Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Being a Listener/Counsellor - Don't Block the Pain




Maybe you are the one to whom friends go for a listening ear, a compassionate heart, for words of wisdom. There's a good possibility, like me, you've never asked for this responsibility, but God placed it, ever so gently, into your lap. You are entrusted with fears, secrets, fragile emotions.  People come to you, make themselves vulnerable and place their very hearts in your hands.

All at once, this gift that God has given us is

    frightening
             humbling
                      burdensome
                                honorable
                                                lonely.

If you are regularly the counselor, you know exactly what I'm talking about.  While we are honored and blessed that women would trust us so very much, we also know we must handle these precious hearts with great care, for they are fragile.  Hearing some of the stories, experiencing the on-going pain and turmoil in some cases can often weigh down our hearts.  And, to whom do we go when we need a listening ear?  After all, aren't we the strong ones?  Aren't we the ones with all the answers?

I want to take a couple of days to encourage you who are the counsellors, the ones whose hearts keep the secrets of many.

I started listening/counseling, involuntarily, in high school.

(Can you really call a high school teen a counsellor?)

I remember working for our vice principal one class period of each day.  I think it was during her lunch break and I was there to man the phones or sit with the students who awaited a stern lecture upon her return.  In all honesty, I don't remember what my purpose was.  I do remember having several conversations with fellow-classmates, some with whom I rarely talked ordinarily.  They would ask me my thoughts on various topics, some came to talk about struggles with friends and with boyfriends.  And, it didn't stop in school.  When I worked at the grocery store, complete strangers would tell me their life stories.  At that point, I just thought it was odd that people would open up to me.  

Since then, I've realized it to be a gift from God.  You who are in it know that it sometimes doesn't feel like a gift. The burden is often great.  We weep with those that weep...and then we weep with them again.  We feel the hurt when the one we are listening to can no longer hurt for herself.  We have given hours, days, months, sometimes years to a person....only to end up losing them as a friend.  We have heard stories that leave our souls shocked and our mouths gaping.  There are evenings when we drag ourselves home feeling exhausted and praying we gave just a little hope...but doubting we did.

We who listen to the burdens, the struggles, the heartaches, the confusion...we get to a point where we tend to build a wall around our heart so we don't feel the pain.  We still want to help.  We still want to give.  We still want to love.  We still want to listen.  We just don't want to hurt anymore.

Yet, only by hurting can we empathize.

Only by feeling our heart break can we help our friend pick up the pieces of her heart.

Only by feeling the hopelessness of our own selves do we cry out to the Counsellor and Friend who can use us to dispense His hope to others.

Are you building a wall around your heart?  Are you covering your ears as your soul screams to God, "NO MORE, GOD!  I CAN'T TAKE ANY MORE!"?

I have done this.  I often find myself rebuilding the wall of protection.  It's self preservation to build the wall, but God calls us to be a living sacrifice.  Therefore, I must tear it down.

The burden gets heavy.  What if we are so laden down that we cannot be the wives, mothers, ministers, employees that we need to be?  Our homes, our jobs are truly our first priority and we still need to live our lives and fulfill our daily responsibilities.

Take time to step away.  Not a permanent retirement.  Just a rest.  Jesus did.  He got away to the garden to pray.  He took walks on the water by himself.  He napped in the boat.  He refreshed Himself.

Jesus promised that His burden would be light.  He lays the burden of counseling on us, but He does not want us to fall underneath it.  His desire is for us to cast it right back on Him.  Sometimes, that means taking time to rest with Him.

I have asked Him for a break from time to time and He has granted it to me.  When I seek Him, spend time with Him and allow myself to be filled back up, I know I am again ready to help someone or just be a friend to someone who needs one.  I tell the Lord that I am ready and He quickly puts me back to work.

If people keep handing over their hearts to you, you have received a most precious gift.  You have received it because your heart is soft and open.  Don't harden it and close it off.  Step away for a time.  Get alone with the Lord.  Spend time laughing with your children or your friends.  Turn off the phone for a couple of days.  Cast your burden on the Lord and renew your mind.  Find rest for your soul.

Then you will once again be ready to listen, to help carry someone's load, to feel the pain.

You will once again be ready to be like Jesus.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Ministry Monday: Coffee Shop Counsel



Welcome back!

In recent months, I've been preoccupied with holidays, a missions trip a few of my family members took, working through some personal struggles and just keeping home and school running.

Before coming back, I have thought about and prayed about the direction of this blog.  I've come to think of this blog as a ministry in itself and any ministry that lasts for a few years is in need of refocus of purpose and sometimes a bit of change.  Praying about it and thinking about it, I couldn't get coffee off my mind.

Let me explain...and with this explanation comes my Ministry Monday topic.

Throughout the years, I have often found myself in a coffee shop sitting across various sisters in Christ pour their hearts out as we sip on lattes.  Our conversations don't end until long after the cups are empty and several other patrons have come and gone.  Am I some great guru who can solve the problems of the masses?  No.  I realize that is God's job.  All I am is a listening ear, a compassionate heart, a pair of hugging arms, a praying friend, and, sometimes, I am a vessel through which God can speak words of wisdom, advice and love.

Sometimes, I have been the one pouring out her heart and the woman across the table is the one being used of God to disperse love, wisdom, advice, and rebuke.  Are my problems solved when we get up from the table?  No.  But I am encouraged and I drive home with a bit of hope glimmering in my heart where there was none when I entered the coffee shop a few hours earlier.

I have recently realized that there is a great ministry in meeting a friend for coffee.  We are able to meet on neutral ground - away from the busy-ness of home, the listening ears of little ones, the beckoning chores - often in a relaxed atmosphere.  We enjoy a treat that soothes our physical bodies and a cozy space that feels safe.  Whether I am the counsellor or the counseled, I always leave blessed.  So, this is a ministry that ministers to others as well as to my own soul.

Not knowing when the phone will buzz or ring for a needed coffee date, I am challenged to stay in the Word so that I am filled whenever God wants to pour Himself through me to others.  For, if I am empty, what have I to give? To be honest, there are many days I am empty...and God keeps my phone quiet.  He knows when He can use me and when He can't.

My prayer when I am driving to the coffee shop of the day is always that God would speak through me, that I would not speak when I am to be silent, that I would be an encouragement, and that the friend would feel loved.  When I am to be counseled, I ask God that my heart would be open and my spirit obedient.

I know I am not unique in this ministry.  I know many of you have found yourselves holding something warm and listening to a dear friend as she seeks help, understanding, love.  Know that you are not wasting your time.  Know that you are not slacking off from your duties.  If you are walking with the Lord, you can know that you are doing His work - even in a trendy coffee house.

Which brings me back to this blog.  I had thought of renaming it - something to do with coffee and friendship - but I am a bit attached to the title I have had for almost a decade.  Not to mention, much of my  counseling has to do with marriage (Love) and children (Rewards).  But, I want us to feel we are chatting over cups of coffee.  I want us to laugh, to think, to edify, and sometimes cry.  I want to share with you what God has shown me in His Word, tell you of some of my struggles He has brought me through just to encourage you.  On our Saturday meetings, I still just want to share some verses, some quotes, some great books, blogs, and yummy recipes.

So, much of this blog will remain the same.  I just want to be focused on encouraging YOU in Christ.  I want you to feel loved.

Grab some coffee.  Or, reheat that cup you've been trying to get to all day long.  Let's chat.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Ministry Monday: Just When You Want to Quit




Let's be honest.  Ministry is often inconvenient.  How often have we been excited to begin a new ministry (whether we are founding it or joining it), only to find ourselves dragging months or years later with little of the original enthusiasm left.  We see little fruit and we wonder, What is the point? We are tempted to quit, thinking our time could be better used elsewhere.

I was reading in Jonah this morning and that is the very thought process that Jonah seemed to have had when he first ran away from the ministry God assigned to him.  He just "knew" he would make the long journey, make a fool of himself walking and shouting warnings around the city of Nineveh - for nothing!  No smoke, no fire, no hailing brimstone.  Just God's patience and mercy.  Again.

Week in and week out, my children, other teens and I trek into the city.  We are the minority out there - in color and in lifestyle.  We walk in with our skirts (girls) and short haircuts (boys), holding our Bibles, carrying song signs and, in general, looking odd.  We sing loudly.  We play hard.  We sit and listen to the children try to say verses with words they can barely read or pronounce.  Sometimes months go by without any of them getting saved.  For weeks we can have children in Kids Club who do nothing but cause disruption and bring down morale.

We sometimes begin to wonder what we are doing.  Should we keep going?  We all have school, jobs, families....so many other things that would be, seemingly, more productive.  We use up gas and money.  We put more miles on our already well-used vehicles.  We get rained on and snowed on.  We are just plain tired.  Why bother?

Then it happens.  A ten year old boy gets saved.  A twelve year old girl sits with her leader longer than required just to ask more questions about this man Jesus.  An 8 year old asks for a Bible and his face lights up when his leader writes his name in it.  THIS is what it's all about.

This is why we drive.

This is why we put one foot in front of the other when we feel like we can barely go on.

This is why we smile one more smile.

This is why we sing the kiddie songs.

This is why we try to work through the disruptions and get to the hardening hearts of the pre-teens.

God is patient.  God is merciful.  Yet, we, so often want to see things happen now, just like Jonah.  We tend to get bent out of shape when our eyes see nothing but the mundane routine.  Our faithfulness is challenged.  But, when we wait, when we stay faithful, we see the fruit of what God has been doing all along.

Today, we are to leave for the city in one hour.  It's been a long day of school.  It's cloudy out and just a nice day to stay in and cozy up with a Bible study and cup of cider.  I'm tired.  My son's face is swollen from a bee sting.  But there's a soul waiting for us in the body of a child.  A soul that God is working on...though we may not see it.  All we need to do is obey our patient Lord and go.

And so, we will.