Tuesday, March 19, 2013

My New Blog: www.truelovedates.com

As some of you may have noticed, my posts over the last year have evolved from devotionals into articles about love, marriage, dating and relationships in general.  This has always been a passion of mine and I am so thankful that I  have been blessed with the incredibly opportunity to publish a book with Zondervan publishing company, writing about the things I love.  

My new book, True Love Dates, is a unique book about dating and relationships- challenging young singles to pursue relationships in a psychologically sound and spiritually healthy way.  It's written from a counselor's perspective and offers sound advice based on my experience as a professional counselor, my personal love story, and hundreds of real-life examples from couples all across the world.

In preparation to release this book in October, I wanted to let you, my readers, know that I am going to be committing my full energy to blogging and writing at my new website- www.truelovedates.com

God has been nudging me in this direction for quite sometime now regarding the things I write about, and it's time I make the full plunge.  I appreciate how far you have come with through this humble little blog, and I have been so encouraged by your emails, messages, and questions that you have sent my way.  Thank you for keeping me going!

I would love all of you who have been blessed by my writing to join me in sharing the message that relationships can be done right...and that God has a way that is so, so good.  

Please visit www.truelovedates.com, subscribe, tweet, Facebook, like and share- and become a part of a community that is challenging this generation to adapt healthy lifestyles and in turn, healthy relationships.  Here's to an exciting journey ahead!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dear Single: Don't Settle!


My husband and I were out for our Valentine's day date a couple weeks ago.  We were starving- and lucky for us we had planned to eat at our favorite Seafood Grille.  We got a sitter, got all dressed up, and headed over to our destination- ready to have a night to ourselves, enjoy each others company...and frankly, ready to pig out.

Upon arriving we got some unfortunate news- there was a 2 hour wait.  Two hours??  It was worth the wait, we both determined, and took a seat on the only open bench in the place.  An hour later,  we were getting desperately hungry.  We happened to notice the restaurant next door was seating guests instantly.  We looked at each other...both thinking about bailing out and hitting up the joint next door...but neither of us dared say it out loud.  30 minutes later...our growling stomachs could wait no more.  In our fancy clothes, we waltzed our way across the street and settled for the food we could see, touch, and taste here and now. Though our taste buds didn't get the thrill of their life- sometimes, it's perfectly alright to settle.

But there are also times when settling can bring major pain, disappointment, and long-term consequences. 

I get emails and questions almost everyday from young men and women who are thinking about settling.  Not for a restaurant, a job, or a car...but settling in a relationship.  Young men and women who are wondering if it's possible to meet their ideal mate, wondering if that ideal mate actually exists. 

Maybe they've waited and waited to find someone to spend the rest of their lives with- and they've determined to wait no more.  Or maybe they've invested so much time and energy into an "okay" relationship that they can't even imagine the prospect of starting all over again in search for the right relationship. 

So, is it okay to settle?

I struggled with that question for many years of my life.  I remember one particular day, sitting on my bed in my college dorm room, tears streaming down my face, with a crumpled piece of paper in my hand.  Almost 4 years before that day I had written a list of the things I would never settle for in a relationship. Here I was years later, looking down at my list- realizing that I was settling for the second year in a row, in a relationship that I knew in my heart was not what I truly desired.  I struggled to believe that God could really provide for all the things He had placed on my heart 4 years ago.  I struggled at the thought of starting all over again.  What if this is as good as it gets? 

I am so thankful that God gave me the wisdom and the courage to finally say no to the  relationship I found myself in, and moved me forward toward what was best for my life.  I had to get over the fears that had taken root in my heart- fear of failure, of confessing my mistakes, and of feeling once again alone.

But God used that time in my life as an opportunity to rely on Him, and trust Him with my future more than I ever thought imaginable.  He changed me and loved on me- reminding me that I was worth so much more than my relationship status.  Fast forward 10 years- now that I am married to the man of my dreams, I look back with regret that I spent so much time afraid to really trust God, wasting time in a relationship that was just "okay".  I wasted my time, and I wasted his- ultimately because I failed to trust God.  Ultimately, because I settled.

No matter where you are at on your journey of finding true love, remember this one thing: God is able to do more than you could ever ask or imagine in your life and in your relationships.  God created marriage to be seen as a blessing and a gift, not as an obligation...it is to be pursued with confidence, not with fear.  Because whatever you experience through dating, will be exponentially magnified through marriage.  If you are having doubts maybe it's time to take a look at your list and determine what you will never settle for.  Have a talk with God, and then make a list of the majors in your life that are most important to you.

Remember, there is a difference between majors and minors, read this post on Majors and Minors to know the difference.  But at the end of the day, seek to pursue a 10 out of 10 when it comes to the things that really matter.  It may sound obvious, but marriage is for a lifetime...so marry someone who you want to spend the rest of your life with. 

It's time to trust your gut, and trust your heart, but most importantly....trust your God. 

No matter what anyone says...Don't settle for anything less. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Obsession of Physical Appearance:

I read an article recently addressing the dangers of body-image issues.  The most horrifying thing about this article was the fact that it was addressing patterns found in elementary school aged children, and the eating disorders and self-esteem issues that are becoming a serious problem even among 6-9 year olds. 

It’s not surprising if you ask me.  As a professional counselor, every year I’m seeing these issues pop up at an earlier and earlier age.  The concept of body-image has taken on such an important role in our society, and the effects of that are slowly trickling down into the generations beneath us.  If for no other reason than that, something has seriously got to change.  

I don’t know of many things that have such power over how a person feels about themselves than that of body-image.  For many young men and women, our physical appearance has become the measuring stick against which our entire value and worth are assessed by.  But let’s get real: as detrimental as this value system can be, it’s really hard to just “walk away” from that measuring stick when everything around you is pointing you in that direction.  

 It doesn't take much observation to realize that we live in a society that glorifies the physical, and to be honest, it's really easy to get caught up in that.  We all want to look good in one way or another.  We want the world around us to stop and take notice.  That is the natural outflow of the fact that we were created to be loved and adored.  

I get that.  But, I also see that this desire has become a dangerous idol for many people, young and old.  We've allowed this natural desire for love and attention to fuel an unrelenting obsession with the physical- an obsession that is destroying the lives of countless individuals in its aftermath, leaving so many without hope and without significance because of a few natural short comings (and sometimes no short comings at all!)

At one point in my life, I found myself walking down this dangerous path- a life of obsession, negativity, and self-deprecation that was sucking every ounce of joy, value and worth from my life little by little.  The negativity I had was even starting to affect the people around me, who graciously had enough love for me to call it out for the trap that it was.

I had to make a decision to get out of this pit before it got too deep.  It wasn't easy, let me tell you that.  I was so used to living by a value system that was based on the external that I had forgotten how to do it any other way.  Slowly, but surely, I was able to deliberately put some things into action that saved me from some serious pain.  Here are some things that helped me break free from this cycle:

1. Choose to stop thinking negatively:  First and foremost I had to take some major inventory of my thoughts.  Believe it or not your brain is actually train-able.  Patterns of thinking will easily develop based on the route you encourage your thoughts to go.  I had been stuck in some seriously catastrophic patterns of thinking that had become so natural I hardly noticed them.  I had to start taking the time to listen for my negative self-talk, begin to write it down, and call it out for what it was: straight up lies.  

The second part of this process was not just calling out the lies, but replacing them with truth.  I had to begin developing a totally new value system that was based on the value and worth that God had for me.  I memorized verses, talked to God, and read books that reminded me of what my true measuring stick was, and I had to daily (sometimes hourly) choose to measure myself up against the qualities of the internal rather than the external.  

2.  Take inventory of who you spend time with and what is coming out of your mouth:  This was huge for me.  I realized that so much of my time was being spent with people just like me- stuck in a rut, measuring themselves up by standards that were pretty much unattainable- and we were all falling short together (group failure can be addicting).  Every conversation and interaction was reinforcing my need to focus on my shortcomings, whether it was through complaining, comparing, or competing.  I had to make a point to limit my time with the people that only added to my physical baggage, and hold myself accountable for the things I was allowing to come out of my mouth.  The less you think about something the less you talk about it- and the less you talk about it, the less you think about it.  It was time for me to start making some real changes.      

3.  Get involved in things that promote your true self:   It’s easy to get caught up in a faulty measuring stick when you feel as though you have nothing else of value.  I knew that I had so many qualities and talents that had been hibernating due to my fixation on the physical.  I had to take the time to stretch those muscles again and realize that I had so much more to offer the world than my appearance.  I got out there and volunteered, used my leadership qualities, wrote encouraging notes, and spent time with those in need.  I took advantage of these little things that reminded me that I had so much to offer and gave me a fresh glimpse of the world around me.  

The truth is a negative and self-deprecating person has the ability to be just as vain and conceited (if not more) than someone who is narcissistic, because at the end of the day- whether negative or positive, both individuals are fixated on SELF.  Getting out and getting involved helped me take the needed time and energy to focus my life on others instead of being so completely wrapped up in myself.   

4.  Take a look at the deeper issues:  For some individuals, the concept of body-image issues runs very deep.  A few of the above steps might be helpful to some extent, but won’t have the power to pull them out of the trap of their body-image obsession.  Control issues, abandonment fears, and lack of boundaries in their world are just some of the things that might be fueling the need to focus on the physical.  If this is you, don’t take these things lightly.  The longer you are in this trap, the more difficult it is to get out.  Take some time to address these issues by finding a professional counselor and giving yourself the opportunity you need to focus on gaining back the control and getting your life back.      

I don’t know about you, but I want to be a person that is adding to the value and self-worth of the generation beneath me.  I want to be a person that sees the good inside of others, and begins to encourage them for the God-given qualities and value that are unique to them.  But at the end of the day, that only begins with learning to see the good inside of me.      

*This article originally written for RelevantMagazine.com 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Marry More Than a Lover:

Genesis 2:18
I will make a helper suitable for him...

I used to believe that true love was all about the romance.  I remember the late nights coming home after a date and exclaiming to my roommates: "He paid for dinner, he opened the car door, and he even gave me his jacket when I was cold!"  Its funny how fixated I was on things that...15 years later...have very little meaning in my actual life and marriage.

Don't get me wrong, I think there's a really important place for romance and chivalry.  I love when my husband opens the car door for me or brings me flowers home spontaneously.  But it's important to remember that romance is not what creates a healthy marriage, rather, it is simply the overflow of a healthy marriage. 

In marriage, you are marrying far more than a lover.  You are marrying a coworker, a teammate, and a friend.  God knew this when he told Adam that he was going to make a helper suitable for him.  He could have used so many other words to describe Eve.  He could have called her a lover, a trophy wife, or a beauty queen.  I'm sure for Adam, there was nothing more attractive then when he laid his eyes on Eve.  But in God's mind, Eve's role went far beyond the role of a lover...

A healthy marriage is so much more than romance....

Don't give in to the culture of Hollywood that fills your brain with the lies that love is this explosive chemical reaction between two people.  Real love is so much more than that.  A love that lasts a lifetime is built on the give and take between two people every day for as long as they live.

Yes, it involves flowers, and chocolates, and romance...but it's made up of so much more.  Far deeper than the fleeting pleasures of passion, is the unconditional love of sacrifice:

I look at my life and the things that speak love to me are not just found in the ribbons and roses but in the role my husband has as my helper, my friend, and my partner.  Real love is shown through the everyday actions that we exchange in our real everyday lives. In talking about this concept just the other day, my husband and I each made a list of what real love looked like to us in just the past few weeks: 

My List:
Cleaning up the dishes and scrubbing the pots and pans after dinner (God knows how much I hate those pots and pans).
Taking a break from studying just to sit and chat with me about the day.
Taking out the trash.  
Cleaning the ice off my car in crazy cold weather.
Watching the kids just so I could take a nap.
Keeping me laughing with his jokes no matter what's going on around us. 
Taking an interest in all the details of my life- from what I had for lunch to my latest article.   

His List:  
Getting up in the middle of the night with a crying baby.
Having dinner ready- my wife's an awesome cook!
Encouraging me when I feel down or discouraged.
Baking me five dozen cookies when I had to bring them in for work- forgot to mention, I gave her one day's notice!
Dropping by to visit me for lunch. 
Taking an active role in things I'm not good at (documenting the kids lives via pictures, responding to emails and phonecalls, buying gifts and sending thankyou cards, etc.)

Don't let the fog of romance cloud your perspective.

Marry a lover- but marry so much more than that.  Marry a coworker, a teammate, a partner, a helper and a friend.  

**If you're married, please share a comment with our readers: What has true love looked like for you this week?
**If you're single, what are your thoughts on this idea?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

When Good People are Stuck in Bad Relationships:

1 Corinthians 15:33
Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”

As a therapist, I've been hearing about a lot of bad relationships lately.  Christian friends, family members, and even clients opening up and sharing about their struggles, weaknesses, and straight-up dysfunction in the area of boy + girl.

To say I'm surprised by these things would be an overstatement, because I'm really not.  Turn on any TV station and you'll tune into some divorce, break up, or relationship tragedy that's occurring in the world around us.  Listen in on any gossip at the office and you'll hear about heart-break, lying, cheating, and manipulation.  Sometimes, relationships can be really toxic.  But what's more surprising to me is not the occurrence of these relationships- but how little Christians talk about them.  

Toxic relationships exist all over the world, and guess what, they exist in Christian relationships as well.  Christian people are flawed, sinful, and broken human beings just as much as the other guys.  Take that combination into any relationship and you're bound to find a toxic concoction at somewhere at some point.  So what is keeping us from bringing it to the light?  Why are we so silent?

Scripture says that whatever is in darkness will be healed as it comes into the light.  It's time to break the silence about dysfunctional relationships by starting to have these conversations, by starting to be real.  Christian, it's time to take inventory of the relationship you are in- whether dating or married- and ask yourself if it's good, honoring, and uplifting.  We are called to be actively engaged in relationships in which we are giving and exchanging that kind of hope to one another.  In which we are spreading God's love like it's a contagious disease.  But toxic relationships look nothing like that.  

They rob you of your joy, take away your hope, and cause you to believe that's all your worth.  

You might be in a toxic relationship if you commonly feel the sting of manipulation, jealousy, envy and rage.  God calls us into relationships that are full of patience and love. 

Maybe you're feeling controlled- unable to say what you want, do what you want, or believe what you want. God's love brings us into hope and freedom.  

Maybe the toxicity of addictions, drugs and alcohol are seeping into your relationship and in turn are destroying your life.  God wants to help break away from these chains and give you the power to live freely. 
What if you keep getting led into dark places- places of lust and seduction that leave you feeling guilt and shame.  God wants to shine His light upon your life, and forgive you in the best way He knows how- completely.  

Maybe you're being beat down verbally- ripped of your dignity and self-worth.  God wants you to know that you are His beloved- worth far more than precious rubies and more valuable than the finest of pearls. 

You may be feeling the sting of abuse- the infliction of physical pain that breaks your spirit even more than it breaks your body.  God has felt the sting of physical abuse in order to free you from your own...His stripes and wounds are a sign that you deserve to forever be free of yours.** 

If you're married, seek pastoral and professional help immediately...begin the restoration process even if that means doing it alone.   

If you're dating, it's time to believe that you were made for so much more than this.  It's time to break free and allow God to bring you healing and restore your hope-  How to Get out of a Toxic Relationship.

It's time to get real, to get honest, and to get help**. It's time to stop waiting for the change, and begin making the change yourself.  It's time to step out of the grip of the past, and into something new.  It's time to acknowledge these dark places and bring them into the light of His healing.  

**For more assistance in breaking free of toxic relationships, go to www.aacc.net (American Association of Christian Counselors) to find some professional help in your area. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

3 Ways to Get Past Your Past...

Often in life, our greatest enemy isn’t a person, external obstacle or impossible situation—it’s our internal struggle with our past.

For Andrea, that was exactly the case. She was stuck in her past. Unable to get over the struggles of her youth, she kept looking back. Fixating on the neglect, reliving the abuse, analyzing the rejection. Twenty years later and she's still asking why, trying to make sense of it all. Yet by continually looking backward, she is losing sight of her present and future...

Read the rest of my article at Relevant Magazine!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Loves Me, or Loves Me Not?

1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

After one of my relationship talks I was approached by a beautiful young woman.  She wanted to share her story and seek out some advice about a dating situation she found herself in.

She had met this great guy through their church's young adult group.  He was handsome, funny, and had lots of charisma.  He was one of those guys that was just so easy to like.  They started spending more and more time together and began forming what seemed to be a dating relationship.  They would call each other, text each other, and even get together outside of church for coffee or dinner.  Fast forward two months later...

....something happened.  Out of nowhere, and all of a sudden, he seemed to back off, cold turkey.  No warning signs, no explanation, no heart to heart discussion.  She continued to try to call and text him, but it seemed that he wasn't reciprocating.  She continues to try, to pursue, and to try to reconnect.  She wonders maybe if he is just too busy?  Forgetful?  Scared?  But either way, her heart is stuck on him, and she needs direction. 

What should she do?

When I hear stories like this I have to simultaneous reactions that go off inside of me.  First, I feel empathy.  I look at this beautiful girl, with so much to give, and I look into her sad eyes and feel her pain, her hurt, and her rejection.  She wants to love and be loved so badly.  She wants to make it happen in her life.  She is just waiting to find that one to call her own.  I get that. I've been there.  It's hard when you're in the mess of dating to see beyond the pain of the moment. 

So first and foremost, I feel empathy (let's not forget that...).  Because secondly, I cringe!!! I just want to grab her shoulders and shake some sense into her!  I want her to see how she is making herself look from the outside looking in.  I want her to realize that she is trying so hard to keep something alive that would otherwise die if it was left alone.  I want her to come to the conclusion that simply said, he loves her NOT.  Because real love looks so, so different than that.  

I meet young men and women all the time that portray themselves as desperate by the way they act and react.  Trying so hard to find love.  Trying to hard to make it happen.  Finding excuse after excuse to keep going back to a relationship that does not reflect love in any way shape or form.  One-sided, non -reciprocated, hard-to-get relationships.  Let me just say it clearly- these kind of relationships are SO NOT WORTH THE INVESTMENT!

All over the scriptures God talks about reciprocal relationships.  Healthy relationships with two individuals that edify and build each other up.  There are always TWO people involved in the process.  Two people that are interacting, engaging, giving.  Two people that are encouraging, investing, and supporting one another.  This is how the body of Christ is supposed to look, and even more specifically speaking- this is how a marriage is supposed to look.  "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ..."

Dating relationships, should also be reciprocal.  Two people involved. Two people invested.  Two people pursuing and being pursed.  Two people committing, caring, and communicating.  Two people who are putting in the same amount, and receiving even more...

Why do we allow ourselves to settle for less?  Why do we find ourselves in relationships in which we are doing all the work to keep it alive?  It's time to put in the hard work, but then to trust that we are also worth being worked hard for.  We deserve to be loved just as we are giving love, and in romantic relationships, this is how God intended it to be.  Two people, building, edifying, encouraging, and investing in one another. 

Wait for that, because anything less is truly...not worth the wait.  Nor will it ever be.