burnt out by that point!  But whose fault is that?

It’s rare that a statement a professor makes resounds with me as much as that statement has.  I cannot get it out of my head.  I’ve observed this behavior so much in myself since I heard him say that.  I desperately want to say “no” lovingly.  I’ve been so convicted that I’m the one causing the broken to hate the church, not someone else.  I’m as guilty as hypocrisy as anyone when I smile and say “yes,” but I really should say “no.”

That hypocrisy is spurred by fear: fear of humility, fear of the unknown, and fear of men.

A New Question

Seeing people suffer often causes me to thank God for my blessings. I think it should. As a sinner, it will always be a hard balance between haughty and humble motives, but I think seeing a praise in the midst of a storm is normally a sign of humility.

It’s comparison, not praise, that tends to get me in trouble.

Like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14, I tend to “thank God that I am not like other people” rather than begging God to “turn [His] wrath from me–a sinner.” Jesus was clear that it was not the Pharisee that was justified in this parable, it was the tax collector. He was the one “standing far off [that] would not even raise his eyes to heaven, but kept striking his chest.” Never have I displayed the humility of the tax collector.

Yet, I think I’m beginning to encounter people that regularly display this kind of humility.

The poor.
The broken.
The sick.

The more time I spend in counseling classes, the more I realize that the Lord is allowing me to truly serve “the least of these.” He’s allowing me to serve the poor, the broken, and the sick.

Today I listened to a counseling professor describe a client with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).  Despite the challenges she faced in counseling this client that jumped between several identities (including an animal that growled), my professor spoke with the utmost compassion and respect for this client.  Apart from Christ, I think my reaction to something as frightening as DID would be avoidance, judgment, or laughter.  With Christ, I have often still struggled wondering “what is wrong with that person?” However, listening to my professor today made me realize that the Lord’s bringing me to a place where I’m now wondering “how must that feel?

How must it feel to have 13 identities? Lonely? Ashamed? Scared?

I imagine there are more feelings than I can fathom.

My professor said that everyone she’s encountered with DID asks “do all of my identities have to be saved for me to go to heaven?” How heartbreaking a question to ask! But how must that feel?  When your saved identity is only present ten percent of the time, it would feel scary considering eternity!

I think the Pharisee in Luke would probably meet such questions with haughtiness, fearful of facing deep hurt.  Too proud to admit that there are things he can’t answer.  I am so grateful that Jesus, the only righteous judge, still meets us with compassion.  He cares about our hurts.  He empathizes with us. (And He knows how to answer the tough questions.)

I am also grateful that the Lord is calling me to help hurting people…people that I truly can’t help on my own.  I pray that in this work the Lord will help me strike my chest in humility rather than puff up my chest in pride.

Him Who Lives Forever

Each week I feel like the Lord’s given me some sort of inspiration for a post—in fact, some weeks I feel inspired to write numerous posts. This week was not like that. This week my mind was filled with cramming for finals, preparing for presentations, and worrying about papers (why are all my papers due immediately after Thanksgiving break??). To give an example, I watched an animated movie one night after a long day of work and school. While watching it, I found myself considering the main character’s extensive trauma and need for varies types of therapy (one of which would likely be marriage counseling as she jumped into marriage immediately following these events). That’s when you know you need a break!

Despite my mind being focused on schoolwork, I’ve still felt the Lord teaching me through His Word. Not surprisingly, mental illness seemed to be the theme of one of my quiet times. I think the content is worth sharing…

I was reading in Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar’s bout with insanity struck me. The author describes it, “At that moment the sentence against Nebuchadnezzar was executed. He was driven away from people. He ate grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with dew from the sky, until his hair grew like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws” (Daniel 4:33 HCSB). Later, Daniel states that “his mind was like an animal’s” (Daniel 5:21 HCSB). I’ve read many accounts of insanity and desperation, but few compare with the intensity described here. Though I think we all have moments where we feel this sort of desperation, rarely is it seen so tangibly. Yet after this agonizing season, Nebuchadnezzar proclaims, “But at the end of those days, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven, and my sanity returned to me. Then I praised the Most High and honored and glorified Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation” (Daniel 4:34 HCSB). Doesn’t God draw us closer to Him in times of desperation? Our society may see this as we endure economic, social, or physical suffering (though I think we often fall short in these areas too), but rarely do we associate mental or emotional suffering with any sort of good. Let’s not forget how big our God is.

Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I do NOT believe that mental illness is always caused as a result of sin. That is awful, works-based theology that I would like to be removed from our churches entirely. The point regarding mental illness that I feel the Lord revealed to me is this: God used Nebuchadnezzar’s suffering for good. 

Through suffering Jesus says, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 HCSB). He doesn’t promise our circumstances to change, but He does promise that He will be there no matter what happens. Whether you’re suffering with the struggles of day-to-day life, grief as the holidays are just around the corner, or something else, know He is there. I am grateful for the truth spoken through Nebuchadnezzar that we serve “Him who lives forever.” He is always there.