What Real Love Looks Like to Kids

real loveREAL LOVE: I stepped into “Little House on the Prairie” reruns when I visited friends’ homes during childhood. A home very different from mine.

People in these homes blessed each other with words of affirmation:

“Beautiful picture, honey. I can barely wait to show grandma.”

“You remembered to put away your books. You are so responsible!”

“I appreciate that you called home to say you’d be late. That meant a lot to me, that you cared.”

Raspberry kisses, tummy tickles, and high fives interspersed these blessing words. I watched these dreamy interactions unfold and harbored more than a little jealousy. Have you too wanted something you didn’t have?

Where’s Real Love?

But at my home, dad yelled and mom withdrew into stony silence. Often I covered my ears to muffle the hate words. I also tried make my parents happy. From age 8 or 9, I washed floors and tubs, dusted and vacuumed, finished my homework without reminding, and played with my older brother, Ted.

But my presence made little difference. And Ted just seemed to irritate them. A bonafide IQ of 148 and report cards with Cs and Ds–he had trouble finding a place of belonging at home or school. It seemed, we were side tables in a white clapboard, one-and-a-half-story house in a Chicago suburb. Just furniture. We believed we had no voice.

When Ted turned 16 or so, the drug scene lured him. I tried to fit in with the “popular” girls and failed. Again. Do you relate?

God Steps In

Perhaps the influence of an unhappy childhood is one reason I became a counselor. My work as a biblical counselor permits me the privilege of helping children and teens know God’s care, love, and purpose in their lives. It’s encouraging that very often a child’s pain evaporates like a puddle on a hot summer day as the child (or teen) and the parents choose to love God above all. (Matthew 22:37)

As God transforms hurting hearts, thoughts, actions, and emotions as well as beliefs come together and reflect the heart of Jesus. Did you know Jesus welcomes little children? Our wonderfully radical Lord invited them to come near.

Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ Luke 18:15-17, ESV

The truth: Children do matter. Toddlers or teens, they deserve our love. Real love. Christ-like love.

Real Love in Good Times, Bad Times

What does real love look like during good times at home?

Conversation at dinner time, playing board games, and going for walks.

What does real love look like in bad times?

Repentance, forgiveness, consequences.

Reality is a phenomenal teacher. When a child does his homework, he gets the satisfaction of good grades. When a preschooler bites a 3 year old at the playground — yes, I am a mom of a former biter — she is escorted from park immediately. When a teen refuses to clean her room, her cell phone goes in timeout.

Real Love: Messy!

Healing came as I recognized I cannot change my family of origin. But my husband and I can rewrite the script for our children. With God’s help, we can leave a legacy of real love. We mess up, of course. Real love isn’t perfection. Rather, it’s hugs and tears and laughter in the middle of mess.

JUST FOR YOU: Would you like help with struggles that perhaps go back to childhood hurts? I offer a short, complimentary phone consult. Sign up here.

 

Empty Nest: Adjusting and Loving It! (Part 2)

empty nest 2Empty nest. My friend Karen excitedly watched her three young adult children take flight. But my frend Diane felt uneasy. Her son had made bad choices in high school. Would he waste college too? And Dee had one heck of a time getting her daughter to leave the nest.

All three are adjusting to the empty nest, but only one is loving it. So far.

In this two-part series on the empty nest, you’ll discover. . .

  1. Best way to prepare your empty nest, whether your kids are  just out of high school or farther down the road. Read part one.
  2. How to adjust and love the empty nest, including finding romance and investing in grandbabies.

The Empty Nest Book!

empty nest coverAuthor Michele Howe has written a book for any parent who finds herself in the midst of an empty nest. Preparing, Adjusting, and Loving the Empty Nest tackles the questions moms face, the emotions they encounter, and the changes soon to come. I strongly recommend it. See the book on Amazon here.

In a friendly, interactive style, Michele shares spiritual wisdom from the likes of seasoned biblical counselor Paul Tripp, take-away action steps, personal stories, and prayers. Indeed, it is a cross between a devotional and a parenting how-to book.

While an older empty nest-er would find encouragement, hope, and practical ideas in the pages of Preparing, Adjusting, and Loving the Empty Nest, it best suits moms who are entering this season of life.

Adjusting to the Empty Nest

DEALING WITH LONELINESS: One day Michele looked at the tree where her kids loved to climb, then her heart hurt. She tripped down memory lane–Easter egg hunts, Fourth of July fireworks, Thanksgiving feast, and Christmas joy–and began to feel lonely and sad. Isn’t it true that the older we get, we see life differently?

Michele says that one way to reduce emotional grief is by learning to live in the present and to be present. She asks, How can spending too much time reminiscing bring on sadness? How can you be more present today and look out for others in need of friends?

Take-Away Action Thought

When I begin to dip into sadness, I will search for those who need encouragement, help, and hope. 

INTERCEDING FOR YOUR CHILDREN: Don’t you agree that moms who take their worry to God in prayer fare better than those who don’t? One way to be consistent in prayer is by keeping a prayer journal. So how does it work practically?

When your son or daughter calls or texts to tell you of a problem their facing, turn to your prayer journal, jot the details, date it, and pray. “The more time I spend perusing my prayer journal, the more my faith is strengthened, and the more inner peace I experience,” Michele shares. Her prayer journal dates back ten years! (Another help is Transform Your Thought Journal — an ebook for godly mind renewal.)

How abundant are the good things

that you have stored up for those who fear you,

that you bestow in the sight of all,

on those who take refuge in you.

Psalm 31:19

Loving the Empty Nest

REINTRODUCING ROMANCE: Every couple struggles sometimes. So it’s important to honestly appaise your marriage, own up to your mistakes, ask forgiveness, and start afresh. But you also must plan time to talk and have fun together.

Take-Away Action Thought

I will proactively make plans for enjoyable activities together every single week by getting the calendar out and marking specific dates/time.

STEPPING UP HEALTHY LIVING PLANS: “When my fifty-something body rejects the idea of getting up and moving. . .I am grateful that my child-rearing days are over,” Michele quips. It’s time to reevaluate fitness goals and to eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep. (A superbly helpful guide is this eBook: Fit for Life.)

INVESTING IN GRANDCHILDREN: This takes intentionality! Plans that truly matter don’t just happen. Rather, you pray, you plan, you proceed!

When your grandkids live close, you’ll get to attend their school and church activities. But if you’re many hours away (by car or plane), you still can enjoy fun ways to love the little ones long-distance but you’ll need to plan. Right now list a plan of at least six different ways to practically show love to your grandchildren this month.

Friends, do you need prayer or have a question, why not contact me? I aim to answer within the day, God willing.

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,

Empty Nest: Preparing for Changes! (Part 1)

empty nestEmpty nest. Some women expectantly watch their adult children take flight and do life on their own. Other mothers fear their children leaving home. Still others must push them out the door. . .or the millennials may stay, like, forever.

In this two-part series on the empty nest, you’ll discover. . .

  1. Best way to prepare your empty nest, whether your kids are  just out of high school or farther down the road.
  2. How to adjust and love the empty nest, including finding romance as an empty nester, planning retirement, and welcoming grandbabies.

The Empty Nest Book!

empty nest coverAuthor Michele Howe has written a book for any parent who finds herself in the midst of an empty nest. Preparing, Adjusting, and Loving the Empty Nest tackles the questions moms face, the emotions they encounter, and the changes soon to come. I strongly recommend it and wished I had it when I counseled a 50-something mom I’ll call Mary. See the book on Amazon here.

Mary, whom I counseled by Skype, lived in western United States with her husband and adult son. The son was nearing age 30, had a decent paying job in sales, and hunkered down at home. And he promised to look for an apartment. . .soon. But his empty promise “was just a way to get me off his back,” Mary admitted. “How can I encourage him to face the world, and at the same time, prepare for an empty nest?”

In a friendly, interactive style, Michele shares spiritual wisdom from the likes of seasoned biblical counselor Paul Tripp, take-away action steps, personal stories as well as prayers. Indeed, it is a cross between a devotional and a parenting how-to book.

While an older empty nest-er would find encouragement, hope, and practical ideas in the pages of Preparing, Adjusting, and Loving the Empty Nest, it best suits moms who are entering this season of life.

Preparing for the Empty Nest

GRADUATING HIGH SCHOOL: Opening with readying high schoolers to leave home (whether for college or work), Michele encourages parents and children to talk about making solid choices, expecting stress and excitement, and relying on Jesus Christ.

Take-away action thought:

I will purpose to keep the big things the main things as I prepare my child for leaving home. Faith first and always.

BUDGETING: Teaching children — and reminding yourself — to handle money with care and prayer pays off as you enter the empty nest years.

PRAYER: Michele shares how she prays for her adult children.

Today is the only day that I have to get on my knees and express my concern for by beloved children. Tomorrow I may be gone. What better way to demonstrate a robust faith in the God who loves to hear from his children that to offer up heartfelt prayers for our kids?

She also suggests keeping a prayer journal, dating your prayers, and recording God’s answers.

LISTENING IN TOUGH TIMES: Learning to be a good listener strengthens your relationship, especially when your adult children come to you with one of life’s challenges. “We need to patiently listen to them speak,” Michele encourages. “Let’s not interrupt. Let’s not allow ourselves to sink into a fearul abyss because our children are teetering there.”

Instead of choosing fear, choose faith.

  • Remind your children that God has been faithful to your family through the years.
  • Champion his character into your kids.
  • Comfort your children over and over and over, as God leads.

TRUST THE LORD DAILY: In preparing an empty nest, you may feel undone. Does your wavering faith mean God has changed? No! Has he distanced himself from you? No, again. Does it mean you can prepare yourself for new times? Yes!

Take-away Action Thought:

When I feel myself pulling my children too close for their own good, I will ask for the strength to loosen my grip and send them off with a smile of my face and a song in my heart.

In part 2, let’s take a peek at adjusting and loving the empty nest. Feel free to send me your questions.

Until then. . .

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,

 

 

True Friends: Making and Keeping a True Friend

true friendsTRUE FRIENDS: Aren’t they hard to find? In this article by Kelly Needham, which appeared here and is used with permission, discover the 5 marks of true Christian friendship.–LAM

heart

True friends are hard to find.

They stick closer than family, and often know you better. They pray bigger things for you than you pray for yourself. They believe with you when your faith is weak. They make space for you when life falls apart, and they rejoice with you when all is well. Most importantly, true friends remind you in every encounter who and what is most important.

The essence of Christian friendship is companionship forged in the fire of two convictions: 1) Jesus alone can satisfy the soul and 2) his kingdom alone is worth living for.

Enemies in Disguise?

Jesus is our Bread of Life, our Living Water, our Pearl of Great Price, our Light, our Resurrection, our very Life. The greatest danger to our souls is that we might abandon abiding in him, following him, and finding our joy in him. Therefore, the best gift a friend can give is a commitment to fight for our joy in and communion with Christ.

Conversely, the worst distortion of friendship arises when a friend encourages us, consciously or unconsciously, to place our affections elsewhere. The apostle Peter unwittingly acts out this kind of distortion in Matthew 16. Jesus tells his disciples that he will die and rise again (Matthew 16:21). Peter rebukes Jesus with what was surely a well-intentioned comment from a loyal friend: “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22).

It looks like the deepest, most genuine, most beautiful form of friendship, but Peter’s words put him between Jesus and his obedience to the Father. His ignorance made a friend into an enemy, at least for a moment. “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me” (Matthew 16:23). What Peter thought was helpful, Jesus called a hindrance. What Peter assumed was godly friendship, Jesus called satanic opposition.

Five Marks of Christian Friendship

So, how can we avoid Peter’s mistake in our friendships? How can we be a friend who preserves and strengthens the faith of others? Here are five distinct ways that true Christian friendships bolster our love for Christ through our love for one another.

1. True friends heighten our joy in God.

Companionship always deepens joy. My favorite movie is good when watched alone, but it’s better with a friend. Somehow a great meal is more satisfying when shared. We naturally drag our friends into what we enjoy: “You have to see this movie!” “You have to come to this restaurant with me!”

But of all the joys of life, God is the greatest! We were made for him — to enjoy him and center our hearts and lives on him. And like any other joy, our joy in God will be fullest when we share it with other people. Christian friends help us enjoy God by enjoying him with us.

It’s tempting to flip and distort this formula by using God as a means to enjoy people more. If we only go to him to ask for spouses, friends, or kids to enjoy, it reveals we see God as the means to someone else. We should be doing the opposite: looking for more of him in other people. Ironically, we will enjoy our friends more, the more our friendships become a means of enjoying God.

2. True friends expose sin in us that keeps us from God.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:6)

Sin deceives us. It darkens our understanding and makes us fools. So much so that we may be walking in sin and convinced that we are obeying God (think of the Pharisees). This is why we desperately need friends.

We need friends to lovingly show us our sin. We need friends to help us see our blind spots. We need friends to speak with brutal honesty (Matthew 18:15) and tender compassion (Galatians 6:1), telling us the truth about ourselves even when we don’t want to hear it (Ephesians 4:15).

This is a vital function of community that few people want. We’d much rather have friends who always tell us what we want to hear, who show us the false grace of excusing sin and give us false hope that we can grow closer to God without repentance. But because sin is a poison to our souls and a thief of our joy in God, we cannot afford to forsake this kind of friendship.

3. True friends encourage us to obey God.

Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24; see also Hebrews 3:13)

While it is true we need friends to help us see any disobedience, we also need them to spur us on to obedience. Often, obedience to God takes more courage than we can muster alone. Without the faithful cheerleading of Christian friends, we easily shrink back into stagnant apathy, not wanting to willfully disobey, but also too afraid to step out in faith.

The encouragement we are told to give isn’t flattery, or superficial inspiration. En-courage-ment is giving courage and strength to others for the intimidating task before them. We cast a bigger vision for why their obedience matters for God’s kingdom. We affirm that their obedience glorifies God and counts in eternity.

Whatever form it takes, encouragement motivates others to continue running the specific race God has marked out for them.

4. True friends bring us to God in our weakness.

Behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. (Luke 5:18–19)

Walking through life in a God-belittling world, with our sin-ridden flesh, against a hell-bent enemy, is too hard to be attempted alone. Alone, we easily believe the lies of Satan. Alone, we buckle under the weight of our sin. Alone, we grow discouraged and weary. Like the paralytic, we need the help of other believers to carry us to God.

So, how can we bring others to God? We listen to a sister confess a hidden sin and wash her with the truth that Christ has cleansed her and made her whole. We can meet the practical needs of those enduring intense suffering in Jesus’s name. Or we can simply bring our friends to God in prayer, asking him to do greater things in their lives than we can do for them.

5. True friends love us for the glory of God.

 Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

The world’s idea of intimacy in friendship is making much of one another: “I can’t live without you!” Compliments and pledges of devotion quickly give a brief and false adrenaline rush of importance and significance. We certainly need to encourage and affirm one another, but Christian friends should be far more focused on God’s weight and significance — not their own or their friend’s.

Like everything else, the end goal of our friendships should be God and his glory. Since our hearts are prone to wander away and worship other things, we need these constant reminders of his glory and his worth in our friendships.

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,

OPIOID Addiction: The Strange Case of Cecilia

opioidOPIOID ADDICTION: The abuse of pain pills and heroin is so common that you probably know a professed Christian who’s addicted to opioids. In this article, listen to the strange case of Cecilia, once a finance executive, now an unemployed mom who gets high daily.

Do you know a Cecilia? How can you counsel her? This article also appeared here at Biblical Counseling Coalition, where Lucy also writes regularly.

heartWhen Cecilia* scheduled a counseling appointment, she told our center’s secretary that she popped pain pills and needed help for addiction. This case sounded challenging, but with God I knew it would be a success, for “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

Becoming more like Christ is a primary goal of biblical counseling, isn’t it? But what if a counselee doesn’t grow in Christ-likeness? Then is counseling a failure? We will explore the answers to these questions through the case of Cecilia.

A semi-regular church attender, Cecilia claimed true belief in Jesus Christ on the Personal Data Inventory she completed. But, months after her initial counseling visit, and as she persisted in her opioid addiction and other sins, especially lying, I doubted her conversion. So did her husband and her pastor.

As you hear the story of Cecilia, ask yourself how you would counsel her. Chances are, as opioid addiction grows exponentially in the United States and worldwide, at some point you will counsel a “Cecilia.”

Gathering Data on Cecilia and Drugs   

Cecilia is married and a 40-year-old mother of an 8-year-old girl. Early in her career in finance she received good pay and earned promotions, spending money on nice cars, fun vacations, and classy clothes. But then she lost her job. Soon after, she reported to her doctor ongoing physical pain, and he prescribed one opioid and then a second.

Her pain persisted, her sleeping worsened, and she sometimes raged against her husband, tossing cuss words like grenades and even hitting him. She sought help from a psychiatrist who gave her the diagnoses of Bipolar 2, depression, and anxiety. (Cecilia did not initially list these diagnoses and all of her medicines on her Personal Data Inventory. Later I confirmed the information with her husband and her pastor.)

After three appointments with me, Cecilia began skipping sessions. Some excuses – an ill child – sounded reasonable; others didn’t. This stop-start pattern of our counseling interfered with progress and gave her multiple times to retell her story, looking for sympathy and avoiding discussing the changes she needed to make. Would it have been best for me to get a commitment early in counseling and make skipped sessions a reason for me to end counseling her?

As data gathering continued, I learned that her medicine regime included sleeping pills to fall asleep, an amphetamine to wake up, an antidepressant, a tranquilizer, and mood stabilizers. This medicine cocktail concerned her husband – and me as well. He said as long as she followed the doctor’s instructions perfectly, Cecilia seemed to do better. However, she often failed to follow his instructions. In fact, she liked the feeling of “checking out” when she took double doses of an opioid. I filled out a consent form that Cecilia signed so that I might speak with the psychiatrist for additional data gathering.

The Husband Shares Concerns

Cecilia had said she believes in God, prays, reads the Bible, and is saved. However, on her Personal Data Inventory, she left the section “Why should I let you into my heaven?” blank. When I asked her about it, she gave what sounded like a sincere answer. But should I have asked more compelling questions to detect lying?

While her pastor was very concerned about Cecilia’s salvation, her husband said his concern was not her salvation as much as it was her abuse of pills. He feared for her well-being and their daughter’s. For example, he said Cecilia often woke up in the middle of the night and smoked a cigarette in the garage, falling asleep while it was lit.

As her husband helped fill in the blanks, I realized the extent of her lies to me. When I lovingly confronted her, she became angry and said she didn’t want her husband to join her in counseling any longer. Her husband’s presence in counseling helped her keep her appointments and tell the truth, though they often argued in the counseling office. A great disagreement was over their daughter, who Cecilia said was very ill from allergies; her husband said their child wasn’t sick. A pediatrician agreed with the husband.

Identifying the Problem

Among Cecilia’s problems are extreme selfishness, idolatry (specifically, looking to drugs to meet her “needs”), rebellion, and lying. I helped her understand her heart idolatry. For example, I used a diagram of the heart, marking the middle with “desires, motivations, beliefs” and made arrows to show that thoughts, emotions, and actions flow from the heart. Among the Scriptures we looked up together were Proverbs 4:23, Luke 6:45, Matthew 15:18-19, Jeremiah 17:9, and Mark 7:18-23.

Cecilia appeared interested in identifying and ridding her heart idols. However, she rarely did the assigned homework. Instead, she had excuses and blamed her husband for her problems. We discussed godly and worldly repentance. My hope was for her to see her need for Christ, but the confusion and lies continued. I warned Cecilia about these and other poor decisions she was making.

Counseling Comes to a Halt

At some point soon after the wording, she called her psychiatrist, who recommended that she stop counseling with me. The pastor spoke with the psychiatrist and confirmed that he wanted her to see a counselor at his own practice. And so biblical counseling with me stopped.

Reviewing her case, I concluded it was both a failure in one sense and a success in another.

Counseling was a failure in that Cecilia didn’t move toward Christ-likeness. But how could she? While she spoke “Christian-ese,” she was an unbeliever and thus did not have the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Counseling was a success in that while Cecilia remained in sin, her husband not only made a plan to keep their daughter safe (a family member moved in with them) but also now studies the Bible regularly with their pastor and other Christian men at church. And he prays: for their marriage, their little girl, and most importantly for Cecilia’s salvation. They pray that the psychiatrist or another medical doctor intervenes and, with God’s help, she is freed from her opioid addiction.

Questions for Reflection

How will you counsel a “Cecilia”? What have been your experiences with counseling opioid addicts?

* Names and identifying details have been changed.

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,

 

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5 AMAZING NAMES GOD CALLS YOU!

Blessed, Daughter, Saint, and more!

In this delightful, four-color ebook, you’ll discover the precious names God calls you. Today so many Christian women don’t fully know their wonderful identity in Christ. Isn’t a time to know yours? Filled with scripture, photography, personal stories, and encouragement!

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