Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Learning to Be: How to Help Others

As I was driving home last night, after a long, but satisfying day at work, I was reflecting on as Christians, how do we truly help others?

I think people within the church often feel at a loss about how to help each other. Sure, we know that bringing a meal to a new mom or helping on church clean-up day is great, but over the years, I’ve noticed that we still lack that personal connection that is the most important part of helping others.

This isn’t a criticism of the church. I understand it. So many people want to help, they want to connect, but they don’t know how.

They are too busy.

They are afraid to be nosy.

They worry they will say the “wrong” thing or won’t know what to say at all.

So we drop off meals and scoot out quickly, or we decide that if we can’t host in a perfectly decorated house, we’ll invite people over next time.

And yet, there are so many people in the church that are still hurting. That all of the meals in the world cannot help. I cannot tell you how many Christians come to counseling, admitting they have a church family, but are still struggling with feeling isolated and alone.

I’ve learned over the years that people often feel like counseling is this elusive, complicated process. And yes, while I’ve had a lot of training over the years, the core of my job is simple. It revolves around…


Being there for people.

Undivided attention.

Research shows that approximately 40% of client change is related to the quality of the counseling relationship. This means that I can have all of the techniques in the world or a perfectly designed counseling office, but if I don’t have a quality, caring relationship with my client, they are less likely to change.

We have such a disconnected culture right now. We can talk to our childhood friends on Facebook and follow celebrities on Instagram, but we have lonely, isolated children and lonely, isolated adults. I believe that while some of my clients are there due to significant issues (addiction, mental health, grief), some are merely overwhelmed and don’t feel like they have anyone to talk to about things.

I’ve found that in order to help, I don’t need to buy people things, renovate their house or spend every waking moment with them. Often, it is simply sitting with someone once a week, in their moment of grief or sadness and simply telling them, “I care about you, and I know you can do this.”

I used to struggle with knowing what it meant to “help” as a Christian. What was my role? How could I most effectively follow Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary of doing good” in the midst of my busy life?

In counseling, it is spending time with my clients, listening, paying attention to them and being their cheerleader.

In my church, it’s checking in with people I know who are struggling. It’s answering the phone after dinner when an upset parent has questions. It’s about taking ten extra minutes after the service to listen to someone who’s struggling with their marriage.

Jesus is such a perfect example of the balance between “doing” and “being.” Jesus wasn’t passive. He traveled all over Israel, healing people, performing miracles, and feeding those who were hungry. However, he wasn’t always “doing.” There are several accounts of time where Jesus simply sat with people, and loved them. Luke 10:38-42 illustrates this:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Are you the Martha in life? “Distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” Are you stuck racing around, trying to work in twelve church ministries, being the perfect Christian neighbor, baking sixteen dozen cookies for others? Or are you following Jesus’ example and sitting with those you care about, listening and spending time with them?

I love that Jesus wasn’t rushing around, doing tons of miracles, worrying about how clean his robe looked like, or how many people were at the house.

Instead, he was sitting and talking with Mary. Quietly, calmly, and I’m sure, helping her to feel cared about and loved. Jesus traveled and did many life-changing things, but some of his most powerful teaching moments were times where He simply sat with his disciples and friends, ate with them, and spoke peace and love into their lives.

What about you? Are you embracing the power of sitting with those who are struggling in your church and listening to them? Or are you so busy on a Sunday, that when someone has that broken look in their eyes, you give them a brief hug and run off, instead of asking them, “How are you doing?” and listening to their struggles.

I’m all for serving. I serve in multiple areas of my church, I’ve made meals, I’ve helped at church events. But if you find that you are so busy rushing around, distracted by preparations, to the point where you can’t just simply “be” with those in need, those whose marriages are crumbling, those kids who are anxious or broken, or the new mom who has meals in her freezer, but feels isolated and alone, remember, even Jesus had those quiet moments where He sat, listened and loved those around Him.

If we as a church listened and loved like that, I’m sure that eventually I would work myself out of a job! So while it is important to be serving and doing, please find the time to listen, to mentor, to hold someone’s hand while they cry.  

What about you guys? Do you agree? Is being unsure of how to helps others something you’ve struggled with?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Psalm 18: Overcoming Depression

There are times for this blog, that as a counselor, I want to write posts that include advice and tips for those around me. I want to help others live a vibrant, Godly life.

Psalm 18:16But…there are other times where I want to be authentic and write about my own experiences because it is easy for us to skim over polished sermons or well-articulated articles and not take them to heart. Instead, sometimes, it is through the authenticity of others, their struggles, and their issues, that we are forced to examine our own hearts.

So I’m going out on a limb and sharing my feelings, because I suspect some of you are struggling with the same issues right now.

I’ll be honest. The last week has been overwhelming. I’ve struggled with self-doubt and some pretty depressed days. As someone who lives with bipolar disorder, I’m “used” to the down days. Part of my life (although I’m well-medicated) are the days where it is tough to get out of bed.

The days where I feel lethargic and alone.

The days where nothing I do makes me feel better.

When I add in some pretty big changes and transitions happening in my life, I have been feeling totally overwhelmed. My Friday involved lying in bed most of the day, because housework/parenting/work seemed like too much.

I’m not sharing this for pity, don’t get me wrong. But I want to set the stage for why Psalm 18 is so powerful for me today, and because even though we often put on our happy faces for church on Sunday, some of you are also struggling with that same crushing, heavy, hopeless feeling of depression.

Some of you struggled to find the energy and motivation to do the dishes this week.

Some of you forced yourself to smile for your children, but it felt like a huge task.

Depression is an awful, draining feeling. Anyone who’s struggled with it would probably agree. I feel like for myself, one of the worst parts (besides lack of energy, not a good thing when I’m supposed to be training for a half-marathon) is just that awful hopeless feeling. The one that logically I know is false, but still weighs heavy on my heart.

Luckily, I serve a powerful and loving God. Because you see, when I’m depressed, I need both. I need a powerful God who can give me strength to get through my saddest days, and I need a God who loves me and is there for me when I feel hopeless and alone.

Psalm 18 was perfect for me today. TobyMac posted a picture on Facebook, quoting Psalm 18:16: “He reached down from Heaven and rescued me. He drew me out of deep waters.”

Normally, I would have scrolled right past, but today, that verse gripped my heart. I flipped open my Bible, and read the entire psalm.

Wow. Psalm 18 is one powerful Psalm.

Here’s what I gleaned about God from it and I hope it gives you hope as well.

1. God doesn’t need overly fancy, “perfect” prayers to hear you. David starts out the psalm with a simple verse: “I love you, O Lord, my strength.” He comes to God in a calm, not overly eloquent way. Memorize this verse. Write it on your heart. Don’t overcomplicate or feel pressured to pray the “perfect” prayer. David kept it simple and honest, and you can too.

Sometimes, when prayer seems too hard, when getting out of bed seems daunting, repeat Psalm 18:1. It’s short, sweet and a powerful reminder: I love God, and He is my strength.

2. God can be my strength when I don’t have any. When I’m depressed, I literally feel zapped of strength. My muscles feel weak, I have no energy. Luckily, I find comfort in verse 2: “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

I may feel fragile and mentally worn out, but God is not. He is powerful, my refuge, my stronghold. Already, I feel more comforted. I can depend on Him for strength and mental fortitude, even when I don’t feel like I have any.

3. God is present and with us. One of the lies of depression is that we are alone. That no one cares about us, or that we can’t be honest about our feelings because we will be judged. David writes that “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears” (Psalm 18:6).

You may feel alone, but you are not alone. We can cry out to Him, stuck in our beds, wrapped in a blanket on the couch, overwhelmed and fearful, and the best part?

He hears us.

And David knew that instead of God just passively hearing him and blowing him off, God “thundered in the heavens” (verse 13), then “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters” (Psalm 18:16 NIV).

Sometimes those are deep waters of financial debt, of addiction, of bad decisions. Sometimes they are the self-imposed waters of fear and self-doubt. Sometimes they are the deep waters of depression, anxiety and panic attacks. Regardless of the water, God takes action. I’m grateful to have a God who hears me and is able to pull me from the darkest, most hopeless places.

4. God isn’t just a powerful, earth-shaking God, He loves us too. David shares all of the powerful, mighty things God does, but then, tucked in verses 18-19, David talks about the loving aspects of God.

“He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me.” (Psalm 18:18-19 ESV)

Those last four words are a balm to my heart. Even in those moments where I struggle with doubt, or a lack of faith in God’s plan for my life, He delights in me. When I’m depressed, I struggle with understanding how people tolerate me.

How can my spouse forgive the fact that he sometimes comes home to a messy house because I couldn’t find the motivation to do the dishes? How can my mom forgive me when I’m irritable or withdrawn?

How can God still love me when I’m not always the “perfect” Christian?

Because he delights in me.

If you are struggling with depression today, please repeat this. “He rescues me because He delights in me.”

5. God can overcome our darkness. Depression feels like darkness sometimes. When it’s hard to find motivation, it is tough to see beyond today. When you feel hopeless, it’s difficult sometimes to care about the future. You don’t know if you’ll wake up feeling better tomorrow, or if this period of depression will stretch out for days, weeks or months.

Take hope, friends. David had some dark periods of his life, but he knew that “It is you who light my lamp, the Lord my God lightens my darkness. For by you, I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. This God-his way is perfect” (Psalm 18:29-30a, ESV).

If your depression leaves you floundering in the darkness or bogged down by uncertainty and fear, have faith that God will lighten your darkness and help you to move forward. He will help you leap over a wall, or at least, take a shower, hold your little ones and find some peace. My heart and chemically-chaotic brain are not perfect, but God’s way is.

And because of that, I have hope. I can pray and focus on getting out of bed today, without guilt or worry, because I know that His light is more powerful than my darkness.

The rest of Psalm 18 is fantastic. David writes about God’s power and love. David shares the mighty things God has done in his life, the enemies God has helped David overcome and how God’s wonderful plan protects and delivers David.

Even if it feels too overwhelming to pick up your Bible, know this. God is powerful. God loves you. And God will get you through this.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Defeating Self-Doubt

defeating self doubt
I had a totally different post planned for today, but there’s been something I’ve been struggling with, and I know I’m not the only one.


It is an ugly thing, isn’t it? It takes us from confident and trusting in God’s plan to feeling overwhelmed and yucky about ourselves.

Yesterday, I had a really fantastic meeting with someone about a potential ministry opportunity. During the meeting, I was excited. I felt good about God’s direction for my life. I got a wonderful compliment from someone I very much admire. I smiled the whole way home.

But then, as I sat on my couch last night, all of those icky feelings started to creep in.

What if I fail?

What if I’m not good enough? Godly enough? Sin-free enough?

What if I struggle and people call me a hypocrite?

The funny thing is, I’ve been feeling called to go a certain direction for months. God has given me these awesome affirmations that He is pulling me this way. And yet, when self-doubt creeps in, guess what I want to do first?

I want to override God’s plan. I don’t want to even pursue the opportunity. I start to question Him because fundamentally, I feel like I’m not good enough. I’m too flawed. That nasty voice says I’ll fail.

I know I’m not the only one. I know that some of you will be called to be on the worship team, but doubt about your musical skills or your faith will leave you paralyzed and saying no.

There will be some called to start a new outreach ministry, but doubt about your leadership and organizational skills will force you to stop the ministry before you even start.

So, those of you who are struck and struggling with self-doubt, here is what is helping me today.

First, you have to learn to identify the difference between the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the lies of self-doubt.

I’ve learned to embrace the prompting and gentle convictions of the Holy Spirit over the past few years. It’s not always comfortable, but it helps me to know if I’m going the right direction.

However, sometimes when I start struggling with self-doubt, I wonder, is this from God? Is he trying to tell me something?

No!  Today, I’m making sure I identify the difference between the Holy Spirit’s prompting and my own awful negative self-talk. I believe that the Holy Spirit does sometimes leave me questioning, “Did I do the right thing?” or “Am I acting in a way that’s holy?” I feel awkward, but then I reflect on His word, make sure to remedy the situation, and I feel better.

Self-doubt is different. It knocks over me like a big, mean bully. It’s what I’m struggling with this morning, where I’m stuck questioning myself over and over: “Who do you think you are? Are you good enough?” It makes my stomach hurt and I feel sick. It leaves me feeling helpless and worthless.

Instead of getting stuck in that negative self-talk cycle and assuming it’s a “sign” that I’m not making the right decision, I need to remind myself that those horrible feelings aren’t from the Holy Spirit, and that there are three helpful things to remember that help me defeat my self-doubt.

1.     God loves me and I am His child. There are numerous verses that talk about being a child of God. I especially love John 3:1a: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

As a mother, when my children make mistakes or mess up, I don’t hate them, I simply want them to make good decisions. I want to discipline them so that in the future, they ask themselves, “Am I doing the right thing?” Occasionally, after getting in trouble, my daughter will say things like, “I’m awful, I’m a screw-up.” That is the worst!  It breaks my heart. I don’t want her to criticize herself, I just want her to be more aware of her behaviors!

I imagine that God, as a perfect father, who loves us and created us so beautifully, cringes when He sees us stuck and criticizing and berating ourselves. Remembering that I am His beloved child brings me comfort.

2.     These awful feelings are not the truth. My husband often says that Satan doesn’t always have to destroy opportunities. All he has to do is whisper in your ear, “You aren’t good enough, who are you to think you can do this?” and if those feelings of self-doubt are strong enough, we will actively stop doing God’s will for our life. We say, “No thanks, God. I’m just going to mess this up, so why bother?”

In John 8:44b (NIV), Jesus talked about the devil. He warned those around him that Satan, “was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Those feelings of self-doubt that have us questioning God and ourselves are not truth. They are lies from Satan, who delights in seeing us run away from God’s will. When I start feeling like I’m not “Christian” or “holy” enough to follow God’s plan for my life, I have to remind myself those feelings are not valid.

3.     I can defeat self-doubt by leaning on God’s strength. When I doubt myself, I feel overwhelmed. I feel weak. I feel weary from fighting those negative thoughts. I feel too tired to follow His plan.

However, I love that Isaiah 40:29-31 (NIV) says: “He gives strength to the weary, and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

So instead of viewing this self-doubt as a “sign” to give up, view it as an opportunity to lean on God and receive His strength. He loves us and He will strengthen and guide us, even when we don’t feel good or strong enough.

The best part is that when I lean on God, He won’t just help me limp pathetically through this life. He will strengthen me to the point where I can “soar on wings like eagles.” That is a powerful image. Enough to help me tell Satan that sure, I may not be “good” enough, but with God’s incredible love and power, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13, NIV).

So banish that self-doubt and trust in Him. I know I’ll be repeating these verses throughout the day, and I hope you all who are struggling with self-doubt will as well!

~ Hilary

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Three Things Your Teenager Needs from You

Over the past decade, I’ve worked with thousands of teenagers. I was a troubled teen myself, so I’ve always had a soft spot for them. As a counselor, I see the same story frequently. A very concerned parent brings their teenager in and tells me how they’ve always been close to their child, but recently, their teenager has stopped talking to them. So they bring them to me, and I start to work with them. I build a therapeutic relationship with them where we talk about their lives, and their parents often say things like, “How do you get her to talk to you? She never talks to me anymore.”

I believe that teenagers often open up to counselors for several reasons: how we react, our interest level and our perseverance. I have found that parents can also do these things to improve relationship with their teenagers, you just need to know the three things they need from you.

1. They need you to react in a caring and stable way. Teenagers often act very independent and tough. They act like they have everything figured out and they don’t need you. You may ask, “Why bother? They don’t need me.”

But here’s the big secret: they do need you. Teenagers are not grown-ups. They are often scared and overwhelmed. The world is big, high school is scary, and the pressure to succeed and get a full college scholarship is constant. And when they start to feel scared/overwhelmed/out-of-control, they often will try to talk to their parents about it.

Unfortunately, when a teenager shares something shocking or big, even when parents try to stay calm, they don’t always handle the news well. Your daughter tells you she’s been texting a boy, and suddenly you find yourself crying because you can’t believe your daughter is growing up so quickly. Your son admits that his grade dropped to a C and you find yourself yelling and lecturing him about the importance of grades.

And guess what? When you react in those ways, your kids will clam up.

I believe that part of the reason that teenagers feel comfortable in confiding in their counselor is that the counselor’s reactions are caring and stable. There have been times over the years where a teenager has shared something that brings me to tears (sexual abuse cases are heart-breaking), but overall, I try to maintain a calm, even, caring demeanor. Whether they share minor issues (“I couldn’t find my locker and I felt stupid”) to the big issues (“My boyfriend and I went farther than I meant to”), I try to react to their issues in a caring and emotionally stable way. I don’t burst into tears, I don’t scream at them, I don’t withdraw and avoid them. I simply say, “Wow. That’s awful. I can’t believe you’re dealing with that. Let’s talk about it.”

I get that being a parent is tough. Honestly, I’m way more emotional with my own children. I get frustrated, angry and sometimes tearful. However, if you want your child to open up, they have to be able to trust that you will listen to them and react in a calm, loving, consistent manner.

If you are prone to tears, depend on God to help you stay strong during the tough talks. If you are prone to yelling, breathe deeply and work on staying even-tempered when they approach you with something. When you respond calmly and lovingly about the littler issues, they will trust you in the future when they need to tell you about the big stuff.

2. They need you to care about their lives. It’s become a running joke in my house that I’m often reading young adult fiction these days. Not because I always love reading about werewolves and vampires, but because it allows me to connect to the teenagers I work with. There is nothing as awesome as watching a teenager’s face light up when I tell them, “guess what book I got from the library? The one you recommended!”

One day, as a new social worker, I was running a therapeutic group when I worked at a psychiatric hospital. We were discussing ways that people show they care about each other. When I asked the teens in the room, “how do you know someone cares about you?” one boy put it well. He said, “When I care about someone, I make sure I know what they like, how their day goes, what music they listen to.” Shrugging, he shared, “The people in my life, the ones that care the most about me know all that.” I realized that caring about teenagers is more than just caring about their overall well-being. It is caring about the songs they love, the books they read, the websites they visit.

It’s easy as a parent to tack on a quick, “I love you” as we say goodnight or run out the door. But for many teenagers, feeling loved and cared for goes deeper than our rushed words. They feel loved and valued when their parents remember how they like their coffee or what their favorite band is. I know the names of the boys from One Direction, I can sing at least three Justin Bieber songs, and I’ve read the entire City of Bones series. Not because I needed to, but because it makes the teenagers I work with feel valued that I am willing to use my time to learn about something that is important to them.

If your teenager keeps saying, “you just don’t understand me,” seek to understand them. Not by sitting them down and forcing them to talk to you. Instead, ask them what’s on their iPod. Find out the name of the last book they read and read it! It will mean a lot to them, and it will give you some things to talk about.

3. They need you to keep trying. Sometimes, I think that parents assume that the reason their kids talk to me is because I have a wave-a-magic-wand trick that helps them open up. I wish! You know how at home you ask them questions, they ignore you, roll their eyes and walk into their room? They do that with me too initially!  If a teen won’t talk to his parents, often, the first few sessions are pretty rough with the counselor as well. But do you know what? The more I persevere, the more questions I ask, the more angsty teen books I read, over time, they start to open up (even the really resistant kids).

The things that intrigues me about teenagers is that even when they are ignoring you, they are totally aware of you. So when they push you away, and you leave them alone, they notice. They tell me things like, “I know I’ve been awful lately, but I wish my mom would talk to me,” “I wish my dad spent more time with me,” “I hate that we used to get coffee all the time, and now she doesn’t take me anymore.” When I ask teenagers what they want their positive reward to be for good behavior, one of the number one things they want is time with their parents. I kid you not. They want to be with you. Even when they act like they don’t want you around.

Recently, I was talking with a teenager going through a rough time. I asked her what she needed. She looked at me and said, “I just want to curl up on the couch and hug my mom and cry like I used to when I was little.” I asked her, “Does your mom know that?” It broke my heart when she said, “No, I don’t want to be a burden on her, she’s so stressed, and I’m getting older. I should be able to comfort myself.” This girl wasn’t avoiding talking to her mom because she didn’t like her, she was avoiding her mom because she didn’t want act like a child or stress her mother out!

There is such a tug-of-war with teenagers. They push their parents away, but want their parents’ comfort and support. So when your teen pushes you away, don’t stay away!  Instead, keep trying to connect and interact with them. Hug them, write them a note, ask them about school, even when they are as prickly as a hedgehog. Keep trying, loving and building a relationship with them. It’s not easy, even for an objective third-party like a counselor! But the trade-off is so worth it, because when they are close to you and feel sure that you can handle their issues, you will have a truly rewarding relationship with them.

These are difficult steps to take when you are the parent of a withdrawn/sullen/frustrated teenager, but be confident. God will help give you the strength you need to love your kids when they pull away from you. When you are striving to stay calm and react lovingly, reflect on Philippians 4:13 (NIV): “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” You can stay calm, you can connect, and you can keep trying. Just depend on God’s strength and you will improve your relationship with your teen.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Letting Go of Control

Letting Go of Control
I have a confession. I am a control freak. I’ve spent much of my adult life being the organizer, the planner, the goal setter. My friends tease me because I’ve got a one-year, five-year and ten-year plan always running through my head.

My need to “control” is not always a bad thing. I’ve been blessed to accomplish a lot through my career, my spouse and I have worked hard to make sure we have a nice house, cars and the ability to clothe and care for our children. I’ve set goals over the last decade and met most of them.

However, while the end results of all of this control have been positive, it has come at a high cost emotionally. The downside of needing to control everything is an overarching sense of anxiety and fear that things won't happen the way I want them to, and in the darkest moments of my life, when I haven’t been able to control the outcome, I’ve floundered. I’ve questioned God and my faith has wavered.

In one of the darker periods of my life, I struggled with fertility. I researched, spent months in chatrooms and tried to will myself into getting pregnant. After ten months, I was blessed by God to get pregnant with our little boy (something I do not take for granted), but I questioned God mightily during that ten months. I stressed and stewed and complained. When God didn't move on my timeline, I questioned His very existence. I felt that since God wasn't following my plan, He didn't care about me.

But over the last few years, I’ve learned something. Being in control is an illusion. In one of the toughest situations of my life, I found that I couldn’t research enough, obsess enough or force God to immediately remedy the situation. I found that my endless need to control was exhausting and one day, I realized that I had to let go and relinquish my control to God.

And do you know what I discovered?

There is freedom in letting go. Two years ago, I would have denied that. I would have viewed letting go of my control as weakness, or worried endlessly that God wouldn’t fix the situation the way I wanted. I arrogantly thought that if I gave up my control, things wouldn’t get done the way I think they should.

It sounds so arrogant now that I thought that turning my life and steps over to God was weakness, but some of you will understand this completely. Because you know that the fear of “giving up” control is terrifying. So we try to give up our control, but still end up obsessing about that (fervently praying, “I know You’ve got this, but I want You to fix this situation” over and over in an attempt to berate God into doing what I want now is just as controlling!).

I’m currently facing a possible significant life-changing opportunity in the next year. And for the first time, I’m not obsessively researching, crunching numbers or praying over and over, “God, please make this work.” Instead, I have peace about the situation from start to wherever the finish takes me (a first for me!).

There are two comforting passages of Scripture I now depend on when my control freak tendencies threaten to pop up.

Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”

I love this verse. It tells me that it is okay to have a plan. It is okay to have goals, and I do believe we have an obligation to have some plan regarding our future. I don’t believe that sitting passively in your house, hoping the winning lotto ticket or your future spouse will somehow appear, is necessarily the best way to follow God’s will.

But I've also learned while I still have goals, instead of having a rigid plan, where I outline each step on my own timeline, I have to have a flexible plan with the caveat that if God deviates me from that plan, it’s okay

Proverbs doesn’t say that “the heart of man plans his way and he establishes his own awesome steps.” Instead, it says that ultimately, God has control, not us. We can set our goals loosely, but it is based on His timing, not mine. God is establishing my steps, so I don’t have to obsess about it!

In the past, I didn’t truly believe that God was establishing my steps. The year of fertility issues was incredible emotionally draining. It impacted my marriage, my friendships, and my faith. I questioned God’s plan endlessly.

Like I wrote about a few days ago, if you want to change that need to control, you have to replace an unhealthy behavior with a healthy one. So when I gave up my need to control and my endless questioning of God, I had to replace it with something else: pure, unwavering faith in His plan. I had to learn to lean on Jeremiah 29:11-14. 

Many of us will quote that first verse: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV).

However, in the past few years, I've learned to embrace the entire passage. Because there is even more comfort in the next few verses. 

Jeremiah 12-14 says that: “’Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.’”

God doesn’t just have a big, impersonal, overarching plan for my life. God wants a relationship with me every step of the way as part of that plan. His peace and love for me will sustain me in the day-to-day activities of life, even when I’m unsure where He is taking me long-term. I don’t have to passively sit by, waiting for Him to implement that plan, worrying if he even remembers me. In the confused and dark moments, we can call on God, pray and find Him. He will bring us from our own self-imposed exile.

Because I don’t know about you, but when I am uncertain about something, that need to control and lack of faith in God feels like exile. Lying in bed, questioning where He was during my infertility, was scary. Where was the God I had trusted and believed in my whole life? I felt empty and lonely, far away from His love.

Since then I’ve learned that if the future is uncertain, instead of rushing to control and question it, in the interim, make sure you are seeking God. Pray, read His word, cling to Jeremiah 29:11-14. Have faith that He is listening to your hurt, to your insecurity about the future and ultimately, He will bring you out of exile and draw you closer to Him.

It is when I give up my endless obsessing and worrying, when I pray, seek and worship Him, I am freed from the captivity of fear, anxiety and control.

I love the song by Hillary Scott, “Thy Will Be Done.” There are moments when I take a deep breath, let go of my need to control and say, “Lord, I know Your plans are great. I know you hear me, and if this huge opportunity happens, it will have to be Your plan, and not mine. Thy will be done, Father.”

Please don’t let your fear and the need to control drive you. Realize that God has an awesome, amazing plan and He has established each and every step of your life. You are not alone, wandering aimlessly through life, without direction. Shake off the bondage of fear and that false sense of control and seek Him first.

He will bring you back from exile. You just have to seek Him.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Overcoming Fear

As a counselor, I often work with people who are fearful. Anxiety is prevalent in our culture.We live in difficult and scary times. Mass shootings, cancer in everyone from children to adults, crime. Even in our day-to-day lives, we struggle with fear. Fear of rejection, fear of financial insecurity, fear of being “not good enough,” fear of being hurt by those we love. Fear of not having the perfect home or children, or being judged by others.

It is easy to say (somewhat callously) to others, “well, just don’t worry about it. God’s got this.” There have been many times in my life where I’ve been anxious or scared, and just kept praying fearfully, “God, help me to stop being anxious. I know You’ve got this.” I often found that after praying, I didn’t feel better. I would immediately start thinking, “But what if He doesn’t have this? What if He doesn’t provide? What if I’ve sinned too much?”

I’ve realized over the past few years that this type of fearful, doubting prayer wasn’t healthy. We often talk about “substitute addiction” in counseling. It is the idea that some people will effectively “swap” addictions or unhealthy behaviors. They give up alcohol, but replace it with another, equally unhealthy behavior (excessive exercise, excessive spending, prescription drug abuse). I noticed that I had simply replaced my unhealthy anxiety about money and the future with an unhealthy, anxious view of God! I spent just as much time worrying that God wouldn’t help me or follow through as I had spent worrying about my everyday fears.

Over the last few years, I’ve learned that instead of swapping anxieties, you have to instead substitute a healthy behavior for an unhealthy one. The opposite of anxiety is not frantic, anxious praying! Instead, it is a strong, unshakable confidence in God’s love and provision. It is not simply “stop being scared,” but instead, it is telling myself that I don’t need to be scared because God’s love involves it all: grace, forgiveness, strength and provision. There have been great verses to get me through fearful moments, and I hope these are comforting to those of you who are scared.

Philippians 4:19 (ESV) says, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus himself told the disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?...Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” (Matthew 6:25-27, 31-32 ESV)

In spite of these comforting verses, I used to speak them from a place of fear. After reading Philippians 4:19, I would worry endlessly: what if God doesn’t provide for me? Am I too sinful for His blessings? I felt like the little boy from Oliver Twist, coming up to the big scary cook asking, “Please sir, I want some more,” fearful and trembling the whole time.

However, as I think of God’s work in my life, and the lives of those around me, I realize that I shouldn’t come to Him in fear. Instead, I need to come confidently to Him and trust Him with everything. My life verse over the past two years has been Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua was given a large, daunting task and I’m sure he was scared. I love that God didn’t simply say, “Hey, calm down, chill out, stop worrying, get over it.”

Instead, He commands Joshua to be strong and courageous before He tells Joshua to not be frightened. We need to stop seeking God from a place of fear. Instead, we need to seek Him and allow Him to help strengthen us. Isaiah 41:10 (ESV) says, “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” 

We need to pray and live courageously, knowing that we come to our Father as warriors, as strong women, as the children of God, and that He will strengthen and help us because He loves us!  It is more than Him simply telling me to stop being dismayed. God doesn’t want us to just stop being scared, He also wants to strengthen and uphold us. He doesn't want us just to shush our fears, and hope they stop bothering us. Instead, we can be strong, confident and overcome our fears.

Over the years, I’ve seen Christians who embody this. Christians going through intense trials and difficulties courageously. They aren’t fearful because they are confident in God’s plan for their lives. They inspire me, and in those moments, where I feel myself praying with fear, I remind myself that God doesn’t want me to feel scared. He wants me to be strong and courageous, even when I’m unsure how He will remedy the situation.

If you are fearful, seek His promises through His Word, and come to Him in confidence. Come to Him knowing that He will provide and He will strengthen you because He loves you enough to want you to live without fear. You are a child of God. Be courageous, my friends.

Monday, August 15, 2016


Hey y'all. My name is Hilary. I'm a social worker, mother, wife and most importantly, I am a child of God. I've had blogs in the past, often revolving around cooking, recipes, and crafting, but they often left me feeling hollow. I kept searching for something - meaning, validation, more followers, but over the last few years, I realized that a successful blog has nothing to do with how many people like my page on Facebook. Instead, the best blogs are the ones rich with meaning, where people share their hearts and thoughts and are honest about their struggles.

I've been a Christian my whole life, but I still struggle with seeking God through His Word daily. I hope to use this blog as a place to share my thoughts on the Bible, life and motherhood. I want to write about ways to better your life. I work as a counselor part-time and I'm passionate about helping people. I've read numerous articles that talk about the disconnect between psychology and God, yet, I've spent the past 8 1/2 years trying to integrate the two, and believe that all of us, with God's help can improve our lives. My hope is to write about the issues we all struggle with - mental health, depression, fear, parenting, insecurity - through a God-focused lens. There is so much pressure to be perfect (thanks Pinterest and church legalism!). My hope is that this is a safe place, where people can be honest about the tough times (including me!) and that I can offer some hope.

I've been so blessed over the past few years. I have a life full of meaningful relationships and I've seen God do amazing things in my life and the lives of others. Don't get me wrong, it has not been all sunshine and roses. I've dealt with some significant setbacks, and there are midnight hours where I have to repeat Joshua 1:9 over and over to myself, but ultimately, because of God's love, every day that I have is blessed.

Thank you for joining me, I'll see you soon!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...