Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Princess, Two Parables, and a Modern Day Psychologist

As some of you know, I am pursuing a master’s degree in Human Services with an emphasis in Marriage and Family. Basically that means I am taking a bunch of counseling courses but not enough to get my license...but my reasons behind choosing such a seemingly silly degree is a whole 'nother rant. No, the reason I bring this up is because currently I am reading a book for class titled Psychology, Theology, and Spirituality by Dr. Mark McMinn (sounds impressive, eh?). It's actually a super interesting book, and I am really enjoying it. But what I am surprised by most, is how God is using it to teach me. He is slamming me with stuff every chapter, and none of it has to do with how to be a better counselor! Well, not directly anyway. Rather, He is using this book to teach me about needing Him, and how this simple concept has EVERYTHING in the world to do with salvation and life in Christ.

It has been blowing. my. MIND. So I thought I would share!

Let me start with a basic statement: the ideal goal of counseling is for the client to experience healing. So, it follows that a counselor should desire for their relationship with their client to a "healing relationship"...obviously. Congrats by the way, you have read in two lines, what it has taken some professors and entire graduate level course to say...No, I'm kidding, but sometimes it feels that way, haha. ANYWAY- that's the basic premise of Dr. Mark McMinn's counseling model.

Dr. McMinn states though, that in order for a "Healing Relationship" to be achieved, the client must be brought to a place where they have two things: 1. a healthy sense of self and 2. a healthy sense of need. Once the client is able to see themselves in a healthy light, and is to a point where they can say, "I need help!" they are in a position to actually progress towards healing!

Where God made this model relevant to me, was when Dr. McMinn pointed out that the model stated above is the same model needed to enter into a "Healing Relationship" with Christ! Before I can accept the healing love, forgiveness and salvation from Christ I have to first, have a healthy sense of who I am (a fallen child of God, loved by God but separated from Him), and second, have a healthy sense of my need for salvation (I can do nothing on my own to save myself and restore myself to Him, I desperately need Christ to bridge that gap)!

It's so simple, but it literally blew my mind. The moment God slapped me with this, I shut my book (a little too dramatically) and looked over to T.J. and said "YOU WILL NEVER BELIEVE WHAT I JUST LEARNED!"...I then proceeded to babble for 20 minutes before TJ had a chance to say, "umm... cool! You should write that down."

It's not that I never thought of this before, but suddenly, it was personal. See, when I tell my testimony, I always bring up the parable of the Prodigal Son, not because I identify with the Prodigal son, but because I identify with his brother. If you remember, the father in the story had two sons, and he gave them both an early inheritance. One son, the Prodigal...we'll call him Pete for fun, Pete decides to go to Vegas and spend his inheritance on strippers and McDonalds. The brother, Steve, decides to stay and work for the father. Steve never leaves the father's land. As we all know, Pete comes back, and the father runs to hug him and then throws a huge party for his long lost son. Steve's only line in the whole story is, "I've been with you (the father) this whole time, I've done everything you asked and never disobeyed you and you never so much as roasted a lamb in my honor...but now, Pete McShady comes back and you throw him the party of the year?!"....

I am ashamed to admit that I identified with Steve. I was always a little resentful of the kids who spent years doing drugs and having sex and all those fun things and then came back to God and experienced a closer relationship with Him than me! Me, who had never done anything wrong and always tried to do what was right, and yet never felt as connected to God as those other kids seemed to. This week was the first time I truly understood why that was. Those kids, the Pete's of the world, come back to Christ with a healthy sense of their need for Him. They hit rock bottom, or just stop in their tracks, and realize how far they have gone and how vital it is they come back. They desperately need Christ in a very visible way.

I, on the other hand, had never really had a reason to acknowledge my desperate need for Christ to save and forgive me. My sins are less visible than abusing drugs, and while I do sin (ALL THE TIME) I can pretend I don't. So...I can pretend I don't need Christ as much as the falling down drunk does. This would be FALSE, of course. But, my point is, what was keeping me from truly entering into a close, intimate relationship with Christ, despite years of bible study and "being good" was that I had never really acknowledged my desperate need for Him.

I know this sounds weird, but Christ alluded to this when He told the parable of  of the Rich Man. Jesus said that famous line, "I tell you it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mathew 19:24). Prior to this, I had always thought the reason Christ said it was difficult for rich people to get into heaven was because they would never be able to love Christ more than they love their possessions. I thought it was their obsessive materialism that kept them out. But, I don't think that's it. I think the reason it is difficult for rich people to enter the kingdom of heaven is because they are so comfortable they don't think they NEED a savior and so, will never ask to be saved. Why fix it if it ain't broke?

So what does that mean for those of us who are rich? And I don't just mean monetarily rich, I mean, richly blessed. I am richly blessed. I have been blessed beyond reason with a loving family, a loving husband, and no real instances of lasting pain- I am truly, richly blessed, though I deserve none of it. But, if I'm not careful, I could go my whole life comfortable but not ever truly entering into a "healing" intimate relationship with Christ. I believe the trick to avoiding this can be found in one of my favorite fairy tales: The Princess and the Pea.

The prince in the story was for a True Princess to marry. To test all of the "princesses" that came to apply for the job, the prince stacked a hundred mattresses on top of each other and placed a small pea in between two of the mattresses. The prince knew that only a true princess would feel the pea despite all the luxurious mattresses she was laying on. He was right, and eventually found his true princess. The End. *Hooray!*

We need to be those kinds of princesses. Let's face it, living in middle class America, we may never know what it is to go hungry, or be cold or worse, to have our joy stolen. However, we need to be able to recognize that despite the rich comfort of our lives, something is wrong in us and we desperately need Christ to save us. Without that sense of need, we lose out on the greatest comfort of all: intimacy with our King.

Monday, February 14, 2011

From My Heart to Yours, Happy Valentines!

Before you read this post, I ask that you click this link:  Dancing in the Minefields and listen to a song I have on repeat. I have wanted to do something with this song since I first heard it, but never knew exactly what. But last week, this idea hit me and I figured it was perfect timing for Valentines. So I hope you enjoy the following. And TJ, this post is for you. Happy Valentine’s Day, I love you!
Dancing in the Minefields by Andrew Peterson
Well I was 19 you were 21
The year we got engaged
Everyone said we were much to young
But we did it anyway
We got the rings for 40 each from a pawnshop down the road
We said our vows and took the leap now 15 years ago
This verse is super romantic…and while you and I didn’t run off and get married at a young age (or at least THAT young of an age), we did it our own way- on a Sunday morning, with omelets and waffles.
Just as romantic if you ask me. J

We went dancing in the minefields
We went sailing in the storm
And it was harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for
Doesn’t that chorus make you want to jump on a boat and sail into a gorgeous night sky with you wearing a tux and me wearing a breath taking evening gown and the wind’s in our hair and…..No? Ok then, it’s just me! Hahaha.
Seriously though, when I first heard this song, I fell in love with the imagery he uses. To sail into a storm and dance among minefields is to be so in love, and so brave and so COMMITTED to each other that you can get through anything. All because one day, not so long ago, we made a promise, and THAT’s what the promise is for. Doesn’t that just take your breath away??

Well ‘I do’ are the two most famous last words
The beginning of the end
But to lose your life for another I’ve heard is a good place to begin
Cause the only way to find your life is to lay your own life down
And I believe it’s an easy price for the life that we have found

I love this verse for two reasons: the first is because it reminds me that on June 13th, on a 

   gorgeous Sunday morning, we exchanged vows, and it was the end of my life and the end of
 your life, and the beginning of something far more beautiful: Our Life.
The second reason I love this verse is because it so beautifully reminds us that marriage is first and foremost a picture of Christ’s love and sacrifice for us. When people look at our marriage, I pray they will see how we are willing to lay down our individual lives, dreams and ambitions for the sake of the other.  And I pray that when they see this, they are reminded of how our God laid down his life for us in the same act of sacrificial love.

And we’re dancing in the minefields
We’re sailing in the storm
This is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for
That’s what the promise is for

So when I lose my way, find me
When I lose loves chains, bind me
At the end of all my faith
to the end of all my days
when I forget my name, remind me
This bridge is my prayer for every married couple I know. And it’s what I pray for our marriage. I pray that if one of us loses our way, or loses love’s chains, or forgets our name, that the other will be there to remind us. Because it will happen. One day, you’ll have a midlife crisis and go out and buy a yellow Challenger with a black racing stripe because it’s something you’ve always wanted to do and you’re afraid of dying. But it’s ok, because I promise I’ll be there to remind you that you have accomplished far more in your life than that car signifies, and the legacy you are leaving behind you in your children and grandchildren will keep your memory alive once we’re gone. And…I’ve been saving for that “Challenger” since we got married, just in case.

Cause we bear the light of the son of man
So there’s nothing left to fear
So I’ll walk with you in the shadow lands
Till the shadows disappear
Cause he promised not to leave us
And his promises are true
So in the face of all this chaos baby
I can dance with you
TJ and I chose Ecclesiastes 4:12 for a reading at our wedding, you know, the one about the cord of three strands? Well that’s what this verse means to me. God has not brought us together and then abandoned us. He has brought us together and then made himself a part of our marriage to provide strength and support. And with him there, as our third strand, we can dance through any chaos that comes our way. Bring on the Minefields.
So lets go dancing in the minefields
Lets go sailing in the storms
Oh lets go dancing in the minefields
And kicking down the doors
Oh lets go dancing in the minefields
And sailing in the storms
Oh this is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for
That’s what the promise is for
God bless you all, and your marriages, present and future. I pray that if you are in the minefields right now, God will give you the strength to dance through it together. 
Happy Valentine’s Day. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Week (or two) of Encouragement

If I had to define the last two weeks in one word  I would say, "Encouragement". I have never in my life experienced such a huge surge of encouragement. I have been at a crossroads for the last two weeks. Not sure which way to go. During that time, I received confirmation after confirmation, of God's will in my life.

I have, for many years, felt a callling into women's ministry, or full time ministry of some kind. I have always felt it would have an element of teaching, and women, but could never put a label on it. Since I first felt this calling, I have tried to take steps that, I believed, would take me towards that goal.

The funny thing about that is, God very often has other plans. I have always known that. I've seen Him move in my life in ways I would have rathered He not. Each time He makes one of these moves, however, I have always been able to look back and see the purpose in it. So, you would think that by this point in my life, I would begin to recognize when God is moving and get excited....oh how I wish! Rather I react as I always do...with much weeping and gnashing of teeth!

The most recent of these "moves", not counting the last two weeks, was when I married my sweet darling husband, and promtly moved to East Texas, away from my beloved big city. I cried, I worried, I begged God to provide a job in the city that would convince my husband to stay...but it did no good. A week after our wedding, I moved to my new home, with my new husband, to Tiny Town USA. It wasn't so much where we were moving to, as what we were leaving behind: my entire family. I am a family girl, as all good Italian girls are raised to be. My cousins are some of my best friends, really more like siblings than cousins. My aunts and uncles are more like surrogate parents and my grandparents are angels. My parents lived in another big city just down the road, and moving to East Texas doubled the distance between us. I was not at all sure I could handle the separation. I thrived on the crazy antics of my family. I was very scared for my new husband and prayed my homesickness wouldn't throw a kink in our first year of marriage.

Fortunatly, God is good, and I quickly learned that bonding with my husband was far more entertaining than missing my family. Not to say I didn't have my days, but when I did, my husband would drive with me down to see them, or suggest I skype with my parents. His incredible patience and understanding helped me get through the first few months, making them more of a dream than a nightmare. I love that my husband loves my family as much as I do, and understands and supports my relationship with them...it is a blessing for which I will always be thankful.

To make life even easier, God provided me with a job that, I swear, I dreamed up. One night, before I started job searching, I wrote a list out of everything I wanted in a job...including not working past three o'clock on Fridays (which I believe to be a crime against humanity, by the way). I prayed that God would give me a job that fed my passion for women, marriage, and families. A few weeks later, I landed a job as Program Assistant for a state funded Marriage Education Program. Cherry on top: the office closes at noon on Fridays. :).

I cannot tell you how much I have learned in this position. Far beyond my administrative responsibilities, my supervisors trained me in facilitating Marriage education workshops, paid for my certification in several marriage curriculum and invested in me personally. The husband and wife duo that I was privledged to work for took me under their wing and poured into me, sharing everything they knew about the marriage and family education business.

But every good thing must end. And when the funding for our program was cut, that's just what happened. I'll admit, despite the fact that I would be out of a job in 6 months time, I was excited when I learned the program was ending. I know that sounds backwards, but I was excited because I believed that whatever the next step was, it was going to be another step towards my goal to work in women's ministy. I even dared to think that perhaps my next job would be in women's ministry!

See, what I loved most about my job was that it was directly related to my passion. I was a part of something bigger than me, somewhere I could see God working every day in the couples we served. My heart was filled with satisfaction every day I left. I thought surely the next step would be to move into the ministry God had called me to.

Thus my struggle for the last two weeks. You see, a week after we learned our program was ending I was offered another position in a different program. It was a pay raise, my milage and cell phone would be paid for, benefits...still get off at noon on Fridays...the whole shebang! So why is this a bad thing?

I would be teaching teens and selling curriculum to schools...which combines my two worst enemies: Sales and School teaching. I DREAD asking people to buy stuff from me (which is why I made a crummy girl scout), it turns my stomache into knots...but not as many knots as the idea of standing infront of a classroom full of teens. This job was way outside of my comfort zone and certaintly not "en route" to a job in women's ministry. I coudn't help but question if this was realllyy what God wanted for my next job.

Please don't get me wrong- I am DEEPLY appreciative to have a job flat out handed to me in this economy. I realize that many people are without jobs at this time, and I don't mean to minimize their position. I was grateful to have the job, just questioning whether it was in fact what God had in mind for me.

I asked for a little more time to think about the offer, to determine if this was really something I could do. And that's when the encouragement started. First my husband, then my college girl friends, my parents, and finally, several coworkers. Never in my life have I heard God speak so loudly OVER AND OVER again. I would seriously be near tears, torn over passing on the job because it wasn't in line with my ultimate goal and taking it because I had no other options and it was fantastic pay. Suddently someone would call or walk in and speak STRAIGHT to my unspoken fears.

I'm still nervous about standing up infront of a room full of teens, but I am confident this is where God has me, and I trust He wouldn't give me a job and then leave me for the lions! Most importantly, despite my not seeing the connection with my calling, I trust that this is part of His plan and is purposful, just like moving to East Texas. So, I'm done stressing out and I'm going to praise my God that His ways are higher than mine, and that He is a wonderful provider and my constant encourager.

Thanks if you read all this! You're pretty great, I hope you are encouraged. If God is doing something in your life that you don't understand, I pray you'll remember that He always has a plan and a purpose. ALWAYS.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

How to Write a Valentine’s Day Poem: Instuctional Aid for Husbands

         As it’s getting close to Valentine’s day, you may be feeling that intense panic that usually crops up this time of year, so I thought I’d help you out!! Valentine’s Day is all about showing your love in a way you don’t usually show it, and as everyone who’s ever watched a romantic movie knows, nothing says “I Love You” like a romantic, heartfelt poem. Not a poet, you say? No worries! I'm going to give you some pointers to help you write a love poem that will have your spouse bragging about you for weeks :) .
Pointer #1: To Rhyme or not to Rhyme…that is the question!
The first thing for you to decide as you sit down and write your poem is whether or not you want it to rhyme. Contrary to popular belief, poetry doesn’t have to rhyme!! Like most great works of art, there doesn’t have to be a sense of structure for the heart of the piece to shine through. Here’s an example:
Down a winding road we walk.
Gently as the breeze I hold your hand.
We talk of things to come and things of the past.
All the while, our hearts becoming one.
Sounds good, right? The way to answer this question is deciding what feels or comes more naturally to you. Poetry is all about feeling and flowing. So do what comes naturally.
Pointer #2: Keep the content authentic. Write about things that you really do love about her and about your relationship. Are you excited about your future together? Are you thankful that you’ve stuck together through hard times? Use those things as your inspiration and write it out!
Pointer#3: Organize your thoughts into stanza's. Stanza's are ussually 4 lines connected by a thought. if you are rhyming, a simple stanza consists of two alternating rhyming lines ie: I love my cat, his name is tom, tom is fat, but i'm his mom! So, if you want to write about how you guys met, how happy you are that you're married, how she makes you feel, and how your excited about the future then you've got four great stanza's lined out!
Pointer #4: Don't feel like you have to write a lot. While 1 stanza may seem understated, 15 stanzas begins to sound like the Declaration of Indepence. I would suggest keeping your poem around 4 or 5 stanzas.
Pointer #5: When in doubt throw in a metaphor. Do you love the way she laughs but don’t know how to fit that in a poem? Ask yourself what you consider the most beautiful sound in the world (besides her laugh) and compare her laugh to that. For example:
                “You’re laugh fills my heart like the sound of a thousand fans cheering”
Hey, at least she’ll know it was you who wrote it! This leads me to my next point:
Pointer #6: DO NOT and I mean DO NOT copy a poem and say you wrote it. She will find out. You know she will. And no amount of love poems will dig you out of that hole, my friend.
Pointer #7: Presentation matters. As tempting as it may be to type this love note up and print it on Grade A Recycled paper, it might be a nice touch to hand write it on some “special” paper. Also, consider how you want to deliver the poem to her. Think about your wife and consider what would mean the most to her. Does she like getting surprise notes from you? Sneak the poem into her briefcase for her to find at work! Does she like big to-dos? Deliver the poem on a silver tray during the candlelight dinner you made her and read it to her on one knee! A good rule of thumb in the world of presentation is: Go Big or Go Home.
Pointer #8: It truly is the thought that counts. So your poem doesn’t sound like Shakespeare and the rhymes don’t make perfect sense….trust me, if you focused on what you love about your wife and y’alls life together, your poem will make her swoon. The fact alone that you took the time to sit and think about what she means to you will mean a lot to her. So be bold, step out, do something you would never in a million years think to do, and write your love a poem.
Good Luck!