Wonderful Counselor

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor,

Mighty God,

Everlasting Father,

Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

Whatever you may face this holiday season, or anytime, remember:

He is Wonderful Counselor. You can go to him anytime with anything and He is ready and willing to help you through any difficulty you may endure. If you know that you will encounter family drama, personal hurt, broken relationships, or grief this week, make the time- before you see anyone else- to talk to Him about your pain. Let Him fill you with His grace and mercy as you receive His wise counsel over the situation and enter in confidence in His love.

The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. Psalm 33:11

He is Mighty God. He is mighty to save. Any person. Any situation. Broken hearts, broken relationships, broken situations, all can be healed in Him. He may not heal in the time frame we have in mind or in the method that we prefer, but we can rest in trust that He is at work as we continually go to Him. Go to Him.

Do not say, 'I will repay evil'; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you. Psalm 20:22

He is Everlasting Father. He is the good Father- authority, security, comfort, support- that our hearts desire. What He puts into motion, will reach full maturity under His authority. We can rest secure that He does not grow weary. As our Creator, He understands us more deeply than we understand ourselves.

Have you not known? Have you not heart? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. Isaiah 40:28

He is Prince of Peace. In the midst of chaos, peace can be found! Don’t just go to Him and throw all of your problems on Him and then walk away (but please go to Him and throw all of your problems on Him). Sit with Him. Listen to His Word (the Bible). Let Him speak peace into your storm. 

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. Mark 4:39
Be still and know that I am God... Psalm 46:10

So whether you anticipate a difficult time this holiday season, or you are finding yourself in the middle of the mess, please excuse yourself to be alone for a few minutes to meet with your Wonderful Counselor. Allow Mighty God save you as you entrust yourself to your Everlasting Father and find rest in the Prince of Peace. It's what He came to do. Glory to God! 

Merry Christmas, brothers and sisters. 

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!  Luke 2:14

Navigating Anxiety

A Time to Worry

Most of us have heard the famous verses of Ecclesiastes 3. There’s even an old popular song about it! If you need a refreshing, here it is:


For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

2 a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

8 a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.


Do you see our world in these verses?

In 2007, the New York Times did an article about how many advertisements we receive in a given day, with some estimates being as high as 5,000 ads! The purpose of an ad is to tell us that we are not good enough until we have said product. So, up to 5,000 times per day, we are told we are not good enough!! Talk about anxiety producing! Then we can turn on the TV, the computer, we even receive news alerts on our phones that remind us of constant death, violence, and mayhem! Naturally, fear increases. We walk around shocked and disillusioned at our ability to be barbaric, because deep down we know, that there is very little that separates us from whoever was mentioned in the news story. It affects some of us so deeply, that our brains resort to the primal fight or flight response and we begin developing a plan for if something like that happens to us or someone we love.

Notice that the verses above from Ecclesiastes do not once say “a time to worry.” In the Bible, the words “do not be afraid” are written 365 times. Not to mention other phrases, like “do not be anxious” (Matthew 6:25, Philippians 4:6). Opposing evidence we find around us may be significant, but I believe our good Father is trying to tell us something. He has promised not to leave us or forsake us (Joshua 1:9), even until the very end (Matthew 28:20). He has not promised that life will be without pain, but he HAS promised that he will be with us through thick and thin and he will provide all that we need to endure all that life throws at us. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) Everything.

A verse that I have discovered and returned to multiple times over the last year is Genesis 3:11. It’s a precious moment after Eve and Adam have chosen to listen and obey the serpent, thus disobeying God. God gently meets them in the garden, and like a good parent, helps them to confess their mistake. Then, in Genesis 3:11, “He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’" That phrase, “Who told you…” is so powerful! God helps them identify the source of their troubles!

So. Who told you that it is time to worry?

Are you feeling anxious about current events? Or maybe you are facing difficult times in your personal life. First, identify the source of anxiety. Then ask- with so many promises from God, what do I need to do to quiet opposing messages? Here are some possibilities to help you start thinking in that direction:

  • Cast your anxieties on Him. In 1 Peter 5:7, it is suggested to “[cast] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Physically make a list of all of the things that are worrying you. Pray about each one and then either 1) destroy the list as an act of trust that God will handle all of your problems and they are no longer yours, or 2) find scripture about each item that brings you comfort that God will handle each one. Making a list and seeing all of your concerns at one time can be overwhelming. Don’t hesitate to break up the process if you begin to feel overwhelmed and repeat the process later.
  • Turn off the TV. Maybe, in an act of faith, you need to skip the nightly news and instead spend time thanking God for all he has given or done in your life. Maybe you need to turn off phone alerts for a time while you realign your focus onto God’s promises. You might even fast from media for a time.
  • Make time to meditate. Read your scriptures daily and pray throughout your day to focus your mind on what matters. Matthew 6, is a good place to start reading when struggling with anxiety.
  • Rejoice daily. Intentionally identify those things that bring you joy daily. Maybe start a journal where you can list them and spend time thanking God.

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” (Isaiah 40:1) and “rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16), because you are “free indeed” (John 8:36).

 

If you are experiencing panic attacks, please contact a therapist or doctor immediately.

If you have felt anxious regularly for 2 weeks or more, please contact a counselor.

Navigating Seasonal Affective Disorder

‘Tis the Season for the post-holiday blues. What was merry and bright, for many people, now gives way to dark and gray. Perhaps your holiday celebrations were instead a disappointment, and since they have passed, you feel hope slipping in the new year. First, let me assure you that you are not alone. Feeling a little down in January is somewhat normal. January is considered by some to be the most depressing month of the year. Shorter days and colder temperatures keep us indoors and can lead to inactivity and social withdrawal. Decreased daily mental and emotional stimulation from relational contact can lead to a depressed mood. So how do we fare until the sun again warms our surroundings and lifts our moods?

  1. Stay in community. Continue attending church services and bible studies. Share your struggle with other believers and pray together. Make plans to bundle up and do something fun (out to eat, get coffee, join a book club, see a movie, go ice skating, etc.) at least once a week in order to increase relational contact during the dark months.
  2. Keep apprised of your vitamin D levels. Research has shown a link between vitamin D deficiency and depression.
    1. Visit your primary care physician. Get your blood checked for any vitamin deficiencies and supplement according to your doctor’s orders. Supplements for vitamin D can range from 1,000 to 50,000 units per day, so be sure to follow your doctor’s recommendation for appropriate supplementation.
    2. Purchase a UV lightbulb. Since the sun does not shine as long during the winter months, this is one way to bring the sunshine indoors. The Mayo Clinic recommends “sunning” for a minimum of 30 per day to improve mood.
  3. Keep the season alive by celebrating the small things. Set weekly goals for yourself and celebrate your achievements! Were you able to successfully put away all of your Christmas decorations and gifts? Reward yourself by having some friends over in your reclaimed open space. Did you meet a deadline at work? Celebrate with co-workers out to lunch. 
  4. Get some fresh air. Speaking of bundling up, head out for a walk, jog, or just visit a local park and take in the view of the sound or the mountains for a little while. If you get a long weekend for President’s day, take a day trip into the mountains to play in the snow. 
  5. Keep up your exercise routine. Exercise increases endorphin levels which can help you fight depression. Join a gym, use an exercise video, or find a fun indoor physical activity (i.e. dancing) that will increase your heart rate thus improving your mood.
  6. Make an appointment to see a counselor. As always, a competent therapist can assist you in processing any negative thoughts or behaviors and can help you to develop successful coping strategies for your personality and circumstances. That being said, if you are having any thoughts of suicide or self-harm, contact a doctor or therapist immediately. 

If you have an immediate plan to commit suicide within the next 24 hours, call the hotline at the bottom of this page or go to the nearest Emergency Room immediately. 

Navigating Grief through the Holidays

The Christmas season is usually considered a joyous one for the love that is more openly expressed through giving gifts and spending time with the people who matter the most to us. But if you’ve lost someone you love this year, through death or broken relationship, you may be feeling a little lost as the season progresses. Your yearly routines may be interrupted by the loss of another’s role, leaving you scrambling to fill the hole that they left. You might even feel like you are regressing in your grief. Some of you may even ignore the season all together to avoid the hurt and confusion.

First, let me say, you are not alone in your pain. Unfortunately, we live in a broken world where the pain of death and broken relationship is all too real to so many. Let me encourage you to share your pain with a healthy and supportive friend or join a local support group such as Grief Share if it is available. If you cannot find a local support group or share with a friend, please consider processing your pain with a counselor, so that your life continues in a healthy direction.

Second, let me express that grieving, especially during this season, is normal and healthy. While getting stuck in grief or a stage of grief is not healthy, remembering and reminiscing precious times with a lost loved one is expected.

How do you identify if you are getting stuck in your grief?

Counselors generally look at Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief. I prefer to call them the five “phases” of grief, because these emotions do not always occur in a linear fashion (one after another until someone reaches acceptance). A person could feel denial in the morning, acceptance at lunch, depression at dinner, and anger at night. It simply depends on the day, its stressors and down time; and you, your personality, and coping skills. Ask yourself two questions about the first 4 of the following phases: 1) Is this emotion disrupting my ability to function normally through daily life? 2) Have I been feeling this way for 2 weeks or longer? If your answer is yes to either, please contact a counselor.

1.       Denial- shock, disbelief, mental knowledge without acceptance into the belief system

2.       Anger- general anger, anger towards the situation, anger towards the person, anger towards other people involved, anger towards self

3.       Depression- general sadness, sometimes preventing someone from the ability to function normally throughout the day (getting out of bed, practicing personal hygiene, attending work/school). If this behavior lasts more than 2 weeks, it is imperative to see a counselor and/or doctor. If this is coupled with thoughts of suicide, tell someone supportive and see a doctor immediately. You can find the suicide hotline number at the bottom of this page.

4.       Bargaining- many times this includes thoughts that begin with “if only I/she/he/we had…”, sometimes this is a bargaining with God to bring them back, sometimes this is bargaining with the other person in the broken relationship to come back

5.       Acceptance- the ability to find a new normal and move forward with your life. 

What are some things you can do to try to enjoy the season?

While you might struggle with the thought of your future life without your loved one, the traditions of the holidays bring a unique opportunity for you to celebrate the gift of life that you have been given by working toward creating your new normal. Here are some ideas to consider:

Start new traditions- take a supportive friend or another loved one to do something you have dreamed of doing. If you have always wanted to stay in a cabin in the mountain snow, but couldn’t go due to the health concerns of your lost loved one, invite someone supportive to join you for a weekend away.

Serve the community- volunteer your time or donate money to a meaningful charity (i.e. give to orphans if you lost a child, cancer patients if you lost someone to cancer, charities that interested your lost loved one). You could also ask supportive friend or loved one to go with you if you choose to give your time.

Share fond memories with mutual loved ones or supportive friends over your favorite warm beverage- Create a moment that warms your heart as you laugh and cry together over the sweet memories of your loved one.

Invite loved ones or supportive friends to join you in old traditions- If you like to hang lights on your house, but need a spare set of helping hands to accomplish it, invite a friend or loved one over to help. If you enjoy making a big meal for your celebration, invite people over to enjoy it with you or ask if you can bring it to their gathering.

Make sure to set aside time to grieve this holiday season, but limit your time by making plans to see someone. That way you get your time to cry, but you set up accountability to prevent getting stuck or falling into a deep depression through the season. Do not spend the holidays alone. Make plans.

If you feel that you are stuck in the grief process, having trouble navigating, or if the grief is too strong or deep, please contact a counselor to help you process through your pain.

Navigating the Holidays

"It's the most wonderful time of the year!" Does this statement breathe irony? Sarcasm? Many people face the holiday season with anxiety, depression, and even dread. We see families gather on TV that are joyful, kind, loving people. Even in situations where a show does not start with loving relationships, somehow (in about an hour), the “magic” of the season heals all wounds and lets bygones be bygones. All of the characters agree that love for each other supersedes any prior misconduct. Maybe you have even heard these stories in real life. Perhaps, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” evokes disappointment in, once again, dashed hopes. How do you navigate the strong negative emotions produced by the holidays?

Examine Your Expectations.

People probably haven’t changed. While there are “lightning bolt” experiences where great change happens instantly an “aha” moment, it is somewhat infrequent. Genuine change is usually a gradual process that takes time. Even following an “aha” moment, true change takes time to implement. The people you saw at last year’s gathering, while they have {hopefully} grown and matured over the year, are still the same people with the same personalities.

Broken relationships are not magically healed. If your mom and great aunt Edna have not been able to enjoy each other’s company for ten years, they most likely will not do so this year. If you have a family member who rarely shows respect to you, be aware that they probably will not show respect to you this year. While you can work to forgive them throughout the year, do not expect that they have worked to learn to show respect or desire forgiveness from you. It is wise to discuss with a counselor what healthy boundaries should be implemented in this situation.

This is not a time to address the issue. Perhaps you need to have a relationship conversation with a person who has hurt you. While this might be your chance to finally see them face-to-face, I would encourage you to wait until you can have a conversation privately outside of the holiday gathering. It would relieve you from added pressure at the gathering and would help the purpose for your plan by preventing the possibility of others getting involved divisively rather than a relationship healing conversation.

Have a Navigation Strategy

I encourage my clients to have three coping strategies of varying intensities at the ready when they walk into a high pressure situation. For example for a holiday gathering:

Mild irritation- change the subject of conversation, move to talk to someone else, play with a pet, get up to refill a drink

Moderate irritation- take a time out: step outside for some fresh air and practice deep breathing, go for a walk, find a quiet room for a few minutes, privately call a supportive friend

Intense irritation- kindly say farewell and leave the event, possibly have a backup plan in place in case this happens. This may be the time to go visit a supportive friend to help you process if they are available, or just give them a call. If a supportive friend isn’t available, do something calming or enjoyable: deep breathing exercises, meditation, listening to music, playing a game, reading a favorite book, or watching a favorite show. Be sure to process thoroughly with a friend or counselor when one is available.

*Keep in mind that you do not have to wait until you are emotionally exploding or imploding to implement your navigation strategy. Begin immediately the moment you begin to feel your emotions rising.

Here are some tips for enjoying the holiday season outside of family gatherings:

Forego stressful activities. If a crowded mall makes you cringe, shop online this year. If untangling a strand of Christmas lights is something you dread, hang a wreath and call it a day. You define your celebration. If it’s not something that encourages your heart to celebrate, change your traditions to things that do fill you with joy.

Keep a Blessings journal. Simply keep your eyes open for one blessing in your life every day, thank God, and jot it down. Even if it is as small as hitting a green light in traffic, or your favorite meal for lunch, this slight change in focus can lift your spirit as it opens your eyes to God’s graces in your life.

Find a place to serve. Whether it’s serving the homeless at a soup kitchen or donating a toy to orphans, serving the less fortunate has great potential to lift your spirits. There are a multitude of opportunities to serve around the city during the Christmas season. Ask your church leaders where they will be serving, or if they know of opportunities around your area. Find one that fits your personality and talents that you will enjoy.

While you may not feel that this is the most wonderful time of the year, you can still enjoy your holidays with the right expectations and strategy. Perhaps it is time to evaluate your yearly routine and make the changes that matter. You might be the next person singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”


If you find yourself feeling stuck or unable to process the difficulties that the season brings, please don’t hesitate to see a counselor to help you through this time of life.