More Than Chills and Signs: How To Experience God’s Presence

Here’s the good news for those of you who have gotten frustrated in your walk with God because you don’t feel you are disciplined enough: growing in your faith is not just about discipline.

I’ve spent over 40 years pursuing a relationship with God that certainly involved what some call the main “spiritual disciplines” of prayer, Bible study, accountability and fellowship. There’s no doubt that these are crucial for a healthy walk with the Lord. But as I look back on some key turning points in my spiritual walk, there were definitely times when I was just spiritually needy and emotionally desperate – and I experienced God’s life-changing powerful presence.

More than giving us chills and supernatural signs, God wants to meet our deepest emotional needs in an encounter with Him. While you can’t build your faith on feelings alone, they nonetheless are part of experiencing God’s presence. Emotional hunger and honest expression of your feelings can ignite a wave of spiritual renewal.

Be Hungry For God

Be open to God “showing up” in times when you desperately need Him.

I remember one pivotal moment in my life when this occurred. I was coming home from my junior year of study abroad in Spain. It had been a long year, exciting but also lonely, and I had battled anxiety and anorexia. I was feeling very vulnerable as I sat in the airport in Madrid, hungrily reading a devotional my mother had sent me.

The airport speakers were broadcasting all these songs in Spanish and I was reading my devotional in English when all of a sudden something amazing occurred: just as I was reading the words about how God is like a bridge over troubled waters, the American song “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” breaks through the loudspeakers.

I raised my eyes to the speakers, incredulous that God was speaking to me in literally my own language! I heard the message loud and clear that God was saying: “Lauren, I am with you, everywhere, and always.” Tears streamed down, and joy and hope welled up in me. I can remember and actually “feel” that experience, even to this day.

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(Continue reading this article at Christian Mingle Believe)

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Good Grief: Mourning a Past Relationship

There’s nothing as heartbreaking as experiencing the loss of someone you love. Many people struggle with the delicate balance of moving on from their loss and the need to fully grieve this painful and complicated experience. Grief is a natural and necessary human response to loss that includes a range of feelings and reactions, from denial to anger to depression.

Our loved ones may understand our need to grieve when we experience the death of a loved one, though they might never know the depths of what we’re feeling. But the loss of a relationship due to breakup can also be hard to work through if people don’t “see” the impact the loss is having on you. Well-meaning friends might tell you to “move on” or “chin up” and your sense of grief can intensify under this type of subtle criticism. But it’s good for us to work through our grief and fully express our pain while still embracing hope for our future.

Love And Loss

One of the hardest things about loving someone is that we can often love someone who we know we shouldn’t marry. Whether it’s not having the same spiritual convictions, or whether there is some type of toxicity they bring to the relationship that you know will put you under, you can very much yearn and for someone that at the same time you know you must give up.

On the other hand, you may have been “released” from a relationship in a cruel way, blinded by the quick cut-off. Regardless of how the loss occurred, you may be in the throws of grief and wondering if there is a way out of the dark sad feelings you’re experiencing.

The following four steps can help you process your grief and come out on the other side of healing.

Feel It Fully

Allow yourself to feel and fully process what happened. This is an area most of us are not good at. To feel the pain of a loss is not something we want to soak in for long. But not only do we need to acknowledge these painful feelings, we have to also process them and work through them. We have to try to take the emotional reaction out for a moment, and critically look at what happened and evaluate all the facets of the loss and how it occurred. This takes time.

This is when grief can become a slowly realized truth.

Recognize God’s Love

Grieving and feeling sad over a loss does not mean you are not trusting God. Grieving is a healthy part of loving and of living, and God is the author of life. He does not expect us to act like robots, minimize pain, deny its reality in our life, or over-spiritualize and try to move quickly to the “victory.”

Grief is dealing with the truth of loss and hurt in the light of God’s love.

Take Time

Work through the resulting painful effects of loss in your life today. It’s not helpful to fill our hearts with replacements for what we find painful to deal with. Avoid making big, life-impacting decisions that might just be symptoms of your grief crying out and not reflections of your true self.

Be patient with yourself; acting impetuously out of grief will often bring you more hurt and loss.

Seek Joy

Allow yourself to feel joy when it rises. For many, it seems impossible to grieve over the loss of someone and still be happy at the simple blessings of life. Grief ebbs and flows; it may lessen for a season and return when it gets triggered by a memory. Feeling grief and joy is a complicated but natural experience.

Even in your Grief, allow for moments of joy.

……..

 
Read more at https://www.christianmingle.com/believe/mourning-your-past

Is Your Relationship Worth Rescuing??- Take the Test!

Every relationship reaches stressful turning points that could seemingly threaten the end of the relationship. You may be in a relationship right now and wondering if your current problem is the one that will make him call it quits. Or you may be wondering if she is starting to give up on the two of you, due to the recent disagreements you’ve been experiencing.

Your relationship is continually being tested, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When we hear the word “test,” we think of the performance anxiety we feel at the thought of failing a challenging test we weren’t prepared for. But testing can also be a positive thing because it helps to prove what’s authentic and valuable.

Every relationship goes through a type of testing that is ultimately clarifying. The test results indicate the direction you should take – either breaking up or breaking through to a stronger commitment.

It’s Real

My daughter and I love to go to antique shows and flea markets. At one flea market, we were looking at some old silver rings that were a bit tarnished. We couldn’t see the microscopic markings and were wondering if the rings were sterling silver, but we had no way of verifying that. The antique dealer at the booth showed us how to test for sterling silver by using a magnet: sterling silver is non-ferrous, and won’t cling to a magnet.

In the same way, we have to let our relationships be tested to see what they’re made of: is there a foundation of forgiveness and an expectation that ongoing grace is necessary? Is there an attitude of respect for each other? Is God at the center of your relationship, with the two of you leaning on His direction to guide you through the challenging times?

Your relationship doesn’t have to derail when you hit a problem. It may not be time to break up; instead, you can break through to a new level of understanding and a higher level of love.

Take the Test

Not sure if your current relationships is ready to go the distance? Here are four questions that can help you evaluate the strength of your relationship:

  1. Can we talk about it? Healthy relationships excel in communication. Verbally expressing your intentions and using words of affirmation are important, but so is communicating through eye contact and through action. One of the best ways to truly communicate well in your relationship is to learn how to pray with each other and let God in on the problems you face and the desires of your hearts. Can you both open up and honestly talk about stressful situations and difficult subject matters?
  2. Do we harbor resentment? Built up resentment can lead to an explosive turning point in your relationship that is hard to recover from. And forgiveness is not a one-time deal. You shouldn’t ignore serious problems, but as you speak the truth in love to each other, you’ll also need to express and walk in continual forgiveness. Are you both committed to a lifestyle of  forgiveness and showing ongoing grace to each other?
  3. Are we repeating patterns of dysfunction from our pasts? Everyone brings some “baggage” into their current relationship, but not everyone is willing to work through their past problems and pain. Some people walk in denial of their problems, and relationships can suffer under the weight of repeated blowups born out of unhealthy patterns of coping. Are you both ready to be truly vulnerable and open up about your past pain and resulting coping patterns?
  4. Do we both have the same outcome in mind for our relationship? If one person is looking forward to marriage and building a family, but the other partner is not really commitment-focused, this could be the turning point in your relationship where you realize your hopes for your futures just don’t line up. Are you both committed to the goal of long term commitment for your relationship?…..

(Read the rest of this article at BELIEVE by Christian Mingle)

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Not In Our House: How To Break Generational Patterns

When I got married to my husband of 32 years now, I was a “package deal”:  I brought into our marriage all that I witnessed as a child in my home, and all that I am as an affected, vulnerable human being. But you can’t keep patterns of coping with pain hidden for long. So as I grew not only “in love” with my husband, but “in trust” with him as well, I learned to open up and let him into my past. We prayerfully did this so that the patterns of living and loving we would develop in our future family would be patterns that we deliberately initated, and not dysfunctional generational patterns we fell back into.

Generational patterns of behavior are unknowingly learned – usually in the childhood years – and are unwittingly repeated in our lives as we enter into relationships. The dysfunction gets multiplied and passed on to the next generation, not as a direct curse but more so as a pattern that was instinctively learned and unknowingly repeated. We usually live out in our current family life what was modeled and lived out in our home as a child. But we don’t have to repeat our past. It’s time to walk in freedom and grace.

Doing Life

It’s important to understand that our current patterns of “doing life” are often tied to our knee-jerk reactions from having lived with any unhealthy issues or addictions. We learn coping mechanisms as we grow up, based on our need for surviving painful experiences. So if there was trauma, chaos or crisis in our childhood home, we not only had to deal with these critical issues, but we also inevitably adapted to those problems.

Later, when we enter relationships and get married, while we may no longer have these same stressors, we still have the pattern of coping that we learned as a child. For example, if, as a child, you learned that lying was a way to avoid getting abused, then lying can become your fallback reaction when you now encounter any stressful situation where your sense of safety even remotely feels threatened.

Whether it was alcoholism, abuse, intense health crises or other serious stresses you had to deal with growing up, you nonetheless were a witness of pain, dysfunction and even of despair. You can’t ignore how these experiences affected you as a child. But God doesn’t expect us to deny the reality of our past.

Break Every Chain

In the Bible, we see this played out in Joseph’s life. Joseph grew up in a dysfunctional family with brothers who strongly disliked him – and that’s putting it mildly. Joseph had these special dreams, but his brothers had vindictive desires for his destruction. They competed for their father’s affection, and found ways to demean Joseph at every juncture. It doesn’t appear that Joseph’s father did much to stem the tide of their mounting rage and jealousy. In fact, giving Joseph the coat of many colors only made things worse for him.

Joseph’s brothers wanted to kill him, but relented and sold him as a slave. From there, he later wound up being imprisoned for years, until a miraculous release occurred. Later, he faced his brothers in an ironic turn of events where he was now a famous leader in the land and they were in severe need during the famine.

But Joseph had a perspective of God’s ultimate victory in his life, and was set free from the generational patterns of competition, strife and abuse that he grew up with. Instead of responding to his brothers with a vindictive spirit of revenge, he chose to speak kindly to them, assuring them that he would use his prominent place of authority to see to it that they and their families were well cared for. Joseph broke the generational pattern of competition and abuse.

(…Continue reading my article at Believe)

Romance After the Wedding: Are We Expecting Too Much?

We all long for the passion and romance of when we first fell in love. In the early days of a budding love story, romantic moments are all over the place. But what should our expectation be, though, after we’ve been married one year, 10 years or 30 years?

Does romance have to die out and be replaced with apathy and boredom?

Maybe it’s time to redefine romance, particularly romance in marriage. It’s more than roses and romantic words!

What Is Romance, Really?

Romance is about doing something for your loved one that is special, unexpected or exciting. But over time, what we’ve come to view as romance now comes from what Hollywood and big business is selling to us: the extravagant fine dining experience with waiters hovering by, exquisite French chocolates and dozens of roses, and even the huge engagement ring with extra size bling.

While there is nothing wrong with fine dining, French chocolates or giving a beautiful diamond ring, these extravagant experiences and gifts in the earlier stages of a relationship can later lead to unrealistic expectations for Romance in marriage.

In Scripture, there are no romantic scenes in the way we’ve come to define romance. But there are examples of romantic, passionate love; like the way Jacob worked for his prospective father-in-law for seven years to win the hand of his bride. The Bible tells us those seven years “seemed like only a few days to him because his love for her was so great.”(Genesis 29:20) From Jacob, we learn that true Romance is unexpected, utter devotion that perseveres.

Or, take the story of the young widow Ruth and the noble land owner Boaz. The tenderness with which he treats her and protects her honor shows that romance is about the highest good and special care we offer our loved one.

A Different Kind Of Romance

In my case, one of my favorite romantic moments occurred when I was pregnant with our first child. I was in my first trimester and very ill. I couldn’t keep anything down. I was reduced to bed rest and became somewhat depressed. Several days went by and I hadn’t even showered or done my hair, that’s how despondent I was feeling.

My husband called the doctor and told them he was bringing me in against my wishes to just be left in my bed. Then, he carefully lifted me up in his strong arms and carried me to the bathroom where he had a tub of hot, sudsy water waiting for me. Against my weak protests, he placed me in the tub and then kneeled by it and began to shampoo my hair. The hot water was soothing and so was my husband’s tenderness toward me. He knew how depressed I was feeling, and to lighten the mood, he pretended to be a French hair dresser and spoke in this ridiculous accent. I began to weakly smile for the first time in weeks.

He won my heart all over again that day, and it definitely wasn’t with chocolates or roses. While it would never classify as a romantic moment in the eyes of Hollywood or Hallmark, it is one of my cherished memories of feeling such love for my husband because of the way he cared for me – and isn’t that the goal of true romance?

Next To My Heart

Many times we get sloppy in marriage or in heated arguments over the lack of fun or who is not trying enough. Especially if you are looking for the quintessential displays of romance, you might miss the subtle romantic signs that you are being cherished.

Recently I watched the new BBC series, Victoria, about the real life marriage of Queen Victoria and her beloved Prince Albert. There’s a scene from their courtship where the two are dancing together and she gives him the corsage she is wearing.

He mentions he has no place to put the corsage, but then suddenly takes a knife out of his boot and calmly cuts open his shirt and places the flower in the hole “next to my heart.” Viewers have been all in a tizzy over the passionate and historically accurate scene. And it was borne out of something that Albert unexpectedly did for her because of what he felt for her, in that very moment.

Ignite the Romance Again

So part of igniting romance is expressing our deep feelings, as transparently as possible. We have no problem doing that when we first fall in love, but then 10 or 20 years later, we somehow forget the essence of romance. And it starts when we open our mouths and speak the tender thoughts that run through our head, or take the action that will show our spouse that we care deeply for them.

It can be a fragrant burning candle at dinner time and a note left under your husband’s dinner plate, telling him how much you admire him and appreciate him. Or romance can ignite in a crowded room, when you suddenly lean over and whisper in your wife’s ear the reason why you choose her over all the women there.

Because Romance is more than chocolates and roses. It’s about the special, unexpected, or exciting moments when your heart is full and you put that love into action or words. It’s about recognizing the beauty and lasting nature of your love for each other. And then, in that moment, choosing to show that you’ve seen your spouse for who they are: the love of your life.

 

(Read this article of mine and more Relationship articles at Believe )

The Holy “No”: Setting Yourself Free From the Fear of Saying No!

It’s natural that we look forward to the big “yes” moments in our lives, like saying yes to a wedding proposal or a great job offer. The day we say yes to God and allow Him to be the Lord of our lives is a significant turning point.

On the other hand, we generally don’t enjoy having to say no to people.

We often struggle in declining an invitation to an event or denying someone’s request for help because we don’t want to appear harsh or unloving.

We obviously can’t say yes to every request that comes our way without overextending ourselves. But learning to say no to people doesn’t have to be a negative, stressful experience.

Open Doors

Every one of us is a steward of our time; the question is, how good of a steward are we? Stewardship involves the ability to manage our time, and that involves learning to saying no. This is especially important when we are working long hours, busy at home with children, newly married and trying to get time with our spouse, or dating and talking to people online. In these and other situations, saying no can be quite challenging.

But saying no to something doesn’t necessarily mean we are closing a door; it may just mean that we are indirectly saying a resounding yes to something else, like yes to time with our family or periods of much needed rest. It also means you’re saying yes to allowing others to come into the picture who may more adequately help the person in need.

Learning How To Say No

If you struggle to turn down all those invitations or requests for help, it’s time to practice saying no. Here’s how:

  1. Begin graciously. You can still show empathy for someone’s needs while declining to be involved. Your tone of voice can reveal kindness even when you have to deny someone what they are asking for. “I’m so sorry that you’re experiencing that, but I won’t be able to assist you at this time.”
  2. …..                                                                                                                                            (Read the rest of my article at Believe )

The “T” Word: How to Build Trust When Dating Someone New

In relationships, we often hear “I trusted him, but he broke my heart!” Getting to know someone does involve a degree of vulnerability and openness, but we can let our hearts get emotionally attached to someone and place too much trust in them without knowing their feelings and intentions toward us.

Many times, we think we are falling in love with someone when really we are just naively and prematurely placing our trust in someone – and we haven’t yet defined whether the relationship warrants our full trust in the person.

Misplaced trust leads to broken hearts, and is one of the most painful experiences we go through. But it also turns our eyes back to God, the One who is worthy of our trust.

Love And Trust

Trust and love may go hand in hand, but they certainly aren’t the same thing. We often incorrectly define Love as the feelings and emotions of passionate attraction to someone; however, it’s a deeper, intentional perspective and commitment than that.

In addition, we mistakenly think we should automatically trust a person with our heart because of what we feel for them. But you could be setting yourself up for a broken heart by associating your feelings for them as a reason for opening up your heart completely, but prematurely, to them.

In Scripture, we are admonished to love one another as Christ loves us, serve one another, bear with one another – but never does it say, “Trust one another.” Trust must be cultivated. It has to be earned. Aside from emotionally falling in love with someone, you need to also see if they are trustworthy. This involves an evaluation of their intentions and their character – specifically, if they have Christ-like character.

How, When And Who To Trust

Not sure where to start with trusting someone you’re dating? Use these guidelines for when you begin a new relationship:

  • Trust shouldn’t be given on command. Trust has to be cultivated and build. It should never be commanded from someone. Abusive and unhealthy relationships specialize in this. Credible, mature people will expect that trust has to be earned and built over time – and they will comply with this relational process in a spirit of grace and patience.
  • Misplaced trust puts too much pressure on the relationship. Fully trusting someone early on in a relationship puts too much pressure on that relationship. It’s like looking at wedding rings on your first date. Relationships crack under that pressure. Refrain from premature reassurances of, “I trust you, it’s okay.” Communicate about the concerns you have instead of just deferring to the word “trust” as a crutch. Consult with God, who you can fully trust to guide you. (Prov 3:5-6)
  • Establish trust one step at a time. It’s not wise to open up and share the deepest scars of your past on the first couple of dates. You need to discern whether the person you are dating is sincerely interested in you as a person and whether they have the maturity and grace to accept your past experiences. Eventually, it will be appropriate for you to be more vulnerable as the relationship becomes ……

(Read the rest of my article at Believe: Dating. Marriage. Relationships the Christian Way