Friday, March 31, 2017

Being a Listener/Counselor: The Counsel of a Husband


I was just waking up and laying in bed thinking of all the things I needed to do that day.  In an hour, I needed to leave to take my girls to the orthodontist.  Then, I needed to come home and pack as I was flying out the next morning to celebrate my "sister's" 40th birthday.  I wanted to be sure the house was in order and spend some time with my kids before leaving for four days.  Then, the phone rang.
"Vicki.  Can you come?"
It was my friend who had been seriously struggling for months.  She had taken some time to think about an hour away.  Suddenly, she was on the phone, in tears, barely able to speak, and asking me to meet with her - NOW.  I weakly and sorrowfully told her all that was going on.  I just couldn't.
"That's ok."  
She hung up.  I felt my breath leave me.  I immediately called my husband.
"Did I do the wrong thing?"
"Maybe," he said.  "Go."
I asked him about the appointment.
"I'll take the girls to their appointment."  
What about the fact that I was now not going to be spending time with our children before my trip???
"We'll be ok.  She needs you."

It was before I was married that God started making it clear to me that He had given me the gift of listening/counseling.  Because He had chosen to give me this gift, He chose for me a man who is supportive in the time I spend with others.  He helps me decide when I should go and when I should back off.   I went that day.  It was dark when I got home that night - after driving in a snowstorm.  I got to see my kids for a little bit and quickly packed.  I was exhausted physically and emotionally.  Yet, when I was sitting in the Detroit airport the next day and heard my friend's happy and hopeful voice on the other side of the phone, it was all worth it.  My husband had made the right decision for me and for my friend.

Our husbands are our protectors.  We women, though strengthened by God, are not meant to carry heavy burdens alone.  Yes, God can help us...but He has also given us our husbands.  While Eric does share advice at times, other times he's just a patient sounding board for me after I have been someone else's sounding board.  He literally helps me carry the burden.  When he is aware of what I have heard and how many times I have met with someone, he is then able to advise me when to step away if need be.  If he feels that I am being hurt more than they are being helped or if someone is gossiping more than seeking counsel, he is able to protect me by putting up boundaries.

Eric does not expect me to tell him everything people share with me, nor does he want me to.  He understands the confidentiality to which I must sometimes hold.  However, unless someone directly asks me not to share something with my husband, I will often talk to him about the things that come up.  Usually, I give him the general topic discussed.  Other times, I need his perspective or reasoning capabilities, so I share more details. Eric is much more logical than I and can ground me when I am emotionally overwhelmed.  He also has the male perspective that is necessary when I am praying about advice for a woman who is having marriage trouble or even questions in handling her son.  For the most part, those I speak with don't ask me to keep things from my husband and I rarely promise that I will as it is my desire to not put up that wall between my best friend and myself.

Because I do share things with my husband frequently, he is completely understanding and respectful of the times when I am not at liberty to say anything.  Trust is a necessity in marriage.  Openness builds trust while secrets inhibit it.  Sharing some information keeps him trusting and understanding. (Again, I am not saying it is necessary to tell him every detail.)  It also helps him make the critical decisions of whether I should go or whether I should stay.  He knew some of what my friend was dealing with that morning as I had shared bits and pieces along the way.  He knew she needed someone at that moment.  If I had kept him in the dark throughout the months leading up to this point, he would undoubtedly have not understood her need and she would have faced some serious things alone.  I shudder to think of the possible results.  At the same time, I did not share with Eric most of what my friend confided in me that cold February day.

Your husband is still your leader and protector even if you are a listener/counselor.  It is tempting for us to think that we are in control of the situation and we begin to make crucial decisions about our time, what we listen to, and how much we deal with alone.  We begin to move away from the umbrella of authority and protection of our husbands.  This is a dangerous place to be.  God gave you this gift, but He did not give you license to go against His design of marriage.  He intends for wives and husbands to be united.  Can not our God be all powerful to give us a ministry and not have it interfere with our marriage?  If it does interfere, the ministry - or that particular aspect or situation - is not of Him.

With counseling much wisdom is required.  Some of that wisdom is knowing when to talk over the issues with your husband and when to keep them quiet.  It's knowing when to allow him to take your burden.  Wisdom is needed in knowing when to ask him when to go and when to put up boundaries. Wisdom is following his advice.  All of our wisdom is found in God.  He gave us this ministry and gift.  He surely has given us the right man to accommodate that gift.  Seek Him.

Then, grab two cups of coffee, sit down with that other precious gift from God - your husband - and have a heart to heart chat.  He'll love that you make time for him, too.

*Note:  I write to the informal, non-professional "counselor" - the one who listens to her friends and acquaintances.  I do not write for professionals.  Professional counselors must keep confidentiality.

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.