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How Your Past Influences Your Spiritual Walk

It’s common for people sitting across from me in the counseling office to talk about their inability to feel safe or connected to God.  Their walk with God seems very distant or is plagued with feels of guilt and shame. Some people are pretty clear that they want no part of God because of how God was presented to them by authority figures.  They are clear that God represents pain and they want no part of him because of the way he has been described to them. An essential piece of developing an excellent spiritual walk involves understanding how our childhood attachment issues with authority figures impact our current spiritual struggles.  In the attached podcast, Sharon Wegman and Cait Beiler discuss how childhood issues can affect our spiritual walk.

Who Are You Listening To?

Who Are You Listening To?

Doing new things can be scary. In fact, most people sit across from me saying that they don’t like change and I tell them, “You are pretty normal. Most people don’t like change.” In fact, most people would venture to say that while they want to change their lives, the changes necessary for change are daunting and overwhelming. It feels more comfortable to do things as we have always done things; however, when we examine the emotional, spiritual, physical, and relational costs of not making changes, the price is much higher than if one never made adjustments.

There is a story in the Bible about what happened to the children of Israel when they arrived at their promised land after being released from slavery and abuses of all kinds. They had lived as victims for generations, and while they saw God’s hand repeatedly rescuing them as they exited their abusive captivity, it was hard for them to visualize being able to take the necessary steps to receive the promised land. Twelve were sent into the area to see what God wanted to give them and, of the twelve, only two were confident that the same God who had rescued them from slavery would enable them to be strong enough to make the changes necessary to access the promised land. You can read about this story in the book of Exodus.

It’s hard to think differently than we have been taught. We are taught how to live by our parents, our grandparents, our teachers in school, friends, our culture, etc., etc.. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that we are making decisions based on things that someone told us repeatedly that weren’t true. The children of Israel had been told lies about their worth in captivity, and so when they were brought to the crossing over point, they could not do it because of their old beliefs about who they were won over what God had been telling them and showing them. God literally had to keep them in a holding pattern for 40 years until all of the old ways of thinking had died and the next generation who had not lived as slaves knew their worth. They saw God as their daily provider and were able to make a choice to make changes.

What about you? Are you looking at crossing over into the promised land and your old thinking is keeping you from making the necessary changes? Where did those thoughts come from? Where did you collect them from in life? Do they match what God says about you? In my own personal experience, each time I come to the threshold of new, I have to invite God into my listening process, or I could easily listen to the old recordings from my past. Rarely do I see how each thing will play out as I make decisions, but as the Bible states, “ the steps of the righteous are ordered by the Lord.” Each new step I take into a new promised land more is revealed and released that I would never have seen until I crossed over. Like Joshua and Caleb (the two of the twelve that knew they could cross over), I need to surround myself with friends who believe the same things so that their thoughts and words can spur me on to new.

Change is hard. Whose beliefs are you listening to today? God is bigger than anything you have to change.

What Happens in The Quiet

What Happens in The Quiet

This morning, I got up early and walked the dog as I always do before I came to work. I savored my alone time on the walk, and then on my drive into work as it was the first quiet, non-stimulating alone time in five days. The holidays are exciting because we spend time with people, and have special foods, specials concerts, and stimulation of all shapes, sizes, and textures. However, my walk this morning told me I desired the structure of my alone time more than I realized. This year I have valued my solo pre-dawn walks of the dog so much that I went out of my way to ask for a Christmas gift of a unique, heavy-duty coat for walking in the extreme cold. It’s long, heavy, and it has this fantastic, all-encompassing hood that kind of makes me look like the grim reaper; however, it gives me the coverage to continue below zero walks of the dog. When I take the time to be in the quiet, I organize my thoughts, perceptions, needs, and desires in a manner that makes me feel empowered in my life. When I fail to take the time to be in the quiet, I am more disorganized, forgetful, less spiritually focused and I put aside the things that I need without taking the time to recognize what I need to pursue. I am a more focused and happier version of myself when I include daily periods of silence.
In my line of work, I hear all the reasons why people cannot have the alone time they need, but not all the ways they are working to make it happen. Many people desire the quiet at the same time they fear it. We need calm. We were designed to value quiet so that we would pursue that which impacts our body, soul, and spirit. However, many people fear the quiet and the alone because their tormenting thoughts invade the space of the quiet. Tormenting thoughts are the signal you need to process your thoughts on paper with God or with someone like a trusted friend, pastor or counselor. If you ignore the feelings that come in the silence, they will grow louder and will begin to be heard by you in your interactions with people, your work, and your family relationships. The holidays are winding down; I look joyfully to the reboot of peace and structure of the new year. How about you? Are you dreading the silence of January? Do you have tormenting thoughts to be processed so that you can embrace peace? Isaiah 30:15 b says this about quiet, “In return and rest you will be saved; quietness and trust will be your strength, but you refused.” It’s important to understand that many of the individuals that achieved much take the time to retreat into the quiet to build their strength instead of running harder to get to their goals. If you are training to be stronger spiritually and emotionally, it’s essential that you begin to incorporate quiet into your day. Make the decision to face down the elements that prevent you from entering the quiet and equipping yourself with the necessary tools and boundaries that make quiet possible.
Start asking yourself and God why you prevent yourself from being in the quiet and make a plan to move toward it.

Five Years from Now

The other day I found myself walking the dog before the sun had risen and I reflected on the fact that I now enjoy the solitude and peace of our early morning walks together unlike seasons past.  There was a time that walking the dog before sunrise would have been repulsive to me; however, as my season of life has shifted and what I value in this period is different than the last.  One of the keys of embracing the season you are in is not focusing on the season to come or the season from the past but concentrate on embracing the good in your current season.  People tell me things they don’t like or don’t want for their future, but we change just like the seasons and what is of value to us in the seasons to come may not be of value to us to us now.   When I look back on my life in the last five years, I can see that I was changing through those years to the point that I am now a morning person and a person who likes walking the dog before dawn.  Who knew I would enjoy that habit of pre-dawn walks, or be a morning person for that matter?!  If you look to your future to be filled with the same elements of today, you will be disappointed because life, people, circumstances, and everything else changes.  Five years from now you will be a different version of yourself.  Have hope, friends. Life will not be as it is today.  In fact, life will be a better version if we continue to push toward the disciplines our heart is calling to us right now.  

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11

Are you able to find the beauty in a bad day or are you an “all good or all bad day” type of thinker?  Rarely do we have an entire day in which everything is terrible, but it can certainly feel like we have that kind of day when all we look for is the negative after something bad happens.  The challenge for any given day is to look for the good when a day goes wrong, but that choice is a very intentional choice that sometimes requires a lot of emotional energy.  So how does one look for good when an awful thing happens?  It is hard to sometimes do that on our own, and many times this type of challenge requires the help of safe friends to help us break out of this pattern of thinking.  However, most people going through great loss do not want to hear easy answers, platitudes or “christianeze” ( the language spoken by people who are followers of Christ who sometimes give religious answers instead of compassionate answers).  Most of the time you have no idea how to verbalize a need when you are in shock and loss, and we rely on others to figure out what we need.  Alas, giving all our power to another to give us good care can sometimes feel a bit vulnerable and scary.  For most people it boils down to one innate need:  to feel loved and comforted.  What does a crying baby need when they are upset and have no words to express what is going on it their head?  To be held, to be loved, and to be reassured that no matter what, it’s going to be ok.  Quite frankly, sometimes humans stink at this, but there is a God we can turn to who promises to reassure us and love us when man does not; however, we have to invite Him into that process of loving on us because we will miss it if we don’t look for it.  Just like we will not be able to see good if we choose to look for bad, sometimes we miss God loving on us because we are not looking for it.  Choose to look for love today.  Choose to look for the good.  God will send you comfort via your dog, the cashier at a store, a neighbor or objects that bring you comfort.  He is very present, but sometimes we do not know how to recognize the form He has taken.  I vividly remember a day where God showed up in the midst of a bad day and I recognized him because I had been looking for him.  I was in the midst of a stressful season of life juggling the many hats that a mom or dad can  can juggle and I was complaining to God about how hard my life was at that time.  I just needed joy and life and I remember seeing white daisies along the road and saying to him, “ I just miss the old Sharon who had time to do creative things that bring me joy like cut daisies on the side of the road.”  Three counseling sessions later in my day and in walked a client with white daisies and I knew that I knew that God had brought me those flowers via a human and my joy from the event exceeded my pain level.  I knew that I was loved and that God wanted to comfort me, but I am pretty sure I would have missed the significance of the flowers if I had not been looking for God in the midst of a bad day.

Isaiah 66:13New International Version (NIV)

13 As a mother comforts her child,

   so will I comfort you;

   and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”

Are you looking at light or shadows in your life?

Are you looking at the light or the shadows that you see as you walk through life?  Sometimes there are many significant obstacles in life, and we find ourselves focusing on the shadows they create instead of the light that is above it or beyond where we currently are walking.  Walking in a dense forest can feel this way because the woods makes things feel darker than it is at the moment.  However, if I keep walking, I find a way out as long I stick to the path and continue to observe the sun in the sky.  Counseling is often a journey through a dense forest created by our past and current obstacles that have arisen in our life.  To complete the mission to open spaces that provide freedom, we have to choose to look ahead or above to the sun that is in the distance.  Unfortunately, many of us have moments in which we focus on the shadows the obstacles have created, and we fail to keep moving because we think this is the way the rest of life, our day, or our week will look.  On a recent 10 mile hike through a massive gorge, I was forced to come to a decision that I needed to focus on anything positive I could see, feel, or hear around me as a means of forcing me to continue to make it through the gorge before nightfall.  I had to make that decision after I found myself counting every time I overturned my ankle (I was at 19 slips on the trail before I stopped that nonsense) or every time another member of our party complained.  The more I focused on the negative aspects of the journey, the harder the hike became to the point that I was sure one of our party would soon incur injury or death in the gorge.  I now marvel at my accomplishment, and so do others, but I know that the thing that got me out of that gorge was my choice to focus on everything that was positive on the hike.  I moved faster and more confident when I focused on everything that was positive and my choice on what to meditate upon was the thing that brought me to the end of my journey.  Am I saying that we should ignore the losses and negative things in life?  No.  God calls us to trade our ashes for beauty, and it’s our constant challenge to invite God into the losses so that he can redeem them and turn them into beauty.  So I ask you today, what are you looking at on your journey?  The shadows or the light above?  At the same time that the world tries to rob you of your power is the same time that God promises to empower you.  The Apostle Paul wrote to the community of Philippians regarding focus while, most probably (nobody knows with certainty), imprisoned in Rome.  I wonder if he learned how to endure hardship by choosing on what to focus?  Paul told his community friends to do do the following in Philippians 4:8-9(MSG): “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”

I went and got a massage on my shoulder and neck the other day after a couple of weeks of intense pain.   I have this problem of waking up to find that I am sleeping with my arms over my head, and the next thing I know my neck and shoulders are tense and pained and out of alignment due to a previous injury I experienced as a child.   Going to the massage therapist would work hard to remove the muscle knots and tension in my neck and shoulders, and I knew that the experience would be painful.  In fact,  I might have intense pain that day, and the day after; however, I was moving toward healing physical pain by forcing myself to go through more pain.  Dealing with pain that creates more pain is an analogy that sums up most of the ongoing physical, emotional, and spiritual pain we struggle with in life.  We either move toward solutions that will be painful in the short term, or we avoid the nagging pain we feel every day.  It’s true that we can choose to live with pain or sometimes we have no choice in the pain that is inflicted upon us. Regardless, we do have a choice with what we do with that pain.  Will I move toward healing solutions for the painful things that continue to drain me or will I allow the nagging pain to continue?  I don’t know about you, but when I am in pain, it drains my happiness in many areas:  I cannot rest well, I can be more cranky with my family, I avoid things that usually please me because I fear pain, and pain makes me physically tired.   We avoid dealing with the painful situation because we know it will be worse in the short term. However, the long terms effects on us are even more severe.  Depression, anger, and powerlessness tend to seep into other areas of our lives, and soon we realize how far we have allowed that painful situation to go.  For many people, the very addictions they deal with were short term pain “medications” they choose to use instead of going through a period of learning new ways to cope with pain.   What is the painful situation you are not moving toward bringing about a solution?  Why are you allowing the pain to continue to drain happiness out of you?  It’s amazing how having a hard conversation with someone can free you from depressive behaviors you had allowed to creep into your life.  It’s amazing how making the hard decision to put up strong boundaries with draining people in your life brings about more freedom.  Every time we move toward pain it is temporarily harder; nonetheless, the long term benefits are huge!  The book of Hebrews says it this way, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”  Hebrews 12:11 (NIV)

Be who You were made to be!

Be who You were made to be!

After recently speaking at a women’s conference, I have been meditating on the quote of St Catherine of Siena:  “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”  I realize that while I am a good counselor, I am a better speaker, and I do the world and myself a disservice when I don’t do more of what puts fire in my bones and that of others.  It is at this point in my blog, I reassure you, that I am not going to be giving up my job as a counselor shortly, but I need to move towards more public speaking.  What is it that you are great at doing that you are not doing in life?  Why have you chosen to give away your power to numbing yourself instead of giving away your power to endeavors that set you on fire?  Because, believe me, when you are doing what you are great at doing, it will set others on fire because they will not just see it, they will feel that which you are gifted to do.  They will be “set on fire” by the use of your gift.  Do you want to change your world?  Do you want to be light on a hill?  A fire that cannot be quenched?  Start doing more of what you are great at doing and if you do not know what that passionate fire is in your life than you need to take your power back so you can figure that out.  So many of us have tried to stuff our giftings in boxes that those around us have deemed to be the right box and, in the process, put out our fire in a box by closing the lid.  Fire needs oxygen to spread, and it needs to be fanned.  I challenge you to find a group of supportive friends who can both fan the flame and help you remove the structures you have erected that contain the fire.  Each time you use the gift you were born to use, you fan that flame and the fire grows.  People who have heard me speak reassure me that each time I speak to large groups, I grow in my giftedness and I can feel the difference, too.   Have you ever heard Andrea Bocelli sing opera?  My grandmother was an opera fan, and I would listen to Pavarotti with her during my childhood, and out of nowhere Andrea Bocelli burst on the scene of opera and sang opera in a different fashion.  Bocelli’s expression of emotion in his modernized singing of opera introduced a segment of the population to that style of music that previously never listened to opera.  He entered the music scene because of the encouragement of his friends and family and made a choice to leave his career as a lawyer to pursue his passion.    You may not be an opera singer. However, we need you to use your gift and to set us on fire.  You are uniquely you, and nobody else can be who you were meant to be!


Ephesians 2:10

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them

Have You Ever Walked Through A Desert?

Have You Ever Walked Through A Desert?

Have you ever walked through a desert? I have, and it is not a fun experience unless you happen to be riding downhill on a sled. Whether the desert is in the natural or things feel like a desert in your emotional or spiritual walk, it is an exhausting endeavor to continue walking forward. Walking in desert sand is hard and tedious because each step is not on firm footing, and going uphill takes much longer than one perceives because your foot sinks each time you put your foot down. I remember climbing a very tall dune in the past and thinking to myself, “this is so hard to keep climbing the hill; what’s the point?!” Recently, while looking a picture of a desert, I thought to myself, “thank God that deserts end when we keep walking forward because they do not go on forever, although, at times, it feels like they do.” If you are walking through a desert time in a relationship, your job, your emotions or any other hard experience, here are some helpful tools to carry you through the walk through the desert.

1. You need a hat and sunglasses to keep the heat off your head and to protect your eyesight.

In other words, you need a “covering” of safe of people who will support you and protect you as you walk through difficult times. We need others to help keep us focused on our end goals and protect us from the elements that will “burn” us. One of my primary goals for empowering people walking through difficult times is to help them build a safe and supportive support system because we all need a hand to hold onto whether we are walking through trials or not.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

2. You need to drink a lot of water.

In other words, you need to be drinking in more life because it is easier to dehydrate while walking through the desert. As a therapist, I am always encouraging people to figure out what brings them life and to pursue this more. People start struggling with the walk through the desert times when they stop taking in the life they need to sustain them. Be it time listening to music, reading, creating, being with friends or anything else, you need to take in more life water when the walking through the desert because it is a draining journey.

Proverbs 25:25 (MSG) Like a cool drink of water when you’re worn out and weary is a letter from a long-lost friend.

3. You need to rest a lot on a desert journey.

When you are going through hard times, it is physically hard on your body, and you will find you need to rest a lot. Walking on sifting sand uses muscles you do not commonly use, and it will tire you out quickly. As a counselor I watch people walk through emotionally difficult times, and yet people fail to understand how much emotions can physically drain them. People perceive that they must keep moving at all times, but I encourage them that rest will enable them to continue walking.

Ecclesiastes 4:6 (MSG) One handful of peaceful repose, is better than two fistfuls of worried work—More spitting into the wind.

4. A compass

What are the standards and values of which you are going to move through the desert you are walking through in life? How do you evaluate you are making the correct directional choices that will not cause you to be off course later down the line. I frequently help people evaluate what their values are so that we can accurately gauge whether they are on target now and later in their journey.

Psalm 119:105-106 (MSG) By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path. I’ve committed myself, and I’ll never turn back from living by your righteous order.

The good news is that the desert will eventually end as long as you keep moving through it. Walking through the desert is hard on us emotionally, physically and spiritually and our challenge is not to give up! Deserts end and will not go on forever as long as you use your desert tools.

Choose Joy!

Some days we just need to choose joy because, let’s face it, many times we do not wake up with the bluebird of happiness on our shoulder; in fact, we could have a load of bird poop. Alas, life is tough, and we can easily get sucked into carrying the weight of the world if we do not make a conscious choice to focus on the good. I tend to be an optimist now that I am an adult but that was not the case when I was a child. Most of the people in my life were pessimists; therefore, I was trained to be a pessimist. However, I loved to read books all throughout my childhood, and the more I read about the rest of the world, the more I came to understand that my story could have many different endings. I discovered I could write a lot of my story on a day-to-day basis by making daily choices to look for joy. I did not have to live out my life the way I was taught as if I were a victim stuck in a storybook in which there was no way to exit. So, how does one look for joy on a daily basis? One way is a simple habit that involves choosing to look for things that make me smile and embracing them as gifts from God that I hold onto when I move through my day. By the end of the day, I know exactly what I am thankful for because I choose to hold onto each moment and meditate on those moments as the joy that carries me through my day. On one particular day, it might be sunflowers that made me smile, and I buy them because they make me smile. Or on another day it could be a text from a friend that says affirming words, a beautiful bird perched outside my window, or today it was a stop at a Goodwill store on my way to work to look for Legos (my never ending preoccupation). There were no Legos at the Goodwill store, but there was the Fisher Price farm set from my childhood; the old red and white barn that makes the sound of a cow mooing as you open the barn door. I opened the barn doors, and there were most of the contents of the farm; the little white fencing, the tractor, the tractor cart, the cow, and the horse. It was lovely to find and discover, and it made me smile, and I didn’t need to buy it to find joy. I only needed to delight myself in the discovery and savor my memories of playing with all my Fisher Price little people toys with my brother. And then I say to myself, “God, You show Your love to me in the strangest places, including Goodwill and I love You all the more for choosing to take the obscure and make me feel loved.” The Bible says that God is love, and wherever you feel healthy love, there He is there with you. When you focus on whatever is good you create a different ending to your day.

Philippians 4:8-9New International Version (NIV)
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.