Friday, October 28, 2011

Favorite Photo(s) Friday ~ Nali's 8th Birthday

“Through my relationship with [my dog] I’ve come to see my relationship with God in a new way. At this point, non-dog-lovers may be rolling their eyes. But stay with me a moment. Scripture makes it clear that God’s creation helps explain who God is.… Is it surprising that God would choose to teach me about Himself through a dog? God the Creator chooses to reveal Himself – to show who He is, what He is like – through what He has made. In fact, His choice to teach me about Himself through a dog manifests the specificity of His love for me. He knew exactly how to reach me and did so lovingly.” ~R. McRae

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Where I'll Be This Weekend~

Thanks to an anonymous donation by a dear soul at our church, and to my husband who has graciously agreed to part with me for the majority of the weekend, I am pumped to be attending the national conference for the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation! (And I'm grateful that the conference is being held here in the 'Ville to save the stress of travel and lodging expenses!)
Beginning tomorrow morning, the sessions/topics are as follows:

~Making Sense of Complex Problems - David Powlison
~What is Going on Inside? Understanding the Human Experience - Ed Welch
~What's in a Name? Understand Labels and Diagnoses - Mike Emlet
~Psychiatric Disorders in Children - Julie Lowe
~What You Can Do to Help - Ed Welch

~Understanding Depression: Weakness, Willfullness, or Wisdom? - Eric Johnson
~Pastoral Care for Fearful, Needy People - Tim Lane
~Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall: Body Image Distortions - David Powlison & Julie Lowe

~Listening to Prozac? Understand Psychiatric Treatments - Mike Emlet
~The Local Church: A Safe Place to Struggle? - Tim Lane

May I learn much, receiving both insight and encouragement, from men and women who display such godly wisdom. The leaders at the conference are ones committed to teaching, writing, and counseling in their local churches. Now that I have been out of the counseling program for almost two years, not only will it be good to see professors whose classes I took at Southern, but to learn from those whose books and articles I have gleaned so much wisdom from. It will certainly be a jam-packed weekend, but I'm so thrilled to be going!

(Photo courtesy of CCEF)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

On the Bedside Table~

Do you have favorite spots in your house? Spots where you sit that evoke certain emotions or tasks? The chair closest to the window where you sip coffee and welcome in the morning sun? The corner of the couch where you read or watch a movie in the evenings, complete with your favorite soft blanket and the dog curled up at your feet? A place designated as your spot for journaling, reflection, reading Scripture? Well, I have such spots in our modest townhome. When you give certain rooms their own distinct purpose/personality, it makes the place feel more like home. Whether you're in the same house for thirty years, or in a transitional apartment for a matter of months, anywhere you are can feel like home. That has been one of my intentions during this season. For however much longer we are here, I want this townhome to be a place of comfort and rest. I want this place to feel like our home.
I have my favorite spot on the couch where I drink my morning coffee, bleary-eyed as I catch up on the morning news show. I have a spot just two feet away in the corner of the other couch where I crochet by lamplight (usually watching my favorite chic flick while I work the hook). The dining room table sometimes serves as my craft table, and I love it most when there is an abundance of sunshine and I can open the blinds. Something about the warmth of the sun pouring in through the window makes my soul happy. When I think of a place to read, to write, to pray and reflect, there is no other place I would rather be than upstairs in our bed. Since I was a young girl, my bedroom was a place of respite away from people and noise, a quiet haven with no distractions around. I've carried that into adulthood, and still savor the late-night hours as my time to spend with the Lord, studying, reading or writing.
In these years following seminary (it's still strange to me that I can measure the time in years now), that desire in me to always be a student has been renewed. Not only do I want to continue learning, but I want to take full advantage of the time I have been afforded to soak up and reflect on all I am learning and reading. I'm still working on renewing the discipline of journaling (and I am a believer that it is a discipline - a good discipline, but a discipline nonetheless), but I think that will come with more time and commitment. I have always been a voracious reader and writer, and I am thankful for the opportunity to dive back into all of that. Seminary certainly taught me that just because you are reading ten books at one time by no means ensures that your heart and mind are taking it all in. I have almost had to re-learn how to read for personal challenge and edification. Another benefit of now being out of the seminary context is that I am no longer pressured to read something to have it completed by a certain due date. While it would have been wonderful to glean encouragement and thorough instruction from all of the fantastic books I was tasked with reading for my masters degree, it just was not possible on most occasions.
Some people read one book at a time, while others read several spread out over a longer span. I have adopted a method of reading that allows for a variety of genres, but not one that is overwhelming. I make room for always reading something in three main categories: fiction, instruction/teaching, and reflection/devotion. All three are good for the soul, and having something to read in these areas is more important than the number of books I am reading. (I gave up being concerned with the number awhile ago, after I realized I was more focused on marking things off a list than gleaning anything of real value from what I was reading.) Having those three areas represented gives me more freedom to read just one book, or four, all depending on what I feel I am needing (or lacking) during a particular day or week. With that said, here are the books currently taking up residence on my bedside table:

Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal ~ Dr. Eric L. Johnson
I hold a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling. The Christian psychology school of thought has some overlaps to that of biblical counseling, and Southern has professors who hold to both views. While studying, I was surrounded by students and faculty alike who strongly encouraged the biblical counseling method, yet I am now in a local church where Christian psychology is the more widely held perspective. I find it important familiarize myself with Christian psychology, not only as a challenge, but as a means of knowing the different views more thoroughly, knowing where they both differ and overlap, and to be better equipped in engaging others in conversation.

Emma ~ Jane Austen
Oh, Jane Austen, how do I love thee! One of these days I will be able to articulate why Jane Austen, and authors of similar style, are good for a woman's soul. More broadly speaking, fiction is good for the soul, expanding not only our imaginations, but broadening our minds to the beauty and glory of God. In very particular ways, authors of fiction reveal to us the dynamics of relationships, allow us to see life through the eyes of different characters, and expand our perspective on nobility, honor, family, and beauty. Novels can be an effective and unique means of pointing us to right versus wrong, displaying how good ultimately prevails over evil. The magic and wonder of fiction is welcomed into my heart and mind as it points me to the Creator of all things good and beautiful in this world.

A Severe Mercy - With 18 Letters by C.S. Lewis ~ Sheldon Vanauken
We have so very much to learn from the lives of others. Whether written from a personal account, or by an author who has done ample research for a biographical piece, I firmly believe that we have so much to learn from those who have gone before us. This is a book I have been eyeing on our bookshelf for a few years now. Vanauken knew C.S. Lewis personally, and the two gentlemen communicated during what was perhaps the darkest season in both of their lives. Both men knew true conversion, pierced by the irresistible grace of the Savior. Both also knew the great loss of their wives, women who embodied such joy in their life journeys. Reading of the life and loss, joy and tragedy, of others is a crucial reminder that "hope is the constant companion of perseverance" (E. Welch).

Depression: A Stubborn Darkness--A Light for the Path ~ Edward T. Welch
"Hope is the constant companion of perseverance." We were assigned this book to read during one of my courses at Southern, and I wanted to read back through it for personal reflection. At some point in life, every Christian will struggle with one form or another of depression. Whether from great suffering or loss, difficulty coping with an event or season in life, struggling for faith during a time of uncertainty or confusion, the struggle with depression is almost assuredly inevitable. If it weren't so, I don't think we would have so many psalms and passages of lament in Scripture. How often do we read of David asking the Lord to cleanse and examine his heart? Can we fathom those moments when Job cried out after everything was removed from his life, and in all of his questioning never sinned? What is good for us is to acknowledge that the struggle will come; doubt, confusion, anxiety, and fear will rear their ugly heads. Where will we turn when there is no end in sight, when we find ourselves in the valley of shadow? Welch first establishes that there are many causes of depression, one of which can be related to real medical issues. Once he has established that, he then devotes the rest of the book to what we would consider spiritual depression. He deals with both the internal and external factors that can cause us to find ourselves in this very real battle for the soul.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

Friday, October 07, 2011

Back to Posting After a Brief Hiatus~

I know plenty of others who have faced the "What do I write about after a long hiatus?" ordeal when returning to their blogs after time away. And that is where you find me today - wondering what to write about since my last post three months ago. A dear friend (and a clever one at that!) asked where I had run off to since my last post (which, if you scroll down, had to do with running and pretty new shoes). Well, the reality is that I haven't really run off anywhere. Other than our long-anticipated and much-enjoyed time visiting family in Texas, we are back in the 'Ville with no definite end in sight to this season. We thought with near certainty that we would be heading further north shortly after arriving back here in July, but life can take a sudden turn at a moment's notice. Rather than go into the long explanation of the events leading to us not ending up in Ohio, I will let you read my husband's personal account of the very difficult and confusing situation we found ourselves in (and in doing so give a shameless plug for his new blog): "What Happened With Ohio."

In the days - and now months - that followed, I feel that he took the shock much better than I did. Maybe we handled it differently because of how it affected us. He took the brunt of it since he was the one who would have been that church's pastor. He is the one leading our family, and is making concerted efforts to move us beyond this transitional season. Here is how I processed things initially; I liken it to a memory from my job working at the hospital during our senior year in college. Families would come in with the patient being admitted, and while the patient was calm yet nervous, the families were often an utter nervous wreck. In the aftermath of Ohio not happening, I was a real mess of emotion some days, bouncing around from angry to relieved to confused to sad, with a lot more confused thrown in the mix than the others. I just didn't understand what had happened, what had gone wrong, even after we received a very gracious and heartbreaking explanation from the gentleman who led the pastor search committee at this church. Even in the moments of relief, I didn't understand. Why would God bring us so very close to launching into the church ministry our hearts have longed for, only to have the door slammed in our faces, and from a church very likely heading towards complete failure? Why was the one real hope for my husband finally stepping into a pastoral role in the context of a church barely making ends meet? Why, after two years of simply trying to get his foot in the door is my husband continually faced with churches whose criteria he just doesn't quite meet? Why are search committees even the ones given such a great and serious responsibility anyway? The questions continue to come on those days when I find myself more reserved and caught up in my own thoughts. I don't understand, I may not ever understand. And perhaps the most scary question of them all: Is all of this church searching worth the effort, worth the pain and waiting and wondering? Scary, but honest...

Once the initial impact passed and the reality of an unknown timeline set in, I was made keenly aware of the truth that I have a choice to make. I can sit idly by, waiting for tomorrow, not investing my time or energy or heart into anything while we anticipate when and where the next chapter may occur...or I can taste and see that the Lord is good. The verse goes on to say, "Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!" (Psalm 34:8) I can embrace this season as one of rest granted by the only One who knows my weary and confused heart completely (Psalm 139:23-24). I can direct my thoughts toward being grateful for what my husband and I have been given: my wonderful job where I continue to grow and excel, a place to live with a fridge that's (usually) full, a good small group at church who collectively desires to encourage one another, family to support us even from hundreds of miles away (and who I miss now perhaps more than ever), two dogs that bring us such simply joy and lots of laughs, and we have each other. I have never known my husband more, known his daily joys and deepest struggles more deeply, and I have never loved him more than in recent months.

On those days when idleness is the easiest temptation to slide into, I want those to be the times when I fix my attention and affections on the Lord:

Still my soul be still, and do not fear though winds of change may rage tomorrow.
God is at your side, no longer dread the fires of unexpected sorrow.
Chorus: God You are my God, and I will trust in You and not be shaken.
Lord of peace renew a steadfast spirit within me to rest in You alone.
Still my soul be still, do not be moved by lesser lights and fleeting shadows.
Hold onto His ways with shield of faith against temptations flaming arrows...
Still my soul be still, do not forsake the Truth you learned in the beginning.
Wait upon the Lord and hope will rise as stars appear when day is dimming...
(Keith & Kristyn Getty)

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
"The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in Him."
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
to the soul who seeks Him. (Lamentations 3:21-25)