Sunday, January 28, 2018

Better than Chocolate

I'm a gift giver.  If someone I knew was suffering, whether because of loss or illness, I would send chocolate - the best I could find from Trader Joe's. Once I was in a hurry and didn't notice that I had sent a grieving friend a chili peppered laced chocolate tin to help her in her time of mourning.  Um...I don't think it was all that helpful as her mouth was burning.  Maybe provided a good laugh though.  So what did I do when she told me?  I re-sent her some creamy chocolate goodness.  I always included a note about how the Holy Spirit brings comfort so the least I can do is send chocolate.  My heart was in the right place.

But then I grew in the chocolate arena.  You see, it was my drug of choice.  No wonder it was my gift of choice.  Did you know there are 7 uppers and downers in that little heavenly morsel?  When I came to terms with my food addiction the day before Halloween many years ago I knew that it was time and if I didn't surrender on THAT day, then the season would have me swallowed up until far past Easter of the next year.  So much for heavenly morsels.  It was more like a back-stabbing friend.  So, I grieved, I let go, and I surrendered.  I got help.

What is a gift giver to do when she no longer eats what she has grown accustomed to giving?  It came to me after a dear friend lost her daughter to cancer.  No one should have to bury their own child, but my friend did.  I wanted to give her something that would bring comfort.

Then I remembered a conversation around a table at our denomination's Pastor's Wives and Credentialed Womens Retreat years ago.  The question asked was about how we define the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Judi Braddy, an author and our District Superintendent's wife at the time shared how, to her, "the Holy Spirit is like a warm blanket."  Our Comforter  (Jn. 14:26) is like a warm blanket.  Perfect.

I found the softest throw I could find for my grieving friend, chose the color grey as she was in the agony of deep grief, wrapped it up with a card and merely placed it on her doorstep and prayed for her regularly.  She later told me how much that blanket has meant to her.

Now it's my thing, if I have the resources, and the relationship is close enough, then off to the store I go to get what one friend has named her "Holy Spirit Blanket."  I love that.  To God be the glory.

The Lord uses our giftings (love languages) and our growth (from chocolate to a blanket) to continue to bless others.  Let's continue to keep our ears attentive to the Holy Spirit's promptings because He is always wanting to guide us towards loving others better.  I'm convinced that the more WE grow the better we are able to help others.

Thank you Judi for your definition that has brought literal comfort to many!

If you have not read any of Judi Braddy's books, you are missing out.  When I traveled to Germany to counsel missionaries for a week I took one of her books and wished I had taken more.  It was great company in my travels.  It was like having a friend along for the journey.  I'm sure you'll love her too.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Fish That Almost Got Away

I'm a working mom.  Now, every mom is a working mom.  What I mean is I work outside the home and inside the home.  But this Christmas season I am taking some time off to rest and spend time with my family. Just one hat this season:  The Home Hat.  It looks like a hard hat somedays, the yellow, plastic, contruction worker hat that protects you from beams falling on your head kind.

My 11 year old son Max has a really pretty turquoise and blue Beta fish named Eli that needed some water conditioner, so I thought I would do one better and get him some plants for his square shaped plastic aquarium. Max was excited, and it seemed Eli was happy too when he saw the plants sitting outside his aquarium.  I was concerned about Eli's survival rate, so I decided I had better do the changing of the water part because we needed to take Eli out to clean it.  I had done this many times.  Only one time before had it gone bad, when I was in college.  That was a long time ago, right?  Well, this was the second time. It's still a blur but what my trauma-filled mind does remember is Eli jumping out of my teacup I was trying to catch him with (note to self I should have used a FISH NET and not my Mikassa Italian Countryside teacup), I screamed, Max yelled, and then I saw Eli under the grate of the sink.  All I could do was hold my hand in the drain to catch him and pray.

Thank the good and merciful Lord I did catch him as he was sliding down the drain and somehow he stayed in my slippery hand as I put him in the cup!  I declared praise to God and looked at Max's face who by now was in shock.  I told him how sorry I was...over and over...and how I was afraid HE would be the one to lead Eli to his death and it was ME!  All I could do was praise and confess.

Christmas miracles come in all shapes and sizes, don't they?  Standing at the sink, with my invisible hard hat on, traumatized child next to me, traumatized fish in the teacup, additional family members in the living room holding their breath, and me, the humble parent once again.

Pia Mellody writes about a concept called "Perfectly Imperfect" in The Intimacy Factor where we learn to accept our authentic selves and not live in too much shame when we are not our ideal self. Healthy shame is conviction, when we have done something bad it helps us to change course.  Unhealthy shame is when we believe the lie that we are bad, that we feel that our behavior is a life sentence for our identity and it keeps us stuck.  In God's eyes the latter could not be further from the truth.

But there is a twist. We are not meant to be perfect, but we are meant to yearn for it.  It's a God-given longing.  Jesus sets the example and the Holy Spirit lights the way so that we can walk in imperfection with a Savior who IS perfect and who helps us and meets our needs.

I see a lot of good parents in my practice.  Many of them struggle accepting the fact that they are good parents.  Not perfect parents, but good ones.  The good parent is the parent that keeps trying, learning new skills, seeking those who can help.  They continue to advocate, keep growing as individuals and as a couple if married, and even keep laughing at themselves when they almost kill their son's pet 7 days before Christmas.

As parents, as human beings for that matter, we are compelled to do things just right.  What I learned once again yesterday was that I have a longing to be a great mom, but I'm imperfect.  So the balance of both is to have one foot grounded in my authentic self that gives grace to myself and the other foot grounded in the reality that Jesus is my absolute strength in weakness (2Cor. 12:9).

The Lord reached in and helped to save the day.  He does that.  And then He reminded me of something else in  my modern day parable at the kitchen sink, that it's time to let go a bit more.  I am imperfect, and in His perfection He accepts me as is.  That is the kind of parent I want to be, too.  And Lord help me, Max is ready to take care of Eli.  So guess what else Max is getting for Christmas...a fish net.

Merry "Perfectly Imperfect" Christmas friends!  And in case you have your own Christmas Miracle may you laugh and learn along the way.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

When We Don't Know How To Pray...

I wonder if the pressure of the month is hitting you.  I started to feel it about the first week of December.  When the countdown of the month began.  Then I was struck with the reality of so many people hurting around me, whether emotionally for a multitude of reasons, or physically as this is the time of year when people have surgeries as deductibles are met.  Whatever your circumstances, you might be feeling pressure by now.  You are not alone.  Throughout Scripture we are given the picture of friends leading their friends to Jesus.  So friends... I'm going to introduce you to an old friend who is going to lead us in a prayer to Jesus today.  Jesus is already listening...

Born in 1491, the youngest of 13 children, Inigo Lopez de Loyola was a member of aristocracy in Spain.  He lost his mom at age 7 and was raised by the wife of a local blacksmith.  He became soldier with a reputation of emerging from battle unharmed.  Unfortunately one battle he was wounded by a cannon ball to the legs.  Ouch!  It was then that his physical suffering caused him to increasingly devote himself to his faith.

By 1522 he entered the monastery, leaving everything material behind, even giving his military clothes to a poor man.  What he did not expect was the depression and anxiety he would experience when life became quiet.  He learned that these thoughts were not from God.  This understanding helped him to be grounded in reality once again, not overcome with the barrage of lies from the depression and anxiety.  He began to write about his experience and create exercises that would encourage people that are used to this day.

I often tell people who are suffering with mood disorders that this is one of the areas where the brain tells you that you don’t have a problem.  In fact, it tells you it’s your fault.  Match that with the culture of the church (at times) that underlines that.  Not being understood when your brain is not working makes everything worse.  I hope this prayer from someone who did understand helps you feel known.  He understands your hearts cry to the Lord, even if other people do not.  When we are hurting we often don’t know how to pray, but this friend does.  

O Christ Jesus
When all is darkness
And we feel our weakness and helplessness,
Give us the sense of Your Presence,
Your Love and Your Strength.
Help us to have perfect trust
In Your protecting love
And strengthening power,
So that nothing may frighten or worry us,
For, living close to You,
We shall see Your Hand,
Your Purpose, Your Will through all things.

St. Ignatius of Loyola: Prayer Against Depression

Friday, December 1, 2017

God's Naughty List Always Comes With a Way Out

"Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: 'The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.'  We should not commit sexual immorality as some of them did - and in one day twenty three thousand of them died.  We should not test Christ as some of them did - and were killed by snakes.  And do not grumble, as some of them did - and were killed by the destroying angel.
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.  So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!  No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it."  (1Corinthians 10:7-13)

While reading the apostle Paul's warnings to the Corinthian church one morning and then inspired by Santa's "Naughty List" after watching "Elf" one evening, it hit me.  This is a Pauline Naughty List! Yes, I'm kinda corny.  But if you will indulge me, Paul draws from Israel's history to teach the church to not be idolator’s, commit sexual immorality,  test Christ, or grumble.  The three areas on the list that are standing out to me this season are idolatry, sexual temptation, and grumbling.  

It's ironic that this time of year is the easiest time to get caught up in the idolatry of anything but Jesus.   He gives us a way out of idolatry – simply flee.  Run people!  Ha.  Wish I could run.  But sometimes that would be a good choice when I have my sights set on that thing that is supposed to satiate my appetite.  There is one blessing that comes from being on anti-seizure medication these dulls the appetite.  I don't crave much of anything.  Lest you idolize THAT, it comes at too steep a price, I'm afraid.  What do you need to run away from?  Once something is on the pedestal of idolatry it's too late for a quick fix, it will be harder to pry it off.  You have to catch it before it climbs up there.  Consider what you put on the pedestal of idolatry each morning.  You can usually tell by looking at your calendar, your bank account, or by asking your spouse.  

Sexual Temptation
When I taught graduate students studying to be Marriage and Family Therapists I scanned the room, looking them in the eyes and repeated this statement:  Don’t have sex with your clients.  They squirmed and laughed a bit but I was serious and they knew it.  Being alone in a counseling room can be isolating.  Being alone in a pastor’s office can be isolating.  Heck, being alone anywhere with someone from the opposite sex can be isolating and you need to be aware of temptation.  It saddens me when people rationalize that boundaries are not necessary and then are caught later realizing they were.  Prevention is cheaper than damage so many ways.  No one is exempt from temptation.  No one.  The headlines have always had examples of this.  Our current news cycle is certainly no exception.

The reason why I became trained in the field of sexual addiction treatment 11 years ago is because clergy are my "people group" that I am called to help.  I noticed it was a struggle for many ministry couples and as a result their families and churches were affected.  The ripple effect of relational trauma after betrayal is deep, and is farther reaching if the right treatment plan is not given or followed. People waste time and money when bandaids are given.  I wanted to be equipped with tools to provide a plan of hope where a restored and redeemed marriage is possible.   I had no idea that the process would include me (I'll write another blog on our transformation from Shame and Martyr to Shane and Marty later.  Still Corny, I know.).  

It’s one thing to process your negative emotions in a counseling session that is confidential or with a confidant but remember the grumbling that the Israelites participated in?  If we only keep our focus on frustration in the present or resentments of the past, as opposed to the promises the Lord has for us, we miss out.  We stay stuck.  I think that is what they missed, and what I miss too when I have grumbly days. 

Finally, the jewel that shined so brightly in the end of this passage for me was this…”Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.”  (1Cor. 11:1) In all of these warnings, our daily relationship with Jesus is key.  Following His example, following His word, listening to His voice of instruction and love.  We can't go wrong when we follow Him.  We can go very wrong when we don't.  Join with me today in following on the path of freedom that shines with the warmth of the Son. If you need help getting off the road of idolatry, temptation, or grumbling, reach out to safe people who know how to help.  Let them help you get on the better path.  

To read more about the origins of sexual addiction and the way out, check out my husband's excellent blog here:

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Spiritual Formation and Windmills

Spiritual formation is an ongoing process in life.  The phrase itself is now a degree and practice.  I myself have a spiritual director who has been my personal pastor.  I can't imagine life without Betsy.  Her grace and wisdom have led me to an awareness of God's leading in my life for a decade and a half.

Another lady that deserves a round of applause is Diana Lehman Bergstrom.  I met Diana at Bethany College in 1991.  She was funny, smart, well spoken, and was one of the Dean of Students.  My second year at Bethany I applied to be a RA (Resident Advisor) of Harp Hall.  My fellow RA friend Shanti said this of herself, but really I think she was reading MY mind ....that they chose me because of the work I needed done in me, not necessarily because of what I could do.  Shanti was and is amazing.  I was a fairly new believer when arriving at Bethany.  I drove myself to the campus, car loaded with all I could fill it with, tears welling up and scared of what I would face.  I didn't know anyone really.  By the second year I was supposed to lead a big house full of girls.  Ok, I'll try.  

I was a bit super-spiritual I guess you would say.  Well, Diana was picking up on that.  One weekend we were headed out to a RA retreat and were passing the big metal windmills on the barren hills of 580 in Northern California.  So maybe my ensuing statement was from practicing my spirituality or something, but here it was: "My spirit is troubled."  Diana looked at me with confusion.  "What?"  she said.  I went on to explain that the windmills made my spirit troubled.  "What do they have to do with your spirit?"  It was a fair question.  I thought the windmills were a spiritual issue.  Turns out they reminded me of a weird sci-fi show, "Max Headroom."  Do you remember that?  A barren wasteland.  End times.  For a new believer that may be triggering, but to make it a spiritual issue was not necessary.  I needed Diana to challenge me.  

Fast forward to a Sunday school class I was teaching with my Youth Pastor husband, a day I may regret for the rest of my life.  I told the story.  I had a point -we are all in process. Why do I regret it you ask?  Every youth trip when they would go by those stinking windmills I got a phone call...." spirit is troubled."  Oy.  Now my kids' youth group knows about it, and they call me too!  Please don't call me.

Diana is now a Chaplain on Mercy Ships, doing amazing things with her husband Patrik.  When she found out about my surgery she shared a scripture that I ended up making a sign out of, one for her and one for me as it was the truth of my journey and hers.
The Psalmist goes on to write..."surely I have a delightful inheritance."  Yes we do.  
Once again during this past year she sent me a prayer that I posted on my wall and have read it often.  

O Christ Jesus
When all is darkness
And we feel our weakness and helplessness,
Give us the sense of Your Presence,
Your Love and Your Strength.
Help us to have perfect trust
In Your protecting love
And strengthening power,
So that nothing may frighten or worry us,
For, living close to You,
We shall see Your Hand,
Your Purpose, Your Will through all things.
By St. Ignatius of Loyola

There are people in our lives that the Lord positions to share words of truth in love, bringing comfort through the Scriptures, and it is part of our spiritual formation.  I am so thankful for the women (I think it's so important that we have same gender models) the Lord has given to walk alongside in different seasons of my life who have been gifts to me.  Who are yours?  

So, Diana Lehman Bergstom, I wanted you to know this Thanksgiving week that I am thankful for you, and I am over the windmills. ;)  
Love, Marty

P.S. I walked in tonight from work with Shane showing me a picture of Max Headroom in the news...Seriously?  God and my "once a youth pastor always a youth pastor" husband think they are funny.  But my spirit is no longer troubled.  

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Traveling Couch's

On the way to my speaking engagement this morning we had to take our oldest daughter to our home church down the street.  But what we forgot is that the fainting couch was in the van and we didn't have time to take her in the car.  Welcome to our world. The conversation that ensued:

Julia:  "Where am I supposed to sit?  This is illegal."
Me:  "Sorry Babe, it's just a few blocks."
Shane:  "It's fine, it will be fun!  Think of it like a missions trip!"  

It is true - our kids are missionary kids, we are on a trip, so it is a missions trip! And then for the next couple of blocks he tells us a story of his youth pastor days.  Julia arrived safely at our neighborhood church, and we were on the road with one less Couch, and I was feeling a little less guilty as a mom.   Dad's don't have that kind of guilt.  I think it comes with childbirth, a baby and guilt, but I digress...

As you can see, I spoke from that couch in the picture.  It was the most comfortable I've ever been while preaching.  I highly recommend it!  I shared my journey through brain surgery and the healing the Lord did in my life almost 10 years ago.  But there is always a new chapter.  So I also focused on the past 9 months,  9 months of waiting for the Lord to redeem this journey.

He has redeemed it in showing me that this is not only my story but my family's.  My disabilities are shaping them into who He wants them to be.  That handsome guy there is a living representative of God's strength in my weakness.  I am so thankful that I have Shane to lean on as we both lean on the Lord.  God is also redeeming my calling by opening doors to minister to more missionaries and clergy members around the world more than I ever have before.  Only God can figure that out.

Is there something you've been waiting on the Lord for, waiting for His redemption in your life?  It can make it hard to focus on Thanksgiving when you are waiting.  Hard, but still important.  Do you know that our brain has a bias for bad news and stores it for safe keeping in our neural structure?  According to the book Hardwiring Happiness,  “We can still be happy, but this bias creates an ongoing vulnerability to stress, anxiety, disappointment, and hurt.”  What is the treatment for this hardwiring problem?  Regularly taking in the good.

Two good "treatments" that I have found incredibly helpful in my life:
"Seek Peace and Pursue it." Psalm 34:14
"God’s grace is sufficient for you.  His power is made perfect in your weakness." 2 Cor. 12:9

The one who created you has you.  He's got this.  He's got you.  So as you intentionally set your heart and mind on this Thanksgiving week ahead, what are you thankful for?
Write it down, and each day, read it, add to it, thanking the Lord for it all.  
Happy Thanksgiving friends!



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